Kat went home early that night, shortly after she’d ended her conversation with Jim by assuring him that she would consider his suggestion. Once again, she caught a micro-expression she didn’t believe he meant to show. While his countenance quickly transformed back into his usual grandfatherly expression of concern, Kat was certain she had caught a look of relief on his face. What on earth could this mean, she wondered. Did Jim know something she didn’t about The Incident, something he was worried would hurt her if she found out? Did he think she was wasting resources by spending so much time on the investigation? Why would Jim want to keep her from uncovering the terrorist organization that had so deeply wounded SHIELD (and Kat) that awful weekend?
It was still too early for Kat to return back to her little apartment (the time she spent at her place often brought back too many memories, ones she no longer wanted to drown in), so she ended up going to the Vietnam Wall Memorial. Although Kat had not known personally any of the names on the Wall, she always felt its strength and sadness. She had spent hours watching people who could only be veterans or family members stare at the thousands of names (or only the one) because she could tell that they too were feeling the same deep sense of desolation that she was.
This evening though, the Wall was relatively empty and instead of focusing on the people still alive, she concentrated on the dead. Although it was a weird thing to feel, Kat got the distinct feeling that they were trying to tell her something. Kat knew from experience that trying to search for a nagging feeling was an exercise in futility, so instead she let her mind wander. What had SHIELD done during the Vietnam War? How had her organization contributed to the intelligence and/or the defense of the military? Were any of the names on the Wall actually SHIELD agents, hiding their true allegiance in obscurity even after their final sacrifice?
From there, the thought of a final sacrifice led her thoughts to Steve Rogers (whom she had helped professionally when he first was rescued and now had become a friend), and how he had been willing to die to take down Hydra. Although his courageous acts had decimated the Red Skull back then, Kat never believed that Hydra itself was gone. Although he never said as much, she suspected that Steve didn’t believe it either; after all, he knew these people first-hand and how devious they could be.
Defeating the leaders of groups like the Nazis (and Hydra) didn’t mean that the ideas behind them were gone. People who believe in violence as the only means to an end would always be around. Organizations like that never truly go away; they just go underground. She remembered her heated debate with Raya about how to kill a creature that wouldn’t die just because you cut off one of its heads. Like Percy Jackson did in the book, someone might think for a moment that they’d succeeded in killing the beast only to be surprised when it later came back stronger than ever. Kat continued to amuse herself for a minute wondering how Hydra could have kept going after their unceremonious defeat after World War II.
Suddenly, Kat felt that rush of adrenaline that you get when you can see the solution to a puzzle but have yet to actually solve it. It’s the feeling that comes over you when you know that you will solve the Rubik’s Cube in several turns or have only a few pieces left in a jigsaw or crossword. Thoughts quickly flashed together in her brain: Steve battling the Red Skull and cutting off one of its heads; the unreasonably angry looks on some of the agents’ faces as they argued about ways to kill a Hydra; a group that had intel it shouldn’t and didn’t leave a trace when it hurt SHIELD; Jim’s guidance away from discovering information about that group; the training that had to have been a part of the soldiers who hurt her during The Incident. As her thoughts ground to a halt, Kat leapt to her feet and understood what the dead had been trying to tell her. There was a big reason why SHIELD’s Walls of Valor kept adding more names than they should be these days: Hydra was still alive and well and operating from within SHIELD itself.
Afterwards, Kat was hard put to explain her exact thought processes but what happened was actually simple. All the thoughts (signs?) that had been rattling around in her brain for months crystallized when she started thinking about what she would do if she wanted to rebuild an organization in secret. Once she saw the big picture, that Hydra was still active, then the rest of the puzzle was easy to piece together. The first step would be in admitting that you are defeated for the moment. In this acceptance was the refusal to try grand schemes right away but instead focus on the success in the future. In other words, they would be playing the long game.
The second step would be to get spies – at this stage they would have to be True Believers – to infiltrate groups that had important information you needed to acquire. For Hydra, what organization would be better than SHIELD? All you needed were people willing to hide their true motives in order to gain information and access and then find a way for them to share this information with their comrades. If what Kat had read in the International Spy Museum (a place she visited many times) was to be believed, this would not even be too difficult, at least at first. True Believers tend to be persistent and tight-lipped; it’s only when you start recruiting those who are in it for pettier motives (like greed or glory) that things get tricky.
Anyone watching Kat when she was at the Wall would have seen a variety of expressions pass over her face in the minute prior to when she leapt to her feet; it happened that fast. But she was well-prepared for it. Yet another thing she learned after The Incident was that, like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, she needed to get used to “believing as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Once that was accomplished, the mind could take you anywhere. That was why once Kat made that first intuitive leap, the rest just fell into place.
Could Jim, her dear friend and mentor, actually be Hydra? No, that was impossible! She had known Jim for years but, the more she thought about it, the more she was convinced that he was. What if he didn’t want her to discover the identity of the terrorist organization that forever changed her life because it too was Hydra? What if the reason why she couldn’t figure out how they had gotten their intelligence was because Hydra had infiltrated SHIELD and their goal with that particular operation was to eliminate certain SHIELD assets? If so, then Kat hadn’t been killed only because she wasn’t a threat. In fact, what if they believed that she could possibly be a recruit? Was that why Jim had always been so helpful? Was he her handler? Was he grooming her for Hydra?
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once said, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” The more Kat pondered the situation, the more she realized that much of Jim’s behavior could be explained if he was secretly working with Hydra. She thought of the times in which Jim had slyly expressed what she considered at the time to be odd viewpoints, like his support for the elimination of people who could potentially be dangerous to the state. When challenged on these viewpoints, somehow he’d explained them away with reasonable sounding justifications. After all, it was Jim, the man who was so caring towards his family, friends and colleagues.
Whenever Kat voiced doubts about the morality of particular operations or investigations, it was Jim who, in his grandfatherly way, had chided her to respect the military and their organizational goals. Through the lens of her Hydra theory, Kat now realized that he had been communicating fascist goals for years yet she hadn’t seen them for what they were. In fact, she’d recently begun to agree with him on a few things, especially in the months following The Incident. Kat felt a sliver of fear run through her as she wondered just how long it would have taken before she would have been compromised by her anger, grief and fear. Was this how they got new recruits? Did they just find damaged people and convince them that they could make a difference or make their life better if they did what they asked?
Was Raya also Hydra? Had she too been assigned to befriend Kat and work with Jim to lead her down the Hydra path? Or had Raya been a true friend, one who was kind and cared about Kat, but was transferred because she was getting in the way of Kat’s recruitment? Kat shook her head as she realized what such an infiltration would do to friendships, loyalties and the trust everyone, or at least some people, thought they shared with other SHIELD operatives and coworkers. This would shake the very foundation of SHIELD!
Kat slowly walked away from the Wall, her feet made heavy by the thoughts in her head and the sadness in her heart. Jim was a respected operative within SHIELD. He had a long history with the organization and was trusted by people at the highest levels. Moreover, for The Incident to have succeeded, intel would have been gathered by people who had access to highly classified documents. It was not the sort of operation accomplished by foot soldiers. How high did the infiltration go? If her hypotheses were correct, SHIELD was in major trouble. So, the main question now was: what could she do?
Kat’s steps led her to the Albert Einstein Memorial. She looked sadly at the peaceful looking scientist, the man who did his best to lead humanity in the right direction. Like Einstein, Kat too was a scientist (albeit of a different type), so she felt a special kinship with him. Perhaps that is why her body led her here even when her mind didn’t realize it had a direction. Although she knew it was silly, Kat sat down in the statue’s huge lap, feeling comforted that there were people in the world who tried to do the right thing even if they weren’t always successful. It was there, in that snug corner of the her world, that Kat’s thoughts once again led her to Steve Rogers, a man who had given up everything, even his life, to make the world a better place. She would talk to him but only after she gathered more information.