No Rest for the Weary
Carol smiled as she motored down the highway. Since Hammerhead’s arrest, the demand on her time had plummeted, with a corresponding drop in crime. The Maggia’s back was broken and the organization appeared to be in a death spiral. A few small-scale busts had followed the take-down; the failing efforts of desperate individuals wallowing in a power vacuum feeding upon each other.
The hands-free began to chime and Carol sighed, shaken from her reflections. She glanced at the screen, seeing it was Bobbi Morse and happily took the call.
“Hey Bobbi, how are you?”
“Well, that depends on your point of view. Are you busy?”
“I’m just on the highway heading to the Palladium resort. I have a week booked there all by myself. I kind of earned it, I figure. So yeah, a little bit busy.”
Silence met her response and Carol could just feel it coming.
“What’s wrong?” she asked before Bobbi could continue.
“I’m so sorry,” Bobbi’s voice faltered, “I think you’re the only one that can help. There’s been a kidnapping…”
“Oh,” Carol shook her head in confusion, “but what about your team? Felicia alone could probably get that handled, considering her specialty.”
“Carol, it’s in Afghanistan…”
What the..? Carol furrowed her brow, trying to make sense of the situation. Why is S.W.O.R.D. even involved with a kidnapping? Truthfully Bobbi had been Carol’s rock during her recovery, after being ambushed at the warehouse. Carol may well owe Bobbi her very life, if she was being honest with herself. Ultimately there was no debate as to whether she would help Bobbi without hesitation. Carol looked wistfully at the highway exit sign coming up. Either she headed south at the exit, or follow the highway and end up at S.W.O.R.D. With a sigh she watched her turn off pass by.
“Tony’s been taken. Can you come? To S.W.O.R.D.?” Bobbi’s voice was wavering.
$#!%. Carol weighed the benefits of slamming on the brakes and reversing back to her exit. Bobbi? You’re cutting out. I can’t hear you.
"Don’t worry, I’m on my way. I’ll be there in a couple of hours.” Bobbi’s relief was audible and Carol was headed north towards S.W.O.R.D.’s facility.
Carol and Bobbi were joined by Abigail Brand, director of S.W.O.R.D. Carol sat quietly as Bobbi played back the ransom video.
“In a follow-up message, they demanded the funds be transferred electronically. If we do that, we can be sure that we’ll never see Tony again. I have a plan, but again you’re the only one that can pull it off. We need an asset on the ground for a physical transfer of the ransom, insisting that an exchange takes place - we give them the cash and they hand over Tony. So here’s the plan…” Director Brand outlined her expectations for the exchange and what possible scenarios could take place. Carol countered with some observations and pointed out glaring weaknesses in the plan.
“But that’s just it, don’t you see? The flaws are so obvious that they can’t likely help but take advantage,” Bobbi enthused and Carol nodded slowly in understanding. “Once we get them to agree to the hand-off, we’ll arrange for you to fly to Kabul. We’ll do our best to negotiate for the meet to take place there but may need to accept a secondary location. Since Kabul is ostensibly under allied control, they may insist on a meet in less friendly territory.”
Director Brand pointed Carol toward a tactical map on another screen, “Allied forces had been advancing on an area around Gulmira when Tony was taken. He’d been there for a weapons demo and the convoy ambush happened on the way back toward more friendly territory. Given the proximity of the ambush to Gulmira, we can reasonably expect him to be somewhere within a 50x50 mile area. More than likely somewhere in the mountains and caves to the north.”
“That’s 2500 square miles!” Carol exclaimed, then leaned back in her chair, coming to a sudden realization. She looked slowly back and forth at the two seated opposite her and crossed her arms, “None of you can fly, can you? That’s why you think I can make this work.”
Bobbi nodded glumly, “You’re right. I have a guy that can infuse objects with energy; a blind guy with borderline ESP; a woman that can jinx people; an introvert that can manipulate electricity and a schizophrenic ex-mercenary who gets ridiculously strong at night. Who would you send?”
“Me,” Carol sighed. “What about having the team as backup?”
Bobbi pulled up her team on the screen, “Have a look. Any backup would stick out like a sore thumb over there and the op fails.”
“Okay, I’ll do it. But you know I’m not bullet-proof, right? If I have to blow my cover, Stark is as good as dead.”
“That’s why you’ll need this,” Director Brand reached beneath the table and handed her a case.
Carol inspected the contents and rubbed the red and blue material between her fingers, “Is it… um, graphete?”
Bobbi nodded, “Yes, it’s roughly your size and will stretch like Lycra for fit. It’s as light and comfortable as cotton and you can wear it under your civilian clothes over there.” She made a gesture as if to say, “Voila, now you’re bullet-proof.”
Carol frowned at the rank insignia, designating her a Captain, “I retired at the rank of Major. This is kind of a demotion.”
“Well, we’re not really a regular armed force here,” Brand explained, “and Major Marvel doesn’t really roll off of the tongue does it? We could promote you, but does Colonel Marvel or Brigadier General Marvel work for you?”
Carol made a face, “Touché. Captain Marvel it is!” She stared intently at the screen that had displayed the ransom video, paused now on a grim image of Tony surrounded by his abductors.
Negotiations took over a week but eventually an agreement for Tony’s release was secured for $27.2 million USD. Carol would pose as a Stark Industries executive and deliver the ransom personally. She had reviewed her itinerary with mild disgust; first leg to Hong Kong and a nine hour layover. From there to Delhi with an 18 hour layover and finally on to Kabul, Afghanistan and a meet with the Ten Rings organization.
“Gah, I could fly there faster on my own,” she remarked. Unfortunately, to maintain her cover, doing so was out of the question. She settled into the business-class seat in 12K and resigned herself to the lengthy voyage. “Stark had better appreciate this.”
To be continued...