Karen nodded and watched as Foggy Nelson almost fell off the park bench. The air was crisp that afternoon in Central Park, and the two friends had been talking for hours. Franklin 'Foggy' Nelson had called the firm and told them he wouldn't be returning that day, and Karen Page had no schedule. A free afternoon and a walk had suddenly become the best time either had enjoyed in months.
"..If you think that's good," Karen grinned, "... you remember 'Mike Murdock'?"
"Matt's twin... broth-..er..?"
The two locked eyes for a moment and the truth slammed into Franklin like a bolt of lightning, hurling him into new fits of laughter. "Mike-... hahaha! Were we taken in by THAT ruse! 'I'm not Daredevil... My twin brother is!'.. Hahaha-!"
"..Hey-! Hahaha- I was taken in by it too! Don't feel so bad!"
"..Still, that's worse than just putting glasses on-"
"We should both go to confession for that one. Stupidity CAN be a crime."
Karen nodded and ran a hand through her hair. Franklin smiled, looking over at her and taking a few moments to recover. She was still beautiful, he thought, a blonde dream. He remembered how happy she and Matt had been on the few occasions when they truly got the life they wanted. Now, Matt had disappeared, somebody was pretending to be him and maybe that imposter had killed Matt, and Karen... She had AIDS, and maybe Matt. He frowned inwardly and it showed on his face. The mood turned more serious..
"...So where do you think Matt is?"
Karen sighed. "I don't know, Foggy. I've left ten messages on his machine, checked with some of his friends.. even the ones I've never met before! I'm about ready to go to the sanitarium and ask that 'Typhoid Mary' lady!"
"..It's not like he hasn't done this before, Karen. He'll come back," Foggy noted, trying to be comforting and fully aware how badly he was failing. "Remember when he went to the countryside for months? Or the time the Kingpin blew up his old house? It wasn't too long ago that he was living under some assumed name like 'Jack Battlin'."
"I know..." But why does it have to be now? She almost said. She needed him now. What was she thinking? She had always needed him.... Got any trouble? Go cry on Matt's shoulder. And now maybe Matt needed her, and she was pulling the old damsel-in-distress routine.
"You still want to go help him, though."
Franklin's statement took her by surprise, and she nodded. He smiled, standing and stretching.
"So do I," he said, and she grinned. "Where do we start?"
"...I don't know.. Matt's got a lot of secrets, even from us. We've talked about Matt, but he's still got so much hidden. That's the stuff we need to look for. I don't know where to start for that."
They lapsed into thoughtful silence, before a miniscule light bulb came on in Foggy's head.
"...We should both go to confession for our stupidity," he said, repeating Karen's earlier line. "Didn't you say his mother was-?"
"His mother! Yeah!"
"..Let's go then, Karen... We've got Matt to find!"
Daredevil groaned and continued his climb... His muscles were beginning to throb, and he realized with a sinking feeling that as strong as he was, it would take someone with augmented power to scale the cliff in its entirety. He needed to find a ledge and a way into the fortress, which lay half-inside the great mountain. 'The Bastille', it had been called by its creators, the terrorists known collectively as Hydra.
He grit his teeth, feeling the cold wind chill him right through his kevlar-lined suit. His fingers, almost numb, began to slide, and he regripped the cliff just in time to avoid plummeting. No, not good. Not good at all. He searched quickly with his radar senses for the nearest ledge before the next wind gust hurled him off and climbed as fast as possible.
He made it and whispered a thanks to God above. He couldn't even tell how far it was to the ground below anymore, which was fine. He was the Man Without Fear, but if he wasn't blind, he knew he'd be paralyzed with fear now.
Daredevil stretched out with his senses, trying to discover something... Anything.. that could be of use in the dire situation. He smiled weakly as he heard the hum of a vent system. A way in!
The ledge was dangerous, and his muscles strained to keep him attached to the rocks as he made his way over to the vent... It was large enough to where he might be able to squeeze in, and things began to look better as he neared it. He took a small crowbar from the utility vest he wore, jammed it in, and pulled.
With a sharp crack, the grating was gone and Daredevil was travelling inside the Bastille. His movements reverberated loudly in the tunnels, but that couldn't be helped. He'd simply have to hope he wasn't heard.
Deeper, deeper into the system... He thought he could see light ahead..
There. He could see into a hall. Inside, two guards wearing SHIELD trooper uniforms marched past, not a word passed between them. Why were the terrorists wearing SHIELD uniforms? In order to confuse someone? Something was unnatural about them, their heartbeats, their breathing, but he couldn't tell what it meant.
He'd have to simply try not to find out, avoid them. Having the advantage of surprise was an advantage indeed. Daredevil waited until their footsteps could no longer be heard before breaking through the grating and dropping into the hallway.
There was something on the wall. A directory. Good. He ran his fingertips along it, feeling the words that lay there. According to it, he could reach the 'Project Test Pad' by elevator. That would work.
Daredevil froze. An almost-unhearable beeping was coming from his vest, which meant he was getting a call... An impossible call. SHIELD was maintaining radio silence. Who else could possibly call him? Had he already been compromised-?
Don't meet trouble halfway, he chided himself, and clicked his communicator on. The tremors in his throat that formed his voice were now read by a small device, and translated into his part of any conversation by radio. The piece in his ear transmitted the caller's own words.
"I told you the phone may come in handy in emergencies, Daredevil. Or don't you remember my saving you from SHIELD, back when you so bravely risked yourself for a child?" [ DDF 3 Ben]
Daredevil did indeed remember... Someone had retrieved him after the assault helicopters had sliced into him with their weapons, and placed him once more in his apartment. Whoever was on the line not only knew his identity, but was apparently somehow connected into this. Why did they call now, though?
The Kingpin? No. Even Fisk didn't have his fingers in SHIELD.
"What do you want?" Daredevil asked curtly as he slowly made his way toward the elevator.
"Is that any way to treat someone who saved you?"
"I'm sure you've got a pretty good idea of how busy I am now."
"Who are you?" the vigilante hissed, looking around the corner. A SHIELD guard stood at attention, alert, taking care of the elevator's access. The crimefighter realized quickly he'd have to take him down, and with so much hall space between them, there was a high risk that the troop would have the time to shoot his gun.
"A fan of yours, Daredevil. Just a fan. I know you're searching for the Black Out Gun, and once more I come to provide safety."
"Make it quick..." the Devil shrugged. He judged the length of the hallway, how fast he thought he could hurl his billy club. The trooper had every advantage, and it was going to be a tricky business taking him down before he could even fire off a shot. If he did fire, that was it. The base would be alerted to what was happening, and Daredevil had doubts he could fight his way through a hundred SHIELD agents.
"You're searching for the Black Out Gun."
Once more, the Devil found himself uncomfortable with how much this man knew. "So?"
"Don't. The Black Out Gun cannot be your primary objective. There's too much else at stake."
"The Black Out Gun is a great weapon, Daredevil, but it is not the goal of these terrorists. Instead, head for the-"
"Excuse me," the Devil cut in. "Sorry, but I've no grand reason to trust you-"
"I saved your-"
"So has Typhoid Mary. I'm going to go with SHIELD on this. The Black Out Gun's too devastating to be left in the hands of these people, and I'm taking it out. Now quiet so I can take out this guard."
Daredevil flung his billy club at the elevator's guardian. The trooper turned fast, even faster than Daredevil had judged... but the club still hit, slamming into the trooper's chin. A bit of blood and spittle flew from the guard, and the vigilante ran forward, smiling.
The guard didn't even fall. The blind eyes of the Devil widened as the gun aimed, and he dived as the guard began to unload a clip of armor-piercing bullets. The Devil didn't have time to wonder how in the world that guard took such a blow and just shrug it off. The gun had gone off and the alarms would be sounding any minute.
He sent a kick into the trooper's gut as he whipped out the nunchukas from his belt, using them to quickly disarm the guard. While the gun clattered to the floor, he sent a second kick, and then a punch. He had to put the man down and get into that elevator before more showed-
A punch from the guard landed in his ribs, taking the wind out of the Daredevil's sails. The vigilante gasped, twirling so that the second punch missed him. He leaped past the guard, landing in the elevator. The trooper had turned around in a moment and didn't even look like he was breathing hard...
The white gloves of the SHIELD trooper grabbed Daredevil's neck and began to squeeze... The crimefighter choked, trying not to panic, and landed several ineffective blows to the soldier's ribcage. Over the trooper's shoulder, he could see more rounding the corner...
No time left. Daredevil lashed out with a kick, hitting the elevator buttons, and then summoned all of his strength to hurl away the trooper. The doors closed... and the elevator began to rise with Daredevil inside of it.
The crimefighter sat down, gasping for breath... and the mysterious voice returned to his ear:
"...Daredevil? Do you live?"
"All of the SHIELD troops that once guarded the base've been overhauled, DD. They're Prime Sentinels now. Not even human."
Daredevil lay there, stunned. Prime Sentinels? Here? Then that meant the man behind this was-
"BASTION," he hissed, feeling anger wash over him. A zealot, a genocidal monster who the courts couldn't touch. He was as bad as Shotgun, worse... He ordered others to carry out his work. Bastion...
"Yup..." the informant confirmed. "Now will you listen-"
"Gotta get to the Gun before they've got a hundred sentinels guarding it..."
"Will you listen-?! You don't-"
"I do. Daredevil out."
The elevator was nearing the floor of the 'Project Test Pad'... Daredevil clenched his billy club tightly and waited...
One word ran through his head: BASTION.
The Black Out Gun stood upon the pad, silhouetted against the sun. Its barrel extended over the perilous cliff, aiming to the East, waiting. Waiting.
Bastion smiled, and simply because it was always good to imitate the boss, so did Sheriff Cold. They stood inside the control room that overlooked the weapon, waiting for the aim calculations to finish. Soon, the victory of Bastion would be complete. Somewhere in the room, a clock was ticking away at Mutants' life.
For Sheriff Cold's part, the old man was enjoying the irony of the Black Out Gun more than anything. It had been built by Hydra, the organization that Baron Strucker had founded, and Cold was proud of that. He sometimes wished he could live in Baron Strucker's time, and he promised himself one day he would. The day would come.
He tapped a few buttons, waiting as the computer carried out his commands. Suddenly, the cordless phone upon Bastion's belt beeped. He took it out, pressing the button and putting it to his ear.
"Bastion," he curtly identified himself. "What? Who? Daredevil-?"
Sheriff Cold went cold for a moment as he noticed the glare that Bastion gave him. The old man was probably blaming him.... but Daredevil? How the heck did he get there? Did he get in with SHIELD? That was probably it... Damn. He'd hoped to cause confusion, a bit of chaos, so that SHIELD didn't look into the Bastille's direction. Apparently, that didn't just fail, it backfired.
"-want the Black Out Gun's security tripled," Bastion was saying. "Also bring me the mercenaries. All of them." He hung up.
"...er.. Boss.. Look, I-"
Bastion didn't look his direction, only staring at the weapon outside. "No apologies. If Daredevil causes disaster to this mission, I will have you destroyed. It's that simple."
Sheriff Cold gulped, checking the readings. "Ten minutes 'till the Black Out Gun's ready..."
And Cold also began to plan... Destroyed? Even if Bastion's precious sentinels failed, it didn't mean he couldn't call a few old Hydra buddies...
"This is it?" Franklin 'Foggy' Nelson asked as he took in the sight of the great church. Small stainglass windows ran along its stone walls, and angels of granite looked down from their perches. Somewhere upon the roof, a bell bonged.
Karen Page nodded, running her hand through her golden hair. This was it. The place Matt had told her of... She wasn't even sure of its name, only thought of it as 'the Church'. So long ago, when the Kingpin had destroyed Matt's life, mind, and almost his soul, Matt had been taken into this church. And it was here that he'd met a nun.
Matt's mother. A nun. Why did she stay here? Karen wondered. Could they discover her among the many sisters of the convent? And if so, what could she tell them about Matt Murdock? Murdock, the man also known as Daredevil? Murdock, the man whom she loved and Nelson had been friends with since high school?
Earlier, she and Foggy had talked for a long while. She'd shared with him what she knew of Murdock's life. His re-birth after his destruction by the Kingpin. His past romances: Elektra and the Black Widow. Foggy, for his part, had shared stuff that didn't seem nearly as exciting: The fun they'd had together in their childhoods. How Matt had inspired him to see being a lawyer as a means of helping people.
Not nearly as exciting? Nobody would've known it, with the way Karen paid attention. In that time in the park, they'd shared with each other all they knew about the man who'd touched their lives so greatly... and in doing so, learned that they didn't really know him so well at all. Despite the things he'd shared with them, he was still something alien. Different. And no, it wasn't completely the fact that he dressed up in red tights and went out to fight criminals every night.
And so, here they were. The Church, where Matt Murdock's only living parent resided. Upon learning that they didn't know, they knew they wanted to know. Here, maybe they could learn about Matt... and what's more, learn where he was now. His disappearance was worrying... and perhaps uncovering his past could help.
Not just help find him, but help discover him.
Karen nervously ascended the steps to the great, wooden doors... Foggy followed. They entered, looking about the sanctuary as they walked down the aisle. Karen thought she could remember Matt's mother's face, but locating her might be harder than it seemed...
Karen sniffed the air, enjoying the clean feeling of the place... She stopped for just a moment to hope that, wherever Matt Murdock was, he was alright.
The Black Out Gun turned slowly upon its stand, aiming for some distant and unseen point. Its sleek barrel hummed with promised power, sparked a blue flash at times... The insignia of Hydra had been replaced with a shimmering SHIELD logo.
Daredevil set his teeth, watching it from a rocky perch in the mountainside. The large pad that seemed to jut out of the mountain was dangerous and constricting, hurting his chances all the more against what was now a guard of ten Prime Sentinel troopers. Across the pad, a room could be seen behind resistant glass.. He couldn't see it inside, but he could hear the words through the tremors of the glass...
Bastion and some jerk... No, wait. Bastion called him 'Sheriff Cold'. The man responsible for Shotgun's attack on Hell's Kitchen. Daredevil's blood boiled. Two men, completely unanswerable to the Law. Not even needing masks to hide their cowardly faces...
He mastered his rage, "looking" towards the Black Out Gun. His utility vest didn't hold any lethal weapons, which had probably been a mistake. How was he going to destroy it? The only possibility he could think of was an attempt to draw Sentinel fire at the gun, or to disarm a sentinel and shoot it himself.
A horrible plan, and one that probably wouldn't work... It was also the only one he had. Daredevil leaped forward, out into the open, his billy club in one hand and the whirling pair of nunchukas in the other.
The captain of the ten troopers turned, its glowing eyes setting upon Daredevil. "INTRUDER! DESIGNATE: DAREDEVIL ATTACKING!"
By the time the words were finished, Daredevil slammed the club across the bridge of the captain's nose, causing a loud 'crack'. The captain stumbled, its head snapping backwards, even as its nine teammates took aim. Daredevil leaped, barely avoiding the grasp of the captain, and he landed upon the Black Out Gun itself.
He could hear Bastion's voice yelling orders through the glass, but the sound of a single burst of automatic fire drowned it out. The Prime Sentinel's shot was precise, and Daredevil realized he'd been a fool to think that he could get a computer to miss him so easily. The bullets tore into Daredevil's shoulder and out the other side, taking his red blood with them. The scarlet swashbuckler cried out and fell from the gun's back, stirring up the dirt and dust upon the platform as he hit the ground.
"THREAT NEUTRALIZED," the captain droned, standing. Its nose was bleeding, but any human pain was not part of its programming.
Daredevil moaned, trying to stand, but the pain in his shoulder was excruciating... It was over, and he hadn't told Karen-
"ELIMINATE DAREDEVIL!" Bastion's voice boomed through a speaker, and a Prime Sentinel took aim. Daredevil's senses detailed the gun's outline... Foggy- Karen- Natasha-...
"Daredevil!" came a new voice... and even in Daredevil's state, he was surprised by it. China-Man? What the hell-?
His surprise became quicker as a warrior leaped forth from his own perch, a white staff clenched in his hands. The Prime Sentinels whirled to meet the new threat... a threat that was dressed in a variation of Daredevil's own costume.. The captain's order to attack was cut off as its skull was cracked open.
The Faux Daredevil landed, the black and silver armor gleaming as he battled like a knight against barbarians. Daredevil rose through force of will, not willing to leave the fight to a stranger, and certainly not a stranger dressed in one of his old costumes. His nunchukas came crashing down upon one of the sentinels' arms, relieving it of the automatic weapon it held.
Daredevil dropped the nunchukas, seizing the gun even as a trooper grabbed him violently. He squeezed the trigger, and the sentinel gave out an electronic cry of pain.
"THE INFORMANT, I PRESUME-?" Daredevil asked as he turned, unloading the gun's clip at the next sentinel. The Faux Daredevil nodded as he struggled against the crushing grip of a trooper.
"Well... Since you helped.. me, I'll return the favor.." the swashbuckler said, and then the gun made a loud click. Empty. "...er, sometime soon."
"No need," the Faux DD answered, "...I've made a few improvements to your staff."
He pressed one of several small buttons upon the staff's side, and the end of the weapon sent a concussive blast into the eyes of the sentinel. It screamed, and the imposter silenced it with a lethal blow.
"These-... Sentinels aren't alive, are they?" Daredevil asked warningly, to which the Faux shook his head. The Faux turned, only to take a bad blow to his back. He fell, and the staff flew from his hands.
"ELIMINATE DESIGNATES: DAREDEVILS," the trooper said, reaching down to end his life with the snap of his neck. By then, though, Daredevil had found a new rifle... The trooper's body was ventilated with armor-piercing bullets.
"Thanks," the Faux DD gasped, finishing off the sentinel with a kick. The staff was quickly once more in his hands, and the battle was over in another minute.
"No problem," Daredevil answered. "Mind telling me why you're helping me, China-Man, not to mention why you're suddenly Caucasian? And for that matter, where you got the armored Daredevil costume I wore for a short time?"
"Perhaps later. I'm the China-Man, Daredevil, but that was only a mask. I am your informant as well, and also your fan. But that's all for later discussion, eh?"
The two Daredevils stood side by side, looking down at the beaten soldiers. They were victorious, although Daredevil didn't trust his counterpart by a longshot. The feeling seemed mutual enough, however, as the other DD regarded him with warning.
Then came the sound of Bastion over the speakers: "Welcome to the Bastille, Daredevil. Or should I say, 'Daredevils'? I don't really care who's real and who's not, or if neither are. I only know that you've proven yourselves a hindrance. Therefore, you'll be destroyed, just as America shall be brought to its knees. I'll allow you to watch the latter first, however."
The Black Out Gun began to hum more loudly, making it necessary for any talking to be done by yelling. Its cannon sizzled blue as a female, computerized voice began a countdown. The Black Out Gun prepared to fire its deadly shots.
"It's charged!" Daredevil cried to his ally, and the Faux nodded. "Can that staff of yours do the Gun any damage?"
"Prob'ly not," the Faux DD answered. "It's probably designed to withstand tank fire. We need to get at the controls, DD..."
They both turned to look toward the control booth, where only the Faux DD could see Bastion and Sheriff Cold standing behind the transparent resistant glass.
"My staff might be able to get throught their shielding, tho'!" the Faux smiled, and he pressed the button upon his staff again. A blast flew toward the windows, creating a powerful explosion... but the glass held.
"NO!" Daredevil cried, and Bastion smiled from his completely safe position. The entire Black Out Gun began to glow with its sapphire light, and the Devils looked towards the doors that led back into the base. All slid shut with armored doors, preventing them any escape from the Project Test Pad.
The two vigilantes turned, looking up at the gun... Nothing could be done..
The Black Out Gun blinded them with a brilliant burst of light, and the EMP blast was launched.
"...My god," Agent Waterson whispered. He'd been going over schematics and other information on 'the Bastille' for hours, his knowledge being used for the overseeing of the operation. He reported to the commander, Dum Dum Dugan, although he'd missed his last check-in. With good reason.
Agent Waterson grabbed the papers, running for Dugan's command deck. He had to tell them! He had to tell them what the terrorists might well truly be after-!
He entered the room, gasping.. The helicarrier was as large as a true carrier, and he'd run quite a distance. Inside, Dugan stared at the information readouts.
"Eh? Waterson? What is it-?" Dugan asked.
"I think I may've discovered-"
Another officer on the deck broke in, a sweat pouring from his face. "SIR! SIR!"
"Hold on, Agent-" Dugan began, but the officer didn't seem to listen. He stood, looking towards Dugan.
"The EMP blasts have been launched!" he shouted, and Waterson was forgotten as quickly as that. Dugan raced to the side of the officer, shouting for more information.
"Two waves, Sir. One's headed for New York City..."
"New York City?" Dugan breathed. "What the hell do they think need's shuttin' down in New York City-? Where's the other one headed, Lieutenant? Lieutenant? ANSWER ME!"
The lieutenant looked toward him with wide eyes, and then every screen in the room went dark as the familiar sound of the helicarrier's engines stopped... The helicarrier went dead and began to plummet toward the sea.
* * TO BE CONTINUED! * *
Plus: Foggy Nelson! Karen Page! Sister Maggie! The backup story continues as all four find themselves at the mercy of a complete power outtage in New York City... and a familiar psychotic hitman....
First, a quick thanks to all the swell people who've wrote in. Getting feedback is a writer's greatest joy and I'm no exception. You guys are great!
Second, a note on "Road to Hell". It looks like the 3-part saga will be extended to 4, concluding with 'Daredevil the Fearless' # 9. No big reason why. It's simply that the story that I want told is apparently going to take up a bit more space.
Thanks, and keep on reading!