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Annie Get Your Gun

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Sharon Carter walks into Langley on Day Zero in a new suit bought with the advance on her first paycheck from the Agency (a contract point that had been a necessity for her: there's no guarantee Sharon—or anyone else, for that matter—will ever see her last check from SHIELD).

Today is training day. In other words, she'll be spending the day filling out (more) paperwork for HR, having her photo taken (again), her prints filed (again), meeting her new cohort (some of whom are undoubtedly former coworkers), a bland cafeteria lunch, filling out (more) paperwork for Legal, and maybe, if she's lucky, meeting her new handler. Day Zero.

But first, she has to be admitted into the building proper. So she walks right up to the reception desk armed with a mostly empty passport and a well-worn driver's license, which she hands to the sharp-eyed woman behind the desk. Sharon waits patiently while the receptionist pulls up her information, resisting the urge to try to read the screen upside-down.

The woman hands back her IDs and pulls a name badge out of a drawer. "Agent Marangoz will be waiting for you in Conference Room C. It's down that hall, second door on the left." She gives Sharon the name badge. "You'll need to swipe this to get in. Welcome to the Agency, Ms. Carter."

Sharon looks down at the badge. It has her picture from the day she came in for the aptitude tests, her name, a QR code, and an ID number. A little thrill passes through her. The CIA isn't SHIELD (then again, it turned out SHIELD wasn't SHIELD, either), but it has always been at the top of her list when it comes to government agencies.

"Is everything correct on your badge, Ms. Carter?" asks the receptionist, interrupting her thoughts.

Sharon answers distractedly. "Yes, sorry. Conference Room C, you said?"

"To the left." The receptionist gives a nod, effectively dismissing her.

There's a tall woman waiting for her in Conference Room C. She stands by the windows overlooking the lawn, though she faces the door. It takes a moment for Sharon to see them, but the woman has the tiniest spray of gray in her hair and lines at her eyes that suggest she's in her forties. Her bearing calls to mind Commander Hill, and Sharon is certain that this is not some HR flunky with a stack of non-disclosure agreements for her to sign.

"Agent Marangoz?"

"Agent Marangoz had somewhere else to be today." She tilts her head. "But you knew that already, didn't you?"

Sharon gives a little head tilt of her own. "Pardon my presumption, but you don't look very Turkish, and though it's possible you took your husband's name—" Sharon nods at the ring on her left hand "—it's not terribly common in this business."

The agent smiles. "The assessments said you were remarkably sharp, Ms. Carter. It's good to know they were accurate."

"Thank you, ma'am."

The woman strides forward, hand outstretched. "Sydney Bristow. Director of the Sentient World Observation and Research Department, commonly called 'SWORD'."

"Sharon Carter, but you know that already."

"Indeed. You come highly recommended, Ms. Carter. Victoria Hand spoke highly of you, as did Agent Romanov."

Sharon blinks in surprise. She wasn't even aware that the Black Widow knew she existed, let alone knew her well enough to recommend her. "Agent Romanov?"

Director Bristow's smile widens. "Agent Romanov came in to help oversee our unexpectedly large batch of applications for the new recruitment term. Her recommendations were invaluable in making our decisions." She turns toward the conference table. "But enough about our hiring practices. Please, Ms. Carter, have a seat."

Director Bristow waits until Sharon sits to seat herself and places her hands on top of a manila folder on the table. Sharon expects it to be her personnel file, but Director Bristow passes it to her and says, "What do you know about SWORD?"

Sharon looks down at the folder and then back up to Director Bristow. "To be honest, I didn't know it existed until about two minutes ago."

"Good. As you are well-aware, prior to the Battle of Manhattan, the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division was an undercover organization tasked with countering paranormal and superhuman threats to the United States and planet Earth. After the Battle of Manhattan, it became clear that while SHIELD was certainly a necessity, it no longer had the invisibility cloak it once carried. It also became clear that paranormal and superhuman threats were not simply from malignant scientific experimentation; these threats were coming from far beyond any planetary borders we once had. Thus, the CIA was tasked with creating a new division which could counteract extraterrestrial threats, hopefully before they even reach our orbit."

Director Bristow pauses, allowing all this information to sink in. Sharon keeps her gaze steady, though her mind is racing. She has been aware of chatter about extraterrestrial espionage—anyone with half a brain and more than Level 5 clearance at SHIELD knew there were plans in the works to investigate the possibility of creating networks with Asgard and other friendly Realms. It's not entirely out of the blue that the CIA would pick up this directive in the aftermath of SHIELD's demise. What's surprising is that Sharon is being given all this information when she's not even been a CIA operative a full twenty-four hours.

Director Bristow continues. "Your responsibilities will include both diplomatic and black-ops work, which you'll find requires a skill set as varied as the stars and their planets. Training will include advanced weapons, diplomatic technology including translators, and basic aeronautical engineering and maintenance. You'll be assigned to a team of agents, and while hierarchy decisions have not been finalized, you're a prime candidate for field team captain. Do you have any questions?"

"Why me? I'm not—I wasn't a field agent."

Director Bristow raises an eyebrow. "Why not you? I told you, Ms. Carter, you came highly recommended. We need people we can trust, now more than ever. Not only to keep our government's secrets but to keep cool heads in unexpected situations and to stay the course in the face of death. Is there any reason you could not meet those requirements?"

Sharon doesn't even have to think about it. "No."

"Good." Director Bristow stands, and Sharon follows as she moves toward a different set of doors than the ones she'd entered through. They stop at the doorway, and Director Bristow turns back to look at her again. "I know what it's like to find out that your agency isn't what you thought."

There's a story here, but Sharon doesn't expect to get it today. She thinks about asking, but her hesitation is mistaken for apprehension.

"It's alright if you're nervous, you know. I wasn't a field agent at first, either."

"I'm not nervous. Just—it's a big change. This wasn't exactly in my five-year plan."

Director Bristow gives her another friendly smile. "These things rarely are." She pushes open the door, and waves Sharon through. "Welcome to SWORD, Agent Carter."