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Geoff Johns (writer), Olivier Coipel (penciler), Andy Lanning (inker), RS and Comicraft’s Albert Deschesne (letters), Chris Sotomayor (colors), Marc Sumerak, Andy Schmidt (asst. editors), Tom Brevoort (editor), Joe Quesada (editor in chief), Bill Jemas (president).
The Red Zone chemical continues to sweep through South Dakota, killing all who get in its way. Warbird leads the efforts to evacuate as many people as possible from the area and get them medical treatment, but insists that they can’t keep running, or the American Midwest will be destroyed. Meanwhile, Jack of Hearts tries to resuscitate Jennifer Walters, as she has lost her She-Hulk powers and is dying. She suddenly turns into a monstrous being and smashes Jack. The medical personnel discover that Dell Rusk, the U.S. Secretary of Defense is behind it all, and that the project to create the Red Zone virus was covered up and funded by AIDS research. Black Panther and Iron Man are trapped within a compound in South Dakota, and use the Iron Man armor to break free. Dell Rusk shoots the Falcon, who is trying to find a means of stopping the virus, and Henry Gyrich realizes far too late what has happened – Dell Rusk is the Red Skull.
Custer State Park, South Dakota:As a whirlwind of red plague comes hurtling toward the makeshift medical camp set up for the victims of the Red Zone virus. The doctors and available staff run for cover, leaving the dead and other victims behind to shrivel at the exposure of the virus.
St. Mary’s Hospital, Pierre:Warbird and a team of doctors view the situation and review the details. 1,200 are now dead, and at this point, one quarter of South Dakota is consumed by the plague, and by the end of tomorrow, if it continues it’s spread, half of the Midwest will be infected. Warbird orders the doctors to move the wounded further away, but the doctors insist that moving them would kill most of them at this point. Warbird asks why Lieutenant Robinson has pulled his team back to the hospital, and he reports that they were almost obliterated by the cloud. Warbird tells him that they can’t keep running.
Custer State Park:Jack of Hearts falls over Jennifer Walters’ dying body, screaming for help from anyone available. Jennifer has lost her She-Hulk form, and her suit has been torn. Suddenly, her suit tears wide open, and a much larger, angrier She-Hulk rises to her feet and stares Jack down.
St. Mary’s:Vision returns to the hospital to report that the A.I.M. soldiers that had previously attacked are now dead, as they has used a grenade and blew a wall open, exposing themselves to the virus. Scarlet Witch looks at Vision, and tells him that there is blood on his hands. Vision says that today, he is more human than ever. A doctor runs in to speak to the Avengers, and lets them know that this military installation and Dell Rusk are responsible for creating and releasing the Red Zone plague, and that everyone working on it thought that they were working on a vaccine for H.I.V. With all the money that went into it, they probably could’ve found a cure, the doctor says. Captain America thinks about the name Rusk for a moment.
Custe State Park:She-Hulk is enraged, and growls like an animal as she hurls Jack through a wall. Vision and Wanda arrive to help, asking if Jack hurt her. She-Hulk gets angrier, and sends them all flying with a thundering clap of her hands. Vision tells Wanda to get out before her suit is torn, and he uses his molecular phasing ability to try to slow down She-Hulk’s heart. It has no visible effect. Vision increases his density to incredible proportions and prepares to fight, but She-Hulk tears into Vision anyway, ripping his body open. Jennifer screams out that she hurts, and that she wants Banner. Wanda is injured by the ordeal, and begins trying to drag Vision back to the hospital for help.
St. Mary’s Hospital:Warbird orders a regiment to divert from the crisis area, as they can’t afford any more losses. She tells the voice on the other line that she will be sending in clean up crews for the dead when it is all taken care of. Carol sits down and holds her head in her hands for a moment, but Tom Hawkins walks in. Carol tells him that she hates giving cold orders to people. She lets him know that she will put the containment suit back on and go back upstairs in a moment. Hawkins says that she handles the Feds like a pro, and Carol explains that she used to be one, and in fact, she was working for NASA when the whole thing got started – that is, when she acquired her powers. Tom says that the powers are why she decided to take another step of responsibility. Warbird says that she doesn’t know if the Avengers are a step up, but they are different. The Avengers don’t seek to change the world, only to protect it. She goes on to say that her father once told her that women have no place in the Air Force, which is why she joined them in the first place. She says that some days, though, she wishes she didn’t have powers, and was just an ordinary woman doing ordinary things. Her communicator buzzes, and Scarlet Witch calls for help.
Elsewhere:Black Panther wakes up in a cellblock alongside Tony Stark. Panther asks where they are, and Tony says that the more important question is why. T’Challa says that they can expose America, making themselves a threat. Tony says that this isn’t about an evil empire, and ridicules him for calling Tony blind. Tony is irritated by the Wakandan king’s attitude, and asks why Panther has such a problem with Tony – because he’s rich, handsome, or successful – because he isn’t going to apologize for any of it. Panther says that he is beyond jealousy, as he is the ruler of a nation that prides itself on culture and technology. Panther starts pawing the wall, looking for some kind of structural weakness. He tells Tony that there is no time to discuss insecurities, as they have to get out and help the Avengers. Tony says that he’s been held captive by terrorists before, and unlike Panther, he is prepared. Tony pushes a button on his watch, and immediately, the Iron Man armor flies out of the Stark International headquarters in New York and flies at top speed towards South Dakota.
The Pentagon, Washington:Dell Rusk, the Secretary of Defense, thanks Henry Peter Gyrich for spying on the Avengers for the past several months. However, Rusk says that the codes that Gyrich has delivered aren’t working. Gyrich says that they may have changed the passcodes, but before he can continue, the phone rings. Rusk answers, and the President is on the other line. Rusk says that he doesn’t believe the Avengers are their best hope. Rusk asks Gyrich to leave.
Gyrich walks down the hall to the outdoor lobby, and sees Redwing fly down and clip the wires on the security cameras. Falcon flies in, and tells Gyrich that he has just done some really good work. Gyrich says that he doesn’t like how the Avengers are operating in secret. Falcon says that none of it matters now that Gyrich has the tape, proving Rusk’s connection to the Red Zone virus. Falcon says that Rusk’s background still bothers him – the paper trail is legit, but he cannot find anybody that knows him. No sooner does Sam finish his sentence than a gunshot rings out, hitting Falcon right in the chest. Gyrich tries to help, but Rusk points the gun, asking Gyrich if he really didn’t know he was being double-crossed. Rusk shoots Gyrich in the knee, knocking him down. Rusk looks at Gyrich and says “Was haben Sie erwartet?” which is German for “What did you expect?” And Gyrich all of a sudden realizes what is happening, far too late. Gyrich thinks about the letters of Dell Rusk, and asks if Rusk is trying to destroy the country again. Rusk begins tearing off his own face to reveal himself:
“Destroy it? Hardly! I love America. It’s the Red Skull’s kind of country!”
Ant-Man, Black Panther, Captain America, Iron Man, Jack of Hearts, Scarlet Witch, She-Hulk, Vision, Warbird (Avengers)Henry Peter Gyrich
Tom Hawkins (South Dakota park warden)
Several medical and military personnel