More questions than answers.
As they walked she glanced sidelong at him several times, trying to determine if there _was_ a difference between this Victor and the one that she had mourned not long ago. They certainly looked the same, yet judging from what she had overheard some of the EMT's say he had acquired some new abilities while he was in Limbo. The morning hours stretch into the afternoon as the Avengers once again battle nature herself to save dozens if not hundreds of people in Albany. Rubble is moved to free trapped men and women. Fires are put out. The injured are rushed to hospitals or one of the field sites quickly organized by Delta V. By the time the worst of the disaster has passed, city personnel are entering the scene, tending to the wounded and lost and dealing with a myriad of tasks. Shortly after lunch, the National Guard arrives with the Red Cross. By this time, the Avengers, tired and dirty and suffering from various minor injuries, have assembled in the remnants of downtown in a remarkably undamaged cafe commandeered by Malachi.
The cafe owner, a disheveled little man with a thick Greek accent, is busy slicing up a sheet of pastry while the one waitress on duty pours cups of hot, black coffee for the gathered heroes.
"Looks like you guys showed up just in time," she comments somewhat nervously, setting a cup down in front of Emerald. "Helluva a thing. Helluva thing."
The front door's bell jingles as it opens. Wearing a neatly pressed suit and carrying a small plastic bag in his left hand, Gyrich strides in. "Can I get a cup of that, too?" he asks and the waitress nods mutely. Gyrich surveys the Avengers silently, his lips pressed into a thin line. Aegis notices he looks a bit pale and his hand is shaking as he takes the cup of coffee.
"The city's a disaster area," he says. "Clean-up is going to take months. Delta V, what do you make of this?"
He slides the plastic bag onto the table. Within is a leaf, obviously some sort of fern. One of the Specter's eyebrows arches and Delta V picks up the bag for a closer look. The doctor shakes his head.
"It's a fern," Delta V says.
"To be more exact, it's an extinct fern," the Specter adds. "Paleozoic Era, probably late Carboniferous Period which ended about three hundred million years ago."
Gyrich nods, his face dropping just a bit as he realizes the dead have risen. "That's what the SHIELD techs say, also. Same general geological era in which trilobites lived. This fern was found in the rubble near the epicenter of the quake not too far from here. We found a live trilobite on the island formed by the volcanic eruption that caused the tidal wave. Even a grunt like me can see that these two things are too improbable to be coincidence."
Victor can't help but give Gyrich a smile and a nod after seeing his expression.
"Excuse me," Rick puts in. "What's a trilobite? And what's the big deal about the plant life on the island?" Emerald takes another sip from his cup of coffee and waits for an answer from one of the group's eggheads. "Do we know anything more about the island? Or what might have caused the eruption and the earthquake?"
Union looks at the young hero "A trilobite is an extinct animal, just like that fern is extinct. And if they're both on the island and here at the epicenter than it's tied to whatever's causing these disasters. Something seems to be messing with time, or evolution. I wonder if the environment on the island is stable in the Paleozoic or if it's speeding forward..."
The Avengers leader looks at Gyrich knowing that his armor is hiding his bone weary exhaustion. "Agent Gyrich, my people have been fighting natural disasters for almost two days. I'm just too tired to figure out what's going on. Do your techs or scientists have any ideas?" His glance shifts subtily, "Victor? You're the science advisor? And advice?"
Victor was about to suggest something when Janet piped in. He turned towards her and smiled politely.
"So what you're hinting at, " Janet began, "is that the earth is showing signs of prehistoric life, again. That these phenomenon are anything but natural." Janet looked around at the other Avengers. "I don't like the sound of this. Both times the phenomena appeared from below the surface of the planet. Is there anyway that Paleozoic life could have survived the millennia trapped beneath the crust of the earth?" She asked as she turned to face the scientists of the group, Victor specifically.
Gyrich slides over a chair and has a seat, sipping his coffee. "My people are baffled. The only thing the biologists can tell me is, 'This is impossible,' which obviously isn't true." He shakes his head. "Ivory tower aristocrats. I remember more than a few at Quantico even."
"Allow me to confirm your own very acute senses Mister Gyrich by telling you that none of what we have seen is impossible. In fact its all quite probable in the scope of things. But more study of the specimens and the locations needs to be conducted and after that, we can better provide the nation an answer to this problem. If I were to hazard a guess, I might say that if it is natural, then some prehistoric gas was released when the eruptions happened causing some sort of rapid evolutionary advancement of microbes. But since we've only located one trilobite, that would almost certainly cause us to rule out natural phenomena because their would have been millions of them. As for the chance that a prehistoric pocket of animal life exists within the confines of the crust of this planet, that too is possible. In order to complete such a feat, one would have to provide all the necessary fundamental needs for life to be sustained below ground. One of which would be solar radiation for growth. On the other hand this could be the work of extraterrestrial life forms. I only wish I had implemented my satellite detection system before I was killed. We might have been able to detect their coming presence. So as you can see, those are just a few ways to explain this. I'd calculate that their are at least a few thousand more possible explanations, though only a few are likely," Victor ended looking around after speaking for quite a while.
This is all a bit beyond Aegis; as usual she focuses on practical issues. "Until we know what's going on and can deal with the source, perhaps we should break the team into watches," she suggests, glancing at Union with some concern. Easy to forget how old the guy is under that armor. "At least a few of us will be well-rested when the next one hits." If they have to keep up this pace, it won't be long before the team's effectiveness begins to suffer.
Union glances over to Aegis as she speaks, nodding visibly when she finishes. "Maybe. I don't like the idea of not having everyone to deal with a disaster of this magnitude, but you're right that half of us at full strength would be better than all of us exhausted."
Victor speaks up "I like Aegis's idea. I feel fit and ready to go. This new body of mine seems to have an even higher endurance than my old one."
Union takes another sip of the iced coffee through a strawthe best his helmet will allow himand continues, "What would be better is finding out what is causing this in the first place. Dark Angel, could you get Victor and Delta V over to that mystery island?" he glances at the three Avengers in question, hoping that they were more awake and alert than he, "It's more isolated, less contaminated and more likely to give us a lead on what's going on here. We'll stay in touch through the SHEILD," he looks to Gyrich, "Assuming that's OK with you, Agent Gyrich?"
Gyrich shakes his head, "No problem here. I'll get you the necessary authorization."
"Nor do I think your plan unwise," Dark Angel says in his deep, hollow voice. "This form of mine does not tire easily. I am ready to leave at your request."
"The rest of us, get some rest here. Those of us who are still up to par, there might be some sort of subterranean residue of the quake, maybe some way of getting down to it. I'm grasping at straws here, but if someone wanted to make an island last time, maybe they're trying to make a cave this time. In any case, look around, see what you can find. I can't imagine that this is just random destruction, unless someone is systematically trying to eliminate cities in New York state...."
"Give me a couple hours to rest up and I'll be as good as new." Janet replied. "It might be handy to have someone who can manipulate earth with you when we investigate underground." She added with a smile.
Inside his helmet Adrian mentally slapped himself. _God, I am getting tired. I kept lamenting the loss of Victor's phasing abilities for investigating below and I totally forgot about Janet!_
"It would be handy at that. Ravdna, why don't you go with Duststorm, as soon as she's up to it. If there's anyone moving down there, you have the best chance on picking up on it." Union looked enviously at the Asgardian woman, marveling at her inhuman stamina. _She looks like she's ready to go on right now, if some old mortals weren't holding her back._
Ravdna nods solemnly. She can sense that his body would be strewn about that chair like a ship wrecked upon the shore...if not for that marvelous armor. The Asgardian
Avenger murmurs a silent prayer to Odin to preserve his noble heart.
Victor looked over towards Dark Angel and Delta V. "I'm ready to go when you two are."
"Okay, so Victor, DarkAngel, and Delta V are going to the island, and the rest of us will catch our breaths and poke around here as we're able, to see if any more extinct critters show up?" She looks around the group questioningly. "Do you want to take anyone else, just in case you run into something?"
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© 2001 Mark L. Chance et al