Epilogues:

Ben Urich sat in a hospital bed, a couple of pillows behind him to prop him upright. "I had this really weird... I don't know, dream, trip, whatever you want to call it."

"And it had monsters in it?" Joe Robertson prompted dryly.

"Yes. They were coming out of the walls and the floor." Urich frowned. "Sort of. In about three different sizes. One of them tried to talk to me, but I couldn't understand what it was saying. And then Miranda Evans showed up—"

"The librarian who brings you the paperwork?"

"Yeah — showed up and tried to explain everything." Urich paused. "Or I was trying to explain it to her, I can't remember which. Peter was there, too."

"Parker?"

"Yeah. At least his voice was. I couldn't actually see him.

"You remember anything else?"

"A lot of running," Urich replied. "And it was dark most of the time. When it wasn't dark, I think I was wishing it were. Then I woke up here."

Robertson shook his head. "I think your subconscious was been working overtime. The doctors can't identify what they found in your bloodstream. It might be some kind of new street drug..."


Gerald Dixon fell into step beside Nicholas Fury in the Triskelion's sixth floor hallway. "We've got the autopsy report on Steadman. Turns out he was a shapeshifter. That explains how he got a S.H.I.E.L.D. ID badge with access to our secured tunnels in the sewer."

"Chitauri?"

"No. Mutant human."

Fury grimaced. "Bad enough. How much of a leak was it?"

"We're not sure yet. Not much, I suspect. Most of the year we have minimal staff down there anyway." The two men paused at the elevator. "The Echthroi are good about staying in their own environment, except for twice a year." Dixon paused while Fury pressed the summons button. "Our people spend most of their time doing routine water and sewer work, unless ordered otherwise. We just need a handful of our own people for the tunnels. I think that's one reason Archer or whatever his name was took Steadman's identity." Dixon shook his head. "I wonder how many people have disappeared in those tunnels in the last few years."

"Find out. And find out who Archer was working for, besides us. I want a cap on this leak." Fury stepped into the elevator.

"Yes, sir." Dixon held the elevator door open. "Miranda is awake."

"I know. I'm on my way to talk to her right now."

Dixon's hand remained on the door. "The doctors say she's been having strange dreams this time. I don't like the sounds of that."

Fury nodded. "Neither do I. We'll have Psi take a look at her again." He gave Dixon a grim look as he pressed the button for the hospital floor and the elevator door closed. A few moments later he passed the nurses' station and entered a room.

Miranda Evans glanced up from her issue of Smithsonian, then closed it and laid it aside. "General? What can I do for you?"

"You can give me a verbal account of what happened Down Below, if you're up to it," Nicholas Fury replied, pausing next to the visitor's chair.

Evans pulled herself up into a sitting position in the hospital bed. "I can do that." Fury settled himself into the chair as she launched into her narrative. He nodded after she'd finished. "That matches Dixon's report, and what the paramedics and security personnel said they saw of things. Spider-man's memories are gone?"

"Bonded. He won't be revealing anything to anyone."

"Wiped would have been better."

Evans grimaced. "I suppose—"

Holding up a hand, Fury added, "You couldn't do much about it, I know. I don't like the fact that the Echthroi won't use human telepaths."

"Apparently the mental barriers—"

"Yeah, I know the theory. And I've read the account of the early attempts, too. But the first contacts with non-telepaths didn't go well, either, and yet here you and four others are linking with them with no outward sign of trauma."

"They've obviously learned how to work with us without causing damage," Evans remarked.

"So it appears," Fury said. "Okay, what about Thor?"

"That's something else you're not going to like, General..."


Below the New York City streets, in a large chamber that contained a toxic, alien environment, a group of refugees and their descendents waited. Above them they sensed the Chitauri feeding, infiltrating, multiplying, their life signs clustering in large numbers in two distinct locations, and in smaller numbers throughout the city. The humans would be able to find the Chitauri lairs once the liaisons passed the information along.

The upper world was closed to the refugees; the light was too strong and the humans who had given them sanctuary had forbidden them to go there, even at night. Despite their handicaps, the aliens had found ways of watching the Enemy. Five human minds now fed them sights, sounds and sensations through links built over many months of subtle biochemical manipulation undetectable by human telepaths — or the Chitauri who consumed them. The human "spies" lacked the ability to sense the Enemy as the aliens did, but picked up information, as well as behavioral and pheromonal clues, that could be analyzed by the collective mind below them.

None of the five knew yet that they were subconsciously linked to the aliens with whom they had been working as liaisons.

Like the humans who had given them sanctuary, the aliens had learned to keep secrets.

The time of confrontation was coming.

End

"...the Earth is currently home to eleven alien species at the moment, and those are just the ones our clean-up crews are aware of..."

Nicholas Fury, Ultimates Issue 8.



Author's Note: Because the Echthroi in my story are not actually deaf, merely unable to communicate verbally with humans, I've adapted some of the rules for American Sign Language, most notably the conventions used in assigning a person a sign name in the Deaf community. Anyone interested in the conventions of naming should look for The Book of Name Signs: Naming in American Sign Language, by Samuel J. Supalla, which explains the concepts and uses of names among the Deaf. Miranda Evans deliberately chose the two signs for characters (she uses a name sign for herself, but we don't see that here). Note that Peter's sign is made against the forehead, and Thor's over the heart. Since Evans assigned them the names, this is indicative of the way she sees each of them; she associates Peter with intellect, and Thor with emotion. I'm not sure whether this was a conscious decision on her part or not. I don't always know what's going on in the minds of my characters.

Kevin Crossley-Holland's book of Norse myths really does exist, as does Madeline L'Engle's novel, which won the Newbery Award for excellence in Children's literature. Copies of L'Engle's book in particular should be available in almost every library and bookstore in the United States (I can't make promises about any countries outside the US).

My knowledge of the people and events in the regular Marvel comic titles is spotty at best. I've read a number of the books as young girl and teen, but haven't followed any titles lately outside the Ultimate line. I've seen some of the television cartoons, watched some of the movies, and read some of the novels, but I'll freely admit there are gaps in my knowledge. As I understand it, a "Blackheart" exists in 616 Marvel, and he's some sort of demon prince. However, at the moment he doesn't exist in the Ultimate Universe, so the name is available.

The group of mutants living in the tunnels under NYC are the Morlocks. Up to this point I don't believe they've been Ultimized.

The portion of the story dealing with Dr. Connors and the strange creature Peter remembers are taken from an issue of Ultimate Marvel Team-Ups. A little of it is recounted in the Ultimate Venom arc of Ultimate Spider-man.

The alligator capture that is mentioned early in this story did actually take place.Since nolonger seems to allow links, I canonly suggest that you search online for "alligators + New York City" or similar terms.

As Miranda Evans mentions in the story, Native American legends in many parts of the continent contain snake-like or even dragon-like monsters. Several lakes in the United States are said to contain "river monsters" like the famous Loch Ness Monster of Scotland. (See The Field Guide to North American Monsters, by Haden W. Blackman, or look online for accounts of The Utah Lake Monster, Florida's Sea Serpents and River Monsters, the Lake Erie Monster, and others.

Thanks for reading!