The source of the trouble?
Meanwhile, back in the rough shelter of tents and cots cordoned off for SHIELD personnel, Adrian Toomes wakes, stifling a scream. The dream, whatever it was, fades in the dying afternoon light. Despite the rude awakening, he feels rested from the three hours of deep, fatigue-induced sleep. A quick survey of the tent revealed that someone came in, and Janet has left. He hoped no one took advantage of the opportunity to look at the face of the old man who has somehow become leader of America's mightiest heroes.
_Sleeping in the full armor just wasn't practicalthe cyber suit is comfortable enough, but chain mail? Ugh. My back has enough problems. At least the armor hasn't been disturbed. Well, after that dream, I'm not going back to sleep._
Adrian brushes off the fine, almost invisible layer of dirt he'd asked Janet to place over his armor, so that he could quickly see if anyone had touched it during his nap. With increasingly practiced movements he dons the armor, checking each of its systems manually before activating the cyber suit and repeating the procedure with the armor's diagnostics.
_This things been under a lot of strain lately. I'm amazed the systems are still showing green. All the weapons packages are still in place, and the cable isn't showing any stress damage._
He pushes the tent flap aside to find the day brighter than the tent made it appear. The clear, sunny sky painfully contrasts with the urban wreckage surrounding the camp. "Not enough." He mutters to himself. "We still couldn't do enough. We're going to have to deal with the days when everything we can do still isn't everything that needs to be done."
Before Union can take two steps he is hailed by a SHIELD agentat least according to his badge. Adrian had a hard time seeing this freckled, bespectacled young man taking orders from Nick Fury. "Hello Sir. We were told to let you know that Duststorm and Ravdna had gone scouting at the epicenter. Are you feeling any better?"
"Yes, I am..." Union squinted to see the name on the young agent's badge, but the mud and dirtall to prevalent in the quake's aftermathobscured most of it. All he could make out was the "S", and the photo of the man's face, which didn't help. "uh...Son." He finished lamely. "Any word from the Avengers on the Island?"
"We know they're therea report came in from Doctor Bertelmann a little while ago. Apparently the island's fauna is now in the Mississipian period." There's a moment of silence as the agent waits for a response, before adding "Evolution is speeding up."
"Oh. I had thought it might."
"You knew? Would you like to look at her reports?"
"I guessed. And no, they would be Greek to me, and I don't speak much Greek. I'll wait until I get Victor on the radio. I'm sure he'll explain it to me in exhaustive detail. Using words that would cost more than a cup of coffee and a bagel. Speaking of which, is there somewhere I could get, say, a cup of coffee and a bagel?"
"Lox or no lox?"
After a quick breakfast (dinner?) Union takes to the skies, looking for his teammates and getting a closer look at the wreckage. He switches to his radio efore the scene can depress him too much. "Aegis, how are things going? I'm up and around again, so you can take a break if you want."
"What, just when things are getting interesting? Glad to have you back." Good humor has proven the best defense against the wearying day and the prospect of more to come.
"A shield agent just told me Ravdna and Duststorm were looking for the epicenter. Any idea where they are? Have they gone underground yet?"
"They're with meDuststorm just found the place if you'd care to go spelunking?"
Seconds later his incredible electromagnetic armor lowers Union into the company of the three most powerful women on the planet. "How's everybody holding up?"
"Is this the place? Union points to the unassuming spot of bare earth.
Janet looked up as Union landed and could sense that he was still bone tired from the tone in his voice. *He's an incredible man to keep going like this.* She thought. She reminded him of her father in so many ways. She was beginning to put him into a similar role as well in their seemingly constant contact recently. He was their leader so it was only natural to associate him with a known authority figure. He was also intelligent like her father. She started to wonder... and quickly broke that train of thought. A small blush rose to her cheeks as she looked down at the location of the epicenter. "Yes, this is the spot as far as I can tell." She responded.
"OK. Duststorm, can you sense if there are any cave formations or air pockets down there? Something that might be, I don't know, pushing things aside and causing the quake? Victor said that might be possible."
Union looks over to the Valkyrie, "Ravdna, is there anyone down there? I don't know anything about what you're capabilities are, but I know you have some sort of telepathy. Any minds, or spirits?"
"I... I'll try. I'm not sure if it will work or not. But I'll do my best." She said, flustered. She tried to concentrate on sensing any open spaces underground, something large enough to house plant and animal life.
Union steps closer to Duststorm and lays a hand on her shoulder, pitching his voice in a whisper, "Janet, you look flushed. Don't push yourself to exhaustion on thisjust do the best you can." Even with this proximity he doesn't look past her face and hair. _At least this costume is better than the skin-tight white..._ he thought.
Janet glanced up as Union placed an arm on her shoulder. This line of thought was getting her nowhere and now... She blushed even more as she tried to concentrate on the task at hand. "I'm fine, thanks. I was just... I mean... Just having some odd thoughts is all." She was finally able to say.
*Well that was intelligent.* she chided herself. *What are some kind of school girl? Not only that but he's the leader of the Avengers. Quit while you're ahead or you'll end up with a broken heart.* Her self inflicted speech over she shook her head and concentrated on probing the earth with her special senses.
Aegis engages the armor's antigrav as the two probe the earth with their unusual senses, ready to move quickly in response to any sudden danger. She wonders vaguely how things are going back in the city, then focuses her attention sharply on the immediate activity.
Duststorm and Ravdna go to work, each extending their uncanny senses. Duststorm tries to "feel" the lay of the land beneath their feet, but gets only vague impressions of fissures that radiate out from the site to the city all around. Ravdna, however, receives a much more distinct and unnerving sensation.
"Caution, comrades," she says. "There is an unholy intelligence 'neath the earth here. I canst detect its alien thoughts, but can say naught as to what its thoughts may mean. Of this, though, I am certain. It knows we art here."
"Well that sounds suitably ominous. 'Unholy' and 'Alien', eh? Ravdna. Try and keep it in your sites," _or whatever it is you do_, "while we spread the word."
Union opens a radio contact on the SHIELD frequency, "This is Union. We have a contact with some intelligence at the epicenter. I recommend you pull your men back from the area. If anyone on this frequency is near Malachi, could you give him a SHIELD radio and send him our way? We may need his help in a few minutes." There is a brief pause before he continues, "Can someone send a message out to the Avengers on the islandlet them know we have something here, and to pay attention for any other messages. Union out."
"Roger that," the SHIELD radio tech replies. "We'll locate Malachi ASAP and send him to your location. SHIELD out."
"Duststorm, why don't you clear us a path to this thing? Ravdna, if you'd point the way?" With that the silver avenger joins Aegis in hovering a few inches above the ground, his armor glowing with its protective fields.
"Right." Janet started moving the earth in front of her as Ravdna pinpointed the location. She used the dirt being moved to form a shield around her which should protect her from most things should the being below try and attack physically. Slowly and methodically the dirt piled up and was moved aside as Duststorm used her inhuman abilities cautiously. This was still an earthquake prone zone with all the fissures below. She didn't want to overexert herself or cause a further disaster with her maneuvering. "How deep do we have to go Ravdna? Maybe you can let me know when we are getting close. I'll slow it down a bit then so we can be prepared."
Ravdna concentrates her telepathic powers on the presence, guiding Duststorm as she slowly, carefully forms a tunnel according to the Valkyrie's directions. The presence is still there, most likely several dozen yards underground. The anger and malevolence pulses from it in rhythmic waves, strong, steady, repulsive and obscenely attractive at the same time.
Overhead, Union and Aegis's guard is interrupted by the crackle of the radio followed by Victor's voice:
"Specter to Avengers-North. Come in. This is Specter from the Atlantic Avengers. We have some information that might add a few pieces to the puzzle."
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© 2001 Mark L. Chance et al