Arrayed before him was a huge mass of milling heroes just beginning to take their seats at a large, half-moon table. Above them was a small stage with a podium. Reed Richards stood behind it, looking calm and collected. Behind him and off to his right stood Captain America, arms folded. To his right stood Adam Warlock, eyes hooded, expression unreadable. Directly behind him, arms folded, was the gleaming form of the Silver Surfer, his face grim.
The massive chamber itself was a large cylinder, its ceiling barely visible so high did it go. Taking up large portions of the rounded walls were huge monitors, each portraying similar, albeit it smaller, gatherings.
The Thing's bue-eyed gaze passed over the X-Men on one screen, X-Force on another, and Alpha Flight on yet another. With a single look he could see the West Coast Avengers, the New Warriors, X-Factor, X-Calibur, and even Nick Fury, cigar clamped firmly in his teeth. Black Bolt looked on silently, other Inhumans sitting behind him. To his surprise, and perhaps dismay as well, he saw the cool visage of Magneto, Acolytes arrayed behind him. Doctor Doom's armored face dominated another screen. In short, nearly every hero, and quite a few villains, he had ever met were somehow part of this meeting.
He strode over and took a seat next to Johnny Storm, who seemed to be arguing with Spider-Man, but with a wide grin plastered plainly on his face. Grim shook his head in amusement and lit up a cigar. He puffed on it with relish, the curls of smoke quickly permeating the area. Storm coughed loudly and turned to the rocky hero, "Do you mind?"
"Yes." he replied smugly, blowing smoke in the younger man's face. A webline suddenly appeared and whipped the cigar from Grim's thick fingers, "Hey!" he shouted, "Give that back!"
"Nah," Spidey replied, "I don't think so. Bad for the lungs." He extinguished the cigar with another bit of webbing before handing it to Johnny who promptly incinerated it.
Grim threw up his arms in disgust, "I'm livin' with C. Everet Koop!"
Before anyone else could respond, Reed Richards' voice cut across the room, "It is time to begin. First, the reason our original meeting was cancelled is because this threat is too great for the Avengers and Fantastic Four to handle alone. It will take a joint-effort to halt Thanos' advances on earth. Hence, the need to move this meeting to the Avengers War Room."
"What is this 'threat,' exactly, Mr. Fantastic?" Professor Xavier asked in a carefully measured tone, "You mentioned Thanos?"
The lights dimmed as Reed spoke, "Both Adam Warlock and the Silver Surfer have indicated to me that Thanos"-an image of the Titan appeared in the center of the room, large enough for all to see-"has made another bid for ultimate power. My own energy scanners indicate that there is a massive energy disturbance heading for earth as we speak."
"And you think this energy disturbance is Thanos?" Nick Fury asked, leaning forward to try and get a better view.
"Yes. The coincidence is just too great. We must be prepared for when he arrives."
"When will he get here?" Magneto asked, his voice even.
"If he continues at his current speed, we estimate that Thanos will arrive here in fifty-five hours. In that time we must make full preparations for absolute warfare."
"What are the Titan's plans?" Doom asked, "Has he acquired a new source of power?"
Reed turned to look at the Surfer, "Care to answer that question?"
Norrin nodded and made his way to the podium, "From what we have...gathered, Thanos now possesses an artifact Adam Warlock has dubbed 'the Infinity Equation.' With it, Thanos will be effectively omnipotent and omniscient within a matter of days."
"What is the origin of this 'Infinity Equation?'" Doom pressed, his curiousity obviously piqued.
"It was removed from a dreaming Celestial known as Aioros the Betrayer. The exact origins of the Infinity Equation are unknown, but from...historical records of the...Shi'ar Empire, we have gathered that it is one of two things: either a 'template' for the Celestial Trinity's creation, or merely a genetic code that allows its user to wield unheard of might. Just as Arishem the Celestial's Equation allows him to destroy planets, the Infinity Equation allows Thanos to potentially become omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent."
Doom said nothing, but his eyes were now lost in thought, the meeting of heroes nearly a forgotten thought.
"How exactly are we going to deal with Thanos this time, Mister Fantastic?" Captain Britain asked.
Moving to the fore again, Reed said, "Adam Warlock and I, along with input from Captain America and the Silver Surfer, we have devised a plan to stop Thanos as soon as he arrives. The Infinity Equation takes time to merge with whoever is wielding it, and in that time, Thanos will be vulnerable. We plan to make the most of such weakness. As we speak, Iron Man and the Vision are searching through all the SHIELD, Avengers, and Fantastic Four data files availible to them. It is our intention to choose twenty heroes to confront the Titan. Five of these individuals will be the greatest energy manipulators we can find. Five more will be the strongest physically. Another five will be adept spiritual manipulators, and the final quintet will be heroes with powerful mental abilities. Each group is aimed at dislodging a specific portion of the Equation from the Titan's being."
"Forgive me for saying so, Mister Fantastic," Professor Xavier said, "but in the past, such a small group has never been capable of incapacitating Thanos before."
Reed nodded, "That is true, but in the past whatever power he had gained was fully integrated within him by the time we faced the Titan. This time, that is not the case." he paused for a moment, "In addition to the twenty heroes chosen, I have been building a 'Quantum Dissipater.' After the the heroes have done their work, we will use this device on Thanos. Hopefully, it will separate the Equation from his body, so he will be easier to deal with."
"And if your gambit fails?" Magneto asked.
"If our plan fails, there is a second option, " Warlock broke in, taking the podium from Richards, "one that will not be discussed here. Suffice to say, we should all pray that the original strategy is successful."
There were murmurs at this, but no one pressed the synthetic man any farther. Taking the podium back from the golden being, Reed said, "Are there any other questions?" Silence reigned for several moments before Spidey did the proverbial "cough in the background." No one seemed to notice. Finally, Richards announced, "Then this conference is ajourned. If you are one of the twenty individuals chosen, you will be notified immediately after the selection process is ended. If there is nothing else, let us go. And to the entire planet and everyone assembled here, let me just say 'good luck.'"
The various heroes nodded before their viewscreens winked out one-by-one, "Professor Xavier," Mister Fantastic said before the leader of the X-Men cut his transmission, "I have need to speak to you on a private channel.
The mutant nodded, "As you wish." He turned to the various students behind him and asked them to leave. Slowly they got up and left. Cyclops lingered a bit longer, but soon Xavier was alone, "Go ahead, Mister Fantastic."
"You have certain...connections with the Shi'ar Empire, do you not? You know Majestrix Lilandra well?"
Xavier paused, his brow creasing for a moment, "That is true, yes."
"We ask, for the sake of earth, that you call upon Lilandra to raise a fleet of warships and attempt to stop Thanos before he reaches earth."
The Professor said nothing, but took a deep breath and swallow. Slowly he said, "I will do as you ask, but I cannot guarantee her cooperation."
"Thank you, Professor. Oh, and please request Gladiator's presence here. He has already been chosen as one of the twenty heroes who will face Thanos."
Xavier nodded once, and then the screen went black. As the heroes piled out of the large chamber, Reed went over to Warlock and asked in a quiet voice, "Will they be able to stop him."
"No." he said flatly, "But their sacrifice may buy us enough time to be successful in our venture."
"Let us hope..." the Surfer said, looking at the huge mass of people filing out. He knew they all could be very well dead in three days.
Professor shut down the video feed and sat back in his floating chair with a heavy sigh. He did not move for several minutes, his mind not focused on the coming crisis, but on speaking to Lilandra once again.
Slowly he reached toward the control panel, and opened a channel to the Shi'ar Homeworld. A private channel linked directly to Lilandra's personal quarters. He licked his lips anxiously as the two worlds connected. His breath caught in his throat as her face appeared on the screen.
"Who dares contact me on this..." her fiery eyes melted as she looked on Xavier's face, "Charles? It has been such a long time..."
"Yes, yes it has Lilandra..." he did not look her in the eye.
Her face took on a look of concern, "What's wrong, Charles?"
"I...I must ask a favor of you, Lilandra..."
"Ask, Charles, ask."
"There is a great threat heading for earth, a being known as Thanos. To be honest, I don't think we can stop him if he arrives here. We simply are not...strong enough, smart enough, to defeat him."
"And you think that somehow we can turn him back?" Lilandra finished.
"Yes...I know it is a lot to ask, too much. But one day, Thanos will come to your world. Perhaps if can stop him now..." he trailed off.
Lilandra considered his words with grim silence, her eyes considering the man she had loved so long ago. Slowly she replied, "I will do as you ask, Charles Xavier for the sake of your people, and for the sake of my own."
"I...thank you, Lilandra. Before I go I must make another request, a far less dire one..."
"Gladiator, Praetor of your Imperial Guard. We ask that he come here, as quickly as possible. His services will be in great need if Thanos reaches our planet."
There was nearly no pause this time, "It will be done, Charles. Have you anymore to say?"
"Yes...I am uploading all the information I have on the current situation to you know. It will...provide you with a greater chance of victory, perhaps." he said in a low voice, "I thank you for your help, Lilandra. You may very well have saved humanity this day."
"It is a small gift to you, Charles." she smiled.
"Goodbye, Lilandra..." he said as if the words were being forcibly yanked from every fiber of his being.
"Goodbye, Charles. It was nice...seeing you again."
He nodded slowly and then reached out his hand, to touch the control panel. The screen went black and Xavier let out a deep breath, slumping back in his chair. He sat and breathed for minutes, his mind still racing with the memories of his conversation. Xavier nearly shuddered as he pushed those memories away, more important matters to attend to. He reached forward again, opening another channel. Reed Richards' face soon lit up the screen.
"That was fast, Professor. Has she agreed?"
"Yes, she has. Gladiator is on his way as well." Xavier replied, his eyes seemingly looking past the scientist.
"Good, very good, Thank you, Professor. The Shi'ar might just buy us enough time for us to win this one." he smiled weakly and then the screen went dark once again.
Charles Xavier sat alone, still staring at the blank screen.
Majestrix Lilandra looked at the darkened screen with concern, but quickly she pushed the weakening emotion away. Lilandra could care for others, the Majestrix of the Shi'ar Empire could not. She opened another channel, steeling herself for what was to come.
A young Shi'ar officer's face appeared on the small screen, "My Majestrix, what may I do for you?"
"Bring Gladiator and General Corsair to my throneroom at once. And have communications opened with the Ovoids, Rigellians, Badoon, and Skrulls. I will speak to them when my audience is finished." her voice was hard, the voice of command.
His eyes widened at the mention of the Skrulls, but the young officer quickly regained his composure, "I will inform the Praetor and General that you wish to see them immediately. The channels will be opened as well. Is there anything else, Majestrix?"
He nodded curtly, "Long live Majestrix Lilandra." was all he said before cutting the transmission. She sat back in her ornate gilded chair and looked at the intricately carved ceiling, lost in thought. Feeling slowly crept back into her, Charles Xavier's face began to fill her mind.
She crushed those thoughts ruthlessly and leaned forward quickly. Touching the monitors control panel, she said, "Display information downloaded from Charles Xavier."
"Working." said a lilting Shi'ar voice as the small machine hummed did just that. Then it said, after a few moments, "Data transfer complete."
Lilandra's brow creased slightly as she began to read, and that crease became a large furrow very quickly. Her fist clenched and her jaw tightened as she watched the recording of the heroes' meeting. When it was over, she slowly extended her fingers once again. Bits of blood mixed with sweat in her palms were her fingernails had bitten into flesh.
She stood abruptly, sending the heavy chair back and smoothed her imperial robes quickly. With a flourish she turned and exited the room, setting a quick pace as she strode through her royal apartments to her throneroom several levels below.
"You want me to what?" General Corsair said loudly, pacing the white tiles of the throneroom with vigor.
"Lower your voice, General." Gladiator said sternly, "You speak to the Majestrix of the Shi'ar Empire."
"Yes, yes, I know." he replied hastily, giving the large purple man a passing glance. He turned back to Lilandra, "But how can you expect me to raise a fully-prepared battle fleet in barely more than a day? And to fight one man?"
"Nevertheless, you will do so, and in the time alloted. Thanos of Titan is not only a threat to earth, which is still your homeworld, but to the entire universe as well. If we do not stop him now, surely one day he will turn his attentions to the Shi'ar, and that will be a grave day indeed."
Realizing that protesting more would do him no good, Corsair through up his hands and rolled his eyes. He gave a short bow and then whipped around, heading back for the huge doubledoors, scarlet cape fluttering behind him.
"And General," Lilandra added, "be prepared to work with other species. I will be speaking with the Skrulls, Rigellians, Ovoids, and Badoon shortly. Pray they join us in our efforts."
The human muttered one of those earth curses he used so often and then was gone, the two huge doors grinding closed behind him.
"I don't see why you tolerate him, Majestrix." Gladiator said.
"Because he is a good general, my Praetor." she replied as if speaking to her prize child, "Since promoting all of his 'Starjammers' to high military posts, we have been losing far fewer men in border skirmishes with the Skrulls and Badoon."
"That is true..." Gladiator admitted reluctantly, "Why have you summoned me here, Majestrix?"
"Your presence has been requested on earth and I have decided to oblige them. If our attack on Thanos fails, you will attempt to stop him on earth. You will be leaving shortly, on the fastest ship we have."
"Should I not be here, with my people, during this coming crisis?" he asked, obviously disagreeing with her decision.
She shook her head, "No, because there will be no 'crisis' here. But if you do not to earth to stop Thanos, along with a number of that planet's defenders, from what I gather, there will be a crisis here soon enough."
He looked as if he were going to challenge her again, but all he said was, "I hear and obey, Majesty."
"Good, my Praetor. Go, now, and fight for all the cosmos, if that is necessary. I wish you good luck from the whole of the Empire."
He nodded once, stiffly, before turning quickly on his heel, striding down to those huge doubledoors. They closed behind him as well, and once again Lilandra was alone with her thoughts.
Xavier did not appear to her this time, she would not let him. Just before that kind face coalesced in her mind, she said irritably to an aide standing nearby her raised throne, "Have all the channels been established?"
"Indeed they have, Majestrix." he bowed deeply, unperturbed by her curtness, "Would you care to see them now?"
"Yes, activate the conference screens." she replied, not looking down at the small man. The room darkened immediately, and an opaque cloud lowered before Lilandra. It solidified into four rippling images. An old, angry Skrull looked out at her, as did a calm Rigellian, an inquisitive Ovoid, and a fiery Badoon.
"Where are your leaders?" she shouted, "I am greeted by ambassadors, nothing more! What is the meaning of this insult?"
The Ovoid inclined his head, "I apologize, Majestrix Lilandra, but our leader is currently deciding what to do about an unknown energy disturbance travelling at high speeds. He regrets he cannot speak with you now." The other three echoed similarly, all their leaders assessing the situation.
With some effort, Lilandra managed to calm her temper. She spoke in an even tone, "I understand your situations. The Shi'ar are also concerned about this energy disturbance and it is the reason I have contacted you this very day. My technicians are now uploading the small bit of information we have on it."
As the other three ambassadors uploaded the data and began reading it quietly, the wizened Skrull emissary snapped, "Speak quickly, Majestrix. The Skrull Empire is too busy for small talk."
Lilandra clenched her jaw to keep herself from screaming at the ancient shapeshifter and teaching him the folly of his ways. She merely replied, "As you wish. Currently, the Shi'ar Empire is massing a fleet of starships to deal with this threat, which you now know is a great one. Thanos cannot be allowed to roam free with the power he apparently possesses. One day, he will fall upon each of our worlds and we will pay for our indecison."
"What do you ask of us, Majestrix?" the Badoon ambassador rasped in a reptilian voice.
"I ask for your aid in our conflict with Thanos. Let us take no chances, let us destroy him utterly before he can gain more power than he already has."
There was silence for several moments, as the four aliens considered Lilandra's proposal. The Ovoid was the first to respond, "I, as representitive of the Ovoid government formally pledge to aid you in your quest to halt this galactic menace. Merely give us the coordinates and we will be there when the time is right."
The Rigellian was right behind him, "The Rigellians will also help the Shi'ar in their conflict."
The Badoon and Skrull both seemed to be conversing with others off-screen. The lizard-like being spoke before the ripple-chinned one, "The Badoon Emperor has also just agreed to combat our mutual foe."
Lilandra smiled diplomatically and then locked her eyes onto the old Skrull, "Your empire is the only one remaining, Skrull. What say you?"
His brow furrowed, "The situation is being debated as we speak. We will inform you of our decision within in the hour." His section of the viewing "cloud" went dark.
"If there is nothing further, Majestrix, there are many other pressing matters I must attend to," the Ovoid ambassador broke in, "such as organizing this battlefleet." The other two representives echoed similar concerns.
Lilandra nodded graciously, "I understand. I thank you for your help in the coming battle. Perhaps, together, we can save our respective from this cosmic menace. It is the only hope we have..."
The Rigellian and Badoon nodded grimly before their faces winked out. The Ovoid inclined his head in a gesture of respect to the Majestrix before disappearing as well. The undulating communication device rose up into the ceiling again and soon the darkened chamber was filled with bright light once again.
Lilandra motioned to her aide, "Prepare a time-delay message to Avengers Mansion informing them of the Rigellian, Ovoid, and Badoon support. And if the Skrulls have thrown in with us, mentioned that as well."
"Why time-delayed, Majestrix?" he questioned.
"In case they change their collective minds, of course. There is no point in raising hope only to crush it later on."
"Ah yes, of course. When should I send the message?"
"Twelve earth hours from now."
"I will do so immediately, majesty."
"Good, now leave me. I wish to be alone with my thoughts."
The small man bowed deeply, "As you wish, Majestrix." He padded away, the swishing of his robes the only sound cutting the silence. There was a creaking as the aide opened a side door and was gone.
Alone, in the silence, Lilandra finally let Charles Xavier's kind, yet haunted, visage into her mind.
Continue to Chapter 16
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