2010-01-10 S.H.I.E.L.D or S.W.O.R.D.



Summary: Keld Jonahl is gone for longer than expected after a S.H.I.E.L.D. debriefing.

Date: Jam 10, 2010

S.H.I.E.L.D or S.W.O.R.D.

Rating: G

"The Peak" — S.W.O.R.D. Headquarters. Late August, 2009

The Peak is the secret base (so secret there is no description) of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s sister organization, S.W.O.R.D.

Keld sat mostly-motionless in the waiting room outside the Director's office. He had been sitting there for more than four hours. The receptionist was doing light secretarial work behind the counter with its transparent shield; she was also watching him. Biometric observation showed his pulse, respiration, eye movement, posture, and a dozen other factors. None of them changed, significantly, since he had arrived, registered, and sat down. Except, perhaps, the eye movement, which had begun to resemble that of someone reading a book.

The receptionist wondered, briefly, if this Keld Jonahl was actually an L.M.D., a life-model decoy like herself, but the small amount of background data she was permitted to access regarding him indicated that he was another client, an alien.
Most aliens were more reactive than this, but then again, most aliens weren't as closely humanoid as this one.

A signal from the director's calendar-A.I. notified her that Agent Brand was now on-site, pending in her office in 4 minutes, and that she would meet with the 'pretty boy' before updating status elsewhere.

"Mr. Jonahl? The Director will see you presently," she said, and observed the biometric for eye-motion changed to scan the room quickly, focussing on her for 1.3 seconds.

"Thank you, Miss." He remained seated, though. Military types seemed to understand 'presently' as 'within the next hour'. Probably correct in this case.


In her office, Agent Brand pulled her bright-green hair back into the tight, professional ponytail that kept it out of her face while working at the computer. She brought up the calendar and set it in the background, while scanning quickly across the datasheets on this latest alien possibly-menace.

"I have reordered your calendar for today to make up for the delay at JFK, Agent Brand," the calendar said in its inescapably cheerful voice. "In your mailbox, Agent Gyrich continues to evade your request for a one-on-one meeting, Col. Fury has replied with support for your funding request to Congress, and the Skrull ambassador has asked if you are free for dinner on Friday."

"Put my meeting on Gyrich's calendar, override priority alpha. Have Lemma send a box of the Havanas to Fury, and send an email to Ambassador G'thjik regretfully declining the invitation. And send McCoy a note that I want to get together Friday." She continued scanning the datasheets. Not much useful here. S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn't able to get much out of the man. A quick call to an internal number, "Jeris, please have two of your better teeps scan my office and synch on the alien I am about to interview. Truthsense and surface probe, only, at this point." She pressed the call-button on the desk phone.

"Lemma, send Keld Jonahl in now. Standard bodyguard."

The door opened within a minute, and one of the three-meter-tall android-power-suits entered, gleaming in its threatening, metal way, followed by a much less threatening-appearing man, only two meters tall and wearing the bright yellow and blue striped jumpsuit that was S.H.I.E.L.D.'s idea of 'obvious' clothing for guests who weren't to be trusted in the top-secret areas. She winced at the sight.

"Good afternoon. It's Lieutenant Jonahl, correct?" She didn't stand, but did look up, and gestured him to the uncomfortable guest chair. He nodded once, "kad-fa, corresponds most closely to Lieutenant. If you wish to be less formal, Keld works for me."
He sat in the chair, which creaked but held up.

"After the first week at the S.H.I.E.L.D. labs, they gave up on figuring you out, Keld," she said, deciding on frankness. She didn't return the offer of a casual name; casual was not part of the package.

"You didn't resist their questioning, which is a good sign, but you also refused to give answers to a number of questions on the grounds that you would be giving away military secrets. You understand that they could have incarcerated you. Fortunately the Director there decided to hand you over to me, instead."
Her eyes were completely concealed by the green wraparound shades which she wore, and thus it was her scowl and her tone of voice that communicated the unspoken "and I am stuck deciding whether to jail you or something else."

"I understand, Director. They requested my assistance, or hinted at it, in specific areas that would have been inappropriate. The Dakkamite military on-leave don't interfere in local politics without direct orders." His shrug was precisely as much as military protocol would have permitted without crossing into insubordination.

"Yeah, they do that. Sometimes I … nevermind. So, tell me what you can about your world and your people, and especially about why you are here." She templed her hands together, watching the man's reactions. He was the perfect picture of the Dakkamite elect soldier, even in the ugly eyesore of a jumpsuit. More muscled than the average, he must have done heavyworld training for quite a while, but other than that, he could have been just another of their soldier-class. She wondered for a moment if he was born or decanted.

He looked at her for a full 20 seconds with those bright green eyes, unblinking, before he visibly decided to answer.
"Dakkam is a harsh world, by Terran standards. We adapted. We have a small but stable foothold in space, but we're too close to the Shiar to be expansionist, and the Skrull and Kree have tried to use our space to fight their war. We told them not to," and that last bit was either military boasting or wry humor.
He leaned forward slightly, resting his elbows on the chair arms, which creaked in alarm.

"May I have permission to activate a flight metapower? This chair is not happy with me," he said, changing his tone slightly.

"If it's not offensive, go ahead," she answered. Nothing obvious happened (other than the telltale indicator of the biometric scan, which of course was showing on her computer screen, indicating a sudden loss in mass from over 700 pounds to just under 240.)

"Thank you. That's as much detail as I can give you. I suspect you already know where Dakkam is, and can confirm anything I tell you about our relationship with our neighbors. I hope so, anyway, because I've already shared more than is expressly permitted, with my lawyer. S.H.I.E.L.D. already took her deposition, and I'm pretty sure she cooperated." He paused, again collecting himself, and continued.

"One of our people was sent here some time ago by a pair of, the word in English is 'crackpot', scientists. Their son. They thought Dakkam was going to explode. It was not and did not. They are in prison in disgrace, and he is not advised to return to Dakkam, because he carries that disgrace by law and custom.
The agents who debriefed me at S.H.I.E.L.D. asked if I wished to meet with him, and I refused, but didn't explain to them, but it's because I would be required to try to arrest him and take him back, and that's not really going to help anything," he shook his head and almost-laughed, a single exhalation.

"I am here because our less psychoceramic scientists have effective distance-scanners, and sent a probe to see what happened to him. As a result of exposure to your star Sol, he gained unexpected metapowers. I was selected as an Elect Guard, to join a squadron which was deliberately exposed to the same radiation. We were put into stasis, sent into close orbit around your star, and that's the last I knew of it, until I woke up in the coronal energy field and found myself moving very quickly to your planet. I obviously aquired metahuman power, but the initial surge was much stronger than anything I have found myself able to accomplish since then."

He leaned back in the chair, waiting for questions.

"That confirms the story you told others, but I need to know what your true intentions are. Why are you here, why have you not returned to Dakkamite space?" She glanced at the scroll text on her screen. The psychic corps had a lock on the man and had verified his truthfulness, he wasn't holding back too much. He did not seem to be aware of the probe, either.

"I'm here because I crashed on the planet. I've not returned for, well, several reasons, really. I need time to analyze the powers I gained, and to determine whether they have made me unfit for duty. I have a debt of honor to my lawyer, as well, and to Terra in general for accepting me as freely as you have. And, I don't have a spacecraft, and my powers seem to be one-at-a-time so if I flew into space, I'd suffocate long before I reached Dakkam, and I can't achieve anything even close to lightspeed."

That was also truthful. She pursed her lips into a grimace of consideration. "You've been honest so far. In the event of a conflict between Dakkam and Earth, what would you do?"

Keld sighed, rubbing the back of his neck with his left hand. He pondered for a moment, or appeared to. Actually, he'd spent a week or so thinking about this particular question.

"If that were to happen, and it's very unlikely since it appears I was in stasis for over ten Terran years, which is at least three budget-cycles back home, then I would be forced to choose between the honor-debt and the requirements of my service," and at this he sat up straighter, "which would want me to return to Dakkamite service. However, the rules of honor-debt permit us to stay neutral in such a case. Pragmatically, they use those rules to control the military caste. We use the same rules to protect ourselves from civilian negligence and their arbitrary lack of honor. Obedience to authority and to honor are the stabilizing elements of my caste."

She quirked a brow at this. Also truthful… and there was a comment, "subject loyalty to military chain of command is very weak, but it doesn't look like he'd side with humanity either. He might attempt to mediate."

"And at this point," she answered, "It appears they have either neglected you, or perhaps, consider you dead?"

"Perhaps the latter, I can't speculate on that. It would explain why nobody has come looking, and why we were in stasis for so much longer than expected. At this point I'm happy to stay out of it. When I was selected for the Elect, there wasn't so much ongoing conflict with extraDakkamites as there was with colonials, and none of us found much honor in that battle. We obeyed, of course, but it wasn't rewarding."

The psychic's report scrolled past, "Mostly truthful. He feels profound regret for something connected to colonials."

Ah, a hook. She smiled. "Well, then, let's make an agreement here. You've asked to stay here on Earth, a residency permit. I can grant you that, but there are strings attached. You would have to come to work for me. Not S.H.I.E.L.D., I agree with you about their too-close involvement with international politics.
If you agree, you'll be my eyes inside the Avengers, keeping me aware of anything specific going on with regards to extraterrestrials, and that includes extra-dimensional aliens as well, should that happen to come up. Are you willing to do this?" Her expression went neutral, bland, but expectant.

Keld tilted his head slightly left. "Do you want me to spy outright? Or simply be a contact point? I assume that I am not to reveal this association to them, since that could contaminate the process."

"You've done this kind of thing before, then?" Agent Brand smiled. "Yes, covert, but not a spy per-se. They are not the enemy but they do tend to act off-the-cuff and without always considering the rules. My job is to protect this planet, to keep us safely out of the messy conflicts out there. It's hard to do when too many self-appointed hotshots feel the need to play war in space, but as another crossroads world, Earth has its own share of outsider issues, and it shouldn't be that much different from what you did in your own military. Except that you won't be working with a squadron of your peers, no sho-sta-kshav warrior bond, and I advise against trying to form any such thing."

Keld was astonished, but rigid control held. "You speak my language?"

"A little. We had another of your people besides Wundarr here. A being who called himself 'Quantum'. Not a glowing recommendation for your people, I'm afraid. He joined with a supervillain when he first arrived, though to his credit he left once he realized that he'd been misled. He tried to kill Wundarr, but one of our people stopped him and he eventually left the planet to look for the rest of his platoon." She watches carefully to see what this reveals.

"Quantum. Do you have an image of him?" Keld restrained his excitement, not sure whether to hope or fear. Brand keyed a command and swiveled the display so he could see. The image showed one of the four platoon captains, not one of his immediate squadron. Keld recalled him as very much by-the-book, but they hadn't interacted much before the platoon was sent on their orbital journey.

"That's … yes, he was one of us. He didn't find anyone else?"
The psychic reported that Keld was experiencing a form of grief-shock, that they had an entire platoon in orbit, and he had been bonded with four of his peers in a squadron. A second later, the other psychic on watch reported that his emotions had faded strangely, not a dissociative break, but rather, as if subconsciously he knew what had happened and made peace with it already. Agent Brand watched him, but none of this was apparent on his face. The Dakkamites were reputedly very good at not expressing emotion when they wished to restrain it.

"He said he hadn't found any trace of the others. Is there a reason why he wouldn't have found you?" Brand is all professional again, curious but bland.

"I don't know. Perhaps my pod was malfunctioning. We were spread out widely, if the signal transponder wasn't working correctly, he might not be able to find me," and Keld shrugged, "Even a yellow dwarf star is large. Even knowing the projected orbits, you cannot always find what should be there. And my pod wasn't in the right place when I woke, it was falling into the star."

"I suppose that's as good an answer as any," Agent Brand shrugged, "but it would be nice to know why it happened."

"He had also gained powers? What were they?" This was Keld deliberately breaking discipline, looking more personally interested than the hitherto military drone expression he'd been wearing.

"Some were like what you've shown. Immensely strong, flight, durable, endurance well above human norms, extreme superspeed. He had some form of multi-location power, and was observed with a sort of flame-aura." She showed a second and third image taken from security camera photos.

"That's… I understand some of it. I'm tenth generation military class. My genome was considered optimal. He was, if I recall, donated by an artisan class family, and upgraded. He seems to have been improved to the optimal for baseline. I'm also heavy-world trained. So I'm much stronger than the normal Dakkamite, without engaging the powers." Keld pondered the flame image. "I don't think I can do the flames. I know I can't move that fast, normally, but I was much faster when I first woke up."

Brand nodded. "Before we continue, I need to know an answer. Will you work for me?"

"I should have my lawyer go over the terms, but I think I will say yes. What alternatives do I have, after all?" Keld rubbed the bridge of his nose, "Incarceration is boring, deportation would be very difficult and expensive and either would keep me from paying my debt of honor."

"Yes, this is true. Fine. Given the conditional agreement, we'll come up with an agreement that meets your code of honor, and our laws, and gives you freedom of movement on Earth. In exchange for this, you will allow us to examine you here at our laboratories, for the next few months, while we learn what precisely you can do. And that'll keep you from getting flabby." Brand nodded to the android that still stood quietly at the back of the room.
"Escort Keld Jonahl to the guest quarters, and have someone get him something less ugly than that SHIELD-begotten eyesore he's wearing."

Keld laughed and picked at the sleeve. "I was hoping this wasn't a permanent thing."


Late November, 2009

Three weeks had gone by fairly quickly. Keld found the majority of the staff at S.W.O.R.D. to be efficient, but lacking much personality, until he learned how many were artificial beings. That made some amount of sense, perhaps, because they were more resistant to being accidentally killed by some of the aliens that lived here. Especially that dragon. Small, lavender purple, with a serious attitude, and far from the Flock. He knew about them mostly by way of scouting reports, so it was a surprise to find one solitary and so far from home.

"Feh," the creature said as he greeted it - him, apparently, from the attitude and the very minor clues in its body - so Keld smiled and poured milk onto the intensely sweet bowl of gold-colored, crispy grain nodules. This would be way too much energy if he weren't planning to burn it off in the training room today.

"I'thz hakzru," the Dakkamite answered, a minor vulgarity in one of the pan-reptilian languages from close to the Flock's home-space. It translated roughly to 'and your mother ate one egg too few,' and suggested that she ate her own young and should have eaten the egg that held the target of the remark. The dragon looked up at that, laughed a blue-flame laugh and retorted, "Yer mum was a kick in the bum."

"That's true," Keld answered. "I'm tank-born." Cockney rhyming slang, bane of the linguist: Keld had gotten to first base with one of the psychics, and learned several alternate dialects of English, while passing on his understanding of the Kree language, and the static-body speech of the Skrulls. Kick in the bum, i.e. bottle of rum, i.e. just a bottle because it won't be full of rum long enough to matter. Mild insult because the mother was full of rum at some point.

"Huh." the dragon said. He tilted his arrow-like head and glared at the bowl of Captain Sugar Bomb. "Wotcher doin' then? That kibble and bits will make you fat."

"I don't have the genes for getting fat," Keld laughed, "If I did I'd be in real trouble, as I eat four bowls a day of the stuff."

"Lucky," the dragon sniffed. The meal continued for a while in affable silence, as both of them demolished their food.

"Ah, I don't want to go to training today," Keld said, stretching, and pushed the empty tray aside. He had eaten the plastic spoon and the paper bowl after he finished the cereal.
"They want me to show them basic-training exercises. It's not too different from what the humans do, but under 5 gravities and the obstacles have lasers and shoot at you."

"Why'dj ya tell 'em that?" The dragon licked up the last bit of whatever it was in the bowl it had been eating from (and the bowl was about half again as large as the dragon.)

"Not a secret, really. Recruiting videos open-broadcast at home, so, no reason not to. And I'm a little bored," Keld admitted.
"I was supposed to be going back to New York yesterday, but they asked me to wait for a while."

"Huh," the dragon snorted. "You miss the brights an' louds?"
He personally didn't see what the humans got out of Christmas, giving away hard-gleaned hoard to others, but his pet Kitty celebrated it (despite its absence from her traditional faith) as a chance to give presents to her friends, including to that scruffy little wanker that tried to pretend to be a dragon by sucking on burning weeds and blowing smoke around, and was in no way as good as the big steel guy. It was normal for her to want a mating-partner in her own species, but for the First Egg's sake, pick one that improves the breed!

Keld looked puzzled for a moment. Brights and louds. What the … OH! "Lights and crowds? I've only been on this planet for a bit over six months, I don't know what you mean."

Lockheed snorted smoke in disgust. "Northern hemisphere winter festival," he said in Kree, unaccented, "they ritually fight off the seasonal darkness with bright colored lights and loud music sung to their ancestor's gods. That will be next month. Today, the ones in the nation of Us-ah will celebrate the ritual sacrifice and roasting of a large flightless bird, feasting before winter comes and they have to go hungry. Not as many of them go hungry now, and they don't usually share the food with the ones who do go hungry like their ancestors did, but in matters of the feast, they are tradition-bound."

"I understand," Keld said, adopting the Kree ritual posture of 'hearing-the-honored-elder' … and deliberately used hyper-formal mode, almost sarcasm. The dragon blew a small puff of flame at him, which would have hurt if he hadn't gone invulnerable when he started the posture, and he laughed. "OK, thanks for the info, I had already heard about Turkey Day from the armorer."

The Dakkamite stood, bowed a more correct, Japanese-human style bow to the dragon. "I am Keld Jonahl. Is there a name I should use to address you?"

"Lockheed," the dragon answered, in the Cockney accented English again, but without the rhyming code, "but don't. Nobody knows I talk except the ones I want to."

"Ah, deep cover. I will keep your secret, then. If you wish to see my humiliation or triumph, I will be in training room four demonstrating Dakkamite boot camp techniques." Keld picked at the sleeve of the black and green body-suit he wore. "And if I am lucky I will see the last of this uniform."

The dragon picked up his bowl in alligator-like jaws, and flew it over to the cafeteria clean-up tray, and considered whether or not to watch.


The training room was initially dark. The observation annex, above, was similarly dark when viewed from inside the training room, but the special glass of the windows translated the scanner images of the training room into a false-color image that revealed the room below in a tactical display.

The room gravity was set to 4.8 G's, as high as it was safe to go for a room that size, and one of the backup cameras had fallen with an abrupt crash as the tripod it stood on experienced a load much larger than it was designed for.

Keld, still in the green and black S.W.O.R.D. uniform, was stretching and moving around in the room as if it was normal, but then again, he claimed to have trained for a decade under that gravity, and this was proof. While it was dark in the room, it was not absolutely dark, and Jonahl was not wearing any kind of optical sensors, since they didn't permit the grunts to start training with anything expensive at the beginning.

The dragon perched on the back of a chair, watching the systems controller as she configured the room controls.
"This," she said, "would be lethal to any normal human recruit, even if we reduced it to regular gravity."

Several locked switches unlocked and armed, she spoke into the microphone. The door behind them opened and closed, as Agent Brand entered the room. At her nod, the systems controller spoke into the microphone. "System going hot in 10 seconds."

On the ground in the training room, Keld picked up a flexible metal pole, about 3 meters long, a standard polevaulter's pole.

The controller pushed the button at 8 seconds, and immediately something resembling a pair of rottweilers with six inch fangs lunged out of the darkness towards the Dakkamite. The pole swung fast enough to make a CRACK! as it slammed one of them up into an arc over the dakkamite, and then a second CRACK! splinter, as it was rebounded down in a sideways slash that took the head off the second lunging monster. Sensor displays over the controller showed the first one inoperable due to smashing damage from the fall while the first was operable but headless, by definition dead.

Keld did not wait for the second wave to be release, running forward and using the pole to leap over a ten-foot fence, releasing before the pole contacted the razor wire above the fence and exploding as the high voltage current in the wire grounded through the pole. The flash revealed that the ground where Keld's trajectory was leading, was not flat and friendly, but instead, covered with punji-sticks and knives; he folded into a ball and spun, then came down with legs pumping, managing to catch the side of one of the sticks with a foot and granting him sufficient loft to avoid all but one of the impaling edges. The last one sliced open his suit from knee to ankle, with a red line showing in the close-up display, only a scratch where his leg should have been laid completely open.

The bleeding was stopped by the time he made his third step, breaking his forward momentum in time to lunge to the left as something resembling a cross between a preying mantis and a venus fly-trap snapped sharp gathering-claws through the place he had been. A zig forward, a zag sideways, this repeated several times as Keld ran a quick maze, avoiding the plant attacks and the punji-thorn-patches around them. Thirty seconds, on the clock, and the Dakkamite had reached a moat. He grabbed a small rock from the ground, tossed it into the moat, and the water exploded into snapping fangs and thrashing tentacles as a swarm of something like a cross between a piranha and an octopus, but more aggressive, swarmed up and then out of the water in his direction. Another leap took him a meter over their heads and he landed just the other side of the moat, then ran straight.

The display showed red warning markers, along the path he was taking. He missed stepping on the first four, but the fifth exploded just as he bounded over it, throwing him in the air and shredding more of his clothing. He landed, in a crouch, on the far end of the path, breathing hard, and muttered something that the display translated, "Why did I agree to do this without the powers?" but by the time Brand finished reading it he was already halfway up the five-meter tall stone wall, climbing the vine-ropes and switching off, because each rope tolerated this for about ten seconds before it began to thrash and twitch, spines popping out where his hands had bruised them. He reached the top, shook his head once, and dived off, to the left of the clearly marked path, landing on his feet in a tuck-and flip on a boulder, which cracked in half at the impact but did NOT grow fangs, tentacles, or lasers. The wall, however, did grow lasers. Several red-limned scan beams appeared, searching for the source of movement, and three of them painted him just as he ducked below the edge of a sharp drop-off in the path.

Frag grenades hit the spots a half second after, but his head popped up quickly twelve meters to the west of the spot, and he launched a rock with a whiplike throw at the camera watching his location. The anti-missile defense blew it up, but the second rock that followed close after took out the gun, and the third rock took out the camera. The overhead scan still showed him moving, and the controller cursed and slapped a red button, but he was already inside the Safe Zone box so the gas which erupted from the path fell with a disappointed hiss back to the ground, where it killed the vegetation and burned the soil in inanimate frustration.

"Wow," Keld's voice came, over the room comm. "How long was that? I think I broke my record. Also, I know I broke my right ankle."

The lights came on, and Agent Brand spoke. "One minute thirty-one seconds, Keld. Stay there while we disarm, and no, I don't think we'll be adopting this for new recruits."

"No problem, Boss," Keld answered, as he tore the shredded pant-leg off his left leg and wrapped his ankle tightly. "Ah, kanzletz, that stings. Better turn down the gravity before you send anyone in, though."

The controller pressed the button to do just that, just as the door opened. Agent Brand scowled, feeling the transition wave.
"Get someone to put an interlock on that door so it will not open casually onto a delta-grav field, Lemma," she ordered, and walked over to where Keld sat.

"That was impressive, shoKelt. A bit excessive though. Really, you put your new recruits through that kind of a test on their first day?"

"Yes," Keld answered, "but… they've already had seven to ten years of military training by then, they grew up or at least trained on Dakkam where we expect to encounter those kinds of creatures, and they know the general layout of the course."
He stretched his ankle out in front of himself, breathing carefully, "and of course we also expect to come out with at least two broken bones, major puncture wounds, bites or lacerations. Out of every thousand, we have one permanent death, which is unfortunate. Usually someone sentenced to military or a wannabe who wouldn't take the full ten years training."

"And you do this in twice your normal gravity?"

"Oh, no, ma'am," Keld smiled as though he could be mistaken for 'innocent' here. "I had to even the field, I'm adapted to a 5G world. Felt a little light, actually."

Agent Brand snorted. "How long before you can put weight on that leg?"

"Another ten minutes, I think. It wasn't a bad break, just a crack, it'll be two days before it's painless and a week before I would consider it completely repaired." He points at the shredded uniform, "Sorry about the suit. Green is really more your color, though."

"Yeah, your special outfit will be done by the time your leg is healed up. I have a job for you after that, if you're willing to take a two week off-planet, but you should be back in time for the New Years parties." She gestured in the vague direction of the observation room. "You had quite an audience, you know."

"I didn't know. What's the job?"

Brand sighed. "Escort duty. The Skrull ambassador wants me to take him to Pluto, but I've told him he will have to make do with a last-minute stand-in. You'll have two other agents with you so just play dumb guard, OK?"

"Yes'm." Keld shakes his head, "I was hoping to get back sooner but duty calls and must needs. And I've done Babysitting runs before."

Agent Brand smiled again, mirthless but satisfied, "I know."


January, 2010

Keld gripped the control yoke with only enough force to guide the re-entry craft, not enough to snap it. The Skrull ambassador was finally asleep in one of the tank-beds, and Keld smiled grimly. He keyed the "privacy" switch, and oh-so-accidentally, the "lock" switch next to it, sealing the ambassadorial tank so that it couldn't open. Also so-accidentally, he brushed against the 'test emergency pax' switch, releasing a small amount of a harmless, soporific gas and cueing quiet relaxing music to the tank, a feature provided to help calm the passenger in the event of an emergency, preventing claustrophobia or panic. Of course.

He adjusted the heading, and transmitted the coded data-blocks carrying the mission report. Meeting the Skrull supply ship just off Pluto's tiny moon, preventing a double agent from killing the Ambassador, preventing another double agent from replacing the ship's pilot, delivering the REAL diplomatic package to the pilot of the Skrull ship … all in all, the usual kind of thing.

He keyed the comm-plate and spoke in clear, calm tones.

"Escort One to Peak Station Control, Agent Jonahl piloting. Captain Janes is in stable condition, and the Ambassador is 'resting'. Requesting approach vector for docking. Thanks for the vector, and approach is on auto now."

He glanced at Captain Janes; her skin was pallid, slightly clammy, but she was breathing steadily and her heartbeat looked steady and strong. The dock-connector spun out from the station, latching onto the attach-point on the nose of the shuttle, guiding it into its resting-place. A corridor-seal extended and affixed to the cabin door, and the hiss of air heralded the spinning unlock of the door.

He unlatched himself, then the Captain, and when the medical gurney nosed into the room, he lifted her onto it. Two med-crew, probably LMDs but possibly just twins, quickly hooked her up.

Keld handed one of them a datastick. "Medical readouts. She took a laser-shot in the abdomen, but she's stable and healing."

A sound from the cargo/passenger compartment alerted him to the second lock connecting, and the door spinning open. Keld reached over to the controls and flipped another switch.
The Ambassador's sleep-tank unlatched from its restraints and slid backwards along the newly opened corridor. He would wake in his quarters aboard the station, and Keld would be safely gone and out of reach.

A telltale-lamp went amber then green; the shuttle was on system
power now. He walked through the nearest one.

"Alright," Keld said to the agent inside the gate, a woman in green and black, but not the Director. "I'm overdue, I'll be heading directly back to Earth. Can't wait for some of Jarvis' fruitcake. He said he'd save me some. Do you have a drop-pack? Preferably one with the right codes so they won't shoot me?"

"Of course, Agent Jonahl," the woman said, her voice identical to that of the receptionist Lemma. "You may use the number four airlock. Your drop-pack has twenty minutes' oxygen and ten minutes maneuvering fuel. Will that suffice?"

"Should," Keld answered. "You know I used to have to do this in full drop armor, but, I don't see any of that here."

A blank look from the agent made him smile. "I'll send you the book, you might enjoy it," he said, and headed for the corridor.

Two minues later, telemetry showed him moving towards Earth, and fifteen minutes after that, he stepped into the foyer of Avenger's mansion.

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