As morning turned into afternoon, a pair of quinjets approached Hydrobase. Walter and Diane Newell stood to receive the Avengers’ next batch of guests.
By now, Janet had dried her tears and composed herself to receive Doc Samson. But as he entered the room, she found herself on the verge of losing control again. Somehow she pulled herself together without any false help from chemicals.
"Good afternoon, Ms. VanDyne." said Samson.
"Janet will be just fine." whispered Janet.
"Very well, Janet. I’m here to talk."
"Where would you like to start?"
Janet cringed. "I’d honestly rather not talk at all."
Samson was unruffled. "Just say the word, and I’ll leave."
"No...no. I know you’re just here to help. I just...no offense, but I don’t put much stock in your profession. You...I’m assuming you’ll try to connect my problems to my childhood. Sorry to disappoint you, but I had a happy childhood. I never wanted for anything."
"Perhaps," said Samson, "your childhood was so happy you’ve spent your adult life trying too hard to keep your childhood from ending?"
"Oh, please!" Janet replied, but Samson had hit a nerve.
"I also understand, from my research on you, that you lost your mother at an early age."
"That doesn’t mean anything. I never even knew my mother, I don’t remember her at all. And I grew up surrounded by incredible women – grandmothers, aunts, cousins..."
"I still doubt it fully compensated for the lack of a mother figure."
"Yeah, okay, maybe not. And...I guess my dad and I always had something a little off about our relationship. He never said so, but I think he wanted a son."
"Perhaps your adventurous leanings come from that source? Trying to live up what you think your father wanted?"
"P-perhaps..." grumbled Janet.
"And maybe your unspoken, possibly unconscious, desire to please your father led you into the arms of an older man."
"Ugggh." groaned Janet, putting her head in her hands. "You had to ask about Hank, didn’t you?"
"He was a major part of your life for many years."
"The best years of my life..." Janet choked, "...and the worst."
"What can I say? We were both very...needy...when we met. His first wife, Maria, had died not long before. We didn’t think much about anything, we just plunged right in." She paused. "In hindsight, even the happy years seem kind of...uh...unhealthy, me marrying him while he had a major identity crisis..." She frowned. "We never should have rejoined the Avengers. That was when it all went to hell in a handbasket."
"Is this where the drugs came in?"
She pursed her lips before answering, "Yes."
"And would I be right in guessing your fashion career started at the same time?"
"Yeah, whatever. Anyone with half a brain knows that the fashion world is drowning in drugs. It didn’t really become a...problem until Hank’s...um...downfall and our divorce. And then I nominated myself for chairman and won. What the hell was I thinking? I should have gotten away from all things superhero. Instead, I got in over my head. I felt confused and unworthy, and the coke was all that gave me clarity."
"For what it’s worth, there are millions of women of your generation who have the same story to tell. And despite the way you felt about yourself, all of your fellow heroes would agree you did a remarkable job as leader."
Her face turned red. "Don’t lie to me! I destroyed the Avengers! Oh god, Cap and Dane and Jarvis being tortured..." She put her hands in her head again.
"Nobody died, and the villains were caught. You did as good as anyone could under the circumstances."
"One of those villains is working for the Avengers." said Janet through gritted teeth before screaming, "WORKING FOR THE AVENGERS!"
"She saved the Avengers from another villain. And she’s not the first member of your organization with a questionable past."
"Yeah, I know, I know. That’s the same thing that Dane said."
"This is not a black-and-white world, much as you may want to believe it so."
"Yeah, but...don’t you think it’s gotten too gray lately?"
"It’s always been gray. Recognizing and accepting that is all part of growing up."
"Nice way to bring it full circle to my arrested childhood." said the Wasp sarcastically.
"I hope at the very least I’ve given you some food for thought, but I have no control over that."
He looked Janet in the eye. "It’s all in your hands now. Good day. Your friend Ms. Walters will be over in a few minutes." He got up and walked out of the room.
The Wasp now felt too numb to do anything except stare at the wall...and think. Yeah, she thought to herself, if I’d been more of a thinker before, maybe things would have gone better.
Meanwhile, in the control center, Monica was finding it unusually hard to maintain eye contact with Quasar as she opened up to him. "It’s so hard to explain how it feels to have no powers, to be just an ordinary human being again. It feels so...empty. And I hate myself for feeling sorry for myself. My father raised me better than that."
Quasar was puzzled. "I’d like to help you, but I don’t know how."
"Your cosmic awareness." said Monica, locking eyes with him. "I hope that your cosmic awareness may be able to tell me if anything, even the most microscopic bit, still remains of my powers."
"It’s possible." said Quasar. "You were bonded to that alien for a long time. Something may still be there."
With great difficulty, Monica begged, "Please look and see."
Quasar closed his eyes and put his fingertips to his head. The next few minutes felt more like years to Monica. Then Quasar opened his eyes and said one word: "Yes."
Monica felt a rush of positivity threatening to overwhelm her, but outwardly she kept cool.
"I want you to be my...my cosmic personal trainer. I want to nurture that little bit of power so it can grow and I can have super-powers again."
"I’m perfectly willing," said Quasar, "but it won’t be easy and it won’t happen quickly."
"I can live with that." said Monica plainly.
"Just name the day and time." said Quasar.
"I will." She extended her hand. "Thank you, Wendell."
He took her hand and gently shook it. They both smiled.
With a flash of cosmic light, Thor and Polania materialized on the impeccably maintained front lawn of the Xavier School For Gifted Youth.
"Where hast thou taken me?" demanded Thor. "And what in Odin’s name occured at the Rainbow Bridge?"
"The Anti-Omega is incompatible with Asgard, being that it comes from a different godly source. Thy very presence in Asgard turns thee into a deadly anomaly."
"Why didst thou not warn me of this, woman??"
"Thou didst not ask. And I believe thy exact words were, ‘I shall wield it and face whatever repercussions may come.’"
Thor closed his eyes, gritted his teeth, clenched his fists, and growled until he could regain composure. "What is my fate to be?"
"There is a possibility of correcting the cosmic energy so thou can co-exist with Asgard. But it is not to be found in this dimension."
"Then why are we not already there??"
"We hath need of one more traveling companion."
They were interrupted by the voice of one of the school’s students, who had seen them through the windows and come out the front door. Polania recognized him as the Caucasian boy from her vision, and he said, calmly, as if the presence of gods on the lawn was a regular occurence, "Can I help you folks with anything?"
"Greetings and salutations, young man." said Thor. "I assure thee, this is all a mistake. Be thy headmaster present?"
"We are looking for Danielle Moonstar." said Polania. "Is SHE present?"
"Yes, ma’am. That’s her coming in for a landing on her flying horse." He pointed up to the sky, where, indeed, Dani was riding her white winged horse.
"Omigosh." the boy exclaimed suddenly, "You’re Thor. Beg pardon, sir, I didn’t recognize you with the...uh...new look. My name is Sam Guthrie."
By now, Dani and her horse had landed on the lawn, and she was running over to them. At the same time, the rest of the New Mutants, with the exception of the wolf girl, were coming out of the house.
"Ladies and gentlemen," said Sam, "this, believe it or not, is Thor, and the lady is...uh..."
"I am Polania the Contemplatrix." she stated.
"Pleased to make your acquaintance." said the Latin boy, taking Polania’s hand and kissing it. "I’m Roberto." Polania didn’t smile.
"And the rest of this here motley crew," said Sam, "are Warlock, Illyana, and...say, where’s Rahne? And Dani you already knew about...uh...how DID you know about her?"
"What’s this all about?" asked a scowling, short-of-breath Dani.
"Query." piped up Warlock. "Does Thor’s presence mean that help from self and self-friends is needed in Asgard? We are all well familiar with..."
"Yes," interrupted Polania, "I know. Our mission shall take us to Asgard in a roundabout way, but, for the moment, we hath need of only her." She pointed at Dani.
"I can’t believe you’re still so naive, Sam." said Dani. "This has to be some kind of trick."
Polania grabbed Dani by the arm. "The longer we tarry, the closer we come to the end of all there is."
"Hey!" said Dani, "Hands off!" When Polania didn’t let go, Dani instinctively activated her mutant power: to make anyone she choose see their deepest fear as if it were really happening. Thor was overwhelmed by visions of Ragnarok, the apocalypse of Norse myth, but Polania proved not to have any kind of fear. Surprised and confused, Dani hesitated, giving Polania the chance to zap her unconscious with a touch of her fingertip.
But Polania wasn’t prepared for the assault of the New Mutants’ wolf girl, the aforementioned Rahne, who growled as she came out of nowhere and pounced on Polania. "You picked the wrong mutants to mess with." said Rahne in a thick Scottish burr.
"That’s right," said Illyana, "we take care of our own." She produced a sword out of thin air as her eyes began to glow red and horns sprouted from her forehead. The rest of the New Mutants were all poised to strike as well.
Then, in the blink of an eye, and with a flick of Polania’s wrist, the New Mutants suddenly found themselves unconscious on the ground.
Polania picked herself up from the ground and dragged Dani and Thor over to her teleportation platform. First she teleported them next to Dani’s horse, and then, with the speed of thought, they all vanished.
A few minutes later, the New Mutants woke up...with no memory of what had transpired. Polania had placed a suggestion in their minds that Dani had decided to take a joyride and wouldn’t be back for days. But they still knew SOMETHING had happened...and they would get to the bottom of it, one way or another.
Rita DeMara was hard at work maintaining Hydrobase’s delicate machinery, when she heard soft footsteps. She turned to see Ant-Man’s daughter, Cassie, wandering around, looking like she was holding back tears.
"Hi." said Rita. "Are ya okay?"
"No." said Cassie, wiping away a tear. "I’m...I’m lost."
"It’s easy for that to happen in this place. Are your mom and dad here at Hydrobase?"
"My dad is. He’s...Ant-Man."
"Come on," said Rita, offering her hand, "I’ll help ya find him."
Dani awoke to find herself witnessing the vast magnificence of a desert. Once she got her bearings, she saw her horse going hysterical, Thor still coming out of the state she had put him in, and Polania standing stoically.
Dani rushed over to Polania, and grabbed her by the collar. "Take me and Brightwind back home! Now!"
"Thy anger is understandable, but thou must channel it into a more productive way, as a battle is nigh." Polania pointed to her right, and Dani looked over to see an army of barbarians riding dragons and charging towards them.
"Polemachus!" exclaimed Thor. "Thou hast brought us to Polemachus, but...that legion art not commanded by Arkon!"
"No." said Polania calmly, as she removed a sword from a slot in her platform and handed it to Dani.
The barbarian’s commander was a bearded behemoth with a booming voice. "For the glory of the Crusades, strike now!"
"AS YOU COMMAND, GENERAL XANDUUR!" replied the troops fervorously.
A hail of solid lightning bolts came down on the three outworlders, who dodged the fire the best they could. One bolt hit Thor square in the chest, knocking him to the ground. Clearly, the natives had discovered a new source of raw power, one frightening in its implications.
Okay, thought Dani, if I need to show these clowns what a Cheyenne mutant Valkyrie is made of, then show them I will. She climbed onto Brightwind, held her sword aloft and, with a scream, charged.
Scott Lang was sweating and chewing his nails as he searched for his daughter, still furious at himself for letting her wander around a huge, unfamiliar structure like Hydrobase.
Then, just as he was about to panic, he heard a woman’s voice from far away.
"Hey," said Rita, "are you her dad?"
"Daddy!" cried Cassie as she ran towards him. They hugged and cried.
By now, Rita had caught up to them. Scott looked up at her. "Thank you so much, Miss...uh..."
"Just call me Rita."
A long quiet moment passed as they looked into each other’s eyes and saw what could only be described as a love destined to happen.
Jennifer Walters, the She-Hulk, took a deep breath and opened the door. She entered to see her best friend, Janet VanDyne, looking tired, forlorn, and lost.
"Hello, Jen." whispered Janet.
"Hello." replied Jen, who then struggled with what to say until she came up with: "Dane told me that you flirted with him while you were coked up. I want you to know that I forgive you, and you’re still my best friend."
"Thank you." said Janet meekly.
Jen shook her head, then blurted: "Janet, what happened to you? How could you let yourself get caught up in...drugs? And why didn’t you ever tell me?"
"I was ashamed." said Janet flatly. "Wouldn’t you be, if you were a superhero with a coke habit? A complete and utter hypocrite?"
"Stop being so hard on yourself." said Jen. "You’re not a hypocrite. You’re only hum..."
"Only human??" yelled Janet. "I’m the worst that humanity can be! I’m getting old, and what do I have to show for myself? A failed marriage, a pathetic excuse for a superhero career that destroyed the Avengers, and a drug habit that’s left me broke! The Winsome Wasp, what a joke! The Winsome Wasp is dead! Dead, dead, dead! But everybody still expects me to be..." She broke out into loud sobs and torrents of tears.
Jen put her arms around Janet as gently as she could, and gave Janet her shoulder to cry on. Once Janet had seemingly cried herself out, she looked up at Jen with red eyes and gasped, "Help me, Jen. Please, help me."
"It’s okay." said Jen soothingly. "Shhh...shhh...it’s okay." Janet began crying again.
Later, as the moon shined over Hydrobase, Jen and a cleaned-up, dressed-up Janet walked along the corridors. They saw they had to walk past Rita, who was whistling cheerfully while she worked...until her eyes met with Janet’s, and Janet could sense Rita’s fear. Janet swallowed hard and did something which was difficult, but which she knew was right.
"I’m sorry I threatened you." said Janet.
"Huh?" said Rita. "Oh...uh...apology accepted. Ya weren’t yerself, right?"
"Right...right." said Janet, walking away with Jen.
And finally, they arrived at the door to the master control center. The door loomed large over her, because although she was physically petite, it was inside that she felt small, smaller than she’d ever felt in her life. She took a deep breath as Jen punched in the code to open the door.
The explosion of brightly colored costumes against antiseptic black-and-white surroundings was jarring, due to her currently raw nerves. There they were, as many active Avengers of both coasts as were available, assembled at the conference table: chairwoman Captain Marvel, west coast commander Hawkeye, Black Knight, Namor, Marrina, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man, and Janet’s ex-husband, Dr. Henry Pym. There was one empty chair, directly across the table from Captain Marvel. Janet quietly walked over to it and took a seat.
She-Hulk broke the silence. "Janet has agreed to go into rehab."
"Janet," said Captain Marvel, "we want you to know that we’re all here for you on the difficult journey you have ahead."
"And," said Hawkeye, "we want ya to know that we ain’t judging you for any mistakes ya’ve made. That’s the past. All we got is the present, an’ we want to help ya as much as we can."
Janet stared blankly for a couple minutes, then looked at Dr. Pym and spoke up. "Hi, Hank. What’s new with you?"
"I’m glad you asked." smiled Hank. "Maria turned out to be alive in Russia. She and I are together again."
"That’s great." replied Janet, genuinely smiling for the first time in a very long time as she felt a sense of closure between herself and Hank.
After another pause, Janet stood up and extended her arms as she looked at all the Avengers. "Thank you." she said. "Thank you."
Jen ran over and embraced her. Janet began crying again, but this time they were tears of joy. Jen began crying, too, also for joy, as the optimistic outro to "Midnight Blue" began playing in both their minds.
"Looks like we’re gonna make it...Looks like we’re gonna make it."
NEVER THE END