Sweat drenched my shirt; my hands went numb. The agent stood motionless, staring at me. His expressionless face bore an intimidating quality that I could only assume he took years to perfect. Anxiety was coming on strong, with no apparent escape. My breath grew shallow, my heart quickened. None of the thoughts in my head were coherent enough to form a sentence. The world was in my hands, and I myself was powerless and afraid.
“H-hydra?” I stammered. “As in, the hydra? How—? How are they real?”
“Ma’am, the danger is very real. We do not have the luxury of time on our side. I’ve been told you were the expert on fictional heroes, so I brought you in. That was my mission, and I’ve completed it. The scientists are equipped to fill you in on the specifics of the matter. You’ll have to take it up with them. But I would advise you to be prepared with your hero of choice. The white coats are far less patient than I am.”
I swallowed hard, half-hoping to suddenly wake up to tomorrow morning. My rapidly intensifying nausea proved this world to be truth, and I was nearly sick. I swallowed again, this time holding back the vomit that threatened to heave forth.
Turning my back to the agent, I stumbled down the long, dark hallway. The faint yellow glow of the incandescent lights cast eerie shadows across the walls as I managed my way beneath their tired fixtures. Upon reaching the rusted iron door that marked the end of my path, I took a deep breath, turned the handle, and braced myself for what laid beyond.
“Finally!” a voice exclaimed, sounding exasperated. Three men in filthy lab coats rushed over and began talking all at once, but I was too overwhelmed to focus and inadvertently tuned them out as I took in my surroundings.
I was disappointed to find this room just as dark and ramshackle as the hallway. The walls were plastered with aged yellow pages, their scrawled formulas too illegible to read. Freshly printed papers were tacked overtop many of the older ones, red ink correcting many equations and descriptions. The center of the room was a clutter of tables and scientific equipment that I did not recognize. After a moment, I realized that it was an arrangement surrounding a large metal platform. This metal was shiny and bright, and the tangle of thick black cords that protruded from the base extended across the room to a series of gray, head-high breaker boxes, with red and orange lights flashing rapidly across the front panels.
My attention was drawn back to the men. These must have been the ‘white coats’ the agent had referred to. Brown coats, they should have been called. They finally stopped bombarding me with questions and information, and glared at me impatiently.
“I’m not sure what you want from me…” I began. I was surprised to hear that my voice was not shaking; my knees certainly were. “They—they told me hydra was real?”
The men nodded simultaneously. The foremost scientist, his hair wrapped up in a navy blue bandana, seemed to be in charge. He was the only one who spoke.
“We can bring one hero to life. Any hero, across any platform. This is entirely based on your imagination, so get creative. You know who will be best to fight this enemy. I don’t know what the suits told you, but you alone—out of the entire world—have sufficient knowledge of such a vast array of media. Books, movies, video games, comics; you know everything. Time is growing short. Now quick, choose your hero!”
Anxiety pulsed back in full force. I didn’t even notice it had receded. Perhaps it hadn’t; my apprehension may have just reached a new level of physical torment. My mind raced, and I blurted the first name that came to mind.
“Real name?” the lead scientist asked.
“Steve Rogers. He’s a Marvel character, from the comics. And books. And movies.”
They rushed into action, scribbling notes on scraps of paper and typing various strings of data into keyboards. A full hour later, all three men finally stood stationary, breathing heavily. Their eyes were wide and their hands were shaking as they flipped the final switches. The center platform hummed loudly, and a blinding white light filled the room. I threw my hands over my ears to block out the deafening vibrations that were sending tremors through my bones. I squeezed my eyes shut and dropped to my knees, crying out in fear. The building must have been exploding; it was the only explanation for the overbearing volley against my senses.
Silence fell. For a moment I was certain I had met my death.
I lowered my hands to the ground and cautiously opened my eyes. A pair of dark red boots stood directly in front of me. I let my gaze run up the boots, until they reached dark blue leather—skintight—forming calves, then knees, then thighs. Rising slowly, I kept my eyes level with my ascending point of view. A dark red utility belt was wrapped securely around wide hips, curving into a red-and-white striped waist. As I stood up straight, I found myself staring at a blue chest with a crisp white star emblazoned across the center. Muscles rippled just beneath the leather, stretching against an outfit that could barely contain the power within. I raised my eyes further, meeting the bright blue of the Captain’s.
Though my voice was barely audible, he acknowledged my greeting with a smile. It was a confident, crooked grin that softened his features. He had never quite been my favorite of the Avengers, but in that moment he took his rightful place at the top of the list.
“I gather I was summoned here for a purpose,” he stated, glancing back at the scientists before addressing me once more. “What do you need, ma’am? I’m happy to help in any way I can.”
I was speechless. I looked to the scientists to explain. They began talking among themselves, exchanging hushed whispers accompanied by quick hand gestures. The one with the navy blue bandana stepped forward.
“Captain, sir, we have a hydra problem.”
“Hydra?” Steve Rogers gasped, pulling his shield from his back and assuming his classic superhero stance. I watched him in awe, completely absorbed in the fantastical reality these genius scientists had brought to life. “Have they infiltrated the S.H.I.E.L.D. of this version of Earth, as well? Where are their bases? Tell me where you need me. Red Skull is still defeated, right?” He shot off a barrage of questions, and I could almost see the gears turning in his head as he strategized and planned tactical offensive missions against the hydra bases that threatened us.
“Uh…” The scientists exchanged glances. “Not ‘hydra,’ sir, a hydra. Just one.”
I was as confused as the Captain looked. The scientist tried to explain further, noticing that we seemed to be lost on his correction.
“A hydra. You know, big beast, three heads? Dragon-like creature. It breathes fire and lightning, and has scales like steel and acid blood.”
I blinked. It was all I could do. The Captain looked to me for further details, but I had none to give. I could barely manage the small question that was on both of our minds.
“A hydra? You—you said hydra. You didn’t say ‘a’ hydra. Just…hydra.” Hydra didn’t seem to be a real word anymore. Anger began to surface, and my tone became a blend of accusatory and defensive. “You said the entire world was in danger! How can one beast endanger the entire world?!”
The scientist shrugged.
“It’s big and scary, and it melted New York.” One of the scientists that had thus far been quiet decided to join the conversation.
“The Navy managed to cut off one of the heads,” he added, “but three more took its place. It’s like something out of a Greek mythology, you know?”
Captain America just nodded. He still seemed to be working out a way to save the world. I knew he was the right choice; he would do what he could if it meant saving lives.
Although, in hindsight, perhaps I should have summoned Hercules.
This short story was inspired by a writing prompt. The prompt was:
The world is in danger, and a secret agency recruits you to save it. They have the technology to bring one fictional character to life (book or movie). What is endangering the world, and who do you summon to save it?
If this story or prompt inspired you, let me know in the comments!