The news that Coulson would need the leave the lab arrived at 9:32 a.m. on May 23rd 1983 according to Coulson’s internal clock and calendar. Howard was in the middle of reviewing Coulson’s latest diagnostic data when the lab received an urgent phone call from Lt. Nick Fury.
“This is Howard… Nick? What happened?” Howard asked in concern as soon as he realized who’d called.
Coulson turned to him, his attention caught by the abruptly changed tone in Howard’s voice. Howard’s mouth was flat beneath his graying mustache, and his brow lowered. Coulson increased the sensitivity of his audio receptors in order to hear the other side of the conversation.
“General Phillips died three hours ago,” Nick said, thickly. The waver in his voice was uncharacteristic. Coulson had no saved memory files of Nick sounding like that before. A search result of human vocal tones led him to conclude the emotions behind the voice change were grief and pain.
“Shit. I‘m sorry, Nick,” Howard said softly. He closed his eyes as he grimaced. “The man‘s been holding on by a thread for the last few months. I‘m actually surprised he made it so long.”
“He did it because he wanted to make sure Coulson got finished,” Nick said. “Because he knew the moment he died the Pentagon would pass authority on his Special Project files to Colonel Kruger.”
“Oh no. Not him,” Howard groaned. Coulson noted how his brows furrowed even more as he scowled. It made the fine lines at the corners of his eyes deepen.
“Yeah… him, and he‘s on his way to your lab to take over. I think he wants to destroy Coulson,” Nick said urgently. “I overheard him call him a technological abomination!”
“He’s coming here? Damn it! How far away is he?”
“He‘s about an hour ahead of me and I‘m two and half hours away,” Nick said. “I‘m about to leave to get to you, but I don’t think I‘ll beat him there.”
“Just get over here as fast as you can,” Howard said and he hung up the phone. He turned to Coulson. His expression was one that Coulson compared to unhappy ones in his database. Not even when Coulson had unexpected errors develop in his software had his creator showed such emotion.
“I take it this is bad news?” Coulson asked calmly.
Howard nodded grimly. “Kruger is an arrogant asshole. If he‘s on his way to take control of the project then I know he‘s up to nothing good. Even worse, he‘s a technophobe. He‘s not going to like you at all.”
Coulson considered the information stored in his data banks in regards to Colonel Jonathan Kruger. The man had been promoted quickly through the ranks from lieutenant to colonel over a period of fifteen years. According to the records he was a good soldier and leader but there was a high rate of fatalities among his subordinates. And the low number of his officers who were promoted once they left his sphere of influence was indicative of a problem. Yet he also had support from the United Nations and the Pentagon and influence in the World Security Council, Coulson dismissed all additional data as irrelevant.
“What do you plan to do?” Coulson asked.
Howard took three large steps and pulled off the dust cover from the metal frame of C.O.U.L.S.O.N. 02. The second unit was nothing more than a titanium frame with partially installed hardware. Howard hadn’t gotten around to uploading any of the software as his attention had been focused more on perfecting Coulson’s synthetic skin for the last five months. Figuring out the pattern for his surface coloring as well as the placement of his pseudo-hairs had given his creator trouble.
As he’d told Coulson more than once, he was an engineer, not an artist.
“Coulson, I need you upload a copy of your systems into this unit,” Howard ordered. “Don‘t give it any of the files from your memory banks just the data which you had on your activation day. The only memories you should upload are your activation memories and strip the any temporal information attached to your files.”
“I understand,” Coulson said. He found the cable his creator had used to fix a couple errors in his software. He lifted his shirt and tugged at the elastic skin of his belly button to expose the port next to his electrical input socket. He connected the cable and then connected the other end into Unit 02. Copying the terabytes of data with the ordered adjustments took the better part of the hour. During that time, Howard moved briskly around the lab, gathering files and tools only to pause occasionally to make changes to files in the computers. At one point he left for twenty minutes with several boxes of papers, video tapes and a couple hard drives.
Coulson finished the upload and he pulled out the cable from Unit 02 and himself.
“Put this on,” Howard said as he held out one of his extra lab coats. Coulson shrugged into it. “This is the plan. As soon as Kruger arrives we’re going to let him have access to everything. And if he asks who you are? You say you‘re name is Phillip Dugan and you‘re my lab assistant. Consider it your first undercover assignment.” Howard clasped Coulson’s shoulders as he looked into his optics. “You‘re getting one helluva field test in passing for human but I know you can do it.”
“I haven’t had my training yet,” Coulson pointed out, feeling a flicker of concern. He’d been told he would be receiving extensive training before he was ever supposed to run missions in the field. He had no memory saved to his databanks which showed him how to proceed.
“Just use what you‘ve learned so far,” Howard said, reassuringly. “I know exactly how smart you are. I know you can do this, Coulson.”
Coulson silently nodded. He ran through all the copied body language he’d picked up from Howard Stark and Nick Fury. He loosened the fall his shoulders and his stance until he was leaning against a table. He grabbed a half empty mug of cooled coffee and held it in one hand.
Howard smiled tightly at him and nodded before he turned to the front of the computer. “Now we act casual until Kruger arrives.”
As he waited for the arrival which would test his ultimate goal of passing for human, Coulson considered Unit 02 with his optics. He felt a stab of regret that he wouldn’t be there on its activation day then he considered the sobering thought that Unit 02 may not even have an activation day.
“Is Colonel Kruger really so dangerous to my existence?” Coulson asked quietly. While he was aware of dangers which he could face in the field, he hadn’t considered the possibility of such a threat coming from what would have been his chain of command. It was a disconcerting thought and he had to ask his creator for clarity.
Howard grimaced but kept typing at the computer, his attention mostly focused on what he was doing. “The man is obsessed with creating an army of super-solders, and his subordinates are the same, especially Major Ross.”
“The only successful super solider in recorded history is Captain Steven Rogers, also known as Captain America,” Coulson said at once, amount of data he had stored about Steve Rogers far outstripped any other information he held, which included field reports, video files, scanned photographs, debriefing reports and eyewitness testimony.
“Trust me, Kruger doesn‘t want a soldier who’s anything like Steve,” Howard said, a muscle in his jaw twitched as he frowned. “He wants a killing machine --a weapon-- which he can program to do his bidding.”
This was the first time that Coulson could pinpoint to feeling the sensation of uneasiness within himself. It was a feeling so disturbing he rather thought it should have generated a hardware error report. It made him ran a scan to check, only to get an all-clear. “This is what he wishes to do with me?”
“No, you‘re a little too independent for him, your software would never let him turn you into an indiscriminate killer. And it‘s not like he can reprogram you. You behavioral and identity software is strictly yours to control. Instead he‘ll destroy you if he gets his hands on you.” Howard sighed heavily. “You’d think he’d understand it’s even harder to do exert such a level of control over a human but it doesn‘t stop him from trying to experiment with perfectly good soldiers. Sometimes I think that only by making them better weapons do I keep the Joint Chiefs from supporting his plans.”
“And you don‘t wish me to be a killing machine,” Coulson stated calmly.
“No, Coulson,” Howard agreed as he looked at Coulson somberly. “I don‘t create you just kill. I can design guns in my sleep. You were built for more than destruction. You were built to combat major threats to people’s lives and their freedom. You were built to help keep the world safe.”
The idea of being more than a weapon… was intriguing. So Coulson added the directive from his creator to his core identity software, his behavioral programming and his memory banks, inscribing it so deeply into his software that only a complete systems failure would eliminate it.
“Duly noted,” Coulson said softly.
Howard smiled at him.
It was surprising easy to fool Colonel Kruger. The final upgrades such as Coulson’s skin had never reached General Phillips per his orders to only contact him once Coulson was ready for field training and deployment. So Kruger came in expecting a unit in nearly the same shape Coulson had been on his activation day.
Essentially he was expecting Unit 02. He didn’t look twice at Coulson.
“Well, well, Stark,” Kruger said smugly. He was a man with thick brown hair and cool blue eyes while standing at six feet and one inch tall. He’d entered the lab with a man Coulson’s data files designated: Major Thaddeus Ross. Ross directed the squad of soldiers stripping down the lab.
Kruger continued, “Now that explains why we haven‘t been getting anything new from Stark Industries for the past year and a half. You’ve been wasting your time on pieces of trash like this.” He pointed at Unit 02.
Coulson felt an impulse to protest. While Unit 02 hadn’t cost as much to create as his own fabrication --the adamantium in his skull had tripled his cost-- it was worth 3.6 million U.S. dollars in raw materials alone. The epithet of ‘trash’ was as a far from accurate as it was possible to get. Coulson took a nanosecond to change the code of his behavioral programming to make him less defensive about his worth. It wasn’t relevant to the task at hand. He had his orders: pass as human.
Howard crossed his arms and glowered right back at the colonel. “That unit is one of the most advanced pieces of technology on the planet,” he said stiffly, his eyes snapping bright with his anger at this insult to his creation. His scowl carved deep furrows on the sides of his mouth. “Most computer specifications won‘t even begin to catch up with the computer in its head for another twenty years at the very least, maybe even longer. And that‘s just the hardware.”
Kruger snorted in derision. “I‘ve told you before and I‘ll tell you again, Stark. These little tech toys of your will never replace a real man on the field of combat. The world needs super-soldiers not super-computers.”
Coulson was struck by the completely erroneous logic of that statement as he had more than one hundred examples in his data banks which showed that advancement of technology was necessary for maintaining military superiority.
Howard’s jaw tightened but he didn’t say anything so Coulson mimicked his example.
Kruger grinned nastily at their silence and turned to bark orders to his subordinates.
Coulson recorded every word from Colonel Kruger from the need to be productive in some manner. He also watched as several soldiers who had arrived with Kruger packed everything up into various boxes with the seal of the Pentagon on the sides. They were taking everything including an empty pad of paper which Howard had used to sketch out new circuit designs and the hardware improvements he was going to make to Unit 02.
Quietly, Coulson watched a corporal roll out Unit 02 on a dolly, without care or regard to the exposed delicate components.
“What are you going to do with him?” Coulson asked, as he watched a being that would have been his brother --if one used human relationships as a template-- vanish from the range of his optics, although his auditory sensors followed the slight squeaks of the dolly wheels on concrete until they too faded out of his range. Only the knowledge that Unit 02 was never installed with the software for true sentience, true self-awareness, kept Coulson from action. Still the video file saved to his memory banks was unexpected painful.
It made Coulson considered a sentiment Nick Fury had expressed to him once, and however illogical, he silently wished good luck to Unit 02 with every bit of sincerity he had in his core processor. He also specially saved a still image of his last visual of Unit 02 to his memory banks.
“We‘re going to destroy the thing of course,” Kruger snorted. Coulson flinched. The colonel eyed Coulson harshly. “Who the hell are you?”
Coulson ran the search about aggressive body language and its counter through his data processor. The search took less than a second. Upon receiving back the data he deliberately lowered the gaze of his optics to the bare concrete floor. He used submissive body language in order to not be considered a threat.
“He‘s my lab assistant,” Howard said without hesitation.
Coulson nodded. He mimicked a hesitant smile and raised a hand out to Kruger. “My name is Phillip Dugan.” Data about military protocol crossed his processor in a nanosecond and inspired him to add: “Sir.”
Kruger grinned, his teeth bared in a way which didn‘t appear friendly even to Coulson‘s inexperience with interpreting human expression. “A scientist with proper respect for a military man, will wonders never cease.” He grasped Coulson’s hand and tightened his grip.
Coulson noted he exerted more pressure on his hand than would have been comfortable for a human to receive. Colonel Kruger intended to inflict pain by his actions. The pressure made the sensitive micro-plates under his skin protest and the unfamiliar uncomfortable sensation flared into pain from the skin’s embedded sensors as Kruger’s grip tightened further.
Coulson dialed down the feedback from his synthetic skin to the lowest sensitivity setting before he deliberately winced, showing an exaggeration of pain on his face. Kruger smirked and dropped his hand. Coulson lifted his head so his optics no longer recorded the state of the lab floor and instead watched Kruger carefully. He had to repeat the recorded file of his creator’s orders to pass for human through his core processor. Twice.
Abruptly, he understood why humans often disobeyed orders. If they too were driven past the point of tolerance for such cruel actions, then he could find no fault in their decision to disobey.
The colonel’s eyes narrowed as he saw Coulson looking back at him unflinchingly.
“Well if you don‘t need us, we‘re leaving,” Howard said scathingly as he began walking away. His right hand tugged at Coulson’s elbow until he followed him out the lab‘s double doors. “I’m not going to stand around and see you destroy several years worth of research.”
Kruger nodded dismissively. “Go, it‘s not like I don‘t know where to find you, Stark. You should be spending your time working on new guns for the military instead of wasting it on projects like this. Think about it. It could go really bad for your… company if you don’t. Oh, and do pass on my love to Maria and that kid of yours. I hope their in good health. You never know when that could change.”
Howard stiffened but continued moving until he and Coulson were out of the hidden lab and into the New Mexican heat. The lab was tucked among a small factory which had once manufactured Stark Industries weapons, at least until demand had exceeded its capacity and the new processing plant was built in California according to Coulson’s data banks.
“Get into the car, Coulson,” Howard said through clenched teeth.
It wasn’t until Coulson was seated in the black sedan that the correct connects formed between Kruger’s words and Howard’s reaction. He ran an additional analysis of the situation. He was correct. “He threatened your family.”
Howard smiled humorlessly. His eyes were dark. “Yes.”
“That‘s both unethical and illegal,” Coulson said flatly. Both were distinct protocols in his behavioral programming. Kruger’s threat violated both. It made him… angry on behalf of his creator. His family was composed of innocent civilians. They were to be protected.
Howard nodded. “I know, but you heard how he framed his words. There‘s no way I could prove that‘s what he meant.”
Coulson ran a search for the appropriate response and found his extensive data banks had only one correct response. “I‘m sorry. He would not have made such a threat if not for the time you devoted towards my existence.”
Howard shot him a surprised glance before he looked back at the road. The tightness around his mouth slowly softened. “Don‘t blame yourself, Coulson. Kruger is the type of asshole who would‘ve acted like that no matter what project he was taking over. He enjoys power too much.”
Coulson considered the words of his creator, and had to agree with his assessment of Kruger: he was an asshole and he was dangerous. He made a file in his memory banks, and for the first time he personally marked a human as a threat, not just to himself but to other humans. Kruger’s current rank and status would not protect him should he make move to injure the creator and his family.
Howard drove away from the lab and thirty minutes later they bypassed Nick Fury. Coulson instantly recognized him and his vehicle and chose to flag him down by the expedient method of climbing on the roof of the sedan and waving him back.
“What the hell were you thinking?!” Nick bellowed as soon as he brought his Jeep to a screeching halt of rubber ties on heated asphalt. He stopped only a few feet away from where Coulson stood waiting for him. He was wearing civilian clothes: blue cotton denim jeans and a white t-shirt.
Coulson blinked his optics to show his surprise at Nick’s reaction. “I had to be certain I got your attention.”
“And if you‘d fallen off?”
“Howard would have stopped and come back for me,” Coulson pointed out reasonably.
Nick slapped his forehead with his palm. “Okay, I‘m starting to get why Howard complains about you being a smartass all the damned time.”
“Oh, now you get it,” Howard said sarcastically. He snorted in amusement at Nick’s exasperation.
“You‘re just lucky there‘s no one else on the road to see your stunt,” Nick complained.
“It was hardly luck. The lack of additional traffic was factored into my decision,” Coulson said mildly.
Nick glared at him. “You and I are going to have a long talk about appropriate risks and not giving your friends heart attacks,” Nick grumbled.
Coulson reviewed his actions and found his actions to be correct. He was able to catch Nick’s attention before he went too far and reached the lab with Kruger and his soldiers. His sensitive balance sensors made the task simple which was helped even further by Howard slowing down the car. And even if his balance sensors had sent him tumbling off the roof he would not have been damaged-- well, his skin would have picked up minor damage but all his internal hardware would have been uninjured. His impact resistance was well within tolerances for a fall at 50 MPH and if he lowered his skin’s sensitivity then it would barely have hurt at all. So Coulson attributed Nick’s reaction to his humanity and saved a copy of the conversation to his databanks to analyze later. He really needed to conduct a study of human reasoning for a greater understanding of human reactions. Even his databanks had their limits in providing sufficient information.
“Well, I‘m glad to see you got out of there in one piece,” Nick said, sighing.
Coulson scanned his face and noted the redness of his eyes and the exhaustion which uncharacteristically bowed Nick’s normally straight, broad shoulders. He searched his databanks for the correct response to these signs of grief and found the most appropriate one. He double checked the result because it seemed inadequate but it was correct. “I‘m sorry for your loss, Nick.” Yes, even verbally expressed the response was inadequate. Coulson’s need provide assistance to his friend still felt unexpressed to an unacceptable degree.
Nick nodded stiffly. “Yeah, I‘m going to miss the old man.” He looked away to rub at his eyes with the back his hand before looking over at Howard. “Where are you going to take Coulson now?” Nick asked quietly. “Since the lab‘s under Colonel Kruger’s control Coulson can‘t exactly go back there. And with General Phillip‘s death--” Nick’s voice broke for a split second “--the entire project is defunct. Kruger will never approve the funding.”
“Well, there‘s no way I‘m letting Kruger get his hands on him,” Howard said. He shuddered. “I don’t even want to think about what he’s going to do to C.O.U.L.S.O.N. 02. Fortunately, I got an old friend who‘ll be able to keep him safe.”
“Who would that be?”
“Phillips introduced you to her: Peggy Carter.”
Nick’s eyes widened as his shoulders straightened in his surprise. “Hey, that‘s a great idea. Director Carter would be perfect.”
Coulson ran a search through his data processor and came back with the result of Margaret Carter, former sweetheart of Captain Steve Rogers, long time associate of Howard Stark and Major General Phillips. She was a retired Captain of the British Armed Forces, with ties to MI6 and the CIA, having been awarded several medals and honors during her service. She was the current Director of the S.S.R., the Strategic Scientific Reserve. The S.S.R. was a minor agency connected to the W.S.C. with origins in World War II. Coulson dismissed all additional information as currently irrelevant. Although, he made a mental note to conduct a deeper analysis of the woman who would responsible for him at a later point in time.
“Coulson will be safe in her hands.”
Coulson raised his head as his optics caught a flash of light on glass at an estimated seven miles out from their position coming from the direction of the lab. He focused his optics, shifting to telescopic vision. The glare of the sun kept him from verifying the identity of the drivers but the convoy of five olive green military vehicles was the same one which had been parked outside the defunct S.I. factory.
“Colonel Kruger is heading in our direction,” Coulson said calmly.
“Damn it,” Nick growled, as he spun to look, following Coulson‘s gaze. He squinted against the sun. “I don’t see anything. When will they get here?”
Coulson ran the math for the velocity and distance. “Estimated time of arrival is 6 minutes and 23 seconds.”
Howard was already moving. He popped over the truck of the car, and pressed a hidden button. The top of the empty trunk folded away to reveal the boxes he’d taken out of the lab before Ross arrived. “Here, help me put these in the Jeep.”
Coulson moved at once and took the entire stack in his arms. Balancing with such awkward shift in weight was tricky until he was able to compensate with a code patch to his hardware systems software.
“I have the feeling Kruger is going to be following me,” Howard said to Nick. “So you‘ll have to take Coulson to Peggy. Kruger wouldn’t have expected you to follow him here.” Nick nodded. “Do you know where she is?”
“General Phillips took me to the S.S.R.’s Vault a couple of times,” Nick said. “I can get us there, no problem.”
“Good, then you won‘t get lost. Get there and give her the files. She‘ll know how to take care of him.” Howard looked at Coulson. “Listen to her orders. You--” Howard started saying then stopped.
Coulson put away the last of the boxes and turned to fully face his creator. Coulson blinked his optics and waited patiently for additional instructions.
Howard smiled slowly. “I may not see you again for several months. I-- well, you came out even better than I‘d planned. And I can‘t tell you how long I spent planning you out. I know you‘ll do me proud.”
Coulson considered his creator somberly. “I will to do so to the best of my ability.”
Howard held out his hand and Coulson grasped it, taking care to exert the correct amount of pressure to do no harm to his fragile biological skin. Howard shook, released him and stepped into his car.
“Come on, Coulson,” Nick said, and they entered the Jeep just as Howard revved his car away, within fifteen seconds he’d reached 100 miles per hour and continued accelerating.
Coulson waited quietly in the passenger seat, going over the data in his memory banks about the day‘s events. He couldn’t help analyzing everything, wondering if he could have improved the outcome. Possibly if his training had begun and been completed he would have had the experience in his memory banks to change the day’s results. Maybe even resulting in an outcome which would have saved Unit 02 from destruction. And as he thought, he wondered if this was guilt.
“You know, you shouldn‘t be worried about Director Carter,” Nick said quietly, as he pulled the Jeep back on the road. “She‘s one of the best people I‘ve ever met.”
“I look forward to meeting her,” Coulson said absently.
“But? I definitely heard a ‘but’ in there.” Nick asked, shooting him a worried look.
“I have a minor concern,” Coulson said turning to fully face his friend.
“Come on, you can tell me,” Nick said. “Aren‘t I your best friend?”
“You‘re my only friend.”
“Well there you go!”
“I don‘t wish to be kept safe in a vault,” Coulson explained. “I want to fulfill my function. I was created for lawful security operations. Not merely to be kept safe.” It contradicted, not only his behavior programming, but also data points in his core identity software which he’d added over the months since his activation day. His purpose for existing was in his designation. The possibility that he wouldn’t be able to fulfill his reason for having been created in the first place… felt wrong.
He was supposed to help and protect people. The words of his creator were too deep to root out of his programming… even if he’d felt like making the attempt. Which he didn’t, not at all.
Nick was quiet for several minutes as he drove.
“You know, you‘re right. You should tell that to Director Carter when you meet her. She may surprise you.” Nick grinned. “She’s a decorated WWII hero and a captain in her own right before taking over the S.S.R. I don‘t think you’re more than she can handle.”
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
As the sun started setting over the horizon, turning the skies of Colorado a riotous blend of reds, oranges and pinks, Nick and Coulson crossed over from public land to the government held acreages which contained the Vault, the headquarters of Strategic Scientific Reserve.
They would’ve arrived hours beforehand at S.S.R.’s headquarters, but Nick had chosen a long meandering route in order to make certain they weren’t being followed. Coulson didn’t argue as it seemed a reasonable security measure and he kept his optics open for any danger. This trip had resulted in new data being saved to his memory banks because in one day he’d gotten to interact with more humans than he’d had in the entire year and half he’d spent in the lab. None of the humans he‘d interacted with when Nick had to pull over for food and fuel, Coulson was pleased to note, concluded that he was anything other than a fellow human being.
His ultimate goal of passing for human was reached. Coulson told Nick about his conclusion as the Jeep drove towards the Vault.
Nick shot him a skeptical glance. “Not quite, Coulson. I mean, you‘re good. You‘re really good. If I hadn‘t met you before you got your skin on I wouldn‘t have guessed there was computers, batteries and StarkTech underneath it. At least not from talking to you for a few minutes, but any longer than that… you‘re not exactly there yet. You come off like, well… like a weirdo.” Nick’s teeth gleamed white as he grinned. “You’re lucky I like weird. The real trick will be to convince people that you‘re human for years at a time.” Nick shook his head. “Hate to break it to you, but you‘re not there yet.”
“Years seem a rather extensive period of time,” Coulson said, frowning.
“You‘re going to be undercover for a long time if I‘m guessing right,” said Nick, frowning too as he organized his thoughts. “Without government support and protection backing the C.O.U.L.SO.N. Project, you’ll need to hide your true identity. There’s always going to be men like Kruger around. Your technology is beyond cutting edge. You were made by Howard Stark, a man considered one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century! If a group like Hydra gets even a whiff of your existence then they’ll come after you too.” Nick growled, low and furious. He spat, “Fucking snakes.”
Coulson had extensive files on Hydra which took even more space in his databanks than the information on Captain America. They were flagged as a threat to global security and the whole of humanity. Even untrained for field operations, Coulson had protocols in place which allowed for lethal action against Hydra agents. While the thought that he would be of interest to such an organization was disturbing, it was worse to consider what they could accomplish should they gain access to technology which allowed his existence. They would have the technology for optimal data storage capable, and retrieval. Yet the most alarming thought was that they would also have his software for artificial intelligence which they would --consistent with their methods of operations-- use to produce weapons.
Coulson didn’t have the data in order to calculate the loss of human lives yet his initial estimate exceeded one million casualties from one hundred android built to his specifications and without his ethical and moral protocols.
Nick was correct in his assessment; Coulson would need to cultivate human characteristics and habits beyond his current set behavioral patterns.
“I understand,” Coulson said calmly.
Nick brought the Jeep to a halt in front of what looked like a natural cave formation. He drove the Jeep in slowly and then turned off the car. Coulson carried the boxes as Nick led the way deeper into the cave until coming to a stop before a large stainless steel door. The initials S.S.R. were etched into the door in two foot tall capital letters along with the emblem of an eagle with spread wings looking to the right against a circle. A low red light hummed above an intercom panel.
Nick pressed the lone button on the intercom. “This is 1st Lieutenant Nick Fury; I have a package for Director Carter from Howard Stark.” He released the button and waited.
“When were you promoted?” Coulson asked, as they waited for a response.
Nick turned to shoot him a brief grin which faded quickly. “Three weeks ago. I was going to tell you next time I stopped by the lab but with everything that‘s happened… it didn‘t seem that important.” Nick shrugged. “The General pushed the paperwork through just before he got too sick to talk,” he added softly, his eyes looked distantly away.
“Congratulations,” Coulson said equally soft, aware of the emotional impact of grief Nick was still feeling.
Nick nodded and the grin returned. “Thanks, Coulson.”
The wide metal door opened soundlessly and spilled light into the darkened cave.
A broad-shouldered human in a bowler hat grinned at them through a bushy red mustache.
Nick straightened to attention, snapping off a crisp salute. “Sir! Sergeant Dugan, sir!”
Coulson examined Dugan’s face as his processor brought up the information on human designated Sergeant Timothy Aloysius Cadwallader Dugan, current Assistant Director in the S.S.R. He was a highly decorated soldier and a recipient of the Medal of Honor for acts of extraordinary bravery as a member of the Howling Commandos. The only anomalous data point was the information that the A.D. was in his late sixties yet his mustache showed no sign of advanced age. Coulson noted the anomaly then dismissed all other information as currently irrelevant.
“I‘m retired from the military, kid,” Dugan snorted. “Can the sirs, will ya?”
“Yes, sir! I mean, Assistant Director Dugan,” Nick corrected himself.
Dugan rolled his eyes and waved them in. “What some help there, son?” he asked Coulson.
“That‘s not necessary, Assistant Director Dugan,” Coulson said politely. While Dugan’s musculature was impressive and clearly above the average baseline for a human male Coulson was stronger than any unaltered human of non-mutant origins. “I have more than sufficient strength and my balance sensors are in perfect working order.”
Coulson heard Nick sigh followed the slap of flesh on flesh. His shifted his gaze so his optics captured the visual of Nick with his right hand over his eyes.
“Balance sensors?” Dugan asked baffled, cocking his head as he eyed Coulson warily.
Coulson arched his eyebrows at Nick. “An incorrect choice of words?”
“Just a little bit,” Nick said dryly, as he dropped his hand. “Please tell me you know the definition of classified?”
“It‘s in my databanks,” Coulson said, quietly amused at how Nick rolled his eyes up at the ceiling in exasperation.
“Databanks?” Dugan asked. “Why the hell are you talking like a fucking computer?”
Coulson opened his mouth only to catch Nick’s glare and carefully held back the reply that he technically was a ‘fucking’ computer, especially since he was made fully functional a month ago with sexual intercourse protocols installed although he had yet to activate their function. Instead, Coulson watched Nick give him a pointed look so he kept his response to blank expression, uncertain as to the best response.
“I will explain everything as soon as we meet the Director,” Nick said, sighing.
Dugan stared at Coulson suspiciously, his eyes narrowing to slits. Coulson found the best example of an innocent smile in his data banks and mimicked it. Dugan looked even more suspicious at the sight of Coulson’s smile. Apparently Nick was correct about his inability to pass for human for extended periods of interaction. Coulson made a reminder to receive more practice and additional training as soon as possible. It was a substantial security risk.
Dugan said gruffly, “I‘m only letting you near the Director because General Phillips was good people and he vouched for kid.”
Nick’s shoulders slumped for a second before they straightened. “So you‘ve heard the news.”
“Yeah, and I gotta warn you its put the Director in a sour mood. Back in the day she worked for Phillips. They go-- they went way back. She‘s taking the loss pretty badly. She‘s not going to be happy with any of us for interrupting her.”
They walked down a series of steps, dropping two stories down before coming to an elevator with a security pad. Dugan plunged in a series of numbers, carefully hiding the code with his broad body. The elevator had no marked floors, but by calculating their drop rate Coulson’s math showed they dropped 100 additional feet into under ground. Once they were out of the elevator they walked through a corridor lined with various thick steel doors until they got to the door at the end. It stood out compared to the rest because it was a wooden door stained dark to show the natural grain of the wood. At standard eyelevel there was a wide shining brass plate inscribed with: Margaret Carter, Director.
Dugan knocked once.
“What is it?” The voice through the door was female, annoyed and shaded with an English accent.
“Ma‘am,” Dugan said politely. “Lt. Fury‘s here with--” he paused and eyed Coulson. “--what was your name again?”
“My name is Phil Coulson,” Coulson said promptly.
“And a Phil Coulson,” Dugan added.
“Coulson? Oh, bloody hell… come in.”
Dugan opened the door and waved Nick and Coulson in before following at their heels. Nick straightened to attention and saluted crisply. Coulson aimed for the desk and lowered the stack of boxes on Carter’s desk.
Once the boxes were down, Coulson’s optics recorded the visual of a woman in her early sixties with iron-grey hair tied back on her head in a French braid. She was standing up behind her desk and wearing a charcoal grey suit and skirt with a cream silk shirt and around her neck hung a blue scarf, dappled with bright silver dots. Her expression was calm although she held a bottle of scotch in one hand and the sclera of her eyes were redder than normal in a human. She eyed Coulson carefully from the top of his hair to the tip of the leather loafers on his feet. Coulson wondered at the interest as all his clothing had been presented to him by Howard as soon as he got his skin. He knew he was dressed correctly.
“So, you‘re Howard‘s pet project. You‘re more impressive than I‘d pictured you,” she said coolly, as she put down the bottle of alcohol onto the desktop.
Dugan grunted in surprised recognition. “Ah dammit, not Stark’s robot.”
“Technically, the correct term is android,” Coulson said calmly.
Carter sat behind her desk. “Android or robot you‘re still Stark‘s tech.”
“I do like to think that there is some difference between me and other Stark technologies. For one, I’m not a flying car,” Coulson said. Nick made a strangled noise. Coulson turned his optics to him in concern only to see his friend trying to suppress a smile.
“Hmm,” Carter said, raising a thin eyebrow. “Well, if I ever doubted you were one of Howard‘s that smart mouth would‘ve fixed it.” She shifted her piercing gaze from Coulson to Nick.
Nick instantly straightened to attention. “Ma‘am, I was ordered by Mr. Stark to bring Coulson here for his safety.”
Carter’s mouth quirked up at the corners. “At ease, Lieutenant Fury. None of us here are active members in the military.”
“Yes, ma‘am,” Nick said, relaxing. “But Director outranks lieutenant, ma‘am.”
“Just answer this for me, Fury, what exactly does Howard expect me to do with his latest tech toy?” Carter asked dryly.
“Keep him out of Colonel Kruger‘s reach, ma‘am,” Nick said at once.
“Colonel Kruger, Jonathon Kruger?” Carter asked, her head tilting up as her eyes narrowed.
Nick nodded somberly. “He‘s taken over authority of the C.O.U.L.S.O.N. Project and he wants to destroy every last bit of it.”
Dugan grunted in recollection. “He‘s the one we‘ve been getting hints about him connection to Hydra, Director. Remember the report we got from Parker?”
Nick scowled. “I knew there was a reason I didn‘t like him. Superior officer my--” he cut himself off abruptly at the amused look Carter was giving him. The dark skin of his cheeks deepened to a darker color. “Sorry, ma‘am.”
“Well that‘s an easy enough problem to solve, we should have room for him in--”
“I don‘t wish to be consigned to a place in the Vault,” Coulson said, interrupting her. Carter and Dugan both turned to look at him while Nick shot him a quick encouraging nod. Coulson watched Carter with his optics, taking note of every muscle in her face in order to evaluate her expression and reaction to his words. “I wish to begin my training in order to fulfill my function.”
Carter’s expression was still, devoid of any clues which Coulson could interpret. “Oh?” she asked coldly. “And exactly why should I use you? You‘re one of Stark‘s prototypes, covered in that synthetic skin based on Horton‘s work. I half expect you to burst into flames at any moment.”
Dugan chuckled, a low rumbling noise which was new to Coulson’s auditory sensors.
“You don‘t have many agents on staff that you can afford to turn one away,” Coulson pointed out sensibly. Over the years, the number of S.S.R. had dwindled. A loss rate which paralleled their drop in funding from the W.S.C. The data was irrefutable. “You can not afford to turn away a candidate with my abilities and capability to learn.”
Carter’s expression didn’t change. In a smooth motion, she reached into her desk drawer, pulled out a pistol and threw it at Coulson. It was an easy catch once he calculated velocity and the drop curve.
“Kill Fury,” Carter ordered as soon as he made the catch.
Nick stiffened. “What?!”
Dugan didn’t move.
Coulson’s data processor gave him the basic information for safe gun handling procedures and he shifted the pistol, an M1911, until the barrel settled in his palm. The weight of the weapon was new to his memory banks. He pointed the pistol at Nick and shifted his optics to Carter. Coulson overrode the protocol in his behavioral programming dictating he obey Director Carter. She wasn’t his creator. He didn’t need to obey. He changed the code in his behavioral programming to reflect his newly decided autonomy as well as adding the data of his decision to his core identity software.
“Kill him,” Carter ordered again, her voice ringing with authority.
“What is the evidence for this order?” Coulson asked calmly. Coulson urgently searched through his databanks, memory banks and even into his behavioral programming trying to find a reason for Director Carter’s orders.
He came up with nothing. He searched again with no new result.
Nick Fury was his friend. Nothing in his behavior, either to Howard Stark or himself had ever resulted in him being considered a threat or even a possible danger. This order was not only unethical but also unjust. It was order would have him hurt Nick. A concept which made him feel an emotion he could only classify as dread and fear. Not for himself but for the fragile biological life which was his first and only friend.
Nick was important to him.
“What is the evidence for this order?” Coulson repeated. Plans were evolving in his core processor over how to escape this room, get past Dugan and Carter with Nick before Nick’s life could be threatened by either.
He wished yet again that he’d already received his additional field training.
“Is in it enough that I’ve ordered you to kill him?” Carter asked coolly. “No one would blame you. You‘re just a machine. You have your orders.”
“No, it is not enough,” Coulson said equally as cool. “And I am more than a weapon. I refuse to take the life of someone without sufficient evidence as to the threat they pose to the wellbeing of others. Nick Fury is not a threat.”
“And yet you point a gun at him,” Carter said as her hard expression softened. She smiled wryly. “You can put the gun down now.”
“Well… I could have been wrong,” Coulson said, as he shifted his optics at Nick and quirked his mouth at his friend. Nick grimaced at him and rolled his eyes. “The statistical likelihood of your innocence was in your favor, Nick.” Coulson lowered the pistol onto desk.
“I feel so much better now,” Nick said dryly.
“I knew that you would,” Coulson said, mimicking Nick’s tone, earning himself an exasperated look. “I wouldn‘t have shot you.”
“You weren’t standing in my shoes, Coulson,” Nick complained. “Even you won’t like having a gun pointed at your face!”
“So it seems Stark wasn‘t kidding about what you could do,” Carter broke in before Coulson could remind Nick that his adamantium skull meant that he could take bullets to his face without suffering permanent damage.
“Would you really have let Coulson shoot me?” Nick asked dangerously. His eyes were dark as he glowered at the Director.
Her mouth quirked and she lifted the pistol and pulled out the magazine. She upended the magazine and spilled the cartridges onto her cupped palms. “There‘s no bullets,” she said. She raised her hand so Nick could see the empty casings. “The gun is a memento of an old friend,” she continued softly. “I keep it around for the memories. You were never in any danger, lieutenant.”
“And she likes to occasionally use it to scare the hell out of scientists or bureaucrats who get in her way,” Dugan added, chuckling again.
Nick’s anger faded away leaving a behind a complex expression which Coulson had to search for in his databanks. It closest match he found was grudging respect and awe and annoyance. Coulson was also intrigued by the concept of a bluff which Director Carter had demonstrated so effectively. He made notes in his behavioral programming to consider this tactic in the future.
“I wanted to see what your android friend would do, Lt. Fury,” Carter said. “And he passed the test. The last thing I need in my agency is a tin man without the ability to think for himself.” She raised her chin as she stared hard at Coulson. “The best men and women I‘ve ever met in my life have been those who knew when to disobey orders. I expect you to remember this lesson.” Her eyes flickered to Nick. “Both of you.”
“Yes, ma‘am,” Nick said gravely, saluting and holding it until she nodded at him.
“Understood. Does this mean my training can begin now?” Coulson asked thoughtfully.
“Relentless, isn‘t he?” Carter asked Nick, amused.
“That he is, ma‘am,” Nick said, the corners of his mouth twitching up.
“Dugan can begin your training tomorrow morning,” Carter said, as she sat on the chair behind her desk.
Dugan groaned and looked at her with begging eyes. “Really? You‘re sticking me with it?”
“Him,” Nick interjected firmly.
“Weren‘t you complaining to me, the other day, that you didn‘t have enough to do? That you were getting bored out of your mind sitting around guarding science junk?” Carter asked, raising an eyebrow at her A.D. The only sign of her amusement was a slight crinkling of the lines around her blue eyes.
“Me and my big mouth,” Dugan grumbled, and he tugged down the brim of his bowler hat as he cross his arms across his broad chest and muttered to himself.
“How long can you stick around, Lt. Fury?” Carter asked.
“No one will catch on that I went AWOL to get to New Mexico, at least not right away,” Nick said thoughtfully. “I only stopped by to see how General Phillips was doing because I was in the area which is when I… found out he‘d passed away. Everyone should think I‘m still on assignment.”
“Good. I’ll be able to fix it so your CO won’t miss you,” Carter said firmly. She gestured to the two chairs in front of her desk. “Join me for a drink, gentlemen. I have a bottle of scotch to kill in the General‘s name.” Nick sat in the chair and took the glass tumbler she handed him.
Coulson sat into the other chair once Carter pointed at it. Dugan vanished out the door so quietly even his sensitive audio sensors barely caught the sound of him shutting the door. Coulson took the tumbler Carter handed him.
Carter held out the glass. “To Major General Chester Phillips. For a man who claimed to be an old bastard stuck in his ways he took the more risks and pushed more boundaries than even a man a third his age. He took a chance with me when no one else would.”
“To Major General Chester Phillips, for teaching me so much about being a soldier and a leader,” Nick said quietly.
“To Major General Chester Phillips,” Coulson said solemnly. He chose his words with care in accordance to the solemnity of the occasion and found a phrase which fit his personal experience with the general. This grieving ritual led him to wish he‘d learned more about the man than what was in his databanks. “If not for him, I would not be here today.”
“Hear, hear,” Carter said somberly. She knocked back her drink in one quick swallow.
“Hear, hear,” Nick agreed, and he downed his drink.
“Hear, hear,” Coulson repeated. Before he carefully drank his glass he deactivated the additional sensors in his mouth to keep the burn of the alcohol from causing a pain reaction, then he swallowed it down.
Carter filled their tumblers again.
Dragging a drunk human towards a place where he could sleep was a new experience Coulson wasn’t certain he enjoyed. Nick’s tendency to burst into random song had forced him dial back the sensitivity of his audio receptors more than once. On the other hand, seeing him stumble around, smack into a wall, promptly apologize and then stumble into another wall before Coulson intervened had been deeply amusing. He’d saved the video file to his memory banks for future reference.
“Deed yoush no my dad fu planes fo‘ the ‘enral?” Nick slurred against Coulson’s shoulder as they slowly navigated the hall which A.D. Dugan had told Coulson held the guest quarters. Dugan had remained with the Director, joining in additional drinks. “Bak ‘n wold wal toosh. Groo up callin’ ‘im Uncle Kester--” Nick moved his mouth in motions remarkably similar to those of a fish, at least according to Coulson’s databanks. “’ever gab ‘im flak ‘or my mom.”
Coulson mentally thanked his creator’s language interpreting software for allowing his to translate the garbled words. “Why would he give your father flack over your mother?”
Nick snorted and pointed at himself. His brow furrowed as he carefully sounded out. “Interracial baby,” he said softly.
Coulson frowned and looked up the relevant information in his databanks. The information about the Civil Rights movements, as pertaining to the last three decades cleared up his confusion. “I see,” Coulson said. “Although, I fail to understand why skin color should be considered so important. I didn‘t even have my own at my activation day.”
Nick laughed loudly. “Troo.”
Coulson found the room Dugan had told him about and held Nick upright with one hand while he opened the door and turned on the light. He settled Nick onto the bed, took off his shoes and settled the blanket over his body before he turned off the lights.
“Yanno, I‘m ganna join da ranghers,” Nick said, into the darkened room. “Wond be able at cee yoo fo‘ a while.” He sighed heavily. “Wish ya kood come.”
“I think that would difficult, considering what I am,” Coulson said thoughtfully. The Rangers’s harsh training alone could reveal his true existence as an android. For one thing, he’d pass it too easily.
“Yah,” Nick said slowly before he warbled to himself a song about playing the funky music. Coulson had lowered his auditory sensitive as soon as the first words came out of his mouth. He raised his auditory sensitivity when the noise trailed off and he caught Nick mutter softly:
“Teel you die, ya
He heard low incoherent mumbles which tapered off into deep breathing with an occasional low snore.
Coulson checked his batteries power which was at 73%; still within acceptable levels without needing a recharge. He sat down on the floor by bed occupied by his friend, double-checked the correctness of his actions, got a confirmation before he slipped into standby sleep mode, leaving himself just alert enough to awaken fully should Nick require his assistance.
He wouldn’t leave his friend alone.
THREE YEARS LATER
Coulson walked briskly through the hall of the Vault, heading for Director Carter’s office when his auditory sensors caught the familiar sound of his creator’s voice. A voice he hadn’t heard for over a year, since his last check-up of his hardware systems. He increased the speed of his steps and knocked politely at the door.
“Director Carter, it‘s Agent Coulson,” Coulson said calmly.
The door was yanked back by Howard Stark who grinned at him. “Excellent! I hoped I‘d still be here when you got back!”
Coulson’s flickered a small smile at Howard, taking stock of his creator’s expression and noting the deeper lines around his eyes and mouth. There was more grey in his hair too. “It is good to see you too, sir,” he said warmly.
“Agent Coulson,” Carter said, greeting him with a crisp acknowledging nod. “Good timing. Take a seat.”
Assistant Director Dugan looked up from the file in his hands and pushed an empty office chair over to Coulson with his foot.
Coulson sat down, keeping his back straight and looked from the face of his creator to his immediate superiors. He said mildly, “I think this is the point in time where I‘m suppose to say: I didn‘t do it. It wasn‘t my fault.”
Howard snorted in surprise and amusement. Carter’s carefully sculpted eyebrows arched upwards.
“You’ve been watching too much damned television, kid,” Dugan grunted in amusement, looking up from the file to twitch his red mustache in a wide grin. “I’ve told you, more than once, it‘ll rot even your brain.”
“Television has helped me with my linguistic capacities,” Coulson said quietly amused. He quirked an eyebrow at Dugan. “And… it was your idea in the first place, sir.”
“You‘re not in trouble, Coulson,” Carter said, cutting into the mild bickering with dry tone. “Unless there‘s something you want to confess?”
“No, ma‘am,” Coulson said promptly, blinking his optics innocently.
Howard chuckled. Director Carter glowered at him before she sighed. “Your report, agent… now if you would.”
Coulson frowned. “I‘m sorry, Director. The full report is four hundred and three pages. I‘ve only had the time to typed up half of it, since my return.”
“Jesus, kid, what I‘d tell about not adding every tiny detail to your reports,” Dugan grumbled, as he shook his head. “Your last one was heavier than a phone book.”
“Initially, the report was over one thousand pages,” Coulson replied. “This version is the most condensed.”
“I‘ll read the final report when you have it completed for me, Coulson,” Carter said firmly. “Just answer me this, with what you‘ve learned from the other agencies, what does SSR have to do to get back on its feet?” The Director leaned forward on her desk, her blue eyes dark with an intense emotion which Coulson couldn’t quiet discern. In the last three years his ability to interact and interpret emotions had significant improved, but he didn’t consider himself to be close to an expert. Of all the subjects and skill he’d acquired with his field training he had yet to completely master one very important skill: Humanity.
Considering that humans often baffled each other he rather thought he could be forgiven for his lack of complete understanding.
“Considering the S.S.R.‘s mission statement and policies, as well as funding, the SSR has a 15% chance of continuing to exist until the year 1995 in which the agency will shut down from lack of resources,” Coulson said. “Even with the improvements gleaned from the studies of the CIA, NSA, FBI, and the IRS, the S.S.R. only gains another five years of existence before all funding is relocated to other agencies.”
Carter’s eyes closed and her shoulders bowed.
“Goddammit,” Dugan whispered.
Silence reigned in the office of the Director of the SSR until Howard broke it. “I‘ve been telling you this was coming for the past five years, Peggy.”
Carter opened her eyes, scowling at Howard. “This isn‘t exactly the time to be holding that over my head, Howard. Hearing that I‘ve driven the SSR into the ground is bad enough.”
Howard crossed his arms and tilted his head. “You‘ve done a great job with the agency, Peggy,” he said firmly. “The problem isn‘t you. The problem is that it hasn‘t exactly kept up with the times.”
“Actually, from what I‘ve researched, the problem dates back to the early fifties,” Coulson cut in, garnering the gazes of everyone in the room. “It began when the SSR was repurposed from combating Hydra to guarding the dangerous technologies developed by Hydra. The fifteen years in which Hydra remained quiet and out of the public eye, as they recovered from the loss of Johann Shmidt, meant the significance of SSR’s task in combating them was devalued among the World Security Council. And in the interval before the threat of Hydra resurfaced, other agencies were formed which have taken on the task of policing national security. Especially the CIA.”
Dugan sneered in disgust. “The CIA doesn‘t know how to deal with Hydra, they‘re so busy chasing the Soviets it‘s a wonder they even see the rest of the world. And Hydra hides under more rocks than they can kick over.”
Coulson nodded in agreement.
Howard looked at Carter pointedly. “So… my idea is a go?”
Director Carter looked carefully at Dugan who nodded in agreement. “It looks like we‘re forming another agency,” she said softly.
“A new agency?” Coulson asked, tilting his head to show his curiosity.
“You said it yourself, Coulson,” Howard said. “The SSR‘s funding and manpower is slowly dwindling. What we need is something new. A new agency with a new mission. An agency which needs to be able to work on the global scale. The world will be getting smaller and smaller with the advent of all the technology which is coming in the next decade,” Howard said intently, his eyes bright. “To deal with Hydra, we need to be able to work around the world without the kind of restrictions which is binding the S.S.R. mostly to the US. We need an international agency with authority to act in as many countries as possible.”
“Agreed,” Carter said firmly, before giving Howard a rueful look. “Although, getting the Council to agree is going to be easier said than done.”
Howard’s grin was sharp. “I know, but they owe me several favors. I plan to collect.” His expression softened into a smile. “I‘ll be able to donate several tracts of land for offices. It‘ll be a nice tax write off for me for the next several years.”
Dugan snorted with amusement. “And in return for your help?”
“I only have three requests,” Howard said with a shrug. Carter raised an eyebrow. “One, we make the search for Steve part of the new agency‘s mission.”
Carter inhaled sharply. “Agreed,” she said at once.
Dugan shot Howard a startled glance. “You know you always surprise me, Stark.”
Howard shot him an annoyed glare which softened at the genuine respect in Dugan‘s eyes. He nodded at him and continued, “Second, we need to find and start training someone to take over as the director.” Howard looked intently at both Carter and Dugan. “The growth of an entire new agency is going to take the energy of someone a lot younger than anyone of us and they‘ll need to be around to helm the agency into the new millennium. That‘s not something anyone of us can say we‘ll be able to do.”
Carter nodded thoughtfully. “You‘re right, I was planning on retiring within the next five years. There needs to be new blood taking over, someone with drive and conviction. Do you have anyone specific in mind?”
“I have a few names on a short list,” Howard said, smiling smugly.
“Hmm, I can think of a couple of guys who‘d work too,” Dugan added thoughtfully, rubbing at his chin with a hand.
“What‘s your last request?” Carter asked, tilting her head.
Howard’s smile widened. “No matter what, the agency‘s name needs to honor the best man I‘ve ever known.”
Carter and Dugan straightened, happy smiles widening on both their faces.
“Steve,” Carter sighed.
Howard nodded and said firmly, “We can figure out what the letters stand for later, but the new agency‘s acronym needs to be SHIELD.”
Carter’s blue eyes were virtually glowing. “You don‘t even have to make it a request. I‘ll fight for that name.”
“Hell, yes,” Dugan agreed loudly, his bushy red mustache bristled with his excitement. “SHIELD, I love it already.”
Howard nodded, then looked over at Coulson. “Well, Coulson, do you want to be the first agent of SHIELD?”
Coulson smiled at his creator. “Of course, sir. The number 1 is part of my name after all, I wouldn‘t settle for less.”
Just adding that this fic covers a lot of my headcanon for the origin of SHIELD. Including it's name and why is so long and awkward. seriously, I can't think of any other explanation, but that Howard wanted to honor Steve, as to why the acronym of their newfangled agency would be so specific. Especially since most acronyms don't form a real word (ex: CIA, FBI, NSA, NASA, IRS, etc). Plus, I'm totally crossing my fingers they reveal that Dugan and Carter are founders in the upcoming movies.
Also, the whole Nick is an interracial kid totally comes from Marvel comics, specifically from Battle Scars because I liked the idea.
The next fc in the series will be the Clint POV one. =D