THE PLANET MISKANDAR
Miskandar’s rebels massed around the city with its jagged spires. Thor admired their boldness, however misguided. Earlier in the week, they’d destroyed a bridge, and the week before that, they’d toppled a monument honoring the Ragarians. He’d stood in the wreck, grieving over how little time it had taken to destroy the work of a master sculptor.
“No more,” he had told the Ragarian Royal Family, who ruled Miskandar and had asked for his assistance against the rebels’ depredations. “I will put an end to this.”
Now the rebels faced him in battle array, their banners waving, their spears facing him menacingly.
“I give you one more chance to surrender!” Thor bellowed.
The rebels jeered back, confident in their numbers. Overconfident, as it so happened.
Thor opened his hand, and Mjolnir flew into it. “Then face the consequences of your treachery,” he said. They would learn what it meant to defy Thor, whose cause was just.
In response, the rebels struck the butts of their spears against the ground twice, the percussion of war, and charged.
Thor raised Mjolnir. Thunder boomed as a shockwave sizzled from the hammer and spread outwards toward the rebels. They screamed as the shockwave knocked the spears out of their hands, a fist of force bowling them over before they could reach him.
Two more waves, and the rebels surrendered.
The Ragarian Royal Guard emerged then, their bright uniforms in contrast to the rebels’ tatterdemalion outfits. They herded the defeated rebels past Thor like a mockery of a parade. Thor nodded to the Guard’s captain, satisfied with a job well done.
Afterward, Thor stood in the center of the city’s plaza, ringed by flowers of crystal. “It’s not necessary,” he had protested to the Ragarians’ representative. “I only did what was right.” That was what mattered, not any reward.
“Please give us the opportunity to thank you in public. It will deter any remaining rebels,” the representative said.
Thor nodded, and the representative emerged from an archway to wave at the cheering crowd, the beadwork on her ceremonial robes gleaming in the city’s lavender-tinged artificial light. She bore a black metal crown, and she bowed as she presented it to Thor.
“To the savior of Miskandar!” she cried as the masses roared Thor’s name.
“You do me too much honor,” Thor said, humbled by their gratitude, as he accepted the crown. He waved at a knot of bashful, fidgeting children. Some of them waved back, giggling; one ignored him in favor of investigating an itch, which made Thor smile to himself.
The crown wasn’t important in itself. But it represented the good he had done here, and in that spirit he accepted it. Once he returned home and stowed it in his treasure room, he never expected to think of it again.
THE SPACE GALLEON ORLANDO
I was a fool, Thor thought.
All those years ago on Miskandar, he’d seen himself as a hero, restoring order so that the Ragarians’ rule could continue unimpeded. It had never occurred to him that the Miskandarian rebels deserved a say in their future, that their attacks stemmed from desperation against an oppressive regime. He could have investigated their side of the story—and he hadn’t.
Instead, it took Analyzer 211’s condemnation decades later to open his eyes to his failures. He hadn’t asked what had become of the prisoners. Hadn’t questioned the spectacle after the rebels surrendered, manufactured for his benefit. How could he have been so blinkered by his own hubris?
Thor was surrounded by allies on the bridge of the Orlando, and yet he had never felt more alone. He knelt before Mjolnir, which rested inert on the deck before him.
More than ever, he needed the hammer’s might to save his friends. But he could not wield it any longer. All those long years he’d believed that he’d acted righteously on Miskandar, saving its people from terrorism, when instead the reverse had been true. Now people were counting on him to fight Nihilator’s fleet, and instead here he was, unworthy to wield the weapon that Allfather Odin had entrusted to him so long ago.
Nihilator’s forces pursued them as they sped away from the Kree. Despite their narrow escape from the Armory’s defenses, they now faced a more terrifying foe. The Orlando was a fast ship. Her sails gleamed tautly, and the very hull of the ship thrummed with the force of her acceleration. Yet, Thor knew, her swiftness alone would not save them.
At the moment his friends needed him the most, his self-doubt made him powerless to help them.