You and a guest are cordially invited to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Saint Agnes Orphanage on Saturday, September 26th, 2015. Doors open at 2:00 p.m. Keynote Address by Mother Catherine and performance by the Saint Agnes Youth Choir at 3:00 p.m., followed by socializing and the sharing of remembrances at 4:30 p.m., and dinner at 7:00 p.m.
“Holy shit! Is that little Matty Murdock, all grown up?” Skye let out a whoop as she dodged through the crowd in the orphanage courtyard. Mike—scars hidden by a Nano Mask—raised his eyebrows and followed her at a more sedate pace.
Skye pulled up short in front of her childhood friend and stared appreciatively. “Damn. You look good.”
“Thank you.” Matt’s small smile held a hint of a smirk. “I’d return the compliment, but…well…” He gestured with the hand holding his cane.
“You do know who I am though, right?” Skye suddenly looked uncertain.
“Of course. I’d recognize that voice anywhere.” Matt’s smile grew to a wide grin as he turned to the woman next to him. “Claire Temple, allow me to introduce Mary Sue Poots.”
“Hey!” Skye punched Matt in the shoulder.
Matt winced. “Hey! That actually hurt.”
“Oh, whatever. It serves you right for calling me that ridiculous name.” Skye crinkled up her face in mock fury.
Matt laughed. “Right, because ‘This is Skye—just Skye, no last name,’ sounds much less bizarre.”
“Shut up!” Skye laughed. “Actually, I’m, uh, going by Skye Johnson now.”
“Really? And is there a Mr. Johnson?” Matt asked with only the slightest hint of a leer.
“Yeah. He…well…it turns out, he’s my dad.”
“Wait, you actually found your birth father, after all these years? Skye, that’s amazing! Congratulations!”
“Well, it was a little less ‘sunshine and puppy dogs’ than I’d imagined…but, yeah,” Skye’s smile was small and wistful. “I’ve got a birthday and everything.”
“So,” Mike stepped up besides them. “Did I miss anything?”
Skye shook her head. “Not really. Matt and Claire, this is my coworker, Mike Peterson. Mike, this is Matthew Murdock and Claire, uh…”
“Temple,” Mike supplied. “That is, if you haven’t changed it?”
Claire shrugged. “Nope. It’s the same as it’s always been. It’s good to see you, Mike.”
“Yeah…yeah, you, too.” Mike smiled warmly as he shook her hand and held on a couple of moments longer than necessary.
Skye looked between them. “So…I guess you guys know each other?”
Claire smiled back at Mike and shrugged. “You could say that. We were…ah…pretty close for a while—until he moved across the country.”
“Right.” Mike looked down and rubbed the back of his neck.
“Wait,” Matt whispered to Claire, “Mike, as in—“
“Shut it.” Claire elbowed him in the side.
“Yes, ma’am.” Matt turned back to Skye. “So, what have you been—?”
“Why, if it isn’t Mister Matthew Murdock, Esquire. Fancy meeting you here,” a voice interrupted.
Matt turned around slowly. “Seriously?”
“Uh, surprise?” Foggy had the decency to look slightly abashed.
“And, uh, I’m here, too.” Karen waved awkwardly from behind him.
“Karen?” Matt sounded lost. “Why…? What are you two doing here?”
“Well, apparently Mrs. Urich—” Foggy started.
“She told us to call her ‘Doris,’” Karen said.
“Doris, right. Apparently Doris and Ben Urich have a long and storied history with St. Agnes’s.”
“Ben defended them from false embezzlement charges in the early 90s and helped them raise awareness when they were low on funds,” Karen recited. “And Doris volunteered here regularly for years, right up until she got sick. I kind of get the impression that Ben left them some money in his will, too.”
“So, anyway,” Foggy continued, “Of course they invited Doris to this little shindig. She mentioned it to Karen, Karen mentioned it to me, and I happened to remember that this was your original alma matter—does that term apply in this context? Anyway, here we are. Surprise?”
“Right…” Matt licked his lips. “Well, then, this is my…ah…friend Claire Temple, my fellow St. Agnes alum Skye Johnson, and Skye’s coworker Mike Peterson. Claire, Mike, Skye, these are my coworkers, Foggy Nelson and Karen Page.”
Foggy reached out to shake their hands. “Charmed, I’m sure. Any friend of Matt’s and all that. So, Skye, I was Matt’s roommate in college. We should really trade embarrassing stories as soon as we get a chance.”
“Totally.” Skye grinned wickedly.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you both.” Karen shook hands with Skye and Mike, then turned to Matt and Claire and shrugged sheepishly. “Doris said this might be the last chance to see this place, so we couldn’t pass it up, but we are really sorry about crashing your date.”
“Oh, it’s not a date.” Claire said.
“Really? I kind of thought—“ Matt started to mumble when Skye interrupted.
“Um, he ditched his coworkers to bring the pretty girl he clearly has a thing for to see where he grew up. I think it’s at least a little bit a date.”
Matt rubbed at the back of his neck. “I mean, I did…I meant to…damn, I knew I should have brought flowers.”
“Right.” Claire scoffed. “Because that’s where this went wrong.” But she smiled and put her arm through his. “Come on. It looks like people are heading in for the presentation.”
* * * * *
Doris was seated near the front of the auditorium in the handicapped section. She had saved four seats for her group, and Skye and Mike were able to grab a pair of chairs in the next row.
Matt sat next to Claire and tried, fumblingly, to explain why he hadn’t explicitly described the event as a date, but then he stopped midsentence and turned to Foggy and Karen. “Wait, Karen, what did you mean when you said this might be your ‘last chance’ to see St. Agnes?”
Karen shrugged. “Well, Doris said that they’re supposed to sell the building and move to a new location pretty soon. Whatever company buys the land will probably build something different, and even if they don’t it’s not as though they’ll be giving tours…”
“Wait, what?” Skye turned around in her seat. “St. Agnes is moving? They can’t do that!”
“I don’t think it’s that surprising…” Karen shrugged. “The upkeep and property taxes on places like this can be really expensive, and donors are more interested in supporting updated facilities. I bet the kids will like it, too.”
“No, she’s right,” Matt insisted. “This place is an institution. There is no way they would move just to have newer buildings. There has to be something else going on.”
“Uh, guys?” Mike whispered, “I think they’re starting.”
An elderly priest named Father Jacob gave a brief introduction, and then Mother Catherine stepped up to the podium. An Asian-American woman in her late fifties, Mother Catherine’s hair was mostly grey, but she had a strong voice and commanding presence. As she spoke about the school’s history and her own experiences working with the children over the past thirty years, Skye and Matt both began to relax back into their seats. Mother Catherine described some of the organization’s most successful graduates, and when she mentioned one “burgeoning, activist lawyer,” Foggy elbowed Matt in the ribs, and Claire smiled and slid her hand over Matt’s on the armrest between them.
Then the speech turned to the future of St. Agnes. Mother Catherine said that the organization would always provide shelter and guidance for children who needed it, existing as a bridge connecting the strength of the past with the promise of the future. Skye smiled triumphantly—until Mother Catherine began to describe how excited the school was to move to their new location. She turned back to see a shocked expression on Matt’s face that mirrored her own and opened her mouth to protest, but Mike put a hand on her shoulder. Mother Catherine, having finished her speech, was introducing the children’s choir.
The choir filed out onto the stage—about thirty children in crisp uniforms, arranged on three risers. They started with the school song and followed with a Disney medley and “I Won’t Grow Up” from Peter Pan. Skye clapped dutifully, but she was biting her lower lip and she looked lost in thought. Then one of the students—a girl with long, intricate braids who looked twelve or thirteen—stepped up to the microphone and explained that for their finale the choir would be singing a special tribute song written in honor of the victims and heroes of the Battle of New York.
The song began with the girl singing a haunting a cappella solo. Skye’s eyes focused on her, and when the rest of the group joined in with a rousing chorus, Skye’s frustrated expression melted into a small smile. Each hero had a verse: Captain America’s made Skye grin, Hawkeye’s made her laugh, and after Black Widow’s Skye gave a little punch of triumph. When the song described how close Iron Man came to making the ultimate sacrifice Skye swallowed and gripped Mike’s hand. Then the song mourned all of those who had lost their lives, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. The song trailed off into a final, quiet echo of the original solo, calling on the world to always remember and never lose hope.
Suddenly the moment was shattered by a piercing shriek. One of the younger boys on the first row of risers was trembling and yelling and pointing at the back of the room. Then he curled into a shaking ball and went quiet. The audience exploded in concern—some pushing towards the stage and others towards the back of the room—as the teachers hustled all of the children off the stage.
Matt turned to his friends. “Now do you believe us that something weird is going on?”
“I don’t know about that,” Claire got up. “But I’m going to go make sure that kid has actual, medical help.” She left without waiting for a response.
Mike stood up, too. “I’m going to go with her and see if there’s anything I can do to help.” He turned to Skye. “I’ll let you know whatever we find out.”
“Thanks,” Skye nodded to him as he left, then turned back to everyone else. “So, uh, we should find somewhere more private to talk.”
* * * * *
Matt and Skye led the rest of the group into an empty classroom, with Karen pushing Doris, who had overheard enough of their conversation to insist on joining them.
Matt closed the door and turned to them expectantly, spreading his hands. “Well?”
“I’m sorry, man,” Foggy sighed and sat on one of the student desks. “I don’t see it. I know this place means a lot to you,” he turned to Skye, “to both of you, but I don’t think there’s anything sketchy going on here. We’ve been through a lot of shit this past year, and it’s only reasonable that it’s left you a bit paranoid, but sometimes a move is just a move.”
“And the kid?” Matt asked.
Foggy shrugged. “Kids are crazy.”
“Actually,” Doris spoke up, “Matthew and his friend may be correct.”
“Wait, really?” Karen asked.
“I’ve known Mother Catherine for a long time. Her behavior has been…off…for a while now. I had though it was the stress of the move, but now I think there may be something else going on,” Doris said.
“I’ll say,” Skye piped up. She had settled into a desk in the corner with her feet propped up on a neighboring chair and her focus—and fingers—on her phone’s screen. “It looks like the school has been receiving and rejecting increasingly generous bids to buy this property for over three years now. Then, last year, it’s like St. Agnes hit a sudden run of shitty luck: an increase in runaways, a sharp spike in vandalism, and failing what should have been routine safety inspections. Mother Catherine agreed to sell about four months ago and, like magic, poof—the shitty luck disappears over night. Someone clearly didn’t want to take ‘no’ for an answer.”
Everyone—except Matt—stared at her in bewilderment. At their silence Skye looked up, slightly confused herself. “What?”
“How could you possibly…?” Karen stuttered, at a loss.
Skye looked slightly embarrassed and rubbed at the back of her neck. “Oh, I…it was…uh…all in Mother Catherine’s email.”
Matt broke in, “This might be a good time to mention that Skye’s been a social justice hacker since she discovered the existence of the Internet.”
Skye grinned. “True story: I was inspired by pre-teen, cyberpunk Julia Stiles, went to jam with the console cowboys in cyberspace, and never looked back.”
“Dork.” Matt shook his head ruefully.
Skye grinned. “Damn straight.”
Karen crossed her arms. “So, you used your skills to violate a woman’s privacy?”
“Hey! She violated my privacy first!” Skye insisted, then mumbled, “I mean, technically it was, like, twenty years ago, and I probably shouldn’t have been passing notes, but still. She shouldn’t have kept the same password since then either. Anyway, it’s not like I’m reading the actual emails. My program’s pretty efficient at pulling out the relevant information; it’s actually way less invasive than what the NSA does on a regular basis.”
“While I absolutely strongly object to that aspect of the Patriot Act, the two situations are very different. They’re government agents doing their jobs,” Foggy said.
“Yeah? Well, I’m a government agent, too. Kind of. Not really. Actually, you know what? Forget I said anything.”
“Guys. Focus,” Matt said. “However you feel about how Skye accessed the information, we can’t just let St. Agnes get pushed around by some shady corporation. What are we going to do about this?”
Karen stood up and crossed her arms. “Well, I’m going to go get information the old-fashioned way, by actually asking people what they can tell me about the move.”
“Good luck with that,” Skye scoffed.
Doris put a hand on Karen’s arm. “I’ll come with you. I know most of the staff; they may be more open with me there.”
“Thank you both,” Matt said. “Foggy, can you come with me to walk around campus? Maybe we can investigate the areas that failed inspection.”
“Of course,” Foggy agreed.
“I’m shooting you the details on the inspections right now,” Skye said.
“Don’t you need my email?”
“Got it. Thanks, though.” Skye shrugged. “I’m going to stay here for a bit and see what else I can find.” At Karen’s skeptical look she raised her hands in mock-surrender. “By investigating the companies trying to buy the buildings and maybe hacking some public records, geez. No more individual violations of privacy, I promise.”
Karen smiled slightly. “I can work with that.”
* * * * *
Matt and Foggy were just leaving the main building when Matt’s phone rang.
“Claire, hi,” Matt sounded slightly surprised.
“Matt, is this one of your crusades? Because if you brought me here to help with injuries and didn’t even bother to tell me what I was getting into, I swear to God…”
“No! Honestly, I had no idea anything weird was going until we got here. I would never have pulled you into something like this on purpose. Promise.”
“Hmm. Okay, well, based on what these kids are saying, weird doesn’t even begin to cover it.”
“Why?” Matt asked. “Is the kid okay? What is he saying?”
“He’s pretty shaken up, but he should be all right, at least physically. Mentally…it’s hard to say. He says he saw a ghost, Matt—the ghost of his older brother. His older, dead brother. I’d say it was a stress-induced hallucination, but the girl who was singing the solo is apparently his sister, and she says she saw him, too. And that a lot of the kids have described seeing dead relatives—though she’d assumed they were just stories before tonight.”
“Christ.” Matt crossed himself, and Foggy looked at him curiously.
“What the hell is going on here, Matt? What do you know?” Claire demanded.
“Not much,” Matt sighed. “There’s some company that’s been trying to force St. Agnes to sell their land and move somewhere else. We suspect that they’ve vandalized the campus and caused it to fail safety inspections. I guess it’s possible that they started messing with the kids, too, but the school agreed to move. The company has gotten what they wanted, and they seem to have stopped the rest of their harassment. Why would they still be doing this?”
“Maybe it’s psychological suggestion—someone was trying to scare the kids, then the kids told each other more and more stories. The highly suggestible ones could still be seeing things, even if no one’s actively tricking them into it,” Claire suggested. “Mike’s talking with a couple now. He seems to be really good with them. I’ll keep you posted.”
* * * * *
Shortly after the rest of the group left the room, Skye took a deep breath and called Coulson.
“Skye, what a surprise! Are you done already? Is everything okay?”
“Uh, not so much, actually. You know how S.H.I.E.L.D. was apparently watching over me while I was at the orphanage?”
“Yes,” Coulson agreed cautiously.
“Did any of those agents turn out to be Hydra?”
“I don’t think so. Why? Skye, where is this coming from?”
“They’re selling it, Coulson. They’re selling St. Agnes. And there’s this company that’s basically forcing them into it, but it’s a shell company, and I haven’t been able to trace it back to anything real. What if it’s Hydra? What if they built something here or left something here, and now they want it back?” Skye swallowed and audibly slowed her breathing back to a normal rate. “I’m limited a little by being just on my phone, but let’s be honest: if I’m hitting a total dead end on who’s behind this company, it’s gotta be somebody pretty powerful. And secretive.”
“I can check S.H.I.E.L.D.’s databases, see if we’ve got any relevant listings.”
“Thank you. Seriously. I’m sending you what I’ve found so far.”
“Got it.” Coulson paused for a minute. “So, how does it feel being back at St. Agnes?”
Skye scoffed. “Not gonna lie; it’s pretty surreal. I mean, everything looks almost exactly like I remember it, but all of those memories have this completely different feeling now. I never felt more alone than when I returned to my old room here after rejection from yet another foster family, but the whole time I had my parents desperately searching for me and S.H.I.E.L.D. watching out for me. It’s a trippy feeling. And now this place might be moving. Goodbye to that last scrap of continuity. It’s kind of messing me up.”
“Oh.” Coulson sounded stunned.
“Heh, right. I guess I got a bit too confessional there for a minute. Sorry about that, A.C.,” Skye said sheepishly.
“No, it’s not that. It’s—“ Coulson paused. “I found a match in the database. The good news is, you aren’t dealing with Hydra.”
“And the bad news?” Sky asked.
“It’s the Hand.”
“‘The Hand?’ Like, the bad guys from Ninja Turtles? Are you serious?”
“Deadly. Skye, I’m sending a team out to you. In the meantime, I want you to try to contact the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who were active at St. Agnes. They dropped off our radar when S.H.I.E.L.D. was officially disbanded, but hopefully at least a couple of them are still nearby. I’m sending you a list now. Stick with Mike and be careful. Also,” he added compulsively, “The clan in Ninja Turtles was the Foot—similar, but not quite the same name.”
“Got it. I’ll keep you updated.” Skye hung up and looked at the list. “Wait, what? Mother Tania’s a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent? Are you fucking kidding me?”
* * * * *
“So, you and Claire, huh? Are you finally trying to make that a thing?” Foggy smirked and waggled his eyebrows at Matt.
Matt shrugged slightly and turned away, continuing to lead their walk around campus. “That was the idea. Maybe. It doesn’t look very promising at the moment, though.”
“Yeah, well, she’s seen you with your shirt off, right? She’ll come around.”
Matt scoffed and shook his head. “I wish it were that easy.”
“Although,” Foggy said and Matt sighed, “There was some chemistry between her and that Mike guy. When they said they ‘knew each other,’ do you think they meant in the biblical sense? Man, how awkward would that be?”
“What are we doing out here?”
“Well, we checked out the sites and found nothing, so now we’re walking around to see if you can hear anything that might give us a clue…oh.”
“I’ll be quiet now.”
They walked in silence until they reached one corner of campus, then they started to walk around the perimeter.
Finally Foggy couldn’t help himself. “So? Are you getting anything useful?”
Matt sighed and sank down on a nearby stone bench. Foggy sat down next to him. Matt reached under his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose.
“What’s up?” Foggy asked in concern.
“It’s like there’s this continual, low-level buzzing all around the campus.”
“Really? I don’t hear anything.”
“No, you wouldn’t. I don’t think it’s in normal human range. I’m not even sure I’m hearing it, exactly. It’s like my brain can’t decide if it’s a sound or a tactile vibration. When I’m focused on stuff nearby it’s easy to ignore—like the buzz of an air conditioner or electric lights—but as soon as I try to listen to anything further away the buzz drowns everything else out. It’s driving me nuts, actually.”
“God, that sucks, man. I’m sorry.” Foggy rubbed Matt’s back sympathetically. “Do you have any idea what could be causing it?”
“Not a clue.” Matt shook his head. “I’ve never experienced anything like it before.”
“Well, can you at least tell where it’s coming from? Like, instead of trying to ignore you try to trace it to its source?”
Matt paused, thoughtfully. “Actually, I think that might work. Foggy, you’re a genius!”
“I don’t know why you sound so surprised.” Foggy grinned. “Lead the way.”
* * * * *
Skye sent Mike a text to meet her at their car, and they traded stories as they grabbed shoulder holsters and I.C.E.R.s from the trunk.
As Skye pulled her jacket back on Mike asked, “Hey, is this going to be weird for you? Walking into your childhood home with a concealed weapon?”
“Little bit.” Skye nodded. “Although it’s about to get a whole lot weirder anyway. The agent Coulson said we need to go talk to? She was basically much my least favorite adult in the whole world when I was growing up—and probably the closest thing I had to a mother figure before May.”
Mike quirked an eyebrow and bit back a smile. Skye realized what she’d just said and added, “Don’t you ever tell May I said that.”
“Not a word.”
A quick check in St. Agnes’s center office pointed them to where Sister Tania was coordinating the dinner set-up. She was a tall, slender woman with dark skin and strong features that were highlighted by unexpectedly bright purple eye shadow. Her face lit up with a smile when she saw Skye.
“Mary Sue! What a delightful, unexpected surprise! How lovely of you to join us. I didn’t think you’d be able to make it.” She leaned down to embrace Skye and pressed a kiss onto each of her cheeks. “I never saw an RSVP from you.”
Skye raised her eyebrows and chuckled awkwardly. “Well, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to come until pretty last minute.” She cleared her throat. “Actually, uh, can we talk to you somewhere private?”
Sister Tania looked perplexed. “Is that really necessary? We are running short on time, and there is so much that still needs to get done.”
Skye gritted her teeth. “Yes, it is necessary. This really can’t wait.”
“Well, all right, dear. If you insist.” She smiled condescendingly and lead the way down the hall to an empty office. “Now, Mary Sue, what could possibly be such an emergency?”
Skye crossed her arms over her chest. “I know you’re a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, or at least used to be. Director Coulson and I have discovered that the Hand wants to buy the land St. Agnes is built on, and they care enough to force the issue, apparently. We need to figure out why they want the land and how to stop them.” As an afterthought she added, “And I’d really appreciate it if you would address me as ‘Agent Skye’ or ‘Agent Johnson.’”
“I see.” Everything about Sister Tania’s facial expression and posture shifted from relaxed and open to firm and almost aggressive. “Well, Agent Skye, I’m afraid Coulson had no authority here. We are well aware of the Hand’s involvement and neither need nor want S.H.I.E.L.D.’s assistance in the matter. Please tell the ‘director’ to let us work in peace and focus on keeping his own house in order.”
“Wait, what?” Skye was shocked.
“I don’t know the details of what happened after Director Fury’s death, and, honestly, I don’t want to know. But I know enough to know that S.H.I.E.L.D. has more than enough problems of their own to deal with. Our unit has always been mostly autonomous, and we prefer it that way, so I would appreciate it if you would let us do our work in peace.”
“Well, the Hand wanted to force St. Agnes to move, and now they have, so I’d say you’re doing a pretty crappy job.” Skye snapped.
Sister Tania scoffed. “Oh, honey, these decrepit, old buildings may mean a lot to you, but they are completely besides the point. The Hand wants the 0-8-4.”
Mike stepped forward and put a hand on Skye’s arm. “Sister Tania, I’m Agent Mike Peterson. Skye and I both know Coulson very well, and I can assure you that none of us want to force you to do anything. We only want to better understand the situation and offer any assistance that we may provide.”
Sister Tania pressed her lips together and nodded. “Very well. I suppose that we could use some assistance in safely moving the artifact. I’ll show you what we currently have set up, and then we can discuss how you might be able to help.”
“Thank you.” Mike smiled reassuringly.
“Where are you hiding this thing, anyway?” Skye asked.
“I would have thought that would be obvious to you…Skye,” Sister Tania said. “It’s in the tunnels, of course.”
* * * * *
“Where are we going, again?” Foggy asked as Matt led him past enormous, ancient washing machines and through a tangle of pipes in the muggy basement room, his cane and any pretense of needing it long forgotten in the schoolyard.
“There’s a series of underground tunnels connecting all of the buildings at St. Agnes,” Matt explained. At what should have been the corner of the room, the two walls didn’t quite meet. Instead, they found the entrance to a narrow, unlit corridor. “The source of the vibration was in the middle of campus, but there’s nothing actually there above ground, so these tunnels are our best bet.”
Matt turned sideways and began to scoot along the corridor.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Foggy sighed as he followed, sucking in his gut and attempting not to touch the damp walls. He followed Matt around a corner and into complete darkness. “Wait, there are no lights? Matt, why are there no lights?”
“Really? Huh,” Matt said. “I never noticed. Here, grab my hand and follow me. There should definitely be lights in a little bit, once we get to the main tunnels. At least, if they haven’t turned them off to save money. Make sure to step carefully at this part, there’s a metal pipe right—“
“It’s fine. I’m fine.” Foggy swallowed and cleared his throat. “So, did you spend a lot of time down here as a kid?”
“Well, the tunnels were expressly off limits to us kids. So, yeah.,I was down here a lot. Mostly with Skye, actually. She found this place around the time we met—figured that down here in the dark I’d basically be on even footing with everyone else.”
“But, with your…abilities, wouldn’t you actually have an advantage down here?” Foggy asked.
“Yeah. Skye figured that out pretty quickly, too.”
They turned another corner, and suddenly a small amount of light because visible, leaking around the outline of a narrow door a couple of feet away. Foggy heaved a sigh of relief. They were almost at the door when Matt froze, pushed Foggy back flat against the wall, and held a finger to his lips.
“What?” Foggy whispered.
Matt shook his head and held perfectly still, barely breathing for several minutes. Finally he whispered, “There’s someone else in the tunnels. I can’t tell exactly how many there are or what they’re saying—damn buzz—but I can’t think of any good reason for people to be down here. Probably it’s whoever’s been messing with the school…”
“Shit!” Foggy hissed. “Here? Now?”
Matt nodded. “They’re in the direction the vibration seems to be coming from. Foggy, I want to you to go find Claire, Karen, and Doris and make sure they’re safe. Then find somewhere secure to wait until this is all over. If you go down this hallway and take the first left and then the second…no, no…the third right, you should come to an elevator. Take that up, and you’ll be just outside the main dining hall.”
“Wait, there’s an elevator? And actual hallways? With lights?”
“Well, yeah. This section connects to the official emergency shelter; it’s all handicapped-accessible.” Matt opened the door to reveal a nondescript hallway lit with flickering florescent lights.
Foggy stared at him. “Then why the hell were we squeezing through random, totally dark access tunnels?”
“Habit? Nostalgia?” Matt shrugged and held back a smile. “Go—remember: move quickly and quietly.”
“Got it.” Foggy nodded. “What are you going to do?”
Matt pulled out his mask and put it on. “I’m going to investigate.”
* * * * *
Sister Tania led Mike and Skye through a locked door and down a flight of narrow steps into a long, apparently empty hallway.
“Oh, man, Mike, the stories I could tell you about these tunnels…” Skye glanced at Sister Tania and swallowed. “I mean…what? There are tunnels beneath St. Agnes? What a completely unexpected surprise!”
Sister Tania pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows.
Skye sighed. “And apparently being back here makes me act like I’m twelve all over again. I swear I’m better than this.”
“She is,” Mike agreed.
“I’ll take your word for it.” Sister Tania sounded skeptical. “We are storing the artifact just through here.” They turned a corner and saw a wide, metal door. Sister Tania pressed a combination into the keypad next to it. They could hear large bolts slide back, and then the door swung slowly open.
Skye and Mike stepped inside to see a large, irregularly-shaped room. The walls were lined with tall, metal storage cabinets, and there was a door directly across from where they were standing and another at the far end of the room near a large bank of screens. Someone was sitting watching the screens with his back to them. In the center of the room, in the middle of the otherwise smooth concrete floor, was a dark, jagged hole.
Sister Tania cleared her throat and the man at the screens stood up and turned to face them. His dark hair was slicked back and his expression was intensely focused.
Skye gasped. “Johnnie? Seriously?”
“Skye?” The man grinned and looked ten years younger. “Wow. It’s been ages. How’ve you been? What are you doing down here?”
“I could ask you the same thing. You became a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, too?” She gave him a quick, slightly awkward hug.
“Yeah, just barely. I graduated from the academy and got posted right before S.H.I.E.L.D. went all to hell—sorry sister.” Sister Tania raised an eyebrow and didn’t comment. “Crazy, right? All those years living here, and we never would have guessed...”
“It’s a trip, alright,” Skye agreed. “Does that mean you came back here to live? On purpose?”
“Well, yeah. Once I found out S.H.I.E.L.D. was secretly working at St. Agnes I had to check it out.” Johnnie grimaced. “It sucks that we’re moving, though.”
“Tell me about it.” Skye grimaced. “Oh, this is my coworker, Agent Mike Johnson. Mike, this is Agent Matar. Or is it ‘Brother Johnnie?’”
“Either works for me. Nice to meet you, Mike.” Johnnie shook his hand. “So, are you guys here to see our 0-8-4?” He nodded to the crevice, and they all carefully walked to the edge and looked in.
Inside, they saw a smooth purple object shaped like a giant, elongated football. It was embedded in dark rock in the very center of the hole. There was a faint light emanating from it, pulsing in a slow, hypnotic fashion.
“Okay.” Skye swallowed. “Does it…do anything? I mean, besides glow and look funny. Is it radioactive? Should we all be wearing hazmat suits or something?”
“We should be safe as long as no one touches it. It isn’t emitting any unusual particles or radiation on any scale that we can measure,” Sister Tania said.
“And if someone touches it?” Mike asked.
“No idea. Nobody has as far as we know, and it’s not exactly on our to-do list.” Johnnie shrugged.
Skye narrowed her eyes. “So, you’re telling me this thing was sitting here—glowing creepily in a giant hole in the basement—the whole time we lived here?”
“Hardly,” Sister Tania said. “We believe the object was buried at least fifteen feet below the deepest part of this building’s foundation up until three years ago. The exact reasons for S.H.I.E.L.D.’s original interest in St. Agnes’s location are beyond my security clearance, but it seems to date back to the organization’s founding. The 0-8-4 only…ah…emerged during the Battle of New York.”
“Really?” Mike asked. “How did that happen?”
“We aren’t sure, exactly. There were some large collisions and explosions in the vicinity that damaged a number of our other buildings, but this crevice is…unique. A student wandering down here found it a couple of days after the battle and informed a staff member, who was luckily also one of our agents. We immediately set up the surveillance center that you can see over there—“ she gestured to the cluster of screens “—and redoubled our efforts to keep children out of the tunnels. We are currently working on a plan to extract the 0-8-4 and move it to a more secure location.”
Mike walked over to the screens. “So, these show all of the different tunnel access points?”
“And several key points around campus, yeah,” Johnnie agreed. “We have one agent watching the screens and one or two patrolling the tunnels at all times. Tonight’s patrol is Sister Janine here.” He pointed to a heavy-set woman walking with her back to the camera.
“And who’s that?” Mike pointed to another figure, just barely visible moving along the edge of one of the screens. Suddenly all of the screens went black. In the next moment, loud noises could be heard behind each of the three doors to the room.
“I could be wrong,” Mike said, “But I think we’re under attack.”
The first of the doors broke open and a stream of ninjas flowed into the room.
“Protect the artifact!” Sister Tania yelled.
The four S.H.I.E.L.D. agents ran to circle the pit in the center of the room, Mike and Skye shooting their I.C.E.R.s as they went. Sister Tania and Johnnie pulled out their own guns and fired non-lethal shots. Most of the ninjas were taken out quickly, but then the other two doors burst open, and soon the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents were dodging thrown knives and shuriken from all sides.
Each wave of attackers got slightly closer before they were knocked unconscious. Skye barely deflected a shuriken with her I.C.E.R. and got a nasty cut on the side of her arm. Johnnie stumbled and almost fell into the pit before Mike caught his hand and pulled him back.
Then, the ninjas coming from the far end of the room unexpectedly turned and started running back the way they had come. Sister Tania took down a couple from behind while Mike, Skye, and Johnnie focused on the last groups coming through the other two doors.
When the last of them fell to the floor, the agents turned to the final door and saw an odd figure come stumbling out—it appeared to be Matt in his dress shirt and slacks, but he was wearing Daredevil mask. His clothes were torn up and bloodied, and he was limping slightly. As everyone stared at him, he reached the chair and leaned heavily on the back of it. There was a long moment of silence.
“Matt?” Skye gasped.
“Any chance I can convince you I don’t know who you’re talking about?” Matt rasped. Skye ran towards him and he sank heavily into the chair and winced. “Well, fuck.”
“You asshole! What the hell were you trying to do, get yourself killed? And what’s with the stupid mask?” Skye demanded as she carefully unbuttoned Matt’s shirt to get a look at the damage.
“I’ll be fine, really. Believe it or not, I’ve had a lot worse,” Matt said.
“Well, I just called Claire,” Mike said. “I think I’ll wait to hear her opinion.”
“We need to patch you up, too, Skye,” Johnnie pointed out. “That cut could get infected.”
“Oh, yeah. I guess…” Skye said, “Wait. What are we going to do about all of the ninjas?”
“They seem to have all…disappeared,” Sister Tania said dryly.
“It’s fascinating, actually. I had heard that the Hand have access to some form of teleportation. I assumed it was only a story, but apparently there is some truth to it,” she explained.
“Well, damn,” Skye said.
“Mary Sue, watch your language!”
“Yes, ma’am,” Skye responded automatically.
* * * * *
“Foggy, you really didn’t have to bring everyone down here,” Matt insisted.
Foggy shrugged. “I kind of did. Have you ever tried to say ‘no’ to any of these women? Besides, everyone already knew your secret identity.”
Foggy cocked his head to the side and pointed to himself. “This? This is my skeptical face.”
“But how did she find out?” Matt sounded almost petulant. “Ow.” He winced as Claire stitched up a gash on his forearm.
“I dunno. Between what Ben told her and what she heard from Karen, I guess she pieced it all together. She’s one smart lady, and you kind of suck at secret identities, man.”
“I am? How sweet.” Skye grinned as she walked over to them.
“Uh, sure, I was totally talking about you,” Foggy stammered.
“Relax, I’m just messing with you. So can somebody explain this whole thing to me?” She gestured in Matt’s direction. “I thought you were blind.”
“I am,” Matt said at the same time that Foggy responded, “He is.”
“You,” Claire smacked Matt lightly on his uninjured shoulder, “need to stop moving and talking so much. Sit still and let Foggy talk.”
Matt heaved a put-upon sigh but sat quietly.
“So,” Foggy said, “When Matt lost his vision a bunch of his other senses got, like, supercharged. He still can’t see see, but he can use hearing and touch as kind of like a sonar to tell him where things are. He fights crime as the Daredevil of Hell’s Kitchen.”
“Uh-huh.” Skye looked at Foggy blankly, looked at Matt, and looked back at Foggy. “Daredevil? Is that why he’s got those little horny things?”
Foggy looked thoughtful. “You know, no one’s really sure…”
“I heard that!” Matt exclaimed before Claire shushed him again.
“But if his power lets him see with sonar like a bat, shouldn’t we call him, I don’t know, ‘Batman,’ or something?” Skye asked.
“Ah, but then you’d miss the self-flagellating religious undertones, and we couldn’t have that,” Claire said.
“I didn’t pick it,” Matt mumbled.
“Oh, honey. We know it’s rough. Sometimes truth hurts.” She smiled to soften her words and lightly kissed the corner of his mouth.
* * * * *
Matt, Sister Tania, and Johnnie stood looking into the pit at the 0-8-4.
“We have to thank you, Agent Peterson” Sister Tania said. “If you and Skye hadn’t been here, the Hand would have gotten the artifact for sure.”
“I’m glad we were able to help, but what’s to stop them from trying again?” Mike asked.
Sister Tania sighed. “I’m honestly not sure what our next move should be. We have an insulated container that we believe should make it safe to move, and hopefully keep the Hand from detecting its presence, but we don’t have a safe way to extract the artifact from the rock…”
“I’ve actually got an idea about that,” Skye said, walking up to them. “We have some, uh, newly developed technology that should let us manipulate the rock around the artifact.”
“And let me guess, you’ll use it to get the artifact out and then turn the artifact over to Coulson.” Sister Tania crossed her arms.
“Not quite. The Hand didn’t start messing with St. Agnes until after the artifact was exposed, right?”
Sister Tania nodded slowly.
“That means they probably couldn’t detect it when it was completely submerged in the rock. I suggest that we use our technology to rebury the artifact. Then we not-so-covertly take the case that you’ve prepared into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody. It’s the best of both worlds. The Hand thinks S.H.I.E.L.D. has the 0-8-4, and really it’s back where it’s safest: protected by people who have been looking after it for decades.”
Sister Tania smiled. “And, of course it would mean that St. Agnes would have to stay in this location so that we could continue to protect the 0-8-4.”
“Oh, really?” Skye grinned back. “Huh. I guess that’s right.”
“Very well. Johnnie and I will go prepare the case for ‘transport.’”
“I’ll go with you,” Mike offered. “Coulson said he was sending in a team for support. We should be able to contact them, set up a meeting point, and let them know there’s an object we’re prepping for transportation.”
* * * * *
Karen and Doris were standing in a corner quietly watching the proceedings.
“Interesting day,” Karen said.
“Yes, it has been,” Doris agreed.
“You know, based on what we learned, all of the hallucinations or visions or whatever they were started just after the Battle of New York.”
“Which is when that thing came out of the ground.”
Doris looked at her thoughtfully.
“I wonder…” Karen walked to the edge of the hole, looked down, then walked back to get Doris and wheeled her chair up to the edge. “Um, could everybody come over here for a second? I think I’ve got an idea.”
Matt limped over with one arm leaning on Claire’s shoulders and the other on Foggy’s. Skye followed just to one side, and they ended up spread around the hole.
“I was thinking…” Karen cleared her throat and started again. “Sorry. Okay, I know this is awkward, but I was thinking maybe everyone could take a moment and imagine how it would be if Ben was here right now. I mean, he would be so excited to see this weird, alien object and have this complicated, ridiculous story with all of these disparate threads coming together. I can just picture him carefully thinking through how to unpack it and share it with the world.”
“Oh, honey,” Doris said. “You’re almost right, but not quite. Ben would have loved to see this all right, but he wouldn’t try to write about it. He always said that there were some things out there the public just wasn’t ready for yet, even if they would sell papers.”
Ben grinned and kissed the top of her head. “Now that is exactly right. You know me so well.” His ghostly form solidified before their eyes, becoming more detailed and more opaque with every passing second.
“I’d better, after all of these years.” Doris smiled at him serenely as though he’d never been gone. “Now, come on all of you. It’s almost seven o’clock, and that means they’re about to start dinner upstairs.”
“You heard the lady,” Ben said. He wrapped his newly-formed hands around the handles of her chair and pushed her down the hall towards the elevator.
Everyone else stared at each other in amazement.
“Huh,” Karen said quietly. “I was not sure that would actually work.”
“I, uh, guess we should go up to dinner then?” Foggy said uncertainly, taking Karen’s arm. “So, was it all of us being together that made it work? Or proximity to the artifact? Or something about Doris and the meaning of love? Hey, how long do you think it’ll last?”
Karen shrugged. “You know, I almost don't think it matters. Any extra time they get together is a blessing, right? Are you coming, Matt?”
“You guys go ahead,” Matt said. “I’ll be right behind you.”
Karen and Foggy followed the Urichs, but Claire stopped and waited for Matt at the door.
He turned to Skye. “So…we just used the—what did you call it? the ‘0-8-4’?—to kind of resurrect a dead friend of ours. As a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, aren’t you kind of obligated to object to that? Or at least report it?”
“Eh, not really.” Skye shrugged. “I’ve had some really shitty experiences with alien technology in human hands, so I’m glad to be burying this thing deep in the earth. And, honestly, most of the resurrections I’ve seen have actually turned out pretty well.”
Matt took a moment to process that. “Uh…huh.” He laughed. “I think I need to hear more about what you’ve been up to lately.”
“I could say the same for you.” Skye grinned. “Meet you upstairs at dinner in a little bit. It should just take me a minute to use my, uh, super-secret, high-tech S.H.I.E.L.D. device to bury this thing again.”
“I’m going to pretend that was convincing and meet you upstairs.”
Skye waited until Matt hobbled to Claire and the two left the room. She gave them a couple more minutes before she walked over to the hole and looked down at where the 0-8-4 was partially exposed. She took a deep breath and reached out her hands. The 0-8-4 and the stone around it slowly sank deep into the earth. With a minor tremor, the surrounding rock and concrete closed over the top of it, leaving only the faint hint of a seam where the hole had been.
Skye cracked her knuckles and grinned. “Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.”
As she walked back out of the tunnels she stopped at a familiar piece of graffiti carved into the wall and traced the words with her fingertips—Skye was here.
“Not too shabby at all.”