The Golden Castle, a fortress hovering high above Macabra, Morvania. The heart of the Machine Nation.
After Ultron had exposed the population of Morvania to a cyborg plague, those few survivors found themselves forever changed, transformed into a mesh of man and machine, often more machine than man.
The survivors, a few hundred in number, banded together to form the Machine Nation, pooling their new talents and abilities together to institute a new society pledged to make sure that such an atrocity never happened again. Though more machine than human, each member of the Nation remembered all the friends and family lost because of Ultron's wicked experiment.
Most of them lived in Macabra or on the outskirts of the decimated city. Their secret champion, Nighthawk, traveled the rest of the world, searching out Ultron technology to destroy. (1) The rest of their peoples were in the process of rebuilding the destroyed city and using their super-fast computerized brains to invent new technologies to aid humanity.
The Golden Castle, product of the imagination of one of the Eternals who had once led the country alongside the now-defunct Champions, remained in place overhead, watching without interference. In a last ditch effort to contain the virus that turned every organic human being in Morvania into a cybernetic entity, Psykos had integrated his vast mental powers with the castle to develop a powerful force-field around the entire country. (2)
It had cost him his life; the energy expended resulted in a cosmic chain reaction which bonded his essential being to the gold ship, and now Psykos had no physical form to speak of save that ship; his mind was fused with the Golden Castle.
The Blue Blaze set down on one of those golden towers. She wore an all-blue costume from her neck down to the soles of her boots. The only color in the costume were her silver nega-bands. Her head was exposed, revealing pink flesh and bleach-colored hair.
`Welcome back, Phyla-Vell,' The Golden Castle said in her mind. `The elders council was alerted to your arrival. Would you like to speak with them?'
"Not yet," Phyla said, disturbed by the lack of emotion in the former Eternal's voice. "I had an intuition that I would be needed here; a cross between my own cosmic awareness and my link to Gaea as the Blue Blaze
`Of course,' the Castle responded. `As you are well aware, all former Champions are given free access to any area of the Machine Nation which they wish to explore.'
"Thank you," Phyla said, "but what I'd really like to"
She stopped as her body erupted into mystical blue flames, her cosmic awareness flaring up. Somewhere down below, a human body was being incinerated by black flames.
Without another word, without a second's hesitation, Phyla pitched herself off the tower and flew straight down towards the burning man, hoping to reach him in time to save his life.
Three seconds later, the man was naught but a pile of ashes, blown in the wind. Phyla flew right into the creature who had set him ablaze without looking at it.
The Blue Blaze set down with both feet and watched as the dust settled and her enemy rose to his feet. Her eyes widened in disbelief as she stared down her predecessor in the role of the Blue Blaze, Spencer Keene.
Half Kree. Half Titan. A bastard child, born in a laboratory. Some even say he's destined for greatness. Destined to become something above the photonic energy manipulating powerhouse he is right now. He is Genis-Vell. He is Captain Marvel.
Captain Marvel #86
"The Black Blaze"
Writer: John Flint
Webmaster: Liam Gibbs
Keene was still in the costume of the Blue Blaze he had worn before, save that now it was all black. He was nothing more than a shriveled corpse and the costume looked several sizes too big for him. He was a rotted out husk of a man.
"You had to have known this was coming," the corpse said, staring into her soul with his black eyes, "every force has its equal and opposite reaction. If Gaea is to have its protective life-force it must also have its protective death-force."
"I don't believe that," Phyla said, "whatever's happened to you, whatever's corrupted you"
"I'm not the corruption," Black Blaze said, "the Machine Nation is the corruption! It is an abomination! Horrendous! An unsightly blemish on the face of the Earth!"
"You can't destroy them all," Phyla said, "and even if you could, they only want to help"
"Help humanity, so that it can continue to destroy the planet," Black Blaze said, "that is what I am here to stop, Phyla-Vell."
"I'm sorry, but you know I have to stop you," Phyla said, "I'm the Blue Blaze now."
"Do what you must," Black Blaze said as his hands caught black fire, "and I'll do as I must."
"I don't want to," Phyla said, as the Black Blaze blasted her with a cold heat. She put up a force-field, which the inky black flames licked and crawled around, slithering like a tendril of snakes. "Good God, what have you become?"
"I'm the Black Blaze," the husk replied, opening wide his mouth and loosening another burst of black flames from deep within his throat, "I am become death!"
"Huff!" Phyla fell back, her force-field holding up but not stopping the momentum from knocking her down. She blasted back with her own mystical flames, bright blue against the blackness.
The two mystic flames neutralized each other; both disappeared upon contact with its opposite number. Whichever flame would prove victorious would be the one with the greatest quantity produced.
Each Blaze went to work pushing out as much flame as they could expend without the heat source within their souls flickering out.
Underground and in the ruins of Macabra, the Machine Nation alerted its citizens to prepare to evacuate immediately.
[The Golden Castle.]
"Whoof!" Black Marvel said as he and Shift showed up, landing on cobblestones within the hovering castle. Black Marvel began to hack and had to excuse himself as his lunch came back up.
" Shift said, gasping for air, "so
when I take someone along
A rift appeared in the air before them, shimmering like a pond of water. Shift began to mutter, "No no no no not already," afraid the Slashers had already followed them through time and space to wherever it was that they had found themselves transported to.
The Black Knight, Giant Man, and the Black Panther emerged instead.
The shimmering ripple in space behind them disappeared. `Welcome back,' Psykos said in their minds.
"It's good to be back," Black Knight said, admiring the construction of the fortress, a medieval castle by way of Eternal high technology, a wonder in and of itself standing sentry above a new breed of civilization.
"Speak for yourself," Giant Man said, rubbing his arm, "Nothing personal, computer, but this place gives me the creeps."
"This was the mutant we sought," Black Panther said, pointing to Shift, "was it not?"
"That's the guy," Black Knight said, "hey, where's Woodgod? Wasn't he with you?"
"He was," Shift agreed, and crossed his arms uncomfortably, "now he's
"Okay," Giant Man said, "so where is he?"
"In my time," Black Marvel said, able to size up the period approximately by the dress of the heroes before him, "in your future. Still fighting those
things with the machete-arms."
"We'll go after him once we've figured out what's going on with you," Black Knight said to Shift, "I can travel through time as well as space through Merlyn's magic mirror, if I concentrate hard enough on my destination. We'll use it to return you to your proper time, too, son."
"You look like Captain Marvel," Giant Man noted.
"I am his son," Black Marvel said, extending his hand. "Kingdo-Vell, or the Black Marvel."
Each hero took it and shook it in turn, introducing themselves. The Black Knight was dressed in a state-of-the-art chainmail suit of unstable molecule armor, his helmet filled with internal circuitry allowing him to interface with his chaos computers at home in his castle. The Black Panther was in the traditional battle garb of his role as the warrior-chieftain of the Panther Clan. Giant Man was dressed in a lightweight yellow and blue unstable polymer mesh that expanded and condensed in proper proportion and suffered no ill effects from heat or cold or repeated gunshots.
`Now that everyone is properly introduced,' Psykos cut in, `Might I suggest helping the Blue Blaze? She is currently engaged in battle with the previous Blue Blaze and their energy expenditure might destroy the Machine Nation if it continues unabated.'
"What? Why didn't you say so? Teleport us down there," Black Knight said.
Before anyone could object, the deed was done.
The heroes reappeared in time to see the Blue Blaze blast the Black Blaze with cosmic force. The Black Blaze was staggered, albeit only momentarily, but it was enough. His power had been equal and opposite of her own so long as she used the power given her by Gaea, Mother Earth. Fortunately, she also had her own genetic heritage, the powers of the Eternals, and she used this as well, blasting the corpse back.
"Guess we weren't needed here after all," Giant Man said, nodding in approval as the Blue Blaze wrapped the Black Blaze up in a straitjacket of swirling strings of cosmic energy.
"Aunt?" Black Marvel asked.
"Wh-what?" Blue Blaze stammered, surprised. The Black Blaze smashed free, exhausting the rest of his supply of energy in the process, and lunged for the Blue Blaze. There was a loud shot and the Black Blaze slumped against her, bleeding black ichors from his forehead.
"Who's the sharpshooter?" Shift asked as Rachel Wurstheimer blew the smoke rising from the end of her photon pistol.
"The Female Fuhrer, at your service," she introduced herself, as Private Marvel appeared behind her, entering spacetime through an invisible rift. Finally, a third member of their party emerged, clad in gray body armor with a familiar golden star emblem on his chestplate.
"Father!" The Black Marvel cried, recognizing him at once as the hero whose statue stood proudly in the Los Angeles of the future.
"Son," the Magistrate said, his cosmic awareness filling him in on the past of yet another anomaly. "It appears we have a family reunion, of sorts. This is your sister, Mimi-Vell."
Mimi and Kingdo hugged, while the others came together, ignoring the husk of the Black Blaze as it dissolved into a fine goo.
"I can't access her past," Phyla said, staring down Rachel. "Why can't I find out anything on her? I'm cosmically aware!"
"She's an anomaly," the Magistrate explained, "and right now, there are a lot of anomalies popping up, and forces coming out to destroy them. Something is going on. Something major.
"I intend to find out what it is. Anyone who wants to help me shut it down, come with me."
[The Realm Between.]
Just as the Realm Beyond exists beyond the boundaries of time and space, the Realm Between exists between the first and second moments in the history of the universe. This was the Surgeon General's home, a place in which the rules of the universe are constantly in flux, shielded from the view of any regular, ordinary, everyday time-travelers.
The Magistrate marched towards the Surgeon General, ignoring his many servitors. "Surgeon General," he shouted, "I will not have you interfering with my timezones! Stand down or face the consequences!"
"I'm afraid," the Surgeon General said, "I'll have to select the latter. You see, I have my job to do just as you have yours. It's a responsibility which I take very seriously, as should you yours."
"Tell me what is going on," the Magistrate said, standing over the Surgeon General, "help me to understand what the source of the problem is and I'll deal with it myself. I am the Magistrate"
"You certainly are that, and an imposing one, to be true," the Surgeon General said, sticking out his bulging belly, "and I'm the Surgeon General. I don't make the rules, Magistrate. I only enforce them.
"I won't tell you what's going on; not because I can't or shouldn't but because I won't. It isn't a problem you want to solve yourself, trust me."
"I'll be the judge of that."
"This is going to end very badly for you," the Surgeon General promised as he turned away.
[To be continued
1. See Defenders Annual #8.
2. See Champions #49-50.
NEXT TIME: THE OPERATION