MANHATTAN, NEW YORK
Rikki Barnes, the girl without a world, found herself living in a warehouse on a planet she didn’t originate from. The young woman was from a duplicate earth on the opposite side of the sun dubbed Counter-Earth. This earth was created in a pocket universe by Franklin Richards the son of Reed and Sue Richards of the Fantastic Four in order to save the heroes who sacrificed themselves to defeat the sentient psionic entity Onslaught.
“Hmm…” moaned Rikki as she rifled through some old boxed of clothes.
During her time on Counter-Earth she became the crime fighting partner to Captain America, one of the heroes that were reborn after sacrificing himself. Named Bucky, she fought alongside Captain America against the Red Skull and the World Party to stop them from taking over the world. When Counter-Earth was threatened to be destroyed by the celestials Captain America and the other heroes reborn were forced to return to their original home. This left Rikki to defend the world against evil alone until she met other heroes to form the Young Allies.
The Allies battled against Dr. Doom and the Atlanteans and then teamed with the Thunderbolts to stop the World Party once more and then with the Exiles to fight Proteus. But recently a new threat has risen, that of a group referring to themselves as the Insect Kingdom. Rikki and the other Young Allies attempted to leave Counter-Earth to find help but only Rikki managed to get through.
Can’t go running around in this raggedy old costume, she thought. But then again don’t know if Cap will see a girl in normal street clothes. I have to talk to him even if he doesn’t remember me. I need help to save my home and to warn of the threat here.
Upon arriving on the original earth she came across more of the Insect Kingdom, including the hero Araña. She’s tried to stay hidden in hopes of not tipping them off of her existence. The most important task for her was to find Steve Rogers.
“This will work,” she said as she began to change clothes.
She lifted her Bucky uniform revealing a number of bumps and bruises. The worst of course was bandaged on her forehead. The last battle she had been involved with was more than her or her Young Allies could withstand. The bleeding had stopped luckily, but she could still use some medical treatment. Nothing in the world could reason with her right now. She was off to find Captain America.
GIRL WITHOUT A WORLD
Rikki walked with the New Yorkers as if she were one of them. Technically she was, only her New York was on another planet. Her search had no planned destination. She was hoping to at least find something that would lead her to the Captain. She walked down the sidewalk with her hands in her jacket pockets hoping to keep a low profile.
This place is so different from home, she thought. It’s so lively around here. Of course my New York is flooded. But this place still has an insect problem.
Moving along she came across a newsstand. She didn’t think of stopping but a particular image from today’s Daily Bugle caught her attention. The front page was titled with the Avengers name in it. She thought surely Cap would be with the Avengers. The image on the front page showed Iron Man with Nightcrawler, Storm, and a few other Avengers but most importantly there was Captain America. There was a problem though. This wasn’t the Captain America she knew.
“What, who is that?” the costume was that of Captain America but behind the mask was a man of a darker complexion. “That’s not Steve Rogers.”
“Have you been under a rock of something?” asked a young Hispanic woman standing next to her. “Steve Rogers passed away some time ago.”
“What!?” asked Rikki. “It can’t be.”
“You’re not looking too good,” said the young woman. “My name is Anya Corazon, maybe I can help you.”
“No…” Rikki looked away from her. “Thank you, but I’ll be fine.”
Rikki walked off holding the side of her head. Anya watched. Her conscience was bugging her to go after the girl.
“Damn,” she sighed. “Looks like I’m gonna be late going to Lucas and Jessica’s.”
Anya proceeded to follow Rikki. They passed a couple blocks before Rikki noticed she was being followed. She made a sharp turn and started running down a dark alleyway. Anya shook her head. She looked around to see if anyone was watching. With it clear she jumped up and clung to the wall crawling to the building’s fire escape. She pulled up her shirt uncovering a short white top that reached below her ribs with a red spider on it. Under her jeans were skintight black pants. She dropped her clothes into her red backpack and strapped a belt with pouches around her waist. Finally she put on her goggles.
She threw her backpack into the air. It hit a dark spot on the building and was webbed down before it could fall. Anya was now dressed for whatever was going on as Araña. Swinging to another building via web-line she crawled along the wall after Rikki who didn’t expect she was being tailed by one of the people she came across in Times Square a couple days ago.
Araña leaped from her crawling position to grab a pole sticking out from the building. She swung around on it launching her into the air. The swing sent her to another fire escape a distance in front of Rikki who was still running. Araña landed crouching down. When Rikki got close enough Araña used her webbing to catch her. With the use of the fire escape she left Rikki hanging by her arms. She than took the stairs down a level to talk to her.
“It’s you!” Rikki exclaimed.
“You mind keeping quiet?” asked Araña. “I’m sure the people of this building have enough problems than to have deal with your mouth.”
“You’re one of them,” she continued. “Arachnid filth!”
“Excuse me?” Araña raised a hand to her. “I’ll have you know I shower like any other normal person… Speaking of, when’s the last time you bathed? You reek. And you are all beat up. Listen sister, you may not like me for some reason. I don’t know what you’re deal is, but you need help.”
“As if I’d take help from you Insect Kingdom people!” Rikki struggled to get out of the webbing.
Araña webbed Rikki’s mouth shut, “Things will be so much easier if you just didn’t talk. I’m taking you to a hospital. And then we can part ways.”
Rikki mumbled something but her mouth was webbed shout. Araña grabbed her making sure her hands were still bound and placed her over a shoulder. With the sound of a THWIP they were gone. The alleyway was now clear. Or it was. From a sewer drain came out some water moving quite unusually. The water covered a portion of the ground. It then began to raise up and took the shape of a person. A woman.
“Hydro-Girl, reporting in,” she said. “I’m following the one boss wants now. She’s being carried off by one of the wall-crawlers.”
In a dark room we find a man working. His identity was concealed by the shadows. It was too dark to be certain of what he was working on but one thing could be made out, a woman dressed in a green costume with two lightning bolts running down the center approached him.
“Aftershock…” he muttered. “What did I tell you about bothering me while I was working?”
The woman named Aftershock came to report, “I’ve been contacted by that girl Madison Wickham, the one you so happily dubbed Hydro-Girl. She says she’s following the hero from Counter-Earth as you requested. I don’t know what you want with her. From another world or not, Captain America’s sidekicks have never had any power of any kind.”
“It’s not I who want her,” said the man. “I’m doing this as a favor to our new associate.”
“New associate?” she asked. “The Cult of the Tarantula is gone, who are we working with now?”
“Do not concern yourself with who I’m in business with. Stay on top of things with Miss Wickham. After she finishes her first task I want her to immediately move to her next one. If she delivers I will help her find her father she’s so desperately searching for.”
By now Rikki had overexerted herself. She was still suffering from a number of injuries with the worst on the side of her head. Araña left the young woman in the care of the hospital’s medical staff. She was attended to and brought to her own room to recover. The doctors and nurses were baffled at how there was no way to identify her.
“Ohhh…” Rikki moaned as she regained consciousness. “Where?”
As her vision cleared she remembered what had transpired. She bounced out of bed surprising the nurse tending to her. The nurse tried to calm her down, but Rikki just pushed her aside. She quickly ran out of the room while the nurse notified security of the problem.
Rikki charged for the exit, but it was blocked. She leaped into the air landing a dropkick on one of two men blocking the exit. She bounced off of him to hit the other with a roundhouse kick. As they fell she made a break for the doors. However, the NYPD was outside waiting and before she could get passed them a doctor sneaked up and hit her with a sedative. She quickly passed out and fell into the doctor’s arms.
LATER THAT EVENING
Rikki laid in bed still out from the sedative. As she slept a trail of water ran through the room coming from the window. The water reverted back to the human form of Hydro-Girl. Her clothing and long jet-black hair weren’t even damp. She wore a costume that was blue and gray, with a bright blue circle over her chest.
“They had to restrain you,” laughed Hydro-Girl at the unconscious Rikki. “What a shame. You must have caused these people some trouble. Though I don’t see what the big deal is.”
She grabbed Rikki’s medical chart and read it. Not knowing who the young woman was the hospital called her Jane Doe, which was the usual case for unidentified women.
Five foot four and only ninety-eight pounds, she sighed as she thought. They got me going after some anorexic chick. Oh, Maddie this is a new low. All just to find my dad, an old nemesis of Spider-Man, Morris Bench a.k.a. Hydro-Man…that twisted son of a bitch thought it was funny to call me Hydro-Girl.
She transformed her arms back to water. She stretched them and hardened them in the shape of keys which she then used to unbind Rikki from the bed. She then picked the girl up over her shoulder and proceeded to the window.
“All right, little girl,” said Hydro-Girl. “Someone is dying to have a word with you. So let’s be on our way.”
She was successful in taking Rikki from the hospital without anyone noticing, well anyone from the hospital that is. A dark figure ran along the rooftops. The only thing visible was his pure white eyes. The top of his head appeared to have what looked like pointed ears.
The figure dropped behind Hydro-Girl as she tried to enter the sewers. With slight movement from his hands, claws popped out from his fingertips. He slashed at Hydro-Girl splitting her body into two halves. This made her drop Rikki.
“Who the hell?” she questioned while turning to see who attacked her. “The Black Panther?”
“Close,” said the man.
He stepped from the shadows. The costume the man wore did appear similar to that of the Black Panther’s but his gear looked more like body armor and was colored red, white, and blue.
“But the current Black Panther is female,” he replied. “And I’m a little too Americanized. Now I’m gonna have to ask you to keep away from this girl or expect a fight you won’t win.”
“Ha, you think you can do anything to me with those claws?” she laughed. “There’s no way you could beat me.”
She threw an enlarged watery fist at the hero slamming him into a wall. The water was pressing hard enough on his chest that he found it hard to breathe. He moved as quickly as he could to prevent his suffocation. Pulling from his belt he grabbed a cylinder-shaped device that he jammed into Hydro-Girl’s arm. Her body that reverted back to its water-form began to freeze. She let out a scream before being completely frozen solid. The Panther slid down from her hand.
“Who said I needed my claws?” he asked the now statue-like Hydro-Girl before changing his attention to Rikki. “Better get out of here before she thaws out.”
He picked up Rikki who was still out. He darted from the scene with great speed.
THE PANTHER’S BASE OF OPERATIONS
Rikki began to show signs of waking. Her eyes slowly opened. The room was blurry. Remembering what happened she jumped to her feet still not clearly able to see.
“Calm down, my alien friend,” she heard an unfamiliar voice. “Should I really consider you an alien since you came from another earth? Whatever the case you’re somewhere safe, you can relax.”
“Who, who are you?” she asked as her vision started to clear. “And how do you know where I’m from?”
“I’m a street-level vigilante known as the American Panther,” he answered. “But if it will make you more comfortable my real name is James Miles.”
“James? American Panther?”
The Panther pulled the top of his black mask that had red and white stripes in the center with a white star in the middle of them. The removal of his mask revealed the appearance of a young man with green eyes and a light skin tone. He brushed his brown hair back as it had been messed up by his mask.
“Not what you were expecting, huh?” he laughed. “I know the costume makes me look like the Black Panther, and anyone who has used that identity has usually come from the African nation of Wakanda, but…”
“Look I’m sorry, what are you talking about? I don’t know who this Black Panther is you talk of.”
He scratched his head, “Oh, right. You’re not from here. Well, anyway, like I said my name is James Miles. And I’m the American Panther. I came up with the identity by combining two of my idols, the Black Panther and Captain America. And you would be?”
“Rikki Barnes…Bucky…” Rikki felt a little uncomfortable talking to him.
“Captain America’s kid sidekick?” he questioned. “You had that name on the other earth?”
Rikki looked around the room for the exit. As she headed for it he grabbed her left arm.
“I won’t stop you from leaving,” he started. “But you should know someone is after you. I don’t know who, but I would assume someone from your world has made it here. I can help you. Help you get back to a hundred percent and together we can go after this enemy.”
“Why would you help me?” she looked back at him.
“Whoever is after you is in line with the person I’ve been tracking. A guy who has been sending super-powered freaks out to attack innocent people. So what do you say?”
Rikki turned away again to take a second to think, “What happened to Steve Rogers?”
A WEEK LATER
Rikki ran along the rooftops of New York City with the man known as the American Panther who followed behind. She was in an all new costume different from her old Bucky uniform. She wore a blue long-sleeve shirt with two golden discs on her chest that were right under the collar. Her yellow gloves and boots had the same metal padding as her previous costume. The pants she had were made of the same cloth as her shirt. Of course her costume wouldn’t be complete without a set of goggles.
“Nomad,” said the Panther. “You’ve definitely improved.”
She smiled. “Thanks, A.P. I like the new name. I guess I couldn’t be the kid sidekick forever. I probably should have accepted that a long time ago.”
“Now are you sure you’re ready to head out on your own?” asked the Panther. “Your head wound is healing, but it’s not quite there yet.”
“I’ll be fine,” she reassured him. “Thanks for the concern, but I need to get back into action and I need to get a feel for this world.”
“So are you going in search of the insect heroes you spoke of? What about Spider-Man?”
“From what I’ve seen they’re no heroes. If I ever do meet this Spider-Man I’ll just have to take him down like the rest.”
“All right, just keep your guard up because the person that came after you was not an insect-themed character.”
Nomad and the Panther went their separate ways. Rikki felt she could trust him and she knew better than to trust people right off the bat. With what happened on Counter-Earth she needed to be careful because it was happening here as well. The Insect Kingdom groups of her home were nothing but villains and that’s what she expected of this world. Little did she know that there were heroes amongst these people.
They can’t be trusted, she thought. Not a single one of them. That girl Araña and her little boyfriend Avispa are going down before they can harm anyone.
Rikki chose to visit the location where she was picked up by Araña. She hoped that she would find something that would lead her in the right direction. Luck was not on her side however. A week had passed since then and not even Araña’s webbing was left to be found.
Where do I even begin? she asked herself. There’s so much space to cover. Unlike home which was completely flooded, the only place the insects could go was back on Attilan.
“I’ve been looking for you,” called a voice from behind her. “Really I’ve been looking for your feline friend to get pay back for freezing me but you’ll do.”
“I’m sorry do I know you?” Rikki turned to find Hydro-Girl.
“No, but I know you Rebecca Barnes,” she answered. “Captain America’s kid sidekick from Counter-Earth.”
“How do you know so much about me?”
Hydro-Girl turned her right arm to water and increased its size, “I don’t know the details on where the information came from I just know someone has hired me to capture you.”
With that she sent her giant hand of water at Nomad, who flipped back to dodge it. Nomad continued to retreat as the water raged toward her. Her final step back she pulled two discs from her belt and threw them at Hydro-Girl. They simply went through without any result.
“Damn…” Rikki sighed.
Rikki watched as Hydro-Girl’s body completely transformed into water. She was surprised to see something like this, despite all the adventures she’d been on in the past. One of the things she learned from Captain America was to always evaluate the situation before getting too deep into the fight. Of course she had no idea how she was gonna handle this situation.
A girl who can transform her entire body into water, she thought. Cap, I bet you weren’t thinking of this when you told me to assess the threat. I’m on a world I’m unfamiliar with filled with people I don’t know and villains I’ve never seen before in my life. But there is a first time for everything. How do I beat her?
“Trying to think of something?” her opponent laughed. “Good luck, sister. There’s no Panther or wall-crawler around to save you this time.”
“I don’t need anyone to save me,” Rikki claimed. “I’ll figure something out. Let’s see how long you can hold that form in this heat. It must be at least a hundred degrees today.”
Rikki turned and ran from her. Hydro-Girl threw another fist, the surge of the water hit the building as Nomad jumped over the attack. It was time for Nomad to put her acrobatic abilities to good use. She leapt for a fire escape and swung upward. Moving from building to building she headed up. When she finally made it to the top she was surprised to find someone familiar. A man in an orange and black costume with a wasp symbol on his chest.*
[*Nomad saw this person in Araña #4—Justin.]
“Hmm…” She smiled as a plan came to mind.
As soon as Hydro-Girl reached the roof Nomad jumped over the masked man who with the snap of his fingers created an intense blast of flames that bombarded the aquatic villain.
“Ahh, how?” she muttered as her body evaporated. “I’ll get you for…”
Down below Rikki looked up. What luck! That takes care of one problem. That just leaves that Avispa character. I’ll follow him to get some information.
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
Nomad found one of the people she was looking for. A young man she first saw fighting alongside the heroine Araña. He called himself Avispa. The plan for right now was to get some information on the ‘enemy.’ She followed him all the way from the city across the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn along the rooftops. She kept a safe distance that she believed would prevent her from being seen. However, he turned his head causing her to panic. She hid.
“I sense someone, boy,” replied the demonic entity known as the Wasp Hunter that dwelled within him.
Did he see me? she wondered. Don’t tell me I messed up.
Avispa looked away and then jumped down to an alleyway below him. When Nomad finally looked back he was gone.
She quickly went to where he was and she looked down the alleyway to see nothing.
I get a lead and I lose it just like that. Damn it! All I know is these guys are running around Manhattan and Brooklyn. That’s not enough to go by. I know Araña told me her name but I can’t remember it. This damn head injury. I guess I need to do more research before I go along with this.
MANHATTAN, NEW YORK
The woman we met earlier wearing a green costume with two lightning bolts down the center stood on the roof where Nomad and Avispa crossed paths. This time she was wearing a mask that was green in the back and yellow on the front with five lightning bolts sticking out from the upper half of her mask. She tapped a foot impatiently awaiting something. The water that made up Hydro-Girl’s body reformed and eventually she turned back to her human form.
“About damn time,” said Aftershock. “The boss is waiting for us.”
Hydro-Girl sighed, “Give me a break it’s not like I’ve been vaporized before.”
“So you’re the two ladies he sent?” asked the voice of a man who approached them.
“Who the hell are you?” asked Aftershock.
The two super-powered women looked at a man who was probably in his late twenties. Neither of them had seen him before.
“My name is John Barnes,” he started. “And I represent the World Party. Your boss has offered me your services in bringing me my little sister.”