An interesting discussion.
Stern has been silent all this time, lost in thought, looking quite forlorn. Now inside, he nibbles absently at various foods, as if he were looking for something that interested him, but nothing does. He really doesn't face anyone, kind of just wandering, at times gazing out a window, other times just staring into space.
Dr. Connors finally registers that Tony Stark is speaking to him. "What? Sorry, I was lost in thought for a moment. I don't know what that was about, but seeing as DePalo is with the military, I would imagine those other men are connected to the government somehow. Whatever is going on, I don't think a funeral is the proper place to conduct for it."
"DePalo's not one for ceremony," Stark grumbles. "Damn, I wish I knew what they were talking about in there."
Gyrich leads Union, Aegis, Malachi, and Emerald through the crowded ballroom to a side entrance, which in turn leads into a impressive library, complete with floor to ceiling built-in shelves, dark wood paneling, and comfortable, expensive furnishings. In the room, around the edges, are a detail of Secret Service. Colonel DePalo stands in one corner, looking a bit annoyed. Vice President Johnson leans against a desk, talking to a tall, muscular man with graying hair, his left eye covered by a black patch. It takes Union a moment to realize he's seen that face before, years ago, but he can't quite remember where.
Johnson turns to one of the Secret Service agents. "Ya'll wait outside."
After the agents have dutifully filed out of the room and closed the door behind them, Johnson approaches Union and extends his hand.
"Fine speech you made, Union," the Vice President drawls. "This here is Colonel Nick Fury of SHIELD."
The eye-patched man nods and grins, and Union remembers where he saw the face. Fury fought along side Captain America during WWII and Korea. He then supposedly retired, and disappeared into anonymity.
Union accepts the Vice President's firm handshake and compliments, again glad for the unnatural poise his armor granted him. _That's the biggest blessing I have when trying to lead this groupI'm not a quaking mess!_ he thought as he met the Vice President's gaze.
"Thank you, Sir. It wasn't an easy thing to do, and I hope it's something I won't have to repeat. We're all honored that you attended today's service." Union turns to Fury, "Colonel Fury. I had heard you'd retired. Apparently I was misinformed. It's a privilege to meet you." _I hope this isn't fallout from the events surrounding Captain America..._
Fury nods and smiles. "After you hear what we have to say, you might change your mind."
"Let me be blunt," Johnson says. "The US government is uncomfortable with the idea of a group of super-powered vigilantes operating with her sphere of interest, so to speak. So far, almost all of your activities have been with acceptable parameters, but that is no guarantee of the future. Colonel DePalo?"
The tall, thin soldier clears his throat and steps forward a bit. "Audio surveillance of certain members of your group indicate a willingness, even eagerness, to help Captain America turn over sensitive military research to Soviet agents. Specifically, we have the Dumas, Aegis, Delta V, and Emerald on tape expressing such sympathies."
Emerald senses Aegis grow tense within the concealment of her armor.
Fury takes over. "The research DePalo refers to is Dr. Curtis Connors's work on cellular regeneration, which was funded by government grants under Department of Defense auspices. Recently, we registered a sizable cash transfer to the accounts of Dr. Theodore Sallis, who is known to have also expressed similar sympathies. The sum of all of this intelligence leads to the conclusion that Dr. Connors, Dr. Sallis, and Captain America are all co-conspirators in a plot with the purported goal of using Connors's research as the foundation for medical treatment of US soldiers exposed to Agent Orange."
The Vice President speaks again. "Even if this is all that is going on, a number of felonies have been committed, albeit with a noble aim. Still, I'm certain you can understand that the US government cannot condone espionage and collaboration with the enemy under any circumstances."
DePalo grins ruefully as Johnson pauses, waiting for some sort of response.
Aegis thinks, _How bloody lovely. And at a funeral, too. Now I'm *really* regretting not putting that son of a bitch through a wall._ She reins in her anger for the moment and waits to hear what they want. _Can't say I'm surprised by the tactics, but I didn't expect them to move quite this fast...._
Taking a step back, Union glances over at DePalo, finally connecting the man applauding Stark's outburst with the one Aegis had described as being involved in the Soviet Super-Soldier affair. He does not make eye contact with him, not knowing how he would respond to someone whose actions represent everything he dislikes about the US Government.
_Think old man, think and listen. Listen to who's saying whatJohnson hasn't accused any of you of working with Communists. Nor has Fury. Just DePalo, and he's low man on the totem pole here._
After a second of silence that feels much longer to Union that in actually is, he speaks, "Well, Mr. Vice President, as far as the Avengers status as super-powered vigilantes, we've already initiated communication with the FBI's agent Gyrich to develop a more formal arrangement. Plus, we did sign on, despite Colonel DePalo's rather heavy handed pressures, to assist the government in the recent matters at the United Nations.
"For the other matter, I wasn't present at the events you're referring to, but if I understand the reports of my teammates properly, that's pretty much want happened: Captain America revealed the information he'd uncovered on the defoliant programs, and asked for Conner's assistance on settling matters for US servicemen damaged by the chemical exposure."
"What he also made clear was that he did not intend to hand the information over to the Soviets, and if we feared the research falling into Soviet hands, we could take any action we felt necessary in insure the secrecy Connors' work when we delivered it to his associate, presumably this Dr. Sallis. That was what my teammates agreed togaining Captain America's support in the conflict at the United Nations should any Soviet Agents arrive, and getting Connors' research into the hands of those who would use it to help injured or threatened American soldiers. That transfer of information hasn't taken place."
"That being said, I don't see where someone could reasonably make claims for either espionage or collaboration: the Avengers neither gathered nor delivered any classified information for anyone under the influence of a foreign power. Instead we willingly accepted a government assignment to defend Americans and successfully did so, at the loss of one of our own." Union takes a second and puts in hand on one of his belt pouches, absently fingering the micro-transmitter Captain America had handed over to Delta V, and something finally falls into place _Light's on._ "Colonel DePalo's attempt to transfer blame for this sequence of events, or his animosity against Captain America, to us simply don't hold water."
"The only thing that puzzles me about this whole incident is, well, Colonel Fury, do you know if there were any irregularities found in the autopsy of Agent Mulhare?" Union looks at the secret agent but doesn't wait for an answer, "You see, if he had any sort of miniaturized transmitter on him, that means he was under the control of the Voice when he tried to kill Dr. Sallis. Now, why would the Soviets try and kill Dr. Sallis if they needed him to get their hands on Connors' formula? The Captain wouldn't give it to them. Nor would Connors. If they tired to kill Sallis they must have never intended to get their hands on the formula. Sallis' death would be their final double cross on Captain America, and their way of insure that Connors' research wasn't studied.
"But if the micro-transmitter *wasn't* there then Mulhare must have been operating under orders from someone elsesomeone who had an interest in making sure Connors gave the research to someone other than Sallis. Probably someone who made overtures for the information before and been rebuffed, or had a personal grudge against Captain America." Union is pointedly not looking directly at anyone as he says this. "Obviously, with Mulhare dead we'll never know for sure, but, like I said, it puzzles me."
"I'm sorry," Union turns to face Johnson, "I got lost in thought there, Mr. Vice President. Anyway, does that answer your questions about our involvement in this affair?"
Johnson smiles appreciatively, as does Fury. Gyrich, who has lurked in the background all the while, steps forward. "Well, Nick?"
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