Marvel 2000 Presents

Excalibur 27

To all things, an ending

SHIELD Heli-carrier

As G.W Bridge looked over his team and prepared to brief them, he found himself doing something he never thought he would do. He praised the lord for lawyers. A technicality, that was all that saved Excalibur from being disbanded and likely court marshaled for failure to follow orders by the United Nations following recent events.

The operating charter that gave Excalibur its power, its basic ability to operate, was interwoven with SHIELD's own operating charter and authority, now radically overhauled, much to the U.N's chagrin. At the time, it made perfect sense. Excalibur and SHIELD complimented one another in terms of authority and mandate, after all. Thus the Secretary General of the United Nations and head of SHIELD were given command over Excalibur. But the United Nations never foresaw a time when not only would the Secretary General's body be seized by an ancient wizard, or that SHIELD would push thru a massive reorganization that would lessen the United Nations' control over them, and that Excalibur would actually side with SHIELD regarding the dispute.

But now, a new charter would be all but impossible considering the political turmoil, with Justin Hammer's storming of Genosha and the war against Doom while the madman himself was presently besieging the Fantastic Four (again, to say nothing of the current lack of a Secretary General). As such, unless SHIELD yielded all authority over Excalibur, there could be no more Excalibur. It was all or nothing proposition, and the United Nations certainly didn't wish to be left with nothing. And so they were forced to allow Excalibur to continue to operate under the watchful eye of SHIELD. And so here they were, the full team assembled and ready for action in the SHIELD Helicarrier, with possibly their most important mission to date.

"Lawyers, never thought I'd see the day." Bridge remarked silently to himself "Okay team, listen up. SHIELD just got a report that the situation in Latveria is about to get a whole lot bloodier. As if having a toy capable of destroying entire cities isn't enough, Doom is now planning on using neutron bombs against U.N forces in Latveria."

Those Excalibur members with close affiliations with their governments, like Sabra and Union Jack, gasped in shock, while others like Hellios and Darkstar, wondered what exactly the nature of the threat was and why it was so shocking.

"What are neutron bombs?" Savitar finally asked

"About the worst bloody thing that could happen to our boys," Union Jack explained, "See mate, they're like atomic bombs that only work against organic material. Nasty little buggers."

"Human flesh, specifically." Sabra added, "I know Saddam, the United States and others have been working to perfect their own neutron bombs for years. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised Doom already has some of his own."

"It makes perfect sense if you think about it." Darkstar calmly stated, "No matter how advanced, Doom's army cannot possibly win this war. The forces against him are too many to win on force of arms. Neutron bombs are his only option for victory."

The rest of Excalibur felt themselves shudder just a little bit as Darkstar casually explained the cold, exact logic behind Doom's plans of mass murder.

"Wouldn't these weapons also affect his own troops?" Savitar asked

"Doom likely has some means of protecting his men." Honey Lemon stated, "The question is, what are we going to do about it?"

"Whatever it takes!" Hellios said as he slammed his fist down on the round meeting table. Though he exerted only a fraction of his incredible strength, the entire table, indeed the entire room, shook slightly with the force of the blow, "Doom mustn't be allowed to win this war!"

"What I think the lady means is, 'how are we going to stop Doom when the last time we faced him we beat us down without breaking a sweat'?" Union Jack explained, unfazed by Hellios' casual display of power.

"We're not dealing with Doom himself." Bridge explained, "He's raising hell with the Fantastic Four right now. Rather, we're only dealing with the situation in Latveria."

"Handling his war is as dangerous, if not more so, than fighting the man himself." Sabra deadpanned

"Yeah, that's where all of Doom's weapons are, remember?" U.S Agent stated, "I'm more than willing to go in and kick some ass, but like Rock said, I'd like something to stop Doom from kicking our asses around like he did last time."

"And you shall have it." An electronic voice reassured them. The holographic image of Genesis, a melding of the computer program Shrapnel and the mind and soul of Forge, appeared in the center of the round table. The entire team was taken back by his sudden appearance and more than a few members were uneasy with his presence. It was Bridge who trusted Genesis, and Excalibur who trusted Bridge. But that trust only marginally extended towards Genesis

"What did you have in mind?" Darkstar asked.

"Doom's greatest weapon is his mind. His second greatest weapon is information." Genesis explained, "We have a decapitation strike in mind. As for how we're going to pull it off…"

High over Latveria, heading towards Castle Doom.

U.S Agent gingerly ran his hands over the controls to the special SHIELD Aircraft they'd been given for this mission, as Excalibur soared towards their target. The plane was shaped like a missile with four rocket boosters on the sides and packed with the latest in cloaking technology. So far it'd allowed them to breeze past several patrols and three nasty dog fights (that U.S Agent really wanted to be a part of, but knew better than to risk the entire mission). But they were approaching Castle Doom, and John Walker knew enough about Doom to know they wouldn't be able to breach his castle as easily as they had reached it.

"We're within range. Get ready guys, it's about to get bumpy." U.S Agent warned. As if fate wanted to emphasize that point, an anti-aircraft missile exploded only inches off the haul, rattling everything and everyone inside the plane down to their teeth.

"You know mate, they probably didn't see us until you said that." Union Jack observed dryly

"Evasive action!" Bridge ordered via the Armory weapons system.

"Gee, I thought we'd just let them shoot us out of the air like skeet." John Walker grunted as he jerked the controls from one side to another in an effort to avoid the defenses of Castle Doom. Though U.S Agent's skill was considerable, the craft he was piloting wasn't especially responsive and took more hits than it avoided. Thankfully for Excalibur, the plane was heavily armored, enabling it to suffer punishment that would otherwise destroy the likes of other planes and even most heavy tanks.

"Bring it in." Bridge ordered.

"Yes, while we're still able to fight!" Savitar pleaded as he fought to keep the contents of his stomach down where they belonged.

"Make sure your seat belts are on, and your trays are in an upright position," U.S Agent quipped as he banked the aircraft upwards towards the clouds, "because we're coming in for a fucking crash landing."

Inside the bowels of Castle Doom

The soldiers and scientists who manned the controls to the defenses of Castle Doom let out whoop of victory as they saw the SHIELD aircraft, which had evaded their scanners until they were almost on top of the Castle, pull up towards the sky and likely leaving with their tails between their legs. The small victory managed to pierce the thick tension that saturated all of Latveria's military. Doom was gone for the moment, and had left control of the war in the hands of his generals. And though Latveria's army was more than holding their own against the U.N forces, everyone feared that Doom would return and find their progress inadequate. The sudden appearance of an enemy aircraft caused many a heart to skip a beat. However, its subsequent retreat caused a disproportionate and incredible wave of jubilation and heart felt relief to sweep over the men.

"Ha! Watch them flee in fear of our power!" One soldier said boastfully.

"Watch them cower before our military might!" Another bellowed.

"Watch them steer their plane directly into the heart of the castle." One soldier said softly, instantly silencing everyone within the war-room. The lone soldier pointed towards the monitor screen and the little red dot that represented the offending SHIELD aircraft streaking towards the castle at too fast a speed to be stopped, despite the best efforts of the automated defenses.

U.S Agent struggled with all his superhuman strength to keep the craft on its crash course, "Honey, I'm…"

The crash of the SHIELD aircraft into and thru the ancient stonewalls of Castle Doom drowned out Walker's cliché. The aircraft, designed by an international brain trust specially for invading Dr. Doom's castle, slammed thru wall after all, bringing huge chunks of the ceiling down as the craft pierced deeper and deeper into Doom's most private sanctum, sending servants and soldiers alike scurrying for cover. The craft finally came to a skidding halt in the center of Dr. Doom's assembly room.

Under the ever present eyes of a beautifully hand painted picture of the Doctor's mother, a horde of Doombots swarmed the craft, their weapons primed and locked. But before they could unleash a lethal wave of energy against the brazen invaders, a specially attuned electromagnetic pulse was emitted from the ship's weapons array. Were the pulse set at any other frequency, the Doombots would have easily ignored it. However, the frequency emitted from the weapons system was designed to fry a single chip in the Doombot's CPU, effectively immobilizing them and turning them all into over priced paperweights.

There was a hiss of air as the reinforced metal door to the aircraft released and retracted, revealing Excalibur in all their glory. The air was filled with dust and soot, but the shine of Union Jack's pistol, the Armory weapons system and Hellios' glowing eyes lanced thru any obscurity.

"Surrounded by a powerful fascist robots with no means of retreat and millions of lives depending on us." U.S Agent stated. He slapped a magazine clip into his gun and pulled back the hammer with his thumb, "I knew today would be good, but I didn't know how good!"

"Americans." Darkstar sighed.

"Enough." Bridge snapped, "It took seven years, over two dozen lives and billions of dollars worth of planning, spying and preparation to get us just this far. We fail now, and lots of people die."

"Then we won't fail!" Savitar replied as he flew over the heads of the team to meet a new approaching army of Doombots that was advancing into the room via a small door, forcing them to group together to enter. The young hero unleashed his plasma blasts, devastating the ones in front. Hellios and Darkstar assisted with their own respective energy blasts, and destroyed the advancing Doombots. Honey Lemon pulled out a special weapon, shaped like a high tech disc, from her power purse and lobbed it towards the opening. Almost instantly, a yellow force field covered the entrance the Doombots were using. All the other entrances were covered by debris.

"Bridge, what's the plan? Do we just start smashing things at random?" U.S Agent asked.

"You smash things on my orders." Bridge said, "Three teams. Savitar, Hellios, Union Jack, you guys go north. Darkstar, Sabra, Honey Lemon, you ladies go south. Agent, you're with me. We don't know where Doom's keeping his bombs, but we're fairly certain they're in his castle. Start smashing, keep smashing and hope you get lucky."

"Nice to know this strike has such concise planning." Darkstar quipped.

"I shall provide our exit." Sabra said as she strode over to a stonewall and slammed her fist into it, causing it to explode outwards, "Let us be on our way."

"That's my kind of lady." U.S Agent smirked quietly to Bridge as the rest of Excalibur filed out.

"So, where do we go?" U.S Agent asked finally.

"Us? We're going down. They're just the distraction." Bridge explained as he aimed his repulser towards the floor, "step back, and cover me."

Hellios ripped one Doombot in half and used his solar blasts to melt another five. Union Jack's pistol, loaded with specially designed explosive bullets disabled Doombot after Doombot while Savitar destroyed even more. Before long, the skirmish was over with Excalibur the easy victors.

"Is it just me, or is this too easy?" Savitar asked.

"Simple robots can't match our power and cunning." Hellios boasted.

"Or it's a trap." Savitar proposed.

"We're in too deep for Doom's men not to spring a trap." Union Jack explained. As Union Jack said that, a hidden panel slid open and sprayed Savitar with a coat of flame. Savitar easily endured the assault, as his plasma powers gave him immunity to heat based attacks. Hellios was bombarded with ice while Union Jack, deemed unworthy of any special weapons, quickly dodged several lasers blasts.

"Does Doom think I'm Iceman or something?" Savitar asked as he easily destroyed the offending weapon.

Union Jack smirked, "Or something."

Darkstar created a darkforce wedge and ploughed thru a contingent of Doombots as they pushed down the hall in search of weapons. Sabra easily defeated any and all Doombots that slipped by while Honey Lemon covered their flank.

Suddenly, a weapon protruded from the wall and sprayed Darkstar in a white mist, a gas created to disable anyone whose powers were deprived from cosmic radiation. Darkstar, a mutant, easily ignored the weapon and blasted it to bits with her darkforce while Sabra and Honey Lemon both easily defeated weapons that simply weren't designed for them.

"Doom's lost his touch, it seems." Sabra observed.

"Remember when Genesis said we wouldn't allow him any information?" Honey Lemon asked, "Well, that wasn't completely true."

Inside the bowels the main defense room, Doom's greatest scientists struggled to comprehend what exactly was happening in the castle. They were losing ground. Fast. And that was about the full extent of their knowledge

"The sensors say that we're being attacked by the likes of Iceman, Human Torch, Invisible Woman, and Squirrel Girl! But our defenses are useless against them!" One scientist exclaimed.

"But how is that possible? They're on two different teams, and our master is dealing with the accursed Fantastic Four members as we speak!" Another explained, "And the others cannot possibly be who the sensors say they are!"

On any given day, Castle Doom is easily the most impregnable fortress in the modern world, with automated defenses that respond according to any intruder, and sensors connected to the world's largest and most accurate database on superhumans connected to adaptable weapons designed by one of the greatest minds ever.

But that great strength is also a weakness to those smart or creative enough to exploit it. Excalibur, aided by special devises to deceive and confuse Doom's scanners created by Genesis alongside some of SHIELD's best scientists, subsequently may as well have a free hand to explore the castle. Were Doom himself present, the situation would be drastically different. He'd have been able to properly adjust the sensors as easily as he breathed. However, Doom left defense of the castle to his scientists and compared to Doom, their combined intellect was marginal. Even worse for Latveria's defenders, Doom himself was far too paranoid to train them too well in entering new combat protocols into the sensors. As a consequence, none of the gathered soldiers or scientists possessed the ability to adjust the scanners enough to negate Excalibur's advantage and power

"Could it be the Avengers or Excalibur?" One scientist proposed.

"What would it matter if it was? We don't know how…"

The sentence was cut off by a deafening explosion above the men's head that sent rock, dust and soot showering down. As the men scattered, a figure dropped down the newly made sky light.

"Yippee-ki-yay, you fascist muthers!" John Walker shouted as he leapt down. As soon as Walker touched the floor, he whipped his energy shield outwards, and decapitated two Doombots protecting the room. From above, several laser beams lanced down, sniping the soldiers and Doombots alike and disabling them. Once all the defenders were defeated and subdued, the armory battle system gently lowered itself into the room via it's boot jets and surveyed the situation.

"As of now, you are all prisoners of war." Bridge informed them, his repulsars still smoking, "Now, tell me where the neutron bombs are. We can protect you from Doom."

Thru the looks of sheer terror and desperation, Bridge and Agent could make out an additional look. Confusion.

"We…don't have any neutron bombs. Lord Doom feels they would escalate a situation uncontrollably." One brave soldier confessed.

U.S Agent and Bridge exchanged a suspicious glance at one another, "We have good Intel that said that Doom was preparing to use neutron bombs."

"Intelligence from Americans." One soldier snickered; eliciting nervous chuckles that graduated into heart felt laughter from the captured men.

"I don't like this." Walker whispered to Bridge.

"I know. If we were fed false Intel, SHIELD could have another mole problem."

"Yeah, there's that, but that's not what I was talking about." Agent replied, "I don't like being laughed at. Can I hit someone?"

"Just keep an eye on these people and wait for the troops to get here." Bridge sighed.

Huddled together away from the SHIELD agents, three of Doom's top scientists were feverishly debating the very future of Latveria.

"We can't! Think of what will happen to our countrymen! To us! We'd be dead men for sure!" One scientist said in a low, hushed tone

"We're dead men one way or the other, you know this as well as I do!" The second scientist snapped.

"Yes, and maybe this way our fellow scientists will be spared." The third said solemnly.

"Hey, what are you eggheads doing?" Walker called out.

"Our choice is clear. It's now or never." One said. They all nodded in acknowledgment

"Hey, what are you doing? Stop!" Walker began to rush forward, deathly certain that the three were about to activate some last doomsday or suicide weapon. U.S Agent began forcing his way thru the soldiers, but wasn't nearly fast enough to prevent the men from reaching their wrists, and twisting several dials on their watches. U.S Agent was within a foot of the three, but that was as far as he got as they burst into flame and became ash before the first scream could escape their mouths.

"Holy shit!" U.S Agent backpedaled in horror and shock. He barely had time to process what had happened before a big red twelve came up on the main monitor.

Then, an eleven.

Then, a ten.

Then, a nine.

A metal hand slapped down on Agent's shoulder.

"Time to go!" Bridge said before activating the team comm. unit, "Excalibur, evac., now! Repeat, evac. now!"

"Evac.? What happened, what happened?" Savitar demanded frantically as he, Hellios and Union Jack (carried by Hellios) tour down the stone halls and towards hopefully the closest exit. Union Jack looked back the way they'd come, and saw a wave of pure white streaking towards them much faster than the pace they were leaving at.

"I don't think it matters now, mate." Rock said a split second before the energy washed over them.

Bridge looked down and saw the wave washing towards him as he and Walker raced thru the ancient castle to freedom. He didn't need the armory system's sensors to know he and Walker would never escape in time.

"I suppose this is the part where I say, 'it's always been an honor to serve'." John quipped.

"Oh, shut the…"

The energy wave washed over the two men. Bridge's vision went blurry, as expected. But only a moment later, it returned, perfect as always. Bridge hesitantly depowered his boot jets and set down.

"What…just happened?" Walker asked.

"I don't know." Bridge confessed, "Give me a moment to run a deep sensor scan. Keep an eye out."

As Bridge began his scans, he also monitored the SHIELD broadcast frequency. Bridge quickly discovered the energy wave had swept over all of Latveria. And what Bridge heard on those broadcast frequencies instantly answered his questions regarding the energy wave that swept over him and Walker. Though that information only caused the knot in his stomach to swell in size.

U. N Security Council
"He stripped mined his entire country of all its technology?" The French representative asked incredulously. In the center of the table, the American representative rapped his pencil against the horseshoe shaped oak desk of the Security Council, his attention locked on the proceedings while saying nothing, for the moment.
The holographic image of Genesis quietly wondered how often he'd have to explain exactly what happened. He'd already done so at least seven times to several different and very important people, "That's correct, sir. Doom apparently installed a new failsafe measure throughout his country, likely to insure that no one would be able to benefit from his technology should he be killed or deposed. He obviously entrusted the activation of this devise to his most loyal scientists."
"And where exactly is all of Doom's technology currently?" The Chinese representative inquired.
"We're…not certain honestly. It could have been shrunk down into the microverse, shunted to the Negative Zone. We…don't know for sure. We're still looking into it." Genesis admitted.
The American representative continued tapping his pencil against the oak desk
"And what do we know for sure?" The Russian representative sneered, "Does Doom still have access to his technology?"
If it was possible for a hologram to grit his teeth, Genesis was doing it now, "As far as we have been able to tell, yes. Dr. Doom managed to carry out his campaign against the Fantastic Four without any serious problems. He no doubt possesses the ability to recall or remotely manipulate his technology."
"And under who's authority did you use the bloody Doom protocols? Those things are a one shot deal!" The United Kingdoms representative exclaimed.
"Our intelligence indicated that Doom was preparing a massive counter strike. I deemed it prudent to use them." Genesis explained.
"That's over ten billion dollars, seven years and a whole hell of a lot of work down the drain now, isn't it?" The United Kingdom's representative demanded.

"I made my decision based on a then credible report that Doom was preparing to use weapons of mass destruction against United Nations troops. I'm hard pressed to see the problem." Genesis said evenly

"The problem comrade Genesis, is that the report is, forgive pun, a forgery." The Russian representative explained.

The American representative continued tapping, a little bit louder and faster now.

"That is indeed a problem. The forgery was excellent, though." Genesis said suspiciously, "But I feel that our time is best spent discovering who sent us the false report and how, as opposed to crying over spilled milk."

"That is another matter for another time." The German representative stated, "To be honest, we feel that you have overstepped your bounds in this instance. We feel now that you should surrender authority over Excalibur to the United Nations."

"Now wait just a minute!" Genesis defended, "Though SHIELD had Excalibur forced on us, they have proven to be an invaluable tool! We've come to rely on them a great deal and SHIELD needs them now more than ever."

There was the sound of a wooden snap and of a fist slamming down on the oak table. All eyes turned towards the American representative, who stood up unbidden.

"We are simply asking you to make a sacrifice, Genesis. We have made sacrifices for you and yours." The Representative explained in a heated but hushed tone, "Seventy percent of SHIELD's operating budget comes from United States taxpayers. Ninety two percent of the wonderful technology SHIELD enjoys was created, tested and manufactured by United States contractors. And now, we must bear the burden of rebuilding a nation that was turned into a third world nation overnight. We have made sacrifices for you, now it is time you to sacrifice, for us."

The two men locked eyes for the longest of moments, but it was finally Genesis who blinked first.

"Very well. Your demands are… hardly unreasonable. As head of SHIELD, I hereby cede all operating authority over strike force Excalibur to the United Nations."

Later

As the American representative entered his office, he still felt the warm glow of victory flowing thru his veins. He sat down in his chair and pulled out a cigar, a reward he rarely allowed himself these days.

"Everything went down exactly as you said." The representative said to the man sitting in a leather chair in the corner of the office. The man was wearing the blue military uniform of a U.N commander, though his face was obscured by shadow. Not that it mattered, as both men knew the other perfectly well, "May I ask as to how you pulled it off?"

"Of course. See, a long time back, a SHIELD agent gave me a little gift for safekeeping, but I also used it to create my own little backdoor. Bet he'd be pissed as hell to know I created a backdoor into SHIELD thanks to him." The shadowed man explained

"No doubt. You've helped us more than you know. We've given the new SHIELD a black eye…"

"Pity we couldn't have informed the other members of the Security Council of our plans." The man interrupted.

"If you say so." The representative continued, "But we have also reclaimed one of our most powerful weapons."

"Do you need anymore…assistance with SHIELD, by the way? I've got a little grudge against those bastards as it so happens."

"The matter is well in hand, but I thought that was your 'clone' that had that grudge." The representative chuckled.

"Well, between you and me, he was like a brother to me. An evil brother, but brother none the less." The man smiled, "So Excalibur is all mine now?"

"Yes. Excalibur will be it's own separate department now, like the CIA and FBI. You will still have the HERMES system, about three hundred field agents and of course, the team itself. I am curious as to why you haven't decided to scrap the current team. They do have some loyalty to Wisdom and SHIELD, after all."

"The five members I'm keeping are true blue patriots. Good little soldiers." The man explained, "The new recruits I'm bringing aboard should help round out the team's powerbase."

"And no loyalty to Wisdom or SHIELD."

"Exactly."

"You've thought of everything, haven't you?"

"Of course. That is why your government and mine endorsed me for Excalibur director. Who better to keep the wolves at bay than another wolf?"

"Too true, sir, too true. But be warned, your very presence will create some powerful enemies against you."

"Oh, that's a fringe benefit, actually. But to be honest?" Joey Chapman leaned forward, allowing the light to fully illuminate his face. His pearly white teeth shined in the light, and his grin looked more like it belonged on the face of a hungry fox than that of a human being, "I wouldn't have it any other way, mate."

Next Issue: Ch-ch-ch-changes! It's the start of a whole new era as Excalibur gets a big overhaul and a new volume. It's the start of a bold new era. Who goes? Who stays? Who joins? All this, and Pete Wisdom too(hey, no one's perfect)!

Notes

David Wheatley is a damn fine writer. He's contributed a lot to Marvel 2000 and fanfiction in general. In fact, his X-Force was so incredible I took it upon myself to find it another writer for that fine title. Now, that said, I am not David Wheatley. My Excalibur will be an almost completely different creature. New tone, largely new cast and a new direction. That's not to say that I will ignore the fabulous work of Mr. Wheatley. In fact, without some of his work my Excalibur wouldn't be possible. Just that I'm not going to copy his work. Now that said, I hope you still around and join me as I explore the nasty effects of politics in general in the pages of Excalibur.