"Avengers: Code of Hero"
Chapter 1: "Strange New Age"
Disclaimer: The Avengers franchise belongs to Marvel Comics and Marvel Entertainment Studios. The characters associated with it – and they are numerous – also belong to Marvel Comics and Marvel Studios. We make no money from this story whatsoever.
Author's note: This story is a slight A/U to Marvel continuity as of the last three or four years. While most events did happen, there are some that happened a little differently, and this story is set twenty years into the future of the Marvel Universe. The protagonist here is Henry "Hank" Pym, a.k.a. Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, and presently the Wasp. Wow, that guy's had more name changes than I've done to my FFN pen name.
If you must know why Pym is the protagonist here, my collaborator JOUNOUCHI-sama simply feels that the man got a raw deal, both in-universe and from Marvel's editorial board. I happen to agree with him there, and Dan Slott's run on Mighty Avengers seemed like it was going to fix all that . . . until the most recent issue. Shows what we know, so this story can be considered a humble tribute to a founding Avenger who's fallen on hard times but who's done his utmost to do the right thing when it counts. Let us begin.
I ran. That's what I did.
I ran. That's what I did.
I knew what was coming. I knew that my friends, the people I cared about most, were going to go to war – with each other and with the government. I knew that whoever won, the world wouldn't be as it was before; it might even be worse when the dust settled.
I decided I'd have no part of it. I couldn't bear to choose between two men who had been my friends for so many years, to watch them kill each other for a cause that was increasingly pointless to me. I chose the coward's way out, afraid of the consequences of choosing a side, not just for me but for anyone close to me.
Janet and I . . . we were starting to get to a place where we could at least be friends, be around each other without feeling sick to our stomachs with the memory of what I'd done while at my lowest. I couldn't let anything happen to her, not after what I'd already inflicted on her before. And if Tony or Steve could be trusted to do one thing still, it was look out for Jan, honor what remained of our friendship that way.
So it was that I, Henry Pym, fled to the subatomic world . . . and stayed there, until I couldn't stay anymore. Until I couldn't take not knowing what'd become of my friends, of Jan. Until I couldn't take the guilt and shame gnawing at me like a hungry predator anymore.
I'm coming out. Whatever may come, whatever I might find, I'm going to do what I should have done. I just hope the welcoming party is actually welcoming.
20 years hence . . .
20 years hence . . .
Hank Pym emerged in a New York City that he could and couldn't recognize. He could still see the Statue of Liberty in the distance, but the gaping hole where the World Trade Center had once stood was now filled by a giant green spire that he could almost swear was pointed right at the sun. A closer look at the sky revealed disk-shaped robots floating in the sky, or so the sensors in Hank's goggles told him; he wouldn't have seen them otherwise.
A low but insistent hum warned him to get out of the street, as a car passed by him. Hank could see other cars like it, all running on what looked like a Maglev [magnetic levitation] system. Their bodies were very sleek and they looked as though they'd just been recently recoated, judging by how they shined in the sunlight.
The really strange thing was how clean the streets and sidewalks were; now he knew this wasn't the New York City he remembered. How long had he been gone? Before he could contemplate that, he saw a patrol of paramilitary officers pass by him, their truck marked with the inscription of "H.A.M.M.E.R."
"Just what is going on here?" he asked himself.
"Man, get out of the street!" a voice chided with a rough British accent, before an arm reached out and pulled Hank into the shadows of a nearby alley. Hank roughly shrugged that arm off him and pinned its owner to the wall. "Hey, it's not gonna be my fault they ghost you, man."
Hank looked at the man he had pinned, a young man with his head clean-shaven and four studs above his left eyebrow. "Can you tell me what year this is?"
"You jump me and now you wanna know what year it is?" the young man asked, his British accent thick with disbelief. "You crazy or something?"
"You're the one who yanked me into an alley to do God knows what," Hank retorted smartly. "But first, let's assume I'm crazy. Let's assume I just got out of the nuthouse. What would you tell me?"
"Depends, to get you up to speed or to get you off my back?"
"Why can't it be both?"
"Since you insist on being a pain in my ass after I tried to do you a favor, I might as well." The young man paused, furrowing his multiply-pierced brow in thought. "Here's what I know. H.A.M.M.E.R. runs this bitch."
"H.A.M.M.E.R.?" Hank repeated. "What about S.H.I.E.L.D.?"
"S.H.I.E.L.D. ain't been around since I was in diapers," the young man replied. "After those shape-shifting green bastards made a really big mess of things, the government disbanded S.H.I.E.L.D. for nearly screwing us out of our own planet and handed it over to some guy named Norman Osborn –"
"The Green Goblin!?" Hank exclaimed. "Are you serious?!"
"It's Iron Patriot now," the young man corrected. "Been that since he went legit and took over everything the last guy in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. had, including those sweet armors. People like to bring up the Goblin thing every now and again, but it's not like other nutters haven't tried their hand at the hero thing."
"Norman Osborn is a pathologically narcissistic sociopath," Hank stated calmly, but the kind of calm that hinted at the rage beneath its surface. "How anyone could justify handing everything over to him, I don't know."
"Well, he did save the world from those shape-shifting greenies, or at least that's what the history books say," the young man replied, seemingly unmindful of Hank's quiet rage. "Well, what they said last time I bothered reading one. Anyway, the guy disbanded S.H.I.E.L.D. and reorganized it as H.A.M.M.E.R. Funny thing is they never said what the initials stand for, and it's been twenty goddamn years!" He laughed briefly. "Man, what a world. Nutter can't even come up with a decent name for his set, and he's running the place."
"What's happened to everyone?" Hank asked. "What happened to Iron Man? To Captain America? To Thor? To the Avengers?!"
"Iron Man went on the lam, and nobody knows if he's alive or dead somewhere. Thor and the other members of his God Squad pretty much washed their hands of us. Cap . . . well, Rogers died before I was born and the others never quite caught on, not even the one who turned out to be his sidekick. The rest of them went on the lam, took off their masks for good and went on the lam, got killed trying to fight Osborn, or threw in the towel and hooked up with Osborn."
"Just one more question. What year is this?"
"2029, man. Where've you been?"
Hank sighed. "I needed some time away . . . but it seems like I took too much of it." He pulled away from the young man and began to walk out of the alley. "Thanks for the help."
"Hey, man, you might've roughed me up and all, but . . . you want somewhere to stay?" the young man asked. "My mother cooks some mean pasta."
"Does your mother have a habit of taking in strays?" Hank asked sardonically.
"She's a big softie," the young man replied. "Explains why she put up with me so long." He shrugged. "Come on, I'll get you home before curfew."
"Curfew?" Hank echoed. Yeah, definitely not the New York City I remember.
In a posh Soho apartment, a youthful woman prepared dinner for her son, who was probably out and about getting himself in trouble, as per the usual. Thankfully, he never brought that trouble home, although she did wish he'd try for some level of personal stability instead of his constant thrill-seeking; it'd keep him off H.A.M.M.E.R.'s list.
Just then, she heard the door open. "Mom, I'm home!"
"Hi, Nolan," she called out to her son. She went out to greet him, only to see him with a blond man dressed in a strange outfit that reminded her of her boss during her younger years. "Who's he?"
"I'm Hank Pym," the blond man replied. "Sorry to impose. I can leave if that'd be less troublesome for you."
"Hank . . . Pym?" the woman repeated.
"Hank Pym?" Nolan echoed, raising a multiply-pierced brow. "The superhero Hank Pym? The founding Avenger Hank Pym? That's who I've been hanging with?"
"Where have you been?" the woman asked. "Everyone thinks you're dead! And my boss isn't going to be very happy . . ."
"Your boss?" Hank echoed. "Who's your boss?"
"Janet van Dyne," Nolan's mother replied. "She talks about you a lot, when we're alone. She . . . she misses you. A lot."
"Wow . . ." Hank uttered. "I had no idea she still felt that way."
"Well, now that you're here, you might as well eat up before you go," Nolan's mother remarked amiably, turning around to return to the kitchen.
"Your mother works for Janet?" Hank asked Nolan.
Nolan shrugged. "Yeah, she's a fashion designer. Jan's been good to her."
"I'll bet," Hank murmured. "They didn't call her the winsome Wasp for nothing."
"You don't look that much older than me," Nolan observed.
"That's because I've been in another dimension," Hank replied. "Time functions differently there."
"For twenty years?" Nolan asked. "What happened to you?"
"Let's just say I couldn't bear watching my friends tear each other apart over something they could have easily resolved had they decided to act like adults," Hank answered with dry bitterness, mostly directed inward. "Now, what about the Skrulls?"
"Well, it turns out they'd been infiltrating Earth for years," Nolan replied. "Kidnapping and replacing key political officials and even superheroes and super-villains. Some people suspect that's how the fight over registration really started, with a Skrull disguised as some random politician pushing for it and other Skrulls manipulating the superheroes into turning on each other. However it happened, it got us freaking Norman Osborn in charge of everything."
"You're talking about Osborn in the present tense," Hank noticed. "What happened?"
"He's the president," Nolan replied. "Because he's the president, he can't officially control H.A.M.M.E.R. anymore, but we all know he's pulling the strings of the new director."
Hank gaped in shock. "How did Norman Osborn become president?"
"Born American citizen, of age to run . . . and he's done his damnedest to look like the ultimate symbol of redemption," Nolan answered. "And the media ate it up like a guy with the munchies."
Hank palmed his face. "How can people be so stupid?"
Nolan shrugged. "Hey, this is America, the land where anybody can be anything they want to be. Why should a little thing like proven mass murder stop anybody?"
After dinner had finished, Hank volunteered to help Nolan's mother wash the dishes. Nolan just coolly warned Hank not to start flirting with his mother before heading off to his room to download some metal music. As Hank and Nolan's mother washed the dishes, Hank dredged up the courage to ask her about Jan.
"Well, I can give you her address, but she's really private about it, so you'd better be the real Hank Pym and not a Skrull in disguise," Nolan's mother warned, half-joking, half-serious.
"I'm as real as you are," Hank replied amiably before sighing. "Things really have changed for the worst, haven't they?"
"It could be even worse," Nolan's mother remarked.
"Everything could be even worse," Hank mused. "It doesn't make what's happening now somehow better."
"You're right," Nolan's mother admitted. "But do you have any idea what you'll do about this? It's not like punching Osborn out in front of the cameras is going to solve anything."
"I'll feel better," Hank joked. Then he turned serious. "But you're right. We've spent years punching out various threats to the world's safety, and none of it made a real difference. None of it made the lives of people like you and your son any better in the long run. Maybe that's why the public never trusted us that much; saved the world from being blown up, but it was still being destroyed by greedy, soulless bastards like Osborn and we let it slide until it was too late."
"It's never too late," Nolan's mother denied, placing a comforting hand over Hank's hand. Despite all the soapy suds, Hank mused that it felt nice to hold someone's hand after twenty years of solitude. "You're a good man, Mr. Pym, and I think you'll have a chance of making things right. Who knows? You might make more right than you think."
Hank smiled at her, his spirits lifted with her kind words. "Thank you. Now, I'd like to know the name of my savior."
"Hannah," Nolan's mother replied. "Call me Hannah."
"All right, then, Hannah," Hank answered with a smile.
After getting Jan's current address from Hannah, Hank went on his way to find her. He knew he was breaking curfew, if what Nolan had to say was accurate, but he was confident that he'd be able to take care of himself until he made it to Jan. He needed to see her again, after all these years.
On his way, though, he passed by a cemetery, and for some reason he was compelled to detour there. As he walked through the cemetery, looking at gravestones with names both familiar and foreign to him, he spotted a tall monument with a very familiar symbol etched into it. Walking toward the monument that bore the image of Captain America's shield, Hank saw a young man standing there, one that looked awfully familiar to him.
"Are you here to see him?" the young man asked softly, interrupting Hank's thoughts. "Everyone comes to see him. He's kind of like the American Pope."
"Who are you?" Hank asked.
"Call me Steve," the young man replied, his eyes still focused on the monument. "My dad named me after him."
"Your dad must have respected him a lot," Hank observed.
"Respected him? Steve Rogers was like a big brother to him," Steve remarked. "When my dad named me, he was hoping that I'd turn out a bit like him. I guess that's why I . . ."
He trailed off. "Is something wrong?" Hank asked, even though he could tell himself that things weren't entirely kosher. Before he knew it, a fusillade of bullets broke the silence, as Steve acrobatically evaded the gunshots and slipped a large concave disk over his arm. He used the disk to block the bullets heading his way, as Hank shrank to make himself a less obvious target.
Soon enough, he heard a harsh voice call, "Steven Barnes. You are wanted for insubordination and sedition. Stand down now, and mercy will be shown to you."
"Mercy?" Steve echoed. "Is that what he's calling it now?"
"If you refuse to stand down, lethal force will be applied," the voice responded with chilling finality.
"Go ahead, gentlemen," Steve taunted. "Make my day."
The bullets came back out in full force, and the miniature Hank jumped onto one of them, steering it toward one of the H.A.M.M.E.R. soldiers firing at the rapidly evading Steve. When Hank got close enough, he kicked the bullet he'd been riding back into the barrel it'd been launched out of – just as another bullet was about to come out. The backfire resulted in the rifle exploding in the H.A.M.M.E.R. soldier's hands, sending shards of the ruined weapon flying at his compatriots.
In the confusion, Hank grew back to normal size and punched one of the distraught soldiers in the face, while Steve rammed what Hank now recognized as Captain America's shield into the face of another soldier. "Hey, wait . . ." Steve said. "I think I know you . . ."
"Never mind that, let's get out of here while these guys are down," Hank said, as he and Steve Barnes made a break for it.
"Are you . . . ?" Steve asked, unable to help his curiosity.
"I am," Hank replied. "And I know a place we can hide out for now."
"Where?" Steve asked.
In an apartment overlooking an upscale part of the city, Janet van Dyne heard insistent knocking on her door. She went to see who it was, keeping a gun close by in case it turned out to be someone dangerous. Quickly opening the door and pointing the gun out at the same time, Jan was surprised to hear a heartbreakingly familiar voice say, "I wasn't expecting a greeting like that."
Jan nearly dropped the gun in surprise, looking to see who it was. "Hank?! Where have you been?!"
"It's a long story, Jan," Hank replied. "In the meantime, I'm in a bit of a jam and so's my friend here. Do you mind if we come in?"
"Wait a minute . . ." Jan said. "Is that really you?"
Hank smiled gently and looked her in the eyes. "It's me, Jan. I swear."
Jan looked him in the eyes – and found herself believing him. Still, there was something she wasn't quite sure of . . . "Why do you look so young?"
"Well, you don't look too bad yourself, Jan," Hank replied with a smile. "Seriously, though, I've been in another dimension. Time functions somewhat differently there."
"You have any idea how many women would kill for that?" Jan asked sardonically. "Anyway, hurry up and come in."
After pulling Hank and Steve inside, Jan stared them both down. "So how'd you know I was here?"
"I got pointed in the right direction by one of your friends," Hank replied. "Her son helped me from being discovered sooner when I first came back."
Jan looked at Steve. "And him?"
"H.A.M.M.E.R. tried to kill me," Steve replied. "Not a big deal; they do that an awful lot. I've learned to set my clock by them."
"Never would have expected you to be hiding out in one of Tony's old apartments," Hank remarked, looking around the apartment. "You've really changed the décor for the better, though."
Jan chuckled. "Thanks."
"Janet?" a very familiar-sounding voice asked, startling Hank.
"Tony? Is that you?"
"Tony 2.0, actually," Tony's voice replied, as a holographic image resembling a young Tony Stark materialized in front of them. "And I see you're Janet's guests of honor. Nice to meet the both of you."
"Who is he and why does he call himself Tony 2.0?" Hank asked.
"He's one of Tony's experiments that survived Osborn's purge," Janet replied. "An A.I. modeled after his memories and personality to facilitate better interfacing with his armors."
"And he hasn't gone crazy?" Hank asked.
"Quirky, yes," Tony 2.0 amended. "Crazy, no."
"If you say so," Hank answered with wary sarcasm. "Now let's get serious. How are we going to stop Osborn?"
"Good question," Jan replied. "Luke's Avengers didn't exactly meet a good end, trying to bring him down."
"Are you saying . . . ?" Hank prompted, yet let it hang in the air, afraid of what the answer would be.
"Yes," Jan answered. "Spider-Man got it the worst, because Osborn hated him the most. Osborn made him watch . . . watch while . . ."
"You don't have to say anymore, Jan," Hank said, pulling Janet into a gentle if somewhat awkward hug. "And everyone else?"
"Dead, imprisoned, or in permanent exile," Jan replied. "Not that it stopped some of them from having kids, and those kids weren't exactly willing to put up with Osborn." She chuckled, with a slight hint of bitterness. "You know kids. Always thinking they can change the world if they try hard enough."
Hank pulled away gently. "Kids . . . that's it!" He brightened up. "Jan, you are brilliant."
"What do you mean?" Jan asked.
"We need the next generation," Hank answered, "and I think I know just who to rally them."
Steve caught the look Hank was giving him. "Me?"
"You're using Captain America's shield," Hank answered. "And if I'm right about who your father is, you're not some random upstart trying to capitalize on someone else's name. Even if you were, the world needs a symbol like Captain America to rally behind, to show them what free men and women can really do. So what do you say?"
Steve sighed. "I can't do it alone. I'm in."
"And you won't be alone. I promise you that." Hank turned to Tony 2.0's virtual avatar.
"I've been gathering information in secret about the superheroes presently active," Tony 2.0 offered. "I'm sure you'll find my database very useful in your endeavor."
"Thanks," Hank answered. He turned to Jan, something weighing heavily on his mind that he hadn't realized up till this point. "Jan, do you know what happened to the original Tony?"
Jan's expression darkened with sorrow, and Hank almost didn't want to ask how it had happened. Just as he was about to ask, she cut him off. "It doesn't matter now. Osborn needs to be stopped . . . and Tony 2.0 has something to say."
"Before he passed on, the original Tony Stark created a short list of people he trusted to carry on his life's work as Iron Man," Tony 2.0 explained. "One of them, obviously, was James Rhodes but since Rhodes is currently indisposed via death, it falls to you."
"Me? Why?" Hank asked.
"Because you're the only one left," Tony 2.0 replied stoically. "You won't be alone, though; the original Tony designed me for easier interfacing with the Iron Man armors, especially the more advanced models. You'll have all the help you can stand and then some."
Hank chuckled. "Well, it's good to know I'll have a designated driver."
As it turned out, the apartment building Jan was living in, the one that had once belonged to Tony, had an armory beneath it. It was relative child's play to find his way there, given the secret access that Tony had entrusted to Jan and Jan was now entrusting to Hank. Once there, Hank saw multiple Iron Man suits in varying mixtures of red and gold, red and silver, black and gray, and sometimes all black, all gold, or all silver.
Seeing that a particularly stylized model had caught Hank's eye, Tony 2.0 took the opportunity to point out, "That was the last model the original Tony was working on. I had to finish it after he . . ."
"You miss him a lot, don't you?" Hank remarked. "It's ok . . . I miss him, too."
"Time to get you fitted for the armor," Tony 2.0 said, quickly changing the subject.
"All right," Hank said, stripping down to enter the chamber where the Extremis formula would be infused into his biochemical makeup. The process felt a lot like being disassembled and reassembled molecule by molecule – and it happening slowly enough for him to be painfully aware of it. Then again, that might have been close enough to the truth of what was going on.
When it was over, Hank almost couldn't believe it was over. It had felt like it would never end and now, now there was a buzzing at the back of his head, like static feedback. "How do you feel, Hank?" Tony 2.0 asked.
"Connected," Hank replied breathlessly. "That's the only word I have for it. I feel like I can look right at you and see every last line of code that went into making you."
"That's because you can," Tony 2.0 replied. "The Extremis process was specifically redesigned for that purpose, which will also increase the speed of your armor's reactions."
"My armor . . ." Hank repeated. "That's going to take some getting used to."
"Well, I'll be there to make the transition easier on you," Tony 2.0 said. "Now, how about you try it on?"
Hank thought about the gleaming red-and-gold model he'd seen, and it broke down into its various components, swirling around him and attaching to his body as the operating under-sheath formed from the nanites leaking out of his pores. When the armor finished assembling itself on his body, Hank flexed his gauntleted fingers.
"Wow . . . this is nothing . . . I've ever experienced before," he remarked. "I didn't even feel like this when I went giant."
"Hank?" Jan asked, making her presence known. "Is that you?"
"No more, Janet," Hank replied. "I am become Death, destroyer of worlds."
Jan stared at Hank apprehensively, before Hank broke out into a fit of modulated laughter. "Not funny, Hank!"
"Sorry, but I always wanted to say that," Hank replied with a smile beneath his mask. Then he grew serious. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got recruits to find and an emperor to expose."
His boot jets and repulsors activated . . . and Hank, the new Iron Man, took off into the night.
End Notes: There you have it, the very first chapter of what will be our Avengers epic, "Code of Hero." What strange new heroes will the new Iron Man meet? What intimidating new villains will he battle? What kind of new Avengers will he assemble to take down Norman Osborn? Who will join him? Who will decline? And how will Osborn react to the return of his most hated nemesis? (Besides Spider-Man, that is.) For the answers to those questions and others, stand by for upcoming chapters – and don't forget to review!