There's a chair in my head in which I used to sit
Took a pencil and I wrote the following on it
"Now there's a key where my wonderful mouth used to be"
Where can I run to?
Where can I hide?
Who will I turn to
Now I'm in a virgin state of mind
-- K's Choice, "Virgin State of Mind"
The thing about being director of SHIELD -- and thus the de facto interface between the federal government and what the talking heads referred to as the "superhuman community" -- was that it gave you certain resources. Resources that no reasonable person (he liked to think he'd been reasonable, once) in his right mind (he knew he hadn't been that in a while) would consider turning to.
But the situation with the prisoner had gone from bad, to worse, to unacceptable, to critical, and this was the only solution to come out of his brainstorming session that stood a half-chance of working. They had Jane Foster hard at work with all the funding she wanted and the best brains in the country to tap, but Fury had no illusions -- this wasn't like in the movies, where science happened in a five-minute montage and was done. They were months, or more likely years from having a functional Einstein-Rosen bridge of their own. No, they were going to need to deal with this on Earth terms.
And so Fury pulled out his cell phone -- the specially encoded, latest Stark technology that served as his contact with the non-secured network -- and dialed the number in his address book that he never thought he'd need to call.
The phone rang. And rang. It didn't go to voicemail. At last there was a click followed by a rattle, a series of noises that indicated someone had picked a handset out of its cradle. And honestly, this was the twenty-first century, who even had the old-style corded handset phones any more?
Someone who didn't normally need phones to communicate long-distance, Fury supposed.
"Hello?" The voice on the other end of the line was courteous, controlled -- cultured, with just a hint of a New England accent. The speaker didn't identify himself; Fury supposed that if you had this number in the first place, you were supposed to know who you were calling.
"Nicholas Fury, director of SHIELD," Fury said brusquely.
"Ah, Director, good to hear from you," the speaker said pleasantly. "I trust that you and your people are well. No world-ending crises on your desk this morning, I hope."
Fury glared at the file on his desk as he spoke. "A situation has come up that we could use your assistance with," he started. "To be more specific, it's a situation that we believe only you can assist with."
"I gathered that, or else you wouldn't be calling me," The speaker sounded amused, damn him. "What's the occasion?"
Fury hesitated, choosing his words carefully. Stark had sworn up and down when he'd given him the phone that its encryption was unbreakable, but Fury hadn't lived this long by trusting other people's assurances. This communication was over the public network, and therefore inherently unsecure as far as he was concerned. That meant that everything over a certain clearance level could not be discussed on such an open line.
"An extranormal incident occurred on May seventeenth over New York City," Fury began. Extranormal incident, that was how it had gone down on the report, if only because federal bureaucrats didn't like seeing the words 'alien invasion' on their paperwork. "A portal of indeterminate origination opened on top of what was formerly Stark tower, admitting a number of xenomorphs as part of a hostile event. It got pretty messy."
This was all part of the public record, and so nothing critical to reveal. Still, Fury had expected a bit more of a reaction than, "Yes, I know. We saw it on the news."
Fury actually pulled his head back to glare at the phone in his hand, wishing that the old fool on the other end was enough with the times to have a video phone just so that his glare would transfer. "And you didn't think to do anything about it?" he ground out.
"I had my team assembled, ready to move in if the incursion spread beyond New York City. As it turned out, it was all over well before they could have possibly gotten there anyway. Not that I was in any particular hurry to send my people in to ground zero of a nuclear strike."
That was not part of the public record, and Fury swore silently at the stinging reminder of his greatest failure of the whole debacle -- even worse, in some ways, than the devastating assault on the Helicarrier. First he'd failed to talk the Council out of that stupid clusterfuck of an idea; then he'd let his own security protocols be violated; and then he hadn't been fast enough to stop the plane from leaving the tarmac. Stark and his team had managed to pull off a miracle, thank God, and turn a catastrophe into a victory; but Fury still felt his failure keenly.
How the hell had news of that even leaked out? Given who he was talking to, Fury wasn't even sure he wanted to know; it was probably all down to some freaky mumbo-jumbo that he wouldn't be able to do anything about anyway, no matter what changes he made to his security protocols.
Christ almighty. With friends like these, who needed enemies?
"What about it?" the voice prompted him, and Fury pulled himself out of his thoughts with some difficulty.
"Unfortunately we're still dealing with some fallout from the incident," Fury said, the words tasting like ground glass on his tongue. "Specifically, we have a prisoner in custody who was a hostile during the event."
And damn it all, they didn't even want him. The crazy god was supposed to have returned to his castle-in-the-air with his brother Thor at the end of the battle, because they sure as Hell hadn't had the resources to contain him on Earth, not in the long term. Fury had even agreed to give up the Tesseract in the interest of getting the God of Lies out of his hair soonest: and here they were, no thunder god, no Tesseract, a messy interdimensional diplomatic incident brewing on the horizon and no answers.
There was a pause. When the voice returned, it had taken on a decidedly chilly tone. "What exactly is it that you need from me, if I may ask? I thought I had made it clear when we opened this line of communications that I was not interested in participating in interrogations. I will not be a party to torture, Director."
"Actually, what I had in mind was more the opening of a line of communications," Fury said. Not that he was letting out the idea of torture if it were really necessary, of course, but right now it would be worse than pointless. "The prisoner isn't human. Not one of yours, either," he added hastily, before the other man could start getting his defensive hackles up in the wrong direction.
"I was under the impression that none of the xenomorphs had survived."
There was a pause on the other end, one that Fury rather thought was more thoughtful. He'd at least got the man's interest. The ether-Asgardians-whatever-they-were-called were still not very well known on Earth, or at least hadn't been for the last thousand years or so; the public only knew about Thor, and had not yet made the jump to the idea that there was a whole race of them hanging over their heads somewhere. Fury would really rather keep it that way for as long as possible.
"And you can't communicate with him at all? Why not?"
"He can't speak." Fury wasn't interested in explaining exactly why that was the case, not until he'd achieved a face-to-face conference in a nice, secured area.
If Fury could have his way, he would have just ordered the man to show up in Bethesda by nine AM the next morning. But the man on the other end of the line couldn't be ordered to do anything, not even by the U.S. government. Or rather, especially not by the U.S. government, since he and all his people were technically illegal just by existing in the first place. They couldn't be prodded by patriotism, since they had no reason to love the feds. They couldn't be threatened, since they basically had nothing to lose. That left bribery, and that was always the weakest of Fury's persuasion skills. The more so since he didn't really have much that they wanted.
Damn, Fury hated working with extralegal forces. Ones that weren't his own, anyway.
"Have you tried writing?" the other man asked in a clinical, helpful tone.
They had, actually. On the start of the second week, when watchful prudence had begun to give way to something more desperate. They'd put a pen and a piece of paper in his shackled hands, and he'd written with a speed that was somewhere between impressive and alarming despite the encumberance. Fury supposed that was a skill you got when you grew up in a world where the keyboard had never been invented.
Unfortunately, the mumbo-jumbo handwavey explanation Thor had given him about why they all spoke English apparently didn't extend to the written word, since the language he'd written in was completely incomprehensible to anyone on Fury's staff. The script reminded him vaguely of the flavor text he'd seen on the Lord of the Rings movies a few years back, but no translator programs had turned up anything like a match. Further attempts had yielded two other alphabets -- one of which was completely alien, and the other of which Fury suspected would send a linguistic historian into gibbering ecstatics if the memos could ever be declassified -- before their prisoner had grown frustrated and put the pen six inches through a steel table. Thank God for Hill's superb reflexes, that he hadn't gotten her hand with it.
Fury sighed. "Believe me when I say that I wouldn't be wasting my time or yours if the solution were anything that simple," he said. "For the time being you'll have to take my word that I think this is something that you'll be able to help with. If you'll agree to come in as a consultant, I can explain the entire situation in person."
There was a long, thoughtful silence on the other end of the phone line. Once again, Fury cursed the technological ineptitude that didn't give him a view of the other man's face; so much was in the little details of expression and body language that simply didn't carry over the phone. Normally for a recruiting assignment like this one Fury would have just sent Black Widow, but she was in rehabilitation right at the moment and wouldn't have been able to fool her target for a moment anyway.
In fact, no one could fool him for more than a moment; that was exactly why Fury wanted him. Even the world's best liar couldn't do much against a man who could pluck your thoughts right out of your head.
"Very well, Director," the reply finally came. "I admit that the information you've so begrudgingly divulged has caught my interest. If you can send me your current whereabouts, I can arrange to be there by tomorrow."
Fury winced, but he supposed it was unavoidable. "Not over an open line. I'll send it to the e-mail we have on file for you. You do know how to work e-mail, don't you?"
A chuckle. "I could hardly avoid it with all the young students running through my house these days, Director. I hope it won't bother you too terribly if I make my own travel arrangements; I'm not willing to trust you with my location just yet."
"Of course not." Fury couldn't help the regret in his voice.
Another laugh. "I'll see you tomorrow, then, and you can explain things in more detail. Oh -- and one more thing, Director Fury..."
"Yeah?" Fury braced himself to hear an ultimatum, or a demand of reward in exchange for services. You never knew, with these superpowered types, just where their ego would take them.
"I do hope that your helicarrier has appropriate handicapped access." There was a click, and the line went dead.