Chapter 24:

Preparations

"We are those cast eternally from the light of good. We are not here to bring justice, nor are we here to sow chaos. By ourselves, we are nothing. Only at the behest of others do we act. We represent both the darkness in men's hearts, and the virtue to resist such darkness." —Creed of the Sins

S.H.I.E.L.D. had made it through a particularly bad week. Their mercenary, Lust, had been horribly beaten and ended up in critical condition. They had suffered major losses in personnel and resources during Abel White's attack on the Helicarrier. Now, though, Colonel Josiah Brooks would finally be able to close this chapter of his life. Upon being informed that the doctors didn't want to discharge him out of fear for his safety, Lust had vanished in the night, and a note left behind from Pilate requested a meeting the next day. He would fill Brooks in on everything that occurred, and tell him the location of White's stronghold, along with all of the associates Lust could name or photograph.

The next day, after several hours of waiting, Brooks finally received word that Pilate was on his way. "Send him straight in when he arrives," he ordered into the intercom. One more hour, and Pilate strutted through the blast doors to Brooks' office.

"Have a seat," Brooks gestured to the chair opposite him, "and tell me, in detail, what your operative has learned about Abel White."

Pilate chuckled. "Lust didn't give up all the goods while in a government hospital where he could be assassinated when he was no longer of use? I'm shocked." His grin widened as Brooks shot him a death glare. "I've got the address and blueprints of his headquarters right here," he waggled a flash drive, "but I have no doubt that much of the schematics have been falsified. I've had Pride scouting the place from the air, trying to guess how many hostiles might be in there. So far I have no real number, but I do have some bad news." His sudden serious turn put Brooks on edge. "Abel White is still alive."

Brooks leapt to his feet. "What! How the hell is that even possible? I blew up a whole Helicarrier with him inside it!"

Pilate shrugged. "No clue how he lived through it, but I'd suggest you be there to see him die next time. Maybe he can teleport, or Silver-Surfer his way through solid objects." Brooks raised an eyebrow at Pilate's use of the Surfer's name as a verb.

Brooks' intercom crackled to life. "Sir, there is a Nor-Hey! You can't go in there!" The commander of S.H.I.E.L.D. stood, anticipating a fight, as his office doors slid open to reveal quite the motley crew: Normie Osborn, Brenda Drago, Spider-Girl, Venom, and the boy who at one time called himself Spider-Man.

"What the hell do you think you're doing here?" Brooks growled through his teeth. "Get out. Now!"

"Not a chance, Brooks," Venom growled right back. "First off, you owe me for that little torture stunt. Second, we've got a mutual score to settle. We're here to help you take down Abel White, and even if you reject our help, we're going after him anyway, so you might as well take the extra manpower."

Josiah Brooks rolled his eyes. "How in the hell did you get in here? Wait, you know what? I really don't care. What I do want to know is, what makes you think that I want or need the help of a super-kid," he looked at Spider-Girl, "three questionably ex-villains," his eyes drifted from Normie to Brenda to Venom, "and whatever he is," he finished with a glance at Spidercide.

"A bunch of dead S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives and an obliterated Helicarrier, for one," Spider-Girl replied with acid in her voice. "Face it, Brooks. You need help, and we're offering it to you. Don't let your ego or whatever bigoted baggage you're carrying around get in the way of actually stopping White."

Without taking his eyes off the teen, Brooks spoke. "Pilate, would their presence change the scenario?"

Pilate replied with a shrug. "No scenario ever actually survives combat, but if you mean our battle plan, then yes, it would improve our tactical options. It wouldn't change the Sin I'd recommend, though. Greed is the best choice for a fight like this."

"I have something that might serve as a peace offering," Normie said, digging through his pockets to pull out a handheld projector. "I have friends in low places and more money to throw around than the Sins do, so I managed to get hold of the actual blueprints for White's office building."

Brooks snatched the device from Osborn's hand. "If I decide you'll be useful, I'll contact you. Now get out of my office."

—SCENEBREAK—

Abel White glowered out of his penthouse window, staring down at the massive S.H.I.E.L.D. force below. "So, we're trapped," he commented in a monotone.

Chaucer nodded. "Truer words have never been spoken. You're the only one who could possibly escape, Mr. White." He clapped a hand on his employer's shoulder. "You should go. Leave S.H.I.E.L.D. to us."

Abel looked around the room, at the encouraging faces. "…No, I won't condemn you to that. Either we all make it out, or none of us do."

Chaucer smiled sadly. "Then I recommend that we make the first move. Attack them while they're still evacuating civilians. Force them to protect the innocents, so they won't be able to counterattack as effectively."

Maundora pounded his fist into his palm. "I second that emotion, Abel. Let's rip them apart."

Corinthia grinned. "I'm up for anything that involves violence."

White smirked in response to his companions' statements. "Well then, let's give them a greeting they won't soon forget."

—SCENEBREAK—

May Parker and Aloysius Qatrefoil sat snuggled together on a nearby rooftop, overlooking the S.H.I.E.L.D. operation. "I still can't believe Brooks didn't call for our help," Aloysius groused.

May kissed him on the cheek, gently cupping his chin. "Well, at least we're still here in case things go south."

As soon as May finished speaking, a rocket burst from one of the windows, destroying a S.H.I.E.L.D. Urban Pacification Vehicle. "Shit!" Aloysius leapt to his feet, the Venom suit enveloping his body. "Call Osborn and Cortez," he said to May, "and then join me when you're done. I'll cover the opening shots." Not waiting for her to protest, Venom leapt off of the building, landing on two of White's cybernetically-enhanced henchmen who had just emerged from the building. Their necks snapped like balsa wood.

UPVs swerved and tires screeched as S.H.I.E.L.D. forces scrambled to form makeshift bunkers, setting up portable force field platforms from which to lay down suppression fire. Venom leapt backward as a new wave of enemy soldiers emerged from the building, unloading dozens of rounds into – and through – his body. Vaulting over a shield platform, Venom took cover behind the luminescent barrier alongside several startled S.H.I.E.L.D. troopers, and began to extrude his symbiote along the black asphalt.

As soon as more than five cyborgs stepped onto the street, toothy symbiote tendrils erupted up into their bodies, tearing apart their internal organs. The men fell dead, and S.H.I.E.L.D. made its first push, charging up into the building. Unfortunately, this was just in time for the elevator at the other end of the hall to open and reveal a remote-controlled Gatling gun which activated and began to spew metallic death into the wave of faceless troops.

Spider-Girl dropped down beside Venom, gawking at the bloody devastation of only a few seconds' combat. "I'm not normally one to promote excessive violence, but can't we just bomb this place and be done with it?"

Venom shook his head. "Unfortunately, no. Not everyone in the neighboring buildings was evacuated, and S.H.I.E.L.D. would rather sacrifice its own men than risk harming innocents. Of course, with this firefight, there's no chance of evacuating anybody else."

"So, time to do what superheroes do?" Spider-Girl asked with a hand on her hip.

"You know it, gorgeous," Venom grinned, showing off his razor-sharp teeth.