The Necropolis at Wakanda, three hours ago
The Black Swan has been placed inside some sort of transparent cube that acts as her prison cell. There is no seat, no bed, no bedpan. She is kneeling on the concrete floor speaking in her high Sumerian language. She holds out her hands as if to spread the walls apart, but if that’s her purpose, nothing happens.
Ch-chunk, a sound comes from behind her. The Swan knows this is not the person who captured her because he makes too much noise. Mostly in jest, she asks if he is an angel sent to free her.
The man is Reed Richards and he apologizes, but he’s not setting anyone free just yet. He introduces himself as the Black Swan’s interrogator. She says nothing at first, staring at him over her shoulder. Then she turns back and stiffly says she fears no pain.
Reed is not impressed by her bravado, saying he doesn’t believe her, but he also tells her he only wants to know what she knows, which can be accomplished by simply talking. He then adds that if she complies he will pretend he can’t see—and doesn’t know—what that is hidden inside her. He says this while looking at an image of it on his tablet.
The “interrogation” begins. The first question Reed wants answered is the name of the planet she and her friends jumped from before blowing it up. The Swan smiles, a wicked smile, and replies “Earth,” and then tells Richards a smart guy like him already knew that.
Reed agrees that all his data pointed to that conclusion, but he wanted to hear it from her. Even now, he admits, he has his doubts. He asks why she would want to destroy her own home. Black Swan says she has no home, and as for the planet’s destruction, she says “…the wheel demands its offering. And the great destroyer always gets his due.”
This sounds like rhetoric to Richards so he moves on and asks why she killed this companion of hers. She realizes he’s speaking of the Manifold and tells him one is useless outside its native universe. She calls his death a gift, saying the wheel shames the weak.
Tiring of the indirect questions, the Black Swan tells Reed she does what she does out of necessity. Then asks him to ask her what he wants and stop trying to maneuver her into the conversation he wants to have. Reed acquiesces, and asks why, if she calls no place home, the security cameras caught her crying for help and weeping in her sleep last night. He wants to know if it’s her actions or something else entirely.
The tears begin flowing down the Swan’s face. She turns to face him again and this time she’s angry. She speaks vaguely again, saying it breaks hope, crushes what makes them decent and steals what little honor remains. “You have… no idea what is coming,” she cries. Reed looks at her unapologetically and asks her to explain it to him.
one hour ago
Black Panther walks through the grounds wearing his ceremonial garb. He approaches a door being guarded by his Dora Milaje. He asks the two women if there have been any problems. He is told no, so he asks them to open the doors. One of the woman warriors is hesitant so he tells her to speak freely.
The Dora Milaje brings up the recent destruction to Wakanda, the thousands of Wakandans who died. They are a nation at war, she reminds her king, and if the queen were to find out that he brought this man here… Her words trail off, not wanting to mention his punishment. She fears for him. Panther tells her to let her fears die, and instead, rather cryptically, tells her to feel fear for them all.
The doors are opened and Black Panther walks into the room where his “special guest” is residing. It’s Namor, who is pouring himself a glass of wine. The Panther approaches him and says there are rules he must adhere to while staying in Wakanda. He tells Namor not to interact with any Wakandans and to not let himself be seen, and if seen to not speak. Also, under no circumstances is Namor to leave the Necropolis and head into the city proper, he finishes. “Do you understand?” he asks.
Namor hesitates a moment, taking a sip of wine from his glass. He doesn’t answer T’Challa’s question, but instead states that it must be so difficult for him. He reminds him of their gathering long ago when they first founded the Illuminati, and how T’Challa said it was a mistake and called them all fools. Leaning forward, Namor asks if he was wrong then, or, that desperate now.
Namor’s not the only one good at ignoring questions. He restates what he said earlier, asking if Namor understands the rules he laid out for him. “Of course,” the Atlantean king replies. With that, Panther turns to leave. He says it’s time to join the others.
Before going through the doors T’Challa stops. He turns and stares at Namor. He reminds him that he has the blood of the Wakandan people on his hands. Not mincing words he promises the Atlantean ruler that when their business is done and his needs are met he is going to kill him.
Reed Richards is standing in a darkened room. He is speaking to the gathered Illuminati about the inevitability of death. He says it will happen to everyone on Earth, and even the Sun, their galaxy and the universe itself will end. It’s how things are, he continues, casting a glance downward. When he faces them again he adds, “and I accept it.”
What Richards does not accept is the unnatural acceleration of that end, which is why T’Challa summoned them all there. He says the untimely end of everything is what they now face. With this horrible prospect dropped onto their laps a smarmy Tony Stark tells Reed this is why he never gets invited to the good parties.
It’s Stephen Strange who addresses T’Challa directly. He asks why he’s called upon them, a group he’s refused to join when many times the world was in peril. He wants to know why this scenario is so different. His reply is that the future of his people died in his arms, only to be followed by something so horrific it dwarfed that.
As Strange begins to ask another question he’s cut off by Namor. He doesn’t want to discuss any specifics until they’ve determined that they are all who they say they are. They have been infiltrated before, played for fools and he wants everyone to prove themselves. He holds out his right hand and the red Power Gem floats above it.
Richards and Rogers agree both extending their hands and letting their Infinity Gems hover in front of them. When neither Stark nor Strange reveal theirs Captain America asks why. Hands clasped in front of him, Dr. Strange says his soul gem is beyond the chaos realm of Shuma-Gorath, a pocket reality constructed from the pure white light of one billion prayers. He says that retrieving it is costly and he will only do so if he must.
Stark says he left his in his sock drawer, but argues that three is enough for verification. He wants to get this thing going because he wants to know what put the fear of God into the two smartest people he knows. Everyone around the table then identifies themselves. The gems confirm their identity. When it is T’Challa’s turn he remarks that them having the Infinity Gems further confirms his worst fears about their little gatherings.
Captain America is the last to go and when he’s done and everyone identified he asks Reed to explain what’s going on. They’ve heard Black Panther’s story, but they don’t know what it all means.
Richards takes his tablet PC and fires up a hologram that appears above the center of the long table. He starts the discussion by listing things they all know as true. The hologram opens up to display a straight line with two circles on either end. One end represents the birth of their universe and the other, the end.
Next, two larger circles appear close and equidistant to the endpoints. Reed says these circles represent the birth and death of Earth within their universe. The two endpoints disappear leaving a line representing the lifespan of their Earth. The graphic is quickly reproduced on either side, which Reed explains shows an infinite number of realities with an infinite number of Earths.
As Reed explained earlier every Earth will die in every universe that exists so a start point reappears linking itself to the many Earths on display. Then a bright orange circle lights up on one of the displayed Earths. Reed says he’s learned that at some point an event occurred that caused the early death of one of these universes. He goes on to say the “untimely death” caused a tiny contraction in the Multiverse’s timeline. “Now, everything would die ever-so-slightly sooner,” he explains. The top of the graph collapses about an inch as the highlighted Earth disappears.
In addition, the tiny contraction caused two universes to smash together at the incursion point of the initial event, the incursion point being Earth. The graphic then shows two neighboring Earth life lines light up in orange and then disintegrate next to each other. Reed says when the Earths touched, they were destroyed and the universes along it. This, in turn, caused another contraction in the timeline, which then accelerated the smashing together of even more Earths and their universes. Reed says that what T’Challa witnessed was another Earth colliding with theirs.
Captain America doesn’t understand how they’re still sitting around talking if this already happened to their Earth. Black Panther answers this one, saying the woman, the Black Swan, used a device to destroy the other Earth thereby preventing the impact.
Strange states the obvious, that they need to stop it. This prompts Tony to sarcastically agree that a multiversal apocalyptic death scenario is indeed a situation that needs handling. Then he starts listing the unknowns, things they’d need to know to cease the incursions such as the source of the collapse, and dan the chain reaction be stopped or even slowed down.
Another hologram appears above Richards’ tablet. It’s the trigger mechanism to what was used to destroy the other Earth. Captain America doesn’t like where the conversation is going. He stops Reed and says they are going to handle this situation like they normally would, prepare, gather intelligence, and when the next episode occurs use that information to figure out a way to win.
Mister Fantastic argues there’s a good chance that won’t work. He doesn’t think they’ll have enough time. Namor asks why not and Richards says that according to the Black Swan there are constants, or rules.
As Reed explained earlier, the time when two Earths begin to collide is called an incursion, and every single one is the same. Before they begin there is a very short period of harmonic alignment, which allows both planets to exist in the same space. Reed says this may give them the ability to detect it and create an early warning system. He then says they have eight hours to act as each incursion lasts exactly eight hours.
After the eight hours are up, Reed continues, there are two possibilities. Either both planets collide and destroy both universes or one Earth is destroyed, eliminating the incursion point and saving both universes, he explains.
That’s all the information Reed has gathered. He admits the Black Swan could be lying and he definitely believes she’s leaving some things out, but the biometrics determined no signs of deception. There’s also the fact she saved their Earth not long ago, so for now he’s willing to go along with everything she’s said. “Eight hours. That’s all we’ll have. T’Challa?” Richards finishes.
Black Panther gets up from his seat to address what he calls an unholy alliance. He admits this problem is bigger than him and bigger than any of them individually. He says they may be Earth’s only hope. He asks them to help him save their world, and the very universe itself.
Universes, Dr. Strange clarifies. The scale of this endeavor is infinite and he fears the hard choices they will soon face. Namor laughs at his “hard choices.” He reminds them of the woman they have in captivity who destroyed an entire world. The only question they should ask themselves is, Namor continues, are they willing to kill to save their own world.
Black Bolt, as usual, has remained silent throughout, taking in all that is being said. But Namor’s comments seem to have rustled him. It’s barely audible and unintelligible, but a sound escapes from his mouth. What follows that sound is a loud rumble and cracks spidering across the table.
It’s Stark’s turn to put his two cents in. Though he can sense the negativity festering since Namor’s comments he says they need to think clearly, that they need a perfect solution. He says if they are to do this they need time and the ability to work in secret. Tony can’t believe he’s saying it, but he believes every option must remain on the table while they search for an answer.
This time it’s Captain America who stands up, most abruptly. He chastises Tony for what he’s propositioning. T’Challa tries defending Stark’s comments, but with a wave of his hand and a stern “No” the Black Panther quiets. Captain America says he will not allow any talk of necessary evil. He says he spent his life on that line and every time he’s seen someone cross it horror and shame followed them. He refuses to entertain the idea, especially when they don’t have to.
Rogers looks over at Richards at this point, but Reed doesn’t have the foggiest idea what he’s talking about. That’s when Captain America holds out his hand and uncurls his fingers to show his Time Gem. He believes they have something better and they just have to be willing to use it.
This catches the Illuminati members by surprise and they all sit in silence for a few moments thinking it over. Richards is the first to speak and says they would need all six gems to be sure. Strange reminds them they are without and have no idea where the Mind Gem is with its caretaker, Charles Xavier, dead. Namor suggests they use the five they have to find it. They want to be together, he adds.
A new hologram appears from the center of the table. It’s the object that’s been on their minds, the tool they believe may help them, the Infinity Gauntlet. Stark asks if they are all in agreement to reassemble the uber-powerful glove. Captain America answers for everyone when he says, “Yes.”
That being said, Reed adds that he, Tony and T’Challa will start constructing the incursion early warning system. Captain America says he’s taking the rest of the group to find Xavier’s gem. Then he asks everyone to look at him.
Rogers gives them a quick pep talk telling them though they are undertaking something massive they need to remember that they shape the world, the world does not shape them. He says they will not fail, if they do not waiver. And if they believe in the cause, believe in each other, it is all going to work out. “I know it,” he finishes.
During his motivational speech dire, shadowy images appear on-panel, one with Reed and Tony fighting some hellish monsters, Tony’s right arm ripped off and lying on the ground. In another, Black Bolt is yelling and destroying something in front of him. He’s surrounded by floating creatures with ornate masks on their heads. In the third, Namor is spearing someone laid out on a rock. There are dead people nearby and others coming as if to attack him. Lastly, Strange and T’Challa are fighting mechanoids of some sort.
T’Challa is out on the balcony of his palace staring out over the land. Mister Fantastic joins him outside. He lets Black Panther know Cap and his crew are preparing to leave and Tony has started on the device. A stony expression remains on T’Challa’s face. Very flatly he says everything is going to work out just fine, and then adds that they both know better than that.
Reed bows his head slightly and closes his eyes. He agrees that if this incursion thing could be stopped so easily it should have been stopped already. This leaves them with two more likely possibilities. Panther takes a crack at the first one, that this problem is systemic and unable to be corrected.
That’s one of Reed’s theories so he tells T’Challa to give him the second one. Panther does, saying something is actively working towards the accelerated death of everything.
There’s a moment’s pause as the two reflect on both scenarios. Then Black Panther asks what they are going to do if their plan doesn’t work. Reed says he agrees with Tony, that they need time and every possible solution should be left on the table. They will try every good and righteous solution they can, he finishes.
Black Panther asks what happens if those don’t work. Very solemnly Reed says they teach themselves to do the unthinkable. In his mind he recalls what the Black Swan said during the interrogation, that it breaks hope and crushes what makes them decent and steals what little honor remains. He then adds, “We have to learn how to destroy a world.”