Never the Whole Story
A Possible Alternate Ending to 'What If Captain America Led ALL the Heroes against the Super-Human Registration Act?'
The Watchers were not meant to interfere.
The code of the Watchers was strict, rigid and set. Yet the Watcher known as Utau had broken his promises before to intervene on behalf of the world his people had made him oversee since time began on this speck within the universe. When a time travel incident had caused the heroes of Earth to blossom over three centuries early, he and his kind had been forced to intercede for reality's very existence. Far more recently though, he had alone made choices across the eons to step in and allow his people to become known, so much so that it had once cost him his position.
In recent times he had stepped back, but the damage it seemed had been done. Earth's very awareness of invisible observers amongst the hero community was to interfere. But the Watchers did not express remorse or pity, nor anger or bitterness. There had been merely... disappointment.
Such was the way of the Watchers.
One of the most important roles of Utau as the Watcher of Earth was to observe those points in history where great momentous gatherings, battles and decisions would be held. These past weeks had seen those for and against the Super-Human Registration Act, a set of documents which had set brother against brother, conflict for a simple piece of paper which would change the role of the Super-Hero in the Americas forever. Utau as always was obliged to watch, but not to interfere. He had seen heroes fought and die, switched sides and make plans whilst had forever altered their stance within this blue sphere. He had been there for a single bullet to seemingly end the life of one of the planet's greatest champions, just as he would be there for what was to come.
Yes, Utau knew what was to come, what should, what might, what might not, what never could be. Why then, if the Watchers knew what would occur did they need to watch? A youngster might ask. There was a simple answer – because it was what the Watchers were meant for.
No, the Watchers were not meant to interfere. Doomed to watch, never to act. The destiny – and some might say curse – of the Watchers. Still, Utau knew he had to speak to one human in the aftermath – allow him to understand what the conflict had wrought. And the merest peek into what could have been in his conflict with Steve Rogers.
So he came to Earth. Altered his appearance. Attended the funeral in guise. And when the time was right he approached Tony Stark, a man who had given much to pursue security, who had not foreseen this eventuality, try as he ought.
But Utau could. And so he did.
"My god." Tony gripped the side of a nearby gravestone in an effort to steady himself, the rain on his mortified face as the Stranger stared back at him. What this man had been able to show him of other realities had tumbled his views over the recent conflict of meta-human kind.
First a possibility where he had died in his attempt to use the Extremis virus as a weapon against the augmented terrorist Mallen; where the fallen Steve Rogers had instead become the spokesman for Super-Human Rights, in time leading all heroes against the Registration Act, which in turn had led to such abuse of power and destruction by those leading the Pro-Registration forces that it had made him feel his role to ensure a continued future for Meta-Humans no matter what cost had been justified.
But then, to see a world where he had been honest, told Cap how much he admired his stance on the opposing side, how that simple choice had led them down a path to peace and the establishment of such an unparalleled force for good...
He couldn't finish that thought, even in his mind.
The Stranger was standing nearby, impassive, judging his responses coolly before speaking. "Yes. I have always found it both beautiful and terrible... how one decision... one small difference... can change so much. I suppose nothing is truly insignificant. The laws of cause and effect. Every action with its cascading ripples through the world..."
Tony pounded the ground as he stood angrily. "Damn it! Why...? Why have you come here? Just to torture me?"
The other man's eyes glowed brightly, but there was no form of response in them as he raised an arm to point at Stark. "I am here to mark a great passage... and to pay tribute. You see, I can do what you only dream of, Tony Stark... I can see all possible futures. I know why you try so hard...why you can look at the world from so many angles... And yet you have something that I do not. You can cause ripples."
"But... but you can't control a ripple."
"No. And that is what life is, Tony Stark... cherish it." And his task complete, the Stranger moved into the misty rain, leaving the survivor of warfare behind him. "Because some of us only wait... and watch."
The Watcher had not actually left his Citadel on the Blue Area of the Moon whilst in his human guise. It was entirely possible to be in many places at once, though Watchers knew that there was generally one focal point upon which one would focus their attentions, and the Funeral of Steve Rogers had been that for some time.
But while Utau had shown Tony Stark two of but several billion outcomes to his Civil War, he had not shown him everything. Not the whole story. And a small measure of emotion which humans might call curiosity within his chest made him question how Tony Stark might react to the actual conclusion of that version of the Super-Human War, on a world where all heroes under Captain America had fought against the Registration Act...
Indeed, what if...?
On another Earth, in a possible universe...
On another Earth, in a possible universe...
SHIELD Commander Maria Hill was waiting. It irritated her – she was the type prone to action and tactics as the Director of the most powerful military organisation on the planet, and whilst the man she was due to meet was certainly worth waiting for, part of her felt it would be far more productive to be out overseeing the capture of those remaining Unregistered Super-Heroes and dangerous criminals still at large, or even attempting a major breakthrough in the locating of her former SHIELD Director Nicholas Fury.
But when the recently elected President of the United States asked to see you personally, it was her duty as an American citizen to honour his wishes. Even if she wasn't entirely fond of the man that was her new leader-in-chief.
A cough alerted her and she glanced upward, the short little man who was the secretary motioning her to follow to the doors of the Oval Office. Taking his lead, Maria moved confidently to the pair of doors, waited as her escort knocked patiently to the muffled voice within, and stepped into the most important office of the country.
She saluted smartly. "President Gyrich, sir."
The President of the United States turned from the window to face her. "Director Hill. Thank you for agreeing to see me on such short notice."
Henry Peter Gyrich, she thought. To some a National Hero, to others a right pain in the rear end. In his rise to power Gyrich had run through National Security posts, through his work with keeping tabs on the Avengers and what sort of back-up they might expect from the American Government as an unauthorised element of Super-Heroes.
Eventually the forthcoming Civil War had reared its ugly head and with neither Nick Fury (trusted by no-one and in deepest hiding), Tony Stark (killed in his futile attempt to control some techno-virus he had injected to defeat Right-Wing Extremist Mallen) or Steve Rogers to quell the rising voices of anger in the wake of Stanford, Gyrich had been thought the best for taking on her old and now reinstated post of SHIELD Director – the most vocal detractor of Meta-Humans who didn't happen to be a raving lunatic or have powers of his own. She herself had taken some of his ideas on the New Avengers regarding monitoring the team when she'd found herself Director of SHIELD after Nick Fury's costly little 'Secret War'. It didn't mean she liked him.
Gyrich was busy thanking her amongst her private thoughts. "I appreciate the information you've supplied, Hill. I know we haven't always seen eye-to-eye..."
So he knew honesty at least. "I couldn't let it continue, Mr President. But now, the country can move forward in peace. And only because you were able to make the hard decisions." She paused ruefully. Those decisions had been hard for everyone on SHIELD pay. Men and women who had served under Fury in the past - had thought of the Super Heroes of the world as their friends and comrades in peace - now forced to hunt them down and place their lives at risk, not just the renegade heroes but the super-villains who had taken advantage of the chaos, killing many brave soldiers. She wouldn't forget them, even in the wake of Project Thunderstrike and... Rhodes.
"I know, Hill. That doesn't mean I have to like it. Especially the way you... dispatched Rhodes."
Hill felt uncomfortable for a moment. It wasn't pleasant to have to relive that memory, that betrayal of trust – James Rhodes was a good man who had made as difficult decisions as she and Gyrich had to through the course of the Superhuman Civil War – a former hero himself as War Machine, he had led the Sentinel Squad responsible for the attempted capture of Super Heroes and Villains alike with more than a guilty conscience. To have to execute him because of his choice to approach the late Captain America and try to settle the war before there was too much bloodshed, and then to use his death and Cap's apparent survival as the means of pursuing the ends... She was a strong minded woman, but even she had found it hard to believe the things she had been forced to undertake in this conflict.
President Gyrich appeared to be similarly affected, at least. "Yes... Still, whatever he might have done, Jim was right. So was Cap... it didn't have to go this far."
Maria nodded as she joined Gyrich by the table and stared out at the beautiful sunshine and the White House Gardens in front of them. "Maybe next time... we can afford to listen."
The President gave her a nod of his own. "Perhaps you're right Director. Still, you're to be commended. Were it not for you, we would never have got to this point. Your sacrifice made that possible."
She turned to him, a little confused. "I did what came naturally sir. I don't confess to have enjoyed harming Rhodes, but-"
"Oh Maria, I wasn't talking about doing the right thing for SHIELD, or for your country. No, I'm talking about helping us."
"I'm afraid I don't quite-"
And suddenly Hill was hit with immense pain running through her torso. The shock of the impact struck her for a moment, before she glanced down at what had...
"No." Running through her stomach was a set of Adamantium Claws. At first the question of how the traitorous Logan had broken into such a secure compound ran through her pain ridden mind, until she saw those claws were bigger. Stretching, shifting through her like a knife in butter. Not Logan. Not Deathstrike, she was long dead as the hands of the Thor's. Then who-?
Gyrich was smirking at her. An awful feeling crept into her head.
"S-Sir?" She tried to go for her gun. Her arms wouldn't respond. The word toxins popped into her brain.
"Oh I wouldn't struggle, Maria." Gyrich was returning to his desk. "The poison old Jason has injected you with is quite paralysing. And don't feel too bad, Director. You were never meant to leave this room alive, after all."
And Maria's eyes widened as the form of the smirking Gyrich shifted, warped into...
"Oh no. Oh god no." Tears streamed down her face as the truth hit her hard in the face. The President of the flipping United States was- "All this time you... You know what I've had to do for you? What you made me do, what you made Rhodes, and SHIELD... Christ, all those lives... all those people..."
"They didn't matter. This war served its purpose. All that matters is that we are in control. And that you will make the next logical choice for infiltration, step by step until it will be far, far too late for the smallest chance of defeat. We control both sides from the shadows and when the time is right, we will emerge as the true victors of war."
She tried to struggle, move past the pain of the wound in her stomach from the rear attacker. It wasn't enough – the paralysis doing his work from her unseen attacker. She watched in horror as the person she'd thought was her commander in chief opened a drawer and produced a weapon not of this world.
"Earth is ours to rule. As it is written, so it shall be."
The gun was pointed at her temple as she stared back into those soulless alien eyes. That green skin, those pointed ears, that jutted chin... A single tear fell down her cheek as she remembered Rhodes, almost hearing him laugh in the recesses of her mind at the irony of her now being on the other side of the trigger. The sword in the other hand.
The Skrull starred down at her and smirked once again as its finger started to squeeze the trigger.
"Don't worry Maria. He loves you..."
And the question of who 'He' might be echoed through her brain as it burst into a thousand sparks of light, followed by darkness.
The Oval Office had long been virtually sound proofed to keep private conferences with the President secure. No one outside heard a sound.
Several Months Earlier...
Several Months Earlier...
The bay housing the previously mutant-exclusive Sentinels – in preparation to hunt the renegade heroes come the deadline for registration - was secure, he thought as he consulted his watch carefully. Time enough to prepare himself, be in the right set of mind for his duty. To serve his queen with honour.
He had studied his new role as well as his current one and those before that. Gyrich was an arrogant fool of a human, but he could imagine being capable of stepping into the man's shoes well enough for this looming Civil War.
The sounds of footsteps caught his attention. The man who appeared to be SHIELD Agent Dum Dum Dugan straightened, nodded at his contact, recalled Dugan's pathetic style of Boston Americanised dialect and gave the warmest human smile he could muster. "Commander Gyrich, it's awful nice of you meeting me up like this, sir. I just have to tell you my thoughts on this Civil War of ours we got looming."
Gyrich was straight as ever. "Fine, Spell it out to me, Dugan. What's the problem here."
He'd rehearsed the words in his mind. Get Gyrich's attention, lure him into a relaxed state and-"I gotta tell you sir... a war with the heroes is a very bad logistics move. These people aren't criminals. They've saved the country and the entire world countless times, and this is how we repay them?"
"I don't like it any more than you Dugan. But it's my duty. It's our duty. Once they choose to turn a blind eye towards the law, they lost their status as true heroes. But I need to know... are you with me?"
As predicted. Gyrich needed Dugan's help. Unfortunately for Gyrich, he would do the opposite... with his life.
As 'Dugan' turned to seem to shake the man's hand after a second of faux consideration, he grabbed the man and before he might react, his eyes lit up and an optic blast blew the Commander's head clean off.
Dugan grinned, shifting into a leaner man with glasses and style. "Sorry 'Commander', but if you thought your little Civil War was the most important thing to happen to your miserable planet, you're sorely mistaken. It's important for us to have a man at the top, and our Queen choose me. Not to worry, I'll be sure to carry on doing what you intended for this country anyway. And as of this moment, Dugan is gone. Let's say he resigned from your little conflict and joined Fury in hiding – people will buy that."
And the man who appeared to be Henry Gyrich sat up and started to walk away. "There'll be some trustworthy agent of mine to collect your remains shortly. He loves you, Gyrich, even if you condemned him in the past. Never forget that."
And the lights in the compound were switched off, leaving only the sinister purple glare of the soulless Sentinels to illuminate Gyrich's corpse.
The night drew over the Oval Office as the body of Maria Hill was quietly taken away, not even the lightest blood stain on Gyrich's carpet. Khr'ul had already assumed her new responsibilities as the now replaced Director of SHIELD, the role of Jason taken by a lower agent in the ranks. Another problem taken care of by the will of Him and his Highness. Khr'ul had worked well in his plan to remove the Director of SHIELD from the game, and he would deserve his new position, just as he was in his place, however unexpected becoming President had been.
Gyrich activated a touch screen on his desk to send a signal. She needed to know the latest victory, infiltrated or otherwise. For about half an hour he had no response.
Then a replying signal came in. A holographic, one-foot sized display of his Queen in her human form materialised from the control pad. Gyrich bowed his head in respect. "Empress. I have good news to report."
Queen Veranke nodded at his success through the flickered static of the hologram. "Your report must be swift, Ur'ulk. Criti and the other infiltrators may only delay the notice of my absence from the remaining human members of the Super-Human Resistance. Victory is not yet assured if they were to discover our race's hand in their Earth conflict, even at this late stage of the campaign. Only His will can ensure our final success in the taking of what is rightfully ours."
"Yes my Empress... so you will be pleased to learn that I took steps to have the SHIELD Commander replaced as you instructed. With her gone SHIELD will now truly become under my direction as President of the country a force which will spread beyond the borders of its so-called 'Civil War' and move to take the rest of this blue sphere. Braddock, T'Challa, Sabra, Latveria, HYDRA and AIM, and of course Fury... they will prove little challenge with America under our thrall, particularly with the... 'Toys' we have amassed through our little rise to power." He smirked once more at the thought of having an army of Thor Clones at his beck and call. Should Fury or even the true Thunder God ever show his face, the Skrull Empire would ensure he had a worthy enemy to be eradicated by.
The Skrull Queen smiled under her partial mask. "Yes, I imagine you have enjoyed Project Thunderstrike. We shall have to put it to good use once the Invasion is prepared fully. You do well to serve me, Ur'ulk, and your position as President and as a well-trusted Governmental operative serves us well. You have pleased your Queen greatly, and so the entire Skrull Empire for the work you have done in allowing us to conquer Earth though the timely actions of this Civil War of their heroes." She pulled back her human black hair playfully and seemed to consider something. "Think what might have transpired, were you not in so fortunate a position in the wake of Tony Stark's death and the passing of the Registration Act."
The Skrull President similarly chuckled, thinking such a matter might have completely undermined their forthcoming campaign inside, so He had avoided such a dangerous outcome from occurring. "Indeed, my Queen. As it is written, so it shall be. I must return to my duties hence. May He love and ever guide you, your highness."
"And He for you also, Commander Ur'ulk. Good evening." Queen Veranke face faded from view as the man who seemed to be President Gyrich re-morphed into his human form, calling his newly appointed secretary for taking notes on continued crack downs on the newest sightings of unregistered super-humans...
The Watcher opened his eyes, stared out at the blue sphere from his citadel and considered what he had seen. What he had told Tony Stark of his Civil War, of it possibilities... and what he hadn't.
He briefly turned his gaze into the depths of space. It was a busy place at present - he had learnt that much from his fellow observers. He was aware of the Annihilation Wave and the hero Nova's battles to save the galaxy from seeming destruction, of several X-Men taking a stand against the would-be despot Vulcan in the heart of the Sh'iar Empire, of the Incredible Hulk's raging return to Earth on a ship of stone to get revenge on the men who had exiled him and supposedly killed his beloved bride.
But his thoughts were foremost on them. They were out there, waiting. Some were already here. Had history taken a different path - had Captain America assembled all heroes against the Registration Act, had SHIELD become controlled by an increasingly militarised mind-set – the Skrulls would have won.
What would happen in this timeline, this possibility, this strand... it was not yet for him to say. He was a Watcher, bound never to interfere, to observe and never act. His destiny and curse, forever. Thus despite his choice to speak to Tony Stark, he had still in part kept his promise, his oath. Not the complete tale, not all of the pieces of the puzzle.
Never the whole story.
With the two stories in 'What If: Civil War' written before 'Secret Invasion' started it clearly wasn't allowed to show any elements of that story as later What Ifs would do like 'What If: House of M' or' What If: Fallen Son' might, but the moment I reread this in the midst of 'Secret Invasion' I was instantly struck by how the first story in the comic could easily pave the way for a Skrull incursion far earlier. And just think of the power Queen Veranke would wield from behind the shadows! A army of Thor Clones led by Skrull Pym's Ragnarok, the unaware Sentinel Squad and SHIELD Agents, all under the direction of the Skrull Gyrich as President... not to mention having moles amongst the surviving heroes like Black Bolt, Elektra, Yellow Jacket and Veranke herself. It's not total victory, but pretty darn close to it.
One slight thing I suspect comic buffs will point out to me – that Dum Dum Dugan wasn't replaced by a Skrull until after Steve Rogers' supposed assassination. Well I am aware of this, but I've figured that since things have occurred differently to the original reality by that stage it is entirely possible for the Skrull Countess Fontaine to have gotten to Dugan (as seen in the Secret Invasion Prologue) and taken his form a bit earlier via the ripples in the timelines. Cause and effect, as the Watcher might say. Oh and I came up with the Gyrich/Dugan Skrull's actual name myself as there didn't appear to be any given in the various comics of Secret Invasion I could find or check on the trusty Wikipedia, so if I missed it and it actually is mentioned many apologies.
Anyway, I'd like to thank Mark Millar and Brian Michael Bendis for devising the two events which inspired the story, Kevin Grevioux and the always awesome Ed Brubaker for the original dialogue I utilised from the What If: Civil War Special (pick it up if you haven't already!), and lastly Stan the Man Lee for creating those wicked Skrulls and their nasty plans to rule Earth, not to mention all my favourite heroes. Oh and of course you for reading this, you guys are great!
Coming December 2nd 2009... 'What If Secret Invasion: Time Shock' One-Shot!
What If... the Occupants of the Skrull Prison Ship had ALL been real instead of Skrulls?
(Set to be released to tie-in with the actual 'What If: Secret Invasion' One-Shot)