Two satellite crashes in three days was a difficult and tricky story to spin, but difficult and tricky were SHIELD’s specialities. With the Quadrantids peaking that week, they had a ready-made excuse for even the most far-fetched, including the particular brand of far-fetched New Mexico was already known for. If anything, the conspiracy theorists were starting to sound like the most rational people in the whole debate. Few people believed even for a minute that either satellites were satellites at all, with theories ranging from some new Stark tech being tested to the old fall-back of aliens in the desert. Though the theory of mutant activity was never ruled out entirely.
It was pure luck that SHIELD were already nearby when the second satellite fell to Earth. And it had been very good luck at that. Had there been any witnesses, covering up a man-shaped satellite would have required so much spin, Earth’s entire orbit and rotation would have been knocked off-balance. Without the Bifröst to guide the man-shaped satellite to a safe landing, the descent should have disintegrated him, and the impact liquefied whatever was left.
Norse gods apparently did not lend so well to either outcome, fortunately.
Darcy hadn’t been told anything about anything. Which wasn’t anything new, really. She’d been able to work out a few things on her own though—something in Jane’s funding had changed in a very big way, and it probably had something to do with SHIELD. But for the most part, she was in the dark, just like before. Despite Main Street being flattened by a Transformer on steroids, Darcy was still stuck in Puente Antiguo. Winter term had only just started the week before all the crazy started, and Darcy needed the credits if she was going to have any hope of getting her degree in the spring. And not only that, but apparently half of Culver’s campus was closed off because some idiots in tanks decided to start shooting at some other idiot on super steroids, and basically, it had been a seriously lame week for everyone.
“Oh, you are shitting me,” Darcy said suddenly, making Erik jump in his seat.
“What? What is it?” he asked, getting up to be sure she was all right.
Darcy waved angrily at CNN’s website. “My department got completely trashed,” she told him incredulously. “At Culver, right? I have to transfer to NYU, which wouldn’t be so bad I guess if New fucking York didn’t get trashed by the Jolly Green Giant and a bunch of evil robots over the weekend. Evil! Robots!”
She sunk into her seat to sulk as Erik leaned in closer to read over her shoulder. What sort of world were they living in that an army of evil robots was even a thing that could happen? CNN had a slideshow of images from Stark Expo, including several of the surrounding areas all ablaze against the night sky. It didn’t look like New York; it looked like a war zone.
“I better make sure I still have a job,” Erik grumbled as he walked away. “Jane, have you seen the news?”
Darcy grumpily clicked through CNN’s coverage of the week of hell for a few moments longer before deciding that it was all too stressful to deal with. She checked the weather instead. The weather practically dictated her day, and she found herself checking the forecast obsessively already.
“Hey, snow in the forecast, so I’m gonna go home then,” she declared loudly, not expecting anyone to actually listen. “You know where I’ll be if you suddenly need copies or a doughnut or something.”
She gathered up her handbag and all the random bits that had managed to escape over the course of the morning. Gum, phone, lip gloss; she even picked up the wrapper from her breakfast candy bar and threw it in the bin on her way out of the building. As soon as she stepped outside the comfort of central heating, she bundled into her hoodie and tromped off down the pavement. The thing no-one ever bothered to tell her before she took the internship, aside from the risk of being flattened by an angry, steroided Transformer, was that New Mexico was cold. When she woke up her second day in Puente Antiguo to find a snow flurry outside her window, she almost thought for a moment that she dreamt up the whole internship up. And then she saw the dingy hotel room she was in, and a sad-looking cactus in the snow outside and seriously rethought her life choices.
And then the snow stopped and almost immediately melted, leaving behind only bitterly-cold wind that had a tendency to kick sand around at thirty miles an hour.
The wind was back, making Darcy eager to get home. Home, in this case, being a cheap hotel room that her entire student loan for the winter term had gone into paying for. Armed with only Pell and whatever she could mooch from her mother, Darcy was in for yet another term of ramen noodles and white rice. And here, she was hoping to recover from the burn-out that had pushed her into signing up from a seriously off-campus internship in the first place.
The hotel was on the other side of town from the “lab”—about three blocks, on the other side of Main Street—and Darcy had just about got there when Jane’s huge van pulled up beside her.
“Something just landed in the desert,” Jane said excitedly, leaning over Erik to talk out the window.
Darcy’s eyes went wide as she cast about frantically, momentarily forgetting most of her motor skills. “What? Really?”
She didn’t dare say what they were all thinking. Instead, she threw open the passenger door and climbed over Erik to get into the back of the van. Before she was even seated, Jane stomped on the accelerator hard enough to make the whole van lurch. Darcy was so excited about what she knew they were going to find that she almost didn’t even mind falling sideways off her seat.
It was no surprise, finding another massive crater outside of town, just crawling with Men in Black. Jane parked as close as she was able to get and jumped out of the van to go stand where someone would notice her. As if they would have missed the van driving up in the first place. Finally, Coulson finished whatever was so important on the other side of the hapdash fence and walked up to Jane while the rest of his team of spooks carried on with their thing.
“Doctor Foster,” he greeted with a curt nod.
“Was it him?” asked Jane quickly.
Coulson gave her one of the patronising smiles he must have practised in front of a mirror. “We’ll let you know when we have more information. But until then, this is a secure area.”
Darcy watched out the open driver’s-side door, her attention quickly wandering when it became clear that Coulson wasn’t going to share any of his secrets. She hadn’t seen the first satellite crash, but she heard Jane’s description of it. There were no plastic cities built around this one, but there was still something seriously weird about it.
“Hey, is that a stretcher?” she called out, looking over at what seemed suspiciously like an unmarked ambulance. Not that she’d ever seen an unmarked ambulance before, but if such a thing did exist, it would look like the white van parked on the other side of the fence, where two men loaded something suspiciously stretcher-like into the back.
Coulson’s gaze turned to her for the briefest moment before returning to Jane.
“We’ll be in touch,” he said in a way that sounded more like he never wanted to see any of them again.
Jane nodded slowly. “Right. Thank you,” she said in a way that definitely wasn’t sincere.
She got back into the van, slamming the door loudly behind her. “More information, my ass,” she grumbled.
Darcy moved back to the seat behind Erik before Jane could throw the van into reverse gear and put her through the windscreen.
“Seriously, did that look like an ambulance to anyone else?” Darcy asked. “It looked like someone got hurt.”
Erik cast a wary glance over to Jane as she pulled away from the site and headed back into the desert, toward town. “It was probably nothing,” he said uncertainly.
“No, it did, though,” Darcy insisted. “I mean. It didn’t look like it was Thor or anything. You could see those muscles from across the Atlantic.”
“No. It wasn’t Thor,” Jane said, her voice unnaturally steady. She stared straight ahead, not even flicking so much as a glance at either of the other two. “He had to go home and take care of some things. And home’s a long, long, long ways away.”
“Yeah, but on Stargate, those Einstein-Rose things are pretty fast, aren’t they?” asked Darcy.
“Are you trying to help?” Jane asked shortly.
Erik laughed nervously, putting his hand out as if to back Jane away. “It was nothing. I’m sure it was probably just a meteorite. The showers are this week. Something might have touched down.”
“Stupid clouds. I really wanted to see those things,” Darcy grumbled.
The van went quiet for a few long moments, with only the sound of the engine and the rumble of sand and the desert being kicked up by four-wheel drive filling the space. With the sun hidden behind heavy clouds, everything seemed bleak and almost blue. With no proper roads for miles, navigation was almost entirely by GPS.
“Hey, careful not to hit anything,” Darcy said finally.
Jane looked into the mirror to glare at Darcy. “That is not even funny,” she said.
“No, you’re right. Three times would be hilarious.”
Erik snorted, quickly covering his mouth with his hand to try to hide his laughter. Jane heard anyway and shook her head. “Oh, don’t you start too,” she warned.
“You hit him twice in twelve hours, Jane,” Erik pointed out, laughing more openly. “At this rate, I think the car would give out before he did.”
“Yeah, well. He’s not here, so I guess we’ll never know,” Jane said sharply.
The other two went quiet, both looking anywhere but at Jane. “Seriously, though. Don’t hit anything,” Darcy said eventually.
“Oh, listen to your iPod,” Jane shot back.
Erik laughed again, not even bothering trying to hide it this time. For a moment, Darcy almost considered lying and saying the battery was dead, just to annoy Jane, but then she’d have to stick to that for the entire ride back. So she pulled out her headphones instead and started the arduous task of untangling them.
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