The place: New York City; Avengers
[*The very end of AVENGERS #414, actually. --Van]
I can imagine them, just before my arrival.
A room full of heroes--the greatest of their age. Heroes that had, time and again, defied my will, ruined my plans...
And now I needed them as never before.
I stumbled up the steps to their mansion, my armor sparking and in tatters in places.
And I did something I never had imagined before I would ever do here.
Moments later, the door opened--Jarvis, of course--and time...
...time branched again.*
*To read the other timeline, dealing with Kang's efforts to dispatch his alternate selves, see AVENGERS #415 and onward, by Scott Harris.
"Yes? May I--" Jarvis staggered back a step. "Oh... my word...!"
"Fetch me a glass of water and some aspirin," I told him, summoning up every shred of a commanding presence I had left to muster, "and then alert your employers that I am here."
Jarvis gaped; then, apparently sensing no attack was imminent, he rushed to carry out my instructions. Wearily, I trudged to the nearest sofa and lay myself back upon it, waiting.
Then I realized I was being watched. Silently, so silently, the Avenger known as the Vision had drifted up through the floor, just behind me and to my left, and, wraithlike, was watching me.
I nodded to him.
We spoke briefly, tersely. He is logical. Emotion does not cloud his understanding. He grasped the situation as I laid it out instantly. He would help persuade the others to set aside our long animosities and join me in my great cause.
He was the first. The rest would be won over soon enough. Within a day, I had my army-- my new army, comprised of my heretofore most implacable foes. They were mostly suspicious, but soon enough, I had convinced them to help me--to help themselves--to begin to fight back.
It would be enough. It had to be enough. I would prevail, as always.
Or so I thought.
* * *
Before I tell you more of my struggle with Torquemada, however,
allow me a brief digression to explain what I later learned concerning
the true threat, the true menace we all faced. It may prove
enlightening, in relation to how very poorly we fared later, when it
came to actual combat.
The place: A nameless planet far
beyond the Milky Way galaxy
The hammer of the Celestials fell like the wrath of the gods themselves upon that poor, virtually defenseless world.
Of all living beings, I can perhaps imagine the events most clearly, given my abilities and experiences with time and space.
It must have been awesome. And terrifying.
A race of machines, mostly peaceful, evolved over long millennia from basic silicon life. A planet free of most dangers, devoid of hazardous pathogens. A world knowing only the striving for the betterment of all its life forms.
A world, and a people, betrayed by one of its own. And a world sentenced for its potential crimes by vast, implacable deities far beyond the comprehension of anyone upon whom they sat in judgment.
Thus came the timeless and godlike Celestials to the machine world, and their wrath went before them and fell upon the inhabitants in world-shattering catastrophe.
Surely those star-spanning gods believed that nothing could have survived their wrath. Such was, and still is, their arrogance.
But survive their target did. Oh, not the world itself, or its dominant species. Those were utterly, completely eradicated from this universe.
Their real target, that which brought Celestial judgment down on that nameless world, endured. A strange mutation of machine life, more a virus than a single being, it was shattered by the cataclysm and cast about the universe like tiny droplets flung outward from a vast splashing of water.
Each droplet eventually settled somewhere in the universe, and sublimated itself into the local environment. Into computer networks in some places; into organic life forms in others. Sometimes merely into the soil.
And it waited. Dormant, sleeping, it waited.
Waited for each droplet to be discovered, to unearth itself from the reaches of space, and to find its way into contact with the other parts.
For more than four million years, it waited.
And finally, the waiting was over. Most of the significant pieces had been unearthed, in all their myriad forms. Strange bits of futuristic (to most) alien technology; sometimes only a microscopic blob, other times large enough to fill a box.
Experimented upon, empowered, brought into contact with intelligent life all over the universe, the many small pieces slowly regained contact with one another... linked intelligences with one another... coordinated plans with one another... and began, ever so slowly, to spread.
From one civilization to the next, bending all in its path to its dark will, it spread. Out of its home galaxy, into the wider universe, it spread. A black stain upon the cosmos, subverting primitive world and star-spanning empire alike, it spread and it spread and it spread, leaving naught but zombie-like hordes of its servants behind its wave-front.
Those who came to understand would call it the Blight.
It may well have been the greatest threat that intelligent, independent life in this universe ever faced.
Against this threat my army of super-beings fought bravely and well. I could scarcely have asked any more from them. They fought to the limits of their abilities and their skills.
Thus their deaths were all the more tragic.
Still in my mind's eye I can picture the Avengers and the others who joined us, arrayed for battle against Torquemada's hordes--the forces of the Blight. It was glorious and terrible.
I can see each of the Avengers beaten down, captured, summarily executed in the field. I am certain Torquemada would have preferred to...interrogate...each of them, but clearly he feared the threat they represented more than he desired their knowledge, or whatever twisted pleasure he derives from his "inquisitions."
And then I see it all happen again. And again. And...
Because, you see, we failed. Torquemada won. The Blight won.
And so I tried again.
I can recall with ease the slaying of the Hulk on at least twelve separate occasions, each of them brutal in the extreme. I can recall a near-infinite variety of Iron Men ripped to shreds, blood and metal strewn about the landscape. I can see in my mind's eye Captain America's valiant last stands, over and over, as the Inquisitor's armies rolled over the last of the heroes and confronted him atop a mound of bodies. I can equally well recall the numbers required to take his shield from his dying hands, and the efforts required of Torquemada to finally decapitate him, so many times.
On each occasion, when it is nearly over, when only I remain, when Torquemada's armies come for me, I do the only thing I can.
Yes, again I flee from him. Where? When. Through time, of course. Back, back...
And now, I stand where it all started, where it always starts. Time has branched yet again. I stand before the door to Avengers Mansion and knock once more. Which Avengers will be present this time? Will this collection serve me better, somehow, than all the multitudes who have marched out to war with me before?
I have to believe it. And yet, every time... every time... it happens exactly the same way.
The cycle must be broken. The enemy must fall. For I am Kang! Kang!
How many times have I done this before? I have lost count. I have witnessed the heroes slaughtered over and over, yet still my determination is not broken. How many times will I attempt this?
How ironic, again.
I am Kang.
I will hurl the Avengers and their allies to their deaths at the hands of this foe over and over, for all of eternity, if necessary. I will prevail or I will myself finally, irrevocably die.
For the universe may be in the hands of my foes, but time...
...Time is on my side.
KANG WILL RETURN