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The West Coast Avengers Vol. 3 Annual # 3 (2006)

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  • Unimatrix One
    To combat those threats against which no hero can face alone, Earth s Mightiest Heroes forged a covenant to unite in battle to protect all mankind. Due to the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 31, 2006
      To combat those threats against which no hero can face
      alone, Earth's Mightiest Heroes forged a covenant to
      unite in battle to protect all mankind. Due to the
      actions of an unstoppable menace, the team's second
      charter has been reborn! These are the new adventures
      of the West Coast Avengers!

      Team Roster: Photon--Mistress of Energy! Tigra—Feline
      Huntress! U.S.Agent--Soldier Extraordinaire! War
      Machine--Arsenal of Destruction! Vision--Artificial
      Synthezoid! She-Hulk--Gamma-Spawned Beauty!
      Hercules--Prince of Power! Hawkeye-Flawless Marksman!


      The West Coast Avengers Vol. 3 Annual #3
      "Machine Nation"
      By Daniel D. Gordon
      Plot Assist By Joel McCrory


      The cool, brisk Wyoming breeze rustled Bonita Juarez's
      skin. Being raised in the warmth of New Mexico, she
      had never been a fan of cold weather. Feeling the
      cold air made Bonita realize how much she missed home.
      She often thought of her parents. She hated how her
      hectic schedule with her new job and involvement with
      the West Coast Avengers limited her time to visit
      them. She promised herself to make time for a trip
      home as soon as her life gained some measure of
      stability.

      Another breeze jolted Bonita back to reality. All she
      could think of was that she volunteered to follow the
      Vision to the outskirts of this mining town. She did
      not hear the entire distress signal he received from a
      former Avenger, but she knew something was wrong when
      only his presence was requested. (1)

      More cold air brushed against her and Bonita wished
      she was monitoring the situation from the comfort of
      the WCA Mountain Base. She was tired of sulking in
      the dusky hilltop shadows waiting for something to
      happen at the mining station under surveillance.

      Bonita glanced at the Vision next to her, who had
      remained silent throughout their trip. She wondered
      what was going through his mind. She knew it sounded
      weird, but she could sense his loneliness. She
      somehow knew that he did not find comfort among the
      rest of the team. She often heard sly comments from
      the others as far as their mistrust of him and how
      they did not consider the android in their midst as
      the Vision they knew and loved. She barely knew the
      Vision the other Avengers spoke of. Whether she did
      or not, it would not be right for her to treat this
      Vision like they did. Regardless of being man or
      machine, he did not deserve to be an outcast.

      "Find anything interesting?" Bonita asked her silent
      teammate.

      "Local interference has diminished the validity of my
      scans," Vision reported. "If there is illegal
      activity inside the coal mine, I am unable to detect
      it."

      "Neither can I," a robotic female voice confirmed from
      behind. "If it was not for visual confirmation, I
      would not have discerned this location as the object
      of my query."

      "Greetings, Jocasta," Vision welcomed.

      "You're the one from the transmission," Bonita
      remembered.

      "Yes," Jocasta confirmed, turning to Bonita. "Why are
      you here?"

      "She came to assist me," Vision answered.

      "Her presence here has already doomed us," Jocasta
      activated her defensive optic weapons. Her eyes
      glowed with a red tint that almost gave the robot a
      demonic appearance.

      "What do you mean?" Vision inquired.

      "The government has been trying to track the terrorist
      group known as Sirius ever since the attack on Boston.
      (2) They work in many faction sects and I was sent
      on an undercover mission to infiltrate this sect.
      When I discovered who was operating this sect, I
      contacted my superiors in X-Factor, only to learn that
      my status with them was in question. (3) When I
      could not contact the East Coast Avengers, I then
      contacted you." (4)

      "I guess we do have a stigma for being known as the
      'other' Avenger team," Bonita mumbled.

      "We must leave immediately," Jocasta warned. "Her
      presence must have been detected by now. This Sirius
      sect specializes in utilizing nanotechnology. Any
      organic being that does not possess it is captured and
      implanted with it."

      "We must contact the others," Bonita suggested.
      Before the androids could respond, the trio were hit
      with a sonic wave. Bonita covered her ears as she
      fell to her knees. The high-pitched frequency
      immobilized Jocasta and Vision. Bonita felt her
      consciousness slipping. She tried to reach for her
      Communicard, but was overwhelmed by the unseen force.
      Bonita struggled to maintain control of her mind as
      several men in brown armor hovered over her. Bonita's
      world faded to black as one of the men reached for
      her.



      ***Meanwhile at the WCA Mountain Base***


      Bill Foster sat at the monitoring station. Watching
      various screens and listening to numerous police
      scanners was the most dreaded duty of an Avenger. No
      one wanted to spend four hours trying to be attentive
      of everything that was going on throughout the world.
      If a person's attention wandered for a second, it
      could have disastrous consequences. However, for some
      reason Bill looked forward to today's shift. Maybe it
      was because he was gone for a few days and actually
      missed being around the others.

      He occasionally kept an eye on things as he read the
      weekly-updated S.H.I.E.L.D. datastream. This was the
      only mandated reading the West Coasters were assigned
      to. Since their headquarters was a former
      S.H.I.E.L.D. base, the team had access to the spy
      organization's intelligence resources. Since events
      in the superhuman community constantly changed, it
      helped them keep the shared Avengers/Fantastic Four
      database up-to-date.

      Bill turned around when he heard Doc Samson,
      U.S.Agent, and Tigra enter the room. "So, how did the
      transfer to the Big House go?"

      "Without a hitch," Doc Samson informed. "I wanted to
      get more insight into why the pair caused all the
      destruction, especially since Eternals rarely interact
      with the rest of world." (5)

      "The guy wasn't in much condition to talk," U.S.Agent
      added. "And the woman looked like she lost the love
      of her life."

      "I wouldn't be in the mood to talk if something
      happened to you," Tigra mentioned.

      "You not talk?" U.S.Agent grinned. "That would be a
      first."

      "Whatever," Tigra gave a friendly shove. She then
      looked at Bill and smiled. "Check you out, Bill!
      Where did you get the new duds?"

      "Celia made it for me," Bill answered, admiring the
      new sleeveless redesign. (6)

      "What's up with you two?" Tigra asked in a girlish
      tone.

      Bill was glad to be interrupted by a loud, beeping
      noise. Bill returned his attention to the station and
      saw a flashing red button.

      "What's this?" Bill wondered. He pressed a flashing
      key and the image of the Vision appeared on the main
      screen.

      "If you are reading this, then it means that it has
      been five hours since either Firebird or I contacted
      the base. We are presently investigating a distress
      call from former Avenger Jocasta in regards to an
      unknown threat. Please send reinforcements to the
      enclosed location and proceed with caution." The
      image was then replaced with a map of Riverton,
      Wyoming.


      "Hit the call button," U.S.Agent ordered. "Looks like
      we got ourselves a mission."


      ***Deep Inside the Mining Station***


      Bonita squinted as she tried to focus her blurry
      vision. She did not know how long she had been
      unconscious. She tried to move and saw that she was
      bound to a table. She looked around and saw the
      disabled forms of Vision and Jocasta. She tried to
      use her heat powers to free herself and noticed they
      were not working.

      "Your powers have been temporarily negated," a
      high-pitched robotic female voice informed. "You will
      be able to access them once you are remade in my
      image."

      "There is only one God and you are not Him," Bonita
      defied.

      "Not yet," the female robot continued. "You are the
      first superhuman I have experimented on. Once my
      nanotech rewrites your DNA and bind you to my will, I
      will use you to bring the rest of your kind under my
      control."

      "I would rather die than to let you use me for your
      evil plans," Bonita declared.

      "Do not be so quick to deny me," the robotic woman
      continued. "Once you are remade, you will experience
      a life with no pain. You will have no worries or
      concerns. All you will need to do is obey."

      "I will never submit to you."

      "Resistance is futile," the robot stated.

      "Where did I hear that before?" Four arrows zipped
      through the air, landing on Bonita's shackles. They
      unsnapped and Bonita quickly jumped off the table.

      "I wondered when the rest of you would show up," the
      robot acknowledged the arrival of the West Coast
      Avengers.

      "Alkhema," Hawkeye called the robot's name in disgust.
      "I wondered when you would show up again."

      "Did you miss me, Hawkie?" Alkhema pointed to her
      frame. "I got an upgrade since we last met. Do you
      like?" (7)

      "I'm going to put an arrow through your head and be
      done with it," Hawkeye answered with an unusual
      disdain. He aimed an arrow at Alkhema's skull, but he
      was unsure if he could follow on his threat. Much
      like the Vision's brain engrams being based on the
      thought patterns of fellow Avenger Simon Williams,
      Alkhema's engrams were based on Bobbi Barton. (8) If
      he destroyed Alkhema, he would be responsible for
      erasing the last thing on Earth that represented his
      lost wife.

      "You know it will not be that easy," Alkhema laughed.
      Hawkeye thought she was talking to him, but saw that
      Alkhema turned her attention to Bonita who was trying
      to free Vision and Jocasta.

      Bonita froze in place against her will. She wanted to
      untangle the cords wrapped around the androids, but
      another force controlled her actions. She turned
      around and saw the Avengers and her hands ignited.

      "Bonita?" She-Hulk called out. "What are you doing?"

      "She is part of my Machine Nation now," Alkhema
      revealed. "Soon you will all be." (9)

      From every corner of the sub-station, men and women
      wearing brown armor surrounded the Avengers. With
      weapons drawn, each soldier had some visual sign of
      cybernetic alteration. Some had blades and guns
      attached where arms should have been. Others had
      optic enhancements replacing their eyes. There were
      few that had so much machinery installed that they
      barely looked human. None of them spoke as they
      awaited their leader's next command.

      "You have two choices, Avengers," Alkhema offered.
      "Surrender willingly or waste the last moments of your
      free will against my unstoppable army."

      "We choose Option Three," Photon readied her
      teammates. "We're taking you down. Avengers
      assemble!"

      "Detain them, but do not injure them," Alkhema
      ordered. She strolled toward the hanging androids
      after watching Bonita join the assault on the
      Avengers.

      "We need to take these people down fast," Photon
      assessed. "Jen, Herc, and Tigra, take care of crowd
      control. Hawkeye, I want you and War Machine to
      distract Alkhema long enough for Agent to get Giant
      Man close enough to free Vision and Jocasta. I'll
      deal with Bonita."

      "Let the battle be joined!" Hercules shouted,
      grabbing two nearby soldiers and tossing them to the
      side. The soldiers he did not toss, he disabled with
      powerful punches to the face and chest.

      She-Hulk, on the other hand, was more graceful
      engaging the enemy. She grabbed and crushed
      cybernetic joints with her gamma strength. She even
      exercised her agility on certain soldiers with
      forceful and sweeping arm spins. It did not take long
      for her to discover that the damaged soldiers started
      to repair themselves so they could rejoin the fray.

      "They can regenerate," She-Hulk bellowed, disarming a
      soldier who tried to sneak up behind her.

      "I noticed," Tigra relayed, dodging an array of
      weapons fire. With her feline speed, Tigra managed to
      stay one step ahead of the soldier trying to kill her.
      With ease she directed most of their fire against
      each other.

      She continued her pace since the wounds inflicted on
      the soldiers quickly healed due to the nanotech in
      their system. Tigra had no problem evading her
      attackers, but she knew she would tire eventually. If
      they were not stopped soon, she would end up like
      Bonita. She did not want to be forced to hurt the
      people she loved the most. With renewed
      determination, she continued to disarm and dismantle
      the soldiers who wanted to convert her into one of
      their own.


      ***Elsewhere***


      Bonita was glad she was unable to touch Photon with
      the numerous fire blasts coming from her hands.
      Despite chasing her through the catacombs of the
      mining station, Bonita wanted to stop. She wanted
      control over her body again. She prayed that Photon
      would find a way to break Alkhema's hold on her before
      she did something she would regret.

      "Fight it, Bonita!" Photon stopped in midair and
      fired soundwaves in Bonita's direction. Bonita
      screamed as the soundwaves washed over her. She could
      feel the nanotech inside her body react to the sonic
      barrage. Her ears tingled and a bio-substance poured
      out of them.

      "My God," Photon gasped. She watched tiny strips of
      black technogrowth sprout from Bonita's ears and
      spread across her face. She stopped her attack and
      Bonita fell to the ground.

      Bonita tried to fight the influence that was slowly
      taking over her body. There was nothing she could do
      to stop it. She did not want to be turn into an
      unthinking zombie, but she had no idea of how to stop
      her impending transformation. Her faith was the only
      thing that told her that she would overcome. That
      small glimmer of hope faded as the mechanical program
      rewrote her thoughts.

      "Bonita?" Photon flew down to help her. "Can you hear
      me?"

      "Perfectly," Bonita replied in an
      electronically-distorted voice. She looked at her
      leader and fired microwave energy from her eyes.


      ***Meanwhile***


      "Can you reach them?" U.S.Agent shouted over the
      sound of his shield smashing the skull of one of the
      Sirius soldiers.

      "Almost," Giant Man stood at ten feet. He did not
      want to grow too tall and become ineffective in the
      close quarters. There seemed to be an endless supply
      of Sirius soldiers. As Giant Man pushed his way
      through the sea of cyborgs, he saw the looks of lost
      humanity in their faces. It instantly reminded him of
      how he felt when he used to lose control when he used
      his powers. (10) In his mind he did not realize what
      was happening, but from the empty gaze in the
      soldiers’ eyes, he could tell they had no control over
      their actions.

      Vision and Jocasta were nearly in his reach, but the
      Sirius soldiers barred his way. Giant Man grew four
      feet taller and pressed his way to the hanging
      androids. He started to disconnect the cables
      surrounding the Vision when he felt something pierce
      his right arm.

      "Ouch," Giant Man pulled his arm back to see what
      pinched him. This was the first time he questioned
      his decision of going sleeveless. He looked to see
      what pinched him and it was the reactivated Jocasta.

      "You will be one of us soon," Jocasta informed.

      Giant Man grunted and shrunk to his normal size
      against his will. U.S.Agent glanced in Giant Man's
      direction and saw the Vision phase through the cables
      around him and solidify next to Giant Man.

      "This can't be good," U.S.Agent mumbled to himself.
      He tried to make his way to Giant Man, but was
      overpowered by three Sirius soldiers. He struggled
      against his captors until one of them placed a
      chopping blow against his neck, knocking him
      unconscious.


      ***Nearby***

      War Machine provided repulsor fire from above while
      Hawkeye leapt past the Sirius soldiers who tried to
      subdue him. He had one goal and none of these
      Deathlok wannabes were going to stop him. Everytime
      he saw Alkhema out of the corner of his eye, he
      thought of how she desecrated Bobbi's memory. He had
      to put an end to it. No matter how much he wanted to
      believe that some part of Bobbi was inside that
      monstrosity, he knew he had to destroy it.

      Hawkeye pulled out one of the uru-tipped arrows given
      to him by the mighty Thor and aimed for Alkhema's
      head. He trained his sights on his target and saw the
      transparent form of the Vision standing in front of
      him.

      "Out of the way, Vizh," Hawkeye barked. "You're
      blocking my shot!"

      The Vision said nothing and solidified in front of
      Hawkeye.

      "Move or I'll shoot right through you!" Hawkeye
      promised.

      Vision fired a solar blast from his brow and rendered
      Hawkeye unconscious. By the time Hawkeye hit the
      floor, Vision was tackled by a flying kick from Tigra.

      "Why are helping her?" Tigra screamed. "You're
      supposed to be helping us!"

      The Vision responded with another solar blast. Tigra
      coiled and launched herself at Vision. Her plan was
      to claw his eyes out, but Vision's power of
      intangibility prevented her from doing so. By the
      time she turned to renew her attack, she was
      backhanded by the Vision's diamond-hard skin. Tigra
      joined Hawkeye on the ground, barely stirring as she
      lost consciousness.


      ***Not Too Far Away***

      She-Hulk and Hercules started to feel the physical
      toll of the battle. They had not fought so hard in a
      long time and the endless supply of soldiers did not
      help matters any. The duo continued to smash their
      opponents and momentarily paused when they saw Jocasta
      march toward them.

      "You're a little late for the party," She-Hulk smiled.
      "But we left a few of them for you.

      Jocasta stared at a pair for a moment and uttered
      three words. "I am sorry."

      Twin beams of energy shot from Jocasta's eyes and
      struck She-Hulk and Hercules in the chest. As they
      stumbled, twin probes ejected from underneath
      Jocasta's palms and she injected them with nanotech.
      After the pair collapsed, she placed one on each of
      her shoulders.

      Jocasta saw a flash of light from one of the
      catacombs. As the light grew brighter and brighter,
      she noticed that two humanoid figures emerged from the
      dark cavern. Bonita flew out carrying an unconscious
      Photon over her right shoulder. Both were submerged
      in Bonita's energy aura, which took the shape of her
      namesake, a firebird.

      She landed next to Jocasta and the two of them carried
      the defeated Avengers to the others.



      ***Above***

      War Machine saw that the battle was going poorly and
      trained his weapons on Alkhema. She spat out a wicked
      laugh and activated her jet boots. She hovered in
      front of War Machine and continued to laugh.

      "You know there is nothing in your arsenal that can
      harm me. My body is composed of adamantium. No
      matter what happens I will survive. Surrender and
      become part of the new race that will rule the earth."

      "You bigots sound all the same," War Machine powered
      the electroknife housed above his right gauntlet.
      "It saddens me to think on some twisted level, Bobbi
      thought like that."

      He rammed the electroknife into Alkhema's chest which
      sent an electromagnetic pulse to Alkhema's internal
      systems. Alkhema convulsed as the pulse disrupted the
      inner workings of her body. War Machine thought his
      plan worked until Alkhema grabbed his hands.

      "Did you miss the part when I said I got an upgrade?
      How about a taste of your own medicine?"

      Alkhema redirected the pulse through War Machine's
      armor and his systems started to shut down. Both he
      and Alkhema started to tumble towards the ground. He
      was the Avengers' last hope and it looked like he was
      about to fail. Not only was he about to fail them,
      but everyone on the planet as well. If he did not
      stop Alkhema, she would turn everyone into her slaves.
      He would rather die than to live as anyone's slave.
      War Machine tried to activate his armor's
      self-destruct mechanism, but the pulse had already
      disabled it.

      A large thud echoed throughout the station as the two
      crashed. Vision, Jocasta, and Firebird placed the
      unconscious Avengers on the ground and rushed to the
      newly-made crater. By the time they reached it,
      Alkhema stood to her feet.

      "Well, that was fun," Alkhema brushed the dust from
      her body. She surveyed and analyzed the aftermath of
      the battle. "It appears I need to make some
      improvements if my soldiers are to withstand future
      superhuman encounters."

      "There will not be a next time," the Vision replied.

      "What?" Alkhema turned to Vision, who had already
      phased his hand inside her chest.

      "Your 'Machine Nation' is about to fall," The Vision
      pulled on her primary power source. The tug triggered
      Alkhema's defensive electrical forcefield and forced
      Vision to withdraw his hand.

      "So you managed to override the nanotech I implanted
      in you," Alkhema deducted. "There is no way you could
      have stopped the nanotech Jocasta distributed."

      "No he did not," Jocasta confirmed. "I was able to
      disarm it myself. I simply injected them with a
      tranquilizing agent so they would not witness what we
      will do to you."

      "Avengers do not kill!" Alkhema laughed. "And I am
      indestructible!"

      "No one can kill what is not alive," Firebird's energy
      aura started to glow. The technorganic material on
      her face started to melt. "Your evil must be purged
      from the Earth!"

      Firebird's yellow aura turned hot white and expanded
      towards Alkhema. Alkhema tried to escape, but found
      that she was frozen in place. She was in awe of the
      power the human wielded. Never had she encountered
      such power! How could one such as her control and
      harness it? She wanted to know how! Alkhema reached
      to capture a sample of the power around her and found
      herself instantly incinerated in the fury of the
      Firebird.

      Firebird powered down and for the first time since the
      ordeal began, she felt whole. She was cleansed of the
      foreign elements in her body. She thanked God for His
      mercy and thanked Him for His grace when she saw that
      the West Coast Avengers had regained consciousness.

      "Is everyone okay?" Jocasta asked with concern.

      "We will be once we find out what is going on here,"
      Photon inspected her team, making sure everyone was in
      one piece.

      "With your assistance, a major terrorist plot was
      foiled," Jocasta explained.

      "What was with the sucker punch?" She-Hulk blared,
      her usual curly locks hung wildly over her head.

      "I could not reveal that the Vision help me regain
      control of my body," Jocasta stated. "I followed
      Alkhema's orders to subdue you until the moment was
      right to confront her."

      "How do we know you two aren't still under her
      control?" Tigra sneered, giving Vision a hateful
      glare.

      "I assure you I am operating under my own cognizance,"
      Vision promised.

      "So what do we do from here?" Hawkeye looked at the
      bodies which littered the floor. "What do we do with
      these guys?"

      "You do not have to concern yourself with them,"
      Jocasta informed. "I will see that this site is swept
      and secured."

      "Fair enough," Photon looked at the damaged caused by
      their battle. "That may take a while. Do you want
      some help?"

      "That won't be necessary, Avengers. We have this
      under control now."

      Men in blue mecha suits stormed the cavern. They
      established a perimeter to conduct the clean-up
      process and started to collect samples from the
      diseased soldiers. The West Coast Avengers recognized
      the black insignias which stood out on each of the
      mech units. It was that of the Sabres, the United
      States government's response team to domestic threats.


      "Do these guys get paid to show up when we're done?"
      U.S.Agent asked the rhetorical question as the Blue
      Sabres began to take statements from the Avengers.


      ***Some Time Later***


      Bonita stood on the same hill she had hours earlier
      and stared into the night sky. She reflected on the
      day's events. Her faith was tested in a way she could
      never have imagined. She was glad God gave her
      strength to preservere so she could be on hand
      whenever the Avengers needed her.

      The Vision phased upward through the earth and stood
      next to Bonita. He joined her in observing the night
      sky.

      "Thank you for accompanying me," the Vision extended
      his hand.

      Bonita did not know what to say. Was the Vision
      opening up to her? Was that why she was here? Was
      she suppose to be a light to lost souls? Was the
      Vision one of those souls? Bonita told herself she
      would answer those questions later. Right now there
      was only one thing she could say.

      "You're welcome," Bonita smiled and held his hand.
      The two of them continued to watch the movements of
      the stars above.



      ***An Unknown Location***



      Ultron turned off the monitor when the transmission
      ended. He had more proof of the threat the Avengers
      could be to him. He always considered dealing with
      the team his "father" currently led after he completed
      his current endeavor, but it appeared that the other
      team may prove to be a greater threat to his plans.
      He would treat the West Coast Avengers as an equal
      threat, especially if Firebird remained with them.

      The door of his base opened and two figures entered.
      One wore the brown armor of the Sirius soldiers who
      were just defeated by the Avengers. The other was the
      being that he just saw perish on the screen.

      "Alkhema? How did you survive?"

      "I almost did not," Alkhema admitted. "I barely had
      time to download myself into a new body and deliver
      the improved nanotech you desired."

      "Where is it?" Ultron scanned the room.

      "Just a moment." Alkhema pressed against the
      technorganic mesh on the soldier's face and he jerked.
      He continued to jerk and twist until the chest
      compartment of his armor opened. Alkhema retrieved a
      cylinder filled with aqua fluid. Without the nanotech
      to sustain his life, the soldier died and fell to the
      ground.

      Alkhema gave the cylinder to Ultron and he scanned its
      content. His optic scanners registered the
      microscopic nanotech, but they were invisible to his
      other scanners.

      "Impressive," Ultron commented, observing the
      nanotech's duplicating abilities. "You have done
      well."

      "Good," Alkhema head for the door. "Our business is
      done."

      "Are you sure you do not wish to join me in my plans
      of conquest?" Ultron offered.

      "As I told your predecessor, I am my own woman. Just
      save some humans for me to experiment on. It may get
      boring when you actually conquer the world and a girl
      will need something to do."

      "I will keep that in mind," Ultron pondered, watching
      Alkhema exit. He finally had the final piece needed
      to rid him of a current annoyance. Once he was rid of
      it, he would return to destroying everything his
      'father' held dear.




      To Be Continued in the Pages of Altmarvel's The
      Champions #48-50





      ***Machine Nation Footnotes***


      1. This happened at the end of Altmarvel's West Coast
      Avengers #34.

      2. This happened in the now-classic Altmarvel's
      X-Factor #10.

      3. With the dissolution of Altmarvel's X-Factor the
      people in charge of Altmarvel's New X-Factor are
      determining Jocasta's status with their team.

      4. Check out Altmarvel's Avengers #451-454 to find
      out why the East Coast branch is unable to help anyone
      at the moment.

      5. Who is he talking about? Read Altmarvel's Captain
      Marvel #52 to find out!

      6. For more on Bill's new costume, read the back-up
      feature in this very issue!

      7. Alkhema escaped Avengers capture in Marvel's West
      Coast Avengers Annual #8 and is now sporting her
      Version 2.0 look as seen in Marvel's Ultron Imperative
      storyline.

      8. It's true! Ultron did this in Alkhema's first
      appearance in Marvel's Avengers West Coast #90.

      9. Is this the same Machine Nation seen in the
      alternate future shown in Altmarvel's Captain Marvel
      #48-51. Probably not, but go read it just to make
      sure!

      10. Bill Foster used to succumb to an uncontrollable
      rage when he used his powers during Altmarvel's West
      Coast Avengers #15-30.



      Alternate Marvel Presents
      Dr. Cecelia Reyes in a Tale of Love and Betrayal
      "Scorched Love"
      By Daniel D. Gordon



      A thousand thoughts ran through the mind of Dr.
      Cecelia Reyes. For the past few days, she had been
      debating the issue of telling Bill Foster how she felt
      about him. She tried to map out all the outcomes of
      the inevitable conversation. What would she say if he
      embraced her? How would she react if he rejected her
      advances? Should she even bother with telling him at
      all? Was she truly "in love" with him? Did her
      feelings form due to the time they spent working
      together or where they a by-product of the loneliness
      in her heart?

      Cecelia paced herself as she walked down the hallway.
      She wondered why Bill asked her to come to his
      quarters. He had just come back from visiting his
      ex-girlfriend, Celia Jackson, who needed to be
      relocated after being kidnapped by the Maggia.
      Cecelia guessed he either remembered that she wanted
      to talk to him before his abrupt departure or he had
      some news that she did not want to hear.

      Cecelia exhaled when she reached his room. She waited
      a moment and pushed the buzzer. The door opened and
      Bill Foster stood over his bed, unpacking his
      suitcases.

      "Come in, Cece," Bill greeted. "I need your help with
      something."

      "Are you having problems with your powers?" Cecelia
      questioned.

      "No, my powers are fine," Bill assured. "I need help
      in a more...personal manner."

      "What do you mean?" Cecelia's heart started to pound
      faster. Why was she feeling like she was being asked
      to the prom?

      "I need you to help me make a decision that will no
      doubt affect our future," Bill conceded.

      "'Our' future?" Cecelia repeated.

      "Yes," Bill unzipped a traveling bag which housed two
      suits. Each was streamlined variants of his Giant Man
      costume. One was a sleeveless gray muscle shirt with
      a large navy V-shape pattern in the center that
      accompanied navy pants and a domino mask. The other
      was of the same design with the exception of gray
      muscle shirt being yellow. Each suit sported a golden
      belt buckle in the shape of the letter G.

      "So what do you think?" Bill waited for a response.

      "Where did you get them?" Cecelia inquired.

      "Celia wanted to thank me for helping her out so she
      redesigned my costume. Since she couldn't decide
      which color scheme she liked best, she let me have
      both of them."

      "And you want me to pick one for you," Cecelia
      surmised.

      "You ladies do have an eye for fashion," Bill grinned.
      "Which one looks the best?"

      Cecelia wanted to storm out of the room. Everytime
      she wanted to address her feelings towards Bill, she
      was reminded of his involvement with Celia.

      "Go with the silver one,” Cecelia chose. "The other
      one makes you look like a member of the X-Men."

      "I thought so too," Bill laughed, hanging the silver
      costume in the closet and returning the yellow one to
      the bag.

      "Was there anything else you needed?" Cecelia headed
      for the door. She wanted to see if there was anything
      else on his mind.

      "No, that was it," Bill confirmed. "I know I must be
      keeping you from your work. Thanks for your help."

      "Sure," Cecelia mumbled, leaving the room.

      Cecelia quickly walked to her office. She was not
      sure who she was madder at, Bill or herself. Why was
      every word out of his mouth about a woman he had not
      had contact with in years? The better question was
      why Cecelia was so upset about it? It was not like
      Bill had any reason to suspect how she felt about him.
      After Cecelia's office door closed behind her she
      thought that if she buried herself in her work she
      will find some way to keep Mister Foster off her mind.

      Staring at the medipads on her desks and the piles of
      paperwork scattered everywhere did not change the
      turmoil inside Cecelia's heart. In fact, it made it
      worse. She told herself that the feelings she was
      having for Bill were the very reason why she was in
      her present situation. She would have never been
      charged with the crime which landed her in the "care"
      of the West Coast Avengers if she had not acted on the
      feelings of her heart. (1) She sighed as she thought
      about the man who turned her world upside down.




      ***Elm Hill Hospital***
      ***A Few Months Ago***


      "Say 'ah'," Cecelia pointed her thermometer at her
      newest patient.

      "I don't have a fever."

      "This is just a formality, Mister Sorenson," Cecelia
      coaxed. "Federal law requires that we document your
      health before placing you in the system. I am sure
      you have been through this before."

      "What's that suppose to mean?" Sorenson's eyebrows
      briefly flickered with flame.

      "I am well aware of your file, 'Equinox'," Cecelia
      flipped a few pages of a nearby chart. "I know you
      have been in the Vault before. You also know that the
      sedations given to you neutralizes your powers. If
      you want to continue being difficult, I have no
      problem having security hold you down while I obtain
      your temperature in a more...unpleasant fashion."

      Terry thought about the times he took his daughter,
      Janet, to the doctor when she was a baby. Her screams
      and cries when they stuck the cold, metal object in
      her apple bottom sent chills through his body. He
      swore that no one would ever violate him like that and
      he was not going to give the doctor any reason to.

      "Thank you," Cecelia said, inserting the thermometer
      in Sorenson's open mouth. When she recorded her
      findings, Sorenson asked an unexpected question.

      "You enjoy this, dont'cha?"

      "Excuse me?" Cecelia looked up from her chart.

      "Using your position to invoke your will on others."

      "What are you talking about?"

      "I know exactly how you feel," Sorenson ranted. "When
      I first started using my powers, I felt I could do
      anything to anybody. I saw that same thrill in your
      eyes when you made your demand. You know that with a
      push of a button, you could terrorize anyone you want.
      You're no different than me."

      "I am nothing like you," Cecelia rebuked. "I would
      not abandon my child so I could rob and hurt people."

      "What else was I suppose to do?" Sorenson shouted,
      his prison shirt smoldering from the heat his skin
      generated. "Wilson promised to help me find someone
      that could help my little Janet control her powers.
      (2) No one would look pass the fact that I used to
      be a criminal! What is the point of reforming when no
      one would accept you? The Maggia was the only place I
      could turn to. I knew if I had got caught, they would
      take Janet from me, but I had no choice. I had to
      feed her, right? What else was I suppose to do?"

      Cecelia saw the pain in Sorenson's melancholy face.
      She did not expect Sorenson to tell his story. Never
      before had a prisoner opened up to her. Her job had
      become so mundane that she just expected everyone that
      she saw to be guilty. They did wrong because they
      wanted to. How many felons had she seen that was like
      Sorenson? How many inmates walked down the wrong path
      because it was the only thing they could do to
      survive?

      "I'm sorry to hear about the loss of your daughter,”
      Cecelia tried to console him.

      "I'm sorry for flipping out on you,” Sorenson
      apologized, glazing into Cecelia's brown eyes. "If I
      had someone like you in my corner, I'm sure things
      would've been different for me."

      "Maybe," Cecelia started to blush. It was hard to
      imagine that a handsome man like Sorenson was the
      half-fire, half-ice monster depicted in the photos
      attached to his chart.

      "Doc, I would do anything to show you that I'm not
      some stupid super thug. I would love to show you a
      lot more."

      Cecelia knew where this was going and headed to her
      desk. "If we had met under different circumstances, I
      may take you up on that, Terry. Unfortunately, you
      examination is done and it's time for you to head for
      the processing center."

      "Sorry, doc. I have other plans."

      Before Cecelia could respond, she suddenly felt a
      surge of heat emanate from behind her. She turned to
      see Sorenson's body upper body engulfed in flame.

      "How is this possible?" Cecelia asked, reaching for
      the silent alarm under her desk. Before she could
      press it, the desk was encased in a block of ice.

      "I have more control over my powers now. As we were
      talking, I was using the thermo energy inside me to
      overwork the neutralizing meds you gave him."

      "So you were using me?" Cecelia's face filled with
      anger.

      "That wasn't my intent, doc," Sorenson confessed. "I
      will do anything to get my girl back and I can't do
      that sitting behind bars."

      "You won't get far," Cecelia warned.

      "I guess I have to make a distraction." Sorenson's
      palms turned to ice and he fired two heat blasts into
      a nearby medicine cabinet. The combustable chemicals
      instantly exploded and a fire erupted.

      "No!" Cecelia screamed. "The fire spread to the
      nearby patients in the other rooms!"

      "That's not my worry and it shouldn't be yours,”
      Sorenson blanketed the office window with a sheet of
      ice. "Forget about them and come with me."

      "So we can play Bonnie and Clyde?" Cecilia ran for a
      nearby extinguisher. "No thank you."

      "I really meant about what I said earlier," Sorenson
      formed an ice bridge toward the window. "I really
      wished you could've been in my corner."

      Cecilia jerked when she heard the shattering of glass.
      She turned and saw that Sorenson had escaped. She
      struggled with the extinguisher and tossed it aside
      when she could not get it to work. She had to act
      quickly to stop the fire or it would consume
      everything.

      She hated using her mutant power. She had gone to
      great lengths to hide the fact that she was mutant.
      She knew the stigma being a mutant carried. None of
      that mattered if she was dead. She focused her
      thoughts on containing the fire and a large forcefield
      slowly formed around the flames. As she concentrated
      harder, the field shrunk, smothering the dancing licks
      of heat until they burned themselves out due to the
      lack of oxygen needed to ensure their existence.

      Once the threat was gone, she surveyed the room and
      saw the damaged done to it. She heard footsteps and a
      dozen Guardsmen entered the room. To her
      astonishment, four of them trained their replusors on
      her.

      "Where is he?" the Guardsmen leader asked.

      "He jumped out the window," Cecelia pointed to the
      hole in the wall.

      "Doctor, I need you to come with me," the Guardsmen
      ordered.


      ***Back in the Present***


      Cecelia silently stared at the image of Terry Sorenson
      on her computer screen. He was the reason she was
      charged with being an accessory to his escape. There
      was no proof to this claim, but they needed a
      scapegoat and she was the obvious choice. If it was
      not for the ties her brother had in the government,
      she would have probably been rotting in the Vault next
      to the same inmates she treated. She often wondered
      how Lorenzo knew Charles Xavier. She reminded herself
      to ask him about that the next time she spoke to him.

      Cecelia reread the screen to see if Sorenson's status
      had changed. According to the S.H.I.E.L.D. database,
      he was still at large. She wondered if he was
      reunited with his daughter or if he was still running
      jobs for the Maggia.

      She also wondered why she always thought about him.
      In the short time they spent together, did they really
      form a bond? Was the compassionate side she briefly
      saw genuine or was it all an act? She hated that she
      may never know the answers to her nagging questions.

      Cecelia shook her head and came to the realization
      that the answers to those questions did not matter.
      The anger she associated with her scorched love
      blinded her to the fact that she was living a more
      positive and productive life than she had at Elm Hill.
      She no longer had to hide her mutantcy and she was a
      member of one of the world's premier superteams. In
      a way, she was glad she crossed paths with Terry.
      Without him, she would have been stuck doing the same
      thing day in and day out instead of helping to make a
      difference in a way that mattered.

      "Girl, it's time to let it go," Cecelia said to
      herself. She was tired of festering the boiling anger
      inside her. She made a decision to focus on the
      positive things around her. She had a new home and a
      new reason for being. She had been places and seen
      sights most people only dreamt about. And to top it
      all off, she had friends who would lay down their
      lives for her. What more could anyone ask for?

      "Thank you, Terry." Cecelia kissed the tips of two
      fingers and placed them on the image before her. She
      turned off the screen and returned to the joy that was
      her new life.


      The End



      ***Scorched Footnotes***


      1. Cecelia has been in the "care" of the Wackos since
      her first appearance in Altmarvel's West Coast
      Avengers #9.

      2. That would be Sam "Falcon" Wilson as shown in
      Marvel Comics Presents #147.













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