#6 - End of an Era, Part One
“I can’t believe you are all leaving!”
Hank Pym stood with Tigra and Bethany Cabe, the Avengers West head of security, and watched as James Rhodes prepared to fly to Muir Island in Scotland. Pym tried to tell himself that his dream was not dying in front of him. As the pilot for the Avengers West, Rhodes would return in a few hours. His passengers would not.
“Take it easy, baby,” Tigra told him, wrapping her tail around his leg. “Beth and I are staying.”
“I know but…” Pym tried to justify his feelings, but thought better of it. The new Avengers West Coast was his dream – his chance to prove to the world and to himself that he had put his past failures behind him. He was very proud of all he had accomplished since re-establishing the Avengers West in Hydro-Base in recent months. He knew that a lot of that had been through surrounding himself with good people, and now a large number of them were leaving.
“Well, Mrs. McCoy’s baby boy is quite happy to have had a leader who is not afraid to show a little emotion. It makes parting an even more bitter-sweet sorrow!” The Beast attempted to joke.
“It’s going to be a lot quieter around here with you, McCoy,” Tigra told him.
The Beast grabbed Tigra and impulsively kissed her passionately. “I should have done that weeks ago, but at least now I’ll have a pleasant memory to keep me warm during those long, cold nights in the labs in Muir Island. And I’m needed more there.”
Tigra playfully hit him on the nose. “You take care of yourself.”
“Absolutely, Henry” Pym told the Beast, shaking the mutant’s hand. “It’s been a pleasure having you here. Are you confident that you will be able to help them?”
The Beast looked at his patients, both of whom were unconscious. He could see Moira MacTaggart demanding that James Rhodes ensure that both Scott Summers and Slade Truman were carefully strapped in the quinjet, unconcerned with the fact that Rhodes was such a good pilot that he now worked for the Avengers West. “I think so. Scott just needs some time to recuperate now, but I’ll feel better watching over him myself. Nobody knows how stubborn he can be more than me, particularly as his wife is still off with the Vision. As for Moonraker – whatever the Mandarin did to him, we have a better chance of getting to the bottom of it with the technology in Muir Island. Any how, as much I’ve enjoyed myself here, it’s time I got back to working on a cure for the legacy virus.”
Dramatically bidding them goodbye, the Beast bounced to the quinjet before James Rhodes murdered Moira.
“Well, I can see Muir Island isn’t going to be boring,” Julia Carpenter tried to smile as she said goodbye to her friends.
“I can understand the Beast leaving,” Hank Pym told her, “but I am still stunned by your resignation. I thought you were happy with your job as Coordinator of the Crew.”
“Oh Hank,” Tigra told him. “You can be so dense at times. Julia leaving has nothing to do with her job! It has to do with her man!”
The former Spider-Woman laughed. “You have a way with words, Tigra.”
“But I’m right, aren’t I? Cats have very good instincts.”
Julia shrugged. “I’m not sure what I feel for Slade, but he’s all on his own. He needs some one, and for the moment it looks like I’m it.”
“What about your daughter?” Beth Cabe asked.
“Rachel is with my parents for the moment. I’ll collect her when I know what I’m doing.”
“Don’t worry about Julia,” the Living Lightning told them, as the former Spider-Woman joined Slade on the quinjet. “I’ll keep an eye on her.”
“You’re the last person I expected to leave – at least not before you graduated from college,” Pym told him.
“Dr. MacTaggart thinks she might be able to help me with my condition. I can lead a fairly normal life thanks to the circuitry that allows me to stay human, but she has experience with energy-based beings that might mean she can remove my dependence on the technology. It’s too much of an opportunity to pass up, and I can still finish my studies as a distance student.”
He transformed into his energy form and flew beside the departing quinjet that carried the Beast, Julia Carpenter, Moonraker, Cyclops and Dr. MacTaggart away from Hydro-Base. They would be missed.
Pym walked back to his office, but Tigra noticed Beth Cabe staring at the departing quinjet. “Beth? You okay?”
“I’m fine, Greer,” Beth told her. “I’m just thinking about Julia. She gave up her dream job to be with the man she loved. I don’t know if I could be that brave…”
Beth walked confidently back into Hydro-Base, leaving Tigra wondering exactly what Beth meant. Tigra had heard that Beth once had a passionate romance with Iron Man. Maybe that relationship was not as dead as both parties pretended…
From the safety of the sea, the hybrid Llyron watched the cat-woman contemplate her colleague’s feelings. It would be so easy to attack her now, but his female companions urged him to wait. The time for assault would come soon enough.
Cain Marko, the Juggernaut, watched Marianne Rodgers as she slept.
The psychic was incredibly beautiful – a mixture of innocence and cold strength. If it had not been for her, he would not be in this situation. He was in the Avengers West Coast’s headquarters of all places! It had been good to have a breather and a chance to catch his breath after every thing that had happened lately, but this was no place for his kind. Doubtlessly, there were a few warrants for his arrest floating around somewhere. It was only a matter of time before the Avengers checked, and he had no intention of being easy to find when they did. But still… she was so pretty…
“Cain?” she asked, waking up and sensing his presence with her telepathy. She was not even slightly afraid of him. That was one of the things he liked about her.
“Hey kid. Sleep well?”
“Very well,” she smiled, yawning. “I feel safe here.”
Cain tried to hide his disappointment, but that was almost impossible in front of a telepath.
“You’re leaving, aren’t you?” she asked, suddenly very awake.
Cain nodded. “I don’t fit in here. I… I heard that Truman was sent to Scotland with MacTaggart.”
“He can get better care there,” Marianne answered him, knowing what he was trying to ask about her recent lover.
“I was surprised you didn’t go with him.”
“Slade and I… Our time is over. Julia Carpenter is the one he really loves. He belongs with her, and I belong with the Avengers now.”
As the Juggernaut, Cain had fought the Avengers, the X-Men and the Hulk. Yet he was never as afraid as he was now. “If you wanted to, you could… you know… belong with me.”
Marianne smiled at him gently. She climbed out of bed and put her arms around his massive frame as best she could. “I’ll always consider you a friend. If you ever need me, you let me know.”
Cain tried to resist telling her that he needed her now. “Same goes for you, kid. Um… I better get going. That Justice kid has been watching my every move. I better get out of here before he has an aneurysm from trying to look threatening.”
Marianne watched him leave, genuinely sad to see him go. However…
“Yeah?” he asked hopefully.
“I meant what I said, but one thing…”
“I know you learned Iron Man’s identity recently, and have been wondering what to do with that knowledge. If you hurt Tony in any way, I will find you. And I will make you pay.”
The fearless Juggernaut stared at the gentle-looking blonde woman in front of him, and remembered how she had caused Deathmancer’s head to explode using telekinesis back in Hong Kong. Nodding, he left her and Hydro-Base behind him.
Jim Hammond, the original Human Torch, stared at his companion’s temporary quarters in Hydro-Base in disgust. It was not that the room was distasteful in any way. The room was one of the dozen guest-rooms in the Hydro-Base that were completely identical and anonymous so that any one could stay in them. It was the fact that the Prince of Atlantis owned it that bothered Hammond. He had sworn never to have anything to do with his former teammate from two eras after being betrayed by Namor’s sale of Oracle to Stark-Fujikawa with no warning. If not for his friendship to the room’s current occupant, and for his loyalty to the Avengers, Hammond would never have set foot in a single property that was in any way connected to Namor.
“That is an intriguing offer” Jacqueline Falsworth Crichton, the reserve Avenger known as Spitfire spoke on the phone. “I am certainly interested in hearing more. I should be back at the estate in two days. Why don’t you come for tea and we can discuss it further?”
Hammond smiled at his old friend as she ended the phone-call. Whoever she was talking to obviously was exciting her. She looked just as exhilarated by life as when they had fought together in the Invaders during World War II. Although he understand that she had aged like all of his friends from his era, she was almost exactly like he remembered her thanks to a blood transfusion that had restored her youth years ago. His friendship with her was one of the few things he had left from an important chapter in his artificial life, and he valued it deeply.
“Well, that was interesting,” she told Hammond, putting down the phone.
“Good news, I take it?”
“Potentially. It seems that the Labour Party want me to stand for local government. They say that I’m the perfect candidate. My war-exploits and background would win the elderly vote, my charity work for AIDS sufferers could get the young vote, and my restored youth would ensure media interest. Apparently,” she smiled, “I am what they call a hot property.”
“I can relate to that,” the original Human Torch smiled. “Are you going to do it?”
“I don’t know,” Spitfire told him, lying on her bed. “I’m certainly tempted. I’ve almost finished over-seeing the reconstruction of the Avengers’ Compound. Fighting in LA a few hours ago was fun in a warped way, but it could give me the chance to do something important. That’s always been the Falsworth way. What about you? What are your plans, or do you have any?”
Hammond picked up a framed picture of the Invaders that Spitfire had brought with her from England. “Not really. I just want to get away from here. It seems that my anger with Namor is stronger than I thought.”
Spitfire stared at him carefully. “The wounds still run deep, don’t they? He does regret the damage he caused to your friendship, you know. That’s why he asked me to come here. He was hoping I would be able to persuade you to put the past behind you.”
“Well,” the Torch told her, still looking at the picture. “I fear you’ve had a wasted trip.”
Spitfire smiled as she looked at one of her oldest friends. “Now you are being silly. No chance to see a dear friend is a wasted one. Why don’t you come back with me to England? God knows there’s plenty of room in the Manor. It could be fun, watching all those silly politicians trying to manipulate me to fill their own agendas.”
“You’ll have them wrapped around your fingers in minutes. Go back to England? It’s not something I’ve even considered…”
“Well,” she told him playfully, “Consider it. After all, what have you got here? And who knows, maybe I’ll finally be able to knock some sense into that artificial head of yours.”
“Lady Crichton, if you do then you will be the first woman to ever do so.”
“Well, Mr. Hammond, I have always liked a challenge…”
“Now?” Llyron asked, as he watched even more Avengers depart.
No, the voices in his head told him. More Avengers would leave soon. Change was in the air, and their special senses could feel that it had not yet run its course. Soon the Avengers would be at their most vulnerable. Then, and only then, could he strike in their honour.
Llyron, a man to whom patience had never come easily, reluctantly obeyed.
In the training room, Justice telekinetically destroyed solid holograms of the Juggernaut. He could not believe he had let him leave Hydro-Base so effortlessly! He was such an amateur. Barely forty-eight hours after becoming an active Avenger again, and he had screwed up already! He tried to focus on those thoughts. Any thing was better than what was really on his mind.
Firestar watched him with concern from a booth overlooking the training room. Something was seriously wrong. Vance was really pushing himself, but why? He told her that it was because the Juggernaut had left Hydro-Base without detection, but that did not make any sense. The other Avengers seemed to think that the Juggernaut had earned a free pass from Hydro-Base after helping them recently, so why would it bother Vance so much? There had to be something else. Something serious. The only time she had seen him look that worried before was when he had been waiting for trial for the accidental manslaughter of his abusive father.
Deactivating the training program, Firestar flew into the training room, determined to get the truth.
“Vance, what’s going on?” she demanded. “Why are you acting so strange?”
Justice telekinetically grabbed a towel and wiped sweat from his brow. He had physically exhausted himself and had to lean against a railing for support. “I told you. Now get off my case!”
“Vance!” Firestar demanded. “We’re supposed to be engaged – we’re supposed to be each other’s family! What’s the point in me wearing this engagement ring if you can’t even confide in me!”
“I…” Justice looked at his fiancée, and then lowered his head in shame. “Family is what has me upset, Angel. I don’t know what to do.”
“About what?” she asked gently, genuinely worried.
“My aunt rang me. It’s my mom…”
Firestar braced herself for the worst. In the time she had known Justice, any thing to do with his mother had always caused problems for him. The woman had stood back for years while Vance’s father had physically abused him, and had blamed Vance after he finally fought back and accidentally caused his father’s death.
“She’s got cancer, Angel. The doctors think it might be terminal.”
Firestar immediately wrapped her arms around Justice, and forced herself to say the last words she wanted to say to him. “Then we have to go back to New York. You have to be there for her.”
“But… but she’s never been there for me! You know every thing that has happened in my family – she never did anything for years when Dad… you know… She rejected me when I was left out of the Vault, and nothing I’ve done since has ever been good enough for her. And we’re happy here – I couldn’t ask you to leave…”
“You’re not asking – I’m offering. No matter what has happened in the past, she’s your mother and she needs you now. This could be the last chance to put things right between you. I would give any thing to have a chance to talk to my mother. If she dies without you being there, then you will regret it for the rest of your life. We’ll head back tonight.”
Justice nodded. In truth, it was what he wanted to do. But memories of the past and fear of Firestar’s reaction had stopped him. “But you love being an Avenger. Won’t you mind leaving?”
Firestar stared at the training room. Being an Avenger had always been Vance’s dream, but it had becomes hers as well. She loved being an Avenger, but she loved Vance even more and he needed her. There was nothing else to consider. “Come on – we better tell Hank we’re leaving…”
Hank Pym sat in his office, and tried to keep things from falling apart. The Avengers were no strangers to changes in rosters, but this was the first time that he was directly in charge as it occurred. He hoped it was not a telling sign that he was the first Avengers Chairperson to have seen so many Avengers leave in one day. He wondered if Janet ever felt like this.
He was disturbed from his brooding by a knock on the door. He looked up to see Suzi Endo wearing her civilian clothes. She wore a smart black blouse and jeans. Her style was under-stated, but it did not distract from the Asian woman’s natural beauty.
“Suzi! Come in!”
“Thank you, Dr. Pym. I came to thank you for your hospitality in recent weeks. I’ve really enjoyed my time here.”
“Are you leaving, Suzi?” he asked, surprised. Was anybody staying?
“My Cybermancer suit has been repaired thanks to some help from Todd Fischer and Fabian Stankowicz. I think it’s time I returned home and resumed work, now that the Mandarin has been dealt with once and for all.”
“Well, I can’t pretend I’m not sorry to see you go,” Hank told her, “but I understand your reasons. Is Marianne leaving with you?”
“Um…” Suzi tried to choose her words carefully, as she sat in one of the chairs in front of Hank’s desk. “That is one of the two things I need to talk to you about. How much do you know about Marianne?”
If he was surprised by the question, Hank tried not to show it. “I know she is an old friend of Iron Man, and that she is a powerful albeit unpredictable telepath and telekinetic. I also know that she was in a mental institution for years due to her powers, but that she seems to have resolved those issues. Why do you ask?”
“I asked her if she wanted to return to Hong Kong with me, but she would rather stay here with the Avengers. She believes that she could find a place here.”
“Really?” Hank leaned back in his chair as he thought about it. “I have to admit that I hadn’t considered her for membership, but her abilities could come in very useful.”
“I have no doubt about that. In the short time I’ve known her she has been very capable. I’m genuinely fond of her, and I have no doubt she could contribute a lot here…”
“…But?” Hank asked, sensing there was more she was not sharing.
“During the Mandarin affair recently, Marianne… well… she killed my duplicate.”
Hank was stunned. “Kill? You mean she murdered some one?”
“No! No… You were there, Hank. It was a war situation. Who knows what any of us would have done in her place, and we were fighting for the sake of the entire planet. She did what she felt was necessary. I thought you should know about it though.”
“So… you’re recommending I not accept her into the Avengers?”
“No. Actually, I think the Avengers could be very good for her. I think the Avengers would give her stability and a chance to hone her powers. She might even find some inner peace, whatever that is. I just wanted you to know what had happened, so that you don’t push her too fast too soon, or underestimate what she’s capable of in extreme circumstances.”
“Ok… I’ll think about what you said, Suzi. I’m not making any promises, but thanks for bringing it to my attention. You said there was something else?”
Suzi smiled, pleased to move on to a topic she found less stressful. “I’ve finished looking at the technology the Avengers captured from the Sirens. What I found is pretty interesting…”
Walter and Diane Newell finally forced themselves to get out of the bed they shared in their rooms in Hydro-Base. The married couple had lived in Hydro-Base for years, long before the Avengers West had relocated there. It was slightly strange having Avengers based there permanently, but for them it would be more than a headquarters – it was home.
As Walter began to put on his Stingray uniform for the meeting Hank Pym had called, Diane walked into their bathroom.
“Did I tell you that Stone Industries were on to me again? They really want me to take that research job.”
“What did you tell them?” Diane asked him, from behind a closed door.
“I turned it down, of course. It would have to be an incredible position for me to even consider leaving Hydro-Base, and I certainly wouldn’t make any decisions without consulting with you. What are you doing in there any way? We’re going to be late!”
“I’ll be right with you!” Diane told him, holding a pregnancy kit in her hands. She was going to have to use it soon, but not right now. She hid it in their laundry basket, and finished putting on her Manta uniform.
Joining her husband, she accompanied him out of their rooms, and tried to put her potential pregnancy out of her mind.
Llyron smiled as he heard the word he had been waiting for. The word was attack…
Hank Pym motioned to Stingray and Manta to sit as they entered the Avengers’ main conference room in Hydro-Base. They joined Tigra, who was sitting on the table waiting for them.
“Thank you all for coming,” Hank began. “I’m sure you all agree that it has been an eventful forty-eight hours. Firebird is currently with the Vision’s team trying to help the Scarlet Witch. Apart from her, the entire active roster of the Avengers West is currently assembled in this room.”
Tigra looked around. “You mean… this is it? But we were tripping over heroes yesterday. Some of them were pretty cute too.”
“I’ll take your word for that one, Greer. We have seen some departures since then, both from our roster and from the guests we had staying with us. After the departures this morning, Justice and Firestar have had to return to New York to deal with a family roster. Cybermancer has returned to Hong Kong, the Juggernaut has left for parts unknown, and Spitfire has returned to England alongside the Torch. I’m sure we all wish them well, and acknowledge that they will be missed.”
“What about Ms. Rodgers?” Stingray asked. “I notice that she is still with us.”
“Marianne has expressed an interest in remaining with us on a permanent basis. I’m still considering the request, although any input that any of you might have would be welcome.”
“I don’t know if I like having more girls than guys in the team,” Tigra teased Hank. “I mean, what are we meant to do for fun?”
Hank sighed, but could not help smiling. Although Stingray and Manta both were unfamiliar with Tigra, he had a history with her and knew that there was far more to her than the fickle cat personality she so often enjoyed expressing.
“I’ll take that in mind, Greer. Now, does any one have any other opinions?”
No one replied. Although none of the Avengers present had any problems with Marianne, none of them knew her well enough to have an opinion on her.
“Okay. I’ll let you know once a decision is made about Mari-“ He stopped mid-sentence when Tigra leaped off the table and assumed a battle stance. “What’s wrong?”
With her superior feline senses, Tigra could just hear faint screaming from the front of the building. “Some thing’s wrong,” she told them, running towards the door, quickly followed by her fellow Avengers just before the emergency alarms started to ring loudly throughout Hydro-Base.
They ran to the main meeting room in the front of the Avengers headquarters, and were shocked by what awaited them. Their receptionist, Holly Ayala, was cowering in the corner, apparently unharmed but utterly terrified. Marianne Rodgers was on the ground, either unconscious or worse. The same could not be said for the Avengers butler, Guido Garosella, who had evidently been forced to come out of his compulsory retirement only to be thoroughly defeated by his attacker. The enormous Guido was being choked while being held aloft by his attacker’s left hand.
“Prepare to die for your cowardice, Avengers!” The seven foot tall green-skinned hybrid told the Avengers. “Prepare to die at the hands of Llyron!”
And from the sea, the Sirens smiled.
Hi. My name is Gary Halpin, and I am the new ongoing writer of Avengers West Coast. As the title says, this is the End of an Era. Alex Maggi was responsible for guiding the Avengers titles since the start of the Avengers 2000 group, so I am honoured to take over from him. West Coast Avengers was my favourite title as a teenager, and I am glad to now have the chance to write it.
There wasn’t a lot of action in this issue, although that will be rectified next issue. I am interested in characters more than anything else. While Alex could handle having twenty-plus characters in any title, I’m afraid I wouldn’t want to take on that type of task. I intend to focus on a core team plus supporting characters. You can see the foundation of that team in this very issue, although there will be some more departures and a few more arrivals. Some of the choices may surprise you, but I hope they will also interest you.
All of the characters that departed Hydro-Base today are hereby released should any other writer want them. If you have any ideas for stories for Cybermancer, Moonraker, the original Human Torch, Spitfire, Living Lightning, Firestar, the Beast, Justice, or Cyclops, contact the editorial team as they are no longer reserved for this title. I’m not saying they’ll never be back, but there are no longer members of the regular cast.
In the next couple of issues, you can expect a resolution to the Sirens storyline began by Alex; major developments in the lives of the regular cast; the return of some friends; and the return of one of the greatest foes the Avengers have ever fought. Thanks to Alex for being so gracious about sharing his ideas, and to Gary Dreslinski and Thomas Deja for making me feel so welcome. I’m happy to be here. Hopefully this will be a fun ride for all of us. Let me know how you’re enjoying it…