The Return of Shield

A New Mission

“OK. Here is what we know,” Phil said to the team as they were gathered around the holo-table. “Quinn, Blake and some other Hydra operatives stormed this compound in Norway and left with what looked to be some kind of serum. From there, they went to Quinn’s place in Malta which is undoubtedly where he has the gravitonium stashed.”

“Why would they return to Malta? Wasn’t that place compromised when you took the gravitonium the first time,” Trip asked.

“I don’t know for certain but I imagine Quinn wanted to go back there because he had a place to store the gravitonium and because he is free from government interference there. Since SHIELD is still considered a rogue agency, I’m sure he believes that there is no way we would try to confront him in a place where we have no jurisdiction,” Phil explained.

“In other words,” May said in a monotone, “he feels safe there.”

Phil nodded.

“Good,” Kat said. “When people feel safe, they make mistakes. Do we have any idea of what the serum is?”

“Skye’s been trying to find out information on it. Anything?” Phil asked.

Skye shook her head. “There has been chatter about it on certain channels but no one seems to know much. People have been making wild guesses but, other than a few words that keep cropping up, we’re in the dark.”

“What few words?” Phil asked.

“Asgardian, obedience, chromosome, sound,” Skye answered. She looked up at the others. “I’ve written several programs to try and link the words into some sort of coherent explanation but haven’t gotten any results. So, I have no clue how those words could fit together.”

There was silence as almost everyone looked confused as they mulled over possibilities. “Well,” Phil started, “we’ll just have to keep….”

“What kind of work was going on in the Norwegian compound?” Grant asked.

Everyone looked at him in surprise. Grant had yet to speak up about an op since he returned to the Bus.

“The work they were doing there was classified but our best guess is that they were researching neuromuscular abnormalities in men,” Jemma said.

Grant nodded and looked down.

“Grant?” Phil asked. “Do you have a guess?”

“Loralei,” he answered in a deadened tone. “It sounds like they now have a serum that replicates the kind of vocal control she has over men.” The brief silence that settled over the group could best be described as dismayed.

“Of course!” Jemma exclaimed looking excitedly at Fitz. “If they reverse-engineered prions to control neuromuscular movement and then tied them to sound waves, theoretically they could force people to do things solely by oral command. And if the prions were ones that specifically targeted the Y chromosome, such a serum would only affect men! Agent Ward, you’re a genius!” she said looking directly at him and smiling.

Grant barely nodded and did not return her smile. This whole situation was bringing back a flood of memories he’d rather not revisit.

“But why target only men?” Fitz asked speculatively. “They’d control a much larger group of people if they included everyone.”

Jemma looked down for a moment and then looked back up with that familiar “I’ve got it!” smile on her face. “Because they’re using the SRY gene as a way to turn on the genes that make muscle cells!”

“And the SRY gene is only active in men!” FitzSimmons finished together.

“If you’re right about what the serum does, then man, the potential for disaster is huge!” Trip said, shaking his head in alarm. “They could give that serum to any number of men who would have to do whatever someone tells them to do.”

“If the serum works the way Loralei did, then the men won’t even care about what they do. Following orders will be the most important thing in their lives, so they’ll do whatever they’re told regardless of the cost,” Grant said, still in that deadened tone.

The silence that followed his statement was deep as everyone considered the implications of it, not only for future armies but for Grant himself. Kat realized that she and Skye weren’t the only ones looking at him with concern.

“You ok, mate?” Fitz asked him.

Grant just nodded.

“So,” Phil said when the silence stretched out uncomfortably, “it looks like we have two missions. We have to retrieve both the serum and the gravitonium and we also have to capture Ian Quinn and Agent Cordis. I know that’s a lot to ask of all of you but I think you understand the stakes. I’m going to look into getting additional help. What I want from each of you are workable plans for how we can do this.” He looked around the table, met everyone’s eyes and waited until they nodded. “OK then. Meeting adjourned.” He and May turned and left the room, presumably to conference privately.

Kat stepped back and waited to see how the rest of the team would respond to Grant who was clearly in distress.

“That was some first-rate thinking, man!” Trip said, putting his hand on Grant’s shoulder. “Thanks to you, we know what we’re up against.” Grant gave a single nod in response. “When you get a minute, why don’t the two of us sit down and figure out a plan for going in? I don’t know about you but after being on this Bus for weeks, I’m ready for some action!” Grant nodded again. “I’ll catch you later,” Trip said and left the room.

“Good work, Agent Ward,” Jemma said brightly and quickly left the room muttering to herself about anti-serums.

“Ward,” Fitz said. “You weren’t the only one who was under Loralei’s spell. I was too, remember?”

“Yeah but you didn’t try to kill Lady Sif and May. That was all me,” Grant said bitterly.

“Nobody’s blaming you for that,” Fitz argued, surreptitiously shooting Skye a worried glance. “Besides, this time we know what we’re up against and we’ll be better prepared.”

“Yeah,” Grant sighed. “We’ll do better this time,” he said tiredly.

“Cheer up, mate! Umm…I’d better go see what I can do to help Jemma,” Fitz said nervously and hurried out of the room.

Kat stepped back even further and leaned against a wall in the darkened part of the room. She didn’t know if Skye and Grant even realized she was still there. She didn’t want to interrupt but she also wanted to be nearby if they needed her.

Skye leaned forward to catch Grant’s eye. “I guess this is all hitting a little too close to home for you, huh?” she said gently.

He looked at Skye and smiled slightly. “I think you could say that Loralei is not one of my favorite memories.”

“According to Lady Sif, Loralei enslaved tons of men, including some of Asgard’s best warriors. So you weren’t the only man to fall under her spell. Nothing you did while under her control was your fault,” Skye said.

“But what I did later was,” he answered angrily.

“Grant,” Skye said taking his hand and making him look at her. “Yes, you screwed up. But you’re trying to change and do things differently now. And you can’t do that if you refuse to forgive yourself and move forward. I’m not saying you should forget what you did or stop trying to make up for it but you beating yourself up at every opportunity isn’t doing anyone any good.”

Grant looked down and said nothing.

Skye gently took his face in her hands and kissed him on the lips. “Just think about it, ok?” Then she let go of him and left.

Grant turned his head to follow her exit saying, “And do you agree with that assessment, Kat?”

Kat smirked a bit. She should have known that Grant would be completely aware of his surroundings. She walked forward and leaned against the holo-table. “Do you really need to ask? You know that I do. And, not for nothing Grant, but I hope you noticed that almost every member of your team took the time to let you know how they feel about you. Maybe it’s time you got past the guilt.”

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