A shirtless Nate Grey stands in forest, a large axe in one hand, ‘This BITES!’ he shouts. It is not such a small world, after all. Nate Grey knows this. Although no longer so new to young Nate, this fresh, free Earth still proves strange enough, often enough - and easy enough to get lost in. The forested region of Central France is only one of the many pit stops on this road less travelled - a picturesque detour for rest and refueling. Because, for all the power at this young mutant’s command, all the psionic power of a mind able to manipulate matter itself, he is still just a growing boy.
He hacks away at a tree with the axe with telekinetic fury and tells himself that the harder he works his telekinesis to earn money for food, the hungrier he gets. The hungrier he gets, the harder he has to work his telekinesis to earn money for food. He chops another tree down with a powerful blast, and it falls to the ground, alongside several other tree trunks. ‘A guy’s gotta eat!’ Nate tells himself.
And it doesn’t get much more real than Dallas, Texas. Just ask any Texan. Inside a hospital, someone remarks ‘- passed every test with flying colors, Mrs Jones - checked out healthy as a horse, I’m telling you’. Marlo Thomas-Jones replies ‘And just as stubborn. I don’t care what the doctors said, Mr Jones… that icko-skeleton thingie of yours -’ Marlo begins as she pushes her husband, Rick Jones, along in a wheelchair ‘Exo-skeleton’ he corrects her. ‘Whatever, it stays in the closet - with the underwear you’re not allowed to wear - until I say you’re healthy enough again’ Marlo declares.
‘For the exo-skeleton…? Or the -’ Rick begins, holding a bunch or roses, while his friend Bruce Banner walks alongside them and tells Rick that Marlo is right, the neurology department at this hospital is as good as it gets, which is why he risked being discovered by the authorities by calling one of his contacts up here to get Rick in for a check up.
Bruce tells his friend that he can’t go pushing himself too hard, too fast - not if he wants to have any real hope of walking on his own again some day. They pass some hospital staff, and Bruce thinks to himself that Rick is lucky to have survived a blow from his bitter half at all, even a glancing backhand - luckier than most who cross their path, really.
Rick looks up at Bruce, ‘Point taken, Bruce… and I’m really sorry, bud. Seriously. Can’t imagine what we were thinking, Mar and me - going on like that - back and forth -while you’re still trying to deal with your own wife’s… with Betty’s…’ Rick’s voice trails off. ‘Don’t, Rick’ Bruce asks. He adds that he came here to apologize to Rick, maybe even offer some positive reinforcement about his physical therapy. ‘But now… now I don’t even know where to begin’.
Rick tells Bruce that he might want to work on his changing- the-subject skills to start with, and kisses Marlo’s hand, remarking that he has been there, he really does know what he is going through. ‘I lost Marlo once, too, remember?’ Bruce hangs his head and points out that Rick got Marlo back. ‘You don’t have a clue, kid’ Bruce snaps as he storms towards a door, and slams it open, leaving Marlo and Rick watching their friend go.
‘The beast within you wasn’t responsible for your wife’s death, Bruce thinks to himself as his heartbeat quickens - his pulse pounds, his skull pounds he races up a flight of stairs, telling himself that he doesn’t run the risk of being responsible for a thousand more deaths every single minute of every single day since the gamma-bomb accident. But the seething, raging Hulk cannot finish his thought - not in so many words, at least, as Bruce transforms into the Hulk and bursts through the ceiling of the hospital, finding himself on the hospital’s roof, he lets out a mighty roar.
Back in France, specifically, Auxerre, in a small wooden diner, Nate sits at a table in the room, heated by an open fire, He has already devoured four plates of food, and a waitress is bringing him a fifth. The patrons watch him and comment to each other in French. One of them laughs, and Nate decides that they are laughing at him. He wonders if it is his clothes or his hair. ‘Can’t be my hair’ he decides. He wonders if there is something stuck in his teeth, maybe. He recalls that this time last week, no matter what language the locals were speaking, he could have read their thoughts as easily as their faces. But since the even on the psi-plane, an X-Men sponsored event, as usual, he is sure of that, his telepathy is gone. He is mind-blind, it is all he can do to figure out which way is which now.
Nate is relieved that his telekinesis isstill up to speed - so far, anyway - and wonders if it was because it he was in his psi-form when it all went down, really more of a mental state from a physical one, from the feel of it, but his hard-psi could explode in his face for all he knows. He decides that he can’t afford to waste an ounce of power on anything except getting back to the States and dragging some answers out of the X-Men. ‘Votre crème caramel, monsieur’ the waitress remarks as she opens the lid, revealing the dish. She speaks to him quickly in French, but Nate just looks confused. He realizes she is asking him a question, ‘Si, si… um... I mean… jawohl?’ Nate replies. The waitress doesn’t look too impressed, so she just shoutssomething at the chef, which translates as ‘Henry - he’ll take all four!’ and the chef slaps his hand to his face before rushing out the back, past all the tree trunks that Nate has piled up, he starts to chase a pig.
Albuquerque, New Mexico, The Hulk leaps from one building rooftop to another, smashing part of the building as he goes - before he bounds so hard he crashes into a edifice in the desert, a mighty THOOM resonating around.
Paris, France, Nate rides along the top of a speeding train, he is held in place with his telekinesis so that he doesn’t fall from the train. He recalls the first big city he saw after coming through to this world - the first big city he thinks he has ever seen with so many lights, so many sights, such music, even the smell of it - and it all still reminds him of Madelyne Pryor, the very person he found on this side - the first real friend he made - and lost. ‘Here. Then New York. And now Switzerland’ he tells himself. Nate recalls that by the time he pulled himself back together after the psi-crash last week he was alone in the cabin and Maddie was gone again - maybe even for good this time. He closes his eyes and remembers Madelyne.
Arizona, the Hulk lands again with a mighty THOOM, breaking up the landscape around him, he then leaps into the Grand Canyon and comes to a stop. ‘Needed space all of a sudden…as much as I could get…as fast as I could get it…’ he tells himself. He can still hear her voice so clearly sometimes, calling to him, so softly. He still sees her lips, and if he tries, her eyes. But he can’t see her face anymore. ‘I can’t see Betty’s face’ the Hulk frowns.
Folkestone, England, now, Nate gets out of a man’s car and thanks him for the ride, adding that he doesn’t know how he would have made it through that Tunnel without him. ‘Seriously claustrophobic, right?’ Nate remarks. ‘Oui, oui’ the man agrees, while Nate points out that he is heading west for him here. ‘Must be one around here somewhere, right? Call of nature and all that…’ Nate’s voice trails off. ‘Oui, oui’ the man tells him. ‘Okay, okay, if you gotta go…’ Nate remarks, he turns around, and sees some police officers. ‘English, finally! People who speak English!’ Nate declares. ‘I was afraid I’d never -’ he begins, while one of the officers asks him ‘Passport? Visas, student papers…?’ to which Nate replies ‘Thanks, no. Don’t really expect to be needing any, you know…’. ‘No…we do not know’ one of the officers replies, grabbing Nate.
‘Oops’ Nate thinks to himself, realizing that without the mental mettle to back it up, the soft-psi he is so used to applying without a second thought, what he just said to the officers does sound sort of arrogant. ‘Sorry, pal… my mistake’ Nate smiles, while another officer goes over to the man who drove Nate to the border, ‘Have to ask you to come with us, if you wouldn’t mind, Sir. To answer some questions about your passenger…’ ‘Oui, oui’ is all the driver says.
Back in the Grand Canyon, the Hulk goes wide-eyed, ‘Ah, you heard me then… how gratifying to know someone is finally listening’ a voice calls out. The Hulk looks up and sees a large shadow looming against the rocks behind him. ‘You are… not Betty? NOT BETTY!’ the Hulk roars as he starts to pound the rocks into millions of pieces. ‘NOT BETTY!’ the Hulk roars even louder as the large edifice collapses around him, burying the Hulk in a literal mountain of rock. The strange voice from earlier just laughs, while under the rubble, the Hulk mutters ‘Perfect’.
England again, Nate flies alongside a truck, ‘Simple enough in the end. Just a matter of distracting the border bobbies with a telekinetic feint to the left while slipping away to the right and deflecting the light that makes me visible’ he tells himself, recalling how he got away. Nate boasts that when it comes to avoiding the authorities, hiding right under their noses, it comes right down to this, this is what he know best, what he does best - this is where he is the most comfortable.
The Grand Canyon, ‘COWARD!’ the Hulk booms as he easily punches his way out of the rubble. The voice just laughs, louder and louder, ‘Who are you? Where are you…hiding?’ the Hulk asks, as a strange energy starts to glow amongst several tall narrow rocks which are positioned in a circle.
And in England, Nate flies into the back of the truck he was flying alongside. He is starving again already, but exhausted now, too. He knows he has to catch some sleep when, and where, he can - and then he passes out.
Back at the Grand Canyon: ‘You’re actually beginning to see me now, as well, brute?’ the mysterious voice calls out, before laughing some more. ‘Of all within reach of this dark dimension - all whom the shadows of the night had to offer - I have truly chosen wisely this time’ he decides. ‘Stop it! Stop -’ the Hulk shouts as he leaps towards the energies, but is repelled back.
‘-laughing? Who’s laughing?’ Nate thinks to himself as he suddenly opens his eyes. He peers out the back of the truck, ‘What’s there to laugh about in the middle of - Stonehenge?’ he wonders as he sees the historical site up on the hill the truck is driving past. He flies out of the truck and approaches Stonehenge, ‘Gotta check this out’ Nate decides. He walks up the remainder of the hill towards the rock formation and recalls that it is thousands of years old from what he has heard - a circle of quartz-rich standing stones, dragged here from a hundred miles away, for reasons lost to history now. ‘Heard a lot of theories, though - druid ceremonial site… ancient calendar… even alien observatory’ he thinks to himself, while within Stonehenge, energies glow.
‘Do you not recognize me yet, Hulk? Do you not remember how little your vaunted power - and the so-called powers of all this world’s champions combined - has ever meant against the first consort of Mistress Death herself… Thanos, Last Lord Eternal of Motherworld Titan?’ the cosmic being booms as he materializes within the rock formation, which, looks strangely like Stonehenge in the middle of the Grand Canyon.
‘Ringing a few bells, yeah’ the Hulk mutters as he dodges energy blasts that are tossed his way. Thanos tells the Hulk that playtime is over. ‘Now that we have seen your raw strength measured against a mountain - and humbled by the forces that currently bind me - shall we take this opportunity to discuss what we both might accomplish… together?’ Thanos suggests. ‘I’m listening’ the Hulk replies, narrowing his eyes.
‘Whoa…’ Nate utters as he sees a figure materialize from the energies glowing within Stonehenge. ‘I am the Ebon Void now… my plane of reality is one with yours… offering me a foothold in both worlds, if you would. But this world pretends at condemning such power’ the voice resonates, and both Nate and the Hulk hear it. Thanos tells the Hulk that be is both empowered by it and trapped within it. ‘But there are doors, Hulk… and ley-lines are the key’ He adds that veins of electro-magnetic energies are branching out across the planet’s skin, pulsing with its very lifeblood, and at the intersections of these ley-lines, the most puissant of such intersections, all throughout the galaxies. ‘What - what is it?’ Nate wonders, looking up at the strange figure materializing, its red eyes glowing. ‘Condemning me. Condemning us’ Thanos tells the Hulk.
‘And this world of all worlds, pariah… deserves us!’ the figure at Stonehenge declares, his hand reaching out of the energy, it strikes the ground where Nate is standing, causing Nate to fall into the energies - and an instant later, he finds himself falling towards the Hulk. ‘Who the…? Punching through Thanos’s power field… outta nowhere…’ the Hulk realizes, he leaps up to grab the new arrival, realizing he is creating some sort of energy feedback, that needs grounding, fast. The Hulk lands on the ground with Nate, and he realizes who he has rescued. ‘If you know what’s good for you, kid, stay down’ the Hulk tells Nate. ‘And outta my way’ he adds. ‘Hulk?’ Nate calls out, wide-eyed. ‘Way outta my way…’ the Hulk frowns, declaring that the man-god and he have some business to finish.
‘That Thanos thing you mean? business with him? Are you crazier than you look, monster? Crazier than I am for asking?’ Nate calls out, before asking the Hulk if he has any idea what that demon is all about. ‘Do you know who - what it serves?’ Nate asks, revealing that he was only in contact with it for a moment, and barely grazed the black hole of its consciousness, but he has never been more scared in his life. Nate strikes the Hulk with telekinetic power, but the Hulk doesn’t even flinch. He simply replies that he knows exactly what Thanos is all about, and he knows the mistress Thanos serves. ‘Nobody knows better than me!’ the Hulk roars, as he turns around and readies his powerful fist to strike Nate, who tells the behemoth that he is wasting his time, as he puts up a telekinetic force field.
Nate boasts that no one but Jackknife - another psionic, wielding his own power against him a the time, as ever fully pierced his fully-focussed telekinetic shields. The Hulk tries to strike another punch. ‘No one els-’ Nate begins, as the Hulk throws another punch, this one breaks through Nate’s telekinetic force field, and sends him careening backwards through the Canyon. ‘Until now’ the Hulk mutters, before he turns to Thanos and asks him if this is what he is looking for? Thanos doesn’t respond, he just stares down at the Hulk. ‘Muscle without conscience?’ the Hulk asks, as Nate lands in a river. Thanos leans down to the Hulk and extends his large hand. ‘Enforcer experience preferred?’ The Hulk enquires, while Nate pulls himself out of the water.
‘Now that we’ve seen what my raw strength can do for you - and what you can’t do for yourself - why don’t you take this opportunity to remind me, Thanos… what exactly is it you’re offering?’ the Hulk enquires, staring up at Thanos. ‘Power, beast… nothing more, nothing less. Power that rightfully belongs to you… and you alone’ Thanos responds, while, nearby, Nate surrounds himself in psychic armor. ‘You alone. You - alone.’ Thanos calls out. Nate flies towards the Hulk, who is reaching out to touch Thanos’s beckoning hand. ‘NOOOOO!’ Nate screams, slamming into the Hulk, just in time before he touches Thanos. The Hulk is knocked so far backwards that he lands in the water. ‘Sorry, Hulk…so sorry, I swear! I had no idea, believe me - believe me - no way to know how much this telekinetic psi-armor would magnify my blow!’ Nate calls out. He then adds ‘I mean, that’s the purpose and all, sure, but…I’ve never even tried this before! Never had to! Never faced anything like either one of -’ Nate begins, but the Hulk bursts out og the water, ‘Get outta my FACE!’ he roars.
‘Wait, wait. You don’t understand, Hulk, listen - listen to me, please -’ Nate pleads. He informs the Hulk that there is something else going on with these ley-lines and ceremonial circles, something more than Thanos is saying. Nate points out that Thanos hasn’t stepped outside the natural rock formation that surrounds him yet, almost as if he can’t without - the Hulk then interrupts, ‘DUUH, do I look dumb to you or something, Grey?’ he frowns. ‘You knew? You -’ Nate begins, when suddenly, Thanos’s hand reaches down and grabs Nate. ‘Apparently hoped to trick me all along, brainchild. To somehow prevent me from using him as my corporeal link to this dimension, as my physical anchor outside the ring of stones…and I shall now use you instead!’ Thanos announces.
‘Not so fast, Thanos. Contact goes both ways…and I can still try and use it to go in after you… to take the power you’d never willingly give!’ the Hulk points out as he leaps out of the water and back to the stone circle where Thanos remains. ‘On the contrary, Hulk. Here…taste of it freely!’ Thanos replies as he blasts the Hulk with his cosmic energies, tearing the Hulk to shreds. ‘No…you burnt him alive - seared the skin right from his bones!’ Nate gasps, still in his psi-armor, trapped Thanos’s grasp. ‘Did I? my mistake then…I meant to make it last’ Thanos replies as the Hulk lands beside the water, and struggles to get up. ‘Shut up, devil, shut up! I’ll see you rotting in h-’ Nate begins as he tries to punch Thanos in the face with a telekinetic attack. But Thanos does not even flinch. ‘As I was saying, young one…nobody’s perfect. And every time I get my hands on a new toy, it’s true…I tend to get careless with my old ones’.
The Hulk gets to his feet and slams a foot on the ground, while Thanos tells Nate to shed his armor. ‘Give me more of you to grasp onto, more to cling to here in this dimensional plane…enough to make it permanent’. But Nate declares ‘Never! Never!’ while the Hulk pounds his foot to the ground again and again, ‘Such arrogance and bravado…’ Thanos remarks, while the Hulk utters ‘Bingo’ as the rocks holding back the river topple around him. Thanos turns as the powerful river rages towards him, ‘The river - flooding down through the gorge - tearing though the stones!’ Nate exclaims as the river washes over the stone formation. Thanos announces that the circuit alignment has been destroyed, thanks to the Hulk’s blind rage, no doubt. ‘Bothing holds me back here any longer!’ Thanos booms, laughing, he runs through the river below him. He remarks that Nate and the Hulk have much in common, it would seem.
‘In very different ways…both of you actually fancy yourselves heroes, of a sort. But that, young one… now that is to laugh’. Thanos adds, while the Hulk looks up, and Nate realizes that his psi-armor is starting to crack like an egg as Thanos continues to hold him tight. Nate doesn’t have the sheer strength to keep up against the crushing pressure. ‘And you’re no hero -’ Thanos begins, before crying out in agony, as Nate lets the armor explode, while he is still trapped in Thanos’s grasp. Energy swirls about and wraps itself around the Hulk, who finds himself encased in a cosmic armor. ‘The armor’s all yours now, Hulkster!’ Nate calls out. ‘Oh…yeah!’ Hulk declares as he leaps into the air. ‘Do what you do best with it, big guy. And make it hurt. It’s all I can do now to try and rebuild…to try and pull together the only cage we know of that can hold Thnaos - before those ebon energy-chains disperse completely - before it’s too late!’ Nate exclaims as he uses his telekinesis to lift up as many rocks as he can, and the Hulk, powered by the cosmic energy, slams his fists into Thanos’s face.
Nate announces that he can telekinetically gather up all the same materials and even recreate the stone circle’s configuration, to he best of his ability, at least. ‘But I’ll still need you to drive him back into…’ Nate begins, as he recreates the stone circle, and the Hulk strikes Thanos once more. ‘Enough!’ Thanos calls out, casting a blast of energy, which forces the Hulk back, where he lands in the water. ‘Not yet, freak…’ the Hulk replies, while Nate completes the re-creation of the stone circle. ‘…not by a long shot!’ the Hulk exclaims as he leaps forth and punches Thanos once more, then again, so hard that he tumbles backwards, and falls into the stone circle. ‘Nooooo’ Thanos calls out as Nate flies nearby. The Hulk points out that the ebon energies are reacting to Thanos - overreacting. They start to tear the dimensional wound wide open again, sucking Thanos back in, with a vengeance. Nate floats about near the ebon energies, as the Hulk tells him to hang on to something - anything - but Nate is sucked in, too. The Hulk lands in the river, and an instant later, his cosmic armor vanishes. ‘That bites…’ he mutters.
And, at Stonehenge, Nate is thrown out of the swirling energies within Stonehenge, and he lands on the ground nearby. ‘Hungry’ Nate thinks to himself as he lies on the grass, unable to decide which was more prettifying by the end - going toe-to-toe with the Hulk, even for a moment, or coming face-to-face with an evil like Thanos. But he concludes that he does know one thing, more now than ever - this Earth needs him - as much as he needs it.