WE ARE AVENGERS
The old man didn't ask if he could sit at Steve's table. He just sat down.
Steve Rogers put down his newspaper and looked at the old man in surprise. Then a startled look of recognition appeared on his face. Steve's eyes immediately flicked right and left, noting the size of the crowd in the coffee-shop. A fight between Steve and the old man would endanger dozens of civilians.
"Do you know who I am, Captain?" the old man asked in an accented and cultured voice. It was as much a statement as a question.
Steve nodded his head warily.
"Good," the old man said with a satisfied nod. "That eliminates the need for tedious explanations."
"What do you want, Mr. Lehnsherr?" Steve asked quietly.
"I want Hans Kammler," replied Magneto. His voice was beyond cold. And his gray eyes had the still patience of a hunter.
During the finals days of Nazi Germany, while Russian armies steadily ground their way into Berlin, a man named Hans Kammler vanished.
Kammler was an engineer who started off as just another cog in the machinery of the Third Reich. But in 1941 he joined the SS and began a spectacular rise to the top. By 1945, Kammler held the rank of Obergruppenfuhrer - the equivalent of a three-star general - and was in charge of a vast bureaucracy that researched, developed, and produced Germany's most advanced weapons. Many of the fantastically sophisticated aircraft, missiles, and other weapons that Germany fielded near the end of the war came from Kammler's laboratories and factories.
Rumors abounded that even more remarkable technologies were in the works. Energy beams, sonic weapons, exotic poison gases, radar-invisibility systems, robotic aircraft, electronic brains, rocket-craft, anti-gravity engines, and more were all mentioned. And more than a few of those rumored weapons were actually being planned, designed, or prototyped somewhere in Kammler's laboratories when the end finally came.
Like much of the Third Reich, Kammler's empire was built on a large and disposable core of slave labor. And those slaves died by the thousands in his factories and camps. As far as Kammler was concerned, their lives were nothing more than a part of the production equation for his jets and missiles. As the noose tightened around Germany, Kammler must have felt it also tightening around his neck. He was more than just a developer of weapons. He was a war criminal.
Then Nazi Germany fell. And in the chaos, Hans Kammler simply vanished.
"Damn," Nick Fury said softly, shaking his head in amazement. "Magneto? Here?"
"Strolling through Times Square like he didn't have a care in the world," Steve replied.
Fury thoughtfully rubbed his chin, "And he's looking for somebody?"
Steve nodded his head. "Obergruppenfuhrer Hans Kammler - a general in the SS who was in charge of just about all of the Nazi advanced weapon projects towards the end of the war. He used slave labor in his factories. Any sabotage or other problems with production were handled with mass executions. He vanished in 1945 and nobody seems to know if he was killed, or if he somehow managed to escape."
Fury frowned, "How old would Kammler be?"
"Well over a hundred."
Shaking his head, Fury said, "Then even if Kammler escaped from Germany, the odds are that he's dead, buried, and complaining about the heat in hell."
"You'd think so, but Magneto suspects that Kammler is alive," Steve replied.
"Magneto wasn't specific, but he's heard something. Something that's put him on Kammler's trail. Magneto hunted Nazis after the war. He built up a lot of contacts. I don't think his suspicions should be ignored."
Fury chuckled mirthlessly, "Well, I suppose if Magneto is hunting down hundred year old Nazis, then he's not spending his time coming up with a plan to take over the world. That's something. But where do you fit into this?"
"Kammler had access to a lot of useful information about German weapons programs. One theory is that he traded that information to the United States for a ticket out of Germany. After all, we did do something like that for Von Braun and his crew. Magneto wanted to know if I knew anything about that."
Steve shook his head, "I'd heard of Kammler, but that was about it. And I was on ice when Germany finally collapsed. Do you have any idea what happened to Kammler?"
Fury actually laughed. "Look, Captain, I know you think I've got a line on just about everything, but that was a long time ago. I wasn't even born when the war ended and this is the first I've heard of Kammler. I will say this - if we got cozy with Kammler way back in 1945, then we've done a fantastic job of keeping it a secret. Better than we normally do."
"Can you ask around?"
"Yeah, but why should I?"
Now it was Steve's turn to smile without meaning it, "Because if I read him right, a frustrated Magneto is a dangerous Magneto. And if we can give Lehnsherr something useful, we may be able to prevent him from doing something drastic that might get innocent people killed."
Fury thought that over. Then he slowly nodded his head in agreement.
"Okay, I'll see what I can do. But no promises."
Steve nodded, stood up, and walked to the door. But just before he left the room, Steve stopped.
"Fury..." Steve began... then he paused again.
"If you'd been there, back in 1945, and Kammler had offered you everything he had in exchange for a ticket to South America, would you have made that deal?"
"Absolutely," Fury said without hesitation.
Steve didn't say anything.
"And after I got everything I wanted from Kammler, I would have blown his head off myself," Fury continued calmly. "After all, I'd need to make sure he didn't also sell his information to the Russians."
Natasha thoughtfully swirled the ice cubes in her drink as she considered what Steve had said.
"Kammler? Hans Kammler? I've never heard of him," she finally said.
They were in a bar that was far too swanky for Steve. Natasha was wearing an elegantly expensive wisp of a dress that left her arms, shoulders, and legs bare. She was attracting a lot of attention. Steve had the impression that Natasha had picked both the place and her clothes just to make him uncomfortable. It seemed like the spy crowd never got tired of playing games.
"Any rumors about high-value Nazis that ended up in Russian hands after the war?" Steve asked.
"Sure. Plenty of them. All crazier than the last. I had a grand-uncle who swore we actually captured Hitler. Stalin supposedly spent years having him slowly tortured to death."
"Anything more likely?"
"Not really. But I'll ask some questions."
Natasha sighed and put down her drink. "Steve, why are you helping Magneto? He's not exactly one of the good guys."
Steve stared off at nothing much for several seconds before he responded.
"Because this time, the man is in the right."
Tony shook his head irritably and said, "No, that's bullshit."
Steve shrugged, "Okay. Want to tell me why?"
They were talking in the parking lot of the Stark Industries building in Queens. Tony leaned against the hood of his latest ridiculously expensive car and took a few seconds to think before responding.
"Look, Steve, anyone who's studied the history of technology will tell you that the United States - and the rest of the world - got a big boost after the war from captured German technology. Just look at the development of the magnetic tape recorder. It was a German invention. A few examples were brought back to the U.S. after the war and then developed further."
"Likewise, our space program had more Germans involved in it than you could shake a bratwurst at. Stealth is another technology with a German connection - although it's less direct than the space program. But those are exceptions, not the rule."
"For example: a big part of what Kammler was selling was supposed to be jet aircraft designs, right? But by the end of the war, the US had a very advanced aerospace industry. We had the best prop-driven fighter planes in the sky, the best heavy and medium bombers, we were about to deploy radio-guided bombs, and we had jet fighters on their way to Europe to take on the Luftwaffe's Me-262s. All of that was home-grown. Post-war development of high-performance jet aircraft had some input from German science, but it wasn't a major contribution. We didn't need it."
"When Yeager broke the sound barrier with the X-1, he was flying an aircraft that had clearly been made in America, with American technology. The bottom line is that if we bought jet aircraft technology from this Kammler guy, then we didn't use it. The results just aren't there."
"Okay, that sounds reasonable," Steve said thoughtfully. "But we still don't know what happened to Kammler."
Tony frowned, but didn't say anything.
"Do you know something?" Steve asked.
Tony hesitated again before responding, "Have you ever heard about something called 'die Glocke'?"
Steve had picked up some German during the war, "The Bell? What kind of bell?"
"It's just a story," Tony said defensively.
"Something I've heard that the German's were working on near the end. Just a rumor mind you. And kind of a crazy rumor at that. But my father seemed to think there was something to it. And the Bell was a high-tech German research project, and that was the sort of thing Kammler was involved in, right?"
"So what was it?"
Tony sighed. "That's a good question."
"We didn't get Kammler," Fury said flatly. "In fact, it doesn't look like anyone got him. After the war, just about every intelligence agency on Earth tried to track him down. At least a dozen American, British, French, and Russian agents died in the process - killed by each other or by Nazi remnants. Later on, the Israelis also tried to find Kammler, but they didn't have any luck either."
Steve shook his head in exasperation, "So what happened to him?"
Fury shrugged his shoulders. "There are various statements by members of Kammler's staff that he committed suicide, but those stories don't fit together very well and everyone seemed to have their doubts about them. Look, Steve, you know what a meat-grinder the war was. Kammler could have tried to escape in civilian clothes, got killed in any of a dozen different ways, and then ended up as just another corpse that was eventually shoveled into an unmarked grave."
"Do we have any idea about Kammler's last movements?"
"Intercepted radio-traffic confirmed that Kammler was in Munich on April 17, 1945. U.S. troops were only miles away. After that the trail gets hazy, but eye-witnesses said he headed east."
"East?" Steve repeated in obvious surprise. "Towards the Russians?"
"That's not the direction I would have headed if I were him, but sources put him in a small convoy that wandered from location to location in eastern Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. Some of those stories are contradictory. Look, Captain, we just don't know what happened to Kammler."
Then Fury dropped a worn-looking file folder onto the table.
"Here's something I thought you might find interesting," Fury added. "A sharp Strategic Scientific Reserve agent thought this was why Kammler went east."
Steve managed not to react as he read the title on the file tab. Typed onto a sticker that had turned yellow with age were the words "Top Secret: die Glocke".
But Fury still had something to say. "Captain, this is off the books. You do what you have to do, but SHIELD is not cooperating with Magneto in any way. Understand?"
Steve nodded as he opened the folder. The first document in the folder had tiny and precise hand-writing. Steve recognized it immediately. It was Peggy's.
It was well past midnight when Steve finally put down the file Fury had given him.
Well over half of the documents in the file had been written by Peggy. Sometimes, when he read what she wrote, it was like Steve could hear her voice.
Steve tiredly rubbed his eyes. He'd have to call Tony and get his opinion about what the file had to say about the Bell.
The Allies had tried to capture the site where the Bell was under development. The operation had been a disaster and only a few of the men sent to capture the Bell survived. There was a list of the survivors in the file. A summary of their debriefings was also in the file.
Steve knew one of the survivors.
They met in a small park in downtown Boston. Erik was sitting on a park bench, reading the 'New York Times' as Steve sat down next to him.
"Hello, Captain," Erik said as he folded up his newspaper and put it on the bench next to him. "You said you have something for me?"
Steve nodded, "I do. We have an idea what happened to Kammler."
"We?" Erik repeated warily.
Steve nodded towards the park entrance. Erik automatically looked in that direction. Then Erik's face remained a masterpiece of self-control as Logan approached them. Logan was also expressionless... except for the ferocious intensity with which he eyed Erik.
"Easy," Steve said to both men. "We're all on the same side."
"It was back in April of '45," Logan said emotionlessly. "The Germans were almost finished, but my unit got picked for a drop into south-eastern Germany. It was a scratch operation that was put together in a hurry."
Steve took over. "MI-6 had heard about one of Kammler's projects. They thought the Germans were developing an atomic bomb or something similar. So it was decided to parachute troops into the camp where the project was housed and take control of it."
Then Logan went on. "I didn't like the smell of the mission from the very beginning. A lot of guys in suits were involved - running around our base and making decisions that our officers didn't seem to like. They had plans for extracting anything useful that we might find, but they didn't have any for getting us out. We were supposed to take over the German camp, and then dig in and wait for the Russians. That meant we had to hope that the Germans wouldn't put together a decent counter-attack before the Russians got there. We began thinking that somebody considered us expendable."
"Soldiers are always expendable, Logan," Erik said with obvious amusement.
Logan's eyes narrowed. "And everyone who signs up with you is just a soldier in your army. Right, Magneto?"
"Keep to the point," Steve snapped.
Erik and Logan subsided - mostly.
"Finish your story," Steve ordered Logan.
Logan sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Then he started again.
The jump was a disaster. Night drops were always tricky and this one had been hastily planned and executed. The Canadian paratroopers were spread across a huge swath of territory and just a fraction of them were managing to make it to their assembly points. Even worse, a German infantry regiment happened to be passing through on its way to the Eastern front. The regiment mostly consisted of old men and boys, with just a few veterans, but there were a lot of German soldiers and they were organized, while the Canadians were scattered and isolated.
Even worse, the soldiers guarding the facility itself were SS, and there were a lot more of them than anyone had thought. They were well-equipped and more than willing to fight.
The sound of scattered firefights seemed to come from every direction. And more often than not, the rattle of Sten guns dwindled away as German rifles and machine guns finished the battle. Logan knew this was worse than D-Day. Worse that Market-Garden. Everything had gone wrong. Logan's unit was being chopped to pieces.
Logan considered calling it quits, gathering whatever stragglers he could find, and heading south - away from the Germans and the advancing Russians. They'd find some rough terrain, scrounge for supplies, and wait out the war. The hell with MI-6 and their damned Bell.
The problem was, Logan had landed right next to the camp that housed the Bell and he seemed to be completely alone. He had no clue how the Germans had managed to miss his parachute as he came down. By all rights, he should have been dead - riddled with machinegun bullets - before he hit the ground.
Logan ditched his parachute into some brush and crawled into cover. There were small stands of trees scattered all over the rolling hills of the drop-zone. The Germans had avoided clearing the ground in and around the camp in order to make the facility less obvious to aerial reconnaissance. Now that was going to be problem for them.
There was a flurry of activity inside the wire fence that surrounded the facility as the full force of guards continued to spill out of their barracks and mobilize. A heavily armed SS patrol, escorted by a pair of armored cars, was exiting the main gate as a small convoy of staff vehicles - obviously carrying a big shot of some kind - pulled inside. Meanwhile, some regular German army soldiers were hastily setting up additional machinegun nests outside the facility and were walking patrols around the camp's exterior.
Through the wire fence of the camp, Logan watched a group of men walk from the cars he'd seen entering the camp earlier to a large brick building. Among the cluster of men, there was a man in the uniform of an SS general. Another high-ranking SS officer was speaking to the general, his hands waving excitedly as he talked.
Logan considered his options. Then he smiled grimly. As long as he'd come all this way, he might as well accomplish something useful.
Logan loved killing officers.
Within a half-hour, Logan was in the facility. His night vision was uncanny, he was incredibly stealthy, and he'd always been able to tell where mines and tripwires where located, so working his way to the fence wasn't a problem. And fortunately, he'd been the guy in his squad designated to carry the wire cutters. On the way, he killed one SS guard, but let a pair of frightened Wehrmacht "soldiers" who were probably no more than fifteen years old walk past him.
As he worked his way through the fence and towards the brick building he'd seen the SS general vanish into, Logan could smell the corruption of death. Somewhere in the camp, there were dozens of poorly buried corpses.
The creak of wagon wheels made Logan pause. Nestled deep in shadows, he watched stonily as a small group of desperately skinny prisoners shoved a wagon past him and towards the brick building. An SS guard who seemed more than a little unhappy with the job was guarding them. The wagon was carrying large metal containers. As near as Logan's nose could tell, they were filled with saltwater mixed with various astringent chemicals. Mops, sponges, and rags were also piled on the wagon.
At the brick building, the guard used the butt of his rifle to pound on a large, wooden, double door. Both halves of the door opened slowly and a sickly blue-white light spilled out. The SS soldier guarding the prisoners carefully kept himself to one side of the door, so that the light didn't touch him. One of prisoners moaned and another instantly hushed him. In addition to being obviously half-starved, the prisoners hands and faces were covered with open sores. Logan was reminded of the stories he'd heard of lepers.
Voices called from inside the building and there was a strange buzzing hum in the air. The guard barked an order and the obviously frightened prisoners trundled the wagon through the door. Logan frowned to himself. What the hell was going on?
Once the wagon was inside, the prisoners closed the door behind them. The SS guard slumped against the brick wall and let out an all-too-human sigh of relief - just before Logan used his knife to kill him. It was a quiet death, and probably faster than the man deserved, but the only noise was something between a gasp and a whisper. Someone only yards away wouldn't have heard anything.
After lowering the body of the dead guard to the ground, Logan crouched next to the wooden door and tried to peer through the boards. But there wasn't enough of a gap for him to see anything. After a moment of thought, Logan used his knife - still slick with blood - to work open the door's latch...
Erik leaned forward. To think, Logan of all people had seen Kammler's escape! Fate seemed to be enjoying herself.
"What did you see?" Erik asked, obviously fascinated by Logan's story.
Logan seemed to consider his answer as he stared back at Eric.
"Hold it," Steve interrupted.
Erik shot Steve an angry look. The metal components of the park bench began humming and twitching.
Steve ignored the threat. "What makes you think that Kammler is alive?"
Still obviously angry, Erik's eyes flicked from Steve to Logan.
"Sharing is caring, Magneto," Logan said with a sardonic smile.
A dry, bitter smile appeared on Erik's face and then quickly vanished. He leaned back and relaxed as the park bench de-animated.
"Over the years, I have developed many sources of information," Erik said off-handedly. "Among them are a few Swiss bankers. I've discovered that particular breed has the morals of a jackal, but they also have a healthy regard for their own skins. One of them contacted me a few weeks back. From 1943 to 1945 his bank dealt with Herr Kammler, hiding away considerable sums of bullion and currency. Kammler's last set of instructions to the bank were very clear, but most peculiar. The bank was to maintain Kammler's account for a century, but should only release the account's funds to someone with a specific set of fingerprints."
"Early last month, a man contacted the bank. The appropriate tests were made in the presence of bank officials and it turned out that the man did, indeed, have the fingerprints of the person to whom they were supposed to release the account. However, the account in question was one in which I had long ago expressed interest. The banker told me what had happened. He also sent me a copy of the fingerprints."
"At the end of the war, the Allies managed to capture some SS records that included Kammler's personal information. The official fingerprints of Hans Kammler match those of the man at the bank. Security camera footage from the bank showed a man who looked identical to the last pictures taken of Kammler before he vanished."
Steve and Logan exchanged glances.
"Against all reason, it would appear the Hans Kammler is still alive and still relatively young," Eric continued. "That seems impossible. However, I am standing in the presence of two men who are living proof that time and death can be cheated. At least for a while."
"So tell me, Logan," Erik continued, his eyes still bright with the thrill of the hunt. "What did you see in that building?"
The light inside the brick building was being emitted from the Bell.
It was actually shaped like a bell. It stood almost three meters tall and about twice that wide, and it occupied the center of the room. The floor around it was tiled and power cables ran to the Bell from a generator positioned near the back wall. The Bell was humming and seemed to be vibrating slightly. And it seemed as if the edges of it were indistinct - as if they weren't quite there. A man-sized hatch that allowed entry into the Bell's interior was hanging open.
The room was filled with men in SS uniforms and men in some kind of full-body protective gear. The men without protective suits stood behind a thick metal shield. The prisoners cowered near their wagon, pitifully trying to use it as cover from the Bell's light. The SS general that Logan had seen entering the camp was behind the metal shield, donning one of the protective suits.
Logan hefted his Sten gun as he eyed the general. He didn't really have a good shot at him. Too many people were in the way. Logan wasn't exactly worried about killing the other SS personnel, but he wanted to make sure that he got the general.
The general was now in his protective suit. He took a moment to shake hands with some of his fellow officers, and then he walked out from behind the metal shield and without hesitation began striding towards the Bell.
Logan sighted his weapon on the general. Then he heard a sound behind him and dodged out of the way just before a bullet impacted into the door, right next to his head.
"It went to hell from there," Logan finished bleakly. "A couple of guards spotted me and we got into a firefight. That riled up the entire camp. I barely got away."
"Did you actually see Kammler enter the device?" Erik asked.
Logan shook his head.
"Are you absolutely sure it was Kammler?" Erik persisted.
Logan nodded, "Steve showed me some pictures of Kammler. Yeah. It was him."
Tony was less than pleased to have Magneto in his home. But Steve had insisted.
Natasha and Clint were also present. They stayed in the background and didn't say anything. Interestingly, Clint wasn't carrying his usual bow. Instead, he had an old-fashioned longbow; all wood and no metal. Tony suspected his arrows were the same. And Tony was willing to bet that Natasha was carrying one or more of those plastic and ceramic automatic pistols, complete with a magazine full of non-metallic bullets.
There was another guy with Steve who Tony didn't know. Steve called him Logan. And judging from the very brief look Natasha and Logan had exchanged when Logan entered the room with Steve and Magneto, Natasha already knew him.
Tony tossed the file on the Bell onto a lab table. "So you're trying to tell me that the Nazis had a time machine? And this Kammler asshole used it to escape to the future?"
Steve nodded. Logan and Erik didn't react.
Tony massaged his temples tiredly. "I should throw you all out."
"Mr. Stark," Erik said reasonably, "all we are asking is your assistance in tracking down the device."
Tony sighed and flipped the folder open again. Then he extracted a rough sketch of the Bell. It showed a cut-away view of the interior. Apparently the Bell had consisted of two counter-rotating cylinders that were filled with an isotope of mercury. However, there was still considerable space inside the Bell. Enough for a man to fit if he sat or knelt.
"Okay. This thing isn't a time machine. It seems to be an experiment in non-Einsteinean physics. The Nazis didn't like Einstein because he was Jewish - and that meant they didn't like his physics either. Which is stupid, of course, but that's not the point. The Nazis poured a lot of time, money, and resources into research that was just this side of being crazy in terms of current theory - and some research that actually was just plain crazy. That's what the Bell was, but you're telling me that they actually stumbled onto something."
"It looks like it," Steve said with a shrug.
"Right, but like I said, this isn't really a time machine. Not in the way you think. If I had to make a guess, I would say that it generates a stasis field."
Everyone except Erik gave Tony a blank look. Erik seemed to turn thoughtful.
"It's like this," Tony said distractedly as he continued to stare at the schematic. "You turn on the gizmo and step inside. Then you turn it off. Whoever was inside seems to have vanished. Later on, you turn the thing on again. The person who vanished reappears inside, but hasn't aged for even a second. He essentially took a vacation from our universe. He was completely outside of normal space-time."
"So in order for this to work, the Bell has to still exist?" Steve asked.
"Or something functionally identical to it," Tony replied.
"Can you track it down?" Logan asked flatly. Erik smiled at that. Trust Logan to go for the throat of the issue.
Tony seemed to consider that for a second. "If I could get an idea what kind of radiation it put out, maybe. The signature might be unique enough for me to come up with a detector. Something like a specialized Geiger counter. Maybe I could build a small copy of the Bell, but that would take time..."
"The building in which the Bell was built and tested still exists," Erik interrupted.
Tony's eyes were now distant as he contemplated the technical problem he was facing. "Yeah, that will work."
"One thing I don't get," Logan asked. "What were the prisoners for?"
Steve, Logan, and Natasha were having a cup of coffee in Stark's kitchen. Erik and Tony were in the other room, casually talking about mutant detection counter-measures while Clint stoically watched them. At the moment, a team of Stark International technicians were on their way to what was left of the camp that once housed the Bell. They were to perform some sort of analysis of the bricks of main building and send the results to Tony.
Steve drank some coffee and then said, "According to the file, the Bell did a lot of damage to the near surroundings every time they ran it. The scientists found that if they scrubbed the floor with a solution of brine and various chemicals, it preserved the flooring. Otherwise, the bottom structure of the Bell would actually start disintegrating."
"Even evil needs janitors," Natasha sighed.
Logan looked disgusted, "Rough job. The prisoners I saw didn't look in good shape."
"Radiation sickness," Steve said quietly. "They only lasted a week or two. After the war, about two-hundred graves were found in the camp."
"Why not put them into protective suits?" Logan asked.
"They only had so many suits and they needed them for the scientists. But they had plenty of workers and they were easy to replace."
Logan put down his coffee-cup. "You know, people used to ask me if I had any regrets about fighting in the war. And, yeah, I have some - I watched a lot of friends die. But I've never regretted helping to shut down the Nazis."
"What happened after you got out of the camp?" Natasha asked Logan. Steve decided not to notice the familiar way Natasha touched Logan's shoulder. It was increasingly obvious that they knew each other from somewhere.
Logan frowned. "I headed west and eventually ran into an American unit - the Germans were falling apart pretty fast right about then. I reported back and was transferred to the Pacific. I always figured that was to keep me out of the way while the brass tried to figure out a way to explain how an airborne company just vanished."
After that, things began to fall into place fairly quickly.
Tony built his detector and then mounted it in a helicopter borrowed from one of his European facilities. Then they tracked the Bell from the camp where it was built to its final resting place. They found the Bell in a long-buried and forgotten bunker just outside of Munich. How Kammler's people got the Bell from its original location to Munich was a mystery.
The Bell matched Logan's description. It was sitting in a large chamber that had been intended for ammunition storage. A completely modern portable generator was hooked up to it. A pair of discarded fuel cans lay off to the side. The room stank of gasoline and carbon monoxide.
In a corner near the exit, Logan found a familiar looking protective suit as well as the uniform jacket of an SS officer. The protective suit and jacket looked new. The rank insignia on the jacket was for an Obergruppenfuhrer.
"You three get a room in town and stay out of sight," Natasha more-or-less ordered the others. "I'll see what I can find out."
Erik raised an eyebrow, "And why should I allow that, my dear?"
Steve tried to hide his smile. Logan just rolled his eyes.
"Because, Herr Lehnsherr, I can speak flawless German," Natasha said in - well - flawless German. "And because you three would attract too much attention. And because everyone likes to talk to a pretty girl."
"Franz Waren was the last living member of Kammler's personal staff," Natasha reported the next day. "He lived in Munich since the end of the war, but he died of cancer several weeks ago. Waren was destitute, but just before he died he used what little money he had to purchase a portable generator. That was the generator we found in the bunker, hooked up to the Bell. The serial numbers matched."
Logan nodded, "Any idea what happened to Kammler once he got loose?"
"Believe it or not, Kammler lived with Waren," Natasha supplied. "I checked with the neighbors. A man they thought was a younger relative showed up about a month and a half ago and stayed with Herr Waren until the end. I showed them a picture of Kammler. The neighbors recognized him. They seemed to appreciate the way he helped an old man in his dying days."
"Kammler made sure that Waren got a decent funeral," Natasha continued. "However, that was a mistake. Kammler needed money for the funeral, so he went to his Swiss bankers. And that's what triggered Herr Lehnsherr's interest."
Logan frowned, obviously surprised at Natasha's news.
Erik snorted, "I have hunted Kammler's kind for decades, Logan. And I can tell you this, as much as we would like to pretend that they are soulless monsters, they are not. They are men. And they often surprise you by showing signs of humanity that you would really rather they did not possess."
Logan shrugged that off. Then he asked Natasha, "Okay, so where's Kammler?"
"Berlin," Natasha answered immediately. "It's fairly easy to track his movements - he doesn't understand how modern technology has made it easy to trace someone, and he doesn't know the tricks he should use to cover his trail. I think he plans on leaving the country."
"We'll arrest him," Steve told Logan and Erik. "Then we'll give him to the German authorities for trial."
For a moment, Logan seemed about to say something. But he didn't.
Erik just smiled and said, "Very well, Captain."
Steve carefully studied Erik's face.
"Rest assured, Captain. You may arrest Kammler and the Germans may prosecute him. I will not interfere. What more can you ask from me?"
Steve nodded his head slowly.
Natasha decided to sit out the final capture. She really wasn't a part of the world that Erik, Logan, Steve - and Kammler - came from. It seemed right to leave the rest of the hunt to them.
They caught up to Kammler in an expensive Berlin hotel. It wasn't that hard to find him. As Natasha had said, the man didn't really know how to hide in the modern world. Capturing Kammler was anticlimactic. He was alone and not even armed. Of course, there wasn't much he could have done against the three of them in any case.
"Who are you?" Kammler said, obviously torn between fear and frustrated anger. His English was actually quite good. Accented, but very precise.
At first nobody responded. It was as if Erik, Logan, and Steve couldn't find an answer.
It was Erik who finally broke the silence.
"We are all that remains," Erik said. His voice was quiet, but firm. "We are what is left of a world that is gone. Of those who are long dead. Of a time that is becoming a thing of myth and legend and fading memory. But we were there, Herr Kammler. We were there and we have not forgotten. And we have come seeking justice."
"We are avengers."
Steve glanced sharply at Erik. Logan's smile was narrow and hard.
Kammler shook his head in disbelief. Then he began cursing them. He was still raving when a pair of police officers put handcuffs on him and wordlessly dragged him out of his hotel room.
Steve looked at Erik, "We're done."
"I know," said Erik. Then he left without another word.
Logan watched Erik leave, then he glanced at Steve.
Steve didn't have anything to say.
Neither Logan or Natasha had been in Berlin for quite some time. They spent the rest of the day taking in the sights. They were on the Museumsinsel, enjoying the view of the Spee river, when Natasha finally asked Logan the question that had been bothering her ever since Kammler's capture.
"How long do you think until Magneto kills Kammler?"
Logan shook his head, "He'll wait until after the trial."
"Do you think Steve will try to stop him?" Natasha asked, a trace of worry in her voice.
Logan thought about that and then said, "No. I saw the look in Steve's eyes when he described the graves they found in that camp. He won't get involved."
Natasha nodded, "I think you're right. Good."
Then Logan smiled at Natasha. "You're a little sweet on Steve, aren't you?"
Natasha hooked Logan's arm in hers, leaned her head against his shoulder, and closed her eyes.
"Maybe," she said.
Logan's smile turned into a grin. "You should let him know."
"Maybe," Natasha said again, her eyes still closed.
Logan looked out at the river. It was a beautiful day. The timeless kind of day that made a man want to let go of the past and get on with his life.
If he could.
Back in New York, Steve pulled open the ancient file cabinet. The drawer shrieked open with a grind of metal on metal.
Steve carefully tucked the file back from where Fury had taken it.
"Thanks, Peggy," Steve said quietly.
Then he closed the drawer.
The unlikely trial of Hans Kammler was world news. Eric didn't intervene. Actually, he rather enjoyed the spectacle of Germany trying to deal with its haunted past.
As the trial went on, Erik wandered the streets of Berlin. He visited museums, attended operas, ate at some excellent restaurants, and sampled beer in the local taverns.
But mostly, he was just waiting.
Obergruppenfuhrer Hans Kammler is a real historical figure who actually did vanish at the end of World War II. He's been described as, "the most important missing Nazi war-criminal who you've never heard of."
The Bell is rumored to have existed, but there are different ideas about what it was. It is often connected to supposed German anti-gravity research by those fascinated with UFO lore. I personally think it's just a myth.
In order for this story to make sense, I had to assume that SHIELD and many of the world's governments are either concealing or don't know the full extent of Magneto's villainy in the X-Men movies. Otherwise, the first reaction to the fact that Magneto had surfaced would be a full-blown effort to capture or kill him - with a strong tendency to go with the "kill" option. Given that both Professor X and at least one U.S. President have an interest in keeping things quiet lest the public go into a murderous anti-mutant frenzy, that's not completely unreasonable.
Where do Logan and Natasha know one another from? Well, that's a tale for another day...