It started with a box.
It wasn’t even a large box. Darcy had just moved from London, packed everything she owned into three boxes large enough for her to curl up inside with her tablet and a cup of coffee – she knows, because she totally did. By comparison, this box was tiny. It was designed for files, she assumed, but it was old. The white of the cardboard was faded and stained; the tape that held the lid shut was disintegrating into powder. The label across the top was unreadable.
“What’s that? Something to science with?” she questioned as she dropped her bag and coffee onto the pristine stainless steel counter of the lab.
“Huh? What? No,” said Jane absently, her face still pointed at the computer monitors.
“If it’s not for science, why is it here?” she asked. It was a question she often wondered of herself. She was a political science major, an unfinished one at that. Her skills, while not inconsiderable, had little uses in a lab. Stark or Pepper or whoever was in charge of HR seemed to realize as much; on the employment contract she had been given to sign, her official title named her a ‘personal assistant’. Really it just meant that she was a herder of scientists, ensuring the brainiacs slept, ate, and, oh sweet merciful gods above, bathed at regular intervals, none of which they would have done when in the throes of scientific breakthroughs. She was always amazed at how little difference there was between geniuses and her obsessive, ADD brother, Bing, who would sit before a television for days on end forgoing sleep, food and – in one particularly horrifying incident that resulted in his Nintendo being thrown from the window – toilet breaks; all in pursuit of the best possible score at Mario Kart or whatever his new obsession was.
“Huh?” Jane said again, this time turning around to face her friend and assistant. “Oh, the box. DUM-E brought it over. Stark seemed to think it might have some uses in my research.”
At the mention of its name, the questionably intelligent robot whirred to life and propped its arm on Darcy’s shoulder in what she had come to recognize as a hug. “Hey, Big D,” she greeted and gave the arm a pet, sending the machine to drone in a way that sounded way too much like a cat purring.
“Apparently, Stark’s father had done some theorizing on building wormholes back during the war,” she said, paying little attention to the common sight of DUM-E snuggling up to her assistant; it happened almost daily. Instead, she cut the last of the tape away from the box, lifting the lid and releasing a nauseating combination of mothball and too-strong perfume.
Batting the stench away, Darcy looked down at what was unmistakably a ladies coat. “I didn’t know Tony’s dad was so inclined. At least he had good taste,” she commented as she lifted both the coat and a perfectly manicured eyebrow.
Foster shook her head, smile pulling at her mouth. “It probably belonged to his assistant. Her name was Lewis, too, funnily enough. Maria Lewis.”
Darcy nodded. They’d already gone through all this months ago when they first settled into the lab, when Stark still bothered to visit.
From what she was told by the other assistants at lunch and in the corridors, the man was a nuisance, popping into every laboratory unannounced, claiming that as the purveyor of money and super-sweet and shiny equipment he was entitled to first dibs on poking or exploding any and all of their creations. After their first week in the Avenger’s Tower, however, Stark had not set foot inside their lab. He visited all those around them with irritating frequency, but not theirs. Jane assumed it was because most of her work was theoretical at this point, but Darcy had other another idea why; one even she was not about to voice.
That first week had been great. She and Stark were two of a kind, if you discounted the brown eyes, genius intellect and billion-dollar bank account on his part and the blue eyes and killer rack on hers. They clicked. They laughed at the same jokes and were finishing each other’s sentences after the first day. Jane had gotten so annoyed, she questioned if Darcy was actually his illegitimate child.
At that, Stark had pulled a face, not one of disgust but contemplation. He eyed Darcy in a way that had nothing to do with admiring her not inconsiderable charms, then began to quiz her on her entire life history and family tree. The only known commonalities that they could determine on that initial interview were the names Maria and Lewis. His mother’s name was Maria, which was also her middle name. His mother’s maiden name had been Lewis. They were both common enough that it was hardly worth swooning over. Her own attempts at genealogical research for a high school project had turned out countless Lewises across the country, none of whom were related to her.
Stark disappeared after that, returning to the lab only once more that first week. His previous casual manner gone and replaced by stilted conversation, stiff spine and eyes pointed determinately away from her.
Darcy had started to think he had gone on to do further research or even some clandestine DNA scans, found that he had actually fathered one Darcy Maria Lewis. It was strange to think that she might be an unwitting heiress, that the man she knew as her father was not connected to her genetically, that the doting Lewis grandparents she visited in Miami every Passover were not hers. That she wasn’t Jewish, which meant she could eat bacon (Win!).
It was all a stupid idea because she looked so like her father it was disturbing, and either of her brothers could be spotted in a crowd as being related to her with their blue eyes and freakishly pale skin – both inherited from their father, Milton J. Lewis.
Back to the box and all the trouble the seemingly innocent thing would cause.
Beneath the coat were files, which Jane tore into eagerly. Her own research on controlled wormholes had stagnated. Thor had proved such a thing was possible. But, while he was happy to help where he could, he had no way to explain precisely and in scientific terms how the Bifrost had been able to create and maintain a portal across the galaxy. So Jane was left to her own ideas, which were proving maddeningly unhelpful. The infusion of some new thoughts, even if they had originated back in the 1940s, might be just what she needed to get her science on.
“Check this out!” Darcy said as she held the coat up. “Does this scream Darcy Lewis or what?”
“Looks more like Maria Lewis,” Jane commented.
“Oh come on,” she sniffed, trying her damnedest to ignore the horrible smell coming off it. “Look at it.” It was gorgeous. A sable collar made before people bothered to care about animal welfare (so it was grandfathered, right?), that lead to a body of buttery soft leather in a shade barely darker than white. It was darted and belted and fabulous beyond measure.
She slid it on and fastened the leather-covered buttons, dancing with joy when it fit as if it were tailored for her – boobs and all. “I am so keeping this.”
“Yeah, sure. Whatever,” the other woman replied distractedly, eyes glued to the file. “Will you look at this. This is brilliant” She flipped between pages, following the hand-written notes across four different pages. “Howard Stark was amazing.”
Darcy glanced at the papers, saw the page filled with line after line of equations stuffed with Greek letters and square roots, and could only nod. “Yeah, that’s hella sciencey.”
“That’s hella perfect,” Jane corrected. “It’s what I’ve been missing. This formula is almost complete. Howard Stark was so close to creating his own Einstein-Rosen Bridge. And in 1947! Can you image what the world might be like if he had succeeded? We could have travelled to the moon instantly and before that decade was out. We could have travelled to Asguard!”
She really didn’t want to bring up the idea of the clean-cut young men of McCarthy Era America turning up on Odin’s doorstep. That would not have gone well. So she just agreed, “Cool.”
Jane spun around and started plugging Stark Senior’s equation into her own, muttering and ‘oohing’ in the same way Darcy did over her favorite Instagram feeds. Thinking of that, she pulled her phone from her bag, holding it at arm’s length and snapping photo after photo of her sweet new coat.
“Darcy, attach the spectrometer,” Jane called from behind a piece of equipment that Darcy had taken to calling Luke because she couldn’t remember the proper scientific name for it. She knew it focused light (like a lightsaber!), but so far it had just been used to put their coffee on.
“Yep,” she said, pulling the wires free and plugging each one into the correct port. All those years setting up Bing’s game consoles provided her with a rather valuable skill set; she had the spectrometer up and running inside a minute.
Jane muttered and double checked her settings and readings while Darcy snapped a couple more pictures. She should have been paying attention. She should have been doing her job, assisting and making sure Jane had thoroughly checked her math before attempting to science something as potentially dangerous as a wormhole. She should have called Bruce in to assist or any of the other R&D brainiacs working on their floor, but she was too excited about the coat.
She was still taking photos when Jane set the program running, pouting at the camera as the machines began to hum. Luke sprang to life, its eight lenses shifting into their assigned locations according the equation, drawing power from the wires Darcy had connected and focusing it into a blinding pinpoint of light from which all things were possible, at least according to Jane and Erik.
Darcy, of course, saw none of it. She was too busy deciding which filter to use – sepia or grainy. Ooh, or black and white. Classic.
She frowned as she studied the coat’s details on the screen of her phone, the oddity of its placement suddenly striking her sartorially addled brain.
“Hey, Jane, why would he have put the coat in the box?” she questioned as she turned as saw the tunnel spreading from the point of light Luke had created. “Oh, shit.”
“Darcy, move!” Jane cried, her fingers stabbing hard on the keyboard, altering commands and changing nothing.
Despite her keyboard jockeying, the wormhole kept growing, spreading out like ripples in a pond, reaching out toward Darcy. She felt the first touch just as she heard Jane’s command, too late. All of it too late. The tunnel was bright, so much light, every color and wavelength and more that a human eye could never hope to see. It blinded her, kept her from seeing Jane racing for the wires to kill the power. As it touched her, she could hear it, like a roar of traffic on a bustling boulevard. Strange that a wormhole would sound like horns honking and bells ringing. Strange that it would smell like gas fumes and garbage. Strange that it would feel like a sunny day.
The wormhole shrunk down to nothing in an instant, leaving Darcy blinking spots from her eyes.
“Dammit, Jane! Give me some warning next time!” she complained, forcing her eyes to remain open.
Her vision returned too slowly. The polished glass and steel laboratory looked oddly dingy. The traffic sounds of the wormhole still hung about her, though she knew the bridge had collapsed in on itself. She shifted her weight to lean on the counter she knew to be behind her, but stumbled back when only empty air met her hip.
“Watch where you’re going!” a woman griped and shoved past her.
Darcy froze, eyes still enormous.
The last of the spots fell from her vision and she saw all the things she had heard and felt through the wormhole – cars and buses commuting a city street, gutters littered with trash, on a sunny day. It was impossible. She’d been eighty-five stories off 58th Street not two seconds ago, now she was down on the sidewalk.
“Dude!” She spun around, ready to race through security and back up to tell Jane that it had worked, but staggered to a stop. “Well, shit.”
It was gone.