The Death of Nick Fury and the End of the Silver Age

Hydra contract assassin Bullseye kills Colonel Nick Fury in Central Park while he's listening (reluctantly) to Country Joe and the Fish with Laura Brown. The Silver Age Marvel Universe unravels and we find out why there were ever superheroes in the first place, why the Watcher really spent all those years in the Blue Area on the Moon, who Scorpio really was, and the identity of the last Supreme Hydra.

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3. "Chaos" (Part One: AFTERMATH--Chapter Three)

(1)


    The Kazantis mansion squatted in the shadow of the Parthenon, a rambling edifice built over three centuries without the slightest regard for architectural harmony between its various wings.  The electrified fences surrounding it, however, like the weapons the guards carried, were the most modern that Tamiroff Arms produced.  The guards were Macedonian veterans, fiercely loyal to the former head of the National Intelligence Service who resided there.

    What’s interesting, thought Laura Brown, approaching the main gate, is that there are so many of them, and so much light.  Normally, Peter Kazantis preferred to remain in the shadows.

    She was exhausted, but also extremely jumpy.  In twenty-two hours since “hijacking” Agent 13’s helicopter, Laura had needed all her skills to elude SHIELD’s pursuit, go to ground, and then get to Greece.  She’d crossed the Atlantic courtesy (reluctantly) of an air cargo hauler out of Boston who did not want it known that he occasionally accepted contracts from AIM and the Hate Monger.

    “Tell the Minister that Pandora is here,” Laura said to the gate guard.  If Peter didn’t recall what he had once called a little refugee girl two decades ago, then everything was lost anyway.

    The man grunted, spoke into his telephone, listened.  Then he stubbed out his cigarette, shouldered his Scorpion tri-barrel submachine gun, and gestured for her to follow.  “Don’t get off path,” he said.  “Not healthy.”

    Peter met her in the entranceway, somewhat heavier and grayer than she remembered, but still flashing his royal smile.  He’s wearing body armor under that dressing gown, and there’s a bruise on his temple, Laura thought.  Something’s not right.

    “Come in,” he said. “It has already been an interesting night. Your arrival only makes it more so.” He made a slight bow, gestured her into the house.

    There was a puddle of blood on marble floor of the atrium. Peter didn’t comment on it, so neither did Laura. Instead, he said, “They came for me about an hour ago. Ever since I heard the news about Nick, I’ve been expecting them.”

The entrance hall opened into a huge reception area, tiled in marble, decorated by priceless antiques, and featuring a depressed living room area. Laura instinctively jerked back when she saw it, her hands dropping to her holstered sidearm.

The room was a charnel house.

The bodies--and severed body parts--of what appeared to have once been an eight-man Hydra assassination team were scattered randomly around the remains of expensive furniture, ancient Greek urns, and plants cut down by automatic gunfire. She could smell both cordite and blood quite distinctly.

Standing in the center of the sunken living area was the only living person in the room: a tall, slender, dark-haired woman wearing a form-fitting blue-black jumpsuit and an almost heart-shaped golden face mask. The pistol in her hand (a Tamiroff 11mm flechette gun with laser targeting) was at her side, but still steaming.

Recovering her wits and realizing that Peter was staring at her, waiting for some reaction, Laura said, “I see that I just missed the party, didn’t I?”

Peter nodded but did not smile as he said, “Indeed. We sent the last guest off about five minutes ago. May I introduce--”

“Madam Masque?” Laura said, pre-empting him. “It’s my pleasure. I’m Laura Brown.”

Only slightly muffled by the gold mask, the other woman replied in a husky contralto voice, “You know of me? Tony Stark must have filed a very quick report with SHIELD, then.”

“No,” Laura said. “I use other sources. I’m not SHIELD, but I’ve been paying attention to Midas’s operations in the Adriatic for some time.”

“I no longer work for--with--Midas. I visited Minister Kazantis in hopes of acquiring his support in allowing me to ‘come in from the cold,’ as it is sometimes put.” She holstered her weapon and gestured at the dead Hydra agents. “This was not the interview I expected, but I think it went well, given the circumstances.”

Now Kazantis did smile. He said, “I am quite willing, Madam, for you to remain in my household as Chief of Security. The former Chief will be applying for a new position … without references.”

Laura said, “Nice try, Peter, but I suspect she doesn’t like playing defense.”

Madam Masque inclined her head in acknowledgement, but said nothing.

“Then I will gladly use whatever influence I have to place this very capable lady wherever she would like to go,” Peter said. “Even in SHIELD.”

“Not in SHIELD,” Madam Masque said quietly. “”And not with Stark Industries, either.”

There was something about the tone she used when saying, “Stark Industries,” that made Laura’s sixth sense tingle. There’s definitely a story here, she thought. It was damn odd. Standing in the middle of a Hydra assassination team she’d just dispatched, Laura’s dominant visceral reaction to Madam Masque was that the other woman felt … vulnerable!?

Aloud, Laura said, “Peter, is it possible that at least one of your liquor cabinets emerged unscathed? I could use a drink. Plus, I’d like the chance to talk your guest into something deadly and completely insane, like infiltrating Hydra and killing its leader--unsanctioned by any government or law enforcement agency whatsoever.”

“Now that sounds interesting,” the masked figure replied, almost purring.

 

(2)

 

The neutrak ray’s first shot opened an enormous hole in the wall behind the podium.

Colonel John Jameson’s reaction was pure reflex. He launched himself out of the chair to the lectern’s immediate left and hit the elderly Tolstan Fernak with the same crushing take-down tackle that twenty years ago had more than once stopped the US Air Force Academy’s opponents from breaking free into his backfield. The old man crumpled, groaning.

Maybe I broke a couple of ribs, Jameson thought, but that’s better than the alternative.

He rolled the “Grand Old Man of Democracy in the Balkans” under the long banquet table and out of sight before cautiously peeking over a plate of sausages and fried potatoes to assess the situation. The hundred-odd delegates to the Convention on Atomic Defense were screaming, scurrying, bouncing off of each other, and generally engaging in utter panic. At the back of the dining hall he could see a handful of both uniformed and covert Belavian and Alberian security officers trying to force their way through the roiling crowd. They weren’t making much headway despite the best efforts of one colonel firing his pistol into the stuccoed ceiling to frighten everyone out of his way.

Where’s the shooter? Jameson asked himself. He didn’t know or particularly care at the moment what kind of weapon had been used. These days something newly destructive seemed to pop up almost hourly. He had a mental image, however, of a straight beam of sizzling plasma originating from the left rear of the hall, flat and not arced at all, which meant a direct fire weapon. The assassin had to be within sight.

He saw the tall man--red-bearded and monocled like some Balkan duke--raise what he first thought was a camera when it abruptly spit out another beam of destruction. This shot came plowing across the table, missing Jameson by only a few fractions of an inch as he threw himself desperately out of harm’s way.

As he rolled, a third, fourth, and fifth shot convinced the Colonel of something he had suspected at all: That guy’s after ME!

Even as he sprang into the crouch that would allow him to start moving faster and more randomly, a small corner of Jameson’s mind puzzled over that realization. Why him? He wasn’t one of the scientists who had helped build the Nullifier, which could potentially protect any city from atomic attack, and he wasn’t one of the heads of state or senior bureaucrats invited to this conference to make policy about spreading and using the technology. He was the grunt in charge of security for the device.

Subconsciously, even as he broke into a full run along the far wall, Jameson’s tactically trained mind evaluated the weapon that the guy with the monocle was using. It was clear that it couldn’t be fired continuously, or the assassin would have simply started swinging it like a fire hose until he killed Jameson. There had been at least a full second, maybe even a second-and-a-half between each burst.

Speaking of which. …

It had been more than a second since the last shot. He left his feet to dive and roll at a forty-five-degree angle to his previous line of travel, feeling the beam sizzle just overhead as he did so.

The beam spreads to about a yard-wide circle at this distance, he thought as he tumbled past a waiter’s cart. There’s no way I can rush him. He’s a good thirty feet away, and he won’t be able to miss me if I head directly for him.

At that moment in the back of his mind Jameson realized why he was being targeted: the activation codes. In anticipation of a successful outcome to the conference, the US had already shipped more than two dozen city-grade Nullifiers to Europe. Their initial deployment area was to be in the Balkans and central Europe, the two regions most directly threatened by either Soviet or Latverian atomic weapons. Tolstan Fernak’s televised speech in two more days was not just to announce agreement, but activation of the devices, and even now Nullifiers were being positioned by NATO forces in key city locations.

But Colonel John Jameson was the only man in Europe with the activation codes, and for security purposes they’d been locked into his brain behind such a strong hypnotic compulsion that no interrogation--even by Dr. Doom or Hydra--would have been able to force them out of him before the US government could have them changed. He’d be able to hold out against any known mental technology for the full forty-eight hours necessary to change those codes.

But if I’m dead that also means that none of the Nullifiers can be activated for at least two days. Which also meant that somebody had a very strong reason to want to delay that activation for those two days--like a pending atomic attack on some or all of the targets.

Ergo, this maniac needs to kill me, not capture me, Jameson thought as he low-crawled past a half-dozen huge ceramic planters whose ferns stood nearly six feet tall. And if I can’t get out of this room, he’s going to get lucky sooner or later. At that moment the fern above the nearest planter disappeared, leaving behind only a steaming stump.

He glanced at the exits, still thronged with panicked politicians, petty officials, and hotel staff fighting to get through the doors, completely unaware that they weren’t the target of the man with the monocle. He wasn’t going out that way, which left only the four enormous windows on his side of the room, windows that looked out from the fourth-floor banquet hall.

He was up and running for the nearest window. Possibly breaking his neck, or even certainly breaking a leg, from an eight-foot fall represented bad odds, but compared to staying in the room with the assassin they looked like his best bet. The only problem was that it had already been nearly a second since the last shot fired at him, and it would take him two more seconds at a straight-on dead run to impact the window. He’d just have to pray the guy missed, or. …

At that moment the Alberian security colonel, who had apparently also figured out who the assassin was, snapped off two quick shots in the Monocle’s direction. They didn’t hit their target, but the man flinched, and his final blast lagged bare inches behind James as the USAF Colonel left his feet in a dive for the window.

As he crashed into the leaded glass, Jameson thought, Why isn’t there ever a superhero around when you really need one? But even as he was passing through the window frame and beginning his downward arc toward the narrow, cobblestoned street below, he knew it was an unkind thought. Spider-man and the Silver Surfer had both saved his bacon during spaceshot re-entries gone bad, and two months ago Spidey had fought his own amnesia to save the Nullifier prototype from Dr, Octopus.

There was an instant of seeming balance, when Jameson felt like he hung motionless in the air, forever cable of defying gravity, just before he began to nosedive toward the street.

It was in that brief second that he caught sight of a blur of purple-sheened metal, and one of Dr. Doom’s airborne robots lifted him quickly into the sky.


 

(3)

 

“Overall our decapitation operations have been largely successful,” Number Two reported. “Along with Fury, Sue Storm of the Fantastic Four is dead, and when her husband and the others return they will attribute her assassination to Dr. Doom. Colonel John Jameson is dead as well.” This statement was a calculated risk, as the American astronaut’s body had not yet been recovered, but as he had already discovered, the Supreme Hydra was not quite as omniscient as the organization’s secretive leader would like everyone to believe.

The booming, electronically enhanced voice sounded unconvinced: “Both Senator Byrd and Tony Stark thwarted your assassins. How can such bungling possibly be called ‘success’ in Hydra?”

“There was never a realistic probability that all of our strikes would go through,” Number Two said, carefully holding his voice steady. “So we have planned for any possible combination of success and failure. After Fury, Jameson was the critical operation. With him dead, American plans to deploy Nullifier technology to Europe will be placed on hold for at least two days. Before another individual can be dispatched with a full set of codes and authorized biometric access, we will have launched our main strike.”

“You expect SHIELD to remain inactive for two more days? Nixon has already appointed their Agent 13 as Interim Director--”

“--and her first act was to try to bluff through a nationally televised interview with an LMD trying to mimic Nick Fury,” Hydra’s second-in-command said. “That’s done more to convince the world that Fury’s really dead than if we’d sent out press releases. She’s a field agent, not an organizational leader. If we give her another twenty-four hours to misplay her hand--”

BAARROOOMMM!

The far wall of the Hydra communications facility disappeared in a cloud of dust and hurtling debris. Number Two had to duck to avoid being struck by a flying desk chair.

“Move yer sorry behinds!” Nick Fury shouted as he vaulted from the air raft into the room, leading a team of five orange-battleclad SHIELD agents. “Knock out those radios and corral me some prisoners!”

Number Two smiled and said--apparently--to the open air, “This is exactly what I mean, Supreme One, when I talk about Agent 13 misplaying her hand.” His fingers hit several switches in rapid succession as the first return fire at the SHIELD team came from two stunned, green-suited Hydra guards.

Fury’s leaping advance came to an abrupt halt as he hit an obstacle that appeared to be empty air. He bounced off, tumbled to his feet, then recovered and started forward more cautiously, cigar still clamped between his teeth. As the other SHIELD agents clustered around him, Fury’s probing hands discovered that the force field had surrounded them all in a circle with a ten-foot diameter.

Number Two got to his feet with casual, almost languid movements, while saying, “SHIELD’s oldest trick is a flurry of Fury duplicates, tele-operated Life Model Decoys.” He walked over to one of the guards who had stopped firing, and held out his hand for the man’s plasma pistol. “You will notice, Supreme One, that this apparent Nick Fury is not accompanied by Dugan, Jones, Woo, Quartermain, or any other identifiable senior field agent. That’s because LMD’s are expensive, and only the Fury and generic agent templates exist in large numbers.”

He walked to a point directly in front of the figure with the eye patch. Neither Fury nor his agents seemed to know what to do. “They are being tele-operated, as I noted before,” said Number Two. “This facility is insulated, and so they aren’t receiving instructions any more. There are a handful of Fury LMDs with the new enhanced programming for independent operations, but, as you can see here, this isn’t one of them.”

Number Two raised the plasma weapon.

He said, “This is also one of Hydra’s latest generation semi-transparent force fields. It keeps them hemmed in, but it does not keep our weapons’ fire out.” A short blast dissolved Fury’s head, and his body--with broken circuits clearly visible at the decapitation line across his neck--first tensed rigidly, and then collapsed to the floor.

Without saying anything else, Number Two shot each of the field agent LMDs in sequence. Then he tossed the weapon on the floor and turned back toward the communications console in which he was pretty sure the Supreme Hydra’s uplink was secreted.

“Hydra is immortal,” he said. “Cut off a head and two more will take its place.”

Gesturing back at the heap of fallen bodies behind him, Number Two concluded, “Alas, it seems that the same cannot be said of SHIELD.”

 
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