"ARE WE BUYING THAT?" BUCK ASKED CHRIS, as Vin joined them in the control room. "Standish's great-great three times over granddad was from Asgard?"
"I think Ezra's buying it, and for the first time," Vin said with quiet conviction.
"How's that?" Buck asked.
"His mom's been telling him the story since he was a kid, but he never really believed it till that story was splashed all over some conspiracy website. That's why he risked skipping out on his parole, why he started poking around Puente Antiguo, trying to get information from an eyewitness like Darcy Lewis." Vin shrugged. "Man had to know."
Crossing his arms, Buck leaned against the wall. "Wouldn't be the weirdest thing to happen here this month."
"No, Buckling, sure wouldn't."
Chris still hadn't said a word, letting his agents hash it out, deep in thought.
"What are you thinking?" Buck finally asked, nudging Chris's chair with one booted foot.
The leader of SHIELD Team Seven looked up at his second with piercing green eyes. "I'm thinking your gut and mine are in agreement."
"Is that so?"
"You said it, Buck, there's a story here, and I don't think Maude Standish has even told that story to her son."
"You don't believe there was some Asgardian ancestor," Vin said with certainty. "You think Maude's the exile."
Seeming to come to a decision, Chris nodded sharply. "Get HQ on the line and have them send some agents to round up Mama Standish in New Orleans. I think it's time we had a talk."
THE OBJECT OF LARABEE'S INTEREST LOOKED suspiciously at the raven sitting on the fence post as she pushed open the front gate of the ramshackle old house in a neighbourhood that had seen better days. The raven cawed once, and then flew off with a rush of wings. "I hate those wretched birds," Maude Standish muttered to herself. Taking one more look around, she let herself in, closing the door behind her, and securely locking it. Inside, the house looked far better than the exterior would lead one to expect—just because it was a bolt-hole didn't mean it couldn't be civilized.
Hanging her coat on a hook on the wall next to the door, she walked down the hall, entering the small sitting room at the end. She sat down in the armchair, across from the antique full-length mirror, every inch of her body taut with tension as she waited for Loki to make his appearance. She felt his presence before his image materialized in the mirror, and she sat up straight, marshalling her emotions.
"My prince," she said, inclining her head.
"I am pleased to find you here, Magnhildr." A smile curved his lips. "I would have been most disappointed had you not been." The warning was clear, though his tone was even.
She waved a negligent hand. "I am your humble and obedient subject, am I not?"
Loki laughed outright at that. "Come now; let us not overdo it, cousin."
Maude allowed herself to relax, smiling slightly. "I have the information you sought. The Midgardians call it Arc Reactor technology. I believe it may be what you seek."
"The power source hasn't been activated yet, but it will be soon, in a place called Manhattan, not far from here."
"You have done well, Magnhildr."
"Can you tell me something of this plan, my lord prince?" Loki had divulged very little to her regarding his plans or ultimate endgame, and Maude disliked being in the dark.
"All in good time, my lady, all in good time."
She swallowed her frustration, and then her heart skipped a beat when he asked, "Where is your whelp? I distinctly recall you telling me he would be in attendance."
"Ezra—" she emphasized his name "—is exploring other avenues that may benefit us." That wasn't entirely a lie. After all, it was what her son had been doing the last time she'd heard from him. The fact that he had not contacted her since that night was the real reason she'd left New Orleans, using Loki's mission as a pretext. However, Loki didn't need to know that.
"Come to the mirror," he commanded, his voice holding a silky menace. For just a moment, she considered disobeying; fleeing the house, making sure Loki could never find her again. But only for a moment. If Loki could do as he said, and end her banishment, restore her to her rightful place, she would do whatever he asked.
Doing as she was bid, Maude stood before the mirror, the picture of calm. She was a lady of Asgard and she would not allow Loki to see the fear that tickled at her heart. He reached out a hand, and she was no longer in the sitting room, but standing next to him on a dark plain, the stars like a cape of diamonds above them.
"You would not lie to me, would you, Magnhildr?" he whispered at her ear.
"What would it gain me?" She looked him straight in the eye. "I want to go home, reclaim what is mine; I want my son to know his birthright. I have suffered this place far too long, Loki, and would be rid of it!"
"What is yours? Surely, dearest Magnhildr, you have higher aspirations than the bucolic lands of your father's estate in Vanaheim?"
"It would be a start," she said, holding her head high. Ever when they had been children, Loki had mocked her father's rustic origins. "You know nothing of my aspirations."
"Now, now, cousin." He seemed to find her outburst amusing. "You always were the prickly one. I recall when last we met how melodramatic you were."
"It was my wedding, and you instigated a duel between my new husband and his cousin!" It had been 1876, and Loki had appeared quite unexpectedly at the ceremony. It had been so long since she had seen any of her kin, that she welcomed him gladly; at least until the reception.
"An engaging bit of entertainment, I will grant you." He circled her, the staff in his hand glowing with a brilliant blue light. "Do as you are bid, and the rewards that shall await you on Asgard will be many." He stopped, looking down at her, the glow of his staff reflected in his eyes. "Fail me, and your suffering will be great."
"I will not fail you." Loki only nodded, pressing the tip of the staff against her heart. She gasped in pain, falling to her knees onto the faded carpet, once more in her sitting room. She reached out, touching the mirror, now seeing only her own reflection.
NATHAN OPENED THE DOOR. If he was surprised that Chris Larabee was the one doing the knocking, he hid it well.
"Agent Larabee, what can I do for you?" he asked, motioning him into the small house on the outskirts of Puente Antiguo.
"I need a favour." Larabee cut right to the chase.
Nodding, Chris handed him a small leather case, like you would store CDs in. "I need a DNA comparison run between the two samples inside."
"I kinda think that the secret government agency you work for could handle that."
"Can, but want this off the grid for now."
"And why's that?"
"If I'm right, the results could blow a man's life up, and I'm not sure I have the right to do that," Chris said bluntly.
Nathan looked as if he were reassessing the man in front of him. "That's a good enough reason for me.'
"Can you get it done?"
Nodding, he said, "Army buddy of mine works for a lab in Las Cruces, he owes me one."
"Get him to put a rush on it."
"I'll drive down there in the morning." At the look Chris gave him, he amended, "I'll drive down now."
Chris grinned broadly. "You're a good man, Mr. Jackson."
Nathan chuckled. "I'm coming to believe you are too, Agent Larabee."
AFTER LEAVING JACKSON'S HOUSE, Chris pulled out his cell, and checked in with base. "I'm on my way to Dr. Foster's, JD," he told his youngest agent.
"Agent Ward just called in," JD said. "Maude Standish is in the wind. Buck told him that finding her is a priority."
"Damnit," he growled. "Ward's a good man, if anyone can find her, he can. Anything else?"
"Fine. I'll see you in the morning. Let me know immediately if Ward turns up anything."
"Will do, boss." The call disconnected.
Puente Antiguo was small, Chris crossing from one side of town to the other during his conversation with JD. A hundred more yards, and he was at Jane Foster's lab. The astrophysicist had asked him to come by, needing to talk to him. The building was nearly all floor to ceiling windows, having been the display room of an auto dealership once upon a time. Jane Foster had seen him approach, and was at the door as he arrived.
"Agent Larabee, thank you for coming." She ushered him in. "Can I get you something? Coffee, a Pop Tart?"
"I'm fine, Doctor Foster," he said, sitting down in the chair she indicated. 'You said on the phone you needed to see me?"
"I did." She sat across from him. "As I'm sure you know Eric, Doctor Selvig, accepted the position at the dark matter facility."
"There's some energy signatures I need to study about 25 miles out of town, it may be very important to my research."
"What kind of energy signatures?" Chris sat up straight.
"They seem similar to what I observed before the appearance of the Einstein-Rosen Bridge that brought Thor here. I'd like to place instruments to triangulate the readings, but with Eric gone, I'm short a person." She stopped, pulling at her fingers nervously.
"Go on, doctor" Chris encouraged.
"I'd like to use Nathan Jackson, he's helped me in the past, and is totally reliable."
"Fine," Chris replied.
But Jane didn't seem to hear him as she rushed on, "He knows my instruments, and since Darcy told him everything that happened, and he's not locked up somewhere, that must mean he passed whatever security checks you did, and honestly, my word should count for something—"
Chris grinned, siting back in his chair, knowing that eventually, Jane Foster's brain would catch up with her mouth.
"And I really think—" She paused, pressing her lips together. "Wait, did you say fine? Oh, you did." She looked sheepish. "Thank you, Agent Larabee, that was very—" She stopped, as if searching for something.
"I think the word you're looking for is 'reasonable', ma'am."
A smile appeared on her face. "Thank you, Agent Larabee."
"You're welcome, Doctor Foster. And I'll do you one better—I'll send a couple of my agents along. Do them good to get off the base and do something useful for a change. "