A/N: Here is the first chapter of Genesis, set after the events in Beginning of the End. Even though it can serve as a stand-alone story, it can also act as a companion for From the Flames of the Past/Out of the Ashes, in the sense that some of the events may be referred to and some of the characters may make appearances. ;) The rest of the chapters will be published under a separate story.
Thank you for reading (if you so choose) and, as always, feedback is very much appreciated! :)
The soles of his shoes clacked along the marble floor as he made his way towards the conference room. Just before he strode through the doors, he paused to check his appearance in the mirror, straightening his jacket and making sure to leave the top two buttons of his crisp white shirt undone. He had no doubt that they would be able to see through his confident façade, but the outcome of the meeting hinged on his unwavering assurance.
He didn't need to see his head of security in the mirror's reflection to know that his employee was anxious.
"Mr. Quinn, they're…pretty impatient to speak with you."
Ian Quinn plastered a smile on his face before turning around to slap him on the shoulder. "It's all about the presentation, Smith. Relax. I'm a businessman. This is what I do. Trust me, once they see that I got it to work, they're gonna be begging me to take their money."
Quinn could tell that Smith didn't quite buy it, but he kept his reservations to himself and gave a respectful nod in response.
After one last glance in the mirror, Quinn stepped through the open doors and held out his arms. "Gentlemen, sorry to keep you waiting, but I-"
For the first time in his entire career, Ian Quinn was interrupted by a barrage of voices talking over him. He spun around the room in confusion, holding up his hands in a gesture of conciliation and trying not to appear too alarmed. Thankfully, the meeting was being held over teleconference, so Quinn Worldwide's most generous investors didn't physically have access to him. From the angry looks he was being given via each of the seven screens in the room, as well as the words being shouted at him in a multitude of languages, none of them would have hesitated to wring his neck.
It wasn't long before the translators began adding their voices to the mix. Quinn attempted to interject, only to be met with opposition on all sides.
"-the audacity to request a meeting after all that's happened-"
"-better get my money back, with interest, or so help me-"
"-if you think you can just waltz back onto the market without so much as an explanation-"
He tried once more to gain control of the situation. "Gentlemen, please, if I could just have your attention-" But the voices continued to shout over him. Ian Quinn's silver tongue, once able to persuade the most resolute benefactors out of millions at the drop of a hat, was rendered useless against his shareholders' indignation.
He wasn't about to give up so easily, though. He quickly motioned for Smith to skip to the presentation. He had planned the big reveal with much more flourish and theatricality, of course, but he was smart enough to know that he couldn't afford to hold back at this point. This was his last chance. If they weren't completely convinced of his success, if they didn't see the benefit in what he was trying to do, he would lose everything. The very thing he had worked over half of his life towards would amount to nothing.
Smith dexterously input the security code into a side panel. The wall behind him, which had until that moment been occupied by a very rare, expensive painting Quinn had bought on a whim, slid open to uncover a glass case. A silver amorphous substance was suspended behind the partition, enclosed within a full-sized circular generator.
All at once the clamor of voices died down.
Quinn turned back around to face his audience, making sure that the spectacle behind him was in full view of the camera. "That's right, gentlemen. We've found it." He allowed his words to sink in for a moment before continuing. "The gravitonium is not just some theoretical concept scientists came up with in a lab far away from the real world. It wasn't just a ploy I devised back in Malta to take your money. No, this…" he said, gesturing at the case, "is real. It's real, and it works."
One of his shareholders began speaking in a language Quinn thought sounded like Arabic. His interpreter was quick to translate. "Mr. Zaghlul thinks that this is an impressive show, but-"
"Qasim," Quinn smiled, clasping his hands together. "It's been too long. How's Nadrah doing? Still beautiful as ever, surely."
To his surprise, Qasim's scowl remained intact, a stark contrast to the architect's usual response whenever his wife was brought up in conversation. His translator continued as if Quinn hadn't spoken.
"But you must assume we all live under rocks if you think we are unaware of what has only just occurred in Florida. That Cybertek fiasco-"
"Was the work of a madman," Quinn replied, trying to make sure his voice remained calm. "A lunatic." He stepped forward, addressing all of the screens. Despite the looks of disapproval he was receiving, he was pleased that he had still managed to get their attention. He took a breath. "John Garrett made many great contributions to the world, namely his work in the exposure of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a corrupt institution. In doing so, he paved the way for companies like ours to get back to what we set out to do. Do you remember what that was? We dedicated our time…and our wallets," he smirked, relieved to see a few faces relax, "to the pursuit of progress. Without infringement or regulation. But…ultimately, the technology within John Garrett's system drove him to insanity. What happened in Miami was a disaster, yes. And am I disappointed? Of course! Quinn Worldwide has done business with Cybertek for years. No one regrets that loss more than I do, I can assure you. But gentlemen," Quinn paused, looking behind him at the gravitonium. "We don't need Cybertek anymore. We've got everything we've ever worked for right at our fingertips."
"Right at your fingertips," a voice spoke from one of the screens, and Quinn recognized the head of one of the largest steel companies in the world. "Or have you not forgotten that when your assets were frozen, we were the ones to suffer?"
"Mr. Kimura, believe me when I say that all of that is in the past. I've been given a clean slate, if you will."
"Is that why you're hiding out on an island in the middle of nowhere?"
Quinn smiled. "Let's just say that wherever I am, they can't touch us. More importantly…they can't touch this," he gestured to the gravitonium. "But I'm not going to bore you with talk of logistics," he said, waving his hand. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm guessing you all want to see a little demonstration."
He casually reached into his pocket and pulled out a small spherical object. The tiny amount of gravitonium glistened in his palm as he held it out for everyone to see. "Behold. One of the very first prototypes of the generator you see behind me. This little beauty right here was able to upend a semi going 60 miles an hour like that," he snapped his fingers. The faces around him didn't seem completely won over, but they sure did look curious. Curiosity was all Quinn needed.
"Now, gravitonium is pretty tricky to deal with, unless you know what you're doing. Thankfully, I do," he chuckled. "You see, on its own, the flow of the element is isotropic, which is just a fancy scientific word to say that the gravity fields remain uniform all around it. But when I apply an electric current, the rules of gravity…change. Up until now, the effects have been random. With a little tinkering, though, we've managed to control the fields. And I'm sure you're all gonna want to see this."
Quinn nodded over to one of his technicians, who was standing hesitantly near the control box. "Um…sir?" he murmured quietly. "A word?"
Quinn's mouth twitched upwards slightly, which was the only outward sign of his panic. Didn't all of his employees know how important this was? How pivotal this moment was in tipping the balance in their favor? He managed to freeze a smile in place before turning back to his impatient shareholders.
"Just…one moment, please," he said, holding up a finger before briskly walking over to the box. "What's the problem?" he hissed.
"I'm sorry, sir, it's just…we've only tested out the fields on the prototype. Are you sure it'll work for this one?" Quinn could tell that the technician wasn't trying to be doubtful, but as he glanced at the rest of his security team assembled near the doorway, the fear of what a twelve-foot particle generator could accomplish shone brightly in their eyes.
"Don't worry," Quinn reassured him, exuding the confidence he knew they needed to hear. "I triple-checked all the calculations myself. The same substance that fuelled the prototype fuels that machine right there," he said, pointing to the object behind the glass. "It'll work. Now I need you to do your job."
"Yes, sir," the technician replied, his eyes cast downwards.
"Good man," Quinn smiled, clapping him on the shoulder. He spun around to face the jury that would decide his verdict. "Let's get this show on the road then."
He heard the noise of a few beeps behind him, shortly followed by the soft hum of the generator beginning to move. Despite the gravity of the situation, Quinn could feel the excitement course throughout his body. After all of the setbacks and difficulties he had gone through to get to this moment, he was finally going to show the world his success.
"And…we'll send a current through…now." The generator pulsed with blue light as the electricity crackled through the apparatus, and the gravitonium solidified, hovering in its center. "All right, Madigan, let's start off with something simple." He grinned as he reached over to a side table and grabbed three ball bearings. "Decrease the number of gravitons within a one-millimeter radius of anything under a gram."
Almost immediately, the ball bearings began levitating above his hand. He stepped backwards so that his audience could see that they really were floating in midair.
Most of the shareholders still looked fairly unimpressed, but he noticed a few of them leaning forward to better see the display. Quinn smiled again. "You know what? That's lame," he said, swiping away the ball bearings so that they drifted to the side of the room. "Let's step it up, show you what this baby can really do."
He nodded to Madigan, who was busily configuring the gravity fields to his measurements. After a moment, Quinn felt himself being lifted up into the air. As he looked around the room, he was satisfied to see everyone's faces lit up in awe. He held out his arms, and the increasing drone of the machine ringing in his ears gave him renewed energy. "What you're looking at right now is the future. No more will we be subjected to the red tape that has bound us for so long. The balance of power has now been shifted to us. This is the birth of a new era, a new-"
Quinn's voice was cut off by the sound of rapid beeping coming from behind him. His smile froze on his face again, and he tried to cover up his alarm with a laugh. "Okay, Madigan, you can, uh, lower me back to the ground now."
"Sir," he replied quietly. "It won't stop accelerating. The fields-"
"Then turn it off," Quinn ordered. "Now."
Madigan frantically pressed a few keys. The machine behind the glass continued to whirl, increasing in speed. After a few agonizing seconds, the technician looked up at Quinn, his face a mask of terror. "I can't," he mouthed, shaking his head.
"Is this what you call working?" Quinn heard one of his shareholders ask.
Quinn turned back to the screens in the room. "We're just having a few technical difficulties, but I can assure you, the gravitonium-"
He was interrupted once more as he suddenly dropped to the floor. The generator continued to whirr behind the glass, accelerating as the screens turned black and the lights in the room flickered off. Quinn quickly regained his footing. "What the hell is going on?" he demanded.
"Sir, the compound's lost power."
"Damn it," Quinn breathed as his eyes flicked over to the still-spinning gravitonium, the silver substance providing the only light in the dim room. He pointed to one of his men. "Get Tartleton in here," he shouted over the roar of the machine. "Tell him we need to manually shut down the generator."
Before any of his men could move, the glass window shattered outwards, forcing Quinn to the ground. As silence fell on the room, he used his elbows to crawl near the doorway, wincing at the sharp edges cutting into his arms. "Smith, get the chopper ready. We have to evacuate again."
Smith moved to help him up, but Quinn swatted his hand away in annoyance as he gingerly picked himself off the floor. "Didn't I tell you to-"
Quinn immediately stopped talking, his eyes falling on the gaping hole at the back of the room. The generator had stopped moving, which would have been good news if the gravitonium hadn't given him an even bigger problem.
It was completely gone.
"Where's my gravitonium?" Quinn asked slowly.
"With all due respect, sir…maybe you should do more testing before trying a demonstration. I mean, this is like the third time-"
"Shut up, Smith," Quinn muttered, turning around to give him a glare.
"You should listen to him, Ian," a voice spoke from behind him. Quinn felt a chill run down his spine as he slowly spun on his heel. The voice continued to speak from the shadows. "That always was your problem, after all. So eager to show off to the world without giving thought to the consequences of your actions, to who or what might get hurt in the wake of your failure."
Quinn strained his eyes to better see the newcomer, not daring to believe his ears. All at once the lights came back on, and Quinn felt his jaw go slack.
"You're fidgeting again."
Skye tried not to groan in frustration. She really did. But she'd been sitting in the Bus's cargo hold for what felt like forever and five o'clock in the morning was an ungodly hour and she couldn't figure out how to turn her damn thoughts off and she was pretty sure her left foot had fallen asleep.
"I just don't understand why we have to do this." Her eyes opened almost of their own accord and fell on the person sitting across from her. "Sorry," she mumbled as she looked down at her lap, ashamed of herself. The Cavalry had taken the time out of her own schedule in order to train her, and if Skye wasn't careful, she'd be left to fend for herself. Again.
May sighed. "Don't apologize." Skye glanced up, surprised to hear gentleness in her voice instead of the usual annoyance. "Meditation is a difficult practice, but it'll come easier with time."
"No, I get that, but I just thought you'd be teaching me how to…you know, actually fight."
May simply raised an eyebrow. "You wanted to be a Zen warrior, remember?" Skye found herself smiling, the amusement of May actually saying the phrase "Zen warrior" managing to overcome her embarrassment. "This is the Zen part."
Skye nodded, even though she still didn't really understand. She'd never been good at sitting still, and she didn't think that that would change anytime soon. May seemed to pick up on her hesitation because she took a breath. "Let me ask you something." She paused again, seeming to weigh her words carefully before she spoke. "When Agent Coulson was missing, and you left the Bus to investigate on your own, what did you do?"
Skye couldn't help but wonder if she was walking into a trick question. "I…pretended to be…you?"
May smirked. "After that. How did you find out Coulson's location?"
"I hacked into Vanchat's financials."
"And you were under pressure, right? Rathman signaled his security team and if you hadn't been successful, you would've been caught."
Skye was confused. "Well, yeah, but-"
"How about when you were at that diner with Ward?" Skye swallowed, but May didn't appear to notice her discomfort. "You didn't know how long it would be before he figured out what you were up to, or whether or not he would kill you if he did. How did you manage to signal the police?"
Skye shook her head. "Tipping the cops off wasn't the hard part. The hard part was sitting there pretending like everything was okay-"
"Exactly," May interrupted. "Working with computers is natural for you. You don't need to think about it. It's an instinct, an instinct that kicks in exactly when you need it to." Something clicked in Skye's head as she finally seemed to understand what May was getting at. "When you're trying to defend yourself, there's no time to think. Instinct takes over. If you can't focus and breathe properly now, in a controlled situation, you're going to have a hell of a lot more trouble doing it out there." May paused, and Skye felt the weight of her words start to sink in. "And that is why we're meditating."
Skye nodded again, finding herself strangely inspired by the Cavalry's pep talk. With a new determination, she closed her eyes and tried to clear her mind. Almost at once, his voice rang in her head.
"You and I aren't that different."
Damn. She was not good at this.
"You're trying too hard," May said gently.
Skye sighed, severely disappointed in herself. She felt the edges of her eyes burning and looked away, blinking rapidly. There was no way in hell she was going to cry in front of Agent Melinda May.
"Whenever I have trouble concentrating-" May began, only to stop short at seeing Skye's undoubtedly skeptical expression. "It happens."
"Somehow I have a hard time believing that."
May ignored her. "Do a full body check. Start from your head and work downwards. It'll give you something to focus on."
Skye took a deep breath, not really expecting it to work but resolved to at least give an attempt. She took her time, concentrating on each individual body part. Crown. Forehead. Eyes. Ears. Nose. For the first few minutes, it was actually pretty helpful. As long as she was completely focused on her task, she didn't have room to think about anything else.
The trouble came when she got to her lips.
She fought it with every fiber of her being. No matter how hard she tried, though, she couldn't help but think of the last person that had touched them.
"Maybe I'll just take what I want, wake up something inside of you."
Her fists clenched together as she felt bile threaten to rise up in her throat. Thankfully May noticed. May noticed everything.
"You're thinking about him."
Skye forced a laugh. "I'm thinking that strength training might have been brutal, but at least he never made me do any of this."
The look she received in reply was so familiar that Skye almost smiled. Using her former supervising officer as a basis for anything was probably not the best idea.
"Ward was never able to meditate," May said, the crinkle near her eyes telling Skye that there had probably been many attempts. "He always claimed it was physically impossible for him."
Skye scoffed. "Can you imagine? Ward sitting still for more than two minutes? I mean, God forbid if he actually has to think about all the sick, twisted, Nazi crap he's ever done. Who knows? He might've realized he was an evil douchebag long before any of us had the chance to." She'd meant to give her retort flippantly, but bitterness managed to creep into her voice near the end.
May looked hesitant. "People…believe what they need to believe-"
"To justify their actions, I know," Skye finished, rolling her eyes. "That still doesn't make it okay."
"No. It doesn't," May agreed. "But that frustration you're feeling? You need to let it go."
"I can't not feel," Skye protested. "It doesn't work for me."
"That's not what I said. Meditation is not about desensitizing yourself. You don't have to block your emotions. But you do have to consciously let them go when they come."
The hopelessness of the situation nearly drove Skye to abandon the task and head back to her nice, warm, comfortable bed. But if she was ever going to make something of herself, she needed to do this. She needed to prove to herself that she was capable of fighting for something she wanted. And if she could succeed where Ward couldn't, well, that was just an added bonus.
She tried once again to center herself and slow down her breathing. Her focus settled where she'd been interrupted, and as she struggled to banish any and all thoughts about kissing Ward, she began to mull over what other (better) things her lips could be used for. She used them for smiling, right? Smiling and laughing and not kissing Ward and saying nice things and-
"We don't know all the facts."
"You want a fact, Fitz? Ward murders people."
Skye suddenly felt claustrophobic, like if she had to sit there for one second longer she would spontaneously combust.
"I think that's enough for today," May said crisply.
Even though Skye wanted nothing more than to get up or run outside or scream or do anything other than sit in silence, she remained where she was. She opened her mouth to argue, but May seemed to know what she was going to say. "We'll continue tomorrow. It's been a rough couple of days…for everyone." Skye noticed a sadness in May's eyes that she knew was a reflection of her own. "We're all worried about Fitz."
"And Simmons," Skye added quietly.
May nodded. "And Simmons."
There was a heavy pause, and Skye tried to force away her toxic thoughts. She was about to stand up when she figured that if anyone would know, it would be the Cavalry. "Hey, can I ask you a question?"
Skye took May's raised eyebrow as an implied yes. "Do you really think Coulson can do it? Rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D., I mean."
Something indecipherable passed over May's face, but before she could reply, they were interrupted by the sound of pounding footsteps coming up the lowered gangway. Skye was surprised to see that the sun had risen to a level higher than she'd been expecting; she and May must have been sitting there longer than she'd thought. She was even more surprised to see the man jogging towards them, glistening as if he'd been running for a good hour.
"Morning, sleepyheads," Triplett greeted them, grabbing a bottle of water from the cooler and draining nearly half of it in one gulp. "It's about time you guys got up."
"Oh, shut up, Trip," Skye joked, standing up and trying not to let her face show any discomfort. Her left foot was definitely asleep. "We've been awake just as long as you have."
"That's funny," he said with mock seriousness after finishing off the bottle. "I didn't see you at breakfast."
Skye still didn't know Triplett very well, but she knew him well enough to know that he was lying through his teeth. "Yeah, right," she scoffed.
He broke into a grin. "Okay, you caught me. I was just gonna go make some actually, if you guys want to come."
Right on cue, Skye's stomach growled. "Count me in."
She and Trip collectively glanced over at May. "I could eat," she smirked.
"Sweet. We'll have to make it quick, though," Trip said as they began heading down the ramp towards the bunker. "The boss man called. Guess what we get to do today?"
Skye groaned, and she was secretly pleased to see that May looked just as excited as she felt. All of a sudden, the idea of meditating was somehow much more preferable to the day's impending activity.