Read The Avengers Assemble Online

Authors: Thomas Macri

Tags: #Marvel Junior Novel (eBook)

The Avengers Assemble (9 page)

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

HALFWAY AROUND
the world in a desolate factory district in St. Petersburg, Russia, Natasha Romanoff found herself tied to a chair and interro-gated by three nasty-looking goons. She was not in good shape. The agent's beautiful but deadly ways had earned her the codename Black Widow. But right now, it seemed as if she were closer to dead than deadly.

One of the thug's phones began to ring, and he answered.

“This is agent Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D. We know your exact coordinates and will not have a second thought descending on you if you don't hand Ms. Romanoff the phone right now.”

The thug quickly obliged.

“What is it? I'm working,” Natasha told Coulson. “Hold on.”

Natasha shimmied her way out of the ropes that had been binding her and quickly and easily knocked out her captors. Once she was certain they were out of commission, she again picked up the phone.

“I was getting good information out of these guys. Where do you need me?”

Coulson filled Natasha in on the Tesseract threat. There was no way that S.H.I.E.L.D. or any one hero would be able to handle this situation on their own. He told her that Barton had been compromised, which caused Natasha to listen up and take the call even more seriously.

“We need you to bring in the big guy,” Coulson said.

“Tony Stark trusts me as far as he can throw me,” Natasha said.

“No, I've got Stark,” Coulson said. “The
BIG
guy.”

Natasha took a deep breath. “Oh, boy.”

This wasn't going to be easy. Even for the Black Widow.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

THE NEW YORK CITY
skyline glittered. The bridges sparkled like strings of pearls in the reflective waters of the East River. In recent years, the skyline had been built back up from darker days at the turn of the millennium. But even with the explosion of construction the city was experiencing, one tower was sure to stand out above all the others.

Like a cannon fired from a submarine, Iron Man shot from below the surface of the river and soared into the sparkling sky over Manhattan.

The PR campaign had been a success, the media outlets were alerted, and Stark Industries' CEO was ready to flip the switch. Tonight was the night they lit Stark Tower—New York's newest and most spectacular skyscraper, and its most eco-friendly: the first in not just the city, but the world to run on self-sustaining energy.

Tony gave Pepper the word, and his CEO activated the building's power. The tower began to light up, first from street level, and then hundreds of feet to the pinnacle, illuminating the New York skyline—and the sky itself.

“Woo-hoo!” Tony cheered.

Back at the tower, Pepper smiled proudly.

The event was a success! Pepper was surrounded by press, and Tony was soaring around the lit skyscraper, relishing the moment.

Of course, for Tony, it was never quite that easy to relax.

“Sir, Agent Coulson is on the line for you,” J.A.R.V.I.S. said through the communications line in Tony's helmet.

Without responding, Tony hung up on the automated butler. This feeling was too great to let Coulson and the rest of his S.H.I.E.L.D. cronies spoil it.

Tony flew back to the tower, and its penthouse suite, where Pepper was waiting for him. He gave her
some
of the credit for the evening's success, but the rest of it was, of course, all him.

Just then a video screen lit up, and on it appeared Agent Coulson. He'd overridden J.A.R.V.I.S.'s secutity protocols.

“Tony, I need to speak with you urgently,” Coulson said.

Tony switched off the screen, and as if on cue the elevator doors to the penthouse opened and Coulson stepped out. There was no avoiding this guy.

Tony sighed. “Security.”

Coulson handed Tony a briefcase. “I need you to look at this as soon as possible.”

Tony refused to take it, but Pepper, not quite sure exactly what to do, grabbed it for him.

“I thought Fury had scrapped this whole Avengers Initiative thing,” Tony said. “And anyway, I didn't qualify.”

Coulson explained that the threat they were facing now was so great that they would need all the help they could get. This wasn't the Avengers Initiative, it was a response team.

Semantics
, Tony thought.

Pepper shushed Tony and took him into an adjoining room, where they opened up the briefcase. Inside were holographic images containing information on Captain America, Hulk, Thor, and Tony himself. But most impressive of all was the Tesseract. Tony had an idea of what is was and what it could do. And how, if it fell into the wrong hands, it could spell disaster. In the hands of a madman, the entire world would be at risk. In the hands of something greater than human, there was no telling where or if the devastation would end.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

BRUCE BANNER
leaned over his two young patients as their worried mother looked on. Calcutta was fraught with pestilence. But Bruce was intent on making sure that the children he was currently tending to would grow up to experience the world and, hopefully, make it a better place.

Calcutta suffered from a dearth of critical needs, such as freshwater, medicine, and other supplies. Unfortunately the one thing there was no shortage of was patients. Just as Banner was wrapping up his work, a young girl who couldn't have been more than eight years old ran into the home.

“Stay away!” The mother cried out. “They're sick!”

The girl explained that she was here because her father was sick in the same way. She burst into tears and continued the story as her voice broke with sorrow.

“He's not waking up,” she told Banner. “He has a fever and is moaning, but his eyes won't open.”

She held out the little bit of money she had and offered it to Bruce, pleading for his help. He didn't accept the money, but still threw his supplies into his worn doctor's bag and asked the girl to show him the way to her father.

They made their way through the nearly impenetrable Calcutta streets. The girl knew better than Bruce how to navigate the thick walls of people, but Bruce did his best to keep up with the girl, so as not to lose her.

They arrived at the very edge of town, which was a much less densely populated than the rest of the city. The girl led Bruce to a shack that stood apart from the others. It was even more severely dilapidated than the rest. She darted into the shack and Bruce, still trying to keep pace, followed right behind her.

Once inside the shanty, the girl rushed quickly onto a bed beneath a window. And then she slipped right through that window out of the room.

It took Bruce a few seconds to register what was going on, but then he realized what had happened. He'd been tricked.

A beautiful S.H.I.E.L.D. agent stood before him. The jig was up—they'd been looking for him for years, and now they had him.

The woman introduced herself as Natasha Romanoff.

“How did S.H.I.E.L.D. find me?” Banner asked.

“We never lost you,” Natasha responded. “I'm here, alone, on behalf of S.H.I.E.L.D. We need you to come in.”

Natasha said S.H.I.E.L.D. was aware it had been two years without an incident. They weren't looking for the Hulk, they needed Bruce Banner. She explained that the Tesseract was stolen, possibly by a being once worshiped as a god. They needed to find it before he could use its power, but it was emitting gamma radiation that was too weak for any of their tools to trace. Bruce was the world's leading expert on gamma radiation, and they needed that expert advice right now.

Banner didn't believe it. He still thought that S.H.I.E.L.D. wanted the Hulk, not Banner.

“Stop lying to me!” he shouted with a vehement anger.

Natasha, who was not easily jarred, was startled out of her wits, bracing herself for Banner's transformation into the Hulk.

Then Bruce began to laugh. “That was mean!” he said. “Couldn't resist. What if I say no?”

“Then I will persuade you,” Natasha replied.

“What if the
other
guy says no?”

Bruce's question met an uncomfortable silence as both he and Natasha considered what would happen if the Hulk decided that he didn't want to go along with S.H.I.E.L.D. Finally, Bruce spoke up. “If Fury wants me, we both know he's going to get me either way,” he said, agreeing to come along.

“The situation is contained,” Natasha said into her walkie-talkie.

“So we were alone, huh?” Bruce said.

Natasha shrugged while, outside, thirty-odd S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who'd surrounded the shack dropped their weapons.

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

SILENCE.
That's all Agent Coulson could provide his hero, his idol, this man he never thought it possible that he'd meet. Steve Rogers sat across from Agent Coulson on a high-tech aircraft called the Quinjet. Even though the ride was smooth as silk, Coulson found himself more than a little bit uncomfortable. But the discomfort was mutual. Coulson was starstruck, in awe, blown away. And Steve wasn't used to such adoration. During the war he wore a mask and rarely came face-to-face with the general public. But Coulson was sitting here, looking him in the eyes, or at least try-ing to.

Finally, the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent brought himself to make some small talk, which evolved into a very lively conversation that he was loathe to end when the Quinjet landed on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Helicarrier. The men stepped off the Quinjet on to the carrier, where they were greeted by Natasha and Bruce.

Bruce, like everyone else, was in particular awe of Steve Rogers—the famous Captain America—and took full advantage of the opportunity to speak to a living legend, one who technically wasn't even living just a short time ago. Bruce was fascinated with the details of Steve's cryonic suspension. Though Steve couldn't give many details, Bruce found any and all that could be shared fascinating. All the while, Natasha kept to herself, typically brooding, preferring to keep to the shadows. But if anyone knew her well—which none present really did—it would be clear that something was not sitting well with her.

The gears on the carrier began to shift, and the entire ship started to rumble. The passengers were prepared for the ship to submerge—like a huge submarine—but instead the entire massive carrier lifted up into the air. Photo-variant panels on the underside of the Helicarrier reflected the sky, and cloaked the ship, rendering it completely invisible. The sound was roaring, but
it suddenly cut off as a noise-cancelling device was activated just as Colonel Fury entered the area.

“Thank you all for coming,” he said. He turned to Banner who of all the heroes was looking the most uncomfortable. “As soon as the Tesseract is back in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s hands, you can go. I'm not going to keep you here.”

Bruce smiled uncomfortably, only half believing Fury.

“The cube is emitting gamma radiation, and no one knows about that better than you,” Fury said.

Coulson informed Banner that S.H.I.E.L.D. had access to any device connected to a satellite. That access would be made available to Banner. Bruce let Coulson know that he'd also need spectrometers. Fury quickly ordered a lab to be set up for Banner, and he supplied him not only with spectrometers, but an endless supply of other devices that could be used to track the Tesseract.

Before long, Bruce was working. In no time at all, a hot spot appeared in Stuttgart, Germany.

“Got it!” Banner shouted.

The group boarded the Quinjet and was on its way immediately. More forces were gathering. They'd need all the power they could assemble to fight this battle. Every second that the Tesseract was in the thief's hands was another second during which the fate of the world hung in the balance.

The battle was about to begin.

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

IN A SQUARE
outside a museum in Stuttgart, Germany, an unassuming man carrying a walking stick strode by a string quartet. The man meandered about a bit, taking in the evening, enjoying the night and the music. He surveyed the museum and walked around its perimeter, admiring its architecture and expressing interest in the evening's event. He eventually made his way around to the rear. Once he was sure no one was looking, he slipped inside through a back entrance.

Inside the museum, a speaker was delivering a science lecture. The man who had sneaked in appeared at the top of the grand staircase behind the speaker and began to descend. As he stepped down the stairs, his long coat and walking stick morphed into the unmistakable battle armor and staff of Loki the Trickster.

Loki was on the run, but he still couldn't resist using his powers on the inhabitants of Midgard. Loki began firing bolts of energy from his staff every which way. Then he stepped out the front doors as gracefully as he'd entered.

A guard, hearing the disturbance but not knowing who or what had caused it, raced up to Loki as he exited the museum. He was intent on stopping him.

“Kneel!” Loki commanded the guard.

The guard collapsed onto his knees before Loki.

Suddenly it appeared as though Loki was multiplying—dozens of him filled the square.

“All of you, kneel!” He shouted to the people in the square.

Everyone dropped to their knees, except for one man who stood out conspicuously in the crowd.

“I do not kneel to men like you,” the old man said.

“There are no men like me,” Loki replied.

“There are
always
men like you,” the old man retorted.

Loki lifted his staff and pointed it at the man in disgust. He fired a bolt of energy. Then, suddenly, seemingly from nowhere at all, a loud clang reverberated. Something swooped by in a blur and ricocheted off of the energy stream—deflecting Loki's blast and keeping the old man from harm, then swiping Loki across the head as it swooped back toward its wielder.

It was the shield of Captain America, and it had been a very long time since it had been used to fight the good fight.

“Ah, the Super-Soldier from the Great War,” Loki said.

“It wasn't that ‘great,'” Captain America replied flatly.

“Mine will be,” Loki said evilly.

Meanwhile, in the air above, Natasha was piloting the Quinjet. Her objective was to stun Loki with a blast, but the square was too crowded. She needed it to be cleared before she could get a clean shot.

“I'll get this one,” Cap said, facing down Loki.

The two began to spar all over the square, Loki dodging the Captain's shield, Cap bouncing back every time Loki dealt him a blow. All the while, Natasha attempted to fix a target on Loki, but he darted around far too quickly to be locked down.

Troublingly, Natasha's radio filled with static. No, it wasn't static, it was…heavy metal music? Then she realized what was happening.

“Hello, Tony,” she said.

Iron Man zoomed past the Quinjet and swooped down to the square, where he began to fire repulsor blasts at Loki. Loki persisted, but Tony trained his repulsor ray on Loki's staff and blasted it out of his hand. The staff skittered down the square. Still, Loki would not relent. He continued to battle both Captain America and Iron Man. But then, the latter descended into the square, hovered in front of Loki and transformed his armor to show that the suit was outfitted with every Stark Industries weapon imaginable—including some that no one else could even conjure in their wildest dreams.

Loki threw up his hands in defeat, an evil smile on his face.

“Good move,” Tony said, then he turned to the man with the shield.

“Mr. Stark,” Steve said.

“Captain.”

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