(somewhere over Texas)
Sharon Carter flies a heavily armed craft over the southern United States, cursing as she sits at the controls. She can't believe she's lost their frequencies. She wonders what to do next, and as she thinks, her monitor goes 'blooop.' Somehow she is picking up Ant-Man's signal. What the hell! She thinks. Sharon calls him and receives a reply from Eric. He's really pleased that she's found his signal. She asks why he just popped up on her system. Isn't he off-world? Eric informs her that he was, but he got sucked through some kind of vortex. She asks where he is now. Eric replies in a whisper that he's in some kind of secret facility watching a dozen guys in nuke suits getting ready to go suicide-bomb Mars! Sharon asks why. Eric admits that he isn't sure. There was a lot of technobabble he didn't understand, but they're about to enter the same vortex thing that brought him back to Earth. That's gotta be bad news.
Silently, the 9th Legion walks towards the vortex and certain death!
As the mind-controlled Nova oversees the diggers, Steve Rogers and his team are nearby with the Worldmind which inhabits Nova's helmet. Steve asks it if it's sure this will work. The Worldmind is certain it can transfer the Nova Force into him. It's less certain that he will survive the process. Steve replies that it doesn't know him too well. But, it doesn't really matter anyway. Archon agrees. He knows that if Steve fails, then all of it ends. The entire universe. "So," replies War Machine, arms folded, "... no pressure." Worldmind tells them that if that thing hadn't forced it out of Richard's mind... It pauses. It shouldn't have come to this. Steve agrees.
Meanwhile, Moon Knight and the Black Widow are watching Nova carefully. Natasha radios Steve and asks him to do whatever he's going to do quickly. Something's happening down there... something ugly. Nova tells the workers to keep working and to ignore the magical red tendrils that emanate from the ground. Worldmind reiterates to Steve that no one has ever taken in this much Nova Force at one time. Richard was in the corps for years before he became sole possessor of the power, and it nearly drove him mad. Steve understands, but they've got no more time. "Very well," replies Worldmind, "But I warned you."
Steve places the helmet over his head and in an instant, energy swarms around him, causing him intense pain. As Steve absorbs the power, it begins to leave Richard Rider. He plummets to the ground and hits it hard. Steve screams, whilst Richard cries, "Nooooo! Beast asks Worldmind if Steve is all right, but Steve answers for himself. He raises his body off the ground, looking powerful and replies, "I'm fine." Worldmind assures him that it's there if he needs it. Steve thanks Worldmind and asks the others to remember the plan. They have a universe to save.
As the magical tendrils swarm around Richard Rider, he calls the Secret Avengers thieves, Steve Rogers rockets away. Nova uses what's left of his energy to fly towards him and the two men meet mid-air. Nova warns Steve that he's going to destroy him, but Steve replies, "We'll see."
(Earth, Shadow Council Citadel)
Major Thorn-Drake has given Nick Fury his instructions. He would stay and oversee this task himself, but he can't stand the idea of giving up their last link to Mars. They were born there, in most of the ways that matter. Fury knows, but he tells Thorn-Drake that with Rogers and his people up on Mars and the third crown activated, do they have another option? Thorn-Drake replies that they don't have one that doesn't risk the beast's awakening. In any case, he adds, he's off to show off their acquisition to the others before it goes into their vault. He climbs into a helicopter and it flies away.
Back at the facility, Ant-Man continues watching. He hears the 9th Legion talking about how their intel show digging in the northeast of their arrival point. Sharon tells Ant-Man that this is down to him. Eric doesn't like the sound of that. Sharon replies that right now, she doesn't care what he likes. She can't get there in time, so he's it. Is he going to let those kamikazes go after his teammates?
The 9th Legion has its orders. Find the site and eradicate it. No prisoners. No survivors. Sharon, overhearing their conversation through Eric's radio, asks if he's going to stop them. Eric is already swinging into action, shrinking even further as he enters the vortex in front of the legion unseen.
Back on Mars, Steve and Nova fight it out, with Richard warning him that he has no hope. None may stand against them. Elsewhere, Beast, Valkyrie, Moon Knight, the Black Widow and War Machine take on the diggers, with Natasha worrying about Steve. She can see he's in trouble. Hank reckons they all are. Their opponents are possessed and the tendrils... he doesn't know about them but he doesn't think they should allow them to touch them if they can help it. Valkyrie asks War Machine for back up.
As she slices through the drill rig's supports, James flies in and unleashes an assault on the tendrils, unsure what weapons might work on them. He can't get a read whether they're alive or not. One of them grabs Valkyrie and she can feel their touch inside her mind. She finds them disgusting. "Not an Asgardian you don't!" she cries as she raises her sword in preparation for a strike. James reckons that bringing down the machine is the only way.
Steve launches another attack on Nova, but Nova taunts him. He says that his people are already a part of this abyss. Soon, they will be his people. "Like hell they will!" replies Steve as he grabs Nova and thrusts groundwards at high speed. They land with a 'ka'thoom!' and Steve begins to gain the upper hand. He calls to Rich. He knows he's in there somewhere. He tells him to wake up and fight this. "Pathetic!" replies Nova as he blasts Steve away. Archon looks on. He cannot let them fail. He helps out War Machine by destroying some tendrils that are swarming him. Before James can offer his thanks, Archon tells him to go and help the goddess stop the machine. He will hold his dark reach at bay with whatever is left of him.
Eric floats through the vortex, trying to keep it together. He's terribly disoriented. He sees the legion behind him but can feel that he's close to the exit. Eric realizes what he has to do. He remembers the wasp sting that they added to his suit and removes his glove. "Well, you morons wanted to blow yourselves up. So do it." He blasts one of them in the chest which begins to glow a bright orange. He then flies at high speed as energy zaps between their linked suits. "Oh god oh god oh god oh god," he thinks, as he whizzes to the exit portal. Lucky for him, he flies through the vortex opening and over the surface of Mars as the facility beneath him is destroyed in a massive nuclear explosion. As he races away, he looks back to see the encroaching mushroom cloud. "Oh... holy $#@" he thinks. He has to get out of there.
(Earth, Shadow Council Citadel)
Fury wonders what the hell is going on as the whole citadel shakes. A soldier informs him that the vanishing point is collapsing, and another adds that it's taking the whole building with it. Back on Mars, War Machine sees the explosion in the distance. His scanners are off the charts. Val continues hacking away at the giant supports and Nova is shocked at what they've done. They've ripped the link away. Val warns James to stand clear as the whole machine topples over. Nova screams and warns them that he'll kill the Avengers for this. From nowhere, Steve flies into him and takes him to the ground. He reaches for the crown on Nova's head and pulls it off him. "It's over!" he cries. "You lose!" Nova's eyes light up as the last of the energies leave him and then he falls unconscious.
Steve holds the crown in the palms of his hand, and Archon asks him not to look at it. He should just give it to him. Steve replies “of course” and passes him the crown, asking if that's it then. Is it over? Archon says that it is for now. They have stopped his awakening for now. He will take the crowned thorn somewhere safer... somewhere his followers cannot enshrine it. Hank bends down and Steve asks him how Richard is. Hank replies that his vitals are strong, unlike his followers. They all dropped dead when he lost his power, like a puppet whose strings were cut. Steve asks War Machine what the oxygen situation is. James replies that the atmosphere has lost ten percent in the last five minutes. They need to get their helmets on again. Natasha wishes to get home. She's sick to death of this cold rock. Steve reminds her that they still need to find their missing teammate. Moon Knight asks who's missing, and Eric says, "Aw... c'mon! Did you guys not even miss me during the firefight?"
James asks where the hell he's been. Eric replies that he’s been saving their asses, that’s where. Valkyrie admits that she can’t tell if the little man is jesting or not. Eric insists he’s serious, but James is sceptical. Eric tells them to check with Sharon Carter when they get home. She’ll totally verify his story…
Steve calls for his Avengers to head home, but before he can go anywhere, Rich appears, conscious an on his feet. Steve tells him he’s glad to see him up and around. Rich is too. He doesn’t know where he’s been these past few days. Steve says he’ll fill him in. Rich replies okay, but first, he asks for his helmet back. Steve hands it over willingly.
Back on board their craft, Steve sends Sharon a rundown of events back to Earth. He explains that as soon as Nova had his powers transferred back by Worldmind he got a distress call from the Guardians and took off. He’s not sure he’ll be available enough as a resource for them. Sharon replies that she’ll start doing background checks on other cosmic-level superheroes. Is there any chance their new friend Archon would want to join up? Steve informs her that he disappeared to some dark corner of the universe, but the intel they got about the other crowns from him was worth getting his head beat in.
Sharon looks at her monitor and tells him that, speaking of those other crowns and the people in dragon-emblem uniforms who steal them, she’s been looking at sat-footage from the building Ant-Man took down in Texas all day. She hates to spoil his victory party, but they’ve got big problems back there on Earth. She sends Steve the feed and he sees Nick Fury holding one of the dead Shadow Council agents in his arms. Fury doesn’t look happy.