"Agent Nagato, finding the signal that is being transmitted to control these things, over New York, is not an easy feat." Maria Hill didn't bother disguising the edge of irritation in her voice, though truthfully, it wasn't directed at the agent himself. He just had the misfortune of being the person trying to talk to her at that moment. "There are literally thousands of signals in the air, and if it were me, and Howard Stark was a brilliant man, I'd be changing the transmission frequency constantly. If we find it, we can talk about jamming. And while the Helicarrier could take an EMP blast, I would really not recommend it. And if these things are built on Stark tech, they'll probably recover from an EMP."
"By all means, keep working on solutions. But those aren't them." The SHIELD commander pivoted in place to get a look at a monitor to her left, noting Persephone's arrival on the bridge. "Hello Agent, welcome to my little corner of helI."
Unsurprisingly, in the air surrounding the massive vessel, the drones had begun taking evasive maneuvers. The guns had been designed to hit such targets, but human sized was still smaller then they'd been intended for. They had already scored some hits, but for the most part, the suits danced about with immunity. Fortunately, their random attack patterns meant something else; they had not done any significant damage to the Helicarrier. Their weapons would have difficulty with its armor even if fired consistently, so such tactics were little more than a distraction.
The Red Skull liked to paint it as helplessness, but his attack had yet to have any success either. The game would change, Hill knew, and they'd be prepared when it did.
"Get the nearest Air Force base on the line," She ordered, crossing her arms as she stared at her tactical displays. "Tell them to scramble fighters to intercept."
It'll take them a while to get here, but that might help break the standoff...
The moment Howard Stark's face, what was left of it, at least, appeared on the screen, a sequence of events began. A sequence that could not be stalled, could not be stopped, and could not be predicted. Some moments, some sights, cannot be dealt with, cannot be coped with; they tear down every obstacle in their path, opening old wounds and making new ones in the same stroke. From that moment forward, all bets are off. Anything can, and would, happen. In less than one hour, two of these moments had occurred. A long dead signal was reactivated, pointing the way to a missing friend, only to know that he would soon be dead. And another dead friend showed his face, brought back from the endless abyss. But brought back wrong; perverted and twisted until only a husk remains, a nightmare in a familiar face.
Natasha and Brando had both departed the room, the latter to comfort the former, he knew. Siegfried had stormed away, Asgardian fury flowing cold under the surface. Natalie had sought asylum elsewhere, leaving the room empty. Devoid of movement, but not devoid of life; like a statue, the super soldier stood rooted to the ground, eyes fixed on a screen that no longer showed the nightmare that continued to play, over and over, behind them. A mask, shattered and cold, barely covering an alien face. A mockery, a gross parody, of a once great man, an abomination in the guise of one dearly departed. Metal had glinted through, reflecting light even as dead eyes seemed to suck it into the abyss. A hard line where a grin should have been.
"Likelihood of video authenticity is 89%." A voice intoned quietly in his ear, more subdued than any artificial intelligence should have been. "Drones attacking the Helicarrier match characteristics with known armor variants within 12% range of error. Armor silhouette of unknown entity possesses 67% of the characteristics exhibited by the one Mr. Stark wore in his last known engagement."
"I know, Jarvis." The three words were spoken in a tone barely above a whisper, eyes still fixed upon the now-muted television. A news anchor was talking animatedly, a bit fearfully, but he didn't see. He couldn't, not when one fact kept repeating in his head; Howard had deserved better. A life had been ahead; a sister who loved him, friends who cared, and even one who did more than care. James had failed him. He'd failed all of them. He hadn't been fast enough, hadn't been strong enough. He hadn't had a plan; if he had, then maybe they all would have made it. But he hadn't. It was a fact he had lived with for that year, despite the question- Why had he lived? Why James, and not Howard?- that had plagued him. But this... This was twisted. This was wrong on a level that went deeper than any crime, any violent act. It was a violation of all that was good and moral, a violation of the very laws of nature.
And Howard had been forced to suffer through it. Brought back but brought back wrong, back to a perverse undeath. Denied the chance to live on, and now denied the one right assumed to be true for all men and women; denied the right to rest in peace.
All at once, distress turned to rage. This could not be forgiven. A line had been found that never should have been, and it had been crossed. The Red Skull- no, Hydra- was not human. They were not criminals, or terrorists. They were monsters sicker than any before, and if the universe had any justice in it at all, any that would come after. New York had made this conflict personal, for so many. A mission to avenge fallen comrades. Friends. ... Family. With this act, it transcended anger, transcended fury; it was hatred, in the truest sense of the word. Hatred, righteous and true, bubbling up from the very core of his being.
"... Jarvis, do you understand what happened in New York?" James hadn't realized that he had shut the television off; or that, in the process, he had crushed the remote in his fist. "Not just the facts, not the numbers. Do you understand it?"
"I do, sir." Jarvis replied after a moment, sounding almost... Sad. Perhaps it was personification, a desperation to see some kind of empathy. Perhaps Jarvis mourned his death, too. "The Avengers fought a statistically overwhelming force. The attack was a surprise. There was no possible way to anticipate what even the Strategic Homeland Intervention and Logistics Division, in their line of duty, could not. The Avengers, and the Pantheon, fought alongside SHIELD against a threat thought dead. In that process, Noel Rogers and Howard Stark were lost."
A pause, and the AI continued. "Demises that were a statistical likelihood. In all simulations of the event, no outcome has been found based upon available resources that all Avengers survived. All that was within the scope of your abilities, you did. You operated at 104% of expected optimum capabilities."
"And it ###### well wasn't enough." The super soldier growled, casting the remains of the remote across the room to fragment against the far wall. Jarvis was silent, as James Rogers stalked quietly across the room and into the hallway. He knew exactly where Natasha and Brando were; he could hear them, had seen the direction in which they were headed. It was with that knowledge that he avoided them, slipping into what, once upon a time, had been the armory. Past and present mingled and intermixed, memories slipping into the present just as he slipped into his combat uniform. Just as he slipped out of the armory and towards the express elevator.
SHIELD was under attack, and the Red Skull believed himself to be untouchable.
James Rogers would ###### well prove them wrong. For Ares' sake. For Noel's sake. And for Howard.
"Sake Harada, I believe." The technopath commented idly, almost unconsciously taking in the surface details of her electronics. Even minor details, like the song last played on her iPod, were telling; they helped to paint a picture of a person. He didn't delve any deeper than that, however; to do so was disrespectful. Borderline immoral.
He held out a hand to shake. "I see you're aware of who I and this Californian bum are already."
As soon as Tera's news app went off, she knew she needed to keep Aella and Trinity away from the TV. And hopefully the windows. If they saw Hydra on the move already, it wouldn't go over well, she just knew it. Fortunately, the television already was off; step one accomplished.
"Hey, Aella, Trin. Maybe we should sit down with GI Jane, get to know her a little." The martial artist shot Alyssa a meaningful looking, hoping she wouldn't blow the cover.