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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2. "Escalation" (Part One: AFTERMATH--Chapter Two)

(1)

 

    Senator Harrington Byrd had just returned to his office after a vote when Batroc struck.

 

    The Leaper delivered a fouetté roundhouse kick that staggered FBI Special Agent Fred Duncan, then pivoted and rendered the Senator’s second security guard unconscious with a revers (figure) kick to his head.

 

    “Zenn-a—torr Byrd,” Batroc said, “you are most courteously een-vited to an interview wit’ de Zoo-preeme Hydra!”  His right hand grasped Byrd’s shoulder with a grip of steel, pushing him toward the huge window of his private office.  The window stood open; the zip-line that had given Batroc access to the office connected to a taller building across the street.

 

    When Byrd continued to struggle, Batroc casually lifted the older man with one hand, and said, “Now, Zenn-a-torr, it is most unwise to keep up all dese gyrations.  Were I to lose my hold on you, a fall of zix stories could be most unfortunate.”

 

    Agent Duncan fought to remain conscious as his uncooperative fingers tried to remove the pistol from the shoulder holster beneath his jacket.  By the time he had accomplished this, Batroc was standing on the window ledge, having already hooked himself to the harness on the zip-line, with Senator Byrd still carried in one hand like an overlarge sack of potatoes.  In his other hand, the Leaper held a small jet-assist device designed to propel both men up the line.

 

    Now or never, Duncan thought, squeezing off a shot in Batroc’s direction.

 

    “Mon Dieu!” Batroc said, a large smile creasing his face beneath his waxed mustache, as the round barely missed his shoulder.  “You re-cove-airre quit swiftly, Mon Ami.  Next time I shall have to kick you twice!”

 

    With that, he activated the jet-assist, and the two men disappeared from Duncan’s view.

 

    For Byrd the trip up the wire was harrowing, to say the least.  Whatever his other failings might have been, Batroc was no sadist, and held his captive as securely as possible, but there was no escaping the fact that he was hurtling six stories above the street, secured only by a one-handed hold on the back of his trenchcoat.

 

    The line sagged deeply under the two men’s weight at the very end, and Batroc found himself forced to execute an awkward single-armed scramble for the cornice of the rooftop.  Finally the power in his exceptionally strong legs catapulted the duo up and past the overhand, and onto the roof …

 

    … where he found himself staring down the muzzle of a SHIELD rocket pistol held by Agent Jasper Sitwell.  Sitwell looked terrible.  His face was drawn, his left arm was still strapped into a sling, and Batroc could tell by his stance that he could not comfortably place his full weight on his right leg.

 

    But his eyes were hard and the muzzle of the pistol did not waver.

 

    “Put the Senator down, and yield,” Sitwell said.  “You are now a prisoner of SHIELD.”

 

    “I am putting the Zenn-a-torr on the ground,” Batroc said calmly.  “But, au contraire, I do not believe that I will become your prisoner, Monsieur.”

 

    “If you believe that you can perform a chassé or coup de pied bas before I can fire, sir, you are seriously—even fatally—mistaken.  I urge you to come peacefully.”

 

    “Non, Mon Ami, I quite believe you.”  While speaking, the Leaper shifted his own weight equally onto the balls of his feet.  “But I notice that in your ‘aste to greet me here, you ‘ave drawn on me with an anti-armor weapon, not an anti-personnel weapon.”  Imperceptibly, Batroc straightened his torso and squared his shoulders.  “You could not wound me with this weapon, Monsieur.  If you fire, you will shred my body into very small pieces.”  He spread his hands as if in supplication, to draw attention from the flexing of his knees.  “Should I menace you, or the Zenn-a-torr, you would do your duty, however, reluctantly.  But I do not believe—“

 

    Batroc launched himself into a back flip, landing lightly on the edge of the roof.

 

    “—that your honor will allow you to knowingly fire a fatal shot at an unarmed man who is merely—”

 

    Almost imitating a high diver, the Leaper simply leaned back into empty space until his body over-balanced and he toppled off the building.

 

    “—fleeing!”

 

    Sitwell staggered two steps forward and stared down toward the street.  He saw Batroc catch a flagpole with one hand to change direction, bounce off an awning to break his fall, and then pirouette over the busy street, landing atop a public transit bus that carried him quickly out of sight.

 

    Turning around to face the older man just getting to his feet, Sitwell said, “Senator, I’m sorry.  I have failed to apprehend the culprit.  When you report me for discipline to my superiors …”

 

    Brushing dirt off of his sleeve, Harrington Byrd chuckled.

 

    “Son, you can ‘fail’ me like that any time,” he said.  “I care considerably less about his escape than I do about being seized by Hydra.  But what-in-hell are you doin’ here, boy?  You look like death warmed over, and my sources tell me that SHIELD isn’t planning on releasing you for duty for at least two more weeks.”

 

    The man who had not flinched in front of Batroc suddenly seemed very insecure.

 

    “Technically, Senator, I have not been cleared for duty, save that a SHIELD agent is always on duty in cases such as this.  I came today to request an appointment at your office as an American citizen with a deep political concern.  I had hoped you would consent to speak with me at some point in the not-too-distant future.”

 

    “Well, Agent Sitwell, I’d say that you’ve earned that interview—right now,” Byrd said.  “What’s on your mind?  You can tell me as we hold each other up whilst finding our way back down to the street.”

 

(2)

 

    Susan Richards visited the communications center on the Baxter Building’s top floor every day, praying for a message from her husband.  Two weeks had passed since Reed Richards, Johnny Storm, and the Inhuman named Crystal departed Earth in search of Benjamin Grimm, believed to have been kidnapped by aliens.  Although Reed had forewarned her that he would be unable to contact her until the Fantastic Four’s saucer ship returned through the space warp connected to the Skrull Galaxy, Sue could not resist checking—and hoping.

 

    As usual, while Sue activated the giant communications array, Alicia Masters babysat her newborn son several floors below.  The blind sculptress called the baby “Little One,” because Reed and Sue had yet to announce a name for the child.  Actually, they had chosen the name Franklin Benjamin Richards just before the Thing had been abducted, but decided against revealing it until Ben Grimm was freed and returned to Earth.  Up here, alone, however, Sue indulged herself, muttering as she threw switches and closed relays:  “C’mon, Reed, Franklin and I are getting tired of waiting for Papa to get home.”

 

    An alarm buzzer from the dedicated penthouse elevator startled her.  Sue activated viewing screen and saw an athletic blonde woman wearing a SHIELD combat suit.

 

    “Yes?” she said, touching the control of the retinal scanner.  “You have some business with the Fantastic Four?”

 

    “Colonel Fury sent me,” the woman said.  “I’m Agent 13—Sharon Carter.  Please verify my identity from the retinal records you have on file.  I have an urgent communication for Reed Richards.”

 

    The read-out beside the image indicated a 99.2% match for Sharon Carter.  Usually the Confidence Level was 99.5% or higher, but a lot of factors could shave off a tenth of a point here or there.  Reed had set the approved entry level at 98.8%.

 

    “All right, Agent Carter, I’m opening the elevator.  When you step inside, please place all weaponry in the bin to your right and close it.  If you don’t, the car won’t come up.”

 

    “I understand.”

 

    The sensor in the weapons locker detected two SHIELD-issue pistols, a Stark Industries hand-held sonic disruptor, and three small throwing knives.  Per SOP, Sue scanned Agent 13 and found no residual trace of weapons, explosives, or poisons, although the woman’s gloves were interwoven with threads that partially defeated her equipment.  “Please remove your gloves, and put them in the bin, also.”  When the SHIELD agent complied, Sue triggered the switch to secure the weapons, and allowed the elevator car to rise.

 

    Thirty seconds later, she greeted Sharon Carter with something less than enthusiasm.

 

    “The last time Nick Fury spoke with Reed, we all ended up in Latveria having dinner with Doctor Doom,” Sue said.  “I hope that’s not what the Colonel has in mind now.”

 

    Sharon Carter smiled; the expression looked forced.  She said, “Unfortunately, it’s rarely good news when SHIELD needs Mr. Fantastic’s help. Hydra has reappeared in New York, and we need some technical assistance.  We normally rely on Tony Stark, but he’s in Europe, and time is definitely of the essence.”

 

    “Then I’m afraid you’ve got a problem.  Reed and the others are … not accessible.  I’m not sure how long they’ll be gone.”  Sue couldn’t explain her reluctance to reveal to SHIELD that the rest of the Fantastic Four was in another galaxy.

 

    “That’s awful,” Agent 13 said.

 

    Sue tried to smile confidently, but a distant alarm bell had begun to ring in her head.  She said, “I’m sure the SHIELD will manage until Stark gets back.  You’ve never allowed Hydra to get the upper hand yet.”

 

    The other woman shook her head.  “No, I meant that’s awful for you, because now I have to use Plan B.”  She launched herself forward so rapidly that Sue could not interpose a force field between them before an ungloved fist caught the Invisible Woman just below her right ear, knocking her to the ground.

 

    Dazed, Sue willed herself invisible by training rather than conscious decision, and lashed out with a sweeping kick intended to take the fake SHIELD agent at the knees.  The woman who was obviously not Sharon Carter leapt effortlessly over the kick, and proceeded to smash Sue’s sternum with the heel of her left hand.

 

    Her eyes are closed, Sue realized as black spots danced across her field of vision and both arms went numb.  It doesn’t matter to her if she can see me or not.

 

    “You see, Mrs. Richards,” the woman said, as she hit the ground and rolled, “my orders were only to kill or disable your husband, not you.”

 

    Sue regained enough focus push a weak force field toward her opponent; this required her, of course, to turn visible as she did so.  The woman was moving too fast, however, and ducked under and inside before the field solidified enough to stop her momentum.

 

    “In his absence I have no other choice …”

 

   While executing this maneuver she also removed her belt, which she cracked like a whip.  The heavy metal buckle caught Sue on the point of her jaw.  Before losing consciousness, the last words she heard were:

 

     “… but to take you out of the picture instead.”

  

   Standing over Sue’s inert body, the woman extracted a set of flickering optic lenses from a cargo pocket.  “These aren’t weapons, Mrs. Richards, so they didn’t betray me on your scans.  They only detect active surveillance devices.”

 

    In her enhanced field of vision, she picked up the signatures of three miniaturized video cameras, all sending their feeds to a master recording unit.

 

   “That’s convenient,” she said, continuing her monologue as if having a discussion with her unconscious victim.  “I only have to replace one set of records.  Mr. Fantastic should have put more emphasis on redundancy, but I suppose we all do get overconfident.

 

   She unclipped her right earring, approached the control panel, and inserted the piece of jewelry into an open input jack.

 

   “Last year I became so overconfident that I allowed the real Sharon Carter to capture me—Irma Kruhl!— then imitate me and sabotage my mission.  I not only ended up in prison, but lost much of my hard-won professional reputation.”

 

    The earring glowed cherry red, erasing the last five minutes of video feed and replacing it with a prepared loop.

 

 

     “Hydra broke me out, but there was a price to be paid.  Somebody decided that if Sharon Carter could pretend to be me, I could probably pass for her.”  She stopped and rubbed her eyes.  “These retinal implants still hurt like hell.  They tell me the pain will go away as they dissolve over the next two weeks, but who really believes Hydra?”

 

       Sue moaned, appearing to be fighting back to wakefulness.

 

       Irma dragged the Invisible Woman across the floor, then heaved her back into the chair in front of the communications console.  She prodded a nerve center on Sue’s neck, sending her deeper into unconsciousness.

 

       “The biggest problem was not getting in here, or even taking you down.  I’m sure Mr. Fantastic would have been a lot more challenging.”

 

        Next, Irma circulated around the room, selecting oddments of electrical equipment, seemingly at random.  She deposited it all on the floor, sat down, and began stripping small pieces of cloth and metal from her own clothing.

 

    “We knew that I wouldn’t be able to smuggle in any weapons, but I need to create several explosions to make our scenario of what happened to you credible enough to keep the Fantastic Four busy if they do get back from wherever they are.”

 

    Irma began combining her own materials with the pile of scavenged oddments, quickly assembling four different devices.

 

    “The trick was to use miniaturized printed circuits innocuous enough that your scans wouldn’t consider them weapons, but which I could combine with the type of electronics sure to be around your facilities to make several bombs.”

 

    She placed one bomb near the elevator door, two under large pieces of electro-mechanical equipment, and the final device atop the console that Sue Richards was draped over.  Then she activated the elevator door and stepped inside.

 

    “I’m aware that this car will be automatically frozen when the first bomb goes off, so I’ve given myself a full minute to get clear before I transmit the detonate signal.  Almost as an afterthought, Irma turned her attention to the security bin, disabled the lock, and retrieved her weapons.

 

    “Can’t leave them here.  It wouldn’t be consistent with what we need your friends to think.”  She paused, looked at Sue again, then said before closing the elevator door, “I am sorry about this, Mrs. Richards.  I usually don’t accept straight assassination contracts, but I’ve got to pay back Hydra somehow.”

 

    When the explosions ripped apart the Baxter Building’s top floor, Alicia Masters screamed, and held the crying baby tightly to her.

 

 

(3)

 

    When you can’t be picked up by your own private jet, thought Tony Stark as he settled into his seat in the First Class section of West German Airlines Flight 17 Delta, buying all the seats on a commercial flight is a reasonable substitute.  For the first time in days he felt completely relaxed as the Boeing 747 completed its ascent from the Athens airport and leveled off to cruise at 11,000 feet.

 

    Just me, the cockpit crew, and six stewardesses.

 

    Tony took off his shoes, loosened his tie, and gratefully accepted a martini from Cindi (the blonde), anticipating a restful eight-hour flight back to the “real world.”  Greece had not been a vacation, but a conflict with the malevolent Midas, who had kidnapped Stark and threatened him with death unless he signed over his fortune.  To complicate matters, his synthetic heart tissue’s ability to withstand the stress of wearing Iron Man’s armor was unknown, and his only potential ally had been the enigmatic Madam Masque—the hideously disfigured former socialite and Maggia crime boss Whitney Frost.  She’d helped save Tony, and slipped away before he could thank her.

 

    How am I going to explain this to Jasper Sitwell, Tony thought.  His eager young SHIELD bodyguard would soon be cleared for duty after the injuries he suffered in the recent helicopter crash had healed, and habitually asked embarrassing questions.  Sitwell has fallen in love with Whitney Frost even though he discovered that she headed the Maggia.  He also believed her to be dead.

 

    Which is what she wants him to believe.  But do I?

 

    The THUMP interrupting this thought came from the empty Coach section of the plane.  Nearly thrown from his seat (not having bothered with the seat belt), Tony glanced out the nearest window and saw a turbo-powered tactical fighter bearing Hydra markings just off the 747’s starboard wing.  He felt frantically beneath his seat for the attaché case containing his armor, wasting several seconds before he recalled placing it in the overhead bin as Marjorie (one of the brunettes) had requested.  He stood to retrieve it, only to be upended as the West German pilot threw the aircraft into a steep dive as if it were a pursuit fighter, not a passenger jumbo jet.

 

    Meanwhile, the Hydra tactical assault team blew the over-wing escape hatch, having protected the plane from depressurization with a Plexiglas bubble affixed to the aircraft’s hull with an electromagnetic gasket.  Three agents in the distinctive green Hydra battle fatigues tumbled into the 747, firing wildly.  

 

    An anguished scream told Tony that at least one of the stewardesses had been hit.  Resisting the urge to waste time by looking back, he pushed himself upward again and forced the catch on the storage compartment.  His case fell, eluding his grasp for another critical second as the first Hydra agent ripped aside the curtain separating First Class from Coach, leveling his weapon at the playboy industrialist.

 

    He’s got me dead to rights, Tony thought grimly, seeing a yellow-gloved trigger finger squeezing the trigger as if in slow motion.

 

     A hand thrust past Tony’s ear and fired two rounds into the Hydra agent’s chest.

 

    His own fingers working the combination lock on the case, Tony glanced around to discover the aircraft’s captain in a well-practiced shooting stance, his legs braced between seats on opposite sides of the aisle.

 

    He could not resist asking, “Who’s flying the plane?”

 

   “My co-pilot flew Messerschmitts during the late unpleasantness,” the pilot said, stepping toward the rear of the aircraft, pistol held at high port.

 

    There was another scream from Coach, but this voice was male.  As the pilot passed the now-shredded curtain, he and Tony saw that the stewardess named Loretta (redhead) was crouched behind the row of seats nearest the lavatory, calmly firing aimed, single shots at the remaining duo of Hydra agents.  One was falling, clutching helplessly at the hole in his chest.  

 

    The last member of the boarding party was pivoting to return fire.

 

    Tony thought, Time to contribute to my own defense, and extracted a single gauntlet from his attaché case, donning it with practiced ease.  Disconnected from the rest of the suit, its transistors would only have enough power for a single repulsor blast, but in such close quarters one should be sufficient.

 

    S-P-P-P-R-A-A-N-G-G!!!

 

    The last Hydra agent hit the side of the fuselage so hard that he rebounded completely across the cabin before sliding bonelessly down into the narrow cheap seats.

 

    As the redheaded stewardess stood and began walking toward one of the wounded women, Tony noticed that she had already made her handgun disappear somewhere into her uniform.

 

    “It’s a good thing that you know how to use Iron Man’s armor, Mr. Stark,” she said.  “Loretta Huff, SHIELD.  Headquarters didn’t like it that our favorite weapons designer was flying back to the States without adequate security.”

 

    “It shouldn’t have been a problem,” Tony said, abruptly aware that the pilot had disappeared from his side.  He also realized that the 747 was still executing turns and dips, futilely attempting to evade the Hydra pursuit craft.

 

    A bright red plasma bolt arced out from the enemy aircraft, sizzling through the air just above the jumbo jet,

 

    We can’t keep this up very long, Tony thought, running down the aisle toward the cockpit.  He had already decided that blowing his cover as Iron Man blown by changing in front of everyone would have to take a back seat to saving their lives.  If there is enough time for even that.

 

     A sonic boom threw him headlong into the floor before he managed three steps.

 

     The plane suddenly leveled out, and the pilot stepped through the cockpit door, now smiling.

 

     “Fighter jets,” he said.  “F-104 Starfighters, courtesy of the West German Luftwaffe.”  To Agent Huff he added:  “We were not quite as complacent about Mr. Stark’s security as SHIELD seems to have believed.”

 

    Holding a makeshift pressure dressing over a stewardess’s ribs, Agent Huff said, “It’s a team effort, Captain.”

 

    The pilot extended his hand toward Tony.

 

     “Thank you for flying West German Air, Mr. Stark.  I am Captain Eric Koenig, and this is most fun I’ve had—that I’m allowed to talk about—in quite a few years.”

 

 

 

(4)

 

 

>>Mission record:  Unit 137-X4D<<

 

>>Tape damaged:  retrieved data follows<<

 

--indicates the failure of the boarding attempt.

 

    Hydra Agent 46 orders the pilot to ram West German Airlines Flight 17 Delta.  A 0.0027 second review of mission parameters indicates that this order eliminates the maintenance of my cover identity as Agent 104 as an operational priority.  Revised mission parameters set highest priority on survival to report status.

 

    Accordingly, I simultaneously strike the individual sitting beside me (Agent 241) with my left hand, fracturing his clavicle and rendering him combat inoperative, while drawing my 10mm Assault Pistol and firing two rounds into the back of the pilot’s (Agent 97B) cranium.  This consumes 2.143 seconds.  The pilot’s body is propelled forward against the aircraft controls, causing the vehicle to enter a nosedive at 442 miles per hour, indicating destructive contact with the ground in 34.4532 seconds.

 

Agent 46 responds to my attacks by drawing his 10mm Assault Pistol and firing one round in my direction.  Agent 46’s reaction time has exceeded projections by 1.4542 seconds.  I expend 0.0018 seconds reviewing the sequence of events and conclude that he observed me striking Agent 246 in the bulkhead reflection, accounting for the discrepancy in between his projected and actual reaction times.

 

    I fire two rounds into the back of his seat, severing his spinal cord at the L2/L3 vertebrae, rending him combat ineffective.

 

    The round that Agent 46 fired in my direction hits a power node in the aircraft’s upper weapons array.  The resulting explosion sends shrapnel across the cabin, decapitating Agent 241 and striking me three times in the scapular plates and twice in the cranial sensory area.  A damage assessment of 0.0076 seconds determines that 42.3% of the synthetic flesh over the left upper quadrant of my cranium has been burned away; my left ocular has been disabled, along with my emergency stabilizing gyroscopes; and my long-range communications have been rendered inoperable, necessitating another change in mission parameters.

 

    Calculating that the intensity of the explosion when the aircraft impacts the ground has an 84.72% chance of either destroying or rendering me mission inoperable, I fire the remaining thirteen rounds of 10mm ammunition at the hinges and locks on the emergency egress panel.  One of those rounds ignites the explosive charges that blow the door free.

 

    I require 4.773 seconds to remove my safety harness and move toward the opening.  Rapid gyrations of the falling aircraft and failure of my stabilizing gyroscopes complicate the maneuver of exiting the aircraft.  I require an additional 6.274 seconds to pass through the opening and propel myself away from the aircraft.

 

    10.4451 seconds later I impact the ground at 287.4609 miles per hour.  The 4.023 micron thick covering of vibranium on the soles of my boots absorbs 78.3% of the impact, but the residual force compromises my primary internal skeleton, damaging all primary systems.  I remain inert within a six-foot-deep crater created by my landing for 118.3988 seconds while rerouting power and engaging emergency back-up systems.  My humanoid frame has been rendered inoperable for long-range locomotion, but I activate the tertiary arachnid travel assembly from my ribcage, with six of the eight legs registering functional.  Carrying a minimum brainpack, this assembly will maintain a ground speed of 67.9333 miles per hour.  My inertial navigational system estimates that 18.1207 hours will elapse before I reach Latveria to file my report.

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