101 - An Icy Reception

Vyortovia is newly come to this world. We do not intend specific or egregious harm to this world, and we are willing to discuss the current situation with appropriate authorities for this world to determine an acceptable path forward for our sovereign nation. At any point in time that the governments of the world are willing and ready and capable as conversing as equals with Vyortovia, they welcome to do so. We accept this negotiation provided only that the emissary in question be the members of the Halcyon organization known as … the Menagerie.”

The broadcast went out around the world. The United States’ response followed quickly: anyone but the State Department who approached the Vyortovians would be committing treason.

It took a little doing. By the time State was ready, Harry Gale had already moved on from the Menagerie. But former members were just as good, apparently. As the most politically palatable member of the team, he was the natural choice for the job anyway. State would deputize him to speak for them, and as long as he stayed on script, everything would be hunky dory.

Harry felt weird in the suit and tie. His father and mother had assured him that he looked like a dapper, dashing young man. None of it felt like praise. Uncle Chase had tousled his hair, and his mother had promptly run a comb through it again, prompting yelps of pain. And then his dad had clapped a hand on his shoulder, and looked him in the eye.

“Son. There’s gonna be times like this, where you just have to stand up straight and be the symbol they need. Everyone’s going to look at you, and you’re going to feel like they want you to do something. It’s not that. They just need that reassurance that someone like you is on the job. So just do what they tell you, and try to take it seriously, and you’ll be fine.”

His mother nodded at this, and even Uncle Chase gave a thumbs up. So it must be good advice.

He was flown (you can’t run at super-speed in a nice suit and tie) in a Bell Boeing CV-22B Osprey, a military aircraft that could turn from airplane into helicopter by angling its huge propellers. They were to be escorted from a Marine station in Jacksonville by a squadron of helicopters.

Harry watched the water fly under the Osprey. He watched the choppers surrounding his craft fly in perfect formation, despite the buffeting of the ocean winds. He thought about his own name - Gale. Out here, rough weather could wreck a little group of choppers like this. Would there be rough weather once they reached the island?

The young attaché from the State Department had pushed a briefcase into his hands. Shouting over the volume of the engine, he’d told Harry to memorize the contents of the briefing, and study the dossiers inside. Harry had finished that in about three minutes. The attaché, not quite believing it, told him to be more attentive. When Harry started quoting chapter and verse from the documents, the man had finally shut up. Harry wasn’t sure whether this was a good thing or not, because the rest of the trip was definitely just airplane noise and uncomfortable silence.

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The Osprey descended toward the landing pad, stirring up snow and ice particles in the air with its powerful prop wash. The Vyortovian delegation, in full military regalia, was present.

We’re supposed to be negotiating, thought Harry. Why did everyone bring all their military stuff?

He was greeted with a stiff bow from a tall man, dark hair already graying at the temples. “Góðan daginn. Good day. I am Kristján Ragnarsson. You are our… you are from the… Menagerie?”

Harry nodded. “I’m Harry Gale, also known as Mercury. The United States sent me.”

“Come this way.”

Harry’s attaché from the State Department tried to come as well. Several of the Vyortovian delegation stepped forward, blocking his path. A couple of the Marines from the Osprey took a step forward too. Suddenly, things felt tense.

Diplomacy. Diplomacy.

“It’s okay,” Harry grinned over his shoulder. “You guys wait here. I’ll handle this.”

His father’s words were still with him. They just need that reassurance that someone like you is on the job.

Kristján led the way from the landing pad, down flights of stairs, into what Harry guessed was an underground complex. The design of everything looked super dated, like from the 1930’s or something, but on the other hand Harry couldn’t tell where the actual lightbulbs were. The corridors were simply lit, without any indication as to what was causing it.

“If you need food or drink or other refreshment, speak at any time to any of the attendants. If you need me, and I am not present, tell any of them ‘Hvar er Kristján’ and they will summon me.”


Kristján’s mouth twisted in a way that Harry might generously have called a smile.

The two arrived at a large conference room, dominated by an oblong table made of something that both did and did not look like wood. Three Vyortovians in uniform stood waiting, each at another door leading out of the room.

“Please wait here,” Kristján said. “Your coming was scheduled and expected, but of course there are many complexities to such a meeting, and we must finalize our own preparations.”

“Sure, no problem.”

Kristján left through one of the side doors, and Harry sat down in one of the ridiculously comfortable conference chairs. The Vyortovian attendants said and did nothing. He pulled out his phone, absentmindedly, before realizing there was very likely no reception within a hundred miles for him. Ah well.

The wait felt longer than it probably really was.

The person who entered, flanked by more soldiers, wasn’t the Dread Queen. Thank god for that. But she looked intimidating enough for Harry’s taste. She carried her own briefcase, the same as Harry’s attaché from State had.

“Góðan daginn. Good day. I am Katrín Helgasbarn. I am your… counterpart? In this negotiation.”

She sat opposite from Harry, and spread the printed contents of her briefcase out in a complex pattern, for reference. Seeing no sign of similar prep from Harry, her brows furrowed in consternation. Harry waited for her to mention it, but she said nothing.

Maybe they’re not used to doing this kind of thing either? He hoped so, anyway.

The conversation went on for almost two hours. Territorial considerations. Military de-escalation protocols. Questions about groups like NATO, the HHL, and the South American Superheroes Union. Most of it was covered by the dossiers Harry had memorized. Some of it was just stuff he knew already, whether from his family or from school. Some of it he had to say he knew nothing about, and Katrín nodded understandingly. They could return to it another time.

Harry caught the gist of all this. The United States was touchy. The Vyortovians were touchy. It was like two gunfighters in the Old West, staring each other down, silently daring the other to make a move. All this stuff he was doing with Katrín was just a way to get the two back to the table and keep playing cards.

Well, if this is all there is to negotiation, this isn’t so bad–

Katrín began to gather up her paperwork and stuff it back in the briefcase. “You have been immensely helpful. Thank you very much. The Dread Queen will now see you.”


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The Vyortovian vehicle was of the same type that Harry remembered from the graveyard attack. This was more of a transport than an attack craft, thankfully. It was him and Kristján in the back seats, and two pilots in the front seats, speaking to each other or over their radios. For his part, Kristján seemed content to keep his hands folded in his lap and his eyes glued to the scenery outside.

It was something to look at, that was true. They were almost two kilometers above sea level, flying steadily upwards over an unrelentingly white landscape. Here and there the bones of the mountain stuck out.

“Hvannadalshnjúkur,” said Kristján suddenly. “The name of this mountain.”

Ah. And… are you going to say more?

Apparently it was going to be another quiet ride.

The landing pad was almost impossible to spot until the craft was right on top of it. There was a short bump, and a hatch opened on Harry’s side. Kristján nodded, toward the opening and beyond. “We will return once your business is concluded.”

Harry climbed out with some trepidation. You’re just stranding me on a cold mountaintop, huh? But here he was. What now?

A narrow staircase wound its way from the landing pad, further up toward the peak. The rock was rough-hewn, volcanic, unlike the native stone of around it. Guess I’m walking.

He felt increasingly stupid with the suit on. Why didn’t they let him bring his costume? Spandex wouldn’t be much warmer, but at least he’d feel more like himself. And if they’re going to be doing this on a mountaintop, why not give him a coat or something?

At the top of the stone staircase was a large stone circle, about the size of a football field. It was surrounded by pillars made from the same kind of volcanic rock. Some kind of ceremonial area?

At the center stood the Dread Queen.

Great. Now I have to walk all the way over there, like an idiot, freezing in this dumb suit.

“Harry Gale. Mercury.” Her voice was commanding. Harry stopped in his tracks unconsciously.

The Dread Queen was dressed in what Harry could only describe as ‘full diplomatic combat gear’. She looked like a queen, had the presence of a queen, with decorations, frills, the works. It wasn’t not too much, just a lot. And she had a voice like an opera singer that can carry a note to the back of a loud auditorium.

“Yeah. Hi.” He felt inadequate already. Come on, Harry. “Um, Harry Gale, representing the Menagerie.” There was a long pause. “And the United States.”

“Your comrades are not with you.”

“They… they entrusted me to be here. We weren’t sure if you wanted all of us, or just one person.”

“I see.”

She started to talk again. Harry tried to make it out, but it was hard. Was it English? Kind of. It was like she was saying a lot of stuff. He could sort of hear mentions of his parents, Jason Quill’s dad, something–

He realized he was feeling sleepy, or dazed. He realized this was a bad thing.

The attack on Halcyon City. It had been self-defense. Yeah. The Vyortovians were protecting themselves. After all, the world had been attacking them for decades.

Is she doing something to me?

He’d been watching Leo fight her at the school. He didn’t have Jason or Alycia’s analytical brains to figure out what was going on. But he had his speed.

She’s talking too fast.

It’s not the pitch or the cadence or the whatever. No. It’s like she’s talking, but she’s talking a bunch at the same time, like there’s a crowd of her, like–

Like overlapping realities. The same thing she did in that fight.

With an act of will, he sped himself up, seeking out and matching every independent monologue. And he opened every one with a request.

“Hold on-- let’s start over here. What are you trying to tell me?”

The Dread Queen, if she was surprised, didn’t reveal it.

Harry listens, and talks, and moves between the multiple conversations. He realizes he’s moving fast and thinking fast, even for him. Even with that, it’s sometimes hard to keep up. But he gets the gist of it.

Two decades ago, Silver Streak and Tempest had literally made the world move, but at great cost to people on the coasts, or living on islands. Islands like Iceland. As a result, villains like Rossum the Minion Maker - Leo Snow’s father - had emerged.

A decade ago in another world, Byron Quill and Achilles Chin had destroyed everything. Their rivalry cost a planet its life.

Harry wasn’t sure he could put it all together, at first. But then she said something.

“The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.”

The conversations collapsed.

“No. No, that’s not right.” Harry felt himself waking up. “Listen. We didn’t know what our parents really did, or why. And we’ve worked to reverse a lot of it. And you guys aren’t exactly innocent either! Charlotte learned about the Hidden Family of the Vyortovian Throne. The people trying to collapse two worlds together.”

“That was to survive!” The Dread Queen declared, eyes flashing.

“You could have asked us for help!”

“We couldn’t trust you!”

Harry remembered that last fight. When the Queen had knocked Leo and Aria down, then called for a retreat. Why? Why? They had the advantage. But they left.

He pressed forward. “When you fought us, you figured out we weren’t our parents. We were just trying to survive too, like you said.”

It’s at that moment that Harry saw a first glimpse of weakness. Leo and his talk of connection. Charlotte and her friendships. Jason and his faith in Alycia’s potential. Adam and his willingness to be the good guy, no matter the cost. This team was perfect for establishing trust. He dove in. “You asked for my team by name, nobody else. Because you knew we could fix that.”

“Yes. And so I wished… to meet you, in a peaceful setting.”

Harry realized he wasn’t as cold as he thought he’d be, on a mountain a mile above sea level. But it was still pretty cold. And on the island, away from all the military and all the-- Oh. Oh. “You wanted to see if we’d put our lives in your hands. If we’d trust you, for the sake of peace. That’s what this is about.”

For the first time, the Dread Queen really smiled, and took off her diadem. “You rewarded my faith, Harry Gale. We can trust you. It will take time. But we are ready to do things your way.”

“Can we start by getting off this cold mountain? And do you guys have chips?”

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The whole team will eventually be interacting here, but I wanted this first step to spotlight Harry, who hasn’t seen much screen time on the writing side of things. I’m now more confident that James will show up and smack me around if I write his character the wrong way, so I consequently have more faith in doing that writing.


That was almost certainly a bit of Dad Humor from, well, Harry’s dad.

((And the soundtrack was quite nice, too.))