The Superhuman Tactical Activities Response Squad - STARS - is the watchdog that governs all aspects of super-powered crime and imprisonment. They cover it all - from chasing down bail-jumpers to handing extraditions. STARS used to be the team led by John Walker a.k.a. USAgent, but he now shares leadership duties with, as he puts it, “a senator’s lapdog”. Right now, Walker and a teammate are in individual helicopters cruising over the northern Italian countryside, on a mission to retrieve a lowlife prison escapee, about to invade the fortress of one of the nastiest global terrorists around.
‘This is gonna be fun’ Walker thinks to himself, before radioing his teammate: ‘Black Mariah-2 to Bulldog. Take your fall-back position, and I’ll see you in fifteen minutes, over’. The reply comes promptly: ‘Roger that, Mariah. Wish it was me going in there instead of you. See you in fifteen, over’. ‘Eat your heart out’ USAgent thinks to himself as he flies his jet closer to the mountains, dropping some bombs. ‘Did I mention that this fortress belongs to Hydra? They’ve been a thorn in America’s backside for years’.
The inactive Avenger knows he is not equipped to take Hydra down - he simply wants his fugitive from justice. The trouble is, Hydra is hardly likely to open the doors and let him take the fugitive. Suddenly, three heat-seeking missiles lock onto Walker’s jet. ‘C’Mon, Mariah - we’ve got to shake them!’. Johnny tells himself. ‘No dice! Five seconds to impact - time for drastic measures!’ he decides, ejecting the front part of the jet, the missiles detonate upon impact with the rear of the jet. ’There goes our budget for this year!’ Johnny tells himself as he speeds away to safety, while beginning to think about the discussion he will have with Valerie Cooper, his boss on the Commission for Superhuman Activity, about this. After all, their last meeting was so cordial, and Walker thinks back to it:
‘In spite of the favourable outcome against Ronan the Accuser and the Kree race during the alien siege…your insubordination has drawn the ire of a key member of the Senate Appropriations Committee - Senator Warkovsky’ Dr Valerie Cooper informs USAgent, explaining that Warkovsky is running for re-election, and is poised to drag them all through the mud to win, unless he gets his own appointee running STARS. ‘We go back a long way, you and I. There are a multitude of skeletons buried in our closets, John. The realties here are harsh, but I promise you…I won’t sell you out’ Valerie assures John.
‘Yeah, sure. Only because the weight of my supposed screw-ups would take Val Cooper and the whole commission down with me’ USAgent tells himself, thinking back on their discussion. He recalls how the Commission stripped Captain America of his uniform and name, and gave it to him. As some machine-weapons begin firing at USAgent’s mini-jet. Walker fires some missiles back at them, while telling himself that he was the best Captain America that he could be. ‘But basically, there’s no replacing an icon’.
Walker tells himself that was never more evident than in the way he dealt with the murderers of his parents, back in Custer’s Grove, Georgia. ‘Executing killers has gone out of fashion every palace but Texas, it seems’ Walker thinks to himself, while nevertheless thankful that the Commission gave him another chance as the USAgent, where he proved his worth as a member of the Avengers West Coast. ‘I pulled their fat out of the fire more than once’ Walker reminds himself, standing by his actions, as he always has.
‘…and I won’t be party to blackmail. Take my tags!’ Walker exclaims, handing them to Valerie. But Valerie tells Johnny that this is exactly what Warkovsky wants. ‘Don’t give him the satisfaction’ Val tells him, adding that Warkovsky’s appointee is ex-military, served with SHIELD and headed up a United Nations disaster relief team - to clean up in the wake of the destruction left behind by the Ego-mass.
As Walker ejects himself from the small jet-pod, now riding a scooter-like hovercraft, and thinks to himself that Warkovsky will just about explode when he finds out that he sacrificed a one hundred million dollar prototype to capture one lone scumbag. ‘That alone is enough to keep me in the land of the living!’ Walker tells himself as he bursts into the Hydra complex. Still on the hover-craft, he speeds past some agents. Pathetic! Give me a few hours on the shooting range with these jokers and I’ll have them hitting bullseyes every time!’ John tells himself as the agents’ bullets miss him. ‘Guess it shows what a failure in leadership can do to an organization - any organization!’ Walker decides that the Commission should have dug up, or invented, some dirt on the senator to get him off their backs. ‘That’s what Peter Gyrich would’ve done. But not Val’ Walker tells himself, thinking back once more.
‘Warkovsky may hold the purse strings, but I run this operation’ Valerie tells Walker, pulling a piece of paper from a file, she tells him to trust her, that it will all work out. ‘Do you know that you went through basic training with the senator’s candidate?’ Valerie asks.
‘Boot camp. How perfect’ John tells himself, before approaching a vault-like door, he tells himself that this is the end of the line for Mariah-2, and releases a missile from the hover-craft, which bursts open the door, knocking several Hydra operatives backwards. ‘Unbelievable! The command bunker’s been breached!’ one of them shouts. ‘Get some reinforcements here right -’ another begins, before Walker kicks him in the stomach. ‘Ding-dong!’ Walker jokes, while thinking to himself ‘Reinforcements. Good. Let them pile it on! Less change of catching a bullet while I’m covered by Hydra agents…’ he decides , while keeping them at bay with his energy-truncheon.
John tells Valerie that he will stay, warning her that he did not get alone with any of the guys in basic training. ‘Ready to meet your competition?’ Valerie asks him, holding up a photo.
There is one more door between USAgent and his target. Motionless Hydra agents lie at his feet. He slowly approaches the door.
‘This is not one of the guys!’ Johnny exclaims as he looks at the photo, wide-eyed. ‘John - what is it? Don’t you remember Kali Vreis?’ Valerie asks.
‘I spent the past ten years trying to forget her’ John tells himself as he uses his energy-truncheon to slice open another vault-like door, although it will nearly deplete his truncheon’s power cells. ‘But since they didn’t leave a key under the doorway…’ John jokes, before the door galls down, and Walker sees his quarry: ‘Machete!’ he exclaims. ‘Eh?’ the criminal utters, before Walker lunges at him: ‘Well, well. Rumor had it you were pushing alien technology on the black market, “Ferdy”!’ USAgent exclaims, punching Machete in the face, causing Machete to drop the suitcase he is carrying.
‘Glad to add it to the charges you’re already facing’ Walker tells Machete, grabbing him in a choke-hold. ‘As a duly-appointed marshal of the United States Government, I’m taking you into custody, Machete!’ USAgent declares. ‘Are you loco?’ Machete exclaims. ‘We’re not going to allow you to just walk out of here, Agent’ a Hydra operative exclaims, as several surround Walker and aim their weapons at him. ‘Shoot - there goes my escape plan!’ Walker tells himself, before Machete suddenly shoves a knife into USAgent’s leg - Walker is thankful that he has body armor, but he leaps backwards, and Machete spins around to attack John with the knife once more.
Walker decides that there is no time to duel with him, as he must take Machete down fast, ‘Before he converts me to bite-sized nuggets!’. Walker pulls out his energy truncheon, knowing that it only has enough power for one more stunt. He amps the truncheon up as far as it will go, and clangs it against Machete’s knife, electrocuting Machete. USAgent could care less about Hydra, who begin firing at him as he picks up Machete and makes his exit. The feeling is not mutual though, as Walker rushes to the rendezvous point, as his fifteen minutes are nearly up. His mind wanders back to boot camp, racing against a fellow trooper, he would hate to lose this race to her as well, as seven week’s worth in boot camp were enough.
Johnny dodges more firepower from Hydra, as he reaches the turret, only to discover that there is no window, no outside access. Suddenly, there is a massive explosion as the turret explodes, creating an exit. ‘That lady’s just got to make an entrance’ Walker thinks to himself, before exclaiming ‘Kali Vries!’ as the chopper hovers nearby, and Kali Vries blasts her machine gun down at Hydra. ‘Pick your haw off the floor and move your sorry butt, “Georgia Peach”!’ the short-haired woman shouts, telling Walker that she can only cover him for so long. ‘Leave it to a woman to always be late’ Johnny thinks to himself as he lifts up Machete and leaps into the chopper, while Vries exclaims ‘And don’t you dare tell me we’re late!’, adding that Farley Mowat will vouch for that.
The chopper pulls away from the Hydra complex, and although Walker decides that Vries is doing a good job laying cover, the Hydra agents are madder than hornets and not giving up, as they keep firing at the chopper. ‘One minute late!’ Walker exclaims. ‘Check your watch’ Vries tells him, before asking if he recovered the contraband. ‘Machete’s been shot!’ Walker exclaims, before wondering ‘What did I expect?’, as they just ran a bloody gauntlet through a shooting gallery. Walker realizes that Machete is dead, and decides that it is all his fault. ‘I just wasn’t good enough this time’.
‘You were late, Agent Vries’ Walker exclaims, putting a hand on her shoulder. ‘Keep your hands off!’ Vries snaps, declaring that she was not late. ‘Well, maybe a few seconds’ Farley Mowat remarks, piloting the chopper, before informing Walker and Vries that they have bigger problems: ‘We’re being hailed by SHIELD’. ‘SHIELD - where?’ Vries asks, before seeing a massive SHIELD carrier descend over the chopper. ‘They probably want to congratulate you on yout new job, Vries’ Walker jokes.
Soon, USAgent and Vries walks past several SHIELD agents as they approach Dum Dum Dugan. ‘You lunkheads working in an intelligence vacuum at that outfit of yours?’ Dugan asks. Walker replies that Ferdinand Lopez, a.k.a. Machete, was his concern. Walker adds that he is authorized by the United Nations charter to go anywhere on the planet to do his job. Dugan points his cigar at Walker and tells him not to get smug with him, or he will knock that chip off his shoulder. Dugan explains that they have had that Hydra base under surveillance for a month. ‘Yer pal Machete was pushing some new kind of mind control on them!’ Dugan reveals. ‘We wanted to know who he was selling it for, and then nab the bunch of them’ he explains.
Dugan continues his rambling: ‘But you busted in! Machete won’t give it up to you or Val Cooper - he’s a mercenary - he’ll take his secrets to the grave!’ Dugan shouts, throwing some papers at Walker. ‘Well, I’m afraid that’s what he did. Got shot up in the crossfire’ USAgent announces, before telling Dugan not to look at him like a disapproving father. ‘My bosses gave me a job to do - bring Machete in. I’ll do that’ Walker boasts. ‘In a body-bag?’ Dugan asks. ‘Sometimes the script goes out the window, Dugan. You know that’ Walker replies, telling Dugan to go mp up Hydra. ‘I won’t mind’ he jokes as he takes his leave.
Later, at STARS headquarters, in Washington DC, USAgent stands before a stasis field which holds a strange object. Allie Magruder stands alongside him, while Farley Mowat sits at a computer console, running tests on the object. ‘That thing was in Machete’s neck? What kind of bullet?’ Walker asks. ‘Not a bullet, and definitely not what killed him’ Mowat replies. Walker leans towards Mowat and exclaims ‘Okay, half-pint - what is it?’. Mowat replies that not everyone can be six-feet-four inches, before remarking ‘Then again, not everyone is smart, either’.
The elderly man clears his throat, before remarking that as Shield had the inside track on this, he knew they would be keen to get their hands on one, so he handed it over. Moat explains that SHIELD believes it is a mind-control device, possibly extraterrestrial, and Machete was brokering case-loads of them. Allie informs USAgent that forensics took five bullets out of Machete, two of them belonging to STARS - including the fatal hit. ‘VRIES?’ Walker exclaims, asking if the doctors are sure of the findings. ‘Don’t look now, but…’ Mowat whispers.
‘Is my fly unzipped?’ Vries asks as she approaches her teammates. ‘Well, we caught you with your pants down, at least. Two of your Teflon-sheathed specials killed Machete’ Walker declares. ‘Hey - those Hydra goons were firing rounds our way, too, Walker! I was laying down cover for you’ Vries exclaims, adding ‘That wasn’t some Bucks Rogers “set your phasers on stun” situation. And if I wanted to ice Machete, it’d be a head shot’ Vries declares. ‘The “phasers” line is from Star Trek’ Walker corrects Vries, while Allie declares that the doctors took one of Vries’ bullets from Machete’s head. ‘Well, back to work…’ Mowat remarks, but Vries puts her hands on her hips and exclaims, ‘Look, “Peach…” -’, but John interrupts her, rubbing his head, he tells her that he would prefer “Walker”, motioning to their teammates, he points out that they will have a field day with that nickname.
Vries apologizes and remarks that she knows her being here does to sit well, before assuring John that she is not after his job. ‘I’ll work with you - under you…’ her voice trails off. ‘I’ll bet!’ Mowat whispers to Allie, who scolds him. Vries puts her hands on Walker’s chest, while John exclaims ‘I know you, Vries. Competition drives you. That’s why we never worked together’. But Vries tells Walker that they worked fine together. ‘You ripped my guts out’ John replies. ‘Even now, looking into your eyes, I don’t know if I should kiss you or punch your lights out -?’ Walker exclaims.
Suddenly, Vries kisses the surprised Johnny on his lips. He reminds himself that what they had, they had years ago. ‘It’s not a place I want to visit again, her and me’ he tells himself. ‘Then again -? Then again, I’ve changed a lot…and she -’ he thinks to himself, before Vries pulls away: ‘Beat you to it!’ she exclaims. ‘Just be glad I didn’t punch your lights out, “Peach”!’ she jokes, before turning away from Walker, assuring him that she does not want his job. ‘Yeah. She hasn’t changed either’ Johnny tells himself.
Johnny turns back to Allie and Farley: ‘What are you goo-goo-eyeing me for?’ he asks, telling them to get back to work, as he wants more info on the mind-control “thingy”. ‘Find out how it works - what id does to the host!’. Walker turns and walks away, while Farley mutters ‘Yeah, maybe one of those would work better than your charm did ion your old girlfriend’. USAgent overhears this, and spins Farley’s chair around: ‘Look, you smart aleck runt - I’ve had enough of your whispering! You have something to say, then say it to my face!’ John tells him. Farley remains silent, to which Walker exclaims ‘Good answer!, and orders him to get the alien thing back from SHIELD. ‘We do not rely on other agencies to do our work for us, got it?’ he declares.
Walker strides forcefully along a corridor, while Allie runs after him: ‘Chief, wait up!’ she exclaims. Walker tells Allie that he has to go up to the Commission and meet with Val Cooper, and he is late already. ‘Just a minute, please’ Allie asks, while Walker thinks that Allie was a good hire, and is always looking out for him. Walker listens to Allie as she remarks that she knows he and Agent Vries have a history, before warning him that Vries is playing him. ‘Trust me, it’s a chick thing!’ Allies exclaims, remarking that Vries knows she will catch hell for the Machete blunder, so she throws some romantic moves on Walker, in the hopes that he will keep her from being kicked out of STARS. ‘Yep. Allie’s like my big sister’ Walker thinks to himself.
John tells Allie that whatever he and Vries have or had is nothing to do with the job. ‘And understand - Vries is your superior, so show her some respect’ Walker adds, announcing that they are not hanging Vries for Machete - at least not today. ‘Not today?’ Allie asks as Walker strides down the corridor. ‘Just what are you playing at, Chief?’ she asks, but gets no response.
Elsewhere, Senator Warkovsky is out for a run, when two of his associates running alongside him announce that he has a cell phone call. ‘Should we stop, sir?’ one of them asks. ‘Hell, no, boys! I’m on a schedule so tight, my shoes squeak!’ the Senator replies, before ordering them to hand the phone over. One of the assistants passes Warkovsky the phone: Yes? No, no - the money will be available for the media buys, I assure you. I can outspend my opponent!’ the sweaty senator exclaims. ‘You’d better win me that re-election. I’ve had to widen my circle of contributors…can’t dip into the same well ad infinitum, y’know!’ he exclaims to his caller.
They all continue to run, as the Senator tells his caller that he knows the polls are close, and remarks that he has not lost an election in twelve years, and doesn’t plan to start now. ‘Goodbye!’ he declares, before moving towards a park bench, where a short-haired woman is reading a newspaper. The Senator tells his assistants to give him five minutes to stretch. ‘And “sweep” the park for any unwanted “listeners”, I may want to talk out loud to myself’ he remarks. The Senator waits until his assistants have gone, before beginning to stretch, he remarks ‘Val Cooper’s boy lost his prisoner, I hear. That’s one for our side, t least’.
Kali Vries replies ‘Sorry, Senator. They tagged me on that!’. ‘Dang!’ the Senator exclaims, before asking Vries if STARS have accepted her yet. ‘Probably not. Stupid question’ the Senator remarks before Vries can answer. Vries boasts that USAgent still has feelings for her, she is sure of it. ‘He’ll come around’ the Senator remarks as he holds up one of the small mind-controlling devices and tosses it to Vries, telling her to make it happen, or USAgent will be done. He tells Vries to move, as he understands Val Cooper is planning a mission without her. The Senator’s assistants return, and move along with him: ‘League of Women Voters luncheon in one hour, sir!’ one of them tells him.
Meanwhile, at the office of the Commission on Superhuman Activities. The glamorous Dr Valerie Cooper sits on her desk, while USAgent asks if Agent Vries should be here as well. ‘I could have forgotten to notify her’ Valerie replies slyly, before telling Walker that he will have to bring Vries up to speed later, as they have another high profile “runner”, by the name of Marion Pouncey. ‘”Pouncey”? You said high profile, Cooper’ Walker replies. Valerie turns on a monitor, where an image and profile of the woman called Poundcakes is displayed. ‘She went to-to-toe with Captain American and the Thing’ Valerie reveals.
‘Didn’t she wear something she called “seismic boots”?’ Walker asks. ‘Okay, big laugh. Done now?’ Valerie replies, before explaining that Poundcakes was serving her sentence up until a few weeks ago when she escaped lock-up. ‘We think she might be tied to the same operation as Machete’ Val reveals. As a map flicks on to the monitor, John asks Valerie why she is showing him water. ‘She a cast member of Survivor?’ he jokes. Valerie replies that their satellite’s thermal imaging system shows a new structure thirty miles out from the coast of Maine, and it is Atlantean. ‘Word is, Pouncey’s pushing contraband to a radical faction of Atlantis’s army’ Val explains.
‘“How many pounds can Pouncey push”? I can’t say that ten times fast!’ Walker jokes. Valerie rolls her eyes and tells Johnny to pay attention, explaining that Prince Namor is no longer the leader of Atlantis, and wonders if the Sub-Mariner could be leading this splinter group. ‘John?’ Val exclaims when she gets no response. John replies that he doesn’t think this is Namor’s style, ‘Buying from an arms dealer? Get real’ Walker remarks, while Val tells him to be extra careful. ‘It wouldn’t be good to have Monstro the Whale attack Manhattan Harbor again, huh?’ USAgent remarks, to which Val tells him that the Atlantean conflict is not their concern.
‘We only want to extract Pouncey and her merchandise’ Val tells Walker, who asks how they are going to get there. ‘See Pike’ Val tells him as she pours herself a glass of water. ‘Go!’ Val exclaims. Walker tells her that Pike is going to be mad at him, ‘The Mariah-2 was his baby. Ah, hell’ Walker mutters.
Soon, when USAgent opens the big doors to hangar bay 12, his jaw nearly hit the floor. ‘Frisco Pike is like a god when it comes to aircraft’ John thinks to himself as he sees the sleek craft before him. ‘We appropriated him from the Groom Lake Facility to build our “toys” here at STARS. Val just gets the best people’ John tells himself. ‘Wow! What’s the gas mileage like?’ John asks Frisco Pike, who is rubbing the windshield. Mowat and Allie stand nearby.
‘Dunno. Probably won’t last long enough to find out’ Pike replies, before telling Mowat if he sees now why he won’t introduce his daughter to USAgent. ‘What’s her mileage like?’ John asks, before telling Pike that he is kidding. ‘No doubt she’s too good for a grunt like me’ John exclaims, before asking Mowat if there is any word from Vries, as they are leaving in five minutes. ‘Relax, I’m here’ Vries announces as she steps into the hangar bay, asking if she can drive. ‘Mowat drives. You and I have to be combat ready’ Walker tells her.
Soon, The sleek craft soars through the air, and inside the vessel, Walker and Vries get into their underwater gear, with Vries complaining that it is heavy. Walker explains that they will be deep down, and that it is specialised diving gear. ‘Let me help you attach your helmet’ Vries offers. Walker thanks her, before telling her that they want this target taken out alive. ‘Got it?’ he asks. ‘Well, don’t blame me if she drowns!’ Vries replies as she places the mind-controlling device on Walker’s neck. John asks Mowat if there is anything down there, before the vessel dives into the ocean. ‘There we are, agents. Get ready to rumble!’ Walker exclaims as they approach the underwater structure….