By Adrian Tullberg
The man in the office switched off the television. Twenty Four Hour coverage on the same event turned the tragic into the tedious.
He turned to the visitor, a few years younger than him – although that wasn't saying much these days.
"Pity he had to die."
"Yes. A martyr for the other side of the debate is bad for business."
The man headed to the hand-made mahogany liquor cabinet, pouring himself and his visitor a healthy belt of an excellent pedigree of scotch. "At least it'll be over."
The visitor took the drink. "More like it's just beginning, don't you think?"
"True." The man sat down in an overstuffed armchair, the visitor staying upright. "The question is; will there be a happy ending?"
"We have Registration. We have Control."
"SHIELD has control."
"And we have SHIELD. Our woman is in SHIELD."
"As Number Two."
The visitor didn't like his ideas prodded. "As per the plan. Her stepping down puts Stark as the most visible frontman of the whole thing. He'll sell it, market it. Registration is Good. Registration is Safe. Registration is fundamentally American."
"I still don't like it." The man set down his glass. "Hill knows the score. We're putting a man in charge who isn't …"
"One of the faithful?"
"Yes. Exactly." The man grew more animated. "He's one of them. He can claim to be one of the human race but he's still one of those freaks, at the very end. He chose to be one of them."
"Well, one of them is now working very hard for us."
"Don't know how you convinced him."
"Control freak. Stamford persuaded him that he had to control the superhumans or somebody else would. Simple." The visitor sipped his drink "A year or more. We get the public used to the concept of Government Run superhumans and round up the stray supers not on the books. When we've got them all – or enough, leave a few out there to justify an armed paramilitary group with unprecedented authorisation to do anything they want – we have Stark bagged and tagged under the same provisions of the SHRA that he's been enforcing. Then Hill reluctantly takes over…"
The man grinned. "And then …?"
"Iraq. Iran. Venezuela, portions of Siberia. Finally sorting out that Mutant Problem in time for the by-elections."
"Sounds good in theory …"
"Relax. Hill has it completely under control."
Dep. Director Maria Hill glanced at her watch.
Capes to the left of her, freaks to the right, and here she was, stuck in the middle with Stark.
That moronic relic was finally out of her hair, and she had to go along with Stark and go to his funeral. Fine. She wasn't going to pretend he deserved to be mourned, however.
All these heroes in one place. She made an idle mental measurement of the area they filled and the blast radius of certain bombs.
She'd placed finding Cap's shooter on the low priority list. Same as prosecuting the father who shot Speedball. Best to send the right message out.
After the stuttered statements from aging relics from World War Two, Stark was finally going to deliver his eulogy. Maybe when he finished she could persuade him to leave due to security reasons.
Stark laid his carefully prepared speech out, looking at the sea of tearful - and some downright hostile - faces.
He opened his mouth -
- and he shuddered.
Hill only noticed because she was parallel to Stark, standing facing the heroes.
In an instant she saw the blood splattering the floor of the podium behind him.
- the sniper had shot through Stark's mouth. That's why the heroes hadn't registered that Stark had been shot yet -
- how? He'd been protected by a top range force lattice, just like her -
Adamantium is the only substance in the world hard enough to maintain a monomolecular edge. A hairy little Canadian constantly proves this.
So if six adamantium blades can give that Candadian the ability to cut through anything, a bullet made of the same substance can defeat virtually any barrier or armour.
Where the heroes were all staring at Stark, still in the mental state between that's odd and something's wrong, Maria Hill found out about adamantium's properties when a second silenced round punctured her force field and cavitated directly through her brain.
He lowered the Remington M-24 into a puddle on the roof, hiding it from spotters. He'd been one of the best black ops snipers in Vietnam, and through years of practice, his aim had only improved since then.
Moving quickly and efficiently, he'd put on the sunglasses, completing his disguise as a Secret Service Agent. He would join up with the security detail of a particularly powerful and jingoistic senator who'd vocally supported Captain America until it was politically expedient not to. As per standard operating procedure, they'd whisk away their principal to a safe, far away area - and himself. Always plan your escape route in advance.
He'd talked to the Canadian. Found about Hill's covering up that businessman who'd juiced up Nitro. Other sources had confirmed Stark's conception and institution of the new Thunderbolts program.
Those two may have been good people once.
But then they chose to join the enemy.
And the enemy always had to be punished.