No expense was spared in resettling Marshall and Meredith Montgomery in their new home. It was part of a suburban community, but had enough property and was situated so it afforded a level of privacy even amidst the community. Most of the houses in the surrounding area were larger, expensive, semi-secluded as was theirs. Small stands of trees dotted the landscape as well as partial walls made by hedges. It wasn't of course a new house, but had been purchased by the government expressly for these newcomers to this area.
Most of the other residents were professionals of one type or another and of course would drop by to meet the new couple in their community once they had finished moving in and got a bit more settled.
The day the movers unloaded their belongings the newly christened Meredith had mixed feelings. Everything being moved off the truck and into their new home looked like what the neighbors would expect in terms of belongings that had been accumulated over a period of years or a lifetime, but in truth, it had all been purchased either by Marshall and Meredith or by those who had been assigned to help in fleshing out their back-stories with furnishings and mementoes that would make their new lives more real to anyone who dropped in for a visit from the surrounding neighborhood.
Meredith unpacked a box and looked at some awards for excellence she had received back in high school She had never seen these awards before, but it was presumably something she had seen many times over throughout her life. A tear came to the corner of one eye and she absently wiped it away.
Suddenly a firm grip was applied to both her shoulders as Marshall came up behind her and supplied a much-needed embrace of comfort.
"A bit overwhelming, isn't it?" he kissed the back of her neck, which her new, shorter hair style allowed so easily for him to do. She had also gone blonde, with a few darker highlights while he, assuming that he would of necessity be forced to remain with his original dark brunette coloration, now sported a much lighter hair color. It seemed that certain applications within the national agencies had developed an enzyme that once ingested would work throughout his body and make certain small alterations, even to his alien DNA. The most noticeable change was that his hair was now a vibrant sandy hue, rather than almost black. He would need to take the supplemental enzyme on a regular basis, at least once every month, in order to keep the changes to his body they engendered. Another aspect of the enzyme was that he was able to grow facial hair - something completely foreign to him. He now had a very stylish Van Dyke beard and mustache of a slightly different shade from the hair atop his head. It would change his appearance just enough so no one recognized him as the hero who no longer protected their planet.
"I'll get used to it all," Meredith smiled in a way that showed she was trying her best to be brave for him, but inside her heart was still broken from the loss of so many people who were such a vital part of their lives.
Marshall reached into the open box and withdrew a trophy with his wife's maiden name of Meredith McDonnell. Atop the small, plastic award was a gold-colored figurine representing a girl dressed in shorts and T-shirt who was running. On the front was affixed a plastic plaque that read, "First Place Girl's 100 M".
Marshall sighed as though recalling fond memories of what this award portended. "I remember so clearly the day you won this award," he spoke as though it was a cherished memory that meant something to both of them. "Remember how you stumbled coming around the end of the track on the final lap? We all thought you were going to lose because of that and yet you corrected yourself and poured on more speed than anyone thought you had inside of you. What a surprise it was to all your friends when you crossed the finish line not more than a toe's length ahead of the closest competitor."
Meredith slapped him playfully on the shoulder, and then hugged him close. "I think I'll let you tell all the stories about everything in here," she indicated the box and the items she had already withdrawn from it. "You have a much better imagination than I do."
"That's not what Mrs. Halsteadt, your fifth period History teacher said when you tried to explain to her why you were sneaking in twenty minutes late while the lights were off and everyone was watching a film on the American Revolution."
"See what I mean?" She pushed him away from her and with her attitude adjusted to a much brighter tone began removing all within the box and finding places to display each item around the spacious living room as well as the Great Room situated towards one side of the house. As she examined each item and decided where it would fit best she considered the "history" behind it all and smiled each time as though truly recalling cherished memories. From time to time real memories attempted to intrude upon the new ones she was creating, but she shook them away with a few shakes of her head, mumbling her mantra of, "This is my life. This is the only life I have ever had. This is what I will live for the rest of my life," over and over again.
The house was two stories above ground and a deep basement that expanded out beyond the boundaries of the house below ground. The original owner had intended the basement for use by the large family they raised there and it had served that purpose well for many years, until the children had all grown up and moved out on their own. The parents then put the house up for sale, since it was far more house than they would ever again have need of. Marshall Montgomery decided this basement would perfectly suit his needs as a lab for building and testing the new inventions he wanted to introduce to the world about him. Also, the fact that it was so large and most of the residents of this area had never been inside it and therefore had no knowledge of the size of the rooms below ground, the extra space could be sectioned off so that only Marshall and Meredith knew about the secret lab where Marshall would build and test the suit he intended for outfitting himself in his new action identity.
That was the most difficult part - deciding exactly what he wanted his suit to look like, which would depend upon how he wanted to present himself to the world-at-large. Certainly he had to be able to fly, so should he stick to the strictly technological look and build the suit with some form of rockets, thrusters, or a jet pack, or did he go with a more mythological feel and place mostly functional wings on his back so people thought the feathery appendages were the source of his ability to fly?
He spent lots of time brainstorming and came up with several ideas he liked best. Finally he had detailed each one enough to fashion the suits for wearing and the day came when he decided that he was ready to reveal them to Meredith for her thoughts on each.
Meredith had begun working in the local FBI field office, her back-story being that she had worked with the NSA for a number of years and wanted a change so she could spend more time with her husband, who mostly worked at their home. That way no one expected to find any record of her in whatever FBI field office she might have worked at previously, though certainly records could have been fabricated to "prove" such, even as they had been fixed up and placed on file within the computer banks of the NSA to show every detail of all the assignments she worked on in that federal organization. Anyone who grew suspicious in any way would naturally assume that she had actually worked for the CIA, since that agency always provided false covers for agents who transferred to any other agency.
The newly commissioned FBI Special Agent returned home to find a note waiting for her on the small, antique table just inside the front door. The note explained she was to remove her shoes, get rid of her briefcase, take a large drink from the cranberry-blueberry juice sitting in the cooler behind their wet bar, already mixed and waiting for her, and relax on the divan in the Great Room that was situated to the right of the foyer.
Meredith followed the instructions and felt herself melting into the softness of the divan as her head pushed in to the cushions that propped her up against the end of the furniture.
The sound of dramatic music broke the silence and she opened her eyes, all senses alert to whatever her husband had planned. he'd always had a sense of humor and enjoyed making an entrance, especially when it was only the two of them so he could be as overly dramatic as he wanted, but the sound of this music cautioned her that he was about to go far beyond anything he had ever foisted upon her before.
What was that piece of music? Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries? Yes, that was it. Oh no, she thought, starting to sit up, what did he..? But her concerns were nothing compared with the brightly colored costumed man who swooped in through the double doors and greeted her just as the music swelled.
"Mars?" she lurched forward in her seat, almost spilling her drink, but catching herself just in time. "What in the world?" she began laughing as he struck a dramatic pose and stood before her with long red hair braided into a Norwegian-style "warrior's braid" and worn by the Vikings from ages past. The tunic he wore was dark bronze with a slightly copper sheen to it, but offset by the golden fur cloak he had wrapped about his left shoulder, trailing behind him and around so it fastened just under his right arm, effecting a partial cape or cloak that would flap behind him when he flew, as his cape always had in years past. His legs were covered in a rich rust-brown, but of smoother material than the fur that encompassed his torso. About his calves and continuing down to cover his feet were boots that were black, but were wrapped with brown leather thongs, crisscrossing back-and-forth all along each lower leg. His arms were bare, allowing his muscles, which had always been large and well-defined, to be displayed. About each wrist was a leather strap studded with gold brads. In his right hand he carried a large mallet of some sort that had a head as wide as his biceps.
Realization dawned on Meredith as her mind assimilated the entirety of the outfit.
"Oh, no, don't tell me you're..."
"The Asguardian at your service, m'lady," he bowed low, the red braid of hair swooping forward and over his right shoulder as he brushed the carpet with the sweeping gesture of his hand. "That's spelled so it contains the name 'guardian' within it, not the factual spelling of someone from the fabled Asgaard of Viking lore."
"And the hammer would be..."
"The majestic Mjollnir, of course, my trusty mallet, if you will, not a mere hammer. I have built circuitry into Mjollnir that causes it to return to me when ever it's been thrown." He twirled the mallet several times on the thong his hand held onto and then threw it far to Meredith's left. The war hammer flew fast about her body, curving around so it returned to him from her right side. He caught it in his right hand and held it up. "See? 'Tis a nifty effect if I dost say so myself and Mjollnir is strong enough, especially when hurled by my strength, to smash through walls and cars and certainly to take down any churls who dare to disobey the law." His eyes scrutinized her for her opinion, his left eyebrow arched high as he regarded the reaction of his wife.
"All right," she rose from her seat and approached him, setting her drink on the coffee table next to the divan, "I can see the reasoning behind the style of your getup, now that I understand who you're supposed to be, but..." she turned her head far to one side, her lips pulled off to the opposite side and her eyes now narrowed slits. She shook her head briefly and returned to her seat, taking a sip of the cranberry-blueberry cocktail.
"Thou dost cut me, m'lady," he feigned remorse even as he turned with a flourish and exited the Great Room, returning not more than three heartbeats later, dressed quite differently, this time with a bare chest and arms, a wide belt about his waist that held a large, ornate buckle of an American flag, as though it were waving in the wind. His trunk and legs were encased in a dark blue material bespeckled with large stars set in various places about the length of his legs, smaller star clusters were scatter about as though scattered across the field of blue. The stars were all either red or white so that altogether his outfit was the triad colors of the American flag. The boots that covered his calves and feet were as darkly red as the stars. The same flag design that was on his buckle was also on an emblem upon his chest, the emblem holding together the two wide, dark red leather straps that crisscrossed his chest and connected in the back where they helped to support the large golden wings that unfurled from behind him and stretched out so they proved to be a full twenty-five feet from wing-tip to wing-tip. Covering his head so that only the barest portion of his cheeks was revealed on either side was a full-head mask of an angry-appearing eagle, its beak slightly open so that it covered from his nose to his chin.
It was all too bizarre for Meredith, who succeeded in dropping her glass this time. The winged being in front of her moved fast enough to snag the glass before it could turn over and stain the carpet, not that they couldn't afford to have it repaired or replaced.
"Ah, okay, I give up - what exactly are you in this - guise?" Meredith wasn't laughing, but her attitude was such that she was certainly amused.
"The American Eagle, of course," he answered soberly and seriously, placing his hands upon his hips and striking the dramatic pose he had become famous for long ago at the start of his original hero career.
"Hmmm, well, I think I like this one better than the last, though the face mask could take some getting used to. Why is it fashioned the way it is so it comes down over your mouth and chin?"
"Ah, because I now have a light brown beard?" he responded as though saying, "Duh."
"Mmmm, okay. I see," she nodded her understanding. "Anything else?" she lifted her eyebrow once more, but not in as much disdain as she had previously over his "Asguardian" persona.
"One more, and I think you'll like this best, which is why I saved it for last."
Again he turned and was gone. Unexpectedly the lights in the Great Room dimmed so they were almost out. Meredith set back against the arm of the divan and nestled into the cushions. She smiled in preparation for whatever her husband had this time. Suddenly there was movement up by her head and she gasped as she turned abruptly and noticed the dark, brooding figure next to the divan. He was so dark she could barely see him, and then the lights turned up, not as bright as they had been before, but enough so she could better see the man standing at her head.
He stood looming over her, his entire body encased in blue so dark it was almost black. No. Not all of it was dark blue. Meredith adjusted her position and turned so she could better look at this outfit. The main part of the suit was dark blue, but the boots, which began halfway up his thighs on his quadriceps, were dark purple, dark enough to fool anyone in a dark room or at night into thinking the entire outfit was black. She'd always known that if a person wanted to be nearly invisible at night, but not be caught wearing black so he seemed suspicious, he should wear dark purple or red. Then she noticed that he wore long gloves of the same purple that went to mid-way on his biceps and there was a dark purple design that came in from behind him on both sides of his abdominal area, but stopped before actually reaching his abs. Atop each shoulder was the same purple encompassing the shoulders and trapezius and extending down onto the upper portion of his chest forming a wide "V" shape, though she could tell it wasn't intended to be seen as a true "V", as though denoting a name beginning with that letter. The most startling aspect of the costume was the fact that the entire face was hidden behind a mask that was stark and devoid of human characteristics. There were depressed areas where his eyes should be, but no openings that allowed his eyes to show through. It made his appearance much more eerie than it otherwise would have been, almost inhuman, in fact.
"This one gives me chills," she wrapped her arms about her body and held herself tight as though drawing warmth she desperately needed.
"And that's the intention of it," his voice was hollow with a slight echo effect, as though he was speaking from within a cave or barrel. It made her feel even more chilled and him less human than before.
"How do you see?" she stood and approached, looking closely at his face with no eye-slits.
"Really, Meri?" he asked, once more implying, "Duh!"
She slapped her forehead with the heel of her left palm, knowing she actually didn't need to voice the single word that went with the action. He understood, as did she that he had vision that allowed him to see through solid brick walls or steel. He could certainly see through mere fabric. She stepped forward once more and peered more closely at his face once again. Her hands rose and touched his face, tracing the outlines and contours of his features.
"What is this?" she asked. "It's hard, but it feels - slick, weird. It's creeping me out." Her hands abruptly withdrew and she wiped them on her clothes, though she knew his face-mask hadn't actually gotten anything on her hands. It was simply a sensation she received from touching that strange mask.
He reached up and grabbed the top of his mask, pulled upward and the mask came off, revealing the more familiar features she had become used to seeing.
"It's something I developed on my own. Because it's different, it will give the impression that it's the mask that allows me to see through it without eye-holes, not my own unique vision. It'll keep anyone from guessing who I truly am, don't you think?"
"I doubt anyone would ever place you as being..."
He held a forefinger against her lips, stopping her from saying the word they both knew neither of them could ever again speak.
"Really, Marsh," she sighed openly, "I don't understand why of all the people on this planet you and I are the only ones who can't say - that other name that no longer applies to you? How will - the watchers ever make a connection between who we are now and who we used to be just by saying that name?"
"It's because they made a scan of me while I was - up there," he raised his head slightly in an upward movement, indicating up in space when he had fought the aliens. "I could feel the scan while it was being made. My voice and genetics, musculature, skeletal structure - everything. They keyed it all into a file that will activate if I say that name out loud. What the government agencies also were able to discover is that they learned who I was when I wasn't - him - and learned of you, too, so they keyed it to your voice as well so they could use voice recognition software, which I'm certain is much more sophisticated on their - vessels, than anything we have here. They are looking for us all the time, searching to see if I break the agreement I made with them.
"That's why I developed this material," he knocked on the front of his suit, displaying the hardness of it that was almost an armor-type effect. "It's designed to alter my physiology, my musculature and DNA, all that they made a scan of, so even if they run another scan to see if this new persona matches up with the one who fought and beat them, they'll see me as simply someone else, someone new to the crime-fighting scene. The other outfits I displayed for you today are made of this same material."
"And who are you in that guise? You remind me a lot of The Darknight, only he has a cape like what you..."
Once more he held a warning finger up before her and she stopped talking.
"I modeled this persona after his," he smiled. "I thought I'd borrow a few leafs from his playbook and become The Dark Avenger."