World On Fire: Missing Persons And The Math

March 15, 2015:

Howard Stark visits The Triskelion to speak with FitzSimmons

The Triskelion

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Fade In…

Word has come to the SHIELD that Howard Stark is coming to pay them a visit. He is, not uncharacteristically, a good half an hour late. He arrives at the front desk, bodyguard in tow, a laptop bag over one shoulder. He's dressed in a fine silver three-piece suit that is immaculately tailored.


It's only a few minutes before May shows up in the lobby to see Howard to the conference room set aside for this meeting. It's probably one of the ones closest to the R&D area. The bodyguard gets little more than a brief glance, and then she leads the way. While walking, she looks at Howard. "How have things been lately, Stark?" She does have to admit he's been … quiet lately.


Sara Pezzini is probably not actually cleared for this. Does she even have a level yet? Possibly not. But when she sees Howard Stark showing up, and Agent May taking over, she starts to fall in with the group, clearing her throat. "Need a hand, Agent May?" she offers.


"Nice to see you again, Mr. Stark." Paul says, falling in on the other side. "Did you find what you were looking for? I've thought up a few more questions, depending on what you have to tell us about it all. Suitably redacted of course." WHich might or might not be the first May has heard of their trip to grill Stark.


Simmons is still in her R&D laboratory when Howard Stark arrives and May messages her. Removing her goggles and leaving them on her workbench, the young biochem looks over to Fitz as she starts out the door. "Coming? Howard Starks in the Conference Room. He said he would share information on that Level 10 document…"


"Oi!" Fitz stows away whatever it was he was working on and goes rushing after Simmons. "Wouldn't miss this for the world." Beat. "Okay, maybe for the World Cup." He takes with him a notepad and pencil.


"Hello, Agent May. I've been well. Working on a few projects. I've also been out of the country," says Howard. That would explain the tan. And the fact that he's been incommunicado. Though, he doesn't really need that excuse to not return phone calls or emails. "I'd like to confer with Agents Fitz and Simmons in a lab environment, if that's possible." His overcoat is shrugged off and given to his bodyguard, who is waved off to wait in the lobby. If there's anywhere he's safe, it's the Triskelion. Presumably.
He looks over as they're joined by the two (ex) detectives. He grins wryly. "Agent May, do you realize you've hired two very dogged investigators? Yes, Agent Manning. I've brought goodies for you." He pats his laptop case.


Speaking of the former NYPD detectives, May gives Sara a sidelong look that promises a discussion later but otherwise only acknowledges the pair with brief nods. She acknowledges his mention of having gone out of the country with a simple nod. It's not like she has to monitor his whereabouts anymore. That's someone else's job.

And then Howard says he'd rather meet in a lab environment, so May taps at her earpiece once. "Simmons. Is your lab space suitable for visitors?" Which is May-speak for 'are non-relevant research items stowed away out of sight?' since she knows the young woman isn't prone to being a slob. Like certain other US-born R&D SHIELDies that will remain unnamed.


Sara has had so many 'discussions' with supervisors in her career. May is scary, but at it's not a new threat. "Hey, the way I heard it, SHIELD was big into investigating things," she smirks back at Howard. "That, and I'm pretty sure Hill wants to keep an eye on my jewelry."


"I look forward to hearing it. Assuming it's not a natural phenomena or an accident, it has to be intentional. Which means there's a purpose behind it and one that we need to find out." Paul's probably preaching to the choir but he's so used to having to convince the brass why something needs doing. The NYPD, even the EI Division, tends to be conservative when it comes to threat analysis.


Pausing at the door as she gets Mays message, Simmons casts a glance round the lab, "They're going to come here, Fitz." More code for the two scientists. Tapping her comms, Simmons responds "Yes May, we were just about to join you, but her would be better."


"Right." Fitz does an about face back into SHIELD R&D, eyes panning his pristine lab space for any abnormalities. None are seen, save for a single workstation that wasn't cleared and locked. He's going to need to have a chat with whomever left it open. "Daniels," he murmurs. "Again. Chap's gonna end up demoted to the motor pool or something."


Howard Stark walks briskly towards the elevators with his informal entourage. He hasn't been back in the Triskelion since he was 'held for observation' soon after he was 'discovered.' "You know," he says conversationally, "…the first SHIELD office was in the basement of an old building. No windows. I had to install sunlight-simulating bulbs. I'd say this organization has done well for itself."
It seems that the elder Stark is going to save any briefing until they're within the lab of the dynamic duo. He doesn't make a lot of conversation in the elevator, or in the hall leading up to the lab. Once they're inside though, he reaches into his bag for his laptop. "Right. I'll warn you now," he points to Sara, Paul and May, "…that this is going to get pretty technical and pretty nerdy at times. Let me know if you get lost and I'll translate for you."


Melinda May is actually totally okay with just staying near the lab doorway, where she won't interfere with any science-ing going on and can control anyone leaving or arriving in the space. If things seem sedate enough, she might even duck out for a few minutes and bring back tea.


"Basement office. Sound familiar, Paul?" Like Sara and Paul's old office with NYPD. Apparently stick the weirdos in the basement is standard start up procedure. Sara follows along, shooting an amused look at Howard when he offers explanations. "Thanks, Mister Stark, but I've got a feeling this sort of thing can't be boiled down too far."


"No windows to blow out." Paul points out to Sara. Occasionally things did get out of hand in EI but the bedrock of Manhattan absorbed the damage instead of blowing out the side of the building. On the trip down, he's silent and waits for the briefing. He's patient when he wants to be. Granted, he doesn't usually want to be but he kows how to be even when he doesn't want to. Many years of hurry up and wait.


Simmons smiles a little at Fitzs' murmur "A gentle reminder may be all Davis needs, Fitz." and then looks as the group joins them in their lab. "Agent Pezzini, Agen… Paul, Agent May, Mr Stark. A pleasure to see you again." and waits patiently, arms folded loosely across her chest, as Howard begins to explain. The bandage on her right arm is now gone.


"You do better with the gentle reminders," remarks Fitz quietly as the others come in. The engineer hangs back, pencil stuffed through the spiral binding of his notepad, which remains held in his hand for fidgeting fodder, should it become necessary. "Welcome back to Frankenstein's lab," he quips, a greeting to tail Simmons' more polite welcome.


"I'm all about plain language science, Agent Pezzini. I'll boil it down if I can." Howard flashes her one of his charming, showman's smiles. Then he shrugs off his suit jacket and drapes it carefully over an unoccupied chair. He straightens out his waistcoat, then undoes the cuffs of his shirt and works at rolling them up. "SHIELD started as an underground organization - quite literally. A lack of windows meant entry and exit points could be tightly controlled, and no one could look in. Sure not good for vitamin D levels, though." He chuckles.

"Doctors Fitz and Simmons." He's never added their names together or addressed them as one person. As much as he's never noticed it bothering the duo, it feels somehow disrespectful to conflate the talents of a pair of scientists, seeing as he's a scientist himself.
"Let's get right to it, shall we?" He powers up his laptop and unless someone (or some security protocol) stops him, he interfaces the device with the lab's holographic interface. "This is what I can give you. Dossiers on the ten missing persons we confirmed were victims of the anomaly in 1948." He tosses the dossiers up onto the interface. Even a quick glance shows that the people have nothing clearly in common.

"A map, with the locations where ectoplasm was found." A map of the city jumps up onto the display, and the various data points are plotted. "You'll notice that we have instances of the energy readings and the ectoplasm with no corresponding missing persons file. That's because we couldn't confirm who was taken from where, and if they were a victim of the anomaly or they disappeared by some other means. Doctor Fitz, this data is for you," he fishes out a jump drive and tosses it over to the young man. He points at it. "That's all the data my scanners picked up in 1948. There's also a series of frequencies that you can calibrate your devices to scan for. The energy signature is…" he grins wryly, "…well, it's something else. You'll appreciate it."

"Agent Simmons," he fishes out another drive and thands it directly to her rather than tossing it. "Analysis of the ectoplasm, plus dental records and any other biometric data we could gather on the victims. It should help you identify remains and confirm these are our victims."

He fishes out a third drive and tosses that one in the direction of Sara and Paul. He'll leave it up to them who grabs it first. "Biographical data on the victims and potential victims. Maybe you'll find some connection we couldn't."


Sara reaches out to catch the drive, but she passes it to Paul, instead moving toward the map to get a better look at it. "Have you cross-referenced this with other resources of the time?" she asks Howard, brows furrowed as she looks it over. "Power grid, sewer structure. Where they were taken might be the common thread, rather than who they were."


Paul steps into the lab when they arrive then takes up a position against the wall next to the door. "Simmons." he says, returning the greeting then looks over to Fitz. Cute. Breakable. He just nods a greeting then turns his full attention on Howard. And it becomes obvious his thinking mirrors Sara's. "It might prove useful to know in what order the portals in 1948 opened. Or when the slime was found. Also, in what order the victims were discovered to be missing. We can't know exactly, of course, due to it just being reports from whoever noticed they were gone but it could tell us something. Likewise, cross indexed to where they lived at the time or where they were staying if they were visiting." To Simmons, he says "You should run DNA tests on everything that you know came through a portal. And while we don't have samples from those who disappeared in 1948, we should be able to track down either descendants, if they were old enough, or, if not, other family members from a parallel line such as a brother or even uncle. Even a few generations distant will show a match too close to be coincidence. That would confirm that what we have here are those who disappeared."


Tech is Fitz' thing and if he's not going to protest Howard interface his computer to the holographic display, Simmons won't either.

Taking the drive handed to her, Simmons focusses on the map being displayed "The locations of the two anomalies aren't shown here." A small frown furrows her brow as she examines it for a long moment. "Fitz, are you seeing it… the pattern there?" Looking to her friend for his response.

Turning back to her workbench, Simmons uses that drive immediately and starts to compare the results to what she's already collected. "I have the DNA samples from the three victims, already, Paul. Plus whatever clothing fibres and such, we could gather." Glancing up at Howard, a cloud crosses the biochems face "You were right about that green being not having long to live…" she murmurs.


Of course Howard can't just get in. This is why Fitz accesses a workstation and opens a secure, point to point socket granting Stark access to the holotable and nothing else. He truthfully doesn't expect Stark to try any hacking but, sadly, recent events have made the engineer a bit paranoid.

Fitz snatches the drive, without fumbling. Proves he may have a knack for skills outside of a laboratory, too. "I appreciate it, but it scares the hell out of me," he remarks of the energy signature, while loading the thumb drive into his workstation. "I took some readings myself. I've been working out the arithmetic for five bloody days. The energy is chaotic. There's very little in the way of order to it, and that's…" He looks around at the others. "Scientifically speaking, that's scary."

For a few moments, the engineer goes quiet while the data is loaded. He sets the notepad down and opens it to a particular page, one containing a lot of tiny equations drawn in pencil. He trades looks from the computer to the tablet, scratching the back of his head. Then, a particularly disturbed frown forms upon his face. It seems he's noticed something, but for the moment, he doesn't speak up about it. Instead, he squints and begins banging the keys, tabbing through the data with a ferocity that manifests the bad feeling he's getting from what he's reading.

"No," he murmurs. "I don't want to be seeing this right now." It isn't until Simmons asks him that he looks up and sighs. "Yeah, I see it. It's a Fibonacci spiral." He turns to Paul. "I may be able to answer that for you. Approximately. at least."


Melinda May lets the technobabble fly. She knows better than to interrupt to request explanations. Simmons and Fitz will share with her whatever is important enough to need sharing. And as if to prove that, she disappears from the room while they're discussing the data.


"Well, that was my theory at the time," says Howard. He rests his hands in his pockets and steps up beside Sara to examine the map. "I couldn't find any connection to the locations, except…" He turns and snap-points at Fitz. "A Fibonacci spiral." He looks quite pleased that he picked up on it. "But we lack solid timestamps for the anomaly. I don't know if it unfolded in a spiral pattern or it appeared with some other kind of regularity."
He leans in and says to Simmons, "One thing to know about me, Agent Simmons, is that I'm usually right." Yes, there's tremendous ego behind that statement, but also a touch of sadness. He didn't really want to be right about the portal victims being doomed to a painful and slow death.
He looks up at the data, then pulls up a very complex set of equations. "These are my rough notes from '48. I honestly haven't looked at this file in 40 years." Fitz and Simmons are the only ones in the room who can fully comprehend how high-level the math is - and it's all written long-hand with very few corrections. "I was able to lock on to the frequencies the portals generate, but the equipment just didn't exist to cover more than a few blocks at a time."


"Well at least no one's going on about ley lines yet," Sara murmurs, brows furrowing as she thinks. "Sherry Allen. Why does that sound familiar?" She looks to Paul. "I feel like I've heard that name before. Keep flashing on one of those stupid voice-overs the news uses for reenactments and the like. Sherry Allen never expected…" She trails off, snapping her fingers to herself.


"Then since we have DNA samples from the ones who came through, it shouldn't be too difficult to track down family members of the missing." Paul tells Simmons then glances at Sara. "We'll just need to convince them. Or raid their garbage pails." He just shakes his head as Sara asks about the name. He can't place it though it does sound kind of familiar. Fitz though gets his interest and he walks over to look at the computer. "Oh? You can determined in which order they opened?"


Melinda May returns after several minutes (which she is not in the least surprised to find that apparently no one noticed she slipped out) carrying a stack of disposable coffee cups and a large thermos. It's tea, though, so anyone who actually prefers coffee can just go to the break room down the hall. Just be warned, R&D coffee is rarely ever normal. She sets up the thermos on a side table and fills a cup to hand to Simmons. Don't argue, just take it. Fitz gets similar cup set within line of sight but not in the way of his keyboard-pounding, and the remaining three get silent looks in lieu of tea offerings aloud.


Simmons isn't paying a lot of attention to the conversation but she glances up as Fitz identifies the pattern "Exactly…" and turns her attention back to her results. Simmons approach to analysis is little ''gentler'' than Fitz, and she scrolls through the data, reading and digesting what she's seeing.

Finally, raising her head to Paul and looking for Agent May, Simmons nods slowly "There's no DNA information on the missing persons files, naturally but from what I have here, I can give you three names. A relative, a descendant, should be sufficient to give us some conclusive results there."

Looking back at Fitz, Simmons frowns a little "We have two anomaly locations, are their locations in the Fibonacci sequence, Fitz? I mean" beat "it stands to reason that if the entry was a fibonacci spiral, the exit could well be too."


Fitz connects the workstation to the holotable. Then, with hand motions, he draws something from his workstation to the holographic overlay, bringing up another window. "These are the disturbances as recorded in '48," he explains, before highlighting a series of dates and times. "They're time stamped. Some bear a window of minutes, others hours or days." He looks over toward Paul. "But that doesn't mean it's impossible to mine more accurate data. Arithmetic a way of speaking for itself. The answers are there. Finding them is the hard part."

When Stark echoes his discovery of the Fibonacci spiral, Fifz goes back to the workstation and overlays a graphic onto the map of events.

Visual aid: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Fibonacci_spiral_34.svg

"Now, the spiral could have unfolded from this central point." He uses his hands on the holo, moving from the tiny point to the larger outer circle. "It could have collapsed inward. It could have simply been filled in. Either way, something you all should understand about the Fibonacci spiral…" He looks to Sara and Paul explicitly, then May as she comes back in. "… is that it approximates something in mathematics that we call the 'Golden spiral'; which, essentially, has a growth factor close to infinity."

To Paul, he nods his head vigorously. "It's all in the variables. I can take Stark's readings, paired with mine, augmented from some of the stuff Simmons has found in her autopsy reports. Decay rate of the flesh, augmentations to the biological structure, it all goes into the math which can make these time stamps" He pauses, indicating the wide range of variable dates and times from 1948. "a bit more accurate."

That news may be encouraging, but it doesn't set the engineer's mind at ease regarding the spiral graphic. That bit of information may suggest that this problem could grow in what may be a pattern that is close to exponential.

Taking the tea, Fitz holds up a pausing hand to Simmons, and begins working out her answer.


"Am I right in assuming you have some kind of gadget at your disposal that could increase the scanning radius so we could pick up on the portal formation from a distance, Agent Fitz?" says Howard in a tone that suggests he already knows the answer. May's tea is waved off politely. Not really his speed. As for the rest of it? He'll let the agents talk it out. He talked it out back in 48. This is a case that could really use some fresh eyes.


"A bookstore!" Sara snaps her fingers as she remembers, pulling out her phone to scroll through the local news station reports. "It was on of the local reporters writing a book, mentioned her aunt disappearing around this book store and how it affected her when she was just a kid. There it is." She steps up to the map, pointing to one of the dots. "That one there."


Paul noticed May leave. It just didn't affect things. He's also noticed her return and moves over to take some tea, nodding her his thanks. "What happens when you plot the portal that opened up here? Does that also fall into the spiral's range?" After a moment, he adds a thought as something occurs to him. "What happens if you take into account the motion of the planet over the last 70ish years? Time and space are connected right? I've heard lots of scientists talk about that." Not that he understood the details.


Finally noticing that Mays pressing tea on her, Simmons smiles at the Agent gratefully and apologetically. She won't question the offer of good tea.

The data on the three victims collated, is sent to the three Agents in the room "If you could find the relatives of these three, I'll be able to do conclusively or more closely prove that we have a match." Falling silent as Fitz raises his hand, Simmons sips her tea as she waits for her answer.


Howard's question draws a look from Fitz. It takes him a moment to respond, during which he glances Simmons' way. There's a sense of guilt on his face. Then, he goes back to his work, simply answering, "Yes. Quite a distance."

After another moment, he shakes his head. "There aren't enough data points from now to work out the math. We've only had two confirmed breaches here. If we can work the DNA angle, match up our victims with the people who disappeared in '48, that will help. A lot."

Sara's mention of a bookstore, along with pointing it out, is notable. Fitz highlights that point as a significant point of interest.

Finding the dead end only prompts Fitz to download Stark's scanner results into a new window. When they are compared against SHIELD records, a match comes up almost immediately, and it's broadcast onto the holo display for all to see. The map zooms way out, and a blip appears at New Orleans.

"Oi. Look at this. These energy signature were detected in low levels following the New Orleans incident. Only traces of the energy, not enough to form a breach. It may not represent a starting point for the spiral, but, whatever causes the breaches may have been in New Orleans."

Now he glances to Paul. "Yes, but relativistic physics demands that the starting point of the spiral remains locked in space, if not time. The gradual crawl of a calendar year versus an orbital year will affect the variables though, good catch Agent Manning!"

For a few more moments, Fitz works the variables. "I'm absolutely going to need that DNA and victims research. But…" He looks up. "If Agent Pezzini's mark signifies the next incident, then that gives me a theory. If the spiral was expanding in the past and contracting in the present, it would have the same central pivot point. Or vice versa. Either way, you guys are going to need to collect that information. Quickly."


Howard Stark is a man who plays his cards very close to his chest, but the more astute among them might notice a sudden pinching of his shoulderblades as New Orleans pops up on the map. The reaction is very subtle, and someone would have to be paying close attention to him to notice it.
"If we have a central pivot point, there's going to be a hell of a lot of ugly energy building up there as this thing continues to contract." He moves his hand over the holo map, the touch interrupting the display. He's lingering around New Jersey. His brows are furrowed in thought.


"Collecting samples," Sara says with a rueful smile toward Paul. "That's what we get for sticking our noses into things." She looks back to the science crew, nodding once. "Can you shoot us this in list form? We can get going on the collecting soon as we check out a car from the motor pool."


"I think you said those samples were one hundred percent human, right?" Paul asks Simmons. "But we can't rule out that the people were also bred in between then and now since there's still no proof the portals led directly to our time." To Fitz: "Actually, I was thinking of the entire motions of the galaxy and universe as well." He watched Cosmos. "But whatever fits your model best." Now with tea, he wlsk back to look at the computer more closely and points out a few spots on the spiral. "There. And there. And one over there. There are gates to Hell. I don't know how, or if, they affect things."


"That's correct, the samples were from people who we picked up in this time were 100 human. I think, if I understand what you're saying is we don't know if they were 'aiming' for this time… regardless, those three aopear to match people who went missing in 1948. They may not have come here directly, but come here they did."

Fitzs' guilty look gets a questioning one from the biochem, she's noting that for later. "The information has already been sent electronically, Agent Pezinni." she offers the woman a smile.

The mention of gates of hell seems to just wash over the young scientist as she watches Stark look at the map. "Have you thought of something, Mr Stark?"


"Aye, mate," answers Fitz, grinning toward Paul. "But if the central point is fixed to a location specifically, then all of those variables change their meaning. We have to assume that this point is fixed, and the universe, in this instance, revolves around it." Otherwise, they'd have portals opening up in deep space. He doesn't mention that though. That would just be mean.

Sara's request earns a grin, one that is fired toward Simmons. "The encryption keys are '2-10-fs9', followed by your birthdays, respectively."

Imagine what FitzSimmons could do with your bank account number.

He glances to Howard at Simmons word, then to the place on the map. He, as well, will casually ignore mention of HellGates, on principle. Once he finishes rebuilding the fried out Portal Buster Mk2, he should be able to handle HellGates, right? Riiight…

"I think he's thought of something," he murmurs in agreement, before frowning at the map in deep thought.


Damned perceptive geniuses. Howard rolls his shoulders back and shoots a glance to those gathered. "I have to think about it." Which in his world, means a whole wall full of complicated equations and an AI to keep up with him and his seven-track mind. He reaches for his suit jacket and slides it on. "Keep me in the loop and I'll do the same. I need to go back through some of my old notebooks. Fitz," he turns to the young scientist. "Let me know if you run into any trouble calibrating your equipment to scan the frequency. The next step is to reliably predict where the next portal is going to open. We can do that by focusing the scanners on all possible spiral locations. A portal generally forms within 45 minutes of the first recorded disturbances in spacetime."

He pauses and regards the gathered. "Look. You all need to be prepared for the fact that we might not be able to do anything to help those people." He nods towards the dossiers. "They've already disappeared. Without getting into causality issues…" he takes a deep breath. "…even if we could send them back home intact, we probably shouldn't. The most we can hope to do is to give them a merciful end," which is code for 'death.' "…and to collapse this disturbance before it can spread exponentially throughout spacetime. I have an idea how to do that." But he's clearly not ready to disclose it yet. Instead, he gathers up his laptop and slides it back into his bag. "Good luck." Unless anyone stops him, he heads for the door.

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