NOTE: Please read the message in chapter 2 before reading this chapter.
Deep in his lair, Thanos of Titan was deep in pensive thought. After eons of penance, after eons of service, of unrequited love and sacrifice, his efforts had brought him closer than ever. His lady had finally acknowledged him, and granted him the right to court her. And all he had to offer her, was to bring her (and soon to be his) son back to her.
Soon after the commandment, the Titan had relentlessly poured himself into his work. His fearsome intellect, arguably the most devious, and most dangerous in the entire cosmos, had been fully utilized to achieve his goal.
This would be his greatest achievement, his crowning glory. He had acquired all the knowledge he needed of his quarry, and it had left him impressed, and that was no small feat. The boy, yes, even though his target was the child of a primordial force of the universe, and possibly numbered amongst the five most powerful cosmic beings in existence, was still a boy, not mature enough to wield the energies at his command. But he was still, a very force of nature to be reckoned with. How then, does one go about capturing a force of nature?
The answer was simple, one doesn't. Nature can never be captured, but it can be subdued, and if anyone could subdue this force of nature, it would be he, Thanos of Titan.
His reverie was broken by the voice of his new adviser, and his first acolyte, who had joined his service, after the Titan had ascended to his new station by mastering the power of the Cosmic Cube.
"There can be no denying it, you are supreme. Anything you wish to be, you are. Anything you wish, is. Nothing in this universe, dares challenge that claim. There is only one word, to describe you, GOD. Within your grasp rests the infinite, and my humble personage, bows before your grandeur. I am proud to be your first acolyte, and bask in your divine presence. How may I serve you, great Thanos?"
"By falling silent, Loki."
"The moment is upon us," Thanos paused as he walked forward, and gazed at the planet before him, while Loki Odinson, formerly of Asguard, watched in mesmerized awe, as the Titan continued, "Yes, the moment is upon us, when the entire universe, must come to realize the truth of your words," he concluded, even as the planet shattered into a billion pieces, eradicating all life within, while Loki reflexively took a step back.
"After I accomplish my mistress's bidding, none shall deny me my place in the cosmic pantheon. I shall claim a seat at the head of the table, but that is a tale for another time," the Titan paused, as he turned around and gazed at his new servant, with a soul-penetrating stare.
"You … were a prince, cast out of your home, denied of your birthright, both natural and adopted, like a mere criminal. Like you, I too was cast out, but I, unlike you, aspired to a much higher and loftier goal than you can ever hope to imagine; and now I stand, one of the most powerful beings in existence, an equal, if not superior, to even your own adopted father," Thanos spoke lackadaisically, as Loki stiffened, while his eyes blackened with rage.
"Serve me well, Loki, and you shall be rewarded beyond your wildest dreams. You shall rule not just that pitiful planet, which that sadly inadequate poltroon of your adopted brother cherishes, but all of the nine realms that fall under the dominion of Asguard. What say you?"
"I am yours to command, Lord Thanos," Loki bowed, while the Titan grinned maliciously.
"You are now elevated beyond your station Loki, you shall be my herald, equal in skill and power to the herald of the devourer, for I will allow not anyone to humiliate Thanos, because now your failures shall be known as my failures, should you fail, and that I will not permit," Thanos concluded, even as a glow of energy, similar to the energy of the cosmic cube, enshrouded Loki, at the end of which a magnificent spear, thrumming with the energy of the cube, materialized in front of the Asguardian.
Thanos waved his hand, even as a legion of unspeakable power and strength, made itself visible.
"You shall be the commanding general of my Chitauri, and lead them into glorious battle. Take them, and go to Earth, and seek the boy out. And bring him to me. I have already arranged for the cube's placement in Earth. Go, take possession of the cube, and use it to find him. And if the humans stand before you, burn them to ashes," he smiled grimly, while Loki smiled maliciously, as he turned around and left.
As he watched his new general leave, Thanos snorted. The Asguardian weakling was but a pawn, meant to lure his true prize out of hiding. Besides, it was a rule of the hunt. To lure a prey, you need sufficient bait. And Loki was merely bait, nothing more, nothing less.
Three months after the events in New Mexico & the departure of Thor ,
Nic Fury, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., was currently in his office, aboard the floating headquarters of his organization, deep in pensive thought. The events in the town of New Mexico had left him disturbed. It had finally and irrevocably brought home the fact that they were not alone in this universe. It also emphasized the fact that they were ridiculously, hilariously, outgunned. The universe was expanding with threats that could not be matched. Something needed to be done. Perhaps he needed to have another talk with Selvig, to hasten the research on the Tesseract.
Just then, Coulson barged in, looking out of breath, and with a disturbed look on his face. Fury raised an eyebrow, looking at the agitated state of his Man Friday.
"What is it?"
"We were just hacked, big time. Somebody broke into our databanks, and erased every single file related to Dr. Foster's Research, the tech team tells me it is a total wipe-out."
Fury shot up, alarm flitting through his face, as he rushed past Coulson, and made his way towards the main hangar. Standing there, were Agents Maria Hill, his third-in-command, along with Natasha Romanoff, & Clint Barton, his two best covert operatives.
"Status, now!" Fury barked, even as Hill looked at him with a resigned look in her eyes, while Jimmy Hawke, their chief programmer for infrastructure security, looked at him with a defeated look in his eyes.
"Sir, approximately fifteen minutes ago, somebody just hacked into our network, and wiped out every single file pertaining to Dr. Jane Foster's Research data. It is gone, director, we have nothing."
"We have contingencies for this Hawke, what about our back-ups?" Fury asked as he began to pace around briskly.
"Whoever they were, they were extremely thorough. They took care of the contingencies of our contingencies. They wiped out all the back-up files stored in our 317 servers placed strategically in 14 countries. Everything was wiped out in a single sweep."
Fury moaned with a pained grimace. This was possibly the single biggest breach in their organization's history.
"Yes sir, those hackers," Hawke paused, as he fidgeted nervously, before continuing after a pointed stare from Fury, "They placed a single message in all the places where those files were stored, Sir."
"A message?" Natasha asked, with an eyebrow raised elegantly, while Hawke nodded.
"Simply put, it says 'Don't take something that does not belong to you, slug heads'"
"Who is doing this, some hacker from a remote shack in a mountain, an enemy organization, who could have done this? Who has the resources conduct an attack of this magnitude on us?" Hill muttered, as she too began to think on possible suspects.
"Sir, I think we can rule out any of the normal suspects, this is clearly something else," Hawke interjected, even as everybody paused, and looked at the man.
"Explain," the command was delivered in a terse tone, even as Hawke steeled himself for the furious rebuttals that would follow.
"Sir, they hacked our firewall in ten seconds. Even the most powerful supercomputer in the world, with a brute-force attack would require twenty years to do that,"
Looking at the incredulous looks on the faces of his listeners, the man continued, "The signal pattern is learning and it is evolving on its own. We need to move past Fourier transfers, and start considering quantum mechanics…"
"There is nothing on earth that is that complex," Fury interjected, even though it sounded hollow, to everyone, including himself.
"No General, I believe now there is, and whoever it is, we don't know who or what has it," Hawke ended, while a heavy silence fell upon the room.
"What do we do, Sir?" Hill asked, while everyone became silent.
"Hill, I want this place on total lock-down. This is a code 7. Coulson, get Dr. Foster, & Dr. Selvig, I think it is high time, we had a chat with our resident geniuses. Barton, Romanoff, you are coming too," Fury turned around, and made his way out, as his subordinates rushed to follow his orders.
As Jane Foster & Erik Selvig, looked at the face of Director Fury, they knew that something was wrong. Selvig of course, was acquainted with Fury closely, as he was the lead scientist researching on the Tesseract, and interacted with him on a daily basis. Jane on the other hand, had interacted only with Coulson, and was meeting Fury for the first time. She found the experience more than intimidating.
They were meeting in a conference room, in one of the research bases of S.H.I.E.L.D., with them seated at one end of a conference table, while Fury sat at the other hand. Coulson, Romanoff & Barton hung around in the back unobtrusively, as they watched the proceedings.
"So, what is this about, director? Why are we … here?" Selvig asked, as he looked askance at Jane, wondering why the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., would want her present in the meeting.
Fury was looking at Jane intently, trying to discern any possible signs of deception in her face, and after not finding any, he concluded (reluctantly) that the young woman was completely unaware of the events in question.
"Dr. Selvig, twelve hours ago, someone hacked into the secure databanks of S.H.I.E.L.D., and erased every last shred of Dr. Foster's research data. We were wondering if you have any information to shed about that?"
"What?" Jane exclaimed in shock, as she stood up, nostrils flaring, while she glared at Erik.
"You promised me that they could keep my data safe, Erik; what is going on here?" she whirled around, and glared at the older man, who winced. Fury looked at the girl in surprise, apparently under that timid exterior, lurked a feisty woman.
"And you," she whirled around and glared at Coulson, who actually took a step back in alarm. "I agreed to work with S.H.I.E.L.D., because you promised to help me, what kind of spies are you, if you can't protect your own information networks?" she ranted, while Fury physically winced at the barb.
"Jane, calm down ," Erik restrained her, while she huffed and sat down. "Please excuse her, she is a bit … upset," Selvig offered apologetically, while Natasha scoffed.
"Director, what exactly happened?" Selvig asked, to which Fury explained in detail, at which even Selvig and Jane were shocked, with Jane even feeling guilty at her untimely outburst. She had not known that things were this bad.
"The hacker also left a message," Fury continued, while Selvig raised an eyebrow.
"Don't take something that does not belong to you, slug heads," Fury repeated the message verbatim.
Instantly, Jane Foster and Erik Selvig shot up from their seats, with alarm flitting through their faces.
Looking at their shocked faces, Fury knew he had hit pay dirt, even as Romanoff and Barton came into sight.
"So, you do know what it means, huh?" Fury asked, with cold icy rage, seeping through his veins.
Ignoring the director, Selvig turned on Jane, who looked like a deer caught in the headlights, "Damn it Jane, what the hell is he doing?"
"I don't know … he wouldn't … he couldn't … he knows the risks!"
"Don't lie to me Jane, when did he contact you?" Erik asked again in anger, while Jane began to shake her head hysterically, "I don't know, I haven't spoken to him in three years, this is so wrong …, he knows the risks, and I don't know why he did this!"
"Damn it to hell, when I find that boy, I am going to kill him for real this time!", Erik raged, while the members of S.H.I.E.L.D. watched the conversation with great interest.
"Dr. Selvig," Fury barked harshly, even as both scientists stopped arguing and looked at the man with a guilty look on their faces.
"Explain everything," Fury ordered, brooking no arguments.
"Director, that message is a code. It was a phrase used by someone we both knew very well, and someone who is currently in living in self-exile. We believe that this is his way of sending a message to us," Selvig concluded softly, while Fury narrowed his eyes.
"His name is Dr. Harold James Potter, he is also the step-brother of Jane, and he is or was at any rate, my greatest student at one time."
"We have no records of any Harold James Potter, in our data banks. We vetted Dr. Foster's background thoroughly, before allowing her to work for S.H.I.E.L.D.," Natasha interjected, at which Selvig scoffed.
"Of course you wouldn't; before he went into his self-imposed exile, Harry wiped out every single record of his existence, in all the data banks in the world, which had any remote knowledge about him. He is for all purposes, an invisible man."
Fury raised his single eyebrow at that. That kind of extreme dedication to erasing one's identity did not occur spontaneously. He needed to know more. So he continued to listen even as Selvig went on.
"But," Jane interjected, "I still don't know how he managed to do what he did to S.H.I.E.L.D., I mean he no longer has accesses to the resources he needs to do something of this magnitude, right Erik?" she asked hesitantly as she looked at him with worry and fear rife in her eyes, while Selvig massaged his forehead with a grimace.
"Jane, you know who you are talking about. Your brother is the most intelligent human being to have been born in the planet's history for a reason. If he really had decided to hack S.H.I.E.L.D., then you know damn well, that they have no one remotely capable of stopping him," which consequently, riled up the members of the said organization.
"Excuse me doctor, could you please repeat that statement," Fury asked with a very calm voice, even as Barton and Romanoff came and stood next to Fury, with curiosity burning in their eyes. Even Coulson seemed unusually interested.
" The most intelligent human being to have been born in the planet's history, I find that a very interesting statement to make, Dr. Selvig; because if there exists such a person in this world, then that person would and should be working for us," Fury interjected, "now tell me the truth, the real truth and leave nothing out."
"Which is exactly the reason, why Harry took steps to ensure that no government agency could ever learn of his true accomplishments, Director. I think you should know why I claimed him to be the most intelligent human being to have been born in the planet's history, and just to give you an idea as to who it is that you are actually dealing with; know that Dr. Harry James Potter was certified with an IQ of 327 at the age of 14," he concluded, at which even Fury stood up in shock.
"That is not possible," Barton blurted out, at which Selvig scoffed.
"If you eliminate the impossible, then the remaining however improbable, is the truth," Jane retorted, with a look of pride on her face.
"Harry holds multiple doctorates, in the fields of Molecular Astrobiology, Metallurgical Astrophysics, Thermonuclear dynamics, Aeronautical & Naval Engineering, Advanced Data Engineering & Neurological sciences," Jane continued smugly, at which there was a shocking silence.
"That is a lot of degrees," Coulson retorted with dismay rife in his tone, while Barton uttered a mute 'no shit'.
"I am sorry doctor, but what you say is simply not possible, believe me, we would have found out about someone with that kind of talent. Even if he wiped his records, after whatever caused his exile, he would have come into our notice long before, during the course of his studies itself," Fury insisted.
"Which is precisely why he took precautions to avoid that. He obtained those degrees from various universities around the world, each of them from a different country in a different university, under various aliases, in long-distance courses, and internships, and he did them all of them at the same time, within 3 years," there was an unmistakable tone of pride in Selvig's voice, which Fury didn't like a bit, based in no small part due to the now revealed existence of a 20 year old kid, who had apparently made his entire organization look like a bunch of nincompoops.
As she heard the list of accolades, Natasha whistled softly in appreciation, "Goodbye Einstein, Stark & Banner, hello Mr. Potter."
"What happened?" Fury asked, after he composed himself and glared at the good doctor.
"What caused him to go into self-exile?"
"He came into the attention of a particularly unpleasant individual, and I believe it is someone whom even you are acquainted with, at least at some level," Selvig spoke softly, while Jane narrowed her eyes in anger.
"General Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross"
That name generated a guarded reaction amongst all the members of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Go on," Fury prompted, even as a vague and disturbing possibility came into his mind.
"After his accomplishments, Harry joined DARPA, as a research intern in their medical research division. He of course, took care to hide all of his accomplishments, so that they would not be aware of his true potential," Selvig continued, while everybody listened with riveted attention.
"So … what happened?" Barton asked, while Natasha stubbed his toe, warning him to stay silent.
"He accidentally created or should I say, recreated something that brought him a lot of unwanted attention,"
"Such as?" Coulson asked, with fascination adorning his eyes.
"He recreated the super soldier serum of Dr. Abraham Erskine, he actually developed an improved version of it."
"WHAT!"Every single person stood up, shocked to their core. Fury was literally trembling in shock and excitement.
"Dr. Selvig, are you telling me that your adopted nephew actually managed to recreate the fabled super soldier formula?" Coulson asked in a careful tone, to which Selvig nodded reluctantly.
"However, it was his undoing," Jane muttered darkly, as everybody looked at her in surprise.
"Harry," Jane continued, "was scared of the ramifications of his research. You must understand, my brother is a hardcore pacifist, which is why the possible applications of his research scared him,"
"Oh, I don't like where this is going," Barton muttered, while Natasha grimaced at the implications of Jane's words.
"Because of that, he destroyed all the samples, and all the notes of his research, and using some unknown means, he managed to wipe out all the memories pertaining to that research from his own brain, literally."
Fury literally moaned in pain at the lost opportunity. To think that someone had managed to recreate the holy grail of all the militaries worldwide, only to have it lost due to the sentiments of a fool, who couldn't understand its true value. He didn't know whether to congratulate the boy or to shoot him dead!
"Why, why would he do such a thing?" Coulson asked aghast, at which Selvig shrugged, "he said humanity was not ready to have that kind of power in its hands, at least not yet."
"I don't believe this … I simply don't fucking believe this …" Fury lashed out in anger, as he literally began to pace around.
"You two numbskull geniuses…," he pointed at Jane and Erik, "better not leave anything out. What happened afterwards?" he literally roared, with spit flying out of his mouth, even as Jane and Erik winced.
"When General Ross found out what Harry did, he went nearly insane. The man is obsessed with the super soldier program, you know. He had Harry arrested and thrown into a cell. They tortured him brutally, thinking that he had simply turned traitor and given it to some enemies, until they finally realized that Harry had truly no recollection how he had accomplished it. They came close to nearly killing him," Jane blurted out, while the members of S.H.I.E.L.D. carefully avoided looking at the eyes of the two agitated scientists.
They needed no proof to know that the two of them were telling the truth. Ross's obsession with the super soldier program was a legend in military circles. All of them knew, that Ross would literally sell his soul to the devil, if it would get him the super soldier formula.
"They tried to recreate his work of course," Selvig continued, "but they didn't have Harry's data, and they created a botched up version of it, which they used upon that unfortunate soldier; who turned into the Abomination that fought the Hulk in Harlem, four years ago."
Fury narrowed his eyes, as did everybody else. They had not been aware of this little bit of information. It appeared that General Ross was long overdue for an inspection of his work.
"During the Hulk's rampage across the city, the General's base was destroyed, which luckily involved the section containing Harry's prison. He managed to escape during the confusion, otherwise, Ross would have kept him there for his entire life," Jane concluded.
"So, that was why…" Fury now understood why the boy had gone to such extremes. General Ross had the unfortunate and (un)intended habit of destroying scientists and their livelihoods; one just had to take a look at Banner, and now obviously Potter.
"How did you do it? How did he arrange his exile?" Coulson asked, with a bit of sympathy in his tone, after hearing the brutal ordeal the boy had suffered.
"We knew that Ross would hunt him to the ends of the world. So we devised a plan, wherein he created a life model decoy of his own body, identical to the last shred of his DNA, and I helped him to stage his death in an accident. After which, he erased all records of his existence, and went into his self-imposed exile," Selvig finished, while Fury raised his eyebrow in appreciation.
"I underestimated you Dr. Selvig, maybe I should have appointed you as the head our Scientific Black Ops unit."
"As interesting as this back story is," Natasha interrupted, "it still doesn't explain why he hacked our network," Natasha butted in, reminding them all of the purpose for which the meeting had been convened originally.
"I would be happy to explain why I hacked your network, Agent Romanoff," a disembodied voice came up from the speaker of the intercom unit placed on the conference desk, as everybody jumped up in alarm.
"What the fuck?" Barton jumped in alarm, even as he already nocked an arrow on his bow, while Coulson, Natasha and Fury had their handguns out, scanning their immediate surroundings for any and all threats.
"Wait," Jane jumped up in surprise, with an undercurrent of happiness in her voice, as she gestured the military people to calm down.
"Harry, is that you?"
"Hey sis, glad to hear your voice" the tone over the speaker came out, even as the S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel hurriedly held a discussion of their own.
"How the hell did that kid get on our network? I thought this place was totally secure!" Fury growled, while the others looked on helplessly.
"Harry James Potter, you imbecile, what the hell do you think you are doing? You were in self-exile for a reason, buster, and you have now thrown it all away! What the hell is wrong with you?" Jane ranted, while the speaker fell silent.
"I have to agree with Jane, Harry," Selvig interjected, "You went away for a reason, what possible motive could you have for this?"
"I will explain everything, uncle Erik, could you put General Fury on the line, please?"
Fury took a deep breath and stepped forward, "Dr. Potter, we have a lot to talk about from the looks of things,"
"Indeed General, could you please ask Agents Romanoff, Barton & Coulson to relax please? I am not some enemy to be wary about, you know?" the voice came out, at which the shoulder's of Coulson and Barton slacked, while Natasha's jaw dropped in amazement.
"How the hell does he know we are here? Does he have a camera in here?" Barton whispered to Coulson, who shrugged, " I don't know!"
"You can relax, agent Barton, I had all of you under surveillance even before you entered that conference room. In fact, I have taken over the surveillance network of the entire base, and I have been listening into your conference from the beginning. Nice intro to my life by the way, Uncle Erik," the voice came out in a cheery tone, while Selvig winced, even as Jane slapped her forehead in irritation.
Fury's jaw was twitching, and if looks could kill, he would have burned the intercom unit to ashes.
"We need to find this kid soon, he is like a walking, talking digital nuclear bomb," Coulson muttered in exasperation, while Natasha and Barton agreed in unison.
"And why would you do that, Dr. Potter?" Fury growled, while the intercom fell silent.
"For the same reason why I hacked the S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli-carrier and erased all of Jane's research. To save her life."
There was an ominous silence at that, while Fury contemplated the words.
"Care to explain, Dr. Potter?"
"More than you know, General. I think you should start by knowing that all of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s databanks were compromised beyond hope. I intervened in order to erase Jane's data, so that the people who are after it, would not find it. They are aware that the data exists, but they are not yet aware of the source, nor have they actually acquired the data yet. I took steps to ensure that they never will."
"And why should I believe you? Who are these so called people who are, as you say, interested in your sister's research?"
There was a lengthy pause, after which the voice came back.
"Do the names 'Hydra' & the 'Red Skull' ring a bell, General Fury?"
"I think, you and I need to meet, Dr. Potter," Fury replied after a terse silence, at which the reply came back.
"Of course, I will forward my co-ordinates to your tablet" after which, the intercom fell silent.
Abruptly, Fury left the room, leaving an uncomfortable silence in his wake.