By Russ Dimino
The sun shined brightly like a jewel high above the New York City skyline. On the shimmering surface of New York Harbor, its reflection was just as bright. It cast a brilliant illumination across the front of Lady Liberty, holding her torch aloft like a beacon to the poor, huddled masses who looked to her for inspiration.
The people of New York had seen their statue go through much in recent times. A few years ago, the mysterious heroes known as the X-Men had battled the mutant terrorist Magneto on the statue's torch. Then, more recently, a shadowy figure had constructed a crystal fortress around the statue, completely engulfing her within its spires. Within days, however, the government organization known as SHIELD had deconstructed the fortress, restoring the statue to its former glory.
At least, that's what the people of New York had been led to believe. To the casual observer, the statue now stood once again free and unmarred. Only a select few knew the truth. The crystal fortress still stood around the statue. A sophisticated hologram had been put in place, showing the world what SHIELD wanted them to see.
Deep inside the vast fortress, Nick Fury led a team of his top agents, including Clay Quartermain, Jasper Sitwell, Sharon Carter, and a handful of others, each with various recording devices and monitors to take readings as they explored the fortress.
"This thing has been here for months, General," Sitwell commented. "We've already had a team go over it umpteen times. What are we doing here now?"
"I'll excuse the tone of voice, Sitwell," Fury scoffed, glaring at the agent. "I'm well aware that our guys have explored this thing from top to bottom already. Their conclusion?" He gestured to what seemed to be a control panel, powered by crystals of different sizes and lengths. "They didn't know what the hell any of it was." He turned and faced the back of the group. "This time though, we have something they didn't have before."
At the rear of the pack, Agent Gabriel Jones was leading Doctor Lawrence Garner by the hand. Garner's head was down, and he shuffled along slowly.
Some time ago, Garner had been temporarily possessed by the Kryptonian relic known as the Eradicator. During that time, he had absorbed all the data stored in SHIELD's computer system. When the computer was later destroyed, General Fury had Garner placed in a tank fueled by one of Garner's own memory regression experiments, hoping to unlock the data that he believed was still housed somewhere in Garner's subconscious.
Fury's bet had paid off. It had taken slow, agonizing months, but Garner was able to tap into the information that the Eradicator had stored in his mind. Over the course of several weeks, they were able to reconstruct the data they'd lost, reopening files on every known superhero, villain, mutant and metahuman.
But Garner now suffered from intense migraine headaches, nosebleeds, and dizzy spells. His mind was a whirlwind of information, storing far more than any human brain was ever intended to. Still, Fury had seen fit to bring him to the fortress, in hopes that Garner could access the Eradicator's memory banks long enough to tell him what exactly the equipment in this fortress actually did.
"Well, Doc," Fury said. "It's showtime. Tell us what we're looking at here."
Garner winced and rubbed his temples. He tried to fight off the haze of another pounding headache. "I'm not sure what you want from me, Fury," he mumbled, his voice soft and shaky. "The Eradicator didn't build this place until after he'd left my body… and possessed Clark Kent instead."
"Well aware," Fury said, slightly annoyed. "But by now you should have enough of a working knowledge of Kryptonian technology that you should be able to give me a 'For Dummies' version, I would think."
Garner wrung hands together absently as he stared at the console before him. He seemed lost in thought, as if searching for some answer in the thin air. Then, reluctantly, he outstretched his hand and pointed at one of the larger crystals.
"That one," he said with some finality.
"That one what?"
"That one will show you… all you want to know about Krypton."
"Just pick it up, and hold it."
Fury looked at Garner skeptically, but then gave a casual shrug of acceptance. He was ready to believe anything after all he'd seen in the last few months. He grasped the crystal and gently but firmly pried it free from those surrounding it, then held it aloft. It began to glow slightly, giving off a faint luminescence that gradually increased.
"Okay," Fury said. "Now what do I…?"
He didn't have to finish the thought. All around them, the image of Krypton began to unfold. The vast cities made of crystal. The blazing red sun. The caverns that stretched for miles. The fortress around them slipped away, and Krypton, it all of her glory and majesty, stretched out as far as the eye could see. The booming voice of Jor-El echoed in their ears.
"This is the planet Krypton. Embedded in the crystals before you is the total accumulation of all literature and scientific fact from dozens of other worlds spanning the 28 known galaxies."
Fury realized his mouth was hanging open, and quickly shut it. He was not a man who was easily impressed, but this, seeing an alien world taking shape around him, left him in a state of awe. He turned to Garner, looking at him expectantly for further instructions.
"It will respond to your thoughts," Garner said. "Think about what you want it to tell you… and it will hear you."
Fury held the crystal higher as he stared out into space once again.
"Our civilization was a peaceful one… but this was not always so," Jor-El continued. There was a hint of trepidation in his voice. Even if this was some sort of artificial intelligence algorithm that they were hearing, it did not seem to like where Nick Fury's thoughts were taking it. "Many centuries ago, our planet endured violent, devastating wars that took the lives of millions. Weapons of untold destructive capabilities were created, and ultimately banned by later civilizations."
As they watched, giant robots marched across the surface of Krypton, blasting pulse waves that scorched the sky and shook the ground. Colossal starships tore across the horizon, firing laser beams at each other. Bombs that reduced cities to ash in the blink of an eye went off one after another, ripping the land apart like wet paper. Beastly gray monsters with bony white protrusions tore into one another, evolving into deadlier and more fearsome creatures of doom.
Garner watched in disgust the way that Fury looked at these images, analyzing their potential on the battlefield.
These horrific images quickly vanished.
"These are all elements of Krypton's ancient past," Jor-El said. "Fortunately, our people have grown since then, and seen the error of these violent ways. Krypton's society became one of harmony and tranquility, working toward the betterment of all."
Jor-El's voice slowly faded as Fury concentrated, twisting the crystal back and forth in his hand. The images of the giant robots and starships slowly returned and drew closer to Fury, floating in the air before him as he studied them.
"That one," Garner said, pointing to another crystal.
Fury looked at him quizzically. "That one what?"
"I can sense your thoughts, General," Garner said, rubbing his forehead as his headache intensified. "You want to know how to make these weapons, yes?"
"Yes," Fury replied solemnly.
"That crystal… this one right here, will tell you how to make them."
Fury returned the first crystal to its base. The images of Krypton lingered for a few more moments, then slowly dissolved like sand slipping away through an hourglass. He reached for the second crystal, and withdrew it.
Two spinning rings quickly formed around General Fury, rotating around him and each other.
"Hey, what…?!" Fury cried out in surprise. A huge hole opened up in the very air in front of him, a dazzling purple light flowing inside of it. A gust of wind like a hurricane started pushing Fury toward the vortex.
The SHILED agents drew their guns and pointed them at Garner, who started laughing hysterically. He fell to his knees, holding his throbbing head as if it were about to explode from the inside out.
"What are you doing to him?!" Sharon Carter yelled.
"Garner, you son of a bitch!" Fury screamed. "You tricked me!"
"See you in hell, Fury!" Garner yelled, laughing even as he crumpled to the ground, writhing in agony as his headache pounded like a drum.
Fury's feet were swept out from under him. He flailed his arms, trying to find something to grab onto, but his efforts were in vain. The General was sucked into the swirling vortex, spinning rings and all. The hole quickly closed in around him. The SHILED agents were amazed to see what looked like a flat, two-dimensional pane of glass revolving around in the air, with Fury's face plastered against it as if he was being shoved up against a window. The floating square spiraled around in the air for a moment, then shot upwards and disappeared out through an opening in the ceiling of the fortress.
Agent Carter lunged at Doctor Garner and shoved her gun up against his temple.
"What did you do to him?!" she yelled. "Where is General Fury?!"
"Somewhere where you'll never find him," Garner whispered, a faint smile creeping across his pained face.
She began applying pressure to the trigger.
"Tell me right now or so help me I'll blow your brains out."
"Agent Carter, stand down!" Agent Clay Quartermain ordered.
"But he just--!"
"We don't know WHAT he did, Agent Carter…" Clay replied. "And if you kill him we'll never find out. Doctor Garner seems to be the only one who understands how this fortress works, and that means he's the only one who can tell us how to get General Fury back."
Carter reluctantly holstered her gun. She looked up at Clay, narrowing her eyes. "No," she said. "He's not the only one."