Thor dreaded movie nights. He did not care much for his Starkphone, he kept a respectable distance from his laptop, and he avoided the frustrations of earth vehicles that travelled too fast to enjoy the sights, but slow enough to bore you out of your brains.
But mostly he hated movie nights.
Humans had a strange aversion to touching their world. For such a thriving and living realm, they put as much glass between it and them as possible. They preferred, instead, to filter their experiences through the virtual realm of imagination.
It was one Thor had trouble walking. Movie nights were as tedious as the bookwork of his youth, exercises in reading the strange language of film. The appearance of a building magically transported one inside it, and a man looking at an object was rarely indicated by actually having the man interact with the object. No, instead it was supposed to be inferred from a series of symbolic head tilts. But unlike study, the only reward for parsing the meaning of television was the vicarious pleasure of watching others have adventures. A television was a dominating tyrant, he’d decided. A cruel Bifrost for the mind, appearing to take you far but never allowing you to touch.
He couldn’t convey his feelings to his companions. Thor had no talent for words, but even the plainest speech only made Tony’s mouth quirk up in amused confusion.
‘But if I want to talk to my friends, I shall walk to visit them. Your phone is useful in some circumstances, but it cannot mimic the pull of life in this city, nor show you the joy and grief of the path less travelled,’ he had attempted to explain, after the fourth warning that his phone should be kept closer to his side than Mjolnir herself.
‘That’s where you’re wrong.’ Tony had prised it from his hands, turning away secretively. He’d passed his hands in arcane gestures over the surface of the phone and said in the same tones of Loki casting a particularly wicked spell: ‘There is an app for that.’
When the device had been returned to him, the screen displayed a tangle of white lines upon grey, with inky black threaded through it. The streets of New York, he’d been able to tell from his travels around the city, but it was simple and colourless compared to other Earth maps Thor had seen.
‘It did not do this before,’ he had said, with a little uncertainty. He’d caused the phone to make music, display books, capture images, call Lieutenant Hill, and push rotund birds into poorly developed hovels, but he was certain the map of this realm had been far more conventionally coloured and detailed. He could not understand where it had come from. Tony had not opened the case, nor spoke to the phone to teach it new knowledge. Complex magical thought could be conveyed with few words if the practitioner was knowledgeable enough, but he did not realise humans had the same abilities with their technology. On the contrary, one of the core principles of Tony’s scientific method seemed to be cramming as many words as possible into a single sentence.
‘Got it from the store. It’s a map that tells you what routes you normally walk. See, the black lines are all the streets you’ve seen, and the white is everything you have left to valiantly quest on.’
Thor appreciated Tony’s appeals, but his disdain remained. It had never been something that concerned him before, but he found himself longing for the straightforwardness of home. Asgard traded in metal and stone and people, one pushing against the other in order for all to live successfully together. Midgard took its science and its stories and weaved them into transparent images in the air, and Thor found it disturbing. Even their weapons were designed to keep combatants at a distance. Humans could wipe out entire cities without ever having to touch their bombs and see the destruction wrought by their own hands. Yet they thought his hammer a strange weapon.
That nostalgic longing was, perhaps, why he was so taken with the strange series of tubes in the SHIELD laboratory where Bruce studied.
The device was mostly glass, of course, but the design had felt known to him, for all that its exterior was foreign. The overlapping crests and blunt edges that made up its sides recalled a memory for him, though which memory it was he could not say. Only that the machine felt more akin to the Bifrost of old than to the lasers and sleek screens of the mortal realm.
Despite this feeling, Thor was not expecting much to be contained therein. The machine had been discovered tucked away during their raid on the enemy’s lair, and now Bruce and Tony, the most capable minds, and Natasha, the most acute of thinkers, had come together to work it. Only Clint and Steve kept the commitment they’d made to movie night, where they were watching the third tedious addition to a saga of Lords and Rings that lasted longer even than Fandral’s stories. This was, perhaps, the other reason Thor had suddenly become so keen on science.
All three seemed amused by Thor’s interest. Tony patted his arm as he passed on his way to another virtual computer displaying schematics and such a complex series of letters and numbers that Thor’s eyes blurred when he looked at it. ‘Just don’t touch, buddy. We don’t need you doing to the particle accelerator what you thought was a good idea to do to the Wii remote.’
Thor had no intention of getting involved. He had never been inclined to learn the shaping of the realms beyond the methods he was most fond of: his lightning, the curve of his hammer throw, the pull of air and water around him. But while he cared little for ways of science he had always been content to watch another create spells in his brief periods of boredom. This laboratory was, perhaps, the closest he’d ever come again to recreating those scenes of his childhood.
He was drawn from his thoughts by a sudden whirr and crackle of electricity. The machine had sparked into life, yet it was accompanied by perceptible tension, as if this had not been the aim. Bruce’s breathing laboured and Natasha snapped to attention so quickly that Thor glanced around in case some invader had snuck by him. But there was only the pulsing tubes lying in the heart of Tony’s analysing device, Tony himself backing away quickly to where his three companions waited.
‘Antimatter weapons,’ Tony said, and the reverence in his voice was equal to that which Thor’s people held for Mjolnir. Thor adjusted his mind to be suitably awed, for Midgardian weaponry was something Tony knew intimately, and he was not easily impressed. ‘Boys and girls, we are reaching a new age of terrible ways to kill each other.’
‘We have to evacuate,’ Natasha snapped, already pulling the papers and equipment surrounding her into her shaped bag. And Thor knew why as he saw that the pull of the machine was sending a long cord of dark energy through the air to wind around the shape of the world. It reminded him of the tight threads in his mother’s sewing, pulled apart for want of one mistake that went unnoticeable to all except her.
‘Evacuate,’ Bruce said, laughing even as his hands worked furiously at his keypad, his sunken cheeks betraying his weary heart. Something very stressful was occurring, if the Hulk was threatened by it. ‘Too late. Everything from here to Venezuela is screwed if we can’t get this contained.’
‘What are we looking at, here, Doc?’ Natasha asked, leaning over to look at his screen. All the mortals’ eyes were turned to the computer, rather than seeing the shape forming before them, cross and jagged as lightning, and thrumming a tune that Mjolnir answered readily. If he had not seen the frantic glances Tony sent the split in the air, he would have thought a human mind was functionally unable to see it without a computer first capturing its image and converting it to numbers. Always numbers. Did the humans think in numbers, set in flowing waves upon a blank canvas of the mind?
And all the while the monster wailed angrily in plain sight.
‘With this high a speed, let’s just say that the resulting gamma radiation is going to be the least of our problems.’
That was true enough. Thor could feel the anger, the very uprooting of the universe that lay behind it, and he was no intellectual mind. If mother or father were here, even if Loki were here, they would stitch the tear in the world with a simple gesture and laugh at his helplessness. Foolish, but in youth he’d assumed… in all arrogance he’d believed Loki would always be beside him to assist in these matters.
But it was he who had to find a way to soothe the sickness winding through the veins of Yggdrasil. He twisted his hammer until it slapped against his palm with a steady beat, before loosing it and whirling it by the strap. Willing Mjolnir to find within its mind the match of the sharp spears of nothingness that penetrated the flesh of Midgard and twisted outwards.
‘Thor, step down, now,’ Natasha ordered, panic in her tone. But she did not draw near, which confirmed to Thor that the mortals felt it too, the way the monster was shaping itself to their world, crawling along bright cracks as if it were a sluggish liquid here to envelop them. Thor ignored her, focusing on the thrum of his hammer, feeling for spinning centre of the nothingness, the dark energy that was hidden within it.
‘Fucking hell, someone stop him! No smash, Thor! Universe go boom-‘
Boom it went. The hammer collided with the metal machine and Thor willed it to settle, as it lit as bright as his brightest lightning. And then it was done. Mjolnir came back to his hand and it was as if the sick light had never been.
There was silence. He patted faithful Mjolnir and returned her to his belt, before turning to check on his friends. The Avengers were crouched in various protective positions, which Thor felt was wise when facing an unmatchable beast. In his youth he would have thought himself too bold to take such positions, and he was ashamed to realise that was still true. His human friends had sense where he had pride, and he did not know which of them was better for it.
‘Anyone know if we’re dead?’ Bruce’s voice cut across the whisper quiet.
Thor laughed in relief that they were all fine, and Natasha was even starting to smile once more, now that her own version of warrior’s bloodlust settled.
‘I have to say, you keep cool under pressure, Dr Banner.’
‘How?’ Tony asked, spreading his hands across the table as if to hold himself up. ‘How the hell- that was impossible. This is crazy. It’s crazy. Did you actually know it would fix things or is hitting it with a hammer just your first port of call?’
Thor crossed his arms and looked away, unsure whether he was being praised or rebuked. ‘I do not know how to explain to you in a way that will agree with your own beliefs in that which you call “astrophysics”.’
‘Particle physics. And no,’ Tony said, ‘no way. I’m not going to be fobbed off with magic. You did something, you created an electromagnetic trap somehow, powerful enough to- it’d have to be one trillion billion times more powerful than ordinary electro-, and if it wasn’t that I suppose if you could make enough protons and crash them into the antiprotons, you’d have muons and - but that’s an incredibly complex calculation, I mean, one that’d solve the mystery of our very existence and you- you did it by smashing it with a hammer.’
‘Then I suppose it is not so different from your science,’ Thor mused.
His three friends stared at him.
Bruce cleared his throat. ‘Uh, I guess, same universe and all. But if you could explain how, that would be nice.’
Aware that he was talking to three intelligent magicians, he tried to tamper the flare of self-conciousness that arose from his ignorance of technological matters.
He knew if he tried to explain through his own understanding, they would dismiss it, despite what they, themselves had witnessed. Sight was not trustworthy enough for humans if they could not then filter it through their numbers, he knew that from Jane. And his wise Jane had also taught him that the workings of the universe were not so easily conveyed between the realms, although her quick and clever mind had bridged the gap his own could not. If only she were here, he felt sure she would accurately act as his interpreter. She understood him in ways even his dearest fellows in arms could not.
Enunciating slowly and clearly, he tried to echo the complex language of hidden Earth magic that Tony had once patiently explained to him.
‘You see, friends, I, too, have an app for that.’
Despite his hopes, the explanation did not stop them staring.
‘Are you serious? Is he serious? That accent makes it hard to tell.’
Thor tampered a growl of frustration. Why couldn’t the mortals accept his explanation as readily he accepted theirs, no matter how incomprehensible?
‘My friends, I cannot think how to phrase this. I do not comprehend the words of Kelvin Coulomb and his ilk, wise he may be. For on Midgard, you see your realm as braided circles, forming in the blood of all things as waves do on the sea, and you turn in balance, one side never touching the other. But on Asgard we build on the strength of that spiral and shape ourselves to the branches that pull the mind to here and the hand to there, with nothing between our will and the form of things. We are a hardier race.’
He paused, thinking of computers, of televisions, and bombs. ‘Though Earth probably has the right of it. As our technology does not translate to your tongue, so too would an Asgardian mind never conceive of a computer to breech a distance we do not know exists. Our language barrier is not so easily overcome, for all that I may imitate your speech.’
‘Fuck,’ Tony breathed. Bruce laughed, though, with a strangled noise that bordered on hysteria, and Thor worried that the composure he had so masterfully maintained would fall away, revealing the Hulk who dwelt beneath his bravado.
‘There we go,’ Bruce said, shrugging helplessly. ‘Thor. Can’t figure out Tivo; can rewrite the basic laws of physics.’
‘With a hammer,’ Natasha added. ‘And apparently in epic verse.’
And Tony said again, ‘Fuck. Thor, baby, you know you don’t need words, because you and me have a date with a Blue Gene Supercomputer.’
Thor really wished he’d stuck with movie night.