What: Jane, Hope, Tony What: The Reality Stone doesn't like none of that smack talk. When: a Sunday afternoon. Rating: Green, some language
Tony got the feeling that he was watching a time bomb. Not literally, but a figurative one, currently laying on a metal pedestal beneath a scanning device, blue light skimming over the surface of a stone that resembled a ruby. He stood back with both arms folded over himself, watching it warily and eyeing some of the data as it scrolled by, looking at all the numbers with a calculated but wary gaze.
Minutes ago, he asked Friday to send out a message out to any members of Team Science if they were in their labs in the building. A Sunday afternoon wasn't exactly working hours, but Tony didn't want to risk bringing an Infinity Stone there when it was at maximum capacity with employees. The lower floors were all cleared out except for the weekend security officers on the perimeter and at the entrance of the underground parking garage. This was the perfect time. And if none of his fellow science geeks were there tinkering away with their projects, he would fly the stone back to the underground Hulk bunker and review the information with them tomorrow.
Jane had never been good at working hours. A natural workaholic, she’d been so tired lately that it felt like trudging through quicksand uphill to get anything done. She’d gone from working all the time to trying to work all the time to make up for all the time she wasn’t working. On the weekends Jane often ran code from home to spend time with Thor .That wasn’t working out so great over in the Asgardian warehouse. So noisy…
Jane went up to Tony’s lab, coffee up in hand - she hadn’t been able to bring herself to take Dr. Strange’s advice and switch to decaf. Even though she should. In case she really was… Well.
Her fingers gripped the cup when she spotted the flash of red. Jane and Thor had fought over this stone not long ago but it was still a surprise to see it here without the swirling liquid Aether around it.
"Hey, Jane, I didn't think...." Tony looked over at her and did a double take, squinting."...you'd look like shit. You ok?"
He'd been so caught up in his own project and worries, he hadn't taken time to raise his head up and notice anyone past his own bubble. A bubble he wanted to crawl into and roll around in like a hamster.
"No offense, but if you got the sniffles," he paused to point a finger toward the scanner, "keep it on the other side. I'm allergic to the flu. I break out in...sick...and there's snot and stuff."
Jane raised her eyebrows. “Those articles in GQ were right. You really know how to flatter somebody.” She approached the scanner, watching the numbers scroll by on the screen. “I’m fine. You’re working on the stone.”
"True. GQ is not part of some fake news conspiracy. Which is a whole weird thing anyway. We know the news is real when reporting on scientific findings about climate change. Fossil fuels are real. Hey, you wanna know what else is horrifically real? This."
Tony pointed at the stone. It seemed to shimmer more when he did that, as though the light was moving around from within rather than from some outside source.
Women’s intuition was a pretty powerful thing - none of the science geeks could probably explain it, but it was there. Hope knew something was ‘off’ with Jane, because she had been experiencing Mysterious Sickness™ for a few weeks now, and that on top of Thor’s proclamation that she wouldn’t drink any alcohol (which - she wasn’t some teetotaler, Hope assumed she enjoyed a beer or two when she watched a ballgame), well. The Wasp was this close to telling her to just pee on a stick already.
But she guessed it wasn’t her business, so. She’d keep her noise to herself without being prematurely excited for a friend.
When she got the notification from Tony, she shut down her pore analyzers and spectrometers (she’d been studying quantum energy, in conjunction with Hank and Janet - they all needed to know exactly what it could do), heading to Stark’s workspace carrying two mugs of tea. “I made too much, want any?” she offered the second mug to Jane. “It’s lemon balm.”
They might need something soothing to deal with this mess. Her eyes narrowed as she took in the sight of one of those damn stones. That was probably sentient. “How’s it going with...this?” Whatever Tony was doing.
Tony nodded at Hope when she entered, even giving her a fleeting smile. He didn't do the whole tea thing, but maybe he should check into that for Pep. He jotted down a quick mental note to ask about that later and pointed at the stone.
"Not good," was Tony's answer. He was excited about the findings from a scientific perspective, but that's as far as the excite got. "I compared it with the data we got off the Mind Stone. That thing was like a supercomputer running its own programming language. It was self-intelligent. This one's like that...its own contained virtual reality program, writing and rewriting itself in there. I brought it in to use this new scanner in development, which confirmed what the upstate scans said. We can't stick it down a garbage disposal."
Jane swapped out her own mug for the one Hope offered. “Thanks. Something less caffeinated might be good.” She looked again again at the scans. “I don’t know if virtual’s the right word. More like quantum reality folding in on itself over and over again. Infinite variations.”
"Yes," Tony replied, "but it's definitely calculated in what it's doing, rather than chaotic. That's why I don't think we can make a dent in this bad boy. I'm thinking more scans to over the long term to study it...."
Hope really wished they could stick this menace down the garbage disposal. But apparently that wasn’t going to be the answer this time. She sipped her tea, lifting an eyebrow over the edge of her mug. “I’d like to study the energies - I think it has a lot in common with the quantum realm, and the energy found there. I mean, sure, at its simplest level we’ve got similarities - atoms, particles, the basic foundations for how things work in the universe...”
Setting down her mug for a moment, she focused on the scans, the data output that was being generated. She should have shrunk her lab equipment and brought it in here, because now she wanted to dive right in. “The quantum realm also distorts reality - it transforms what you see, what you experience...” The energies just had to be similar, connected in a sense, they just had to be. “The question is, is this mad science going to bite us in the ass? Because being around that thing,” she motioned toward the stone, hey buddy, “...makes me anxious.”
The stone glimmered ominously back at Hope. Was it an acknowledgment? Perhaps. It was the gemstone equivalent of a sly wink.
By that point, Tony turned away from the stone and focused on the data. His eyes were skimming the numbers with birdlike inquisitiveness, like he wanted to peck away at this strange new thing and find out what made it tick. He hated these stones out of personal principle, but from the standpoint of someone who loved science and technology to the point of it being a religion. He looked almost enraptured by it, his brain doing loop-de-loops as it number crunched.
"It's not acting up off our scans," he thought out loud. "If you brought your lab equipment in and we ran some simulations based off your data against what I already have? I don't think it'd trigger anything if it's non-invasive. We can do a long term study on it. How much power would you need to do constant scans for a year or two? The LHC in Switzerland is applying the particle data to study supersymmetric quantum mechanics, but this would put that to shame. We could learn a lot off this rock."
“Why?” Jane was looking at Tony with the same sort of irritable confusion as when she and Thor discussed this not long ago. “Why is everyone so insistent on keeping it? We don’t actually know it can’t be destroyed. Until that’s confirmed, we’re just guessing. I know Thor shot the Aether with lightning and it reformed but the stone might be vulnerable now that it’s exposed. Anything we do should be to find that vulnerability instead of hoping this time it doesn’t blow up in our face.”
Did that...did that thing just wink at her? Hope blinked owlishly, after the stone’s display of glimmering beauty, trying to get her thoughts in order there. On the one hand, she agreed with Jane because poking it with science equipment could always make it irritated. But on the other, if the thing was sentient she doubted it would be chill with them actively brainstorming ways to destroy it.
“It obviously can communicate with us, in a way,” she mused, glancing at it again and waiting for it to shine bright like a diamond, or some shit. “Maybe we should...work with it. Somehow. To be honest, I think we’re fucked in either scenario so it’s just a matter of causing the least amount of damage with the final decision.”
They could always lock it away as well. Bring it to another planet, a barren one, where the stone could manipulate reality to its hearts content? There were space-travelers here. “If we study its energy output compared to quantum energy, it’s possible the stone could be brought there as well - I doubt just anyone would go and get it after that. And I think, overall, the quantum realm is more powerful in and of itself than an infinity stone.”
The stone winky sheened at Hope again. Oh yes, it saw her batting her eyelashes at it.
"...yeah, we're fucked. Because doubting it can't be done isn't enough," Tony was brainstorming out loud, rubbing both hands up over his face and combing his fingers back into his hair. There went his hair product. "If the Quantum Realm can be used to access other dimensions and possibly time itself, putting this thing in there, shrunk down, might potentially dump our problem on everything else. There's time vortexes you and Scott had to avoid, and who's to say someone can't grab hold of it from another time and place entirely? If you and Scott can get in there, theoretically someone from somewhere else could gank it and cause trouble. Possibly unleashing it into multiple dimensions and times if they used it in there, including ours."
If it was possible for a stone to goad people by glittering and gleaming, it was doing that. Mostly though, it just laid there, taunting them with its mere existence.
Tony's face was a half-wince as he realized all of the theoretical implications. Implications he was trying to find a fix for.
"If this thing is a condensed aspect of reality from this universe," he was saying, "if it has the ability to manipulate reality all on its own quantum scale, it might resist being shrunk down. I'd love to turn it into some busted up bling, but to make sure it stays out of the hands all the Thanos' out there, we should study it and keep it safe. Eyes on it, twenty-four seven. It's what we've been doing with the hulk bunker. Seven hundred and fifty feet down in the schist, only one way in or out. There's alarms, multiple monitoring systems, lasers, gas, explosives, and a collapse trigger rigged up to cave it all in. "
Before anyone could say anything, he added, "Don't lay into me about that. It was Banner's idea. I just rolled with it."
Because that's what friends are for.
With all this talk about ridding themselves of it, the stone seemed to glow brighter inside. The light within shifted around, as though it was rolling like fluid trapped inside a crystalline structure.
“You both sound like Thor,” Jane grumped. “He got very King of Asgard about the idea of destroying it. Said it would probably never allow a reality where it was destroyed so we should keep it.” Was the stone actually shimmering at them? Jane’s stomach roiled and she remembered the universe gone dark.
“This is just a thing. It’s not a toy. It doesn’t have any answers. It’s a lump of space rock with delusions of grandeur. It’s just. A. Thing.” Jane marched up to the stone and tipped her cup over it. “See? A thing. Let’s figure out how to blast it to hell. Stormbreaker can travel along the Bifrost. That’s a place to start.”
So far, the best ideas they had were tossing a beverage at stone-face and, on the flip side, locking it up in a Hulk bunker. Great. Hope wasn’t concerned at all, not in the slightest (that was lie). “I want to believe you’re right, but unfortunately, I’m pessimistic,” she said to Jane - and any minute now, she expected the stone to go absolutely bananas over the fact that it had just been doused with lemon balm tea. Maybe Hope could diffuse the situation.
“She’s just mad because you violated her once - and frankly, that was a shit thing to do. No means no, Roger.” The stone’s new official nickname, because if things were going to go belly up, she wanted to know who to blame.
Besides ‘fucking infinity stone.’ Let the games begin, then.
Too much had been said and done, and so that diffusion wasn't going over so well. As it had when it was once The Aether, the Reality Stone was set on protecting itself, host or no host. It began to glow an angry red, the tea around it gathering up into little droplets. The droplets that began to float upward, bouncing and rolling over the top of the scanner and lightly bobbing against the ceiling panels. They resembled bubbles inside a pot that was reaching a boiling point.
There were several quips that Tony could have made. The first that came to mind was asking if they had a few hundred bags of rice to put the prototype scanner into, like a cell phone that accidently ended up in the toilet. The next was to note that Jane was really rough on stuff, which would have been a whole other insensitive path to skip down. Luckily (or unluckily), he never got the chance to say any of those things.
The stone flashed so bright that was almost blinding, and a ripple of energy began to roll out from in every direction from the scanner. At that point, all Tony could manage was a rather succinct: "Oh shit."
He tried to suit up. But even with the nanotech, there wasn't enough time to finish.
The stone jittered as a huge rippling wave of crimson energy flowed like water out of it, nudging them all back a few steps. It systematically began moving down the Stark Industries building, floor by floor, seeking out any means to defend itself. It found plenty of fodder from items kept by nerdy geeks and bored office workers - even from the guy on the twelve floor that took 'talk like a pirate day' way too seriously - before the ripple shot out of the building and warped everything as it moved like a silent tsunami throughout the city.