1943. Salerno. Italy
The planes had come quicker than they had hoped. Steve had been sure that with the Invaders leading the charge onto the Italian shore, that the Axis forces wouldn't have had time to really muster themselves before the bulk of General Clark's forces had made the beachhead. But the planes had come quickly.
Normally, Steve and his team wouldn't be on a mission like this, but top brass wanted a beachhead in Italy. They were going to move heaven and earth to get it, so here they were. Not that any of them minded too much. They enjoyed being with the rest of the men. It was nice to meet up with some of the regular GIs and see how they thought things were going. Well, Namor wasn't too happy, but he was never all that happy unless he was smashing some tanks around.
Just an hour ago, Namor had used his incredible powers to silently bring the Invaders to the beach, without the enemy troops being the wiser. Once each part of the team had been deposited safely, Namor had whipped up a doozy of a wave and had it wash over the heart of the Axis lines, which the other members of the team had pour through. Steve and Buck systematically moved from pill box to pill box, loosening up the enemy defenses while Namor and Hammond caused some terror on the front lines. Behind them, the Howling Commandos had made sure to mop up any stragglers. It was about as successful of a first assault as they could have hoped.
But once the boats filled with the rest of the troops started to make their way to the beach, the Luftwaffe had made their presence known.
So now the Invaders had an airfield to capture.
"Looks like they haven't retreated to protect it," Bucky said as he peered through the scope of his rifle. "Still just refueling and taking off. Standard procedure."
"Well," Peggy Carter smiled wryly, "maybe we hit them fast enough that they didn't get word back that it was us
. Maybe this isn't going to be so bad after all."
"Oof," Bucky winced at that.
"What?" Carter was befuddled as to what she had said.
"Peggy, you never say stuff like that," Steve tried to hold back a chuckle. "It's a jinx."
"Oh honestly you two," she rolled her brown eyes, her hair waving back off her face. Even with the grime of battle on her she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. "Aren't you ever going to grow up?"
"Probably not," Bucky admitted.
"Don't worry, boys," a voice from behind drew their attention. Even after all this time, Steve wasn't used to the unreal realness of Jim Hammond's dulcet tones. "I'll take care of this one."
They turned to find the Human Torch, clad in his special fireproof suit, climbing over a hill. The name was a misnomer, in all reality. There was nothing human about Hammond. He was a wholly mechanical construct, though easily the most amazing the world had ever seen. His skin and hair were both synthetic, his eyes a special lens made of crystal, and his bones were some sort of alloy that was almost as rare as Cap's shield. His organs, or what he considered his organs, were different bags, billows, and mechanisms Steve couldn't even begin to understand. But Steve knew the Torch was special.
If Rogers was a miracle of medical science, than Jim was his mechanical counterpart, and just as rare. Professor Phineas Horton had dreamed up the being he called an "android", and for it some called him a madman. But now Hammond, the Torch, was an invaluable part of the team. Steve didn't see him as a machine. He saw him as a friend.
"Keep the ones on the ground off my back," he winked at the rest of the team. "I'll deal with the planes."
With that, the Human Torch erupted into a brilliant ball of flames and took off into the Italian sky like Vesuvius erupting once again. The living fireball tore through the Luftwaffe planes like a hot knife through butter, and before long the Invaders had taken the airfield, securing the Italian beachhead.
Over the Pacific Ocean. Approaching Madripoor
The mission had gone sideways quicker than any of them could have imagined. The AIM androids were fast, powerful, and surprisingly advanced. If the terrorist organization had been working on this kind of technology, Steve was amazed that this was the first they had seen of them. Even a few permutations earlier would have been enough to turn some of Strike Team Alpha's previous victories into defeat. But maybe AIM had gotten smarter, somehow. Maybe they had been holding this trump card back until it was truly ready. If that was the case, Steve was terrified to think about just how many of these machines AIM could have dispatched across the globe.
But Captain America couldn't worry about that right now. Right now he had half a dozen of the mechanical menaces taking on his team. Piotr was trying to take on three at once. Choi had shrunk down to do who knows what, while Steve attempted to keep his distance from the other three.
One lunged at him, and he managed to spin out of the way, flashing out the edge of the shield as he did. It caught his attacker across the face, leaving a deep gash across the mechanical man's visage. The inner workings of the machine were visible, and its movement became stiff and awkward, after another lunge it collapsed like any dead man.
"Come on," he motioned at the other two, "I've been itching for a fight."
Before they could attack, however, one of their fellow automatons was tossed into them, collapsing the three of them into a writhing pile of artificial limbs. While the three of them attempted to untangle themselves, Steve turned to find Colossus's fist wrapped around one of the other's head. With a great flex of his mighty fingers, the android's head popped like some grotesque pinata. Gears, glass, and gyros rained onto the floor, the metal pings of like rain on a tin roof.
The remaining android that had been attacking Piotr leapt towards the mutant as his back was turned. Before it could land on its target, Captain America's shield sheered its head off before bouncing back to Steve.
As the other three began to get to their feet, Steve could hear the footfalls of more approaching, "We need to get out of here. Where the hell is Atom?"
The two of them abandoned the plan to head to the plane's bridge. They would never get there now. That much was certain. There was bound to be too many of them that way. So Cap thought there was only one plan of action.
"Let's head to the cargo hold," he nodded to Piotr. "We're taking the express exit."
They turned and ran that way, Colossus closing off the door behind them, hoping to buy them some time.
"Cap!" Crimson Fox's voice came over the comms. "They're-"
A loud bang from behind them drowned out Vivian's voice, and told Steve that the door didn't stand much of a chance against the strength of the androids.
"Repeat that!" Steve shouted as he and Colossus moved as fast as they could through the tight halls of the SHIELD plane.
"They just jumped! Four of whatever they are! Rockets came out of their feat and they were headed for Madripoor," she responded, explaining the situation.
Things began to become clear. It was nothing but a trap. AIM may not have expected the strike team to catch up, but they certainly had a plan if they did. Meaning they had to get off this plane as quick as possible.
"Everyone back to the Quinjet now!" he yelled, he and Rasputin coming to a skidding halt. "Sam, be ready to take off! We're gonna come in hot."
There wasn't much time, Steve was sure of that. He felt the slick layer of sweat building up under his suit. His team was in danger, more than most of them realized. If they weren't on that jet in a few moments, they wouldn't be coming back from the mission alive.'
When they reached the access hatch, Colossus tossed Steve up, and he landed deftly in the Quinjet. He dropped down the tow line for Piotr to climb up. By the time the mutant was inside, Vivian and Joseph were also following him up, but there was no sign of Choi.
"Ryan! Atom! Where the hell are you? We gotta get out of here!"
The minute Steve waited for a response felt like hours. He wasn't one to leave a man behind, and he had no intention of starting now. But he also knew that if he waited any longer he'd lose his entire team, and that was a nonstarter.
"Sam, detach!" he commanded.
"We can wait! There's none of those things down there!" Union Jack pleaded with Cap.
"It's not the androids I'm worried about!" Rogers retorted. "Sam, now!"
His friend nodded and in a violent maneuver he detached from the SHIELD plane and got some distance between them. Just in the nick of time, as well. As they flew parallel the bigger plane, the explosion that Steve had been expecting ripped through the middle of the cargo jet. A blazing ball of fire engulfed the aircraft, and shrapnel began to rain down into the ocean around Madripoor.
The team was silent, realizing that one of their own had just fallen. Choi may have been a pain in the ass, and often took orders from Beijing more than he took orders from Steve, but he was still a teammate, and a hero to boot. Rogers slammed his shield into the floor of the Quinjet, leaving a dent.
But before any of them could say a word, the comm crackled to life, "-in! Come in! Do you guys read me?"
Ryan's voice brought a smile to everyone, and Piotr let out a whoop.
"You sneeky git," Union Jack laughed. "Where the hell are you?"
"On the shoulder of one of these things," the Atom sounded pleased with himself. "You guys come pick me up, they seem to have stolen our package."
"Well, let's take it back," Rogers nodded to Sam.