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This one is in between morally-grey and evil. He uses everything possible to get strong. Well, Twelve Step Program To Omnipotence fits the description, but the protaganist is a self insert, not a superhero. It is one of my favorites, and almost complete, so I think you should give it a shot.
Getting out of Africa was significantly easier than getting in. After taking our leave from the village Sterns and I had rendezvoused at (which involved a lot of crying on the part of the villagers and reluctant promises to return from Sterns) we started making our way towards the East Coast. While Cape Town was one of the bigger ports on the African continent it was also where we had first made landfall and if there were people hounding my steps (which I was convinced that there were) then going back there might put me back on their radar.
No, we were going to Mombasa in Kenya. It was the third largest port in Africa and known for two things: being corrupt and having extensive warehousing facilities. Also, it's the largest point of import for Uganda as well, which is lying directly next to it.
Which in turn lies next to Wakanda.
While travelling around Africa would increase our travel time to almost a month, it beat chancing discovery by whoever might be looking for me in South-Africa, and travelling to a port on the West Coast would mean travelling over the width of Africa by land, going through near a half-dozen countries (and subsequently a dozen border checks).
We made good time travelling through the heel of Uganda (mostly because Sterns was capable of learning even faster than me and by now was driving as if he was born in a truck) avoiding the bigger town and keeping to the side roads.
Sterns had managed to arrange for the village to give us enough supplies so we didn't have to stop during our trip for food and as I needed less sleep than the average human (I only required about three hours a day, though I was completely dead to the world during those hours) I just kept on driving through the night as Sterns slept.
We only had to stop a couple of times for gas (being as rural as it was, the village didn't exactly bother with hoarding jerry cans of fuel) during which the eggheaded scientist would stay in the cabin under a cloak, while I wore a long-sleeved shirt and sunglasses in order to hide my secondary function as a walking glow-stick.
The only real obstacle we ran into was the border-patrol when we were about to enter Kenya. As we came upon the road-block, I briefly thought about simply ramming the truck straight through, but eventually decided against it. Every guard there was armed with a machine gun, and while that wouldn't really pose a threat to me, there was a lot of sensitive equipment in the trailer which functioned much better without bullet holes in them.
Oh, right, and there was the fact that Sterns wasn't bulletproof of course.
So instead I slowed down to a halt when a particularly surly man was holding up a white-gloved hand in the universal stop sign. Walking up to my side of the cabin, he rapped on the metal with his billy club, talking to me in Ugandan.
I didn't quite catch what he was saying, but I got the gist of it, so reluctantly I got out of the truck, landing with my booted feet in the mud right in front of the guard. As I straightened, I saw the man suddenly grow a lot wearier when he noticed that he was on the same eye-level as my diaphragm.
Tilting his head back to scowl at my face, he extended one hand, palm flat as he barked another order. Seeing that I hadn't really understood, the man scowled even more severely, before switching to heavily accented English.
Giving a placating nod, I (slowly, as the man seemed skittish enough) slipped my hand in the back pocket of my cargo pants, retrieving a small booklet. Placing it in his hands, I simply stood and watched as the border guard opened the little book.
Of course, there were no papers inside. Whatever few identification papers I had had after leaving the orphanage had either been just the bare-bones basics, or fake. Now, however I didn't have any at all due to the simple fact that I no longer looked anything like my old pictures.
For one, on those my eyes didn't glow as if I'm some B-List monster.
So the booklet I just gave the guard was filled with empty pages.
Empty pages…. and a stack of 5.000 US dollars.
Compared to what I had made when I sold Klaue's stock, even at ridiculously low prizes, 5.000 dollars was something that I could spend without worrying about emptying my funds. It wasn't a pittance, but for a bribe it was money well spent.
Especially when you consider that 5.000 dollars is equivalent to roughly 18,6 million Ugandan shilling.
As the man's eyes fell on the stack of paper that would instantly make him a millionaire, I saw him stiffen completely, a small tremor in his hands the only thing signifying that he wasn't a statue.
As the man slowly (almost tenderly) closed the fake passport, he looked up at me with a stony expression, and briefly I wondered if I made a mistake. Don't tell me I just had to stumble on the rare incorruptible official in Uganda just as I was standing not even twenty feet away from its borders.
But then the booklet closed with a snap, and he held it out towards me, face still fixed in the same expression. Hesitantly, I grabbed my fake papers, and as I pulled it from his grasp I could see the tips of his fingers grip the stack of money, which smoothly slid out of the booklet and into in his hand as I took the passport in mine.
In a single move, born from what can only be decades of experience, his hand went across his chest, and the money disappeared underneath his buttoned shirt as he turned around, gripping his billy club.
To the other guards, it probably just looked as if he shifted his baton from one hand to the other.
Making a hand gesture to have the barrier raised, he looked over his shoulder at me (still with a scowl on his face even after I just made him a multi-millionaire, so I'm thinking this guy is either always angry, all the time, or an Inhuman with the specific mutation of not changing his expression) and gestured towards me to get back in the truck.
I wasted no time in following the order, glad I kept the engine running, and at his shouted command of 'Go!' I was off through the checkpoint without a second glance.
And that's one country less between me and the completion of my next step: Step 11 recruit scientists that can be useful in enhancing me or advancing other Steps of the Program.
Step 11a: Recruit Noah Burstein and have him make me bulletproof.
Onwards, to Mombasa!
Mombasa is… loud. The amount of traffic is mind-boggling, and I don't mean just the streets. The port itself is an absolute madhouse of activity and there's not a berth that isn't filled to the brim with ships, cargo and people.
In a way, it's perfect for me and Sterns, as this chaos makes going around unseen a lot easier for two mutates.
On the other hand, that many people packed together means that the sounds, the sights, the smells… well, let's just say that I don't see Bruce Banner having a good time here any time soon.
Still, hive of scum and villainy as it was, it still perfectly suited my needs, and slipping a couple of dollars to a dock-worker in what seemed like an official looking vest gave us directions to a warehouse that stood empty.
Most of the vast amount of warehouses in Mombasa were currently in use to store cargo which would either be exported further inland (mainly towards Uganda) or overseas (hopefully towards America).
Which meant that the ones standing empty were the ones nobody really wanted to use unless absolutely necessary.
Looking at the hole in the roof and the army of rats in the various nooks and crannies, I certainly understood the sentiment.
Still, while it wasn't much (understatement of the year there) a few bribes had ensured that it was mine to do with whatever I pleased, guaranteed no questions asked.
'Sides the neighbors were really nice people, even if they were drug dealers.
All I had to do now was keep an ear to the ground (figuratively of course, I think even Extremis would have trouble combating the myriad of diseases that flooded the dirty streets of the harbor) in order to spot a ship that would head towards America.
Unfortunately, the first ship that went even remotely in that direction wouldn't leave in over a week.
Fortunately, that ship would go immediately to New York.
Unfortunately, driving from New York City to the ferry in Georgia (which was the only legal access point to Seagate Penitentiary) was a twelve hour trip.
Hopefully Burstein only commuted to the prison, instead of actually living on the island, but knowing my luck that wouldn't be the case. Which sucked, because while springing some of the inmates was a really interesting idea (Justin Hammer, for all his faults, had at one point commanded an army of robots. At least, for a short while) I think that freeing supervillains from prison might place too much heat on me.
You see what I did there? Because the Extremis… and heat… oh never mind.
So no, if I could grab Burstein outside of the prison, then that would be great as it could be seen as the man just suddenly quitting his job. However, if I went in there (which with my altered form would certainly raise questions I'd rather not answer) and then took him, it would certainly be seen as a kidnapping, which would bring down the authorities on me.
But if how did I find out where he lived? And if I approached him at home, would he even be able to perform the experiment or did he require equipment within Seagate? And on and on the list of pros and cons went, since I realized that how I handled Burstein would shape how I would handle the other scientists as well.
Whatever approach I would end up using would tell me what to do and also what not to do if I went after the other people on my list.
So, grab him at home, or at work?
This dilemma kept tumbling around in my brain even when we managed to 'book' passage on the cargo ship (it's amazing, having money! It makes bribing people so easy!) and I was still thinking about it after we'd loaded in the truck (Sterns had spent his time waiting on me to arrive from Wakanda fixing it and now he'd gotten attached to 'Oliver') and I hadn't stopped thinking about it even when we were already out at sea.
Finally Sterns got fed up with my moping (his words, not mine. I insisted I was plotting. He disagreed) and decided to lift my (his) spirits.
By hitting me over the head with a wrench.
Sure I was durable enough to not really get damaged other than a light scratch which healed itself in seconds, but damn, that didn't mean it didn't hurt!
'Goddammit Sterns, what the hell was that for!'
Completely unbothered by my fuming expression, the egghead turned back towards where he had Oliver's engine block set up with an uncaring shrug, fiddling around with it in order to give his 'little friend' more torque.
'Looking at the same sullen expression on your face for almost a week was getting boring. So I decided to have you make a new one.'
'What kind of bullshit excuse is that!?'
Looking at me over his shoulder with a raised eyebrow, the scientist let out a cheeky grin.
'It worked, didn't it?'
My annoyance soared to new heights, and there was almost literally smoke pouring from my ears, but I took a deep breath which I let out in a great heaving sigh (almost setting the papers with the rough outline of my plan on fire) as I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose.
'This is important Sterns. I have absolutely no idea how to go about recruiting people to my cause, or even how to keep a small group in line and following my lead.'
Reaching up to his elbow into Oliver's engine, Sterns gave a thoughtful grunt.
'You seemed to do fine with me. And Klaue. And Killmonger.'
'To be fair, you didn't need much convincing. And I forced Klaue to work for me under the threat of dismemberment, which last I checked, doesn't really build a healthy working relationship. And Killmonger, well he was angry enough that all I had to do was mix some lies with some truths, and then point him in the direction I needed him to go.'
He also seemed to do fine without me.
While conflicts (skirmishes, shoot-outs, assassinations that kinda thing) kept occurring all over the world, courtesy of the hidden shadow war between different factions of War Dogs, Wakanda itself was making great strides.
The world had come down like a ton of bricks on the hidden utopia, and most organizations (UN, NATO, EU) were chomping at the bit to gain entry to the country, citing that since healthcare had been sent while it obviously hadn't been needed, some kind of refund had to be made.
A lot of questions were being asked about Wakanda's economy, especially how the hell they got so rich while pretending to be poor in the first place. How much money laundering and financial shenanigans did they have to commit to hide all that money? Any banking or financial transaction creates a trail, yet every organization checked their books and found barely any mention of the country. So they never traded with any country at any time? Vibranium is the source of all their wealth, but where and how were they getting all that money from if they didn't trade or sell their most valuable resource to anyone in the outside world (Saudi Arabia didn't become so rich from not selling their oil after all)?
Other nations had thought of Wakanda as a poorer, simpler country than they were. Revealing they've actually been hugely wealthy for a very long time had made a lot of investigators around the world very interested in what else and how much they've been hiding.
Killmonger (though he went by his Wakandan name N'Jadaka now) had acquiesced to the global community's demands, and had started exporting small amounts of Vibranium.
Which people had to bring back to Wakanda in order to make futuristic technology out of, since only Wakanda had the know-how for manipulating the metal for complex structures and machines. For now, at least.
While Vibranium itself was a miracle metal (the auto-industry alone nearly fainted when they cottoned on to the full implication of using kinetic energy absorbing metal in their vehicles) its absurd properties meant that using it in the way Wakanda had shown to be capable of was incredibly difficult to figure out (which supported my idea of the metal being artificially made by advanced aliens who used its mystical properties to imprint information on the metal itself. According to the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. show the Kree had managed to do basically the same with their DNA what with the Words of Creation and all).
Killmonger's tactics showed his MIT-background: he knew that merely sitting on valuable export materials wasn't enough to make your country prosperous. Niger was (behind Wakanda of course) a country with some of the most expensive natural resources on the continent, sitting on one of Africa's largest deposits of uranium ore (being the 4th largest supplier of the stuff in the world), as well as huge supplies of gold, coal and oil.
It's also ranked by the UN as the second least-developed country in the world, with 45% of its population living below the poverty line and with only 20% being literate.
N'Jadaka wasn't promoting Vibranium: he was promoting human capital.
Still, what my former ally was up to in the heart of Africa wasn't really my concern as the distance between us kept being increased by the Atlantic Ocean. Let him carve out a piece of the world for himself, let the rest of the humanity make the most advanced metal in the universe theirs through whatever means necessary.
As long as I completed my 20 Step Program, I didn't care.
Another thwack across the head made me snap from my musings.
'What the hell Sterns!? That hurts, dammit!'
'You were brooding again.'
We were sitting outside underneath the starry night sky, having taken a break after 9 hours of driving after our arrival back in the Unites States that day. Thankfully, as there weren't any border checks between states in America we could make use of the main roads and had made good time.
Right now, however we had decided to stop by the side of a little off-road path in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by tall pine trees and a small campfire merrily crackling away in-between us.
'So, what's the plan?' Sterns asks, slurping from his bean soup, with his back against his beloved Oliver.
'Get Burstein. Help him in his research. Have him make me bulletproof.'
'Right, right, I get that part. But after?'
I pause in eating my chili con carne straight from the pot (one of the more conventional benefits of Extremis is never having to use oven-mitts anymore) spoon raised half-way to my mouth as I look at the scientist in confusion.
'After? After what?'
'After we get the scientists on your list? What then? Are you going to keep us on the run? Michael, if this works out, and they accept being enhanced, then we'll have some of the foremost geniuses on the planet in a single group. The way we could advance science, advance medicine! It's incredible!'
Slowly I stir my food as I contemplate my friend's words.
It wasn't like I hadn't thought about it (with my new brain and improved sleeping schedule there really wasn't a lot left which I didn't think about) but while I agreed with the sentiment, I was struggling with the execution.
Thing is, scientific discovery can take anywhere from 5 to 10 years before it's trickled down to the general populace. Pharmaceutical innovations could take even longer before they were approved to be marketed.
Sure, my Steps insured that I personally had a lot of power, so I didn't really need to fear anything less than a visit from top-tier Avengers (say, the Hulk or Thor), but this wasn't the case for those who were working under me.
Though I didn't believe Sterns for a second when he told me he hadn't given Oliver various sci-fi weaponry and gadgets.
But if I wanted an organization of my own, it would need to be a public one as I didn't know the first thing about setting up shadow organizations and unfortunately there weren't really any self-help books on the subjects. Not to mention that I didn't fancy trying to compete with organizations that had been at it for decades, centuries or even millennia in some cases. No, for my organization to remain safe from the shadowy clutches of Hydra or the Hand and the like, it needed to be put on the map instantly, not wait 5 to 10 years before the general public even knew it existed or what I could offer them.
I would need to do something drastic.
'We'd go public.'
Sterns nearly chokes on his bean soup, and I patiently wait until he's capable of breathing again before I can continue.
'We would target different groups. First we appeal to the masses, make the technology of Stark and Wakanda available to everybody, for a price of course, and nothing that could be turned against us. They'll kill for what we can offer, and if someone would try to shut us down or anything like that, there would be rebellion. But we supply those types of tech that would have everybody in the Army and whatever Agency perk up at the possibilities it presents. They'll circle us like sharks, and ironically, in doing so they'll protect us from being… disappeared by the likes of S.H.I.E.L.D.'
Sterns is clearly skeptical.
'Let me get this straight. You want to get public opinion behind you by giving them goodies based of advanced technology, which incidentally could also be used for military purposes, making us too high-profile with the masses and too valuable for the military so S.H.I.E.L.D. can't take us down from the shadows?'
Ignoring his incredulous look in favor of continuing with my chili con carne, I simply nod.
'Think about it. We bring something for the masses, make our name known to just about everybody in an instant. This of course will draw the attention of spooks and the like, but then we'll release something amazing, something ground-breaking. Nobody will be able to stop talking about us, we'll be asked for interviews all over the country. There'll be so many spotlights on us, shadow organizations wouldn't dare to come within ten feet of us. And in that void steps the Army and private contractors, like Pym Technologies, and all S.H.I.E.L.D. can do at that point is observe from a distance if they want to keep their anonymity.'
Sterns gives an explosive sigh at my explanation, staring at his soup deep in thought.
'That's a lot of if's, Michael.'
'It's just called hiding in plain sight Sam, animals do it all the time.'
'Well yes, but they don't generally have to deal with an international spy organization out to get them.'
'With S.H.I.E.L.D. you never know. Who knows what sort of hobbies those people keep hidden?'
We share a brief chuckle at the joke, but silence quickly returns as we both resume staring at the flames of our campfire. Recruiting more people was both a benefit and a liability: it meant more people who could help in completing my Plan, but it also meant more people who could be captured and/or interrogated.
'So what were you thinking about marketing then? In order to get the masses behind us?'
'The Arc Reactor. We'll market the old version, not the one with Vibranium, so it breaks down after a while which will mean people have to buy new ones. It could literally be used for everything that currently uses energy; transportation, lighting, house-hold applications. It'll allow us to break into every market at once.'
'Stark will sue the shit out of us. Hell, if it were up to him, our grandkids would still be in debt.'
'He'll certainly try, yes. Thing is, he ain't that popular with the Government since he has stopped sharing his toys with them. We'll supply to everyone, everywhere. In every house, every school, every public building there'll be one of our Blue Boxes. A Blue Box which holds an Arc Reactor, making it different on the surface than one of Stark's inventions. It would be a paper-thin disguise at best, I don't think we could keep something like this hidden from him for more than a month. But I can guarantee you, there won't be a judge in the world that'll rule in favor of having all of that sweet tech that she uses to commute to work without a CO2-emission removed and handed over to Stark.'
'You don't know that. They might decide to do their jobs and actually follow the law, you know? Just throwing it out there as a possibility.'
I grinned at Sterns miffed tone.
'Sure. But they're still human. And if there's one thing that unites all humans is that we're all capable of being bribed.'
Sterns lifts up his nose at the mention of bribing government officials, but he doesn't dismiss it out of hand. Seems his time with me on the run has bled some of that idealism from him.
'So, we rip Stark off and get noticed in every single branch of industry that could use the next source of energy after the invention of the internal combustion engine. What's next? Sure, people will talk about us, but I can't see them take up arms if we were to suddenly be… disappeared.'
'Pharmaceuticals? Really? Michael, marketing a new drug can easily take decades, and if you're thinking about what I'm thinking you are thinking, then decades is an optimistic estimate.'
'I know that. But we don't need to hit the market. We just need to impress the people with the fact that we could market this. Think about it Sterns. With what you've learned from the way Extremis boosts and repairs the body, you could basically heal any wound, right?'
The eggheaded scientist briefly mulls this over, before giving a hesitant nod, clearly wondering where I'm taking this.
'Now, imagine using that knowledge, and make it into a cure for an ALS-patient. Or using the same method you used to enhance my brain, and turn it into a cure for Alzheimer's. And that's just the tip, Sterns. With Extremis and the Supersoldier Serum, everybody can be as perfect as Captain America himself. Hell, given the internal temperature of an Extremis subject, we could literally burn the HIV-virus from the human race!'
Sterns folds his arms in front of his chest, a severe frown on his face as he thinks my proposal over.
'I don't know Michael. Auto-immune diseases are so difficult to treat because it's the body attacking itself. If you were to enhance the body… that might turn out very badly. And don't even get me started on messing around with brains-'
'-But could you do it?'
'Sterns. Could. You. Do it?'
There falls a long silence between us, as the scientist keeps looking at the noses of his shoes as he sinks deep into thought. Eventually, he glances up at me from underneath his gargantuan forehead, and gives a hesitant nod.
'With enough time… and maybe a few more enhancements to my intellect… but yes. Yes, with all of the different ways to enhance a human I've seen so far, I could eventually cure humanity of nearly every disease.'
With a grin splitting my face, I give a loud clap of my hands in triumph.
'Them's fighting words Doc! Alright! And that's exactly what we'll tell every pharmaceutical company, every university and every research lab that we can reach.'
'I assume this is where your smoke-screen of Army and contractors comes into play then?' Sterns asks in a droll voice, but I can see the amusement flickering in his eyes.
'Of course. Even the Army can rub enough neurons together to understand that if we can turn someone who's ill into someone who's in perfect health, then applying the same thing to someone who's already healthy…'
'… will make superhumans.'
'More importantly, it'll make supersoldiers. Ever since Captain America, all everybody has been able to think about is making more of him. And they'll bend over backwards in order to get their hands on a steady supply of them.'
Shifting on the log he had been using as a chair, Sterns looks at me in apprehension.
'I don't know how I feel about making supersoldiers Michael. Blonksy kinda soured me on the whole concept of it.'
I wave away his worries though.
'We won't actually give them supersoldiers. Just enough to keep them on a leash. A pill to make their soldiers smarter, or a gel that seals any wound. There's a lot we can do with your smarts and the tech I stole. The Army is merely useful in that it's larger than any other organization that could be out to get us, so if they're in the way then maneuvering around them will be a bureaucratic nightmare. No, we're interested in trade, mostly with other advanced companies. Imagine what we could do if we entered a partnership with Pym Technologies. Imagine what we could do if we enhanced Hank Pym himself!'
Slowly, Sterns gets more and more exited at the prospect of getting back onto the scientific stage again, especially if he can uplift his fellow scientists as well.
'You know what? That doesn't sound too bad actually. I'm sure we can find the cure to some of the more prominent degenerative diseases within a couple of years. Hell, with what I know now I think I can even come up with a serum that would negate Parkinson's entirely!'
I grin at his growing enthusiasm.
Back in my old universe I occasionally watched the animated show Family Guy, and while it was a silly comedy, sometimes it came with some rather startlingly deep insights. And a line that had stayed me, even after I got reborn into an entirely new universe, was one regarding health care.
'Because there's far more money to be made in treating a disease than curing it. Why cure someone of cancer in a day? When you can treat them for a lifetime and bill them every step along the way.'
But Sterns wasn't like that; despite what he had been through from the moment I crashed through the wall into his lab, he still was an idealist, and he would not be satisfied with anything less than a complete cure, which the various serums and his own new brain would finally allow him to create.
It would be just one more thing that would catapult us to the top of pharmaceuticals.
'Oh no! Your poor baby has a genetic disease that'll bleed you and yours dry for the entirety of its life due to the expensive medicine our competitors are selling? Fear not! For we can simply give him a shot now, and it'll be as healthy as can be for the rest of its life!'
I could hear the jingle already.
'So, the plan has passed muster then?' I ask with a laugh as I scrape the lasts bits of meat from the bottom of the pan.
By now Sterns has begun pacing in his excitement, and he turns towards me with a gin of his own.
'Honestly? I think S.H.I.E.L.D. will knock down our door the moment you take your shades off on TV. But I'm certainly interested in seeing what a group of hyper-intelligent scientists can come up with before we're all thrown in jail.'
I laugh at his bleak prognosis, opening the cool box next to my lawn chair, throwing Sterns a beer and taking one for myself as well (we had bought it mostly on my insistence that a road-trip just wasn't complete without beer, even though neither one of us could really get drunk anymore. Extremis literally burned through it, but how Sterns managed it I don't know, though it might just be he can really hold his liquor well).
'To the Plan!'
Opening his own beer, Sterns raised it to the night sky with a laugh as well.
'To the Plan!'
Miracle above miracles, it turned out that Burstein was a commuter, instead of living in the facilities of Seagate itself. Finding his address had been stupidly easy, as he had his contact information on his Facebook-page (which sported the deliciously awkward profile pic of him doing the hover-arm manoeuvre with Megan Fox of all people).
So instead of having to enter Seagate penitentiary without being seen, I just decided to wait for the scientist at home. Even if it turned out that he couldn't enhance me due to a lack of equipment, then I could still offer him enhancement or at the very least take his research.
I gained Hulk-enhanced muscles and made my own power armour in a storage shed, and injected myself with the Extremis-virus in the hold of a cargo ship, so I literally had dealt with worse than stealing blueprints to take back to the smartest person on the planet and a trailer with scientific equipment set up.
Still, things would be made a lot easier if Burstein decided to join us. Not only would it shave months off of the time we would've needed to recreate the experiment that made Luke Cage in an even bigger badass than Carl Lucas had been, having another super-intelligent scientist around would speed up my plan for going public immensely since we could then afford a much greater workload.
So in order to get him on my side, I decided to go with the shock-and-awe technique.
Which meant being decked out fully in my new and improved armour, hiding inside his house after landing in his garden, where I would wait in accordance with the classic horror-movie formula (wait until the person is bucking at something, then suddenly stand behind them when they straighten again).
Honestly, my armour has changed immensely ever since I had left it in Sterns' care when I went off to infiltrate Wakanda. Whenever he hadn't been busy with upgrading Oliver (and it worried me just a bit that I couldn't really spot anything out of the ordinary other than the utterly silent engine) he had gone over the armour, mainly trying to improve minor things like software.
Then I gave him a cache of Wakandan technology and Vibranium and he went wild.
While we needed more advanced facilities to make use of the Vibranium on the same level as the Panther Habit, the heat my Extremis-fuelled body produced proved enough to melt the metal (which though awesome also kinda sucked, since lining my body with metal was apparently a no-go since Extremis) so we could shape it into basic forms.
Which meant I now had a helmet and reinforced spine on my armour, made out of Vibranium, through which ran some of the most advanced electronics on the planet. My breastplate was also covered in a thin sheet of the meteor metal, though I didn't want to use too much of my limited supply on what wasn't the final form of my armour.
I'm no Tony Stark, I can't just sink millions into a suit, then put it on a nice display and start working on a new one. Every time I gained (= stole) new technology I would need to be able to incorporate it into the armour, slowly evolving it over time.
Like the two extra arms coming out of the back of the suit and arching over my shoulders.
With all the advanced technology I had stolen from Wakanda I had hoped to have Sterns make me Doc Ock's arms out of Vibranium. Not only did it have amazing combat applications, it would also allow me to bypass how unwieldy my large hands were for precision work. It could enable me to work in environments that were dangerous to even someone like me (like Chernobyl, or something).
Unfortunately, manipulating such highly sophisticated arms simultaneously required a level of multitasking my brain just wasn't capable of. Yet. How Octavius managed it in the Sam Raimi movies I'll never know, though the chip on his cerebellum probably had something to do with it, but since that was also the only thing between him and insanity, I wasn't eager to try my luck with them.
Sterns of course had gleefully made himself a suit with six arms, which he could have perform complex tasks simultaneously.
While his smugness was nearly unbearable, it also allowed him to work six times faster, and during our trip from Mombasa, Kenya to Savannah, Georgia he had crafted two simpler arms for my own armour.
I honestly thought they looked something like a cross between the Yellowjacket Suit that Darren Cross would end up making in a couple of years and the back-pincers of a zergling.
Two separate Arc Reactors (still from the very small supply I scavenged from the Vanko drones, since creating a Reactor of my own would require some materials that would be difficult to obtain from the trailer of a truck) inside a Vibranium-shielded, flat 'back-pack' provided both energy and the anchoring point for the additional appendages, while Stark servos were combined with advanced Wakandan software in order to have them react smoothly to my will.
A powerful battery in the head of the arm, behind the pointed, bladed tips, drew energy from the Arc Reactors and were used to power the lasers that were hidden in a thin split down the blade of the pincers.
Which, of course, were made out of Vibranium as well.
On its own, my new and improved armour looked lethal.
In the dark of a sub-urban home, standing directly behind its occupant who had no clue I was even there, my eyes visibly lit up behind the lenses of my helmet?
Well, if Burstein's high-pitch scream in combination with throwing his carton of milk in the air (and subsequently all over me) and falling down onto his kitchen floor were any indication, I could look absolutely terrifying.
Well, less so now that Burstein had spilled milk all over me in his panic, but still.
'W-W-Who are you?!'
Trying (and somewhat failing) to contain my anger at this oaf who threw milk all over my shiny, new, expensive armour, I walk closer to the scientist as he scoots away from me, until his back hits the fridge. I bend down on one knee so were closer together, my massive armoured form looming over his shaking one, slowly extending my pincers, the Vibranium blades hovering on either side of him.
Which is when my face plate slams up, showing my smiling expression.
'Hello there Doctor Burstein! My name is Michael McCole and I'm putting together an extraordinary science team! How'd you like to be the second-smartest man on the planet?'
Which, of course, is when he faints.
'Really Samuel, this is amazing! I cannot thank you enough, the way I now look at my research it's…'
'I know, Noah, I know. I felt the same about my own work when I first got enhanced as well. Things that I had agonized over in the past now looked so… simple, you know? Everything started making sense; it was just taking the obvious, logical next step in my research.'
'Yes! Exactly! I look back on my research of years and all I can keep thinking is: how could I have possibly missed that an exothermic reaction was needed as catalyst for the procedure!'
At my shout Noah nearly jumps a hole in the ceiling of his shed, though Sterns remains completely unfazed, merely lifting his head enough so he can peer disapprovingly at me over the edge of the monitor he's squirreled away behind.
While Burstein was quick to acquiesce to having his intellect increased (especially since Sterns vouched for it, as it seemed they knew each other peripherally through shared fields of study) he remained scared of me after I pulled my horror-movie trick on him.
Serves him right, that should teach him to not throw milk over my beautiful new armour.
Still, once he had experienced the eye-opening new way intellectually enhanced people saw the world (to this day, despite the skull-splitting head ache I had at the time, that moment when I regained control over my senses after Sterns boosted my brain remained one of my favourite memories) he was quick to join us, excitement at the thought of advancements we would make in science swiftly removing any objections he might have had.
Still, while I encouraged him and Sterns bonding over techno-babble and hyper-intelligence as it made him more loyal to us, that didn't mean I enjoyed being suspended naked over a bathtub (well, technically two bathtubs, as I was too big to fit into one, so I sawed the ends on one side off and welded them together) filled with acidic liquid, strapped down to a metal gurney in the shed of a guy who I had known all of two weeks.
Yeah, my life had gotten really weird.
'Can we get on with it? Please? If past experience has taught me anything, then enhancing myself like this is gonna hurt like a bitch and a half, so let's not drag it out any further, yeah?'
Briefly, the two scientists shared a look, before Sterns fixes me with a stare again, and though I can't see his face behind the monitor I just know he's grinning.
'Sure, your call.'
And with those words I'm dropped into a bathtub filled with acid.
As expected it hurts like a bitch, the entirety of my skin screaming out in pain as it's being eaten away, only to grow back, the heat Extremis is giving off as its going into overdrive in order to heal the massive amounts of damage I'm going through boiling the water around me.
And that's before Burstein flips the switch and electrocutes me.
I had been tied down to the steel gurney (which is beginning to oxidize, but I'm too consumed by pain to really notice) with heavy iron chains, but when the electricity slams through my every nerve they might as well have been made out of wet tissue paper as all of my muscles lock up and I start trashing.
Dimly, as if they're miles away from me, I can hear Sterns and Burstein's panicked shouts as I punch a hole straight through the bathtub, acid leaking around my clenched fist through the hole onto the concrete floor of Burstein's shed.
And as the level of liquid inside the tub slowly starts to decrease, and the scientists panic rises, one thought claws its way through the combined pain of being electrocuted and slowly dissolved simultaneously.
'I'm not doing this shit again'
In Seagate prison, Luke Cage was created after the racist prison guard Rackham turned the dial up to eleven, causing an explosion. In Burstein's shed, Luke Cage was healed after Claire Temple realized the same thing and proceeded to possibly cook her potential love interest alive.
Me, on the other hand?
I could go hotter than that.
Way hotter than that.
Focusing on the pain that was eating away at my skin and thundering through my nerves, I crack one of my molars as I grit my teeth, pulling deep at the heat inside me, deeper than I had ever before.
Light starts to consume my vision as my chest starts to experience a horrible aching feeling, and for one delirious moment I think I'm back in the cargo hold of a ship on its way to South-Africa, burning away from the inside as Extremis sets me on fire.
I don't stop.
More and more heat is pouring off me, until I feel that I could explode at any moment.
And considering the cocktail swirling inside my body, that isn't a metaphor.
I don't stop.
By now I don't have any coherent thoughts in my brain anymore, my world is just pain and heat as I will myself to burn hotter and hotter. I can't even be afraid that what I'm doing might kill me as agony overrides any thought I could have.
And then, in a bright flash of heat and flame, it all just stops, the bathtub exploding in a shower of ceramic.
Lying on the cracked concrete floor of the shed, I'm flat out on my back, barely drawing in pitiful gasps of air. I nearly freak out when I realize that I'm not immediately starting to get better, as there's no heat signifying that I'm healing, but then I realize that my entire body feels hot.
Rolling over onto my stomach, I slowly push myself up on trembling arms, which is when I notice that I'm completely dry.
The acid had been evaporated.
Sluggishly I try to straighten, though I almost fall immediately to my knees. I straighten again, and this time I manage to remain upright and slowly, oh so slowly, I can feel Extremis kicking in, almost as if it is as tired beyond measure like I am.
Looking at my arm, I can see the air simmer around me, thin trails of steam rolling off my skin, showing the after effects of focusing Extremis throughout my entire body. More importantly than that, however, is the fact that the texture of my skin has changed.
It's very subtle, and you'd need to get closer than most people will ever get to me and live to tell about it, but my skin didn't look like human skin anymore.
It had a rough, raised texture to it, layering itself in nearly invisible lines.
Hearing a door open behind me, I turn to see Sterns and Burstein peek through the doorframe, the former analysing the damage that last flash of heat had done to the shed and equipment, while the latter gawked at my mutated form (like he did every time he saw my raised skeleton).
'D-Did it work?' Burstein asks haltingly as both scientists step into the shed, my newest asset only now noticing the damage to his property if his outraged sputters are anything to go by.
Sterns on the other hand merely looks at my smoking form with narrowed eyes, giving out a humming sound as he seems to consider something.
Then he whips out a silenced pistol and shoots me in the chest.
While Burstein drops to the ground with his hands over his head, I'm still too numb from my latest ordeal to react fast enough to the bullet, and stare somewhat numbly as the piece of supersonic lead flattens itself against my pec, and then falls to the floor, smoking a bit at the tip.
Slowly I look back at Sterns, who is still holding the silenced gun (and I do mean silenced: using the properties of Vibranium and the technology from Wakanda Sterns had made a silencer that reduced the explosive sound of a gunshot to the level of the fart of a mouse), massive grin on his face.
As my brain works through the last ten seconds, realization steadily begins to dawn in my tired mind.
'You shot me.'
There's no anger or accusation in my voice, as I'm far too spent for displaying any such emotions. At my flat statement, Sterns pockets the pistol in his lab coat, grin widening even further, even as Burstein hesitantly works himself back to his feet again.
'Yes. But did you die?'
Looking from the friend who moments ago had shot me in the chest, to said chest, and then to the bullet in question a grin slowly starts to form on my face as well.
'Didn't feel a thing.'
And I start laughing, slowly at first but I keep laughing louder and louder until I'm gripping my sides, eventually Sterns joining in and even Burstein giving a nervous chuckle or two.
Because only in this universe can you get thrown into acid, get electrocuted and then turn yourself into an explosion of heat, and come out bulletproof.
Watching a bullet literally flatten itself on your skin?
I dare you, I double dare you to find a feeling more awesome than that.
Coming down from my hysterics, leaning over with my hands on my knees, the raised ribcage over my chest heaving with my harried breaths, I look back at my little team, longer than normal incisors gleaming in the light of the fluorescent tubes in the ceiling.
'Step 11a: Complete.'
Fun Fact: Bill Sarnoff, the head of DC Comics' parent company Warner Communications, approached Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Jim Shooter in 1984 about licensing the publishing rights to the entire DC Universe. Sarnoff figured that Marvel, who dominated the market at the time, were better suited to making successful comics featuring Batman, Superman, and the Justice League. Marvel's publisher at the time, Jim Galton, declined Sarnoff's offer, thinking that those comics weren't selling well because the characters weren't very good.
Twelve Steps To Omnipotence Fanfiction Pdf
Aftermath – Part II Six hours after the Massacre
Six hours after the Massacre
Straightening her skirt out of habit, Peggy Carter raised her fist (for the first time in decennia without any wrinkles, something she was still getting used to) and knocked on the door of the hotel room in which the most infamous CEO in the world had currently moved in.
She only had to wait for a moment, before a deep rumbling voice called out to her from within the room.
Turning the handle, Peggy opened the door, before slowly allowing it to fall closed behind her. However, at the very last moment, she hooked her toes around the edge of the door, keeping it from falling completely into the lock.
Almost immediately, she felt the weight of the door lessen, and let go, the door remaining in place, from a distance appearing to be closed.
This all took all of a second, and then Peggy was striding through the hallway, as if nothing had happened, and most people wouldn't even have noticed that anything had.
Following the sound of his voice, Peggy walked into the living room, seeing the enormous CEO stretched out on the couch in front of the TV.
Wearing a fluffy white bathrobe.
For a moment, the sheer surrealism of what she was seeing made her pause, as she tried to reconcile the image of the flaming demon that had been dominating the news all day with the man who was just lying there, fluffy slippers on his feet.
Without looking away from the TV, McCole spoke up, his voice tired but calm.
'Hello, Mrs. Carter. I hadn't expected to meet you again so soon. What can I do for you?'
Shaking herself from her confusion, Peggy crossed her arms in front of her chest, her lips pressing together to form a stern line.
'What are you doing, Mr. McCole? For that matter, what are you wearing?'
Giving a deep sigh, McCole turned his head towards her, pushing himself up until he was resting on his elbows.
'Well, what I'm doing is trying to relax a bit before I try to go and get my three hours of sleep. As you can imagine, after the day that I've had, I'm feeling exhausted. What I'm wearing is a custom tailored bathrobe generously provided by the hotel. You saw what happened on the news. I felt like having a shower, and this thing is surprisingly comfortable.'
Shaking her head at the man, Peggy's lips thinned even further as she fixed him with a severe look.
'So you're just going to lie there, watching Friends reruns?! Do you even know what's going on out there?!'
McCole's brow furrowed as she saw irritation rise in the giant man, though he didn't get off the couch.
'Presumably, everybody's calling me a monster and menace, something to tell their children to be afraid of. Everybody and their mother is holding debates on just what needs to be done to me, because I scare them. Considering the day I've had, I don't particularly feel like listening to all that crap, hence the Friends reruns.'
'Well, if you had been keeping an eye on the news, then you'd have known that people aren't just talking about you and your dinosaur anymore.' Peggy said primly, drawing a confused look from McCole.
'Really? Huh. Not to sound vain or anything, but I'd kinda expected for me and Susan to remain news for a couple of weeks at least.' The giant mused, and sounding just vaguely disappointed.
'Of course does he name the firebreathing dinosaur Susan of all things. Why am I not surprised?'
Not letting her thoughts show on her face, Peggy gave the man a curt nod.
'The gangs of New York, equipped with heavy futuristic weaponry and shooting up everything in sight, will tend to do that. But even that pales in comparison to six high-profile assassinations throughout various branches of the government Especially considering their rather… bloody common theme.'
That got his attention.
Sitting up fully on the couch, McCole fixed her with a heavy look, the glow in his eyes increasing in intensity.
'There were other assassination attempts?' he asked, getting another nod from Peggy.
'Not including the attack on Jeri Hogarth, there have been six assassination attempts, all of them on high-profile targets within the U.S. Government, all of them completed successfully, and all of them carried out in the same manner.'
'What happened?' McCole asked as he stood up straight, his face set in a serious expression (which was somewhat ruined by the fluffy bathrobe, which Peggy noticed didn't quite reach the giant's knees).
'At one pm today, Senator Stern was last seen alive when he entered his office. At one-thirty pm, his secretary entered after repeatedly calling out to him, having received no response. He was found still sitting behind his desk… beheaded.'
She saw Michael's eyes widen in surprise as she continued.
'Throughout the day, five more people had been found, three of them at their desks, one of them in the bathroom, and one of them at home. They were either Senators like Stern, or were attached to various branches of the military. All of them beheaded as well.'
'Jezus.' Michael said softly as he clasped his hands behind his back, walking over to the full-length windows of his room which offered a magnificent view of night-time New York.
'Are there any theories surrounding the murders? Any suspects, or motives, or anything like that?'
Moving over to the couch, Peggy sat primly on one of the armrests as she answered.
'See, that's the thing. Each individual had their own enemies, that much is true. But there's not a single person that they shared animosity with. A further look into the deceased's personal lives provided evidence that two of them had social circles that didn't even came into contact with the other ones. Meaning that there's no motive for killing all six of them on the same day, and thus, there aren't any obvious suspects.'
McCole was nodding along, before he suddenly stopped, half-turning towards her with a confused expression on his face.
'Wait. How do you know about all this? Just this morning you were stuck in a retirement home.'
Rolling her eyes, Peggy smirked at the giant man.
'Like I said. The news. You really should pay more attention to it sometime, very informative at times. Well, that and what Fury was willing to tell me about it.'
'You spoke to Fury already? For a ninety-year old lady, you sure do move fast, Mrs. Carter.' McCole asked as he turned to gaze out the windows again, with far less heat than she had expected from the man, considering the conversation he and Fury had had today.
'Well, when a ninety year old ex-Agent and former founder of S.H.I.E.L.D. shows up looking younger than he does, he's going to have a couple of questions anyways, so I thought it best to get it all sorted out as soon as possible. Had my debriefing, got my former rank back and was ordered to take on an assistant who could put together a database for me on all the things that I need catching up on. Sharon was all too happy to say yes when I asked her for the job.'
'I can imagine.' McCole said with a small chuckle, before she saw his burning eyes shift in the windows, looking straight at her through his reflection.
'You're being awfully openhearted about what's going on inside S.H.I.E.L.D.'
'I haven't told you anything classified, now have I? After all, the most exciting thing currently happening there is the investigation into these murders, and the gossip going on about me.' Peggy explained with a shrug and a smirk.
Honestly, her return had been a bit underwhelming. The people at the top, those old enough to have been rookies in S.H.I.E.L.D. when she had still been running things, they had reacted with the appropriate amount of shock upon her return (she was pretty sure she had given Pierce a heart-attack).
But for the rest of the people she had met, those she had crossed in hallways?
Nobody recognized her. She looked familiar of course, as the founder of S.H.I.E.L.D. she was sure there were still a few pictures of her around, somewhere. Combined with the fact that she had been one of Captain America's closest companions, like an honorary Howling Commando, and she had gotten more than a couple of curious looks of vague recognition, people clearly wondering just why she looked familiar to them.
But there was nobody who immediately recognized her, simply because most of the people that would have were already dead. She was the last of her generation, and it was only once she had been de-aged and healed that she truly understood what it meant to live the longest.
It just mean that the rest died first.
'So, why are you here then, Mrs. Carter? Not just to tell me that both the attack on Titan Solutions and Jeri Hogarth apparently weren't isolated incidents, I'm sure.' McCole said, snapping her from her musings as the tone in the room suddenly turned a lot sharper.
Standing up from the armrest, Peggy uncrossed her arm, clasping her hands behind her back instead (with her thumb slowly moving over the grip of the handgun she had tucked in the back of her belt, hidden underneath her jacket).
'Precisely because those attacks weren't isolated. Except for the fact that they do not fit at all with the other attacks. Titan Solutions was the only location targeted so heavily by the gangs, and it is the only reported instance of multiple gangs working together in this whole wave of violence.' She said curtly, getting only a slow, considering nod in response.
'Well, I did help out law enforcement quite a lot with the Amber Armor. Maybe they were just really pissed off at me?' McCole said blithely, appearing completely unbothered by the tense spy standing not even ten feet away from him.
Then again, this was a man who had taken an entire barrage of high-powered weaponfire to the chest, and shrugged it off.
'Even then, the assassination attempt on Jeri Hogarth doesn't fit with the other assassinations.' Peggy forged on.
'She did say that her attacker was very insistent on trying to cut her head off. So it does fit with the general theme of the other attempts. It just didn't take with her, that's all.' McCole said with a raised eyebrow.
'True enough. I'm not saying that the way an attempt was made on Mrs. Hogarth's life doesn't fit in with the other assassinations. I'm saying that the attempt itself doesn't fit at all.' Peggy said with her chin raised high, not giving an inch when McCole slowly turned around, a flat expression on his face, though his eyes were glowing very brightly now.
'What are you trying to say, Mrs. Carter?' the giant asked in a low, deep voice, but Peggy didn't hesitate in answering nonetheless.
'The other six all had functions within the U.S. Government, or one of its military branches. Jeri Hogarth is a lawyer. A good one, to be sure, but she doesn't hold the same function as the others did. Which brings us right back around to suspects and motives.'
'How so?' McCole asked, but his eyes hadn't left hers for a second, and when the behemoth took a step forwards, she automatically took one backwards.
'What do these seven persons have in common? Which enemies do they share? Why were they beheaded, and who has the skills to pull it off in broad daylight, at seven different locations? Just like the rest of the world, I couldn't find the answer, until I thought back to what you said before you healed me. 'An ancient enemy', is what you told me.'
'What exactly are you trying to get at, Mrs. Carter?' McCole asked, once again taking a step forwards, and once again she took one backwards as well.
'I'm trying to get at nothing. I'm just wondering something.' Peggy said, her voice still calm, even as adrenaline began to sing in her veins in preparation of a fight.
'Am I looking at one of the ancient enemy right now?'
For a moment, silence fell across the room as McCole froze in his tracks. Peggy's fingers creeped ever so slowly around the handle of her hidden gun. She knew that it wouldn't do much, if anything at all, against the behemoth in front of her, but she bet she could buy herself some time if she shot him in the eye-
'Heh. Heheh. Haha! HAHAHA!'
Peggy's musings were rudely broken when McCole tilted his head back, letting out great bellows of laughter, which only served to make her even more nervous.
'W-Wait a second… hehe, you think, haha, you think that I am Hydra?!' McCole said with wheezing laughs as he straightened to look at her with mirth in his glowing eyes.
'Seven people were targeted, six of which were successfully beheaded. It's clearly meant as a message, a provocation. And one of those seven, is a woman who works for you, the CEO of a company which was the sole target of an attack coordinated by multiple gangs using advanced weaponry. Clearly, someone wants to hurt you and people they think are affiliated with you. Taking into consideration that you just so happened to warn me of an organization famous for having beheading in their motto, and yes, the thought has crossed my mind.' Peggy explained, her voice as strong as steel, despite the fact that McCole's reaction was making her slightly nervous.
'Is that why you have Captain America waiting behind the door?'
Peggy's blood turned into ice in her veins, and she couldn't quite keep her eyes from widening in shock.
'I don't know-'
'C'mon now, Mrs. Carter. One of the greatest spies in history, who doesn't properly close the door behind her when she's about to confront a target? It was only to be expected that you would seek him out as soon as you were able to. I wonder, did you find him by using the address that I gave you, or did you ask someone in S.H.I.E.L.D.?' McCole asked her with an enormous grin.
For a moment, Peggy just looked at the man in surprise, before her lips pressed together as she narrowed her eyes at the men, calling over her shoulder.
'It's alright Steve. Come in.'
She heard the door open and soft footsteps quickly striding through the hall, before they came to a halt a couple of feet behind her to her left. Even now, just knowing that he was right there, just like her not a day older than when he went under the ice… it was sending lightning through her nerves, a tingling feeling that spread to every part of her body.
She resolutely kept her eyes on McCole, afraid of losing her self-control (again) if she were to look at the man who she had loved and mourned for the better part of a century.
When she had tracked him down to that gym that McCole had written on the back of his business card, she had caught him in the middle of a workout. For a few long moments, she just stared at the man who she thought she'd lost forever.
When he turned around and saw her, he had frozen in place, and all he said was a small 'wow', followed by 'I guess I died after all'. She had slowly approached him, drinking in every inch of him, just like he was doing to her. Then, as if afraid that it would turn out to all be a bittersweet dream, she had softly laid a hand on his chest, a brilliant smile coming to her face when she felt solid skin underneath her hand.
She had swallowed a few times as she looked up into his shocked, perfectly blue eyes, before she smiled sadly at him.
'I know I'm seventy years too late. But I was wondering… do you still want to have that dance with me?'
For the following four and a half hours, there had been a mix of tears, laughs, her telling him her life story, and how the world had changed, and of course, a lot of enthusiastic… dancing.
Though as she reminisced on what was probably the happiest day of her life, McCole's knowing grin made her consider just looking at neither man at all, instead contemplating if staring at the floor would be too out of place.
'Hello there, Captain. It's truly an honour to meet you. You've probably heard this a lot by now, but I grew up with tales about you. We used to play 'punch out Hitler' in the schoolyard you know.' McCole said to Steve, his smirk turning into a genuine smile as he walked forwards, his slippers making barely making any sound as the man extended his hand.
'Ah. Yes, yes I have. It's… a bit getting used to, I suppose.' Steve said in that ever-polite voice, and before she even knew it, she had turned in order to look at him.
Steve had always been the picture of physicality, while still having a natural look to him, as if he was just born as the absolute peak of humanity. But shaking hands with the enormous McCole… Peggy was starkly reminded of the tiny little man who she shared a car ride with, as he twiddled his thumbs and shyly admitted that he hadn't had much success with 'dames'.
But even then, Steve had never shied away from those that were bigger than him (which had been basically everybody) and he shook the giant's hand without a second of hesitation, powerful muscles shifting underneath the plaid button shirt that he wore.
'God, it's like he just stepped out of a picture.' Peggy thought, before she managed to recollect herself.
Adjusting to her vastly younger (and more active) body was still a work in progress, after all.
'Now, Mrs. Carter. Why would I be Hydra? I healed you. I gave you the Captain's contact information. I warned you about Hydra. What exactly about that screams 'Neo-Nazi' to you, I wonder?' McCole asked with a smile as he looked towards her, hands stuffed in his ridiculous fluffy bathrobe.
'Well, Hydra mainly consists out of cells, which loosely operative which each other, but are each individually focused around a single project. Red Skull was the lynchpin: without him, and if Hydra does still exist after seventy years in hiding, those cells would now operate with great independence from each other. You could try to take out your rivals by having Peggy focus on them, while keeping yourself free from any suspicion by pretending to be an ally.' Steve said promptly, crossing his arms in front of his broad chest.
Glancing at the supersoldier from the corner of his eye, McCole smirked a bit, keeping up his casual air.
'A bit farfetched, don't you think Captain?'
'I'm not sure. Hydra is capable of a lot of things most would think are farfetched, and they aren't exactly regarded for their extraordinary sense of loyalty.' Steve said coldly, his eyes staring unwaveringly into McCole's burning ones.
'Fair enough. So what was the plan here? Mrs. Carter was going to try and trick me into revealing my evil master plan, then shoot me with that toy she has kept hidden in the back of her belt? Which would fail, of course, which brings us to your part. You would heroically burst into the room and…?'
'And I'd push you out the window.' Steve said calmly, not even batting an eye at McCole's incredulous look.
'Really? You'd kill me? Just like that?'
'If you turned out to be Hydra? Yeah. Just like that.' Steve answered.
'Besides, would a fall from this height even kill you? We're only fourteen stories up, I'm pretty sure you could survive that.' Peggy cut in, successfully masking her shock when McCole casually mentioned the pistol she had kept hidden (or failed to, apparently).
'Probably. It would be far from pleasant though.' McCole answered with a shrug, appearing completely at ease with the idea of being attacked by Steve, who was widely regarded as the best soldier America (or the world, really) had ever produced.
Turning around, McCole walked over to the desk that stood at the other end of the room, rummaging through the top drawers.
'Now, I'm not Hydra, but I also realize that I can't exactly prove that I'm not, since everything that I could use to convince you, you'd probably see as something that a Hydra-agent would do instead. But, what I can do, is show you who is in Hydra.'
And with those words, McCole turned back around again, holding two usb-sticks in one hand, and three syringes in the other, two of them normal-sized, the third one worryingly large.
'On the silver stick, is a database filled with all the names of the Hydra agents that I know the identity of. It consists mainly of the leaders, so don't expect to roll up the entire organization when you cross everybody off the list: they're bound to have grunts in all kinds of places. You'll need to be thorough.' McCole said seriously, holding up the usb.
'Now, on the black stick is a program me and my friends have written. If you end up going to Camp Lehigh, then you'll need to insert this stick into the computers there. It will destroy the computer system, which is incredibly advanced, though the tech is somewhat outdated at this point. This step is essential if you want to defeat Hydra.'
'Why. What's at Camp Lehigh?' Peggy asked as she stepped closer to Steve, steeling herself in order to not reach out to him and touch him, to convince herself that, yes, he was still here, still real, still alive.
Judging from the small twitch she saw him make when she got close to him, she knew that Steve was going through something similar.
'At Camp Lehigh, you'll find many of the answers you seek. You'll find the man who rebuilt Hydra from within the shadows. At Camp Lehigh, you'll find… Arnim Zola.' McCole said with a dramatic pause, clearly enjoying the role of quest-giver.
'What? Zola? How!?' Steve said in shocked voice, and Peggy mirrored his reaction.
Zola had been captured in 1945, and had been in his forties even then, which would make him well over a hundred years old by now, which explained Steve's shock. But Peggy was surprised for another reason: forty years ago, the scientist had been diagnosed with an advanced stage of lung cancer, and had died not long afterwards.
She was prepared to call McCole out on it, but the knowing grin he sent her way halted her in her tracks. Because what was she going to say? People don't come back from the dead? You can't be ninety years old and still be in the prime of your life?
The world had always been a weird place (she should know that better than anyone) and in the past seventy years it apparently had gotten weirder still. Zola surviving… it was unbelievable.
Unbelievable…. but not impossible.
'He uploaded his mind into a massive complex computer system, then allowed his physical body to die. This stick will enter his code and shred it from the inside out, essentially killing him. For good, this time.' McCole explained with a proud smile, but Peggy could tell he was lying about something.
She just couldn't put her finger on what exactly.
'And the syringes?' Peggy asked with narrowed eyes.
'These two are for the both of you and are filled with something I like to call the Brain Booster. It's based around the same principles that reversed the effects of your Alzheimer's, Mrs. Carter. What this will do is grant you eidetic memory, advanced computing abilities, and increased information observation and assimilation speeds. Basically? You'll understand a lot more, a lot faster, and you'll never forget it.' McCole said with a grin, wiggling the two smaller syringes back and forth as he spoke.
She could see Steve's eyes widen in surprise as McCole told them the abilities the serum would grant, but she already knew that he wouldn't go for it. Steve had volunteered for the Supersoldier Serum, because that had been the right thing to do, because he was friends with Dr. Erskine, and because he wanted to serve his country.
Accepting a serum which changed your brain from a stranger is just not something that Steve (and most people, honestly) would do, not matter the promised benefits.
Peggy on the other hand…
Looking back on her life, there were such large parts of her memory that were just… fog, especially in her later years. The possibility that it would return haunted her ever since McCole had healed her. To have something that would make her unable to forget ever again…
Not allowing her troubled thoughts to show through her voice, Peggy lifted an eyebrow as she inclined her head at McCole's hand.
'And the third syringe?'
'Now this one is for you specifically, Mrs. Carter. It's the Supersoldier Serum.'
'What?!' Steve called out in shock again, his hands balling into fists as he intently stared at the behemoth across from them, who just gave a massive grin in response.
'The Supersoldier Serum, Captain. I have managed to reverse engineer it. Don't ask me how I got a sample in the first place, I'll never tell you. I'm not giving you any of the enhancements that I, or the people of Titan Solutions have. I believe that S.H.I.E.L.D. are the good guys, I really do. But I don't trust you with the power that I've gained for me and my people. Given that you have an ample amount of Supersoldier right there already, I can at least give you this. You're going to need it.' McCole explained, walking up to them and offering her his hand.
'Peggy, what are you-' Steve started, but she quickly shut him up by softly placing a hand on his arm (which just ended up sending jolts of lighting coursing through her body again) as she turned to look at him in determination.
'Steve. I'm taking the enhancements. If you think that I'm ever going to let you to go off and fight without me ever again, then you've got another thing coming Mr.. From now on, I'm standing by your side, but in order for me to do that, I'll need to be your equal. This would let me keep up with you, and there's nothing you can say that would keep me from you-'
Peggy was interrupted mid-rant when she felt his lips softly cross over hers. Within moments the entire world fell away as she threw her arms around the broad shoulders of the man who had been nothing more than a half-forgotten memory for the past few decades.
As she melted into his chiselled form, clinging onto each other like a couple of love-sick teenagers, she couldn't help but smile widely into the kiss, her hand coming up to softly go through his golden hair.
'It took seventy years. But it was worth the wait.' She thought blissfully to herself, the world forgotten in her moment of happiness.
It would take time, a lot of time, before she and Steve had fully healed from their respective ordeals: he from suddenly finding himself in the future, with everyone he once knew was long dead, and her from regaining her youth and having to reconcile the life she had built since Steve saved the world with the man himself.
But she was convinced that they could work through it together eventually and was, for the first time in a long while, looking forwards to the future.
'Uhh, guys? Guys? Right… I'll just put the stuff over on the coffee table then…? Ok.'
Eight hours after the Massacre
The man stood on the balcony of his building, overlooking the glistering lights of New York City as it prepared to welcome the New Year tomorrow evening. The hustle and bustle of the city that never sleeps was a soothing balm to his senses, and he simply enjoyed the feeling of the wind crossing his bald scalp.
The peaceful moment was broken however, when he heard the door to his balcony open, soft footsteps approaching him. Irritation welled up inside him before it was quelled somewhat by his own willpower and the voice of the newcomer.
'Sir. She's here to see you now.'
Turning around to face the speaker, the enormous man gave a quick nod, his face set in a determined frown.
'Thank you Wesley.'
Giving a quick nod at his bosses' words, Wesley turned back and opened the door, allowing a small, hunched over old lady to shuffle onto the balcony, her walking stick tapping against the stone with her every step.
'Madame Gao. A pleasure.' Fisk said in his characteristic voice, approaching the woman who only reached his waist, and yet was one of the most dangerous people he had ever dealt with.
'Xiānshēng Fisk chūjià huānyíng nǐ.' (Mr. Fisk bids you welcome) Wesley immediately began to translate.
Halting in her tracks, Gao's eyes snapped towards him, fixing him in place.
'Wǒ huì hé xiānshēng Fisk shuō. Dāndú.' (I will speak with Mr. Fisk. Alone.)
For a moment, Wesley's lips pressed together in a thin line as he gazed at the biggest heroine dealer in New York (and probably the world, though nobody was entirely sure). Then his assistant's eyes flitted towards him, and Fisk gave him a slow nod.
'It's alright Wesley. Thank you. Take the rest of the night off, go get some sleep.'
It was clear that his assistance disliked leaving his boss alone with such a dangerous adversary, but dependable as always, Wesley simply gave a short incline of his head to him, and offered a small bow to Madame Gao, before he briskly left.
As the door fell closed behind his most trusted assistant, the aged lady turned to peer him with intelligent eyes, a slight smirk on her wrinkled face. Walking over towards the table in the middle of the balcony, Fisk extended a meaty hand to one of the luxury seats.
'Qǐng. Zuò xià.' (Please. Take a seat.)
Shuffling over towards the chair, Madame Gao sank into the soft pillows with the creak of ancient bones, keeping a keen eye on him as she did. Not wasting any time, Fisk took a seat across from her, clasping his hands in front of him.
'Nǐ xiǎng tán shénme shì shénme, Madame Gao?' (What is it you wanted to speak about, Madame Gao?) Fisk asked in a rumbling voice, getting a tight smile from the heroine dealer.
'Please Mr. Fisk, let's talk in English. You're pronunciation is horrible. Who taught you?' Madame Gao asked him with a smirk, and Fisk wisely decided not to point out just how heavily accented her own English was.
'A private tutor…' Fisk said softly, prompting a scoff from the ancient woman across from him.
'Bah! You should have his fingers removed.'
Putting aside what he should or shouldn't do to the people in his employ, Fisk sat a bit straighter in his chair, towering over the aged lady even as they were seated.
'Madame Gao. What is it, that you wanted to, speak to me about?'
Narrowing her eyes at him, Gao placed both of her wrinkled hands on top of her cane.
'It is thanks to us, that the weaponry given to the gangs of New York by Ulysses Klaue, has found its way into your hands. It is thanks to us, that the other gangs are weakening themselves in this battle they are waging against each other, and the police, which will allow for your expansion, Mr. Fisk.'
'And I am, grateful, for that, Madame Gao, to both you and your friends.'
'Yes. And it is good to be grateful to the hand that feeds you. But gratefulness, is quite useless to us, unless it's backed up by action.' Gao said sharply, and Fisk finally knew why the old lady had decided to visit him in the dead of the night.
He knew that by partnering with the Hand, he'd owe them favours, especially after they made sure that those Wakandan weapons eventually found their ways into his hands.
He just hadn't expected them to want to cash in on those favours so soon.
'And what action would the Hand wish, for me to undertake.' Fisk said, weighing his options.
'Your men have advanced weaponry, thanks to us. They have advanced armour, thanks to your connections within the police. Now it is time to use them.'
'You want me to launch an attack? On whom?' Fisk asked, though he had an idea already.
'The demon known as Michael McCole. We had not expected our last attack to have such little effect on the creature, but at least we tore down his building and killed some of his people.' Gao said easily, as if she was talking about something utterly mundane, like trimming the hedges.
'So that was you. I suspected it the moment I saw people from Cottonmouth and Colon working together. Just how aware are they that they are puppets on your strings, I wonder.' Fisk thought to himself, though he was careful to keep any of them from showing on his face.
'Like you said, the man personally was hardly affected by the attack. And there's no building left to destroy. Why would an attack now change anything?' Fisk asked carefully, loathing the idea of throwing away perfectly good equipment on a fool's errand.
'Because, McCole will act out of anger. He knows we exist. He knows who we are. He will try to strike back. The Hand asks that you, who has profited so much from all this chaos, to block his strike. Bring the demon to his knees, and your debt to the Hand shall be considered, to be paid in full. You'll become a full partner to us, Mr. Fisk. There are very few people in the world that can boast such a status, and they are all at the heads of organizations, far older than yours.' Gao said imperiously, her soft voice showing hidden power as she spoke.
Still, Fisk could spot the slightest cracks in her impressive façade.
'They're rattled. They're clearly uncomfortable with the lack of anonymity, and they didn't expect McCole to come out of their surprise attack unharmed, just like his lawyer, apparently. All this, is just to ask me to be a meatshield between them and the wrath of McCole.'
This… yes, he could definitely work with this.
'Of course. My people are yours to command, Madame Gao' Fisk said, as he gave a short bow with his head.
No need to tip her off to the fact that they most definitely wouldn't be. But let them figure that out for themselves when McCole reduced them to stains on the ground. The criminal scum of New York was tiring itself out as the Hand guided them into taking their new weapons for a test run. He practically owned the police. Only the Hand now remained as a serious contender to him, and they had just pissed of one of the most powerful beings on the planet.
In the end, he alone would stand tall above the dregs of New York.
'Will my men be asked to perform assassination attempts as well? They would be willing, of course. However, we do not possess the fabled skills of the Hand…' Fisk trailed off when Gao suddenly held up her hand, her lips pressed together in a thin line.
'You must work on your subtlety more, Mr. Fisk. That attempt to try and figure out if we were behind the beheadings today was painfully obvious. If you wish to stand on equal footing with the Hand, you'll need to be able to conceal your thoughts better.' Gao said sternly, and Fisk easily kept his grin from showing on his face as he adopted a chastised expression, once again bowing his head.
'I see. I apologize. I shall vow to work on it more, in the future.'
'See that you do. You have great potential Mr. Fisk. Your handling of events these past weeks is proof of that. To anyone else, it would seem as a great coincidence that, no matter what happens in the chaos of this city, it always comes to benefit you in the end.' Gao said, standing up from her chair with creaking joints, clearly making an end to this conversation.
Twelve Steps To Omnipotence Fanfiction Reader
Fisk rose with her, and as he towered above her, he turned around in order to look at the vibrant lights of the greatest city on earth, a grim smile coming to his face as he clasped his hands behind his back.
Twelve Steps To Omnipotence Fanfiction In The Bible
'A coincidence? No Madame Gao, there is no coincidence. After all…' Fisk trailed off, looking over his shoulder to see that he was now alone on the balcony, the aged lady nowhere to be seen.
Turning back to the amazing skyline, Fisk allowed his small smile to grow into a full-blown grin, his eyes gleaming with thoughts of the future.
'… I am this city.'
AN: More comicbook!Fisk here than MCU!Fisk, but D'Onofrio (while absolutely brilliant) has a distinctive way of speaking that's nearly impossible to capture in written form. I ended up cutting an entire POV from this part of the Interlude. Originally it was going to be Tony, but while we would learn how he reacts to Michael, it doesn't necessarily add anything vital. And considering we're dealing with a serious case of Arc Fatigue here, I cut it entirely. Then I wanted to replace it with a conversation between Pierce and Whitehall, where Pierce berated Whitehall for acting so openly, while all they need to do is lay low and wait for Project Insight to start. It had some good stuff, but again, it wouldn't really impact the plot (it was more relevant to Peggy/Steve's story, instead of Michael's), so I was merciless and I cut that out as well. Also, good news! I've found a way to mush the last two chapters of this goddamned Arc together in a way that fits, it has a power-up for Michael (we went far too long without one) and I've got an ending I can't get out of my head for the past two days, which means that by the next chapter we can finally leave this Arc behind us! Yay!
Fun Fact: After the Vietnam War and Watergate Scandal, Captain America became so disillusioned with the US government that he became 'The Nomad', donning a costume which ditched the stripes and stars.
As always, I wish to extend my heartfelt thanks to my wonderful Patrons, AndrewDC_MAC2, Thordur hrafn, Daniel Dorfman and ReaperScythe! Thanks so much for your support, it really does mean a lot to me!