by Van Plexico
He is awake, Lord Chaos.
Yes, Master Order. In his current condition, frail as he is, we must take care.
Indeed. Yet he must be shown, so that he will know...
Certainly. And he is yet strong of will, strong of mind and spirit. He can bear the strain, before...
Then let us begin.
"For many years, Doom seemed poised to conquer the entire world, and was only kept in check by the efforts of teams such as the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, the legendary forerunners of today's Fantastic Force and New Avengers.
"Turning to sports, we see the victory parade for the US national soccer team, returning home from Rome with their third consecutive World Cup trophy--"
A blue, furry hand clicked off the video-wall.
"They're still calling us the 'New' Avengers," complained the Beast. "Even though we've been around for, what, three years now?"
"Verily, the Earthly media doth try the patience of both gods and men," growled Valkyrie.
"Some things never change," Stinger commented.
Iron Maiden laughed, reaching up to remove her red-and-gold helmet. Shaking out her long, silky black hair, Akiko Stark smiled. "As long as they keep telling the world what we're doing--how many times we've saved their butts this week--I don't care what name they use."
Stinger chewed on her lower lip. "I hope they appreciate us. I'd like the world to at least be thankful that we're out here, doing what we can. I mean, we may not be battling Ultron or Nefaria, but we're still doing good work."
"I don't think we have anything to be ashamed of," Akiko said. "Maybe we haven't yet achieved the stature of our predecessors--"
"Not hardly," the Fury interjected. "Not to the press."
"--but still," she continued, "we're slowly building a name and a reputation for ourselves. We're contributing something. I mean, sure, we may not have villains to battle of the same magnitude as the originals did, but there are still the Masters of Evil, and the Corporation--"
"--and don't forget Kang!"
"--and Kang, yeah. We're doing good work, folks. Don't ever think otherwise. We're making a difference."
"And we'll continue to do so, as long as we follow the example of those who came before us, and who showed us the way."
Akiko Stark smiled. "Old great-great-great-great-great Granddaddy Tony would be proud."
"...Proud..." The ancient lips moved, breathing the word. "Proud of them..."
He should be proud, Lord Chaos. His progeny continued to preserve order in the world, drawing inspiration from the legends of his own exploits.
Indeed, Master Order. But now, he must see the dark uses to which even those shining legends could be bent...
***TIME = 1000 YEARS IN EARTH'S FUTURE***
"And so we come to the final test."
A dark room, with blank, featureless walls. A single figure walked about the room, computer pad in hand.
"Computer, begin recording."
"Bring up the control panel."
A cubical work station slid up from the floor, to waist-level.
"All right. Let's see them."
Soundlessly, one of the four blank walls slid up into the ceiling, revealing a row of figures standing like statues in recessed niches.
The scientist looked over each of them, studying their appearances, comparing them to visual records from five centuries earlier. "Perfect," he finally pronounced. "Have the brain patterns been fully implanted in them?"
"Excellent. Activate them."
The figures began to move. Each of them seemed to be awakening from a deep sleep. Slowly, they stepped out of the niches, into the room, and looked about with expressions of confusion and disorientation.
The scientist looked over his pad. "Iron Man. Hawkeye. Vision. Wonder Man. Captain America. Goliath. Songbird. Do you hear me? Do you understand me?"
One by one, the seven members of the colorful assemblage seemed to recover his or her senses, and focus on the scientist. "Yes," each of them said in turn.
"Good." The scientist nodded in satisfaction. "Do you know who you are? Where you are?"
Iron Man spoke first. "Y--yes. This is... the year 3001. But--how can that be?"
Captain America seemed to gather himself quickly. "We are the Avengers," he stated firmly. "Except... we're not, are we?"
"No, we're... androids?" This from Wonder Man.
"You are the Avengers," the scientist asserted. "You have all their memories and brain patterns." He smiled tightly. "We wanted you to be as realistic as possible."
The Vision blinked. "Yes... this is scarcely different than numerous of my previous experiences." He turned to the scientist. "From where did you obtain brain patterns of the rest of us?"
The scientist regarded him with only a small level of interest. "Ehh... numerous opportunities existed to gain such things over the last ten centuries. Not important."
"Why have you done this to us?" asked Songbird.
"An excellent question. And the answer is twofold." He smiled a flat, smug smile. "One: we have built an army based on the weapons and tactics you yourselves used during the Heroic Age. With this army, EarthGov means to conquer all the surrounding territory and fully establish Earth as the hegemonic power of this sector of space. From that point, none will be able to oppose us." He nodded kurtly, then continued. "And two--"
"--Two," Hawkeye finished for him, "they want to use us to soil the reputation of the Avengers, to make it look like we'd go along with this crap!"
"To make it look like we'd endorse it!" Cap was suddenly furious.
"They wish to deconstruct the legend the Avengers left behind," the Vision intoned, "and rebuild it in their own image."
The scientist pursed his lips. "Mmm. Not exactly the way I would have put it, but, yes, that is not terribly inaccurate."
"We won't stand for this," Goliath shouted. "We're still the Avengers, and we--"
"You will do as I tell you," the scientist replied calmly. "You forget who you are. To the rest of the galaxy, you will be the Avengers, returned to lead Earth to glory. But to EarthGov, you are our property, and under our direct control."
Iron Man, by way of reply, raised a gauntleted hand and aimed a repulsor directly at the scientist. Nothing happened.
"You see? Now." The scientist studied his pad again, turning his back on them. "We have much work to do, so let's get started. First, I believe, shall be the Captain."
"Wha--?" Cap found himself stiffly walking forward, even as a holographic image appeared around him.
"Holocameras recording," the computer announced.
The image surrounding Cap was of a crowd of war refugees, tattered and torn. Cap towered over them, and gestured dramatically. And began to speak.
"When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to crush and subjugate another, to impose its will upon another, to utterly destroy the fighting spirit of another..."
At the far side of the room, the other Avengers looked on, revolted. Songbird closed her eyes. Wonder Man gritted his teeth and looked around desperately. Hawkeye...
"...And thus we strike. For Earth! For Humanity! We will destroy you in the fields, we will slay you in your homes, we will kill you on the beaches and on the landing grounds. We will never show mercy..."
...Hawkeye edged closer to the workstation, and began to fiddle with the back panel...
"...And in the end, we will bury you."
Cap completed the speech, blinked his eyes, turned, and walked back to the others. At that point, the computer override released him again, and he nearly shook with anger and frustration.
"Now, let me see," the scientist said, looking over his notes on the pad. "Next, I believe, should be Hawkeye."
Nothing. No one moved.
"Hawkeye?" The scientist looked up. "Hawk-- wha?!"
Hawkeye stood next to the workstation, a slender cable in his hands. He slowly twirled the severed end of it. "Yeah, what can I do ya for?"
"Huh? Oh, this? Was this important?"
"Ahh... yeah. It lets the computer override our own 'brains.' Hmm. Doesn't seem to be working any more, huh? Maybe I shouldn't have ripped it loose. Oops."
"...But... but how could you have...?"
"Ah, that's okay, pal. A lot bigger baddies than you have underestimated ol' Hawkeye. See, you have us all hooked up to this computer network, right? And I saw that you'd specifically prevented the others--the tech-heads--from acting against any of your control systems in any way.
"But that didn't stop li'l ol me from requesting the schematics for the controls from Vizh. And there was no direct harm in him just uploading them to me. Sooooo...!"
The scientist swallowed, took a shaky step back, then another.
"So," Cap growled, "that means the Avengers are free--"
"--free to take you down," Wonder Man finished for him. "You and this entire, rotten government of yours!"
They stepped forward.
Without another word, the scientist whirled and fled.
Wonder Man and Goliath made short work of the wall, and within moments, the Avengers were free. The military base in which they'd been housed scarcely held out for more than a matter of minutes. The scientist quickly felt the wrath of seven very angry Avengers.
"We may not be the originals," Cap commented as they flew toward refuge, afterward, "but we have a great legacy behind us, and we know everything our original versions knew. There's no reason we can't make a difference in this new world."
Iron Man nodded. "What was it we used to say? Once an Avenger--"
Hawkeye grinned "--Always an Avenger!"
These android Avengers went on to great exploits, Lord Chaos.
Indeed they did, Master Order. In due course, they brought the corrupt and expansionist Earth government down, and helped restore the rule of law on that world.
And as we see next, Lord Chaos, great things would result from their work.
***TIME = 10,000 YEARS IN EARTH'S FUTURE***
Diary recording of Antonia Stark, December 31, 12,001:
I wish I could send this back in time to you, Tony, to let you know just how much your work, and that of your associates, meant to all of us. But any interference in the past is strictly forbidden, ever since the War of a Thousand Kangs-- another conflict in which your inspiration saved us.
So many, many times, this has been true... When Ultron Squared conquered Mars... When the Coalition of Races launched their invasion on Human Space... so many times.
I know I can't communicate directly with you, but I'll write these words anyway, in the hope that somehow you'll know.
This is the future you helped to build. You and the other heroes-- you laid the foundations for this world, by your examples. You were the start, in building this universal republic of peace and law and hope.
A republic of dignity, tolerance and respect.
And those who came after you, who wielded powers similar to yours--they act as our police force, keeping the universe safe from any who would unjustly impose their wills upon the people.
Race doesn't matter. Homeworld doesn't matter. Respect, and law, and justice--those matter.
Thanks, in large part, to you.
We have built the world--the universe--we believe you would have wished for us. And we dearly wish we could somehow thank you...
"...Welcome... You're welcome..."
Almost to the end, Lord Chaos. Almost time.
Yes, Master Order. Only one thing more...
**TIME = 1,000,000 YEARS IN EARTH'S FUTURE**
"...And so we pass on, beyond the bounds of flesh, to take our places in the great order of things.
"But, before we make that final step, we conclude this long period of celebration by remembering, one last time, those who were among our greatest, and who helped to bring us to this point.
"The Avengers, they were called. The Man of Iron...the Captain... the God-Who-Walked-Among-Men... the Archer... the Sorceress... the Giant... the Cat... so many of them, over so many years.
"They lived in a primitive time, and knew little of what we take for granted today.
"And yet they always worked, and fought, for a common cause: to preserve law and justice, and to protect the Earth, and later the entire universe, from harm.
"We honor their great contributions today, here, at the end.
"Avengers-- we salute you. And we carry your memory with us... beyond."
And now we reach the end, Lord Chaos.
Yes, Master Order. Time for us to pass on, as well. Beyond the veil.
"...What...what about me?"
Your time in this mortal universe is at an end as well, Anthony Stark. We have reached back in time to the moment of your death, and brought you here, to show you all that we have revealed.
"...Ahh... I see..." His heartbeat slowed.
But now your life is at an end, and you must leave this mortal coil.
"Perhaps... perhaps you should have left me behind, with my friends... with the Avengers..."
He does not yet fully understand, Master Order.
No, Lord Chaos. Anthony--did you think you were the only one we chose?
Many more await you.
Your kind has done so very much for this universe. For all of life.
Time to say goodbye to this realm.
Time to sleep now.
A new journey awaits.
Tony Stark closed his eyes and, as his heartbeat finally, irrevocably stopped, he drifted softly away.
And just ahead...
...They waited for him. They embraced him.
Story © 2001 by Van Allen Plexico
With a great big debt to J. Michael Straczynski!