Location: Brooklyn, New York
It was a time of celebration. Hydra had finally conquered the United States. The greatest of heroes were scattered or trapped in Manhattan. Aside from some rebellion, their victory was absolute. The only true nuisance that occurred was the rainstorm that went on for days. Hydra’s soldiers would normally ignore this, but the rain weighed heavily on one person in particular. His name was Helmut Zemo.
A young trooper, clearly new to the organization, gave the standard salute before responding. “Sir. We swept the neighborhood again, but there is no sign of Frank Castle. If I may ask, why is the Supreme Hydra so worried about him?”
“Because he is Captain America. Frank Castle looked up to him during times of war, as did many others. The revelation that he was one us would cause someone as… irritable… as the Punisher to come after us all. Unless he’s in the Darkforce barrier like the others, his capture is top priority. Understood?” As the new agent gave yet another salute, Zemo waved his hand to be rid of him. As the downpour washed over him, he couldn’t help but think of how this reflected his mood. He couldn’t let go of the sense that something about this victory felt hollow.
“You realize that walking around in the rain with that mask on will be the death of you, right?”
In a flash, Zemo’s sword was at the throat of his latest visitor. “Speak quickly, Maker, or forfeit your head.”
“You know me?” the Maker said with a smirk.
“An organization like WHISPER wouldn’t escape our notice. What do you want?” Zemo said as he pressed his blade against the Maker’s jugular vein.
Without a care, the Maker pushed away the sword and continued. “I’m just here to congratulate the conquering heroes. To a lot of this country, you saved them from a government sponsored illusion! Even for a guy like me, that’s impressive!”
“You don’t believe it?” Zemo said as he sheathed his weapon.
“I’ve had experience with Cosmic Cubes, so I stay skeptical when they pop up. Then again, what does it matter? You won. Now we can talk about a possible partnership between your organization and mine.” Despite the Maker’s grin, Zemo gave no reaction. It was a only moment of silence, but soon he had a simple question.
“Why on Earth would we need you?” Zemo barked. “We’ve already readied plans to spread across the rest of the globe. No part of our preparations need a madman that isn’t even from this universe.”
Maker lost his smile at the remark. Deciding to push past the insult, he knew the time for games was over. “What do expect to happen, Baron? Do you really believe that Steve Rogers’s nice-guy police state is going to last? He may be taking out threats here and there, but only because he’s being forced to as a way to keep his leadership. Am I wrong?”
Zemo couldn’t even hear the storm anymore. He didn’t want to admit it, but the man was right.
“Now, as I understand it, Hydra was founded on the principle of strength. How exactly does that work when its leader is actively trying to please everyone?” said the Maker.
“Listen to me… very carefully. I don’t know what you expected to happen here, but I have no intention of betraying Steven. Take your nonsense elsewhere… or die painfully.” Zemo turned his back on the strange man, but found an extended hand passing him a video.
“I’m not asking you to do anything except be prepared. Captain America’s spectacular plan could be wiped away in an instant. What would happen to Hydra then?” The Maker activated the device and Zemo was stunned by what he saw.
“That isn’t Steve Rogers, is it?” Zemo said.
“Not the one you know. The Super Soldier process from my world far outclassed the one that your Captain America used two-fold. Just watch what happens.” The display showed a man capable of outrunning motorcycles, lifting cars, even landing painful blows on what appeared to be the Hulk and the Giant Man! What they saw was someone clearly beyond the Steve Rogers that held America in his grasp.
“You have this man?” Zemo asked.
“No… Just the way to create another like him,” Maker took back his device and turned to leave, but still had to say one last thing. “I’ll leave you to think of our future partnership. But seriously, if Steve Rogers falls, who will lead Hydra? That person would need to better than him in every way, wouldn’t he?”
With that, Zemo was once again alone, standing somberly in the middle of the rain. With each drop, his mind cycled through his entire history. His childhood with his father, his battles with the heroes, his time with the Thunderbolts, the most recent events, and especially Steve Rogers. The question of what was real and what was altered by the Cosmic Cube entered his mind, but he found himself interrupted by the young agent from before.
“Sir! We found one of the Punisher’s weapon caches! We are currently looking for clues on his current whereabouts!” he said with yet another salute.
“Ah, yes. Good work. Continue to update me on progress while I return to base.” Zemo said. He paused for a moment and turned to leave. Before he could, the recruit spoke up again.
“You seem troubled, sir. Did something happen?”
Zemo stopped and stared at the recruit. He thought of the Maker, the Super Soldier process he saw, and what Hydra could become. It was only a moment, but infinite possibilities raced through his mind. He simply turned away at the question. “No… nothing of concern. Now, stop saluting so much. You’ll look like an idiot.”
4 months later
Location: Brussels, Belgium
It was a simple dive bar. It was named the Schrodinger because of the fame of a particular scientist, but that was where the glamour stopped. Only the bottom one percent of citizens would ever come such a place. The building was filthy, the workers were rude, most of the electronics and tools didn’t work, and management couldn’t care less. There was honestly only one reason would ever come here.
“Spatburgunder Blanc De Noir. A stronger, custom made blend made only here. Do you mind if I join you? I’ve always wanted to try it.” Zemo came at a good time. All other patrons had left for the night and the bartender was in the other room preparing to close. Only one person remained to finish his wine.
“Ah, Zemo! Tell me, how are things with Herr Rogers? Did his regime collapse a gloriously as I imagined it would? I haven’t been keeping up with the current events.”
“Regrettably, yes. And yet, we gained so much since losing America. Our numbers have skyrocketed since then. Many preferred Hydra leadership and the advantages it brought. Without Rogers, they need someone like myself to lead them as the reborn Hydra.” Zemo poured a glass of the wine for himself as he waited for a response.
“If you intend to rule as Supreme Hydra, why come to me?”
”Because of the same reason you didn’t join the Red Skull or Rogers. We both have greater aspirations for Hydra beyond a Nazi regime or a childish fantasy of peace. It requires warriors who don’t pick and choose who to control. It requires men like us.” Zemo took a long sip of the wine. He dare not show it now, but he enjoyed it very much.
“And what is to stop me from coming after you for total control? You know how… obsessive I can get.”
“Because of the new High Council. If Rogers taught us one thing, it’s the strength of unity under our flag. Also, they are all well aware of your numerous defeats. They have no interest in working for you or with you unless I convince them to. You kill me, you lose Hydra forever.” Zemo took yet another sip as his companion stroked his brow in thought.
“Moral checkmate, is it? An odd tactic for someone like you to use against someone like me.”
“That’s the point. I don’t want us to be enemies. You are one of the finest leaders Hydra produced and very few approach you when it comes to sheer ruthlessness and force of will. You are the man best suited to help me turn our new recruits into the Hydra elite.” With that Zemo finished his wine and awaited the answer to one question. “What say you, Wolfgang von Strucker?
The former Supreme Hydra took the rest of the bottle and finished it himself. With that, he had only one thing to say.