An offer accepted, with reservations by some.
Colonel Fury responds, "That's pretty much the story we've pieced together, Union. But the microreceiver found on Mulhare is the Voice's, which apparently means Sallis was indeed a target. In light of the Soviet's supposed interest in Connors's research, this bit of the incident doesn't make much sense."
"But," DePalo interrupts. "Your complicity or lack thereof as part of Steve Rogers's plan is irrelevant to the larger issue. Rogers did commit treason, and Connors did agree to pass information that is the property of the US government. It doesn't matter who he agreed to pass it to."
Johnson nods in agreement. "Now, Connors may not have fully understood the extent to which his research is the in fact not his to do with as he pleases, and since it seems unlikely that any real harm was done by Connors or any of the rest of you, the administration is not interested in pursuing any sort of action against the Avengers. Right now, there are many people in positions of influence that consider your group a loose cannon at best."
Gyrich steps up to bat. "May I?" The Vice President nods again. "I've been monitoring your activities and the media response since the attack on Manhattan. Through my liaison work with SHIELD, I contacted Nick. The threat of superhuman criminals is becoming increasingly real, and conventional law enforcement is not equipped to handle the problem. SHIELD is equipped, but doesn't have jurisdiction to operate domestically. What Nick and I would like to see happen is for the Avengers to operate as special operatives in alliance with the FBI, with me as your go-between, and SHIELD as operational support in terms of intelligence and incarceration."
The Vice President then asks, "Thoughts?"
Impressed by Union's incisive summation of the UN events, she'd still had to suppress a growl at dePalo's little interjection.
"Obviously I can't speak for the others, but my thought, Mr. Vice President, is that I don't cross the street for people who try to threaten me," Aegis tells him with a smile in her voice. "You want our help with something, how about giving us a better reason?"
Gyrich's mouth drops open, and he starts to speak, but Johnson cuts him off with a dismissive wave and then the Vice President turns to face Aegis.
Union casts her a withering glance, his disapproval obvious to everyone in the room. _What the *hell* does she think she's doing?_
"I don't recall issuing any threats, Miss Cabe," he says coolly, with a disturbing smile on his face. "I recall an offer being made. Take it or leave it. But understand this, every last one of you. You will not operate in this country without governmental approval. Push comes to shove, this administration will shut you down. Two of your members have engaged in felonious activities to date. We've already mentioned Connors. Another of you is in possession of Captain America's shield, which is the property of the United States military." He looks pointedly at Emerald before continuing. "You want a better reason? Fine. It's our way or no way at all. You want a chance to keep helping people, to keep using your various skills, powers, and weapons to defend the common good? Then you meet with the rest of your group ay ess ay pea, and then get back in touch with Agent Gyrich with a resounding 'Yes.' Otherwise, this administration will have no choice but to launch a full and very public inquiry into everyone of you."
The Vice President pauses for just a moment to let the weight of his words sink in. "Don't start a pissin contest with me. I'll drown ya."
_Now there's an image for the ages._ Beth reflects on the fact that her mother would die of shame if she had any idea this conversation were taking place, and chuckles, in just black enough of a mood to be almost enjoying this. "We'll see." The gleaming helmet inclines slightly toward Union, inquiring.
"This level of connection with the government was actually exactly what we'd been hoping for," Union silences her firmly. "Our goal is now and always will be to help people, and if we can do that with government sanction, so much the better. We will be meeting with the others as soon as it can be arranged, and will be in touch with Agent Gyrich."
The range of emotions detected by Emerald is revealing. Both Gyrich and Fury are pleased with Union's promise. Johnson is both glad and smug. DePalo, on the other hand, although it doesn't show on the outside, it very irritated. The formalities of departing are accomplished.
Slowly, as a whole, the reception ends. The Avengers depart, VIPs exit with fanfare, other guests leave. The caterers and cleaning crew finish with their business. By the time they are done and gone, it is late. A full moon glows sadly in the cloudy night sky. The mansion is empty except for a few robots on their programmed duties, Alfred, who sits somberly in front of a crackling fireplace, a hand-written manuscript of Hawthorne short stories resting on his knee, and the invisible ghost of Victor pondering what to do next.
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© 2000 Mark L. Chance et al