Caught in the Zipper

July 06, 2017:

John Constantine and Jane Foster get summoned to Ritchie's lab to deal with a grad student's terrible mistake.

Ritchie's Lab

Today's madness is brought to you by the letters C, and E…For Crack Episode!

Characters

NPCs: Lots! (Storyteller - Jessica Jones)

Mentions: Bucky Barnes

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

When one is a grad student at Ritchie's lab one gets used to a certain amount of strangeness. After all, one of the man's major projects is data mining magic. The grad students who work for him are, therefore, the type of kids who wouldn't have at all been out of place in either one of the Ghostbuster's franchises. Willing to stick weird shit on their head if it gets the job done? Absolutely. Willing to ask questions, challenge assumptions, and try anything that occurs to them? Sure thing.

That's why the following is written on the white board at the very front of the room.

I.C.E.:

Jane Foster (Science). With her phone number.

John Constantine (Anything Weird). With his.

Enter Miss Deanetta Simwell.

It's hard to tell what sparked Miss Simwell's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day precisely. But she calls both numbers. In a panic.

Something something wormhole, something something plant monster?

She really only gets so much out, because the entire west wall of the lab has indeed been taken up by a glorious riot of jungle-like growth and gorgeous pink and purple flowers, along with thick vines and branches that have just sort of grown all over Deanetta and half of her lab equipment. Her phone dropped. It was on speaker, and she'd been shouting at it, but…

A pair of pastel-colored winged pixie-things with vampire fangs are busy tossing it about like a football, and…

Five orange birdlike creatures are busy throwing each other's heads to one another. Yes. They look precisely like the ones from the Labyrinth, only with a lifelike quality that makes it clear they are not puppets.

Dr. Foster. John Constantine.

Welcome to your day. And you are…welcome to it.

This is revenge, John understands, the moment he gets a phone call from a voice he doesn't recognize. It would, under most circumstances, merit an acerbic response if any response at all and then the click of of the line going dead.

Things being what they are between the Englishman and his estranged professorial associate, however, and needing as he does Ritchie's expertise in the ongoing examination of Whatever The Hell Kind of Apocalypse Is Trying to Brew, he hasn't got the luxury of being choosy, fussy, or 'anything remotely like himself.' He needs Ritchie, and he needs Jane with Ritchie, and if he doesn't turn up Ritchie will be angry and Jane may get eaten by god only knows what, and so:

There is John, standing out front of the university when Jane arrives, hands in his coat pockets and an expression on his face that seems to suggest he's got a very uncomfortable bubble of gas somewhere in the lower intestine. He is Inconvenienced, capital 'I.'

(With John, it's almost always a capital 'I.')

"Well," is his gruff greeting, pivoting sharply on the ball of his foot to reach for the doors that lead into the building, "Let's go and find out what's been cocked up, shall we."

When he opens the lab door he has a solid view of the room's interior. He looks. He looks for a long moment.

Then he shuts the door again, and turns head to look down and sidelong at Jane Foster, his expression flat.

"I mean," he says, "We could go for ice cream instead."

The call goes straight to Jane Foster's voicemail. Don't know about it. Don't care about it.

Currently nine hours deep in running new homemade scrupts through encrypted data pulled from Hydra — sons of bitches are so good at it they're actually making her think, making her pull new textbooks on RSA cryptography —

She's nailed down the key to a randomized number of one hundred twenty-eight digits. Now she just has to engineer the algorithm to replicate it.

It's James who says something about a missed call. Jane doesn't answer; too busy thinking. It's James who first listens. Jane doesn't hear it; too busy working.

It's James who sticks her phone, message replaying, under Jane's face.

The fact it has to do with Ritchie is the only reason she gives it any time. Sending John off a quick text of 'WTF?', Jane pulls on her coat. She leaves with a promise to give James a heads-up if it's too — she doesn't even know. But John will be there, so it shouldn't be that bad.

Right?

"Told you not to eat that corn dog," says Jane, in greeting, after one sage look on Constantine's Inconvenience. She doesn't look all that better herself, still underweight, still black under the eyes, and imbued with a distracted sort of restlessness that has her without the usual curiousity or fascination that would otherwise send her here. She just looks equally done with it.

And almost wishing she'd just turned her damn phone off when the office door heralds vines and flowers and what the hell is this and what the hell is that, and seriously what the shit is going on.

The door shuts. Jane looks back up. "I like strawberry."

Told you not to eat that dcorn dog.

"Ugh," was his mutter. "Don't remind me."

The allure of ice cream is extremely powerful. It's about five thousand degrees outside by John's estimation — his on-board sensors are English — and he spent all evening awake and on the phone with a colleague of his overseas, trying to get his hands on a piece of equipment they're going to need to analyze the body in the cell in his flat. The curiously undecayed, unscented, pristine body of Emily Montrose, the existence of which is what finally drove Chas to return to London for a prolonged visit with his family. Sure, he might say it's because he hasn't seen them since Christmas, but John knows the truth: they left him there with a body and went to Germany.

…And then Tahiti.

At any rate, the point is: John is tired, Jane is tired for…Reasons…and ice cream sounds better than what's on the other side of that door.

He still musters a small quirk of the lips for her. Wry. Knowing. "Strawberry, is it," he says, as though she'd just confessed to something. Like that's the kind of thing somebody needs to look up on Urban Dictionary.

He lifts his gaze and rests it back on the door again, blue eyes glittering. "'Course you like strawberry," he says to nobody in particular, and then he pushes the door open again, and strides inside as though he's got every answer to the problem at hand.

Instead of the truth of the thing, which is that he has no idea what's going to happen, save that he is, later, going to give Ritchie one hell of a ballacking.

Good news, kids!

A mountain of sticky-sweet strawberry ice cream has appeared on some multi-million dollar physics equipment. The mountains, hills, and valleys of the scoops and melted runnels manages to look somehow vaguely dirty in ways that aren't really easy to describe. Just any angle it's viewed from manages to arrange itself into some sort of ultra suggestive shape. Whipped cream doesn't do a damn thing to help that, either.

Other things have made their appearance since the two spent their moment trying to decide if they were just going to leave Deanetta to her fate. For example, there is also a very furry, very cute grey and white anthrophomorphic cat chasing a tiny brown mouse. They both look quite real in terms of fur consistency, the movement of muscle under their impossible frames…and yet they are in fact the spitting image of the classic Tom and Jerry. They, too, are scampering over equipment while Tom pulls an increasingly unlikely array of weapons out of his … somewhere. Baseball bat. Baseball bat with barbed wire. Meat cleaver. Axe. Anyone who has seen these cartoons knows where this is going.

Deanetta is now staring up in horror as the plant monster has resolved itself into something like a big-boobed ultra-feminine tree, with this glorious curtain of flower and jungle vine hair. "Love love love love," the tree is saying. "There is no immortality, but a tree's love!"

If there is any mystery in the world as equally — if not more so — compelling than what exists on the other side of that door, it's that mysterious curve of Constantine's mouth.

Jane furrows her eyebrows, squints her eyes, and stares at him. She frowns, wary, suspicious. "What? What's wrong with strawberry?"

A beat. "What do you mean of course I — "

But the door opens again, and there's no way in this world Jane can splice her attention with whatever the hell is going on in that room. Her eyes back-and-forth like a cat clock between ice cream and axe-wielding cats out of her childhood and a talking tree with a rack better than the one she has.

"Ever seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" Jane asks John tentatively, already aware what the answer is going to be. "Wait, is that Last Unicorn? Did my generation's childhood just throw up all over this room? Christ, I hope there isn't Street Starks."

She finds the one last bit of realism among this, and her tired eyes turn on Deanetta. "The Hell?" asks Jane, eloquent.

The addition of strawberry ice cream to the tableau elucidates at least one part of whatever the hell is happening, though not the why or the how, and both of those are the critical things they'll need to discover if they want to make this stop. Which they do.

Or will, once John can spatula his attention away from the strangest set of breasts he's ever seen.

Jane helps him with that. She starts naming franchises. She mentions Street Sharks.

"First of all, what's a bloody street sh — nevermind. Just — nevermind. Maybe don't think about them. Or the Stay-Puft whossname, either."

The Hell? Jane asks of Deanetta, and John, who had been contemplating the easiest and least legally complicated way to render the woman unconscious before the contents of her imagination become seriously problematic, decides to let that stand in for his own line of questioning. It's not exactly how he would've phrased things, himself, but it carries the gist well enough.

He pivots when the question is asked, looks at Deanetta, and after a beat lifts both of his hands, arms out, palms upward. The Hell?

*POP!*

A Street Shark appears. He begins nom nom nomming through the ice cream. He gets a bit of metal something or another in his mouth too. Doesn't really seem to care.

John will find a very tall, leggy red head sauntering towards him, singing a lounge tune.

Deanetta struggles, and sounds absolutely miserable as the tree continues to love her. "I located an unusually sized, unstable wormhole in the space time continuum leading to an element of some kind that I did not recognize. I used the particle accelerator to fire some test neutrons into it just to see if I could gather some data on how it I might stabilize the wormhole long enough to gather a sample, then close it."

Aaaaaand yes, the smell of marshmallows is now drifting through the room. Burnt marshmallows. But John's senses might start to get a bit of a grasp on what going on here. He keeps feeling fluctuations of pure, unshaped magic, just before it decides on a shape. As if that "element" she'd detected was probably pure, unadalterated mana from the plane where the platonic ideal of elemental magic sits there and exists.

The fairies try to bean Jane in the head with Deanetta's phone while Deanetta begins frantically mathing at Jane, babbling a host of equations, stressing over whether she carried the three. One of the orange things yells, "NEW PLAYERS!" and comes forward. Reaching for her head.

Tom, intent on Jerry, whips out a massive samurai sword. Sparks fly as he hits the particle accelerator.

"That's a Street Shark," Jane answers academically, with a pointed finger and a very pained look in her eyes.

And she gets it. Any and all kind of bullshit she says aloud seems to materialize from the abstract to the concrete. It's a terrifying sort of power to wield, to construct her own sort of reality. She could speak of the Einstein-Rosen Bridge she wants so badly. She could speak of certain HYDRA intelligence she needs to exonerate James. She could ask for her dead fath—

Jane stops that line of thought. Especially as Deanetta starts to speak. She gives the student a hard-eyed look, making absolutely zero effort to rescue her out of her particular situation — /students, it's how they learn/ — and feels ire bubble up against the back of her throat. "Seriously?! Are you daft?! Why would do do that?! Why —"

The phone biffs off her head and Jane recoils, grabbing her crown with a snapped: "JES—"

She claps a hand over her mouth. She is NOT going to accidentally maybe possibly summon the Son of God.

Recognizing the Fierys from the Labyrinth — she is a girl, she's allowed to love that movie — Jane backsteps, flashing John a wide, pleading glance. "Can you — do something?! Can you — oh god stop that you stupid cat!"

He can feel it coming on. It's an itch behind his eyes, a tingle in the sinus cavities, promising whole worlds of unexplored suffering.

Not the magic. He can feel that too, sure, but he lives with a woman whose soul is essentially 'this much power, with slightly more restraint.'

No, it's a headache.

The insides of people's heads are always messy. Witness the cumulative effect of their involvement: added to what was a sprawling floral tableau occupied by a single set of creatures from a movie that he has extremely mixed feelings about, given that it contains David Bowie (good!) in some alarming, package-framing tights (bad! — not because of the package, but what kind of magician dresses like that, honest to god), who lives in some kind of Escher-inspired palace (good?) but uses his vast magical abilities to steal babies (VETO) —

— are now street sharks and Jessica goddamn Rabbit.

"That's your fault," he tells Jane, side-eyeing the animated sexpot. "I'm not taking any of the blame for that. I want that on record."

Deanetta, sensing that Jane is probably the best one to petition with math, begins to do that, and John catches only fragments of things that make sense — being, as he is, anything but a scientist. He's a man who plays by different rules, or at least a disconcerting lack of them, and while she rambles on he crosses to the nearest desk to pick a book up off of it and have a look.

Initially it's because he wants to see if she was meddling in Ritchie's library. Then one of the little pixie-things binks a phone off of Jane Foster's head, and he swings it around on a lazy, callous arc to connect the flat of it with said pixie-thing, as though playing a leisurely game of tennis: SPAP

A stuck-out foot to trip the homicidal cat with the sword happens almost immediately afterward. It's not really accomplishing much save to mitigate some small portion of the absolute chaos.

Jane's pleading look gets a double-brow-arched answering look, his hands lifted, shoulders hoisted, eyes slightly wide. "Do what? Close a bloody wormhole? An' how am I supposed to do that? I could dampen magic in the room, but I have no idea what's causing the flow of it in the first place, and it could be dangerous unless I do." Ice blue eyes flick Deanetta's way. "She's somehow got reality's bell-end caught in the zipper."

Jane says 'JES'…For just one moment, they hear the typical choir of angels song…Ah-aaahh! A ray of golden light ooooooopens-And then a disappointed, "Ahawwww" song plays as the ray of light snaps shut.

There's a good chance it might have ended up being the Buddy Christ anyway.

The particle accelerator is still going, it's worth noting. Things are happening over there. The computer screen is spewing some sort of stuff, though it's hard to tell what because this thick slide of strawberry ice cream goes rolling down it, blocking a lot of it from view. Meanwhile, Jane tells the cat to stop and the cat freezes. John trips him. He falls on his sword. A little cat shaped angel floats up. Bye-byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! The fairy whaps into the wall and drops down to the floor. Miniscule little tweeting birds zoom round and around her head.

The book is indeed from Ritchie's library.

Jessica God Damn Rabbit coos, "Get out of here, get me some money too," but since John has turned away she simply saunters over to a desk to step on top of it, kicking the little mouse all the way across the wall while he makes lavacious faces at her, complete with the little hubba-hubba heart popping out of his chest.

The marshmellow smell gets stronger.

Even after all that is going on with her life so far, all the pain, all the grief, all the frustration, all the fury

— Jane Foster somehow has at least one or two synapses left to spare on the absolutely absurd moment of John Constantine killing a cartoon cat. She usually tries to avoid relating to the generation these days, but right now she takes a popular page from their book (their blogs). She can't even.

"My fault?" she blurts over the mayhem, one hand still cradling her head. "This is that night all over again, with you blaming me for everything, with that god damn Emp—"

Jane covers her mouth again. Don't even.

"And yeah! Do something! Isn't this your wheelhouse or something?! Don't they call you on the John Signal and you come on down in the Johnmobile?! Maybe if you can bring this down a notch, or keep me from dying, and I can —" Jane thinks. Tries to think. "Closing a wormhole is not exactly simple. Usually the best way to do so is by going through. Traveller's effect. It's a quantum perception sort of thing. I mean, there's — Polchinski's paradox. It's a theory. Send something through a wormhole and it goes back in time. It's crossing indefinitely among indeterminable states. Send a second thing through angled to disrupt the path of the first and collide them, severing the course of the first thing. It's, uh, playing pool with particles. How's your geometry? And how's —"

That smell getting worse?

"Why's it smell like marsh — oh seriously John?!"

That cat had it coming.

As the world continues to be absolute nonsense all around them, Jane begins to defend herself, and this in and of itself doesn't produce any response from John. It's when she begins to say a word she doesn't finish that he reacts, eyes widening and hands lifted, splayed, shaking back and forth slightly in an urgent stalling gesture that proves unnecessary in the end. His relieved exhale is palpable.

Accusations fly. His brow creases, and he flings his arms outward. There's a Jessica Rabbit standing on a desk. There are pixies. There is ice cream. There is an alarming scent of s'mores. Somewhere around here there is Deanetta, who was told these two new arrivals would be able to help with any possible problems, which might be the most absurd thing in the room of all.

"Does this look like me?" One of John's brows cranks toward his hairline. "Demons, yeah. Ghosts, sure. Possessions and rituals and cult activity and that, no problem. World-ending Nazi schemes involving cross-dimensional portals and pocket dimensions full of feel-good bullshite? Leviathans? Tuesday night, innit? But this?" One of the fairies tries to settle on his shoulder and he whaps it off of him with the back of his hand without even looking, all of his focus on Jane. "What about this screams 'John Constantine' to you? This would have done it for me when I was six on a Saturday morning, but I've got — "

Well, he has a book, he supposes.

He heaves a massive sigh and turns to plonk the book down on the desk and flip it open, which is when Jane begins to talk after having herself a think, and he glances over his shoulder.

She says a lot of things, of which he understands only some.

"Geometry," he repeats. "My sacred geometry is bloody stellar, but — "

And then his eyebrows frown at her again. "I said it when we walked in here, Foster! I couldn't take it back after we figured out what was going on! Though.." His expression takes a turn for the thoughtful, and after a long beat he glances up, over to one side, around, back to Jane. "I suppose it's too much to hope it would work if we just insisted that — " He lifts his voice, just in case, " — everything here's gone back to normal and none of this ever happened in the first place."

It half works.

*POP! POP! POP!*

Cartoon things pop out of existence. The strawberry icecream disappears. The smell of s'mores? Gone. Deanetta's butt hits the floor good and hard as the tree drops her. She rubs her head and tries not to think, but they're talking about geometry.

They had to say it…

She just has to think it. Angles and lines and various forms splay out on the floor and walls, leaving shadows in their wake. But… quite a bit less destructive. 'None of this ever happened in the first place' isn't quite possible…creating, as it does, a sort of paradox. But it will let Jane see the particle accelerator screen, and what's going on there. She fired particles. Into a plane of elemental magic. Where anything is possible and thoughts become things. The particles themselves are things, and they bounce, and mirror, and grow, and come back, perpetuating exponentially, returning with more and more raw reality for thought— in the original perpetrator's case— and words— in the case of Jane and John— to play with.

It's as if everyone in the room just became some version of Zatanna, only without the need to do it backwards cause there's just so much of it.

At least it's a little quieter, in a room blessedly devoid of fairies, talking trees, and Street Sharks.

'Does this look like me?'

Jane, stalled in her own tirade, acts the consummate scientist and gives that claim appropriate study. What about this screams John Constantine?

She splays her fingers and wheels her hands in useless, circling gestures to help the words. "OK!" Jane manages something of a concession. "Maybe you have nothing to do with Street Sharks! But, if you were to plot us on a continuum, with, say, me on one end and John Constantine on the other? Then, yeah! All of this is way more your side! And, on top of this, you — wait — did you just say /out loud/ every single BIT of bullshit you deal with as in /EVER/?"

Demons. Ghosts. Nazis. Leviathans. She is not prepared. SHE IS NOT PREPARED.

Turning a significant look up and around the room, to say the least, Jane Foster is clenching. She bites her lip and holds her breath, absolutely expecting the absolute worst of, well, HIS ENTIRE LIFE to come emerging out of nothing and —

— instead John implores reason out of the absurd.

And it all pops back out of existence.

"Holy sh—" Jane covers her mouth a third time. NOPE. She lets go. "I mean. Clever, John. That's clever."

Then the room goes to math. Her eyebrows shoot up, and the woman's blinking eyes take in how her very visual reality seems to replicate in spatial angles and formulae. "See, now this? My end of the continuum."

It means she has space to work. She steps forward, ignoring poor Deanetta entirely, approaching the particle accelerator and manipulating some of its controls. She's never really worked with these, not past her own dreamy fantasies, but to a mind like Jane's, the controls are intuitive.

She's rolling with it. Particle pool. Measuring the current calibration, Jane considers —

She needs help. She reaches, pulls some of the angles and ellipses down from their hanging placements, and helps herself to some of the math to calculate the correct angle of collision. She enters the new measurements.

"Here goes —" warns Jane, hitting it to activate.

Later, he'll claim that he knew all along he'd be able to negate the sampler platter of horrible beasties he was ranting about, and otherwise he'd never have risked saying them, but unfortunately for John the sole witness whose opinion will matter in the forthcoming days is Jane Foster, and she is literally a genius. She isn't likely to buy it.

No matter. The worst of the insanity has the decency to comply, snapping out of existence, and the subsequent calm — at least by comparison — is enough that John slumps against the desk's edge and rubs his cheek, the shadow of stubble rasping audibly. "Thank Chr — " His turn to wince, clip off what he'd been about to say. Of course the madness indigenous to the inside of someone's mind is trying to deal with, but asking John not to run his mouth when he's annoyed is another order of imposition entirely.

Compounded, it should be said, by sudden math. Jane, of course, doesn't hesitate to lay claim to it.

John no longer looks quite so harassed, but he does look deeply unimpressed. One brow up, the other drawn inward and down, his eyes rove the shapes, lines and numbers like a high school hero looks at his considerably less cool classmates, wondering whether or not being at proximity to them is going to get their lack of cool all over him. "We could probably leave it just like this and Ritchie'd think we'd done him a bloody favor," he says, crossing his arms. "The two of you. Bet you've got calendars at home with especially tarted up formulae on them."

Here goes.

His wince is reflex.

The building blocks of reality bounce against each other as if Jane had just lined up the world's most perfect pool shot. On a level far deeper and smaller than human eyes can possibly see or percieve, every appropriate ball goes into every proverbial pocket until the figurative 8-ball is sunk into place.

The feedback loop stops.

The wormhole collapses.

Elemental magic decides to stay on its own side of the reality line for awhile, and any sanctified poop, renditions of John's entire calvalcade of life horrors and…perhaps most importantly…

Replicas of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man…

Remain on that side of the line too.

All the math goes away too. Just gone. Perhaps, sadly, for Jane. She could probably have made nice (especially tarted up) knick-knacks out of some of that.

Deanetta, on the floor, retrieves her phone, and manages to pick out a number on the hopelessly cracked screen.

"Mom? It's Deanetta. I hate grad school. I never wanted to go. I'm sorry to disappoint you and Dad, but I am going to art school. Like I wanted to in the first place."

And with that, she shoots the Fine Emergency Team of Foster & Constantine a very grateful look…and flees. Like seriously turns tail and runs.

Leaving a thoroughly wrecked lab, and a pair of heroes who have earned any and all ice cream they might choose to consume in response to this particular Day at the Office.

If they still want any.

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