Their appetite for war now ravenous, the Kree were preparing for an all-out counterattack against the invading space pirates led by Nebula, when suddenly there was a disruption.
"My Seventh Sense!" exclaimed Doctor Minerva, "It has detected trespassers emerging from sub-space and attempting to land on our planet! I recognize them – Eros of Titan and Firelord, former Herald of Galactus!"
"Verxa! Zetazia! Capture them at all costs!" commanded Captain Atlas.
The two cosmic-powered Kree women immediately took flight, heading straight for Starfox’s ship.
Inside the ship, the red alert caused bedlam. "Scanners detect two cosmic entities of power comparable to yours, Firelord!" Starfox yelled over the noise.
"A worthy challenge." replied Firelord. "It has been too long since the last one." He stood up and headed for the airlock.
"Don’t underestimate them!" Starfox warned before wearily saying to himself, "Oh, what’s the use?"
Firelord cut an impressive figure across the sky, his staff blazing fireballs at both ends. But the Kree were unstoppable. Verxa locked eyes with Firelord and began using her hypnotic powers to infect Firelord’s mind with a temporary but powerful madness. Firelord screamed as he felt as though his skull might explode. Zetazia then opened her mouth and her deadly cosmic flame burst forward. Firelord had never before felt the effects of a cosmic fire as deadly as his own. He burned bright as he lost consciousness and went tumbling towards the surface of the planet.
While Zetazia tracked Firelord’s descent, Verxa flew straight at the ship. Starfox opened fire with the ship’s weapons, but to no effect. Verxa smashed her way into the cockpit. As soon as Starfox’s eyes met Verxa’s, he knew that he was facing powers of persuasion far beyond his own; he surrendered and fell into a trance.
"I would happily make a slave of you," said a grinning Verxa, "but as a Prince of Titan, you are far too valuable to us as a means to negotiate your father’s surrender to the Kree."
Meanwhile, the rest of the Kree were now ready to do battle with Nebula’s armada. Fleets of battleships and squadrons of Sentry robots from every planet of the empire assembled to make a stand. But the Kree’s secret weapons would be the awesome cosmic powers of Garero, Atlas, Minerva, Loparr, Gurge, Vultro, and Helkon. The plan was to sacrifice a small number of Sentry robots in order to make Nebula believe she was gaining the advantage, then strike unexpectedly and forcefully.
But the Kree had not reckoned with Nebula, who had not gotten where she was by being one step behind her prey. As the armada’s ships engaged the Sentries in battle, Nebula calmly passed down an order: "Ratchet up the Negavator to full power, and fire on the Kree command ship."
The Negavator once again came to terrifying life, its multicolored beam of negative energy slicing through anything in its path until it reached the Kree command ship, instantly shattering the shields and blazing onward until it appeared to have reduced the ship and everyone aboard to particles.
However, when the smoke and fire faded, it became all too clear that there were survivors. In fact, of the seven cosmic-powered Kree on board, only Loparr had suffered serious injury, sporting nasty burns on his paralyzed body.
"Get Loparr to medical on the planet’s surface, Gurge.." commanded Atlas. "The rest of you, follow the Lord Garero’s lead."
"TO THE DEATH!" declared Garero.
"To the death!" responded his followers.
Garero led Helkon, Vultro, Atlas, and Minerva on a direct assault on Nebula’s flagship.
Nebula received the attack stoically. "They may have survived, but they could not have been unhurt. Recharge the Negavator as quickly as possible. In the meantime, use all the other weaponry at this ship’s disposal to keep them at bay."
Polania the Contemplatrix allowed the vision of Nebula to fade away; she now knew she would have to interfere. She used her floating platform to teleport to the Deathlands, where Thor and Quasar lay injured among the casualties of the earlier battle. Stepping off the platform, she walked over to Thor and Quasar, kneeled down beside them, put her hands upon them, and began to use her powers to heal their injuries. Once they awakened healthy, it would be time for the decisive step, which would either save the universe or doom it utterly.
The Avengers’ quinjet darted through the skies of Washington, D.C. as it zeroed in on the site of the space-time flux and the resultant ape pandemonium.
Inside, the Black Knight and his Avengers reserves were rough and ready.
"Okay, everybody," said field commander Hellcat, "remember to stick to the plan."
The quinjet came to a stop and hovered above the fray. The Avengers jumped out of the quinjet and into the breach, as Hellcat did something she had dreamed of doing since she was a little girl.
"Avengers," yelled Hellcat, "ASSEMBLE!"
Hellcat and the Black Knight immediately began fighting the armored apes, enabling the Beast to gracefully leap and bound above the crowd. The Beast’s quarry was the Mandrill, easily distinguishable from the other apes by his far more flamboyant garb, complete with cape.
"Avengers, you shall never keep me and my brethren from our destiny!" raged the Mandrill.
"Quite the contrary, my fellow furry freakazoid," taunted the Beast as he got closer, "we take down more megalomaniacs before breakfast than we can count, and you’re next."
"Ha!" replied a defiant Mandrill, "You forget that I am more than a match for you."
And as the Beast lunged, the Mandrill dodged him with a similarly acrobatic move, then came down hard on him.
"Oh, my stars and garters!" exclaimed a woozy Beast as he began to see stars and do his best to defend himself against the Mandrill’s savage attack.
But while the Beast’s injuries were not part of the plan, the most crucial part of the plan had been a success, as an ant-sized Ant-Man, riding his trained ants Steed and Emma, took off from his perch on the Beast’s fur and sped straight for the Mandrill’s space-time flux machine. Spotting an opening in the machine, Ant-Man jumped off Steed and Emma and activated his rocket pack, swooping through the inner workings of the machine as he searched for a way to reverse the machine’s effect. Black Knight and Beast had given him a detailed run-down of what the inner workings would most likely be, and while Ant-Man was no slouch at machines, he marveled at the wealth of knowledge possessed by his colleagues. "There’s so much more I could learn from those guys," thought Ant-Man to himself as he continued his quest.
At Hydrobase, caretakers-slash-troubleshooters Walter and Diane Newell attended to the still comatose Captain Marvel.
Meanwhile, in another part of Hydrobase, Rita DeMara kept watch on the door of the bathroom where Janet VanDyne had locked herself in.
Suddenly, Rita heard loud gasping and choking sounds, followed by what sounded like Janet falling down and thrashing about, knocking into the walls with her flailing limbs.
Rita ran to find the Newells.
Thor and Quasar were now on their feet and back in top health. Polania had told them what transpired while they were unconscious, and now she stood facing them silently.
"Tell us," said Thor, "what we must do."
"It is not an obligation which faces thee, but a choice." replied Polania, who then turned around and kneeled at the base of her platform. She pushed a button and a slot opened, discharging a small black box.
Holding the box in front of Thor, she spoke again. "If thou doth choose to wield the awesome cosmic power of the Anti-Omega, thy life shall change forevermore. Consider this carefully before thou makest thy decision."
"I tire of thy riddles, woman!" snapped Thor. "Tell me now, dost this Anti-Omega hold the power to defeat Garero, yea or nay?"
"Then I shall wield it, and face whatever repercussions may come."
"Thou hast made thy choice." said Polania flatly as she opened the box to reveal what looked like little more than a golden bauble with a shape resembling two horseshoes bonded together.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Thor reached over and took the object in his hand.
The object began to glow, giving off a golden light of a brightness beyond human perception. The stark ugliness of the Deathlands almost turned beautiful when illuminated by the light of the Anti-Omega.
But before Thor could appreciate this, he began to have difficulty breathing. Then his vision blurred and his companions and his surroundings faded abruptly...to black.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART IX