“What do you mean, you can’t be sure?”
The wind whipped heavily passed her enclosed helmet as she pulled up short, clenched fists at her sides. The air currents pulled her in different directions and she had to to focus to remain in control of her position. Carol held her hand instinctively to the right side of her face to adjust a flight helmet that hasn’t been there for some time, attempting to adjust a microphone that didn’t exist. Beneath her, the clouds coiled and folded over each other like a field of albino cotton candy bleached by the exposed light of the sun cresting the horizon.
There was a period of pregnant static as the message instantly relayed back down through an orbiting Stark satellite feed to the civilian cell carrier network. On the other end, a distinctly tired, annoyed, and very posh British accent snapped back, “It means I have no idea what I’m dealing with from one day to the next, and this is just one more mark on the wall, hot shot.”
“Hold on, Jess.”
She paused momentarily, peering down at the landscape below. A mountain range adorned with trees and snow-capped peaks poked out of the sheet of billowing white enough for her to get her bearings.
Right over the Rockies, perfect.
Carol spotted a decently-sized outcropping to land on. She gauged her distance, adjusted her descent speed, and skillfully landed in a patch of matted snow and dirt inside a batch of scraggly trees and rocks. She then reactivated her communications channel after her helmet melted down the neckline of her suit, speaking directly into the receiver woven inside the trim of her collar.
“Okay, explain this to me again, Gerry has a fever? Did you take his temperature with a thermometer?”
The exasperated sigh at the other end of the line was all the response Carol needed, but Jess clapped back in a staccato matter-of-fact-tone of disdain, “No, I felt his forehead and winged it. Yes of course I used a thermometer, and it’s more than just a fever. I wouldn’t call you in the field if it was just a fever.”
“I was just running an errand for Brand, Alpha Flight left some personal effects back in Vancouver for some of the crew and I was sparing them a shuttle launch,” Carol replied as she sat on a large rock, staring down at the sunrise breaking the line of earth and sky. She lifted an arm up to shield her eyes from the light as she admired the vista below, “so it’s more than just a fever, got it. Deep breaths, talk me through it. What’s going on?”
There was a pause and Carol knew that this must have been serious, “He’s more than just a little warm. The thermometer wouldn’t give me back a number and he’s just so warm...and…”
There was some additional hesitation Carol didn’t expect, “...what, Jess?”
After another moment she finally replied, albeit with a bit of strange reticence to her voice, “...the room is getting a bit warm too.”
Carol shot up to her feet, “What? What do you mean the room is getting warm?”
“It’s warming up like it sometimes does...when you’re in it.”
That can’t be good.
“I’m on my way.”
The helmet immediately conjured forth from her suit and wrapped her face, the process almost not completing in time before she was several miles into the lower atmosphere, a living meteor streaking across the pre-dawn sky towards New York.
“Thanks Tony,” Jessica said, staring down at a small holographic representation of Stark standing next to a desk. He was in some kind of elaborate one-piece radiation suit with the Stark logo emblazoned across the back and chest, "it's clear I was interrupting...uh...something?"
Stark waived away the apology while removing different pieces of the suit, starting with the gloves that detached like a space suit, “Don’t mention it, and don’t feel guilty calling me at ‘work,’ this is important. You’re family, and so is he,” he replied, gesturing off camera around the same time Gerry could be heard giggling and cackling alongside a strange wet thwacking sound, “as soon as Sparklefists gets in, I want to see all three of you down here, pronto.”
"We will, and again, thank you anyway."
She hung up, taking a moment to rest her head against the door frame between the kitchen to the other part of the apartment. Taking a deep breath, she walked over to the corner of the living room to examine a digital dial mounted to the wall and fiddled with the controls for a bit before lightly banging the side of the wall with her fist in frustration.
“Okay, well according to the thermostat, it’s July in Christmas,” Jessica muttered as she paced around the floor from the wall to where Gerry was sitting on a block of ice in heavily modified highchair comprised of a car-seat and two different types of seatbelts, giggling as he sunk a little bit lower in the makeshift frozen throne. Even as she watched it, the semi-translucent block slowly oozed droplets of water into a large inflatable kiddie pool in the middle of the floor.
She smirked, “Well I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself kiddo, but hopefully your favorite aunt can help us out-”
The room began to shudder and shake somewhat, like an earthquake, causing Gerry to spontaneous erupt into additional fits of claps and squeals, “CeeCee!”
“Yes, CeeCee is coming I think, something this dramatic is definitely her calling card,” Jessica said with gritted teeth as she adeptly jumped from wall to wall around the room securing various items that danced upon the precipice of falling from their respective perches, “I really should have found a more diplomatic way of getting her here in a hurry.”
As soon as she said that, the shuddering stopped, followed by a brief momentary lapse in motion and sound, as if the entire shaking of the room, if not building, was a momentarily delusion produced by the several humidity and heat in the room.
Then there was a knock at the door.
“Oh, decided to play it civil suddenly? Sure you don’t want to me to open a window for you, Spider-Man?” Jessica shouted sarcastically as she hastily crawled around one of the walls to open the door from the ceiling. A veritable gust of refreshing climate controlled hallway blasted her in the face.
At the opposite end of the door, Carol was there with just a t-shirt and the bottom-half of her suit, wincing as an overwhelming opposing sensation of humidity and heat hit her squarely, aggressively and offensively across her entire front, “What can I say, I like to mix things up - what the hell is going on here?”
Jessica, hair matted and moist and disheveled, stepped back and bowed with an arm extended towards the enthroned Gerry, who cackled devilishly, brandishing a nearly-consumed popsicle and reaching out towards Carol with a twinkle in his eye, “CeeCee!”
“Hi buddy! One second, need to talk to Momma here,” Carol said with a less-than convincing cavalier smile at Gerry, before slowly turning back to Jessica, maintaining the smile as it became more forced and she quietly pantomimed words through them, “Jessica, why is my godson sitting on a giant ice cube?”
Carol raised a finger, “No, no. Sorry. How did you get a giant ice cube inside your apartment?”
“Jones and Luke brought it over," Jessica replied matter-of-factly as Carol strode farther in to examine Gerry, “I told them I could take care of it myself, but they insisted. It was the only thing I could think of after speaking with Stark earlier in the day."
Carol lifted a slightly not-as-wet-as-he-should-have-been toddler off the ice and bounced him in her arms, “So let me get this straight, I was the third person you called,” she said with a slightly accusatory glare.
Through a slightly wounded and reticent expression Jessica sort of semi-mumbled the words, “well, technically you’d be the fourth with Luke and JJ as a set, and also I've already called Stark again to ask if we could come over for some tests.”
Carol stared daggers as she put Gerry back down gently into his chair.
“Hey, you were in Vancouver, I panicked and called in some local reinforcements alright? No one you wouldn’t approve of,” Jessica said while crossing her arms, “Besides, I wasn’t moving him until you got here.”
Their eyes met for a moment and Carol could clearly tell that Jessica was sincere and also very rattled. That was all that was needed for her to let the matter drop. Both women walked further into the room and stared down at Gerry as he slapped happily at the ice as it pooled puddles around him. Carol broke the silence as she approached Gerry, smiled and pinched his cheeks. He fussed a bit but for the most part enjoyed the added attention, sputtering out "SeeSee!" and "Maa!" in alternating intervals as extending his arms and grasping in the direction of both of them.
Turning her head back slightly while still bent over in front of Gerry, Carol shrugged and feigned a slightly silver-lining-like air to help bolster the mood of the room, “He looks...very healthy.”
Jessica threw her hands in the air, “That’s just it, he is healthy, as far as I can tell. No coughing. No sneezing. No puking. No...anything. Just this fever that became, well, what you see here.”
“So when did it start?”
Gesturing at a bedroom and where a crib-bed hybrid could be seen resting in the corner of a sky-blue wall, Jessica shrugged and began walking over there. Carol followed, taking a second to gesture back with a balled fist and thumb behind her, “He going to be okay?”
“For a minute, when he mutters to himself like that he’s in his own world for a while, plus I have him latched into there pretty good with a modified car seat.”
Carol gingerly stepped over a few LEGOs in the hallway as they went, and bent over to pick up a heavily scuffed toy S.H.I.E.L.D quinjet, “Last I heard I thought he could jailbreak out of things like that without too much trouble."
Jessica glanced back her as she pushed the door to his room open all the way, “Not since yesterday, when I found him in bed, and the bed was starting to smoke.”
Carol walked inside. The room was exactly as she last saw it for the most part. The newest addition to the sky-blue walls were numerous hand-painted clouds, and among them was a rendition of Carol flying among them, waving down at the viewer as if they were casually joining her at approximately 20,000 feet.
“That’s new,” Carol said.
“It was going to be a surprise for you, I spent some time painting it last week,” Jessica said, absent-mindedly brushing a lock of hair behind her ear while deftly changing the subject back to the matter at hand, “but I think you may want to see this.”
She lifted a blanket and exposed what looked like, as far as Carol’s imagination could conjure up, was a Gerry-shaped and sized iron sat too long on the mattress leaving a slightly browned imprint in the sheet fabric.
“It started here, when I came to check in on him yesterday morning.”
Carol raised an eyebrow, “Wow, it held up well, must be a high thread-count.”
The other woman raised her right hand up in capitulation, “Sorry, you know how I am with jokes. They’re bad and they only come out at night and when I’m scared,” she said, standing back up and looking sincerely at Jessica, “I’m scared too, lady.”
“I just...I wasn’t prepared for something like this happening, and I just started calling friends, and with you so far off, I-”
Carol slowly rubbed Jessica’s arms and then held her in a firm embrace, wrapping both of her arms around her neck. Jess returned the embrace and they stood there for just a moment.
“Alright,” Carol muttered, breaking the hug and walking assertively back into the living room, “Time to get that bread.”
Jessica nodded, wiping away a tear as quickly as she could and composing herself before following.
Carol lifted Gerry up and began bouncing him up and down as he laughed, “Strange, though. He doesn’t feel too warm to me.”
“Said the walking fusion reactor with blond hair.”
“Fair,” Carol said without paying Jessica much attention, staring at Gerry in her arms, “I suppose it is a little muggy in here.”
“A little muggy? A little muggy?” Jessica retorted, taking out her smartphone and connecting it to her in-home thermostat app, shoving the climate reading results it in Carol’s face.
The ice chair finally collapsed in on itself and splashed into the pool, sending waves of water everywhere, soaking the carpet in every direction for a few inches around its circumference.
Carol looked at it for a moment, then looked at Gerry as he moon-pied at her. “Young master Gerald, I do believe a visit to Stark Tower is in order.”
The security system was already prepped for their arrival, though Gerry was the only one that required any kind of special scrutiny. The security guard just waved them all through while munching on a sandwich.
“I recall it being a bit harder to get in here usually,” Carol said to Jessica as Gerry bounced around in a custom-made Babybjörn bedazzled with gold bars and Hala star on her chest.
“Consider it the Stark version of the TSA PreCheck, except the only ones eligible today are a beautiful spider, her cute kid, and a space pirat--Holy Smokes is that a Babybjörn? Is that Captain Marvel I see, with a child inside a….wow.”
He looked passed them both, ”Hey Joe, send me the security tapes for today okay?”
Carol glared at Stark and he spun around and gestured up the stairs to the elevators in the lobby, “I mean after you ladies, time is of the essence I know.”
Both of them sat in Stark’s office that held what would have been distracting and breathtaking view of Manhattan under different circumstances. Stark excused himself briefly to prepare some scanning equipment, leaving the three to sit awkwardly in the brutalist/minimalist office space-come-bachelor pad.
“So,” Carol said.
“So,” Jessica said.
Gerry muttered some gibberish. The room felt a bit warmer.
“You painted me.”
“Like I said, it was going to be a surprise.”
“Well, color me surprised, I suppose.”
Jessica turned to her sheepishly, “Look, Gerry looks up to you, okay? You’re ‘CeeCee’! He points up at it before bed and when he wakes up in the morning.”
There was a pause. Jessica bit her lip before clearly deciding to continue on.
“And I do too. You were in space for a while there, hero of worlds. And the world kept turning while you were out. I had to watch Gerry. There was still hero stuff to do down here, and I couldn’t keep myself from still trying to help. To make a difference in my way, on my terms.”
Jessica waited a moment for Carol to respond, but she didn’t. She just kept looking forward and feeling the same guilt of leaving creeping up into her stomach and latching on to her intestines.
Hello, old friend, she thought to herself, addressing that sudden sensation of being a burden on everyone that cares about her. Been a while.
Jessica continued, gesturing out the window of the office towards the open sky.
“Then you come back. I know...you always come back. But having you up on the wall smiling down at us, it made me feel like you’re always there watching him…”
“...like he’s always safe…”
“Jess, you don’t have to explai-”
“...like I was safe,” Jess finished, staring at the ceiling, unable to meet her gaze.
“I hate it when you’re not here.”
They both knew how unfair that statement was, but there it sat, floating out in the vast metaphorical air between the both of them. It was just a few words, but it encapsulated a multitude of feelings and sensations that stretched across a few decades of arguments, splits, reconciliations and reunions. It was a miniature leviathan of emotional intent, and it's shadow cast a veritable pall over everything.
They sat there like that, staring thoughtfully at Gerry as he played with a bunch of holograms of miniature versions of the Avengers that Stark activated before leaving them. He was chasing Wasp around the room as Captain America and Hulk kept to his heels. Carol realized she was smiling without even meaning to. Glancing over, she saw Jessica doing the same.
"He was right, you know," Jessica whispered quietly.
"Stark. He said we were family when I thanked him for helping us, and I realized how important a word like that is when life gets...unpredictable," she said with a fond nostalgic glance towards a holographic recreation of Vision as he appeared decades ago flew past her face, waving at them both as he changed direction and chased after a continually giggling Gerry, "but this is different, you are different, we are different..."
Jessica put her hand on the coffee table between the two of them, palm up, "this, is different."
Rather than immediately respond, Carol put her hand over the coffee table and laid it into Jessica's, running her fingers across her open palm and then grasping her hand. Their fingers entwined so strongly that the skin went taut and white at the joints. That warmth in the room crept up further into their general countenance, particularly where their hands met. Carol could feel it, and with that came the realization that maybe what she was feeling wasn’t entirely because of Gerry’s newfound radiant influence. Finally, she spoke up.
"I'm not going anywhere."
They stayed like that without saying another word.
Unfortunately, their short reverie was broken by the sound of a mechanical door quickly whirring open and Stark’s face jutting through from the adjacent lab. Carol and Jessica’s hands quickly parted and they stood up at the sound to face him.
“The Doctor will see you now.”
“Put him on the table over there,” Stark said, and just before either of them could object to how high the table was the table descended down to toddler level with a slight downward gesture of Tony’s hand. More than that, a tiny set of stairs emerged from the floor. Before either of them could do anything, Gerry scrambled up and onto the table, muttering and grunting versions of the word “Up!” as he clambered to the flat metal summit.
Carol ambled up next to the table and roughed Gerry’s hair, “Thanks, he gets it from me.”
Tony’s expression went a little slack, the smile a bit less certain. He took a few steps back and activated a computer station by reaching back and slapping some random switch.
“Yeah. About that.”
The boards and screens came a bit more to life behind him. The Stark Industries logo scrolled across the screen before transitioning into a myriad of various status screens and laboratory readouts. He glanced upward slightly as if speaking to an unknown deity.
“Moira, bring up the schematics from the samples that were provided from Gerry’s last wellness check from our extension services at Sinai.”
Suddenly, the aforementioned imaginary deity replied. A matter-of-fact and distinctly feminine Scottish accent replied back in delicate but concise Speyside brogue, “Here you go, Tony. Loading up the medical records now. Please confirm release of private medical records with bio-metric affirmation."
Carol raised an eyebrow, “Moira? Just...Moira? What, no snappy acronym?”
Tony pressed his thumb down against a small square module that ran a beam across the surface of his digit as he waved away the question with his free hand, “Just Moira. Long story. Needed an extra pair of hands and an opportunity to create a new operational systems A.I. cropped up that had the potential to not die, try to kill me, or some combination of the two. It can autonomously manage multiple Stark-held assets across Manhattan without breaking a sweat. Moira here is a proof of concept I got in return for lending some of my developmental resources.”
“What kind of opportunity?” Carol replied, raising an eyebrow while folding her arms.
“Let’s just say I’m a sucker for a hard luck story. It’s just a research collaboration.”
“With who?” Jessica asked this time.
Tony smiled with a slightly coy yet guarded expression, “Easy Detective Drew, are you off the clock? I thought we were here for shorty.”
Moira managed to conveniently interrupt the exchange, “Record release confirmed. We can proceed now, Tony.”
His natural exuberance flared back to life as he snapped his fingers several times while saying, “Fire it up, Em.”
Before either Carol or Jessica could blink, he clapped his hands together and gestured mid-air and two spiraling DNA structures floated in front of them. They looked like holograms of the atypical double helix you would see in a high school presentation. He pointed at both of them while Jessica walked back to Gerry to keep him occupied while Tony spoke.
“The formation on the left is Gerry’s structure three months ago,” Tony said, walking behind the indicated twisting series of sticks and balls, then moved on to the other, “This one is Gerry’s structure now.”
“I don’t see the difference, should we?” Jessica asked while bouncing Gerry up and down on her knee while he gibbered about the flashing light show arrayed before him.
“No, not really, but this is the macro scale, I like getting into peptides and acids and their affiliated ilk, but I also like to show off first. Part of my charm.”
Both women rolled their eyes. He got serious again and tapped a few commands into the nearby console, “Em, give me the works.”
Only a millisecond passed.
Instead of double helices there now sat three independent strands of parabolic lines, with repeating GATACA symbols in various combinations running beneath him. Tony smacked his hands together rubbing them vigorously.
“Okay, this here, this God stuff,” Tony explained. “This is where the rubber meets the road in terms of creating and determining the structure and purpose of life. It’s also where fingerprints get a bit more exact in identifying hallmarks, harbingers of diseases, and familial traits.”
Both women stared at Tony, but not before Jessica stole one last look at Gerry’s short blond curls with a slightly concerned expression.
“Why are we looking at these now?” Carol asked perplexed, “Does this have something to do with Gerry’s condition?”
Tony cocked his head to the side slightly, “Well, yes and no. It may deal with his condition, especially now. Up until this point, most of Gerry's...shall we say gifts that have entertained and delighted his mother…”
“...easy Stark, I’m working on four hours of sleep.”
He gestured, “Case in point. Most of his superhuman manifestations can be directly tied or inferred from his mother, especially since we do not know the father…”
Jessica shifted uncomfortably and kissed Gerry’s on the top of his head before brushing absently at the part in his hair.
“...but this recent development has given me some additional comparative context on that note, especially because of what you see before you,” he finished, while taking out a thin metal pen that drew a hovering red circle around the top two series strands. “I ran an algorithmic predictive analysis and the error percentage is infinitesimal: these are the parents.”
He then circled the bottom strand, “and this is that young handsome fella over there.”
Carol raised her eyebrows in surprise, “Wait so you know who the father is?”
“I do,” Tony said, and it was clear that he was enjoying this reveal a little too much. Jessica raised her arm for a moment, “Tony, I’m not sur-”
Tony was totally fired up and kept going despite her attempt to interject, “Em, move to the next panel, bring up the string displays between subject A and subject B, current timeline.”
This time the A.I. didn’t respond but simply started working on his command. Gerry’s strand and the mystery father’s strand became much larger and several matching segments were highlighted in contrasting colors. Tony gestured at both and picked up right where he left off with a laser pointer.
“This right here is your garden variety human. This, however, is limited-edition for this neck of the woods, unless you count the occasional incursions we sometimes have to deal with. It’s Kree.”
“Wait, the Father is Kree?!” Carol exclaimed, looking back at Jessica who was now seemingly staring at the ceiling with strange vigor and interest. She was about to turn her head back to Tony but snapped back to look at Jessica with a furrowed brow.
Tony shook his head, “No, Ms. Danvers. The father is half-Kree.”
Pulling her puzzled expression away from Jessica for a moment, Carol returned to the the display and got goosebumps. Her skin went slightly clammy.
He made a few more keystrokes and the image changed to another different strand of letters and lines. They re-arranged themselves into another contextually vague but aesthetically understandable sequence of thin bars of varying size. His typing continued as he spoke, “These are individual genetic markers. Pay attention to the series of bands on the right as they overlap some portions of Gerry’s.”
Several segments, including those flagged a Kree genetic markers, lined up perfectly. When they did, the system made the matching sequences flash on and off in lightened and dimmed alternating brightness.
“The strand on the right was from the physical I gave our good Captain before her mental wellness vacation up to Maine.”
The room got very quiet, very quick.
“Em: Activate Big Finish.”
All of the TV screens suddenly went dark and then rebooted to a clip of an older daytime talk show, where emblazoned across the bottom of the screen read the phrase, “You ARE the Father!” as a sullen-looking man in a white jersey t-shirt and faded jeans put his head between his legs.
Confetti exploded out from a few hidden pockets of the lab and hung limply in the air for a minute. Carol glanced back at Jessica, who gave her a blank stare back, and not in the way that normally would confer an aura of complete absolution from the issue. Carol's eyes conveyed volumes, and Jessica knew she was in for a conversation.
“Sorry, thought that would be a bit more impressive. Short notice,” Tony said while producing a cigar from what appeared to be a very expensive and extensive collection of rolled tobacco, handing one to a dumbfounded Carol “Cubans. From before Bay of Pigs. The good stuff.”
Carol stood there with a slack jawed expression, the cigar loosely held between her thumb and forefinger. Tony slapped her on the back.
“Congrats, it’s a boy.”