"Thank you so much, Dr. Gablehauser, for seeing us on short notice." Jane shook the department chair's outstretched hand one more time as the tall academic slowly moved to return to his seat. He seemed painfully eager to assure their welcome, probably, she assumed, a result of Agent Coulson's intervention that had been necessary to gain access to the Caltech physics faculty.
Jane glanced at Darcy, who rolled her eyes at the fawning tones of the senior academic. Dr. Gablehauser had comfortably ignored her assistant once he'd determined she had no worthy academic title. Darcy, enjoying a year's break from her Poli Sci studies, continued to serve as Jane's 'right-hand man' in all sorts of activities now that SHIELD was funding the research program. Darcy had taken advantage of that funding to negotiate herself a full-time salary for the year as well as an iPad on which she was now ostensibly taking notes for her boss's meeting with the CalTech physics department leader.
"Of course, Dr. Foster," Dr. Gablehauser burbled on, "we'd be honored if any of our graduate students, post-docs or even faculty members wanted to take you and your research associates up on the intriguing research program you're developing. Why, I myself was hoping that this could be a topic for the next spring meeting of the-"
Jane leaned forward intently. "You do understand that this cannot be openly discussed. The research we're doing has been classified as top secret, at least for now. I can't release any of my findings, at least not right now."
"Well, of course not, Dr. Foster, but science depends upon communication and you must agree to relax a-"
Darcy straightened up as she saw her boss seething silently as the older man seemed to completely ignore her. Jane might be a scientist, but she wasn't registering on this guy's radar as someone to take seriously.
Peering over her glasses at the unimpressed academic, Darcy dove in. "Dr. Gablehauser, I am Dr. Foster's liaison with the federal agency that funds her research and, I believe, 11% of your department's ongoing projects. I'm sure you're not going to want to jeopardize that. This research project is considered by the government to be top secret, as Dr. Foster noted, and also as highest priority."
Jane shot a grateful smile at Darcy for the intervention and jumped back in, "I eagerly await the day I'm at liberty to publish the material but I can't even discuss it right now with people who lack clearance. You have to understand."
Dr. Gablehauser sulked slightly, but nodded his agreement. Seeming tired with the entire undertaking, he shoved a sheaf of papers across the desk which Darcy caught. "This has a listing of the physics department personnel, arranged by academic specialty and noting who has already been cleared for top secret research by the federal government."
"Thanks," Jane said brightly as Darcy slipped the paper into her messenger bag along with her iPad. The petite physicist sharply shook Dr. Gablehauser's hand as she exited his office.
Darcy lingered briefly. "Don't worry," she advised the university administrator with a grin, "if everyone's good, I won't have to call Agent Coulson to 'fix things'."
With a cheery wave, Darcy was soon in the hallway with Jane who just gave her assistant a single curious glance before thinking better of pursuing the question. Sometimes you didn't want to know what Darcy was up to, especially if it might involve tasers.
"So," Jane asked, as they walked down the corridor, "who's on Dr. Gablehauser's list?"
Darcy fished the sheets out of her bag and frowned as she read through it. "Who's not on there! There are a couple of names you'd mentioned I don't see. Dr. Koothrappali. Hmm. He's Indian, right? Maybe he doesn't have clearance?"
Jane ran her finger down the names of astrophysicists. "Funny, after all the news coverage about him being in the '30 Under 30' that made a lot of other astrophysicists jealous, you'd think they'd promote him more? He should be in the astrophysics section but I don't see his name at all."
Darcy flipped through the print-out. "Nope, don't see him elsewhere. We can ask the department admins who put the list together and see if he's just not here anymore or considered some 'dangerous foreigner'."
Jane looked a little shocked. "Do you think that's okay? I mean, wouldn't Agent Coulson tell us to maintain secrecy?"
Darcy rolled her eyes and tugged on Jane's wrist as she walked over to the office where several women were housed at expansive, low desks, surrounded by stacks of forms. "You don't think Dr. Gablehauser put this list together himself, do you? Everyone knows that it's the secretaries and administrative assistants who run everything at a university."
They were in the room when Darcy finished her last sentence. A red-headed woman raised her head at those words and smiled broadly. "You sound pretty smart."
Darcy smiled triumphantly. "I am, thanks, and I’m sure you are, too. This is Dr. Jane Foster and I'm her assistant. We have a couple questions about the list of people she's going to be able to interview about assisting in her project."
The other woman nodded. "Oh, yes. Irene here pulled together all that information. It's up-to-date on who's not on leave and who already has clearance, right, Irene?"
A tall woman with spiky white hair got up from her desk and walked over. "Yeah, that's right. Is there someone you were looking for?"
Jane slipped the papers out of Darcy's hands and flipped back to the first page. "Here, among the astrophysicists. I was thinking about taking to Dr. Koothrappali. Is he at on sabbatical or something?"
"No," Irene said, smirking a little. "He doesn't have full security clearance yet for something like this but there's more of a problem than that with getting Dr. Koothrappali to work with the likes of you."
Darcy and Jane exchanged worried looks. "What's the matter?" Jane asked in confusion.
Irene snorted, "He can't say 'boo!' to a female unless he's drunk. In which case, he says a whole lot more than 'boo!' if you get my drift. So even if your agency did the paperwork to get him cleared to work on your top secret whatever, it wouldn't do you any good."
Jane bit her lip, stifling a chuckle. "Okay, I get your point. I can't work with someone who can't talk to me!"
Irene crossed her arms and nodded approvingly. "Now, there's a few more on the list you might want to watch out for, but we tried to clear off the completely impossible candidates. Well, most of them, right, Dot?"
The red-haired woman looked up from her spreadsheet at the last. "Oh, yeah. Dr. Gablehauser was insistent we put some names back on the list, wasn't he? I think he was hoping you'd take some of them off his hands! Sorry girls but maybe you'll find what you need before you get to him, anyway."
Jane and Darcy glanced at each other in renewed concern, but Dot's phone rang and a student came in with a form for Irene, so they couldn't pursue the matter further.
Darcy pulled Jane back into the hallway. "It's okay if we run into the nameless dudes of doom. I have my taser and it's taken out tougher men than any we're likely to meet with here," she advised.
Jane winced at that memory before turning her attention to the list. "Okay, let's put the astrophysics on the back burner for now and look at some of the other specialties we need. How about plasma physics? Hmm, here's a name. . . "
"Oh, god," Jane breathed as they stumbled backward out of the basement lab, clutching the somewhat crumpled papers Dr. Gablehauser had handed to her just a short while before. "That must have been who the ladies were warning us about!"
Darcy wasn't slowing down enough to talk. "Come on" she insisted, dragging Jane down the hall and around the corner. "I don't want him to come out and find us!"
Jane stumbled after her assistant who only slowed down once they'd made another turn. "Okay, cross Barry Kripke off the list. He was scary!"
Darcy grabbed the papers and, after fishing around in her messenger bag for a pen, did just that. "He was a psycho little man. Kept looking up at the ceiling and ranting about getting his 'wevenge on you, Cooper'. I should've tasered him!"
Jane rolled her eyes but didn't seem to disagree. His paranoia had been unsettling enough that Jane would've thought about that, too, if the door wasn't so close. "I'm just glad we're out of there," Jane settled for saying as she peered at the signs in the hallway. "But where to next?"
Darcy pulled out her iPad and called up a floor plan of the building from the campus website. "Why don't we check out the cafeteria? I need a coffee and maybe we'll find some more people to talk to there. Sane people!"
Jane followed as Darcy led them down the hallway toward a set of double doors. "Sane people? You really don't know much about physicists, do you?"