CAPTAIN AMERICA (Steve Rogers):
The living legend of World War II! Treated with the "Super Soldier Serum," Steve Rogers became a human fighting machine. Cast into the icy waters of Newfoundland at the War's end, Cap fell into suspended animation, only to be revived by the AVENGERS. In the years since, he has become their leader, and an inspiration to freedom-loving people everywhere!
MACHINE MAN (Aaron Stack, X-51):
A highly-evolved mechanical man striving to understand what it means to be human. X-51 has adopted the human guise of Aaron Stack and operates as the artificial champion known as Machine Man.
PREVIOUSLY IN MS. MARVEL:
Ms. Marvel has stumbled onto an odd mystery involving Machine Man, who went on a rampage in downtown Manhatten. With the aid of Nova, she was able to capture the rogue hero but she was later led into a trap by the escaping Machine Man. Now, our heroine awakens to a deadly dilemma...
"Awaken, sleeping beauty." The cold, mechanical voice filtered into Carol Danvers' unconsciousness, rousing her from a deep and troubled sleep. "Your new beginning is at hand."
Ms. Marvel opened her eyes to find herself trapped in a metallic horror. She hung spread-eagle from the ceiling, her arms and legs attached to a metal harness. A fine, silver mist was being sprayed onto her skin from a small hose and she noted with some horror that much of her exposed flesh was now a silver color. It looked almost like she was becoming more machine than woman...
Then she fixed her gaze on the man whose words had awakened her. He was tall and thin, with a silver face that seemed sculpted out of metal. He wore a dark green jumpsuit, leaving his metallic hands and features exposed. "What in Hala's name is going on here?" Ms. Marvel tested the strength of her bonds, pitting her Kree-born strength against them. But the bonds held tight and she realized with a start that not all of her muscles were responding to her mental commands. Those that were covered with the metal sheath did not respond at all.
"Are you finding that your limbs do not respond as they should?" The man smiled at her, his metallic features creasing. He seemed enormously pleased with himself. "You are well on your way to becoming an Androne, at which point none of your limbs will respond to your thoughts...at least not those thoughts that are not dictated to you by myself. You are quite unusual, my lady...most people are transformed very easily and quickly. But your DNA is different than most..."
Carol didn't answer, despite the fact that the stranger was obviously hoping for an explanation. Let him wonder, Carol mused. At least until I can free myself and turn the tables...
"Poor dear. Giving me the silent treatment, eh? Well, no matter. I am quite used to women ignoring my attentions. Before I ascended, I was quite the little hermit, I'm afraid."
"You're breaking my heart," Carol sneered. "What's going on here -- if you're as lonely as you say, I'm sure you can't wait to share your brilliance..."
The metallic man laughed heartily at that. Machine Man moved up behind him, his cold, expressionless face regarding Ms. Marvel blankly. The man stepped forward. "I call myself simply Androne, my lady. And I am hardly lonely any longer. My whole life, I have been at home with machines. Machines are cold and logical, expressing no disdain for those who are different...Machine life, in all its forms, is much more highly evolved than humanity. Robots don't age, don't kill out of anger or hatred...they can survive in far harsher enviroments than normal humans...and best of all, robots are devoid of worry, neuroses, and all the other psychosomatic illnesses that humanity has succumbed to."
Ms. Marvel rolled her eyes. "Oooookay. So you're nuts, then. I'd been half hoping that you were some misunderstood genius who could be reasoned with. But it's pretty obvious that's not the case..."
Androne ignored her insults, instead concentrating on the silver mist which was continuing to spray onto her lithe form. More and more of her skin was hardening under its touch. "Hmm. Soon, you will join me in the Ascending. You shall leave behind the petty problems of mortality..."
Ms. Marvel was steadily applying pressure on her bonds once more but she found herself struggling with the fact that even more of her muscles were now refusing to respond.
Androne had turned away from her, walking past Machine Man. "I was born a mutant, my lovely. Gifted with an affinity to machines. I could...understand them. When Ultron launched his attempt to destroy the West Coast Avengers by transforming humans into his mind-controlled andrones, I was one of those affected. But unlike the others, I maintained my free will and thought...and I realized that Ultron had shown me the way. I would lead all of humanity into an Ascendance, a new way of life. I studied my new form and was able to replicate Ultron's means. But I knew that I would need footsoldiers to defend me before I could put my plans into motion..."
"So you somehow managed to capture Machine Man?"
"Yes. I control him via a remote transmitter. The poor thing was actually yearning to be human and hadn't realized his perfection. He escaped from me once before*, rebelling against his conversion...but he is mine once more. But the time for talk is past. In moments you shall join me in perfection." Androne left the room.
(*Machine Man's rampage was shown in issues 29-30.)
The worst part of this situation, Carol mused, was that he might be right...She didn't have the strength to free herself and her thoughts were coming more sluggishly. "By the Great Pama...I never thought it would end like this..."
Captain America was concerned. "When was the last time anyone saw Carol?"
Edwin Jarvis, the Avengers' faithful butler, shrugged. "I haven't seen her in some time, Captain. I saw her on the television set when I returned from picking up Master Thor's cape from the cleaners -- she was fighting Machine Man alongside young Master Nova."
Cap nodded. "I suppose she's off solving the mystery of what's driven Machine Man to act like that..." The Sentinel of Liberty picked up his glass of milk and left the room, sighing.
Jarvis couldn't resist a small smile. Captain America was such a private man...and a lonely one, too. Jarvis knew very well the activities in the Mansion and he knew that Carol and Steve had gotten a lot closer recently. He wished them the best, though he had to admit that Ms. Marvel's personality seemed to clash with Captain America's.
"Damn it to hell!" Carol Danvers' strained voice echoed in the room. Her muscles, those that still worked anyway, were on fire from exertion. She was slumping in the bonds now, the mist having transformed most of her lower face into a mask of silver.
Carol stared at the blank face of Machine Man. The robotic hero stood stock-still in front of her, seemingly oblivious to her plight. He'd rebelled against Androne's control once before -- perhaps there was enough resistance left in him to aid her now. She wracked her brain, trying to remember the information from his Avengers dossier. "Aaron...? Can you hear me in there?"
Machine Man didn't reply.
"Aaron...You've always wanted to be more than a machine. If you let him control you like this, that's all you are. A machine. You have to exert your independence...Show him that you can stand on your own." Carol couldn't resist recognizing some her own feminist rhetoric shining through. In this case, though, she'd pull out all the stops.
Something seemed to stir within the robot. His metal frame shook with the strain. "I...will...too strong...must...resist...more than...machine."
Ms. Marvel watched as Machine Man suddenly jerked forward, sparks flying from the back of his head. For a moment she was afraid that she'd pushed him too far -- blown out his circuitry. But when the robot looked up, she knew that she'd been successful. Though his expressionless face showed no change, his demeanor was now altered.
"I owe you my thanks, Ms. Marvel." Machine Man extended his arms, stretching them to her bonds. With a twist and a click, she was free.
Ms. Marvel fell to the floor, looking up. Her metal limbs seemed to respond better now that she was free from the metal bands, but they were still sluggish. "Come on, Machine Man. Let's go show this jerk what we think of him!"
The Androne, though brilliant, was a pitiful fighter. Ms. Marvel stood over his unconscious form, her breath coming quick and hard.
Machine Man snaked an elongated arm around her, picking up one of the Androne's shattered spy cameras. "Are you well now, Ms. Marvel?"
The Female Fury nodded. "I think so. You're sure there's a cure for this mechanical condition?"
"Yes. Exposure to Infa-Red will cure your condition. Should I retrieve the apparatus?"
Carol nodded. She stepped towards one of the factory's windows and glanced out. The Androne had almost stolen her humanity from her...just as the Kree and the Brood had nearly done so in the past. She clenched her fist and set her jaw -- never again would she allow herself to be held in bondage. Never again.
Who will follow me? Well, Neil Gow of Crusaders fame is next on the list, I believe -- though there may or may not be fill-ins before his run begins. Neil is an excellent writer and he can be counted upon to treat Carol well.
Thanks for the support, everyone.