Somewhere, beyond reality, walks a woman named Kayla Ballantine. She was once a normal woman living a normal life. But then, she met and fell in love with Quasar, the so-called Protector of the Universe. But even Quasar could not protect her - instead, he accidentally exposed her to the Starbrand, the most potent power object of a far distant universe. Possessing the Starbrand has made Kayla the target of a number of extra dimensional predators, one of which is responsible for her current situation. ‘Please - somebody HELP ME!’ Kayla calls out as she wanders through a strange realm, filled with a yellowish cloud, colored by the blinding light of the Starbrand in the sky above.
Wearing a clingy green dress, Kayla smiles as she sees someone emerge from the cloud up ahead. ‘Is it…Wendell? Has he come to rescue me?’ she wonders, hoping it is Quasar. ‘Hello!’ she calls out. ‘Wendell, is it you?’ Kayla asks as she approaches the newcomer. But a man wearing a black costume steps towards Kayla, introducing himself as Keith, but known as Nighmask when dressed like this. ‘Ohhh!’ Kayla gasps, frightened, she attempts to run. But Nightmask flies alongside her, telling her to wait and not to be afraid. ‘You’re a super villain, come to hurt me!’ Kayla exclaims. Nightmask assures Kayla that he isn’t, and explains that he is a super hero who has come to help her, if he can.
Nightmask informs Kayla that he is from a different universe from her, which is why she never heard of him, but that he heard her psychic screams. ‘What happened to you?’ Keith asks her. Kayla replies that she isn’t sure, as the last thing she remembers was going to take a shower, when some monsters broke into the apartment. ‘Now I’m here’ she tells him, before asking where here is. ‘This is the Dreamscape. You’re -’ Keith begins, but Kayla interrupts, asking if this is just a dream, if she is dreaming him. Keith explains that he is real, same as Kayla is, but this is his Dreamscape, and she is in her own, while their bodies are elsewhere. ‘Oh’ Kayla replies, rubbing her head, while Keith asks her if the monster she mentioned were actually aliens. ‘I guess so’ Kayla replies, to which Nightmask informs her that she must tell him whatever she knows about them, as that is the only way he can help her.
Meanwhile, Kayla’s body is currently trapped inside an analyzer on the alien home world inhabited by one of the universe’s most renowned scientific investigators - the enigmatic Stranger. The Stranger informs his “guest”, Skeletron, leader of the Starblasters, that his instruments have determined how the Starbrand might be removed from the specimen against her will with a safety factor of point 85. ‘So there is some risk of something going…wrong?’ Skeletron asks. The Stranger replies that there is risk in everything - some calculable, some not. ‘With an object this powerful and this heretofore-unexamined, the risk is considerable’, the Stranger adds.
The Stranger reminds Skeletron that he has yet to tell him why he agreed to turn over the specimen to him in exchange for nothing more than information about its origins. ‘If you are planning on reneging on our bargain in some way, let me warn you -’ the Stranger begins, but Skeletron quickly announces that he would not risk the ire of the mighty Stranger. Skeletron explains that once the Stranger removes the Starbrand, he will simply ask him to send him its place of origin so they he might explore. The Stranger asks Skeletron if he believes that other, similar power objects might be found there, to which Skeletron replies ‘Perhaps, or perhaps I would take leave of this universe where you organics predominate’.
The Stranger suddenly announces that they are about to receive an energetic visitor, to which Skeletron snaps ‘Deal with him. This is a critical juncture, and I can ill afford to be disturbed!’. But it’s too late, as Wendell “Quasar” Vaughan bursts into the laboratory. ’Who?’ Skeletron gasps. ’A meddlesome Earth-man named Quasar!’ the Stranger replies. ’Stranger! What have you done to my girlfriend?’ Quasar demands. ’Nothing, yet’ the Stranger replies, before Quasar demands for Kayla to be released. ’No’ the Stranger replies, when Skeletron extends his arms and wraps them around Quasar, remarking that he had anticipated the Earthers would pursue this woman, and so he set a trap for them in Hyperspace, only it would appear he underestimated their resourcefulness.
‘It will not happen again. The vaunted Protector of the Universe will expire by my hand!’ Skeletron boasts as he begins to strangle Quasar. Quasar realizes he can feel the attack through his protective aura, and uses his powers to tear apart Skeletron’s extensions, though he still finds himself tied up. ‘You have violated me body integrity. Were I an organic, it might be cause for alarm’ Skeletron states. Wendell tries to pull the binds off and realizes that Skeletron must be telemetrically controlling them, and so, in order to shake Skeletron’s concentration, Quasar unleashes a powerful blast of quantum energy upon him, slamming Quasar against the wall.
But Quasar is still trapped, so creates a quantum energy collar underneath Skeletron’s ligaments, and expands the quantum collar upwards without applying any more pressure inward - eventually, manages to squeeze Skeletron’s parts off him. ‘I said stop what you’re doing!’ Quasar exclaims as he coughs, and covers the Stranger’s eyes with a quantum band. ‘Now you have gone too far!’ the Stranger booms as he blasts Quasar with an energy beam, knocking Wendell backwards.
Meanwhile, elsewhere on the Stranger’s world, Skeletron’s starship, the Dark Seed, is docked, Aboard the ship, Insidio the Ovoid applies the instruments of his trade upon a captive Watcher, the one called Uatu. ‘You have no idea how excited I am by having a whole new species to explore!’ Insidio exclaims to the supposedly unconscious Watcher. Insidio tells Uatu that it is his privilege to be the first of his race ever to be vivisected by him. ‘The body is a remarkable thing, isn’t it?’ Insidio remarks, adding that, when it gets down to it, what is a body, but a bag full of blood, bone, meat and mucus? ‘Ah, but the variety of ways an organism can arrange, and compose the contents of his bag, hmmm?’ Insidio remarks to himself.
Insidio continues, remarking that the body is a bag full of mystery and there is nothing he enjoys more than slicing open the bag and becoming intimately acquainted with the mysteries therein. Insidio remarks that the Watchers are renowned for their relentless sight. ‘I shall therefore being my explorations with your eyelids, pupil-less eyes’ Insidio announces, when, suddenly, the Watcher speaks! ‘I have endured enough!’ Uatu announces as he shatters his restraints and Insidio’s equipment. Insidio is knocked to the ground, and is shocked at what transpires. ‘That means he could have broken free at any time!’ Insidio exclaims, before calling out to the Watcher, asking him to come back, as Skeletron is not going to be pleased by this. As the Watcher heads for the skies, he senses that the event he sought to observe is imminent. ‘I must hurry!’ he tells himself.
Elsewhere on the Stranger’s world, Quasar companions have engaged Skeletron’s crew in battle, with devastating results, as Threkker holds the body of Nicolai “Vanguard” Krylenko over his head and warns the Earthers - Laynia “Darkstar” Petrovna, Carol “Binary” Danvers, Monica “Captain Marvel” Rambeau, Perun, Ikaris, Black Bolt, Moondancer, Solar Wind and Voyager - to stand back, otherwise he will siphon the last few ergs of energy from Vanguard’s body. ‘Nicolai! He’s got Nicolai!’ gasps Darkstar, his sister, before she suddenly unleashes her Darkforce, warning Threkker not to harm Vanguard, and to surrender but it’s too late, as Threkker sees the Darkforce before Laynia can wrap it around him, and Nicolai’s body is tossed to the ground.
Laynia races towards her unmoving brother, calling out to him, asking him to speak to her. ‘He’s so…cold!’ Laynia exclaims, wide-eyed, while Binary and Captain Marvel gather at her side. ‘Can he be -?’ Laynia begins, before keeling over and screaming ‘NOOOOOOO!’. Laynia begins banging her fists on Vanguard’s chest, ‘Live - please! You can’t be dead - you can’t be!’ she exclaims, desperately. Captain Marvel tries to comfort Darkstar, but Laynia’s resuscitation efforts continue for several minutes, until Captain Marvel remarks ‘Laynia, honey, I think you should -’ but Monica is stopped in her tracks, as Threkker moves closer towards them, stumbling in the Darkforce bonds which trap him.
‘Oh, Nicolai…’ Laynia weeps, beside her brother’s unmoving body, when, suddenly, Laynia spins around and shouts ‘You - alien - BUTCHER! I’ll kill you for what you did!’ Darkstar then moves the Darkforce up around Threkker’s middle - and clamps it down tight, causing him to scream: ‘Accck! My spine!’ he shouts as Darkstar kills him. Dropping to her knees, Laynia exclaims that this was not supposed to happen. ‘It’s not fair!’ she screams as she unleashes Darkforce beams randomly around her, knocking her allies aside, but in the process, she loses concentration over the bonds she put over Nygorn’s eyes. Free, Nygorn wonders what is going on, and sees Darkstar going berserk.
Getting to his feet, the giant Nygorn declares that he will put an end to this chicanery, and blasts the ground next to Darkstar, knocking Laynia and everyone else aside. Nygorn stands over them and realizes that they have been stunned by his dispersal blasts, and decides that a concentrated burst of energy aimed at each of their skulls should effectively end further annoyances. ‘I’ll begin with the -’ Nygorn thinks to himself, only to be interrupted by a holographic projection of fellow Starblaster, Fabrikant, who informs Nygorn that he must go to Skeletron at once, as he requires his personal resources. ‘Wait until I -’ Nygorn replies, but Fabrikant informs him that he will get the others to deal with the Earthers. Nygorn just narrows his eyes, before taking his leave, thinking to himself that Skeletron would be feeble were it not for him. ‘Who was that who subdued the Watcher?’ Nygorn mutters to himself. ‘Who was it who slew the Prime Ul’luluan? Me! Who was it who out-maneuvred the Axi-Tun aggregate in the Doomsday War? Me! Who…’.
Nearby, Skar asks Codabac if he is alive, to which the four-armed Codabac replies that it will take more than the weight of the insufferable Marvanite, Nygorn, to snuff him. Climbing out of the hole they were forced into, Skar motions to the Earthers, and wonders what happened to them. ‘Are they dead?’ he asks as he and Codabac walk towards them for a closer look. But as they approach the Earthers, they see Threkker’s motionless body, and wonder what has happened to him. Picking up Threkker’s body, Codabac announces that he is not breathing, and declares that the Earther’s must have killed him. While Skar wonders where Zardok is, neither of the Starblasters see the Inhuman Lockjaw teleport in behind them. The canine Lockjaw grabs the unconscious Inhuman Black Bolt - and teleports the two of them away.
Codabac notices that some of the Earthers are beginning to stir, and suggests to Skar that they kill them. ‘Right!’ Skar agrees - but, before they can deal to the heroes, a small cruiser appears overhead - and inside, Insidio calls out to his teammates, ordering them to load the Earthers into the shuttle, as he has scheduled them for vivisection.
Meanwhile, in the Stranger’s laboratory, the Stranger stands over a capsule which Kayla Ballantine is now placed in, but turns when he sees the Watcher arrive. ‘What are you doing here?’ the Stranger asks. ‘I come to observe’ the Watcher replies. The Stranger remarks that Uatu allowing himself to be seen by those he wishes to observe is somewhat unusual. ‘You must believe what I do here is of special significance’ the Stranger remarks. ‘It has that potential’ the Watcher replies. ‘I could make you leave’ the Stranger remarks. ‘Do not’ the Watch replies, narrowing his eyes. ‘I trust you will not violate your oath of non-interference. You will regret it, if you do…’ the Stranger tells the Watcher, before he places a finger on Kayla’s face and whispers ‘Starbrand, transfer to me…’.
Elsewhere, Nightmask soars across the sky, thinking that his year-long stay in the sanitarium - traumatized as it was - was at least good for something, as his astral form is now so much more powerful than it was. ‘I can traverse the waking world as easily as I do the dream world!’ Down below, Keith sees one of those that he is searching for, surrounded by several armed men wearing masks. ‘Hands down, man! We know all about that funny stuff you shoot out of your hands!’ one of them shouts at their foe. ‘You may be able to shoot one of us, but I assure you you’re not going to get all of us before one of us gets you!’ another of the criminals calls out, before their opponent, dressed in a white costume with a gray trench coat remarks ‘Why am I not frightened?’ before unleashing his power, knocking the three criminals over. ‘Nice going, Tensen!’. Tensen a.k.a. Justice looks up and sees Nightmask, who calls out to Justice: ‘You’re pretty good at handling lowlifes, but how are you at saving the world?’
Back on the Stranger’s world, Quasar finds himself teleported to an airfield nearby, and as Wendell shakes off Skeletron’s remains and boasts that the Stranger will not be rid of him that easily. Nearby, Skeletron tells himself that the Stranger dispatched Quasar a few thousand mi-cics away, and therefore he should have a scan-lock on him momentarily. Indeed, moments later, Skeletron has a lock on Quasar and declares that he must prevent him from interfering with the Stranger. Skeletron begins a transmural re-genesis, which he believes to be advantageous, and his arms and hands are restored - along with his mass increasing. Quasar appears, and is confused to see Skeletron growing. ‘He’s spoiling for a fight! Nuts with him! I’m seeing to Kayla!’
But Quasar cannot leave the area, as he finds himself being pulled towards Skeletron, realizing that Skeletron has control over the mess of wires that Wendell finds himself trapped in. ‘Okay, Skelly - I’ll come to papa - but you’re not going to like it!’ Wendell thinks to himself, as he lashes out at Skeletron with a quantum spiked-glove, knocking his opponent backwards. But as Skeletron wrests control over the wires once more, Quasar realizes that he plan didn’t faze Skeletron as much as he had hoped, and he is still being dragged towards him. Skeletron’s rib-cage opens up as he pulls Quasar towards him, but Wendell knows that he cannot get dragged in there, and removes his quantum spiked-gloves, and instead creates two large hammer-heads - which he them slams against either side of Skeletron’s head.
But, again, Skeletron is not fazed by Wendell’s attack, and tells him that he is a very annoying entity. ‘I will like you better when you’ve been converted into your essential amino acids!’ Skeletron exclaims, while Quasar struggles against Skeletron’s body, closer and closer to being pulled into his robotic form. ‘How can this stupid robot be so powerful?’ Wendell wonders as he slices the wires with his quantum powers, only for the wires to keep reweaving back together. A desperate Wendell attempts to quantum-jump away, but he cannot, as Skeletron is blocking his space-warp abilities - and seconds later, Skeletron’s rib cage closes around Quasar, trapping him inside!
Meanwhile, inside the Starblaster’s ship, Codabac carries the deceased Vanguard and unconscious Solar Wind, while Skar drags the unconscious Darkstar and Moondancer by the hair. Insidio orders them to quickly put the specimens in the containment vessels before they recover, causing Skar to ask ‘Since when did Skeletron appoint you our taskmaster?’. Insidio warns Skar to do as he says unless he wants to suffer pain. Codabac asks Insidio why he didn’t bring along more skull-huggers to ensure the Earther’s co-operation. Motioning to Binary, Captain Marvel, Perun, Ikaris and Voyager, all conscious, but with the skull-huggers on their faces, Insidio explains that Xlyym took all of the organic ones to Earth, and the mechanical ones are all in use.
Insidio motions to Perun and orders Skar to put him in the t-rack, to which Skar declares that he thinks they should kill them for what they did to Threkker and Zardok. ‘Your need to torment is going to prove your undoing someday!’ Skar warns Insidio, who replies ‘That I sincerely doubt’, and remarks that he suspects some of these specimens will prove particularly hard to kill. ‘I’m going to enjoy them the most!’ he grins. Placing Perun in the t-rack, Skar announces that he thinks this is the one who brought the lightning that fried Zardok, and putting a knife to Perun’s throat, asks Insidio if he can kill him. ‘No! I wish to examine his lightning-making skill!’ Insidio exclaims, turning away from Moondancer.
Skar suddenly clutches his head and announces that he has a stabbing pain in his head. ‘That’s just me - psionically brushing against the pain receptors in your brain. Imagine what it would be like if I put real pressure on them!’ Insidio exclaims, before Codabac asks ‘What happened to the Watcher that was here?’. Nervously, Insidio replies ‘Oh, him? Uh, I…moved him elsewhere!’
Back in the Stranger’s lab, the Stranger exclaims ‘Curious’ as he pulls back from Kayla’s body. ‘Elucidate’ the Watcher replies. The Stranger explains that the Earth woman seems to be resisting him, and realizes that he has to have the subject’s cooperation to transfer the Starband. ‘In that case, I will have to secure her cooperation!’ he exclaims.
In the Dreamscape, Kayla is once again alone, and thinks to herself that Keith said he was going to help her, and how she wishes he would hurry, as it is so lonely here. ‘I wish…I wish I could use that stupid Starbrand to get out of this…or better still - I wish I’d never gotten the Starbrand so everyone would stop trying to -’ Kayla’s thoughts are suddenly interrupted by the Stranger, who stands many feet taller than her, and booms ‘KAYLA BALLANTINE!’. ‘Oh! Who are you?’ Kayla gasps. Pointing at Kayla, the Stranger informs her that he is God, and that he has come to free her from the curse of her unwanted power.
Back on the Stranger’s world, Skeletron walks across a platform to another building, thinking to himself that Quasar will pose no further difficulties, encoded as he is within Skeletron’s body cavity. Even though Quasar’s energy field is highly resistant, Skeletron is certain that his energy matrix will be able to digest the energy in time. Skeletron makes his way to the Stranger’s lab, knowing that once the Stranger succeeds in removing the power tattoo, he will wield power of immense magnitude. ‘I am calculating that I can trust him to adhere to our bargain’ Skeletron tells himself.
Suddenly, Skeletron notices that the Stranger’s citadel begins to glow with a white light. ‘Has the Starbrand then been removed?’ Skeletron wonders as he begins to run towards the citadel - but, no sooner does he get inside, than the light of the in the laboratory explodes with the brilliance of the heart of a sun. The energy flash interferes with Skeletron’s biochemical process, and Quasar is freed from Skeletron’s body.
Moments later, in a spectacular display like none other, an energy manifestation engulfs the Stranger’s planet - causing it to partially shift out of the universe entirely!
Light minutes away though, in the skies of a planet exceedingly like our own…three beings hover in the air - Nightmask! Psi-Hawk! Overshadow! ‘That light!’ Psi-Hawk exclaims, alerting Nightmask to it. Nightmask asks the psi-powered Psi-Hawk and Overshadow if they sense what the approaching light means, to which Overshadow replies that it means the aliens have arrived….