Stage Right: A Shadow’s Shadow
July 26, 2016
“We should be getting the first images now, sir.”
“This better be worth my time.” Mitchell Carson let the threat hang in the air and turned his attention to the televisions hanging in a bland conference room. It had originally been an officer’s briefing room, just off the bridge. Then the ship had been sold by the Russians, lost at sea, to HYDRA. The secret organization had made all sorts of interesting modifications, including the deep sea sub that was currently 9,000 meters below them in the Mariana Trench. It was amazing the sorts of things one could purchase at a black market auction – particularly in the wake of the fall of SHIELD.
The video feed was in color, although there wasn’t much color to be seen. High-powered lights ranged over the rock wall of the trench. In a narrow side channel, terraced with ledges, the mini sub was carefully excavating sand. Robotic arms gently brushed away sediment and a slow-moving vacuum pulled debris from the water in front of the camera to keep the view as clear as possible. An outline was taking shape. Carson squinted, it might have been what they were looking for, but it was too soon to tell. If it wasn’t, then he had spent millions on a useless project. Someone would have to answer for that.
“There! There!” The scientist to his right jabbed a finger at the screen. Sand clouded the area, currents moving and further disrupting the area. “You see it? It’s-” He turned and fumbled through several papers on the table before nearly shoving them under Carson’s nose. “You see?” His excitement was palatable, and enough out of character that Carson was willing to examine the research more closely. Dr. Thewre had been with HYDRA for years before the fall. Carson had snapped him up in the aftermath, along with several promising SHIELD projects and researchers that might help him recover the funds lost on Cross and analyze the Pym Particle. Thewre was brilliant, completely ignored by the scientific community for his ideas, but brilliant. And Carson was not one to pass up an opportunity. Other HYDRA leaders had balked at the notion that alien artifacts were buried in the Pacific – an expensive location to work when so much tech was floating around from the New York Invasion. But Cross had not worked his way up the ranks of HYDRA and SHIELD, and developed the most lucrative research in the private sector, by being timid.
Photographs of a Japanese woodblock print, the margins heavily notated, depicted a story in series. A man on a boat. The boat in a storm. A light on the ocean. The man, tiny amid the crashing waves, falling into the water. The final detailed image showed the man reaching for the surface, and below him – Carson’s eyes widened.
“There,” Threwre nodded. “It is just as it was described.”
Carson looked up to the screen, then back down to the papers in his hands. A glow from the display pulled his attention up again. Orange light, diffused by the water and sand, burned at the center of an unmistakable figure.
“Dig it up,” he ordered. Anticipation made his lips twitch in a smile. “I want full containment. Whatever you need, consider it authorized. Have it moved to the Imphal facility.”
“Amazing,” Threwre was whispering to himself, taking notes on the back of another sheet of paper. “The power reserves alone must be…” He trailed off, deep in thought, and Carson left instructions with one of the lab assistants – a woman who had worked at Pym Tech under Cross. She would make certain he received regular reports, and that requisitions and logistics were handled quietly and efficiently. She wasn’t HYDRA, but he loyalty was to Carson and Carson only.
Money and power were strong incentives for loyalty and easier to gauge than those who served HYDRA blindly. Carson did not have time to deal with underlings that might be reporting on him to another HYDRA cell or who might decide he wasn’t loyal enough to the cause. He was loyal, and if his aggressive moves paid off he would be leading the entire organization with two years. He only needed to remain covert until his projects were ready.
It was a lesson Pierce had always struggled with. Ever the politician, he had craved the spotlight. The unshakable urge to show the world his superiority had been the downfall of HYDRA. Carson wouldn’t make the same mistake; he had no issues with working from the shadows. While other leaders were trying to make statements to the world with terrorist acts or crawling into bunkers to hide, Carson was taking the next step to rebuild the organization with himself at the top. If everyone else wanted to fight with the remnants of SHIELD he would take advantage. With the Avengers made impotent by the Sokovia Accords and Coulson’s people busy chasing minor powered individuals, Carson could work undisturbed.
“You,” he snapped to the armed guard just outside the conference room. The woman turned with zero expression and waited for orders. Carson’s old colleagues in SHIELD and the US military would have never approved of the sort that Sloan-Stirling hired for their private army, nor would the fanatics at the old HYDRA, but they took orders well and their morality came cheaply. “Escort Dr. Threwre and his assistant to Imphal as soon as he is ready. Their research materials needed to be guarded at all times, understood?”
She acknowledged him and spoke quietly into the comm at her ear, ordering additional men. Carson continued on his way to the deck and his personal helicopter. The smile that had been tugging at his mouth since he first saw Threwre’s proof broke free. He was close, so close to being on top again. And this time, there would be no Hank Pym around to sling sanctimonious garbage over a powerful asset. HYDRA was back where it belonged: in the shadows. And from the darkness Carson would wield a weapon greater than any ever seen. And the world would tremble before him. Fear. Obedience.