Going places, making plans, and an unexpected arrival.
While he ate and thought, he was sketching the harness he'd need to perform today's little jaunt. _The suit should hold up to the stress and speed just fine, but I'll need this in order to bring Sam with me._ Checking the clock, he saw he had 45 minutes before he had to meet the younger Wilson. Should be time enough.
Thirty minutes later the harness was finishedgreatly aided by the metal-threaded fabric supplies Adrian had lying around from his original suit designs, before he decided to just do the whole suit in aluminum. The only concern now was letting the rest of the team (give them their due, the rest of the Avengers) know that he wasn't going to be at the meeting tonight, and why. Unfortunately he didn't know any of their real names, never mind their phone numbers. Aegis and Stark seemed the best bet. The phone book yielded the number of the Stark Industries complex they had met at Monday night. Adrian would just have to work from here. To lend credence to his story he donned his helmet and turned on the voice modifier, so that it was Union's voice on the phone.
"Hello, Stark Industries" the voice on the other end was awfully chipper for 4:45 in the morning.
"Hello. I'm trying to reach the chief of your security department."
"I'm sorry," the receptionist chirped, "Mr. Martinelli isn't in yet. May I take a message?"
_Strike One. _ "Oh. I'm sorry, I had thought...Monday I had spoken with a young woman in your security department, but I'm afraid that I've forgotten her name."
"You must be confused sir. We don't have any women in our complex security department."
_Strike Two. _ "I'm quite certain that she had some capacity with your company, perhaps directly with Mr. Stark. Personal security perhaps?"
"We have no one on payroll who would meet that description sir." Her voice was no longer quite so happy, and a little guarded, though if it was through irritation or concern over the line of questioning, or the inhuman voice on the phone Adrian couldn't tell.
_Lights Off. Go for plan two._ "I understand. Could you take put me through to Mr. Stark then, please."
"No sir, I'm afraid I can't. I can take a message, however."
"OK. That would be fine, thanks. Could you tell Mr. Stark that Union will not be able to attend tonight's meeting. He should tell Aegis that I've gone to Birmingham, Alabama to look into the racial violence there, and that I feel this should be an Avengers Priority. If the situation starts to deteriorate, any assistance would be appreciatedespecially Miss. Aegis, Mr. Angel or the Captain. Do you have all that?'
"I think so Mr. Union. How do you spell Aegis?"
_Good recovery on the odd, low spelling skills. Could be worse... _ "A-E-G-I-S. It's very important that Mr. Stark get this message as soon as possible. Do you understand?"
"Yes sir. I'll give it to his personal assistant as soon as she comes in."
"Thank you." _Personal assistant. That's as likely as anything..._ " Just out of curiosity, is that assistant a redhead?"
"No sir. Brunette."
Adrian hung up the phone, then put his trenchcoat into his duffel bag. He was already in the Union armor, with clothes for Alabama packed and the harness flatted magnetically against the armor's back. He exited through the roof, and the door locked silently behind him as he took to the air.
The parish looked different from the air, but Adrian found it fast enough. He kept low and landed in the alley closest to the building at three minutes past 5. He took the helmet off and pulled the trenchcoat on over the armor. It didn't have to withstand close scrutiny, and time was of the essence. Sam was standing out in front of the church, looking athletic and agitated. Adrian remembered the tales is father told of his son's football prowess, and didn't want to be in the way of that young man when he got angry.
"Sam!" Adrian called and waved as he approached quickly, moving with the supernatural grace that the still active cybernetic suit provided him.
Walking down the steps of the church Sam calls, "Mr. Toomes. Thank you for coming. You walked? I thought..."
Adrian shook the young man's hand, and saw that the strength his frame gave off was more than demonstrated in his grip. "I'm afraid we don't have a lot of time, so I'm going to have to take you into my confidence. Come with me."
Adrian leads the pair back into the alley behind the parish, where the early hour and the lack of windows should cover his next action, which is putting the Union helm back on his head.
Sam raises one eyebrow in somewhat concealed startlement.
"I don't have time to explain everything, but this armor makes me one of the people who held the Asgardian Vikings off on Monday, and rescued those women. I'm called Union." Union folds up the trenchcoat and places it in his bag, then fished out what looks like a pair of welding goggles.
"Understand that I'm telling you this in the strictest confidenceI know your family well enough to know I can trust you, but this has to remain just between us."
"Of course I wouldn't tell anyone, although I have to admit it's not what I was expecting."
Union nodded. "If you had seen this coming, I would have been very surprised," he said, his flat monotone drastically different from Adrian's natural voice.
"The suit can fly, with speeds based on the local electrical fields. I estimate I can reach Birmingham in 6 hours at the outside by using high tension wires for propulsion. I'm strong enough in this thing to carry you, but I have a better solution, if you're interested." With that the leather and metal padding on the armor's back unfolds, revealing an odd harness.
"Once we attach this to your chest and legs, I can lift the metal wires of the harness, and use it to support your weight in flight. The wire connections between it and the suit will conduct the low intensity force field the suit generates, which could protect you from most of the rigors of the flight, and the metal bands should stay fairly warm, to keep you from getting too cold." Union hands the goggles over. "You should probably wear these as well."
The harness covers most of Sam's chest, lashing in a cross around his back. There's a connected skullcap, which looks a little silly (with flaps for the ears and a tie in the front). The leg braces reach down the front of his thighs and shins, strapping in on his ankles. "I didn't have enough material for arm supports, but I think you may want those free anyway."
"Are you ready?" Union straps Sam's bag and his own to the back of the harness, running thin metal-threaded leather ties through them and supporting their weight with the suits fields.
Looking down over the harness and attachments, "Not exactly stylish, but if it'll get me to Birmingham in 6 hours, I'll look foolish. Anything I need to do?"
"Hold on. Wave your arms if you need to stop. And don't panic, or fight against the supportsI don't want to risk losing you."
Union presses off against the city's impressive magnetic field, forcing the two men into the air in a smooth, controlled ascent. The suit's internal stabilizers automatically compensate for the additional mass held in the field, though Adrian's weight-displacement meters are reading amber. _Shouldn't try anything fancy, or pull up any more weight. Still, no need for concernthe suit won't draw off its internal power systems until I'm into the red, and I have a good 100 pounds of leeway before I have to worry about that. _
The pair of them quickly reach an apex over the city, giving Sam a spectacular view of new your, before Union sites the high charge wires running along the George Washington Bridge. Once off the island, Union sites a course West, roughly paralleling route 80, then turning southwest to follow the EM current of the cities that dot US route 81. The pair skirt over the top of the Appalachians early, losing some speed to the terrain and the altitude, but some down on the other side and accelerate once Union finds another set of high energy power lines on the west side of the mountains. That jump was the highest part of their trip: for the rest of it they stick low to the ground, no more than 30 to 40 yards off the power lines, getting maximum speed for minimum danger. As the land levels out Union picks up speed yet again, cresting at just under 300 miles an hour.
_Good thing the weight manipulation and flight systems are on different circuits_ Adrian thought. He had managed a few glances at Paul's son, who was holding up remarkably well under the rigors of the flight, even waving him to pick up speed at points. _The EM force field effect must be strong than I thought. But' he'll probably be stiff and sore when we land. Good thing I had that old leather mesh around, but I hated to lose the hat..._
Things proceed nicely until the pair passes Williamsburg, Virginia.
"I think he wants you to pull over!" Sam yells, pointing behind them. Looking back, Adrian can see a state trooper's car, lights flashing, slowly losing ground on the flying duo.
Four and a half hours and one time zone later, Union and Sam Wilson find themselves a dozen or so miles out of Birmingham. It's 8:30 in the morning, Alabama time.
"OK, Sam," Union asks, "where do we go from here?"
Still on Asgard, Ravdna and Loki stand before Odin.
"Escort Loki to his chambers anon," Odin tells Ravnda. "He shall be confined therein 'til we decide his fate."
Almost blissfully, Ravdna replies "With pleasure my Lord." The cutting edge of Gugnir on Loki's throat and his arms hammer-locked behind him with her other hand she begins to march the mischief maker to his temporary "cell."
Approaching his chamber and the garrison already there she adds "Your days of ruinous interference in yon mortal's affairs are numbered, foul viper."
Loki laughs, and Ravdna is suddenly very concerned that the sound comes from behind her. As quickly as she can, the Valkyrie sees that the Loki she was holding is no more than a collection of loose clothing. Whirling about, Loki, nearly nude stands behind her.
"All hold their place!" Loki orders and makes a magical gesture. Ravdna and the Asgardian garrison are instantly paralyzed.
"Didst thou not thinkest that Loki wouldst be prepared for capture, foolish woman?" the Trickster asks with a sneer. "Didst thou also truly believe that thou couldst lay hands on me and not suffer?"
Loki raises both of this hands. "Stupid Valkyrie! I am Loki, Trickster God! By the power of this ring, feel cold revenge's sting! By the power of my name, be bound to frail mortal frame!"
On Midgard, Patsy Walker, sleeping soundly in her bed, wakes with a scream, sitting bolt upright, eyes wide, frightened by a strange dream and then startled by her reflection in the dresser mirror. In the next second, however, it is not Patsy's image in the looking glass, but instead Ravdna finds herself sitting up in a strange bed in a strange room surrounded by a stranger's possessions.
Patsy's scream of "Robert" fades to Ravdna's curse of "Loki" as The Valkyrie flings Grandma Walker's quilt off of her and darts out of the all-to-small bed for her Asgardian frame. She's only viewed Earth over the last four decades or so and is concerned not only by her forced re-appearance on Midgard but by the absence of her spear, Gugnir! She barely has time to take in the decor of the seemingly newly moved-into space. Lining the walls of the hallway as she darts for the door she notices framed tomes titled "Patsy Walker Comics", "Patsy and Hedy", and "Patsy and her Pals" alongside some "glamour shots" from Patsy's childhood modelling gigs.
Ravdna knows that she must contact the heroes who so bravely fought along her side recently. Maybe they can help her to set things rightthe redheaded mortal and herself have gone through too much of late at Loki's hands. Her first impulse is to just wander the streets until she garners someone's attention...but her cooler head understands that the inhabitants of this world have seen too much of her kind of late and quickly tosses her helmet aside and procures Patsy's long coat from the coat rack before racing out the door, hitting the streets of Manhattan searching for some kind of sign.
The Valkyrie sees lots of signs: street signs, store signs, signs on vehicles, signs on buildings, signs on lamp posts. It seems that Manhattan is a very chaotic place, and someone had the idea that labeling everything might create a sense of order.
It is also late at night, or more precisely, very early in the morning. The streets are empty of pedestrians, and the only vehicles Ravdna sees are yellow with checkers, bearing the title "Taxi." She walks for some time, finding nothing but closed doors and dark windows.
Then, from around a corner up ahead, come two men, both wearing dark blue uniforms and badges of some sort. The older and fatter of the two nudges his companion and gestures at Ravdna, saying something that Ravdna cannot hear. The men then walk towards the Valkyrie, who notices the slender clubs at their hips.
"Out kinda late, miss," the older man says as they draw near. "You lost or something?"
Thinking just how close to the truth that is she responds "Verily. 'Twould seem I have become separated from my party. Perhaps you can aid me in finding them -- one man is named Dumas."
_What the heck was *that* about?_ Bethany muses on her way back to Manhattan, but quickly shrugs and gives up trying to figure the guy out. _I mean really, what was he expecting?_
Back at the office, she catches up on the accumulation of information from the past few days, losing herself in the mundane world of security reports, schedules, and the vast array of daily trivia that constitutes Thing She Might Need to Know. Stark security takes its job seriously.
There are far fewer cars when she leaves the second time. Once home she climbs the brick steps and unlocks the front door. At the end of the hall is the stair leading up to the apartment, but she goes into the office instead. There's the usual faint echo of pleasure at the neat lettering on the glass, the simple shapes of desks and file cabinets.
For some time, the soft glow of her lamp can be seen from the street. She's thinking about the ideas Tony and Dumas had discussed earlier, trying to sketch out how the whole thing might work -- assuming that anyone else thinks it's a good idea. _A trust makes sense, if it was set up right. Something to give some guarantee of independence._ She jots a few notes to herself.
-- Fund; who to administer?
-- Structure; non-profit org? board of directors?
-- Commitment; voluntary, how?
Bethany chews on her pencil, frowning. _Maybe it *would* be better to leave things ad hoc. I can see this getting awfully complicated. What route leaves us more vulnerable?_ After some thought, more notes:
-- Gov't (esp. military)
-- Media (that rat)
-- Legal (damage liabilities, how to work w/regular authorities?)
"This could be a long meeting," she mutters to herself. _Oh, well, I'm probably getting way ahead of myself here. Not exactly my area of expertise, either -- maybe someone else will have a ready-made idea for working all this out._ She realizes that it's getting light outside.
_How did that happen? Oh, right, the Earth revolving. Have to do something about that one of these days...._ She shuts off the lights, locks the office reflexively, and heads upstairs to bed.
Two hours later there's a pounding on her door.
"Ugh. What?" Beth mumbles.
"Oh good, you're finally back. Come downstairs, would you?"
"Fine. Just a minute." She's still dressed, opens the door to glare at the relentlessly cheerful expression of her roommate and business partner. "This had better be good."
"Well, it is weird. Wow, you look awful," Ling judges with pursed lips. "Long trip?"
"You might say. Top secret."
"Natch. Come downstairs."
Beth follows her, wondering what on earth could be so interesting. When she sees it, she has to blink a few times, and it still doesn't make any sense.
Driven straight into the brickwork outside Cabe & McPherson's front door is a spear. She touches it cautiously, gives it a tug. No way mere human strength is going to budge the thing; it's solid as Excalibur. _What the...._ She recognizes it, too, Bethany realizes belatedly. _That valkyrie's. What's it doing *here*?_ Its presence seems somewhat threatening, given the obvious force with which it arrived.
"You're right," she says at last. "That is pretty strange. It wasn't there when I got home... I don't think."
"What do you suppose it is, or means?"
"Beats me." She shrugs. "However it got there, I guess it'll have to stay." _Maybe someone will come looking for it..._
| Top |
© 1999 Mark L. Chance et al