(Zero point, Evje, Norje)
The Avengers are fighting a losing battle against superior numbers. Sharon Carter is already dead, War Machine is badly injured and Captain America is shot in the chest. The Black Widow continues shooting back at their assailants as they emerge from a strange portal but she knows she’s in trouble.
War Machine looks up at her from his ground position and warns her that she has to escape. She tells him to get back to cover but he replies that it’s too late. He opens a small cover on his armor and asks Natasha to take the escape hatch. It’s the red button. She asks him to use it, but again he says it’s too late. He’s already disconnected it from his armor so it won’t work for him now. He tells her he’s dying so she must use it, now. She takes the device but admits she doesn’t know what it is. She assures him that she can use it to get help and orders him not to die. As soon as she disappears into the timestream, War Machine joins Captain America and Sharon Carter as he loses his fight for life.
(Zero minus five years, Trieste, Italia)
Natasha arrives five years in the past outside a beautifully located house on the Gulf of Trieste. She pauses a moment to get her bearings before recognizing where she is and what the escape hatch has done. She barely recalls that she was there before. She loved the place. She damns Henry McCoy for being so incredibly boring that she didn’t listen to him talk about time travel. She heads inside and grabs herself a glass of wine. She figures that, given that she’s five years in the past and the Evje mission hasn’t happened yet, she’s going to take her time in working out her next move. She wonders how the escape hatch works.
The small circular device lights up and offers two warnings. One, its location-shifting may be inexact in this pre-GPS era and two, the timeflow must be preserved. It adds that it has some preloaded spacetime frames in its system. Would Natasha like to know more? Natasha says she’d like to know where it came from. It loads up Preload 2 and explains that Oscar Khronus, a timeshift specialist, commenced work on it at Zero minus forty-four years. His image appears in the middle of the device. Natasha says that he vanished forty years ago so that’s not an answer. Why is she there? It loads up Preload 1 and explains that Villa Vedova holds a large currency cache, a gold store, arms and documents.
Natasha twigs that she left Trieste six years ago and remotely blew it up three years back to destroy some materials. So, she muses, why can’t she just jump back to five minutes before they got hit and kill everybody? The device repeats that the timeflow must be preserved. “I have to let everybody die?” she asks. It loads up Preload 3 and informs her that it is Henry McCoy’s lab at their Secret Avengers base - Zero minus one month. She asks if it’s saying she should talk to Henry and tell him what happened, or what will happen. It once again repeats that the timeflow must be preserved and words appear on its screen. ‘No No No. Very Bad.’
She says that Oscar Khronus spent years trying to get funding for time-travel research and then disappeared. The device repeats that he can be found at Preload 2 and then repeats that at Preload 1 she can find currency and weapons. The Black Widow catches on. “I hate you,” she smiles.
(Zero minus one month, Secret Avengers HQ)
Natasha disappears and then reappears next to Hank McCoy. She tells him she has a question about time travel. He says he does like talking about that subject. She explains that she has an old friend who had a time-jumper on his mission team. They ran a mission and the time-jumper died first. In fact, the whole team died apart from her friend. Her question is, if the time-jumper had been the only survivor, could she have saved her team?
He asks if she means by going back in time and changing things? He imagines that she imagines that the time-jumper could go and get two big guns and then appear behind the bad guys three minutes before it all went bad. “Couldn’t she?” asks Natasha. Hank informs her that causing something to violently “unhappen” is like throwing dynamite into a pond. You get waves and unpredictable splashing. The flow of time must be preserved. Everything after she time-jumps, he adds, is up for grabs because it hasn’t happened yet. But again, she can’t land at a point that means, going forward, that two of her are running around at the same time. Natasha closes her eyes and cradles her forehead in her hand. “God, I hate time travel,” she sighs. Hank reckons she wishes her friend had never mentioned it. Imagine how much more complicated it might be to change time in such a way that you appear not to have changed time, he adds. She asks him to keep talking.
(Zero point minus one week, Vila Vedova, Evje, Norge)
The Black Widow dashes through the complex and finds one of the many weapons stored there. She relaxes in a chair and asks the escape hatch if there is a weaponeer in its preloads. It replies that there is - Harry Grindell ‘Death-Ray’ Evans. Natasha groans, “Oh, God. Why him. I hate you.
(Zero point minus forty-four years, Republik Osterreich)
The Black Widow waits for a car to pass by in the hills. Once she hears it coming, she readies her arrow and then fires it at the car’s tire. It skids to a halt and she rushes towards it as the two occupants get out. The driver is a large man named Kongo and his passenger is Count Oscar Khronus. He asks Kongo to destroy her but he soon succumbs to her Widow’s bite. Khronus grabs a large weapon from the car and orders her to turn and face him. He tells her his time gun will send her heart to be eaten by dinosaurs. She quickly throws a dart at him, which stabs him in the wrist, causing him to fall backwards and drop the weapon. Natasha stands over him and says she wants him to work for her. She wants him to disappear and, in return, she will give him more money than he’s ever seen to build her a time-travel device. Khronus can’t believe it. That’s all he’s ever wanted.
(Zero minus six years, Gogogogooch, Cymru)
Thirty-eight years later, the Black Widow visits Harry Evans at his base. Sitting in a chair made of weapons, he tells her that it’s his sanctum of sorrow, where he drunkenly bemoans the lack of really big stuff to kill these days. Why does she disturb his misery? She tells him that she wants to know everything about the gun. If he sells it, copies it or derives functions from it, there will be nowhere he can hide from her. She’s paying in gold. He smiles and asks if she should really be funding terrorists like him. She tells him that no one will ever know, will they? He says it won’t come from him. He can’t wait to shoot someone with it to see what it does.
(Zero minus five years, New York City)
Using Preload 4, the Black Widow visits Dr. Anthony Ludgate, otherwise known as Dr. Druid thirty-six hours before his death. She explains to him that, in the future, because of the relatively short window, they went into the mission without enough intelligence. Will he help her? Ludgate asks if she’s talking about the Shadow Council and the things they worship. She asks if he knows them. Ludgate replies that he knows of them. He asks why she’s not going to her friend Stephen Strange with this. She replies that he has a reputation for being more… pragmatic than Doctor Strange.
She explains that all she needs to know is how to close the portal. She doesn’t know magic. He replies that magic is the creation of physical effort through will and art. So, he could give her a mantra and a dead chicken to kill her magic portal, but really a suitcase nuke might do the same thing. Really? she asks. She’s seen magicians attack each other with mystic blasts or something. He explains that it’s radiation. They irradiate each other. They surround these things with art and iconography simply because it increases their power. So, he adds whilst reaching for a book, what she needs to know is how to irradiate the portal into dissolution.
(Zero minus six months, Washington D. C.)
The Black Widow blackmails U.S. General Barger into uploading the escape hatch device into War Machine’s armor by threatening to upload a video he has of him in a compromising position. It’s now over four weeks that she’s been at this. “I hate you,” she groans as the escape hatch informs her of this fact.
(Zero minus thirty-eight years, Cicade Kang, Brazil)
Natasha visits Oscar Khronus, who shows her iteration number twelve of the time-travel device. She stands looking at it and comments that it’s the size of a bus! He says she should have seen iteration nine. Actually, he adds, she can’t. He can’t get it out of the basement. She tells him she wants it to fit on her wrist and Khronus assures her that it will before offering her some dinner. “Kongo cook good,” says the faithful Kongo.
(Zero minus five years)
Natasha then revisits Harry Evans, who informs her that the gun is much more complicated than it looks. He asks if she saw it make entry wounds. She doesn’t recall seeing that, and Harry isn’t surprised. The beam it projects isn’t the weapon. It’s a guideline, like a tube. The guide beam is reporting distance–to-target back to the gun. The gun then shoots a tiny bullet of phased matter down the tube that is primed to go off inside the target. Natasha gives him something to work out.
(Zero minus thirty years)
She revisits Oscar Khronus but finds the latest version still too large. He begins to explain that he needs a computer to calculate the motion of spacetime but she already knows that, without the correct calculations, she could theoretically timejump into vacuum. “God save us from men who like explaining things.”
(Zero minus four years)
Back to Harry again and he puts the gun under a laser beam. He tells her this goes against the grain - building a gun-diluter. Natasha says he now gets to have fun and hands him some specs. He replies that a chunk of occult dimension is a very big thing to kill.
(Zero minus twenty-four years)
Khronus hands her iteration two hundred and forty-nine. It’s the size of a football helmet so a big improvement, as it were. She smiles and says he’s getting there, but now they have to talk about voice-control and recording. She offers him more wine.
(Zero minus three years)
Harry Evans visits the Black Widow in Trieste. He has the escape hatch and it’s now at the appropriate size. He asks her to power it up and she’ll see three buttons on the touchscreen. Button one will switch every one of the weapons in its vicinity to stun mode. It’ll still hurt like hell and, if you’re hit, you’ll pass clean out for a few minutes, but it’s the best he can do. Button two is an overload. Once pressed you hit button three and throw the thing as far as you can. Very good, she tells him and then asks if he wondered why she wanted to take possession of it there. He admits he was curious. He thought that maybe she wanted to go on a holiday.
Natasha explains that she’s in America at the moment and she’s realized she needs to get rid of a lot of documents and materials. “You’re in America. Right,” he replies, perplexed. She then reveals that she is a hologram and tells him that she’s remotely detonating the explosives in the building’s foundations. She’s doing this because he was right. She can’t live with having funded him and she found out that he sold the gun design to the Shadow Council. “Goodbye.” She disappears from his sight and the entire building goes up in a massive explosion, killing him.
(Zero minus four years)
Count Khronus has also died and both Kongo and Natasha visit his grave. She tells him she’s sorry, but he says he’ll be okay. He tells her that the Count was happy. For forty years, he was happy. He had work, a house, money and time. The Count would say to him, ‘Tasha gave us the best life. He informs her that the strap is finished and is at the house waiting for her. He has taken some poison and will sleep there with the Count. “Goodbye ‘Tasha,” he adds. “Thank you.” Natasha pauses a moment before saying goodbye to him, and thank you.
(Zero minus thirty seconds, Evje, Norge)
Captain America is shot in the chest.
Natasha materializes behind the invading Shadow Council troopers and clicks button one on the device. All the weapons they carry go to stun mode and they incapacitate the soldiers. “Almost worth the wait,” says Natasha as she reaches for the next button. She then tosses the device at the portal and ducks for cover as it explodes, shutting the portal down for good.
With the Shadow Council threat at an end, she removes the escape hatch module and throws it to the floor before zapping it with her Widow’s bite, effectively destroying it. Captain America comes round and hazily asks what happened. She kneels beside him and informs him that their assailant’s guns malfunctioned and blew up. “Must’ve been untested weaponry. Dumb luck,” she replies. Cap quips that dumb luck seems to be the only way they survive these missions. Sharon Carter appears and asks what the smoke is. Natasha says it’s blowback when their guns cooked off. Sharon says it’s one hell of a way to close a tunnel. War Machine then asks about the smoking escape hatch, to which Natasha says she activated it and it caught fire. Untested kit again. James replies that he guesses they didn’t need it after all. “Yeah,” replies Natasha… her mission a worthwhile success.