Dr. Connors has a houseguest... and visitors.
And so the nascent hero group agrees to meet the next day at the Empire State Building. Each bidding the others farewell, the tired and battered heroes head home.
Delta V takes Emerald home to meet the family. On the way, Connors considers what, if anything, to tell his wife and son about the day's events and his own particular involvement therein. For better or worse, however, his wife's expression when he enters his home with Emerald in tow, banishes any immediate thoughts of confession.
"Curt," she says, worry obvious in her voice. "Some men were here earlier, looking for you. One was an Army colonel. The other two had NSA badges. They said they needed to talk to you, but wouldn't tell me why. Then, after they left, Reynolds from your department called and said the feds had barged into your offices and confiscated several of your files. What's going on? Are you in some kind of trouble?"
Unnoticed for the moment Rick pulls off his mask, revealing the handsome features of a teenager. His hair is perhaps a little long for conservative tastes but is clean, though windswept from the day's activities. The young man waits quietly off to one side as the married couple blow off steam.
"Martha, there's something I have to tell you."
Curt Connors spends the next half hour explaining to his wife how the experiment to grow his arm back had some unexpected side effects. How he had been granted the power of lightning speed. How he hadn't wanted to tell her because he didn't want to endanger her or their son. How he had just been involved in a huge battle with Vikings on the waterfront, and how the youth he brought home was one of the heroes he fought against the Vikings with.
"Oh Curt, I knew there was something bothering you, but I never imagined... I know you're going to want to use your powers to help people. That's why you became a doctor in the first place. But I'm going to be so worried. And why were all those government men here. What did they want?"
"I don't know what they wanted, but I'm sure we'll find out soon enough. Right now, let me introduce you to my new young friend. This is...well I guess I don't know your real name."
"Call me Rick," the young man offers. "You were kind enough to offer me a place for tonight, and I guess the least I can do is be honest with you."
"This is Rick, honey. If you saw us on television or heard about us on the radio, he's the one that can form some kind of green energy and move things about with it. He's new in town and I offered him a place to stay tonight. Tomorrow night, the two of us and the rest of the heroes are going to meet to see if we can figure out some way to save the women the Vikings captured."
"If I may make a suggestion," Rick puts in. "Wear a mask," the humor in his voice cannot be missed. "If you don't mind I'll find some space to sack out."
Rick leaves the next morning with the dawn. By seven he picks up his car and starts looking for a place to stay and a job. He shakes his head as he reads the morning's Daily Bugle and its coverage of the Viking attack. After a few minutes he throws away the front page and starts reading the classifieds.
Rick spends the rest of the day getting into an apartment, then searching for work. He starts at the theaters on Broadway, offering to do anything. He breaks for dinner about six, then continue into the evening. At 9:00 PM Rick will go to the Empire State Building.
Curt Connors doesn't sleep well, his dreams full of the previous day's adventure. He wakes and goes to his job at ESU as normal, but all morning his thoughts turn to the Vikings and the fantastic people he met yesterday. He calls it quits at 11:00 and heads home with a stack of papers, telling himself he'll work 'Faster' at home.
It is nearly lunchtime when the doorbell at the Connors' residence rings, interrupting the game of Chinese checkers underway in the living room. Curt Connors pats his son on the head and goes to the door, peeking discretely out the window to see who is there.
On the porch are three men. Two are dressed in dark suits, with ties, white shirts, black shoes, short haircuts, and dark sunglasses. The third is a Army colonel in full dress uniform, his polished brass and chest full of medals standing out brightly against the dark green of his uniform.
"Martha, you and William wait in the other room. I don't know what these men want."
Curt Connors then opens his front door. "Is there something I can do for you gentlemen?"
The Army officer steps forward a bit and smiles. The other two men in dark suits defer to his lead.
"I hope so, Dr. Connors," the colonel replies. "I'm Colonel William DePalo. These gentlemen are Agents Shelly and Mulhare with the National Security Agency. I was hoping I could shake the hand of the man who can help this country with its efforts in Vietnam."
The colonel extends his right hand, a knowing smile playing across his face. "I assume the new hand works well enough," DePalo remarks.
Curt Connors reaches out to shake the man's hand. "I assume you're referring to my work in cell regeneration. You must know that, try as I might, I haven't been able to fully duplicate the results I was able to achieve when I performed the experiment on myself. But I will be happy to help you in any way I can."
Colonel DePalo nods. "You don't seem surprised we know about the regeneration. I like that. Indicates discipline. Let me leave this with you." He holds out a large envelope. "I'm not going to insult of a man of your intelligence by reading this to you. Let me just preface by asking you to not leave the contents laying around where your wife or son can see them. Some of the photographs could be...upsetting. My phone number and whatnot is in the envelope. Thank you for your time, Dr. Connors."
There is the knowing grin again, not exactly an endearing expression, but rather implying a subtle attitude of superiority, and the colonel and NSA agents nod and turn to leave.
Connors takes the envelope from Colonel DePalo and re-enters the house, slowly closing the door behind him. His wife is standing in the entryway to the kitchen, a look of concern on her face.
"What did they want?" she asks. "What's in the envelope?"
Connors goes to the sofa and opens the parcel, sliding the neatly stacked contents out into his hand. The first thing that he sees is horrible: a black and white, eight by ten photograph of a field hospital, presumably somewhere in Vietnam. Visions of Connors's own days serving in the Korean War leap unbidden to the mind's eye: the loss of life and limb, battle-hardened men crying like babies, begging for the pain to stop, begging for the nurses and doctors to do the impossible, to reattach that leg.
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© 1999 Mark L. Chance et al