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It's more Ringo pawing at her face than the beeping noise of her phone that wakes Betty up. The cat doesn't like beep-y mechanical noises, never has, so when one won't stop he always comes complaining to her and this is no different: as soon as he sees she's awake he gives her his chirruping complaint-meow while she squints at the clock on her bedside and at her glasses and at the phone.

Tony. Of course it's Tony, Tony's the only person she knows who can just force any given phone to ring endlessly, never going to voicemail and never giving up. She's fairly sure it's illegal for him to do that. And she's going to kill him, because it's two in the morning, but first she's going to yell at him. A lot.

Ringo meows again, louder this time, and by now Bruce is stirring and rolling over and Betty pushes herself up to sitting. She fumbles for her glasses and doesn't turn on the light because for fuck's sake Tony go away it's the middle of the damn night; she hits answer and speaker and then demands, "What fucking time do you think it is, Anthony Edward Stark?"

The first time she'd lost her temper at him and resorted to his full name, she'd been embarrassed. But he'd deserved it, so she'd refused to show it, and now it's its own . . . thing.

She expects him to be either obnoxious or flippantly-apologetic, and she's ready for both. She's not ready for his actually-serious-voice saying, "It's oh-two-twenty-one, and I need you and Bruce to come to I-Complex. Now."

Betty stares at the phone. I-Complex is, not to put too fine a point on it, the secret lab. It's the one even Tony's PA doesn't have access to, just him, Pepper, her and Bruce. And them by close up retinal, palm and DNA scan. It's a perfect symbol of Tony's paranoia, but as Pepper said, first off, it's not a robot army, and second - well, sadly just because Tony's paranoid doesn't mean he's actually wrong.

Bruce has pushed himself up on one arm, rubbing the back of his neck and squinting sleepily and disbelievingly at her and the phone both. Betty looks at him and then back at the phone and says, "Are you fucking kidding me?" because she's really, really not at her best when jarred from sound sleep.

"No," is all Tony says. "And I mean right now, now. Don't stop for coffee, there's already some here."

Then he hangs up.

Ringo's settled on the foot of the bed now that the horrible thing isn't making evil noises at him, and he returns Betty's blank stare by squeezing his eyes shut. She mentally shakes herself, slow-blinks back at him (using cat-signals has actually been successful in making him calm down, and that one particularly, so Betty tries to remember even under stress) and lets the hand holding the phone fall into her lap.

Bruce finishes sitting up, and then turns on the bedside lamp. His hair is sleep mussed and he's wincing at the light while Betty just tries to blink rapidly enough for her irises to contract, and after scratching his shoulder he looks at her and says, "We should probably go."

Then he rolls out of bed.

Bruce pulls a shirt on, and a pair of sweats that'd been draped over the bedroom chair goes on over the boxers he sleeps in. Betty looks down at her nightgown and over at her patterned silk robe and decides that if Tony wants her somewhere at two-goddamn-am he can deal with restraining himself when it comes to any comments about what she's wearing. Or she's coming right back to bed.

So she pulls the robe on and slides her feet into the first pair of flats at the door, grabbing a hair elastic from the living-room coffee-table on her way past.

"If he's just having a paranoiac episode," she says, at first through holding the elastic in her teeth as she rakes her hair back into a tail and then into a messy bun and pulls it tight, "I am going to strangle him." She adds, doing up the belt of her robe as she walks, "Or if he's just fucking pushing boundaries. No. I'm going to scream and then I'm going to strangle him."

Bruce is yawning but starting to look a little more awake, blinking in the elevator's brighter light as the door slides closed. "He's never done that at this kind of hour," he points out, excessively reasonable. "Either of them. And he sounded - "

"I know how he sounded," Betty interrupts, irritably. "Why do you think I didn't just go back to sleep?"

It was that, too. The tone of voice. Tony has a large selection of mock-serious voices, including the ones that are secretly incredibly serious under the veneer of mockery which are his way of trying to fool people, and for the most part Betty ignores them. They're what she thinks of as damage-reflexes, things people as messed up as Tony is end up using because they're both still trying to connect to other people and angry at and terrified of them, so weird inconsistencies are something you just . . . ignore until he stops.

Do not reward the bad behaviour with attention, because the messed up part of Tony's brain mostly doesn't care if it's good or bad.

And then there's the voice that's actually serious, that comes out once in ten blue moons, and sounds uninflected, impersonal and detached because it means Tony's actually making it so he has to take the emotional hit if it's coming, making himself leave a target wide open, risking having someone else make him feel something he hasn't vetted first.

Like when he asked her and Bruce if they'd stay.

And paradoxically, if he's leaving himself open, he can't act like he's leaving himself open, so he starts sounding like an automaton. That's when you know he's really genuine.

If he's abusing it now, Betty's going to be angry beyond belief, but if he's not, then whatever this is . . .

She doesn't ask JARVIS: one of the quirks of I-Complex is that JARVIS won't talk about I-Complex or I-Complex projects outside of I-Complex. Tony'd tried calling it "Fight Club" for about a week, but between them Betty and Pepper had both successfully refused to respond to him at all until he stopped and that joke died the ignominious death it deserved.

"Do you think he remembered food?" Bruce wonders aloud, as the elevator stops and deposits them on I-Floor, which isn't actually numbered with the rest of them and can't be accessed from the number-pad, even in the private elevators. "Or just coffee? Because if I'm awake, it's been long enough since dinner to be hungry."

Betty grimaces. "I'm not sure I want to know what Tony thinks is appropriate to eat at two thirty in the morning," she mutters.

 

There is food, sausage in biscuits and a fruit salad. And coffee. And Maria Hill looking grim with her hands clasped behind her back.

That takes Betty aback, a little: Maria Hill is not one of the people who has independent access to I-Complex. As far as Betty knows. Pepper may have hired her, and Tony seems happy enough to have gone along with it, but Betty doesn't see Tony trusting Nick Fury's former second in command quite that much, that easily, this soon.

Betty didn't know what to expect, coming here; now she doesn't know exactly what it is she's looking at, besides that it's shaped more or less like a chair for some kind of medical or dental procedure. It's mostly black, very solid-looking, it has the assorted scratches, dints and imperfections of a piece of equipment that's both well-used and kept in as close to perfect working condition as possible, and that beyond the general shape it has a lot of . . . extra stuff attached. All over the place. But especially where arms and legs would go.

Betty doesn't see it, or maybe her brain refuses to see it, until Bruce says, "Those are restraints." He says it quietly, saying it to her instead of to the room in general. "Heavy-duty restraints."

And then she can't not see it anymore, and Betty involuntary crosses her arms across her chest, turning away from the thing a little, and unconsciously putting Bruce between herself and it.

She glances at Maria; the younger woman gives her a brief tightening of the lips and a shadow of a shrug that says she's not really happy about any of this, although Betty can't say for sure what the source of the unhappiness is - and there are a lot of possibilities. If Betty looks closely, Maria's clothes have the slightly rumpled look you get when clothes chosen to be both as professional and as wrinkle-resistant as possible have been snatched up off the floor and put on, and the smooth bun in her hair tells the same story. Whatever this is, it woke Maria up in the middle of the night with no warning, too.

The little bit of Betty that will be a general's daughter until she dies, whether she likes it or not, once again notes that whenever the Army drove Maria Hill away, they lost probably one of the best officers they'd ever get. She kind of hopes someone's alert enough to regret it.

"Where's Tony?" Betty asks, but she hasn't finished his name before the door to the little bathroom that's attached to the I-Complex lab swings open and Tony comes out, drying his hands with a paper towel and wearing an inward-looking frown. He only glances at them for a second.

He says, "Good, you're here," dropping the balled up paper towel in the garbage by that door with a bit more force than he really needs to, and not looking at them. His skin is tinged slightly grey, and Betty's abruptly very sure that he was in that bathroom throwing up, rather than anything else.

Before she can say anything or Tony can say anything else, Bruce's already taken a step forward, pointed at the . . . machine, and demanded, "What the hell is this?" and his voice carries a very definite edge. Betty sees Maria inhale and minutely straighten - and then Betty makes herself stop.

Realizes she's dropping too far back into the patterns of middle-of-the-night waking from a long, long time ago, and that is the worst possible idea right now. This isn't ninteen-eight-who-the-fuck-cares, she's not in her father's house, and reacting from there is not a good idea, and she needs to stop. Now. Comprehensively.

So she makes herself slow her breath down, count on the inhale and try to forget, just for one second, that it's two in the morning and for some reason the atmosphere could, if not float iron, at least make it wobble. She is over forty damn years old and whatever the hell this is, she's handled worse. She tries to demand that her limbic system acknowledge that.

"Evil," Tony replies, matter-of-fact, in the voice he uses to talk about things that are seriously upsetting him - which happens to be light and just this side of flippant. His eyes also can't seem to find anywhere to rest for more than a second. Certainly not human faces.

"More specifically," he goes on, coming around it, one hand's fingers digging into the palm and webbing of the other, "it's an integrated system for targeted cerebral disruption, destruction and directed stimulation. For mind-wiping," he elaborates, looking at it like he's looking through it. "Erasing memories and personality. And implanted suggestion." His jaw tightens for a moment and then he finishes. "Mind control. Or the closest equivalent on this fucking planet."

Betty thinks, Steve Rogers' friend, the words shaping themselves in her mind almost clear enough for her to hear them, but she doesn't say anything. Her eyes are back on the restraints. The heavy restraints, far heavier than you could possibly need for reasonable safety, the restraints that say that someone very, very strong either used to desperately try to get away from whatever happened in that chair, or that whatever happened meant such a complete loss of bodily control that it didn't matter whether the person was trying or not -

Bruce isn't any happier for Tony's explanation. He pushes, "Okay. So why is it here?"

The edge is still there. Betty looks at him, feeling herself frown a little; the last time she'd heard that edge was when Tony'd still been having his slow-motion meltdown, the one that started a few months after New York. She'd heard it just before Tony'd taken off for the house in Malibu and then found excuses to stay there until he got his house blown up. They'd had a fight, Tony and Bruce, and Betty'd never gotten a straight answer out of Bruce exactly what about, and right now she wonders if she should have pushed harder.

Tony doesn't reply, not verbally; instead, he gestures with his folded hands at Maria and circles behind Betty and Bruce to go pour coffee. Betty doesn't like his body-language, the agitation, but before she really sorts out why Maria Hill sighs, and the noise drags Betty's attention back to her.

Maria lets her hands go from behind her back, rests one of them on her hip. "About two hours ago a storage facility burned down," she says. "The office and the first row of lockers, anyway, but that pretty well shuts the facility down. That's where this was, and has been since shortly after Insight. By which I mean," she adds, with her gesture to the thing, "a few hours after Insight."

Tony wordlessly hands Maria a cup of black coffee and she takes it, Betty thinks maybe more to have something to do with her hands than anything. "After the crash," Maria goes on, "we had a very, very limited window of opportunity for follow-up on some . . . specific details of Alexander Pierce's operations, before everything and anything became a matter of public or at least governmental record. Agent Romanoff - Natasha," she corrects herself, "and I happened to agree - "

Maria stops, takes a deep breath and starts again with, "Natasha has some . . .experience, with the sharp end of practical brainwashing techniques," and Betty thinks she's working hard to pull her voice out of debrief mode. Not to mention to stay calm.

Tony hands Bruce coffee and Bruce takes it absently, frowning at Maria but by now in concentration instead of suspicion. Betty takes her cup from Tony and then on impulse follows him back towards the table and hooks one of the two chairs out with her ankle to sit down on. She doesn't like the feeling of all of them standing in a diffused half-circle. Too much respect for the . . . machine . . . sitting over there. Maybe.

It also makes it easier not to fidget. Not to look unnerved.

"The techniques . . . they're bad enough when they have to use drugs, isolation, things we already know," Maria goes on. "They work too well already, they're bad enough when they're the physiological equivalent of trying to, I don't know . . . heave a medicine ball at an apple tree to knock down a wasp, when they're imprecise and risky and built on sand."

Maria looks at her cup, pausing again. Betty thinks maybe she can see the woman swallow. "What information we had about HYDRA's assassin," she says, "about the Winter Soldier, implied very strongly that they had a much more precise and much more comprehensive method. Natasha and I both felt, and strongly feel, that the hands of a newly paranoid government or the world-wide public in all its . . . variety, were emphatically not good hands for that method to be in. At least not yet. Not until we knew more. Certainly not before we know if we can counter it, if we can undo it, if we can . . . " She exhales slowly, bringing her voice back under control. "If we can bring people back."

Natasha has some experience - Betty realizes she doesn't want to think about that, doesn't want to know. Doesn't want to consider what you could do, with a child, with drugs and definitely doesn't want to think about it happening to someone she likes.

She looks over at Bruce at the same time he looks at her, and they both nod slightly. "I can't argue with that," Bruce admits, speaking for them both.

"We traced Pierce's operation back to an abandoned bank," Maria goes on, but she looks like the agreement comes as a bit of a relief, at least. "We found . . . a significant amount of carnage," she says, every sound very precise, and she glances down at the coffee in her hand, "a lot of mess indicating someone else had already gone through the place, and one living tech cowering in the ladies' washroom on the second floor, in the cupboard under the sink."

"Where is she now?" Betty asks and Maria's mouth tightens.

"Supposedly committed suicide in police custody," she replies. "I honestly wouldn't know where to lay money between LEOs killing her out of some kind of twisted revenge, or HYDRA making sure she never told anyone more than she told me and Natasha. Which wasn't much. She confirmed that they used this," and Maria nods at the chair, which Betty finds more and more grotesque and disgusting by the second, "on the individual she referred to as the asset, and she told us what files to get off the one laptop that more or less survived."

"That's on my personal server," Tony says quietly. He's half-sitting on the table, and now Betty thinks most of what she doesn't like is the mixture of guilt in there with the disgust and fury and agitation.

"The tech couldn't visually confirm that the Winter Soldier had caused the rest of the mess," Maria goes on, "because she thought she saw something out the window, was halfway down the stairs when she heard the first, in her words, 'bang', and immediately ran back upstairs and hid where we found her and didn't move for hours until we found her, but she said, and I quote, 'I don't know anything else that can rip people in half like that'."

Bruce whistles under his breath. Betty steadfastly shuts down every image that tries to form in her mind.

For the first time Maria takes a sip of her coffee before she says, "She also said the only things that were actually missing were a couple hand-guns and the sedatives they used on their 'asset' if they had him out of cryogenic stasis for longer than twenty-four hours. So Natasha and I called a handful of people we were still as sure of as we could be, and we wrapped the thing and boxed it and moved it to a nearby empty building. Several days later I hired a few guys to move it to the storage facility, where it's been since, until tonight. I hired a moving team to bring it here. They just knew they were moving a big box." She shrugs.

"The people who helped you wrap it up?" Bruce asks and Maria gives a thin smile that doesn't reach her eyes.

"Three of them now work for me here," she says. "The other one was killed four days later."

Bruce inclines his head. "I'm sorry," he says, and Maria acknowledges it with her coffee mug. That had happened to a lot of SHIELD agents, in the days after Insight: whether the HYDRA-remnants were trying to achieve something or just lashing out to do as much damage as they could as their world crashed down, they'd taken agents and agents' families down with them.

As Betty understands it, very few had been endangered - well, in the immediate, life-threatening sense - by the actual database drop: Natasha's good enough to have made sure that the files on current undercover ops, while there, remained encrypted for the standard 72 hours and sent out a mass warning to all before she input the final command. Everyone had been too busy with the grand sweeping plans and the secret science Nazis - not to mention the news that the World Security Council had been going to nuke New York before Tony repurposed the missile - to go hunting for the ordinary, every-day operations until several days later at least.

Some of them still haven't been found, as far as Betty knows. Technically, everything SHIELD ever did is out there on the internet, thoroughly public; functionally, sheer volume is keeping secrets. At least for now.

For a minute, nobody says anything, until Betty clears her throat. "Now what?" she asks, quietly.

She doesn't have to ask why Maria brought it here: the only answer would be where the hell else? And asking why Tony involved her and Bruce would be childish and silly. And it's only a machine, only bits and pieces put together for humans to use, and inanimate objects don't have morality, but now every minute she's sitting here Betty feels like the thing is poisoning the room.

It's two am and that's probably melodrama. But she feels it all the same. So she doesn't want to sit here any longer than she has to.

Tony exhales all at once and stands up. "And now, I would honestly rather the fucking thing were already incinerated," he says, gesturing to it. And while fucking thing is - a priori - hardly the strongest epithet Betty's heard Tony use, the way he spits the words puts it right up there with some that were a lot more inventive. "And that's where it's going. Eventually. I have a fantastic furnace, because sometimes research mistakes need to just stop existing. Great filters and recycling reclamation.It won't even pollute the fucking atmosphere when I'm done."

Then he takes a breath and rubs the back of his neck with one hand, other going to his hip. "But - " and then he lets his hand drop, hitting his leg.

Betty doesn't say it. Betty doesn't want to say it. She closes her eyes and inhales carefully when Bruce says, like he's admitting something he doesn't want to either, "HYDRA was clearly working with knowledge of the brain beyond what anyone else has."

"And granted, I have no idea how," Tony interjects, throwing both arms out now. His voice gets a lot more animated, and a lot more obviously angry, "Christ, fuck, I'm still waiting for someone to explain to me how those assholes got the jump Arnim fucking Zola would have fucking needed to make shit to channel the fucking Tesseract - because I'm sorry, I know what Weimar Germany had for that kind of technology and engineering and you don't get here from there," and then he stops, because he's almost gotten up to shouting, and draws a hand down his face.

Betty feels distanced, four hundred miles away, her coffee going cold in her hands and everything a little unreal, but Betty knows why he's shouting. Knows that if she weren't hitting that feeling of distance, she'd be shouting, too. It's not just that the thing - the restraints on the thing, what they say - was obviously used to do horrible things, but the sheer scope of possible future horrors built on it -

It makes her feel sick. And they're all the worse for not knowing anything about it. Because they don't know what someone else could make.

"But," Tony goes on, voice quiet again, "right now, on this planet, there are people sick and dying because we don't know enough about this shit to help them. Yet. And this might tell us something. And it's already been fucking made and just throwing it away without figuring it out means maybe throwing away the only hope someone out there has, at least for years and years to fucking come."

He takes a slow breath. "And I've . . . been that fucking person. It sucks. Fuck, if HYDRA hadn't fucked around with the Tesseract decades ago I'd still be that fucking person, except it'd still be past tense, because I'd be dead. So I fucking . . . I need you," he says, looking at them, "to help me go through this thing, and the data, and we need to figure out if there is anything, anything we can get from that or from reverse engineering this piece of shit that can actually be used for the good of humankind."

All three of them look at the chair. Maria looks at the ground, arms folded, her empty coffee mug dangling from two fingers.

"Then you'll burn it," someone says, and Betty realizes it's her. Tony meets her eyes and nods.

"Pull the data, wipe it, burn the fucking thumb-drive it came here on. I don't want this, Betty. It's sick, the idea of being able to do that to people is sick and I don't want it. I need you because I trust you to know just how . . . how bad this thing is, how much it needs to go away. But . . ."

"It's here now," Betty finishes his thought for him, out loud. She looks at Bruce, gets the half-grimace that amounts to I don't like it but I don't have a good counter, and sighs. "Okay," she says. "Where do we start?"

 

They send Maria to bed. Betty has to admit the tension goes down a little bit after she's gone. That's not entirely fair to Maria on a lot of levels, Betty knows, especially since without her this . . .thing would probably be in CIA or DOD hands - but it still happens. Once it's just them - just us nerds, she thinks, with the kind of humour that's usually only funny at this hour in the morning after coffee - it's easier to slide into comfortable patterns, and short-hand, and assumptions about what each of the others is probably thinking, or how. It makes everything less . . . fraught.

But the first thing that Betty does is figure out whether the fucking restraints are connected to the neural manipulation and, after deciding they're not, make Tony cut them off so she doesn't have to look at them.

Glaring at the see-through screen showing what data they have, Bruce asks, "What are we going to do with it if we do find something useful?"

"I don't know, anonymously fucking email it to the head of Neuroscience at King's fucking College," Tony replies. It might be the most obvious attempt he's ever made at lightening the atmosphere - at least barring the times he actually outright says he's lightening the atmosphere - but Betty can't complain. "Stick it on Reddit. Send harassing tweets to Peterson over at the Mayo Clinic telling him we left him a data-stick in his office. Mail-bomb Stanford."

"I think anonymously emailing it to King's College is the current leading option," Betty says. "Out of those ones, anyway." She sits back from the horrible thing, on the floor, and reaches over for the biscuit she'd picked up a little while ago. It's cold now, but it's still good. After a minute of trying to just eat and trying to ignore the niggling thought, though, she gives up and asks, "Are we going to tell - "

She doesn't actually get to the name before Bruce and Tony chorus, "No." Betty feels her eyebrows go up and she stares at them, food halfway to her mouth, until Tony sighs.

"Plausible deniability, to start," he says, "there's no reason he needs to know. His science background and literacy end at 'it looks like a HYDRA weapon' and 'it seems to run on electricity'."

"Be nice," Betty says, with a little bit of warning in her voice. Tony makes a face at her.

"It's not mean to point out simple truth and fact," he says, "look, fine, he's great at figuring out how to use and interact with technology in very short periods of time, extremely impressive, but seriously: he doesn't need to know. There's nothing he can do about it, and it doesn't help him any, and if he knows he'll just brood about it and I'm willing to bet a lot of money he's doing a lot of that already."

"That," Bruce says, "I agree with. If we find anything useful," Bruce adds, possibly in response to her giving him a long flat look, "we'll tell him, but you know we probably won't. At least, not useful to him. This isn't his field. It isn't even his complex."

"And honestly," Tony says, absently, as he squints at one of the clear monitors and then at part of the chair and then back at the monitor, "anything he can use is probably general enough we don't need to tell him where we got it, which is good, and it's good because," he goes on over top of Betty starting to open her mouth, "given that this is all about memory, if we find anything, one of the conditions it's most likely to help is Alzheimers. Plus general dementia, I suppose."

Betty frowns at him. "So?"

Bruce says, "Peggy Carter has Alzheimers," voice quiet and uninflected.

Betty's tired: that's her personal excuse for not making the connection, especially for not making the connection when Tony's spending so much damn time dancing around it, because for some reason Betty hasn't yet figured out Margaret Carter and her illness are fraught ground for Tony.

She takes her glasses off and puts one hand over her eyes and exhales, slowly. "Right," she says.

"Here," Tony says, slightly singsong, looking fixedly at his screen, "we cured your girlfriend! All thanks to your boyfriend's mind rape -"

"Thank you," Betty says, edged herself now, "I said 'right', I got the picture. Also, do not use 'boyfriend' to Steve's face, okay? And the . . .other phrase, that goes without saying."

"See, you shouldn't've said that," Tony retorts lightly, "because now I have to - "

"Tony," Betty interrupts, giving him a long, tight-lipped look and ignoring Bruce hiding a smile.

"For the love of fucking Christmas," Tony declaims, throwing one arm up and looking, "of course I'm not going to fucking antagonize Rogers right now, what kind of asshole do you think I am?"

"One with poor impulse control and a perverse sense of humour," Betty retorts. "But thank you."

"I would like to point out that I have been nothing but fucking polite, restrained and helpful since the minute he fucking asked me for help," Tony says, mock-resentfully.

"That is true," Bruce acknowledges. "I've honestly been very impressed." He says it very mildly, and Tony glances at him like he's not sure if he should be gratified or not, and then shakes it off.

"This crush of yours is adorable, though," he adds, and Betty sighs.

If she wants him to stop, she knows, she shouldn't say anything, but actually right now, play-fighting with Tony is a lot better than actually thinking about the head-piece she's taking apart, so she puts on her best put-upon tone instead and says, "I do not have a crush, Anthony Edward, I have a significant depth of empathy resulting from unfortunately long experience with grieving military officers and the experience of looking for a loved-one. Besides," she adds, to skip over that last bit, "I highly doubt they were boyfriends."

Tony gives her a very serious look and says, "I hate to have to tell you this, Betty, but homosexual relationships did not actually start - "

"Oh shut up, Tony," she cuts him off, rolling her eyes, "I meant I find it hard to see Steve Rogers trying to get together with Carter if he was already involved with someone else. And you know it"

"Clearly," Tony retorts, "Captain America has hidden depths."

Now she needs to pay attention to what she's doing, so Betty just rolls her eyes and they all go quiet for a bit, until another thought nags her and she asks, "What if he finds out anyway, though?"

"Plausible deniability," Tony repeats.

"Didn't occur to us to tell him," Bruce elaborates, "we just passed the data on, forgot all about it. Also he was out of the country at the time - and he is."

"You're both terrible," Betty says, but mostly gives in.

 

None of them says out loud that they're not leaving the lab until they can burn this thing and wash their hands of it. None of them needs to.

In the end Betty's not sure what the value of what they find is, and she's pretty damn sure the fucking chair would kill a normal human being, or at least cause enough brain-damage to make them need 24-7 care. That actually comes as something like relief, as long as she doesn't think what the effects had to be even on something with significantly enhanced physiology, or what it must have felt like. But it means that the technology isn't easily adaptable, at least not yet.

And anyone who wants to do anything with it will have to be curious enough to try to duplicate any and all of this themselves, with what they have available. They might, or they might not. But Bruce writes notes in a file to go with it, Tony puts the useful stuff on a new drive he's going to anonymously snail-mail (Betty having reminded him that the postal service exists), and slowly Betty becomes conscious of the fact that it's eleven pm and she hasn't showered or eaten real food all day, and that drinking this much coffee is still stupid.

She still follows DUM-E, along with Tony and Bruce, as it hauls the remains of the chair to the incinerator. And then watches until it's gone.

Bruce puts his arm around her shoulders and kisses her head.

"I hate humans," she informs him, softly.

He says, "I know."