Pt 1 Ch 1: Unidentified Objects
The day had been yet another typically hot summer day for New Mexico. Usually the desert settled as the sun set over the faraway mesa bluffs, but tonight was exceptionally slow to cool. All through the tiny town of Magdalena, windows stood open in the hope of letting in a tiny stray breeze. Even the faintest hint of wind would be a welcome respite from the lingering heat of the day. If people hadn't been languishing on front porches or dozing off by open windows in the hope of finding a bit of evening chill, the whole astounding event might have gone completely unnoticed.
A clear night sky suddenly turned into a swirling mass of light and color. Greens, pinks, and fire-colored orange flashes split the darkness. The clouds of light spiralled around like a hurricane but there was nary a breeze in the oppressively hot August sky. A low rumbling growl accompanied the fantastic light show. The entire desert trembled. Stones skipped across the street. Coffee mugs full of thick diner coffee on the little town cafe rattled with the force of energy boiling in the sky just above them.
Townspeople gathered in the middle of first street in the tiny town of Magdalena, looking up at the peculiar sky as it angrily boiled and zapped. Evening meals were left abandoned and Friday night televisions prattled on with their regular programming. Most people were catching reruns of Dallas, but even that was ignored in favor of something far more impressive in the sky.
"Oh my God!"
"Yeah, I think it might be..."
High above them, a black helicopter shot toward the storm as it fizzled and popped among the high wisps of cirrus clouds. Phil Coulson knelt near the edge of the open helicopter door, looking down over the silica-sparkling deserts of New Mexico. He would have to make up some kind of story to explain the storm. But the folks of New Mexico were used to the strange and bizarre. Heck, they were the home of Roswell... but that wasn't nearly as exciting as the conspiracy theorists made it out to be.
"Think we found the mother ship?" he joked over his shoulder to the young lieutenant assigned to him, Maria Hill. She didn't seem much amused by his joke but not much seemed to amuse her anyway, so it was par for the course.
"I think we would have picked up some kind of communications over the radio waves if it was the mother ship rather than just static."
"It was a joke," smiled Phil cheerily, "We're allowed to joke on the job, you know. Sometimes it is the only thing that keeps you from going absolutely out of your mind."
"I know that."
"Alright, so long as you do," replied Phil as their helicopter circled around the edge of the quickly-dissipating storm, "Let's go."
A few minutes later, they stepped out of the helicopter and ducked to avoid the helicopter blades. Agents from a number of other transports spilled into the middle of the desert patch. Several large crates were waiting for them and armored security experts were establishing a perimeter. The first spotlight clicked on, halogen flickering to life to reveal a peculiar scrawl across the desert rocks. Dark embers sparkled with flecks of mica created an intricate pattern against the lighter colored reddish gold sand of the Jornada del Muerto desert.
"We will need samples of all this," said Phil to a couple of technicians, "We'll need to scan for magnetic fields, radioactivity, heat signatures, signs of life... the usual what-have-yous. Report back upon completion."
The small crowd dispersed, going about their jobs. Phil took the moment to check his watch. It was 10:17pm. The storm began at 9:44pm and lasted approximately twenty five minutes. It was a bit amazing that there wasn't a crowd out here even after such a short amount of time. Then again, it was a remote stretch of godforsaken desert, it was unlikely that there weren't many people around to begin with. He said as much to Maria.
"Finding a source for this should be easy, then," she said, flicking a small flashlight around the site, "If there isn't much to begin with, there aren't many leads to follow up."
"I get the sense that you have an idea."
"Trinity nuclear testing was only about forty miles from here. Could it be something involved with that?"
"That site hasn't been active since the 1940's. I don't think this has anything to do with radiation but we'll check anyway and see if we can pick up some isotopes."
"Are you sure that the testing stopped back then. We have a lot of sites that are technically closed up but..."
"Not this one," interjected Phil quickly, "It was the first. Continued testing wouldn't just ruin the environment but it would be... I dunno... some sort of desecration of the memory. It was such a big event. Such a huge part of the modern world."
Maria nodded and looked out across the desert, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."
"Yeah," sighed Phil as he looked up into the sky, chills running up and down his spine at the sound of the ancient words. Somehow it seemed more powerful coming from her, someone who knew the words intimately. "But we will still check for radiation. I'll call up the folks at Trinity and make sure there is nothing funny going on. We'll cover all the bases just to be safe. Rule out every possibility."
"Fair enough. What do I need to do?"
"We will need to drop by the Very Large Array in order to get their data. Maybe their equipment has something that we didn't pick up. If you can go and visit in a bit, then that will be a big help. For now, head up forensics team B. I'll take the A team. When Agent Carter gets here from Roswell, she will bring up the cosmic radiation team."
"When will that be?"
Phil scanned the dark skies for signs of the helicopter. All was quiet now. In this case, it was actually a good thing. Although, some little part of him kind of wanted to see the light show a little longer. Catching a slight glimpse out of a moving helicopter wasn't quite good enough for him.
"Look out," said Maria, looking over his shoulder, "Rubberneckers."
Standing up near the barricade was someone who was very apparently not SHIELD personnel. He wore a loud Hawaiian-print shirt and shorts with birkenstocks and thick puce socks. A fishing hat covered his grizzled hair and shaded his pickle green eyes. The rest of his face was covered with a thick, dark mountain-man beard streaked with steely gray.
"I'll take care of it," sighed Phil. It was a part of the job to do PR and make sure the public heard the story. Was it the truth? Not always. He tried his best to be honest but how much of a panic would it cause if the public knew they had been in contact with alien civilizations for going on five years now? Stock markets would crash, there would be riots in the streets, rivers of blood, cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria. Sometimes it was better to be ignorant and accept the fact that the plane crash was just a error in a training exercise.
"Hey, man, what's going on?" said the man at the barricade.
"Not much. Just investigating the lights from the sky."
"You CIA? FBI? NSA?"
"We're from the Very Large Array," lied Phil easily, "We relocated some of our equipment out here to get a better read on that solar storm."
"I dunno on what planet that's a solar storm," said the man as he absently stroked his scraggly beard, "I've lived here all my life and seen a good deal of weird shit. That ain't a solar storm."
"Well," smiled Phil, trying desperately to keep his cool and shoo this fellow off as fast as possible, "We shall see what we find out. Our preliminary readings indicate it was a solar storm."
"Do you mind if I quote you?"
"I beg your pardon?" blinked Phil.
"I run a little newsletter, The Roswell Observer. It is all about funny things in the sky."
"Funny things in the sky?" said Phil mirthlessly, fearing the worst, "Like… atmospheric phenomena?"
"Sometimes, but mostly aliens. You know, the grays and the little men in Area 51. All the things that aren't of this world."
"I highly doubt there is anything like that around here," said Phil, "And you can quote me on that."
"That's the same areal phenomena as occurred back in Coventry in 1948, as recorded by RAF pilots and then again in the Bermuda Triangle in 1979 when the USS Kelvin went missing. This is indicative of a cross-dimensional tear. Look at the gravitational pull. You'll see I'm right!"
Phil sighed. Whenever he had to clean up some sort of mess such as this, there were always a few conspiracy nuts roaming about . It was par for the course but didn't get any less annoying as time went on.
"Okay, sir, are we done here?"
"Oh, we're never done," said the man, pulling out a cigarette from an inner jacket pocket and lighting it, "But I'll leave now before I get black-bagged and wake up in a basement in some government warehouse."
"Don't tempt me," grumbled Phil under his breath as he gestured for two SHIELD security agents to come and make sure the man actually left.
Phil saw the lights of the third incoming helicopter before he heard it. The aircraft touched down like a raptor next to the other vehicles. A thin streak of white light jumped from the back cockpit with a case in tow. Her bright blond hair caught in a tangled mess about her head, kicked up by the rotating helicopter blades.
"Agent Carter?" he called out, "Nice of you to drop by."
"Cosmic radiation team reporting for duty," she said, saluting very officially, "Agents Morse and Parker are here as well."
"It seems Fury has sent only the best of the best."
She blushed a bit, "Sir."
"What is his ETA?"
"Within the hour," she said, brushing her hair back down into place with her fingers, "He is still at the debriefing with Interpol regarding the Maggia matter."
"Let's try to be nearly done by the time he gets there," said Phil, "And before the conspiracy nuts swarm the place."
"Yes, sir," she turned quickly and headed back toward the helicopter, "Agent Morse, take soil samples and microbe cultures. Parker, we need a geiger counter sweep for coordinates A-34, H-27, E-75, and M-116. Report the levels to Director Fury when he arrives."
Confident, the situation was under control, Phil walked back into the middle of the site, examining the peculiar, sparkling design in the sand. A darker, slightly shimmering, pattern rested over the lighter sand. It looked almost Celtic or something like that. Camera crews were photographing it as well as taking aerial shots via satellite and reconnaissance jet. It would be sent to cryptographers and iconography experts for analysis. Out of all the strange things in this case, the pattern in the sand had to be one of the most peculiar.
Equally as peculiar was seeing Maria a few steps away, wearing sunglasses... at dusk. Upon drawing closer, Phil realized there was a little blinking light along the side indicative of night vision. She turned her head from side to side, scanning the desert. There wasn't really a definite answer to what they were looking for. More than anything, they were just scanning for anomalies amidst an even larger anomaly.
"Anything unusual?" asked Phil as he drew closer to the young lieutenant, "I mean, more unusual?"
"Nothing," she noted, "A few heat signatures in the distance but most of those are things like heat pockets, uneven cooling, or what have you."
"Well, that doesn't help much," muttered Phil, "We're going to bring the metal detectors out to check for debris. Want to come with?"
"Might as well," she said as she took off the sunglasses and blinked uneasily at the change in lighting, "I'm getting nothing here."
A few moments later, the team was locked and loaded with metal detectors, Geiger counters, and other mechanisms and tools. Phil led the pack with Maria just along the side, swinging the sensor section of a Geiger counter from side to side. Because of the squealing and whining of the different machines, Phil didn't hear the strange sound for quite some time. There were more squeaks and whines but again it didn't register with Phil. It was only when there was an especially loud whine that he turned and headed into the brush.
"Agent Coulson!" called Maria, "Phil? Where are you going?"
"Agent? Report!" squeaked his walkie-talkie.
He didn't respond. If he heard what he thought he heard, it would burst the case wide open. It would be something that wasn't supposed to be there. The sagebrush parted on either side of him. He reached out into the darkness and got stuck by an aggressive prickly pear cactus for his trouble.
Perhaps the sound was just his imagination. Perhaps it was just the sound of the equipment. His hand was bleeding a bit from the cactus. He would look once again when he had a light but gathering data was more important right now.
Then, he heard the noise again: a babbling, mewling noise. He turned quickly. Perhaps it was his imagination, but it sounded like there was a young child out in the middle of the wilderness. The sound was so clear and close, it couldn't be the machines.
"Maria! Bring a light!"
"Did you find something?"
"I don't believe this," muttered Phil as he knelt down and reached out toward a patch of darkness.
Phil picked up the tiny baby and cradled it close to his chest. She was bound in a light, gauzy fabric with intricate details but it did little to protect her from the elements. The little body was chilled in the desert night. Her little, chubby limbs were limp and he feared that the poor thing was dead. It broke his heart to find a baby corpse in the desert. It made him wonder what could have possibly happened. He hoped it wasn't foul play.
After a moment, to his relief, the little baby wiggled in his arms, little fists punching the air a bit and legs kicking. The infant coughed once and then whined a bit. The whine turned in a high pitched scream. Phil held the little girl close.
It occurred to him that the baby was likely suffering from exposure so he wiggled off his jacket and wrapped it around the infant to protect her from the night. He rocked her back and forth against his chest until her cries became soft, babbling whines.
Maria ran up behind him and held a flashlight up so she could see what was in Phil's arms. She gasped.
"It's a little girl," said Phil, holding her up so Maria could see her properly. The girl had a head covered with of reddish brown peach fuzz and dark eyes. She cooed up at the light, reaching one fist out to try to touch it. Her smile was infectious and Phil couldn't help but grin a bit himself.
"You've gotta be kidding me," said Maria, "There is a baby out here?"
"Yeah. I… I just found her by that bush."
"She can't have been out here that long, maybe the person who dumped her is still around. They wouldn't be able to get past the perimeter without being seen."
"That's not precisely true," noted Phil, "It's dark out here and if they know the hiding spots in the desert, they could be already gone."
"She might have some radiation or other debris from the storm on her," said Maria, "We need to take samples from her and decontaminate her before anything else."
"No, we need to get her something to drink," said Phil, "There's no telling how long she's been out here. Let's… take it easy. Worry about the funny rocks and stuff."
Phil hurried back to the base, desperate to find a bottle of water or something for the little baby. She seemed actually fairly calm but it could be due to dehydration. He finally found a big tank in the back of a truck and settled down in the cool.
The baby chewed on the corner of his jacket. She couldn't be very old at all, her teeth hadn't even come in. Her wide eyes glanced around, trying to take in everything. Soft coos escaped her lips as she tried to reach out toward the different moving objects around them.
Phil dipped his finger into the jug of water and allow the water to drip into her mouth. She eagerly swallowed up the sweet water, continuing to coo softly. Eventually, Phil's finger drew too close and she grabbed a hold. There was no breaking the infant's grasp. She wasn't going to let go.
"Hey," smiled Phil, trying to pull his finger away, "I need that."
She giggled, continuing to hold onto him. They started a little game of tug-of-war until the little girl's eyes began to flutter and blink. She appeared tired. Phil protectively pulled his jacket around her and pulled her tight to his chest. Tiny hands grabbed at his shirt, keeping him pulled close. Something awakened in Phil's chest. It was warm, comfortable. It felt like the baby was meant to be clasped tightly in his arms. She was exactly the right size and shape to rest against him. A perfect fit.
"Where did you come from?" he asked the little girl as she yawned next to his ear. It wasn't like he expected an answer, he just wanted a clue. "You don't happen to know what is going on, do you?"
He held her up in front of him so he could get a better look at her. She fussed, obviously frustrated that she had been removed from the comfortable spot between his arm and his chest. Rolling his eyes, Phil replaced her and she quieted down again.
Another helicopter was landing not far away. Sighing, Phil stood and started walking toward it, holding the girl tightly. Chances were that it was Fury finally arriving. It could also be another team of scientists or security personnel. Frankly, he was hoping for the latter. If he could spirit the girl out of there early, then there would be less questions to try to answer.
Unfortunately it was Fury, eyepatch and all but he was too busy talking with Agent Morse to notice the extra person in their midst. It really wasn't so much talking as it was yelling as the top of his lungs in response to the powering down of the helicopters.
"Have we checked with Mar-vell and the others to see if this is their deal?"
"They say it's beyond them," said Agent Morse as she brushed a blond hair from her face and adjusted her large gold aviator glasses, "Their sensors say it comes from our atmosphere. Our satellites shorted so there are no readings from there."
"Within our own atmosphere?"
"Yes, sir. An energy surge in our atmosphere."
"How does that happen?"
"We don't know."
"Well then, find out," ordered Fury, "Get in contact with the folks at NORAD, NOAA, NASA, the whole alphabet soup. Get Parker and start canvassing the university circuit for the usual experts. Our stuff is shorted, let's see if anyone else is still functioning."
Phil walked up to Fury but as he did so, the little baby girl began to scream. He stepped away from the helicopter blades until she calmed down. Turning back, he could see the frown plastered all across Fury's face.
Fury had to wait for the helicopters to completely power down before he spoke, "Please tell me that isn't what I think it is."
"Uh, what did you think it was?" asked Phil, tapping the fussy baby on the back to calm her.
"Tell me that isn't a kid."
"I don't believe this," said Fury, "Agent Morse, do you believe this?"
"With difficulty, sir."
The girl finally stopped screaming and settled down. Phil sighed, "Look, she was in the desert. She was all alone, dehydrated, and probably scared."
"So, now we have this thing-"
Fury, along with the rest of the surrounding agents, paused for a long second, looking from the baby to Phil and back again. The little girl giggled and started to chew against the edge of Phil's jacket, which he was using as a blanket for the moment. He looked back up to Phil.
"You named it?"
"Her," corrected Phil.
"Don't get technical with me," ordered Fury, "We don't know what it is. It could be a part of our investigation."
"Or she could be a poor kid dumped in the desert who needs someone to look after her," said Phil as he shifted his arms to have a more stable grip on the baby and keep her head cradled comfortably against the crook of his arm, "We don't know for sure."
"Coulson, it's an 0-8-4."
Phil looked down into his arms as the girl reached forward and tried to grab her toes, babbling the whole time. She finally managed to snag her big toe and tried to put it in her mouth.
"And… this… is an 0-8-4 sir?"
"We don't know what it is or where it comes from so, yes, by definition it is an 0-8-4."
"It is a very big coincidence that we find a baby in the desert right during a big solar storm," noted Maria, who had returned from scoping the area with the metal detectors.
"And my job doesn't let me believe in coincidences," said Fury, crossing his arms stubbornly.
Phil frowned, "So we're going to lock her up in a lab somewhere?"
"For the time being, yes. At least until we know what is going on and have some time to observe her."
"Sir, that is completely unacceptable."
Fury raised an eyebrow, "Oh, really? I'm sorry, I just want to make sure she isn't going to turn into a four story rattlesnake and take over Albuquerque but clearly I'm being the irrational one here."
Phil blinked, "Have we ever had a four story rattlesnake try to take over Albuquerque?"
"No, but I wouldn't be surprised if it did. Nothing in this world shocks me anymore."
Evelyn laughed. Her little dark eyes sparkled and a toothless smile spread across her chubby baby face. Her legs kicked against Phil's arm and he was surprised at the strength she had. His arm actually hurt a little bit.
"Gentlemen... we are getting off topic," said Maria, "We need to figure out what to do with Phil's kid."
"Oh, not you too," grumbled Fury under his breath. He crossed his arms, looking back and forth between the two of them. He pointed to Maria, "I assume you are siding with him?"
"I'm not siding with anyone. Let's figure out if the child is or has anything we should be concerned about. If there isn't anything, then I say we let her go. And we certainly can't just drop her off back in the desert. If Phil wants to look after her, and maybe adopt her, I don't see any problem with that. There isn't any sense keeping her locked in a lab if she is just a kid who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think everyone can agree to that."
Fury looked down at the troublesome pair, "You know, normally, people want to take home a puppy... not a kid!"
Phil paused for a moment, "Is that a yes, Sir?"
"Oh, good God, knock yourself out," grumbled Fury, waving a hand dismissively as he turned to walk away, "Go ahead and take her after we finish the testing. I don't care anymore."
Reluctantly, Phil handed the baby off to Agent Carter. He lingered around the mobile testing unit while Evelyn was scanned, swabbed, and examined. Meanwhile, a nurse tended to removing the cactus needles from his hand, although Phil found himself more concerned about getting custody of the child. Not to Phil's surprise, they couldn't find a single thing that was different or out of the ordinary about the girl. She was a healthy baby, save for a thin coating of magnetized dust clinging to her.
"I thought she was just a little girl in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Phil when he finally received the swaddled baby back in his arms. She was sleeping now. Her little hands and feet twitched slightly in her sleep, as though trying to grab at something that wasn't there.
"Are you going to take her home?" asked Maria as she helped lift containers full of data-gathering supplies back into the trucks and helicopters so they could clear out before the rubberneckers gathered in force.
"Yes," said Phil, running a hand across the faint bit of fuzz on the baby's head before looking up, "Thank you, Maria."
"Don't thank me. This is your deal."
Phil chuckled, "Yeah, yeah I guess it is."
"What is her name?"
"Evelyn," smiled Phil, "Evelyn Jane Coulson."