Brave New World (pt 2)

December 30, 2016:

A continuation from Brave New World (pt 1). Jane Foster becomes the goof in the machine.

Ritchie's Workspace

It has nerd stuff in it.

Characters

NPCs: Ritchie Simpson

Mentions:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The office is a catastrophe, albeit a welcoming one. There are books and stacks of papers piled on every available surface, and some of these piles create more available surface for others stack and books. There is a single computer on the desk, surrounded by various prescription bottles — not quite the kind of set-up John has been promising — and a couch on the opposite side of the desk, near a low coffee table. A large painting in a pop style hangs behind the desk, and there's a 12" record sleeve propped against it at the bottom. The black and white picture on the front is of a band — 'Mucous Membrane,' apparently — and one of the figures in it, the one with the microphone, looks a /great deal/ like John Constantine, if John were considerably younger, and wearing the typical uniform of a British punk.

Also behind the desk, a man. He is slim, genuinely thin, with a head of slightly feathery brown hair. His face is unexceptional, characterized primarily by his beard, which is really more like extremely ambitious stubble, and a pair of thick-framed, almost stylishly oversized square glasses. He's wearing a t-shirt with some outrageously colorful graphic on it beneath a button-down shirt, and a vest over that. He's also wearing a look of absolute disbelief at what he sees walking through his door.

"Oh no," he says, standing up from his swiveling chair, and pointing at John. "No, no no way. No way. John. You said that was it. The last time. You p — you promised that would be /it/. Remember? Remember what you said, John? I do that thing for you, and you— you— "

He spots Jane, and reaches up to adjust the placement of his glasses on his nose. "What, what is this. What is — I'm sorry. Miss. You'll have to excuse my, uh, my— John and I had an /arrangement/." He directs that last word firmly at John in his very gentle, soft-spoken way.

"Ritchie Simpson, this is Dr. Jane Foster. Jane Foster, Ritchie." He closes the door behind them with his shoe, and makes his way over to the couch, which he drops into with a kind of boneless, careless grace. Ritchie stares at Jane for a long moment, mouth opening, closing.

"The…the, Jane Foster?" Blink. Blink.

—-

The catastrophe office is nothing new to the perilous career of Dr. Foster.

Well, maybe a little, she thinks, as she wades through, no stranger to organized chaos, but feeling a little self-consciously claustrophobia amidst so much clutter. She's certain she's a good breakthrough or two heading down this way, or perhaps into the tunnel-visioned madness of much worse, but for now, Jane's professional progress is stalled enough to allow in the odd crazy cleaning days.

She takes it all in, every book and prescription bottle and little detail, too curious not to, her mind taking its requisite snapshot to save for later. She wades in among its little space and many things, politely after John's leading body, only really ever lingering, stalling, drifting —

— when she sets eyes on that poster. Jane squints. She slowly tilts her head. No way —

Then turns her head back, wide-eyed, looking on with innocent surprise as the token greeting between old mates, close mates, since they were lads, is a fierce and rambling declaration of no. And oh no. And no way. And last time. And would be /it/. And —

He notices her. Jane weakly lifts a hand in greeting, a visible cringe on her face. This is awkward. And not good. Probably not good. She looks him over, Ritchie Simpson, curiously putting a face to a paper she read years and years ago, taking in all his little details as her mind scrambles to remember little details of his theory.

The grand gentleman that he is, Constantine gives the two a formal introduction. And Ritchie reacts, well — not what Jane is used to. She forgets to pour out days' old tea and then accidentally drinks it and regrets it all the time. She has a Hello Kitty t-shirt somewhere. She's not a celebrity.

"Hi!" she chirps hopefully back. "Um, no 'the'. Just Jane." Trying to look and appear as innocuous as possible, which isn't all that difficult for something as tiny and inoffensive as her, Jane steps forward, and with enough manners offers her hand. "Sorry to barge in. I've heard a bit about you, Richard. I actually read one of your papers. It was going into — quantum cognition."

—-

"You read my— " He stares a moment longer, looks at John. "She read my— "

"Papers, yes, I heard. /Richard/." For whatever reason, that tickles John /immensely/, the use of Ritchie's proper name, and Ritchie scowls, but even with all of his protests, even with all of his obvious denial of John's presence here, he radiates the same kind of gentleness as his voice. "You, Dr. Foster, have nothing to be sorry about. It's this —" Waving at John with one hand, dismissively, only to pause again. "How do you even — how do you know each other?"

John arrays his arm along the back of the couch, crosses one dress shoe over his opposite knee in a bend, the very picture of relaxation. "Dr. Foster blundered into somethin' I was doing. Empusa loose in Brooklyn. Decided she wanted to know all about it."

"Empusa. Oh. That construction site thing," Ritchie says. The news report had not been about an Empusa, it had been about the collapse of a building under construction when the foundations were determined to be unsound, but there had been twitter chatter of heroes and monsters. For his part, Ritchie seems neither surprised nor impressed by John's activities. In fact, what he mostly seems, as he gives Dr. Jane Foster a very long look, is increasingly tense.

"Uh, would you mind if we— John, can I talk to you over here in private for just /half/ a tick?"

John glances at Jane, then back at Ritchie, skepticism writ in the crinkle of his brow. He looks unenthusiastic, but he sucks down a breath and peels himself back out of the deep cushions of the sofa, stagger-stepping with locked knees over to the far wall, where Ritchie pulls him aside.

There is intensity in Ritchie's eyes behind those lenses, and though the gentle nature remains, there's something deeply sharp about the mind beneath — when it manages to surface through the sedatives. "Do you have any idea who that is? John? You can't just — she stumbled over this on accident, and you haven't, you haven't learned a /thing/. A /thing,/ John. Not from Newcastle, not from—"

John lifts a hand between them, a flicker of irritation in his own expression. "Leave it out, Ritchie mate. She insisted. I've told her. I warned her. Did you an' I listen? Eh?" Both of his brows shoot up, and he turns that stalling hand into a point, jabs Ritchie in the chest once. "You oughta know. Mind like that. She'll do it anyway."

"She could still find somebody a whole lot safer to go on /field trips/ with than /you./"

"No shite, but she doesn't want to. Or are you offerin'?"

Ritchie has nothing to say to that, but he's still clearly irritated. "It's wrong. This is wrong and you know it. I can't believe you just…you waltz back in here, come walking in like this — and it's not even /about/ you this time, it's about some…innocent…John her work is actually /important/."

"I know, old son. I read up. Which is why it's a perfect fit for you, innit?"

Ritchie stares. John smiles one of those crooked smiles of his, and claps the professor on the shoulder, turning to gesture at Jane. "All settled, then. Listen, Foster. Ritchie's work…I told you about the data-mining, but, eh, that wasn't really the whole of it. Ritchie's basically writ the book on quantum magic. Leads the field in it. It's a whole…/thing/."

—-

"Jane," the woman repeats to continued use of Dr. Foster. She only likes to pull out the doctoral degree when she's pissed off or needing to feel superior about something. Rest of the time, it feels like some far more professional, career-together person who just… isn't her. Right now.

Otherwise, she passively watches the back-and-forth between old friends, amusement finally lightening up some of the awkwardness off her face. She finally, in a fidgety aside, unzips her winter coat, starting to feel the stuffiness kick in, the movement — broken, when Constantine relates events that are decidedly not true.

"I didn't blunder —" she interjects, indignant, pauses, and glances at Ritchie to confirm the statement. "I didn't blunder in." Of course, her insistence suffers a hit of its own to renewed mention of the Empusa, a particular memory Jane is all too happy to put behind her, frowning along as she strips off her coat to hang from her folded arms. "Yeaaaah…" she lets that syllable hang like the outlaw it is. "Construction site thing. I was there. In its… hand."

Sensing Ritchie's significant, too-long long, Jane answers with an awkward smile, eyebrows popped up when he begs a private audience with the good Mr. Constantine.

Jane shrugs up both shoulders, shifting a bit, wedged up between bookshelves and tables, her too-tiny self somehow still managing to look confined. Her expression is a wince. She really feels like a bad guest, dropped in with no warning, awkward, awkward, awkward.

The two men pull aside. Jane pretends the prescrip— no, no, seriously, pretends the assorted books are more interesting, and tips her weight between the toes and heels of her boots, and idly pats herself for her phone. Not that she's sure why for, she never gets any messages.

It's a small office though, and the sound traps, and despite her politely-averted eyes, she can pick up a healthy handful of words. Something about Newcastle. She holds onto that word for later.

But it's obvious, even to someone as sometimes socially-clueless as her, that they're having an argument, and she is the unlucky topic. It's irritating, even galling, and perhaps better in her own element, Jane would feel more incensed to get aggressive — well, get firm. For the moment, however, she wants them on her side. She wants her questions answered. She wants to know /why/ she just drove John Constantine across New York City.

The clap on the shoulder draws her eyes. Jane dispells the last wisps of her annoyance, and then, quite suddenly, forgets altogether if or how she was ever irritated at all. "Quantum magic?" she repeats, tasting each word aloud with the time and devotion it deserves. A smile quirks up along her mouth, not skeptical, not laughing, not humoured — but delighted. Hungry. "That sounds… amazing."

—-

There is a bounty of bottles to observe. Sedatives, but also some sort of amphetamine. Anti-anxiety medications. Anti-depressants.

Ritchie is still looking at John for a long, long moment after that shoulder clap, but eventually he turns his gaze Janeward, and in spite of himself, in spite of his obvious reluctance to involve her, he smiles. It's timid, but proud. Excited. Humble. "Well, I don't know about…uh. It's, most people in our f— your field, they'd think it was nonsense. Which I guess maybe it is. Magic is, sometimes."

"All the time," John puts in, retreating back to the couch, and the corner of it which appears to belong to him. He's boring holes into Jane with his eyes. Has been, ever since she mentioned being in the Empusa's hand at the site of its defeat.

For his part, Ritchie rounds his desk and perches one half of his bony ass on the edge of it, hands loosely folded where they hang in front of him. He gestures at one of the chairs meant for students visiting during office hours. They're clear of /stuff/, thankfully, and better yet, they are not next to John Constantine, which appears deliberate on Ritchie's part. "Well, that's debatable, but you could look at it like that," Ritchie says in response to John's dry remark. "Most of the magical community finds it too limiting, and most of the scientific community finds it—"

"Barking mad," says John.

This time Ritchie nods. Once, then after a pause, once again. "Ah, yeah."

"Ritchie, to business. Any interesting trends in your data-mining?"

Ritchie's expression flickers with mild irritation. "Should have known you'd be showing up. Yeah, John. Things are gettin' real weird."

"Aye well, no shite. That's why Jane's here. You're a peach for all points New York, but we're gonna need, as they say, a bigger boat."

Richie blinks, looks at John, Jane, John, Jane. "Wh— well, I mean. It's not. Did you know he was gonna ask you to do this?" he asks Jane, bewildered. "I'm not sure, you know…compared with your work, I don't know if it'll be. Interesting?"

—-

The long laundry-list of medications brings a weary pinch to Jane's eyes. She's unrepetantly curious, but even that goes too far, and she makes herself look away. Who needs all that medication?

Her smile is tinged with encouragement, perhaps even a bit of pleading, as the tiny Dr. Foster comes back to Ritchie's focus. His reluctance falters. Her growing smile tries to encourage it in that direction. "I'm not most people in my field," Jane replies, with a healthy dose of humoured self-deprecation. "I'm a bit of a pariah, actually. But you can say I've run into some things of my own. Magic is… I have an open mind."

She doesn't miss John's eyes on her; Jane pretends to ignore him, though his gaze brings her to rub a little nervously at the back of her neck, reflexively itchy. Starting to regret the honesty policy.

"Thanks," Jane says instead, with an appreciative crease to her eyes, gladly taking the proffered chair. She sets down her bag and loops her coat over the back, arranging herself down and self-consciously brushing the wrinkles from her clothes. Woolen sweater. Girly knotted scarf. She could look a lot more professional, but truth be told, she could also look a lot worse. She crosses her legs, probably just out of lingering nervousness, and the office really /is/ a bit too cramped — reminding Jane uncomfortably of her years living out of that trailer, and how often she spent so claustrophobic she'd sleep under the stars — and for her part, listens.

The back-and-forth updates on data mining tics Jane's eyes like a cat clock. Her lips part at several times, wanting to get a word in, and still deliberating wherein to find her footing.

Then Ritchie's comment. She lets go a short laugh and waves that off with a hand. "I have an entire hard drive of auroral data I need to compile, it's literally indexing coordinate after coordinate and I don't even have an intern —"

She stops. She's rambling. And — frowning, as her mind makes some connection. "I didn't know. And — bigger boat. Whatever you're mining, you're looking on a celestial scale? OK, actually, first off, define: getting weird."

—-

Neither Ritchie nor John look particularly put out at Jane's rambling about auroral data. However strange this world she may have found herself orbiting, it is populated with people who find the esoteric of interest — even useful.

"She tried to fight off an Empusa that hold of me with — what, space sounds, was it?" John says, his level stare rounded down on the edges by a twinkle of what looks like amusement — maybe something more than amusement — as he tosses Ritchie a grin.

Ritchie's brows go up, his eyes sliding back to his petite guest. "Did she really." Not a question. For whatever reason, that piece of information alleviates part of his lingering discomfort with John's presence in the room. He doesn't elaborate, shifts tracks to address her question instead, leaning forward a little in his propped seat on the desk edge.

"Celestial, no, that's — not exactly. Both less and more than that. What my program does, when it isn't frying my hard drives — which, we're gonna have to talk about that, John," Ritchie puts in, with a glance at the Brit lazing on his sofa, "Is monitor certain vectors of information for abnormalities and patterns associated with supernatural events. Some of those are what you're calling celestial, but there are other kinds of supernatural activity, and I try to keep it as general as possible without losing statistical significance. It's a real /big/ list of things. Disappearances, /re/appearances, weather events, disasters, illnesses…uh…electrical problems, increases in rate of suicide, and a lot of things less obvious than that. We don't like to think of ourselves as being predictable, you know — humans — but we are. You can average just about anything. But supernatural things don't look like averages. Weird means that lately there's so much going on that my actual averages are shifting, and that's — that just does not happen."

"Ritchie could bring down the entire grid of New York City if he felt like it," says John, eyes closed and hands laced over the lean flat of his middle. "Did for me, once. An' that ought to be impossible."

"Now why would you— what does that have to do with anything?"

"All of that chatter about factors, mate, it's boring. I don't think it shows the scope of what you do. Miz Foster needs to get her head 'round it, that's entirely the point."

"The /point/ is that you brought her here and asked me to do this thing, and I'm not real sure I want to, so if — if you've got a problem with how I'm—"

John /sighs/, melodrama in the way his hands unlace and flop to the couch cushions to either side of him, his eyes opening and angled up at the ceiling. "O/kay/, al/right/, the moaning, leave it /out/. I'll just nip out and get us some tea, shall I, and the two of you can take a little field trip to Ritchie's lab." He pushes himself up off of the couch, starts for the door.

"Well now wait a minute, I didn't — "

"Give me your order, I know, but I remember. Plenty of cream. Don't hurry back. Ta."

He shuts the door behind him, and Ritchie stares at it, complicated things passing through his expressive face. Frustration, exasperation, irritation, disbelief, but also something that pushes back against those, warring with them and making them less than entirely straightforward.

The longer Jane spends around John, the more people she's going to see making that kind of face.

Ritchie stirs, pulls the sleeve of his shirt back and looks down at the watch on his thin wrist. "My TA will be here in an hour. I guess I can— I'll leave a note on the door. It'll…it's fine."

—-

"Space sounds?" is all Jane Foster picks up from that. She looks offended, like John Constantine just insulted her dead mother. It's enough to compel her to interject, matter-of-fact, driven to the recesses of her soul to ensure she's corrected this grievous, world-ending error: "There's no such thing as… space sounds. I mean, sound waves DO carry in space, but they'd be so low-frequency we'd never be able to perceive them. It's digitised audio converted from a radio signal from Pulsar B0329, and — I'll shut up now."

Jane sometimes gets in a little late to the self-awareness party, but it's better than not showing up at all. Frowning to herself, she lingers awkwardly on, hands stuck into her jean pockets, and back to listening.

Shop talk finally turns into that program in particular — Ritchie Simpson has somehow scripted something that charts… supernatural events? She charts astronomical phenomena. She links auroral anomalies to abnormal curvature in spacetime — seams in reality, as Jane believes — but this? How does one even compile such a thing?

Her brow furrows, and her lips part already with the dangerous signal that means a flurry of a dozen questions are sure to follow —

— but she can't find a good jump point in, and especially so when John comments on Ritchie taking down New York's grid. Her eyebrows raise in stunned appreciation. From one tech-head to another: damn.

But Jane's surprise doesn't last long, and she finds herself briefly but soundly sidelined in the ramping argument between two old friends possibly turned into present something-elses, and her eyes tick back and forth between the men. Constantine's taking serious liberties. Ritchie's demonstrating serious reservations. And here is Dr. Foster, stuck in the middle, the very reluctant salami in this awkward sandwich.

She watches John take a concilitory tea order and leave. Leave the two scientists alone. Gone. Just LEAVES her here.

Jane shifts uncomfortably. She rubs the back of her neck. Never in her life has she ever felt like the unwanted intruder. She thinks of the only way she knows to break up awkwardness of this intensity. She glances over at Ritchie, offers up her weakest, most apologetic grin, and tries a bad joke. "He didn't even /ask/ me for my order," she says petulantly.

She glances down at her shoes, propriety warring with her own eagerness, knowing well enough of her manners to know she's just flatlined a schedule, possibly even ruined someone's day. "Listen, Richard," she tries, somewhat more gently, "I'm… really sorry about this. I didn't realize I'd be… intruding. I'm curious as hell, but, I mean, I don't want you to feel forced into anything."

—-

For his own part, once he realizes that Jane feels responsible for John's behavior, Ritchie looks mortified. "You don't have to be sorry. John's — that's just John. Actually, I'm pretty sure that I just walked into that, and he was planning to leave you the whole time. You know, just…trying to get me riled up so he'd have an excuse." He slides off of the corner of his desk and rounds the far side of it, plucking a coat up off of the back of his chair, then leaning down to scrawl a quick note on a blank pad of paper. His handwriting is atrocious. "That's — usually that wouldn't happen but I haven't seen John in a few years. Must be losing my /touch/." The last word is dry as desert sand.

He tears the note free of the pad, straightens, and looks at the tiny woman in his guest chair. "Tell you the truth, Dr. Foster, I'm happy to show you what I'm doing and I'd love to get your thoughts on it, too. It's just how you wound up here that I'm not sure I like." His gaze is everything John's is not, soulful and sensitive, though it's every bit as sharp. His brow creases with sympathy as he looks down at her, and then he tilts his head toward the door, starts moving that way. "How'd you get mixed up with all this, anyway?"

—-

Picking up her own winter coat, and trying to disguise her awkward fidgets in the way she tries to origami it about several clumsy ways in her arms, Jane manages to put on some relief to know she isn't imposing. At least beyond the usual. She can get a little intense sometimes, even she knows, but she likes to remember /some/ boundaries of basic etiquette.

His remarks about Constantine, at the least, seem to tickle Jane, twitching the smile higher and higher up her mouth. She finds herself becoming more and more partial to the strange Professor Simpson by the moment; finds herself wondering how the hell he ever became 'old mates' with someone like /John Constantine/.

Questions for later. Maybe even later like 'in ten minutes.'

For now, she just looks an awkward mix of pleased and demure at his compliment for her professional opinion. It's just so new, new and… /refreshing/, after years of being the physicist-turned-pariah. She didn't think anyone in the field even cared what she thought. Didn't think she'd ever get to seriously talk shop with anyone save for herself, a few of her soldering torches — she named the oxygen torch Flamey McHottie — her dishes when she's washing them, Erik when he has time for her rambling, or her own thoughts in her head.

She grabs her handbag back onto her shoulder and eagerly follows Ritchie's motion out, lingering for him in the hall to take the lead. How'd she get mixed up?

Jane, ever the amateur in all this, looks around self-consciously before deigning to speak. It's awkward to talk about demons aloud. She's already publically crazy enough. "Don't tell John I said, but it was pretty much my fault. He's given me a couple ways out, and I blew them off. I think I was mixed into this already, years ago. I was conducting research down in New Mexico a year back and made first contact with, well, things. Aliens that may or may not be Norse Gods, if you believe it. This is a whole different type of strange than I've seen, but it's not exactly… I guess I can say I'm emotionally equipped? I think I'd regret it if I ignored what's going on."

She pauses. "Can I ask you that same question too? I'm… really curious."

—-

Ritchie joins her in the hall, spends a moment affixing his scrawled note on the door for some human being presumably capable of deciphering his handwriting, and then another moment — or a few — getting the proper key out of a keychain with too many keys so that he can lock it behind them.

Then they're striding off down the hall. Two steps into that striding he checks the length of his stride: he's taller than John is, and John is six feet on the nose.

Much like John, he seems to prefer tucking his hands into his trouser pockets when he has nothing else to do with them…but where John's default gait is all subtle swagger, imported directly from the estates (read: projects) of Liverpool, Ritchie seems to want to draw in on himself, spine slightly curved and shoulders drawn in. He's a good listener, albeit of a different sort than John, too: less intense, more curious. He'd have made a good guidance counselor, probably.

Her explanation seems to leave him taken aback, chewing on something she's said.

"I don't know if giving you a way out was for your benefit or for his own conscience," he says quietly, an edge of cynicism in that honeyed accent of his. "John's a — he's like a tornado. You can get caught up in it and pulled along for the ride, but he's always gonna leave things a broken mess when he goes."

They pass through the doors. "Emily," Ritchie says, to the security guard outside. "We don't have far to go. I live on campus. Anyway, don't get me wrong, John's — he's got his good sides. But it's not the wind of the tornado that kills you, is it? It's all the stuff whirlin' around in it."

There's time for five or six of his footsteps to grit over the shoveled walk of the quad before he looks down and aside at her again, still toying with her question. "I met John when I was just a kid. My family lived in London back then, I didn't come back to the States until — it was years later. Had ourselves a group of friends, all sort of dabbling in…you know." Magic. "Seven of us. Nobody was officially in charge, but everybody knew it was John. He was way out ahead of most of us. Some of the others were — they really, they were taken with him I guess. Star-struck." His smile is grim. "You'd think he'd like that, wouldn't you? Ego like his? But it musta bored him, because he took a shine to me, mostly."

—-

Jane has to quicken her pace to match Ritchie's taller, longer stride — the trials of the tiny keeping up with the big — until he slows for her benefit. A smile plays along her eyes in wordless thank-you.

She takes it in: his gait, his body language, his presence, and just how un-John the lot of it is. It drives Jane's curiousity onward. She weaponizes herself with question after question, and seems to have developed a defensive system of her own to soften the barrage of her curiousity, be it the soft, almost apologetic cast of her eyes, and her disarming smiles. She looks harmless in as much every way a person can be, a voracious inquisitiveness that, at the surface, promises no malicious intent.

She phrases her questions somewhat self-depravatingly: knows they might be prying, might be rude, but can't help herself either way.

And Jane is a little surprised to get a reply, especially from a man she's known all of a handful of minutes.

She's a good listener of her own, not a natural like he is, but someone who's had to learn over the trials of adulthood how to restrain and hold her own impatience. It lingers in her eyes — need to know everything, and need to know now, now, now — but they remain turned up on Ritchie, head turned to give him her full attention as she walks at his side.

She hears the story about how two dynamically opposite men met. And it was because of magic.

"He gave me that same warning too," Jane intones. "About how his friends die. About I might die too if I stick around too long." She pauses a moment, trying to mentally gauge if she should ask what she wants to. "Is that why you… reacted the way you did when we walked in?"

—-

Ritchie wars with himself in the wake of her question, and visibly so. His is not a face meant for subterfuge, though one might get the idea that the beard is supposed to help with that, somehow. On the one hand, the subject matter is more than just sensitive, it's the source of all of the things that have driven him to live his life on a carefully calibrated tide of pharmaceutical drugs. They are the only way he's managed to cope in the aftermath of Newcastle.

On the other hand, here's Jane Foster — Doctor Jane Foster — dropping fresh-faced and bright-eyed into his office with John Bloody Constantine, a man who /swore/ he would leave Ritchie be after their last encounter. He's only just met her, but she's a visionary in her field, and Ritchie understands altogether too well what that's like. The lure of the unknown. The need to hoard information, make sense of the world with it. That's what his program is designed to do, after all: render life sensical, even predictable, through datapoints.

"Yes," he says, finally. "And also, John said he'd leave me be the last time I saw him."

He pulls a hand from his trouser pocket, sweeps it over the mussy, feathery mess of his dark brown hair. They hit the end of the walk that cuts diagonally across the quad and take a right, moving up toward several residential dormitories beneath the naked black branches of the trees lining the sidewalk. "When we were teenagers, there was this— uh. There was this club in Newcastle owned by someone we knew. We took a trip up there to try to get paid for a gig we'd played the night before, but there was…" He swallows. It's audible in the silence, even over the sound of footsteps. "Well I'll just say it was bad in there. John decided he knew how to put everything right again and it was the dumb— the /dumbest/ idea I have ever heard in my life, but we trusted him. Ended up with a nine year old girl in hell. One of us died, one of us got — she got acid in the face. The other woman there disappeared. No idea where she went. Another of us got addicted to heroin. He, uh. He died recently. One of us…"

The memory rises unbidden: Ben Cox being sodomized by the demon John had summoned, thinking he could bind and command it to throw the other demon out.

"It was bad," he finishes, unable to bring himself to be more specific. "John wound up in Ravenscar four times after that. It's a, it's a mental hospital. A secure one. And me, I…" He gestures ungracefully at the campus. "Well, I teach. And take my pills. I watch my program and look at data and try not to think about it much. Usually I wouldn't talk about this, but you should know what kind of thing you're getting into."

As they turn to move up the walk of a small duplex for staff, he glances down at her again. "It's probably not a good idea to ask John about it."

—-

It brings her briefly back to an hour ago, in her car, braked in the middle of the road, and John Constantine in the passenger seat — giving her a look like he's calculating the atomic mass of her mettle.

Jane felt it then, briefly but palpably, when he posed her that question of her work doing something like ending creation, that it wasn't just about her, or her work, or the ramifications opening up to her learning his particular world, or even a simple warning to make her hesitate or double-back — but something else entirely. It didn't feel like it had anything to do with her at all, but, instead, with him.

She asked if it had happened before —

And, truly, Jane Foster receives her answer. Or an answer of a sort — definitely of a sort — she thinks absently, as she stares straight ahead, listening to Ritchie Simpson's recount of Newcastle. She doesn't recall any of the forward steps she takes, crunching through snows. She won't even remember the look of the campus striding by, or the specific route they take down its wintry sidewalks. She listens, and doesn't do much else.

A group of kids, him, John included, dabbling in a world with little experience and less knowledge — just impetus. Just confidence. Just /trust/.

It sounds to her like a nightmare. An instructional list of events, one after another how a group of people had their lives destroyed, and all because of one mistake, one act of blind faith that someone could harass the elements of the unknown —

— and mention of Constantine four times out of a /mental hospital/ earns Jane's eyes, her expressive face unable to hide her surprise. She has no overgrown beard of her own to buffer that. Whatever it seems she thinks of John, confident and mysterious and irreverent, it certainly isn't that.

It's him warning her about what has happened — what could happen. Weeks ago, Jane would have found it close to impossible to believe. Now, a part of her uncomfortably wonders if it wouldn't be too late to turn back now. Turn back now, hope to hell she lives a long life with never even witnessing anything like that, but — even then. It's a small part of her that the rest quickly snuffs out. She couldn't go home and just pretend… all of this didn't happen. She's only ever felt happiest looking up at the stars, out and beyond, with no single trapping of this world to keep her.

"Probably not," Jane agrees, sombre, to Ritchie's warning. Her mouth tightens with a sympathetic cringe. She pauses, then finds herself asking, "I… you don't have to answer this. But even after what you saw… why even make that program?" Why didn't he put his back to it too?

—-

That question of hers is easier to answer, as it happens, and Ritchie does so as he fishes again for his keys, drawing up to the worn-down cement steps leading up to the duplex door. "I didn't. Not right away. I took up programming and worked for a corporation for a while. The more I learned about it, the more interested I got in conceptual…uh…similarities, between what I was doing and what I, we, /used/ to do. By then I was — for a while after what happened in Newcastle I stopped thinking there was a point to it all. You can't see things like that and walk away feeling like there's some divine plan in place. Eventually you get tired of the nihilism, though. And even though you know you shouldn't pick it up again, you never really stop thinking about it. That's how most people wind up dead. They always think the answer is behind the next door. But maybe I — I guess," he says reflectively, unlocking the door and swinging it open for her, to reveal a short hallway leading to a small living room beyond, "The programming made me feel like I might have some control over it. It was an interface with boundaries I understood. Parameters you could set. The more I looked into things the more I started to see how quantum information theory looked like some of the things we'd been doing with magic. That's when I started school again, but it — that didn't last too long. You can't explore these ideas that way. I got enough education to get started and I've been finding my own way ever since. Um…if you wouldn't mind taking your shoes off in the hall…"

—-

Like every good astrophysicist on a journey of discovery that may or may not lead her into the mouth of Hell, Jane Foster politely removes her boots.

She listens. And she thinks she understands. The sensible thing, one assume, after such a /trauma/ is to forget it ever happened. She tried that once, herself, with grief of her own. Didn't take in the end.

He does this to regain some sense of control over a world that nearly destroyed him. A control given the proper place, the proper time, the proper method of execution. And you can — trust a script. Trust data. Trust numbers, and math, and facts, when you may no longer be able to trust another person.

"Well, I hope I'll be able to help with the rest of it. Actually, no, I know I will. I can get a little tunnel-headed and intense about these sort of things," Jane declares, big words from such a tiny little thing, as she pads after him down the hall. Her socks have little pac-men on them.

Something does strike her. "Hey," Jane calls, and steps forward, compelled to reach forward to touch carefully down on Ritchie's closest arm. It's a light, careful little contact, but just like the beseeching gaze up from her dark eyes, it's absolutely genuine. "I just want to say — I appreciate this. I can't imagine…" her voice lingers off. She can't even find the words to say what she feels, never mind the confidence to say them aloud. "It's a lot what you're doing. It means a lot to me."

—-

Once Ritchie is out of his boots, he leads the way. The interior of the living room isn't piled high with academic debris the way his office is; it's sunny, with large(ish) west-facing windows that appear to have been sealed shut by years of being painted with multiple coats of white paint. The furniture is unexceptional but inviting. There's a modest television and most of the wallspace contains book cases overburdened by books, most of which pertain to programming, quantum physics, the technological Singularity, or some variety of religion or mysticism. Those on the coffee table, earmarked and feathered with post-it-notes, have to do with Samsara, which explains John's comment in the car, though there are several books dealing with other proposed types of afterlife.

He's just about to open one of three doors that lead off of the modest room when she touches his arm, and he stops to look down at her again, something in her tone giving him pause.

It's such a grand display of conflicting emotions that plays out after her heartfelt thanks, the dominating content of which is guilt. "If you're going to be caught up in it, and I guess you are, then…at least it's safer here with me than it is out there with him. I really do think I'd like to hear what you have to say about all of it, too. But I wish you'd — I know you won't, but I wish you'd think about walking away. I'd hate to see you end up like me." He places his hand on the doorknob. "Or worse, like John."

He twists the doorknob and opens the door.

/This/ is where all of the mess not contained in his main room resides. Unlike his office, which contains an entire forest's history in stacks of paper, the jumble here is of cables and components, banks of servers with winking lights, monitors arrayed across a desk, each one displaying something different. Some of the cables lead out through a window that Ritchie has long since blacked out, their excess lengths draped and drooping from the ceiling, hung on the walls, coiled like serpents beneath the desk. There is only one chair in front of that desk.

As he glances between Jane and the room, he seems to become aware for the first time of what a rat's nest it appears to be, although everything is /clean/ — just hectic. "It's — I didn't really expect to have anybody else come in here. You can uh, you should go ahead and have a seat."

—-

Jane takes it all in with one glance: a glimpse into the life of Ritchie Simpson. She has an eye for detail and a mind for, well, never ever forgetting anything, and she memorizes as she looks around, scanning the titles of his books, taking a wandering peek at those post-its. She definitely catches the familiarity of Samsara. Not a word people throw around day-to-day.

But just before that final closed door, she feels compelled to pause, and say… something. A thank you, maybe, if such a thing could be simply put. She is more than well-enough aware that this grand journey may be a death march, and though she refuses to think pessimistically — really, the concept is alien to her, to think that anything but the grandiose of successes will happen — she tries to think this realistically. As realistic as demons and people stolen down to Hell can sound.

He wishes she'd think about walking away. John or anyone else repeating that would probably make Jane get impatient, because she's made her mind, god damnit, but Ritchie? She can't find it in her heart. He softens her into something that looks close to guilty apology: can't, won't be walking away. Kind of wishes she could. Kind of wishes she had a bit less quiet of a mind, that wouldn't drive her mad with a billion What Ifs.

She doesn't say anything. Just gives him a weak half-smile.

He opens the door. Her eyes widen. And this Jane definitely takes in, the entire labyrinthine state of entropy, every bit of it so familiar that, for a moment, she almost feels at home. Not even apartment home, or lab home, but home-home, in her father's office, in his controlled state of chaos.

Ritchie attempts to apologize for it.

"What're you talking about? It's beautiful," Jane says, dismissing /that/, unable to stop the grin that crooks her mouth. She eagerly beelines toward his servers, tip-toeing up on her Pac-Man socks to peer into how he's wired them, following the cabling as they layer like resting serpents up and down the /walls/. Along the /ceiling/.

"Here?" she asks of his invitation to seat, pointing at the desk. Jane fits her tiny self down on the chair. "You did this all yourself?"

—-

Ritchie lingers in the doorway, folding his hands into one another over and over again while he watches her buzz around the inside of the room. Anyone else and he'd be 'don't touch that' or 'watch your step' or 'actually why don't you come out here and let me just—' but he manages to restrain himself, and somewhere underneath all of his quiet anxiety, there's a glimmer of pride. It's embarrassed pride, but nevertheless.

"Yes. Over time. This isn't all of it, I've got a storage unit — well a couple of storage units, uh, you know. Around. There's no room for a server farm here. This is just…" Slowly extending one of his scarecrow arms, he places a splayed hand atop the rack nearest him. "…It's the cream that floats to the top. Data-wise. Things that get flagged the most."

Once she's seated he enters, and he takes up most of what room is left.

There are keyboards on the desk, but they're shoved behind the monitors and propped against the wall. There are mice, but they're wrapped in their own cords, lined up next to one another. Neither peripheral type seems to get much use.

Instead, what sits coiled into a spiral of cable just in front of her seat, are a pair of what look like suction cups. Suction cups containing flexible circuitry.

"I don't need all of my data on-site, because I can…" He cups his hand around the back of his neck. It's awkward, this bit, even though he knows it works, because it sounds mad. He knows that it does. "I figured out how to put— I adapted biofeedback technology for anxiety patients, and you can…uh. You can cross the logic gap with your consciousness and. You know." He holds both of his hands out, fingers splayed, in the direction of the wide array of monitors, and makes a /whoosh/ sound.

—-

"It's impressive," Jane chatters on, an eager mania brightening the brown of her eyes. "I'm impressed. This backbone cabling — can I — I am bringing you to my lab. Someday. If — if you have time. My servers are a /nightmare/ and — and this is not the reason I'm here. And I'm talking too much again."

He has all the reason in the world to feel that warm little note of pride. Jane Foster looks like she's been given the golden key to a chocolate factory.

She sits, however, as asked, the chair's setting left on 'for Ritchie-sized height' leaving her legs dangling off the ground. That in itself does not help to disguise her excited-nervous energy. The woman crosses her legs to try to hide her more impatient fidgets, and leans back, her attention inevitably roaming toward the workstation in particular. Everything she recognizes —

— well, save for the suction cup cables. Her hand twitches like it's her first impulse to touch. She /always/ has to touch. Fortunately, Jane reins the impulse with every last bit of social consciousness.

Instead, she turns her head over and up, eyes on Ritchie as he speaks. Jane listens. "Oh!" she interjects conversationally, "you mean with — "

VR? No, no, he does not.

He goes on. And a — line begins to fissure on her face, small and slight, forming between her slowly knotting brows. His words continue. Deeper and deeper it goes. It goes from faint line to sinkhole.

Ritchie whooshes.

Jane stares.

Her lips part, but it is a full heartbeat before she even speaks. "So you're telling me — wait, I want to make sure I /heard/ this right."

Jane tries again. "Are you seriously trying to tell me you've put yourself into — into — " She can't say it. She points at the terminal before her. "Because that would be… quantum consciousness. That would be an actual, Jesus Christ, /quantum superposition/. Like, just in the last week, I've dealt with demons. And magicians. And alien worlds. And quantum entanglement, like, maybe, and, and — "

This would be the moment for it. For the exepected derision. Or worse, the skepticism, the criticism, the judgment. Or in the case of Dr. Jane Foster, pure, unmitigated /yearning./ "And if you're screwing with me, just saying. You're going to break my heart."

—-

Ritchie doesn't spend a lot of time smiling these days, and it shows. Jane touches on one of the few things that makes him feel compelled to do that, anymore: his work. Not even John, who ostensibly benefits most from what Ritchie's accomplished, can muster much in the way of patience for the minutiae of the process. It has too many rules for the tastes of a man who cobbles together his work from wildly disparate sources, a veritable mongrel of magic. He barely abides by the laws of Heaven and Hell, and in some years, he won't abide by those anymore, either; programming constraints cannot keep his attention.

So it's a very rare thing indeed, that tiny little tremor of a smile, and it disappears quickly enough.

Helplessly, he shrugs his coat-hanger shoulders, reaching for the insulated cable with its split end and suction cups. "It's magic, Doctor Foster. A fifth dimension. And a bit of science, but it — it's not, you know, straightforward. Everything gets real flexible where the two meet. That's for a lot of reasons. I am serious, though. It — you can give it a try. From here you can only get to the server farm anyway, so it's pretty safe. If you're going to be helping, then you'll probably need to. Trying to get through all of this data physically would probably be impossible." He scans her expression, momentarily cautious. "You're not prone to motion sickness or agoraphobia or anything, are you? Or, uh — it can be a little disorienting. You know. You move through the engine of your will. It's total freedom and that's — it was a little frightening, at first."

His reservations are tempered by another thought, which brightens his gaze. "It sure is pretty, though."

—-

The more and more he speaks, flare and flares brighter the intensity that Jane Foster burns. A tiny star too helplessly bright to stare directly at, too much hope, too much wonder.

Her grin hikes wider and wider and wider. Because she knows. She /knows/. She knows what is about to happen. She knows where this is going, where this is culminating, and there's only one logical conclusion: he's going to hook her up. He's going to let her try it. He's somehow, with a Frankensteinian grafting of science and magic, has quantum superimposed his own consciousness into /data/. And she's going to do it. She's going to DO this.

Scanning her expression just exposes delicate corneas to irreversible burns from ALL HER UNDILUTED GLEE.

That's about when Ritchie starts going over the 'you must be this tall to ride' rules that Jane just frantically, and even helpfully with her fidgetting hands, waves it all away. "Heights, whatever! Stargazer! And, OK, not the biggest roller coaster fan but you are NOT going to just tell me that this is POSSIBLE and then say I can't do it! I will literally start bawling my eyes out /at your desk/. I'll do it! And I promise I'm a messy crier. It gets /everywhere/. And it's seriously awkward. I don't care about being frightened, I promise. I have to do this. I /have/ to see this."

—-

Ritchie is a reed in the gale-force winds of Jane Foster's enthusiasm. He starts out answering her reassurances with another little twitch of the lips that could be a smile in waiting, but soon she's threatening to /cry/ in his /lab/ and while he laughs a little it's a nervous laugh, falling out of an expression that splits the difference between amusement and concern, as though he isn't sure whether or not she's serious.

"There's no need for that. I— I'm not in the habit of saying things I don't mean." /Unlike some people,/ he thinks, with a flicker of irritation at John — but at this point it's less intense than it was when John walked into his office after having promised to keep his distance, if only because the development to follow has been the most interesting thing to happen to him in weeks. Jane Foster sitting there in his lab chair, looking at him with all of the accumulated sunshine and excitement you could distill from ten thousand puppies. And even though he accepts that he's not displeased with this possible arrangement, it irritates him to know that John /knew that/ in advance. Had used what he knew Ritchie would feel and choose to get something that he, John, had wanted.

Business as usual with John Constantine.

He distracts himself with the task at hand, uncoiling the rubberized cords and holding their ends up in the fingers of one hand so that he can rub them with alcohol and then apply a thin coat of gel. "I should be able to hear you just fine the whole time. Eventually you learn to put your voice through the hardware. You might start right away, or you might talk awhile first…I guess it, uh, depends on…you know. How quickly you integrate. It's easier once you can use the systems though, because that way all of you is /in/ there, instead of…well, it's hard to run two systems at once. That's what I'm saying."

And then he's just…reaching out, and affixing them to either side of the front of her forehead. They feel like nothing. It's like a scene from Dr. Who, like a bit from a B-movie where it's difficult to suspend disbelief because the budget for props is so /incredibly/ bad and two stethoscopes do not pass in any plausible reality for a means to broadcast one's consciousness into a machine, and yet—

And yet, there she sits, with rubber cords dangling off of her forehead like strange, industrial lampreys.

He reaches out, puts his hand on a sleek, black box on the table, thumb hovering over a button marked with the broken circle of a power button. "Well, that's about it. You ready?"

—-

Whether or not Jane Foster is serious about would-be tears, the evidence is palpable: she is every bit a woman who wears her heart on a sleeve. Or perhaps off the sleeve and in the palm of her hand, happily proffering it forward and pushing it down the throats, whether they like it or not, of anyone she deigns to meet. They have all of her, bubbled right up to the surface, and in this moment, so does Ritchie Simpson.

Delivered to his lab chair care of one John Constantine.

She lights back up when he proceeds with demonstrating what it is he's created, and what it is she's dying — absolutely dying — to experience, her grin widening brighter and brighter as Ritchie begins to get instructional about the entire process. "I am a forbidable multitasker, but I think I get the idea. No parallel processing between here and there. Is it a sort of like… letting go? I mean, you realize this solves about a hundred different theories of what consciousness even /is/. The ramifications of this, it's… it's a gestalt, isn't it? Like a computer but not. All this binary, but only one OS."

Helpfully, she pushes her dark hair back behind her ears, holding still as he affixes the corded ends ot her forehead. The skin furrows a little in eager curiousity, but she holds politely still, her brown eyes turned up on Ritchie, her lips still crooked up in a smile.

With that, Jane eases backward, shuffling into the chair until her tailbone hits the back of it, rolling her shoulders and loosening up, relaxing like — like she isn't sure what or where or how her body plans to go. She just hopes it will be presentable in the end, and not piling bonelessly on the ground. She honestly isn't sure what she expects, and her near-trembling hands clasp down against her own knees, holding steady. She takes in a deep breath, in and out. It might not be space, but she feels like an explorer. "Born ready."

She pauses a moment, and adds. "Just, if I'm going into a computer. Just don't send me to Redtube? Or any Lemon Parties."

—-

When she dips toward theory, Ritchie tilts his head first one way and then another, some of his hesitancy and stammering disappearing. He's on firmer ground there, and his confidence unfolds like a piece of tightly compressed origami, a glimpse of the person he might have been if Newcastle hadn't shattered him so wholly. "Does it solve them, though? I pioneered the work and I honestly can't say for sure. Because it's magic, right/ Consciousness, that's a big word. Are we talking about consciousness as a neurobiological process? As a psychological state? With something like my work, you can also ask if we're talking about philosophy, or magic, too. Magic's like philosophy, though. Really like it. /Semantics./ When you get out to the fringes of philosophy where language becomes about signifying instead of referring — you know, like 'that or that,' instead of 'the apple or the chair?' That's where it starts to be like magic. Like…like X. Variables. Right? They mean something, but they can mean anything depending on how you use it, depending on, on context, on /intention/. But in philosophy, unlike math, the intention and context are — you know, all of that squabbling we do about the illusion of common meaning in language. Individuals being unquantifiable in their, uh."

He pauses. Realizes. Clears his throat. "Well anyway, we can get to that stuff later. Gestalt is the right idea."

This time when he laughs, it's a real laugh, and his smile is a real smile. It's a good one. Warm. Somewhere under all of that frizzy hair and beard is a man who'd be attractive enough if he took the time to eat something now and then. "Nothing like that," he says, not even a little bit confused about the words 'Lemon Parties.' He's a tech guy, after all. Later, he will be alarmed to realize that /she/ knew them, though. "It's just the servers here in the room right now. You can't get lost or wind up — wind up somewhere dangerous at all. Kiddie pool stuff."

His small, closed-lip smile is the last thing she'll see before everything she sees and everything she is feels as though it's being sucked down into a tube the diameter of a straw at some incalculable G-force. Ritchie pushes the button.

—-

Nothing so climactic happens to Jane's petite body. The button gets pressed. Her muscles relent. Her transparent excitement gentles into faceless calm. Her eyes unfocus, distant and sightless.

Alive, by all definitions of the word, but no longer here.

Reality narrows into an electron-thin sieve. She's never felt this before, no sensation in all the world to duplicate it, and while there's no sensations of pressure and pain — neither exist at quantum levels, blunt and transient things of the flesh — Jane cannot deny a lurch of fear.

This kind of fear is her most favourite thing in all the world. It excites her. It becomes her. It is the fear of all first explorers, making their first, fatal step into the void — and she wouldn't trade it for anything. It tells her she is ALIVE.

Jane Foster has gone superluminal, she fucking bets it. It's the only thought in her head as she crosses this world to the next. Super-fucking-luminal.

Her eyes — ha, eyes! — adjust and perception writes to her consciousness the dawn of a new reality. She knows she is not turning her head, moving her body, curling her fingers into her palms, because all are vestigial now, meaningless, ex parte of what is now her: all structures of either the program or her own mind, making safety and sanity out of what is known, what is normal, what is human —

— and feeling her legs, not feeling her legs, she explores this world.

Jane has only flown once before. Briefly, in Thor's arms, and it was a reckoning: something her entire life she was always missing and never realized, born incomplete… and yet even that holds little candle to this. A master of her own world. Travelling by her own will and control, needing no one else but herself, her mind, /her/ —

The world spreads around her in an ever-changing origami of being transcendent of matter and energy, information flowing like real things in a synaesthesia of colour and texture. The thoughts in her head manipulate it, a kaleidoscope under her perception, and Jane, after what feels like an eternity of flying, rearranges this world yet again to sit in its center.

"It's so beautiful," Jane says yet not. There are no words here, and she is not sure even if they can be heard by Ritchie. She hopes. "You built something so beautiful."

—-

Ritchie Simpson braces his underweight back against the edge of a desk laden with monitors drably reporting the same information as the wild kaleidoscope of color, light, shape and movement that Jane occupies, and the look on his face is the fretful but eager look of a parent watching their child take a few steps of their own into the midst of other children. Only his child, in this analogy, isn't Doctor Jane Foster — it's the technology she's using. His baby. The culmination of his life's work, though hardly its final expression. It's the first and only time he's ever let anyone else use it (there is no way in hell he would let John touch it, and John, for his part, knows better than to ask). His fingers are pale where he wrings them together mindlessly in front of himself, nervous energy expressed through a fidget he's hardly aware of, focus locked onto the petite, empty features of a woman whose face isn't going to tell him what he wants to know.

The magic wove through the system facilitates the transmission of her voice through the speakers. Those two words, so willingly given, are enough to light a candle of a kind in Ritchie. Relief, pride, joy, eager excitement — all of them self-conscious, though he's perfectly aware Jane can't see any of those things. He pushes himself up off of the edge of the desk and begins to pace, grinding through some of the elation that manages to bubble up through the cracks in whatever sedatives he takes to keep himself from having some kind of nervous breakdown. "It's not done…I mean, it's not, you know, /perfect/. It's the only way to keep up with it all, though, so I'll…if you're going to stay, that is, I'll have to build another set of. Leads."

"I think you'd have a fight on your hands if you tried to get rid of her after this, mate," comes the dry quip from the doorway. It nearly puts poor Ritchie's heart out of business. He spins in place to give John the same look John might get from a furious owl, but the incredible reality of his sudden good fortune — someone to share the workload with and not just any someone, but Doctor Jane Foster someone, who doesn't find his theories crackpot or his equipment shabby and can look past the difficulties of it all to the beating heart of the beauty underneath — makes it difficult for him to hold onto that grudge.

Not that it goes away. Never that, probably. But he sighs in the way that tells John he's been defeated, and John holds out a recycled paper cup holder containing beverages he said he would purchase when he left them back at the office. "Chin up, Ritchie. We're going to save the bloody world."

That announcement does nothing for Ritchie's expression, but he holds his tongue, anyway. Long enough for John to lean in and raise his voice, obviously not clear on exactly how it is that sound transmits between the two states, with the result that Jane is suddenly bombarded by amplified Liverpudlian sass: "Alright Foster? That work for you? Going to be satisfied to start on the bottom floor? Unpaid intern? Mystical statistics and that?"

—-

"It's not perfect, he says," transits Jane Foster's voice through the speakers, distant and tinny.

"Not perfect, says the man who just invented quantum consciousness via superluminal acceleration of quantum orbitals. You wanna know what you just did? You made Heisenberg's uncertainty principle /certain/. You BROKE the causality role. You turned me into a — pardon my — no, I'm in a computer, I'm gonna swear — I'm a fucking dispersion relation! This is perfect. This is beyond perfect. This is…"

Her voice stutters into a peaceful quiet, because there are really no words, none in the English Jane Foster knows, that could give this moment the apt definition it deserves.

She leans back, or at least perceives herself doing so, her mind relenting in a full and fearless trust to absorb her dynamic world. She can think a hundred mathematical formulae to try to dissect this process up into its nebulous magics.

Those formulae crop up into physical being all around her. Jane can't help her rare, bubbled-up laugh of pure joy. Where /was/ this during her graduate thesis.

She is not certain the time that passes in here in her strange travels, but she has some idea — or some hope — with it moderated by the guide of Ritchie Simpson's voice.

He asks if she's going to say.

The Foster in the Machine would have words about it, if not already intercepted by John Constantine's due return: that she heralds to, his voice furnished all around her, radiated in from some unseen, distant source.

Alright Foster, he asks?

Jane, currently in some quantum-body lotus position, floats carelessly upside down, spinning merrily in perpetual motion as mathematical proofs, given life and form, engage fistfights all around her.

"Ducky," answers her voice through the speakers. "Just ducky."

Is she going to be satisfied doing the kind of work she slaved over tirelessly during her academic undergrad summer jobs?

Quantum consciousness somehow manages to find a way for sarcasm to trickle between realities: "I'll find a way to survive."

—-

Ducky, she says. She'll find a way to survive, she says.

John glances over at Ritchie, who meets his eyes for all of two seconds before turning them down to look at his coffee.

"Don't think this squares us, John," he cautions — but it's a warning that lacks conviction. John has the sense to hold up both of his hands, one containing a disposable cup of hot tea, the other palm outward, a gesture of yielding that he absolutely does not mean.

"Alright, old son. No need to break out the hammer and nails. But you've got to admit — it's going to liven the place up, innit?" And he holds out his cup.

Ritchie gives that gesture a long, long look, and eventually concedes. The quiet hum of electronic equipment is momentarily interrupted by the imperceptible sound of to-go cups tapped together in a kind of toast.

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