Issue No. 3
February 2003

Loose Endings: Part Two

"Deeper into the Heart of Darkness"

Writer: Justin Blum

Homeworld.

Or at least, the planet that used to be named Homeworld. The name has changed, but the planet remains the same stubbornly schizophrenic divided house it has ever been. Imagine a planet that is half red light district and half new-age religious zealot haven and you've begun to grasp at least the surface dichotomy of Homeworld. Most visitors will not stay long enough to truly comprehend the synergistic relationship between the two halves, or the long, convoluted history of the planet's one-time role as the stronghold of the galaxy-spanning Universal Church of Truth. Quasar finds that his mind is still reeling from the miniature history lesson imparted by Epoch just prior to his cosmic goddaughter sending him quantum hopping this way. The planet, itself, is actually of little significance these days in the grand scheme of things. A port in the storm for galactic refugees who are too weird to fit in anyplace else.

As he decelerates to a speed that won't wreak havoc with the world's ecosystem and he punctures the stratosphere, Quasar puts his quantum bands to the task of isolating a certain unique form of cosmic radiation. According to Epoch, it should lead him directly to his contact, though Epoch was sketchy on the exact details of why. It doesn't take the bands long to zero in on the source and Quasar passively allows the bands to tug him in the appropriate direction as he, tourist-like, observes the scenery--what little of it there is.

Everything tends to look the same on Homeworld--at least in the red light district half of things. Despite a glitzy façade, it boasts very little architectural diversity and little structural imagination. Everything is functional and uniform, albeit sparkly, and the land has been developed to the point where there isn't a single natural landmark left. The fundamental sameness aggravated by the unceasing influx of sundry off-worlders would, typically, make locating a single humanoid male a supreme effort in futility--the proverbial needle in a haystack. As it is, the cosmic radiation trail works as well as a set of bread crumbs leading right up to the point where they've fallen from some everlasting slice of bread being haphazardly and constantly masticated, to employ an overlong and awkward metaphor.

Alighting amidst the madness of what would appear to be the Times Square of Homeworld--towering video displays and advertisements abounding--the quantum bands urge Quasar in the direction of a rundown saloon that is like something out of some science-fiction/western hybrid film. Drawing little more than a shifty, sidelong glance from the mammoth bouncer standing sentinel outside the front door, he enters and allows his eyes to scan the room. The clientele is, to say the least, diverse. If Quasar's dramatic drop to the surface, in his loud red and blue costume, failed to elicit any stares, it must only be because the residents of Homeworld have become completely desensitised to weirdness in all its many forms. As he tries to imagine a world in which there is no such thing as shock value, his eyes fall upon the one who he figures to be his contact. To be certain, he manifests a pair of goggles that limit his vision to only those wavelengths of energy given off by the particular cosmic radiation he has in mind. The diminutive form of his subject burns radioactive green amidst a sea of formless grey and brown flecks. Dematerialising his goggles, he crosses the room and stands behind a small crowd of scantily-clad, loose-woman types who have begun assuming an entourage function for the clearly decadent midget. As Quasar attempts to nudge his way inside the circle, he listens to the man regale them all with tales of bravado-dripping heroism. Sliding toward the inside, Quasar decides to interrupt after getting the strong impression that he might never squeeze a word in edgewise if he waits for a natural break in the conversation.

"Pip the Troll, I presume?" Quasar says.

"And proud of it," the troll says, but mostly ignoring the introduction of Quasar's presence into his milieu. "So anyway, I was just getting to the point where I single-handedly fought off three of the largest members of the Tarkazian Triad you've ever laid yer peepers on."

"Look," Quasar interjects, "my name's Quasar--from Earth. I really need to talk to you. Can't you tell them about these Triad guys later?"

"Earth, huh? I've got one word for you: boring!" but it still seems as though something in the mention of Earth caught his knee-jerk attention. "Tell you what, Quasod, buy me my next drink--then we can talk."

"Uhhh…" Quasar pats at random locations on his jumpsuit. "I…uhh…must have left my wallet in my other costume?"

"Oh, a pauper, eh? Beat it, buddy. Unless you want me to get rough." Pip's entourage is appropriately impressed by his showmanship. They giggle with delight.

"Hey now!" Quasar, not yet having adopted the unshockable disinterest of the rest of the crowd, registers his utter surprise at such shabby treatment. "Look, it's not like that. I'm trying to get in touch with your friends Adam Warlock and Gamora, that's all. I was led to believe you could take me to them."

"If that's what you want, it's going to take more than a free drink." This again sets the entourage off tittering, and Pip returns to his story, an implied dismissal. "So anyway, like I said, these Tarkazians were UG-LY--"

"How can I convince you to help me? This is really important."

"Let me tell you a little something about my pal Adam--he's kind of a private person, you know what I mean? He doesn't like being bothered unless it's to save the universe or something like that. Introversion sort of comes with the territory. Don't look at me--I'm just telling you how it is. Save the universe a few times and maybe you'll understand."

Quasar feels himself becoming indignant. "Look, pipsqueak--as a matter of fact, I have saved the universe a few times! I'm the Protector of the Universe for cryin' out loud! Quasar! You really haven't heard of me?" Quasar is not such a chronic high-roader that he doesn't still have an ego to bruise.

"Don't take it personally, chum. I've got a saying I like to live by: if you don't got booze, cigars, or long legs and a nice butt…get lost. That reminds me of this time I had to save my old pal Adam from the lascivious clutches of the Matriarch of the Universal Church of Truth--"

A ferociously primal growl of a voice cuts into Pip's bombastic reminiscence. "Troll!" it says, and all sound in the room is instantly negated as though the voice were a pall dropped over all other conversation. The voice steps forward through the scattering of Pip's fickle entourage. It belongs to a monster. For any citizen of Earth, there really is no accurate frame for comparison, but try to imagine a combination of crocodile, rhinoceros, and perhaps a snake thrown in for good measure, all done up like some sort of Island of Dr. Moreau reject in a ghastly humanoid package. "What was it you were saying just now about single-handedly accounting for three," he pauses and cocks his head rapidly, insect-like, "ugly Tarkazian Triad members?" Two identical patchwork monstrosities immediately stand up from their tables and hover behind the leader.

Pip, oddly enough, seems entirely unphased. In point of fact, he seems to be enjoying himself.

"Back off, tall, dark, and scaly. You don't know who you're dealing with. Why, do you know who this is standing right next to me?" He gestures with his stogie in Quasar's direction.

"Do you think it matters to us, Troll?"

"You obviously don't know then. Say hello to Cuisinart."

"Quasar actually," Quasar says weakly.

"Whatever. This guy's the Protector of the Universe, and if you harm a single hair on my noggin, he's going to be very, very unhappy."

The three Tarkazians take a moment to exchange a series of significant glances. In the meantime, Quasar leans into whispering range of Pip the Troll.

"What are you doing? I didn't come here to fight!" he hisses.

"You wanted to know how you can get me to take you to see Adam and Gam--here's your chance, buddy boy." He exhales smoke from the side of his mouth, and it caresses the invisible biofield enveloping Quasar's body.

There is a creak in the floorboards from behind, and Quasar barely has time to turn around before a heavy, steel table slams down on his head.

The biofield takes the brunt of the impact and transfers it through to the floor. Unfortunately, the saloon is rather shoddily built, and Quasar breaks through the floorboards and drops into the cellar, landing on his backside. A moment later, Pip is right next to him, which is at least slightly disorienting, because a second ago Quasar was alone in the cellar. He begins to wonder if he might have momentarily lost consciousness.

"You call this protection?" Pip says. "You should have seen that palooka sneaking up behind you from a mile away. Sheesh. I'm dealing with a blasted amateur." As he spouts his verbal abuse, the four Tarkazians, the first three plus the one who likes to throw tables, pour through the only door into the cellar, and begin to encircle them.

"You want a show?" Quasar's eyes light up and allows a devilish smile to crease his face. "Just watch this, small fry. I'll give you a show that'll bring the house down." He claps his hands together and when he draws his arms to full wingspan, he has materialized a solid, yellow rod between his palms. At this point, all hell breaks loose.

The four giants converge on them brandishing brutal, medievalesque, blunt instruments. Fortunately, his S.H.I.E.L.D. training in defending against multiple combatants kicks in like a reflex and he flips the staff forward, grabbing it from one end and jabbing it roughly into the stomach of the closest and most aggressive-looking of the Tarkazians. As it doubles over, clutching its solar plexus in pain, Quasar brings the end of the staff up into its chin, which sends it reeling backwards. Just to prove he never does anything half way, Quasar swipes the legs out from beneath the Tarkazian as it stumbles backwards, and the brute falls on its head, cracking the cement.

Pip is suddenly standing behind the unconscious Tarkazian. Quasar must be losing it, because he swears Pip just popped out of thin air. The other three pause, immobile and impassive, like robots, looking at their fallen comrade.

"Ouch, Pip says, raising the beast's limp head with both hands, then dropping it back down to smack against the concrete. "You know that had to hurt."

The other three spring immediately to life again, swinging their bone-demolishing weapons at Quasar, who deflects each attack with a nimble flick of his rod. Playing the defensive is familiar and comfortable territory. Normally, in a situation such as this one, he would simply wrap them all up in a nice big ball of energy and take them to the nearest holding cell. End of story. No sweat. But he can tell that there is something more to this brouhaha than defensive or reactive tactics. The troll is judging him, and whether he likes it or not, he has to play this one out on a somewhat even keel if he ever wants to curry Pip's favour. So as he allows the three attackers to drive him backwards in Pip's direction, Quasar calls out:

"Can you fight?"

"I'm a lover, pal. Not a fighter," Pip quips, dashing his stogie out over the gaping mouth of the prostrate Tarkazian.

Visualizing a suit of flexible, troll-sized body armour, Quasar wills the quantum bands to construct the outfit around Pip's body.

"How about now?" Quasar asks, twirling his staff like a baton in his right hand and backing all three of the still-conscious Tarkazians up two or three steps.

"Well…if you insist." He grins from ear to pointed ear beneath the yellowish transparent helmet and flicks the cigar to the floor. "Nice duds. How about a weapon?" A club appears in his hands. "You're quick. Just my style, too," he says, testing the heft, swinging at an imaginary baseball. "So what do you say, goldielocks? You take the two on the left, I'll take the one on the right?"

"I say it's party time."

In two seconds, Pip has popped into existence--he must have jumped somehow--directly behind and above the head of the one on the right. Hanging in midair in momentary defiance of gravity, he brings the club down straight on its head, which only serves to make the Tarkazian madder. Pip drops lithely to the floor and takes a circumspect step backwards. He says something about the Tarkazian's mother, but Quasar can't quite make it out. Pip, apparently, can handle himself, and the combat suit should be able to withstand anything short of a nuclear detonation. This leaves Quasar with only two combatants to worry about, so he gives them his full attention.

"Okay, fellas," Quasar says, "new game." He breaks the staff in two and draws the two halves apart. They are connected by a quantum constructed strand of yellow rawhide. He was never much with a staff anyway. Nunchaku were always his weapon of choice.

The two Tarkazian's attack with renewed vigour and Quasar initially backpedals in order to divert the force of their attacks. One of them thrusts a sort of studded mace towards his head, forcing him to arc backwards, limbo-style. This allows the Tarkazian to over commit, as the mace gently grazes against the biofield terminating two inches above his nose. Swinging the nunchaku over the mace's shaft, he snags the weapon and jerks it down and to the right as he slides to the left. The wielder's weight shifts awkwardly with the weapon, eliminating the Tarkzian's centre of balance, and Quasar sends it flying toward the nearest rock wall. Not hard enough to do any damage, but enough to get that one off-kilter and out of his hair for the moment.

The second, sensing an opening, attempts to close quarters. These Tarkazians are not completely stupid. This one saw the futility of fighting with weapons and decided, not unwisely, that it stood a greater chance wrestling, where it could use its enormous bulk and strength to its advantage. Keenly aware of his disadvantage in a grapple, Quasar decides to play dirty. He snaps the nunchaku at the Tarkazian's left knee, then at its right knee in rapid succession. This drops it to the ground long enough to allow him to flip himself up over the shoulders of the crouching beast-man where, from the other side, he side-kicks it in the small of its back as it stands up, sending it stumbling, out of control, headlong into the cellar wall. It collapses limply. At the same time, the other has recovered from its tumble and stalks angrily in Quasar's direction. Running a hand along the length of the nunchaku, the weapon looses its girth underneath his palm and eventually becomes a lariat. This is an untested trick. He tosses it over the frame of the advancing beast and allows it to tighten. The beast, however, seems to know exactly what to do, hooking the line with his hand and jerking Quasar along with it, swinging him into the wall. Then into another wall. Then another. Each time leaving a Quasar-shaped impression in the rock like some Wile E. Coyote cartoon.

"Note to self," Quasar says, as he pulls himself out of his most recent rock impression. "I'm putting the lariat trick into the category of 'bad ideas'." The rope disintegrates and Pip streaks by, being chased by the only other still-conscious Tarkazian, and incessantly taunting it. "How are you doing, Pipster? You need a hand?"

"Nah. I got it covered."

Quasar shrugs and advances towards his Tarkazian. "Okay, pal…I've got two words for you: let's dance!"

He jump towards the Tarkazian and plants a double kick in the stomach, driving it back a solid metre. He follows this with a roundhouse kick which, surprisingly enough, the Tarkazian catches. Ensnared in this awkward and prone position, only one option comes immediately to mind. Borrowing the Tarkazian's centre of gravity, he swings his other leg up into the air in a sort of leap of faith. If he misses and the Tarkazian does not let go, he is probably going to crash down on his head. Luckily, he connects with its crocodilian snout, causing it to let go, and he drops back to the ground only slightly off balance. From behind him, Pip's taunts are getting nearer, and he spins in place to find both Pip and the other Tarkazian barrelling down upon him. Tarkazians to the left of me. Tarkazians to the right of me. Pip springs forward and gets a hold of Quasar's arm, as much as possible, at any rate, from outside the biofield, and before Quasar has a moment to understand what is about to happen, the two of them are standing in the opposite corner of the room and watching the two Tarkazians plow into each other like runaway freight trains. They both crash to the floor with a thud, leaving Pip and Quasar to survey the scope of their destruction.

"How did you do that?" Quasar asks, dissolving the troll's battle armour into a rapidly evaporating gas.

"Are you asking me how I just teleported us across the room?"

"That's what I'm wondering. I mean…one second we're there, the next second we're here. I've seen it all, but my mind is boggling."

"It ain't so hard for a guy who used to possess an infinity gem."

"Used to?"

"Used to. The space gem. Let's just say the radiation from the gem left me with some pretty nifty talents."

"Ahh…radiation. Well, that solves another mystery."

"What mystery is that?"

"Why you're radioactive."

"Oh." Pip walks to one of the unconscious Tarkazians and lifts a purse of money off of it.

"You're stealing from them?" Quasar says.

"Sure. Why not? Ain't nothing free in this galaxy."

"I feel so dirty."

"You'll get used to it," Pip says off-handedly. "Come on back upstairs. I'll buy you a drink and you can tell me why you want to talk to Adam and Gam."


The Heart of Darkness is appropriately named. There are very few places in the living universe that exhibit the properties of a truly lightless abyss. The Heart of Darkness, however, exists outside of the living universe in a pocket dimension of reality. Somewhere within this vasty ocean of solid black exists a beacon of light emanating from something akin to a large, marble gazebo. From a seat in this gazebo, a succession of guardians, anchors of the universe's reality, have sat, eternally vigilant in their responsibility. The current reality anchor is a 2 and a half year-old Earth girl named Atleza. Amongst other things, the Heart of Darkness is the topic of conversation between Pip and Quasar over a couple of rounds of beer. This is about how long it takes for Pip to reach a point of suitable conviction that delivering Quasar to the Heart of Darkness is the right thing to do. The troll seems to be particularly entertained by the mention of Thanos, and Quasar gets the distinct impression that there is actually something of admiration in Pip for the mad Titan. This should hardly surprise him given Pip's less than reputable behaviour, but it does, regardless.

When it is time to go, Quasar lets down his quantum force field and Pip takes a hold of his forearm. The two of them are suddenly no longer in the bar and are instead standing at the fringe of what appears to be some sort of shrine. Sarcophagi line the circumference of the giant circular gazebo, which probably has a diameter of about 50 yards, half the size of a football field. And at the back edge is erected a giant throne, meant to accommodate a humanoid who might stand about ten feet in stature. But instead, a little girl sits upon it. On the girl's left, leaning over her in conversation, stands Adam Warlock. Quasar's experience with Adam Warlock is limited at best, having crossed paths only once or twice during the sort of cosmic crises that don't typically lend themselves to getting-to-know-you chats. Quasar's experience with Adam Warlock's "sister", however, is extensive.

The Warlock brood were not born in any conventional sense; they were genetically engineered in a laboratory by a group known as The Hive, which was attempting to create the perfect man. They may have just succeeded when they hatched Adam Warlock from his original cocoon, but Warlock, only called Him at the time, immediately destroyed their laboratory and became a cosmic wanderer. The Hive later tried a second time, attempting to now create the perfect female thinking a woman would be more controllable. This female, named Her, exhibited much the same behaviour as her brother and struck out to find her own place in the universe. She quickly decided that her role was to reproduce and become the matriarch of a long line of perfect beings. This is about the time she came into Quasar's life. Selecting Quasar as a mate didn't quite pan out, but a sort of close friendship evolved over the period of his life in which Her, now calling herself Kismet, gave up her goal of motherhood and followed him around like a lost puppy. Apart from the common ancestry, the physically perfect, golden-skinned bodies, and, apparently, a penchant for dressing in red and black, Quasar does not know how much Adam Warlock and Kismet actually have in common. It is probably best not to assume anything, he thinks.

On the girl's--Atleza's--right stands Gamora, the most dangerous woman in the universe, or so they say. This one, to Quasar, is a completely unknown quantity. Just a slightly lighter shade of green than Quasar's friend the She-Hulk, Gamora is built like a brick outhouse and is wearing, perhaps, the sexiest outfit Quasar has ever seen. A fishnet ensemble from shoulders to feet, with a v-shaped opening at the front drawing to a point about two inches below her navel. Over her pelvic region, draped from a gold medallion, is a golden loincloth. The medallion itself is strung upon a linked belt adorning her sturdy waist. But truly, one would be hard-pressed to notice anything about her apart from her head of luxurious black hair, which hangs to roughly the back of her knees, feathering out about her shoulders and back like some sort of fantastic mane. Gamora is, to be sure, beautiful, even if incredibly intimidating. Something about her bearing puts him in mind of Thanos and his almost reptilian stillness. In a flash, he imagines either of them could strike at you before you even had a chance to realise it. Almost a highly controlled, murderous instinct, a spring being held coiled at the point of maximum potential energy.

And yet, despite all that, as Warlock and Gamora move from the throne and advance toward Quasar and Pip, she takes Warlock's hand in a simple gesture of a clearly profound love, and the two step forward, gracefully, linked together like a pair of cosmic monarchs. It is, perhaps naturally, Pip who speaks first.

"Howdy, folks. It's been a while. I like what you've done with the place. It's very homey," he says, extracting a cigar from the front pocket of his jacket and lighting it with a match struck on the bottom of his naked foot. "Brought a new pal o' mine to see you."

"Quasar," Warlock says. "We've met. Briefly. In another life time. For me anyway." The hint of a smile flickers at the edge of his lips.

"That's right! I thought I heard something around the cosmic campfire about you having died."

Gamora speaks up. "Adam has a habit of doing that." She shakes Quasar's hand and her grip is like a steel vice. "What brings you to the Heart of Darkness, Quasar?"

"Thanos."

Warlock and Gamora pass a casual look back and forth and Quasar begins to wonder if he is the only cosmic type who is ever impressed by anything anymore.

"What is my father up to now?" Gamora asks.

"That's just the thing. I don't know."

Warlock says: "Typical. We should introduce you to Atleza, first, and then you can tell us all about it."

Atleza turns out to be perfectly remarkable. Though she has the physical age of a two and a half year-old girl, she seems to actually be imbued with a form of cosmic awareness. The similarities between Atleza and his own cosmic goddaughter, Epoch, are not lost on Quasar. The major difference being that Atleza seems intrinsically much more human. She is, in actuality, a product of the human race of course, but it is more than that. Atleza seems to require some sort of affection and instruction, which Warlock and Gamora dole out evenly. This is a passionate cosmic entity, who loves life, and is loved in return by an unlikely pair of surrogate parents.

Introductions now out of the way, it takes Quasar about fifteen minutes to fill them in on the entirety of the situation, during which time everybody sits at rapt attention, except for Pip, who has heard it all already and is reading a comic book and occasionally making little whistling noises to himself.

"So like I said, I don't know what his game is, but I'd feel like a heel if it turns out he's telling the truth."

"Gamora," Adam Warlock says, "What do you think? You were, after all, raised by the man."

"It's funny: Thanos saved me from the genocide of my race only to turn me into the ultimate killing machine--his private assassin--subtly altering my mind the whole time to keep me from realising his nihilistic intentions. If I told you that I resent him for making me into his unwitting pawn, it would be an understatement. And yet," she pauses contemplatively, "in a lot of ways, he was a good, loving father. For one thing, he taught me how to take care of myself. If I've since been able to find my place in the universe, it's largely due to the strength and independence he nurtured within me. It sounds corny, but he took good care of me, whatever the full extent of his intentions. He would even sometimes tell me these fantastic bedtime stories…" she trails off.

"Thanos," Warlock picks up the conversation, "is a living paradox. Or perhaps a set of paradoxes wrapped up in one giant conundrum. Do not think for a second that even Thanos understands himself, for that is the greatest mystery to him--though he may not always realise it. My personal belief is that his mad drive to unravel the secrets of the universe is, in essence, his method of self-exploration. That every single action is part of an almost pitiable soul-searching quest to determine why somebody like himself was born into this universe."

"The thing about Thanos," Pip says, putting away his comic, "is that he doesn't have a 'bad idea meter'. Like that debacle a few months back with his escaped doppelgangers--the guy will do all sorts of nutso stuff just to do it.* If you tell him it can't or shouldn't be done, it just makes him want to do it more. The guy's a crackpot if you ask me, but ya gotta hand it to him--he does have a sense of style. I like playin' on his team."

*See the Infinity Abyss mini-series, by the cosmically talented Jim Starlin. - Blum

"It has been my role," Adam Warlock says, "to repeatedly encounter Thanos--primarily during his nihilism days--just as it has been my role to, as Pip says it, play on his team. In all of these dealings, the only thing I have learned for certain is that, deep down, he has some sense of…I hesitate to call it decency, but let us say nobility. In all his many villainous capacities, it has always been Thanos, himself, who sowed the seeds of his own ultimate defeat. That has to give you cause to wonder…. His excesses are clearly unforgivable, but there is nevertheless something sympathetic about him. But then again, I've often been called cold and inhuman, myself. Perhaps this is why it is always me who must deal with the Titan. Perhaps my role as a cosmic saviour, of which I have often pondered the meaning, is as basic as my ability to identify with monsters."

"Thanos isn't a monster," Gamora says, "and neither are you, Adam. He is only a man. A flawed one. Unfortunately for everybody, the universe often pays the price for the flaw that Thanos consciously or subconsciously recognizes in himself."

"I gotta tell you, guys, "Quasar says, "I came here to be enlightened, and now I'm actually more confused. Look, just tell me this--do you think he's on the level? About this planet. About Magneto. About Kayla. Any of it."

"If you mean," Gamora says, "is he telling the truth…. Yes, probably. He would have no reason not to. Whether or not he's telling the whole truth is the game he always makes you play. But then again, he has calmed down a lot recently, so…yeah, it's anybody's guess, but I'd say he's on the level. To be honest, he just hasn't been his devious self ever since the whole Infinity Gauntlet ordeal."

"The what?"

"Never mind. The point is that the Thanos you met earlier today is a kinder, gentler Thanos than he once was, for whatever that's worth. In a strange way, he may honestly be interested in helping you in exchange for you helping him. As Adam was saying, he has an odd and unpredictable sense of nobility."

"But let's be honest, Quasar," Adam says, "you didn't come here strictly for information. You came here for spiritual guidance."

"Huh?"

"You feel responsible for what happened to Kayla. I can see it in your soul."

"That's because I am responsible for what happened to her! If it weren't for this whole Protector of the Universe shtick, she'd be safe and sound right now back in New York. As it is, she made the biggest mistake anybody can make--getting close to me."

"I recognise these feelings because I have felt them all myself. You need permission."

"Permission?"

"To put the Universe, which it is your charge to protect, in potential jeopardy for the sake of love. You fear this is a loose end that if left untended, could unravel everything you believe. And you want permission to tie it up."

"Well, I don't really think it's that simple--"

"Perhaps not, but in any case, this is a dilemma we cannot solve for you. I will say this, however." And Warlock takes Gamora's hand once again and draws her closer to him. Their bodies press against each other, this golden god and this green, robust instrument of death, and she looks to him with a smile upon her full lips. "For quite a long time, I thought that my lot in life was to have no life of my own. To selflessly sacrifice all in fighting a succession of cosmic crises. It is only now, after all this time, that I have discovered that love, itself, is the binding force in the universe. That a man is really not a man at all without the completion that comes from another. And that only when one is capable of loving, does one truly have something to fight for."

"Basically," Gamora says, "What Adam's saying is that you'll have to follow your heart on this one."

"Sheesh. Way to put the ball in my court, but I guess you're right. But still…in a way," Quasar says with some resignation, "that's just what I was hoping you wouldn't tell me." The quantum bands notify Quasar that he is receiving a communication from Epoch, and he looks down into one of the gems, where Epoch's image is resolving itself. "Excuse me guys, it looks as though I'm getting paged. Epoch, you can contact me here?"

"I did not think I could until I attempted to do it."

"That's fantastic. So what have you got for me?"

"Thanos was for the most part telling you the truth."

"For the most part?"

"He underestimated the planetary population. It is more like seven hundred million."

"So in other words, all of these people are going to die if we don't do something."

"Unless they can be evacuated, which would be difficult, I would say that that assessment is correct."

"Cripes! Thanks, Epoch. I'll catch up with you later." The image of Epoch dissolves from the jewel in his quantum band and Quasar returns his attention to Warlock, Gamora, Pip, and Atleza. "I guess that's my cue to split, folks."

"So you have decided then?" Warlock asks.

"I guess you could say that."

"Don't leave us in suspense, Quasar," Gamora says. "What did you decide?"

"I've decided to follow my heart," he stalls in order to consider his next words, "but that doesn't mean I'm going to abandon my brain."

To be continued…


Next Issue: The Master of Magnetism is back! You won't want to miss it.