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[collab] Earth's Mightiest Defenders

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This story begins with seven women.

The first was a warrior at heart. The Lady Sif spent her days brawling and boasting, as the best warrior of Asgard was expected. She bested her foes with finesse and honor. She escorted men and women to the celebrations made in her name. She was the envy of all.

The second was a leader. Born Virginia, called Pepper, the noble Pepper Potts faced any challenge with a clear mind. She ran her company with all the skill and diplomacy of the best national leader. None could do better.

Third was Jane Foster, a scientist, a curious mind. She thought and puzzled and hypothesized. She tinkered and observed and solved. She looked to the stars and saw wonder in the complexities of the universe.

Fourth was the spy. Natasha Romanoff, a mystery to all but herself. She faded away when her job was done, only to reemerge when she was again needed. She had biting skill and a biting wit, and none could match her in agility.

Fifth of their number was Maria Hill. She brought military command. An expert in tactical maneuvers, she found the best way that would bring her team to success. Intimidating, but not feared, she kept strict hold over her agents.

Sixth was another scientist, Betty Ross. She looked inward, to the way bodies formed and changed, how best to heal and hurt through chemical reactions.

Seventh was the last of their number, Darcy Lewis, of no great knowledge or skill. But she had passion and cheer, which was sorely needed in the days to come.

The invasion began without any fanfare. It only took a man with ambition and a servant of the invaders providing him with the resources to achieve his skewed goals. The world was meant for him, the people for him, so he believed. And so others did, too, because humans are a mixture of compassion and greed. The Servant found for his masters a world he believed could not look outward, but only in at the harm they did each other.

The Lady Sif came from Asgard, a world that had long held connections to other worlds in vast space. Earth, where she chose to make a temporary home, was only just beginning to explore the farthest reaches of its solar system.

Earth was not prepared for the attacks. They came quietly. Unmanned exploration vessels went offline, but were explained away due to technical error. Stars flickered in and out without notice as the ships passed.

The first to find anything wrong was Jane Foster. Searching for the bridge that would lead her to the stars, she saw them flicker in and out. It was not random; there was a pattern, though she could not fully discern it.

She spoke with the Lady Sif. “Is this something you’ve seen before?”

Although Sif knew a great deal, having lived a thousand years, the phenomenon was unfamiliar to her. “Although I have heard of darkness descending in ancient times,” she told Jane, “I doubt those tales have any merit.”

Still, she promised to consult with the Lady Frigga, Weaver of the Tales of Asgard.

While she was gone, Jane did not waste time. She continued to study and observe the shifts she saw in the skies.

Her companion, Darcy Lewis, was less invested in the endeavor. “Do we have to look at all this again?” she said to Jane.

“Yes,” Jane replied. She explained in careful detail the science behind the process, but Darcy retained little of it. She did not care.

Word spread in certain channels of Jane’s work. It reached first the spy, Natasha Romanoff. Natasha brought this to her former director, Maria Hill. They recognized the potential for danger, having taken part in the Great Battle of New York, a different tale of glory and loss you may remember. Under orders, Natasha was to keep an eye on Jane. Meanwhile, Maria reached out to others.

She reached out first to Pepper Potts. She sought the hero known as Iron Man, but he had been missing for well over a week now.

“Think this could be related?” Maria asked.

“I know it is,” Pepper replied. “Where are you? I’ll send a plane, anything else you need.”

So it was that Pepper joined them. This gave Jane access to a better lab. And she saw, to her growing horror, that if something was headed their way, it was increasing in number and speed.

“The problem is I can’t pick up any kind of signal from them at all,” Jane said. “No radio, no light, nothing. But they don’t appear to be moving on a direct course to us, so I should be be able to find them, but I can’t. I can only tell they’re there at all because they block the stars, however briefly.”

The others felt the unease in the room and wondered. What could be coming? What would they face?

At last, Sif returned. With her, she brought the legends from a hundred different peoples. Although the details varied, the core remained the same.

In a time long forgotten, the darkness came. They sought to destroy what life had sprung up in the universe. They swarmed whole planets, wiping them out of existence.

But the light broke through, avenging gods who saved the peoples, who asked only for a little devotion in return.

The others considered these tales. They did not believe. They had spent generation after generation relying on one another, not divine intervention.

“Alien intervention,” Jane said. “There’s a difference. One is plausible.”

Sif, who understood what it was like to be considered a god, agreed they could not rest their hopes on outside intervention. If salvation was to be found, they would have to make it.

Earth was not defenseless. As proved by the Battle of New York, it had heroes to fight for it, both extraordinary and ordinary. However, along with the hero known as Iron Man, none of those extraordinary could be found.

Word of the last one, a giant known as the Hulk, finally reached the group. The news was brought by Betty Ross. She did not know them, and they did not know her, but she had witnessed the capture of the Hulk.

It was like a black spider, she told them, or a sea urchin, but one that flew in the air and disappeared. It snatched the Hulk with little trouble and vanished. He had been a month gone now.

The Lady Sif worried for her own friend, also taken, but she laughed at the oversight of the invaders. “They have not taken all the heroes,” she said.

Darcy named their group without a second thought. “We’ll be Earth’s Mightiest Defenders,” she declared, and so it was. Each woman agreed in turn. Together, they would protect their home.

Pepper and Maria planned. Jane and Betty poured over the legends, finding any hint of vulnerability, looking for truths. Sif returned to Asgard to gather her warriors. Natasha tapped into military resources. Darcy went to the internet.

Sif returned with the Warriors Three and a fleet of Valkyries, in return for a favor she granted them once long ago. Darcy approached Pepper with a list of Earth’s own reinforcements.

“It’s not just the Avengers out there,” she said..”Heroes have been cropping up like crazy.”

So it was that they were joined by a number of other humans. Among their number was a former pilot with cosmic powers, a woman who could change her size at will, a friend of Natasha’s who could take to the skies as a bird, and Pepper’s own dear friend, the War Machine.

Meanwhile, Jane and Betty found something. It wasn’t a guarantee, Jane warned them. They needed to experiment. Of Natasha, she asked if she could find a metal known as vibranium.

“I can,” Natasha said, and she was off, taking the man known as the Falcon with her.

Of Sif, they had a stranger request. Betty explained that in the legend of one people, they had managed to take down one of the darkness’s number. The legend said it was entombed, protected against time and decay by ancient magics.

“If there is indeed preserved tissue, I can see what we’re dealing with,” Betty said.”If they are organic or inorganic, if they are similar to you or me or something wholly different.”

Sif promised to do as asked, and once more, she left Earth.

The vibranium came first, in the form of a round shield emblazoned with a star.

Jane ran it through a series of tests. The shield resisted everything she threw at it. But finally, with one last test, it shattered, irreparable.

“What was that?” Darcy said in awe.

“Gamma radiation,” Jane said. “I think it’s what the light aliens used. The way some of the legends talk about how dangerous they are, morphing into something else, it has to be that.”

When Sif returned, she brought a small box. It appeared as wood, but it was something else entirely. Betty slid back the top panel, revealing a transparent forcefield. Underneath it shone a muted light that flickered and danced.

“It’s still alive,” Betty realized with growing horror.

With the alien captive, held for countless millennia, the scope changed. People shouted over one another as to whether they should kill and dissect it or keep it caged or return it to its people.

The arguments grew until Pepper Potts stood up and shouted over the masses that everyone was to shut up. The crowd fell silent.

“We are not killing it,” she said. “That is one thing we agree on right now.”

There were small protests, but those who knew of her had faith in her foresight.

She convened a meeting with the original seven, now officially called the Defenders, to discuss their next steps forward.

“We fight,” Sif said. No one disagreed. If the aliens did not stand down, they would do what was necessary.

Jane returned to producing large gamma weapons to take down the ships. Betty looked for a way to communicate with the creature.

Although the Defenders thought their battle existed solely in the stars, they were mistaken. The Servant heard of them and their attempts at resistance. He would change all that.

He came to them as a friend, mild-mannered, charming, offering to help. Help he did. When he saw that one of his masters was held captive, he dropped a clue which allowed Betty to unlock her mystery.

With the help of Jane, she designed a small contraption that was compatible with the pure energy that comprised the creature. She gave it a way to move, to speak. She used a force field similar to that of the box to hold the creature inside. The contraption had arms and an overly large head, but other than that, it was a shapeless lump.

They all gathered around to watch the transfer. With a flash of light, it was over in an instant. The Defenders watched as slowly, the alien moved its new arms.

Darcy leaned over to ask Jane, “But how will we understand it? There’s not some kind of universal translator in there, is there?”

Sif laid her worries to rest. She spoke the All-Speak, as all Asgardians did.

But it did not matter, because when the alien spoke, they all understood.

It was a hissing in their minds, and it spoke as if it knew them. It spoke to them of desire and need.

To Jane and Betty, it spoke of discovery. It spoke of exploration and knowledge. It spoke of solutions and cures and what together they could achieve.

To Sif, it spoke of glory beyond her wildest dreams. It spoke of the battles she could find in the cosmos if she led their armies. It spoke of her own name told in legends for millennia.

To Pepper, it spoke of power. It spoke of the ability to change, to recreate the structures of society. It spoke of government and how far she could go.

To Maria, it spoke of rebuilding. It spoke of safety and stability. It spoke of never having to fear, never having to doubt her people.

To Natasha, it spoke of freedom. It spoke of erasing her past. It spoke of finding herself, of being whoever she wanted to be.

And last, to Darcy, it spoke of purpose. It spoke of dreams coming true, of fame and love. It spoke of security and happiness.

All this, they wanted. All this, they listened to the alien describe how it would help each of them in achieving those goals.

It was tempting.

The offer was shattered with one phrase.

“What’s the catch?” said Darcy.

The alien assured them the price was not high, not anything more than they had already given. They simply asked for devotion as it had been given to their ancient enemies, enemies who had chosen to shape the people without their choice.

“Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t,” Pepper said. “Either way, we’d tell them the same thing now. We will not give up our freedom.”

Freedom, the alien said, was what they could have only if they submitted. They would grant the humans whatever they wanted.

The Defenders locked the alien in the lab. It was unable to move any distance in its makeshift suit, so they had no fear.

They spent long hours discussing what course to take.

Through observations, Betty hypothesized that the aliens were somehow psychically linked. Once the alien had left its former prison, its companions were aware of it.

“So we return it to them,” Pepper said, “demand our people in exchange, and tell them to move on.”

Sif rested her hand upon her sword. “And if they refuse?”

“We fight,” Maria said. Her face was grim. “We can’t afford not to.”

So it was they completed their preparations. Gamma guns and particle blasters were developed within just days; with Pepper’s resources, they had produced many by the end of the week. Sif took her Valkyries above the earth, in ships strong enough to cross space. Pepper ordered her Stark high altitude jets to be equipped and ready for flight at a moment’s notice.

Luck was on their side. The Defenders learned of the Servant. He had slipped, sending an encoded message that was intercepted by Jane. He tried to run, but Natasha used her network to track him down. With a deadly expertise, she took both him and his accomplice out. The world at large did not know the true reason the prominent politician and businessman was dead. But that was not Natasha’s concern.

The darkness came. For a reason only they knew, they came uncloaked. Pepper, speaking on behalf of the Defenders and on behalf of Earth, laid out their terms. Those the darkness had kidnapped would be returned. Earth would give up its captive. Then the darkness would leave Earth alone. Humans did not want them around, not for what they were asking.

She, along with the other Defenders, were invited on board to one of the ships. Inside the spider-like structure, it was dark, hard to see. The aliens stepped out, dressed in suits of their own, like giant spiders.

Why do you reject us, they asked.

Because we refuse to be ruled by others, the Defenders replied. Because we pursue our own dreams, because we control our own lives. We will not be beholden to you.

The darkness, using their psychic bonds, entered the minds of the Defenders.

No one to this day knows what went on during that time. The Defenders fought back, though, whatever the darkness tried to do to them, to their mines, until they were cast out, back to Earth, along with their kidnapped heroes.

The alien they held disappeared. Then the first shots were fired.

It was a fierce battle. Sif, Maria, and Natasha took to the Valkyrie ships. Pepper donned a suit of metal that allowed her to soar into the sky and cut down low flyers entering the atmosphere.

From below, the other three worked to protect the people. They monitored ground defense systems and led evacuations.

The fighting lasted half a day, a short time to some, ages for others. But when the shots settled, the darkness realized they had underestimated Earth. The darkness was not yet strong enough to spread its influence through this galaxy. So it retreated, back to the rim of the galaxy, where it could reassess, regroup, and strike again.

But that would not be during the lifetime of the Defenders. It would not be for centuries. They found their loved ones, worn, tired, but still whole after their imprisonment. They helped with cleanup efforts where the battle had come too close to the surface. But they had won, with few casualties.

They remembered those who had fallen. Sif carried the Valkyries who had given their lives back to Asgard, where they would join their fallen sisters in Valhalla. The others attended memorials and services to honor their dead.

Once the war had passed, over but not forgotten, it was Darcy who proposed they stay together.

“We make a pretty good team,” she said. “We can be like an all chick rock group, but with superheroes.”

The Defenders laughed at her enthusiasm, but what she said rang true. They had worked well together, and, even now, though they went their separate ways, they were still the Earth’s Mightiest Defenders.