(Commander Brand’s office, The Peak, Earth orbit, 7.20 am EST)
Co-Commander Henry Gyrich is seated in the commander’s chair, looking out into the vast beyond. An assistant appears and Gyrich asks him what’s on the agenda. He informs Gyrich that a Drenx pack has moved into the system and they are demanding a diplomatic meeting to arrange transfer of tribute. If they don’t comply, the Drenx will take just what they fancy. Apparently, they have their eye on North Carolina! Outside the Peak, several ships pass by the moon, rather ominously, en route to Earth.
He then informs Gyrich that there’s an urgent request from a fugitive seeking sanctuary, political persecution, capital punishment… the usual. He’s approaching at speed and claiming a heavily armed bounty hunter is after him. “Oh,” he adds, “and there’s an M.S.S.” Gyrich asks for an explanation. He informs Gyrich that it’s a Mysterious Spooky Signal. They think it’s centered on a UFO. “That’s an unid…” Gyrich interjects. He knows what that is. The assistant asks what they should do. “Nothing,” replies Gyrich. “Nothing at all.” He asks the guy to hold up all the alerts in the system until 10am EST and then let them loose. The assistant salutes Gyrich and departs. Gyrich looks at the work log and says that Commander Brand needs to have a busy day.
As he speaks, Abigail Brand charges into the room and asks two questions. One, why he is sitting in her chair and two, why is he so hideously deformed? Gyrich replies that it’s the commander’s chair and he is S.W.O.R.D. co-commander. He didn’t think she’d mind if he took a seat while he waited. Brand points across the room, expecting him to move, and tells him that he was wrong. She doesn’t like even using the same life-support as a Norman Osborn-appointed pawn, let alone her seat. Gyrich stands. “Osborn-appointed pawn. More of the famous Brand paranoia.” Brand replies that she’s amazed he managed to break the vacuum seal of his lips on Osborn’s butt to get him to the Peak to steal her job.
Gyrich repeats the word paranoia, and adds that if Osborn had the heat she thinks he does, then they wouldn’t be sharing command. She would be gone. Brand takes her seat as Gyrich continues to say it would be rightly so. She screwed up, and when it came down to it she wasn’t paranoid enough! Earth was invaded on her watch. H.A.M.M.E.R. doesn’t have the time to be cleaning up the messes of a half-alien incompetent. Brand retorts that, if it wasn’t for her, Earth would be invaded half a dozen times a year. Gyrich replies that if they can find a way to work together, then maybe Earth won’t have to get invaded at all.
Brand opens up a holo-file above her desk and asks if he even has a vague cover story for coming up there to annoy her. Gyrich informs her that he wanted to remind her of the meeting with their superiors. He needs her at 10:10 am sharp to prepare. There are some important matters to discuss. She will be there, yes? Brand reminds him that she doesn’t forget meetings. She doesn’t forget anything. She has forty-five thousand things to do before then so he can leave her alone. Gyrich heads to the door, but asks if she’s ever wondered if maybe the fact that she has to work so hard implies that she’s not quite as good at her job as she thinks she is. And next time, he adds, she can trim back on her jokes. Brand replies that she wasn’t joking. He really is hideously deformed! “Says the woman who dates someone who’d make a more attractive rug than a boyfriend,” replies Gyrich as he departs.
(San Francisco, 8:50 am EST)
Hank McCoy walks towards a S.W.O.R.D. car with just one suitcase and the driver opens the door for him. With S.W.O.R.D., he has thankfully little baggage. As the car sets off, Hank remarks that it’s glorious. Going to work with his biggest worry being remembering to pick up two takeout coffees and a blueberry muffin. It’s splendid. Like walking on air. As the car takes off and heads skywards at great speed, Hank is astonished. “Oh, my stars…” He pauses and leaves it at that. “Just stars.” They soon approach the Peak, the orbiting space station that will be his home for a while.
It’s 10:00 am EST in The Gravity Well, the Peak’s bar, and Sydren is sitting across from Lockheed who is slowly getting drunk. Sydren tells the dragon that he has great worry for him. He doesn’t need to be an empath to know that he is hurting inside. But this is not right. Lockheed says something to him in his own language. Sydren replies that the tongue of his people is unknown to him, but he senses extreme impoliteness. His friend Kitty would not be proud to see him like this.
A S.W.O.R.D. agent arrives and informs Sydren that he has the Queen of Bitches’ priority reports. Sydren corrects him. “That’sss Commander Queen of all Bitchesss, to you…” He takes a look at the report and gasps, “Pellets of dung!” He dashes for the door as the agent sees Lockheed drinking. The guy calls for his colleagues to come over and look at the funny dragon.
Sydren spots Abigail and shouts, "Commander!" Both she and Gyrich respond, but Sydren informs Abigail that they have a string of reds. Drenx pirates have been threatening them for hours and are promising raids. Brand asks why reds are just being brought to her attention now. She’s going to have to go back and deal with it. She asks Gyrich to apologize for her to ‘those who must be obeyed’ if she isn’t back in time for the meeting. She also asks him to get the agent training fund increased. She rushes away with Sydren, adding that when she finds out who is responsible for this, they’re going to find themselves volunteering for a manned mission to the surface of the sun. Gyrich tells her that he’ll make sure they understand. Earth’s needs must come first.
Brand and Sydren almost bump into Hank, who is now on board The Peak. “Abig… Commander,” he smiles as she approaches quickly. Abigail tells him to leave her alone. She’s busy. Hank informs her that he brought her muffins, but Abigail says she doesn’t care about blasted muffins. “But, I’m your blueberry muffin,” he replies, with mock sadness. Abigail informs him that she hasn’t time for affectionate sweetness right now. She has to save the world. Hank thrusts the tray into a member of staff’s hand and rushes after her. He says he hadn’t realized that it was save-the-world-before-breakfast day. He warns the staff member that should they eat the muffin, Commander Brand will eject them into orbit.
Brand walks quickly right past room one where the Drenx diplomats are seated. Before she heads inside, Sydren also mentions the alien looking for sanctuary. She replies that it can wait as it’s a lower priority but, when Sydren mentions that it’s her brother, Lothithanrianiaxus, she pauses. She informs Sydren that it’s her half-brother, not brother, though she calls him Lothi for short. Hank realizes that he might actually meet her brother and wonders if he’s dressed for the occasion. He should at least be in uniform instead of the white suit he currently wears. Brand asks Sydren to keep the Drenx entertained until she gets back and to try not to provoke a war. If he does, can he make sure it’s a small one.
Sydren enters room one and the Drenx tell him they would have slaves to build temples of pain in their own flesh. He will deliver them or the Earth’s people’s cries will make their planet quake. Sydren look at them blankly. “Would you like sssome tea?” he asks.
(The Bridge, The Peak, 10:15 am EST)
Abigail gets to the bridge to find her brother flanked by two guards. He is shackled. Abigail tells Lothi that she loathes him and wants answers now, without the whining or bull. He explains that he was on a dig, totally legal, and the next thing he knows he has a big metal goon on his tail claiming he stole some priceless sacred artifact. “And you don’t have it?” she asks. He says no, but Abigail has trouble believing him. She asks for a search team to get down to Lothi’s ship and for someone to patch her through to the bounty hunter.
She speaks to the ship’s occupant, and says that she understands he has a problem. The bounty hunter replies that his name is Death’s Head. She’s heard of him, yes? Abigail replies no, before informing him that they’re not in the business of handing fugitives over to face a death penalty. Does he even have any proof? Death’s Head admits that he hasn’t. He is a simple freelance personnel recovery specialist. To judge a world’s penal system? A businessman is above such concerns. He wants to do business. He’ll cut her in. “How much?” she asks. “Hey!” replies Lothi, surprised at her response. Hank assures him that she was just joking… most likely.
Death’s Head offers her ten percent. Abigail tells him it’s not enough, but if he has the artifact they will get it to him. If he tries to get Lothi, she warns, they will get to him. This is the only deal he’s getting, so he should get out before she starts feeling less generous. “Oh, well,” replies Death’s Head. “You win some and you lose some, yes?” Within moments, he is accelerating away at some speed.
(The Peak, temporary quarters, 10:25 am EST)
Abigail visits her half-brother who apologizes once again. She tells him that if she finds that he has got the artifact, she’s going to turn him into Professor Xavier’s Christmas wig! Lothi, a blue furry character, understands, and he asks who tall, dark and furry is behind her. She tells him that it’s her boyfriend. Lothi is surprised, and as he leaves he tells her she’s done herself proud. He’s proud of her. As Hank and Abigail walk away, he asks if that was too easy. “Way too easy,” she replies.
Seconds later, an explosion on the exterior of the ship forces them to return to Lothi’s room. A gaping hole in both the corridor wall and the exterior wall reveal that Lothi is missing. Brand radios to the bridge and warns them, for their sake, that she hopes they weren’t having a little snooze. Someone replies that Death’s Head stealthed close enough to clamp, blew a hole in the ship and sucked up her brother. He’s now reactivating the cloaking device. She asks for a trace immediately, but Death’s Head’s ship has a high level of tech and they’re unable to follow it. She orders them to prep the Falchion for immediate launch and ready her A-Team except for Sydren who must babysit the Drenx. She’s going to go and have a talk with the robot.
A bridge announcement echoes around the Peak, informing Lockheed to board Stiletto Zero immediately. The little dragon leaves behind a smoldering, battered and beaten agent (no longer mocking the little guy) and flies away with a grin.
(The Peak Brig, maximum security)
Hank and Abigail arrive at the brig. Hank hopes that A-Team isn’t a tribute, but Abigail has no idea what he’s talking about. Hank hears some negative noise and asks if it’s really what he’s hearing. Why do they need subliminal dampening down there? Abigail asks him to listen very carefully. He should let her take the lead. He shouldn’t say anything, no matter what. And, he can keep his adorable furry mouth of his shut. She promises to explain everything later.
They enter a room and find some sort of robot-like entity encased in glass. It smiles at them and welcomes Abigail with a broad smile, along with the ‘famous Doctor McCoy.’ The entity, named Unit, says he’s delighted that they are there, together. They make a delightful couple. Hank tries to speak, but Abigail shushes him. Unit knows that it's never a friendly visit, so what can he help her with? Brand says she's tracking a ship with a stealth field and wants a way to pierce it. Unit replies that it can be pierced, but only temporarily. He will forward the data through informational quarantine. He adds that when Death's Head realizes she's found him he'll shift frequencies, so she will have to get aboard and disable it quickly. As Hank and Abigail leave, he wishes her good luck in getting her half-brother back.
Hank asks Abigail if Unit is psychic, to which she replies no. Hank says that he isn't either. “Spill.” Abigail says there isn't time. She'll tell him later. They are soon aboard Falchion One, S.W.O.R.D.'s flagship, and rocketing after Death's Head’s ship in Stiletto Zero, which is being carried by the larger craft. Brand asks for a bridge update. They inform her that it's still on passive trace. They're closing in, trying not to give away that they can see him. They're ready to go to active scan to achieve exact position. Brand asks if Stiletto Zero, S.W.O.R.D.'s experimental high-performance interceptor, has the coordinates. They tell her it does, and so Brand asks them to launch it and for them to go active.
Hank and Abigail, Lockheed and Sydren separate from Falchion One and head towards Death's Head's ship. Brand asks the team to brace for impact. They'll get in, set the stealth disruptors and hold for the rest of the teams to board. They need to be quick. Hank, sitting beside her, jokes, "Beast to Brand. Smile, sweetie!"
Stiletto Zero spears its way through of the target ship's exterior and a foam seals up the gap behind them. The team disembarks and Hank, staring upwards, remarks that someone likes their ceilings. Abigail starts to reply that she hasn't time to think about ceilings, before breaking off and asking what there is to smile about. Hank replies that the last few years have been a bit complicated for them both. This isn't. This is them, saving her brother. This is what they do. This is what they're terribly good at. There are no big problems there, so they can afford to enjoy it. They shouldn't be afraid of having fun. He activates the stealth disruptor, but a searing blast wrecks the device instantly.
"And... deactivated," says Death's Head who stands above them carrying a very large gun. "Big problems, small problems," he says. "It's all so often a matter of perspective, yes?" Hank glances at Abigail and says it's times like this he'd be wishing he'd ate his blueberry muffin. Abigail replies that it could be worse. She could be in that bloody meeting with Gyrich.
Back on The Peak, Gyrich has an audience with the Peak Council. He stands before a circle of holographic representations of the council and tells them that Brand couldn't make it as she was 'busy.' That says far more than anything she could actually say were she actually there. Thanks to her, he continues, they came within inches of being conquered. Inches. They need to be secure and willing to do anything to achieve that. He knows that Brand is ruthless, but in this one matter she isn't ruthless enough. Because her loyalties are as divided as her blood, she will never take the one step that would ensure their security.
Gyrich is on a roll. He adds that they plan to defend against alien attack, while turning a blind eye to the invasion that happens every day. Every alien present makes them more vulnerable, and they have no business there. They need to send them home. They need to send them all home. Behind him, Earth-based aliens are displayed on screen with the heading “Repatriation targets.” Among them are Hulkling from the Young Avengers, Beta Ray Bill, Lockheed, Sydren, Adam X and one of the Pride's kids, Karolina Dean.
Abigail Brand is standing with her foot on the neck of a slightly-built and frightened alien. She tells them that they entered into negotiations with them in good faith. Do they know what that means? It means that if they abuse that faith, she finds herself with extraordinarily hurt feelings, and them with a size-9 boot resting on whatever they call their local equivalent of a trachea. She releases the alien and informs them that they know what they're up to. Nice try. But, she's spent the last day rustling up deals to re-secure their position. They are through! Their allies are now Earth's allies. Their enemies... now include S.W.O.R.D. She warns them that if they cross paths with S.W.O.R.D. again, they'll long for those happy carefree days when their worst problem was minor asphyxiation. The alien leaves, flanked by two guards. Abigail reckons now that the fun is over, it's time for the hard stuff.
Lockheed flies towards her large desk and drops onto the back of a seat opposite Abigail. He sits there, arms folded, looking a little disgruntled. Abigail tell him she's glad he could come in to talk, and asks how he's feeling. Lockheed wants to get down to business and speaks in his own language, Flocktech. "Well?" he asks. Brand responds in Lockheed's language, though her diction isn't perfect. She tells him it's bad, though she wants him to know that they've tried lots of things. Before she finishes speaking, Lockheed warns her not to patronize him. She speaks Flocktech as if her brain was diseased. Brand isn't looking forward to this at all.
She explains that while trapped inside a moon-sized doomsday bullet, Kitty Pryde phased it through the Earth. They had no trouble extrapolating its trajectory, but the problem is doing anything about it. Its magical defenses aggressively shut down any sentients as they approach. If they actually want to stop the thing, it'll lock them down at range. She tells Lockheed that she set her Thaumonaut Team on the problem. They did their things with the lodestones and the goat-entrails, by which she means a pocket calculator, chalk and a thirty-centimeter ruler, and through this they had their first lucky roll of the dice.
The bullet is big and dense enough to have its own gravity well. They could put a satellite in orbit and with the right rites, it would be able to resist the bullet's defenses. Wherever the bullet went, their team would too. It worked perfectly. She shows graphical representations of what she's talking about, pointing out that they've learned a lot. The biggest problem, apart from magical protection, is that it's crazy tough, and getting tougher. Whatever alloy their fascist friends at the Breakworld made it from hardens in proportion to its exposure to cosmic rays. The labcoats hypothesize that its part of the bullet's design. It's relatively pliant when it's cast and then hardens en route. When it hits, it's at optimum strength, hard enough to hurt, soft enough to mushroom. A computer simulation shows what could have happened to Earth had Kitty not phased the bullet safely through it.
"It's not pretty," she adds. "Pryde was a hero. You should know..." Lockheed cuts her off mid-sentence and warns her that if he is patronized again, her green scalp will be seared clean of the green stuff. Brand tells him that the point is, is that it's passed its target and is now hardened way beyond that. It's taken an anti-matter drill to even get surface samples. To get someone powerful enough close enough to hit it, like Beta Ray Bill... they'd need magical power commensurate with four or five sorcerer supremes. They've tried affixing retro-thrusters, but the ones small enough to shield would take a couple of years of full burn to cancel the bullet's momentum. However, their defenses fail within a day of being turned on anyway. They can't stop it or break it open, but they haven't given up. Lockheed listens intently, still looking very disgruntled.
Brand explains that there is one positive piece of news, though it looked for a few minutes like a disaster. Asteroid travelers wandered into the bullet's path. They were off the charts and there was no chance to warn them or bring in help. There were thousands of aliens on those asteroids. Some of them managed to cling on to the bullet as it passed by. Abigail removes her shades and assures Lockheed that Kitty is still in there. She's still alive, somehow. They just can't get her out. Not yet. Lockheed unleashes a jet of flame at Brand's desk, forcing her to shield her face. He flies off, angry. Brand asks him not to be like this, but she knows how upset the whole episode makes him.
Lockheed heads to the Peak Brig to speak with Unit. He greets Lockheed and finds his language interesting. Unit says that it knows he's missing someone; a friend? No, it corrects itself, more than a friend. Lockheed would like to get her back, and he would like to help. He's a terribly useful chap when he puts his mind to it. But, he adds, to be of any use he really needs to be out of his cell. He wonders if there's anyone who could possibly help with that. Lockheed spits a derisory ball of flame at the clear wall of his cell and flies off. "No, I didn't think so," says Unit, smiling. "Not yet!"