?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Del Rion [userpic]

Chitauri Apocalypse; Chapter 9: Rise and Fall

[show info]Title: Chitauri Apocalypse
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Avengers (MCU)
Era: Post-Avengers movie
Genre: Action, drama
Rating: M / FRM
Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), Jane Foster, Nick Fury, Happy Hogan, J.A.R.V.I.S., Loki, Pepper Potts, James “Rhodey” Rhodes (War Machine), Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Lady Sif and the Warriors Three (Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Thor
(Brief/smaller appearances: Odin, Maria Hill, Darcy Lewis, The Other, Benjamin “Benny” Pollack, Erik Selvig, Jasper Sitwell, Claire Wise.)
Pairings: Happy/Pepper, Jane/Thor. Mentions of: Benny/Claire, Pepper/Tony
Summary: Iron Man never fell back through the portal. The Avengers must deal with the loss of their comrade and move on – until Earth once again comes under an attack from the Chitauri and their new-found weapons that decimate everything in their path with unmatched power and intellect. As cities and nations collapse around their decreasing resistance, the heroes of Earth must find a way to defeat their enemy before there is nothing left to avenge.
Work in progress.
Written for: Apocalypse Big Bang, Round One (apocalypsebang at LiveJournal)
Art: Imaan (insteadofdeath at dA/DW/LJ)
Warnings: Graphic description of torture, major character death, apocalypse & invasion themes (including but not limited to: mass destruction, terrorism, holocaust, death, violence and gore), brain-washing & mind-control, language (including some remarks that could be seen as racist). Serious spoilers for the ending of The Avengers (and other random spoilers for the rest of the movies in the Avengers cinematic universe).




~ ~ ~




Chapter 9: Rise and Fall



The skies were still rumbling as the dust settled. Thor straightened, breathing in the air but finding its aroma very different from his last visit. He looked around, seeing nothing move but his allies.

“I did not remember it was this… quiet,” Fandral observed.

“It wasn’t,” Thor frowned. “Something’s not right.”

They had chosen the familiar Bifrost site in a park in the heart of New York City, yet most of the trees looked like they had been unearthed or burnt. The few that remained standing had lost their leaves and appeared dead, the grass and other plants shriveled. The city skyline was different, lined with half-destroyed buildings and smoking ruins.

“This is a battlefield,” Sif spoke, voice hushed.

“I don’t see anyone to fight,” Volstagg complained.

“Nor defenders,” Hogun offered the most grim observation of all.

Thor had to agree with all of them. “We must find the Avengers,” he deemed next.

“Where do you presume we start looking?” Fandral asked.

Thor looked around once more, wondering about it himself, then his eyes landed on Loki. He had not said a word, looking around slowly, a measured expression on his face. “What do you think, brother?”

Loki shook his head, eyes narrowing, but he didn’t snap at him nor did he speak. He kept glancing around, from the city to the husks of trees then back again, his expression more cautious every second. “We are not alone,” he said finally.

“I cannot see anyone,” Volstagg declared.

“Can you not silence him? Even the dead hear him,” Loki snapped.

Volstagg took a step towards him but Thor raised his hand and the large warrior huffed and hefted his axe, glancing around suspiciously.

“What do you mean, we are not alone?” Sif asked, clearly not liking the situation.

“We should move,” Fandral appeared to agree with her concern. “Until we know where we are headed, perhaps we should –”

A strange roar echoed in the air and something large moved between the buildings. A shadow was cast by the sun, following the movements of whatever was approaching, then they finally saw it; a metallic creature, easily more than twice as tall as the Destroyer, its fingers digging into a nearby building and making chunks of it fall down to the abandoned street. Its glowing red eyes looked straight at them. It looked fairly human in shape, save for the tail swinging behind it, making it lean forward like a predator ready to attack.

“Is that the new weapon of the Chitauri?” Volstagg frowned. “It doesn’t look like much.”

Thor held Mjolnir tighter. “Let it taste the weapons of Asgard!” he roared.

The metal creature roared back, bracing its body, moving towards them across the distance, its feet crushing cars and small buildings under its weight. Thor raised Mjolnir, urging the clouds to gather, summoning the lightning, then hit the machine hard. Its metal skin lit up, the lightning licking across the smooth surface then slowly began to vanish. When the last flicker was gone, the machine seemed completely unaffected and resumed moving towards them in measured steps.

Thor raised Mjolnir once more but felt a hand on his arm. He looked to find Loki beside him, intently staring at their mechanical opponent. “It absorbed the lightning,” Loki spoke. “Do not feed it again; I don’t want to know what happens when it’s had enough.”

Reluctantly Thor agreed. It hadn’t seemed to hurt the creature in any way.

“What would you like us to do, then?” Fandral asked bitingly.

“Attack it,” Loki replied, unaffected by his tone.

There was no time for further planning before the machine was above them, the ground trembling beneath its approach. Thor sent Mjolnir flying at its head but the creature dodged at the last moment, following the hammer’s movements as if begun to circle back. It moved aside again at the last moment but Mjolnir almost hit it in the shoulder. Thor snarled and the others moved towards it, weapons at a ready. Volstagg was the first to strike one tall leg with his axe, his victorious roar cutting the air. It turned into a bellow of pain as the leg lit up upon contact, with a blue flash which sent the warrior flying back through the air, taking down a tree as he crashed down.

Fandral and Sif closed in on the other leg, eyeing it suspiciously, then Fandral tested his sword against the surface, drawing back at once when a similar zap of light began to appear.

“We cannot touch it!” Sif shouted.

Hogun threw his morning star at the limb Volstagg had tried attacking, the weapon colliding then being thrown back, almost striking its owner as it was deflected from the metal surface without making actual contact.

A sound almost like a huff came from above them and then one leg moved, tearing into the ground, sending them flying for cover or be crushed beneath earth and metal.

“Any other ideas?” Sif shouted at Loki.

Thor glanced at his brother, seeing a familiar expression on his face; he was plotting. “Loki,” he warned loudly. “The return of your magic was conditional upon your willingness to help us.”

“All I am willing to do is to survive through this ordeal,” Loki hissed back at him. He looked up next, bringing his hands together, his lips moving without a sound coming through. When his palm parted, a bright orb floated between them, which he then sent at the metal creature. It screeched, light exploding all over it. Smoke wafted off its metal skin yet no apparent damage remained. However, the creature didn’t seem happy, which meant Loki must have done something none of them could.

However, with the creature’s wrath upon them, it strode at them again, one long arm swooping down. Thor lifted Mjolnir, daring the machine to touch him – then a beam of light shot through the sky at the thing, hitting its back, making it straighten up. For a brief moment Thor imagined he was dreaming, a suit of armor coming to a halt mid-air, one hand raised, its familiar glowing weapon ready to shoot again.

It wasn’t Iron Man, however. The colors were wrong, the body bulkier. “Run,” it called out to them in a male voice.

“I am Thor –” he began.

“I know who you are. I’ll keep it occupied and then come find you,” the man in the armor cut him off impatiently and shot at the machine again, making it turn and chase after him, back in between the buildings.

“I think we found one of your friends,” Fandral said cheerfully, helping Volstagg back to his feet; the larger man still seemed disoriented from the blow that sent him flying.

“Nay, he is not the Man of Iron I fought with,” Thor shook his head, the loss gripping him once again. They may have had their differences in the beginning but Thor had respected Iron Man’s strength and valor – and later, his sacrifice to save his world. Thor felt he was obliged to follow in his footsteps and protect Midgard. However, to be asked to retreat…

“We should go,” Sif said, looking back in the direction where the machine had disappeared. “Your… The warrior in a flying armor told us to leave here.”

Grudgingly Thor led them away from the buildings and further into the dead forest although he had no idea where they should be headed. The sounds of battle had ceased behind them and Thor wondered if this new Man of Iron had survived. A while later he heard a familiar sound, however, and the gray shape flew past them then curved back and landed.

“You took care of the machine?” Fandral asked.

“Led it away is more like it,” came a reply. “You cannot really… We haven’t found a way to actually defeat them yet.” The armored face looked at Thor. “I’m War Machine. Once we noticed you arrived, Fury sent me to pick you up. We need to regroup and get our bearings.”

Thor nodded slowly. “Your armor is…”

“One of Tony’s,” came a quick slash of a reply. “He… gave it to me. Sort of.”

Loki was regarding War Machine with curiosity. “You knew him. Stark.”

“He was my friend,” War Machine admitted.

“I grieve his loss with you,” Thor offered. “He was a good man.”

“You didn’t know him. But… Yeah, I guess he was.” The subject seemed to trouble their new friend and he turned away slightly. “We have a bit to go on foot. We have to be careful not to lead any enemies back to base.”

“Lead the way, War Machine,” Thor nodded.

The glowing red eyes looked at them again as if there was something he wanted to ask. “You are… really not from around here,” War Machine stated.

Thor chuckled. “Nay, my friend, but we are here to help.”

“Him, too?” an armored finger pointed at Loki and the edge was back.

Loki’s face froze slightly. “I would have rather stayed back home,” he replied. “I wasn’t given what you might call a ‘choice’ in the matter.”

“Well, you might just wish you had actually stayed at home,” War Machine noted. “Some people won’t be happy to see you.”

“Loki may be able to help us,” Sif said surprisingly. “His magic might be able to damage those mechanic creatures.”

That seemed to be enough for War Machine to actually consider the idea. He turned away again, then rotated back and looked them over once more. “Are you all feeling well?”

“Yes, why?” Volstagg asked defensively.

“Well… there are lingering amounts of radiation in the air due to a nuclear meltdown in the area. None of you seem particularly affected.”

Thor exchanged looks with his friends then returned to War Machine. “I’m not sure I understand. Is that why the air smells so strange?”

He wasn’t sure but perhaps War Machine chuckled. “Okay, you’re really not from around here… This way,” he then motioned and began to walk ahead of them into the trees.

- - -

The room was pitch black, closed off from the elements and fresh air. A far-away murmur of the rolling sea against stone cliffs reverberated up the outer wall. Distant yet close. Like a different world just beyond the walls.

Inside, the room was as quiet as it was dark, as if waiting to be purposed again.

A hum broke the silence, increasing, triggering other sounds; life returning to the darkness with brief blinks of various small lights. A processor ticked faster and faster until the sounds were too frequent to be told apart.

On a dust-covered desk a screen flickered and filled the space a steady stream of light.

A signal had come in and it had been acknowledged.

- - -

When he was first brought to a Helicarrier, Steve had never thought to ask whether there was more than one.

On the brink of this war he had come to understand just how many weapons S.H.I.E.L.D. had at its disposal. The Helicarriers were spread around the world, serving as highly sheltered bases of operation, remaining in the air and undetected by their enemies. The largest served as Fury’s own, more reclusive and hidden than the others which meant hours of maneuvering as they tried to arrive to it without being found out by possible alien spies.

Once there, Steve found the other Avengers were already present. They had fought together and separately depending on the situation on the last few weeks. Clint and Natasha had provided some great recon on the movements of the Chitauri but the mecha still eluded them all; whoever controlled them was harder to track and much more difficult to anticipate. They had just tried to ambush one a few days ago and Steve wasn’t sure if he could ever scrub the dirt and dried blood from his skin; when the call to back off had finally been given, there weren’t many left to return home and the mecha was still moving, although with a limp.

“Tell me you’ve found something,” Steve asked as he walked into the lab where Bruce was currently seated, looking like he hadn’t slept in months; he clearly didn’t have enough time to recuperate from his transformations into the Hulk, or to heal the injuries even the beast had sustained trying to destroy the mecha. By far the Hulk had been the only one to actually make a dent and give the rest of them an opening to strike, although it always came with a cost.

Bruce looked up, his eyes a little red. “Yes and no,” he replied. “Good news is that Thor arrived today with backup.”

Steve halted, surprise and relief flooding him. “Yeah?”

Bruce nodded. “They appeared in NYC, Rhodey went to pick them up before they get trampled by one of the mecha we’ve sighted in the area.”

“Perhaps Thor has it in him to take one of them down.”

“Unfortunately not, my friend,” a familiar voice boomed from behind them and Thor strode in, catching Steve into a mighty hug.

Steve held him back for a moment, dismissing his protesting body. Behind Thor were gathered a woman and three men that Steve had only seen on file – and Loki. He pulled back once he spotted their enemy but knew better than to question it; knowing Thor, he was attempting to let his brother redeem himself. As long as Loki didn’t work against them, Steve would allow him to stand with them. If not… the Hulk could finish him off this time.

“You fought a mecha?” Steve asked, returning to the previous topic.

“If that is what you call that giant metal creature,” Thor nodded. “It seemed most resistant against our attacks.” He sounded almost like a child whose game had been foiled by someone stronger than himself.

“We still haven’t cracked the surface barrier,” Bruce spoke up.

“It seems to adapt very quickly,” Loki agreed.

There was a brief, tense silence before Bruce nodded. “Yes, it does. All of our energy-based weapons are useless and actually feed it. That charge is then used against us – in worst case scenario released all at once and decimating everything around the mecha.” He tapped his screen and brought up an image from what used to be a city in Germany. “Inside its advanced mechanics, whatever we’ve gotten to see of it. So far we haven’t been able to get a specimen because regardless of the damages, they’ve always walked away – or if unable, another mecha is always at the ready to show up and defend the injured one.”

“They are like pack animals,” Erik Selvig noted, appearing from behind a door, giving them all a court nod. Bejamin Pollack followed him, hand moving across the surface of a tablet as he walked. “We’ve watched their behavior. Although they seem to be able to act alone, there is always another mecha near by. They protect each other and are careful not to be caught by us. In a few instances we’ve actually won because they backed off.”

“Yet they always come back,” Steve noted.

“They don’t take risks, knowing they can overthrow us later,” Bruce mused unhappily. “They have the time to wait. We don’t; we’re losing ground, losing too many people and we can’t protect those who can’t fight.” A note of desperation rang in his voice.

“We will find a way together,” Thor assured them all.

He introduced Lady Sif and the Warriors Three to everyone. Although the Asgardians looked completely alien standing in the middle of a high-tech lab, Steve was willing to welcome them all.

Even Loki, he supposed, although that would take a bit more work.

James Rhodes walked in a moment later, free of the suit. After West Coast was overwhelmed by enemies, Fury had enlisted him, convincing the Air Force and Rhodes that he could help S.H.I.E.L.D. and Avengers more. “Fury wants to see us,” he noted.

Bruce sighed, putting away his current project. Selvig and Pollack followed them to the bridge, the Asgardians looking around in mild wonder – well, all save for Thor and Loki who had already seen it all.

They entered the bridge and a female voice called out: “Rhodey!” Pepper Potts pushed her way through to them and briefly hugged Rhodes. He embraced her back – something people did a lot these days, knowing every time could be the last. “I heard you went to New York,” she said.

Rhodes nodded. “The Tower was still standing,” he replied, clearly speaking of the Stark Tower.

Pepper nodded then laughed nervously. “It must sound stupid, in the middle of all this…” She pushed at her hair nervously then went and took a seat at the large table, picking a spot beside Happy Hogan, her bodyguard – and perhaps lover, Steve was sure the signs were there. Natasha and Clint were already present and for the time being it seemed Natasha and Pepper were actually in talking terms again, for the first time since Tony’s death.

The Asgardians were introduced to the rest of their allies then Fury stepped up, giving them all a long look. Agent Hill followed him, sliding up the opaque walls to block the noises of the rest of the bridge.

“Thor, it’s good to see you,” Fury greeted the God of Thunder.

“I’m sorry to come so late,” Thor replied, voice filled with regret.

Fury just nodded. “The situation hasn’t changed drastically in the last few days but we’re still losing this war,” he finished. Silence circled him for a long moment.

“My friends!” Thor finally stepped up. “Certainly you are not giving up?”

“Of course not,” Natasha shook her head. “We’re fighting this one to the end.”

“The facts are there, though,” Fury went on. “Our energy sources, industry and agriculture are all but gone. The amount of civilian casualties is staggering. Armies around the world are engaging the Chitauri, winning minor victories but as long as the mecha go unchallenged, we are going to lose.”

“Then we find a way to defeat those machines,” Thor announced.

“We would if we could,” Pollack said bravely. “We even tried an EMP. Sure, it looked like we gave the mecha a major headache but it still managed to walk away while it fried whatever we had left of the usable tech in the area.”

“The Stark Industries weapons seem to be working best,” Agent Hill summarized. “Thanks to Ms. Potts, we’ve have moderate success in mapping out weak spots and taking down more of the Chitauri, yet when we make bold moves, they move to counter-act. Last night three major hospitals were destroyed. Weapons depots have been under attacks and the Chitauri have taken it upon themselves to breach prisons and let the convicts out. We have riots, people attacking each other over the most basic necessities and frankly, we’ve been handicapped from day one without noticing it until now. Since the beginning they made sure the people would turn against each other, that our own technology – or lack of it – would throw the humanity into chaos, making our efforts to protect ourselves twice as hard. They’ve moved too fast for us to react and know how to pull apart our forces.”

Silence followed Hill’s statement.

“Who told them all that?” Loki suddenly spoke and all eyes turned to him. He raised his hands slowly. “I didn’t tell them,” he said in his defense. “They gave me an army but never questioned how I would win the Earth – and obviously my plans didn’t work very well,” he added dryly.

Bruce snorted with something that may have been a well-contained laugh. Maybe the other guy found it funny.

“What I meant,” Loki went on, “is that the Chitauri had no knowledge of how Earth functioned, yet these attacks, as you put them, shot you in the knee from the beginning. They are using your weaknesses, exploiting them, hitting where it hurts most in an indirect way. Where did they get that information?”

“Maybe they spied on us,” Happy mused.

“While traveling across space?” Loki dismissed that idea at once.

“You think we have a leak?” Fury asked.

“One must consider it, although…” Loki pursed his lips. “Those machines… They are very adept at responding at everything you’ve tried attacking them with, correct?”

“Yes,” Bruce nodded.

“Building such things takes time, and they didn’t have those machines when I was planning on defeating you with their army,” Loki finished.

“Could they have left spies here when we closed the portal?” Natasha asked.

“No,” Loki refused again. “The Chitauri cannot survive in Earth’s atmosphere for long. That is why, when you blew up their mothership, all of them fell. Their harness provided a connection to their own world, and without it…”

“They could not survive,” Steve nodded. “Do you think they took captives, then, while being here?”

“I don’t think they would have had the interest since they only had eyes for the Tesseract, yet that seems a very believable route to finding out ways to bring down the human race,” Loki nodded.

Thor looked pleased his brother was actually helping, giving Steve a confident look. “Were any of your people reported missing?”

“People go missing all the time,” Fury mused. “We’ll cover that lead, though, just to be sure.” His eye remained on Loki for a while longer. “I never knew you were so keen on helping anyone but yourself,” he evaluated.

Loki snorted. “Don’t doubt your opinion of me just yet, Director. I was brought here against my will and the last thing I want is to end in the hands of the Chitauri now that I’m here.” He looked around the room as if to see if someone understood. Steve wasn’t sure he did, nor did anyone else. Loki huffed. “I failed to hand them the Tesseract, and because of that they have a good reason to harm me severely.”

“So you’re just looking out for yourself,” Clint narrowed his eyes.

“For now that benefits you as well,” the trickster replied. “As long as you stand between me and the Chitauri, I’m happy to provide you with all the help I can to keep it that way.”

“And here I thought he was just doing this out of the goodness of his heart,” Bruce murmured with sarcasm lacing every word.

Steve guessed he wasn’t the only one who blamed Loki for Tony’s death, although for the time being allying themselves with the God of Lies would get them farther than throwing him to the wolves.

- - -

The last Claire had heard, they were floating somewhere above Newfoundland. In the midst of clouds it really didn’t matter where they were but she knew remaining undetected was their biggest strength so there was no cruising around to see the sights.

End of the world-events clearly sucked.

It wasn’t that she didn’t understand what was at stake. With each new devastating loss it was clearer she might never see Benny again, and even if she did, for how long? Whatever these Chitauri were, they clearly didn’t intend to rule humanity, but rather eradicate it from the face of the earth.

Agent Sitwell entered the room. She hoped he had news because Agent Blake was just as boring and unforthcoming as always. The other personnel looked up, perhaps sharing the same sentiment, and Agent Sitwell actually smiled. “We have good news; Thor has arrived to Earth.”

A murmur of agreement went around.

Of what Claire knew, Thor was allegedly a Norse god of thunder and had helped the Avengers defeat the Chitauri the first time. Perhaps he would help them again and they would win this war. No one dared to say it out loud but they had to be thinking that their luck was turning.

Agent Blake checked his screen, probably finding a confirmation of the news. “About time,” he decided then, only half-glowering for a change. “Has the message been sent out?”

Agent Sitwell nodded. “To all our S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives and allies across the world via safe networks. The Asgardians also have new approaches to find ways to win the war.” He pointed at the screen and Agent Blake opened a file. Claire tried to peer at it but she was too far away.

“I trust this reached only the appropriate recipients?” Agent Blake mused.

“Of course. It’s just as much guesswork as everything else, but we’re finally –”

The lights flickered.

Claire sat up straight, listening, as did everyone else.

“A hiccup,” one of the technicians guessed.

The lights flickered again, then for two seconds everything shut down. Claire felt her stomach clench as she felt the entire ship being grabbed by gravity then catch itself again as the power came back on.

“A damn big hiccup,” Agent Blake snarled. “Find out what’s causing it!”

Several people sprung up from their chairs but no sooner had they reached the doors when a ship-wide alarm came to life, deafening and sudden yet pushing the rest of them into action.

“What’s going on?” Claire asked, running along with the others before the entire mass of people stopped; they had hit a wall – or rather, a closed door. Claire turned back, to return the way they had come, but saw another door closing, blocking the way, trapping them in. She looked to the side frantically, wall on one side, a wide window on the other, and when she got the first glimpse of the outside world through the window, she froze along with others; above them they could see an immense ship, easily twice the size of the Helicarrier.

Agent Sitwell halted beside her, looking out, and something in his stance changed. It was so alien it took Claire a while to process it, then realized it was defeat. Fear gripped her at that realization; there were only a few things she could think of that could cause a top agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. to give up, and certain death might be one of them.

She didn’t want to die. Not like this. Not when the bottom of the alien ship began to open up and something shifted inside the newly exposed space. This was perhaps the closest anyone had gotten to see a mecha unfolding, staring down at them, perhaps through this very window at Claire’s frightened eyes.

“They’re hacking in!” a man’s voice shouted from the side. “They’re taking over our systems. We’re getting feedback from the other Helicarriers… they’ve been compromised as well.” The lights flickered again as if in confirmation.

Claire let out a pitiful little whimper, completely aware of it but unable to hold it back. She hadn’t signed up for this and she couldn’t grasp that fire inside her that said it would all be okay, that they would find a way out of this.

The mecha was moving, crawling out, hanging onto its ship yet clearly poising itself to drop on top of them.

Whether she was the first to initiate contact or it just happened, she felt a hand curl around hers, squeezing in comfort. Agent Sitwell was still looking out yet his grasp was firm. “Weapons status?” his voice called out.

“Nonresponsive,” the same voice from before replied. “Outbound messages are being blocked. No more data coming in. Blast doors are being closed. They’re sealing us in.”

“Can you crack it?”

“I don’t think we have time for that, sir.”

Agent Sitwell nodded then looked at Claire, who saw it from the corner of her eye. “Ms. Wise,” he spoke up. “Somewhere out there Mr. Pollack is safe. He’s a valuable asset and will be looked after. You should take comfort in that.”

Claire nodded and tore her eyes off the ship. “I wish he was here.”

“No, you don’t; that would be selfish,” Agent Sitwell replied.

It was hard to process but yes, she knew Benny was important and regardless of what happened today, he would continue to fight. No matter how much she didn’t want to be alone right now, she loved him enough to not want him to go down with her, although it was hard to conclude that. “Thanks, Agent,” she whispered back.

“Call me Jasper,” Agent Sitwell smiled faintly.

The entire ship rocked under a new weight and a sound of metal tearing through metal echoed along the walls. The pressure of the air begun to change and the lights started flickering in a rapid pace. An explosion rocked the floor, making it ripple, and the window beside them fractured slightly.

Claire bit her lip and watched the people shift uneasily, touching their weapons, looking uncertain. No one was giving orders. Why was no one giving orders?

The corridor seemed to lurch and the sound of pieces being torn apart increased. It was getting harder to breathe.

“Should we more?” Claire asked as another fracture almost split the window.

“This is a good place,” Jasper Sitwell decided. “The blast doors are locked down and we can go no further. It doesn’t matter.” He looked at her. “I’m sorry, Claire. This isn’t your place. You shouldn’t be here.”

“If I weren’t, you would be alone,” she noted, hysteria trying to grip her mind. The air was getting thinner and hotter and she smelled smoke. Not wanting to do this alone, she moved closer, releasing the hand of the man she barely knew and hugged him instead. He hugged her back, holding tight as the window exploded beside them from the pressure and the wall began to bend under inhuman strength.

- - -

“Sir!” a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent rushed in, flushed in the face, something akin to terror in his eyes.

Fury turned from the table where schematics, calculations, news and enemy movements were all spread around the virtual desk. “What is it?”

Steve looked up from the other side of the table where he had been focusing on some of the new intel. The other Avengers, spread around the room with a few scientists, stopped their discussions as well.

“The Helicarriers, sir… They are being attacked,” the agent delivered his message.

“Attacked?” Fury snapped.

“Yes, sir. All their locations have been compromised by the enemy. Their systems are being hacked and… Chitauri ships with a mecha have parked above each one. We’ve gotten confirmation from the satellites that the mecha are tearing the Helicarriers apart.”

“Tell them to evacuate,” Fury replied.

“All communications have been cut off. The last burst of data showed that the crew had been sealed in, the weapons deactivated.”

Fury stood there numbly for a moment. “What about us?” he asked, voice almost adopting something that usually wasn’t there.

Steve directed a look upward although he knew he wouldn’t see anything but the ceiling.

“There’s no indication that our position has been compromised,” the agent said slowly. “We are monitoring the situation, though – with human eyes – and have taken the necessary steps to ensure our systems cannot be breached from the outside.”

“Claire is on one of the other Helicarriers,” Benjamin Pollack spoke up suddenly, standing up. “You have to do something.”

“What are you suggesting we do?” Fury asked him, looking over his shoulder. “Those Helicarriers are all full of trained professionals –”

“Who according to the news have been sealed in like ants in a container!” Pollack shouted, shaking. “You have to go,” he went on, looking at Steve. “The Avengers can stop them.”

“Which ship is she on?” Steve asked slowly. He was sure he had met her, perhaps briefly, but he was unsure if they had the time.

“Ms. Wise was on a ship currently above Newfoundland, assigned there with Agent Blake,” Fury dug from his memory.

“That ship was one of the first to go down,” the agent who had brought the news said quietly.

Pollack stood there in shocked silence then sat down, almost missing his chair; Clint pushed it beneath him just in time so that he wouldn’t hit the floor.

“I’m sorry,” Bruce was the first to offer his condolences, having spent more time with Pollack than the rest of the Avengers. He looked at Fury then. “Is there anything we can do? Are there any Helicarriers left that we can get to in time?”

Fury stepped over to his screen, tapped furiously at it and then just stared for a long moment. Steve knew the answer by then, sensing it but not wanting to say anything. “They’re all gone,” the Director finally announced. “Every single one of them, in matter of minutes.” He contemplated on that for a moment, dismissing the agent who had brought the news with an angry motion of his hand; the agent was happy to exit the room.

“How did this happen?” Natasha asked. “Why now? If they could find the Helicarriers, why wait until today to attack them? They were an important part of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s operation from the beginning.”

Steve wasn’t certain if he could just jump right into solving this mystery from the fact that thousands of people had just died, unable to defend themselves. Perhaps they had tried, maybe they had fought until the last moment as a mecha destroyed the Helicarrier, but they were all dead now and the Avengers hadn’t even had time to get out of their chairs to help them.

“They hacked the Helicarrier systems just prior to the attack,” Bruce frowned. “They owned the ships, controlled them, and then all they needed to do was take them down.”

“Effortless,” Loki commented from the corner where he had mostly kept to himself. “It is amazing, isn’t it, how easily they’ve secured their victories so far? Not even breaking a sweat.”

“What are you saying, brother?” Thor snapped, standing up, sending his chair flying back to the floor in his haste. “Many good people died today. Our new friend lost someone important to him!” he pointed at Pollack who still sat with horror frozen on his face.

Loki leaned back in his chair, looking at Thor and then at Bruce. “Until now you’ve had the control of your communications, true? Your… eyes in the sky?”

“Yes,” Bruce frowned.

“You’ve been tracking the enemies, trading information between countries, planning attacks… Did it ever occur to you that such surveillance was not beneficial to the Chitauri?”

“Of course,” Natasha snapped. “That is why we assumed they would have taken out those routes of communication when they first arrived.”

“Well, there you have it,” Loki spread his hands.

Clint frowned, fiddling with his bow the same way he always did when Loki got on his nerves – which was all the time. “When you want to cripple your enemy, you put out their eyes,” he mused slowly, as if carefully adjusting each word in its place. “They didn’t do this. Why? To toy with us?”

“To use it,” Steve felt it snap into place. He wanted to spend a moment mourning those they had just lost – but their deaths shouldn’t be in vain. “What is the likelihood they left us with our communications and satellites for a reason? Could they have watched us watching them the whole time? Our eyes becoming theirs?”

“There is no sign of that,” Selvig started.

“They just hacked into multiple Helicarriers almost simultaneously,” Fury’s voice silenced the rest of them. “They did so with speed which suggests they may have infiltrated our systems before, or had gained access to it without our notice. There is no possibility they didn’t notice our satellites when they arrived.”

“Why now? Why was this a good time to strike when they had let things be for so long?” Steve mused. It didn’t seem like any better a time than any other.

“Perhaps our arrival frightened them,” Thor suggested.

Steve glanced at Loki for confirmation. Part of the time he wasn’t certain whether Loki actually had insight at their enemy or if he merely had a sharp mind. He would take either of the two right now.

Loki pursed his lips. “Perhaps… Our arrival may have been unexpected and forced them to move their plans forward. Either that, or it was simply time for them to make their next move. This makes it more difficult for S.H.I.E.L.D. to maneuver, yes?”

“It slows us down, but it won’t cripple us,” Fury straightened himself, looking at the far wall with a distant expression. “We need to make sure that our lines of communication are safe. Whatever their plan, we won’t feed them information of our movements; we’ll shoot down the satellites ourselves if we must.”

There was resolve in Fury’s voice, as well as a deep hurt; a mounting guilt of all the lives they had lost until now and an ugly doubt raising its head; how many of those had been in vain, caused by their own carelessness?





to be continued…


Info