Making a new plan.
As he hands over his jacket, "Certainly, but I don't have a spare mask on me. Sorry."
Ghost Rider arrives again at the stadium just as the first of the bravest citizens of Birmingham are making their back in. They small groups of men, many armed now with rifles or shotguns, draw up short when the flaming skulled biker roars back onto the scene. Bull Connors and the other men who were on the stage when the attack occurred are also on hand, now near the crowds coming back in, trying their best to keep people away from the scene, to reassure them that all is now safe.
No sign of the animal-masked attackers is seen, except for one: Lion, no longer burning or mutated, lays near the fifty yard line, apparently unconscious. As Ghost Rider is about to move towards this prone figure, he sees Duststorm, who he recognizes as Janet Van Dyne behind her flimsy disguise, return with two other men, one of whom is in his underwear.
"Um, Miss, Duststorm, was it? Could you keep us far enough away from people to keep me from being recognized? The last thing I want to do on my vacation is face obscenity charges in Alabama." Adrian is doing his best to keep his hands over his face, since he lacks any other method for hiding his identity. Behind those aged digits, his eyes are taking in the devastation in the stadium. _There certainly was a fight here -- and judging from the displaced earth and destroyed stands, I'd say some of the protagonists were strong enough to have uprooted the tree at the site where the found Paul. The Skull's decoy broadcast had mentioned a Rally. This is probably it. But what happened? And who's the man with the burning skull mask? _
Curiosity and a no small amount of anger are overcoming the embarrassment and terror that Adrian felt he should be feeling, and he knew would catch up with him in the middle of the night. He had fight the Red Skull, and been -- by all accounts -- strapped to a missile aimed at Birmingham, that this woman had rescued them from, and Dark Angel had teleported away. _I hope Sam is all right. His behavior lately has been rather erratic... _
"Certainly." Janet sets the trio down on the opposite end of the field, out of good vision range. "I'm afraid I made a bit of mess of the place, but the hippo man, Kiboko I think they called him, was about to tear through the crowd. Rearranging the ground seemed the easiest way to slow him down. There were 5 blacks, all dressed like animals, and then Wasp and the other two. None of them seemed to concerned about hurting each other, or anyone that was in the way. I tried to minimize the damage." Just before ghost rider pulls up, "I don't know who the flaming skull is, he seemed to be attacking both the blacks and Wasp's fascists."
Ghost Rider roars up to Janet van Dyne and the nearly naked man and stares at them for a moment, "The nazis fled the area. Were you able to divert the missiles?"
Janet answers the flaming biker. "I think so, last I saw them they were headed to sea."
Seeing Bull Connors and the mob of armed men, DustStorm creates a small globe of air around the Lion, _I wouldn't have thought they'd left him alone. They must have been in a real hurry._ Janet turns to Malachi and the other man, and explains what happened at the rally, and what she was doing there.
Nodding and continuing to take in the scene during Duststorm's synopses of the Rally, Adrian waits for her to finish before speaking, "Well, that certainly complicates things. I know that I, at least, need to regroup and, if nothing else, re-dress. Your accent marks you as as much of an outsider here as we are miss Duststorm, and your powers and actions seem to indicate we're on the same side."
"I came down here with a friend, I know the Wasp in his other life, and was hoping to be able to put a stop to him, or at least minimize the damage he caused." Janet tries to explain without giving up too much information.
"I think we need to act quickly here -- the Red Skull is allied with those people you fought, and he's already tried to blow up Birmingham. Does anyone have any suggestions?"
Adrian continues "We have a temporary base of operations outside town -- I'd like to head there to get my remaining equipment, and it's the most likely place for Dark Angel to return to once he's dealt with the missiles. Unless you have somewhere closer that we could use for the immediate future?" Adrian's voice makes it plain that he's hoping she does. _I'd rather not jeopardize our identities any more than the Skull already has, and Harriet doesn't need the danger. Malachi can no doubt recover my bag from the Webster household unnoticed if it came to that._
"I was really not prepared for what happened, and I don't have a base of operations or anything, just a motel in town. I can take you wherever you want to go, and probably pick you up some clothes." Janet thinks for a moment. "I would like to change before much else happens, somehow this dress and scarf don't seem to be in place. Like wearing an evening gown to a baseball game."
"I'd love to be able to get a chance to question that maned individual down there as to his origins and goals, but I doubt that Bull would let us just waltz away with him, and I don't know that we have somewhere to question him in any case. Our base isn't appropriate..."
Sounding more than a little agitated, Malachi says "You really don't think we can just leave that man down there with them, do you? They'll have him strung up from a tree before he wakes."
DustStorm turns to Malachi, "He is safe enough for the moment, I put a shield around him. I don't know where his four 'friends' went, but they didn't want less than to pound me into the ground. You might have better luck talking to them, if they show up. But you are right, we can't leave him here. Enough winds can keep them away from him if you want to walk down and get him. I should be able to control them enough not to blow you over too."
"Damnation and Befuddlement. I keep forgetting where we are and the extent of the problem." Toomes mutters to himself. _Which of course means that Sam no doubt thinks I'm an idiot by now, rather than just a slow witted old man... _ Adrian turns to Malachi, "You're completely right -- we can't just leave him there. If Dark Angel were back this would be easier, but for right now our options are limited."
Still trying to cover his face, Adrian turns to the flaming figure, seemingly unperturbed by the burning skull and motorcycle. "Since you attacked everyone being violent, didn't attack Miss DustStorm here, and were concerned about the missiles, I'm forced to assume that you're on our side in all of this. If that bike of yours can carry passengers, I need you to help Malachi get that lion-man out of here."
Adrian turns his head back to the Harlem vigilante, "Malachi, could you two get that man and bring him back to, umm, the spot where we first entered the woods. I don't want to get too close to the bunker, and we can't bring this on our host or into DustStorm's hotel." Looking at DustStorm again, he continues "If this nice young lady was serious about getting me out of here, then she and I can handle our costuming needs and I can re-equip myself as best I can. With any luck one of us will run into Dark Angel at one of our old haunts, and before he tries to get back into that bunker by himself."
Assuming that everyone is in agreement to the hastily drawn-up plan, Adrian continues "We'll try to meet within the hour. I don't want to give the Red Skull any more time to prepare or leave. Besides, if the evidence of Miss Dust Storm's powers are an accurate accounting, then we might be able to surprise those fascists by avoiding the front door..."
Janet looks at the assembled group. "That sounds like a good place to start." And with a rush of air, Janet and Adrian lift into the air.
Eric as Ghost Rider roars out away from the scene, disgusted at how the nazis got away but surprised at Janet's powers.
After watching Adrian and the young woman fly off into the air, Malachi turns to plan the extraction of the downed Lion, only to find the flame headed man roaring away on his cycle.
"Miserable lousy..., ok, I guess we do this the hard way."
With that, Malachi breaks into an broken field sprint, headed towards the fallen man on the field. The black hero planned to pick up the unconscious man and run from the scene with him, shielding the figure with his own body if need be. This turned out not be necessary, as the Spirit of Vengeance came roaring around from the back of the crowd, his flaming hell-cycle scattering the bystanders again with his passage, bearing down on Malachi and the unconscious Lion.
Easily lifting the unconscious terrorist in his arms, Malachi leaps gracefully onto the back of Ghost Rider's bike as it roars past, carrying the two heroes into the night.
Dark Angel begins his flight back toward the last known location only to find that his companions and the woman have disappeared. More treachery? he wonders, suddenly panicking furtively shooting glances in all directions for signs of them. Nothing.
"You have learned," the voice told him.
"It was the first thing I could think of," Dark Angel told the voice.
"There *might* be hope for him," another voice said.
"Yes, my brother," the first voice replied.
Dark Angel flew off, the three sets of wings flapping mightily, determined to find his companions. He wanted to call them friends, but he neither knew them or they, he, so he refrained from labeling them with the more intimate term. Companions would do for now.
DustStorm and Union fly quickly over downtown, and light out of sight on a tall roof. "Wait here a moment, and we'll see what we can do about your modesty." She removes her mask to reveal an unsurprisingly attractive face, and then slips over the roof.
"I'm beginning to get the impression that everyone is attractive under their masks except me..." Adrian mutters to himself while pacing quietly on the rooftop. His mind is already running through permutations of the back up equipment he left in the duffel back at Mrs. Webster's, trying to come up with something to balance the odds for him until he could get his armor back.
DustStorm returns several minutes later with two paper shopping bags. She removes a pair of tan pants, and a brown shirt, with matching jacket. In the other bag is a belt, a pair of socks, and comfortable shoes. She holds the shirt up to Adrian "Thank God for Dillards, and that they were open late." All the clothes are well in fashion, and fit surprisingly well, for not having asked any sizes.
As Adrian finishes getting dressed, Janet asks. "What should I call you? Hey you doesn't seem to fit."
After a moments contemplation he responds "Adrian. Please call me Adrian." _she's trusting me with her face and hotel room. I have to at least respond in kind. _ He holds out his hand, "It's a pleasure to meet you miss."
The old man looks much more comfortable once he's actually wearing clothes, and he stopped trying to hide his face once Janet had removed her mask. She sees him clearly now as a bald and wrinkled man with a beak nose and deep set eyes. Judging from the wrinkles on his face -- never mind the condition of the rest of him -- he must be at least sixty. Still, she notes a fire in his eyes and a confidence in his voice that can't be all bravado.
She once again lifts the pair off the roof, this time, setting down in the alley behind the building. The pair walk onto the street, and hail a cab. "To the Hyatt please."
In a few moments, they are in her hotel suite. "Order something from room service, if we have time, I a little hungry myself." She slips into the bedroom.
Adrian looks surreptitiously around the room, comparing the relative opulence of the Hyatt to the more humble residence he and his allies had taken up in town. "I don't think we do, unless room service is dreadfully efficient. Things are moving out of control, and if there's one thing old engineers hate, it's things moving out of control."
It takes a few moments for her to return, this time wearing white body suit, with red gloves and boots. She carries in her hands a red and black facemask, and street clothes draped over one arm. "I don't know why I made this thing, but after reading in the papers about Susan Storm, and those other people who helped fight the Vikings, I thought it might come in handy."
"The Avengers. They call themselves the Avengers." Adrian responds, half to himself, self consciously not wathcing Janet dresshe seems to have problems even looking at her in the skin tight white costume, "and Sue Storm had nothing to do with the fighther publicity crew came in for some shots after the battle was over." He shakes his head, "Sorry if that sounds bitter. It's been a busy few days, and I had forgotten about Sue Storm little grandstanding incident."
She slips a pair of slacks, and a blouse over the costume, and folds the mask into her purse. "I am ready if you are."
"Miss, we're about to go up for round two of a fight with the Red Skull, the virtual embodiment of evil on this planet. The last time I did this, I ended up strapped to a rocket and launched over Birmingham, bereft of the armor that I spent the last six years of my life perfecting" Adrian opens the door for the young woman, and hears the lock latch soundly behind them before joining her at the elevator. "Am I ready? Of course not. I am, however, going anyway."
Union and Duststorm fly back to Duststorm's hotel, first to pick up Union some clothes and then to talk some strategy. They don't waste much time before high-tailing it to Harriet's house, where Union snatches up what remains of his equipment. Harriet is sound asleep, and Union is able to slip in and out without being detected.
Meanwhile, Malachi and Ghost Rider move quickly to pick up the still unconscious Lion before the mob, led by Bull Connors, which is growing increasingly bold, can get their hands on the animal-masked man. The two heroes then quickly vacate the stadium, leaving the crowd behind, and head towards the woods where Union suggested they rendezvous.
Dark Angel, having disposed of the missiles, teleports back to the construction site to find that his allies are nowhere to be found. He circles the area via flight for a while, but to no avail. A lucky assumption then leads him to teleport back to Harriet's house, arriving just about the same time as Union and Duststorm.
A few minutes later, the five heroes are assembled in the woods not too far (but not too close) to the Nazi hideout. The sporadic moans coming from Lion indicate that he won't be unconscious much longer.
Adrian hands Malachi's jacket back to him, "Thanks. Did you have any trouble getting 'Lion' out here?"
"Nothing too much. Thanks."
Nodding, Adrian kneels slowly down on the ground, spreading his trenchcoat out to form a crude work-area and quickly covering it with tools and equipment drawn from his duffel bag. The coat is at best five feet from Ghost Rider's flaming cycle, and the old man seems to be using it for illumination.
Ghost Rider looks to the other heroes and states in the deep other wordly voice that's becoming his trademark, "Now that we are assembled we'd best preapre to attack. The nazis are in true need of taste of vengence."
Dark Angel appears just in time to hear Ghost Rider's oath. DA pays no more attention to Ghost Rider than he would any other new arrival to their group.
"It is one thing to harm us, we who would harm this Red Skull, it is another matter to threaten the innocent as he has done this day. For that, and that alone, he shall be PUNISHED!"
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© 2000 Mark L. Chance et al