First story :
Spider-man is swinging home over the roofs of Manhattan when suddenly he becomes the victim of a mental attack. He resists and starts falling, shouting for the person who’s doing this to get out of his mind. Nearby, a slender figure stands on a roof, the person who is responsible for this. She hesitates – she never intended to harm him but decides that too much is at stake to release him.
Finally, she succeeds in completely taking control of Spider-man’s body and manages to momentarily break his fall by holding tight to a building cornice but it crumbles under his weight. With his fingers dug into the wall, Spidey continues falling, leaving palpable traces within the wall.. The attacker wills herself to be calm. She has done this kind of thing before, after all. Finally she succeeds and notices that Spider-Man has stopped falling – his fingers are sticking to the wall and manage to support the full weight of his body. Somersaulting Spidey back on the roof, the attacker is pleasantly surprised about her victim’s strength and agility. She feels, she has made the right choice.
She remembers that the newspapers mentioned other abilities, such as some sort of “webbing” Spider-man can produce. Revolted, she wonders whether he generates it within his own body but then realizes the function of the web-shooters at Spidey’s wrists. Trying the webbing out on a chimney, she tests its strength by pulling the chimney down. How strong is he, she wonders and tries it out by pulverizing the chimney with a blow. Ordering her marionette to jump away, she cautions herself to be careful. Spidey’s will is as strong as his body. Though she is in control, on some level, he is still trying to resist. She notices how she already takes on his surface mannerisms. The longer she will stay within his body, the more like him she will become and she wonders whether at some point the process may be irreversible. Despite the danger to her immortal soul, she cannot give up. Tonight, she grimly swears, she’ll win or die.
Freedom Tower is a skyscraper in the heart of Manhattan’s financial district. Formerly home to several prestigious brokerage houses and law firms, it has by now been converted to a luxury apartment co-op – a home for the very rich. Among them is Nguyen Ngoc Coy, a former general of the South Vietnamese army, turned businessman and self-made millionaire, who is currently hosting a swanky charity party. Coy greets the most illustrious guests, Reed and Susan Richards, AKA Mr Fantastic and the Invisible Girl, members of the Fantastic Four. They thank him for purchasing so many sculptures of their friend Alicia Masters. It was for charity, Coy explains, his way of thanking America. He introduces his family: His nephew Tran, a young man in his late teens, and his younger siblings Leong and Nga, two frightened children who have only recently escaped from Vietnam. Sue feels her heart go out to the children as she tries to mother them a bit. Coy interjects that they do not speak English and, besides, it is past their bedtime. He orders two of his employees to take the children away.
At the buffet stands another member of the Fantastic Four, the Thing, along with his girlfriend, Alicia Masters, the blind sculptress who is the guest of honor of the evening. Alicia confides that she doesn’t like their host, ungracious as that might seem. Ben agrees, especially as every employee of Coy is armed. Something about the general strikes him as fishy.
Further upstairs, Leong demands to see his sister and one of Coy’s employees roughly shoves the boy, telling him to shut up. They are not aware that they are watched by the possessed Spider-man, who rejoices as he sees the kids. Spidey quickly attacks and takes out the goons. Then, he crouches before the frightened children and tells them in Vietnamese that their sister sent him. Suddenly, the possessor feels a strange buzzing in Spidey’s skull she cannot identify – Spider-Man’sSpider-sense. Suddenly, Spider-man finds himself grabbed by Mr. Fantastic’s elastic arms, while he’s sticking to his place with his feet. The Fantastic Four demand to know what he’s doing; kidnapping has never been his style after all. “Spidey” panics. Suddenly, letting go with his feet, he kicks Mr Fantastic in the face and is then trading punches with the Thing, who asks him if he got tired of being one of the good guys.
The possessor is horrified: she believed Spider-Man was a criminal when she possessed him! Reed notices that something is wrong with Spidey. He is acting inexperienced and as though he doesn’t know them. Not that inexperienced, it turns out, as “Spider-Man” throws the Thing right into the stretched Mr Fantastic, managing to entangle both of them in the process. They are joined by more guards, the general, Tran and the Invisible Girl. Sue asks the bodyguard to let her handle the matter. In the meantime, Tran whispers to the general that he can finish this quicker but his uncle tells him that his unique talent should be conserved for equally unique situations.
Sue doesn’t want to fight Spider-Man. He recently saved her son, Franklin’s, life. Currently, though, she sees no alternative and, therefore, she makes him stumble over several small, bubble-shaped force-fields. Spidey strikes out at her, only to experience his Spider-sense tingling again. Reed has disentangled himself and is furious. How dare Spider-Man hit his wife?
Spidey evades both Mr. Fantastic and the Thing and then blinds them by spraying web-fluid into their faces. The FF’s reputation seems to be a bit overblown, Tran whispers sarcastically. They have failed, his uncle agrees. Now, he should deal with the problem. Tran concentrates and tries to mentally grasp control of the wall-crawler. Outside the penthouse, the mysterious young woman stands, recognizing his mental signature. They are battling for dominance but he is healthy and in peak condition – she is anything but. The young woman gives up and withdraws, realizing that even if he knew he had been fighting her, it would have changed nothing. Her twin brother is her enemy. In despair, she realizes that she has failed.
In the meantime, the Thing has finally managed to get the webbing off of his face and notices Spider-man, woozy and on the ground, finally recovering his sense. Not taking any chances Ben knocks him out.
Thankfully, Coy is reluctant to call the police. The FF decide to take the unconscious Spider-man with them to the Baxter Building, to find out whether their friend has gone bad or needs help. Spidey regains his senses on their couch, with no idea of what’s been going on all evening. The last thing he remembers is swinging down the West Side on his way home. Richards scans his brain in his lab and finds that Spidey’s memory traces are completely flat for one hour, as though his brain had been turned off - dead in a way. Reed’s scanner also picks up a residually familiar energy pattern.
To confirm his suspicions, he dials the phone number of Professor Charles Xavier. Although Xavier is currently busy guiding several X-Men through a Danger Room session, he is happy to help. He confirms Reed’ suspicion: His mutant-detecting Cerebro registered an unusual amount of mutant activity earlier in the evening, centering on lower Manhattan. The data indicated two distinct entities with similar ability. He interrupts his train of thought to commend Storm and tell her to use her weather powers to deflect the missiles as well as just evade them. Back to Reed: he explains that he’d intended to investigate those contacts himself. Would Reed like any assistance? He interrupts the conversation again and chides Colossus that brute strength is not always an answer. Back to Reed, he warns him that those mutants have a power he has never encountered before and they seem to be quite powerful. He should keep Xavier posted. Irritated, Xavier shouts at Wolverine he’d better not even think about using his claws on the expensive equipment.
Later, Reed has modified one of the FF’s basic sensor modules into a rough facsimile of Cerebro and has used it to detect the person who ambushed Spider-man. The FF and Spidey are nearing their contact, somewhere on the lower East Side in their Fantasti-Car. As Mr Fantastic states that their quarry is in the church below them, Spider-man angrily jumps out of the Fantasti-Car, meaning to make the “creep” pay. Worried, Reed sends the Torch after him – they have no idea what to expect, after all. The Torch asks Spidey to stop acting like a jerk. Unfortunately, his friend couldn’t care less. Someone’s made him into a puppet and that person is going to pay, he announces as he swings into the church, breaking a window in the process.
Inside, they do not find any super-villains but a middle-aged priest and a slender young Asian woman, in a green tunic, displaying the white-yang half of the yin-yang symbol. Spidey grabs the priest by the throat, believing him to be their quarry. Wrong choice, as the young woman, in turn, possesses the Torch and forces him to attack Spidey. The girl speaks through the possessed Torch, assuring him that she never meant any harm and that, in her desperation, she made the wrong choice. Why can’t they leave her alone now? The two are separated by two invisible forcefields, courtesy of the Invisible Girl, as the rest of the team arrives and demands some answers. The priest finally loses his patience and shouts at them to show some respect in the house of the Lord. The young woman breaks down, asking the priest for forgive her. She has betrayed all she believed in and now everything has gone completely wrong. The heroes are taken aback when they hear the pain in her voice and suggest they talk in the rectory.
The priest introduces himself as Michael Bowen. Before he joined the priesthood, he was an infantryman during the Vietnam War. It was there that he met Shan and her family.
The girl introduces herself as Xi’an Coy Manh and tells them of her life:
She grew up in Vietnam during the war as one of the two eldest children of a South Vietnamese colonel. Since he was honest, he was given the most dangerous assignments and his wife and four children - two pairs of twins – followed. They witnessed a lot of horrible things and perhaps the horrible weapons used during the war made her and her brother different, Shan muses. When the Viet Cong attacked their village, one of the soldiers intended to kill Shan’s twin brother, Tran. Shan suddenly found she had the ability to reach out with her mind and control him. Tran tried as well and found he had the same power but, where his sister had acted to stop the soldier, Tran forced him to kill himself and enjoyed it. The horrified Shan told nobody what had happened.
Some time later, Shan explains, she saw her brother demonstrate his powers to their uncle Nguyen, a man their father despised. Tran also told Nguyen that Shan had the same ability, though she was reluctant to use them. Nguyen assured Tran that he wouldn’t forget them. When South Vietnam fell, he arranged for the family’s evacuation but, strangely, in the confusion only Tran was rescued. The others were left to fend for themselves under the new communist regime. Shan increasingly used her powers to protect her family from prison or worse. Eventually, they managed to pay for the fare to get away. The boat was overcrowded, the people weakened and hungry and, when they were attacked by Thai pirates, they didn’t have a prayer. The men – including Shan’s father – were murdered, the women raped... Shan’s mother was broken by this new ordeal and died the day they were rescued, leaving her daughter to fend for the two youngest children.
Having made her way to the USA, Shan contacted her uncle and her brother. She found that Nguyen had prospered since leaving Vietnam and Tran had become even colder. Shan refused Nguyen’s offer to use her powers in his service as her brother did. Instead, she broke off contact, contacted Father Bowen’s self-help relief agency for boat people and, with his help, found an apartment and a job. However, as she returned one evening, she found the apartment ransacked and the children gone. She received a phone call from her uncle, telling her that if she wanted to see the children again, she only had to work for him. He left her until midnight. She had seen Spider-Man’s picture in the Daily Bugle and assumed that he was a villain. Therefore, she decided to use a criminal to defeat another and attempted to use him to save the kids.
Touched by her tale, the heroes promise to help the girl, especially Spider-man who has shifted his rage onto Shan’s uncle.
At pier 32 B, on the Brooklyn side of the East River, Coy orders one of his lackeys – Rentano – to treat the children well and to have them tested for any sort of paranormal ability. If they lack such talents, his organization will find some other profitable use for them. The kids excitedly ask Tran where their sister is. He promised, she’d come. All in good time, their brother calms them. For now they have to board the ship. Whatever happens, they’ll be in no danger. Suddenly Spider-man grabs the kids with two web-lines and jeers that Pinoccio’s nose turned longer when he lied. After the garbage Tran just fed the kids, he’s surprised his nose isn’t the size of a Redwood. Spidey tackles Coy’s lackeys and is joined by the FF and Shan in the Fantasti-Car, who were led here with the help of Reed’s Cerebro scanner. With the goons beaten, only Coy and Tran are left surrounded by the heroes.
So, are they going to surrender, Spider-man asks. Coy urges Tran in Vietnamese to now prove his value to him. Shan suspects something, but before she can act, Tran, who under his jacket reveals a tunic identical to Shan’s but with the dark yin half of the symbol, psychically knocks out his sister and then takes possession of the FF. He could have possessed Spidey too, he lets him know, but his initial interference brought about this near debacle. Now, he wants some vengeance, Tran states, as he sics the FF on him. The fight that follows is brutal, as Spider-man has only his reflexes and speed to save him from the people who once beat Galactus. General Coy senses something amiss. He excuses himself and states that he will return to his residence. His nephew agrees and tells him that they will talk soon about his role in the future.
Torch fires at Spidey hitting the ship, where the children are still on deck. Spidey cries out,but Tran mocks that they will come to no harm, as he uses the Invisible Girl’s forcefield to protect his siblings. Brave talk, Spidey shoots back, considering the fate his uncle intended for them if they weren’t mutants. Those were his uncle’s plans, not his, Tran replies. Long before the children had been in any danger, Tran would have seized control of his uncle’s organization.
While he still focuses on the battle, Shan stirs and begs him to stop that madness. The battle grows more and more desperate for the wall-crawler until the Thing is about to deliver the deathblow. That is too much for Shan who now decides to give her all to stop her brother as she attacks him with her psychic powers. As she does so, Tran’s control over the FF grows weaker.
The boy is surrounded by a nimbus of black energy, emerging from his sister. Incredulously, he realizes that he is weakening even though he should be the stronger one. He begs for mercy and receives none. His clothes fall to the ground, empty, and Tran is no more. What’s left is his life energy, which Shan draws to herself, thus adding her brother’s soul to her own. As she does so, the half symbol on her tunic becomes a complete yin-yang symbol. He was the darkness, she the light, she explains to the recovering heroes. While he fought for selfish reasons, she fought to save her loved ones. His body was stronger but her strength flowed from her soul – he could not withstand that. As the children are happily reunited with their sister, Shan assures the heroes that she owes them more than she can repay. If ever they need her help, they need but ask for Karma.
As the family walks away, Reed muses that “Karma” is the sum total of the positive and negative acts of a person’s life in one incarnation, through which the quality of life during the next incarnation is achieved. With her powers, Karma has an awesome potential for good or evil. For what it’s worth, Spidey chimes in, as far as Shan is concerned, his money is on the good.
Second story :
Ororo Munroe takes an evening stroll through the streets (presumably of Salem Center), unaware that a sniper on the roof is watching her every move. Finally, as she turns down a deserted alley, he shoots, glancing her brow. Believing his job done he runs, intending to return to Johannesburg as soon as possible. Suddenly, the sky turns dark and he faces Storm, now in her costume, who demands he put down his weapon. When the man answers with a racial slur, Ororo blows him towards the chimney with a gust of wind and creates a thunderstorm around the South African, until the frightened man answers that he was hired by Andreas deRuyter, a name Ororo remembers from her past.
(flashback to Kenya, when Storm was 12 years old)
Teenage Ororo had left Cairo one year ago, wandering through Africa and following her visions. As she’s nearing Lake Rudolph in Kenya, she suddenly hears a gunshot and the sounds of fighting over the nearest hill. Curious, she runs there only to see a black teenager, a little older than herself, being attacked by a gang of white uniformed men. Calling on her recently discovered mutant powers, she summons a wind and for the first time flies. She flies towards the men, flattening everyone but the boy.
They are joined by another man who exits from one of the cars. He introduces himself as “de Ruyter the Bull” and boasts that it will take more than a mere wind to stop him. His masters wish to see prince T’challa as a permanent “guest” of the Republic of South Africa, as his country, Wakanda, is a mineralogical trove. T’challa will become the perfect puppet ruler and he intends to see that this happens, he states as he strikes the boy, who unexpectedly hits back. De Ruyter’s impressed but his dart gun will ensure that he comes along peacefully. The South African assumes that creating wind is Ororo’s only ability – a big mistake, as she destroys the gun in his handgun with a lightning bolt and then flies away, carrying T’challa with her. They travel together afterwards for a short time but part eventually, as T’challa’s duty takes him back to Wakanda and Ororo’s dream takes her to the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro.
After Professor Xavier used his telepathic powers to erase the memories of Ororo’s assailant, she pays a visit to the Wakandan embassy where she asks the Butler Hudson to tell the son of T’chaka that the wind-rider, whom he christened his white lioness, urgently needs to see him. His life may be in danger. A not uncommon occurrence, as far as the Black Panther is concerned, T’challa, who’s silently joined them, jokes. The two of them see each other for the first time since their adventure as teenagers and marvel at how the other has grown up. Ororo wishes this was a social call but she has to tell him of the evening’s events and how she almost was assassinated by a sniper in de Ruyter’s service. The man was part of a team, hired specifically to kill the two of them. De Ruyter still bears a grudge, it seems. But why did it take so long, Ororo wonders, as she joins T’challa in a high-tech com-room. The Black Panther quickly finds out, with the help of his computers, that after their fight with de Ruyter he was a changed man. His career started falling apart until he was forced to retire a few years ago. Afterwards, he dropped out of sight.
After gathering some more information from the Avengers and several law enforcement agencies, they finally find his current place of residence – a secluded mansion on Long Island. Storm quickly flies the two of them there to the seemingly peaceful mansion. They slip in through a window and the Panther quickly and silently dispatches of the few guards. Storm wonders at the lack of resistance they have encountered. She would have expected a veritable army. The Panther agrees; there’s more to this place than meets the eye, possibly a trap. Having found nothing, they finally encounter a locked door. Ororo examines the door with her lock pick skills and quickly realizes that a trigger plate is attached to the lock. Had the Panther simply kicked in the door, it would have blown up in his face. The moment Ororo opens the door, a robot expects and attacks them – a robot that greets them with de Ruyter’s voice. Storm tries to scramble the circuitry with a bolt of lightning but, having learned from their previous encounter, de Ruyter had the robot insulated, as Ororo painfully learns when it hits her head.
The Panther lunges at him while de Ruyter gloats that every action of his was designed to lure the two of them here and to their deaths. While the Panther keeps on evading the robot’s blows, Ororo, thanks to her Danger Room training, is less knocked-out than one might expect. She rode out the robot’s punch. Since her lightning cannot hurt the robot, she reasons her best alternative is to strike the floor beneath it and open a hole. The robot falls.
Black Panther helps Storm up and they decide to find de Ruyter before the robot strikes again. Storm wonders why she cannot hear anything. Its voice stopped after the robot hit the bottom T’challa notices the other door leading out of the room and hears the sound of sophisticated electronics on the other side. Panther kicks in the door challenging de Ruyter. What they find is a dead man sitting in a chair. T’challa deduces what happened: he had a psychic link with the robot making it an extension of himself. Unfortunately, this was a two-way-street and the shock of the robot’s fall coupled with his fear of failing again killed the man.
He prided himself on his physical strength, Storm muses but, looking at him now, what’s left was a wasted shadow of the man he was consumed by disease. And hatred, the Panther adds. He hated him as a young man; him and all he stood for. He longed for the day when they would meet again so that he could beat him - Now he wonders why he bothered. He’s not worth hate or even pity, Storm adds. She’d rather pity his victims.
Later, after the Panther summoned the authorities, he silently thinks to himself how de Ruyter wasted his life with the idea of vengeance. He tells Storm that he used his Avengers priority with the police so she doesn’t become involved. They stare at each other for a moment and admit that they both thought of what was and what might have been between them. But they both know, as they part, that the special unique moment in their lives cannot be recaptured. They are friends and they will never be any more.