Chapter 1: "The Earth and Sky"
Wide green eyes gaze over brown, undulant waters, and a sultry breeze breathes over bare skin in a black bikini. The summer breeze blows the beauty's black tresses about and palpably touches her tongue in her softly panting mouth. Thick air seeps down her throat, and oppressive heat hugs her moist flesh. Her hand slowly swipes the sweat from her svelte form—until it finds the tigrine talisman clipped twixt her cleavage. She glances down as though dreaming. Mississippi River mud supports her feet momentarily. Then, turbid water splashes her toes, and her soles sink into the soft shore sand.
Suddenly, gravel crunches behind Greer Nelson, and she startles like a scaredy cat. The woman whirls around to look. Behind Greer, Jan swats swarming mosquitos pestering the Wasp.
Tigra does not know this woman in an expensive, gaudy bodysuit with a big W upon it. The strange lady appears to be a middle-aged brunette with a good dye job. Her make-up is well-applied, but her thick foundation crinkles like a latex mask when she cringes in great confusion.
"Pardon me. But, where am I? And, who are you?" Janet van Dyne queries Greer Nelson.
"I'm . . . somebody. Uhmmm," Tigra thinks two ticks, "Who the hell are you?"
"I am. . . . ." the Wondrous Wasp wonders with lax lips.
Greer stares vacuously and woolgathers, seeking her secret identity. Jan bats her lashes and cogitates, curious about her own identity. Both women start, "I'm. . . . ."
"I'm drowning! Help!" someone shouts from the river.
Eighty feet from the bank, Bruce Banner struggles in the Mississippi's strong and swirling current. He could perhaps become the Incredible Hulk and egress his peril quickly. But, for some reason, Bruce is not doing so. Rather, the lanky man labors to stay afloat amidst the undulant liquid element. He spits silty water. He is tiring and may soon sink. Old Man River moves the mortal swiftly southward away from the two women witnesses.
"Who is that unfortunate fellow?" witless Wasp fails to recognize a fellow founding Avenger.
"It doesn't matter. I'm a cop . . . I think. I'm going in after him," the ex-officer sprints into the shallows, "You must have a cellphone, Barbie. Call me some assistance!"
"I'll help you!" another party arrives from nowhere.
The white-haired man peels past Wasp and books beside Tigra in no time flat. Greer gets a brief glimpse of him. Surprisingly, his face is much too young for his pale pate. Plus, he moves like someone in his prime—or even better than human prime. Promptly, the unexpected assistant flexes powerful legs and leaps eight feet forward in an arc. His green wetsuit (as his costume appears to be) plunges beneath the Mississip's murky surface as Tommy Shepherd adeptly places his goggles. Swimming Shepherd propels himself toward his purpose, and Speed might even catch him. Certainly, Tommy has the strong legs.
In short order, Speed extricates Bruce from an unhealthy eddy. Tommy tucks his choking charge to his chest and reverse backstrokes with only his legs. Shepherd rips through the moving river and returns himself and his rescued to the riparian realm where Nelson and van Dyne await.
"That was impressive," Jan expresses to the impulsive Speed.
"What's your name, kid?" Greer inquires.
Tommy tilts his head and thinks hard. Speed stands still and dumbstruck. "Um-ah-um" is all that he eventually utters.
First responder Nelson takes Banner from Shepherd's arms. She sits the shaking stringbean on the sand and whacks his back successively to clear riverwater. The saved swimmer hacks and wheezes in his purple trunks, which customize to his present size, whether puny or massive. Jan gingerly offers a handkerchief stowed in her costume so that the stranger can wipe his yucky clearing nose. She expresses that she shan't want the nice accessory back.
Behind Wasp, Speed empties brown bilge from his boots. He comments on Bruce and Greer, "You two look garbed for swimming. I don't. I wonder what's going on and who we all are."
"I am David," Bruce croaks.
"You remember your name!" Tigra rubs Hulk's back vigorously. Perhaps, more information will issue forth.
Banner looks around vacantly, "I am not unequivocally sure. David B. might be an alias that I often use when incognito."
"Do you typically go incognito while wearing next-to-nothing?" aristocrat van Dyne queries. She would like to assess and judge. A chairwoman of business and the Avengers appreciates control of a situation.
"Hey, a policewoman might be undercover too," Nelson examines her own scant apparel and opines, "Although, I admit not knowing."
"Well, what do you know, detective?" Wasp leans over kneeling Tigra.
Tigra springs up and stares down Wasp. In her head, the Cat assays that Jan speaks with a twitty, upper-class accent and that her gaudy—but fashionable—costume and aspect make her look like a stereotypical white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, here against the rustic landscape. However, the Cat holds her tongue, for even an amnesiac Avenger is noble and a bit politically-correct.
Instead, the fuzzy sleuth investigates, "What do I know? I ken that you have a huge monogram on your medium bust. So, woman, what does the W stand for?"
"It may stand for my name," deduces the affected ditz, "Although, I doubt that I am a frumpy Wilhelmina or our scatter-brained forty-third president. Tee-hee. So, my name must be 'who' as in 'you are who, and who are you'." Jan chortles at her own droll joke.
"Titter, titter," Tigra retorts sarcastically.
Suddenly, Speed blurts, "Are you my mother?" Her name is Wanda . . . I'm pretty sure." Scarlet Witch is indeed Tommy Shepherd's mother.
Ms. van Dyne snickers. "Oh honey, do I look like a mom? I don't think so," Jan vainly strokes her hips, "Hank and I never had kids." A Hank Pym impersonator and Tigra had a kid, oddly enough. But, no one present remembers that presently.
"I also know a Wanda, and she has a brother who looks like you," Greer informs Tommy, "Or maybe, she doesn't. It's all a blur." Nelson shakes her head hazy.
"Wanda's brother's name is Pietro," Wasp states, "I remember that they are Wanda and Pietro from Wundagore Mountain."
"Who the f*** names their kid 'Pietro'?" Tigra is skeptical.
"Yeah!" Speed affirms.
"And, no one is from Wundagore Mountain in Transia," Hulk interjects, "The earth is too enriched with uranium. No human prospers from such exposure to radiation."
"Oh, la-di-da! No one believes that anyone is named Pietro," Jan fans herself in the sweltering heat, "Fine, you little folks figure-out everything! I am bigger than any of you."
"I hope your husband Hank smacks you one," the Cat spits back.
"A husband should not smack his wife," says Brian Banner's kid and Rebecca Banner's orphan.
The Cat controls herself. Officer Nelson speaks, "We're in Illinois, but not Chicago. Something tells me that. I know the Chicago area." Greer has resided in the Windy City in past life.
"How do you know that we are even in Illinois?" Tommy asks.
"My husband Bill and I would vacation near St. Louis when getting away from Chicago," Greer makes known, "Although, my late husband may have been 'John' instead of 'Bill'. And, Johnny is actually alive if memory serves. . . . ."
Bruce stands. He states, "We do seem to be in the Little Egypt section of Illinois, that southern tip from Cairo to Effingham, with Carbondale in-between. Carbondale has a fine university. I have guest-lectured there."
"How do you know that we are in southern Illinois?" Tommy asks.
"The sun's position and resulting shadows suggest certain coordinates on the Earth, to an apparently brilliant mind. Plus, only so many American rivers are as wide as the wide Mississippi. Plus, this beach's extant foliage tell me this and that," Dr. Banner points to the sky, then the river, and then pompously the surrounding landscape, as though associates cannot see these things.
Sighing heavily, Jan pulls her hair as though she could just harangue, "Jeepers-criminy! We have a detective and a scientist, but no one can ascertain a gosh-darn thing useful!"
"Language!" Speed chides.
"Oh shut up!" Wasp saucily scolds, "Age of Ultron sucked almost as much as the actual Age of Ultron,"
"Actually, I can ascertain something," Tigra returns all to topic, "There is a small farm town less than a mile east, through the woods. Somehow, I can almost smell the agricultural activity." Greer juts a finger at the treeline a piece away.
"Do you mean your bullcrap?" Jan is even a wee more waspish.
Greer exhibits her nails like she would scratch a hag's eyes out. She hisses. Impulsive Shepherd places a kind glove on Nelson's arched bare back. He rubs rapidly and well.
"I believe you," Tommy strokes her ego, "A farm town, you say?"
"It is part of the dust in the wind," Greer comments. Tigra lithely slips from Speed's light fingers.
"I likewise conjecture that there is an agrarian settlement over there, for two reasons," Dr. Banner speaks, "One, most of Little Egypt is farm towns. Two, that fast boy's boots arrived here from the east. See." The empiricist points to parted tall grass framing footprints in the soil between the beach and the forest.
"How fast were you possibly moving to mark the ground and grass like that?" inspector Nelson eyes Shepherd in his aviator goggles and sleek suit.
Tommy shrugs, "I don't know. Call me Wally West."
"But, you did come from the west," Wasp notes.
Tigra rolls her eyes. This W. really is a winner. While waiting for Whirlwind to cause mischief or the Wizard to once more wreak havoc, the reserve Avenger has watched her share of kids' cartoons. The werewoman knows who the fictional Teen Titans are.
"Shall we get going?" Speed is likewise impatient.
"We can talk and walk," Avengers chairwoman Wasp leads her trio of the thick.
The forgetful four shuffle over the dirt trail in the humid air. Bruce is behind everyone else. He feels the scorching sun of summer upon his naked back. Wiping sweat, he speaks, "May I suggest something? Howabout we search our persons for identification—except for the two half-naked people, of course. That move would seem to be common sense."
"Indeed," Tommy indicates, "I already did a quick search of myself. My billfold has neither i.d. nor even cash."
Halting the group, Jan grumbles and frowns. She reaches into her bodice for an apparent bra wallet. She produces the designer leather and examines the interior. Wasp's frown becomes a scowl, and she stares daggers at the two men. Accusation in her eyes, she silently thrushes the emptied item forward.
"Do not look at me," Bruce says back, "I was nigh-submerged in the Mighty Mississippi."
"I am not fast in that way," Tommy claims.
"I believe him," Greer grants, "For example, no one ripped this tempting talisman from my cleavage, so no one seems to be either a thief or a pervert."
"Well, someone's a transgressor!" the Wondrous Wasp sets her hands akimbo.
Abruptly, an odd look crosses Jan's face. One (painted-on) brow raised, she reaches into her hip pocket. She produces an Avengers communicator.
"That ain't your average cellphone," Greer assesses, "Why would four anonymous joes have an Avengers communicator?"
Van Dyne simpers, "Well, I get the sense that I am a very important person. Simply consider my haute fashionable-yet-functional clothing, compared to the two bumpkins walking barefoot and getting sunburnt."
"UV rays do not scare me much," Banner informs.
"Besides, 'David' and I are dressed for swimming," Nelson nears van Dyne, "The young guy is too, although that is one odd wetsuit and choice of goggles. I deduce that we are quite possibly four dummies who chose a dangerous spot for a dip."
Wasp wags her chin, "Does that scenario sound really plausible to you?"
Tigra pauses. Momentarily, she admits "no". Under the hot sun, the cicadas' song fills the lugubrious silence between chaffed Jan and chagrined, chastised cheri Greer. Tommy chews his lip and chops his thigh nervously.
"Okay, we are briefly baffled," Bruce breaks the silence, "Let us use that communicator to perhaps summon some help. The Avengers are our friends."
"Sure, Captain Ultra could fly here from Chicago," Greer scoffs, "I wish to God that Thor or the Cat still operated in Chi-Town." Ironically, Tigra is the Cat.
"You must be confused," Bruce tells Greer, "Captain Ultra was the Avengers Initiative in Nebraska; the Spaceknights were Illinois. I read the newspaper."
"Whether Lincoln, Nebraska, or the Land of Lincoln, I at least made the link between the two," nettled Nelson retorts.
"Break it up," Wasp waves the communicator between the two parties, "Let us reach out and touch someone." The muddled middle-ager alludes to an ad stuck in old memory.
"Have you ever used your device before?" Speed asks.
"How would I know, dear?" irritated Wasp taps her head briskly. She either means that she forgets or that Tommy is dumb.
Jan's other hand methodically taps the device's touchscreen. Responding, the communicator beeps and sounds like it is connecting to someone. But, then the device doesn't sound right, and its "dial-up" sounds sick and failing. Bemused Jan brings the metallic disk closer to her gaze.
Suddenly, the instrument shorts-out in Jan's palm and gives Wasp a stinging shock. Instantly, it explodes too—inches from a fine face. Reflexively, the lady clenches her lids tight. The action saves her orbs but costs her an important sight. For a centisecond, the Avengers communicator decloaks into an Avengers Identicard, and that Identicard has Wasp's picture on it. It could have provided the confused cosmopolitan a big clue to her true identity as one of Earth's Mightiest Heroines. Avengers Identicards can electronically disguise themselves as other cards and small items (see Nova v. 5 #25). Both proud and flighty, Wasp thought it cute to conceal hers as an old-time Avengers communicator, something replaced long ago (see Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #10).
Any antipathy aside, Greer moves immediately to aid Jan. Nelson checks her sister's besmirched mug. The lady looks more startled than hurt.
Beside Jan and Greer, the Fixer guffaws with great glee. But, no one hears him. The Master of Evil waves the widget that just fried the hardware. But, not one Avenger sees him feet abreast of Wasp. The old foe pockets the disrupter and drops back dramatically, but not even adept empiricist Banner detects Fixer disturbing the tall grass all around. The bad guy draws his blaster and feigns blowing-away each Avenger.
However, career criminal Norbert Ebersol guesses that he does not need the heat from ventilating a valued vigilante. By their nature, other Avengers would likely take vengeance. Plus, why bother shooting someone? Any ex-Thunderbolt knows that heroes return always anyway. You could throw a full onslaught at them. You could blow their heads off after blowing their minds; the Universe would bring them back.
Fixer strolls casually past Banner, at the back of the group, and continues his clandestine mission—although chuckling and chortling as he walks west. Thirty seconds later, Ebersol returns to Marvin Flumm floundering in the river's shore muck. The Mississippi provides some muddy water to cool Flumm's profusely perspiring face and to return him from the murk within his powerful mind. Mentallo leans a left hand on his removed helmet in the mud, and he kneels wobbly on his right knee, sinking slowly. The superlative psychic sways unsteadily as river ripples coming ashore slosh him. His right glove gingerly caresses his cranium as though he has the headache from hell and the world's worst hangover.
"Marvin, my boy, that was hilarious!" Bert hollers in his friend's ear. Fixer cackles cruelly.
Mentallo whimpers, "I'm glad that you liked that trick. I mindwiped the Hulk once before [see Incredible Hulk #403]."
"Yeah, for the Red Skull!" Fixer recalls the glorious tale.
Mentallo holds his own inflamed skull. The brain pants, "That time, though, I had days to break-down and brainwash Banner, one guy. I didn't have to fry four Avengers all at f***ing once. Just now, I may have suffered seventeen simultaneous cerebral aneurysms. It smarts severely."
Fixer does observe popped veins on Mentallo's visage, and he does notice nasal blood dripping (attracting horseflies). But, the evil genius sees no hemorrhage from the ears, so he figures that his evil psychic friend is approximately okay.
"I'm sure you'll be all right," Bert dismisses Marv's distress, "I'm sure that the headgear that I designed for you ages ago [see Strange Tales #141] helped. The Psycho-Helmet both enhances your awesome abilities and preserves your precious mind."
"Don't break your arm patting yourself on the back," sore Flumm is slightly surly.
Ebersol maintains his jovial mood. He continues to celebrate the veteran villains' little victory. He recounts the recent encounter, "I thought us so f***ing screwed today. Here we are meeting in hidden Harrisonville, Illinois, as discussed. We even have our full costumes on because only gnats and God are going to see us nefariously plotting."
Marvin interrupts, "Thanks for suggesting the close-fitting Mentallo outfit in this muggy weather, by the way. A**hole!"
Norbert rambles on, "Anyway, from out of nowhere, here in the middle of nowhere, the Avengers arrive. We hear a resounding stomp from furlongs away. And then, the Green Goliath appears against the bright blue sky. To our utter shock, the Hulk is coming. But, he ain't alone. My suit's sensors detect an incoming ground projectile before my organs possibly can."
"Fortunately, my hyper-aware mind senses everything at the speed of thought," Flumm interjects again, "Subconsciously, I sensed Speed, Tigra in his arms, and Wasp whizzing in behind them before I was even consciously aware. Intuitively, my great gift grabbed their heads and seized their psyches."
"Yeah! Like that," Fixer flicks his fingers, "The humongous Hulk enervates in mid-air and hits the Mississippi soup from eight yards up. Speed stops short of us and skids to an abrupt halt standing suddenly stiff as a board. He releases Tigra who somersaults swiftly past us but lands on her feet exactly at the shore. And, as Hulk shrinks, Wasp enlarges, alights on the soil, and strikes a still pose."
"Yeah, I zonked all of them and cancelled their powers," Mentallo summarizes.
With a broad smile, Ebersol savors the moment for a few ticks more. Then, Fixer grips Flumm by the pits and raises him. He states, "We need to get to f*** out of here before the so-called 'heroes' rally, like they always do."
"Good thinking," Mentallo acknowledges that the scoundrels should wisely skedaddle.
"Although the Avengers shouldn't rally too soon," Fixer fetches the Psycho-Helmet from the filth, "I took steps to impede the amnesiacs. I took some hot items while they were temporarily frozen. I had time to steal to Janet van Dyne's driver's license, credit cards—and cash. My sticky fingers found them where I figured she would conceal them. And, I stole Speed's Avengers card, any other identification—and cash."
"An Avengers Identicard very likely has a tracking device," woozy Mentallo mentions.
"It does. One from Stark International," Fixer shrugs, "But, Stark tech is no match for old Techno himself, me. We shall simply carry the card with us for a bit. It will ping in Harrisonville and then St. Louis, where we are. Any Avengers dispatcher figures that Speed and the gang are facing villains at those two locations. The four seem to be simply completing their mission. Soon after, the Identicard will indicate that it returns to New York because I have reprogrammed it to appear to be returning northeast at a Quinjet's pace."
"Any Avengers in Manhattan may be fooled. They won't come a-running," Mentallo doffs his cleaned helmet, "Good thinking."
Fixer taps a button on his own headgear, "Let us sneak-off to St. Louis then."
From the obscuring murk, a mini-sub emerges from the Mississippi. Fixer placed it at this isolated spot so that two supervillains, in full costume, could travel unmolested in style to St. Louis a little ways northwest. He even thought to give the craft hovering ability so that it could fly to land instead of users wading to it, and he even designed its hovering ability to be much quieter than most civilian or military hovercraft.
Mentallo and Fixer get in and escape.
A short distance yon, the confused continue conferencing while trekking through woods.
Bruce Banner considers, "As we have noted, this excursion does not seem like a planned beach party." Sylvan shade cools the Hulk's head a bit, although the August air is still cooking.
Tommy Shepherd contributes, "Yeah, we have no food, lemonade, radio, towels, or flip-flops." Crows caw ominously overhead.
Greer Nelson communicates, "I wish that we did have some clothes. Much as I normally love walking around half-naked." Stones and twigs affect her feet.
Branches catch and rip Wasp's sleeve. Jan van Dyne cracks, "Well, tiger, out here, there are some disadvantages to an expensive outfit."
Hulk frees his fellow founding Avenger. Tigra pads past into the open area beyond the woods. She pauses immediately. The others arrive, and she points to a plane of some sort on a farmer's fallow field.
Jan comments, "Hmph, that's a fancy flying machine. 'Tis not a plain plane." On this odd day, the Quinjet is something new to her.