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..._
Issue 6: Unpleasant Messengers
"Looks like you had a rough night, hon," the waitress comments to Stern, holding out the coffee pot. "Want me to heat that up for you?"
Sam glances up and nods glumly at the waitress. Hot coffee was better than cold coffee, he supposes.
"Turn that up," a man sitting at the counter tells another waitress, pointing to the TV.
The patron's voice brings Sam's attention to the television. A TV in a diner? What would they think of next in this new-fangled city?
Bruce sighs but says nothing. It might be good to be needed again, he thinks, to be able to do something more important than fix faucets.
A few hours later, Bruce is shaking Rick's shoulder to roust him from a sound sleep.
"Get up, Rick," he says. "You might want to see this." Bruce points towards the TV.
"Oh wow," Ling points to the small TV.
The TV is tuned to a morning news broadcast. Local TV reporter, Sunny Barcelona, introduces the coming piece:
"Last night in Birmingham, Alabama, the city where civil rights leader Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., has recently been imprisoned, there was an unusual press conference called by Birmingham's White Citizen's Council."
Sunny Barcelona's smiling face is replaced by a film clip from the conference. On the stage, behind the podium, is a costumed man. He appears tall, athletic. His costume is mostly yellow, with black stripes on the arms and legs. The shoulders are armored with tall ridges of what appears to be a bluish metal. His head is covered by a skull cap and his eyes hidden by opaque goggles.
Sunny, in voice over: "The costumed vigilante calling himself the Wasp addressed the reporters."
The audio switches to the Wasp's voice. He sounds calm, educated, as he speaks.
"We resent the intrusion of the federal government and of outsiders into our affairs here in Alabama. We believe that we, as free and conscious agents, have an absolute responsibility for all those elements of the world around us over which we are capable of exercising control. This is for the best interest of our society and its institutions; for the cultural and moral climate in which we live and work; and, most of all, for the racial quality of our children.
"We believe that no multi-racial society can be a truly healthy society, and no government which is not wholly responsible to a single racial entity can be a good government. America's present deterioration stems from her loss of racial homogeneity and racial consciousness.
"This so-called 'civil rights movement' is nothing of the sort. It is instead nothing more than an attempt by the colored man to take by force those things which he is not by natural endowment able to earn. We do not stand here opposing what is just. We stand here, united men and women, defending the natural order ordained by God and enshrined in law by our Founding Fathers."
The audio cuts off as dozens of hands go up to ask questions. The video switches back to Sunny.
"The Wasp went on to explain that he, a concerned private citizen, would use his 'super-powers' to defend the people of Birmingham in the same way Manhattan's own mysterious band of vigilantes fought against the Viking invaders four days ago."
Ling says. "Talk about weird."
"That's not weird, it's disgusting," is her sour rejoinder, listening to a few moments worth of the speech. "Things like that shouldn't be allowed to walk around on two legs calling themselves human. He's just lucky Dr. King's a pacifist." An admirable philosophy, in the abstract, but not one that she has much personal use for. The family'd always kidded her about being a sucker for the underdog... back when most of them were still speaking to her.
Ling's gracefully shaped eyebrows rise a bit. "Someone got up on the wrong side of the bed."
"Someone didn't spend enough time *in* bed. Which is where I'm going back to."
"By all means. I'm going for groceries, you need anything?"
"Right." Ling rolls her eyes and heads out, leaving Bethany to burrow back into her covers. Viking spears buried in her front stoop, racist superhumans in the south, the upcoming meeting -- what else is going to happen today?
A couple hours of tossing and turning later Beth gives in, gets up, and heads for Stark Industries.
"If anyone shows up claiming to own that thing out front, have them find me, okay?" she requests on her way out, waving a hand in vague indication.
"Roger." Ling glances up from her magazine with a mock salute. "How is the fabulous Mr. Stark these days, anyway?"
Beth shrugs. "Busy. Working too hard, as usual." There's an awful lot that Ling doesn't know; Bethany wonders, again, how much she ought to. Something to set on the back burner for thinking over.
She finds herself scanning the streets on her way, wondering if each face might belong to one of the people who'd been to Asgard.
"Well I'll be..." Sam trails off. His mind cannot grasp some of the 50 cent words the critter on the TV was using, but he gets the man's gist. The varmint was comparing what he and his new friends had done for those people to the acts of a racial supremacy group?
Now, it wasn't that Sam knew exactly what he thought of all the hubub going on in the South, and it wasn't like he had ever had a black friend in his life. Truth be told, he'd never given the state of things much thought before. Somehow, however, the words that so-called vigilante had used on the TV just didn't sit right with him.
Sam stood up and took some change out of his pocket to pay his bill. 99 cents. Things sure were expensive here. Pushing the thought of finances aside, Sam suddenly felt himself come alive. Nobody was going to mistake his motives and get away with it. People were people. And even if you didn't want your daughter marrying one of them, there was no sense in denying them their blue-blooded American rights.
He'd just have to go down there and set things straight with that there fella. Yesiree. He'd call a news conference of his own if he had to. Darned fools. Putting words in his mouth. Just wait 'till he gave them a piece of his mind.
Leaving the coffee shop, Sam went to a magazine stand around the corner and bought a map of the United States. He knew Birmingham was in the South, but he had to get his bearings to get there from New York City. Once sure of his general direction, Sam found a convenient alley way where he could change into his alter-ego unnoticed. One thing was for sure, even if he hadn't wanted to change into this Dark Angel person originally, he was finding the accessories which came along with the identity quite useful. Yesiree. Useful indeed.
And so, in the wink of an eye, Samuel Stern no longer stands in the alley, but in his place looms the mighty Dark Angel! And in less time than that, the vision becomes a mere memory as Dark Angel steps into the abyss and out into the glorious sunshine of downtown Birmingham.
From the rooftop of the two-story bank, Dark Angel can see the city around him. It is a hot morning already. Dozens of people walk the sidewalks, going about their business. There are a few cars and buses on the streets. The pace is slower, the noise level quieter, than the hustle and bustle of New York City. So far, no one has noticed the winged albino on the roof above them.
There isn't much to see in any of them, but what Janet doesn't see is Telling. This many messages, that little time. Henry is, in his own way, begging. Janet notices the last of the messages doesn't have either a Manhattan or a New Jersey exchange. Next to the phone number, written in Sarah's impeccable script, are the words "The Terrace, Birmingham, Ala."
Given the late hour, Janet returns home to get some needed sleep, waking the next morning with her thoughts on the previous evening's meeting with Eric Williams.
Janet takes the business card that Eric gave her last night, and calls the home number he scribbled on the back. "Mr. Williams, This is Janet Van Dyne. I hope its not too early to call, but I may have some information for you. I checked at my office, and looked through the messages that Henry left. His last message was from The Terrace in Birmingham. I thought Simon may be down there with him. I also wondered, if you think it might help, we can check out Henry's lab. I still have access."
Eric looks at his watch, 7:30 AM. His flight wasn't until 11 AM, so he did have time. "All right Miss Van Dyne, I'll be with you in about half an hour. I can't stay too long though. I've got to catch a plane to Alabama before 11."
Janet gives Eric the address, and makes arrangements to meet him there at 8. She grabs a pearl necklace from her dresser, and slips it into her coat pocket. _If someone asks, I will just say I think I lost a necklace inside._ She leaves the house drives to Henry's lab, and waits for Eric.
Eric tosses his bags in the back seat of his car and drives off to Henry Pym's lab. Janet Van Dyne did seem interested in helping, a fact that came as a big surprise to him; weren't Van Dyne and Pym supposedly engaged. No matter. He spotted her wrapped in a coat, waiting before the doors. Parking his car, he quickly got out. It was exactly 8AM, right on time.
"Thanks for agreeing to help me." Eric states quietly, offering his hand.
Janet politely shakes Eric's offered hand. "I had a lot of time to think yesterday, I went for a long walk." She smiles inwardly, thinking to herself _Well not really a walk, but close enough._ "And I decided that its people like me who let people like Henry continue in with their bigotry. So I decided to get involved." Janet leads Eric to the lab. "I don't think anyone will be here yet, but if we meet anyone, just let me do the talking."
Janet approaches a small nondescript side door, with a small pushbutton lock. She presses a few buttons, and tries the knob. "I'm glad he didn't change it." she says, swinging the door open.
Eric nods and steps behind her, marveling that Janet Van Dyne was echoing his very sentiments! He would have continued discussing the point with her, but knew this was neither the time nor the place. Maybe later, after Alabama.
On the other side of the door is the familiar foyer with office attached. Janet immediately notices that virtually everything has been taken away. The only things that are left are Hank's desk, his chair, and a coffee table in the foyer. The door opposite the entrance, leading into the lab proper, is slightly ajar.
Janet looks at the spartan office, checking the desk drawers. "I guess I was expecting to find a little more. I suppose it was wishful thinking to find an open journal, with the appropriate parts underlined, and footnoted." She says with a uncharacteristic smile. "Maybe there is something in the actual lab. I know Henry was working for the government, something to do with bugs. Controlling them for agricultural use, I believe." Janet pushes the door into the lab open, hoping to find something that would help.
Eric chuckles at Janet's joke, "I know. I felt the same way when I was searching for clues in Simon's office." He follows her into the lab, hoping they'll find at least a hint.
The lab has also been stripped and cleaned, but Janet and Eric might be in luck, since it seems as if no one's taken out the trash yet. Janet knows a cleaning crew usually comes in early in the morning, but maybe they decided to take the day off.
A few minutes later, the trash has been searched, but little has been discovered. There are some rough schematics, maybe something electronic, closer to doodles than actual plans, drawn on a few sheets of paper. There's also a to do list. Each item has been neatly crossed out. Most relate to housekeeping. The list was obviously Hank's checklist to ensure he didn't forget anything important. The last item on the list, however, is something different. It reads simply: Call AZ to con MTG.
Janet hands the doodles over to Eric, "You can probably make more sense of these than I can. We should keep them for later, maybe we can figure out what they are for, we also shouldn't hang around any longer." She reads through the to do list on the way back outside. "AZ or MTG, I don't know what either of those could be. Do you have any ideas?"
Eric shakes his head, "No, can't seem to think of anything along those lines. But I can't help but think that all our answers will be found in Alabama. The current activities smell of Simon's brand of disgusting racisim."
Janet looks at Eric with a surprised look on her face. "Are you going to Alabama? I hadn't even thought of it. Do you think its a good idea?" The pair walk back out through the little office, and to their cars. "I could probably arrange a few days off, if you think you might need some help."
Eric raises an eyebrow at Janet, "I can't see that I've got any other choice but to go down there and see if Simon is behind the insanity. If you want to come, please do. I could use the help and the company would be welcome too."
Janet leans against the fender of her baby blue ford. "I don't think that Simon is behind the 'insanity' as you put it, It has been going on for decades, but you might be right in that he and Henry are fueling the fires." She looks at the to do list once more before stuffing it in her coat pocket. "I don't know what we will be able to do, maybe even nothing, but I will go with you. When did you want to leave?"
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© 1999 Mark L. Chance et al