And when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.
Thanos has retired to a hi-tech accommodation, in an unnamed planet in the backwaters of the galaxy, finally gaining a sense of inner peace. Unbeknownst to him, outside his habitat stands his doppelganger, next to a planting and a scapegoat modeled after Thanos. Thanos’ double enters the Titan’s residence… and the latter feels like he’s being watched and turns around. However, he sees no one. Thanos even exits his house but spots nobody outside and enters his abode again.
An electronic voice – the computer running Thanos’ habitat – informs its master that the telemetry is collated and ready. The computer believes that Thanos will want to immediately review these latest readings. As Thanos walks into the sanctum sanctorum of his hi-tech domicile, he asks the computer to give him an overview synopsis. The computer informs him of some unexplainable exotic patterns along the entire spectrum. Thanos asks whether the point of origin has been determined. “Affirmative – probe approaching transmission portal” the compute responds. “Interdimensional?” Thanos inquires. “Affirmative” the computer replies.
Thanos is informed that there is severe photon upheaval and the proton’s survival probability is minimum. Thanos tells the computer that all that matters is the data and orders the computer to transmit them. As he watches in a monitor, he sees the probe approaching the transmission portal… and then finally exploding upon touching the portal. He remarks that these are more precise readings that he would have expected. The computers thanks him for the compliment and explains that there are incredible forces at play. Thanos himself has never seen scannings like these; he begins to sense a pattern… “Any conclusions?” the computer asks him. Thanos only has one: that the entire universe stands in grave peril. He then quickly puts his costume on.
The computer assumes that on-sight research is required. Thanos confirms that this is sometimes the only way to obtain a trustworthy evaluation of a situation. The computer announces that it will immediately begin construction of an appropriate vessel. Thanos assures the computer that it’s not necessary, as he already has transportation arranged.
Thanos presents the computer with an older craft of his. The computer remarks that, according to the records, this craft was destroyed some time ago. Thanos reveals it has been reconstructed. The computer recalls that the original vehicle had mystical qualities. Thanos admits that the current flyer lacks these qualities. However, he boasts that once he familiarizes himself with a technology, very little is lost. This craft should serve him well enough.
As Thanos sits on his vehicle, the computer asks him if it’s possible for him to determine an estimated time of arrival for his return. Thanos retorts that “will” and not “when” is a more appropriate question to be concerned with at the moment and then instantly teleports away with his craft.
In nocturnal New York City, Spider-Man whiles away the night, defying the laws of gravity. It’s just another night for him, skipping along the razor’s edge. Using his webs, he soars above New York, the city where around every corner, there is a surprise. Indeed, a surprise lies ahead for him: Spider-Man is unaware that he is being watched by a grotesque, six-armed, ersatz version of himself.
In outer space, Galactus has arrived with his ship in a specific location to examine Eternity. Strangely enough, the powerful Eternity is being catatonic. Galactus realizes that Eternity’s catatonia is artificially induced by an outside force so complex that even his instrumentality cannot properly decipher its weave. Galactus’ herald, Nova, reminds her master that this is Eternity he’s talking about, the living embodiment of all there is in the universe. Who could possibly slip him a Mickey Finn? Galactus replies that this is precisely what he intends to find out. As he departs with his ship, he remarks that such power cannot be allowed to run unchecked or unchallenged.
A little bit later, Thanos has also arrived to this location. Thanos realizes that the danger is far greater than he suspected. A strong secondary emanation led him to this chilling tableau, yet the pattern remains unfocused. The identity of its architect remains an enigma; yet, even more vexing is the fact that Thanos finds this energy signature strangely familiar – though, not familiar enough to exact a memory. Still, Thanos has no reason to complain. The trail is clear and he will easily…
Suddenly, Thanos pauses as he sees a doppelganger of himself standing in an asteroid. One moment he’s there, the next he’s gone. “The abyss…” Thanos mutters.
On Earth, the setting sun catches a glint of metal on the horizon: Iron Man. A weekend in Vegas was Tony Stark’s indulgence but it is Iron Man who now soars above the devil’s playground, heading home. Suddenly, Iron Man’s radar alerts him on someone’s presence nearby. “Who?” Iron Man wonders… just as a monstrous, spiky version of himself, wrapped with a thorny wire, strikes him from behind.
Meanwhile, Thanos has finally delved into the dimensional chute with his ship. He notices that many of the same laws of nature apply here that do in his own dimension. However, as familiar and comforting as it may seem, Thanos cannot allow himself to forget how far down the dimensional chute he currently is. He knows that this is enemy territory. He soon reaches an amazing palace-like construct on a meteorite. His readings show simulated gravity and a loosely contained atmosphere. It is evident that much energy and ego went into the creation of this astral haven; it reminds Thanos of his shrine to Mistress Death; he likes it.
Thanos’ vehicle approaches the open gate and enters the sublime building, the Titan being perplexed by the fact that no sentry challenges his entry; almost as if this were an abandoned outpost. However, the instrumentation Thanos avails underscores the foolishness of that notion: the source of these unbelievable readings is packed to the rafters with wondrous toys. So advanced is the technology that Thanos can only guess at half of the devices’ functions.
As he moves even further inside, Thanos realizes that the energies at work are benumbing, on a level a few beings could even dream of, let alone control. For Thanos, the fact that this control is achieved by mechanical means is even more mind-boggling; power levels just short of the levels of the Infinity Gauntlets!
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Wolverine wanders in a snowy, firry forest. Sometimes, his better half needs revitalizing and purging; that’s when the wild reclaims him. The man recedes and the wolverine reigns; his every sense ever on the alert for danger… Suddenly, Wolverine is attacked by a grotesque version of himself.
In space, Thanos examines the emanations’ point of origin, located in the lozenge-shaped module on the center’s ceiling. The Titan decides to depart his craft to better investigate and identify the energy source.
“Hope you’re not planning on taking back any samples with you, Thanos” a voice is suddenly heard. “Who?” Thanos wonders and turns around only to utter in complete surprise “You?”
Reading a monitor in his own abode, Dr. Doom realizes that he’s never seen scannings like these; he doubts anyone ever has. Even though energies on this level are usually controlled by a cosmic entity, Doom senses no such player involved in this affair. He thinks that many would find such circumstances frightening. However, Doom’s eyes gaze with an altered perspective: he sees an opportunity. He knows that where there is power, there is power to be gained… but this quest will require technology beyond the scope directly available to himself.
Four Freedoms Plaza, home of the Fantastic Four
Once again, night finds Reed Richards busy in his lab, in search of answers, unraveling scientific Gordian knots. Suddenly, his doppelganger, sporting a vicious smile, appears from nowhere and attacks him. The two versions of Reed, the prototype and the ersatz, stretch unimaginably while fighting each other. One of them grabs a ray gun and shoots his adversary, incapacitating him.
Meanwhile, Thanos has finally found out who the mysterious master of this abode is… Magus! A mocking Magus deduces that Thanos didn’t expect to ever encounter him again. “Or come face to face with your companion, either,” Thanos admits. Next to Magus stands Thanos’ doppelganger that previously stalked the Titan. Magus remarks that he has always traveled in most unusual circles. Thanos admits that he thought that those journeys had been restricted to within Adam Warlock’s personality in recent years. Magus believes this is an obvious misconception on Thanos’ part. Thanos enquires Magus on his doppelganger. “A mere shadow of what is to come,” Magus cryptically replies.
Thanos reminds Magus that he was with Warlock when Magus’ timeline was destroyed. Magus replies that there are many paths leading to grandeur. Thanos retorts that that sentiment has a false ring to it. “Did not Mistress Death once claim you?” Magus asks him. “And sadly rejected me,” Thanos admits. Magus suggests that perhaps divine intervention also had a hand in Thanos’ resurrection. Thanos notices that now Magus is “an instrument of the almighty.” Magus insists that Thanos will eventually come to see that his flame is destined to blaze throughout the heavens!
“Some mistakes are just too tempting not to repeat” Thanos admits. “Me, a mistake?” Magus retorts. “Then perhaps another shadow?” Thanos wonders. Magus complains that Thanos is testing his patience and warns him: fanning the embers of his wrath could be a terrible error. He asks Thanos to remember: some mistakes are fatal.
Elsewhere, Wolverine continues the fight against his doppelganger. Logan quickly proves the better warrior and slashes this nightmarish version of himself right at the heart, leaving his doppelganger laying lifeless on the snow. Perplexed, Logan watches as the corpse dematerializes within seconds, as if it never were there.
Meanwhile, Iron Man fares much worse in tackling his own doppelganger in mid-air. Suddenly, Tony and his double nosedive headlong to the ground… and crash down. Only one emerges victorious, though: the monstrous Iron Man, standing triumphant above the senseless Tony Stark.
Somewhere else, Nova asks her master, Galactus, if they have already reached the source of those mysterious energies. “No,” Galactus replies. He explains that the trail has suddenly been scrambled. His on-boards are struggling to decipher the altered signal… but it is as if his foe sensed its approach. Nova wonders if that can be. Galactus retorts that, with power like this, anything is possible.
Galactus believes that it’s now paramount to hunt down the wielder of this might, as the latter tinkers with Galactus’ reality… an affront that Galactus cannot allow. “But how will you…?” Nova wonders. Galactus explains that he will do it by inducting into his service one who can penetrate the mystical barriers set before him. “Who?” Nova wonders. “A mage,” Galactus replies, Dr. Strange’s face mirrored in his eyes.
On Earth, Spider-Man finally succeeds in defeating his monstrous double… by impaling him on some pointed balusters, in an alley.
Elsewhere, Iron Man’s doppelganger suddenly transmogrifies into a blob of horrible, slimy tendrils and engulfs the body of the unconscious Iron Man.
In Magus’ vessel, Thanos and Magus are each served a glass of wine by Thanos’ double. Thanos remarks it’s truly perplexing to find himself socializing with a man from a future that no longer exists. Magus retorts that myriad possibilities produce endless variations of tomorrow; some even repeat themselves. The Titan retorts that, for some reason, he finds that explanation rather unsatisfying. Magus snickers: he’s heard that satisfaction has always been a problem with Thanos!
Changing the subject, Thanos remarks that Magus possesses great power within this containment vessel. “Deflecting an unpalatable truth with curiosity?” Magus replies with a mocking smile. Thanos finds something disturbingly familiar about the texture of those energies. Magus is aware that what he intends to do with his power is also of great interest to Thanos. The Titan admits that it is what brought him to this godforsaken corner of the plane. “In the hopes of eluding my vengeful wrath…?” Magus quips. Thanos explains that he merely wants to safeguard the sanctity of his own reality.
Magus is surprised that Thanos now protects what he once sought to decimate. What does reality mean to one such as him? “Much in recent months,” Thanos insists. Amused, Magus admits this doesn’t sound like the Thanos he knew of old. Thanos insists that the old Thanos has been replaced by a creature with different priorities. “A revelation?” Magus teases him. “Of sorts,” Thanos insists. Like Magus, Thanos once strove for ultimate power. Magus asks him why he thinks that’s his goal. Thanos explains that he can still see hunger in Magus’ eyes, even though he possesses vast energies.
Magus wonders whether Thanos speaks as both a kindred soul and an anxious competitor. Thanos reminds him that he’s already had his taste of omnipotence and found it impossible to keep down. “Ultimate might was not meant for beings such as ourselves,” Thanos concludes. Grinning evilly, Magus believes that he has grossly overestimated Thanos; they are obviously not of the same breed. Thanos also thinks he’s wasting his breath trying to reason with Magus. Saying this, he pours his wine. “It would appear so,” Magus agrees… and then clicks on a button.
In an instant, Thanos is surrounded by countless distorted doubles of the Earth’s heroes, all of them monstrous-looking, their mouths watering. “You will let Adam know I’m coming, won’t you?” Magus asks Thanos and then clicks on another button.
Thanos is instantly and unceremoniously teleported into his own dimension; on-boards wiped clean. Thanos can’t help but admire the skill with which he was handled. He also realizes that the energy signature is now scrambled; there’s no way he can trace it directly. He doubts that the Magus believes that will stop him, though. He wonders what Magus’ game is and how Magus himself fits into it. All that power and Magus still manipulates it mechanically – why? “Insane?” Thanos wonders. He thinks that there’s perhaps more reason to put a stop to his mischief. Unfortunately, this little encounter has made one thing excruciatingly apparent to Thanos… this is a struggle he’s going to need help in winning. He immediately teleports away.
Right then, Thanos’ doppelganger announces to Magus that Thanos’ teleportation telemetry was set to the exact coordinates Magus predicted. Magus grins.
Meanwhile, Reed Richards decides to contact the greatest superhero teams on Earth and warn them of the imminent danger. In turn, he notifies all the teams – Avengers, X-Men, New Warriors, West Coast Avengers, X-Factor, Alpha Flight – that he has scheduled a meeting for 6 a.m. of the following morning. He stresses that it’s imperative that all parties attend. He explains that his research has uncovered a deadly threat to the entire universe; it’s more than the Fantastic Four can handle alone. They’re now forced to deal with a power that rivals the Beyonder’s or that of the Infinity Gauntlet. It’s going to take a concerted effort on all their parts to insure this universe’s survival over the next few days. Havok, leader of X-Factor, wonders if they can get any particulars now. “Not over the wire,” Richards insists and promises he will fill in the blanks tomorrow.
In the study of a mystical Greenwich Village brownstone, the mystical contemplations of Dr. Strange are rudely interrupted by a dazzling light.
Elsewhere, Dr. Doom is talking with someone at a monitor. Doom exclaims that it doesn’t matter and tries to convince his interlocutor to come over. The Latverian monarch believes that the data he has forwarded is sufficient incentive. However, even Doom himself doesn’t dare to undertake such an endeavor alone and assures his interlocutor that he’s the only one he can trust.
Doom’s interlocutor insists that there is great risk in the two of them working together. Doom retorts that the prize is well worth the risks. Doom has already identified the energy signature from his files. He notes there are five of them – five! He believes that his interlocutor can see the significance; with one, conquest of the entire universe is possible; with five, no dream is beyond their reach! “What say you, Conqueror?” Doom finishes.
The room is bathed in a blinding light and Kang the Conqueror makes his entrance. Doom welcomes him back to the 20th century. Kang greets him, while actually thinking that, whenever the opportunity arises, he will cut Doom out of this bargain most harshly…
Meanwhile, Mole Man’s castle in the Monster Island, protectorate of the Mole Man’s Empire, now has new residents in the form of Adam Warlock and the Infinite Watch. Mole Man shows the group around and assures Warlock that the castle will prove more than adequate for his group’s needs. Warlock remarks that setting up the diplomatic front of Mole Man’s plan will be the most difficult facet to implement. Mole Man believes it’s agreed, then: they’re now allies! “Only under the terms we discussed, Mole Man,” Warlock reminds him. Smiling, Mole Man claims these are terms he can easily live with.
Warlock notes that they have only last problem to deal with. Mole Man wonders what that might be. Warlock explains they have an intruder…
Thanos suddenly appears in front of them. Everyone is shocked to see him here; more than everyone Drax the Destroyer, who remembers that his job has always been to kill Thanos! “That was then, this is now,” Warlock tells Drax. “What is it you seek, Titan?” he then asks Thanos. “You aid,” Thanos replies.