Read The Avengers Assemble Online

Authors: Thomas Macri

Tags: #Marvel Junior Novel (eBook)

The Avengers Assemble (8 page)

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

STEVE ROGERS WOKE
in unfamiliar surroundings. He felt refreshed. His head was clear and he was full of energy, but he couldn't figure out where he was or how he'd gotten here.

The institutional-looking room was spare. The steel-frame cot that Steve slept on looked like government issue. The mint-green walls were bare. At the far corner of the room, a radio played a baseball game. The Brooklyn Dodgers. Something was wrong.

Steve looked over toward the window from his bed. The sun was shining and a pleasant breeze was blowing in. By the angle of the sunlight it appeared to be late morning.

Judging by the soaring brick towers, he could tell he was in Manhattan. He was dressed in a T-shirt emblazoned with the insignia of the SSR—the Special Scientific Reserve organization that had given him strength and agility that were the pinnacle of human potential.

Steve again considered the game on the radio. The Dodgers had scored another three runs. Yes, something was very wrong.

The steel knob of the only door in the room turned, and a pretty nurse walked into Steve's quarters.

“Good morning,” she said. “Or should I say afternoon?”

“Where am I?” Steve asked.

“You're in a recovery room in New York City.”

“Where am I, really?” Steve asked again, more emphatic this time.

“I'm afraid I don't understand,” the nurse said, smiling.

“The game. It's from May 1941. I know because I was there. Now I'm going to ask you again—where am I?”

“Captain Rogers…” the nurse tried to explain.

“Who are you?” Steve shouted.

Steve noticed the nurse click a device concealed in her hand. He sprang up and used all his power to smash through a far wall. The illusion of the room fell away as Steve stepped into what looked like the backstage area of the movie sets he knew from recording newsreel footage.

“Backstage,” Steve realized that the images of New York skyscrapers and the late morning sky were simply extremely high-tech projections. He rushed out of the strange room and found himself outside of the building in an alien world that seemed something like the one he'd known, but unbelievably different at the same time.

An imposing man in a long trench coat stepped forward. He wore a patch over his left eye.

“At ease, soldier,” the man called out. “Look, I'm sorry about that little show back there, but we thought it best to break it to you slowly.”

“Break
what
?” Steve asked.

“You've been asleep, Cap. For almost seventy years.”

Steve was speechless. To the passersby in Times Square this was all ordinary.

But to Steve, this was the future.

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

DR. ERIK SELVIG
found himself in a dimly lit corridor at a S.H.I.E.L.D. research compound. Not long ago he was just a scientist, and now he suddenly found himself in the middle of cross-dimensional superheroic struggles.

“Dr. Selvig,” came a voice at the end of the hall.

Selvig turned to see Colonel Fury.

“So, you're the man behind all of this?” Selvig asked. “It's quite a labyrinth. I was thinking you were taking me down here to kill me.” He laughed uncomfortably.

Fury did not return his laughter, paused, and then walked toward the doctor.

“I've been hearing about the New Mexico situation. Your work has impressed a lot of people who are much smarter than I am,” Fury said.

“I have a lot to work with. A gateway to another dimension—it's unprecedented.”

Fury looked Selvig in the eye.

“Isn't it?” Selvig asked.

Fury continued down the hall, with Selvig in tow.

“Legend tells us one thing, history another,” Fury said. “But every now and then we find something that belongs to both.”

He opened a secure box. Inside was illuminated red circuitry, a security keypad and, in the center, an unusual glittering blue cube, smoother and shinier than anything Selvig had ever seen before. It crackled with electricity, and forks of charged current danced around it.

“What is it?” Selvig asked.

“Power, doctor,” Fury replied. “If we can figure out how to tap it, maybe
unlimited
power.”

Selvig stared at the cube in awe. But unseen by Fury or Selvig, the spirit of something else looked on—something far more powerful than either of them. Something from another world—a prince of lies, a power-hungry god: Loki.

“Well, I guess that's worth a look…” Loki hissed, grinning, unheard by the mortals surrounding him.

“Well, I guess that's worth a look,” Selvig repeated, not realizing the words were not his own—that he was simply captivated by Loki's spell.

Loki was pleased. Thor and Odin thought him dead. He'd tricked them when he fell from the Bifrost. They would not be interfering with his plan. He'd find a way to send himself, body and soul, back to Midgard, and once he was there, he would rule these simple mortals, in a way he wasn't able to rule Asgard.

A Realm would be his at last—just as he deserved.

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

IN DR. SELVIG'S
research, he uncovered the storied history of the cube—or the Tesseract, as it was officially known. It was once the jewel of Odin's treasure room. The details of how it came to Earth were unclear, but it surely happened when Asgardians traveled over the Bifrost. Ultimately, the Tesseract came to be guarded by a secret society in Tonsberg, Norway. But in March 1942, it was stolen by Johann Schmidt and used as a weapon against HYDRA's enemies—including Captain America. During the Captain's struggle with the Red Skull aboard the HYDRA Valkyrie aircraft—a battle that sent Cap into a frozen deep sleep—the Tesseract was activated, burned through the hull, and plummeted to Earth, where it was buried near the crash site and later retrieved by S.H.I.E.L.D. They knew that, like Thor's hammer, the Tesseract needed to be guarded by their best agent, and so they put Barton on duty overseeing it.

Doctor Selvig found the cube amazing. The way light and matter and energy reacted around it was like nothing he had ever seen. But not long into Dr. Selvig's study of the Tesseract, it began to act oddly, even for a mystical object.

Upon learning from Dr. Selvig that the cube had activated itself, so to speak, Colonel Fury called an emergency meeting with Agents Coulson and Maria Hill. Dr. Selvig told the group that the cube was pulling energy from space and emitting low levels of gamma radiation.

In describing the way in which energy was flowing from—or rather
into
the cube—Agent Hill expressed the very real concern that it could be pulling enough dark energy toward it to collapse all matter on Earth and create a black hole.

“Dr. Selvig,” Fury said, “I need a report on the Tesseract.”

“She's been misbehaving,” Selvig said, never taking his eyes from the cube.

“Where's Barton?” Fury asked.

“The Hawk is in his nest,” Selvig replied.

* * *

“I thought I told you to stay close, Agent,” Fury shouted up to Barton, who was watching the cube from a crow's nest above.

“My eyesight is better from up here,” Barton replied.

“Well, if that's the case, have you seen anything or anyone come or go that might be causing it to act this way?”

Agent Barton rappelled down to speak to Fury face-to-face, and responded in the negative. As Barton understood it, the Tesseract was a doorway to the other end of space. “If there's tampering going on,” he said, “it's not from our side of the doorway, but the other one.”

Suddenly the cube began to spin, slowly at first, and then faster and faster. It began to glow brighter until it seemed to tear a hole in the very air, revealing stars and celestial dust within.

“Oh, my…” Dr. Selvig began.

A man clawed his way through this portal, clutching a staff. He was crouched and shaking—his face regal but gaunt and fatigued, clearly weary from his journey. Still, without delay, he lifted his staff and began to use it to blast violent streams of energy at the agents in the room.

Fury yelled to protect the Tesseract, and the agents, led by Agent Barton, rushed it to safety.

The being who had just entered the room looked up wearily. Mustering as much strength as he could, he touched his staff to Selvig's heart, then turned and did the same to Barton. The men's eyes went completely white, then a lightless black, and finally back to normal—but something had changed in them. They stared vacantly, as if due to an underlying soullessness.

As the frantic battle continued within the facility, the portal began to close. It began pulling in all the matter around it. Agent Hill estimated that they had thirteen minutes before the entire compound would be sucked into the portal's vacuum.

Barton aimed an arrow, but his target was not what the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents might have expected—it was trained on Colonel Fury. It was clear that their enemy's staff had some strange affect on Barton. He let his arrow fly, and it flew straight into Fury's Kevlar vest.

With Barton holding Fury at bay, the infiltrator grabbed the Tesseract and, together with Selvig and Barton, fled the compound and raced into an SUV. Agent Hill radioed any and all S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who might receive her message. One of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s best agents and a brilliant scientist had just escaped with the Tesseract, accompanied by a powerful being who could only be Loki, son of Odin, brother of Thor.

Hill rushed out toward the parking structure. The fugitives were still in sight, so she jumped in her own SUV and gave chase. She sped through the complex's labyrinthine tunnels, skidding against the walls as she followed in hot pursuit. Agent Barton fired shots at Hill from the enemy vehicle, but Hill couldn't help but note that he was less accurate than usual.

Even so, one of Barton's arrows exploded near Agent Hill's SUV, causing it to tumble.

As Loki's vehicle emerged from the tunnel, a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicopter descended and picked up the chase where Hill had left off. Fury leaned out one of the doors and began to fire upon the escape vehicle, but the escapees managed to swerve and avoid the barrage. At the same time, Barton, with his hawklike eyes, returned fire and managed to hit a rotor on the copter, which plunged to earth.

Fury managed to escape the craft seconds before it exploded. Then he looked up as the SUV drove off with the most powerful energy source in the known universe inside.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

THIS WAS A VERY
different New York City than the one Steve Rogers had known. His beloved Brooklyn Dodgers had left “the borough of churches” for the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles. Their uptown rivals, baseball's New York Giants, had also up and left for the West Coast. The spectacular adverts in Times Square—always impressive—had transformed from mechanical gimmickry to mind-blowing high-tech LED lights. The skyline had nearly doubled its height during the time he'd been away. Subways were faster—and cleaner. Traffic was more congested than ever, but the cars were sleeker. Gone were the phone booths—people now carried personal phones that had no need for wires. And these devices were not merely used for speaking, but also watching films, reading books, listening to music, and sending and receiving information instantaneously.

Steve was reminded of Howard Stark's vision of the future at the World Exposition that had changed Steve's life back in 1941. Steve was sure that in no small way, Howard was responsible for many of these great advancements.

This was the new world outside of Steve's apartment window. Inside, Colonel Fury had used new technologies to supply Steve with everything he needed to familiarize himself with the new world in which he found himself. It was jarring to emerge from the mid twentieth century into the twenty-first. To make the leap from never having seen a television to fidgeting with a tablet device would not be easy. Steve needed to know about everything that had come in between.

He started from the beginning, watching old newsreels of himself in battle during the war. He shook his head in disbelief at how crude and unsophisticated the film and sound were compared to what he'd recently seen—flat crystal-clear screens where it seemed as though you could reach out and grab the images.

He shifted his attention to old war-era files. He sifted through them until he reached the file that mattered most—Peggy Carter, who was alive and living in London. What would Peggy think of him now? What would he think of her?

Overwhelmed, Steve stepped out of his apartment into this brave new world. He needed to clear his mind and process all this. The street was not conducive to deep thinking. Traffic jammed the roads, street vendors shouted from their carts, tourists clogged the sidewalks. He needed to find somewhere to sit down. The bars were too crowded and depressing. Besides, he didn't drink. He thought about a coffee shop, but still couldn't find it within himself to pay more than a few cents for a cup of the stuff, no less a hundred times that, which seemed to be the going rate.

Steve found himself by Stark Tower—the legacy of his old friend Howard Stark. He looked up at the tower in awe. Almost nothing in his time looked so tall and sleek. He shook his head and sighed, then he settled into a diner across the street. The scene felt much more familiar than any of his other options.

“You waiting to see him?” the waitress asked as she set down his water.

“Who?”

“Iron Man. People come in and sit here all day waiting to see him fly by. You can stay here all day, too,” she said with a flirtatious smile. “We have free Wi-Fi,” she continued.

“Is that radio?” Steve asked naively.

The waitress flashed her pretty smile again and shook her head.

“Get her number, you moron!” an old man at the table across from him snapped.

But Steve just ordered, finished up, and uncomfortably thanked the waitress for her service as he paid the bill. He was frustrated as ever with his place in the world. He'd tried walking, sitting, and thinking, there was only one other option open to him.

Steve pounded and pounded and pounded on the punching bag that hung from the gym's ceiling. He came here when all else failed—when he was out of options for how to deal with all the information he'd been having difficulty processing.

He thought of his fellow soldiers and hit the bag. He thought of Peggy and slammed it again. He thought of Howard Stark, of progress, advancement, of the seventy years of history he'd not been a part of and punched and punched and punched; harder and harder, faster and more furious.

He would have beaten that bag forever if he hadn't been interrupted by the last man in the world he wanted to see at this moment—the man who was to blame for the fact that Steve was here at all—Colonel Fury.

Fury told Steve that the Tesseract had been stolen. Steve knew all too well the destruction that could be wrought if the power of the cube fell into the wrong hands. He'd seen the destruction it caused when the Red Skull held it. What if someone smarter and more dangerous got hold of it? Fury knew from his research in S.H.I.E.L.D. databases that Steve put himself before no one. No matter what Steve was struggling with, if the world needed Captain America, he would rise to meet the challenge.

“I've left a debriefing packet at your apartment,” Fury said. Then he turned and left the gym.

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