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Avenger Assembled

The Man With The Lonely Eyes (IC)

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February 25

Sharl enjoyed getting out of Gina's house, and he was pretty sure (though he didn't understand why) Gina also liked him out of there. Maybe that was why she'd suggested he go with Miss A on her trip out to Lonely Point to meet and work on a friend of hers. They were together in the sky as they approached the distant peninsula, the mobile emitter in Miss A's uniform letting Sharl keep up with his friend's great speed in the air. "Wow, so he actually has a chemical jet engine inside his body?" She'd been describing Victory, the hero who worked for the national (and what a concept that was!) government, and Sharl himself could hardly believe it. "That's...that's amazing! Isn't he worried about it blowing up?" For Sharl, who'd grown up with antigravs and plasma engines, the thought of a chemically-powered engine embedded inside a living human being was bizarrely fascinating, and very interesting.

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"It's very precisely calibrated," Miss A explained patiently as they flew, "and keeping it that way is part of the reason that we're going out there today. Now remember, we're just observers today, and you are my very quiet, very unobtrusive assistant. I've helped out with Victory's suit a couple of times, which is why they offered me the opportunity to sit in on the session today, but let's not abuse the privilege. And no asking him if he's worried about blowing up, all right?" She gave her young protegee a dry smile as they soared down towards the testing facility.

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As they approached the facility, they'd be greeted by an extremely loud BOOM, as though a bomb went off. Oddly, there was no sign of any sort of explosion or anything at the facility. But, if they were close enough when it happened, they could catch a ripple in the air. A very noticeable, but brief bend of the air around some source near the ground.

At the ground of the facility, the source of that bang was made more clear. His left fist out in front of him, and exhaust coming from his entire arm and shoulder, Victory stands, looking a bit frustrated.

"Damn. Still not quite right. It's taking too long for the speed to build up. Not to mention everything's still responding about half a second later than I tell it."

A technician, with a VERY heavy set of ear phones on his head, speaks through a microphone attached to it. The headset actually cancels out noise completely, and he was far enough away not to be sent flying by the ripple.

"We're still trying to compensate, V. We've got an extra hand coming in. Maybe they'll be able to figure it out. But until then, you gotta remember to stay grounded. With the upgrades we're working on, we can't risk you blasting off just yet."

That news just soured Victory's expression. He's already had to spend the whole day grounded. Much longer and he might start getting...grumpy. Hopefully, the "extra help" will be enough to get him back in the sky before then.

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Sharl was briefly concerned by the loud noise, but Miss A looked unruffled so he dismissed his worries. Hmm, let me think...ah, I get it! Somebody must have broken the sound barrier in-atmosphere while using one of their jets. He must be the bravest man on Earth!Sharl let Miss A make the introductions as they landed at the base, playing the part of her discreet young assistant to perfection. He'd done it on various technical projects before. Truthfully, as interesting as the primitive technology was here, he was more fascinated by the sky overhead. It's just so...blue! He'd seen blue skies before in pictures of alien worlds preserved on Tronik, or back home when the weather was especially foul, but the alien skies overhead were remarkable for both their azure color, so unlike the familiar verdigris of home, and their sheer immense _size_.

Not many people had an interest in looking at the sky where Sharl was from; you needed to work in the plankton fleet or live near the top of your district, and where Sharl himself lived the sky was always cut by districts rising and antigravs flying overhead. And Miss A flies in that whenever she wants...and her friend flies in it really fast! He was so distracted by that he just managed to pull himself out as he and Miss A were walked into the hangar where Victory was waiting for them.

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Miss A seemed perfectly at ease as she walked into the open-air laboratory that had been set up inside the hangar. She gave Victory a smile that could've launched a thousand ships, and a slightly lower-wattage version to the scientists and engineers around him. "Good morning, everyone! Thanks for calling me in for the consult, the work you've been doing here is immensely interesting. It sounds like you might have a discontinuity in your VTOL accelerator?" she guessed, "judging from the boom we heard coming in."

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Victory looked at his hand for a moment more, frustrated, when he heard the two guests come in. He seemed to calm down a bit, switching it up to put a courteous smile on. he'd been in a foul mood today, but he'd probably have an excuse to cheer up a bit now. Certainly, whatever needed fixing, Miss A was sure to be able to handle it.

He took a step over to Miss A and shook his head. "We're not really sure yet. Every time we make one tweak, two more things get thrown off. Now even my punches are feeling a bit half baked. It's good to see you, though. I'm glad you were able to make it out here."

Seeing the other guest, Victory brings his right hand up in greetings. Fortunately, that one was still flesh, so he could control it just fine.

"Hello there. I'm Victory. You must be the friend Miss A here mentioned."

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It was immediately obvious to Victory that there was something different about the teenager: on closer inspection, he wasn't really there at all! Glowing faintly with misplaced radiation, he looked like a living being of pure electricity and magnetism. "I'm Sharl," said Sharl distinctly, wanting to do his part to be Miss A's discreet assistant as he'd promised her. He'd do just about anything for Miss A, except hurt Gina, of course. His grip on Victory's free hand was firm and tingled ever so slightly. "I'm Miss Americana's assistant. I want you to know," he said seriously, "that of all the heroes I've helped Miss A work with, I think you're the bravest. I'm honored to have a chance to work with you." He held back a little as Miss A went to work on Victory, floating up in the air for a better view.

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"I'm sure we can get you flying right again," Miss A said reassuringly, after giving Sharl a quick nod of approval. "The techs here are top-notch, and the foundation you've got between your equipment and the programming could hardly be better. Whatever's gone wrong, we'll iron it out." It was always a little chancy to step into somebody else's sandbox, but Miss Americana was so charismatic, her words of praise so convincing, it would be hard for even the most territorial of engineers to get too huffy about the troubleshooter from the private sector coming in to help. "Do you have a work log of what's been done in the most recent upgrades?"

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Victory's visor got a bit active once it got a good, close look at Sharl. It ran a few of the quicker, simpler tests, which really just showed him what he had already figured out: He wasn't quite there. Not in the normal sense, at least. Not to mention his metal surfaces could feel that faint buzz it gets when in close proximity to electric and magnetic sources.

The unexpected spot of praise caught Victory slightly off-guard, but he just smiled. "Oh, I'm sure she's just been embellishing on my behalf. I just do what any other soldier with a body made out of a jet engine would do. But anyway, good to meet you. Any friend of hers is a friend of mine."

Victory turned to Miss A, and nods. "Yeah, I've been keeping a live log internally. It's linked up to the techs' computers. They'll be able to give you a readout. I'm sure whatever it is, you'll be able to sniff it out through there."

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Sharl drifted around the hangar-lab as Miss Americana worked on Victory, mostly tuning out the technical conversation that was above him. He was there for Miss A when she needed him, quickly zipping down with a tool or with the results of a particular readout, but truthfully Miss A was smart enough that she didn't need a lot of technical help. He studied a holographic projector in the corner of the room with an odd feeling of recognition before turning back to his work. The hours went by and Miss Americana began making progress on repairing Victory's systems, tying the problem not to any defect in the pilot's organic components or his top of the line cybernetics, but rather in the slightly overclocked software that transmitted his wet thoughts to his dry components.

As they worked, Sharl noticed a man in the rear of the room take a phone call, then turn hastily to another to talk to each other with some quiet haste. While the scientist worked on the cyborg, other conversations were taking place! But he was busy in the work, and by the time everyone was ready for a break, almost all the observers in the hangar had left!

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Miss Americana stepped back from Victory's metal shell and stretched, flexing fingers that had been doing tetchy electronic work for too long. "I think we've just about got it," she told Victory, "but we'll need to do some more testing to make sure. We definitely don't want it failing out on you in midflight! Can you run one more personal diagnostic and see what we've got?" She stepped away from the table and finally took a look around the hangar. "Hmm, looks like we took too long to hold the audience's attention. Where did they all go?"

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"Seems like a good kid." Victory mused while Sharl was off getting some tool or other. His voice drops a few levels, with the transmitting mic turned off. "How is he able to grab things like that? Some sort of Hard-Light projection?"

As the work neared its finish, Victory had already begun his diagnostic program, all manner of lights and charts flying across his eyes. It would take a few minutes, but Victory was still able to talk and move around as normal. He just had to be careful not to do anything that would put significant stress on his parts.

"...hmmm. Good question. It's still a bit early for them all to have gone home for the day. Especially since we've still got work to do here..."

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"This body is made up of magnetic fields underneath a holographic shell," agreed Sharl, floating down to join the puzzled duo. "I don't really understand all the principles myself," he admitted, "but Miss A designed this body for me. She's a genius! I can interact with the world or just float right through it. It's pretty cool, huh?" He grinned, then sobered as he looked around the empty hangar. "It is pretty weird. Do you want me to go check it out?" he asked Miss A. Before she could answer, though, there was a slight fissuring sound from outside, followed shortly by a commotion as a dozen AEGIS agents in full uniform, all of them battered and bruised, came bursting through the door, a half-dozen in the rear carrying an injured humanoid shape half-hidden by a blanket.

"Never seen anything like it-came out of nowhere-..." The man in charge, an agent Victory didn't know, flashed an ID badge at the two and said, "Oh, thank God! My name is Agent David Bonham. I was afraid we were too late with the technical staff pulled back. Miss Americana, Victory, we have a patient that requires your assistance. We need your expertise on cybernetics, Miss A, and Victory, the use of your non-essential implants will be required. I cannot fail to emphasize that this is a matter of the utmost secrecy. Can you promise, for the sake of your country and free world not to breathe a word of what you see here to anyone else?"

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"Yes, of course," Miss A said without a pause, glancing over at Sharl even as she moved quickly towards the portable sterilization station that had been set up in one corner of the field lab. The lead agent didn't really seem to have noticed Sharl, and since she didn't particularly want to have to explain his presence or send him away, she didn't call attention to that fact. "What's the situation?" she asked, keeping an eye on the triage team with their shrouded patient.

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Victory didn't think Sharl was going to hear him, but he was apparently closer than he thought. Hoping it wasn't anything Sharl would take offense from, his worries are availed as Sharl uses the chance to sing Miss A's praises, which she certainly has earned, to be sure. But as Victory was about to respond, the raucous cropped up, interrupting any conversation they could possibly have. At the front was an agent Victory had not met, but seemed to have taken charge of the situation.

With the urgency in the agent's voice, Victory forgoes any ritual as far as introductions go and gets right to the point. "Of course! I wouldn't be here if I were otherwise. And these two are clear, as well, on my authority. Now quickly! What the situation?!"

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The agents pulled the stretcher forward and pulled aside the sheet, revealing the patient underneath. He was in an AEGIS uniform, or rather the remains of one, a huge crater occupying much of the man's chest. Sharl gasped involuntarily, not used to scenes of such carnage, but Victory and Miss A both recognized the marks of the sort of energy weapons available on the black market to terrorists and supervillains with a large enough budget: this man had taken a blast to the chest at close range. How had he survived? Perhaps he hadn't, or rather, he hadn't been alive at all. From the silvery lines visible beneath the burns on his face and jaw to the cracked steel torso and scorched processors within his chest, down to the half-exposed chassis below, there was nothing but a thin layer of organic tissue over the mechanical man beneath. He made a short gasping noise, but seemingly couldn't speak, fixing two pale blue eyes on his trio of rescuers. "This is Agent Irons," said Bonham firmly, looking from one to the other of the three heroes as if to make an explanation. "He was struck at close range by an OVERTHROW anti-tank weapon while serving in an undisclosed location." With Victory right there, either Bonham was exceeding his authority or 'Agent Irons' had been in the middle of doing something very classified indeed!

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Miss Americana brushed away some of the scorched cloth and sytheskin obscuring the extent of the chest wall damage, but her eyes were on the "injured" man's face. She looked up at Victory, then at Agent Bonham. "This is the Patriot," she said, confusion and just a hint of accusation in her tone. "Or at least an extremely close body model to him. But the Patriot was killed in action in 2002. What's going on here? Did you build a Patriot-model android?"

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At first, Victory was too distracted by the "wound" itself, but when Miss Americana pointed out who it was, Victory's eyes shot to the "patient"'s face. It took a few moments to recognize, but once he saw the face, he made sure to run cross-references over and over, to be absolutely sure he was seeing what he thought he was seeing.

When he confirmed that the face was, indeed, what he thought it was, Victory glares a hole right through the agent who brought him in.

"You will explain this. Now."

Victory quickly shifted his glance to Miss A and nodded, as if to say "go ahead", but then turned back to the agent, awaiting his explanation.

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Bonham tensed at the questions, shooting a hard look first at the two heroes, then at their teen sidekick. But when no one looked inclined to flinch, he finally let out a breath. "The incident in 2002 was a cover story. When faced with terminal cancer, Director Simmons chose to perpetuate his own life so that he could continue to serve his country." He looked down at the badly damaged robot at his side, who for his part was looking not at Bonham, but assessingly at the three heroes before him, particularly the ones in all-American colors. "Agent Irons is a one-of-a-kind android body holding the memories and life experiences of the greatest American agent, and the greatest American patriot, of the 20th century. Only a select few individuals even know the true circumstances of the Director's death, much less the true story of his survival. If he dies here, the Patriot dies, for real."

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"For some government heroes, the government comes first and the heroism second," Miss A muttered, then turned her attention entirely to the task at hand. "These aren't exactly ideal working conditions you're giving me, but I'll do everything I can. I need a full microcircuitry toolbox and whatever module you use to access the programming. Bring out some sheeting and let's start getting the air filtered and dehumidified, stat. If you've got a deionizer, even better. Sharl, I need you to hurry back to the lab and get the gray case off the workbench in my electronics lab and bring it here as fast as you can. Are you in pain?" she asked the head that was regarding them still. "Blink once for yes, twice for no."

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The Patriot blinked, just once, as Sharl disappeared wordlessly behind Miss Americana. Agent Bonham explained as his team went into action, gathering Miss Americana's needed electronic repair equipment, "Much of Agent Irons' body was built using early versions of Victory's technology. Without rapid access to an AEGIS hospital, he may be our best support for spare parts. With your consent, of course, Agent Victory," he added respectfully. "His access equipment here will give you full internal command of Agent Irons' systems." Luckily conditions had already been set for technical work, so once a static-free sheet had been laid down, a deionizer running nearby, the operation was ready to begin.

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Miss A's comment regarding some government heroes made Victory sigh, shaking his head. "I wish I could say you were completely wrong."

He waited for this...Agent Irons...to respond, before he gave the word. the fact that this was essentially the last remnant of a personal role model of his certainly affected his judgement, if but for a moment. But he wasn't about to refuse, anyway. He just wanted answers.

"Go ahead. Do whatever you need to do, Miss A."

Even though he had already run a few tests on himself in the last couple hours, he did one last emergency check, to make sure his own parts were in order and working right.

"Make sure we have any spares we need handy. If we're lacking anything..." A deep breath, and a momentary squeeze of his fist. "...Extract it from my chasis. I won't die if pieces are removed, so if it's needed to save him, I see no reason not to give."

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"Hopefully that shouldn't be necessary, but I appreciate the offer," Miss A told Victory with a distracted air, already at work on the robot's open chest. "I'm going to start by shutting down the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerve-analogues, and interrupting the sensory pathways, to stop the pain. You shouldn't feel anything after I do that," she assured Irons. Slipping on a pair of magnifying goggles, she went to work with her microtools, working on the robot with the air of someone who knew very well what she was doing. Occasionally she called out an order for a tool or material, but she never so much as broke a sweat over the tetchy work, her perfectly manicured hands remaining absolutely steady.

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The work on repairing the Patriot was tough; his parts were at least a decade old, hanging at that thin edge between older and old-fashioned that let them hang even in a brilliant technician's memory hole. But luckily Miss A wasn't just a brilliant technician, she was the best! With Sharl's return with her best toolkit, she was able to get to work on the Patriot, who made no complaints once she'd severed his pain impulses. Without spare parts handy, she did need a source of high-end electronics and cybernetics. Luckily Victory was right there, as were all of his equipment spares after the recent repairs! For his part, Sharl was a silent, hard-working assistant, doing his best to help Miss A in her work and not to gawk at all these strange goings-on!

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A few of his parts were needed for the procedure, and, true to his word, he allowed them to be taken out. Fortunately, they weren't too necessary for his systems, but he wanted to be sure there would be someone on hand taking full inventory of every part used, so they would replace the parts as soon as possible. He just had them fixed, after all!

However, taking them right out would be rather painful, since the proper device to remove him completely from the chasis had already been put away back to its normal location. He would be put under for the operation, as otherwise it would feel to him like his parts were being ripped right from his nervous system...

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