#8 - Q & A
“They're going to kill us, this time!” Janet Van Dyne doesn't even try to conceal how worried she is about recent developments in the Avengers' life. “They were already raging about the rehabilitation of Sandman, * I don't want to think what will happen once they know we're actually protecting Magneto, here in the middle of Manhattan!”
(* as seen in AVENGERS # 5-6, Alex)
“Well, Jan, we don't really need to spread the news, at least for a while.” Monica Rambeau, the Avengers' deputy leader, says, trying to ease the pressure on her ally and longtime associate. “How could they know? None of the team would dare, nor one of our Crewmen!”
“But Gyrich knows, at least he could guess! And that, coupled with the need for the media to put the Avengers in the headlines at the slightest chance will do the rest!” Wasp replies, walking back and forth in the Avengers' Meeting Room. “And to be honest, we have a lot more important matters to attend to. We have various members missing or unaccounted for: Cap, Thor, the Vision, Hercules, Wanda…”
“I know, it looks even worse than the time when the Masters of Evil took over the Mansion…” Photon admits.
“That's why I've called this meeting with Hank and a few more persons. We need to think about the current situation with a little more attention before we risk any action,” Jan says, glancing at the watch, knowing it's only a matter of minutes before the others arrive. “Thanks for sharing this responsibility with me, Monica.”
“It's my duty as your second in command, o fearless leader!” Monica replies with a smile. But the black woman knows deep inside that there is something amiss with herself, too. Something she doesn't want to speak of, yet. Something that might soon add to her friend's worries…
“Hi, Jan, Monica!” Natasha Romanoff enters the room, her black-clad shapely form moving with the charm and the confidence that have made the Black Widow a legend. “I'm surprised you asked me to join you for this meeting. I keep telling everybody that a leading role for myself in the Avengers is not a good idea…”
“Thanks for coming, Tasha,” Jan interrupts her, “and don't worry about that. I need your expertise in diplomatic matters right now,” she adds.
“Let's wait for the others. I'd rather speak on the subject only once,” the Wasp replies.
“Speaking of which, I think they're here,” Photon comments, hearing the unmistakable voice of Hank Mc Coy coming from the hall.
“You still need more practice, my friend, to put me under ice!” The Beast charges into the room, clearly avoiding a barrage of snowballs, probably the result of a little friendly skirmish with his longtime friend, Iceman. “I apologize, madames, for my impertinence, but even my furry body doesn't like the cold touch of ice!” He immediately adds, bowing in a mocking salute, noticing the tight lips on Jan's mouth.
“Oh, no need for the apologies, Hank. The day we'll see you and Bobby meet each other without a definite amount of jokes we'll be deadly scared!” Natasha immediately says, to prevent a reaction from the Avengers' leader.
“And don't forget the rest of us Wackos, Tasha!” Hank Pym steps into the Meeting Room, nervously glancing at his estranged ex-wife. With him are the Avengers West PR manager, Kevin Trueblood and a woman who has been a longtime associate of the Beast and the mutant community: Dr. Moira McTaggert!
“Hi Hank, you look good,” Jan manages to say, before her professional mind kicks into leader mode, putting aside her own personal feelings for the only man she truly loved in her life… and that is clearly still in love with her, no matter how hard he tries to conceal it.
“So what's the matter, Jan? You sounded pretty much worried…” Giant Man asks.
“I'm going to tell you in a few minutes, but first… how are things going at Hydro-Base?”
“Well, we're getting more like a crowd over there. Vance and Angelica rejoined full time and now we have Cybermancer and her friends as our guests… * including the Juggernaut. Whom, I know, might be a problem for the press. Is this the reason why you told me to bring Mr. Trueblood with me?” Giant Man scans Jan's face to detect if she'll be irritated by this news, but he finds that's not the case.
(* as a result of the MANDARIN LIES crossover, Alex)
“The Juggernaut? mmm… that might add to our problems, but I doubt the media would make a fuss about him once they know one of the reasons why I called you here,” Jan shakes her head. “Upstairs, in the Infirmary, we have an apparently de-powered Magneto. We're putting him through a series of tests to ascertain if his powers are really gone. But we need to find a way to deal with this situation. I don't think his time as Genosha's leader has completely dispelled all the bad memories about his past as the world's most famous terrorist and mass murderer!”
“Magneto? But… how…?” Moira exclaims, the memories of the time when he tortured her for her involvement in the attempt to manipulate him are still fresh in her mind. *
(* a reference to X-MEN #1-3, Alex)
“His presence and his current status are the main reasons why I asked the Beast to bring you here, Dr. McTaggert. As for the reason behind all this… well, it's all about Wanda, the former Scarlet Witch. In her current incarnation as Nexus she has robbed her father of his powers, leaving him almost dead before she was repulsed by an informal Avengers team led by the Vision.” * Jan says, pausing for a moment, to let her words sink in.
(* see AVENGERS: VISION QUEST # 2 for details, Alex)
“And I was worried about the Juggernaut… You're right, Jan. That's bad news for the media,” Hank is the first to speak, “but I sense there's more than that.”
“Right, darling,” Jan replies, using a confidential tone that spells volumes about the feelings they still got for each other. “But they're internal matters I'd rather discuss when Dr. McTaggert has left us to see Magneto. I'm sorry for this precaution, but…”
“I perfectly understand, Ms. Van Dyne. If someone would show me the way…” Moira says.
“The Black Knight is waiting for you outside. He's used his own skills in physics to run a preliminary series of tests, but we need an expert on mutations. Our medical and scientific staff is at your disposal, as well.” Jan explains.
“Is it safe… I mean, how sure you are he is powerless?” Doubt is easily detected in Moira's voice.
“He can barely stand. And there are always two Avengers in the room with him. His son, Quicksilver, and our resident goddess, Lady Sif of Asgard. And the rest of the team is ready for any emergency.”
“Very well, I'll start on him immediately. Are you going to join me, McCoy?” Moira asks.
“In a while, my dear friend. Right now I need to stand at the 'other Hank' side as deputy leader of the Avengers West,” the Beast answers.
“And I will join with you as well,” Pym adds, “it'll be a pleasure to work with a Nobel Prize geneticist. And I need to ask you an advice about my mutant team members.”
“What will I do in the meantime, Ms. Van Dyne?” Kevin Trueblood asks. “I doubt you will discuss internal matters in my presence, since I'm here mostly to deal with the press when you will announce Magneto's presence at the Mansion”.
“You're very perceptive, Mr. Trueblood. You should start to elaborate an official announcement on this subject. Our crew will be very pleased to help you with any info you need.” Wasp nods.
After Kevin has left, Natasha speaks for the first time in a while: “What else, then, Jan?”
“We've got proof that the Cap running around of late is an impostor, I already discussed this with Iron Man, who met him of late.” Jan says.
“Thor is unaccounted for, too. According to Sif he might be a prisoner in Olympus or someplace else,” Photon continues, “and Hercules is on the brink of death. A guest, or a prisoner, in Olympus himself.” *
(* Sif knows about these facts because of her role in THOR # 3)
“Zeus and Hera and their silly machinations!” Natasha comments in anger, “They are meddling with Avengers business again…”
“Also, Pietro gave us a report about Wanda. It's scary! She was able to stand against the might of Magneto, Crystal, the Vision, Quasar and Adam Warlock!” Jan returns to speak. “She has extensive magical powers and now the magnetic prowess of her father. Plus, Pietro says that the Vision was in the company of the golden Jocasta, the one from the Gatherers. A being who has ties with Proctor, one of our greatest foes!”
“Jocasta! What else? This is getting weirder and weirder!” Giant Man comments.
“Let me finish, lover,” Jan interrupts him, “Pietro also said that this Jocasta was modeled after Wanda's brain patterns on her world, not on mine.”
“That would explain her association with the Vision. But did our synthezoid contact you on this?” The Beast asks.
“Not a word from him,” the Wasp replies, “and to top it all we had to save the powerless Magneto from an assassination attempt at the hands of a new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, with possible ties with Apocalypse!” *
(* last issue)
“These are definitely not good news…” the Black Widow comments.
Meanwhile, out in the city.
William Baker loves to come here, near the Hudson River, to spend some time thinking. In his coat he can hardly be recognized as the new Avengers recruit, the Sandman, and he enjoys the anonymity.
-Sometimes I feel so out of place, there at the Mansion. Especially when everybody is grim, not that they don't have a good reason for that… see? I said 'they', instead of 'we'. I can't think of myself as a member of the team, yet. I'd love to have a beer or two with my buddy, Ben Grimm, but he's off saving the world someplace… Maybe I should try and contact the Web-slinger…-
While his thoughts travel off, he fails to notice some suspicious moves in the shadows and an unrest detectable below the water's surface…
The Avengers Infirmary
“…and this is all we could gather, so far, Dr. McTaggert.” The Black Knight reports.
“Thanks, Dr. Whitman,” Moira nods, her eyes fixed on Magneto's sleeping face, “I already had to study a similar case, when the mutant Polaris was temporarily stripped of her powers. * Actually I think her presence would greatly help us in this matter.”
(* way back in UNCANNY X-MEN # 250-280, Alex)
“I can try and contact her, Moira,” Iceman offers.
“That'd be nice, Bobby.” Quicksilver nods, then he turns back toward his father, trying not to meet the Black Knight's eyes.
“You can safely leave the room, Iceman. I have returned to resume my duty here,” Sif says, stepping in the room, “I see the mortal has fallen asleep again,” she adds.
“Then let's get to work,” Moira orders.
The Meeting Room
“She-Hulk just called to tell us that she is studying Magneto's current legal situation, to see if there is a way to prevent any action against the team.” Photon reports.
“Are you really convinced he should stay at the Mansion, Jan?” Pym asks.
“I am not, Hank. But I see no other real chance or do you have any suggestion? He's powerless, he's got scores of people who might want to settle past enmities, now that he's defenseless. And if half of what we know about Apocalypse is true…”
“He's in mortal danger,” the Beast concludes, “plain and simple”.
“Can we trust him? I know the Avengers have a long record with ex-villains, me being one of the living proofs, but we're talking of Magneto!” Natasha says. But a portion of her mind is actually thinking about Zeus and Hercules and a lot of unsettled matters with the Supreme Olympian.
“It's a hard choice we face, that's for sure,” Wasp is tense, “this being the main reason why I called this meeting to ask for your advice. There are too many problems to solve at the same time. We need to choose our priorities, and right now, with Magneto powerless and wounded, I think his place is here at the Mansion. We can keep an eye on him, and we can ascertain what plans Apocalypse has in his wicked mind. Plus, Magneto is Pietro's father and Quicksilver would feel betrayed if we would either imprison him or leave him an easy prey for his enemies. We can't even discard the possibility that Wanda won't try to finish what she has started when she attacked him. And that could give us a chance to talk to her…”
“Magneto spent quite some time with the X-Men, when he rejected his terrorist ways a few years ago and he even managed to be a good mentor for the New Mutants at that time.” The Beast says, scratching his head. “But I'm afraid about Apocalypse and the outcome of his plan. In my past dealings with him I have always sensed that his motivations had darker purposes, hidden below a bag of lies.”
“We need to have both teams at full functionality as soon as possible. And we need to do something about our missing members, Cap, Thor, Wanda, Herc…” Giant Man comments.
“How long before the West Coast team has a stable roster with competent core members, Hank?” Jan asks.
“Well, we have a lot of people on Hydro-Base. If Dr. McTaggert will help with a few checks on Vance and Angelica and if Hank here can schedule the help of a renowned redhead master telepath to fix a few problems, I think that we could be operative next week with a good seven-members core and five or six more reservists or probationary members at hand.” Hank answers.
“Are you going to offer membership to Cybermancer and her friends?” Photon inquires.
“Cybermancer has good references, Iron Man vouches for her. Marianne needs to be checked, because her mental powers have gone awry in the past and she's not very stable… Moonraker is still a mystery and, well…” the Beast pauses for a moment, “offering membership to the Juggernaut is a bit too early, I guess. But we can keep an eye on him as you are doing with Magneto here…”
“We also have Manta and Spitfire. Plus, I contacted the original Torch and he accepted to meet me tomorrow. He might be willing to rejoin, given that Namor is not an active member, regardless of his strong interests in the West Coast financial situation.” Pym concludes.
“Maybe you could use part of that membership to search for clues on Wanda's and the Vision's whereabouts.” Monica suggests.
“I think I will do something about the Olympian situation,” Natasha suddenly speaks, “it wouldn't be the first time I do so!”
“What do you mean, Tasha?” Jan asks, puzzled. “I have been there and Zeus can be so hard to deal with.” *
(* do you remember AVENGERS # 281-288? Alex)
“I'm thinking of the time the Champions got there and forced him to review his decisions,” * the Black Widow explains, “if you pardon me I need to contact a few friends who might help in this matter.” She turns and leaves the room.
(* it happened in CHAMPIONS # 5, Alex)
“I hope she knows what she's doing,” McCoy comments.
“I bet she knows,” Jan smiles, “as for the East team, well, with Sif temporarily replacing Hercules and Quicksilver back into active duty we can take some time investigating the Apocalypse matter, while dealing with Magneto's presence. But I think I'll have to contact someone else to keep an eye on this new Cap.”
“And regarding the press…?” Giant Man asks.
“I'll have Mr. Trueblood prepare an official statement on the Avengers' mission in Genosha. We will admit that Magneto's in our custody but we are keeping the location secret for security reasons. Then Jennifer can deal with the legal matters.” Wasp explains. “Any news on Wanda, the Vision's whereabouts, Thor, Cap or Hercules must be immediately shared with both teams.”
“Sure. Now if we are done with this I'd rather join Dr. McTaggert with the Beast,” Pym nods.
Janet Van Dyne can't suppress a sudden sense of discomfort, seeing her ex-husband leave the room with that glint in his eyes she knows so well. The glint of the scientist, the pleasure of finding someone able to increase his own knowledge… 'Working with a Nobel Prize' he said…
“Are you ok, Jan?” Monica's voice interrupts Jan's trail of thoughts.
“Yes, fine, Monica! I'm going to see Mr. Trueblood now.”
“Then, if you don't need me I have a personal thing to attend to,” Photon explains, noticing that her leader is barely listening, betraying some inner turmoil.
Water erupts boiling and startling any bystander, finally drawing the Sandman's attention, as screams suddenly fill the air at the sight of the strange creature at the center of the phenomenon.
A green-skinned man, a Lemurian it seems, strong and powerful, carrying an ancient sword and shouting menacing words in an ancient tongue. Two distinctive features immediately strike William Baker's attention, while he drops his coat and prepares to fight: the man has a definite resemblance to Namor and he's got madness in his eyes. What Sandman still ignores is the invisible being at the attacker's side…
Then the green underwater man charges the dock, using his powerful body as a deadly torpedo. People scream knowing they will be scattered into the river's cold waters and what other foul creatures the attacker might have brought. But the charging man is intercepted by a dense, granite-strong wall of sand…
“Who dares mock the rightful heir of the Undersea?” The attacker speaks in English this time. “Who dares block the wrath of Llyron, King of Atlantis?” *
(* Llyron is apparently the son of Namor and the Lemurian witch, Llyra, that she conceived through a carefully woven deception in NAMOR # 49-50, Alex)
Behind a spell of invisibility a female form smiles, hoping the upcoming fight will amuse her thirst for blood.
Outside the Infirmary
“I'm sorry, Pietro, for what's happening to Wanda and your father,” the Beast says, “and I apologize if we need for you to leave the Infirmary so we can have enough room for the examinations.”
“I know, McCoy, and I understand,” Quicksilver says, “I'm going to the Communications Room and see if Peggy has found some trace of Crystal's communicard. I want to hear her voice… and maybe I am not the only one here!”
The mutant's stare strikes the Black Knight's soul with cold recognition. Quicksilver has not forgotten how close Dane Whitman has been with his wife in the past. But Pietro is gone before anyone can comment on his last sarcastic remark.
“Hey, Hankster, tell Moira that I couldn't find Lorna as she asked. Maybe you could try later to contact her… now I need to see the Widow. It seems she has some important mission which she wants my help for,” Iceman says.
“OK, icicle!” The Beast smiles and enters the Infirmary, leaving a sad Knight alone.
“Can I ask you a favor, Dane?” Monica's voice is heard even before her body has fully materialized from her photonic form.
“I think I am free, at the moment,” Dane answers, putting aside the bitterness from Pietro's words. “Is still about those irregularities you detected in your powers?”
“Yes, I'd like for you to think about a few more tests…” Monica nods.
“Actually Talia Kruma and I talked about that the whole night. Maybe we got what you need. Follow me to the Lab.”
“Can I interrupt your annoying wait, Banshee?” the Black Widow says, approaching the Irish mutant who accompanied Dr. McTaggert to the Mansion.
“Of course, Widow. I know when Moira gets something on her mind she might leave me here waiting for days before she remembers I'm even alive.” Sean Cassidy says.
“Then I might help you occupy this time in a better way,” the Widow smiles, “you see, I am putting together a team to rescue my friend Hercules. And my nostalgic Russian heart is modeling this team after my old team, the Champions. Iceman has already agreed to help, and he's contacting the Archangel. But I can't count on the Ghost Rider, so maybe a Howling Spirit of Ireland can take a Spirit of Vengeance's place.”
“You are intriguing me,” Banshee replies, “tell me more about this.”
So far the Sandman has succeeded in containing Llyron's madness while avoiding to see any civilian harmed by his fists or the ancient sword he wields. But something has been distracting him for the whole fight: the people he saved has been looking at him with the same distrust and suspicion they have been showing for his foe.
Still he has doubled his attempts at striking the hybrid with his sand rams. Llyron's strength is on par with the Thing's, Baker remembers from his many battles against the Fantastic Four or, lately, at Ben Grimm's side.
Now the crowd has dissipated a bit, leaving him more room to maneuver and less distractions, but there's a new problems: reporters! Many times New York City has been the target of an attack from the people of either Atlantis or Lemuria and it's clear that the media are hungry for news on the present fight, even though this seems most a rampage of a maddened individual than a full-scale war.
Llyron's charge takes the worried Sandman by surprise, while he was trying to move a few reporters on a safer spot. His body is scattered and while Baker tries to recombine and counterstrike, the Lemurian has already taken one of the reporter, hovering a few feet from the water and putting the sword at the man's throat.
He starts blabbing about a sacrifice for his goddess, a blood sacrifice, and the Sandman knows he must take him down now.
The invisible “goddess” which is the cause of Llyron's behavior waits impatiently to taste the blood…
Avengers Mansion. The Communication Center
“Thanks Jenn, I'm glad you could gather all those informations on Magneto. Mr. Trueblood is coming to your office to coordinate his statement for the press with what you just told me.” Janet says to the green beauty on the screen.
“As soon as we're finished with this boring legal stuff I'll get back at the Mansion so we can start to plan whose butt we're going to kick next.” She-Hulk smiles before closing the communication.
“Well, Peggy, thanks for informing me,” Jan says, but she's interrupted by Pietro's sudden exclamation.
“I got her! For a moment I could get a fix on Crystal's communicard. She has tried to contact us but the communication was cut off immediately. I hope she's well. I can't imagine that Wanda would really try to harm my wife…” *
(* more on this in AVENGERS: VISION QUEST # 3, Alex)
“Where was the signal coming from?” Janet immediately asks.
“Vietnam! According to our equipment. From the Ruined Temple of the Priests of Pama, to be more exact.” Peggy Carter says, after doing a few checks.
“Do I gather the rest of…?” Pietro's question is cut short as an emergency call from the Police flashes on the screen. A male voice announces: “The new Avenger, Sandman, is battling an unidentified green-skinned opponent resembling Prince Namor on the Hudson River. The situation is getting worse. The Avengers are asked to intervene.”
“Damn! This comes first, Pietro. Tell Sif to stay behind to guard your father. I doubt Giant Man or the Beast will be able to stop their tests now. You and me, with Photon and the Knight will deal with this problem, since Iceman is busy with the Widow.” Wasp orders and the swiftest mutant on Earth immediately carries out her orders.
William Baker realizes he has used the wrong approach so far. He has tried to win the fight with brute strength. But pure strength abounds in Llyron as well. He needs a different approach and he needs it now, before the Lemurian's sword can slice the reporter's throat to accomplish the sacrifice in Llyron's words.
-I know Namor gets weaker if de-hydrated. If this Llyron guy resembles him in physiology as much as in appearance, I might try to use my sand around his body to absorb all the moisture and perspiration and to obstruct his pores and somehow increase his inner temperature.-
So he strikes, apparently aiming at Llyron's mouth, leading him to believe that he would try and suffocate him, while actually performing the stunt he just conceived. The suddenness of Baker's attack, and the disorientation of the madness possessing Llyron, slow down the hybrid's reactions so he is unable to kill his hostage at once. Sandman succeeds in encasing Llyron's in a cocoon made of sand, blocking the sword arm and forcibly separating the hostage from the lethal weapon.
Llyron shouts curses, spitting sand from his mouth, but he doesn't realize how quickly the sand around his body is drying it up and how hot it is inside the cocoon. Sandman frantically increases the depth of the sand layer on the Lemurian, while at the same time taking care of the hostage with his right arm, snatching him from Llyron's grasp as the Lemurian tries to concentrate on freeing himself.
Llyron has finally taken notice of the danger and his incredible strength is trying to break Sandman's cocoon to find refuge in the water below. The invisible presence nearby is deciding if she should intervene now…
With a last burst of strength the Lemurian frees himself, but the de-hydration is almost complete. Baker gathers his body back to strike anew before Llyron can reach the water, but a tiny ray of coherent light precedes him as Photon complete Sandman's plan with her usual speed and efficiency. To the bystanders, though, it looks like Llyron just collapsed because of the Sandman's attack.
The media get all crazy about Baker and suddenly they're calling him a hero, much to his surprise… that's why the Wasp orders Pietro and the Knight back before anyone can see them. She flies the scene in shrunken form to ascertain there's no immediate danger, then she confirms her orders and Photon leaves the scene undetected. Sandman has earned his moment of glory… and the Avengers need the positive feedback from admitting him in their ranks, especially now.
The invisible woman who was manipulating Llyron senses the Avengers' presence, though, and that's why she decides not to intervene to rescue her puppet. There will be other occasions, soon… and she can release Llyron at any moment, she knows…
Chanting a spell of teleportation she disappears.
The doctors have left, everybody is downstairs complimenting Sandman for his actions of today, but Sif stands at Magneto's side, unmoving. This is not for Janet's previous orders. She has felt a strange sensation the whole day about this man. She has heard about his past, but she knows about his pain, as well. He reminds her, for some reasons, of Beta Ray Bill: strong and yet fragile. Could it be that her immortal heart is being attracted to a mortal again? Now that Thor is still missing? Now that Amora is still on the prowl?
Magnus is awakening himself, the horrible sight of his own daughter trying to kill him in his mind. He's startled for a moment, looking at Sif's features, suddenly so similar to Wanda's. No, not Wanda's… Sif reminds him of Magda, his long-lost wife, Wanda's and Pietro's mother.
Without a word Sif lowers her face closer to Magneto's, to check on his state, someone could think, but why her lips suddenly part? And why the former Master of Magnetism is so equally eager to taste those immortal lips?
On the other side of the room, completely undetectable under a spell of concealment that only a Sorcerer Supreme could break, Loki grins, suppressing the laughter trying to burst out of his mouth for this final touch of wicked seduction to add to his master plan against his accursed brother, Thor. He completes the charm spell binding Sif and Magneto in a mockery of true love and then shifts to the Asgardian landscape, contented.
Next: Photon has a big problem with her powers and it's not going to wait anymore before scrambling her life and putting the whole Avengers team in danger. Meanwhile new aspects of Apocalypse's plan are discovered. And in AVENGERS ANNUAL # 1 you can't miss the one-shot CHAMPIONS reunion as the Black Widow settles a lot of unfinished matters with Zeus himself to save Hercules' life! More of Loki's machinations can be seen in THOR and the invisible assailant in this issue will strike again, but maybe she will strike WEST, if you know what I mean. And don't forget about VISION QUEST, too!