Spacer The Skull in the Shield 61
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A day of rest?



    Emerald also returns home to his new apartment with its extremely modest furnishings. The days events, for some reason, don't seem to weigh as heavy on the young man, and he is soon fast asleep. It a harsh pounding on the door that awakens Rick at about 10:00 A.M.
    "Jones!" the land lady's rough voice barks. "Jones! Open the freakin' door already!"
    After hastily dressing, Rick indeed opens the door. The land lady, a red-faced, extremely stout woman whose hair is always up in curlers under a bandana, stands in the hall, hands on her ample hips, a Lucky Strike dangling from her lower lip.
    "You got these messages, Jones," she says, thrusting two greasy slips of paper at him. "When ya call the mook back, make sure ya tell 'im I ain't your freakin' secretary!" Rick takes the messages, and the land lady turns and waddles away, mumbling about damned phoneless hippies.
    Both messages, written in block letters, bear the name Q. Beck, followed by a phone number.
    Rick goes down to the street and the nearest pay phone. He punches in the number and waits for an answer. After a moment of waiting he hangs up, then walks further down the street to a small grocery store. He grabs a basket full of food, pays for it, then walks back to the phone booth, where he tries the number again. After another long moment of waiting for an answer Rick hangs up and walks quickly away.
    The day passes quickly for the young hero, as he works at something he's not had time for. In the end, at nearly eleven PM it's finished.

Delta V
    Dr. Curt Connors spends a relaxing day with his family at Dumas' house where he has been allowed to stay. A relaxing day that Connors believes is long over due.

    The Soviet Consulate was well lit at all hours of the day and night. The front gates were guarded by soldiers of the Soviet Army. Highly trained men who were the best of the best. Men who were incorruptible. Soviet citizens who would not fall prey to the allure of the capitalist imperialist way of life. People who cared about the world.
    Victor remembered the dogma all to well. Though in time he came to realize that human selfishness didn't allow for such a utopian society. People wanted things in life. It was in their nature to desire and acquire. In this imperfect world, capitalism and democracy was as good as it was going to get.
    Those reasons alone were not enough for Victor to despise the communists. The doctor's treatment at the hands of the Soviets, are the real reason for his current staunch anti-Communist bearing and the reason why he was standing across the street inside the small deli. It was evening and the business was closed for the night. Specter was determined to find out if the super soldiers were within the embassy. Still phased, Doctor Victor Dumas sank through the floor of the shop and made his way towards the underbelly of the building. His first question was whether they had created any hidden underground levels.
    The Specter quickly located a sub-basement that looked to be of new construction. It certainly didn't match the 19th century solid workmanship of the embassy at street level. A brief check determines that the area is not large. It consists of a two hallways that form a +, with each branch being about twenty feet long. There are two doors on each branch, all unmarked, all closed. At the end of the northern branch is an elevator, guarded by a Soviet soldier. The floor is quiet, save for occasional whistling from the obviously bored guard and the faint strains of Georgian folk music coming from behind the second door of the western branch.
    Dumas cautiously peers into each room from the ceiling if possible. He'll move just the eyes into the top corner of each room if their is space between this level and the upstairs level. If their is not space, then he will do the same but with the lower corners trying in both cases to look in opposite the door wall.
    Anti-climatically, each of the rooms turns out to be a living quarter, very much like a four-star hotel, but underground and thus without a commanding view of Manhattan's famous skyline. Three of the rooms appear lived in, one obviously by a woman based on the toiletries and articles of clothing visible, but none of the residents are in at the moment. The room from which the music could be heard is, however, occupied.
    Sitting in a corner of the room, his elbow resting on a circular table, a glass of vodka in the other hand, is a man Specter recognizes as Ivan Kragoff, one of the USSR's leading scientists and an early pioneer of the Soviet space program. His is larger than Specter would have thought, with a broad chest, thick shoulders, and powerful arms and legs. His thinning gray hair is swept back and neatly combed. A turntable softly plays an album, and Kragoff, eyes closed, hums along with the folk music.
    "Welcome, Dr. Doom," Kragoff says coolly in well-practiced Latverian. "Don't skulk about like a timid child. Come in, and have a drink."
    Eyes still closed, he gestures to the bottle of vodka resting on the table near his elbow.
    "Doctor Kragoff. Or are you going by the _Cosmonaut_ these days?" Dumas replied in Latverian with sarcastic emphasis on the word cosmonaut. Specter drew his large cape around him and kept even his masked features further hidden within the large hood of his costume.
    Kragoff chortles. It seems likely he is somewhat drunk. "Please, what is the need for formalities? All this melodrama with cowls and masks. So childish." He opens his eyes, looks at Specter, and grins widely. "Interesting. Displacement on the atomic or molecular level? Presumably cosmic ray exposure during your ill-fated space flight? I heard the Storm woman has developed similar mutations. My own experience with such mutagenic changes has been substantially different."
    Dumas answers with information not asked for "Magnetic manipulation and enhanced strength enabling you to lift in excess of one to two tons. Or so I've heard."
    "Only one to two tons?" Kragoff jokes, feigning outrage. He laughs at his own jape. "Perhaps I should hire a publicist?"
    "So what does the spider have for the fly?" Victor queried all the while keeping an eye on the Cosmonaut and looking around the room.
    "How about a drink?" he offers again. A glass flies across the room to Kragoff's open hand, and he pours a few fingers of vodka into it before extending the glass towards the Specter. "Don't be so paranoid, Doctor. I am not Kravinoff. Ack, that sadist." He shakes his head reprovingly and chuckles. When he speaks again, he's switched to English. "How goes the Americanism? Wouldn't trust him farther than I could throw him? Yes, that's it. Wonderful expression, that. Come, Doctor. Drink with me. If I planned to do you harm, I would have acted already." He jiggles the glass slightly. "So, what brings you to sovereign Soviet territory?"
    "You would not have been able to do so if you tried....comrade. My abilities would not allow it. I can not touch you and you can not touch me. It makes for a wonderful tool to speak with those who might do me harm" he implies and does not take the drink.
    Kragoff chortles again. "If that comforts you, Doctor, then believe it."
    Wary, Specter inspects the room while Kragoff talks. He notices nothing untoward. All in all, the room seems remarkably ordinary.
    "So....where is Kravinoff and what is he up to" Victor asked.
    After gulping down the second drink, which Specter refuses, Kragoff shrugs and frowns. "Who knows where he is? The man is far too insubordinate for my tastes. I'd be rid of him, but that decision is not mine to make. I imagine he's out taking in some of the famous sites of the city. He does have a passion for travel. But is this what brings you here? Kravinoff? How disappointing if you are motivated by something so petty as revenge." Kragoff shakes his head sadly. "Even if we must be enemies, Doctor, I do admire your work, but you are too arrogant. It blinds you to details, and, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details."
    The big man stands slowly, stretching his back and yawning.
    "Now, Doctor, I must insist you leave. You are trespassing, and in violation of the laws of two nations, as well as international law. If you would like a tour of the embassy in the future, please contact the ambassador's office during normal business hours," Kragoff explains in a reasonable tone. "Even if you are right that I cannot hurt you, any sort of violence here in this place would certainly not help U.S.—Soviet relations, which are strained enough as it is."
    "Are you here in America to disrupt the proceeding tomorrow at the UN or are you just here to acquire certain scientific data?" Dumas stands firm and does not back away. "Tell me what I want to know, and I'll leave peacefully comrade."
    Kragoff chortles yet again. "You are amusing, Doctor. That I'll tell you. As for what I'm doing here, no answer I give you is one you will believe, so why should I bother? Perhaps I'll just humor you." He grins broadly. "I am here to acquire certain scientific data. I have no plans to visit the UN while I am here. Too many bureaucrats in that place. They make my skin crawl. Satisfied, Doctor, or do we have to test your hypothesis that I am unable to act forcefully against you?"
    There is no anger or even annoyance in his voice. In fact, his tone is warm, even friendly. The big Russian cocks an eyebrow, that big grin still on his face.
    Victor start to glide backwards towards the wall "we will likely meet again Doctor" and he passes through the wall and moves upwards to do a quick scan of the embassy proper to see if their is anything of interest.
    As Specter leaves, Kragoff speaks his parting piece, "Adieu, Doctor. And think about this: How is it I can magnetically affect glass?"
    Leaving the embassy, Specter notices nothing out of place or out of the ordinary. The place is very much like it was when he entered. If Kragoff even bothered to sound a silent alarm, there is no evidence of it.
    Dumas scoffs as he's floating through the ground. So what if he can move glass. Massive amounts of magnetism could accomplish that theoretically or even if he is telekinetic as Emerald is, so what... Dumas returned back to his castle and settled down to his study and his thoughts. The Soviets are just so powerful and resourceful. With little to no actually help from the United States government, my conflict with them will be a long and hard battle. Though meeting the 'Avengers' will no doubt help.
    Victor downs his scotch before going to bed.

    Ravdna paces in Patsy's small apartment. Struggling with her decision she spends moments that seem like an eternity (even to an immortal) in front of the framed contents along Patsy's wall. It would seem that her entire young life was chronicled and captured either in fictions or photographs by her mother. She understands the human fear of aging but she can't help but wonder what the older Walker woman's intentions were with these gestures.
    She moves with some unexpected familiarity to a desk. Almost compelled by a curiosity not her own she opens boxes located at one side of the chair she finds her self sitting in now. More photographs these of Patsy and what must be her husband. If you didn't look at Patsy's eyes you might actually be fooled into believing these caricatures of happiness.
    Pulling a pen and a sheet of paper from a drawer she leaves a message stating the importance of the meeting tomorrow. As well as how it is that Ravdna was able to release Patsy and a message encouraging the mortal to do the same the next morning. She ends the missive with an assurance that she will try her best to end their symbiotic relations intuiting that it is the last thing this woman struggling to be independent needs.
    "Why do they wish to trap you in amber?" Ravdna says aloud as she makes up her mind...and wavers like a desert mirage out of existence on this plain.
    Patsy rubs her vivid blue eyes and rests her head on both hands supported by the oak desk. Red curls cascade about her fingers as she slowly inhales then exhales. Straightening up and brushing her hair back she notices the note.
    Her eyes dart across the page as the horror the Punisher recounted to the Assembled Avengers unfolds in the Valkyrie's written words. "Oh my God!" she exclaims. Before she can finish the text there is a solid knock and a strong voice accompanying it.
    "Patsy?!? Are you there?!?
    "Hank?" Noticing that her long coat is draped across the chair she quickly puts it on and answers the door. "What's wrong?"
    The Tall, Slim, Blonde and in general wickedly handsome but significantly older Hank McCoy adjusts the glasses that are slipping down his bridge as he says "I was worried sick" he brushes past her and places his overflowing file folder atop Ravdna's note on the desk. "I left the office late last night and came by to see if you wanted to go to Junior's and catch some Jazz...but when I got here the door was unlocked and you weren't here. I waited for a long time and...
    "...and you thought the worst that Robert had found me? Hank I am so sorry...I...woke up from a nightmare and had to go clear my head. I walked around for hours then took in a movie and then had some food at a dinner and then just sort of lost track of the time."
    She's never felt the need to lie to him before. Ever. She only hopes that he won't push her on this because she's not sure if she can do it again. "I don't like having to lie to him, Valkyrie" she thinks to herself. We're gonna have to get you a new home...and pronto.
    Knowing full well that she's covering up something but comforted by the fact that she's not kidnapped or worse Hank's countenance lightens as he pushes back the lie...for now.
    Taking advantage of the moment she says "Listen, I'm exhausted from the interrupted sleep and could use another good 40 winks or so. It looks like you have plenty of work there to keep you busy anyway. When I wake up we can swing by the club if you want, ok?"
    "Sure" He desperately wants to stand guard still but he's painfully aware she's trying to put this strange episode behind them and quite frankly he would too. He gathers his things and heads for the door.
    "Great. I'll give you a call soon." She squeezes his shoulder in deep affection and says "Thank you" with the greatest sincerity for all of the genuine care he's demonstrated.
    He smiles and again slides his glasses up to rest properly on his nose "You're Welcome" equally understanding the weight of it's meaning. "At least lock up next time? This is New York City after all... you're not in Kansas anymore you know?"
    She latches the dead bolts behind him.
    Thankfully the sleep does come easy and is not plagued by nightmares. After a quick shower she scours her closet for one of the few dresses she can stand that she's actually managed to unpack. She moves to the desk and the phone to ring Hank and recalls that she had yet to finish reading the message from Ravdna...
    She curses like a sailor when it's nowhere to be found.

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