Unlikely Singularities – Chapter 78


Reconstruction Sine Bellum

January 28, 2017

Chile. Again.

False alarm. Again.

Barnes was still running the tense edge of adrenaline when the quinjet landed at the Tower, and he only managed a tight nod at Stark to acknowledge that he would attend the debrief the next day and a wave at Steve as his friend left to change clothes. Barnes didn’t feel ready to disarm and remove his armor. He was ready to fight, and that wouldn’t leave him easily. Even when it did, he would still be too keyed up to sleep for hours.

Wilson was side-eyeing him, so he took the stairs to his apartment like a normal person, and then had Friday bring up the security cameras. Without his asking, she split the big screen in his living room in half, showing a rotating cycle of live images on one side and a speed enhanced cycle on the other half of everything that had happened while he was gone. The lights remained off, but the AI darkened the windows to the highest privacy setting, so that even the glare from the screen would not be visible outside. With his training and serum-enhanced eyesight and memory he went through all the historic footage within forty-five minutes. There was little of remark.

A few mildly suspicious repeat drivebys. Analysis necessary for threat assessment. Run plates and track owners.

A patron of one of the lower floor businesses that got lost and accidentally enacted the security protocols when they tried to enter a secure office suite. Response – additional security checks on location. Sweep for listening devices and munitions while tenant is absent.

A reporter that had snuck in by stowing away in a delivery van and been stopped by security before they made it out of the docking bay. Response – none.

Two apparent vagrants that he didn’t recognize camping out in strategic sight lines of Tower entrances. Potential surveillance. Reconnaissance required.

A protest in the main plaza. They were angry at Pepper Potts wearing freshwater pearls, against all odds, not the Avengers or any of Tony Stark’s outrageous activities. Or the mindless killer on the eighty-seventh floor. Idiots. Response – none.

The kid, Maria, bold as brass leading one of Stark’s robots out of his lab and into the penthouse. It was returned 30 minutes later, with no obvious signs of damage or newly programmed desire to destroy human life, so the Soldier dismissed it. Resourceful. Displays initiative. Mechanically inclined. Suitable for-

A package left unattended for twelve minutes. Security isolated it. It was determined to be powdered sugar, with an anthrax scare note. It was turned over to the FBI. Verify sender and intention with security.

Barnes checked over his apartment for the second time since he had returned home. All of the possible means of ingress were intact, defense measures in place. All means of egress were still viable and unused. He unloaded and repacked his Go bag. He cleaned his Sig Sauer P220. He cleaned his backup piece, a COP 357 Derringer. At two a.m. he gave in to the urge to move, deciding that if Sam was still up and around to see and disapprove of disturbing coping mechanisms he could go fuck himself. He scouted each of the three roof platforms restricted to Avengers personnel and Tony’s family, the medical platform, and the terrace with the pool that seemed to require legal, blood, or sexual relationships with one of the team members to use. Nothing was out of place. He even politely asked Friday to access a few marginally illegal security feeds to verify that none of the most desirable sniper positions in surrounding high rises were occupied. It had been a long weekend in a bitter January snowstorm setting up those cameras, but worth it for his piece of mind.

Finding nothing to justify camping out in a nest with his Windrunner, which is what his training and instincts were urging him to do, Barnes instead forced himself to return to his apartment. He changed out of his tactical vest and pants and into loose, black cargo pants – less armored, but otherwise the same as what he wore in combat – and a couple of thermal shirts. He managed almost an hour of yoga before he put his boots back on, holstered a gun, and went out into the halls. Everyone was either asleep or spoiling down to it, and as Barnes descended through the levels of the Tower he felt a bone deep urge to protect the quiet and calm of that place.

The feeling was comforting. Familiar. Different from what he had known as the Winter Soldier – defense rather than offense, but still utilizing the skills that had been burned into him. And also, so similar to what he had done before HYDRA. Working with the Commandos. And even before that. Hanging out at Steve’s apartment until he knew Mrs. Rogers would be getting off shift. Rushing to the hospital and following Mrs. Rogers home. A man with a hard look and a knife in his pocket. A brick in my hand. The glaze in his unfocused eyes. A snap-crunch-floot of cartilage and spraying blood under my knuckles. Seeing the light go on in their apartment and Steve offer his ma a cup of tea.

Barnes clenched his jaw and slipped outside, scouting the blocks closest to the Tower and the plazas around its base. There were a few vagrants he didn’t recognize, and he spent long minutes memorizing their features from the shadows and judging their postures and belongings to determine if they were a threat. One had the lean, conditioned body and liquid mannerisms of a professional. Barnes herded him into an alley, and in a brief scuffle discovered the man was not as good as him. American trained. Special Forces. Applegate and Krav Maga. Weak left ankle. Undisciplined knife work. The harshly whispered threats and accusations were enough to identify a mental illness. Barnes sympathized. He tied up the dazed body, stuffed a gag in his mouth, and left him and his unused anti-psychotics in the shadows. One call to SI security made certain he would be picked up and taken to a hospital.

There were a lot of things Barnes could say about Tony Stark, but he made certain that those around him were treated as they were due. Security always offered to drive homeless to Stark-funded soup kitchens and shelters when the weather was bad. Those suffering were directed to places to get free help. Whether the man had always been one for under-the-table generosity or if wandering alone and half-dead in the Afgani desert had brought it out in him, the efforts were still worthy.

He finished circling the Tower and returned to his apartment, managing this time to actually sit down in the spare bedroom he used as an office. It had a straight sight line to the front hallway, turning that into a kill box for anyone who entered uninvited, and no windows. Barnes felt comfortable enough there to review the public schedule for the Tower – events planned, deliveries expected, upcoming shift assignments for security and maintenance personnel. He also looked over anything Friday would let him access regarding the high-value targets in residence. Departures and arrivals, meetings, and changes in routines were all noted and memorized. By four-thirty his tension was beginning to ease and he actually felt a little tired.

Before he would allow himself to rest, he personally checked in with the lobby desk to make certain that the veteran from the alley had been seen to and that a few minor issues in assignments were dealt with. Although they were not obligated to, the guards all listened to him. He didn’t have any authority to tell SI employees what to do, Darcy had made that clear when she had handed him his new business cards.

Yinsen Foundation Director of Security, Barnes huffed to himself as the elevator doors closed and Friday whisked him back to his own floor. It was a fancy title that meant he was supposed to make sure new hires and people that Darcy did business with were clean – or at least that he knew how they were dirty so it could be planned around. She said it also made him responsible for keeping the upstate facility safe – but Barton had that pretty well covered – and setting up the protection necessary for people close to Avengers who didn’t regularly hit the mats or the range. That didn’t leave much for him to do. By choice, Dr. Foster never left the facility campus. And Barnes had read Darcy’s memo on her friend and former employer. It was labeled Top Secret with red marker in fat loopy handwriting and she hovered over him until he was done and then lit it on fire in a trash can. The sprinklers had gone off and a robot had showed up and doused her with foam. The sight of Darcy Lewis squelching into her office bathroom, bubbles in her footprints, made knowing that Foster had the potential to wink out of existence and reappear in another part of the universe easier to stomach. Not easy. Just easier.

The Bartons also stayed upstate. Between Clint, the regular security sweeps of the locals, and a suspiciously well-trained and funded county Sheriff’s office, Barnes didn’t have much to do to keep them safe. He had also seen Laura Barton’s range results. If it was good enough for the Green Berets he figured it was good enough for a scientist and mother of three.

Steve was glued to Darcy like a communion wafer to the roof of a mouth, and she rarely went anywhere except the Tower, the upstate facility, and home. Not that Barnes allowed her security plan to slide. Just because Steve had grown himself enough muscles to protect a dame didn’t mean he always had the brains to know when he should. The two of them were more likely to rush into danger together than to sit quietly and wait for backup. It was a tossup whether it would be better for Darcy to be attacked alone or with Steve. Alone, and she would be underestimated, and her refusal to run or lift weights would slow her down enough that she might not hurt herself too badly before someone could get to her. But then she was as likely to lip off to a captor and get killed just to shut her mouth. Together, well, they’d probably both survive but Barnes wasn’t sure Stark had enough in savings to pay for damages if those two hatched an escape plan.

And little Maria? Stark had her environment so well-controlled it could only be more safe if he wrapped the kid in soft cotton and kept her in a Hulk-out room. It didn’t stop Barnes from double checking the school personnel or reviewing the daily reports of her security detail, but between having Iron Man on call and Pepper Potts as a mother, Barnes doubted there would be much danger near the shrimp.

Can’t believe someone pays me for this, he thought tiredly as he unlocked his own door and disarmed and then rearmed his defense measures. It didn’t take up nearly enough of his time, but doing background checks on auto pool drivers and developing contingency plans for accidental Darcy-sass overload was better than murdering people. Barnes bared his teeth at the empty apartment as he made his way to a hot shower and bed, finally ready to sleep. Hellava sight better, he agreed with himself, and the room and board ain’t bad either.

His alarm went off at six-thirty in the morning, and Barnes rolled out of bed alert – despite the fatigue urging him to crawl back under the covers. Earn your keep, he told himself sternly as he shucked off sleep pants and stepped under the shower spray. Darcy had given him a basket of soaps and things for Christmas- seemed to think it was a sort of joke – but Barnes had been completely ensnared. He knew that there were a lot more products out there than had existed when he was a kid, but all of them smelled good and left him feeling like he’d never been dirty a day in his life. A quick shave later he threw on sweatpants and running shoes and a pullover that fit tightly enough to keep out the cold but had enough stretch to allow his metal arm free movement. He pulled a stocking cap and gloves on in the elevator and stepped outside just in time to meet the newest SI driver as he got out of the town car.

Barnes stepped into his personal space, not touching him, but taking in his reaction. As expected, the man swallowed hard and began to sweat but held his ground.

Sir?” His voice had a tremor.

Barnes gave it a twenty count before he responded. “Drive. Safely.”

The guy seemed to take some relief in that, and firmed up his posture. Barnes moved away to find a place to supervise. He wasn’t worried that the driver was a plant or an enemy agent – Natalia had done the background check on this one, but he figured it didn’t hurt to make a few things obvious. Like how if the man did less than transport his passenger with all the care of a mother with a sleeping newborn, he would be lucky to be only fired.

At seven on the dot Doc Vivas stepped through the door, swathed in a pale pink wool coat with the collar popped. The color made her skin glow in the gray light of dawn. A thick braid of hair spilled down over the buttons nearly to her cinched belt like a rope of molten gold. Her charcoal gloves and boots matched her bag and contrasted with the bright red suitcase rolling behind her. A warm spot in the slush, he thought idly, then forced himself to focus more on potential threats. The driver quickly took care of the case, but neglected to offer her an arm into the car. Poor manners and poor service, Barnes noted to himself, but let it go as a sign of the era he was living in. Once her car was out of sight he pushed away from the alcove where he had waited and set a brisk jogging pace.

The air was cold. The first lonely flakes of what was predicted to be a long, gradual snowstorm were falling. Other pedestrians were sparse. His friends were all safe. His responsibilities were met. He was warm and healthy and as whole as he had been since he fell in the Alps. He had money in his pocket for hot tea and decent breakfast and the freedom to run as far and as long as he wanted or stop anywhere and anytime. It was starting out to be a good day.

Fuck Chile.