Steve thrashed awake, crashing to the ground from the couch as he gasped for air. It was the usual mix with some icy water choking him thrown in. Marvelous.
“You all right?” Rick yawned, sitting up on the folding cot he’d pulled out of a corner. He hadn’t wanted to leave the warehouse until a few more of his contacts got back to him and Steve hadn’t much cared at that point.
“Ye-yeah, I’m fine. Sorry I woke you,” Steve managed, slowly sitting up, shivering convulsively.
“Uh-huh, I cry bullshit my 40s friend. Tea? No caffeine and it’s warm.”
“R-really Rick, I-I’m fine,” Steve managed to get past chattering teeth. He couldn’t exactly see Rick all that clearly in the odd light provided by various gadgets left on throughout the crate, but he didn’t need sight to tell Rick definitely wasn’t buying it.
“Just sit on the couch man, I’ll make some tea. Had a pretty awesome idea in my sleep actually, might as well run it by you now,” Rick waved absently as he got to his feet, shuffling over to the table and fiddling with some boxes and the coffee-machine.
Steve just gave in at that point, and picked himself up off the floor. The silence as they waited for water to boil was peaceful and Steve shut his eyes again, trying to pound into his brain that it was fine, he was fine, Hydra didn’t have him and he wasn’t drowning for Christ-sake!
“Here you go man,” a mug of tea was stuck under his nose and he grabbed reflexively, not drinking any, just letting the warmth soothe him. Rick sat down on the sofa next to him with a sigh that morphed into a yawn, his own mug of tea in hand.
“So,” Rick said after a few moments, “Here’s my idea. You can’t stay in New York, not right now. We need somewhere you can lay low, not risk being caught on security cameras through your own windows, someplace where anyone snooping will stick out like a sore thumb. And I, conveniently enough, have some family that lives out in hick-ville, Pennsylvania where I know for a fact people will love you.”
“Even with my…awkwardness?”
“Man, we can tell them you’re Captain America frozen for seventy years and all Auntie Rosa will do is nod and ask you if you mind cherry pie.”
“I love cherry pie,” Steve blurted before he could help himself.
“Then you and Auntie Rosa are going to get along just fine. Figure we can smuggle you out of here this morning with rush-hour foot-traffic, hop in my car and drive out. Since it’s in a garage with disabled cams, we can hide you in the trunk for the ride out of town to avoid being spotted at intersections as we get out of the city.”
“And then what?” Steve asked quietly, “I just hide in the countryside forever?”
“Well, that’s certainly an option, but no offense, you don’t strike me as the type. Nah, figure you need to get your sea legs, lay of the land – you need at least some pop culture references so no one thinks you’re Amish! ‘Cuz man, you need to be able to blend in like you were born in the late eighties or this is never going to work and whoever is after you will find you easy,” Rick said seriously. “You look too distinctive, that’s a lot going against you already. So what we need to do is make you someone they don’t expect. I figure with a mix of flaming ‘here I am’ and ‘no wait, he’d never…’, they’ll never figure out it’s you just because they’re so damned confused.”
“Yeah, well, I’m confused,” Steve said blearily. “But it sounds good Rick. Just – just tired. I – I was supposed to be – oh Peggy.”
A hand hesitantly patted him on the back and Steve couldn’t help but chuckle at the awkwardness of the motion. “Thanks Rick, I’ll – I’ll be fine.”
“I could look them up?”
“Nothing strenuous,” Steve ordered, “That’s the first place they’ll look. I won’t put them in danger again. Besides,” his lips twisted, “They think I’ve been dead for decades. Why bring up old grief again?”
“Not old grief for you,” Rick observed.
“Yeah, well, no time for it. So. Tomorrow. What time do we leave?”
“Peak foot-traffic is between eight thirty and nine, figure we’ll leave in there. It’s a ten, fifteen minute walk at Yank pace.”
“Good, will your contacts have gotten back to you by then?”
“Yeah, papers are going to take some time, another reason we need to get you out of the city—hickville we don’t really check for papers. Heck, even now we don’t really actively check for papers unless you’ve done something stupid, but they might put out a BOLO on you.”
“Uh… a stop and detain order, it’s an acronym for something, I hear it on cop shows.”
Steve just decided to keep the explanation of meaning and left “cop shows” to be investigated later. Just from what Rick was saying, TVs were a lot easier to get now and there was a lot more on than one or two shows at a time.
“Rick, why are you doing this? I mean—thank you, but it can’t be normal to have this kind of set up and invite people gunmen are chasing through the streets into hiding with you. Is it?” Steve asked hesitantly at the end, doubting it but figuring anything could have happened in seventy years (though apparently not flying cars, damn it Howard!).
Rick burst out laughing, “No, it’s not normal,” he managed after he calmed down. “It’s pretty weird, even now. But – well, did you ever hear about mutants?”
“Basically they’re people who have had their genes – uh, their DNA? Their – “
“I know what genes are, they’re the ways traits are inherited, right? Like, I have a blue-eye gene,” Steve interrupted.
Rick blinked at him, “Seriously? Wasn’t that like – discovered in the 40s?”
“My mom was a nurse and I was sickly, I read a lot,” Steve shrugged, “And I thought it was really swell, how traits could be passed down like that.”
“Really cool,” Rick said, and now it was Steve’s turn to blink at him. “No one says really swell. I mean no one. When you want to say something is interesting, neat, or swell, you say it’s cool.”
“So…I think genes are really cool?”
“Can I still say things like, ‘this water is getting cool’?”
“Yeah, but most would just say, my tea is cold,” Rick shrugged, “Verbosity isn’t really a thing anymore. Umm… I mean, verbosity isn’t all that common anymore. When you say something is ‘a thing’ you mean it’s popular or a trend.”
“Got it. So my tea’s cold, and those computers are cool.”
“Exactly, anyway, back to genes. So you know how sometimes there’s a change all of a sudden in one person? Not like, skipping generations, but something totally new? Usually it’s blamed for a birth defect, like an extra thumb, or something like that.”
“Darwin’s theory, right?”
“Yeah! Evolution! That’s actually part of the problem - there are human mutants now, they’re people with these strange changes in their genetic code, and they have ridiculous abilities! Some are really awesome, like controlling lightning or turning invisible, and others are kind of silly like…uh…turning twinkies into anything you want.”
“Is that actually-“
“No, I made up a stupid example, at least, not that I know of… some of them look normal, others have scale like features, or longer teeth, or blue hair, odd things like that. But, well, they’re not treated great.”
“I can imagine,” Steve said sadly. There were soldiers with strange abilities he remembered, particularly James with his claws. He wondered if he had made it back to his brother. But they must be a lot more common now for it to be such a common knowledge topic.
“One of my best friends was one of those that didn’t look entirely normal. He was really skinny, and had greenish skin and hair. He looked kind of silly sometimes, to be honest, and his mutation was just a little thing, he could photosynthesize. Err… get energy from sunlight, like plants. Anyway, we went on a school trip to D.C. and got lost on the subways trying to get back to the hotel with our class and got in a bad part of town. I had gone to ask for directions from a subway worker when these—these thugs grabbed Vince and started beating him up.”
Rick had drooped, clutching his mug desperately and staring into it. “I tried to stop them but, well, I was twelve, and I’m not exactly all that big now, and no one would help because Vince was a mutant. He was just a kid! Finally I ran and found a cop but when we got back Vince—he was already dead.”
“Yeah, me too,” Rick muttered, “Anyway, so I work to help protect mutants. There’s a whole crew of us, a network if you will, but we can’t do everything and we need our own jobs too. I sideline in conspiracy theories and making sure the government doesn’t go Big Brother on us, so I set this place up. I’m our techie. And I can take care of myself pretty well so I can go into the rougher parts of town to get to some of our less accessible contacts.”
“I want to help,” Steve said after a few moments. “After all this, I want to help.”
“You don’t have to, don’t feel like you have to, you don’t need to pay me back man, seriously.”
“I fought for everyone to have their rights,” Steve said sternly, “They can be green-blooded hobgoblins for all I care, they’re people, they’re kids and they don’t deserve that.”
Rick’s mouth was twitching suspiciously, “Sorry. The green blooded hobgoblin’s thing. We’ll have to put Star Trek on the list. And—well, I guess I’m starting to be a believer. In the whole Captain America’s memories thing. I’m still working on some other angles of investigation but, well, you seem like him? I don’t know, but you’re a good guy. Thanks. But let’s get you on your feet first.”
Another yawn split his last sentence in half, and Steve set his cup on the table, saying, “Thanks for sitting up with me Rick, but I think I’ll try sleeping again, you should do the same.”
“Yeah, yeah, good idea,” Rick said around another yawn, setting his own cup down and slowly shuffling to his cot. “Night Steve.”
Rick’s mutant support network worked fast. Rick went out to grab coffee and returned with food and a paper bag filled with clothes that roughly fit Steve. Following Rick’s advice, he put the dark blue denim pants on – blue jeans – he reminded himself mentally, and then pulled on the thin cotton shirt with a pattern on it he didn’t recognize, but Rick assured him was from a good band. In a nod to the morning chill, Rick’s contacts had found a large windbreaker with the Yankees logo on it and a plain black ball-cap.
Steve glowered at the logo. What was wrong with the Dodgers?
He asked Rick, who got a curious look on his face, looking oddly like a mix between dread and eager anticipation. Instead of answering straight away, he just put the topic off for later and focused on the details of their exit from New York.
“Right, so I’m parked in a garage five blocks west, two north. There’s a few alleys I duck through. Carry the cup of coffee, and do not gawk, focus, keep a conversation with me going – I’ll try and avoid references you may not understand, but don’t ask, right? Intent walk, keep pace with me—um…driver’s are assholes, don’t get hit by a car – don’t make eye contact with people unless you bump into someone, apologize and move on so long as they didn’t dump coffee on you or something – and… think that’s it.”
“New York hasn’t changed that much then,” Steve smirked around his coffee. “Got it Rick. Pretend I know what I’m doing, all else will follow.”
“Yeah, and if you can subtly keep an eye out for tails without being obviously paranoid or hunted? Bonus points! Ready? Ready. Let’s go,” Rick grabbed a set of keys and led the way out of the metal shipping container, locking up some deadbolts and shoving some boxes aside to conceal the straight path as they went towards the exit. It was a main door rather than exiting through the dumpster, Rick waiting until he opened the door to start the conversational cover.
“Look man, I’ll acknowledge that Picasso was cool, but the later stuff? It’s just a disaster! How the heck is a mangled chicken-wire fence art?” Rick demanded.
Steve was relieved – he may not know about chicken-wire art, but he knew damn well how to argue for a form of art’s legitimacy!
Rick had either done some research beforehand or knew about art on their route already, because the debate was lively and included gestures to some of the graffiti that was on their route. Steve was careful to word his analysis around archetypes and cross-cultural symbols, just to make sure if any of his references were dated, they could be blamed on an international reference point. They barely afforded a second glance walking with the flow of traffic on the packed sidewalks of New York, the few who did double-takes were probably just astonished that an athlete type was knowledgably discussing the artistic philosophy of the great masters.
Steve was intrigued enough by Rick’s points about the “street art” he barely had time to notice the changes, much less gawk at them and betray the impression of ‘local’ they were trying to give. It seemed in no time at all they had reached the indicated garage.
“This is my ride,” Rick said, pointing at a dark green four-door car near the stairwell. “Crappy little Kia I got in high school. The cameras in here are just for show, they don’t actually work, and even if they did the car’s in a blind spot. So here’s the plan, the middle seat in the back goes down and gives access to the trunk. I honestly think it’d be a good idea to stuff you in there until we get out of the city, because odds are whoevers after you is watching cameras for someone leaving the city like a hawk. Moving through streets at a walking pace on a route with as few cameras as I could manage? Workable, especially with our conversation going – nice on that by the way. But sitting in traffic there’s a better than even chance of a camera getting a nice long look at your face.”
“Sounds a solid plan to me,” Steve agreed, “Thanks for picking art – could I get books from a library or something about the post-modernists? That Warhol sounded interesting.”
“We can google it,” Rick waved off, “figured if I talked about art you’d at least be able to BS modern lingo.”
“And we’ll work on that,” Rick grinned, “That’s a great expression though. I’ll need to get a picture, it definitely embodies the WTF sentiment.”
“…Just open the trunk, Rick.”
Steve managed to fold himself into the trunk reasonably comfortably. The windbreaker and cap made for a decent pillow and he was able to at least partially extend his legs when the trunk was shut so it wasn’t the tightest crawl space he’d crammed into since the serum. With the back seat down and letting sunlight and fresh air through, it felt almost roomy.
“So I’m going to toss my coat over the back to artfully hide the trunk opening, just so no one sees you stick your head through or something,” Rick said from the front, windbreaker appearing half-covering his window to the world.
“Just keep some sort of noise going so I don’t flashback. And if I fall asleep, open the trunk from a distance if you can.”
“Yep, there’s a trunk latch thing up here. You like jazz? You’ll love jazz. I’ll play jazz. And I sing along sometimes, sound like a dying cat apparently, so just a heads up.”
With that the engine quietly turned on and the car started moving to the musical accompaniment of some truly incredible saxophone. Steve had thought he’d be getting bruised bumping around in the trunk of a car, but this was incredibly smooth riding – a nap was looking more and more likely if they were stuck in traffic for a while.
Lacing his fingers behind his neck, he stared up at the trunk and smiled. For a few hours at least, he could put aside worries about how he was here, what he was going to do and what had happened to the Commandos. He had some music to enjoy.