The early evening sunset was already darkening the sky over a deeply frozen landscape. The North Russian Arctic had never looked quite so gloomy on this day when the fate of the world was to be changed forever. In a particularly glacial area of this far-flung region of the Russian Federation, life for the native people that lived there, The Nenets, was carrying on much as it had done for century after century. Generation after generation. There was still, after all, much work that needed to be done before any of them could return to their homes and rest for that night. The winter reserves had been depleted almost entirely and now with Spring already upon them, the settlement had sent out three of its usual gatherers to hunt for the next three or four months.
However today, for that particular settlement of Nenets, it hadn't exactly been a bed of meaty roses. Hour after hour they had searched for fresh Reindeer to replenish the dwindling supplies of food, but so far the few they had actually managed to track down had either run off or had actually chased them. Either the Caribou were getting more intelligent and thus wiser to their usual methods, or Climate change was finally getting its sorry ass into gear and killing them off a little faster at this point. It wasn't as if the band were ignorant to the situation of course. While they didn't have the electricity or the ideal location to have such luxuries as The Internet or Television, the simple fact of the matter was that they didn't really need them. They were close enough as it was to the actual damage to see it in full effect.
The great lake, from which it was said by the band's elders that their group had received its most staple diet of all, Fish, had over the course of 20 years been "enriched" somewhat by Global Warming for a very good and important reason. Some time ago, a stretch of ice blocking the mainland from the unforgiving temperatures of the arctic sea, had weakened from melting and cracked wide open, allowing a vast amount of ocean to spill in and create what was essentially a new river which in turn, had lead to the creation of a second lake not to far from the old one. 10 years later, additional melting had caused a funnel between the two lakes to develop, finally cracking open and spilling the great lake itself. This was a good thing for the settlement indeed, as the arctic cod that had been in the other lake for two decades, had built up quite a population ever since their forefathers had been sucked from the cold sea into their new location. Along with the water they too had found themselves in the great lake, to join its already plentiful inhabitants.
For the gatherers, this took allot off of their minds and with Roast Caribou off the menu, the lake was the group's only hope of not starving to death. Having driven their sleds to the far edge of the lake they dumped in their baited net, then waiting for nature to take its course. Thankfully, they didn't have to wait long for the food to come to them, as they had used some of the more...less desirable cuttings of meat as a lure. Disgusting for human consumption, but a tasty treat to a dumb Cod. After a while, two of the younger men men decided that they could wait no more and gathered near the head fisherman, the eldest who had been tasked with teaching his two younger and more inexperienced changes how to catch fish in keeping with the long-held and valued traditions of their people, grabbed a corner each and began to pull it up to surface. You can only imagine the joy in each of their minds when they had to strain to retrieve the now heavy net, although of course they never showed it as it was, after all, quite a strain. Never the less, they were satisfied. The catch was indeed plentiful and vast. The village would survive through the coming months. All was well.
But it was only after the three men had dragged the heavy net ashore, that they became aware of the large shadow that was now being cast over them. Not only that but there were now other things too. Noises mostly. Loud humming and hissing, followed by a faint but oddly foul scent. It was the kind of pollution the Nenets were used to at this point. It was one they had to put up with every time an outsider came to visit. The unmistakable sign of a heavy aircraft being operated. All the same, what with the aircraft being practically on top of them and the fact that as a result, the noise it was making was drowning out almost anything and everything else, it was still unusual enough for the fishermen to turn around to see what was going on. Nothing, however, could have prepared them for what they saw next. There was an aircraft, yes. A modestly large one two. Shaped almost like a large, triangular bird with two flat, featherless, wings on either side of the far end, a small, narrow pane of glass on its undercarriage and colored in red and white paint. If they had looked a little closer, they might also have noted the two, large jet turbine engines on the back, two pointed stabilizers, a gold tinted windshield and a large red and black, stylised capital A on its right and left-hand sides, sloping downwards. However, at that moment, their eyes were fixated on something a little more interesting than that.
Underneath this giant, birdlike machine were standing two men. No, not standing. Floating. High above their heads no less. Both men were dressed in the most unusual fashion you could envision. The one on the left-hand side, for example, was clad entirely in what looked to be gold and red armor. His whole body was covered with it, even his face which bore a gold-plated mask with no nose, glowing blue eyes and a slot where a mouth should have been. three circles, two smaller ones and a larger one in the middle, glowed with the same blue hue as the eyes, as did the twin jets of energy that shot forth from his feet, which the three men on the ground assumed were keeping him aloft. Just by looking at him, you could tell that this was a guy who not only had a lot of smarts and a great love for technology but a lot of cold hard cash at his disposal too.
The guy on the right-hand side was quite the opposite to his acquaintance. His face, as well as his arms, were still mostly visible, as were his own, naturally blue eyes and the long, flowing blonde hair which cascaded from his head down to his shoulders like a golden waterfall. Four silvery plates adorned the black, sleeveless tunic which spiked shoulders that he wore and aside from the blue leggings he wore below his large, golden plated belt, the rest of his large, imposing physical form was either red, such as the long, flowing rep cape behind him, or gold like the belt or the watching golden boots he wore. On top of his blonde, square-jawed head (the face of which bore a rather serious and grim expression), he wore a large, silver helmet with tiny white wings grafted to either side and in his right hand he carried what appeared to be a heavy, crude looking, iron hammer with a wooden handle. For a while, not one of the Nenets moved. Fearing what was to become of them. What were these strange men? Arctic spirits sent to mischief them? Gods perhaps?
As it happened, They weren't entirely wrong on that last one.
As the three men stood with their net still in their hands and mouths agape, the man in the Red and Gold armor looked down with his unnatural, square blue eyes and spoke to them in casual English with an arrogant, American drawl.
"'Scuse me guys. Hi, You didn't happen to see a cranky, giant, green..."
Before he could finish his sentence, however, the fishermen interrupted him. Without turning their heads or removing their shocked expressions they lifted their arms and pointed straight on. Their index fingers pointing far beyond the expanse of the lake and towards the icy hills ahead of them. They themselves had not seen the figure that the man in the armor had attempted to describe, however, the night before, one of the settlement's watchmen had been awoken by the sound of a deafening roar of what he could only assume to be pure, unbridled angst. Fearing that the sound may have come from some animal in distress, he had stepped from his Chum, only to his horror find what seemed to be a hulking ogre of a beast. Well over 7 ft tall with unnatural muscles, green skin and a look of absolute rage upon his almost hideous visage. As he had drawn closer the beast had turned to him, roared that deafening howl causing him to back away in terror, before leaping several ft into the air and bounding off in the direction that his three friends were now pointing. They probably would have said more of course, had they not been in so much awe of the two god-like beings in their presence. For the time being, however, their directions seemed to satisfy the two who looked at each other with unbending gazes. Eventually, the man in the armored suit spoke again in a whisper. Not to the three men below, but to his coped friend in the helmet.
"Well. Guess they did."
With this said, the man in the armor turned back to the Nenets and thanked them for their help. then with a loud scream of turbines and a whoosh of energy, he, the man with the hammer and the aircraft, rose several feet into the air and then flew off again at a moderate pace, leaving the three men to stare at what they had just witnessed. Without saying a word they looked at each other for a good few minutes, before shrugging their shoulders, hauling the heavy net of fish onto their sled, and heading back towards the settlement. In their minds, however, they made a vow not to tell anyone about what they had just witnessed. After all, they didn't want to end up like that poor guard. Did they?
"This is the coolest thing I've ever done!"
As the imposing yet beautiful Quinjet flew low over the freezing waters of the lake, the oddly dressed female sitting in the pilot's seat in the cockpit, grinned with a borderline adorable look on her face as her yellow-gloved hands tightly grasped the two joysticks on either side of the control console. A young looking woman, seemingly in her early-twenties judging by her height, she had the facial features of someone in their late teens with palish skin, a thin, angular body and neck, a, long, thin nose, a smallish head with a slightly thin chin, deep blue eyes surrounded by black mascara and a hairstyle that, if one wasn't paying attention, could easily be mistaken for an owl perching on her head. She, like the two men the Nenets had seen, was clad in her own unusual garb. A yellow and black dress with Charlie Brown-esc zigzag patterns on it, leading down into a skirt. a pair of black arm warmers and matching black leggings, with pairs of yellow elbow length gloves and boots with jagged edges.
The crown jewel of all this was a pair of yellow, black and gold antenna that she wore over her ears. Most people wouldn't have been caught dead wearing such a gaudy outfit, but for Janet Van Dine, known professionally as The Wasp, it was all part of the job description. Not to mention the fun. After all, super heroes have their images to keep up. Especially when part of a team like The Avengers. That was a name Janet had come up with herself on the spot, although she didn't like to brag about it...well, OK. Maybe sometimes. It was hard for her not to get excited like she did, given all that had happened to her, her boyfriend/employer and of course all her new friends in this team over the short time they'd all been together. But this?
"I'm driving a jet!" her sparky, bubbly, enthusiastic tone drifted over the Quinjet's comlink. It was just as she was finally getting used to the idea that this was the best day of her life when Tony interjected and ruined it for her.
"It's actually on autopilot, Wasp. Sorry."
Janet's smile faltered at this news. Her disappointed, angry eyes narrowing into an expression that screamed: ''Are you f*ing kidding me?" It wasn't even as if she didn't already know the stupid jet was flying itself. Hell, it was one of its main features. But so what? Did he really have to take that rush away from her by being such a condescending prick? She didn't think so. But that was just so like him, wasn't it? Mr. Tony "Look how clever I am, I have more money and brains than you" Stark. Sometimes he really made her wanna hurl. She looked at the co-pilot seat next to her. To the gut with the red, blue and black costume and those weird, oversized, fake eyebrows attached to the red cowl, with the strange blue bands all over his torso, belt, gloves and boots, to the guy who had opted for not one, but two hero identities from which he could switch to and from on a dime. Dr. Hank Pym. AKA Ant-Man AKA Giant-Man. The man she worked for, and the man she loved most.
The fact that he hadn't told her about this cruel little prank had put her off him for the rest of that day.
Underneath the craft, Tony Stark AKA Iron Man and the Norse god known as Thor, continued to flank the jet, flying either side of her until at last they came upon a large hole in the icy ground. It was 200 yards long, about the size of the Average NFL regulation football field. Just not regulation shape or condition. The edges of the pit were jagged and messy and the bottom itself looked as if a giant child had been playing with some giant bluish white Lego bricks, before suddenly being called in for dinner. This was no natural phenomenon, no design of Mother Earth. This crater had only recently been created. Tony's scanners indicated that fact clearly. This, of course, meant only two things. To clarify, however, Tony opened communications once more.
"The fishermen were pointing at that crater. What is that, Ant-Man? A meteor hit?"
Janet turned her head as the eyes of the Avengers' resident pacifism enthusiast narrowed, the rest of his visible face turning grim as he spoke. She could already guess what he was about to say. Needless to say, she'd guessed correctly.
"That's the Hulk throwing a tantrum."
When The Avengers had formed for the first time, shortly after dealing with Thor's irate and vengeful younger brother Loki: Norse God of Mischief, they'd started off with 5 members. Iron Man, Thor, Ant/Giant-Man, The Wasp and finally the most unusual and most unlikely member of the Quintet, Dr. Bruce Banner aka The Hulk. A genius scientist, nuclear physicist and occasional biochemist, Bruce Banner had been cursed with the Hulk through an act of self-sacrifice. He had been tasked by the US Military to test the effects of Gamma radiation for their potential use in the field of combat. Due to an abusive childhood thanks in no small part to his father, who had distrusted his genius from the day he had been born, Bruce had over the years, chosen to repress his anger and so in a way, had turned to pacifism. While reluctant to allow the military to have the secrets of gamma radiation, due to its then unknown and unpredictable qualities, he was eventually convinced by the man sent to oversee the project, a high ranking army general called Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross, that any and all findings would merely be used as a deterrent.
Unable and unwilling to use human subjects as was the army's desire, Bruce had instead resorted to subjecting small animals like toads, rats and lizards to the effects of gamma radiation, supplied by an experimental Gamma Ray Generator of Bruce's design. It was during one of these experiments when disaster struck. A young, orphaned teenager by the name of Rick Jones, having sneaked into Bruce's laboratory in the Nevada desert in the dead night on a bet, had fallen asleep in the same room as the Gamma Ray Generator. At the same time, Banner's Russian assistant, Igor Drenkov, who was in reality a Kremlin spy out the sell the secrets of the Gamma bomb to his own country, fearing that the boy may know about his tampering of the machine the night before, activated the machine in the hopes of killing him, whilst making it look like a glitch in the system with the help of a spilt cup of coffee and locking Rick inside the Gamma Chamber. Whilst Igor managed to evade capture, Bruce managed to get inside the chamber in time, and stood in between Rick and the trajectory of the Gamma Rays, just as the generator went off.
By a small miracle, Bruce survived the ordeal. However, that night while hospitalized in the base's medical bay, he overheard one Major Glenn Talbot, an underling of General Ross who had also been sent to supervise the gamma experiments, talk to a soldier with orders to make the boy Rick Jones "disappear." Enraged, the altered body chemistry of Bruce Banner reacted to the sudden rush of testosterone and for the first time, Bruce Banner had transformed into the same being as spotted by the Nenet guardsman. The Hulk! The ultimate manifestation of Bruce Banner's repressed rage. Green, large, horrendously muscular and filled to the brim with raw aggression and arrogance. After rescuing Rick from the base, Bruce' and his newfound alter ego went on the run, Banner seeking a cure for gamma-ray induced curse and The Hulk to find a place where he could be alone and sulk.
That was the main thing that the Hulk wanted. To be left alone. But people like General Ross, Major Talbot and others would never let that happen, so Bruce was dammed to keep on running as long as the Hulk and the devastation he wrought wherever he went him compelled him to do so. As a result, Banner could never afford to be angry or frustrated in any way, for that was the thing that would summon Hulk from his dormant slumber. But what did Hulk care? After all, it was because of Banner that he, Hulk, The Strongest One There Is, (he loved to call himself that.) could never to truly alone. Besides, Banner was weak and Hulk hated the idea that any part of him could even be remotely weak. Sometimes Rick and Ross' daughter, Betty, would attempt to Help the Hulk out of pity. But the Hulk wasn't stupid and didn't entirely trust them. Except for Betty, he would have let his guard down forever just for her.
It took a few years of course but soon, Banner gave up trying to cure himself. Instead, he resorted to negotiating with the monster within. This, in turn, caused the Hulk to discover a larger sense of intelligence, duty and humanity as well as come to terms with what he could be, rather than what people saw him as. Bruce truly believed in his mind that Hulk had a place in the world as a hero. Eventually, however, the government tracked Bruce down, during a fight between The Hulk and Carl Creel AKA Absorbing Man. It was General Ross who lead the charge with an army of specially designed tanks known as ''Hulkbusters'', but when those were quickly dispatched, the time had come to send in an agency equipped to deal with those kinds of threats. S.H.I.E.L.D. The Supreme Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Directorate.
Its job in the cold war had been to help protect America from international and Extraterrestrial threats. Now it mainly dealt with detaining dangerous Super Villains, employing, sponsoring and teaming up with Super Heroes, and capturing monsters like The Hulk. The mission to bring him into their custody had been carried out by two of their best agents. Natasha Romanov Codename:Black Widow, a former post-war, Warsaw Pact agent from the USSR who had somehow gone for decades without aging, and was as deadly as her name suggested, and Clint Barton Codename:Hawkeye. A former circus performer and thief turned agent with a great talent as an archer and an affinity for purple body armor and goggles. Of course, the operation had been expertly directed by the four most important people in the agency. High ranking agent, Phillip Coulson, other High ranker Timothy "Dum Dum" Dugan, a member of the famed brigade known as the "Howling Commandos" during WWII, who had somehow survived to present day seemingly unchanged since, deputy director Maria Hill who arguably was the second most powerful force in S.H.I.E.L.D. and finally, the guy who ran the whole damn show, former Cleveland Private Detective turned Soldier turned government operative, Colonel Samuel "Slam" Bradley. An African-American man, who himself came from a long line of famed adventurers.
Before long, the Hulk was subdued and brought to a S.H.I.E.L.D. maintained, high security prison known as ''The Cube'' built in the shape of.... well, a cube and designed specifically to contain Gamma empowered beings like The Hulk who, as Banner, was confined to a maximum security cell while having his DNA taken by the organisation for ''research purposes.'' Eventually, of course, Hulk had broken loose and gone on a rage-induced rampage, but after he and the other future Avengers had dealt with Loki and the alien race known as the Chitauri, he had been given a full pardon, much to the fury of the obsessive General Ross and had found his place within the team. For a while, that was that and Bruce was allowed to settle into his new life as a defender of humanity. A role that many others came to accept in time. It might have stayed as such too, if not for yet another evil Asgardian who happened to be close to Thor. The goddess known simply as The Enchantress. It was she who had taken control of the Hulk's mind and set him like a trained dog upon his own teammates, who had in turn, been forced to defend themselves. Eventually, Bruce had convinced his alter ego to help save The Avengers from both The Enchantress and another Asgardian known as The Executioner, forcing them into retreat.
Despite being cured of his mind control and feeling betrayed by his team, people he had once gladly considered friends, had left the Hulk feeling both betrayed and more pissed off than ever. After Tony had explained the situation to Colonel Bradley, S.H.I.E.L.D. had wasted no time in tracking the Hulk's movements. Their search leading them to the deepest parts of the Arctic Circle. And so, that was where The Avengers now found themselves. Scouring the frozen wastes of the most inhospitable and unforgiving place on the planet, (Next to Alabama) in search of a not so Jolly Green giant, to try and convince him to be part of their heroes club again.
Of course, none of them could have ever been fully prepared for what they found instead that day, but for now, their thoughts were firmly fixed on getting their former friend back into the fold. As they brought the Quinjet down to hover over into the mess of cracks and enormous ice cubes, Iron Man and Thor lowered themselves right down to the edge of the frozen canyon. "Truly," declared Thor with an underlying, somewhat shameful sense of admiration, "The Hulk's anger is impressive." Tony said nothing to this. He knew that this was the kind of thing that Thor would remark. Coming from a realm of extraterrestrial, near-immortal beings that had been regarded as gods by the mortals of Earth, otherwise known as Midgard, for centuries and valued strength and battle above almost all else, it made too much sense. Maybe they could use Thor as a negotiator, he thought. After all, there was no denying that the big guy's ego hadn't shrunk an inch in the time after Banner and he had had their little ''chat.'' He was still, in his own mind anyway, the strongest being in the known Universe and beyond. Clearly, Thor somewhat thought the same thing. If the thunder god could flatter Hulk, there could still be hope. But first, of course, they had to actually find him and that that was going to take the one force Tony Stark trusted more than any other. Science. As he and Thor reached the edge, it soon became apparent to them that the scene had been a lot more pleasant from a bird's eye view than that of a ground animal. The pit, it seemed, was actually more like an arctic valley, with pillars and jagged spikes shooting out of the ground and in all directions. Thor and Iron Man turned to face each other with grim expressions.
''Tell me, Iron Man.'' asked Thor. ''How do you intend to convince him to come back with us?'' With his ''Use Thor's complements as negotiation.'' plan losing more and more sense the more he thought about it in detail, Tony could only reply with the honest truth. This was a bad day for him indeed. ''I have no idea, Thor.'' Saying this, he turned his head back to the canyon and spoke into the gold and red plated iron helmet. ''Jarvis. Scan for lifeforms.'' As if on cue, a voice in the style of a stereotypical British Butler that only Tony could hear responded, as holographic shapes and words floated around inside his field of vision. "Initiating scan, Sir.'' ''Jarvis'' was Iron Man's onboard A.I. that he kept around him at all times. At work, at home and especially in the suit. It was modeled voice and personality wise after a butler of the same name that his adoptive father, Howard Stark, had had under his employ during Tony's childhood Jarvis was in charge of maintaining its functionality as well as activating and controlling a great deal of its software via voice command. In short, Iron Man would have literally been dead without it. At least, in his eyes. Thor, on the other hand, saw things quite differently. ''Mortal Technology...You would do better to trust your eyes and ears.''
As usual, Tony didn't even dignify such a comment with a response. It was the type of absolute crap casual Luddites like Thor, the Amish and certain mothers and elders spewed on a day to day basis In between streaming their favorite soaps, using a sawmill to cut their logs and turning up their hearing aids that is. Technology had never let him down before, hell. Right now, It was the only thing keeping his heart beating. Thor, of course, had often told him that he had no use for ''Mortal Technology'', but Tony had never really bought into the idea that Asgardians were anything more than a bunch of aliens with wicked long lifespans and technology too advanced for humans to comprehend. The so-called ''Rainbow Bridge'' that connected Asgard to the other ''5 Worlds'' was probably nothing more than a complex walkway, lit up by something akin to L.E.Ds. As for Thor's hammer, Mjölnir, there had to be some impressive tech in there to make it do half the stuff it did. He was just pondering this all when Jarvis interrupted him. ''Scan complete, Sir. Lifeform detected approximately 33.02 centimeters from your current location.'' Tony nodded and listened carefully to the readings. Jarvis had indeed detected something, as had his internal Medical Scanners.
''I'm picking something up.'' he declared over the com-link. ''It's a life sign, but it's faint.'' Wasp's face suddenly developed an expression of severe concern. ''You...think someone might be trapped down there?'' she asked. ''I'm not too sure.'' came the reply. ''But if there is, The Hulk is gonna have to wait. Everybody get down here and start searching. Rest assured. There is something in there.'' The two costumed heroes inside didn't need to be told twice. Before Iron Man had even finished speaking, they had unbuckled themselves, opened the Cockpit up and jumped out. One moment they were both plummeting to the ground. The next, they had seemingly almost dissolved into nothing. In reality, they had just activated the twin belts that allowed them to utilize their powers, which were mainly A: Shrinking or growing while maintaining normal size, speed and mass and B: In Hank's case anyway, the ability to control ants or in Janet's case, grow miniature wings and fly. In the meantime, even in a life or death situation, Tony couldn't resist being an asshole.
''That's so weird though since I can't see or hear it.'' This time, Thor stared at him with vex but decided not to take the bait by responding. Banter and arguments like this were commonplace among The Avengers. And when you're all living together in one house most of the time, like say, at Avengers Mansion, the team's personal HQ, and Tony Stark's own personal crib, tensions tend to run high every now and then. Especially between people with opposing views points and upbringings. Thor might have done more than just glare, however, only that was when Janet zipped past his field of vision and broke his concentration. Off she went with Hank running behind. Flying into and between the many pillars and crevices of the canyon, which, at her current size, looked more like some kind of alien forest. Needless to say, she was enjoying herself. This was one of the main reasons she loved her line of work. The action, the adventure, the thrill of the chase and of being chased...well, maybe not that last one but you get the idea. Janet Van Dine, was a natural thrill seeker. So much so, that there were times when she tended to forget that being a superhero was more about helping people than having a good time. Not that this ever stopped her from doing both, not even on some of her off days. And even with her adrenaline pumping, she still managed to keep a dour look on her mug in this situation. Mainly because she wasn't enjoying this as much as she had been, mainly because she was still a tiny bit pissed off about the whole ''Autopilot'' thing, but also because her encounter with the Enchantress a week prior, had left her somewhat on edge. Just a smidge.
Because of all this, she forgot to pay attention to her surroundings and was just grumbling ''Okay, if this is some kind of ''evil snow monster,'' I'm going to be...'' to no one in particular, when she finally looked ahead of herself, saw something that distracted her, realised it was too late to stop and consequently flew into a block of ice with a resounding clang before being thrown off it backwards into the air. As soon as Wasp had recovered. she looked back at the ice block that had halted her progress;
That was when she discovered ''It.'' And needless to say, as you shall soon understand, what ''It'' actually was kept her entranced, still and under its spell for quite some time. Long enough in fact for Ant-Man and the others to catch up with her, just as she finished her sentence with the words... ''Ticked... Never Mind.'' Never mind indeed. Whatever frustrations she might have had up to that point were nothing short of nihilistically petty and trivial, compared to what she was faced with. If you had been just been a few inched below her, you might not have realized what was making her act the way she was. Mainly because from your perspective, you would have seen nothing else but a long, flat piece of Red fabric, encased in an ice prison. But unless you and Janet were next to each other at the same height, not only would it have looked allot less creepy, but also you would have seen everything she was at that exact moment. You see, that odd looking Carmine colored sheet, was attached to something, no. Someone. Someone big, muscular and more importantly, someone alive. And this person was someone very important to the history of not just the U.S., but indeed the whole world. by now the other Avengers had caught up with Janet and were now gathered around her, staring down at her find. When they saw it, their brains couldn't immediately comprehend it. It was as if the whole world had just become...brighter, somehow. More....hopeful. There was a long, unbearable silence. ''Tony...'' Janet finally found the ability to say. ''That's....'' she said it again in a higher pitch this time. ''That's..'' But before she could say anything, Tony turned to Thor and spoke.
''Nearest S.H.I.E.L.D. outpost is at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. How long do you think you can get there and back with a full rescue team?'' The thunderer's blue eyes stared into those glowing slots with a sense of uncertainty. ''I do not know. But rest assured, I shall strive to return here as swiftly as Mjölnir will permit me.'' the armored avenger looked at his colleague for a few, brief moments, before finally nodding his head and softly replying... ''Understood.''
Hours later and miles away from both Alaska and Siberia, Hovering over Washington D.C., in the enormous aircraft carrier and main S.H.I.E.L.D HQ known as The Helicarrier, The day was just beginning. for the unlucky saps who'd been lobbed with running the Night Shift, however, their day was about to come to an end with the break of dawn. It had been one hell of a night, special emphasis on the word ''Hell.'' The coffee machines, for example, specifically ALL of them, had seemingly picked the night before to all break down simultaneously. The onboard repairmen trained to deal with that kind of petty shit had managed to save at least half of them, but even then there was only so much consumable Joe to go around. After that, it had all been downhill from there. To say anything about the state of the runways after that flock of migrating ducks had flown over them for example, would take up way too much time, Needless to say, after 9 growling, tedious hours of nothing but fatigue, negative feelings, boredom and the janitor's book of brainteasers as the sole form of ''entertainment,'' everyone was pretty much begging for the night to just ''call it a day.'' The only person on board you still seemed fixated on the job at hand, was as far away from most of the other personnel as possible. Said woman was now standing directly next to one of the two large, metallic tables with the glowing blue tops, which acted as both tracking devices as well as holographic maps of whatever area the base happened to be floating over at any given time at the far end of the Helicarrier's control deck. At the same time, she was staring blankly at the large, overhead flat screen monitor, that hung just over the large, black, tribal tattoo-esc bird emblem that represented the entire agency.
The woman in question was a tall, thin yet muscular, Caucasian figure with short, black hair, blue eyes and a skin-tight, black and white outfit which was adorned with red circles with the black bird symbol inside of them. On her beautiful but cold face, was the expression of a true professional in the field of espionage. Dour and stone-faced. All in all, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Deputy Director, Maria Hill, was not by any stretch of the imagination what one could call ''feminine.'' And naturally for someone like herself, she simply didn't give a damn. Hill looked at the tired men around her, shambling to and from the various other rooms and areas of the air bound base. There were even a few of the guys from the engine room up there too, slumped against the walls trying to compose themselves. Hill fixed them all, no matter who, with an unforgiving glare. All she could think at that moment were the words, ''This never happens when Bradley's in charge.'' and ''Why do always get stuck with the slobs?''
This was not the way for members of a professional homeland defense agency to act. It wasn't their fault of course. Off days like this were rare and unfortunately, this just so happened to be one of them. However, Maria Hill wasn't the type of person to care about the feelings of others when it came to protecting the country. She was harder than all of them put together. Too hard in fact, otherwise she might have shown a great deal more empathy. Usually, she could keep things under control, even when Colonel Bradley was off duty. But tonight, with only the over-talkative Coulson as company, plus the fact that despite the whole ''stiff upper lip'' bit, she was as tired, bored and mentally exhausted as everyone else, everything seemed to be falling apart, Hill put a hand to her forehead and let out a long, drawn-out groan of frustration. Bradley was going to kill her. She just knew it. As her eyes returned to the cold, blue glow of the overhead screen, she secretly prayed for something to cut through the silence. Anyone who knew Maria Hill personally knew for a fact that she wasn't exactly the ''praying type.'' Her line of work required her to be more interested in Preying with an E than with an A. That being said, some say that God was indeed listening that night, as what happened a few minutes afterward was nothing short of a miracle. As Hill stood there, trying to keep herself from cracking up, a sudden loud, electronic honk caught her by surprise.
Now fully awake, she looked up to see what it was coming from. It was the monitor. Over its sky blue screen was a long, red bar with words in white capitals reading ''INCOMING TRANSMISSION'' plastered onto it. Hill looked to one of the men at the large control console at the farthest end of the room where the portholes were. Outside, the morning Twilight was just setting in as dawn began to break. Luckily most of the men at the console were still mostly awake. Maybe there was still some time to salvage some form of dignity from this disastrous shift after all. After giving the order for the transmission to be patched in, she watched as the picture on the monitor screen changed to the image of a man, dressed in goggles, a black ski mask and a grey and white arctic camo parka and pants with the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo emblazoned on them, who looked down at her from what she could only guess was somewhere in the arctic circle, given his clothes, the frozen landscape and the wind in the background.
''This is Lieutenant Seabrooke from Prudhoe Bay outpost calling Hellicarrier. Hellicarrier, do you copy?'' For someone who clearly had visual on his end, this was a stupid, albeit the procedural thing to say. Director Hill walked over to the screen, then pulling a remote control out of her pants pocket, pressed a button that re-positioned it so that she was fully within Agent Seabrooke's line of sight. ''This is Helicarrier. Copy that, Seabrooke.'' She made sure to maintain some air of professionalism as she spoke in spite of the strenuous circumstances. Seabrooke's tone was much different when he responded. That was the kind of effect that Hill had on her underlings. ''Director Hill, Ma'am. Sorry to have to call in so late into your shift but this is kind of an emergency.'' Hill raised an eyebrow at this. ''Define Emergency for me, Seabrooke. Have Stark's little gang tracked down The Hulk yet? I'm afraid given current circumstances we can't...''
''It's not that I'm afraid, Ma'am.'' Seabrookes's shaken voice replied. Although by the look of him, it wasn't fear of the iron lady in the Control center that was causing him to convulse like that. ''Where is he? And by that extension, where the hell are you and your team?'' In response, Seabrooke clutched the small camera device in his hand and pointed it towards the edge of the pit. By now it was swarming with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and on the ground close to the edge it was a large, black Boeing Chinook. Thor was close to the pit too, directing the agents into it and talking to them, although Hill couldn't exactly hear what he was telling them over the sound of the wind. ''We're in Siberia, Ma'am. To clarify, The Avengers were tracking Banner, but they ran into something and called us up here to help them recover it. Only...'' Hill looked on in confusion and vex. She hadn't authorized this! The Alaskan Agents were specifically stationed there to aid in The Hulk's recapture and nothing more! What the hell were they doing in away from their outpost if it wasn't to bring Banner in? Especially since Stark had assured The Colonel that they'd have him in Avengers' custody ''before breakfast.'' ''Seabrooke, what in god's name are you doing, treasure hunting?!'' Seabrooke turned the camera back to himself. ''That's...not a bad description of this actually, Director Hill. Look, I don't know what time it is your end but you need to get Colonel Bradley out here, A.S.A.P.'' Colonel Bradley? Was this clown kidding. Hill tried to keep her patience while holding the bridge of her chiseled nose in irritation. ''It's 3:00 AM, Lieutenant. As I was trying to tell you before We're not in a position to do anything for you until at least 9:30.''
''With all due respect, Director.'' came the blunt reply. ''I don't give a damn what time it is. This has waited long enough already.'' It wasn't Seabrooke's voice this time. The muffled, electronic tone and slight, arrogant drawl made that perfectly clear. The camera had been taken away from the Lieutenant and now the monitor screen showed the gold and red plated face of Iron Man instead. Hill's eyes narrowed as the Billionaire playboy's metal coated mug and baby blue optical sensors gazed at her with that unnervingly cold, robotic expression. Needless to say, Hill didn't so much as flinch. What she did do, was start to lose her cool. ''Stark?! What the hell are you doing? Why haven't your team...'' ''The Hulk can wait, Hill.'' replied Tony sharply. ''This...This is on a whole different level. If you can't get Bradley out here then like it or not, we're taking over.'' Hill's mouth turned upwards on the right-hand side, forming a smirk. Was that supposed to be some kind of a threat? If it was then she had news for him. It wasn't working. Suddenly without warning, Iron Man took off with the camera in hand before landing in the pit close to the agents and his teammates. ''And we'll be borrowing a few of your Alaska base's medics as well.'' The smirk faded from Hill's lips and her eyes narrowed again into an intense glare of impending wrath. Who the hell did the overstuffed, conceited, overpowered rich brat think he was? She didn't care how important he thought his finding was, Nobody talked down to her like that and got away with it ''Who...' Fortunately, she found herself interrupted yet again when the camera pointed downwards towards the bottom of the pit. When Maria Hill saw the glacier with that strange, familiar figure within, for one of the few times in her entire life, she faltered and instantly found herself with nothing to say. As flashes of Carmine and Sapphire filled her optic nerves, she finally understood just how important this was. Quite the reality check indeed. ''My god...Stark...I-Is that?''
''Your eyes aren't fooling you, Director.'' came the hushed reply. ''Its taken us over 60 years but, here he is.'' Hill's eyes began to moisten and shake along with her as she stood there with here jaw agape. ''But...That can't be...That isn't...'' ''It is, Maria.'' Iron Man confirmed, holding the side of his helmet, as he finally uttered the words Millions of people across America had been waiting to hear for quite some time.''
''It's Superman. And according to my armor, He's alive...''