By JanO

A week had passed since Sally’s two-year-day, in which she became an Agent of SHIELD. During that week, she had been called in every day to the central HQ, but had not received any details concerning the mission Director Hill had wanted her to undertake, involving a dangerous mutant. Her visits to SHIELD had been very low-key, mostly involving making up an official SHIELD-profile, getting clearance for every single public and low-security database SHIELD had, some training in the use of SHIELD’s computer-network, etc. All in all, SHIELD kept Sally busy from 9 to 5, leaving her very little time to spend on the task she had set herself, finding the Inferno-children. Derek had already commented that her clearance was now probably better than his, and although Sally tried, every time she was left alone at a computer at SHIELD, she had not managed to dig up any information of the Inferno children.

Derek spent most of his time at his computer, and after about two days he had come up with a list of six-year olds in New York City. At first Joe did not believe that the children were necessarily in New York, but both Derek and Sally had convinced him of SHIELD’s MO: Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. While the children were not enemies in the traditional sense, they did represent an unknown quantity, and thus they were probably kept close by. First, Sally, Derek and Joe decided to concentrate on adopted children, and while Sally was away at SHIELD HQ, Derek and Joe walked the streets of New York together, trying to find or, at least, have a look at the children to see if Joe could recognise them. That approach failed utterly, as none of the children they found possessed any of the power that had drawn the demons to them six years ago. The second approach involved trying to find regular six-year-olds who were missing Medical data in their health insurance files, probably indicating secret adoption. Through much hacking and one complete computer-crash. Derek came up with another list, and again Joe and Derek went out to see these children for themselves, again they were not successful.

Joe grew particularly restless during that time, as he disliked working this closely with Derek, after he had discovered that Derek had killed his own wife and fled from justice. He still did not have a clue as to the reasons for the Harington sheriff’s behaviour, but he knew for sure that something as absolutely wrong with the man. Unfortunately, Joe had made a classic demon-deal with Derek, and Joe had fallen for it so he could not ever reveal what he knew about the Sheriff to anyone The only way Joe knew how to retaliate was to be as annoying as he could possibly be, which in this case meant simply acting like an enormously spoiled six-year-old whenever he was alone with Derek. If it had any effect on the sheriff, Joe didn’t see it, but it somehow satisfied his sense of justice. Still, Joe did hope to find at least one of the Inferno-children, if only to please Sally, who he had grown very fond of. No matter what happened, Joe knew his life was ticking away, and that he would not live much longer than two more months.

What did work out perfectly was Sally’s scheme to provide for Tarbaby. The former Morlock that had been a friend of Sally’s back in the day was recovering nicely, and the day after she joined SHIELD Sally had finally met with her old friend. A nurse showed her in just as he was having a very simple dinner, all liquids.

“Hi Tarbaby” Sally said as she walked into the room, “Or is it Tyrone now?”

“Skids! So it is you! Or, Sally, right?” Tarbaby replied, not really surprised but acting like it anyway.

“Yeah, it’s Sally. Sally Blevins…”

“Oh Sally, it’s so great to see you. The nurses told me what you have done for me, paying my bills and everything. I don’t know how I can ever repay you!”

“Don’t worry about it. I came into some money that I didn’t want anyway… This way the legacy of an evil man comes to some good, and let’s just keep it t that, okay?” Sally said in reference to her father’s money.

“All right, it’s just that… I’m really thankful… My insurance was tapped out before, and that would have meant ending up in the street, still wounded. You saved my life!”

“Really, don’t worry about it. I’m just happy to be seeing one of the old gang back!”

“Yeah, me too! A lot has happened since… you know… the massacre…” Tarbaby said with a sad voice.

“I know. So few of us survived… But hey, let’s not start mourning them all over. How did you do afterwards? The last time I saw you, you and some of the others headed back into the tunnels, and that was six years ago!”

“For a time, we really tried to continue on, as Morlocks, but there was a lot of fighting over who was the boss. In the end, that bastard Masque looked to be coming out on top, and that is when all of us Draindwellers left New York behind.”

“Seriously? Just in time, probably. From what I heard, Masque did eventually take over, and for a while it seemed that all the Morlocks had vanished from the face of the earth”

“Yeah, I heard about that, too. I thought it was just rumours, at first, but when Ape, and Dreamer and Erg went back, there was nothing there…”

“Did you know I saw Erg a few weeks ago? He still has his powers!” Sally said.

“He does? That’s good! I’m happy for him!”

“You lost them, then?” Sally asked.

“Yup… Just an average human, now. You?”

“Still got them… for better or for worse… So, what did you do after the Morlocks vanished?”

“Oh, this and that… Erg eventually left to become a biker, but me, Ape and Dreamer stuck together. We ended up in Canada, of all places, and we learned better and better to keep our powers hidden. Somewhere along the way…. Well, we lost sight of each other, and I eventually made my way back to New York, and I found out there were still Morlocks left in the Tunnels” Tarbaby said, hushing over how he got separated from his friends.

“You rejoined them? Sally asked, noticing Tarbaby’s slight uneasiness about losing his friends.

“For a while, but I started living in Mutant Town. Got a job in construction, and even got a nice apartment. Then M-Day happened, and the riots, and… Well, here I am! But how about you? I heard some rumours, but nothing solid! How’s it that boy you were with…? Russell?” Tarbaby asked, a little awkwardly.

“Rusty… He died, a few years ago. I ended up all over the place, went to college, got my degree, did some work for X-Corporation and then, after M-Day I did some travelling. And now, hey check this out!” Sally said as she pulled out her SHIELD badge.

“You? You’re a SHIELD agent? Wow, that’s… I never would have expected…” Tarbaby stuttered.

“I know! Neither did I! But here I am, Sally Blevins, Agent of SHIELD! Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?”

“And now? You’re living here, now? In New York?”

“Not really. I’m staying here with some friends, but I’ll get assigned somewhere eventually. For now, I’m in New York, and as long as I’m here I can come over to visit you, okay?”

“That’s wonderful! I don’t have that many friends in town, and Mutant Town is rapidly going down the toilet. I’m glad to have at least one familiar face around!”

“That’s great! I love seeing you again, too! And about the money, you’re covered. I arranged for you to be labelled a “Source” by SHIELD, meaning they’ll pick up your hospital bill until you’ve completely recovered, including any follow-up therapy,” Sally said cheerfully.

“Skids, you’re the greatest! Really!”

“Hey, that’s what friends are for!”

Sally left soon after that, but continued to visit with Tarbaby, even starting to call him Tyrone, every day as she went home from SHIELD. She knew there was something he was not telling her, about his fellow Morlocks, but Sally didn’t push. After all, she didn’t want him to know everything about her mess of a life either. Sally suspected that Tyrone’s crush on her had never faded completely, but she ignored it and the two became friends once more.

All in all, Sally’s first week as a SHIELD-agent passed uneventfully; accept for the day that she had brought Derek in to HQ, who, as the former agent who had written her recommendation, had to fill out a few forms. As soon as they arrived at the building, all the computer-screens in the building had a temporary malfunction, showing a binary code for a fraction of a second. Nothing was found in the logs afterward, but Sally could not help thinking it had something to do with her. When they talked about it during dinner, Derek dismissed it as random glitch, but Joe had his own suspicions he dared not voice; the code was not related to Sally, but to Derek.

Another thing Sally was very happy about was the fact that the riots in Mutant Town had stopped. It seemed X-Factor had the whole situation well in hand, and Mutant Town stopped being news.

Instead, the Stamford disaster and its fall-out became news, especially the possibility of forced registration of every super-human or masked crime-fighter in the country. At first, Sally’s feelings about the whole thing were pretty neutral, and she personally thought it was a good idea, but when she talked about it with Tyrone, that changed. Tyrone was absolutely against registration, as he saw it as a step towards a fascist state in which everybody who’s different could be put in concentration camps. Then, at SHIELD, colleagues were arguing about it, too. Most were in favour of it, but especially the more experienced agents wondered about what would happen if some of the big guns, like the Avengers or the Fantastic Four would refuse to register. Sally started to think about it, and the more she did, the more she was convinced registration was in fact a good idea, as she found there was nothing wrong with being held responsible for your actions.

As it became clear that the Super Human Registration Act was going to become a reality soon, a week had passed since Sally had joined SHIELD, and she was called in during the evening. She left Joe and Derek behind to continue thinking about ways to find the Inferno children, and reported to SHIELD HQ. There, she was in for a surprise.

She was taken into the elevator, and ended up on the roof of the building. A group of 11 male Shield-agents, mostly experienced veterans, were already up there waiting. Sally was very excited, as it looked like her first mission was about to start. She got a little nervous, and felt the urge to start chatting with some of the other agents, but managed to resist: they did not look like they were in the mood for conversation, especially with a wet-behind-the-ears-rookie. She could tell some of the agents were giving her a certain look, which Sally interpreted as meaning `Who the hell are you, and why are you here anyway?’. Well, they would find out who she was.” I may be a newbie, but I’ve been in more fights then some of you veterans” Sally thought.

A helicopter touched down on the landing-pad, and an officer ordered all twelve agents to get in. Sally stepped inside, and quietly strapped herself in. The officer took the names of everybody, and to her dismay, all the Agents had memorised their badge-numbers. When it was her turn, she gave her badge ID as 6-OR-35695-L-4, and hoped for the best. A sigh of relief escaped her lips as the officer checked her name of his list.

“Memorising them is a bitch” a brown-haired agent in his twenties sitting next to Sally remarked.

“Uh… yeah… sure…” Sally tried to cover up her insecurity.

“First mission? Second?” the agent asked.

“First. It’s that obvious?” Sally asked. Helicarrier

“Painfully. I’m Bateman. Darryl Bateman. Security Agent,” the agent introduced himself.

“I’m Sally Blevins. Embarrassed,” Sally replied.

“Don’t be. We all did our first assignments. Most here had those years ago, but whatever, right?”

“Yeah, whatever,” Sally said, thankful for Bateman’s words of encouragement.

The helicopter flew straight up, above the clouds, and soon their destination became clear. To the left of them, SHIELDS true headquarters, the famous Helicarrier appeared. The structure was even bigger than Sally imagined. While living with X-Factor, the alien-ship that served as their base of operations had always seemed impossibly big and, well, alien. The Helicarrier was not as big, but it was far more real. It looked like an enormous ocean-cruiser held up by huge helicopter-blades. Sally was very impressed by the structure, and once again she felt the excitement of belonging with an organisation that used toys such as the Helicarrier. The helicopter landed on top of the Helicarrier, which served as flight-deck for helicopters, planes and even a few flying cars.

After landing, Sally and the other agents were handed over to another agent, who asked them to follow him inside the Helicarrier to a big hall at mid-level. Inside were two agents and twelve large crates. One was a thin, small mouse of a man, but the other was older, tall, and robust and had orange-red hair and a characteristic moustache. He wore the uniform of a deputy-director, and Sally recognised him from stories Gabe had told her about the Howling Commando’s and the early days of SHIELD: This was none other than Dum-Dum Dugan, formerly Nick Fury’s right hand and Military Coordinator of SHIELD. All the agents lined up and stood at attention, including Sally who felt horribly out of place.

“At ease, gentlemen!” Duggan called, “In these here crates are the latest in SHIELD battle-armor. Apart from a few tests, they have never been used before. You get to be the first to try them out for real. Now, as most of you have more than enough experience with gear like this, I expect all of you to familiarise yourself with them within the next half hour. Put them on!”

All the other agents eagerly picked out a crate and started taking out the black armor. Sally however as completely confused. Duggan noticed, and approached her.

“Is something the matter, Agent…Blevins?” he asked sternly, checking his clipboard for her name.

“No, Sir… I mean, yes… I.. I have no experience operating battle-armor, Sir!” Sally said, trying to sound military, whatever that meant.

“I see. It says here that you are a rookie, but that you have more than enough experience working with generated forcefields. Is that true, Agent?”

“Yes, it is Sir. But…” Sally tried but was interrupted.

“Then you should have no problem operating this, according to whoever elected you for this mission. Put it on!” Duggan said.

“Yes, Sir!” Sally answered, and proceeded to open the last available crate.

She picked up the pieces of the armor, and put them on. It wasn’t that difficult, really, just a matter of thinking logically. Once she was suited up, including a black facemask and the helmet, Sally was surprised how comfortable the armor felt, as it was amazingly lightweight. It was a little like walking around in her forcefield, only a lot bulkier. When she took out the gun that came with the armor, a large rifle loaded with darts, Sally got the feeling she could take on the entire world wearing this piece of hardware. And she had not even activated her forcefield. Closing the crate, she noticed the label on it, that had a number and the armor’s code-name: Cape-Killer. Thinking that taking that name public would probably raise an eyebrow or two, Sally stepped back into line with the other agents who all wore the same gear.

“Now” Duggan said, “Your orders are simple. You will all step back against the wall, and a panel will slide over you, hiding you from sight. When the panels slide open, you will either attempt the arrest of any non-SHIELD individual you see here, or you will be ordered to stand down. Is that understood?”

“Yes Sir!” all of the agents, including Sally, shouted. She was very surprised how easily the military way came to her. But then again, she had been a bit of a follower all her life, hadn’t she? Sally stepped back against the wall, and saw one of the other agents give her a thumbs-up signal. Guessing it was probably Bateman, she returned the signal and smiled behind her mask and helmet. Sally thought about being on her first assignment, and decided that whoever appeared when the panels slid open was toast. She was going to make her first SHIELD assignment a success, no matter what!