Chapter 36 – Unknown Variable
Sitting alone and in near silence, Liv worked on her laptop, browsing though the surveillance photos that Luke had sent of Liberty Island. She had decided to stay put in their safe-house in Newburgh, while the others were preforming surveillance duty. Luke and Natasha were stationed in New York, while Tony and Wanda were in Boston.
She settled herself in the arm chair positioned by the window to begin reviewing the surveillance package which Luke had sent. Liv carefully examined each of the photos, looking for any way in. It was imperative to see what was inside the newly constructed warehouse.
Natasha had been on the island the day before and had been able to confirm what Luke had already assessed, that security was very tight, with control checks at every entrance. It would be extremely difficult to infiltrate the area.
The shapeshifter had also found that near the site, there was some kind of signal interference, blocking devices like cell phones and portable computers from being able to communicate through a non-wired means. Which meant that they were running some kind of jammer on the site, preventing any wireless communication from being established from within the area to anywhere beyond its secured perimeter.
This meant, that even if they were able to infiltrate the site, installing wireless spy cameras would not be an option. They would have to film or take photos while inside and somehow smuggle them back out, which would make the reconnaissance mission even riskier.
The other option was to trust her gut and assume that the piece of the Machine they needed was already there, then infiltrate the site to steal it. But going guns blazing into a highly secured location without having any idea of what they might find inside was not an appealing idea, even for someone with the reputation of being a daredevil, like that which Liv had earned.
There was also a chance that the piece wasn't even there.
Another thought crossed Liv's mind. What if this was all a ruse to catch them? She was well aware that her adversaries on this side had a vast amount of intelligence about her Universe and what they were planning. They had been always one step ahead of them, seemingly anticipating their every move. Her failed original mission was the ultimate proof. Perhaps they knew that building a large warehouse on Liberty Island would get Liv's attention. All of which could be nothing more than a ruse, a trap to draw her in and capture her. It seemed like overkill, building an entire warehouse just to catch a fugitive, but nevertheless, Liv had to be cautious, there was no way in hell that she would go or send her team inside that damn warehouse without first making sure they would have at least an idea of what was expecting them.
Liv sighed and rubbed her head trying to ease the tension she felt. She got up and went to the kitchen, deciding on taking a break. She needed another coffee badly and was grateful they had bought an espresso machine the day before while in Boston.
It had been Wanda's idea. While they were having a quick snack at a coffee shop before returning to Newburgh, she had spotted an appliance store on the other side of the street to the coffee shop where they were eating. Apparently it was going out of business and for that reason, they were holding an 'everything must go' sale before closing down. Since espresso machines were among the items they were trying to sell, Liv had been more than happy to do them the favour of purchasing one of their items to bring one back to their safe-house.
She flicked the machine on, watching in eager amazement as hot, thick coffee began almost instantly trickling from a nozzle into the awaiting mug. The smell alone was intoxicating and reinvigorating. Liv sighed, knowing that she would have no option but to give up coffee once she returned home.
Might as well enjoy it while she still had the chance to. She went outside to enjoy the early morning sun and to savour her hot coffee.
Reason dictated that she should be careful while going out. But the house had such a lovely porch and the spring morning was radiant, the sun was shining and the temperature was warm. It was impossible to resist.
Besides, the residential neighbourhood where the house was located was very quiet and peaceful, cars passed only every now and then. So the chances of her being spotted by law enforcement were very slim. It was quiet and most of her neighbours had already left to go to work, only the birds could be heard in the trees.
She sat down on the swing bench and took the first savouring sip from the mug. Liv closed her eyes, holding the cup in her lap with both hands, and relaxed into the seat, making it swing ever so slightly. The soothing motion of the bench along with the tranquillizing chirping of the birds, gave her a sense of peacefulness that she couldn't remember feeling in a long time. However, her peaceful moment didn't last long, she opened her eyes when she heard raucous voices coming from her left.
Stepping out from their own porch and onto the front lawn of the house next door, were two kids, a boy and a girl of about fourteen years old, each shouting at the other.
A woman, almost certainly their mother, was tiredly following behind them. "Will you two stop fighting and get in the car!" she yelled irritably at the still arguing pair, "We're already late as it is."
"Do as your mother told you," said a fourth voice. Liv saw a man emerge from the house chipping in, supporting his partner he scolded the kids, "or I swear I'll take your cell phone away Mindy. And you Brian, there will be no PlayStation for a month!"
"That's not fair dad!" the girl protested, "He was the one that used my cell phone to send indecent messages to all my girl friends! Now they think I'm a lesbian!"
"I did you a favour!" the boy shouted back, "No guy in his right mind will ever want to be with such an annoying girl like you. Thanks to me, maybe you'll get lucky with one of your stupid 'girl friends'."
Liv smiled at the boy's witty remark. She could see her neighbours, but since she was partially shielded not only by the fence and the hedge that separated both lawns, but also by a wooden trellis screen mounted to the left side of the porch, which had been covered to its full height by the rambling growth of common ivy. Her neighbours hadn't even noticed she was there.
"Brian that's enough!" The mother admonished the boy.
"But she was the one that started it, mom!" Brian whined, "She replaced my PlayStation avatar with a photo of me as a baby, naked and sitting on the potty! My friends all laughed at me!"
"And I only did that because you..." Mindy started to say.
"Enough!" The man shouted, "That's it, no cell phone and no PlayStation for a month. In the car, right now!"
"But dad…" both teens began to protest.
"Car! Now!" The man roared and pointed firmly to the vehicle parked in front of their house.
The boy and the girl did as their father ordered, although very reluctantly, both taking the backseat of the car, one on each side. And from what Liv could see, as far away from each other as possible.
"If you want, I can take them to school." The man said to the woman.
"It's okay Carl, I can handle them," the woman replied, "besides, you have to go to New York today and you're already very late."
Carl huffed. "Jesus, Nancy, when did those two turn into such insufferable, bickering twerps? I miss when they were little and were happy just to see us."
"They're teenagers now Carl and like my mom used to say, it's the age of stupidity." Nancy said ruefully.
"Someone should come up with a pill that turns adorable six year old children into full grown adults, instantly." Carl sighed.
"If you want, I can drive them back to the maternity department at the hospital and try to return them. Maybe they'll take them back," Nancy suggested.
"Will you think less of me if I told you that I'm finding that idea very appealing right now?" Carl replied.
Nancy chuckled and kissed her husband on the lips. "Go. Now."
Carl set off toward the garage, the large swinging door opening up with a muted mechanical hum. Meanwhile, Nancy got on the car and drove away with their children.
Seconds later, Carl drove out of the garage, taking a right, riding in a Chevy Silverado pick-up truck, he passed right in front of Liv's house. Liv watched her neighbour drive by with an amused smile on her face, although she couldn't help feeling sympathy for him and his wife. Teenagers could be a hand full.
But something else instantly caught her attention. The truck had a logo on its cab door with a stylised broom and a mop crossed over an image of a skyscraper. Around the logo in a double curving arch was written, 'Williams & Bronson. Professional Cleaners'.
The logo resonated in her mind. 'Professional Cleaners' she muttered to herself. She sprang from the bench making it swing back with some force, and ran back inside. She turned the laptop back on and browsed through the surveillance photos of Liberty Island that Luke had sent, searching for something she had seen earlier.
The pictures were of the highest quality with amazing definition. He had done a great job, the telescope he had used to take the pictures was incredibly powerful.
Finally she found what she was looking for; a photo that showed a cleaning crew exiting the restricted area of Liberty Island. Liv could even make out the logo on the work shirts of the women and men that made up the cleaning crew, although at such a distance it had become a little blurred. But there it was, a skyscraper building with something that resembled a broom and a mop crossed over it and something written around it.
She could see enough to feel confident that logo and the crew belonged to the company; Williams & Bronson. Professional Cleaners.
She reached for her burner cell and dialled Luke's number. He picked up almost immediately "Top of the morning Boss, what can I do for you?"
"Top of the morning to you too Luke." Liv smiled a satisfied smile. "I have great news. I think I just found us a way to get eyes inside the warehouse."
"You're such a kill-joy Peter, couldn't you have waited in the car?" Astrid huffed taking the passenger seat beside him. Etta went for the back seat, putting the pizza boxes on the bench beside her.
"You were taking so much time, I was getting worried." He shrugged. "Besides, what did I do?" Peter raised an eyebrow at Astrid while starting the car, before heading back towards the lab.
"Really? You're going to play the ignorance card?" She stared at him with a disapproving look.
"Yes I am, because I really don't know what I did. Could you be so kind as to enlighten me?" He stole a quick look at Astrid, faking bewilderment, before turning his attention back to the road.
"You scared off the poor guy that was making an attempt at flirting with Etta," Astrid poked his shoulder.
"I was just joking," he replied, glancing in the rear-view mirror. Etta was smiling, apparently enjoying the banter between them.
"You call that joking?" Astrid narrowed her eyes even more at Peter. "You went all paternal on his ass. The least you could do is apologize to Etta."
"It was just a harmless joke." Peter looked at Etta through the rear-view mirror once more. "I'm sorry Etta, I didn't meant to go 'paternal' on that guy's ass."
Etta's chuckled, "It's okay. I didn't mind and I really wasn't interested in him," she said wrinkling her nose. In that moment, because of the expression that Etta had made with one slight facial twitch, it was as if Olivia was in the back seat, so strong was the resemblance between both women.
"Good for you then," Peter smiled fondly at his daughter. "Believe me when I say that I did you a favour. That guy is a jerk."
"In case you were wondering, he's 'a jerk' because he used to hit on Olivia too." Astrid said winking at Etta, who couldn't help but let out another chuckle.
She leaned forward and turned to Astrid. "He is kind of a jerk, but he's cute and he does have a nice ass."
"That he has," Astrid replied and both giggled at each other.
Peter looked at them with a grimace and shook his head. "I'm so not having this conversation with my future grown-up daughter. Besides, I never understood what's with women and men's asses"
"What?" Astrid glared at Peter. "You get to enjoy our behinds, but we can't appreciate yours? Not to mention that you guys just love breasts, hips, legs and other womanly parts. Need I remind you that there are magazines dedicated entirely to showing off the forms of naked women?"
"No you don't," Peter chuckled, "and you can appreciate whatever manly part you want, or even womanly part. I'm not being judgemental. What I mean is that from a scientific point of view there's an explanation why straight men admire women's breasts, hips, legs and so on. It's all got to do with reproduction."
Peter kept driving, his eyes shifting between the traffic ahead of them and Astrid, "We are programmed that way by mother nature, it's genetics 101," he pressed on, "In the old days of the cave men, choosing a woman with large breasts, wide hips and strong legs assured men that their children would have a better chance of success when delivery time came. It also improved the odds that their offspring would likely be well taken care of after birth, hence having a better chance of survival. Women on the other hand, would seek a guy strong enough to endure the harsh conditions in which they lived, one capable of protecting both them and their children through those difficult times. I know that that sounds very sexist nowadays - and it is - but that was the way it was back then and we are the result of those times, it became engraved in our species' DNA. So, straight women being physically attracted by guys with a good muscular build? I get it. It's simple genetics. Now why do women also like guys with a nice ass, I simply don't understand, I can't see the logic in that."
"The gluteus maximus is the largest single muscle in the human body, it's an excellent indicator of anatomical strength." Astrid pointed out. "Besides, there are men that also like other men's asses, how does science explain that, Mr. Bishop?" Astrid challenged, looking expectantly at Peter.
He shook his head lightly and gave another chuckle as he pulled into a parking space outside the Kresge building. "That's a totally different thing Miss Farnsworth," Peter said as they got out of the car.
Each of the three picked up a couple of pizza boxes from the stack and carried them back to the lab. "It has to do with sexual preference," Peter continued his dissertation, "and although reproduction plays a part in that, it's not the only factor and most times it doesn't even count. We, as a species have evolved beyond what our pre-historic ancestors looked for in each other when it comes to choosing a sexual partner. From what we know, our predecessors had sex for reproduction purposes mainly. We on the other hand, don't exclusively. Hence, sex in our culture goes way beyond what was initially, biologically intended for. Things have become far more complex than they were back then. But we still carry their genes, and they have a say when we feel physical attraction for someone. That's why the majority of us who are straight tend to appreciate certain physical traits in the opposite sex, and that is caused by those genes we inherited."
"So in your opinion women should mate with strong men and men should choose women with big breasts and large hips?" Etta raised an eyebrow looking at Peter, "I wonder what Mom thinks about that…"
"That is not what I meant kiddo." Peter shook his head, smiling at his daughter. "Science explains why most straight men are attracted to certain physical traits in a woman and vice versa. And it makes sense due to our species' background. That was what I was getting at. But when it comes to choosing someone to engage in a relationship, being heterosexual or otherwise, most of us look for other things beyond the physical traits of the other person. There are far more complex issues involved when it comes to attraction. Most times we choose someone because we feel a strong emotional attachment to the person that goes way beyond the physical factor. There are even some that totally disregard the physical appearance of the other and take into account other characteristics of the intended partner."
"Yeah," Astrid snorted "like those who only care how big the bank account of the other is."
As he reached the lab, Peter turned and made a show of butting the door to the lab, playfully bumping it open with his backside. "Anyway, for your information, I'm more than satisfied with each and every aspect of Olivia's form," he said giving Etta an impish grin as he continued to back in through the door.
Inside they found Walter in Gene's stall, talking softly to the animal as he fed her.
Meanwhile Olivia loitered near her office. "Hey there," she said with an easy smile for them all. "I just arrived from the Federal Building. Walter told me that you guys had gone out for pizza?" Olivia approached the group, giving Peter a quick peck on the lips. "Isn't this a little early for lunch?"
"He was having one of his intense food cravings and driving everyone nuts in the process," Peter sighed, "So we decided to go for an early pizza run and since I had some books to pick up at Markham's, I left Etta and Astrid at the pizza place while I took a short trip there."
Walter giddily approach the group, grabbing the pizza boxes and searching through them.
"Did you bring mine with parmesan, spinach, olives, mushrooms, asparagus," he rattled off the list of his desired toppings as he came to stand between Astrid and Etta, finishing by whispering the final ingredient, "and liver stroganoff?"
"Liver stroganoff?" Olivia asked grimacing.
"Shhh!" Walter cautioned her, "don't let Gene hear you! You'll hurt her feelings!"
"We've been having some trouble assembling the 'Fauxlivia' detector." Peter said by way of explanation, jabbing a finger towards the contraption standing in the middle of the lab.
It was constructed of two rectangular columns, standing about seven feet tall, each one was covered by a casing of metal on three of its sides, while the remaining side had its section of panelling removed. Left open, an assorted array of cables in a multitude of colours were visible in the guts of the equipment. The pillars stood about two feet apart, and once finished, the columns would create a screening zone which would scan everyone entering the restricted area.
"According to Walter," Peter continued, nodding toward the elder Bishop, "he hasn't manage to make it work yet, because he's slightly anaemic. Which is why he decided he needed a pizza rich in iron." He handed the box containing the aforementioned pizza off to Walter, then they all moved to a nearby workbench, clearing its surface and gathering to sit and eat around it.
"Iron is essential to maintaining a healthy body, my boy." Walter grabbed his first slice. "It's a key component in the production of haemoglobin, it helps carry oxygen saturated blood from the lungs. I've been neglecting my iron consumption. I can feel the lack of oxygen in my brain. My thinking process has been quite slow today." Then he took a big bite from the point of the pizza which contained a particularly high concentration of liver strips.
"I didn't even know they made pizzas with liver." Olivia wrinkled her nose looking dubiously at Walter devouring his pizza. Peter smiled to himself in amusement when he saw the familiar expression, the exact one which Etta shared and had demonstrated just moments before in the car.
"Oh, I think they would have done anything Etta asked…" Astrid smiled taking a bite of her slice.
Etta giggled, while Peter rolled his eyes.
It didn't go unnoticed by Olivia. "Okay, what is it?"
"Bobby from the pizza place was very interested in Etta. Until your boyfriend showed up and ruined everything," Astrid said shooting a glare at Peter.
"I'm never going to hear the end of it, am I?" he sighed, then turned to Olivia, "Apparently I went 'paternal' on the guy's ass."
"What did you do to him? Unleashed your infinite arsenal of sarcasm?" Olivia guessed and bumped her hip gently against his.
"I just happened to mention that her mother was an FBI agent. I also happened to mention that her grandfather, the crazy scientist, had been recently released from a mental institution; a man whom has a long history of - not to mention a professional enjoyment in - preforming tests on human subjects." Peter shrugged. "You should have seen the guy's face, it was priceless," he snorted.
"I can't believe you said that." Olivia stared at him in disbelief.
"Oh he did. Your man here thinks he's very funny." Astrid slapped Peter's hand and took for herself the slice of pizza he was trying to grab.
"How many times do I have to apologize?" he huffed, "I'm sorry okay? I just couldn't help myself, the guy is a jerk and he was asking for it."
"If you'd like, my dear." Walter seized Etta's hand. "I could go to the pizza place and tell your gentleman suitor that all the human tests I preformed were entirely consensual," he offered eagerly.
"Thank you Walter but that won't be necessary." She turned to her grandfather squeezing his hand. "I'm not interested in Bobby and besides, Peter is right, he is kind of a jerk."
"Wait a minute." Olivia looked to Astrid. "Are we talking about the same Bobby who tried to get my phone number every time we went there?"
Peter was the one who answered, "One and the same. Apparently he has an appetite for Dunham women. We should warn Rachel to stay clear of that place." He grabbed another slice. "And Ella too once she turns eighteen," he said before taking a bite.
Olivia chuckled, "I wouldn't say he's a jerk, just annoying and persistent. But he's kind of cute and he has a nice ass."
"Oh, for god's sakes." Peter rolled his eyes while Etta and Astrid both snorted.
"What?" Olivia looked at the trio, wondering about their reaction to what she had said.
"Peter has this whole theory about women's attraction to men's behinds and why it doesn't make any sense," Astrid explained.
"Oh, does he?" Olivia raised an eyebrow at Peter. "You don't have to be jealous honey," she said grinning, "I think you've got a spectacular ass, even if doesn't make any sense." Then she snuck an appraising look at his behind.
Both Astrid and Etta were again unable to stifle their laughter, while Peter barely managed to hide his embarrassment, his cheeks growing slightly flushed.
"He got that from the Bishop side of the family," came Walter's contribution.
"This discussion just keeps getting better by the minute," Peter sighed and shook his head.
"Elizabeth mentioned several times how she admired my gluteal muscles," the elder Bishop decided that a bit more clarification was in order. "She used to love to grab my behind when we were preforming our amorous activities. She would dig her nails in with so much force that the marks became permanent!"
"For god's sakes Walter!" Peter dropped the slice he was holding and rubbed his forehead. "That is way too much information."
"But it's true son!" Walter protested. "Here, I'll show you…" he started to undo his belt buckle and turned on his heal, ready to drop his trousers to show them.
"Oh no, no, no!" Peter rushed towards his father, standing in front of him and grabbing the seat of his trousers. "Walter I don't think the ladies are interested in seeing that." Trousers secured, he spun Walter back around and refastened his father's belt. "I can assure you that neither am I."
"I don't understand why you're always such a prude, son," Walter protested, tucking his shirt inside his waistband, "the human body is a true work of art which Mother Nature blessed us with, no one should be ashamed of it."
"Some bodies are. Others, not so much." Peter shook his head. "Besides, I have this old fashioned sense of decorum. My father's naked body, is something I prefer not to see."
"Well you're wrong Peter." Walter shot a glare at his son. "And you're also wrong in your assessment. The fact that women tend to enjoy the male posterior makes perfect sense."
Peter raised both his hands. "I think there's been enough of… ass talk for today."
"Well, I for one would like to hear Walter's explanation," Astrid commented while narrowing her eyes at Peter, who in turn rolled his own and huffed.
"Thank you my dear." Walter nodded at Astrid. Then he took a more serious stance, like a professor addressing his class. "A man with well-shaped gluteus means he also has strong legs, hence he's a good runner and he's able to walk long distances. This also qualifies when it comes to the females of our species. That was a major advantage in the African savanna, from where our ancestors came from. It allowed them to escape predators and to roam great distances in search of food."
Walter's enthusiasm grew exponentially in relation to his explanation, he paced around the workbench and gestured frantically, as if he would be better understood the more he moved.
"And those same legs," the elder Bishop continued, "ultimately took humanity outside of Africa, until we colonized the whole world. All thanks to our capacity to travel great distances on foot, because of our strong lower limbs." Walter stomped both his feet on the floor, as if to demonstrate the power of human legs.
"Hence," Walter kept on, "the importance of choosing a partner with a firm tooshie." He slapped his own behind, making Peter wince, shake his head in disapproval and close his eyes, sighing.
Meanwhile the women were each unable to hide an amused smile.
Walter seemed oblivious to the contradictory reactions he was receiving and continued his 'class' with renewed vigour, "Thus assuring the offspring would be born with that same physical trait. And that is why a pair of firm and well-formed gluteus maximi are a physical characteristic appreciated by both the male and female of the opposite gender." He finished his dissertation by picking up another slice of pizza and taking a big bite out of it.
"It's official," Peter said and tiredly rubbed his forehead once more, "'gluteus' has joined 'nipples' in the category of words I don't want to hear my father pronounce ever again."
"But Walter's right you know." Olivia turned to Peter. "You're proof of what he just said."
He gave her a quizzical look.
"I've seen you run and I've seen your bare ass," Olivia assessed with a wiggle of her right eyebrow, "Walter's definitely right." She punctuated her statement by gently slapping his behind.
Peter's face turned a shade of red that had hardly been seen since his adolescence and which even his stubble couldn't hide. The fact the Walter was beaming, apparently proud that his son also had a firm 'tooshie', wasn't helping things along.
On the other hand, Astrid and Etta seemed to be enjoying the situation very much, if their uncontrollable giggling was any indication.
It wasn't until Astrid's laughing fit passed that she noticed someone loitering near the door of the lab. "Err... guys, we have a visitor." She pointed out to the others, nodding to the door where their visitor waited.
As one, they all looked toward the entrance to find September standing there.
"September?" Etta immediately crossed the distance to him. "What is it?"
"There is a major disruption about to happen in the timeline," he said in his typical monotonic speech.
"A disruption? What do you mean?" Etta frowned.
"Because of your interference, an event will have an outcome different from the one that was supposed to be. One that will have catastrophic consequences in the future," The Observer replied.
"What event? What are you talking about?" Etta shook her head, confused by what she was hearing.
September tilted his head and reached for Etta, trying to put his hand on her shoulder.
She immediately recoiled. "September," she growled in a warning tone.
The Observer seemed to be taken by surprise because of her reaction and tilted his head. "I must show you. You have to trust me."
Etta stood quiet, her eyes fixed on the Observer, as if considering what he had just requested. "Okay" she said after a few seconds, nodding slightly.
Then she turned around. All eyes were on her and the Observer. "I'll be right back, don't worry."
September reached for her again, this time successfully grasping her by the shoulder. "We are not going anywhere."
Etta frowned, but before she could say anything, her brain was flooded with images. She tried to make sense of it all; suddenly finding herself thrust into a disjointed scene, apparently featuring the Alternate Olivia with her auburn hair bouncing as she ran along with another agent. The sounds of their trampling steps and shouts were muffled, as if reaching her through a tremendous void, and the images were stuttered somehow, almost stroboscopic.
Things started to grow clearer and more vivid as the sequence of images became ordered, resolving until it became as if she was relieving the event through a memory, although this was not one which belonged to her.
She saw that the pair were in pursuit of someone, chasing a running figure through a tightly confined construction site somewhere within the Alternate Universe. As the action drew to its culmination, she got a better view of the quarry as he turned to watch with just the hint of an amused smile upon his face.
Etta continued to view the sequence through until its conclusion. "That is what would have happened had you not interfered," The Observer explained. Etta nodded, now finally understanding what the images meant.
September tilted his head once more. "This is what will happen now."
Another torrent of images, totally different from the first, stormed Etta's brain. She closed her eyes and wavered at the second intrusion so soon after the first which her mind had suffered. September kept her steady within his grip until it was done, but even then The Observer remained rooted to the spot, supporting the girl with his attention fully trained upon her.
It took Etta a few seconds to process the second batch of images which September had literally dumped into her brain. Even so, it didn't take long until she made sense of everything and the full implications of the warning that the Observer had just delivered to her were understood. Her eyes sprung open, quickly regaining focus.
Only then did September finally let go of the younger Bishop.
"I understand." Etta said with a sharp nod, "I'll take care of it, don't worry."
September gently returned the nod, then he vanished the same way he had appeared, winking out of space and time, as if he'd never truly been there at all.
Olivia and Peter joined Etta, who turned to Olivia. "Mom, I need your help with something."
"Sure, but what was that all about?" Olivia asked, nodding toward the spot September had occupied seconds before.
"We have to get to New York, right now." Etta took her gun from her holster giving it a thorough inspection. "And then we need to cross over to the Other Side."
Charlie, Daniel and Angie arrived at the Stanfield residence in Oyster Bay, Long Island.
They had finally identified the man behind the strange incidents.
Thanks to Daniel's observational skills, he had successfully discovered a connection between the first two victims, which had led them to Bryant Hospital. There, they had found out that the strange man, whom Daniel had chased at the site of the last incident, had been a patient undergoing experimental treatments as part of a new drug trial.
His name was Milo Stanfield and he suffered from severe cognitive deficiencies from birth. Since being treated with the new drug, he had somehow been turned into a walking supercomputer. The man had apparently become capable of performing more advanced calculations than all the DoD computers combined.
Angie knocked on the door and soon a young woman in her early twenties answered.
"Madeline Stanfield?" Angie asked.
"Yes," The young woman confirmed. She looked between the Agents. "You're here about Milo aren't you?"
"Fringe Division." Charlie showed her his credentials, "We need to ask you a few questions about your brother."
"What has he done?"
"Can we come in to talk about it?" Angie requested.
Madeline invited them in. She led the three agents to the living room and sat down stiffly on the couch. After a moment, she motioned for them to sit across from her with her small coffee table between them.
Daniel and Angie each took a seat, while Charlie opted to remain standing, taking up position behind Daniel's chair.
Angie explained in detail about the incidents that Milo had triggered during the course of the previous couple of days. That by using his unique abilities, he had successfully been able to manipulate the outcome of each event, which he had designed to achieve his singular goal; to eliminate the people that he knew were attempting to terminate his treatment.
"Three people?" Madeline asked, clearly in shock.
"That we know of, yeah." Angie confirmed.
"No, there must be some mistake." Madeline shook her head "Milo wouldn't kill innocent people."
"I suppose he didn't think they were all that innocent," Charlie remarked, "You know that if the medication is cut off at this stage, he'll end up right back where he was before the treatment began, right?"
Madeline lowered her head without acknowledging Charlie's question.
"Do you have any idea where he is now?" Daniel asked.
"He doesn't confide in me anymore." Madeline replied sombrely.
Charlie took a peek at the door cracked slightly ajar to his left. "You mind if I take a look at his room?"
"Go ahead," Madeline answered, "last door on the left."
Charlie nodded and walked away toward Milo's room.
Silence fell between the remaining occupants of the living room, Madeline appearing to be absorbed by her own thoughts. She didn't seem too keen to provide any more information about her brother. Daniel decided to give her push. "Is that you?" he asked, nodding toward a picture of a boy and a girl standing above the fireplace on the mantelpiece.
"Mm-hmm," Madeline confirmed.
Daniel got up and moved closer for a better look. "Milo and Madeline," he said, picking up the picture, "could have been leading characters in a kids movie." He smiled at the picture, then at Madeline.
"You're not the first person to say that," she answered with a faint and somewhat sad smile.
Angie also got up, and moved closer. She took the picture from Daniel's hands. "You seem close."
"We were," Madeline confirmed, "He was a lot older, but... we liked the same cartoons, played the same games."
"I had the opposite." Angie smiled, "My sister and I were close in age, but... we fought over everything." she chuckled.
"Are you close now?" Madeline asked, genuinely interested.
"Yes we are." Angie's smile got wider. "Although she lives in Florida. She's an Astrophysicist, she works for NASA at the Kennedy Space Centre."
"You must be very proud of her then." Madeline gave her a warm smile.
Angie nodded. "Yes. Very much."
Madeline's mood continued to darken. She stared into space with a sad, vacant sad look in her eyes. "When I was little, I used to always be scared that something would happen to Milo. He'd forget to check for cars, just run right into traffic. I worried that he'd never be happy. He'd never feel like... like he belonged."
Angie carefully put the picture back on the mantelpiece, then she moved toward Madeline and took a seat beside her. "Must've been hard watching him struggle."
"It was harder for him." Madeline shrugged. "That's why I agreed to the drug study."
Angie took Madeline's hands, holding them gently as if to cushion and protect her from the gravity of what she was about to say. "He isn't that helpless person anymore. He's dangerous, and I think you know that. So if there is anything that you can think of... we just don't want to see anyone else get hurt, including your brother." She gave a reassuring squeeze to Madeline's hands.
Madeline stared at the African-American Agent for a few seconds, emotion visible in her eyes. Then she nodded and reached for a book kept on top of a small cabinet to her left.
Madeline opened the book and took out a small envelope. On the front 'Madie' had been written in ballpoint pen.
She handed it to Angie. "It's a..." Madeline swallowed, trying to control her emotions, "it's a good-bye note. But it says where I can reach him."
Angie opened the envelope. "Thank you," she said, taking a peek at the note. Then she shared a look with Daniel that told him that they had what they needed.
The three agents said their good-byes, thanking Madeline Stanfield for her invaluable help, they left the house.
"Patricia Hotel, Lakewood Avenue." Charlie said, reading the note left by Milo as they made their way to their vehicle.
"Yeah," Angie confirmed, "I'm gonna call for backup, get them to meet us there."
"Hold on a second." Charlie said, stopping dead in his tracks. "What if that's what Milo wants? You know, that's his M.O., always ten steps ahead."
"So, what?" Daniel frowned. "You think he knew that his sister was gonna tell us?
"Listen," Charlie said, "he knows we're onto him. He knows his sister. What if he's trying to set us up?"
They all looked at each other, each of them suddenly unsure of how they should proceed.
Until Daniel decided that they had to do something. "Well, we can't just stand here," he said in exasperation. He reached for his ear cuff and waited for Agent Farnsworth to pick up the call.
When she did, he asked her for advice on how to proceed. Angie and Charlie both activated their ear cuffs to join the call.
"I can't answer that." Astrid replied.
"Why not?" Daniel insisted.
"Because there is no answer," Astrid explained, "It's a mathematical problem without a solution."
"Well, which scenario is more likely?" Daniel insisted, hoping that somehow the right decision could be made. "We go to the Patricia Hotel, or we don't?"
"Suppose he predicts you'll go there. But then you'll predict he'll predict that, so you don't go."
"So we shouldn't go?" Charlie asked.
Astrid continued delivering her explanation, "But then he predicts that you predicted that. And he changes his plan, which means that you should go to the hotel. But then he predicts that you'll predict what he predicted too. It's an infinite spiral."
"Okay, well, thank you, Astrid. We'll take it from here." Daniel hung up the call.
Then he turned to their vehicle and walked towards it with a determined step.
Angie and Charlie looked at each other, then at the younger Agent.
"Where you going?" Angie asked.
"To the Patricia Hotel." Daniel replied without looking back.
"Danny..." Angie trotted after him, seemingly alarmed by his decision.
Daniel stopped and turned to his colleague. "Look Angie, he could be there now. I'm not willing to lose him. Are you?" he demanded, looking between Angie and Charlie.
Charlie took the car keys from his pocket and tossed them to Daniel. "Fine. You drive."
Arriving at the Patricia Hotel, Daniel parked the car directly across the street. He, Charlie and Angie got out, then made their way towards the lobby.
Just as they were about to enter, by chance, Daniel looked over to his right and - in a moment where surprise was tempered by the sensation that catching sight of their guy wasn't actually determined by chance at all - he discovered that Milo Stanfield was standing right there, just a few feet from them, watching them with a look of mild satisfaction on his face.
"Guys, there he is!" Daniel said and without hesitation he started walking towards their target. Charlie and Angie immediately followed suit. Walking soon turned into running, as Milo suddenly took off into a side street.
Their path, as they gave chase, brought them beneath a digital clock display, just as its digits changed to mark 4:00pm exactly.
Daniel's good physical condition soon proved to be no match for Milo, as the Fringe Agent was visibly gaining ground with every stride. He signalled to his colleagues to take different paths as they entered a construction zone, hoping to cut Milo off further ahead.
Without words, the team split with Angie hooking a right, while Charlie veered left.
Daniel kept running dead ahead through the construction site, keeping his target in sight. Still with a slight lead, Milo constantly swerved left and right avoiding obstacles and construction workers as they went about their tasks. He seemed to navigate the intricate path with ease, as if anticipating every obstacle.
That factor was making the chase more complicated. Each time Milo was able to dodge, it hampered Daniel and made him lose time. Consequently the distance between him and Milo wasn't decreasing as fast as the Fringe Agent wished.
A disquieting thought crossed Daniel's mind, Milo Stanfield had the ability to manipulate events. Much like a programmer putting together a computer algorithm to solve a problem, Milo directed his reality at will, therefore, the outcome would be engineered to be the one that suited him most.
Taking into consideration what Milo had done to the persons that had tried to stop him before, Daniel realised that he could very well be running towards his death. Regardless, and because he had no other choice, the Fringe Agent pushed the grim thought away and pressed on with his pursuit, focusing only on his target.
At Milo's orchestration, they entered a tightly constricted area with scaffolding on all sides, the boards spanning the space overhead formed a darkened tunnel. Dimming light and crowding on all sides heightened Daniel's sense of foreboding. He had to keep his senses on full alert, trying to anticipate any unpleasant surprises that Milo might send his way.
Daniel intended to make sure that he would be the kind of variable that Milo would have a hard time factoring in.
However, when they emerged on the other side of the tunnel, he was confronted with a diamond signal sign, blinking furiously along with the urgently sounding siren, warning that air quality had become dangerously degraded.
Daniel was forced to slow down. He fumbled with his oxygen inhaler, all the while trying to keep running as fast as he could. He sucked hungrily in the inhaler's mouthpiece taking a few deep, rejuvenating breaths, then he turned left into the alley into which Milo had disappeared.
The forklift appeared out of nowhere.
Daniel felt panic surge through him and time seemed to drift in slow motion as the situation unfolded before his eyes. He saw the large palate of bricks the forklift was carrying in a raised position, he also took in the way that it wobbled as the driver suddenly tried to halt the vehicle's progression upon seeing him. He became aware that it had become inevitable that the destabilised load would tumble. He also knew without a doubt, that he was directly in the path of where the deluge of brick would soon crash to the ground, once the vehicle came fully to a stop following the driver's attempt to not crash into him.
Daniel raised his arms, to protect his head, but already he understood that it would do him absolutely no good.
Then something eerie happened.
He saw - but couldn't not understand how - the falling bricks suddenly stop in mid-air. As if time itself had been frozen.
This was immediately followed by a crunching thud of impact against his torso, though far less damaging than the crushing force which he had been anticipating, it still shocked him. He found himself being projected, with transverse force, away from the front of the forklift and its deadly payload. Despite his shock, Daniel realised that was a sensation he was familiar with, it was exactly like the impact of being tackled hard in a football game.
His inhaler clattered from his hand and rolled away.
Confusion clouded his mind due partly to lack of oxygen, and partially due to the sudden shock of the unexpected impact and added strangeness of the situation. His body hit the ground in the midst of an adrenaline rush, the effects of which made his whole body shake. All the while, Daniel watched the bricks falling and then smashing into rubble as they impacted the pavement, right at the spot where he was supposed to be.
There was something further adding to the confusion that clouded his senses. Someone was grabbing him. Whoever it was, had probably saved his life. He turned to see who his saviour was and if things weren't already weird enough, he soon discovered that person was none other than the elusive Melissa.
Daniel made an attempt to get up, but his legs still weren't fully responding and his lungs were starting to burn from lack of oxygen.
"Whoa, Danny, easy." Melissa was already down on her left knee beside him. She gently helped him to sit up, handing his inhaler back.
Daniel gladly accepted her help, although a bit weary of her. He took a few deep breaths from the inhaler. Soon he began to feel the light headedness lift and his vision cleared fully, then he finally made a second and this time successful effort to get up. Only then, once he'd recovered a little, did he began to notice details about her, like the strange apparatus she had beneath her nose, resembling a highly adapted, self-contained nasal cannula, which fed into her nostrils.
"You have a lot to explain," was the first thing that came out of his mouth, after his breathing calmed down, which surprised even himself, since she had just saved his life and he in turn was sounding unjustifiably harsh towards her.
She, on the other hand, didn't seem at all surprised by his reaction. "I know," Melissa said and he was sure that she even sounded… ashamed.
"And I will," she promised, "but we don't have much time right now."
"Etta! We have to go!" Came a familiar voice from further to his left. Just when Daniel thought that things couldn't get even more weird, he realised that approaching them - although Daniel hadn't until that moment noticed her presence – and coming stand at Melissa's side, with a gun in her hand, was the blonde Agent Dunham he had first seen on the footage from the Opera House.
And like Melissa - or Etta as she was apparently called - she also had the strange item connected to her nostrils.
Further away, in the direction from where the blonde Agent Dunham had come, Daniel saw that Milo Stanfield was laying on the ground next to a fence, knocked out cold. Apparently she had taken care of the bastard.
"What the hell..." Daniel's mouth hung open, unable to say anything else, staring dumbly between both women.
"Daniel!" Melissa barked sharply to get his attention, "I have to go now. Meet me later, at Battery Park, on the East Coast Memorial at 9pm. You must come alone. I promise, I'll explain everything."
She reached for him and perhaps most shockingly of all, gave him soft kiss on the lips.
"Be careful with that one," Melissa said to a stunned Daniel with a smirk. She nodded to where Milo Stanfield lay in a crumpled heap on the ground. "Looks like he might be out for a while, but don't take any chances." Then he watched as she turned to make her way over to the blonde Agent Dunham, where she waited at an exit point of the alley. However before she'd taken five paces, she glanced over her shoulder. "Please, promise me you will be there… alone," she requested. He found that her intensity and earnestness, left him dumb.
Melissa waited for no reply. She turned away, and as she drew next to her companion the pair set off at a run, taking a right, they disappeared from Daniel's line of sight.
The women had taken the same path out as the one which his pursuit had brought him in moments before. Daniel jolted into action and ran after them. In a matter of seconds he was back in the familiar area leading to the confined tunnel. However completely unexpectedly, he discovered that there was absolutely no sign of the women.
It would have been impossible for them to have already made it to the the scaffold constructed tunnel, they couldn't possibly be that fast. It should have been impossible for them to pass through and into an area of cover so quickly.
Still, Daniel continued on towards the entrance and took a peek inside. Sure enough, his suspicions were confirmed, there was no one there. It was as if they had vanished into thin air.
As his surprise subsided, he remembered why he was there in the first place. Daniel ran back to the alley, taking a few more deep breaths from the inhaler on the way. Milo was still on the ground, but was moaning and one of his arms was weakly moving and twitching, apparently still suffering from the effects of whatever the Blonde Agent Dunham had done in order to put him down in the first place.
Daniel quickly went to the man that had come so close to killing him and cuffed him before he became fully conscious, preventing him from making his escape with the aid of any more of his Jedi mind tricks.
Daniel shook his head looking at the man before him, he didn't seemed so dangerous now, lying on the ground, cuffed and moaning in pain.
It was then that he realised something else. In the end, it had been Melissa who been the unknown variable that Milo could not factor in, and whom had been the only one capable of binging to his scheme, intended to kill, to its unpredictable end.
Luke and Natasha arrived at Jackson Heights, Queens. They parked in front of the building where their target, Roberta Jimenez lived.
It was almost dinner time and they knew she would be getting ready to leave for a shift of her second job, at a 24 hour diner a few blocks from her home. However, it was her other job that had raised their interest in the Hispanic woman. During the day, she worked for the cleaning company, Williams & Bronson, which in turn was an outside contractor serving Massive Dynamic.
Currently the place of work which Roberta's day job had taken her to, was Liberty Island. More precisely, into the restricted area operated by Massive Dynamic.
They had gathered information about the woman during the day, selecting her as their most promising candidate from the employees on record. But the discovery only came thanks to a stroke of luck, when Liv noticed that one of the neighbours of their safe-house in Newburgh worked for the same cleaning company as the one they'd observed servicing the secure site set up on Liberty Island.
Liv had taken her chances and broken into the neighbour's house. There she found out that the owner of the neighbouring house, Carl Anderson, was the manager of the company's Newburgh office. With Luke's help, Liv had successfully hacked his home computer, which held valuable information about the company.
Most importantly, they had been able to figure out Carl's password to the cleaning company's network. Since Carl had a high level profile within said network, they had also been able to hack into that, gaining access to all employee records, including the ones working at the headquarters in New York. Which had led them to Roberta Jimenez, a Nicaraguan immigrant, living in the US since she was four years old.
What made her especially appealing to Liv and her companions, was the fact that they'd been able to determine that the thirty year old woman was barely making ends meet. She was working two jobs, raising a thirteen year old son all by herself and also caring for her mother at home, supporting her through her battle with pulmonary fibrosis which had, in turn, developed after a long fight with breast cancer.
The meagre coverage that Roberta's medical insurance offered, gave nowhere near adequate funding. The medical bills alone were shooting through the roof and despite Roberta working two jobs, the family were on the brink of bankruptcy.
All of which made Roberta the perfect target in Liv's eyes.
Luke and Natasha had been tasked with making the approach. They would offer a business proposition that should certainly prove to be too good for Roberta to refuse.
They entered the building where she lived. The front door had been left open as the lock was broken. They took the stairs, although there was an elevator in the building, a hand written sign informed them that it was out of order, leaving them no other choice but to climb on foot to the fifth floor.
Luke and Natasha passed near a group of youths on the third floor landing, occupying the space on the corridor leading towards the apartments situated on that floor. The boys said some words in Spanish when they saw Luke and Natasha. By the way they were looking at the female shapeshifter, Luke didn't need a translator to understand what they were saying.
Natasha stopped in her tracks and eyed the boys. Not one of them was no older than his mid-teens, each with shirts buttoned up all the way to the collars and untucked from their trousers. Three gangster wanna-bes by the look of them.
"Natasha, ignore them," Luke said in a low voice, "we have more pressing matters." He also held tight to the straps of the backpack he carried.
"Let her look, cabron," one of the boys said, walking towards them with a confident swagger. "Maybe she likes what she sees, old man," he challenged and grabbed his crotch.
"See what?" Natasha squinted her eyes, looking at the kid pointedly, scrutinising his overconfident gesture with an openly critical eye. "I'm not seeing anything to get excited about there."
The other two boys started laughing. "She just said that you don't have any balls, esse," one of the laughing kids said to the kid who'd had enough balls to approach Natasha.
"Then look closer, chica" the boy said drawing a gun from behind him, where it had been tucked into his waistband.
Before he could do much more than clear the muzzle from his saggy jeans, Natasha was on him, grabbing the boy's gun from his hand with such force, that the sound of his snapping bones could be clearly heard a second before the screaming began.
"Here we go," Luke sighed, the memory of his encounter with the mobster crew a few days before coming to his mind.
The kid with the shattered wrist shouted desperately in Spanish expletives. Natasha responded by grabbing him by his crotch with her other hand, raising the young gangster off his feet.
"Madre de dios!" The other two looked at the scene in panic. They were even more surprised when they received the brunt of the force of their friend's body when Natasha threw him in their direction as if he was a ragdoll.
Luke, who had been ready to join the action, decided that Natasha was handling the whole situation quite well. So he decided to sit that one out standing still, but observant, by the stairs, enjoying the scene as it unfold before him with a hint of an amused smile on his lips.
Natasha kept the boy's gun in her hand as she approached the trio.
"You shouldn't play with such dangerous toys," she said to the boys that were laying on the floor and moaning in pain. "You never know when you'll hurt yourself… esse." Then she squeezed the gun in her hand, the shape of it deforming as she crushed it, as if it were made of rubber.
Natasha dropped the contorted mass of metal, which hardly bore any resemblance to the deadly item it had been moments before. It landed on the kid that had approached her, scoring a bullseye to his crotch. The boy didn't make a sound, although his face was pure agony and devoid of all colour. He turned his face to his left and threw up on his friends.
The other two boys scrambled, trying to get their friend off them so they could get away as fast as they could, all the while swearing profusely in Spanish. As soon as the pair succeeded they ran away without looking back.
"Poor kid," Natasha said in a mock worried tone, looking at the boy still laying on the floor. "Told ya', it's dangerous to play with guns."
The kid struggled to his knees and with a great deal of effort - and no small amount of pain - finally he got up, holding his broken hand protectively against his chest. Then began backing away with a limp, from the female shapeshifter.
"Go on, better get home," Natasha said, "a bowl of chicken soup will do wonders for you."
The boy gave her one last wide-eyed look, the faint colour that had begun to return to his cheeks vanished again and he threw up one more time.
"Then again, maybe not." Natasha scrunched her nose.
Luke shook his head. "Come on, let's go. We have a job to do," he reminded and set off for the next flight of stairs. Natasha fallowed as they resumed their way up to Roberta's apartment.
When they got there, Luke knocked on the door. They could hear voices speaking in Spanish inside and footsteps approaching. Then there was a silent pause.
"Who are you? What do you want?" a female voice cautiously asked from inside.
Natasha was the one that answered, "Roberta Jimenez?"
"Who is this?" the woman on the other side of the door insisted.
"We would like to talk to you, about a job offer."
"A job offer?"
"Yes mam," Natasha replied, "my partner and I have a proposition that will be very beneficial to you."
"Mam..." Luke added, "We represent a company that has interests in several cutting edge scientific areas. It just so happens that you have access to… of one of our main competitors."
The door opened just a few inches, secured by a chain lock preventing it from fully opening. The head of a young woman with dark hair and brown eyes peeked through the crack. "But I don't work for a scientific company, why are you interested in me?"
Natasha smiled. "We know you don't. But you do work for a company that provides cleaning services for Massive Dynamic."
The woman blinked a few times, but remained silent.
"Our employers are especially interested in their site on Liberty Island, where we believe you are currently positioned." Luke explained "If you agree to work for us, you will be generously rewarded." He promised, and sensing that the time to dangle the hook had come. He took his backpack off and opened it a bit, letting the woman to take a peek inside.
Roberta's eyes almost bulged from its sockets when she saw the amount of money that was inside.
Luke closed the backpack and held it out towards Roberta. Even from her position behind the door, Luke could feel the magnetic pull of temptation between the woman and the money within the bag. "This one is for you, think of it as an incentive. Keep it and think about our proposition. If you decide that you don't want to do it, it's still yours, no strings attached."
"But if you do agree to work for us..." Natasha said, "More like this will follow."
Roberta opened the door and despite her lingering trepidation, accepted the backpack from Luke, then she allowed them both inside.
The Hispanic woman closed the door and asked in a low voice. "The job you want me to do, is it something illegal?"
"I'm going to be honest with you," Luke said "It's not completely legit, but if you do get caught you won't go to jail, we'll make sure of that, our employers are very powerful people. Besides we have a strategy which we believe will ensure that the chances of you being caught are essentially non-existent."
Roberta opened the backpack fully. Picking out a package banded with a yellow and white paper strap and printed with '$10,000' twice, so that it would read correctly no matter which way up it was. She riffled through the entire bundle of circulated one hundred dollar bills. "Dios mio, how much is in here?" Roberta looked between the stack in hand and the quantity of identical stacks still nestled inside the backpack.
"One hundred thousand dollars," Natasha emphasised, "If you accept the job, the next payment will be double."
"Two hundred thousand?" Roberta's mouth hung open.
Luke nodded. "Exactly."
"But what it is that's so important about Liberty Island? And what do you need me to do?" Roberta looked between the two shapeshifters.
"It's simple," Luke took out a badge with Roberta's name on. It matched in perfection the official ones given by Massive Dynamic to outside contractors working on Liberty Island. "You just have to wear this one in place of the one they gave you while you're working."
"Wear this badge? That is all?" Roberta frowned, her eyes scrutinising the badge.
"Yes that's all," Luke assured her with a smile. "And return it to us at the end of the day." What he neglected to explain, was that the badge had a high definition, micro video camera concealed within it. It was also equipped with a micro disk, capable of storing more than twenty four hours-worth of footage.
It had been the ideal way to circumvent the problem posed by the wireless jammer that Massive Dynamic had installed on the Liberty Island Site, by using advanced tech from their side, which should remain undetectable by even their most stringent security measures.
All they required was someone like Roberta, to just wear the replacement badge. As soon as she closed the clamp to attach it to her uniform, it would begin recording automatically, non-stop, until the point at which she took it off again at the end of the day. Luke and Natasha had only to collect the badge to retrieve the micro disk.
"And when the job is finished," Natasha put her hand on Roberta's shoulder, "you'll have enough money to pay all your debts and still have enough to get yourself a nice place in a much better neighbourhood."
Roberta looked between the badge and the backpack with the money. She seemed uncertain of what to do.
"Take your time. Think about it," Luke suggested and gave her a reassuring smile. "Sleep on it and we'll come back tomorrow at this hour. The badge will pass even the closest scrutiny from their security personnel, they won't even know they should be suspicious of it. Really, there's nothing to worry about. Just remember that any risk you perceive you are taking, will be more than compensated for." Then he motioned Natasha with his head toward the door.
The female shapeshifter gave a gentle rub to the Hispanic woman's arm. "See you tomorrow Miss Jimenez, and thank you for taking the time to listen to us."
Roberta just nodded, apparently still stunned by the proposition that had just been made, and the cash given, obligation free.
Luke and Natasha left the apartment, they didn't say a word to each other until they left the building and entered their vehicle.
Luke started the car and entered into the flow of traffic, beginning the drive back to the hotel.
"Do you think she will go for it?" Natasha asked from the passenger seat.
"Yeah, I'm sure she will." Luke said keeping his eyes on the road.
"I don't know…" Natasha shrugged "maybe we gave her too much money up front. She will probably say no, keep the money and then we'll have to find someone else to do the job."
"Dollface," Luke began and gave her a sideways grin, "there's something about humans that you should have realised by now."
Natasha raised an eyebrow at him.
"When it comes to money… it's never enough." Luke's grin widened. "We just bought ourselves eyes inside that compound."
It was almost 9pm when Daniel arrived at Battery Park in Lower Manhatan.
He walked toward the East Coast Memorial, passing by the Battery Gardens Restaurant, then took a right until he reached the stairs that led to the pillars of the Memorial Monument.
Daniel took a good look around as he climbed the few steps.
There were a few people scattered throughout the area, some just strolling around enjoying the mild weather of a late spring evening, others reading the names inscribed upon the granite that made the massive pylons.
Daniel walked further until he reached the statue of the Eagle on the opposite side. There was no sign of Melissa. Or Etta, if that was really her name. But there were still six minutes left until the clock reached 9pm.
He had had a very hectic day, to put it mildly, so he figured he might as well wait while sitting down. With that in mind, he walked towards one of the benches near the statue and took a seat.
Daniel surveyed the granite walls, each one covered with names of men that had lost their lives defending his country. The third wall on the left from where he was sitting, was the one that held the name of his great-grandfather. Daniel had found it when he first moved to New York, after several visits to the Memorial.
Alan Richards was his great-grandfather's name and his life story was worthy of a Hollywood movie. He had served in the army during the First World War when he was only seventeen years old. Being tall and with a strong body that made him look older then he really was, he had managed to convince the recruitment office in his native Maine that he was a year older than he actually was.
He had served on the Western front. And during the battle of Saint-Mihiel he had, single handed, managed to disable two nests of German heavy-machine guns that were decimating his unit. He suffered several wounds in the assault, although none were life altering, they were severe. Upon recovery he refused to be honourably discharged after being released from the hospital, having convinced the commander of his unit to allow him to return to the front to re-join his comrades in arms until the end of the war.
He was wounded again in one of the last battles of the war, leaving him with a permanent limp affecting his left leg. For his service he was awarded the Medal of Honour.
But he didn't stop there. After coming back home from the war, despite of his limp, he started working on fishing boats in his native Maine, like most young men from the coastal small towns of that state.
After a few years, he decided to enlist on the Merchant Navy. With time he became captain of a vessel.
By the time the Second World War started, Alan was in his early forties, he tried to re-join the army. However this time he could not fool the recruitment officers. Due to his injury they deemed him unfit for active duty.
Someone else might have stayed home, but Daniel's great-grandfather hadn't give up. He volunteered to captain one of the ships that was part of the merchant convoys that brought supplies across the Atlantic to Great Britain, which was under a fierce siege by the Nazis.
On a run just after the US declared war on Germany, they made a stop in Newfoundland for supplies bound for Great Britain. However on the way across the Grand Banks, a German U-Boat attacked, and sank the defenceless ship. Daniel's great-grandfather lost a quarter of his crew, but the rest of them were rescued by a Portuguese fishing vessel, out in the cold water in search of cod. The ship that came to their rescue belonged to the Portuguese White Fleet.
Daniel had read about those cod fishing ships, mostly out of curiosity and because of his personal connection, thanks to his great-grandfather's story.
The White Fleet consisted of four masted schooners, the last of those kind of ships still operating on a fishing fleet at that time. They each had huge white sails and their hulls had also been purposely painted in striking white when the war reached the North Atlantic, so that each of the warring sides, Germans and Allies alike, knew that the ships belonged to fisherman from a neutral country. Their routes were transmitted to both sites before leaving port, mapping the route they intended to take as they headed from Portugal to the Grand Banks in the North Atlantic.
They had been the only comercial fleet that kept on operating during those dangerous times of War, sailing across the perilous waters of the North Atlantic. Similar fleets from other countries, like Spain or France, had ceased operations all together, either for security concerns for their fishermen, or because they were involved in the war.
For that reason, those fisherman often saved the lives of many sailors from sunken vessels, from both sides, during the war.
And that had not been the only fact that made an impression on Daniel when he read about the White Fleet.
They kept on using schooners late until the 1970's, unlike other fleets that started replacing those ships for more advanced and efficient ones, way before the Second World War started. Also, the White Fleet's method of fishing cod was quite unique. Each fisherman was assigned a boat, called a dory. They would row away from the schooner they belonged to and fished for hours on end using line, all by themselves. Newfoundlanders had dubbed them 'The Lonely Dorymen'. There were dozens of stories of fishermen that had vanished forever, due to this method of fishing alone, never finding their way back to the fleet after being caught by sudden fog or storms, that were so common on that part of the Atlantic.
It was a very demanding and harsh way of life. Still, they never turned they're backs during the war to whom needed help. And Daniel's great-grandfather had been lucky to cross paths with those fishermen when he needed most.
Daniel's great-grandfather and his crew were returned safely to land, after the Portuguese ship made port at St. John's in Newfoundland.
However, this wasn't the end of Daniel's great-grandfather's participation in the war effort, not even having his ship sunk could prevent him from continuing to help support his country. He became captain of another merchant ship, just a couple of months after his first ordeal.
Only that time he wasn't to be so lucky.
One year and three months after the first incident, on his way back to the US, Another U-Boat sank his ship as it neared the coast of his native Maine. A third of the crew survived, but Daniel's great-grandfather hadn't been among them.
Alan Richards did however, manage to save a crew member from a fire raging in the engine room and successfully escorted the injured man to safety. But when he returned in an attempt to rescue a second man who had been left unconscious, he never made it back before the ship sank to the bottom of the Atlantic.
Daniel sighed thinking about his ancestor. He still remembered how his grandmother Amy reverently kept the Medal of Honour and the Purple Heart, which had been awarded posthumously, belonging to her dear father. The man had time and again put his life on the line to protect his country, and had ultimately made the greatest sacrifice.
Now his great-grandson was about to meet in secret with someone who might as well be considered a foreign agent; an enemy of the country that his great-grandfather had fought so hard to protect.
Daniel sighed once again, he wasn't sure of anything anymore.
He had come alone as Melissa had requested. Nor had he told anyone about her, or about what had happened during the capture of Milo Stanfield, earlier that day.
All of this going directly against what the Secretary of Defence had personally requested of him. Whereby any encounter with the mysterious Melissa must be directly reported back to him.
Yet there he was, waiting for her, without saying a word to anyone. Daniel had chosen to trust a strange woman; one who could supposedly be a dangerous foreign agent, over the Secretary of Defence and his own colleagues. If things turned sour, it would have grave consequences for him.
He asked himself why he was willing to trust her. Was it because she had kissed him? Had he become infatuated with her?
He shook his head, he wasn't that gullible. No, there was something more to the whole story.
The Secretary was obviously hiding something. For what reason, he didn't yet know. However, the explanation he had given Daniel for wanting to find Melissa, was false. No way in hell Melissa was the long lost daughter of some lost friend of the Secretary, of that Daniel was sure.
So why had the Secretary lied?
Besides, Melissa had just saved his life, the least he could do was to give her a chance to explain herself.
He looked at his watch, a minute had already passed since 9pm and there was still no sign of Melissa. Daniel tapped his foot on the ground repeatedly, a nervous tick he'd had since childhood. He put his hand on his leg and stopped the nervous motion, in a futile attempt to calm himself down.
"Daniel," he heard someone calling softly from behind him.
He turned around looking towards the group of trees that marked the boundary of the Memorial. In the low light he saw nothing.
"Over here" he heard again. Daniel stood up squinting at where he though the voice had come from, but it was too dark to see anything between the trees.
Without a second thought, he jumped the small wall on the Memorial's edge and walked towards the group of trees. When Daniel got there, he looked around, trying to get his bearings, until he saw her a few feet away. Melissa was hidden by the deep shade of one of the larger trees. Daniel set off towards her.
"Hi," she saluted him when he got there with a smile on her lips.
"Hi," he responded, without returning the smile. Instead he got right down to business, "You said you would explain everything. So, I'm waiting."
The smile disappeared from her face. "Okay" she nodded gravely, then she extended her hands in front of her. "Give me your hands," she said.
"What?" Daniel frowned at the strange request.
"You want to know the truth or not? Isn't that why you're here?" she said as if daring him.
Daniel hesitated, but then he shrugged, she was just asking to hold hands, nothing more. He figured if she really wanted to see him come to harm, she would have let Milo kill him. Instead she had somehow saved his life.
Daniel complied and offered his own to her waiting hands.
The smile returned to her face. "Don't worry, it's a very short trip."
"What?" Daniel frowned once more. Before he could say anything else, he felt himself being propelled, but he wasn't moving. The trees shimmered, appearing to be fading from sight, but they reappeared the next instant. At the exact same moment, the sensation of motion stopped.
Then he noticed the oddest thing, one of the trees to his left, seem to have moved slightly from its place.
Even the air that invaded his lungs seemed… different somehow, sweeter, cleaner perhaps.
Melissa let go of one of his hands, but kept a tight hold on the other, then she started walking, shepherding them back to the Memorial area. Daniel let her guide them, still a bit confused from whatever it was that had just happened.
Something felt odd. Different in some far-reaching way, but he couldn't put his finger on what it was.
That was until they arrived at the statue of the Eagle, which was pointing, as always, to face the Statue of Liberty. Which in turn drew Daniel's eye to Lady Liberty and that was when things got really weird. The familiar copper hue that had always graced the famous statue standing on Liberty Island with an ethereal glow, had been replace by shocking green.
"What the hell?" Daniel looked between the statue and Melissa.
"Daniel Hollands," she began and her smile got even wider. "Welcome to my Universe."
A/N Who would have guessed, two chapters in three months. I hope the ones still following this story like this latest installment. Sorry for taking so long. And to be honest, I'm not going to make promises about the next chapter.
As always, Crys did one hell of a job. Thanks mate, you always manage to polish the chapters in a way that make it seem like I'm a good writer :)
And thanks to everyone still reading, see you on the next one!