By Izzy

In the wee hours of August 19, 2065, hours before she and all the other incomers were to move into their dorms, Rosalita West hotwired her way into the groundroom, the only surviving structure from what had once been the old S.H.I.E.L.D. Spec-Ops Academy her grandfather had attended, although nowadays all the schools were contained in a single mostly-underground structure. She supposed she would probably be found out, but everyone she talked to had left her with the impression the punishment for this would be minimal. And despite that she’d been there already, that night she wanted to be there alone, with the ancestors whose existence she did not intend for her classmates to know about.

Just one of the many pieces of advice her grandfather had written for her mother to read before he had died in the struggle against Hydra. Words that had been read over and over again, by daughter after mother, typed up after the original paper had begun to deteriorate, until Rosalita could carry them around with her in electronic form. She’d even shown a lot what he’d written to her friends, including the grandchildren of his old colleagues, and they too had benefited by it. Her grandmother had once told her he had even written her a letter, one which had impacted her more than he could have ever guessed at.

There wasn’t much in the groundroom; everything important was down below on the other side of the escladir, beyond her ability to hotwire, although she intended for that to change here. But there was the respectable lobby for S.H.I.E.L.D. to present to the world, with the desk and the waiting chairs, decorated with a handful of display cases showing artifacts. Her family had lent those display cases a relic or two from her great-great-grandfather over the years.

And on one side was the Wall of Valor. In the old S.H.I.E.L.D., it had been a much smaller structure. But the Hydra War and the Second Civil War and the Infinity War had all taken their toll, and they didn’t even know the names of everyone killed. When Rosalita went up to that great wall, it took her time, tracing her fingers along name after name, including some very famous ones indeed, before she came to the Agent A. Triplett etched into steelstone, cold against her finger. When she found it, she took from her shorts-pouch the single cherry blossom petal, carefully preserved in its tiny isolation container for months, and pressed it against the letters. “Not an act my parents would have approved of,” her grandmother had said when she’d told her what she intended to do, but Rosalita felt good for having done it.

On the adjoining wall were the pair of murals, the old photograph and the artist’s impression pigment-drilled in. She went over to the photo first, of Steve Rogers and the Howling Commandos, including her great-great-grandfather. His was the name that towered over all the other ones in her ancestry, the one that sat in the history texts, as a hero of World War II, as the first African-American soldier to serve in an integrated unit in the United States army, and as a minor Civil Rights figure in the decades after. She stared at his smile, and had to smile herself.

Her grandfather was not smiling in the other picture. No one was; Phillip Coulson stood tall and imposing, flanked first by those of his lieutenants that had lived longest, some of whom she knew, including a young Aunt Skye, hand raised as if she was about the make the groundroom shake, which was truly ridiculous, and then by others, her grandfather including. He stood back to back with a man Rosalita thought might be Grant Ward, although she hoped not, since he’d been long dead by the time he’d properly defected, both of them holding guns. It was very unlike not only the Antoine Triplett she’d known through his words, but the one described to her by her grandmother, and by Aunt Skye and the handful of other old colleagues who had lived long enough to tell Rosalita about him.

In truth, Rosalita was more a product of Aunt Skye than she was of the man who hadn’t lived to see his daughter’s first birthday. It was because of what she had taught Rosalita she’d even been able to break in here tonight, albeit with a little help from what Uncle Fitz had also taught her, and it was the Communications School, the one Aunt Skye would’ve attended had she entered the organization that way, and had later taught at, that she had been accepted to. “He would’ve liked that,” her grandmother had told her. “He’d want you to be your own person. You know that.”

Yet for all that, and for how little connection there seemed between him and the image of him on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s wall, when she stood before it, she believed she could feel her grandfather’s spirit in the room. Maybe her great-great-grandfather’s as well. “Well, guys,” she said. “I made it. I just hope I can make you both and everyone else proud of me.”