Chapter 1: Eureka, Oregon
Claudia draws exactly the wrong topic for a long-term project; Fargo investigates. (Cheerfully mangles the Eureka timeline, but probably no worse than the show itself did.)
Fargo was a little surprised that Mrs. Cope had let him follow Claudia out of class - but then, she’d taken off with the slip she’d drawn for the topic of their semester project, and he couldn’t exactly put it on record if his partner had bolted from the room. Besides, Tesla wasn’t exactly a good place to go wandering by yourself, never mind running around in a blind panic.
He could only hope she hadn’t gone into the bathroom. That would just be too awkward for words.
“Claudia? Where’d you go?”
He wasn’t sure if he heard a sigh or the heating system starting up, at first, but then Claudia called, “I’m in here, Doug.” She sounded like she was fighting back tears, but at least she was in the library.
She was huddled on the floor behind the physics shelf, as it turned out, and she looked like she’d already lost that will save versus crying. In fact, she looked the worst Fargo had seen her since she’d moved to Eureka to live with her cousin; there was no trace of the cockiness that had erased anyone’s doubts that she and Zane were in fact related.
He sat down next to her and said, “It can’t be that bad, can it?” Claudia just looked at him and handed him the scrap of paper she’d pulled from Mrs. Cope’s bucket.
“...Oh. Um. Okay, I guess it can be that bad. But - I mean, making it happen would be pretty awesome, but it’s all theoretical--”
“Doug, I can’t even play Half Life long enough to get to the good stuff. You tell me ‘teleportation,’ I might as well not even be bothering.” She sighed, and wrapped her arms around her knees. “Why couldn’t ‘build your own lightsabre’ be one of the choices? I mean, really.”
“Well.” Fargo frowned; he didn’t know the whole story, just that Claudia’s brother had had some kind of teleportation accident, hence the living-with-Zane thing. “We can ask if we can swap with somebody,” he said, and kind of hated having to say it, but he would be working on this project with the one girl in school he actively wanted to impress, wouldn’t he? And if that meant finding another time to read up on a fascinating topic, he’d do it.
“And what if we can’t swap? I don’t want to make you do all the work just because I can’t even think about the topic without having hysterics. Kinda defeats the purpose of a two-person project.”
“Yeah, it would, but we’ll figure something out. At the very least...” He hesitated, then put an arm around Claudia’s shoulder; she looked like she needed the hug, even if she wasn’t getting up just yet, and there was always the chance that it’d help boost her opinion of him. “At the very least, maybe we could figure out what your brother did wrong.”
Claudia gave him a watery smile, and - well, he was probably imagining the part where she leaned into his arm, but it was a good thing to imagine so he stuck with it. “Maybe. Don’t know what we’d do with it, but... maybe.”
Chapter 2: San Francisco, California
Carl Arbogast finds himself in a very familiar position, and sees no reason not to go for broke while he's at it.
“You know, I can’t say I ever thought I’d have this conversation from the other side of the table.”
As he said it, Carl could picture the girl on the other end of the phone - and Claudia was only a girl, her voice left no doubt about that. (He had learned a thing or two from Whistler over the years, after all.) She was probably sprawled on a comfy chair, or possibly her bed, trying to look bored and defiant all at once, even though she couldn’t see the person who’d called her bluff the other night.
“And what conversation is that?” she said.
“The one where I only barely caught you hacking what I was supposed to be hacking. Only when I was in your shoes, I was changing my grades, and you were up to a lot more than that.”
“Yeah, well, they bury all the useful information under so many firewalls that-- wait a sec, did you say you were supposed to be hacking that?”
Carl laughed, almost despite himself. “Ever heard of security testing?”
“Oh.” There was a rustling on the line; presumably, she’d shifted position. “So... you’re not pissed?”
“Got no reason to be. Like I said, I never expected to be in this position, but you’re good - you might even be better than I was at your age.” It was hard to say for sure, considering how much computers had changed in the interim, but Carl had a hunch. “Besides, I get to report the loophole to the Institute, and they don’t have to be any wiser as to how I found it.”
“You didn’t call some kid in South Dakota just to tell me that, dude.”
“No, I didn’t. Because the other part of this conversation, which I also didn’t expect to be on the other side of, is the part where I offer you a job.”
There was a pause that stretched out so long that Carl was afraid the connection had dropped, but then Claudia said, “...What.”
“You’re good and I could use the help.”
“But - you can’t seriously - I mean, if you have my phone number, you have to have the rest of my info, I’m not who you want--”
“No more than I was who my boss wanted, on paper, and yet, here I am taking over his business.” Carl bit back a sigh - he was going to miss the guys, but he couldn’t blame them for wanting to retire and there was no point in inflicting that on Claudia - and added, “So, how about it?”
“You get paid to hack things.”
“And break into places. And pretend to be other people, sometimes.”
“Yeah, you’d want someone else to do your acting. And... you seriously want my help?”
“I seriously want your help. If you’ve got other things going, that’s cool, but I thought I should at least make the offer and pay it forward.”
“Well. I’m pretty sure I’m about a month away from getting drummed out of this foster home,” Claudia said; Carl adjusted his mental picture of her to the bed, but one that looked more like a guest room than a teenage girl’s permanent home. “And social services hasn’t said anything yet, so if you could convince ‘em not to come up with another placement... I don’t really have anything keeping me here.”
There was a slight catch to her voice that told Carl this wasn’t entirely true, but that was probably a conversation for another time. “I’ll see what I can work out,” he said instead.
“Cool. So... guess I’ll talk to you later.”
“That you will.”
As Carl hung up the phone, he couldn’t help but laugh.
Chapter 3: Los Angeles, California
While Tony Stark is in captivity, his personal assistant and his protege try to cope with his absence, and mostly succeed.
“Jarvis, is Claudia back from her classes yet?”
“She is, Miss Potts. Would you like me to ask her to come upstairs?”
“No, that’s all right, I’ll go to her. Nothing personal, but I think I need to talk to an actual person for a while.”
“Understood, Miss Potts.”
Pepper sighed, set her things down on the coffee table, and made her way to the garage. She’d been more than a little dubious, when Tony first said he wanted to keep the girl who’d won the Stark Foundation internship three years ago around; Claudia was far too much like Tony for Pepper (or Jarvis, for that matter) to see it ending well for anyone involved - not to mention, for all her brilliance, she was still in high school.
But there was no denying that she thrived on the challenges Tony threw at her, and when he found out she was in her fifth foster home in as many years, he took it upon himself to set up a custody transfer. Pepper could have killed him for not asking her before charging ahead, but adopting a teenager in desperate need of a mentor was hardly the worst thing Tony Stark had ever done on a whim.
And now, she had reason to be glad there was someone in the house.
She punched her code into the garage’s access panel, and was greeted by a pair of legs sticking out from under Claudia’s old El Camino and a blast of music - something about fractals rather than heavy metal, but the scene was still unbearably familiar, down to Claudia’s protest of, “Aw, dude, don’t turn down my music!”
“I wouldn’t have to if you hadn’t been trying to blast your eardrums out.”
“I wasn’t trying to blast my eardrums out, I was trying to change my oil. Dummy was just being a helper, so I threatened to reprogram him with an axe and got him the hell out of my way.”
As Claudia pushed herself out from under her car, Pepper tried to smile; from the way Claudia frowned, she guessed she hadn’t done a very convincing job.
“You don’t want a hug from me right now,” Claudia said, eyeing the stray grease on her shirt and arms. “So you know what we’re not going to do? We’re not going to turn on the news and we are not going to talk about Tony Stark, because you have probably heard more than enough people talking about him in the past tense already and I--” She stopped, screwed her eyes shut, and swallowed hard. “And I can’t cope with the fact that I might’ve lost another guardian that I really care about, right now. So we’re not talking about that. You pick what we’re talking about instead, I’ve had three hours out of the madhouse that is the general public.”
Pepper resisted the urge to give Claudia a hug despite the grease; perhaps if she hadn’t come in from another day of trying to prop up Stark Industries and weren’t facing another God-knew-how-many days of that, she would have gone ahead and done it anyway. “Fair enough. Want to help me plan the next benefit?”
“I dunno. The benefits aren’t really my cup of tea.” Claudia wiped her hands on a rag, and added, “But I guess I’m a better choice than anyone else you’re talking to at the moment. Whatcha got so far?”
When they ran out of things to talk about for the benefit, they talked about Claudia’s current slate of classes at Caltech, and the ones she was considering for next semester. They had their fair share of awkward silences throughout the evening, but by the time they agreed to call it a night, Pepper felt much better.
Chapter 4: Long Island, New York
Artie tries to do his job, and ends up face-to-face with his past in a way he'd never expected.
Artie had thought this seemed too easy.
He’d finally had a chance to follow up on that lead on the Golden Fleece from a few years back; it hadn’t left Long Island since it caught his attention, which was at least something. Come to think of it, a lot of Greek Artifacts seemed to find their way to Long Island and just... stay there - but he’d wrested a few into the Warehouse’s hands before, and he fully intended to do so again.
He’d even been prepared for some amount of trouble getting the fleece, but it was just hanging from the lower branches of a pine tree, with no obvious guarding mechanisms in sight. But as soon as he reached for the thing, a trap unfolded from the ground and closed over his feet.
He was still trying to figure out how to get out of the trap when he heard voices coming from the other side of the tree.
“...Look, just - get some steaks or something and get the dragon back over here, it must’ve gotten distracted. Good thing I thought to put some traps underneath, isn’t it? I’ll take care of--” The teenage girl who was talking stopped short when she rounded the tree, and her eyes widened. “Artie? What the hell.”
Artie blinked. “I, um, I’m sorry, you... have the advantage of me.”
“Oh, I’ll say I do, ‘Professor.’ But you know, this actually works out, considering I was halfway to hunting you down anyway. Awfully long way from South Dakota, ain’tcha?”
“...Claudia? Claudia Donovan?” Artie couldn’t be sure - it had been some time since that unfortunate incident with the compass, and if this was Claudia glaring at him, she’d not only grown but cut her hair - but something about the way she’d said “Professor” rang a bell.
“Congratulations, you worked it out without me telling you. So. What in Hades are you doing in my trap?”
“I - you can’t just leave an Artifact like this hanging out in the open--”
Claudia looked at Artie like he’d sprouted a second head. “Well, you can’t have it, we’re still using it! What would you even do with it, anyway? Actually, don’t answer that, it wouldn’t be anything half as exciting as keeping camp safe, and anyway I don’t know if you’d re-tree Thalia if you took it down.”
“I - you... wait, what?”
“Let me catch you up a little, geezer. So four foster homes after you ditched me and Joshua, my middle school comes down with a raging case of demon pigeon, and it turns out I’m the only one who can see the things. Other than the weird kid who turns out to be a satyr, anyway. We get away from the things, and I get whisked off to Camp Half-Blood for my trouble. Turns out Mom had herself a little fling, oh, about nine months before I was born. With Hephaestus.”
Artie frowned. “Now you’re just making things up, aren’t you?”
“Hey, if you wanna be the one to tell Dad he doesn’t really exist and risk none of your mechanical devices ever working again, be my guest. Same goes for telling Clarisse you want to take off with her trophy.” She sighed. “But this is you and me time, right now, and we really need to talk about my brother.”
Artie couldn’t help sighing himself. “Kid, that was a long time ago, that stuff. Joshua’s death was--”
“He’s not dead,” Claudia interrupted. “Trust me, I asked Nico to double-check. He’s not dead, he’s stuck somewhere, and you know how to get him out, don’t you?”
“I... can’t make any promises. I would have to see his research, and these things - they’re not always reversible.”
“I have his notes, and you owe it to us to at least try. You made a promise, Artie, and just because I found myself another family doesn’t mean I’m not going to hold you to that.”
Artie wasn’t sure just how much of Claudia’s story he could believe, but one thing was very clear: She wasn’t going to back down until she got the answer she wanted to hear. He could only hope she didn’t have completely unrealistic expectations just because her brother was involved.
“All right, fine,” he said. “Now will you please let me out of this dingus you’ve got on my feet?”
Chapter 5: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Only Not)
Claudia's progress in getting away from the Warehouse is interrupted by some killer robots and a guy with some really terrible neckwear.
Claudia hated that she couldn’t get much farther than Pittsburgh without having to travel on the grid. She didn’t want anyone chasing after her right now, not when she could be dangerous, not when for all she knew the asshole who’d taken her brother away for twelve years was using her, too. Geneva wasn’t her first choice of places to go, all things considered, but it was the only place she had left; unfortunately, it wasn’t like she could just zap herself to Europe, and she really wouldn’t have wanted to try it if she could.
She was trying to figure out how to get from Pittsburgh to at least New York without attracting too much attention when the robots showed up.
At first, she thought maybe they were some kind of Metropolis prop gone wrong; that lasted up until they started shouting ‘delete’ and zapping everything in sight, and then Claudia decided that Artifact or not, they were damn terrifying, and it was in her best interests to get the hell away as fast as she could.
She ducked behind an overturned car, and was just beginning to calm down when someone said, “Isn’t this exciting?”
Claudia eyed the guy for a moment. “I was gonna go for ‘scary beyond all reason,’ myself.”
“Well, naturally, Cybermen are rather keen on that angle, but--” He paused, and started fiddling with something metallic and skinny - “I don’t think they’ve realised I’m here yet, which means they won’t have the upper hand for long.”
“I... see. You go chasing after killer robots often, Unfortunate Bow Tie Dude?”
The guy gave her an incredulous look. “I like the bow tie. Bow ties are cool.”
“God, next you’re gonna tell me you also like fezzes, or something.” He was as bad as... but Claudia couldn’t finish that thought without tearing up, and that’d be even less useful in a killer robot situation than blind panic.
Unfortunate Bow Tie Dude refused to meet her eyes. “Right. Cybermen on the march, and here’s me with my sonic screwdriver.” He leaned around the overturned car, and did... something, presumably with the skinny metal thing, that let out a high-pitched noise, which was shortly followed by three metallic thuds. Claudia risked a look around the other side of the car, and relaxed a little when she saw three downed robots.
“Huh. Nice trick you got there.”
“I’m a bit short on gold at the moment, but it’ll do in a pinch. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how well it’ll work in a broader application.”
Claudia sighed, then sat up a little straighter. “Okay, wait, so it’s the sound that knocks ‘em out of commission, right?”
Unfortunate Bow Tie Dude nodded. “It jams the frequency of their emotion inhibitors. Given Cybermen’s usual reliance on those, the overload should render them harmless, but it’s most effective when they’re close enough to hear it.”
“Well.” Claudia did her best to ignore the implications of that ‘emotion inhibitors’ part, and said, “I bet I could rig something with the car’s stereo system. If you wanted to try to hit more of ‘em at once.”
“I think that would be an excellent idea, as long as you can do it quickly.”
“Relax, I’m a master at working under pressure.”
The trickiest part turned out to be getting into the car to cannibalise its stereo without getting shot up by the robots; once she’d done that, the rest came pretty quickly. Inside of an hour, as far as they could tell, all of the robots were down, and Unfortunate Bow Tie Dude was grinning widely.
“That was some very impressive work. And I must say, you held your own quite nicely.”
Claudia shrugged. “Killer robots aren’t exactly the weirdest thing I’ve seen on the job.”
“Are they not?” He looked at her almost too closely for comfort, for a few moments. “You’re a bit young for UNIT, and Torchwood hasn’t expanded to the Americas yet, which, given the local year, would most likely make you a Warehouse employee. How is Mrs. Frederic, anyway?”
“I - um. I... wouldn’t know. Kinda left the Warehouse, long story, may or may not be someone screwing with my head involved.” How this guy and his terrible taste in fashion had managed to find out about the Warehouse, never mind get chummy enough with Mrs. F to ask how she was doing, Claudia had no idea, but as long as he seemed to know what was going on, she saw no harm in talking about it.
Unfortunate Bow Tie Dude fiddled with his screwdriver thing, then pointed it at Claudia; given what had happened to the robots, she couldn’t help flinching, but it made a different sound this time. Still, she didn’t open her eyes again until he said, “No, it appears your brain is perfectly normal.”
“Well, that’s a relief, but I’m not sure I’m in a hurry to go back there. Don’t know... what kind of reception I’d get.” She hated to think of it like that, but considering the cards seemed stacked against her and she only had the word of a crazy guy with a screwdriver that didn’t look or act like a screwdriver to the contrary, she had to at least acknowledge the possibility.
“Understandable. But Warehouse employees are hardly cut out for inaction, even when they choose to leave.”
“So... what’re you getting at here, Claudia and Unfortunate Bow Tie Dude Battle Robots Across the Country?” She had to admit, it sounded like a great title for a comic book, if nothing else.
“Oh, there’s much more excitement to be had than Cybermen, especially with the whole of time and space at hand, and...” He looked at her funny again, then sighed. “Really, don’t the Regents tell anyone about the Doctor anymore? I would have thought you’d all know me when you met me.”
“From my experience, they don’t tell anyone much of anything. And you gotta admit, it’s a pretty terrible tie.”
“I have to admit no such thing. Are you coming, or not?”
Claudia wasn’t sure if she really knew what she was getting herself into - but then again, that hadn’t stopped her from trying to save Joshua, or from hunting Artie down when she realised she couldn’t do it alone. So she smirked, and said, “Bring it on, Bow Tie Dude.”