Showdown in Chicago
* * *
War Machine sped through the sky, followed by Quinjet.
LaSalle Street, usually crowded, was now empty. The reason for mass panic was a group of villains loading their loot into a van in front of Federal Reserve Bank.
"I have a visual on the enemy."
War Machine’s armor registered energy flux with Mysterio’s signature and the vapour trail of Goblin's armored glider. Yellowjacket was hard to miss – he was the only villain in the world who could grow sixty feet tall.
"Sinister Six. Just as we expected. "
Moonhawk roughly landed Quinjet, earning a sarcastic remark from Arcanna. He ignored it, pushing the button to open the hatch.
Tombstone clenched his yellow teeth. Bloody Avengers came too soon. Couldn't Yellowjacket build sturdier robots to distract them?
Captain America brought his shield up repeling Viper's poisoned darts. Green-haired woman savagely attacked him. Arcanna Jones and Mysterio were staring intently at each other; they were locked in the battle of wills. Firestar hovered in mid-air protecting Arcanna while the elder woman was distracted by the mental battle. Her caution was paid off when Yellowjacket tried to step on Arcanna; Firestar burned his foot. The villain stepped back, yelling from pain.
War Machine warned, "Moonhawk, Goblin at two o'clock!"
White-cloaked man cartwheeled to escape two pumpkin bombs thrown at him by the masked madman. He responded with talon-shaped throwing knives; green armor protected glider-riding maniac but his bomb mussed the target, destroying the newspaper stand instead.
Goblin! Firestar's fists clenched, her features hardened.
Five months ago Osborn's mansion was attacked and she lost her fiancee. The wounds were still fresh. Avengers left no stones unturned, but never found the body. Angelica couldn't even give Harry a proper funeral; it was slowly killing her from the inside.
And now the monster responsible for Harry’s death was in the range of her powers. You are going down, bastard!
Her comlink almost exploded, "Firestar, stand down! Goblin is not your priority! Protect Arcanna! I’ll handle Goblin!"
Damn it! I can’t believe I just said it out loud! The urge to go after Goblin was almost painful. But the last time Firestar threw a tantrum and disobeyed direct orders from Captain America, she was put on probation. Young heroine wasn't looking forward to repeat the humiliating experience.
Captain America threw star-spangled shield; Viper somersaulted to dodge it, but the shield ricocheted from the wall and grazed her knee. He took advantage of her momentary distraction, sweeping her feet from under her.
War Machine unleashed two missiles; Yellowjacket returned to normal size to avoid them. But before Pym could shrink to ant-size, the gloved hand grabbed his collar.
"Look into my eyes!" Moonhawk hissed and took off his mask. Pym could see the eyes glowing like hot coals and the ritual scars on the lean hawk-like face, "Feel all the pain and suffering you caused!"
"AAARGH!" Yellowjacket’s face contorted in pain and horror before he collapsed.
"Vengeance is served," there was no pride in vigilante’s voice when he adjusted the mask back and looked down at the fallen villain. He felt depleted, empty, spent.
Meanwhile Goblin was wreaking havoc in the streets. He was pursued by War Machine, dodging his fire expertly. Hiding out of view behind the street corner Goblin shouted "NOW!". Well-aimed blast from Shocker’s gauntlets toppled the shaky building, and War Machine was buried beneath the falling debris.
Arcanna stepped back from Mysterio. Her dead father was looking at her.
"I loved you! You were my Little Princess! How could you desert me in the time of need? How could my daughter, my flesh and blood let me die?"
"You are NOT my father!" heroine’s voice was shaking.
Mysterio attacked through the crack in her mental armor, rendering Arcanna unconscious. Firestar moved to intercept him, but his penetrating gaze immobilized her.
Moonhawk challenged him, "Fight me, coward!"
"Thanks, but I’ll pass," Mysterio disappeared in a cloud of smoke.
* * *
War Machine was battered and bruised; the rocks left multiple scratches and dents on his armor. His pride hurt more than his body. While he was digging his way to the surface and trying not to bring down the whole city block in the process, Sinister Six escaped.
"War Machine, you told me you can handle Goblin! I believed you!" if the armored hero was angry, Firestar was literally steaming.
Arcanna was rubbing her temples, "Don’t be so judgmental. Goblin and Shocker had tag-teamed him."
Firestar made a silent promise, Next time I see Goblin, I'm going after him, and I'll skin this giggling freak alive! I don't care if they kick me out of the team or arrest me! Harry must be avenged!
Moonhawk joined the company, dragging unresisting Yellowjacket by his collar. War Machine glared at him, "Arcanna was knocked out; I was buried, what’s your excuse? You couldn’t see through the illusions? Your famous True Sight is just a hoax?"
"I couldn't use it. Penance Stare drains my energy."
Captain America frowned, "Penance Stare? Again? You could knock Pym out, but no, you had to use the nuclear option."
Arcanna tried to ease the tension, "Look at the bright side. At least we’ve got Yellowjacket."
Captain America looked at the sobbing villain, noticing empty eyes and a string of drool from his mouth, and shook his head in disgust.
"Yellowjacket is gone. All we've got is an empty shell."
* * *
While Avengers were quarreling, on the other end of Chicago six heroes known as Exiles were sitting on the roof of the abandoned warehouse, listening to Darwin.
"Our mission is to stop to stop Sinister Six."
According to the data provided by Timebroker, first incarnation of Sinister Six was gathered when Masters of Evil were torn apart by the war between White Skull and Baroness Zemo and Hellfire Society was destroyed by Defenders. They took advantage of power vacuum and became one of the most notorious supervillain teams. Darwin could see that their opponents were formidable, and it’s bad news. Adaptoid mutant wasn’t fooled by the success of the first mission. His Exiles had a long way to go before they can truly become a team.
Raza Longknife asked, "Timebroker told you about the enemy?" Darwin noticed that alien’s accent disappeared again.
The mutant shrugged, "He never tells too much. This time all he gave me is their codenames and a few facts from their history."
Crimson Dynamo smiled, "Let me fill in the blanks. I was hacking into various databases since our arrival."
Mysterio was a fortune teller from Vegas who turned to dark magic because his gambling habits were too expensive and attracted the unwanted attention from Mr. Fixit.
Tombstone was well-known figure in New York underground; pale-faced gangster was a strong-armed enforcer for Maggia until Kingpin wiped out the competition.
Carmilla Black, codename Viper, was a high-ranking agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. She had the flawless record until Agent X found a proof that she was a double agent for HYDRA. Viper escaped before they could arrest her. But the return to HYDRA headquarters was out of question - Baroness Zemo never gave her pawns a second chance.
Goblin was a wild card. Nobody saw him without a mask; he was never arrested; police and FBI had no clues where he came from. Superstrong, armed with high-tech weaponry and completely insane, Goblin was the most dangerous member of Sinister Six.
Shocker was a talented electronic engineer whose first crime was creating vibro-shock bomb to destroy the office of the company that fired him. While Herman Schultz wasn't as impressive as his teammates, Darwin wasn't going to underestimate him.
Yellowjacket was out of equation after Moonhawk used Penance Stare. Some people can meet face to face with the pain their crimes caused and handle the guilt. Hank Pym couldn't.
Flash Thompson exclaimed, "So it’s gonna be six of us against five of them? Cool!"
Iron Fist wasn't sharing wall-crawler's optimism, "Don't be so cocky. One member short, they are still a threat".
Raza agreed, "Wounded beasts are dangerous and unpredictable."
"But we took down Mole Man and his army of monsters!"
Yelena Belova shook her head, "We had an army of Morlocks and a squad of Sentinels on our side. This time we are on our own. So don’t expect a walk in the park."
Darwin concluded, "And we have to move fast. Avengers are looking for Sinister Six too. It's important to find and take them down before Avengers have a chance to intervene."
* * *
The safehouse was full of booby traps designed to deal with all kinds of intruders. Except the intruder was as far from ordinary man as possible.
Viper unsheathed her blades and took the stance, "We are not alone!"
"Where?" Shocker looked around nervously but saw nothing.
"Over there," tall man stepped into the light, allowing Sinister Six to see him.
Tombstone spat out, "You have a lot of nerve to come here, Wanderer. You think I don’t know who destroyed Maggia weapons stash?"
"So? I thought you motto is 'Nothing personal, just business'. Besides, you don't work for Maggia anymore".
Wanderer’s crimson body armor and was well-known in all the corners of the world. He worked for several governments; he was hired by drug cartels and religious extremist groups.
"I don’t remember sending you the invitation."
"That’s a crappy way to meet the answer to your prayers, my pale-faced friend. A little bird told me that you are one man short, and I’m here to offer my services."
Shocker said heatedly, "We don’t need more fighters; Viper is very capable."
Wanderer sized up the green-haired assassin, paying extra attention to her shapely long legs, "Capable? It goes without saying. But you misunderstood me. I'm your team's new tactician. From what I see, Sinister Six became too lazy and in need of a new perspective." Wanderer crossed his arms over his chest, "Let me ask a few questions, just to prove my point. What were you planning to do?" Shocker was at a loss for words, "Hide and wait until the smoke clears? Or maybe I was wrong about you? Maybe all this time you were planning how to free Yellowjacket? All for one and one for all?" Wanderer saw his wild guess wasn’t far from truth, "I can save you time and effort. Yellowjacket is useless for you; he was taken to the psych ward of the Raft."
Shocker asked with suspicion, "And how do you know this?"
"I have my sources."
"Sources you are not going to share?"
"Like you share your connections to A.I.M.?"
Shocked turned purple with rage, "Shut up!"
Goblin giggled, "Hey, I’m starting to like this guy!"
Mysterio laughed out loud, "Seriously, Herman, A.I.M.? Now I know how Craven Klaw got his hands on the vibrokatanas."
Tombstone raised his arm, "We need sixth member and Wanderer wants to join us. This calls in for a vote. Mysterio?"
"That's two against three, you lost", Viper said triumphantly. "I give you five minute head start, Wanderer. Then I'm going after you."
"Viper," Tombstone's voice was gravely serious, "Never – NEVER! - assume how I'm going to vote. "
"But he and you..."
"Like he said, ‘Nothing personal, it’s just business’. And my vote was Yes."
"Welcome to the club," said Mysterio.
Viper had to add her two cents, "Tombstone, I wouldn’t trust Wanderer if I were you. He has a bad habit of betraying his allies. He'll do it again".
"Carmilla, sweetie, you are not in position to talk about loyalty. Not after you betrayed both HYDRA and S.H.I.E.L.D."
* * *
Tombstone was to see the cavalcade of cars through the binoculars. Wanderer gave them the information as the admission fee, and it certainly wasn’t a wild goose chase. If they succeed, they’ll have the armored truck full of anti-tank weapons. Wanderer can be annoying and disrespectful, but Tombstone knew they had to show the world that Sinister Six is as strong as ever, with Yellowjacket or without him. If pulling off high-profile heist means accepting help from Wanderer, so be it. They could deal with the annoying mercenary later.
Shocker sent forward a shockwave. The escort cars were turning over and crashing into each other until only two of them left on the road. Goblin fired missiles at each car and watched with glee as they exploded. Viper was slashing through the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with her usual efficiency. A small scratch was enough to kill – Carmilla Black never used slow (?) poisons.
Mysterio concentrated and S.H.I.E.L.D soldiers started to shoot frantically, not realizing that they are killing each others.
"Hold the fire!" yelled one of the officers. "Don’t shoot…"
"...It's a trap?" Viper hissed, plunging her sai viciously into the agent’s back. "Thanks, Captain Oblivious, you are too late!"
Goblin cracked the bulletproof glass and snapped the neck of the driver.
Wanderer asked Viper, "So how does it feel to kill your former buddies?"
Carmilla scowled, not taking the bait, "I’m doing S.H.I.E.L.D a favor by disposing of these slackers. I’ve seen AIM agents with better reflexes."
"You worked for A.I.M. too? I'm impressed!"
"Shut up, Wanderer!"
We won; the truck and its cargo now belong to Sinister Six. And the bloody Avengers aren’t here to stop us.
* * *
Flash whispered, "Hey, there are six of them, not five!"
Crimson Dynamo recognized the new member of Sinister Six from the FBI databases.
Wanderer. Real name – unknown…. Age – unknown… Mercenary and assassin for hire…. Threat level - SEVERE.
Before they ambushed Sinister Six, Yelena Belova warned Exiles, "Watch out for his arrows! Wanderer had all kinds of them, even anti-aircraft arrows."
Captain Spider started the battle by jumping from the roof and landing on Goblin's back. The villain started to wiggle until he was able to get rid of the ‘passenger’. Crimson Dynamo caught Flash before the luckless hero hit the ground. She scolded him, "What's up with you? You are Spider, not a Human Fly."
Iron Fist moved like a dancer, dodging or blocking Wanderer's arrows. The mercenary pulled out the sword from behind his back, enjoying the challenge.
Shocker threw odd-shaped grenade at Darwin. The ground swallowed the mutant.
"Brace yourself! Three, two…" Yelena counted as she threw Captain Spider at Tombstone. The gangster staggered back when the wall-crawler slammed into his frame. The force of the impact was so strong that Tombstone was knocked unconscious.
Raza fought Viper, keeping a safe distance from her using a sharp tip of his sword. The alien dealt with the poisoned blades before; the experience was nasty and almost fatal.
Shocker aimed his gauntlets at Nico, ready to unleash the shockwave. Suddenly he felt the ground shifting. A mole-like monster burst through the ground, grabbing Shocker’s hands and holding them in the iron grip. The villain shuddered when he recognized Darwin.
"No!" Shocker yelled as the mutant added extra pressure, crushing his gauntlets.
Spider-sense alerted Flash Thompson when Tombstone started to stir. Captain Spider sidestepped when the gangster attacked, then stuck out his leg and tripped Tombstone, and finally slammed both fists down in a chopping motion.
"And stay down!"
Raza stepped forward, still keeping a safe distance from Viper. He felt uneasy fighting the woman who looked like a sister of Abigail Brand. The similarities could make the lesser man hesitate, but Raza’s heart was full of bitter anger and the desire to smash the warped mirror. He morphed his left hand into a blade, parried Viper’s attack and plunged a sword through her heart in a swift motion.
Nico Minoru clenched her teeth. She couldn’t concentrate on spells and resists Mysterio’s mental attack at the same time.
Goblin made a U-turn to face the armored woman. He snarled, "War Machine got a girlfriend? Who knew he had it in him?"
His words had unexpected effect.
"I'M NOT HIS GIRFLRIEND!"
Yellow beams of power struck Goblin directly in the chest, knocking him off the glider. Yelena cursed loudly, slowly coming to her senses.
Mysterio was slowly breaking through Nico’s mental defenses when someone tapped him on the shoulder.
"Excuse me," said Flash Thompson, then headbutted the villain and kicked him in the gut. Once Nico was free from the mental tentacles, she knocked Mysterio out with the Staff of One.
Iron Fist caught Wanderer’s sword between his palms, channeled his chi through the hands and broke the blade.
"My best sword! You’ll pay for this!"
Iron Fist's elbow connected to Wanderer’s solar plexus. Wanderer felt chi-powered blow despite the armor. Iron Fist exploded in a series of attacks aimed at the vital points on mercenary’s body and added a finishing touch to his symphony of battle by using the secret attack of Latverian Resistance, Four Fangs of Doom.
Goblin was slowly losing himself in a cloud of chemical-induced rage. His opponent was alone and unarmed, but all the weapons at Goblin’s disposal proved to be useless. Enraged Goblin tried to stab Darwin, but both the hand and the dagger were stuck in the mutant’s chest.
"Stupid freak! Why can't you just die?"
Darwin responded with, "Freak? Look who's talking!"
Nico pointed her staff at Goblin and shouted, "Unmask!"
Goblin’s laughing mask disappeared, revealing the pale face of the young man Yelena Flash immediately recognized as Harry Osborn.
"Who are you people? Where am I?" Harry Osborn in a weak voice.
"MISSION ACCOMPLISHED," said Timebroker, and Exiles disappeared in a flash of light.
To be continued…