Book 2: Act II

Have a Hydra New Year

Chapter 3

As always you can contact me at


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As always, I do not own the rights to the numerous characters or series within.

Last Chapter: The Avengers found themselves temporarily stymied by Plant Man until Wasp saved the day. The Mansion's mystery voice had robotic fabrication equipment moved into the Avengers headquarters. Kasumi moved her non-robotic self into her new apartment and had a nice chat with Ranma, while Hydra Commander wants Mentallo to drive a certain someone over the brink.

And onward we go…


The Dos Soles Cartel was the largest in all of Southern Mexico. Like some of their Aztec ancestors, they had carved out an empire from their rivals and risen to the top, maintaining their position with their own form of blood sacrifice, though no gods were involved. They were the idols they wanted the people to worship.

Their headquarters was an estate in the middle of low hills with no one around for kilometers. They owned the nearest towns, they owned the local government, and they paid the Federales enough to ignore their excesses when they occurred.

Palatial was the word for the sprawling grounds and mansion. The interior contained the most expensive forms of entertainment money could buy. Artwork in the millions decorated the interior. The wine cellar held a collection that would have been the envy of many wineries. Most billionaires didn't have luxury like this. Then again the Dos Soles made more money than many of those. It wasn't like they were burdened by paying taxes on most of their products.

The meeting was being held in the early evening, with the sun well below the horizon. It was rare all the heads of the organization would meet in one spot, even if the small army guarding the estate made it nearly as secure as Fort Knox: no one liked presenting too tempting a target. But the situation demanded it, since the decisions made this night would determine how many more millions the Dos Soles would make. It could reach into the hundreds, and one could never make too much money.

The leadership all looked to their number one man and founder, Guillermo Del Sol, the patriarch who sat at the head of the table as was his right. The remains of dinner had been carted off, and drinks were served to the guests. Now it was time to talk business.

Guillermo opened up the dialogue, as was also his right. "We need to discuss the best way to move into Argentina fast if we want to take over the power vacuum left behind by the destruction of the Tarantula Organization."

His brother, Hector had an uneasy air about him. "I still find it weird whoever took them out didn't move in themselves. Who the hell knocks over an outfit that powerful and doesn't move in on the territory? No one's laid claim to it yet."

The concern sent a ripple of agreement through the group.

Berto, widely regarded as the most cautious, but also the one least likely to make a mistake, spoke. "I think I know who it was, and why they haven't taken credit for it."

"Who?" Guillermo asked.

"The American Government."

That caused their leader to roll his eyes. "Enough conspiracy theories, please. The United States is not responsible for every unexplained terrible event in the world."

"Maybe it was Skrulls?" Emilio, who sat next to Berto, teased. Then took a shot of bourbon he kept close at hand.

Berto responded with a sarcastic laugh. "I'm not making things up. I had enough people, reliable sources, close to both the Americans and the Tarantulas that I discovered an actual connection. They were helping the government engage in human testing of some kind of wonder drug."

"Pharmaceutical companies are involved in this?" Hector asked.

"Not those kind. These were something that, from what I gathered, were supposed to give people super powers."

"Tarantula had at least some super powered people of their own in their ranks," Emilio said, no longer taunting. "But they have been there for decades. I doubt the Americans have been supplying them with super powers for that amount of time."

"This is some new drug that has nothing to do with the people that were already in Tarantula," Berto clarified. "The name quietly thrown around in the US circles was, 'The Hispanic Peoples Empowerment Program'. It also killed everyone they experimented on, or left them hideously deformed and brain damaged."

Guillermo gave a tired sigh. "That sounds exactly like something the U.S. would come up with. A fine sounding motive for committing terrible acts." He considered the information. "This also means, if you are right, then the territory is open. The Tarantula ruled Argentina with an iron fist for centuries. No crime was allowed there without their permission, so no one is in a position there to immediately move in. We won't get it all, but if we move fast and efficiently, we can seize a reasonable chunk of their business. We—."

His phone vibrated. Guillermo saw who it was from, his head of security, and answered it. "What is the problem?"

"Tripwires sensors have gone off in every direction. I sent four teams out and none of them reported back."

"Go to full alert. Shoot anything outside the perimeter on sight." Guillermo closed the phone and turned to his men. "We're under attack, maybe a full-scale assault. We're relocating to my safe room-."

The rest was cut off as massive explosions went off all around the estate. Smaller arms could be heard in-between other sounds which were not easily identified. Screams of pain reached their ears, but they were methodically cut off, while newer ones took their place.

Everyone rose from their seats to exit the room, following Guillermo to his bunker. Then sounds of gunfire from immediately outside the room reached their ears. That was followed by what sounded like an electrical discharge, then nothing but silence. That oppressive kind no one ever wanted to hear, since primitive instincts, ones embedded in humans since the dawn of time to help keep them alive, said a predator was moving in for a kill.

Guillermo stood there silently, as did everyone else. Then the doors were shattered and a machine strode into the room. It stood eight feet tall and looked to weigh a good ton. It was humanoid, but not made to look human. It was made of blue metal, with a simple face design and white lenses for eyes. It was powerfully built, with an odd almost cowl coming from up around its back rising behind the head. A number of spikes were on its upper legs, upper arms, and knuckles.

Guillermo, rather than panicking as the others were doing, found himself remarkable calm. He noted sounds of destruction and chaos still emanated from the estate. An army of these things, then. Perhaps Berto was correct and the U.S. was up to its usual tricks. Probably the C.I.A.. They always meddled in things that had nothing to do with them and causing trouble. He had always loved selling drugs to the Americans, giving them trouble they way they did it to everyone else.

The machine opened its arms out wide and nozzles emerged from the torso. Guillermo had a single moment to make out liquid fire pouring from its chest and rake over every man in the room.

Less than five minutes after that, silence reigned over the estate. Every human was dead, and only two of the units had suffered minor damage.

They flew back to their base of operations.


Hydra Commander was pleased by the reports from the Heavy Weapons Division. Their Dreadnaughts had slightly exceeded expectations in destroying the Dos Soles Cartel's headquarters. A quick search party would give the place a once over to see if anything uniquely valuable was present. Not money or drugs, or any other standard criminal paraphernalia. He wanted something really important, like had been at the Tarantula Organization's headquarters.

He went to Imperial Hydra to personally update their leader. He contemplated summoning Madame Hydra VI, but reconsidered. Just because they were lovers didn't mean he needed her at his side all the time. He didn't want to seem dependent.

The scanners outside the Imperial Hydra's office registered he was who he appeared, and allowed him to enter. Neither bothered with the Hydra salute.

"Everything went well?" Imperial Hydra asked.

He knew damn well she was aware of every aspect of the operation; she was able to pay attention to everything in a manner he had not yet mastered, but he went along with the script she had written. It was probably meant to teach him something. "Of course. With the two most powerful cartels in Central and South American annihilated at our hands, we'll begin approaching individual criminal outfits and bringing them under our control."

Imperial Hydra spoke in a lecturing tone. "Remember, don't press them too hard. I ran the numbers and while they seem low, that percentage will serve its purpose. While the revenue will be useful, it's not necessary to our overall plans. This is more in line with giving a powerful force tribute as a show of submission. We'll call in individual favors as will prove useful, but what we really need is control over these low-tech criminal ventures. The type of commonplace criminal mentality we're dealing with acknowledges this system as the one to follow, versus the Magnificent Ten, AIM, or Zodiac types who want control over all. You'll have to eradicate them since they will never submit."

"You mean you've finally figured out what Zodiac wants?"

"That was a poor example. No one knows what they actually want," Imperial Hydra acknowledged. "They always succeed at everything at first, then seem to throw it all away on something meaningless. They created a Star Blaster capable of large-scale destruction, confounding the New Warriors three times in a row to acquire it. Then what do they do with this incredible device? They try to use it to kill everyone in New York born under the sign of Aries, then lose to the Warriors just as they were on the verge of pulling it off. All of that effort to kill a bunch of randos because they were born between March 21st and April 19th? What purpose were they striving for?"

"We'll deal with them in time." Hydra Commander assured her.

"For all I know, since you're a Sagittarius, they might have seen all this coming and been helping us behind the scenes to achieve our goals."

"Let's not give them more credit than they are due," Hydra Commander said, and brought the conversation back to the matter at hand. "What do you make of that unexpected windfall we came across when we wiped out the Tarantulas?"

"Oh, that," Imperial Hydra said dismissively. "It looks like the Americans are up to their old tricks and trying to recreate their super soldier serum."

"What's that?"

"Back during WWII they came up with some formula that made wimps into, not actual super humans, but maximized their natural human potential, genetically modifying them into physical perfection. Meaning they'd turn out like Steven Rogers III, but not have to spend their entire lives building up to it. Only the scientist who came up with it got blown away right before the human experimentation phase came up. He was the only one who knew how to make it. You know how secretive some scientists are with formulas they made that could literally change the world." She shifted to a simpering voice, "I don't want humanity to abuse my gifts. I don't want people to die because of it. Wah, wah, wah'. Pussies. Go make a new formula for Coke if you want to use your vast scientific knowledge to have a meaningless effect on humanity, and stay out of the way of visionaries who deserve to make the world a better place.

"Anyway, the government had enough clear thinkers to see the real potential and have been trying to recreate it ever since. Everyone else has tried making something similar. AIM. The Chinese. Even Japan, but they always fail. Why are you asking?"

"According to our scientific branch, the Americans might have been getting close. We might be able to perfect it with further testing. If we can synthesize it, we can make an army of perfect soldiers and be even more unstoppable."

Imperial Hydra considered the idea. "We'll want to choke point the information so no one can get their hands on it. You know how weaponry, including biologicals, work. Once you send it out in the field in massive amounts, within ten years everyone understands how it works and can start making their own. A small cadre might be a better way to go. If we can perfect it."

That was what he would count on. "We'll start grabbing people for human experimentation. Let's go with abducting the entire population of some remote location and leave it a mystery as to what happened."

That excited Imperial Hydra. "Better yet, we'll grab a town in the Northwest Territories and make it look like Wendigos knocked over the place. They'll never suspect a thing."

"They'll fall for that?"

"Hell, yeah. They're Canadians. They'll fall for anything. Someone told them curling was a sport and they believed it. Now they play shuffleboard on ice and think it's a big deal."

"I'll keep that in mind when we're ruling the world." He'd tried poutine and enjoyed it, so Canadians had some redeeming qualities in his eyes. Also, they were great for human experimentation.

At that point he realized they had segued off topic. While the super soldier serum could be a boon, it was not an important part of the next phase of the operation. "As it pertains to the consolidation, I've decided I'll personally deal with a number of these cartels so they can see who will really be calling the shots from now on. As you say, face-to-face dialogues carry more weight with these types."

"Just make sure you take along plenty of bodyguards," Imperial Hydra said in concern. "Sometimes they also think bullets take care of any and all problems. Lack of impulse control is as rampant among them as inbreeding among royalty."

"I'll bring no less than two members of our Super Villain Squad, the cream of the crop of our combat division, and I'll even take along a phalanx of Dreadnaughts if I really need to put my boots on a few throats."

Imperial Hydra chuckled. "It took us long enough to get the bugs worked out, but those Dreadnaughts were worth it in the end. I'm going to run off another series of them. We'll probably have to get some of the parts from Madame Menace, but sometimes you need to independently contract when you expand fast."

"Shall we bring her into our fold?" he asked.

"No. While she's primarily a gun runner, she's also an odd one. Too unpredictable. We'll pay her for her services."

"I'll decide which groups I'll talk with. There's one in particular close at hand I want to contact first." There was one last thing to bring up, as he had planned from the start. "While the Dreadnaughts have worked out well so far, I want to see what they are really capable of."


"Something nasty, or so I hope." And once again he radiated that raw hatred that made even Imperial Hydra cautious when he was in that mood.


The first of Hydra Commander's face-to-face meetings with a criminal organization took place in an office building, as many business ventures did when teleconferences wouldn't do. On this occasion he was flanked by Letha and Titania, his bodyguards for the evening. Gaudily dressed super villains carried more weight in matters like this than large men in standard Hydra uniforms. Shows of power often kept the unruly and unwise in line.

The building was supposed to be neutral ground, but was in truth owned by Hydra through a couple of shell companies. Because when you ran a terrorist organization, you didn't mind rigging the game in your favor. Besides, if it was good enough for governments, then it was good enough for him. It was one of the few things Hydra had no intention of changing once they took over.

But there had been no need to tilt the playing field to their advantage this time. Mantis' organization was the operation he was bringing under Hydra's influence. As the largest foreign crime lord operating in Japan, a cut of her money and the connections she had, would be a boon to Hydra.

She hadn't appeared personally, but sent an emissary in her stead. That was no surprise since Rokuro 'Rock' Okajima, better known as the Arranger, nearly always represented her in any business matter. Hydra Commander felt no insult since the man's reputation preceded him. His negotiating skills were regarded as par excellence in their field. Perhaps he would even insist Mantis loan him out when tricky dealings were on the horizon and Hydra Commander would prefer to avoid the brute force approach.

Or maybe not. In this case Arranger was displaying none of his much-vaunted skill, and going along with every demand. While Hydra Commander had already decided he would cede no major points of any agreement –he would be in charge and everyone would serve him—they had left potential concessions in place so it felt more like a negotiation rather than the ultimatum it truly was. An outright 'No' carried fatal consequences, as Jigsaw and his gang discovered when the scar-faced criminal insisted they should only give three quarters of what everyone else was yielding to Hydra. He had overestimated his bargaining position quite badly, and thus everyone gave only their lives to Hydra, serving as yet another example as the Tarantula Organization and Dos Soles had for everyone else.

There appeared to be no danger of that with Mantis. Since there was no debate on Hydra's points, it meant one of three things. Either Arranger was incompetent, Mantis was utterly terrified of his organization, or they were waiting for the right moment to hit Hydra up for a concession.

It proved to be the final option.

Arranger said, "There is one thing we need on your part in exchange for the agreement. We'll need you to break Silver Samurai out of prison."

Him? So Mantis was the one pulling Silver Samurai's strings all this time. He had come across as a pompous windbag and it made sense that someone of Mantis' intelligence was using him for her own ends. But that knowledge was of no consequence now. The task would be simple enough. Hydra could use its resources to arrange a transfer of Kunou from one prison to another, then hit the transport en route. Much like Silver Samurai had tried to do with Sunfire. Knocking over a transport was much easier than staging a prison breakout. Low profiles and everything.

"Done." And with that the agreement was reached. Another crime lord would be paying tribute in the form of a percentage of their take into Hydra's coffers.

All according to plan.


As Hydra Commander left the room where his more standard bodyguards waited, Titania remained behind, which caused Letha to do the same, wondering what was going on with her partner.

Titania said to Arranger, "You look like a Japanese salaryman."

He chuckled. It was a touch sardonic. "I was a lifetime ago. This is more honest work for more money."

"How about we go out for drinks? I want to test the reputation you guys have of being able to drink anyone under the table."

Letha grabbed Titania by the elbow, took her far enough away out of easy earshot, and said in a low voice, "The boss will not like it if you clothesline the guy he just made a deal with if he inappropriately hits on you."

Titania's eyebrows shot up. "I am an attractive and fit woman. Why would it be inappropriate if he hits on me?"

Oh, so that was what this was about. She told Titania to remain there and walked over to Arranger and moved him farther away from her teammate. She whispered in an even lower voice. "My partner is inviting you out because she wants to have sex with you. If you're not interested, I'll run interference while you escape." Because while the older woman would nail annoying drunks with the Izakaya Bomber when she didn't want them hitting on her, at times she would also use it when guys she hit on didn't respond to her advances. If that happened Hydra Commander would not be amused, and Letha didn't want to break in a new partner.

Letha's declaration should have been a warning flare for most men to head for the hills, but instead Rock chuckled. "She reminds me of an old partner of mine and, I can't believe I'm saying this, I miss her." He turned to Titania. "I've always wondered if my liver can hold its own against a real live super villain. You're on. And let me warn you, I've drank until the sun came up on more than one occasion."

Letha noted the look on Titania's face indicated drinking was not what they would be doing when that time arrived. And as a side benefit of this little outing, she'd be less bitchy once she got laid. When you were partnered with someone for years, you picked up on their behavior patterns like 'three weeks without sex? Folks better not breathe wrong, or they'll get a full nelson locked on.'


Kasumi walked up the stairs to her third story apartment. Once again Avengers' monitor duty had been a bust and no real villains had shown up. It had been that way since the Plant Man incident. She was even taking over both Daredevil and Hawkeye's shifts in the hopes something would happen. There *had* been a couple of close calls, so to speak. Major Firepower made some waves, but Captain Ultra was on the scene and beat him down just as the call reached the Avengers. Stilt Man, as laughable as they came, was enough to bring Wasp out to fight him, but the newly formed Titanic Duo: Patriotic Man and Strong Guy, had defeated him by the time she arrived. And getting hit on by Roy Mustang was not what she considered fun. Why, even Acrobat had been apprehended by the police while she was mid-flight to his location, and she'd been forced to turn the quinjet around.

She really wanted to blast someone in the face. Maybe she should have done it to Roy. He was a bit pervy….

As Kasumi arrived on her floor, she saw boxes in the hallway being moved into her next-door neighbor's apartment. A young man roughly her age, stood outside.

She went up to him. "What's going on?"

He bowed in greeting. "I'm your new neighbor, Yosuke Asuga."

"That's… an unusual name you have."

"What can I say? My parents loved their buggies."

Wait, did that make any actual sense? "What happened to Mr. Hatta?"

"From what I was told, he won a lottery and moved to a nicer place to be closer to his daughter."

The older fellow had mentioned his daughter a lot. It reminded her of how her own father spoke of her and her sisters. "How nice for him. I'm your next-door neighbor, Kasumi Tendou."

"Pleased to meet you." He smiled, his eyes closing and brow furrowing for a moment. The he made a strangled noise and looked at her in terror.

"What's wrong?" She moved toward him in concern.

"Constipation," he said, creeping backward toward his apartment while his eyes never left her. "Happens from time to time. Medical condition and everything. It's nice to meet you." He darted into the apartment and shut the door.

Great, now she had an oddball neighbor. If she had a few more, she could make an American comedy series about it. She'd made sure the last episode had a better ending, though.


Kyosuke Kasuga slumped against the door, regaining his composure. Did Hydra Commander know he had just assigned Mentallo to try and drive Wasp over the edge? Probably, but couldn't his boss have at least warned him about it? No one liked meeting the Avenger who unexpectedly blasted you in the face and threw you in jail.

Calming down, he considered the situation and realized if he pulled off the mission, he'd get a form of revenge on the woman who had ruined his plan for revenge on the world. That made him a bit more eager to see this assignment fulfilled. At least there was one other nice thing about the quick scan he made that took a load off his mind.

She was hetero. No need to worry about girlfriends of hers coming over and the two of them making noises he really didn't want to hear through the not very thick walls he had adjoining hers. That might have sent *him* over the edge.

And when telepaths went nuts, everyone got to enjoy the insanity whether they wanted to or not.


Hydra Commander summoned a quartet of his troops to his office. The four, dressed in standard Hydra attire, appeared on time and gave the Hydra salute, which he returned.

"Greetings, gentlemen. I have an assignment for you. The most important one of your careers."

They all smiled broadly. In times past caution may have been warranted when the head of Hydra talked about 'important missions', since they sometimes meant suicidal ones, though always 'for the glory of Hydra'. But Hydra Commander led like someone who cared about his troops and wouldn't mislead you.

One of them said, "We're ready, Sir."

"Excellent." Delight flowed through the leader's voice. He pointed to a nearby table where four neatly folded outfits sat. "Each of you pick up one of those uniforms from the table."

Each man did so, noting the outfits looked nothing like Hydra gear, but were brightly colored, each with a different animal motif.

Another man spoke. "Oh my gosh! We're going to be part of the Super Villain Squad!" They looked like they would hug each other in joy. Super Villain Squad was considered the big leagues when it came to Hydra, as opposed to Sceptic Systems Personnel, which was considered as bottom tier as it got.

"Not exactly."

Slowly that joy died a quiet death.

"If these aren't super villain outfits, what are they for?"

"They are super villain outfits," Hydra Commander corrected. "Each of you will be given a code name to go with the outfit you select."

More confusion reigned. "If we're going to be super villains, why aren't we going to be part of the Squad?"

"Because this is a one off."

And suddenly that 'suicidal mission' flag went up. All of them men became morosely depressed.

Hydra Commander picked up on the mood. He knew how to read a room when it came to his men. "I'm not sending you off to a die, barring you ending up in a car wreck or something of that nature. So make sure you wear your safety belts, men."

That small sign of caring put them back on the 'he's a good leader' track.

"What I need is for you to use them only on this mission. You're sort of bait, but you won't be at any personal risk." And he explained what he required of them.


Captain Japan sat on monitor duty at Avenger's Mansion. Wasp had volunteered to take his shift, but he refused. For one thing, she was there so often since taking over both Daredevil and Hawkeye's shifts if she handled one more she might as well move in to the mansion itself. For another, he wanted the excitement of being the first to hear about a super villain that needed to be put down by Japan's greatest hero. And his friends if they were needed.

But so far today had been one of those slow days where there wasn't even a false alarm. Boredom was his greatest foe. He actually found himself nodding off in the chair in the room. When he roused himself to full wakefulness, he considered going into the combat room with a 'vs. Power Man' routine. There were lots of strong guys in the business they came up against, and it never hurt to hone the combat skills on exploiting their weaknesses.

He was about to go down and run the program when Sasuke hurried into the room waving a disc around. "Master Japan! Master Japan!"

An exasperated sigh escaped his lips. "Would you just call me Cap?"

"Right. My apologies, Master Cap. I just received a package from a personal courier that is addressed to the Avengers. It looks important."

Captain Japan accepted the disc and fed it into a computer. He wasn't worried about viruses since the system was developed by Kunou Enterprises and Kodachi herself assured them no virus could be uploaded into the system since its protection was that great.

She had designed it herself after all.

A moment later four faces were on a screen. One was a guy dressed in an elephant outfit, one looked like a cat, one like a pig, and… he had no idea what that last one was supposed to be. Camel, maybe.

The elephant garbed one spoke. "I am Power Pachyderm."

"I am Cat-astrophe."

"Hog Heaven here."

"And your ever faithful Leaping Llama."

As one they chanted, "We are the Ani-Pack."

"A Llama? A goddamn Llama?" Captain Japan decided to not turn it off at that point only because he had been that bored.

Power Pachyderm acted as spokesman. Perhaps he was the leader. Lame-asses usually had a head moron. "We are challenging you Avengers to a fight at our underground base." He gave out the address and how to activate the secret entrance. "We will show the world your weakness by stampeding you on our way to victory!"

Each began making noises that were associated with their respective animal. Actually, Captain Japan had no idea if the llama sounds were accurate since he had never heard one, but the hideous cacophony made it irrelevant.

The video ended at that point. He resisted the urge to put a chair through the screen.

Now came decision making time, which was the main reason an Avenger was nearly always at the mansion. Informing the police when idiots issued challenges was always an option, but there were four of them, and if they did have some sort of super powers that might give the cops trouble.

Running solo and taking them down was also a common choice against idiots in spandex. While he had no doubt he could defeat them in about four minutes -assuming they had super powers it shouldn't take more than a minute for each- there was an issue with that. Taking them down alone meant they'd be regarded as 'his' villains. He didn't want a rogue's gallery made of absurdities like Daredevil.

So that meant making an offer for other Avengers to take them on with him. He'd make sure they knew it wasn't an emergency, but since there were four of them some additional eyes on the scene could be called for.

He hit the communications button.


To Captain Japan's surprise, not only Wasp answered the summons (she'd go after purse snatchers if that was all there was to offer), but Tigra, Iron Rose, and Hawkeye had joined in on crashing the New Zoo Revue rejects.

Maybe Tigra wasn't a surprise either. She usually answered any call to battle if he was involved. The cat girl had it for him bad, though she was playing a good kitty today and only shot him a couple of dazzling smiles and maybe one suggestive shake of her bottom. It also might not have been a come on since she moved like that a lot. At first he'd found her flirting a bit trying, but over time he not only accepted it, but sort of liked it. In very limited doses.

Then again, he was slowly coming around to the idea women were more interesting than they used to be. Not like he was a Hiroshi or Daisuke, but he had been on an official date with Nabiki, and it hadn't been the confusing mess he thought dating would be. He also was pretty sure they weren't going out on another, but he could see how the idea of dating was a pretty good one. In some ways it not working out with Nabiki made him relax about the idea. Dating didn't have to be about targeting a soul mate or something. It could be just having fun at the moment with someone you liked, and dealing with what happened next as it came along.

Not that he was asking his feline companion out, just that her attention wasn't something he rolled his eyes about like at first. It even made him feel pretty nice, when he thought about it. And he sure didn't have anything against a buxom cat girl in a bikini.

He decided that line of thought was consuming too many of them and turned his attention toward something else that had been bothering him. He asked Hawkeye, "So where's old Hornhead? He usually tags along with you."

"We are not joined at the hip in all things," she said a bit testily. "I asked if he wanted to come along. He said he didn't want to add an entire team of losers to the losers he already deals with. I understand."

There was a touch of irritation in her voice, though. While she understood, she also wasn't happy about it. And Ranma was smart enough to know he wasn't handing out relationship advice to anyone, especially a friend. Except maybe Ryouga, but only if he asked, since the guy could be clueless when it came to women. Except he'd landed a super model girlfriend somehow. But despite that accomplishment he was still clueless.

Clueless guy lands a super model? Had that ever happened before? In some ways it was more unbelievable than a gamma bomb turning you occasionally into an emerald mass of muscle, instead of vaporizing you like it was designed to do.

Well, this was the line of work he had chosen. That was sort of par for the course.

The warehouse location they had been sent to looked empty, but not abandoned. There wasn't broken glass or graffiti or the look of homeless camping out in the bare rooms. They went to the back where a large freight elevator resided and entered it. They hit a sequence of buttons which should have sent them nowhere, especially since there should have been no power, but instead the elevator powered up and sent them downward.

Too far downward for a simple warehouse.

Finally it stopped and opened up into a large hallway that was dimly lit. The material was simple concrete, but painted tastefully and in great condition. There were several doorways they looked into, and while the rooms were empty, they had clearly been functional at one time. It had a very utilitarian design to it.

As they walked through what was revealing itself to be a large lair, Iron Rose spoke. "When our adversaries said they had a secret underground base, I expected a normal basement to a warehouse with broken crates and rusty metal pipes sticking out. Rats and refuse littering everything."

Captain Japan said, "I was thinking a basement in an actual house one of the clowns inherited from a family member or something."

"But this is an actual hidden underground base someone built," Iron Rose assessed. "It's practical and constructed out of sound materials. The layout makes sense. Morons shouldn't have anything to do with this, and certainly couldn't afford it. This was a very costly project by someone with access to vast sums of money who knew what they were doing."

Tigra entered the conversation. "Am picking up a handful of scents, but all recent. Place had no one here for long time, then visitors. Not many, and not stay for long."

Hawkeye had an arrow nocked in her bow, observing. Wasp continued looking for foes.

They entered a large area that might have been for vehicles, given its layout, size and the still lingering scent of motor oil and lubricant that clung to the air. There was one crate in the middle the room with the lid slightly ajar and a crowbar resting against it. The only word on it was in English and said, "Fragile."

"Is lamp for sure," Tigra quipped.

Hawkeye laughed hard at the joke, then noticed everyone but Tigra staring at her. "It's from the American movie about Christmas. The father thinks the crate is from Italy since he mispronounces 'fragile' and all it has is a lamp that looks like a sexy leg inside?"

The others kept staring at her.

"Did none of you have Dads that showed you movies at Christmas?"

"My father wasn't much of a movie person," Wasp admitted.

"Mine ignored me," Iron Rose said sullenly.

"Mine beat me," Captain Japan said. "I mean it was training, but yeah, got punched and kicked around a lot. So it wasn't really 'season's greetings' so much as 'season's beatings' when it came to Christmas. Also no movies."

"Damn. I was the one with the most normal upbringing?" Which was a real eye opener for her. "Let's see if those twits saw the movie, too." She removed the lid the rest of the way.

Which triggered the flash bomb hidden inside, blinding everyone. Even Iron Rose's armor hadn't clamped the eyes shut and blacked them out to protect her from the flash.

As the bomb went off, the sextet of Dreadnaughts, who were incapable of being blinded by light thanks to their construction, went into action. While Hydra Commander had wanted to deploy more, given the layout of the place it was likely if the number exceeded six, the Avengers would have spotted one, causing the ambush to fail. Surprise was vital to the operation for it to have any chance of success.

The robots were linked and formulated a battle strategy on the fly. Three teamed up against what they determined to be the most dangerous opponent: Iron Rose. They opened their mouths and freezing beams shot out from nozzles and coated her in a quick layer of ice to momentarily immobilize her. With her vision returning she understood the nature of the assault, one she had experienced in the past and developed a counter for by using her thermocouple to heat up the exterior of her armor. The ice had started to melt but the trio of giant robots were upon her, pummeling her from every direction and leaving her too beaten to come up with any kind of defensive posture.

A fourth emerged from the darkness it had been hidden in and confronted Captain Japan. With spots still dancing before his eyes he only saw a large metallic blur before him. He heard a click and instinctively brought his shield up. It was just in time as continuous flames poured out of nozzles that had been previously concealed in the chest behind metal plates. Crouched entirely behind the shield, his body didn't burn as the flames danced all around. The problem was since it was a continuous attack there was no break for him to move. The instant his shield shifted for even a fraction of a second he'd burn. The other more long term problem was despite the flames not touching him, the heat couldn't be stopped. And it wasn't just hot: it was super-hot. Even with his superior endurance he was not immune to heatstroke, which he was risking as the attack continued.

Despite being closest to the bomb, the way Hawkeye had moved the crate top had shielded her from the majority of the glare. Thus she saw the giant robot emerge from its hiding place and confront her. Fingers went for what would have been the perfect arrow against a robot, but she hesitated. What if it was only really big power armor? If there was a human inside it, the attack might kill them. She shouted, "Can anyone tell if it's robots or armor we're dealing with?"

Her foe raised a hand and an energy blast shot forth from the fingers, forcing her to dodge. As she rolled to her feet, she picked a different arrow and aimed for the knee. The explosive tip struck, causing it to buckle, but only slightly. Her much larger opponent fired again, forcing her to move once more.

Tigra's eyes had been affected more than the others due to her enhanced senses, but thanks to her regeneration they also recovered faster than anyone other than Hawkeye. And fortunate it was as her own foe raised a hand, in the form of a fist, toward her. Rather than throwing a punch, the spikes on the knuckles shot at her, and she was forced to use her inhuman agility to keep from being punctured. She saw the slender metal projectiles go past and embed themselves rather deeply into the concrete wall. Those would have gone through her without slowing down. She reckoned they'd even make Hulk yelp if they hit him that hard. He'd probably call them stings, but for her they would be exit wounds, and she didn't want to find out if her regenerative system had a limit to the number of holes that could be simultaneously healed. Also, having metal spikes driven clean through her body hurt a lot.

The other arm was raised and its spikes came at her, missing by mere centimeters and having the same effect the others had to another wall. To her annoyance the first fist had more spikes reload into their housings and they were fired at her again.

It was time to make like a cat on a hot tin roof and dance for her life.

Wasp had been blinded the worst of the lot. Reflexively she flew in a direction which shielded her from the Dreadnaughts' sensors, which was why they had gone after everyone but her. Once her vision recovered and she saw the situations the others were in, and that they were all in varying degrees of danger, she felt not anger at being overlooked, but relief. She had to save her friends and was being given the chance to do so.

Assessing the situation, she felt Captain Japan was in the worst danger, understanding the issue the heat would produce. She considered simply blasting what she thought was a robot in the face, but didn't like the idea of it enduring the blast and turning those very hot, wide, flame throwers on her. She was nimble, but the flames would encompass a lot of area, and she wouldn't look all that great char broiled to crispy perfection.

So instead Wasp looked for a weak point, but since she wasn't into tech the way Iron Rose was, it looked like, well like armor would appear. It wasn't as though there was a clearly marked exhaust port with the words, 'will cause device to blow up'. As she flew directly over what she was becoming convinced was a robot, she felt a gust of intense heat wash over her. The first thought she had was that it had noted her presence and launched an attack without looking, but the heat didn't increase. She determined the source was located between the metal man's head and that high curious collar emerging from its shoulders.

As she flew down and between the two, the heat increased and she saw a vent in the back of the neck, something no one larger than her would notice. While she might not have been tech savvy, she knew you didn't put vents in things like this unless they served a necessary function. Also, vents were more lightly armored than everything around them.

Fully convinced what she faced as a robot, she took aim and unleashed her most powerful blast into the vent. The metal buckled, some of the energy went into the machine, and a loud electronic, "Squark!" came from its mouth as the flames died off.

With the cessation of the attack, Captain Japan, thoroughly drenched in sweat and as dehydrated as he could remember, looked above his shield at the reeling robot. Not wanting to undergo a near fatal sauna a second time, he rushed forward and brought the edge of his shield into the nozzles, shattering them into inoperable pieces of metal.

A second attack proved unnecessary as an energy blast went through the top of its head, blowing most of the contents within outward as well. The effect was probably similar to a human having a shotgun jammed in their mouth and the trigger pulled. The Dreadnaught fell over, producing the same deafening crash one ton of metal hitting the floor would make.

Wasp flew out of the hole in its cranium. "Definitely robot!" she shouted.

Hawkeye heard and pulled out an arrow. Her skill was so great she timed the shaft to hit the right-hand in-between energy discharges, which it did. The adhesive had the desired effect of jamming up the barrels and causing the next energy blast to blow the entire hand completely off.

The damage caused the Dreadnaught to pause, which was the final nail it its assembly line coffin as an acid arrow hit it in the face, melting all of its surface sensors and rendering it deaf dumb and blind. Before the backups in its shoulders could go online an explosive arrow detonated in its now exposed head, blowing it completely off. It made the same sound the last one hitting the ground did.

Tigra's continuous dodging had not been without design. She had gotten close enough that the Dreadnaught switched from ranged attacks to a close one by trying to punch her. She was low to the ground and darted between his legs, leaving him to punch the floor, shattering it and sending rocky shards to bounce of its metallic hide.

Now behind him, Tigra opted for a brute force approach. While the robot weighed a ton, that was a weight she could easily lift. She grabbed him from behind, by the waist, lifted him up above her head then threw him at one of the trio still attacking Iron Rose and keeping her on the defensive. The robot bowled one of the others over and both went skidding across the floor's surface several meters away.

That was the opening Iron Rose needed. A full powered fist thrown into the midsection of one of her remaining pair of attackers sent it flying even farther away than the one Tigra had tossed. The remaining robot tried to continue beating her, but she grabbed both its arms and held them apart. Her superior strength meant she could keep him in that position as long as she desired. He activated his mouth ice beam unit, but Iron Rose released a maximized chest laser beam directly into his own torso, which was only centimeters away. The power level was sufficient to go clean through him, then go back and forth to cut him in half. She tossed the bisected machine in her hands away in disgust, annoyed that inferior technology as this had damaged her own.

The robot Iron Rose punched away recovered and switched tactics, striking her with an energy blast from one hand and knuckle spikes from the other. She shielded her face and endured the attack, prepared to unleash a repulsor blast when it jerked as though some unseen assailant had struck it. A second later its face blew off, shooting across the room and landing with a clang a good seven meters away. Wasp stood in the faceless housing of the ruined robot, which remained standing, unlike its previously destroyed contemporaries.

"This is fun!" she shouted.

One of the remaining two robots returned to its feet, only to have an adamantium alloy arrow go clean through its head. Like Wasp's attacks from before, damage to critical systems occurred and its movements became jerky.

Tigra had bounded over to her foe once again, grabbing a metal ankle before it could rise to its feet. She then swung him into Hawkeye's brain pierced robot a second time, keeping them both on the ground for another few moments. To her annoyance there was little outward evidence of damage from her attack. They appeared quite resilient, at least from the outside.

Iron Rose snapped, "Stand clear!"

Tigra leapt a good distance aside. Once out of the line of fire, Iron Rose unleashed her Deathblossom attack, pulverizing both remaining units into scrap. She went to her knees from the power drain.

The rest of the Avengers formed a circle around her, ready for a second wave of attackers to appear out of the shadows, robotic or decked out in animal gear, but no one emerged. After several minutes, and Iron Rose recovering about 20% of her armor's power supply, they felt it safe to say another attack was not forthcoming.

"That was disturbing," Captain Japan eyes still warily examined every shadow for a possible attacker.

"Clearly an ambush," Tigra seconded.

"It's worse than that," Iron Rose informed them. "This attack was specifically tailored to exploit a weakness in our mentality: our dislike of dealing with costumed imbeciles. Those four deliberately made themselves seem stupid, from their costumes to their speech patterns. We dropped our guard and walked right into their trap. They presented themselves as the perfect bait."

"So why didn't they follow up with an attack of their own?" Wasp asked.

"My guess is they don't have powers," Captain Japan said. "None of them showed any. Also they could have helped the robots jump us. It would have been their best chance of success. I mean we still have to check the place from top to bottom just in case they are lying in wait or they have more robots to try and take us down, but I'm betting they were never here except to drop off the robots."

"Do you think the same guy that hired the Espionage Elite hired them to knock us off?" Hawkeye asked.

"It has been quite a while since that effort, but perhaps. I can say unequivocally those robots are expensive, well-designed, and like nothing on the open market. I'll take some of the remains with me to examine and see if I can determine their origins," Iron Rose said. Trying to discover who actually owned the building might produce a clue, but she doubted it. Burying ownership in false paper trails and legalese was easier than one thought.

"I'm worried about who knows us well enough to figure out what we'd do in this situation, and take advantage of that," Captain Japan said.

The others became more wary from that than the idea of someone wanting them dead.


Kingpin was meeting Don Fortunato under a flag of truce. Normally it would take place on some neutral site, and Kingpin would have to pay very close attention since, unlike him, not everyone would stand by a truce when offered.

Some criminals were so uncivilized.

Fortunato was old school enough Kingpin felt the odds would have been fine he'd abide by it, though he had rebelled against his fellow Maggia and was somehow holding his own. But that stalemate couldn't last, so Kingpin wagered the man was looking for allies other than his secret benefactor who had been aiding him enough to maintain that stalemate. Not that Kingpin was foolish enough to sign on. Even with their forces combined, there was no way to overcome Nefaria and his ilk. But who knew what he could gain in such a meeting?

Surprisingly, Fortunato agreed to meet Kingpin at his headquarters and with no bodyguards. An intriguing show of trust that would gain him nothing.

So now Fortunato sat across from Kingpin at the massive table that could seat twenty. It wasn't so much he liked big tables, but he had a large criminal empire to run and sometimes he needed many people present all at once. But today it was just him and his fellow crime lord seated so they could look directly at one another.

Don Vincente Fortunato was an old man, probably in his seventies and outwardly frail. Almost no hair, spindly. He was missing his right eye and wore a simple white eyepatch over the wound. He looked like anybody's grandfather, though only if the octogenarian was as ruthless as they came. It wouldn't take someone of Kingpin's strength to snap his neck like it was a twig: anyone could have done it.

But he was safe today, and he knew it.

Pleasantries had already been exchanged. It was time to get down to business. "What is it you wanted, Vincente?"

Fortunato smiled. "It's not what I want, Wilson. Today I am an emissary for other forces in this world."

It was then Kingpin's head of security, John Bozeman -the only other person in the room—had his phone go off. He was professional enough that it had to be a security issue and not some mistress complaining about his absence. Kingpin waited until Bozeman had enough information to report to him.

"There are five very large trucks with rigs that are surrounding the building. All of them have the same logo-." He was cut off by excited chatter even Kingpin could hear at that distance. "Large robot-looking things are coming out of them."

"Dreadnaughts. Twenty-five of them." Don Fortunato supplied. "And they aren't mine. They are the leader's version of a praetorian guard. He's not quite as trusting as myself when it comes to matters such as these. Yes, they are capable of reducing this building to rubble. They've done good jobs of it in Argentina and Mexico. I've seen the footage myself. But he's here to talk, not destroy."

Kingpin's mind put two and two together quickly enough. So this benefactor had already eliminated two major crime cartels and was flaunting the ability to do so again. An interesting show of strength.

Then the twin doors to the room opened. The guards outside would never have simply allowed anyone inside without at least alerting Kingpin. His first thought was someone had killed them silently, but a glance showed both men standing there as if everything was normal.

It was a trio who entered with the gait of people moving through their own building instead of it belonging to Kingpin. The obvious leader was dressed in what the crime lord recognized as Hydra style garb, though more militaristic than usual. He was armed with a gun at his hip, but what really drew attention was the mirrored faceplate which hid all of his features.

Next was an athletic woman of Asian descent. Japanese by his reckoning. A skin tight green outfit that revealed a great deal of alluring flesh, undoubtedly meant to draw men's eyes while she drew the sheathed sword on her back to eviscerate them while they reflexively admired her body. If that didn't work, that high tech side arm in her holster would probably do so instead. The way her eyes scanned the room and she hovered near the leader declared her a bodyguard. He owned enough of those to recognize the type.

The third was in a baggy red jumpsuit with a helmet and a visor over his eyes. It screamed out 'I'm a super villain.' This was confirmed with Bozeman went for his own shoulder holstered gun. His fingers had barely graced the butt when the man in red said, "Kingpin is expecting us." His head of security went from attack mode to relaxed and normal. Telepathy of some kind. That was probably how he made it past the guards without killing them. Removals for betrayal or incompetence wouldn't be necessary after all.

Kingpin disliked telepaths. A couple had tried to influence him in the past, but his willpower was great enough to resist their abilities. He had killed both for their temerity. The blaster cane he had at his side had dealt with the last one, and he wondered if it would see use again before this meeting was over.

The newcomer maneuvered behind Fortunato, a position of power over the man. The other two remained at his side.

Fortunato said, "Allow me to introduce the party who desired this parlay: Hydra Commander, the new leader of Hydra."

Hydra Commander took over at that point, his tone and posture were aggressive for what was supposed to be a simple meeting. "Let's cut to the chase. Hydra is in the process of taking control of the world. This phase of the operation involves consolidation of criminal cartels under our umbrella. We'll get a small percentage of your profits and whenever we require some task within your capabilities you will perform it. In exchange you'll be working for us, and won't be destroyed like everyone else that refuses, which we are in the process of doing even as we speak."

Kingpin remained silent for what he deemed the appropriate amount of time, then spoke. "I am the Kingpin of Crime. All of New York is under my control, and nothing happens in my domain without my permission. I am not in the habit of working for others. They work for me."

Hydra Commander stiffened ever so slightly one would have to be used to reading body language to notice the shift. And if they were very good at it, they would realize his very aura had changed, in the way a nuclear submarine had just been issued a red alert to start launching their ICBMs. "Listen up, Fat Man."

Mentallo actually jerked, while Madame Hydra and Don Fortunato shifted ever so slightly. In Madame Hydra's case she had just gone into her full combat readiness. Kingpin had seen it in his best agents often enough. He didn't want to find out if that blaster of hers could put a hole through him before his cane did the same to her.

Hydra Commander continued. "You are one crime lord among dozens in a single city. The largest, but only one. That is all you have ever been. We are fucking Hydra! We encompass the world and have our fangs into everything. Everyone has tried to kill us for decades and, despite their efforts, we are stronger than ever. We've killed so many people if you were to stack their bodies on top of one another, it would touch the sky. We annihilated our greatest enemy's most powerful weapon before the eyes of the world and they did nothing. I destroyed the Tarantula Organization as a show of force, and wiped out the Dos Soles because it was Thursday. I could have every person in this building dead within the hour, everyone else in your organization killed by the end of the week, have this building razed to the ground, and see to it everything is blamed on who we want to eliminate next.

"The only reason you're not already dead and the reins of power handed to Fortunato, who has proven his loyalty to us, is because we both know when there is a transition of power, there's always chaos for some time to follow. Everyone will be trying to grab everything not bolted down before the situation settles itself and that's not what we're going for this time. We want things to be peaceful and business to go on as usual. We're going to be running the show, changing the world into our image, but not burning it to the ground to accomplish it. Progress will come. Changes will be made. You can go along with them, or be buried under them. Which is it going to be?"

And Kingpin realized there was where he gave the answer that would decide everything. He'd built his empire using the bodies of his rivals as its foundation, stayed there because of the same. He was ruthless in every way and always did what he needed to stay on top, which he wouldn't be when someone else was in charge. He loved control as much as he loved power. He was the quiet passionate type, the inverse of Hydra Commander. A decision on what could very well be the course the rest of his life would take would rely on a single response.

It was no choice at all.

"Let's change the world."

Still the pall hung about the man. "No. We'll be changing the world: you'll be along for the ride. Our people will be in contact with you if we need anything. We'll give you a month to get your affairs in order before we start taking our percentage. If you encounter problems let us know who is doing it. If they are already on our list, we'll take care of them. If you have plans for expansion, share them with us. We have politicians that might grease the wheels. Like I said, we want business to go on as usual."

And with that the trio of Hydra personnel exited the room, leaving only Kingpin and Fortunato behind.

Fortunato spoke first. "He's usually not that… brusque."

"So I gathered by yours and the others' reactions." Kingpin's voice was dead neutral, hinting at no emotional state whatsoever.

Sensing Kingpin wasn't about to lunge across the table and break him in two, mostly because Hydra Commander would absolutely follow through on his threat, Fortunato continued on in a casual tone. "I'm surprised you gave in so quickly."

Kingpin gave a single chuckle. "You rebelled against the rest of the Maggia when you sided with them because you're convinced they'll win. When people normally talk about ruling the world, they are nearly always absurd popinjays who have no idea of what they are getting into. All bluff and bluster while believing the world will genuflect before them because they wish it. But him, there's real potential there. It'll be a long course, but he's going about it the right way. Hydra has gone in a completely different direction since the Death Spore Bomb fiasco: they learned. I continue to do so as well. Thus it has come to this moment at this time. And you're disappointed at my choice."

"I've been promised control of the entire Maggia, but that will take time. Ruling New York in your stead in the meantime would have been fun. Alas." Fortunato shrugged helplessly.

And with that the former Maggia crime head departed as well, leaving Kingpin alone in the room. He wasn't upset like he thought he would be at giving up independence. Perhaps because Hydra was not ruling the world yet, and had a long way to go before accomplishing it. Much could happen between now and then. Many others with great power would contest them over it. He could be a free man again without lifting a finger. And if they did succeed, well he was in good with the new power structure, wasn't he?

Kingpin might have run all of crime, but Wilson Fisk knew how to conduct business, and this was a business deal. The stakes might be the highest the world had ever seen, but still a deal. Nothing more, nothing less.


Hydra Commander flew back to Japan on the 'Death Fortress' jet craft, the most advanced in Hydra's arsenal. Since it was also his personal craft it had all the amenities one could want, including a bed where he and Madame Hydra had joined the mile high club in celebration of yet another successful effort in their plans. While technically he could have had multiple lovers, he was satisfied with one woman who was both inventive in bed, and exactly who she appeared to be.

Meaning sadistic with a touch of psychopathy. Also she introduced him to the 'Diagonal Octopus' position, which made her worth her weight in gold as far as he was concerned.

He knew he was feeling good about himself when he was able to go three rounds with the energetic woman, and he knew enough about the human body that she hadn't been faking anything. The right woman helped you feel confident enough to take on the world, which wasn't just a saying in this case: it was what he was in the process of doing.

They were in the middle of basking in the afterglow when a priority call came in. He received the news with stoic resolve. So much for post coital bliss, but he knew this outcome was distinctly possible from the beginning, which was why he already had a backup plan laid out in his head.

He informed Madame Hydra of the Avengers survival. All of them.

"Never send a robot to do a woman's job," she said.

He patted her bottom affectionately. "I know your capabilities. I know theirs. I'd only send you if we had no other options. We still have numerous ones. Besides, I need someone at my side who I'm confident won't be sticking a knife in it when I'm not paying attention."

She clapped her hands in delight. "That's practically a declaration of love in this line of work. And I don't care if you believe me or not: you're only the third man I've met I wouldn't kill for any reason- other than self-defense. Lines in relationships do have to be drawn."

"It's healthy," he agreed. "It looks like we'll be putting Fisk to work more quickly than I anticipated."


"I'm going to need him to break Eliot Franklin out of prison. He's being held in New York."

"Who's that?"

"He was referred to as 'The Black Bruce Banner' due to his knowledge of gamma radiation. He loved research so much he developed a bad tendency to steal to finance it, which is why he is in prison."

"What do you need him for?"

"I'm going to have him build a gamma bomb for us."


[End Chapter]

My goodness. That was longer than usual. A more villain-centric chapter, but Hydra is busy having to do a bunch of stuff to achieve world domination. The world doesn't just walk up to you, roll over, then ask you to pet their belly in surrender.

Except the French, of course. ^_^

But I jest. And Eliot Franklin didn't come out of nowhere. Back in the first chapter of Act III, he was mentioned among the gamma researchers before they found Otto Octavious. And just like Otto, Franklin never became a super villain (Thunderball), in this universe since Loki didn't make the enchanted bar that created the Wrecker, and eventually the Wrecking Crew. He's still a brilliant baddy, though.

And I disliked it when writers depicted him as stupid muscle since they didn't bother to learn his history. One of the best uses of him was when he was in a Secret Empire storyline in Spiderman where they grabbed the depowered Eliot since they knew he was a brilliant tech. Back in the early 90's when Bagley was drawing it.

And as I am wont to do, I managed to work in some past faces and names to show the universe is shared, even by those you don't hear or see very much. I enjoy the world building and the toys I have laying about.