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Amazing Adventures #48

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  • Flint
    [Morvania International Airport.] Designed by Anthony Stark nearly a decade ago, the MIA was built only three years ago, after the completion of the clean-up
    Message 1 of 54 , Jun 3, 2007
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      [Morvania International Airport.]

      Designed by Anthony Stark nearly a decade ago, the MIA was built only
      three years ago, after the completion of the clean-up of a mad
      dictator's regime which the Incredible Hulk had inadvertantly
      smashed. Since the bloody civil war of Morvania began, flights in and
      out of the country were sporadic at best, no one wanting to board an
      airplane that may have an explosive on it. Now, with the Champions
      having secured the small European nation from magical and guerrilla
      forces, the airport was getting used more and more regularly, by more
      and more people. Morvania was slowly being considered a safe country
      in which to do business, if a bit backwards, and many saw it as an
      untapped marketplace for international opportunities.

      Today, a very special passenger arrived, stepping down from the plane
      like everyone else, a civilian who secretly stalked like a Marvel. No
      one took notice of him or his briefcase, which was a bit larger than
      normal. The way he held it did not demonstrate the great weight of
      the thing, which was heavy enough to make most men sweat.

      Suddenly, this man disappeared as though he had never been there.
      Seconds later, four guerrillas emerged, blasting their semi-
      automatics into the high ceilings. Everyone else immediately ducked
      to the ground for cover.

      "Listen up, scum!" The leader of the four cried out, "We demand safe
      passage to Georgia! Let us on your plane and we'll be on our way, and
      nobody has to die!"

      The four guerrillas wore the patches of members of Warlord Kong's
      militia, of whom several small bands still were on the loose but
      wanted and heavily searched for by the local police forces. "Let's
      avoid any bloodshed! Just give us what we want!"

      "I don't think so," a voice thick with electronic manipulation said,
      causing the four to whip around to see the man in the crimson and
      gold armor. "No, I think you're going to jail. If you didn't commit
      any atrocities under Warlord Kong already, this really isn't going to
      help your case before the judge."

      "What's he doing here?"

      "It don't matter," the leader of the guerrillas said, though he began
      to sweat in big, thick sheets, "waste him!"

      Four guns pounded sheets of bullets at the armored man. Fearing that
      the ricochets would hurt the innocent bystanders, he opted to fly
      over the gunfire instead of let it bounce off him. Before they could
      even follow his movements, he was hovering over them, blasting them
      with repulsor rays.

      Quickly, the threat was dispelled. All four were unconscious. The
      Invincible Iron Man landed in their midst. "What a fun town," he
      commented to himself.


      Seven heroic figures step into the light. Tired of reacting to the
      evil perpetrated by those who have little or no regard for the lives
      and rights of innocents, they have decided to take a proactive stance
      to superheroics, becoming the sole protectors of a small, war-torn
      European country now filled with magical forces. Captain Wonder,
      Sersi, the Torch, Captain Victory, Wildman, and Superpro, led by
      Psykos--together they will fight injustice. For the innocent and the
      helpless, they are the Champions!

      The Champions #48
      "Return of a Champion"
      May 2007
      ***********************
      Writer: John Flint
      Editor: Josh Greer
      Webmaster: Liam Gibbs
      ***********************


      [The Dren Forest.]

      Whilst Captain Wonder piloted the Golden Castle overhead, unable to
      help out in any way but in keeping their floating fortress from
      crashing in the forest, where there were no viable landing strips
      nearby, Superpro and Thunder Head took on Agni, the thick, super-
      strong beast who split from the magician, Omni, engaged in combat
      with the Torch, Sersi, and Wildman.

      "Die!" Agni shouted, throwing Superpro and Thunder Head away as
      though they were paper dolls. "None can stand up to the might that is
      in the furious fists of Agni!"

      "I think this guy's lines are even worse than when he was Agni-Omna,"
      Thunder Head groaned, "Do the Champions always get the lamest
      villains to fight?"

      "Generally speaking," Superpro said, catching his breath in the
      grass, "Yup."

      "Harder to take 'em serious--oof!" Thunder Head found himself tackled
      by the magical brute, who tore at his metallic chest. "You want to
      see what's inside?"

      Thunder Head smiled. Agni's raging face turned to curiosity. Thunder
      Head's chest opened up, revealing a small cannon. Before Agni could
      move out of the way, it fired, blasting him in the face and knocking
      him back, off his feet.

      "Wow," Superpro said, rubbing the back of his head as he rose to his
      feet, "That was pretty cool."

      "Thanks," Thunder Head laughed as his chest plate smoked. Agni
      squirmed in the grass, his face burnt and blackened. "He probably
      won't be dumb enough to fall for that again, though."

      Agni pounced on Superpro, throwing him into Thunder Head.

      "Nope," Superpro sighed, "No such luck."

      Meanwhile, Omna held up a magical force field that kept the three
      Champions from hitting him in his now physically weakened form. He
      could still, however, fire blue bolts of mystical power out at them.
      The Torch volunteered himself to zip about, keeping the fire away
      from the others as Omna tried fruitlessly to strike him, growing more
      annoyed at the old android by the second.

      Sersi and Wildman stood outside, blasting at the field, keeping the
      magician's attention divided.

      "I wonder," Wildman said, an idea brewing inside his head, "it's been
      awhile since I've really tried to stretch my powers... if I could
      mimick your powers, Sersi, as well as Omna's..."

      Sersi kept blasting the field with cosmic energy as her former lover
      attempted it, first mimicking her power and then trying to take on
      that of Omna, without extinguishing her Eternal power within him.

      "Arrgh!" Wildman shouted, as energy exploded out of him, both of the
      cosmic and mystical variety. He collapsed, and Sersi immediately went
      to his side. The feedback knocked him out; the Troyjan experiment
      that permanently altered his powers, and the magic of Morvania that
      altered it, had not allowed for more than one power or power set at a
      time.

      "Alex!"

      [Meanwhile, in the Himalayas.]

      Psykos was on his honeymoon, but after finishing the afternoon
      activities with his new wife, he let her drift into peaceful, restful
      sleep, while he sped over the globe to find a place of solitude in
      which he could think by himself.

      Floating on the air over snow-capped peaks, the newly elected
      President of Morvania considered the paradox of his position: he had
      been elected because of the good work the Champions had done in the
      country, he himself having been one until his resignation from the
      group because of a conflict of interest with his political position,
      and yet the people wanted the Champions out of their country as soon
      as possible.

      It was entirely understandable; the country had never had many super-
      powered threats until the Champions came, at which point the
      villains, mystical and scientific, came pouring in. The populace
      weren't aware that they would have anyway, due to the mystical
      influences at play. As far as they knew, the Champions came in to
      assert order, and there followed the flow of Marvels into the land.

      "I can ask them to leave," Psykos said to the Yeti sitting beside
      him, tranquilized through the manipulation of pleasant chemicals in
      her brain. "And if they resist, I can alter their minds enough to see
      reason. It would be easy, except for Sersi, who would detect the
      influence and could wind up falling to her dark side once more, and
      Iron Man, whose psychic defenses would detect the attempt, if not
      defend against it altogether."

      The Yeti looked at Psykos, understanding his words through mental
      manipulation of her intelligence. Still unable to speak, the creature
      could only utter grunts and noises.

      "Yes, I may have to fight the Champions, my former teammates," Psykos
      said, "I pray it does not come to that, however. Must I assemble my
      own cabinet of Marvels, Eternal and otherwise, to combat the
      Champions of Morvania?"

      The Yeti snorted. "Yes," Psykos agreed, "Tony Stark is an agreeable
      man. I'm sure he can talk some sense into them if I cannot. There are
      plenty of other countries in the midst of savage wars that could use
      their aid, if they want to continue in places as they are in now. I
      see no need to continue on in Morvania."

      The Yeti spoke again, unintelligible mutterings.

      "Thank you, my friend," Psykos smiled, "I appreciate that."

      [Macabra, Morvania.]

      "What's this?" Dr. Saunders asked, "Another one? This is the third
      child today, with symptoms not quite like anything we've seen before!
      What's going on?"

      Dr. Saunders put down the child's chart. "Alright, Billy... do you
      know of the other children sick with this? Your chart says you all
      come from the same village. All with these... weird symptoms..."

      Billy tried to reply, opening his mouth wide, but only electronic
      garbles came out. His left eye burned with a red light, his right arm
      falling apart, wires exposed. People were beginning to talk, all
      throughout the hospital and these boys' village, that they were
      exposed parts in some government conspiracy to build androids to take
      over. Others said it was some weird strain of virus, a techno-organic
      virus of some sort.

      "What is going on?" Dr. Saunders asked himself quietly, rubbing the
      bridge of his nose regardless of his glasses. Exposure to radiation
      might slow the spread throughout the body, but it also would, more
      likely, kill the lad. If not, it would no doubt give him powers that
      would forever change him, and Dr. Saunders had heard of parents suing
      doctors who turned their children into super-human freaks. The
      hospital and Dr. Saunders could not afford those lawsuits, and had no
      radiation machines that powerful if they could.

      Unknown to Dr. Saunders, a tiny mechanical spider recorded his
      conference with his young, dying patient from the corner of the room.
      It transmitted the images and sounds to a hidden lab nearby, where an
      evil presence sat and watched the speed of his work's spread.

      The metal man with a face carved like a jack o'lantern watched with
      glowing eyes, pleased.

      [The Dren Forest.]

      "Hold him!" Thunder Head shouted as he punched Agni in the face,
      Superpro struggling behind him to keep him gripped tight.

      "Got him," Superpro announced as his arms wrapped around Agni's,
      restraining him as the brute pushed forward with all his superhuman
      might.

      Thunder Head's chest cavity opened up again, and he blasted Agni in
      the chest from inches away, blasting through Agni's own chest. Only a
      small amount of the blast got all the way through, tearing up his
      internal organs, and hit Superpro's well-armored form. Still,
      Superpro fell back, releasing Agni.

      Agni crawled forward, looking to kill, to destroy, for the Maggia,
      for the sake of power and his dark secret gods... his power failed to
      regenerate him once again, having spent itself in healing his face
      from the last blast. Agni began to unravel, his organs falling free
      from his body and then bleeding into the soil, being absorbed into it.

      "Um," Thunder Head said, "What's going on?"

      "Magical energy can't be destroyed," Superpro explained, "just
      displaced. Damn magic, you'll learn how to hate it if you stay with
      the Champions."

      "Lucky me," Thunder Head smiled as the last of Agni evaporated.

      "No! My physical presence in this realm has been underminded!" Omna
      cried out as his body began to unravel as well. The Torch watched as
      he fell, turned to red liquid and was absorbed into the grass as his
      counterpart had. Snuffing out his flame, Jim Hammond went to Sersi
      and the fallen Wildman, who was beginning to come back around.

      "Pretty sloppy, I must say," they heard a voice laugh, and the
      Champions turned to face a hovering man in armor. "The Champions need
      a lot of work before they earn that title. Let's get to work, people."

      "Iron Man," Thunder Head stated in admiration. "That... that's Iron
      Man."

      "It is," Superpro responded, equally impressed with the mere sight of
      the living legend. "We're on a team with the Invincible Iron Man."

      Sersi scowled at Iron Man, then returned her attention to her fallen
      teammate.

      "What happened?" Jim asked, as Iron Man hit the ground and walked
      over to them.

      [The beginning of a new era...]


      NEXT: NANOVIRUS!



      Werewolf by Night
      "Creatures on the Loose"
      February 2007
      ************************
      Writer: John Flint
      Editor: Josh Greer
      Webmaster: Liam Gibbs
      ************************


      [New York City, evening.]

      The doors to the theatre exploded inward in a burst of fluffy, white
      light. Men in black body armor stood to attention and others came
      rushing to see what was going on, the air vibrating as electro-sticks
      energized.

      Whiteout walked into the theatre as though he owned the place. It
      looked as though he held a clump of snow in each hand, though it
      congealed and swirled like a form of alien energy. His mutant power
      was this white, otherworldly light, which was not entirely energy nor
      completely matter. It was something in between; it was somewhat both.

      And, as one unfortunate guard quickly learned, it burned like a
      mother when it came into contact with the human body, easily phasing
      through his armor. The man fell, screaming, and the other guards
      radioed in that they were under attack. One guard held a radio to his
      ear as he listened in for confirmation, only to have radio, helmet,
      and ear smashed all in one stroke by the swinging sledgehammer of the
      man with the same name as his favorite tool of destruction.

      Sledgehammer worked on tripping up another guard with his
      sledgehammer whilst the first one was still falling to the ground.
      Successful in falling another guard, Sledgehammer returned to the
      first, bringing down his mighty hammer with both hands, shattering
      the rest of the guard's helmet and pulverizing his skull. This was
      Sledgehammer's job; this was what he did. He didn't mind the blood
      and gray matter splattered all over his clothing; he could buy more.
      It more than paid the bills.

      A guard with an electro-stick tried to sneak up on Sledgehammer, but
      Whiteout hurled a burst of solid light at him, and the guard went
      down, crying and screaming and smoking and liquifying internally.

      "I got you covered, Sledge," Whiteout cried triumphantly, as two more
      human guards charged him with electro-sticks buzzing blue with
      snaking power.

      "Mellane," Sledgehammer said, gently letting his namesake hit the
      floor and whipping out twin pistols from a hidden fold in his baggy
      pants. "Where is he?"

      The guards were too busy either crying and dying or roaring and
      charging to answer him coherently. This being the case, Whiteout and
      Sledgehammer stood their ground, casually pumping the guards full of
      bullet holes and searing scorches as unreal matter ate away at their
      insides.

      "Poor kid," Whiteout muttered to himself, looking down at a
      helmetless guard who was screaming voicelessly in his desperation,
      his voicebox melted away. "You poor, stupid kid," Whiteout said,
      before holding a hand over the kid's mouth and nose and smothering
      him where he lay, helpless. The kid struggled, so Whiteout activated
      his power in his palm once more, and after a final, spastic jerk, the
      victim went limp.

      [Downstairs.]

      "Do you really think that was wise?" Dr. Vurge asked Mellane, as the
      heavy wooden door to the dungeon behind them cushioned the sounds of
      a wolf's howls. "Lillith's forces are already at war with us! Now
      we've got them upstairs, and that thing down here, and we--"

      "There is no 'we,' little man," Mellane snarled, grasping Dr. Vurge
      by the throat, "I allow you to live in my presence because I chose
      to. You have no right to consider yourself my equal, human. I could
      cure your cancer, yes, by giving you my own status. I choose not to
      do so, because I have no use for a man of your intellect in a
      position of power as one of my fellow Undead; you would only serve to
      undermine my future status as Lord of the Vampires."

      "You never intended to turn me," Dr. Vurge realized, horrified, as he
      stepped back, closer to the wood door behind which a monster was
      scratching and foaming at the mouth. "You were just using me, for
      your own amusement! My vampire-armor--"

      "Your research will continue after you," Mellane smiled, "And I thank
      you for the start. I can find plenty more mad scientists of your
      kind, who will make a deal with the devil himself just for the hope
      of a cure for whatever disease ravages their bodies. You are not a
      unique individual, Doctor."

      "No, maybe not," Dr. Vurge said, his mouth twisting with rage, as he
      struggled to hold back tears, his face turning red, "but at least I
      can make amends for helping you out all these weeks..." He took
      another step back, and Mellane's eyes widened.

      "You wouldn't. It would mean your demise as well."

      "...by helping to put an end to your evil," Dr. Vurge said, standing
      before the door, hand on the lock, "forever."

      And Dr. Vurge twisted the bar loose, and grabbed at the handle to
      open it wide. Before he could do so, the door itself rammed into him,
      knocking him off his feet.

      Mellane stood frozen in horror, as the werewolf stood in the doorway,
      snarling at both vampire and madman. Blood stained his brown fur, and
      a slight trail could be seen going from the wolf-man back to the body
      of the hooded man whom Mellane had finished moments earlier, so as to
      invoke the lycanthropic transformation which he had hoped to have
      proper time and tools to shape and manipulate, so that the werewolf
      would work as his servant.

      "Back," Mellane said, "stay back!"

      Mellane stared into the werewolf's eyes, hoping that, in this savage
      state, he would be more susceptible to hypnosis than he had been in
      his human form. Whatever protection the Defenders had given him was
      still in effect, and the werewolf lunged, tackling the vampire and
      immediately tearing at his throat.

      [Upstairs.]

      Sledgehammer put his pistols away and picked up his sledgehammer once
      more. The deed was done; all the human guards in the long theatre
      were on the ground, dead. Smoke rose still from those destroyed by
      Whiteout's awesome mutant power. Whiteout himself sat on the stage,
      chin resting on his fist as he thought about his life. He was still
      fairly young, and new to the game; his mutant powers hadn't even
      manifested until a few years ago.

      "Ready to check backstage?"

      Sledgehammer nodded as he walked down the aisle, sliding out two
      wooden stakes. He threw one to Whiteout as he neared the stage, and
      the mutant caught it in one hand. "Be careful," Sledgehammer said,
      seriously. Whiteout knew what he meant; though he was often immature
      on the street, once he was on a job, he knew it was time to be all
      business. Otherwise, he would find himself dead.

      "Hopefully my mutant light-mass will kill them," Whiteout said. He
      wasn't sure what his energy-matter was, nor whether or not it had the
      properties needed to kill a vampire.

      They stepped backstage, carefully, and saw that no one was there, the
      darkened area illuminated by blobs of hard light in Whiteout's free
      hand. Sledgehammer didn't need it, his eyes being incredibly
      sensitive to light, but Whiteout wasn't as fortunate.

      "What's this," Sledgehammer murmured to himself, and stepped forward.
      He crouched and, with his stake, turned up a trap door in the
      ground. "Well, well... looks like we found ourselves Mellany's hiding
      place, yeah?"

      "I'd say so," Whiteout said and grinned. Seeing how nervous
      Sledgehammer was, even if he wouldn't admit it, Whiteout
      offered, "I'd best go down first, partner. Just in case my power does
      finish this off in record time."

      Sledgehammer nodded his agreement, and Whiteout took steps down the
      winding staircase to the underground.

      Sledgehammer felt his grip on his sledgehammer slip, so sweaty had
      his palms become. He held it in one hand, the stake in the other. He
      drifted back to the last time he'd encountered vampires, so long ago
      in that Atlanta nursing home, with Blade. There would be no last-
      minute rescues from Blade today; so far as he knew, Blade had died in
      CIA custody.

      Whiteout screamed, and Sledgehammer instinctively followed him down
      the winding spiral staircase. "What is it? What's wrong? Did'ja find
      Mellane?"

      Sledgehammer stopped several steps from the floor, as he looked upon
      a dimly illuminated scene. A large, mongrel breed of dog had torn
      Mellane apart, black ichor streaming from the Undead's ragged
      remains, with a human doctor hiding in the corner, browned blood
      stains painting his shirt.

      The werewolf's eyes looked up at Whiteout and Sledgehammer and a
      growl came, warning them away from his meal.

      [To be concluded...]

      NEXT TIME: "Monsters on the Prowl"!
    • Flint
      The Champions #50 Exeunt Ultron One month ago. Thunder Head stood, scratching as patches of his thick red beard fell loose, his skin pale and cold, as
      Message 54 of 54 , Feb 14, 2009
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        The Champions #50
        "Exeunt Ultron"


        One month ago.

        Thunder Head stood, scratching as patches of his thick red beard fell
        loose, his skin pale and cold, as Captain Victory sat, restrained by
        chains that kept him less than six feet away from the wall at any
        time. The pair had been taken captive and were in a prison cell in the
        catacombs beneath Macabra, while the rest of their teammates waged war
        on the infected hordes of the major metropolitan city above.

        "Hunh," Captain Victory said, as he bolted upright, pink light
        suddenly blinding his mind. Since his resurrection, the same mystical
        energies that had revitalized his dead body also served to make him
        immune to the nanovirus infecting the populace above as well as
        gifting him with a superhuman power he never had while fighting the
        Nazis in World War II, precognitive flashes of insight.

        "What is it, did you see something?" Thunder Head said, weakly, as he
        shambled across their shared cell to meet his teammate. He had been
        infected; though he was fighting it as best he could, they both knew
        that it was merely a matter of time before he would be gone. "One of
        your flashes?"

        "Victory," the captain proclaimed, with a serene smile on his face. He
        crossed his arms as best he could given his chains. "Neither of us
        will live to see it, but it happens. Ultron will be defeated. There
        will be further losses, but human life will continue."

        "I guess that's all that really matters," Thunder Head said as he
        struggled onto his robotic knees, "in the grand scheme of things."

        "Let it go," Captain Victory said, eyes closed, as Thunder Head fell
        backwards, his eyes rolling up, mouth opened, life dissipating.

        There was quiet in the room for several moments. Finally, Thunder
        Head's body began to jerk, briefly at first, and rising in frequency
        and violence. "I know you can hear me, monster," Captain Victory said
        to the robotic being who was their jailer. "Know this: you will not
        win. It has already happened, in the future.

        "The book has already been written," Captain Victory said. "Victory is
        ensured."

        Thunder Head shambled over to his former teammate and, with the
        strength granted him by his mechanical limbs, tore the undead Champion
        limb from limb, killing him once and for all.

        Invisible magical energy silently hissed, released from the mortal
        body, and returned to some otherdimensional fount, never to be seen or
        heard from again, retaining some vestigial traces of the mind and
        memories of the Champion.

        [Present. The catacombs.]

        Ultron watched on the massive view-screen as Giant Man and the Black
        Knight strode above ground, tackling the horde of infected who guarded
        the city over which stood the catacombs which he had taken on as his
        base in Morvania.

        "Your team has allowed other 'heroes' to pass through the field
        barrier," Ultron said to his captive, the man in the Iron Man armor.
        "I have not been able to discover any way of piercing the barrier, as
        yet, but this gives me hope that I shall soon do so."

        Iron Man kept silent, still groaning internally over his wounds
        sustained by the adamantium monstrosity, who took him prisoner an
        unknown infinity ago. His life was now measured by beatings rather
        than by minutes.

        "If they are advancing on my stronghold," Ultron said, "then it is
        only fitting that we finally end this game. A pity I had not brought
        in more before you sealed this nation off from the rest of the world."

        Two other Ultrons walked into the room, exacerbating the living
        nightmare Iron Man was already experiencing. He would have screamed if
        he still had the voice for it. "Weaker, secondary vassals; constructed
        of secondary adamantium, but that should prove more than adequate for
        the threats they will face.

        "Giant Man, Bill Foster; former flunky of my father. Black Knight,
        Dane Whitman; a modern-day Don Quixote. No, I shall only require one
        of my seconds to deal with them. The other shall take the battle to
        your comrades in the sky. I will obliterate the Golden Castle, and
        with it, whatever force is sealing my virus in."

        The two Ultrons departed in different directions, to head above
        towards their distinct tasks. Ultron walked up to Iron Man and grabbed
        the sides of his head. Finally, he thought, the monster was going to
        put him out of his misery.

        Ultron wrenched the faceplate off and stared at the man inside. His
        computer-mind scanned the features, searching international databases
        which he had uploaded before the communications freeze-up which
        resulted from the powerful barrier, and found no one on file matching
        his face.

        "A complete unknown," Ultron said. "Anomaly."

        Gas spat out from Ultron's jack o'lantern face, and Neal Richmond
        coughed. He had run into Tony Stark many months ago and was offered a
        job helping him run the Champions by leading them in the guise of his
        famous bodyguard, Iron Man. Tired of working alone in the guise of his
        deceased benefactor, Nighthawk, the man from an alternate Earth agreed
        and took the weeks necessary to learn how to use the armor before
        arriving.

        And now, he knew that he was going to die. Even if somehow the
        Champions could stop Ultron and free him, it was too late. He had
        breathed in the gas; he was infected with the nanovirus, which his
        armor had protected him from via air filters in his suit.

        Ultron turned his back and walked over to the computer console, though
        Neal knew he was in constant communication with the machine and
        instantly knew all data it gathered.

        All he needed was a few moments of freedom and he could show Ultron
        his feelings on the subject. Alas, that was time he didn't have.

        [Golden Castle.]

        Reed Richards moved furiously throughout the lab, his arms telescoping
        and winding about, nearly knotting himself up, as he worked to move
        beakers and study slides. He was sweating, but extended his eyelashes
        to wipe the sweat from his brow as he worked. He was the only one on
        this side of the barrier who could create a solution to the nanovirus
        which had stricken the nation of Morvania.

        Suddenly, the giant, flying castle shook with impact from the side.
        "What was that?" Jim Hammond asked as Mr. Fantastic went to work
        keeping everything from sliding off the table and breaking.

        'Attack,' was the only word Psykos could mentally project into their
        minds, as he was so supremely intent on maintaining the massive
        force-shield that kept Ultron and the infected trapped within the country.

        "We'll deal with it," Captain Wonder said, "you just keep working on
        an antidote!"

        The captain, Sersi, Wildman, and the high-flying Angel stormed out to
        face their foe, while Mr. Fantastic and Jim Hammond continued to work
        on a cure. It had been agreed upon that it would be best to play it
        safe and keep the Torch out of battle, since he was an android and
        might be susceptible to Ultron's dark designs.

        When the quartet reached the garden square, they found Ultron, energy
        snaking about his clenched fists, as he scanned the towers, searching
        for the structural weak point to attack to bring the entire complex
        down on the city below.

        Angel took to the sky, pulling out his mace from his jacket, while
        hammering Ultron with metallic feather-wings, which dinged and sparked
        as they struck his secondary adamantium shell but did not perceivable
        damage.

        "Blast him, Alex," Captain Wonder shouted, and Wildman complied,
        firing off an optic blast that had no effect on the robot but to
        distract him while Sersi circled around behind him and blasted him
        with cosmic energy.

        "Don't let him get too close," the captain warned, not wanting anyone
        else harmed, "everyone, keep your distance!"

        Ultron shot out an encephalo-beam, which Captain Wonder easily dodged.
        Ultron blasted Wildman and Sersi with energies from his fists,
        knocking them both back.

        "Weak flesh-puppets," Ultron said, "I am the future. I am cold, I am
        hard, I am unstoppable. I am Ultron."

        "Yeah, well," Wildman said as he plowed into his foe, "now, so am I."
        Wildman's skin grew hard and stiff and crimson energy glowed in his
        eyes and mouth, as he duplicated the mad robot's power for his own.

        [Macabra.]

        Black Knight ripped through the infected legions with his photonic
        sword. It was a good thing he hadn't brought the Ebony Blade instead,
        as he was sure that some of the unliving cyborgs he hacked through
        still had blood to ooze out. His helmet reassured him that they were
        dead; they lacked any vital signs and were cold.

        "Don't worry about killing them," Black Knight said, "They're already
        dead!"

        Giant Man had already heard him say this three times, but he would
        never be entirely comfortable with decimating human bodies and
        stomping them into paste. He waded through the crowd, twelve feet
        tall, costume armored to protect him from the sharper elbows of the
        rioters.

        "I knew this was a bad idea," Giant Man said as he threw twelve of
        them away, as twenty more instantly filled in the empty space before
        him, "I wish I still had gamma-rage to amp up my strength!"

        "We'll just have to make due," Black Knight said, "somehow." He had
        fought in the crusades, and so this horde was no worse than other
        battles he'd already met and fought nobly in, but never had the foes
        been so resistant to pain; while the photonic sword cut through metal
        as easily as bone, a one-armed cyborg would keep going, having felt no
        pain.

        "Avengers," a cold, electronic voice said as hard steps sounded and
        the infected parted to let Ultron through, "today is doomsday."

        "Maybe for you, buddy," Giant Man said. "I'm getting tired of this;
        wasn't that long ago we Wackos stopped you before!" (1)

        "The initial testing," Ultron said as he shot blasts of energy from
        his fists, the two Avengers almost unable to dodge it with the crowd
        around them, as the cyborgs got torn apart instead of them. They could
        feel the heat of the blasts. "This nation proves my virus to be a
        success. As soon as I can destroy this pitiable barrier, it will
        spread over all the world."

        "We won't let that happen!"

        Ultron recognized the voice from earlier battles, but Black Knight and
        Giant Man had to look beyond their enemy to see Superpro, his
        football-themed armor in tattered rags, a blood-stained axe in hand,
        as he came out from hiding within the city, rage painted profusely on
        his face.

        Thunder Head, the man's life now well ended, nothing more than an
        empty shell controlled by Ultron's nanovirus, stumbled towards his
        former teammate. Superpro immediately, unthinkingly, went to work,
        hacking at the large corpse, tearing at its vulnerable neck.

        With a squirt of black liquid, the head came free and the body
        shivered as it reached out to grab him. "Don't let up," Superpro
        yelled to the Avengers, "Keep fighting until we're dead!"

        [Golden Castle.]

        Wildman and Ultron tussled, Ultron's wild hatred for all things human
        giving him the advantage, his attack far more ferocious, and he flung
        the Champion away. "I will crush your bones into a fine powder,"
        Ultron announced.

        "Not this time," Wildman said as Ultron advanced. Captain Wonder
        hammered against his back, a minor annoyance Ultron tried to swat away
        with a quick backhand. The old hero dodged it easily enough, and Angel
        swooped down to smash at the robot with his mace, inspired by the
        adamantine mace of Hercules.

        Ultron took a step back to analyze their attack procedure, walking
        directly into Sersi's path, as she pushed her power to the limits and
        grabbed onto the robot, transmuting his secondary adamantium,
        degrading its alloy further and further until it was more tertiary
        than secondary adamantium, and began to crack and whine.

        "It's going to explode," Angel warned, "Everyone, get back!"

        "No, that won't be necessary," Sersi said, as she absorbed the energy
        quickly leaking out of the cracked open shell, redistributing it into
        the air as a bright light. "Just keep your eyes closed for another few
        seconds."

        Inside the laboratory, meanwhile, Reed smoked his pipe while looking
        down at the potential cure. "I think this will do it, but there's no
        way to test it first. If it doesn't work, it couldn't make the
        situation any worse than it already is. Now, the question is how to
        disperse it; air-borne would work, although I don't know if we have
        any way of--"

        "I have an idea," Jim Hammond said. He took the new creation, a
        syringe full of nanites which countered the nanovirus, neutralizing it
        and reversing its damage to tissue; assuming, of course, that he
        hadn't made any mistakes in the formulae.

        "Yes? What--"

        Jim injected the syringe into his own neck. "We do not have time to
        discuss this matter. I am sorry. Remember me, Reed. Please give my
        regards to the rest of your family."

        "You can't possibly be--"

        "Flame on," the Torch ignited himself and rose several inches off the
        ground, then flew through the door, melting the doorway, trapping Mr.
        Fantastic inside.

        [The catacombs.]

        Ultron watched as the Black Knight, Giant Man, and Superpro struggled
        with his other body and the infected hordes. The other Ultron might
        have been less successful, having been destroyed by the other
        Champions in their flying castle, but he would make sure to be wary of
        Sersi when he encountered her himself.

        Neal, meanwhile, began to shiver and shake as he felt an ungodly cold
        approach him. He knew that his time was fast approaching; it wouldn't
        be long before he would drop, and return as some... thing.

        "The hell... with it..." Neal croaked, his voice barely audible to
        Ultron's enhanced auditory sensors. He pressed thumb to forefinger and
        depressed an emergency button which Tony had warned him never to use.

        An electromagnetic pulse rang out, powerful enough to send Ultron
        crashing to the floor. The shackles, which were controlled
        electromagnetically by the computer, opened up and Neal crashed to the
        floor. He was in no shape to stop Ultron.

        He crawled across the floor, fear and anger and pain and cold shooting
        through his every fiber, and lifted his hand up to the computer
        console, plugging his armor's pre-planned virus into the system. A few
        moments more, and...

        Ultron grabbed Neal by the back of the neck and threw him across the
        room, to slam into the wall. His back would have been broken if not
        for the protection of the Iron Man armor. "You will pay for that,
        wretched human! Your attempt did nothing to harm me, but I will
        prolong your suffering!"

        "Guess again," Neal whispered, slamming fist into fist, hitting
        another secret set of controls in his armor that, when struck in the
        correct sequence, activated the self-destruct program.

        [Macabra.]

        Black Knight hacked at the legions of unliving cyborgs, while Giant
        Man futilely hammered Ultron into the ground, not so much as denting
        it, and Superpro continued to hack apart the flesh parts of the
        cyborgs with his ordinary axe.

        "Why is it getting so hot," Black Knight said to himself, his helmet
        read-out informing him that it wasn't just the heat of battle, the
        area was getting significantly warmer.

        "Oh boy," Giant Man said, looking up into the sky and smiling, "Looks
        like the cavalry has arrived!"

        Ultron looked up, vision magnifying it so that the figure looked as
        though he were right next to him. The Torch flew overhead, burning
        brighter and ever-larger flames, spinning and soaring wildly, like a
        madman.

        "It appears that another Champion has been infected," Ultron said, and
        back-handed Giant Man, sending him faltering into the crowd who began
        to elbow him.

        "Look upon my works, ye mighty," Ultron said, arms outstretched as he
        watched the android in the sky high above, burning hotter and hotter,
        "and despair."

        The Torch reached further, burning more than he ever had before, his
        internal registers warning him to slow down, to stop, before he would
        burn out. He pushed even harder, straining to keep it going, until he
        pushed beyond all unconscious safeguards and it was over.

        The sky exploded, fire licking at the roof of the energy barrier,
        nearly detonating the entire country into a massive fireball.
        Antivirus nanites rained down, carried by wind and dropping through
        gravity, while the Torch's seemingly magical healing blood quickly
        cooled and spattered over the cities and the countryside, the debris
        of his body mostly burning up, tiny pieces scattering and landing in
        the Dren Forest and the rubble and debris of the cities.

        "It's over," Ultron said, "Your friends are as doomed as you are."

        The infected started suddenly dropping dead, and the heroes stopped
        fighting them. A few scattered cyborgs remained standing, color
        gradually returning to their skin, wounds mystically healing,
        sentience miraculously returning to their minds.

        "Looks like your minions have changed sides," Superpro laughed as the
        army of cyborgs crowded in on the secondary Ultron.

        BOOM!

        The heroes turned to see huge clouds rising from the cellars of the
        half-ruined buildings, as the catacombs were destroyed by the massive
        explosion.

        "My god," Superpro said, "Iron Man was still down there..."

        [Aftermath.]

        The red energy barrier flickered repeatedly before going out, as the
        assembled heroes in the Golden Castle watched while Sersi opened up
        the power chamber. Nothing lie inside save for crackling cosmic energy.

        "Psykos?"

        "He's here," Sersi said, "The stress, the constant pressure of
        maintaining such a powerful field... it destroyed his body. This is
        all that remains of him now, the energy that powers his castle."

        "What are we going to tell everyone?" Angel asked to anyone.

        "The truth," Mr. Fantastic said, absently. "Perhaps knowledge of what
        happened here will keep anyone else from exploring these same avenues."

        "Or it could encourage people to investigate, try to replicate the
        virus," Giant Man said.

        "All anyone needs to know is this," Black Knight said. "Ultron took
        over Morvania, you sealed it off. Now the citizens who are still alive
        are cyborgs, freed of his mind control. Several Champions died to save
        them. The citizens tore one Ultron apart to be free of him, the
        mastermind Ultron has disappeared after his headquarters was destroyed."

        "What about Iron Man?" Wildman asked. "There was no body, but you say
        Tony Stark is out to the public as Shellhead now. Who was this other guy?"

        "We may never know," Black Knight said. "He couldn't have been Tony
        Stark. We'll have to have a talk with him when we get back to the
        States. Maybe it was someone on his payroll, maybe it was an imposter
        who stole the suit. I don't know."

        "Nobody needs to know," Giant Man said. "Say Ultron killed them. Leave
        out the virus."

        "The Torch?" Captain Wonder asked. "No one will know of his sacrifice--"

        "Yes, they will," Black Knight countered. "They'll know that he died
        to save the world from Ultron. That's all they need to know."

        Mr. Fantastic looked off into the horizon, his upper body stretching
        down the hall to the open window. "You're right, of course. The virus
        was eradicated. Best to leave it forgotten for all time."

        "And what if Ultron returns," Angel asked. "No body..."

        "Then we'll be ready for him," Sersi said. "After all, it isn't just a
        rag-tag band of super-heroes who will face him next time.

        "We have an entire nation of Champions to stop him."

        [The end.]


        FOOTNOTES:
        1. See West Coast Avengers Annual #3.
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