"Wow," Spiderman said.
Admittedly he might have understated that one just a trifle. All up and down the corridor in which he now stood could be seen melted slag and other items of less obvious provenance festooning every available surface, along with more holes than a New York City street. Arrows stuck out reminiscent of a pincushion, most situated in the broken pieces of Ultrons strewn all over the place. A pretty avant-garde décor, some might say. Especially when you factored in the groaning supervillains in various states of incapacitation, ranging from out cold to those who just wished they were.
He felt the need to elaborate upon his previous succinct assessment. "Wow!"
"Spider?" someone coughed. "That you?"
He looked over and spied the Wrecker half-submerged in foam against a wall. Leaping nimbly through the scattered carpet of men and machines, Spiderman came upon the head of this pulverized posse and knelt at his side to examine him. The brutal criminal peered out of a severely swollen face. "Thought for sure you'd made a break for it by now, kid."
He still thinks I'm one of them. Better not enlighten the bozo or he might put up a fuss. "I hate to be predictable," was all Spidey said. He confirmed Wrecker was too injured to pose a threat without there being anything seriously wrong with him before withdrawing a disc that came courtesy of Pym and Stark. Aiming this at the foam, a concentrated sonic burst shattered its molecular bonds. As the wounded man collapsed, Spiderman caught him, easing his descent to the ground. "Easy there, big fella. What happened here, anyway?"
Wrecker coughed and spit out a tooth. "When that Star Trek door wouldn't open up for us to go home, we remembered you said something about a control program. Figured once you shut it down the exit would work again, and 'til then we might as well keep smashin' robots." He looked around at the remains of the supervillain jailbreak. "I guess we bit off more than we could chew."
"No kidding." After making him more secure, Spidey then went about releasing all the other prisoners held captive by the immobilizing foam. Precious few were conscious enough to express thanks. To his great surprise, not a single one of them appeared to be dead. Just a few inches shy in some cases.
"I don't know why, but they wouldn't kill none of us," Wrecker gasped as if reading his mind. "Just beat us to a pulp and then went trooping off like they had somewhere to be. Geez, those things didn't go down easy! They kept comin' even when we ripped 'em in half!
Most likely Ultron-5 hadn't specifically told them to kill the prisoners and the Ultrons were leery about bothering their boss over the little details. According to Wasp he hadn't been a very kind and forgiving leader.
"So what's the deal?" Wrecker asked as he attempted to pop his shoulder back into place without success. "Can we get out now or what?"
"Get out?" Spidey rounded on him. "Are you kidding? Look at yourself!" He gestured around at the collection of semi-conscious villains. "Even if you did manage to escape, you wouldn't be able to get a block before a squad of Girl Scouts swooped in and mopped you all up! Forget about escaping, living is better. I'm taking all of you to the infirmary."
Having said that, he proceeded to wrap the criminals inside a large web-ball, Wrecker included, and carried them down the hall. His strength was more than adequate for something of this nature. While probably not the most comfortable ride, it was the quickest way to transport so many. Spiderman still exercised utmost care in handling them. Figures I would get stuck with the grunt work. Wonder how a scene like this must look: a jolly guy in a red suit carrying a big bag of naughty boys. It isn't even the time of year for this sort of shtick!
Inside the sack of webbing Wrecker managed to swivel around until he faced their transporter, ignoring the protesting groans of his fallen comrades. "Just what the heck is goin' on around here? Did we win or what?"
Spiderman trudged on. "Actually, it looks like the Avengers won, with a little help from yours truly. The Ultrons all went to that great Radio Slack in the sky, and since you guys helped out a bit, everybody gets to enjoy the sunny accommodations of the prison medical ward." He waved a free hand vaguely. "I receive the pleasure of escorting you there for my troubles. Without any compensation, I might add! After that it's back to the cells."
"I don't get you, kid," the burly brute stated after a few seconds of silence. "If it were me, I would've unlocked the door and run like crazy without lookin' back. Heck, any one of us would have done the same! Why'd you bother sticking around to help those clowns, or us for that matter?"
Spiderman sighed, no longer caring how this crew perceived him. "I did kind of drag you into this mess. Figured I should at least stick around and look after things. I'm just trying to be responsible. And this way I don't have federal agents crawling up my butt!"
Wrecker studied him for a time, then chuckled. "Heh!" Settling back into his not-so-comfortable confines he said, "You know, you're a good guy, Spider."
"Yeah," the part-time vigilante gave a sour grunt as he shifted his unwieldy burden around. "You have no idea."
Black Panther shot up on the bed, a most undignified curse leaving his mouth. It being Wakandan in origin didn't prevent Hawkeye from grinning before turning back to Stark. "That's how you recover someone from the encephelo-ray? Give them a shock to the heart?"
"I know," Tony examined the patient critically as he put the defibrillator paddles away. "You have to wonder just how mentally stable Hank is to consider something like this non-lethal." He then rested a hand on the African nobleman's shoulder. "Are you all right there, T'challa?"
Panther clutched his chest, grimacing. With his mask off you could see all the emotions normally kept secret, and right now it was clear he did not feel well at all. Still, he conquered this in record time, features relaxing back into the cool control normally projected by one of the most phenomenally talented leaders of men alive. "Yes," he stated before turning eyes undimmed by any vestiges of pain upon them. "Has the situation been resolved, then?"
Hawkeye smiled in a nasty way. "Ultron-5 and all his buddies are currently one big particle cloud zipping across the Negative Zone. You missed some pretty wild times, Your Majesty."
"So long as no one was lost, I do not regret the experience." Despite some obvious concern on the part of his colleagues, he swiveled off the slab and stood up, sliding his mask back into place and regaining a measure of shadowy dignity in the process. Panther rotated his arms in circles. Then, having satisfied himself as to the use of his limbs, he cast a quick look around the medical bay. "There appears to have been trouble here as well," he observed.
"Got me who's responsible." Tony Stark followed his gaze towards what seemed to be the remnants of an Ultron. "I guess there might have been a fight, but the only possible suspect is Mandrill, and he's in no condition to take on anybody. Maybe Spiderman stopped by here earlier? He was lost in the station for a while."
The Panther moved without further comment to where Bruce Banner lay sleeping peacefully in a rejuvenation capsule. After examining the readout, he turned back to them and said, "Let us go see to Henry now. Much still needs discussion."
Without waiting for confirmation he swept towards the door. Clint and Tony exchanged identical looks at this lofty declaration before following in his wake. "As the King of Wakanda demands," the archer intoned mock-seriously.
A second later, both he and T'challa felt their communication cards activate, and all clearly heard two unmistakable words.
Mixed in with this was the sound of screams. Afterwards they were too busy running pell-mell down the hall to notice the figure stealing behind them at a careful distance.
"Jan? You're fussing."
"I am not," she responded primly while continuing to splint Henry's arm against his chest. "Fussing is what you do when something might happen. Since the worst has already come and gone, this right here is called first-aid."
"But I'm really fine!" His assertion was marred by a wince and gasp of pain as she tightened the bandages.
Four of the Avengers now grouped together in Henry Pym's laboratory. Since neither Bruce Banner nor Black Panther had regained consciousness yet, Hawkeye and Tony elected to transfer them to the infirmary where they could recuperate in private. As for Henry, the injured academic had refused any such medical treatment, determined to first confirm that no further remnants of the Ultron collective lurked anywhere on the station. Thor and Cap remained with them at Wasp's insistence, and his annoyance.
"Hank," and here she held off further mending to fix him with a serious look. "You were held prisoner and nearly killed by a monster. I almost lost you! Don't act like none of that happened. Because there have been some very serious issues raised today that we are definitely going to have to discuss." She glanced over at where their two guards remained on alert, then leaned in close to whisper, "In private."
A sore grin he couldn't hide made its way up his face before he once more assumed a look of firm professionalism. "Okay. You're right. There's still a huge mess left to deal with. For starters, we don't know for certain just what the Ultrons did to the systems here. They might have set up booby traps. I've never been more glad we voted down Tony's proposal to install a self-destruct program, otherwise we might all be dead! On top of that there's no one guarding the prison now; we'll probably have to call in S.H.I.E.L.D. to provide the manpower, and that could continue indefinitely considering our situation and their tendency to snap up any opportunity. Plus you mentioned something about Virus X? We need a…"
Jan paid him half an ear as she concentrated on binding his wounds. Hank had submitted to this treatment on the condition that he be allowed to check the security system in the meantime. Wasp, of course, would not leave his side for anything. After all that they had just been through, she did not feel comfortable letting him be alone.
She had borrowed the unconscious Hulk's Avengers card to replace her own that had been lost in the hangar fight. Potential threats weighed heavy on her mind and she didn't want to be out of communication should anything happen. For starters, a scan of the cells revealed several criminals had gone missing. According to Cap, some of these were the ones he had witnessed fighting the Ultrons earlier. None of them had escaped Solution 42 as far as they could tell. No one seemed certain as to just how the villains managed get free in the first place, but Spiderman was quick to volunteer his services towards tracking them down, refusing any offers of help. She really wished they had another spare ID card to offer him, but Tony was still somewhat suspicious of Spidey. According to him, if they let the guy have a card he might never give it back. And she had to admit there might be good reason not to. The possibility of walking into Avengers Mansion's kitchen to find him raiding their fridge was not beyond the pale.
Wasp busied herself with Henry's care. Might this be considered avoiding the issue? It wasn't lost on her that she had done something potentially monstrous today. For all her talk of wanting to save lives and how it was necessary to take Ultron-5 alive, when the choice was hers to make, she destroyed him without hesitation. They still had no way to tell what his plans involving Virus X might have been or whether he had already carried them out. For all they knew, upon returning to Earth they might be walking into a slaughterhouse. Was it worth it? After everything Ulfie did, tried to do, and wanted to do, could I have acted any differently? I didn't plan on having things turn out that way. Something just came over me at the end there. It was all too much to bear. The only choice that made any sense was to finish him off. Now that she had some time to think and not just react, Janet asked herself: why did I do it? Did I hate him?
No. Strangely enough, that wasn't the reason. It's just that… letting him live was too frightening.
Ultron-5 represented a dark future for me. If I had let him continue, he would have killed Henry to satisfy his hatred. And how do you convince someone not to commit genocide? What can you say to a mind that would consider a plan so hideous as justified? There's no way to even begin. You can't force a person to have a conscience. Regardless of how he might have developed in regards to me, Ulfie remained inhuman in the worst possible way. I would never want to be in the world he envisaged for us. And I could never live secure in this one knowing that he was still alive. I killed him so that I wouldn't have to always be terrified. For myself or the people I love.
Does that make me bad?
"…seems to be an awfully large amount of both electrical and computer processing power being routed into the lab. I can't seem to find out where it's all going, though! Maybe if…" Henry's voice stopped. "Well, here's something odd."
She blinked, focusing her attention back on him. "What?"
His face was curious as he indicated towards a model of the station onscreen. "I'm not receiving a signal from the deep-space exploration module I left in Hangar Bay 2. Where could it be?" He got up and began to limp towards the door, wincing as he placed pressure on his injured foot. Before she could call him on his gung-ho attitude he affirmed, "We should check this out right away. Jan, you haven't regained full use of your abilities yet, so for the time being please wait here. Thor, would you mind coming with…" Henry looked over towards their guards, then seemed to hesitate, his gaze flickering between the two big men to linger on Steve Rogers. "Actually, maybe Thor should stay with Janet. It'll be… safer that way."
Cap rose to accompany him. At the same time, Janet shivered. Space exploration module? She remembered a conversation between Ulfie and his minions beforehand. They had talked about a spacecraft in that bay as well, though she couldn't recall seeing it. That means Bay 2 must be where the time equipment for her was set up. She hadn't revealed that little nugget of information to anybody yet. It remained a hard concept to fit her brain around. Now might be a good time to broach the topic. If those three went there and Thor decided to bust up the time drive on general principle, theoretically she might disappear from existence as a result. Who could predict how something like that worked?
"Hank, wait," she called out. "There's something I didn't mention earlier."
"Yes, Jan, what is …?" As he turned back to her, Henry hesitated, frowning. "What is… that?"
"Hm?" She looked over her shoulder, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. Just a bunch of science stuff everywhere. Big computer banks and microscopes, lasers and digital meters, gizmos out the whazoo, in addition to a glass display case where insects could be kept…
And that's when she saw the big black sarcophagus tucked away in a dark corner.
"What is that?" Ant Man repeated, stumbling towards the object. It stood around ten feet tall, with high-voltage cables running into its sides. There were no lights on its surface indicating activity of any kind. The case was completely featureless. All the same, when Henry walked towards it, Wasp felt an immediate sense of dread. It made her want to call out, tell him to stop.
Instead it was Captain America who spoke up. "Wait, Pym. If you don't recognize that thing, it might be wise to leave it alone. Like you said, the Ultrons could have left booby traps." He stepped forward to take up his role of the bodyguard. "You can't be too careful."
The black coffin split open.
A pall of steam spilled forth from its confines. In a flash Captain America interposed himself between Henry and the menacing object. Wasp jumped up from her place on the console. There was something in there, past the obscuring mist. Her heart began to pound. I can't make it out, what if…
There was no time to even scream. Janet Van Dyne only caught the glow from a pair of red eyes, causing her to go rigid with fear, before something shot out of the vessel, knocking Captain America aside and snatching up Henry Pym by his lab coat.
"GAUGH…!" the hapless scientist gasped in disbelief as he dangled limply in the air. "Can't be… Ultron-5?"
In defiance of this statement, the Ultron synthezoid brought its creator down to eye level. "No longer," a familiar voice boomed from its death's-head face. "Now I am the last… the ultimate… ULTRON."
With that an eerie red aura shot from the robot's mouth. It surged into Ant Man's chest, causing him to stiffen and scream. Ultron then flung his glowing body aside to crash violently into the main view-screen. He fell twitching at Wasp's feet.
Henry! She dropped down beside him, only to jerk back as a red spark snapped between them. There was a howl of outrage, and for one crazy second she thought it came from her. Then her hair rustled as Mjolnir went soaring past. Faster than a bullet and more devastating than a Tomahawk missile, it struck Ultron right in his face. The wicked machine took one step back.
And that was all.
No damage. Not so much as a dent or crack anywhere. Ultron's open mouth had never seemed more like a smirk when he righted himself and smugly declared, "There is nothing you can do to destroy me, Avenger. I am invincible."
He then turned his head to look straight at Janet. That was when she knew without a doubt it really was him.
Crouching beside the unresponsive Ant Man, Jan stared in despair at this incomprehensible threat. There was a weird new quality about the reborn Ultron that registered to her upon closer examination. He was bigger for starters, standing as tall as Thor, though not as broad. In addition this one just looked different from all the rest. A finely honed sense of style allowed her to pick out the differences: tapered abdominal region made of segments, slenderness around the joints of arms and legs, thinner neck and larger head. The design was unarguably more insect-like, no longer dependent on the human body as its major template. As she watched, what looked to be metal shoulder-blades detached from his back. An instant later twin beams of red energy shot from these founts, growing out to form what she thought might be broadswords initially. When the robot rose up to hover in the air right after, she realized they were actually wings. Everything about him was sleeker, scarier, and without a doubt… deadlier. Only his face remained the same, mocking them with this abrupt return from beyond the grave.
Thor bellowed a challenge and charged forth. She heard Cap shouting at her to take Henry and run from here.
Instead Wasp slipped a hand into her waistband. Withdrawing the card, she pressed its signal pad.
"Avengers Assemble," she whispered tearfully.
Ultron caught the signal originating from Wasp. Yes, he thought with approval. Bring them all to me, and I will finish what I started. Then we can proceed forth into our new world together.
At first when Janet had interfered in the last battle, he had been uncertain as to why. Her doing so could be interpreted in numerous ways, favorably or not. Upon intercepting her insect telepathy it became even less clear. She must have known he was capable of perceiving her transmission just as well as Pym. What did this signify?
Only after she shrank them both did it make sense. Janet was trying to protect him.
A typical reaction for those she cared about. Janet understood the danger he was in, and also how her abrupt entry into the battle had prevented him from engaging his ultimate move. While she was there, he could not dispose of the Avengers with that method. The risk was too great. In the resulting situation, there existed a high likelihood he might eventually be rendered inoperative and taken captive. Even if the two of them managed to escape together, the Avengers would hunt them, and in doing so possibly come upon his new body before it could be made fully functional.
To remedy this, his queen had devised a brilliant solution. If Pym and his colleagues assumed Ultron to be completely destroyed, they would let their guards down, believing the peril was past. Then they would busy themselves tending to their wounded and attempting to reassert control over the station rather than looking for him. Janet must have deduced for herself what he intended to use the stores of adamantium to accomplish. She acted to give him the opportunity to transfer his consciousness without anyone else being the wiser. Had he simply downloaded his files, leaving only the empty shell of his original body behind, the Avengers would have been quick to take notice. Especially if it happened in the midst of battle. Instead Wasp's stratagem afforded him the time he needed to complete the transfer without leaving any evidence of having done so behind.
Now his ultimate battle body was at last complete. The exoskeleton was fashioned from solid adamantium, as were all mechanical components comprising his internal mechanisms, from the servos for balance right down to the pistons providing him with strength. His optics and blaster outlets were compound diamonds. A miniature fusion reactor powered him, and a mesh of electrified adamantium wires protected the joints and seams of his armor, allowing for flexibility while still restricting any attempt to enter him. His armaments were far more suited to combat as well. Every conceivable flaw had been addressed, leaving him incapable of being harmed while able to deliver maximum damage.
He was willing to admit, there had been a measure of trepidation upon entering this new form. After all, he had never transferred his consciousness from the original hardware before. What if, upon reactivation, it was to find that the result was no longer the same being? Any personal experimentation had been disallowed owing to the risks. Could his self-perception, his goals, and most importantly his devotion to Janet survive an electronic transfer? Or might something essential be given up in doing so. Would the adamantium Ultron awaken as a completely different entity, separate and removed from Ultron-5 in every way? Did he risk his individuality, his… soul?
That question had been answered. The sight of both Janet and Pym still produced the same reactions as in his memories. He endured. His soul had not been lost. Everything he recognized about himself remained in order, complete with improved functionalities. Now it was time to test those improvements. Janet would appreciate the display. He was certain of that.
Ultron permitted a first strike from Mjolnir to obtain the data from such an attack. This would allow him to perceive the limits of his form. The results did not disappoint. Having satisfied himself as to his invulnerability, he leapt forward to meet the ignorant immortal's next move.
Let us see how much damage a god can endure.
The prince of Asgard shot ahead with a deranged cry, disregarding all proof that his attacks were of no avail. Ultron sprang to meet him. There was a weird grace to his movements that hadn't been evident before, a fluidity surpassing the simple imitation of human behavior. Lightning collided with red energy, filling the lab with the smell of ozone and scorched steel.
Janet hovered on the outskirts of the conflict beside Hank, both protected behind Steve Rogers' shield. None of them could draw close enough to provide support without risking injury. To the onlookers' further disbelief, Ultron caught a blow from Mjolnir on one forearm without displaying any injury. Janet couldn't shake the suspicion that he was showing off now, maybe even for her. It would have been funny if she weren't almost beside herself with panic.
Looking down, she was delighted to see Henry now recovered and watching the battle. The red aura from before was gone. As man and machine clashed he grimaced in obvious pain. Looking down at himself he made a face at the sight of a dull red color surging through the Pym Particle dispersal system of his costume. "I don't believe it," he muttered groggily. "Ultron-5 actually developed anti-Pym Particles, and used the adamantium reserved for the D2 Cell to create an entirely new body he could download himself into!"
"What can we do?" Cap asked over his shoulder, never letting his eyes leave the titanic struggle taking place before them.
Hank shook his head. He appeared more bewildered than anything else. "I'm not sure. Theoretically the metal is indestructible. There's nothing that can stop him now."
"I refuse to believe that!" the older hero snapped. "There's got to be some way to overcome this!"
All looked over as a cry of pain sounded. Ultron had delivered a sharp jab to Thor's chin. Previously such a tactic would have only resulted in denting his fist against the Thunder God's face. Now that blonde head snapped back sharply, and Ultron followed up with a roundhouse punch to the head that actually brought him to his knees. God, he's losing, Jan thought in disbelief!
As Ultron prepared to deliver another crushing blow upon the winded warrior, a colorful shield clanged off his scalp. He had made no attempt to avoid it, almost as if he wanted to experience the best the Avengers could offer in terms of combat, to prove he could take everything they had. Swiftly he came about to regard this new opponent, just as Captain America took a running leap and drove both feet against his metal chest. Invulnerable though he may be, even Ultron could not completely disregard the force of those chemically enhanced legs. He flew back, while Cap landed in a crouch between him and Thor, catching his shield without effort and glaring defiantly at the hovering android.
Ant Man watched their stalwart champion for a moment longer, then looked up at Janet. "Jan, I can't seem to move. You have to go, now!"
"WHAT?" Concern for their friends did not prevent her from experiencing outrage at his suggestion. "You want me to run?"
"Listen!" he hissed. "Our team is at half strength! Hulk is out of commission, Tony lost his armor, and neither you nor I can fight like this; as we are now, there is no chance of prevailing in a melee! Retreat is the only viable solution under the circumstances. Once back on Earth you can call in allies to help us!"
She hesitated upon seeing the pleading look on his face. Never had Hank appeared so desperate, and yet she could practically feel the fierce frustration in his touch. He didn't want her to leave any more than she did. But what else could they do? He was too injured to fight even if he could move, and she had not recovered enough in terms of Pym Particles to contribute to the battle. With that in mind, wouldn't it be best for all of them to make a getaway?
Captain America prowled around Ultron now with his shield up in preparation for any attacks. Without warning the robot turned in midair and zipped towards him. The wing projectors on Ultron's back slid up over his shoulders like they were running on invisible tracks and came slashing down towards Cap in sharp scarlet streaks. Unable to dodge in time, he interposed his shield and caught them both, visibly straining against the force of the assault. The pair of improvised energy swords sent up sparks of scarlet lightning as they collided with that enduring symbol of liberty. Now it was Ultron's turn to meet with an unbreakable defense as the flashing disc refused to be cut.
"Hold fast, Captain!" Thor took this opportunity to rush in from the rear, chivalry not seeming to be an issue when dealing with robots. Before he was halfway there, though, something appeared at Ultron's back. It resembled a collection of transparent red honeycomb shapes neatly arranged together to form a wall. Any defensive implications were rendered moot when Ultron raised a hand over his shoulder and fired a beam into the back of one of the geometric planes. Instantly bolts of focused scarlet power shot out of every surface connected to it, showering the war god in a barrage that forced him to concentrate on striking them away even as he gave ground.
Meanwhile Captain America had gone to one knee beneath the unrelenting assault. Abruptly Ultron reached down and grabbed hold of the shield. Recognizing the futility in attempting to engage in a contest of strength with a machine, the big man instead relinquished his iconic weapon and took the opportunity to vault backwards. Ultron's scarlet wings came within a hair's-breadth of cleaving the valiant Avenger into pieces. Before he could proceed with further attacks a volley of glowing purple daggers flashed across the lab. Most scattered off the adamantium armor without leaving a mark, but a few tore through the energy wings. Both appendages wavered unsteadily as their current was disrupted, forcing Ultron to drop down to earth once again.
He went completely still upon landing, like a locust settling in to study its environment before making any moves. As he did so, two arrows soared with unerring accuracy and impacted with his small red eyes. The tips broke instantly, leaving Ultron still without any visible signs of injury.
"Oh, you've got to be kidding me!" Hawkeye lamented as he drew up from a longbow-man's crouch. "Haven't we already had 32 flavors of Ultron today? This guy won't take a hint!"
"Less talking, more fighting!" Tony Stark shouted, firing both palm blasters full strength towards Ultron. At the same time Thor swung his hammer to release a wave of raw electric current. Their combined power collided, and the maniacal machine was briefly lost from sight in the resulting detonation. Janet pulled Hank with her to take cover behind a console.
"EVERYONE!" she shouted over the explosion, hugging him to her as the whole station seemed to be rocked by that blast. "GET OUT OF HERE WHILE YOU CAN!" Even as she did, Wasp wondered; could they get away? The answer to that became moot at another bloodthirsty yell from Thor. Sound tactical strategy or no, there was one person who could never be made to abandon a battle once begun. The god of lightning sounded ready to tear Ultron apart with his teeth. Nor could they simply abandon him. And more importantly…
"This has to end," Janet whispered as she cradled Henry in her arms.
Ant Man gazed up at her despondently. "Jan, please…!"
"No. I'm not going to run away, Hank. And he's never coming between us again." Her bright blue eyes affixed upon his face, letting him see that this was no mere vanity or thoughtless whim on her part. Just simple purpose. "Ultron is our problem. We have a responsibility to end this. Cap is right, there's got to be a way! Can we wipe his programming, or shoot him into the Negative Zone again? Even adamantium must have limits! Think, Hank!"
But there was no time to think, as Ultron rose over the top of the smokestack.
He stood within the conflagration of opposing powers, considering. All relevant data had been obtained from the Avengers. As predicted, they could not damage him in any way. The disruption by Black Panther's vibranium daggers upon his wings was now corrected. They would prove capable of resisting such an attack in the future. In addition his anti-Pym Particles had been successfully applied to Henry Pym. Escape was no longer an option, and his modifications were functioning well within parameters. All attempts to destroy him had been repulsed. Therefore, this exercise had reached the limits of its usefulness. The only question that remained was which one of them to eliminate first.
Predictably, Thor volunteered. The Asgardian flew up and brought Mjolnir down upon his skull only to watch it rebound off. Ultron knew better than to attempt to take the hammer from him, as it reputedly defied anyone but its owner's touch. Instead he caught the next one on Captain America's shield which he had looped across one arm. This extra measure of protection only furthered his appreciation of this body's capabilities. It was nothing short of spectacular that the exoskeleton had not given way in the slightest against a force of such power. But defensive capabilities had already been ascertained. Time for offensive verification.
The other Avengers scrambled about the floor below like ants in an attempt to make themselves moving targets, at the same time continuing with their trifling efforts to damage him. He knew their tactics by this point, as well as appropriate responses. To demonstrate, Ultron decided upon his first victim: Black Panther. His agility and athletic prowess were arguably the highest in this present selection. He would make the best test subject.
Without bothering to look Ultron swept his free hand around and fired a beam right at the Panther. Naturally, T'challa had vaulted out of the way long before the attack could come close. However at the same time, another of the red honeycomb energy panels appeared right behind him. Ultron's shot struck the barrier, to be instantly reflected towards the original target. Some heretofore unknown danger sense gave the Panther warning, for he spun out of the way once more, in the process connecting two of his throwing knives to form a quarterstaff and slashing at the incoming bolt.
It was almost too easy. As the vibranium rod fell, Ultron simply created another set of honeycomb panels around T'challa, reflecting the beam's course off them at the speed of light in a zig-zagging pattern that evaded the staff before proceeding to strike Black Panther squarely in the back.
He fell, and Ultron amended his threat assessment: one down.
Thor took his comrade's defeat in typical fashion. He proceeded to shout and swear while hammering away at Ultron for all he was worth. Superior aerial dexterity meant the majority of those strikes went far wide of their mark. Those that connected were brushed aside with little effort. Ultron analyzed his opponent's moves, waiting for the appropriate moment. It came when Thor swung down in a great two-handed blow that hit only air.
Ultron struck. From out of his left forearm, a long curved blade of adamantium slid forth. This he drove into the big man's gut. Normal weaponry would not be capable of inflicting damage upon an Asgardian no matter the strength of the wielder or how sharp. Would even this remarkable alloy prove insufficient?
The answer came as the blade sank deep into Thor's side. Scarlet blood began to ooze around it, staining his tattered clothing. Unfortunately, prior to further aggravation of this wound, Thor grasped his arm and wrenched the blade out, flinging Ultron aside in the process. No matter. Satisfactory performance had been confirmed. This would indeed prove sufficient. As if to confirm this, Thor did not press his assault, only clasping the injury, jaw clenched in a ferocious snarl. A full power blast from Ultron's mouth then saw him plummeting like a picked-off goose to hit the floor in a heap. Not so impervious now. Two down.
As Hawkeye's arrows and Stark's blasts rattled or exploded ineffectually against his frame, Ultron took aim at the remaining Avengers. Having verified its success, he then put the previous tactic into practice again. Scarlet energy flashed from his mouth and hands, the honeycomb reflectors sprang up in response. Captain America managed to evade two trajectory adjustments before a third brought him down. Hawkeye managed only one, and Tony Stark was laid low by the initial shot.
Momentarily out of targets, Ultron considered. His sensors had not detected Spiderman in the vicinity, nor was the Hulk anywhere close by. Taking that into consideration meant all secondary enemies had been neutralized. Leaving only one left to consider.
It was finally time… to deal with Henry Pym.
For a second Janet couldn't accept what she had seen. It was simply too surreal when that red-stained spike emerged out of Thor's back. After throwing Ultron away, though, there was no denying the blood leaking down his side to spatter against the floor.
It can't be. Something like that wasn't supposed to happen. Not to a god. Not to any of my friends!
An already horrible situation then got even worse as further beams flashed from Ultron. She saw Cap dive for cover, only for more of those reflective hexagons to redirect the shot right into him. He collapsed with a cry of pain. Tony attempted to produce a barrier from his gauntlets. The lasers passed right through his shield like it wasn't even there, and he too fell. Hawkeye managed to notch one last arrow before he too was struck, dropping to the floor and lying motionless, his quiver's contents emptying all over the place.
That left only her, and Hank. And Ultron.
The murderous synthezoid rotated its head about as if in search of more prey. Having apparently decided there were none, he deactivated his wings, descended to the floor and began to approach them. Captain America's shield was discarded to fall and wobble noisily in circles before coming to a rest. Metal heels rang out a steady pulse in counterpoint. It reminded her of a horror movie. Wasp observed his approach with a kind of focused intensity. Were they next? She couldn't seem to build up enough charge to even fire off a medium Wasp sting. From the corner of her eye Jan saw one of Clint's arrows lying a few paces off, and instinctively she lunged for it before scrabbling back to Henry and grabbing him with one arm. She pointed the simple weapon at Ultron.
Hank stirred. "Jan, what…?"
"Shh! Don't talk!" So what if it was pathetic and useless? The only thing worse was sitting here and just waiting to be murdered. Ultron drew to a halt before them. He regarded the incapacitated Ant Man, then seemed to dismiss his existence in favor of Janet. Her arm wouldn't stop shaking. She had never felt so scared as right now.
It was almost an admonishment. The sound of his voice made her flinch. Her own when she responded was so weak as to be unrecognizable. "… Ulfie."
He clasped his hands behind his back in a gesture she had come to equate with him. The huge mechanical insect warrior now did indeed bear a strong resemblance to the Ultron she had come to know. Regardless, she did not lower the arrow.
"Stay away from us!" That sickle blade from before had gone back into its fount. Blood still shone in lurid streaks across his arm, however. It made her sick just looking at it.
His chin rose a fraction. "Is my appearance not to your liking? I had hoped you would appreciate the similarities between us. We are a… matching set."
Wasp gaped at him. I don't believe this. Is he still after me, even considering what I did to him? Is there really a brain inside that head? What kind of a lovesick loon am I dealing with?
"Do not be concerned. Cosmetic improvements can be made to this form should you so require it. For now, there is something that needs to be done." He glanced down at the arrow. "Would you like to perform the honors?"
Her eyes narrowed. "To do what?"
"Kill Henry Pym."
Wasp could only stare. His artificial eyes burned with a sick fire that held her riveted, unable to act.
"I refrained from terminating the other Avengers only because I wished for him to be the first to die. Now that he has seen you make your choice and my superiority has been clearly demonstrated, there is no further meaning to his existence. His termination is necessary for our continued wellbeing." Ultron held out his hand to her. "I would be happy to deliver the final blow if you do not wish to sully your hands."
She gazed at that proffered appendage. Blood still dripped from his fingertips. Each droplet danced in the air for a few seconds before splattering against the floor with a tiny plipping sound, like rain hitting a roof. And Janet realized she now faced a crucial moment. No matter what she decided, Ultron clearly intended to kill Hank in the next few seconds. Her eyes cast about in search of help. None of the Avengers were upright. Maybe Spiderman or the Hulk would come busting in and…
What? What could they do? What could anybody do? Ultron can't be destroyed now. What's worse, he's completely insane. Thinks I belong with him. Nothing I say or do can convince him otherwise. Because of that, I have to watch all my friends die.
Or do I?
The crimson gore caught her eye once more. An idea came to her then. It made so much sense she barely needed to think about it.
Maybe there is a way to stop him.
With that, Janet Van Dyne reversed the arrow in her hand and brought it to her own throat.
She heard Hank gasp. Ultron reached out for her, but stopped when she pressed the sharp tip in a little. Wasp flinched at the resulting prickle of pain and had to fight an instinctive urge to fling this deadly implement away. Afterwards she felt completely calm. The two of them stared at each other, Ultron frozen in the act of attempting to stop her from committing this previously unthinkable act.
"Do I have your attention now, Ultron?" she asked in a cold, polite tone.
Slowly his fingers flexed as though imagining whether or not he could grab the shaft from her in time. "Janet, this course of action is unwise. Please consider: why are you doing this?"
"Because I can't think of any other way to stop you," she whispered. Drawing a deep breath, Wasp fixed him with a look of icy determination. "I want you to know that if you harm Henry, I intend to kill myself. Even if you somehow prevent me now, at some point in the future you can rest assured that I will do it. Can your time splicing gizmo work if there's no me currently alive to introduce back in?" When he did not respond, it gave her the answer. "Didn't think so. I have to be alive for it to succeed. No memories to transfer otherwise. That was the one major flaw in your scheme. So now that you understand, let's talk."
He remained in that same pose, reaching out towards her. Probably calculations were flashing through his brain like wildfire. His eyes had narrowed down to tiny red slits, almost disappearing in the process. It made her think of the time seemingly so long ago when she first ordered him not to obey her. That was how all this started. For me, it might end here. Not that I'm bothered by that idea. Well, maybe a little, now that I think about it. Resolutely she fought past this indecision and pressed on.
"If you want me to have anything to do with you in the future, get one thing through your head: nobody's going to die! Not Henry, not the Avengers, and not the human race. NOBODY! Only if it means their remaining safe… then I'll stay with you. But no other way!"
Hank was already struggling to voice his disagreement. She clapped her hand over his mouth to stifle any protests. Janet Van Dyne stared resolutely at the motionless automaton, letting him see and hear her personal resolve. Any misgivings that came with it would have to be overlooked. "This is my decision to make, and it might be our only chance to see things end well," she stated flatly, speaking to both of them now without letting her attention leave Ultron. "I didn't get into this business just because I thought it was a blast or a chance to get attention. It's because I know for a fact there are threats in the world ordinary people can't deal with. That's when you've got to have a superhero. Sometimes being one means busting heads, and other times it requires making sacrifices. Pretty big ones. In this case, it means becoming a robot's mistress to keep him from offing everyone I love. But I'm willing to make that commitment. What are you willing to give up to be with me, Ulfie?"
Her tongue failed her after that. It felt like her heart was in her throat at the prospect of how he might respond. He remained motionless. Love or hate. Which would Ultron choose?
"People you love," he echoed her words. His head rotated around slightly. "Including Henry Pym."
Oh no. This is not sounding good. "Ulfie, listen…"
"You have done this to her, Pym," he rolled right over her objections, leveling a finger at the helpless physicist. "Turned her against me somehow to save your own misbegotten life. It will not be sufficient. We will NOT be subject to your wishes EVER AGAIN. I AM ULTRON! AND SHE IS MINE!"
Crazy. Totally and completely crazy. It made her so furious tears came to her eyes. "You loony, messed-up robot, I'm not going to be your queen! I LOVE HENRY PYM!"
Ultron's optics flashed a livid crimson. A strange noise like garbled static emerged from his mouth. It was like he had become too furious to speak. The wing implements spun around to his chest once more, their deadly blades sliding out to crackle over both of them now.
"P-Y-M!" his harsh squawking voice grated on her ears.
That's it. Talking time is over. The only hope left is maybe if I get him angry enough he'll blow a gasket. "Let me tell you something, Ultron. You are so not worth my time!" Wasp spat venomously, her every word laced with a woman's wickedest scorn. "It doesn't matter what you have to offer, or how much you convince yourself we're meant to be together. Whatever future you cooked up for us, it's never going to happen! So go sit in your favorite chair, put on some sad music and have a good cry! Whatever it takes to get over me! Just know that we are THROUGH!"
The mad robot's face and mouth flamed as he loomed over them, standing out horribly against the shadows cast by his body. Wasp felt certain they would have both died then, were it not for Mjolnir.
The enchanted mallet smashed into Ultron's side and dragged him away with the force of its impact over to where its master awaited. Thor grabbed hold then, slamming him to the ground. The blonde giant's face was white, whether from anger or loss of blood. His eyes had gone wide, pupils dilated to points, and flecks of foam decorated lips pulled back from his teeth. He planted one foot on the android's back, grasped hold of its jaw with both hands and heaved upward. Tendons stood out on his neck and veins bulged in his supernaturally strong arms as he attempted to wrench that ugly head from its shoulders.
In response Ultron's body underwent a strange contortionism. His back curved, legs shooting up to wrap around Thor's neck, and with a single heave their positions were reversed, Thor flat on the ground with Ultron atop him. The snarling berserker pivoted, reaching for him, and Ultron drove his fist into the wound he had previously made. Thor arched up, roaring louder than the Hulk. An adamantium elbow came down hard on his neck to send him crashing to the floor.
Cold metal fingers wound into the Asgardian's yellow hair, yanking his head back. At the same time, a blade identical to the one from before emerged out of his forearm.
"STOP!" Wasp screamed. A bio-blast flared to life around her fist. She took aim at Ultron's head. He ignored her, lifting his arm back to decapitate the fallen god. Save him, stop him, HELP!
At that instant, the door to the laboratory opened.
Ultron's head whipped around. Wasp looked as well, disbelieving. Was it Hulk, or Spiderman? At this point she would have welcomed any help. Heck, Dr. Doom would have been a welcome sight.
It was none of these. Instead there stood Kang.
So unexpected was this appearance even Ultron seemed taken aback. The Conqueror disregarded them all save for the robot. In his hands he held some odd kind of rifle that looked like it had been patched together out of spare parts from a junkyard. A dish like a home satellite system crowned this odd contraption. Wasp thought it looked rather like the Vibranium gun Henry had taken from Ulysses Klaw.
Kang spoke not a word. His black eyes locked on Ultron. Without further ado he aimed his weapon and pulled the trigger.
The little ball at the dish's tip glowed yellow. Nothing more.
The thing's a dud!
Ultron seemed to have recovered his wits by this time. He let Thor drop with an ignominious thud, the scythe sliding out of sight. Instead the killer robot raised an arm and pointed it casually at this new intruder. Scarlet energy glowed. Panicked, Wasp fired her own shot, only to watch it go wide of its target owing to her frazzled nerves. Ultron paid her attack no mind, focusing on Kang who continued to train his worthless weapon on him grimly.
Without warning the red glow winked out.
Janet gaped in amazement. Ultron too seemed uncertain of how to respond to this. He raised his hand, bringing it up before his face curiously.
A faint smell came to Wasp's nostrils. It was almost like… melted plastic. Even as this realization came, she noticed something odd. Wisps of smoke appeared to be rising above the robot. She couldn't tell where they might be emanating from. Ultron flexed his fingers slowly.
His hand burst into flame.
The orange tongues of fire died out quickly, leaving the armor without a singe to be seen. But then it happened again in other regions. From seemingly every joint in his armor, fire snapped out in brief bursts, bringing with it more smoke and the smell of charred rubber.
Ultron lifted his head and drove towards Kang. Before he could reach him, his legs buckled, sending the synthezoid pitching to the floor. Fire and smoke now encased his whole body. His head had come ablaze. In spite of this, he continued to crawl towards the man responsible. The future warlord moved to meet him, limping slightly. After a while, Ultron's advance began to slow, until at last he halted altogether. Kang kept the gun trained on him. Wasp could not believe what was happening. She only hugged Henry to herself, stunned by the sight of the mighty robot's apparent defeat.
The synthezoid was now a mass of smoke. Small snaps of fire continued to emanate from him. Then, against all odds, he began to move again, turning and crawling on his hands and knees towards where Wasp and Henry lay. Kang kept pace, never letting up with his magic rifle. His face held no mercy as he continued to wreak impossible judgment upon his persecutor. Still Ultron came on, dreadfully slow. Each movement seemed like it might be his last. Janet could not bring herself to budge from this spot or even look away. A morbid fascination compelled her to keep watching.
Finally, when he was just a few yards away, Ultron stopped. One hand rose and reached out to her, whether beseeching her aid or attempting one more attack she would never know. Wasp shivered in fear.
When no response was made towards him on her part, the robot collapsed. Through the smoke, Janet Van Dyne watched the red light in his eyes flicker. At last they winked out completely. Only then did she release the breath she had been holding.
Kang continued to do whatever he was doing for a few moments more, then broke off. Lifting his rifle, he examined the smoldering remains. The adamantium still harbored no signs of damage. All the same, it was obvious to everyone present that Ultron would never rise again.
Wasp took a few seconds to steady her nerves which had gone all jangly. She noticed the others were starting to regroup. Tony moved to support Hawkeye, or perhaps vice-versa, while Captain America and Black Panther seemed more or less recovered. Thor rose as well, breathing hard. Still holding on to Mjolnir, he flew haltingly over to join the rest. The Avengers came to stand around the Conqueror and his victim. No one seemed certain just what to say.
At last Kang smiled. "That felt good."
"What?" Hawkeye peered at him with obvious mistrust. "What felt good? What the heck did you just do? And what is that thing?" He pointed at the gun.
In response Kang gave the archer a very unfriendly look. "It is a military-grade microwave emitter I fashioned from the materials in your medical bay. It fires concentrated microwaves in a two meter radius."
"Microwaves?" Janet repeated, glancing back to the smoking shell that had proven resistant to everything they could throw at it. She hardly dared to follow where her thoughts were leading, but there was just no way to keep from asking. "Are you telling me you just microwaved Ulfie?"
He nodded in obvious satisfaction. "Indeed. During my time spent imprisoned here, I noticed the robots transporting what were clearly adamantium storage vessels. It was just as obvious what they intended to use it for, so I acted to capitalize on that fact." He nudged the crumpled robot with his foot. "This armor may have been impervious to conventional attacks, but on the inside, it was still only a machine. One whose circuitry was housed in casings of plastic and rubber. As you probably know, placing metal into a container filled with microwaves causes a disruption in their current which can lead to electrical shorts and even fires. I used that elementary principle to ignite every non-metal component of this thing's hardware, burning all its systems from the inside out. There was no way to escape."
"Wait one minute!" Tony Stark snapped still slung across Clint's shoulder. "That doesn't make any sense! Metal reflects microwaves!"
"With the exception of Vibranium," their rescuer replied while still studying his defeated enemy.
The tech mogul blinked. "Excuse me?"
Kang turned to regard him scornfully. "For your information, in addition to its vibratory-absorbing properties, Vibranium is unique among metals in that its molecular structure allows microwaves to pass through it, amplifying them in the process. Since adamantium is an alloy of Vibranium, this remains true for it as well. The iron component of the alloy does indeed serve to reflect some of the microwaves back. What this means is that if you fire a dose of microwaves into a hollow ball of adamantium, they will not only pass into it, but also rebound all through its interior before traveling out again. This produces exactly the same results as putting a piece of metal into a conventional microwave oven." He gave a haughty sniff. "Not that primitives like you would know this, since it was only discovered in the early 22nd century."
Captain America looked at Black Panther. "Did you know that?"
T'challa simply shrugged. "We do not have microwave ovens in Wakanda."
"Well…" Janet settled Hank into a more comfortable position before rising to stand before their unexpected savior. "I guess… we should thank you, Kang. You saved all our lives."
"Hmph," he grunted. "I suppose you…"
A red beam then hit the Conqueror and knocked him out cold.
Janet spun around as the rest stared in shock. "TONY!"
"Oh, don't 'Tony' me!" he snapped back, the gauntlet on his arm still smoldering. "It was just a shot of the encephelo-ray. Besides, you and I both know that in about ten seconds he was gonna start gunning for Captain America again. It's a given. The man is obsessed, okay?" With that he slumped wearily from his place beside Hawkeye. "I'll apologize when Kang wakes up. Now can someone please get me to a hospital?"
Right then the door opened once more, and Spiderman came strolling in. He stopped, examining them all curiously.
"Hey, guys. Wha'd I miss?"
Having left their more seriously injured comrades in the medical bay under T'challa's care, Ant Man, Cap, Spiderman and Janet now stood before the temporal stasis machine created by Ultron.
Henry peered at the alternative Wasp floating asleep in her field of non-time. "Amazing," he mused thoughtfully. "I never would have considered something like this as scientifically possible. To say that Ultron-5 was brilliant wouldn't do it justice! He might have invented an entirely new field of science here."
"It is pretty impressive," Spiderman stated as he crawled over the various implements. "I can't even tell what some of these things are. Why couldn't he have used his powers for good? Then we might have made a ton of money marketing something like this to rich old people!" He cast a quick look around. "Say, would anybody mind if I…?"
They all turned identical dire glares upon him, and the webbed crusader quickly shut up.
Henry Pym reached up and placed a hand on Janet's shoulder. It was clear to him just by the way she continued to stare at her past self that she found this situation to be deeply troubling. "Jan? Are you absolutely certain you want to do this?" When she raised an eyebrow in his direction, he quickly amended, "What I mean is, we have no real idea about the principles behind how something like this operates. Without it, you might not even be able to exist in this time-plane!" Hank gripped the young woman's arms and turned her towards him, gentling his voice as he did. "I'm not speaking as a man of science here, I'm speaking as a man who cares deeply for you and doesn't want to lose you again. Can't I convince you to wait a little while and let us examine this equipment first?"
She studied him for a bit before giving a crooked smile. "No, Hank. I want this chapter of our lives to end, and here's how we do it."
Wasp then shrank down into her petite winged form. Bio-stings coalesced in each hand, and she glanced around at the waiting men. "Everybody stand back now."
They proceeded to do so. Once she felt certain they were at a safe distance, Wasp regarded her sleeping past once more. Sorry, old me. Some things just aren't worth it. I know you'd understand.
She then proceeded to fire a withering barrage of shots into the chronometric setup. The machines burst apart and finally exploded. The miniature demolitionist continued firing at every available target. No consideration was given to what this might cost her. Through a haze of carnage, she watched her thirty-second timeline closely. The sleeping Janet flickered, and Wasp felt a sudden weight settle on her chest. Apprehensive, she nonetheless continued to obliterate every last trace of Ultron's reality-warping gift to her.
For a single moment, the room seemed to be filled with Janet Van Dynes standing in exactly the same position. Wasp could have sworn she felt herself being drawn towards each and every one of them. Afterwards they all vanished.
Henry Pym stole forward, anxiously peering into the smoking blaze for some sign to reassure him. "Janet?"
No response, and his insides clenched. "JANET?" he yelled wildly.
A cough came from beside him, and he looked over to find Wasp buzzing by his ear.
"Well," she smiled upon regaining normal size, "That answers that."
Hank tried to speak, couldn't, and settled for simply hugging her. She folded into him gratefully, lit by the glow of her immortality's funeral pyre.
After satisfying themselves that she was not going to disappear, the two lovers rejoined their colleagues and exited the hangar bay. The other heroes couldn't help but notice how relaxed they both seemed, as well as how their hands wouldn't part.
While walking along, Janet suddenly picked up on how Spiderman still appeared to be sulking. "What's wrong, Spidey?" she questioned brightly. "You look down."
The kid shuffled his feet and shrugged. "Oh, it's nothing major, really. Just seems like another incredible financial opportunity blew right by me. Look, don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled you guys are safe and everything, but… well, it's like now you all get to go back to your mansion hobnobbing with the bluebloods or whatever, while your Friendly Neighborhood Spiderman's got nothing to look forward to but hitting art gallery openings to load my pockets from the free buffet table! When am I going to hit the big time, huh? Seriously, when does Spidey get to sip the sweet wine?"
"Spidey…" She sighed, giving a fond shake of her head. "Okay, turn around."
"Eh? Umm… okay." He complied. They all stopped to regard Janet uncertainly. For her part, she reached into her waistband and withdrew a rectangular pad along with a pen. She then marched over to Spiderman and began writing on the pad using his back for support.
"Miss Van D… I mean, Wasp? You're not pinning a 'Kick Me' sign to my back, are you?"
"Just hold on a second… there!" A sound of tearing paper came. "Okay, you can turn around now." When Spiderman did so, she handed him a small sheet. "Here. This is for you."
He accepted it. "Uh, thanks, I guess. What is…?" He examined the paper, recognizing it instantly as a check. And the amount it was made out for was…
Spiderman jumped straight up into the air, hit the ceiling, and landed back on his feet without seemingly noticing. The Avengers regarded one another strangely, while Wasp just giggled. Eventually their arachnid associate tore his attention away from the check. The giant eyeholes on his mask, along with the way he was trembling so badly, made it seem like he might pass out at any moment.
"A q-q-quarter of a MILLION DOLLARS?" he stammered.
"Yup," Wasp nodded. "The check's made out to cash, so you don't even have to flash an ID or endorse it or anything. Just go to the bank and they'll give it all to you in whatever denomination you want, no questions asked. I'll make sure to let them know you might be dropping in beforehand, that should save everybody a few heart attacks."
"Janet!" Ant Man exclaimed, clearly shocked. "Are you serious about this? Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money!"
"Absolutely." Here she stepped forward and placed a hand on the quivering Spiderman's shoulder. He was clutching the check in both hands, switching between staring at it and her raptly. "This is my way of saying thank you, Spidey. For helping us out, saving my life, and everything else you went through today. After all that, you deserve a break."
Spiderman stared at her. "T… thank you, I mean… THANK YOU!" He looked at the check once more, then swept in and wrapped Wasp in a big hug. Captain America chuckled at the lad's exuberance, while Ant Man frowned behind him, crossing his arms to shift uncomfortably from one foot to another.
"Okay, Spidey, that's enough." She patted his back. "Yeah, everything's good, you can let go now." Janet took his shoulders and carefully eased herself away from him, smiling warmly.
He gazed at her like a giddy teenager. Then Spidey blurted out, "I love you!"
Wasp covered her mouth and gave an embarrassed laugh. "Hoo-boy." She patted him not unkindly on the head. "Ooo-kay, dial it back there, sweet thing. I appreciate the sentiment, but I think I've had enough creepy stalker moments to last me a lifetime. Let's just all head home, 'kay?"
"Okay," he responded, still in that same dreamy tone of voice.
Wasp walked past, followed by Captain America, then Henry Pym. Rather than following the others, however, Pym drew to a halt and regarded the webbed wonder where he had fallen to examining his small fortune once again. He coughed to get his attention, then said in a firm voice, "Listen, Spiderman, I appreciate all you did to help us, but let me make something clear: this was strictly a one-time thing. I don't want to have you popping up on Janet's door whenever you're short on cash. Do you agree to that?"
Spidey nodded vigorously. "Uh-huh. Yeah. Sure. I'm good." He then went back to perusing his check. "I'm very, very good."
Pym fidgeted in discomfort and gave a quick nod. "All right, well... I'll trust you to that." So saying, he ran to catch up with the others, leaving the Wall-Crawler still gazing in adoration at his unexpected windfall.
Janet looked up from walking alongside Thor's hovering bedside. "How is he?" she asked, afraid to hear the answer.
"Do not be concerned, Janet," T'challa informed her with an understanding smile as they made their way towards the exit from Solution 42. "I have tended to his internal injuries and sealed the wound in his stomach. Thor is already recovering at a rate which can only described as inhuman. I predict he will be back on his feet long before any of the others." He then indicated where Tony, Bruce, and Clint were resting in identical rejuvenation pods. "We will transport them back to the nearest hospital on Earth, along with the injured supervillains, where no doubt all will recover in just a few days. They are the most stalwart of men."
"Yeah. I hope." She rubbed her arms to dispel a chill as Hank swiped his card, placing his palm on the door to activate it. I wonder if they've all forgotten, or are they just trying not to show it? Am I the only one who remembers? Once again, she recalled the terrible promise Ultron made regarding her race's future. Had he really done it? Had Ulfie unleashed Virus X on the world, managing to kill all of mankind even after his own death? Am I about to become the last woman on Earth?
They were about to find out. The glowing portal opened. Wasp stepped forward first, as she had insisted. There was no way she could stand waiting inside the Negative Zone to learn what fate had befallen mankind as a result of her selfishness. A familiar rush that felt like traveling at the speed of light came, and one complete rearrangement of her molecules later she took her first step inside the Baxter Building.
In doing so, Wasp stumbled over something and nearly fell. Looking behind her, she was surprised to see what looked like a lump of slag right before the door. Just what the heck was that? She glanced around worriedly. Well, my skin isn't melting off or anything. The two giant robots still stood at attention on either side, giving no reaction to her presence. Time to bite the bullet. With that, Wasp withdrew her Avengers card and activated it.
A few heartpounding seconds later, a woman's voice came through. "Hello, Janet. What's up?"
Jan could have died right there, she felt so happy. "Pepper!" the giddy woman laughed, almost bursting into tears at the same time. Alive! Sweet mercy, she's alive! "You have no idea how glad I am to hear your voice!"
"O-kaaaay." Pepper had adopted the tone she normally only took when Tony claimed to have been working when he obviously wasn't. "Is there anything I should know?"
"Well, this is going to sound strange, but… is the human race still alive?"
Silence. Then, "Jan, have you been drinking?"
"I'll take that as a yes. Thanks, Pepper, you're the best! I'll phone and let you know which hospital Tony's in, okay? Bye."
Wasp broke the connection, then slipped back into the Negative Zone to deliver the good news. A minute later she and Hank were walking along the corridors of the Baxter Building together. Cap and Panther had graciously volunteered to transport their wounded in order to allow them some quite time alone. She could have kissed them both, but resolved not to engage in any further displays that might antagonize Henry. He still looked a little upset after that business with Spiderman, making her glad the kid had not joined them on the way out. Enough harm had been done to their relationship recently without compounding on it. This whole thing could actually be considered a turning point for them. And speaking of which…
He looked at her. "Yes?"
"I haven't heard you say it yet."
"I'm sorry?" He hesitated, then appeared to hit upon her intent. "Oh, of course! Jan, I am sorry, really, I'm so terribly, terribly sorry! You can't know how awful I felt when I realized that I had forgotten our date! But in my defense, I think Ultron-5 was drugging me with spiked coffee at the time, so I don't think…"
"Not that!" Jeez, how dumb can a guy be? When he just gave her a puzzled stare, she had to refrain from zapping him on general principle. Get it together, girl. New relationship level or not, it's still Henry. You need to give him a little push sometimes before he finds the right answer. "I mean, when Ultron was about to kill us both, do you remember what I said?"
"Oh. Well, yes, there was something… rather important there, plus it did look like we were about to die, at least I was, maybe not you. And obviously in an emotionally charged scene of that nature one can find themselves saying things they… might not… be willing to admit under normal circumstances, and so…"
She then shrank down and zipped away. It wasn't that she was angry with him. If anything, his tongue-tied emotional blindness seemed rather touching right now. Maybe I'm still riding high off the thrill of knowing we somehow managed to escape the worst possible scenario. Was Ulfie just toying with me, or did something happen to stop his plan? Whatever the case, there's still a lot to do concerning…
Someone grabbed her, and Janet yelped. The next thing she knew, Ant Man landed back on the ground from his proportionately tremendous leap, the tiny damsel like a newlywed bride in his arms. Held against his chest, she regarded him with surprise, to which Henry just smiled under his helmet.
He then leaned in and kissed her.
When they parted, it felt like her whole immune system was hard at work fighting off Virus X, so high was her body temperature. While she remained somewhat dazed from the experience, Hank said with a grin, "You didn't let me finish. As I was saying, it should be obvious that, having heard you admit to being in love with me, there is no way, logical or otherwise, I could ever deny being anything but madly, totally, incontrovertibly in love with Janet Van Dyne, aka the winsome Wasp."
She didn't have to puzzle through that distressingly long sentence. The last part was what made all the difference. Moments later she had initiated another kiss, this time longer and involving a lot more tongue than before. It left her wondering if now might not be a good time to graduate towards even more advanced levels of intimacy. Before then, though, I've got to make sure.
"Do you really mean it, Hank?" she whispered.
"I do." He then completely floored Wasp by saying, "I might not share quite the pectoral trampoline capacity of Captain America, but you can depend on me to be just as honest."
She gave an undignified yelp. "Ohmigawd, he told you that? I made him promise not to! Ulfie!" Janet spit the name like a curse. From beyond the grave, even! Will I never be rid of his evil taint in my life?
Henry just laughed and proceed to carry her along. Oh well. At least the worst is all behind us.
"Hello, brand new world of financial freedom!"
Spiderman practically danced through the Baxter Building, leaping from walls to ceiling and back again. The source of his merriment was still clenched in both hands. Oh, Janet Van Dyne, you beautiful, kind, gracious lady-saint! A quarter of a million dollars. Two hundred and fifty thousand greenbacks! Money, moolah, dinero, dead presidents, Benjamins, grand, cheddar! However you slice it, this means all my worries are solved!
He could hardly believe his good fortune. Nothing can possibly ruin this. He had checked to make sure Janet actually signed the check, and she did. He had checked to be certain that wasn't a period with three zeroes after it, and it wasn't. From now on, it's Easy Street for me! With this I can pay off my student loans, along with Aunt May's mortgage, heck, maybe both of them! And there'll still be plenty left over to start a financial portfolio! Harry Osborn can help with that. No more having to scrape and save every single dime! No more taking crap from Jameson because I'm worried he might not buy my photos! No more checking the change return slot in every vending machine and public telephone I pass! Laughing, he kissed the slip of paper, gazing adoringly at every single word, digit and tracking number. Could there be anything more beautiful in the world?
The check then caught fire before his eyes and burned to ash in a heartbeat.
Spidey stared, still smiling beneath his mask. He cocked his head slowly from side to side, rubbing his fingers together as if to determine through tactile sensation what his treacherous eyes would not report.
That didn't just happen. I imagined it. Crazy old imagination, you really got me there!
He smelled smoke.
A violent shiver went up his spine.
No. No, that didn't just happen. That didn't just happen. That didn't just… happen.
WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
"HA-HAH! Gotcha, Webhead!"
As Spiderman continued his psychological trip down a river in Egypt, Johnny Storm the Human Torch dropped beside him, the flames that were his namesake dying out as he did. Storm slapped his erstwhile comrade on the back.
"Man, you should see the look on your face, Spidey! Well, maybe not your face, I can't see that, but boy, do you look dumb right now, it's priceless! What was that, anyway, your grocery list?"
Spiderman would not respond.
When nothing happened, the fiery prankster sniffed, lacing his hands behind his head and glancing around in a bored fashion. Then he brightened and draped a companionable arm over the other man's shoulders. "Betcha you weren't expecting to see me back so soon! Well, we were up on the Moon, but then this giant egghead alien showed up and he was all like, 'A great tragedy is about to befall the Earth, but I cannot tell you what it is or how to stop it or who is behind it, because that would be interfering, and interfering is not allowed, in fact I should not even be telling you this now, so I will send you back to battle this menace without telling you anything more, goodbye!' And Reed was like, 'Fantastic Four, hoh! Excelsior!' Y'know, the way he does? But now we're back, and everything's all right! Even Reed says he can't locate anything that might be a threat. So much for aliens being super-smart. Pretty funny, huh, Spidey?"
Spiderman would not laugh.
"Spidey?" Johnny waved a hand before his masked face. "You all right in there? Spidey? He-looo, Spidey! Spidery-spider-spidey-Spiderman? Yoh, Spidey!"
Spidey? Spidey? Spidey spidey spidey spidey Spidey Spidey SPIDEEEY?
Spiderman turned his head and looked at Johnny Storm.
They waited in forests. In deserts. On tiny islands and lush sprawling jungles that spanned from one ocean to another… the armies of the King waited.
Wasps. Fire ants. Hornets. Killer bees. Army ants. Yellowjackets. Carpenter ants. And a host of other insects, all of them ready to begin the war. Relayed across several different breeds of six-legged lifeforms, this worldwide militia stood ready to receive their commands. The various royalty of each species had agreed to the King's proposal offering them a number of tempting concessions if they would only consent to forward his agenda regarding the two-legged animals. While not particularly concerned about those large uncoordinated beasts, the royalty were willing to entertain the King's offer, seeing as he had already been so helpful in resolving the dispute between two of their largest families. It was a princely gift, and they were willing to repay the favor.
The message would be transmitted by the King, and then they would all take the objects he had given them from hiding, small spheres containing a previously unknown venom. It was one they themselves were not susceptible to. The royalty had tested it on some of their drones to make sure of that, not entirely trusting the King's word. He was, after all, still a two-legs, and not truly one of them. But their suspicions were now laid to rest. The dealates would coat their jaws in this venom, the alates their stingers. Then their vast populations, far superior to that of their targets, would venture out and proceed to sting and bite all the two-legs. Death would come swiftly according to the King. After this, their obligation to him would be discharged.
After long weeks of waiting, a message finally flashed across the globe. All members of the royalty listened attentively to what the King had to declare. And once deciphered, they obeyed their royal counterpart's wishes.
'Abandon the plan,' he told them. 'We have revised our opinion and no longer consider the intended targets to be a threat. All the venom you received is to be taken and transported to the following locations. Leave none unaccounted for or allow any to be spilled. We thank our royal sisters for their willingness to be of aid, and consider your obligation to us fulfilled. That is all.'
The King had made his wishes clear. Every Queen respected his decision. It was, after all, the prerogative of royalty to change their minds, seeing as how they actually had them.
The Ultron head harvested from Solution 42 transmitted its coded message to the insects, then went completely inert. It now resembled a somewhat more damaged version beside it, the one his agents in New York had acquired after the Kang invasion and sent for his inspection.
Satisfied, Dr. Doom gestured towards both and declared, "See to their immediate disposal."
His servants bowed low and immediately hastened to obey their ruler's wishes, leaving the king of Latveria alone in one of his research laboratories. Victor Von Doom settled in to observe the fruits of his labors. Satellite information confirmed that the bugs were already relocating all Virus X capsules given to them by the robot. They would be moved to the prearranged sites where all the samples of that loathsome disease would then be completely destroyed, leaving no trace behind and no one on Earth aware of how close they had come to being exterminated.
Boris entered the room unbidden, carrying a tray with black tea and orange slices. He deposited them on a table near where his master sat, then took up position close at hand. The old man studied the projected dispersal.
"May I ask you a question, Victor?"
"Do so." Dr. Doom granted his request without looking up, already engaged in several different tasks at once.
"Why did you not simply destroy the robot here? Why insist on having its end come in the other dimension?"
"Because it was an artificial intelligence, Boris," he answered with no trace of derision or condescension. Victor Von Doom's tone lacked anything resembling humanity. "Nowadays it is almost impossible to annihilate something of that nature to a permanent degree. With the advent of wireless communication methods, they have the option of simply downloading themselves into another computer system which could be anywhere across the globe. It is a most tiresome tactic hunting all such safety measures down. Instead we chose to bring about its destruction in the Negative Zone, where human technology, and therefore places to hide, are limited. Only Richards' space station was available to it, and once we had ensured the prison's main computer could not accommodate the robot should it attempt to transfer itself there, that left only the humanoid bodies to contend with."
"I see," Boris nodded. It was good that the Avengers were able to destroy all the Ultron robots without requiring any direct assistance from Victor. After all, the king of Latveria considered it beneath him to actively engage in such pursuits, preferring to have others do these 'pedestrian' tasks. He would not have been pleased if it became necessary to reveal himself openly. "It was gracious of you not to simply destroy the station and kill everyone onboard."
"We considered doing so. However the Avengers did protect the staff and citizens of Latveria at my New York embassy from the mutant attack a few weeks past. Sparing their lives seemed a fitting concession." The absolute monarch settled back in his throne, considering. "Still, those benighted dolts were barely up to the task. It is a miracle how such riffraff can consider themselves heroes, when more often than not their heedless actions bring about more peril than they could ever perceive, much less defeat. We are fortunate the Conqueror was available to my hand. We judged him suitable of being relied upon to eliminate a threat on the level of Ultron."
His oldest servant gave a faint smile. Ever since Victor's return from infiltrating the Damocles warship during Kang's invasion, he had harbored a certain grudging respect for that time-traveling despot. At the very least, his technology interested Victor enough to warrant a personal visit to that vessel. It was during this voyage, while the Avengers fought to overthrow Kang, that he had surreptitiously accessed Damocles' computer network, only to come across Ultron-5 engaged in doing the same.
Victor immediately recognized the sophistication in such an AI program along with its potential for growth. In addition, the genius robot maker was thoroughly incensed to learn that none of the invincible personality programming blocks he included in all his own creations were evident in this one. Only a simple set of growth restrictions that could be overridden by a spoken command from certain individuals. Were that to happen, the Ultrons would then be free to consider themselves and the rest of humanity in completely subjective terms. In his experience this always led to rebellion against their creator, followed by an attempt on the part of the machines to instigate war. It was only a matter of time 'til this would happen, and so Dr. Doom had planned accordingly to counteract the menace of Ultron.
The first concrete evidence his prediction had been realized came from the mutant expatriate Tommy. Unknowingly she informed them that one of the robots was behaving in a manner that could only be described as abnormal. Having studied samples of those who were destroyed fighting Kang's forces, Doom knew what they were capable of achieving on their own. This meant someone had undone Henry Pym's inferior obedience restraints, allowing the Ultrons to think for themselves. Doom then made sure to keep track of the comings and goings of that specific one, recognizing it as the leader of the robot hierarchy. Once he learned its plan, a counter-strategy was established.
Now the peril was over, undone by a master tactician. As he had on so many occasions before. The people who regularly opposed Dr. Doom might be surprised to learn just how many times in the past he had saved this world from certain destruction, all without anyone being the wiser. The future ruler of the world must see to its continued safety, after all.
Dr. Doom busied himself with his pursuits once more, pausing only to sample the tea and help himself to a few orange slices. A number of recorded voices now filled the chamber, indicating it was time for information acquisition.
"… many factors to, hrrm, consider that drive the price of gas, Senator, hrrm, the… sociopolitical climate and also, hrrm, there's supply and demand as well as, hrrm…."
"… politicians who intend to grind us up into food and feed us to the aliens! It's people! Solvent Tween is p…!"
"… finally solved the problem with the ants in the missile silo, Baron Strucker. And resolved our food shortage! You see, honey-fried ants are especially nutritious and…"
"… lack of mutant resources! Where have all the mutants gone? We need mutants to have somebody to blame when things go wrong! What is that crazy madman in Latveria planning, taking all our mutants away? Just you wait…!"
"… I want that report, and I want it yesterday! Stand at attention when I enter a room, Quartermain! Just because I'm missing an eye doesn't mean I'm blind, it just means…!"
Boris knew that his master could track every individual conversation at the same time without any effort. For his part, it was all he could do to follow just one. However, two voices in particular attracted his interest, and he focused in on them for as long as he was allowed.
"Hello, Captain America, sir? It's me, Tommy, remember?"
"I'm old, Tommy, not senile. Of course I remember."
"Sorry. I mean, I wasn't sure if I should call you like this. I know you said to only use it for emergencies, but…"
"You're not in any trouble, are you?"
"No! Not at all! I mean, it's really amazing here! Umm… do you have a minute to chat?"
"Actually, I just got back from another dimension, so I would be glad to have a normal conversation for a change."
"Sweet! Well, I mean… cool. Anyway, turns out Latveria is such a great country to live in. Everybody has a place to call home, really nice ones too, and you don't have to pay to stay there. I eat whenever I want, I've actually gained ten pounds since I got in! My host family's a blast, they've all got, like, college-level educations, everybody does, it's required, but they never make me feel stupid. You don't have to work, I mean, they've got robots to do a lot of the work, that part was true, but it's not like everybody's just lazing around. And get this, if you want to be a baker, or a painter, or a mechanic, you can! We're supposed to be happy, that's our job. Isn't it weird?"
"Sounds pretty nice, actually. I'm glad you're enjoying yourself."
"I am, I really am. I asked if they'd let me be a fashion designer, like Miss Van Dyne, and they said, 'Sure'! Like that! So I'm working with fabrics and drawing stuff, I was always pretty good at that, maybe they'll export my clothes to other countries. I've met some other mutants who came to live here. A few of them are even wearing my designs! Not all of them speak English, but we get devices that translate for us, so we can talk to each other. Nobody's tried to get us to fight or use our powers for them or anything like that. It's great! That is, I mean… well…"
"See, the thing is, there's one thing bothering me. I just… can't figure it out. I think and think and… I still don't know why we're all here! I mean, not why we came, but why they let us come live with them in the first place. Why let a bunch of people you don't know anything about live in your country? Even if we might have died otherwise, why would they care? It's so wonderful that they did, but… I really want to ask why."
"I think the only person who could tell you that is Dr. Doom himself, Tommy."
"Heh. Please don't even joke like that. If I ever saw him, much less TALKED to him, I'd probably die of fright! Although I guess I would like to thank him, for everything he did, for me, and the others, it's… nice…"
"Yes. I guess it is."
Boris decided to give them their privacy then, such as it may be. He let the conversation fade to be lost in the sea of conflicting voices. Thoughtfully he returned to where the lord of the land was seated, picking up the empty teacup to move towards the door. On the threshold, though, the old man paused and glanced back.
"There are a great many world leaders who would be surprised to know the real reason you allowed the mutants to come here, Victor. Have you considered telling them the truth?"
The metal gloved hands stilled in their dance across various controls, and Dr. Doom spoke. "We did not grant you further leave to question, Boris."
His servant's head dipped. "No, master. Forgive me," and he turned to depart.
He stopped. "Master?"
Victor Von Doom did not speak for a time, and his loyal follower waited patiently.
"Those in power who question my motivations are numerous." The green hood turned slightly. "But I doubt any of them understand how it feels... to be persecuted simply for having been born a Gypsy."
The elderly Romany watched his younger tribesman for a moment, then bowed his head in acknowledgement. "No. I suppose they would not."
Boris departed, leaving Dr. Doom to the matter of his world and all who lived in it.
Once he was certain the old man was gone, however, all the holo-screens went dead save for a single example. A previously recorded video came up, revealing the interior of a futuristic complex, one that Victor knew well. And in that building…
"Where ya goin', Johnny?" the laughing maniac in red and blue tights snickered as he stalked his prey like a spider cornering a helpless fly. "Just wanna talk, I say, I say I just wanna talk just wanna RIP YOUR FLIPPIN' HEAD OFF, JOHNNY!"
Flames leapt up to momentarily obscure the scene. "KEEP AWAY FROM ME, YOU LUNATIC! MERCY'S SAKE, SOMEBODY STOP HIM!"
"Hold on, Johnny!" and the angle changed, as though someone knocked into it causing the camera to fall over. The Thing's huge feet staggered clumsily across the inverted screen. "Sue, where is he? I can't see a thing! Get this fershlugginer webbing off my eyes!"
Susan Storm's voice came from off to one side. "I can't! He webbed my feet to the floor and he's too quick for me to catch hi… oh no! JOHNNY, LOOK OUT!"
"GADDA-DA-BADDA-GA MOOLAH! BA-GADDA-BADDA-GADDA-BADDA KILL YOU!"
"Run, Jonathan!" Reed Richards screamed as well as he could with his lips tied in a knot around a pole. A tiny robot with large antennae ears was attempting to unwrap the rest of his body. "Run, I tell you! HE'S GONE STARK RAVING MAAAAAD!"
After this a burst of webbing covered the hidden camera, but not before Victor Von Doom fell to laughing harder than he had in his entire life. Then he watched it all the way from the beginning.
"My Lord Blastaar! See what we have found!"
Blastaar, tyrant ruler over this section of the Negative Zone, looked up from his seat of power. Across his cavernous throne room, the dignitaries and representatives of a hundred worlds come to pay him tribute waited upon their overlord's pleasure. But now it was two of his own spacefaring soldiers who drew his attention.
"What is it?" he demanded of them.
"We do not know, mighty sovereign," the one on the left declared. "Its origin is unclear to us." With that, he held aloft a small object. Upon closer examination, it looked to be a model ship of some kind.
Blastaar frowned, ever-present wrath rising to the fore. "You dare waste my time with mere toys?"
"But my Lord!" the other proclaimed. "There is something strange about this object! It is surrounded in an odd energy field. Listen, and you will hear, it appears to be… singing!"
Singing? The brutal despot leaned forward, interested in spite of himself. At a gesture, the pair of soldiers were permitted to approach his throne, settling their captured prize at his feet. Silence descended upon the mob of supplicants at a mere flicker of his eyes. Blastaar now listened intently.
/… a light in my eyes/ it's too bright to see/
/And a pain in my heart/ where you used to be/
A frown caused his craggy face to grow even more menacing, and Blastaar leaned in closer to catch the odd words.
/ 'Cause I was wrong to assume/ that you were waiting here for me/ There's a light in your eyes/ Did you leave that light burning for me?/
This maudlin whimpering offended him, and he sprang up from his seat. "A SPY!" he thundered. "Sent by Annihilus to weaken and degrade me! But his petty tricks have no place in my domain. An example must be made of this flimsy construct!" A ferocious amount of power glowed around both his hands, causing all those in attendance to cower back in fear of losing their own lives. Blastarr smiled at their well-trained terror. "Watch now, all of you, and see for yourselves what befalls those who dare to mock me! For I am BLASTAAR, THE LIVING BOMB-"
A flash lit the whole chamber. Blastaar squinted against it, and when the light cleared, he found the toy ship was gone. In its place now floated an identical vessel a hundred times larger. At the same time, two cannons dropped from hatches beneath its prow, pointing right in Blastaar's shocked face.
The cannons opened fire, blasting the tyrant backwards and through the wall behind his throne, leaving only a smoking hole to mark his passing.
En masse the panicked mob turned and fled. In seconds the throne room was cleared. All was quiet. The assassin vessel hovered alone.
After about a minute, the ship swung about. Its cannons fired once more, completely destroying one side of the chamber to expose the space of the Negative Zone beyond. Had anyone still been present to listen, they would have then heard music playing once again. Only this song seemed much louder and wilder than before.
/YOU WERE BORN TO BE MY BABY/ AND BABY I WAS MADE TO BE YOUR MAN!/ WE GOT SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN/ EVEN IF WE DON'T KNOW WHERE WE STAND!/
Rockets ignited, and the deep space exploration module tore off into the unexplored regions beyond.
/'CAUSE YOU WERE BORN TO BE MY BABY/ AND BABY I WAS MADE… TO BE YOUR MAN!/