Quasar abruptly went silent.
After a couple minutes of total silence, She-Hulk spoke up. "There’s something you’re not telling us."
Quasar sighed, then opened up. "I’ve faced Garero before, in an alternate timeline, in a scenario similar to this one, and...long story short, the good guys lost. I survived to tell the tale, which in a way has been a fate worse than death." He paused. "Forgive the melodrama, but...I think you get the idea."
"If thou did survive to help us," said Thor, "then thy fate is justified. Tell us now what we must do."
"I can quantum-jump you guys and gal into the realm of the Kree gods," replied Quasar, "and we can try to stop Garero before he crosses over into this dimension. If we fail at that...well, anything goes."
"Tis a risk we shall have to take." said Thor. "Now that there art six Kree renegades with cosmic powers, to confront them directly would be suicidal."
"If I may?" interjected Black Knight.
"Aye?" replied Thor.
"We can’t neglect our own world." stated Black Knight. "We are, after all, EARTH’S mightiest heroes. I propose that I stay behind and put together a team of reserve Avengers."
"Dane, honey..." said a disapproving She-Hulk.
"Dane speaks the truth." interrupted Thor. "I approve of his plan, and we shall implement it."
She-Hulk frowned impotently before Black Knight put his hand on her shoulder. "You know that I’ll be all right, and you’ll be all right."
"No, I don’t know, but I do know you can’t fight City Hall." muttered She-Hulk resignedly.
"Let the preparations begin." said Thor. "This meeting is adjourned."
The planet Hala, hub of the vast interstellar Kree empire. An eerie calm had settle over the planet’s surface, the calm before the storm.
The Kree’s scanners had detected the approach of Captain Atlas’ band of renegades. In anticipation of their attack, an armada of battleships hovered in the air, while a battalion of tanks and two squads of infantry awaited on the ground.
The Supreme Intelligence, cyber-organic overlord of the Kree empire, surveyed the surface of his throneworld, and he did not like what he saw.
In the streets, rioting was constant, with even the toughest Accusers failing to quell the civil unrest. Blood regularly splattered on walls already defaced by graffiti proclaiming the imminent rise of Garero – the renegades had plenty of grassroots support, and nothing made the Supremor angrier.
All the centuries of atheism-driven order which made the empire strong had been steadily crumbling in recent times. The traitor Mar-Vell, with his cosmic-powered altruism, had influenced a mass rebellion by example alone. Throughout the planet, cabals of ancient Kree cosmic mysticism were springing up faster than the Accusers could exterminate them. Those driven by a desire for abandoning militaristic traditions and communing peacefully with nature were mere annoyances to the Supremor – it was the likes of Captain Atlas and his savages which presented a true threat.
So it was that the Supremor, with Chief Accuser Ronan as field commander, stood determined to make an example of Atlas’s renegades, and restore the empire to the way it once was. The time was now. "Ronan," ordered the Supremor, "launch the attack."
"With pleasure, Supremor." replied Ronan, standing at the bridge of the armada’s flagship. "Target the hateful traitors’ ship and launch missiles!"
Aboard Atlas’s ship, the Captain and his elite guard calmly watched the approach of the missiles through their monitor.
Thanks to the Psyche-Magnetron, their appearances had changed considerably. Atlas was clad in a spikily imposing suit of armor; Loparr now had fur, claws, and razor-sharp teeth; the already massive Gurge had grown even larger, and developed a skin of stone; Zetazia had scales, webbed hands and feet, and venomous fangs; Verxa had fangs, too, these of the vampiric kind, with giant bat-like wings to match. Minerva remained clad in her parody of a Terran superhero outfit, looking over her handiwork with pride.
"Once those missiles would have been a threat. Now they are but toys." declared Atlas.
"Minerva, Verxa, follow me. Let us give them a show of force!"
The three villains exited the ship. Their cosmic powers allowed them to fly and to navigate the vacuum of space at no risk to their lives.
"Minerva, the missiles are all yours." said Atlas.
Minerva fired blasts of cosmic energy from her hands. The missiles were struck by the blasts, and exploded. The ship was unharmed, and, despite their proximity to the explosions, so were the deadly trio. They flew swiftly at the armada, with their course clearly set on the flagship.
"Fire cannons!" barked Ronan.
The trio easily dodged the cannon fire, and what few hits they took did nothing to hurt them.
"Shields up!" demanded Ronan.
At Captain Atlas’s command, Minerva and Verxa fired cosmic rays from their eyes, shattering the flagship’s shields.
Atlas used his newly acquired super-strength to tear a giant hole on the side of the flagship, through which he, Minerva, and Verxa could fly inside. In a moment, the automatic emergency seal covered the hole, but by then the three villains had entered.
A team of troopers cornered the villains and opened fire. Their shots bounced harmlessly off the villains. Verxa lunged at one of the trooper and sank her fangs into his neck. The trooper screamed and convulsed until he went limp. Then, suddenly, at Verxa’s psychic command, he got up, picked up his gun, and shot all the other troopers dead.
The villains made their way to the bridge, with Verxa’s new slave bringing up the rear. They turned a corner and found themselves facing Ronan, who blasted at them with his Universal Weapon. To Ronan’s shock, even the Universal Weapon had no effect on the renegades.
Captain Atlas grinned devilishly, then revealed his other new power: telekinesis. Ronan began floating above the ground against his own will. A moment later, he was screaming in pain as he felt his body tearing itself apart in four directions. After an explosion of blood, offal, bones, and limbs, Ronan was no more.
The renegades marched triumphant onto the flagship’s bridge. After having seen what the renegades were capable of through the ship’s monitors, the crew did not put up any resistance. Atlas gestured at the communications officer to patch him in to the other ships of the armada.
"This is Captain Atlas, your new commander!" he declared authoritatively. "Follow me or die! And just to show I am not making empty threats..."
A few seconds later, the flagship opened fire on a randomly selected ship in the armada, which was vaporized instantly.
"My first order," said Atlas, "is to return to Hala, and take over. If there is any resistance, obliterate the ground troops!"
At Hydrobase, a quinjet containing Thor, She-Hulk, and Namor was ready to launch. Quasar stood outside, hovering in mid-air.
"Expect a bumpy ride," said Quasar, "and an unfriendly welcome."
"We should’ve used a different travel agency." quipped She-Hulk.
Quasar opened a quantum portal, and the quinjet blasted through.
The Black Knight was not prepared for what he saw emerging from the helicopter. Janet Van Dyne, sometimes known as the Wasp, looked pale, dishevelled, and frighteningly thin.
"Dane, darling!" she exclaimed, embracing him a little too tightly for comfort.
"Th-thanks for coming, Janet." stammered Dane. "The others are at the control room..."
"Not yet, not yet." said Janet, rushing to the nearest bathroom. "I need to freshen up first."
Dane entered the control center alone, joining the rest of his team of Avengers reserves: Ant-Man, Hellcat, and the Beast.
"Thank you all again for helping out the Avengers in this time of need." said Dane.
"It is purely a pleasure." replied Beast. "After all, I just got smart and furry again recently. It seemed utterly appropriate to revisit old haunts."
"It’s so rare I get to put on the old catsuit," said Hellcat, "and so much fun every time I do."
"My daughter was disappointed that we didn’t get to the mall." lamented Ant-Man.
"So," said Beast, standing on his left arm and shuffling a deck of playing cards with his right hand and left foot, "Anyone for a hand of poker?"
The quinjet arrived at what appeared to be a bizarre cross between a Garden of Eden and a post-industrial, post-apocalyptic wasteland, vegetation and metal alike twisted in a struggle for dominance.
The Avengers exited the quinjet, and joined Quasar in reconnoitering their new settings. Thor spotted what appeared at first to be a harmless flock of birds, but quickly revealed itself to be something far more sinister.
"Avengers," commanded Thor, "assemble!"
Winged cyborg centurions with faces of rotted flesh descended upon the Avengers like a plague.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART SIX