You’ve Got to be Kidding! Chapter One

 

Chapter One

A Brief History: Sentinels and Guides—International Uniform Legality

The history of humankind has always revolved around strife and recovery. When the first tribes were created so that mankind could flourish, the struggle to survive meant more than life or death—it meant passing along a legacy and traditions, it meant passing along values and bloodlines, it meant passing along laws and mores. Unto those first tribes came the protectors; Sentinels, brought forth to ensure the safety and survival of the Tribe. They were the last line of defense against invaders, against war, against destruction. Partnered with Guides—the empathic Centers of the relationship, Sentinels used enhanced senses and strengths to protect their people.

In times of peace, when the Tribes flourished and people were happy, the Sentinels faded into memory, going off-line and living normal and fulfilling lives, but the Guides remained, sometimes to become political and spiritual leaders for the Tribes, but always respected as valued members of the Tribes. Sometimes decades would pass without mention of Active Sentinels, but always there were the Guides to lead the Tribes.

With the advent of modern machinery and weaponry, the need for Sentinels was greater than ever because they protected the people directly when wars could be fought over great distances. In fact, Sentinels were not only warriors and fighters; they were physicians, scientists, and inventors, protecting the Tribe with medicines and inventions designed to make life safer and easier. And Guides worked alongside them, easing their place in society.

Joan of Arc, Crazy Horse, Boudicca, Zenobia, Red Cloud, Horatius Cocles, the three Trung Sisters, George S. Patton, Jonas Salk, Ernest Duchesne, Clara Barton.

All Sentinels that Emerged from Myth into reality to protect their people, their Tribes, from invaders and oppression, and make the lives of the Tribe members safer and healthier. They came to protect, and then they would fade back into obscurity, going offline until they were needed once again, and they did it all with a Guide by their side. Where a Sentinel was force of Fire and destruction of Wind, the Guide was the ease of Water and the strength of Earth. They were a true balance, and it was well known that while a Guide could function quite well without a Sentinel, a Sentinel needed a Guide to lead an optimal life. In many cases, Tribal leaders had tried to capture and hold Harems of Guides, believing that they could control the Sentinels if they controlled the Pairings. In those cases, Sentinels in Feral Battle Fugue would raze the temples, palaces, and prisons, slaughtering every guard and soldier in sight in their need to free the Guides.

International Conferences were held—the precursors of the United Nations—and it was agreed that Guides would be held as sacred, even if they were not Bonded to a Sentinel, and the Sentinel that was Bonded would control the relationship; no force could come between a Bonded Pair, and Guides could not be used to force Sentinels into service. Even in times of peace, and the Sentinels were off-line or not directly Protecting, the Guides were revered and cosseted and their mates or lovers or spouses were given total respect in society. This became the Universal Truth: The Sentinel/Guide pair was sacred, and no power could put it asunder. These Bonds transcended common social norms, and only S/G Bonded Pairs were allowed to be same-sex partners for many years.

The myths and stories varied on the cause of Emergence, but one theme remained true: Never would two Sentinels find themselves on opposing sides of conflict. If a Sentinel were called to service, then his cause would be true. The Sentinel would always fight for just cause.

˜˚ ˜

Budapest—January, 1998

“Has target been acquired?” Phil Coulson, Special Agent and Guide, barely refrained from pacing in the small bolt-hole apartment he was using as a temporary headquarters. He was used to such assignments—seeking out and disposing of enemy assassins—but he felt restless in this case, and he wasn’t sure why. He was a Mid-range Guide. His General Empathy was high, and with his Sentinel, his Base Telepathy was very high, but his Intuition was at nominal levels. Since he was the one stuck monitoring communications, and his Sentinel was the one slated to ‘take out’ the target—a mysterious, chameleon-like woman known as the Black Widow—it was possible that the antsy, itchy feeling Coulson was experiencing was actually coming from his Sentinel. Hawkeye’s Intuition was incredibly high. Almost off-the-charts high. The two of them made a formidable team.

“I repeat—has the target been acquired?”

“Target Acquired—no clear shot. Moving base now.” It was a terse reply, but on an Op, Coulson would expect no less. Information was passed without giving anything away.

“Understood. Proceed with caution.” Coulson didn’t really need to add that last part. The Hawk would be careful. It had taken years of tender care and brash admonishments before Coulson had convinced Hawkeye (known then as Clint Barton, half-deaf carnival kid and barely reformed thief) that Coulson did care about him, would always care for him, and would never leave him no matter how dire the circumstances. Coulson had been the one to find him—online and mostly Zoned—caught in a basic police dragnet of petty criminals. Coulson bailed him out and took him home, feeding and bathing and carefully bringing out of Zone, and once Barton was recovered, Coulson took him to the ‘office’ one day and introduced him to the ‘Boss’. Once Nick Fury was made to understand that Coulson was now one-half of an unbreakable pair, Barton was trained and brought fully into the SHIELD family. Barton’s experience growing up within a traveling circus made him a natural at under-cover work. He could blend fully into any crowd or small group. He was a natural with close-combat hand-to-hand work, but he was best at a distance with a sniper rifle or bow-and-arrow. Fury had raised an eyebrow at that, until he saw Barton work with a bow.

The click of the radio brought Coulson out of his memories. “Target acquired.”

“Understood. Take Firm Action.”

“Negative.”

Coulson ceased his calm pacing. “Repeat that?”

“Negative on Firm Action. I….I can’t, Phil.”

“Explain yourself.”

“She’s like me, Phil. She’s one of us. I can feel her torment in my bones. She’s like me.”

Translation? The Black Widow was an unbonded Sentinel.

Coulson cursed in several hard-learned languages. “Approach Gently. Let me make a call.”

“That will be fine. She’s making this easy for me. She’s been watching this whole time.”

Coulson cursed some more as he reached for the Satellite phone and called SHEILD headquarters.

Fury was not going to like this one bit.

˜˚˜

A Brief History: Abraham Erskine, Strategic Scientific Reserve, and the Sentinel Project

In January of 1930, Abraham Erskine began research for something he called a ‘Super Soldier Serum’ in an effort to force Sentinels online. He believed that Sentinels could be forced into service as soldiers, and that they would make an unbeatable army. Erskine met Howard Stark in 1935 at an engineering conference, and casually mentioned the Serum. Stark was enthralled with the idea, and kept it in mind long after the two parted ways. In 1935, the rise of the Nazi Party showed Erskine what true evil could look like, and he attempted to take his family and flee Germany. Erskine was stopped at the border because Johann Schmidt wanted the Serum. Schmidt threw Erskine’s family into Dachau prison camp and forced Erskine to work on his research for the Nazi Party. Erskine reluctantly agreed, but made minor adjustments to the Serum so that it would not be completely successful.

In December of 1937, Abraham Erskine learned that his wife and child died in Dachau of illness and fever, and he became more determined to escape Germany. World War Two began in 1939, and one year later Erskine was forced to use his untested Serum on Schmidt. While Schmidt did gain enhanced senses, his insanity also increased, and he became Red Skull—deformed, mad zealot that hungered for world domination. Two days later, Erskine was rescued by Agent Peggy Carter, who operated the Strategic Scientific Reserve alongside Howard Stark. The SSR would later evolve into the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, otherwise known as S.H.I.E.L.D, and would become the epitome of the Sentinel Ideal—protecting first the United States, then the World as a whole, from terroristic threats.

On a more personal front, Sentinels continued to Emerge naturally, if quietly. They could be doctors in war zones, or teachers in ghettos, or even religious leaders when the Tribe would lose faith. But because they went under the Warrior radar, they remained unrecorded.

On July 4, 1918, a boy was born in Brooklyn, New York. His name was Steve Rogers, and he was mostly an unremarkable child. His father was killed in action in World War One before Steve was born, and childhood illness cause Steve to be a frail boy, but he was spirited, and he had a talent for drawing. In 1941, Steve Roger’s mother died, leaving him alone in the world but for a close friend, James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes. Up to that point, Barnes was Steve’s protector, as the sickly boy was often a target for bullies, and Steve had a penchant for starting many of those fights. But the emotional trauma of his mother’s death caused Steve to Emerge as a Sentinel. Steve’s yearning to protect his country like his father before him became an obsession. When the Second World War began, both Barnes and Steve tried to enlist in the armed forces. Barnes was accepted into the service, but Steve was rejected due to his poor physical condition. Steve tried four more time, unsuccessfully, to enlist in different cities, using different names. He was almost desperate to serve and protect during the War.

In June of 1943, Abraham Erskine was in Chicago at the World Expo, and he spotted Steve Rogers after his latest failed attempt at enlistment, and he offered Steve a way to serve his country: Exposure to the new Super Soldier Serum under Project Rebirth with the SSR. Erskine still believed that the Serum would bring latent Sentinels online. Agent Peggy Carter, however, was of the opinion that the Serum would enhance physical strength and agility, but would never force an undiscovered Sentinel to Emerge. Steve Rogers was promised a way to serve his country, as his Sentinel instincts were demanding and he decided to accept the offer. Two weeks later, Steve would find himself in a public demonstration of Project Rebirth, where witnesses from the Department of Defense and the SSR would watch Steve’s transformation from weakling to Superman. Unbeknownst to everyone present, a spy under the direction of Red Skull was in that audience, with orders to either take back Erskine and his formula, or kill Erskine and take the formula. Half-way through the transformation, while Steve was undergoing exposure to severe radiation, the spy struck, killing several military witnesses and fatally injuring Erskine. He did not find the formula, and went on the run, narrowly escaping pursuit by an Emerged and enhanced Steve Rogers.

Erskine died in Steve’s arms, believing that his formula worked. Peggy Carter had taken the only viable samples of the Serum, and the written notes, and hidden them away. Steve Rogers’ DNA is the only proof that the Serum actually does anything, and Peggy Carter and Howard Stark are the only people confident that Steve was actually an online Sentinel before he entered the transformation chamber. The United States Military Command tried to keep Steve pampered and protected as a scientific asset, but his instinct drove him to fight, so he fully entered the War effort. Barnes reclaimed his position in Steve’s life, and acted as Guide to Steve’s Sentinel. The two were an almost unstoppable force, working within a unit called The Howling Commandos to stop Red Skull from gaining a universal power source called the Tesseract.

In 1945, Barnes was lost on a mountain pass in during a fight on a HYDRA train. This event sent Steve into a feral battle drive, and he fought Red Skull on an explosive-laden plane headed for the United States. Steve managed to defeat Red Skull and disarm the explosives, but the plane went into the ocean off Greenland, and Steve was thought to be lost—taking what was thought to be the only proof that Erskine’s Serum works with him.

After the end of World War Two, when Steve Rogers—known as Captain America—was thought to be lost forever, SHIELD was put into place to find and train Sentinels for the ultimate protection against forces for world domination. Charles Xavier, known Mutant hunter, and “father” of the X-Men Mutant fighting squad, developed a talent for finding Latent Sentinels and evaluating them for special talents. SHIELD trained marksmen, techno-spies, and under-cover artists—all Sentinels with particular talents. All of this was kept under tight security, and Sentinels remained a popular secret, thought to be a Mythical Warrior that only appeared in times of great need.

In the 1970’s, at the end of the Vietnam Conflict, the United States Military began a series of experiments under the title Bio-Tech Force Enhancement Project, with the main purpose of re-discovering Abraham Erskine’s Super Soldier Serum and forcing Sentinels online to be the perfect Military Weapon. Several iterations of this project failed spectacularly, the most well-known being the Weapon X Project using Mutants. Captured extremist insurgents were used for experiments until filmed records of such experiments were made public and Congress ‘killed’ the Project. In the late 1990’s, General Thaddeus Ross became head of the Project. He had an idea of using known online Guides to force Sentinels online.

˜˚˜

“There’s a lot about her that I’m not happy about.” Nick Fury stood at the observation window overlooking SHIELD’s main gymnasium. “She’s too calm, too centered, to have gone through what she claims.”

Beside him, Phil Coulson also observed the Black Widow—now Called Natasha Romanova, based on the given name she had during Red Room training, and the former Russian royal family—as she systematically beat the living crap out of several SHIELD operatives. She was, in fact, very calm as she did so.

“I honestly think that’s the Sentinel influence in her life. She came online only three years ago, long after the training finished. I know she was taught to be cold, but the calm could only come from Emergence—that ability to distance herself from the job.”

“And she has no Guide? No one at the Red Room that could act as such for her?”

Coulson shook his head. “She wasn’t even allowed to have close friendships there. She….”

Fury turned to fully face his agent as the man’s voice faded. “She told you something that she did not reveal to me?”

Coulson nodded, his face in a frozen grimace. “She told Barton, who then told me at her request.” Coulson turned to his boss. “She had a hard childhood; we know that. She had friends at the beginning, after she was recruited at the orphanage. Little girls like her, who were chosen for training. They grew up together, ate and trained and played together. Her ‘final exam’ was…brutal.”

Coulson visibly shook himself, trying to get the mental image out of his head. He turned back to the observation window. “She was forced to fight, hand-to-hand, with her closest friend. To the death.”

Fury frowned deeply. “That shit leaves a mark.”

Coulson nodded. “That was three years ago—I think it’s what pushed her online. She did the jobs, and she was good, but she did them because the Red Room was her family. She only got sloppy recently, and that’s when we found her.”

Fury brought his hands from behind his back and clasped them together over his belt buckle. “So, what? The Sentinel part won out?”

Coulson shrugged slightly. “Maybe. We know Sentinels are tuned into Tribe, so being a well-groomed assassin wouldn’t mesh with that. And sloppy isn’t her style.”

Below them, Natasha tossed the last standing operative over her left shoulder effortlessly, and brushed her hands across her thighs.

Fury smirked. “No, it really isn’t.”

˜˚˜

“You do realize that you’re quite unique.”

Nick Fury sat at the head of a long conference table. He was absently flipping through a file in front of him, but he was quite closely observing Natasha Romanova. She sat quietly at the middle of the table, across from Coulson and Barton. She appeared to be playing with her hands, but Fury knew she was paying close attention to the conversation.

“Any other Sentinel with your kind of control should have been in a solid pairing for many years.”

She looked up at him. “I know. I had to hide what I was from my handlers. They would have seen it as a weakness and destroyed me.”

Fury nodded. “I assume you know how you’ve managed so long without massive Zone-outs?”

“I do.”

“Is that something you can train others to do?”

Natasha frowned. “Perhaps. It takes great mental balance.” She turned her attention back to her hands on the table. “It also helps to know that there is a match—a Guide—out there for me somewhere. Until I emerged from the Red Room and began my missions in earnest, I thought I would be totally alone forever.”

Clint Barton leaned forward across the table and gestured to Natasha’s softly-moving hands. “What is his name?”

Fury looked up, confused.

Natasha sat back in her chair and frowned slightly, and a small animal not much bigger than her thumb appeared in her hand. “It’s a sugar glider. And I do not know his name. He isn’t mine.”

Just as suddenly, a raven appeared at her shoulder, sitting on the high back of her chair. She looked up at it. “This is mine.черная тень. Black Shadow. It seemed fitting, as he always was following me, to keep me sane.”

Barton nodded. “And the glider? How long has he been around?”

“I have known him for six months.”

Fury made mental note of that. Six months—around the same time that Black Widow had gotten sloppy and got the notice of SHIELD. So, she had a Guide; just not a Guide that was actively in the picture.

“Are you actively seeking your Guide as of now?” Fury was curious, but he would never prevent such a search. Bond interference was not something he ever wanted to try.

Natasha turned guarded eyes in Fury’s direction. “Would I like to find my Guide? Yes. Am I actively seeking? No. I would not know the first place to look. I was in France when the glider first found me. I next saw it in Tel Aviv. When I was in Berlin, the glider became a constant companion. There was no rhyme or reason to the visitations; there was only the urge to escape from my situation. I had long ago thought that I would be killed, as death seemed the only escape I could count on.”

Fury sat back and folded his hands together on the table. “You could be a huge asset to us here, if you agree to join us. I’ll not forbid you to seek your Guide. In fact, I’ll help facilitate the search, if I can. SHIELD seems to attract Guides, who then go out and recruit Sentinels. None of that is part of our mission statement. We just work better that way.”

He watched Natasha give a long considering look at Coulson and Barton before he continued. “Unfortunately, some of the Sentinels that our Guides bring in are not Bonded matches. Some have just come online, some have been online and without Guides for a very long time. Our medical bays have several now who are recovering from Zone-outs. Any techniques you have for over-coming that would be welcome. As to your—other talents…well, I can use you undercover, but SHIELD does not readily advocate assassination.” Natasha smirked, and Fury added, “Unless there are special circumstances.”

“Perhaps,” Natasha allowed, “I am one of those you should normally have recruited all along, with one of your Guides in search mode.”

 

 

Natasha Romanova (Black Widow)
 

Phil Coulson

Clint Barton (Hawkeye)

Nick Fury

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