An anti-technology field created by the Mandarin has forcibly ejected China from what we think of as the modern world. Seconds ago, the alien visitor called Century invaded the Mandarin’s fortress, where Iron Man and War Machine were unwilling guests. The unexpected result - Century and War Machine now lie many miles from the fortress. They’re safe and sound…for now. Both men lie in the dirt, and slowly get up. ‘You’re…one of the Force Works crowd, right? “Century” or something?’ James “Rhodey” Rhodes a.k.a. War Machine asks. Century replies that he has taken / assumed / is known by that name. ‘Are you the machine of war?’ he asks. ‘Jim to my friends’ Rhodey replies as he extends his hand to shake Century’s and asks ‘Where exactly did you come from? Just now, I mean’.
Century replies that he was in Hong Kong, in battle with his companions against the Mandarin’s Avatars, but he had to leave his teammates. ‘Thanks for the help’ Rhodey tells him. Century asks War Machine not to be offended as he reveals that was not his purpose. ‘The Mandarin is in possession of a power that is not of this world. I have encountered it before. ‘He must not be permitted to -’ Century begins before gasping, and keeling over. ‘Hey - are you hurt?’ War Machine asks. Century stands back up and replies that he is not damaged / injured / wounded, as the spasm has passed. ‘You once fought at Iron Man’s side, yes?’ Century asks. ‘At his side, in his armor, under his thumb…you name it!’ War Machine replies.
‘Speaking of which - this armor’s still not working - and it hurts like a bandit’ War Machine remarks, revealing that he can move a little more than he could back at the castle, but the Mandarin has left him with some nasty wounds. War Machine asks Century to help him out of it so they can stash it somewhere. Soon, Rhodey sits down, the armor has been removed and Century hides it under some shrubs. ‘I still can’t figure why we’re alive at all. That blast he shot at us -’ Rhodey begins, to which Century interrupts and explains that it probably interacted with his staff, Parallax, which is regretfully now in the Mandarin’s possession. Century helps Rhodey to his feet and points out that the Mandarin thinks they are dead. ‘We can use that…assuming I don’t die before we see him again’ Rhodey remarks, while Century assures him that they will find medical attention - somewhere.
At that moment, inside the Mandarin’s fortress, miles away. Iron Man a.k.a. Tony Stark lies motionless on the ground, save for the beatings he receives from two of the Mandarin’s Avatars - Ancestor and Warfist. The Mandarin calls out to them, ‘Enough!’ and orders them to remain still with Old Woman. ‘Though your companions rest in the mercy of death, Iron Man, I shall deny you that respite…a while longer, at least’ the Mandarin declares. Holding up Parallax, the Mandarin declares that one of Iron Man’s friends has left him a rare prize, and remarks that his rings and the staff seem to know one another. Holding Parallax over his head, the Mandarin wonders if perhaps at last he holds the secret to the life-source of his power and the key to more than he has ever dreamed.
The Mandarin tells Iron Man to take heart, as Century’s death is not without its complications. ‘I am sure you agree’ the Mandarin tells Iron Man, who, weak, asks the Mandarin not to keep him alive too long, because the first chance he gets, he is going to kill him. The Mandarin smiles and goes wide-eyed as he exclaims ‘So you are capable of the baser emotions after all. How refreshing’, and tells Iron Man to dwell on his dead comrades, to treasure his dreams of revenge. The Mandarin turns and walks away, remarking that he wishes Iron Man’s spirit to remain unbroken to the very end. ‘Avatars: Watch him!’ the Mandarin orders.
‘Watch him. As if I’m going anywhere’ Iron Man thinks to himself as the three Avatars stand over him. ‘Except straight to Hades for getting two good men killed’ Tony decides. ‘Century. Traveling from God knows how far across space, just to die so senselessly. And Jim…just when it looked like we might…put things right between us…too late now. Far too late’ Tony tells himself, when suddenly, he manages to clench a fist, and tells himself that the Mandarin will pay for Rhodey’s death. ‘I swear by all that’s holy - you’ll pay!’
Much later, ‘You are tiring’ Century tells Rhodey as they walk across the harsh terrain under the intense sun. ‘I was tired two hours ago, man. About ready to let the buzzards have me -’ Rhodey begins, when suddenly, they hear a scream. Nearby, two Chinese soldiers are attacking a woman. ‘I like the ones that fight, don’t you?’ one of the soldiers asks his comrade, while the woman screams ‘LET ME GO!’ Century races towards the attackers, while pointing out that Rhodey is unsuited for combat, announcing that he shall deal with this, as he leaps at the soldiers and knocks them back with a single punch each.
But the soldiers gather themselves and prepare to attack Century, while shouting ‘HEEIIYAAA’ as Century tells them that their battle cry is fearsome, indeed, only the same cannot be said of their skills, as Century takes them both down with ease. The woman approaches Century and speaking in English tells him that she is most grateful, while Rhodey exclaims ‘Well, I’ll be dipped in - Su Yin?’ he calls out. The young woman looks at Rhodey and asks if he knows her. ‘Not well…but I’m sure glad to see you again’ Rhodey replies.
Soon, at Su Yin’s home, once a thriving seaport city, now, courtesy of the Mandarin’s machinations, a medieval fishing village. By firelight, Rhodey, Century and Su Yin gather around a table, and Su Yin announces that she remembers meeting Anthony Stark very well, ‘But you…’ her voice trails off as she looks at Rhodey, who tells Su Yin, calling her “Doc”, that he doesn’t think they were properly introduced. ‘Ow’ Rhodey exclaims, to which Su Yin apologizes and explains she has had to improvise from ancient folk remedies. She adds that a degree in history would be more useful than her doctorate in medicine. Rhodey tells her that it is okay, before asking if her husband is here.
Su Yin hangs her head as she replies that her husband was an invalid, that the technology that kept him alive simply vanished overnight, and took him along with it. ‘Do you know why this has happened to us?’ Su Yin asks. Rhodey tells her that there is a war going on, and the sides do not care who gets caught in the middle. Rhodey tells Century that it is the same old thing - the Mandarin and Iron Man playing their stupid power games. Century looks up and replies that war is war. He reveals that he once led a company of genocide troops onto Leonidas Prime, a planet of three billion people. ‘We left oly when every last man, woman and child was reduced to a pile of ash…and knew we’d done a good day’s work’.
‘What the #@%& are you talking about, man?’ Rhodey asks. ‘I - I - no…’ Century utters, as he twitches and looks even stranger than usual. He shouts ‘ALL! KILL THEM ALL! Are you needs seen to this evening, your Majesty? I can - bow your heads, my children and make tribute to…’ his voice trails off, and he leans on the table, seemingly regaining control of himself. ‘I am chagrined / embarrassed / bewildered…I do not know what is happening to me’ Century states. Rhodey suggests to him that he sit down or something, and as Century sits on a small bed, Rhodey tells Su Yin that he doesn’t think there is anything she can do for him. ‘He’s been through some changes, I guess’ Rhodey remarks.
Su Yin points out that everyone has - the soldiers who attacked her, for instance. ’They take our recent curse as a blessing. They work for a local man - a former politician, as she understands it, who has set himself up as a warlord, like the ones of old, and his soldiers regularly terrorize all the villages they can find. Su Yin announces that it is only a matter of time before they decide to attack here. Rhodey slams his fist onto the table, and shouts ‘That does it! We’ve got to put an end to this! If only I could get that armor working!’ Su Yin turns to him with wide-eyed and asks ‘Armor? I do know who you are. You were Mr Stark’s bodyguard - Iron Man!’ Su Yin gasps. ‘Guilty, Doc’ Rhodey smiles, and informs Su Yin that they are up against the same guy they were back then - the Mandarin, only the stakes have gotten way bigger. Rhodey gets to his feet and remarks that it is no use, as Century is will and the armor has had it. ‘We’re out of game’ he points out. Suddenly, ‘Not…necessarily’ Century remarks, and asks Rhodey to take him back to where he hid his amror. ‘We may yet return to this fight’ Century announces.
Meantime, aboard the hovering Pegasus Hex Ship, which is stationary over Hong Kong, and Force Works’ enigmatic associate, the Recorder, announces via communicator that, except for their captive, all of the Mandarin’s Avatars have fled the scene. Down below in amongst terrible devastation, Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch acknowledges the Recorder and asks him to keep tracking the Avatars. Although the Mandarin’s anti-technology field has not reached Hong Kong, the destruction caused by his Avatars is enormous. Johnny Walker a.k.a. the heroic USAgent tells Wanda and Julia “Spider-Woman” Carpenter that one thing is sure - Century is not returning to this fight. ‘I hate to say I told day so, Spider-Woman…but I knew he’d bail on us one day’ Walker adds.
‘Give it a rest, John’ Julia replies, while Wanda points out that they do not know why Century left in the middle of the battle. ‘So I’ll thank you not to convict him until he’s proven guilty’ Wanda adds. ‘Have it your way’ Walker mutters, before turning to the Avatar who he holds to the ground with his foot. ‘Time to answer a question, butt-ugly. What’s going on here - who’s behind it - and where in #@%:& is Iron Man?’ USAgent demands as he picks the decrepit Lich up. ‘Those are three questions’ Lich replies, before bursting into a howling cackle. ‘That’s it, I’m gonna -’ USAgent begins as he raises a fist to Lich’s face, but Wanda stop him, ‘Not yet’ she orders, before asking Lich if he will tell them what they want to know, or not.
‘Why, dear lady, nothing would please me more. I quite enjoyed English in my former life as a diplomatic assistant. Since my transformation I’ve had little opportunity to speak it’ Lich responds. Lich informs the mighty heroes that the Mandarin has used his powers to return China to its glory of old. Lich reveals that Iron Man is the Mandarin’s guest. ‘No doubt even now he is entertaining him with tortures exquisite and beauti-’ Lich does not finish his sentence as USAgent’s powerful foot kicks Lich in the face. ‘Shut your stinking mouth, Lich!’ Walker commands, and as Lich falls to the ground, Walker tells the girls that it is a trap. ‘Figured that out, did you?’ Julia replies, to which Wanda remarks that if it is a trap, she is sure their friends here will not mind giving them directions, and suggests they get back to Pegasus.
Back in China, ‘All right, Big Blue, you want to tell me exactly what it is you think you’re up to now?’ Rhodey asks as Century stands near a man who is working on the War Machine armor. Century explains that this is an experiment to attempt to restore function to Rhodey’s battle armor. As the blacksmith-type man works away, Century explains that the metatheric harmonics which have created the present conditions of this region are twofold, and adds that there is the temporal distortion which has returned reality to the appearance of an earlier era, as well as a technology-inhibiting field which prevents the operation of machinery not native to that time period.
Century motions to the armor and explains that the two cannot be mutually exclusive. ‘Products of the first, such as this ancient armor, must be in attunement with the second’. Century continues, telling Rhodey that encasing his armor inside material tuned to the inhibitory field may create an envelope of resonance, which will create impedance / shelter / defense against the anti-tech field. ‘Sounds like gibberish to me’ Rhodey replies, before supposing that Century knows all about this stuff. ‘No. it is conjectural / theoretical / …ah…’ his voice trails off. ‘A hunch’ Rhodey explains. ‘Yes, thank you. Hunch’ Century confirms. ‘Swell’ Rhodey mutters.
Su Yin calls out to Jim and asks him if they stand a chance of defeating the Mandarin, to which Jim replies that he wouldn’t bet the rent on it, adding that part of him doesn’t even want to try. Su Yin tells Jim that there is no shame in that, as the Mandarin is formidable. ‘It isn’t that. I mean, what he’s doing is wrong, n question. But if we do beat him…God knows how…everything goes back to the way it was’. Rhodey hangs his head as he announces’ Atom bombs. Pollution. Tanks in Tiananmen Square…’ and his voice trails off. ‘And what about smallpox? Sewage in the streets? Slavery?’ Su Yin exclaims, while telling Rhodey to never ever delude himself that the past was better.
‘Ignorance has always been mankind’s greatest enemy. My husband died for want of simple antibiotics’ Su Yin declares. Suddenly, a boy rushes towards them, ‘They’re coming! They’re coming! Hide!’ he shouts. ‘The soldiers?’ Su Yin gasps. Rhodey rushes over to Century and asks him if his armor is ready yet. ‘Nearly. Prepare for battle’ Century replies. The soldiers arrive in the village and begin attacking the civilians while setting fire to their homes. ‘Pleas! Mercy!’ someone begs, while screams resonate around the village. More fires are set. More civilians are bludgeoned. ‘Such sheep’ one of the soldiers exclaims. ‘So ripte for the laughter’ he adds, when suddenly, ‘Yeah?’ Rhodey asks, wearing his ancient-style armor, and armed with a very large sword.
Century stands behind him, before the two heroes leap into battle. ‘Kill them!’ one of the soldiers orders. ‘Ah, yo momma!’ War Machine retorts. ‘The blue-faced one, he flights like the wind!’ one of the soldiers calls out, and as Century attacks several soldiers at once, one of the grabs him by his ankle, and drags him to the ground. ‘Fall, demon!’ the soldier shouts. Century smacks his head against the ground, but War Machine comes to his aid and helps him up. ‘Hey, Big Blue? Century?’ War Machine calls out. ‘Are you -’ Rhodey begins, but Century leaps up and knocks War Macine over, while he shouts ‘You are an enemy of the Prefector! You shall not reach him while I have breath to fight!’
‘Oh, man…you picked a fine time to flip out on me, Blue’ War Machine mutters. Century looks at the soldiers, ‘Dog-star assassin!’ he exclaims. ‘I have combed the galaxy for you since you murdered my matrigenitor. Prepare to -’ suddenly, Century goes wide-eyed and his voice switches from angry and loud, to scared and quiet. ’Grandmother? Grandmother, I’m scared. Where are you? Please don’t let them hurt me…’ he utters. ’Cease your mad prattling, demon!’ one of the soldiers booms, smacking Century in the head. But War Machine once again comes to Century’s defense, and holding his sword out to the soldiers tells them to back off, while he asks Century if he hears him. ’I…require…a short period of time’ Century responds. ’Sorry, man. We’re bang out’ War Machine replies as the soldiers surround them.
Meantime, inside the Pegasus, Johnny, Wanda, Julia and the Recorder are en route to the Mandarin’s fortress. John tells the girls that he still thinks this is a mistake. ‘We know this is a trap, and -’ he begins, but Wanda interrupts, pointing out that having advance warning of that fact, they will have a tactical advantage. ’Besides, if the Mandarin does have Iron Man, we don’t have time to -’ Julia begins, before John interrupts, telling the girls and the Recorder to look alive. ‘Unless I’m mistaken, we’ve got the “sinister fortress of the evil mastermind” dead ahead!’ he declares as they see the sprawling fortress on a cliffside ahead.
Suddenly, there is a loud crash, as the Recorder collapses. An instant later, the Pegasus goes dark. ‘What’s wrong?’ Julia calls out. ‘Everything just went dead!’ USAgent replies as he tries to take control of the Pegasus - which is swiftly plummeting to the Mandarin’s fortress, engulfed in shadows. USAgent grits his teeth and tells the girls that there is nothing he can do about it. ‘We’re going down…’ he announces as they continue to plummet to darkness….