“You must understand,” explained Gladiator to the Imperial Task Force as their ship entered the stargate leading to Earth, “we are entering a very delicate situation. The Earth has been at war with one of our rival empires, the Troyjans, and so our activities on Earth must be stealthy and discreet so as not to drag the Shi’ar Empire into the war.”
“Unless Deathbird’s already done it ahead of us.” quipped Sicknessia.
“I beg you, child, no jesting at this most serious matter.” said Gladiator wearily.
On Chandillar, all available Imperial Guardsmen had finished gathering at the Mission Monitor Board.
“Mentor,” commanded Smasher, “we await your appraisal of the situation.”
The Imperial Guard’s Chief Scientist, Mentor had a formidable mind that the Guardsmen had always relied on to help them through a crisis. “We are facing the legendary Starship Omega, the flagship of the fleet belonging to Warlord Zorg of the planet Zogora. It would seem their intent is to destroy Chandillar and cause a chain reaction that would throw the Empire into chaos and allow Zorg to plunder it. Zorg’s army are savagely efficient warriors who are fiercely loyal to Zorg to the point where their very lives are forfeit for the glory of their kingdom.”
Nightside was unimpressed. “A mite presumptuous of Zorg, is it not, to think he can take on an Empire?”
“No enemy is ever to be underestimated.” replied Smasher soberly.
“And there’s no enemy we can’t take!” said Impulse with typical brashness.
“While morale boosting is always good,” said Smasher, “we must always proceed with caution. Remember that.” After a pause, he commanded, “To the battle-cruiser, Guardsmen.”
Smasher, Astra, Scintilla, Nightside, Impulse, Mentor, Magique, and Fang all raced to the launchpad.
“The cloaking device is working like a charm.” said Frostbite as the ship hovered a short distance above a forest in the Northeastern United States.
“You shall split into teams of two and commence the search for Deathbird. I shall monitor you from here and aid you should the need arise.” said Gladiator. “Fortunately, we are all humanoid in appearance and the citizens of Earth are accustomed to the presence of gaudily garbed super-powered people. At worst you can expect to be laughed at. But you must, I repeat, YOU MUST stay out of others’ conflicts. Is that understood? Yes? Good. Let us proceed. The teams shall be...”
Little did Gladiator and the Task Force know that they had already been tracked down, for at a discreet distance from their supposedly cloaked ship, a small futuristic aircraft was making a 180 degree turn. “Prometheus to Mount,” said the pilot, whose hard face had horrible burn scars, “I’ve tracked the Shi’ar ship and am transmitting the coordinates as we speak. My work’s done for the time being. Permission to return to Mount?”
“Good work,” came a deep-voiced reply from the aircraft’s radio, “and permission granted. Our satellites have zeroed in on the coordinates, and we shall send the rest of our top operatives to deal with this...intrusion.”
As the Task Force teams – Sickenssia & Q’ill, Frostbite & Piromanyak, Obscura & Massivus, and Prism & Flora – each departed the ship for a different destination, they had no way of knowing that they were about to learn a lesson in the strategy known as “divide and conquer.”
The Imperial Guard’s battle-cruiser had come as close to the intimidating monolith known as Starship Omega as they possibly could without being detected.
Inside, the Guardsmen were standing by, ready to charge into battle.
“Impulse,” said Smasher, “take the point.”
“Smasher,” replied Impulse, “I like your style of leadership.” He flew out of the cruiser and sped directly towards the Starship Omega. Once satisfied that he was on target, Impulse fired tremendous anti-energy blasts at the enemy vessel, overloading the vessel’s shields and blowing up a section of it.
“Guardsmen, prepare for boarding!” commanded Smasher.
As the Starship Omega’s remaining defenses of laser cannons and missiles blasted away in vain, the rest of the Guardsmen flew out of the cruiser and quickly entered the Starship Omega to find the Zogorians waiting for them, armed to the teeth and with Warlord Zorg himself, a towering, muscular half-man/half-machine with crimson flesh and a cannon where his right arm should have been, in command.
“So begins the final reckoning!” declared Zorg defiantly. He opened fire on the Guardsmen as he bellowed, “ATTACK!”
Gladiator’s attention was focused on the four windows on the ship’s monitor. Thanks to microscopic flying cameras, he was able to follow and observe all four teams as they searched for Deathbird in different parts of America. Nonetheless, his super-senses were perceiving the whistling sound being made by a speeding object outside which was closing in on the ship.
“Great Strontan!” exclaimed Gladiator, “We have been detected already!”
Bracing himself for whatever was seeking to breach the ship, he thought he was prepared for anything...
...but he was wrong. A tremendous cosmic force in the form of a humanoid woman with long golden hair burst through the hull of the ship, lunged at him at the speed of thought, blocked his best punch, and blasted Gladiator with cosmic rays from her eyes. Gladiator felt like he was burning to death as he went flying through the other side of the hull, speeding backward uncontrollably, making impact with the ground and skidding for what felt like an eternity.
Once Gladiator had come to a stop, he was seeing stars – literally and figuratively, for he was losing consciousness as the cosmic warrior woman stood looking over him and her flesh appeared to be made of shimmering star-stuff.
“If you value your life,” said the cosmic warrior woman, “you’ll surrender and come with me. Because no further alien invasions shall occur under while Earth is under the watch of...CAPTAIN MARVEL!”
TO BE CONTINUED