Spacer Unpleasant Messengers 49
  | Asymmetry | Role-Playing | What If | Unpleasant Messengers |



Visiting Sam's father.




*Wow! It worked!* Dark Angel can't help but be amazed at how easy it was to blip to a location hundreds of miles away. Looking over the edge of the building, however, he realizes just how easy it would have been for him to teleport in front of a bus. *I should figure out how this trick works before I use it again,* he muses, before gently floating down to the pavement below.
    Catching the gaze of a passerby isn't too difficult. "Good day, ma'am," he begins with as much politeness as he can muster, "Do you know where I could find a feller calling himself 'Wasp'? Or maybe just the local TV station?"
    The woman's blood-curdling shriek sets off a chain reaction. As she staggers backward, yelling what almost sounds like EEK! EEK!, two cars screech to a halt and over a dozen pedestrians freeze in their tracks. Heads turn quickly in Dark Angel's direction. The woman falls over in her effort to escape this creature that just spoke to her.
    "Omigod!" "Wha tha hell is that!" "Et's a demon!" "Oh Lord! He'p us!" "EEK!"
    A bus rumbles to a rapid halt, narrowly missing a collision with the mini-traffic jam in the middle of the road. Passengers on the bus rush to the windows to see what is going on. A brave pedestrian helps the woman off of the sidewalk and the two begin to rush away.
    Dark Angel watches helplessly as panic begins to spread.
    "ME? Wait! Stop! It's ok. I'm not demon!" Dark looks around furtively for a place he can teleport to. An alley, anything. Someplace he can disappear and come out from as a normal Joe Schmoe.
    On the bus, Sam Wilson stares agape at the tall, muscular albino "human" with ink-black wings that is the center of the commotion. Adrian Toomes also sees Dark Angel, although at first he suspects he might be seeing things.
    "Fuss and Bother." Adrian wanted to use much stronger language, but restrained himself. "Sam, stay here."
    _It has to be Dark Angel. There can't be two people who look like that._ Adrian works smoothly to the door of the bus in less time that could be believed, elbowing the lever to open the door and 'tumbling' out in the 'accidentally' open door into the growing panic. Making as if he's fleeing in a blind panic, he looks arpund to see that no more cars are approaching before careening headlong into the winged monstrosity.
    The impact doesn't even phase the albino Avenger, but the old man whispers frantically at him "Dark Angel! It's Union! Kill the lights, and head down the road with the crowd! There's a side road where you'll be out of sight, and you can drop the darkness."
    _ I sure hope he has a way to not look like this all the time. _ Adrian thought, _Or this could get difficult. And so much for keeping a secret identity from the rest of the team... Either tell him where to meet us, or get him looking normal. Then find out what he's doing down here. Is there an emergency in New York and he's looking for me, or did Stark relay my message? Or is it because of this Wasp character? In any case, he needs to vanish before this gets out of hand_
    "Kill the...? Oh!" And with a flutter of wings, Dark Angel tests his darkness reflexes for the second time in a week. Reaching out a hand, as the darkness envelopes those around him, Dark Angel guides the man along with him to the appointed alley.
    Dropping the darkness once all is safe, Dark Angel makes his apologies. "I never -- Am I? I came to -- And now I've..." His words come out in a jumble and rush of stricken emotion. The despair returns again with the force of a Dakota blizzard, wracking Dark Angel's large frame with its intensity.
    Adrian uses his augmented strength to support Dark Angel as the winged man's legs buckle out from underneath him. "Woah, Steady there. Is everything all right? I didn't think...I didn't realize making darkness took such a toll on you, or I would have suggested something else."
    "Huh?" Dark Angel allows himself to be led to a more secluded spot before making his explanations.
    Adrian gets the larger man seated in the natural shadows of the alley, where the bright Alabama sun was shrouded by the old-brick construction.
    Throwing his head back, Dark presses his wings into the wall and looks skyward. "It just seems I am a natural born two-left-footer in a hero's disguise. I've lost my new job. Disappointed my ma and pa, and now I've caused a ruckus in downtown Birmingham. Heck, I couldn't even get myself beat up last night. And I guess I look like the wrath of God..." His shoulders slump with the realization as he looks from the sky to the pavement.
    "Did Aegis get in touch with you and send you down?"
    Dark Angel shakes his head before the full meaning of Adrian's question comes to him. "Who? No. Never talked to her. I just came down here to set that Wasp fella straight. You see that news on the TV where he was talkin' bout avenging white folks down here against the colored folks? He said he'd do it just like we did with them Asgardians. And I didn't think he had his facts right, 'cause the two things are not alike as far as I can tell." He pauses here for Adrian's response before continuing.
    "He held a national TV press conference? And compared our actions on the harbor to his down here?" Adrian's eyes narrowed at the audacity of this Wasp gentlemen, and the degree to which the Avengers would have to set him straight. "I don't suppose he mentioned having any other compatriots in this little venture, other than his jack-booted thugs?"
    Adrian listens to Dark Angel's remembrance of the news broadcast, getting the details of Wasp's costume down, and the fact that he didn't mention having any associates.
    Continuing, Dark Angel nods, "Well, that's pretty much it. I teleported here to go on TV and let that rascal know at least I wasn't backing his union, if you know what I mean." He folds his arms across his powerful chest as a symbol of his resolution.
    "Oh. I see." Adrian nods at Dark Angel's explanation of how he got to Alabama _I never dreamed his teleportation could have that sort of scale!_ "Well, I'm here investigating—an old friend of mine was caught in the crossfire of this, and if other super-humans are involved, I could use all the help I can get. From what I've garnered down her, there's at least one more costumed man, calling himself Faces or Phases or some-such. And they've gotten themselves deputized by the local law enforcement. I wish it would be as easy as just taking the fight to them, but I'm afraid it will be more complicated than that."
    "I'm mighty sorry to hear that your friend got hurt. Of course I'll do what I can." By this time Dark Angel is feeling more steady and makes to stand up and leave the alley to go on Adrian's mission. He pauses when the older gentleman tactfully interrupts his leave-taking.
    "Is there any way you can looks less... conspicuous than that? We don't want to have a repeat of what just happened." Adrian sees the dismay on the younger man's admittedly strange features, and smiles. "As far as the minor accident out there goes, don't worry about it—at worst, it'll just get some more people to go to church!"
    For the first time in several weeks Dark Angel finds himself grinning. Sheepishly. But it was something anyway.
    "Sure. Um, I suppose it would be a good idea. This super hero stuff ain't as easy as that Captain America fella makes it out to be." As he utters the words Dark makes his metamorphosis and is once again regular old Sam Stern. Holding out his hands he makes a proper introduction, "Sam Stern. Pleased ta meat 'cha...?"
    "Adrian. Adrian Toomes. And I wouldn't worry about comparing youself to Captain America—none of us compare to the original, and I think the young man in the costume is getting his feet under him as much as the rest of us are."
    Adrian nods to the mouth of the alley, "I have a companion down here—my injured friend's son. He's reliable and trustworthy, and already knows my secret, but I'll just call you 'Sam' to protect your real identity from him as much as possible. He may live in New York with us, but in a city of millions I doubt he'll ever run across you again. That should protect your real identity from him as well as any mask."
    _At least I hope so,_ Adrian thinks. _Since I don't recognize him, I can only assume that 'Sam Stern' isn't some sort of celebrity._
    Once Dark Angel has returned to his more human form, Adrian wraps his arm around the other man's shoulder and leads him towards the intersection. "Come on, we have a bus to catch." _I just hope it's still waiting, otherwise I'll have to catch the next one and meet Sam at the hospital_ he thinks as he fingers the two dimes in his pocket.
    Fortunately, the police are just clearing the accident from the road, and Adrian is able lead Sam onto the 2-11. He expected to pay for both again, but the driver recognizes him as the man who fell out in the confusion.
    "Glad to see you're all right, sir." The driver nods at Adrian, "I dunno what et was out there, but you seem to have come through all right."
    "Yes. I feel very foolish for panicking like that, but this young gentleman has agreed to see me to the hospital."
    The pair made their way back to Adrian's old seat, where Adrian made quiet introductions. "Sam Wilson, I'd like you to meet one of the other members of my...Social Organization. Coincidentally, his name is Sam as well."
    Sam (Wilson that is) extends a hand to the newcomer. "Pleased to meet you, although I wish the circumstances could be better."
    Dark Angel feels slightly lightheaded from the quick turn of events. Wasn't he just getting a refill on that cup of coffee less than a half hour ago? So, it is with a dazed and somewhat befuddled look that he shakes the other Sam's hand.
    "Nice ta meet you. Sorry t' hear about yer troubles," he acknowledges distractedly.
    A short time later, Sam, Sam, and Adrian get off the 211 in front of Jefferson County Hospital. It is a modern enough facility, at least by outwards appearances. Entering the building, Sam Wilson inquires about his father from the receptionist—a youngish black woman with a warm smile—and then leads Adrian and Stern to the bank of elevators.
    Paul Wilson is in the ICU on the third floor. A small crowd of black men and women stand in the spartan lobby near the elevators. All eyes turn towards the men as they exit the elevator. Wilson recognizes Fred Shuttleworth, who walks forward, smiling under sad eyes, hand extended.
    "Lord, son," he says. "You got here in a hurry. You must be Adrian." He offers his hand again. "I'm Fred Shuttleworth."
    After nodding to Stern, he continues, "Paul's this way. He slipped into a coma early this morning."
    The Reverend Shuttleworth, a tall, thin, angular black man with thinning gray hair and a thin gray moustache, dressed in a rumpled dark suit, a worn Bible clutched his left hand, moves to lead the way to Paul Wilson's room.
    "Reverend, did he say why he wanted us here? Anything?" asks Sam Wilson.
    Shuttleworth shakes his head. "Nothing real clear, son. I gather Paul realized how bad off he is and wanted you here with him."
    The four men stop before the thick, rectangular window looking into Paul Wilson's room. The elderly man, slightly built, balding, lays in a bed. Sam Wilson and Adrian barely recognize him at first. Both of his arms are in casts from hand to elbow. His left leg is likewise encased in plaster from ankle to hip. A neck brace holds his head still. Tubes run into his nose and throat. Monitors flank the bed on both sides. His face is a mass of bruises: both eyes swollen shut, stitches holding wounds shut on his forehead and jaw.
    Sam stops for just an instant, coming in the door. His duffel slides almost unnoticed to the floor and the lines of his face go hard. Walking slowly, carefully to the side of his father's bed, almost as if afraid of breaking something, Sam nods almost curtly to the lady he would normally have been overjoyed to meet. Mrs. King returns Sam's nod.
    "Dad. I'm here. Can you hear me?" Sam says.
    There is no response. The only sounds are those of the respirator and heart monitor, rhythymic, mechanical, detached. Sam Wilson is struck by the realization that his father could not have remained conscious throughout the beating he took. Whoever attacked him continued the assault even after Paul had passed out.
    Adrian is nearly shocked into immobility for a second as well, before gracefully moving around the younger man along the edge of the room, staying out of the way while keeping himself present. Seeing the number of people already in the small hospital room, he catches Stern's eye, indicating with a flick of his head that his teammate had best stay outside for the time being.
    Catching Adrian's full meaning, Stern doesn't miss a beat. "I'll get coffee," he murmurs and heads in the direction of the cafeteria.
    _An accident,_ Adrian thought. _I had assumed it was an accident. This was no accident. This was deliberate._ He had Paul had both seen strike-busters at work before; knew the threats they could bring to bear and the damage their boots and truncheons could cause. But this? This was a deliberate attempt at murder. Of that Adrian had no doubt. One glance at Sam's eyes and the set of his shoulders told him that Paul's son knew just as well as he did that someone had DONE this to Paul Wilson.
    _Please answer him, Paul. Please wake up. Please God, let Paul wake up._ Adrian realized he was praying, and consciously crossed himself and clasped his hands together, watching Sam and Paul from across the sickbed. _Please._

Stern and Toomes exchange glances over their coffee. Shuttleworth stands nearby. "Mr. Toomes," he says. "Have you made arrangements for where you're going to stay while in town?"
    Adrian shakes his head, "No. Honestly, after I heard from Sam my only thought was getting down here as soon as possible. Having a place to stay just didn't occur to me. I'm sure we can find a motel or something that can put us up for a few nights." _From what I've seen outside, we'll probably have to book into two separate hotels..._
    The Reverend Shuttleworth voices Toomes's thoughts. "Well, if you want to stay in a hotel, Sam won't be able to stay with you. Whites and Coloreds aren't allowed to stay in the same hotel here. If you'd like to be all under the same roof, I can find a home for you to stay in." He adds with a smile. "I can't guarantee the amenities, however."
    Adrian smiles as well, "I was just thinking as much. We'd be happy for any hospitality you can give us, no amenities required."
    "I'll get someone one it then," Shuttleworth says.
    "I don't think I've actually introduced my friend here: this is Sam. He and I are part of a social work organization in New York. He came down once he heard about the unrest, to see what he could do to help out." That seemed imprecise enough to forestall any questions yet not be an actual lie.
    "I'm Fred Shuttleworth," he says, shaking Stern's hand.

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