August 11, 2017:

Jane Foster takes the first step down her path to save James Barnes.

Brooklyn, NYC - Jane Foster's apartment


NPCs: None.

Mentions: James Barnes, John Constantine, Zatanna Zatara

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

V tikhom omute cherti vodyatsa.

Jane sits on her bed, steeped in nothing but the beat of the blood in her ears metered to her phone's tinny ringing. James Barnes's name, lit on the screen, never picks up. She knows he never will.

She gives herself the only moment she will allow for herself: the moment she takes to absorb all that has happened and all she will need to do.

Then the moment ends.

And Jane Foster gets to work.

It does not take her long, but she triangulates herself to the exact spot of Barnes's dropped phone, left on the site of his disappearance. No immediate corpses await her, and it discredits the theory of T'Challa being an impatient man and merely taking his alleged vengeance here and now. The nothingness she finds, instead, offers promise.

She sends out messages to their small circle confirming what's just happened: T'Challa, king of Wakanda, has abducted James.

In the ensuing hours, Jane hits dead end after dead end. She promised James, the skeptical king, and even herself she'd have results, the evidence in hand that James Barnes is not responsible for the attack on Mizizi, is not the god damned plant from HYDRA that Wakanda so believes —

— and nothing. With all the data she holds from that Virginia raid, a veritable wealth of information, Jane knows its curse. She scrawls through disjointed records, most of them tax accountancy on cross-border financial transfers, and repeats through her head: it's just too too much, too much for one person, too much for her.

This is months of work, and she is one person. Months of work to simply parse it all, and not even begin the real work of linking a coherent story from it all —

Cells, James would always remind her. HYDRA is a thousand heads, and each head survives longer pretending no other exist. She is not just searching one organization, but a thousand, acting upon pure faith that is one hit among them that ties to the conference.

Faith, Jane finds, has little mileage.

Her algorithms come up poor with what little she knows has has to work with — the list of tech corporations in attendance, with everything else, even security detail obfuscatingly Wakandan — and she still finds nothing. She doesn't have time. They'll already have James there. Will they give him a trial of their own? Will they execute him on the spot? Will they draw it out? Will they make it painful?

T'Challa did promise her one thing: James Barnes would die at his hands.

Jane sure as hell hopes the meaning is literal. Give him fucking hell, James. I'm coming.

An idea comes.

With shaking hands, she digs through her small pile of borrowed Shadowcrest tomes, all thanks to Zatanna — thank you, Zee, thank you — piecing through them until she finds what she's looking for. Tracking spell. A little out of her league — significantly so — but there's no time.

Jane leans over her laptop and begins furiously assembling a program, code she's learning day by day to bridge and seam with the exotic complexities of magic. If she can't work through all this information with science, then she needs to borrow — she needs to think outside the box, as John does, as he's teaching her to do — quantum annealing will do it. She can treat these terabytes of independent data points as a hundred million candidate states, and —

The spell requires a power source. Jane doesn't have time. Doesn't have time to explain to those who could help — explain what it is she has, what it is she needs to do. How she got it.

The world knows the story of Jane Foster. She's going to die with some things still her own.

If James were here, he'd kill her. If John were here, he'd probably hold her down and help. Because it's stupid, Jane even knows, as she takes a knife and, following the ink-quilled characters written in some dead language, and cuts the shapes of sigils into the rubber casing of a wire. One end ports into her laptop. The other she sharpens deliberately, and with watchful eyes, needles it into the vein at her left elbow. The sting tightens her mouth.

If she doesn't have a power source, then she'll make one. Think outside the box.

Blood dribbles down her arm. Jane catches it with a finger, and down her forearm, writes the remaining runes to seal the connection. She sits in front of her laptop, screen open and scrolling with the script she wrote. The perfect fusion of magic and science to find a needle in a solar system —

— with the offering of her own self to power the spell. Her life. Her mind. Her blood. If it works, it means she's going to turn herself into a quantum computer. Probably not something anyone has ever done before. Probably not something the body can survive.

She knows she can. She has to.

Jane executes the script.

Her apartment pulls away and all that is her thoughts, her consciousness, herself, is the data, pulling away strips of memory and love and personhood for more information to fit in, making an empty room of her, making a vessel, something that exists only to hold and do no more, and she stares through it all, struggling to parse it. She does, keeping up with the flood of information on its constant deluge, moving through tide after tide of information and doing in nanoseconds what should take hours. The quantum tunnelling field works as she wrote it.

It moves through her. She moves through it. She no longer knows which. A million transactions write to her mind. Information like she's never felt, never conceived, and orbiting Jane Foster as if she were its sun. She feels like the center of her own universe. She feels like God in her own machine. She feels —

It doesn't stop.

There is no describing the pain. It's not like Ritchie's machine, not seamless, not peaceful, not that pulling, sucking sensation of her consciousness being pulled through a sieve, but something worse and unrefined — a mistake, Jane thinks, until she can think no more, her eyes widening helplessly, vacantly.

It hurts, because it's too much, too much even her mind can take, too much for her body to suffer. Too much to ask of her, and it comes with a price — to tell a lie to reality always comes with a price. Her heart beats triple-time to support the information flow. Her skin burns with fever. Blood drips from her nose. Her sightless eyes twitch and jump.

Jane tries to — cannot — cannot be anything but the data, is forgetting how to feel, how to think, how to know, how to remember she is convulsing in a chair. It promises to rip her into pieces and scatter her a billion ways. Jane Foster lost to the aether. No room for her when she must be filled with information, the rest judged vestigial, unnecessary, extraneous —

A word comes to her through the storm. James, she thinks, and remembers her right hand, fighting with everything left not to lose it again for the second it takes her to smear away the sealing runes.

The connection ends, and she resurrects with a strangled choke, hitting the floor and coughing up a dark, thick mouthful of blood.

Jane sucks in her first breath in minutes, and trembling, lowers her fevered forehead to cool hardwood.

Amidst her shaking, and through her quiet shuddering, she smiles. She smiles because she knows.

It's there in her head — the found needle. The link. The first step.

It's time to pack.

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