Written by Janus, Edited by Morfex and
Note: Continues from Quasar #1. This story does NOT take place in the same continuity as any other fan fiction on this website, meaning it does not affect and is not affected by other fan fiction stories. All stories at Cosmic Powers Unlimited are self-contained, unless otherwise stated.
"Colonel Pickett? This is Quasar, come in, over." No response came from the SHIELD station. The explosion that tore through the station and wiped out its main power likely destroyed the backup generators as well. If emergency communications were down, life support was likely fading or gone as well. Quasar would have to act quickly in order to save the surviving SHIELD agents on board. Without power, the stations guidance computers failed, and the explosion had sent the Fury tumbling out of its orbit, slowly but inevitably toward Earth.
Quasar accelerated rapidly into one of the holes torn into the station by the mysterious alien attacker. As he raced through the corridors looking for signs of life, he found himself face to face with corpses and wondered they were agents he had gone through training with, or worked with during his year as an agent of SHIELD. He pushed those thoughts out of his mind, forced himself to ignore the bodies floating aimlessly in zero gravity. There would be time to deal with the repercussions of what had happened here later.
Passing through an airlock, Quasar reached a section of the station that still maintained an atmosphere and harbored survivors, sitting down and huddling together to conserve heat and oxygen. A large man with command insignia on his uniform stood up. "Quasar, I presume? Colonel Jackson Pickett, director of SHIELD space operations."
"Colonel," Quasar acknowledged. "We need to get you and your crew off the station and back to Earth, and we need to do it quickly. The Furys orbit is degrading slowly now, but Earths gravity will only accelerate its fall."
The colonel shook his head sadly, and offered his plan. "Then there isnt enough time for SHIELD to send up a rescue shuttle, is there? Damn. Nearly all of the unused lifeboats were damaged in the attack. Quasar, I want you to take the surviving members of my crew down to Earth. The boats were programmed to splash down in the Atlantic at the following coordinates: 30 N by 120 W. The Helicarrier should be standing by to meet you."
"Just your crew? What about you, Colonel?"
"We have sensitive materials on board. I need to ensure they dont fall into the wrong hands. Ill use one of the escape pods when Ive guaranteed the security of SHIELD secrets."
"But," Quasar began before Pickett cut him off.
"No buts. Youre wasting time, Avenger. And oxygen."
Quasar nodded and enveloped the 28 surviving agents in an energy bubble. "Before you go, make sure Colonel Fury gets this." Pickett handed Quasar a sealed metallic box.
"I will sir. Good luck. Dont let the station fall on Green Bay." Quasar winced after he said that, realizing that Pickett, having just lost 80% of his crew, probably wouldnt find much to laugh about. Nor should he. Why do I always say the wrong thing, Quasar berated himself.
Quasar exited the station, towing the bubble containing the surviving members of the Furys crew. Had he not become Quasar, Wendell Vaughn might have found himself aboard the Fury. Serving on the space station was the kind of duty Quasar would have volunteered for, if he had stayed in SHIELD. It was the kind of thing that would have made his father proud.
Suddenly, another explosion emanated from the station, a tremendously violent explosion, terrifying in its intensity. Bright white light began as a small ball at the center of the structure, expanded to consume the Fury, and then dissipated. A shockwave washed over Quasar and the survivors, buffeting them with heat and metallic debris. Quasars first instinct was to race back to where the station had been, to try and find Colonel Pickett, but the oxygen aboard the station had been thin, and it was getting thinner inside the quantum energy bubble. A bitter taste rose in Quasars mouth. Pickett, if he had survived, would have to be sacrificed for the greater good. Like Eon. Like Kayla. Quasar began his silent descent into the atmosphere.
Wondering what he would say to Nick Fury, for whom the destroyed station had been named, Quasar landed on the deck of the Helicarrier. The rescued SHIELD agents gasped in the fresh air as medics escorted them to the sickbay. An agent approached Quasar. "Sir? Colonel Fury would like to speak with you in his office."
Colonel Fury sat at his desk, stiff and straight. Standing at his side was a woman with straight brown hair and insignia indicating she held the rank of major. It took Quasar a moment, but he recognized her. It was his old sparring partner from SHIELD training, Gail Runciter. Fury stood up and leaned forward, placing his hands on the desk. "All right, Quaze. We need ya to fill in the blanks for us. I believe youre acquainted with Agent Runciter, associate director of space operations?" Quasar nodded. "Good. So, we receive an SOS from our space boys. They relay a message, sayin a single blasted ship has shown up outta nowhere and starts blowin holes in em. Our weapons dont do squat, and our defenses do less! Well, let me tell ya, if the stuff we got up there aint doin nothing, nothing we got down here is gonna help. I call the Avengers and they send you to take care of it. So, what happens after that, and be specific, cause this is goin in the official record."
Quasar related the details of his battle with the alien aggressor, his efforts to save the surviving crew and the stations ultimate destruction. Fury seemed satisfied and sat back down. Agent Runciter asked, "You say the alien said something to you before it died. What did it say?"
"It wasnt English. It sounded like gibberish to me. Something like: armtha astaldus. Could have been a curse or a prayer or anything. Ill try and find out if it means anything and if it does, Ill let you know."
"Thanks. Runciter, Im makin you Acting Director of Space Operations and recommendin you be placed in charge of it permanently. Youre excused."
"Sir," said Gail as she saluted, then walked out of the room.
"Look, Vaughn, I got a couple a things I wanna tell ya. Dont feel too bad about what happened up there. There are risks in space duty, and they all knew it. As for Pickett, you couldnt have saved him. His orders were to protect SHIELDs secrets and technologies at any cost. From what ya tell me, sounds like he activated the self-destruct after you left."
"Thank you Colonel Fury. I just wish I could have gotten there sooner. Maybe I could have saved more people, or the station could have been salvaged."
"Ya did what ya could, kid. Dont beat yourself up."
"Thank you sir. Pickett told me to make sure you got this." He produced the black box Pickett had entrusted to him and placed it on Furys desk. "I hope whatever you were doing up there was worth all the lives."
"Me too, kid. Me too."
"Mr. Quasar, would you care for breakfast? I do believe you never completed your dinner last evening."
Food was the last thing Quasar wanted. "No. Thank you Jarvis, Im not really hungry. Look, I dont want to be rude, and I appreciate what youre trying to do, but Id really just rather be alone."
A new figure entered the room, clad in his familiar red white and blue costume. "Is there something you want to talk about, Quasar?"
"What? Oh, Cap! I just keep thinking I could have done more, saved more lives. I came back to Earth because I wanted to just be Wendell Vaughn sometimes, but people died because I wasnt vigilant."
"Its a tough burden to bear. Weve all been there, and eventually you come to accept that you do what you can, and the difference you do make is worth it. Just think, if you hadnt come back to Earth at all, maybe everyone aboard that station would have died. Most of us were in the Negative Zone. Iron Man was tied up battling Plant-Man, who was using giant stalks of pseudo-sentient wheat and corn to terrorize a Stark affiliated agricultural research facility in Lincoln, Nebraska. Giant-Man and the Wasp wouldnt be effective in space. The way I see it, were lucky you were around."
"Yeah," said Quasar, a smile returning to his face. "Thanks Cap."
"Mr. Stark will see you now, Mr. Vaughn."
"Thank you, Sarah. Look, I want to apologize again about running out on dinner the other night."
"I told you not to worry about it." She paused for a moment and smiled. "Did you come here to see Mr. Stark or to see me?"
"Right," Wendell said, slightly embarrassed. He did have important business with Tony Stark, after all, although he wouldnt have minded spending the day with Sarah Ames.
Tony Starks office sat at the top of a short staircase and behind impressively massive wooden doors. The wood was a façade, of course. Sandwiched inside the paneling was a bulletproof, radiation shielding, energy dampening material developed by Stark researchers. Tony Stark was a man who knew the value of security.
After an exchange of pleasantries, Stark sat down in his chair and leaned back casually. "I installed white-noise generators in the walls and ceiling. You can speak freely about anything, no one will overhear, Quasar."
"Thank you, Iron Man, er, Mr. Stark. When I first got back to Earth, I wanted to talk to you about balancing the responsibilities and obligations you have as Tony Stark versus those you have as Iron Man. I was feeling like maybe I should spend more time as a civilian, before I suffered a burnout, but Im chartered to be Protector of the Universe. Its a pretty awesome task. I dont know if I can pull off the semblance of normality with my duties as Quasar, but after speaking with Captain America, Im going to try and make it all work."
Stark nodded. These were problems he knew well. "Good. You know, Im reminded of that old quote by Shakespeare, how some are born great, others are made great, and some have greatness thrust upon them. I suspect a lot of us in the business fall into that third category, and it isnt always easy for us. You make your choices and do your best to live with them. So, how can I help?"
Quasar outlined his plan to restart his security-consulting firm, and asked Stark for any advice he might have about finding office space, clients, and any other advice he might have about building a successful business.
"Ill tell you what, Wendell. I own a fair bit of real estate in Manhattan. Ill arrange suitable office space for you and give you a 50% discount on the lease. I dont know how your finances are right now, but youve been off-planet for a long time, and I suspect you dont have much money at your disposal. Im going to loan you $750,000 interest free. If you need it, great, if not, its interest free so what have you got to lose? Pay me back when you can. That should get you started. If theres anything else, you can contact me here or through the Avengers. Now, Im sorry, but I really must be going. I have to fly to Orlando to meet with another client."
"Wow, thank you for your tremendous generosity, Mr. Stark." Stark nodded and left the office, leaving Vaughn in a momentary stunned, giddy silence.
Things were looking up. He pushed his failure to save the SHIELD base to the fringes of his consciousness. No one blames me but me, he told himself. Nick Fury, Captain America, they absolved me of any negligence; focus on the future. Still, there must be an explanation for the attack, and he vowed to find it.
Seeing Sarah again made the day brighter still. "So, whats the good word," she asked as Quasar walked back into the lobby.
"Im back in business, Sarah! Mr. Stark is going to help get Vaughn Security Systems going again. Its more than I could have hoped for."
"Hey, thats great news, Wendell. How about you make up for the other night by taking me out tomorrow so I can help you celebrate."
"Wow, sure! Thatd be terrific. Thanks Sarah!"
Back in space, aboard the derelict craft the alien used in its attack, Quasar searched for answers. The ship was in surprisingly good condition considering its proximity to the Fury when it exploded, and Quasar hoped it would yield new information. There was something tantalizingly familiar about it, though most space ships bore resemblance to each other in some fashion. Still...
"Epoch, does the term armtha astaldus mean anything to you?"
The visage of his goddaughter appeared on one of the jewel faces of the quantum bands. "With the trillions of languages that have existed in the history of the universe, it is quite likely that it means something. Why do you ask?"
"The alien I combated here a few days ago said it to me before it died. I didnt think much of it at the time, but it could be important. Its all I have to work with right now."
"Ah. I shall employ my cosmic awareness and see if I can learn anything to aid you, Quasar."
"Thank you, Epoch." Suddenly, another clue snapped clear. He had seen this ship before, or one just like it, in the museum on Uranus. This ship was based on Eternal technology; Quasar was sure of that now. But that didnt make sense - the Uranian Eternals had all died decades ago, and they were a peace loving people. It could be Titanian in origin, but they too were a peace loving society, forbidden to make or harbor weapons. The ship could have been stolen and modified, or it could be the work of the one Titanian Eternal Quasar knew not to champion peace. The thought sent a shiver down his spine.
TO BE CONTINUED
Next: The catacombs of Titan!
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