“You call me strong, you call me weak
But still your secrets I will keep
You took for granted all the times
I never let you down”
– Kryptonite, 3 Doors Down
“Carter,” James spoke brusquely as he answered the phone.
“What? When? You’re certain? We have confirmation? Damn,” he growled, and looked at Clark. “All right. We’re on our way back.
“In the meantime, evacuate the immediate area, but don’t issue any statements. Say nothing. We don’t want a panic.
“Get Douglas and the rest of our people in there with the necessary equipment, and for God‘s sake, don’t let anyone in the press hear about this.”
“No. No. I’m headed there now. I’m three hours out. Hopefully, I won’t get there too late.”
He hung up, and eyed Clark.
“I don’t suppose- ”
“Let your agent return with your pilot. I’ll carry you to Norfolk,” he told him grimly.
Clark only smiled as Laura told James, “He does have very good hearing. Or didn’t you ever read his stories, Agent Carter?” He rose to his feet, and nodded. “All right. You know what we’re facing. If you’re willing to do this, we have no time to waste. Anna.”
“What is it, sir?,” she asked anxiously, pulling herself to her feet with the cane, though she obviously hated the use of it.
“A homegrown terrorist cell has hidden a pocket nuke in Norfolk near the naval base. Our agent in an area mosque just sent the tip after every Muslim in the region was told to get out fast. If it goes off…”
“D.C., and most of the east coast is contaminated even if it isn’t outright destroyed!,” she gasped in horror.
“Which means, we’d better move fast,” he said, looking at Clark. “So, if you really can…”
“Let’s go,” Clark told him, and headed for the door ahead of Anna and Laura.
“Not showing off yet?,” Laura asked him.
Clark chuckled, then looked down at his civilian clothes. “You’re right. I’d better change, or I’ll just shred these again.”
He seemed to blur, and then the two agents gaped as Laura grinned at the powerfully built man in the blue and red costume with a characteristic sigil upon his broad chest now standing before them.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Anna sputtered as she stared at the colorful costume, complete with a distinctive red cape.
“Just get back to the office ASAP,” James told her “We may need to move on other locations. I’ll be in touch.”
“Ready?,” Clark asked him, stepping up beside the man.
“Part of me is still wondering if you aren’t just delusionaallll!,” James howled as a powerful arm locked around him, and suddenly he was airborne, with the wind howling past his ears as they arched high into the sky, and turned northeast.
“Holy shit!,” the experienced agent exclaimed in almost childlike wonder. “You’re for real!”
“That is what I’ve been telling you,” Clark told him calmly as he headed toward the endangered city.
“I am never going to be able to explain you,” he added as he tried very hard not to look at the ground far below them that swam dizzily past in such a blur he couldn’t tell how fast they were going.
“I’ll change back to civvies when we land. Just pass me off as an outside expert if someone asks.”
“You really think you can help find the bomb in time?,” he asked hesitantly,
“If it’s not hidden inside lead, I’ll find it,” he told him as they began to angle downward toward a distinctive skyline James Carter well. If this guy was a hoax, he was a very convincing hoax. Because he knew they had just crossed over three thousand miles in less than five minutes.
“Damn, you are fast,” he rasped, still sucking air into his lungs as he watched the hero blur slightly before he reappeared in denim and flannel once more, his colorful costume hidden beneath his plain façade.
“I actually kept my speed down so the air friction wouldn’t endanger you,” he said, heading out of the alley behind the mall where they had landed.
“Why land here?,” James asked as they headed toward the nearest entrance. “The naval base is ten miles south of here.”
“I think the bomb is here,” he told him.
“What,” James gasped. “Here? In a mall?”
“I picked up some weird emanations when I scanned the city on our approach,” he told him. “They might have planted more than one device, but I suspect there is definitely something here.”
“All right. Lead me to it,” James told him, flashing his credentials when one of the mall security guards stepped in front of them to black their passage when a metal detector went off.
“Homeland Security,” the mall cop frowned at the badge. “Is something going down here,” he asked in a shrill voice.
“Just keep your mouth shut, and follow us,” James snapped.
“Which way,” he asked Clark.
“This way,” he said, going to the underground level where the crowds milled about the escalators, slowing them.
“Jesus,” the mall guard was muttering. “Shouldn’t we be calling someone? I mean….?”
“The experts are here, Walter,” James told the man, reading his name badge. “Just follow us in case we need help clearing some area.”
“Down this way,” Clark told him as he led them through the crowded shopping lanes, and into a maintenance corridor.
“How does he know where to…..?”
“Oh my God,” Walter paled, looking to all the world as if he were going to have a heart attack when Clark ripped open a locked, metal security door to expose a ticking clock attached to a bulky suitcase.
“We have less than a minute,” James hissed. “I don’t suppose you can name defusing bombs as one of your abilities,” he asked Clark as Walker backed away, trying to decide whether to run, call for help, or pass out.
“No time,” he said grimly, and lifted the entire case in his arms. “There’s over thirty grams of plutonium in here. Enough to level half the city, and contaminate the entire region for centuries.”
“What do we….?
“Oh,” James said belatedly, as a hole appeared in the ceiling overhead, as Clark just vanished.
“What the hell was that,” Walter squeaked. “What? How?”
“It’s national security, Walter,” James told him curtly, flashing his badge again. “So say nothing to anyone, and you won’t spend the next few months in a very small place explaining how you can’t keep your mouth shut. Understand?,” he demanded.
“S-S-Sure,” Walter croaked, and gave up, and passed out at his feet.
James sighed, feeling rather sympathetic just then as he reached for his cellphone.
“Carter here. I need a full team at the Highland Mall. Now. Just get here,” he barked at the confused dispatcher who still thought he was miles away. “We need a follow-up here on a potential threat. Yeah, definitely a potential bomb threat. No, it’s been diffused. But I need to be sure the area is clean, and ascertain if any evidence was left that might help us find the bombers. Never mind,” he told the man. “Just scramble the teams. Now.”
He hung up, not sure how he could have explained just how he had gotten to the mall without sounding mad. A heartbeat later, Clark stood beside him again, looking quite normal in a slightly worn shirt that looked a bit more ragged than a minute ago.
“What did you do ?”
“I let it explode above the atmosphere. It was the safest way to handle it,” Clark told him as casually, as if he had just told him he liked cheese on his burgers.
“I take it Walter couldn’t take the excitement,” he asked with a faint smile as he looked down at the man.
“That could be an understatement. I thought he was going to have a heart attack.”
“He’s all right. Just shocked, I suspect. His heart looks fine.”
“You can tell that, too?”
“I’ve helped some doctors out a few times over the years,” he nodded.
“So, I don’t suppose?”
“I scanned the rest of the city, and the surrounding area on my way back down,” he told him casually as two more security guards came down the hall. “I didn’t see anything else. I believe this must have been your primary threat.”
James stared at him a moment, then nodded. “Thank you,” he said somberly.
Clark smiled. “I hear sirens. Maybe it would be best if I left for now.”
James looked at him, then at the approaching guards who slowed when he flashed his badge once again. “Maybe you should. Still-”
“You can call me if you need anything else like this, Agent Carter. For now. I’m still working on getting home.”
“All right. But,if we need you again….?”
“You know where to find me,” he said, and before the guards could reach them, he vanished in a blur of speed that stirred some debris into a brief, macabre dance. There was no trace of his passing.
Unless, of course, you counted the hole in the roof that went right up to the sky.
Explaining that was going to be tricky.
“Homeland Security, gentleman,” he told them. “I need you to cordon off this hall, and keep everyone out until my people get here.
“You might want to get paramedics to check out your friend.”
“What’s wrong with him?,” the younger man asked, one hand on his baton, still eyeing his badge uncertainly.
Smart man, he thought privately as he glanced at Walter. “I’m not certain, but there may have been biologicals in the area. He was hallucinating right before he passed out.
“Now, get this hall cordoned off,” he told them firmly as he backed away from the hall himself. He had no idea if that bomb left any radioactive residue, or not. Either way, he was going to have trouble trying to explain how it exploded in space, directly over the mall, after he had found it.