World on Fire: Genius and Madness

Summary:
June 10, 1948: SHIELD 1.0 tracks down the scientist responsible for the temporal portals.

New York University - School of Engineering


Characters

NPCs

  • Doctor Mouab Rosh (by Howard Stark)

Mood Music:


SHIELD is still a relatively small organization at the moment. Small means limited resources. They haven't yet gained the full trust of the US government, let alone international ones. They only have one branch - located in New York. Still, being small has its advantages. It makes you nimble and saves on a lot of paperwork.

Howard's been bent over a series of results for the last several hours, trying to make sense of the readings. Peggy's research has been more fruitful. She's been able to locate a published paper with experimentation on a device that seems to hold promise. Doctor Mouad Rosh, an experimental physicist, found the blueprints for an ancient, and highly sophisticated-looking device. He recreated it as best he could, and the device started emitting signals very much like the ones they've been detecting. Doctor Rosh is currently employed in the labs at New York University's school of engineering.

*

As the head of the new organization, Peggy is still feeling out her authority. For now, though, this is just a case: and cases she knows. Showing up in Howard's lab, she drops the file on Dr. Rosh nearby for him to peruse at his leisure. However, that leisure better happen soon, because she is already dressed to encounter the good doctor. "Come on, Howard. Time to head to University. I could question him, but I have a feeling you would know how to get to the matter more thoroughly." There is no questioning to be brokered in her tone. If this person is involved the the disappearances they have been dealing with, then there are some very pointed questions that she wants to ask.

*

Edwin Jarvis, meanwhile, is in fact running off his feet. SHIELD apparently desperately needed someone who can ensure that chairs and desks are fixed when they break, windows are repaired when inevitably shot through (though this, at least, is less of a problem with HQ being indoors), and they are kept well stocked on coffee and cigarettes and ammunition.

He's just finished signing off on a delivery and is wheeling a cart of kitchen supplies past as he hears the snippet of conversation from Peggy. "Will you be needing a driver, Agent Carter? Mr. Stark?"

*

"I spent enough time in university. Longest eight months of my life," drawls Howard. Hard to know if he quit because he got bored, or if he earned his degree in that time. You never know with impatient geniuses.

They are ostensibly partners in SHIELD, but Howard defers to Peggy when it comes to operational matters. Which means, well, she's one of the few people he'll actually listen to and follow without argument. Well. With less argument.

"Ahh, Doctor Rosh. He's been doing some fascinating work. He's…kind of crazy, you know. He believes in ancient computers and alien blueprints burned into hieroglyphics. But, as he wanders down that crazy road, he actually stumbles over some legitimate science. I met him once at a conference. He tried to sell me on a blueprint for miniaturization derived from Aztec tablets."

He looks over at Jarvis, lifts his brows, looks to Peggy. Up to you, boss.

*

"You know what I mean," Peggy smirks. With a cross of her arms, she tilts her head toward the door and smiles at Jarvis. "Of course, Mr. Jarvis. Who else would I ask for a ride downtown?"

As Howard looks through the files, she raises an eyebrow. "So, you know his work?" It's hard to tell if she's surprised or not. At the very least, she's questioning. "Well, something he was working on is emitting a similar energy as to what you've been tracking. So, do you think he actually managed to find something that's been able to pull people into something and leave the strange green goo?"

*

"If it can wait," Edwin begins, and then rapidly adds: "Just until I have the coffee and milk and sugar unloaded and properly stowed. I appreciate that time may well be of the essence, but I should really prevent our other agents from mutinying." Or going to the automat and flirting with the waitresses.

He's listening as he wheels the cart into the next room, though, even pausing to lean out the door and listen more closely at the 'green goo' discussion.

*

"Doctor Rosh is a genius. My theory is that he invents these things himself and thinks it was the work of ancient blueprints. He sees patterns where he wants to see them and makes them fit his admittedly impressive knowledge of applied physics. Still, he might not correct obvious flaws because he thinks that's the way it's supposed to work." Howard flips through the dossier, then scans the readings. "Yeah, that's our signature all right. And he's here, in New York? Last I heard, he was in Tangier."

As Jarvis retreats, he calls out, "By all means, save the coffee! We can't offer great benefits, so the least we can do is keep a pot on."

*

"There is a large threat looming over New York City that is dragging innocent people to their deaths, Mr. Jarvis. I believe the coffee can wait." The incredulous tone that Peggy gives Edwin is enough to show what exactly she thinks of the tea and coffee service: that is it has its place and its time but now is not it.

With a long suffering sigh, she turns to Howard. "So, you are saying that there is an impatient genius about who is more than capable of creating a device that can do incredible harm without the proper knowledge of how to control it?" Putting a hand to her forehead, she mutters, "Forgive me for being so rash, perhaps I do need that coffee before we leave." That, of course, is a joke. After a moment, she is serious again. "Yes. His last known whereabouts were at New York University. So, I believe a quick step is in order."

*

"Best not to say so within earshot of the agents, Agent Carter," Jarvis calls over his shoulder. "Particularly the ones who have been on nights for the last week. I nearly had my wrist broken when I emptied out the last pot. On such things do empires run!"

Jarvis is still listening as he puts things away, though, and it must be said that his is a literally military efficiency: the coffee is put away, the next pot is brewing, and the coffee urn itself is disassembled and being washed as they speak.

*

Howard doesn't argue with Jarvis, or order him to hurry up. Instead, he grins over at Peggy. "Relax, Peg. Five minutes isn't going to make or break this thing. If we tried to drive ourselves, we'd lose at least that much time by taking a wrong turn or driving down a road that's clearly the wrong choice at this time of day." He speaks a bit more loudly on that last point. Oh, how he's been lectured in the past about his poor route decisions on the rare occasions he's driven himself anywhere.

"Doctor Rosh is totally capable of creating something dangerous, yes. It all depends on what he thinks he's building. Whatever it is, it's going to be flawed. Unless I'm the crazy one and there really are blueprints to advanced technology carved into ancient rock." If his tone was any drier, his voice would crack.

*

"I will gladly say so as I believe this man dangerous and every agent here should know that a missed cup of coffee is worth a man causing harm stopped." There is no relaxing as far as Peggy is concerned. A woman slipped through her fingers, unable to be rescued. Others disappeared before her. If they don't find out if Rosh is actually responsible, who knows how many more will follow. "Yes, but if it is not Doctor Rosh that is behind all this, it is that many more minutes and hours wasted while we could be finding the actual culprit."

Impatience is clear in her voice. "All the more reason he should be investigated. If he is capable of such things, then we should already be gone." Now that she's made her point, she scoops up the file again and strides toward the exit. "I am getting my coat and going to the car. If neither of you are there, then you can meet me at the university."

*

Peggy Carter: delightfully humorless but damned effective. Jarvis can hear her heels clicking as she stomps toward the door (strides, STRIDES toward the door; Peggy never stomps), but the coffee is still finishing its percolation. Making a split-second decision, he turns off the heat, lets it carry on perking, and uses his long cheating legs to stride down the hall behind her. She's moving quickly, but he has the advantage of nearly a foot of height and close to as much leg-length. He's quite certain Howard will meet them at the car, but Jarvis has every intent of opening the door for Peggy and holding the car for Howard if he can.

*
Howard watches the whole very English ballet with an amused little grin. He doesn't comment on it at all, nor does he rush for the door. He does follow behind, but at his own pace, and after doing up his suit jacket and checking his hair in the mirror. All that means he's less than a half a minute behind them. "You wouldn't be so impatient if it was tea he was brewing!" he calls out.

The ride to the university mostly consists of Howard going over the dossier and reading the (very technical) paper by Doctor Rosh. His expression grows more troubled the more he reads. By the time they pull up to the university, he declares, "Yep. He's accidentally messing with spacetime, all right. He's trying to open temporal rifts. Probably so that the martians will come and make him king or something." He seems to have an odd mix of professional respect and disdain for the man. Respect for genius, disdain for how it's being squandered. He can't abide wasted potential.

*

While Peggy can be quite wry in her own right, when lives are on the line she is never one to make light of the situation. Counting on both Jarvis' desire to help and Howard's need to solve a puzzle, she has every confidence that the two of them will either follow her immediately are be there when she is settled into the car. With the slight detour for her coat, Jarvis is able to open the passenger side door for her. His being there slightly before her earns a grin of camaraderie as she slips into the seat. "Thank you," she says, ever polite when the occasion suits.

"Don't be daft, Howard, I would never have asked for something as delicate as tea when such an investigation requires us to leave at a moment's notice." As she already read the report, she leaves Howard to make his scientific notes. She knows the very gist of it, but she's relying on his expertise. "Is he really so delusional?" Her tone is surprised and wary, already thinking ahead to what may be a confrontation should he learn of what they know.

*

Jarvis knows on some level that Peggy is manipulating him. It's not so bad. He's still pleased to be of service, and he respects her far tooo much to be put off by her being bossy. She's not just bossy: she's the boss. Well. One of the bosses. He smiles and murmurs "My pleasure" before ducking into the driver's seat.

He also politely ignores the notion that he would, say, just bang a teabag into a mug and pour boiling water over it. Tea takes time. Time and care.

As he pilots the vehicle toward the university, Jarvis even pipes up: "I would wonder myself. After what we have seen thus far, I would hardly be surprised by anything any longer. Still, even brilliant people can be deeply misled."

*

"He didn't used to be," says Howard, a note of distraction in his voice as he keeps a half an eye on the page. "He had a stellar academic record before he let this…hobby of his consume him. I'm guessing he got booted out of the academic circuit in Morocco, and managed to get a position here on the strength of his previous academic research." He flips a page and frowns. "Which means he probably won't be here for long. Not if he keeps working on this. This sort of thing happens sometimes, you know. The line between genius and madness and all that." A line that he is far more familiar with than he would ever admit.

It takes a bit of polite navigating to find out which building Doctor Rosh's lab is in. That will be left to the ever-diplomatic Jarvis. Before too long, they're entering one of the more modern buildings on campus, down a maze of doorways, past labs and offices.

Howard pauses before they open it. He looks to Peggy. "Right. Do you want me to take the lead on this, or do you want to do the talking? I don't know the guy well enough to know which of us he'd react better to."

*

And Peggy knows that Jarvis knows her own methods. It's part of what makes their friendship work. She would never attempt to twist them toward anything sinister. Ensuring they take things seriously and investigate in a timely matter, however? That is well within her rights. Eyes focused on the streets in front of her, Peggy mutters in response to Jarvis, "Yes, especially when a skirt is involved." That is, of course, not directed toward Rosh - as far as she knows - but toward a certain genius currently reading in the backseat.

However, that aside dealt with, she listens to what Howard has to reveal about Rosh with interest. "Perhaps allow me to do the talking while you make sure he isn't trying to do something rash with whatever occult interest he fancies today." Having seen up close just how terrifying the mystics can be when coupled with science, she's not looking forward to what they may find inside.

Despite that, she manages a smirk. "Keep him honest."

*

It's a bit of a jab, but it's not a wholly undeserved one. Still, Jarvis frowns a bit at the cheap shot: "I was making no comments about anyone in particular. Except perhaps for that nasty Russian fellow." Nasty as in tried to gas the city with psychotic-break gas. British understatement.

It doesn't take too much to park — at least, not when Jarvis knows the city as well as he does. Before long, he's opening the door for Stark and Carter and stepping out as well. He assumes he's coming along, and when it comes to navigating the university and actually finding the building with the man's labs inside, he finds himself quite useful.

*

They're in luck. Doctor Rosh seems to be in. At least, if all the noise from inside the lab with his name on the door is any indication.

"I'm not real good with keeping myself honest. Doing that for someone else isn't really in my toolbox, Peg." He hangs back next to Jarvis and waits for Peggy to enter first. He's pointedly ignoring all jabs (and defenses) of his character. These things are better (and more amusing) if he sits them out.

The lab is small and packed to the rim with various pieces of equipment. There's a man with dark hair in a lab coat, goggles over his eyes, back to the door. He seems to be focusing intently on something - so much so that he doesn't hear them come in.

*
The jab is one that Peggy is used to taking with Howard and Jarvis and it's not nearly as fun if neither one of them poke back. And so, she does not continue with the line of ripostes and instead concentrates on the job in front of them. There is no thought spared for the parking job, as she knows Jarvis would do well to give them the best spot possible.

After entering, she glances at the two men beside her before studying the scientist in question. He obviously did not hear them enter, so she waist a few moments before deciding to announce their presence. She clears her throat and then adds, speaking up just in case, "Dr. Rosh? Forgive the intrusion. My name is Peggy Carter. I was hoping I might speak with you a moment."

*

Jarvis, meanwhile, accompanies the duo and quietly closes the door behind them when they step into the lab. Howard is certainly giving the tech a look, so the Englishman focuses his attention on Dr. Rosh instead.

*

Doctor Rosh startles visibly. A container is knocked over and bounces off the floor. "Oh, what…what are you doing in here?" He tugs the goggles off his face. The effect is very incongruous. He's quite handsome, and quite young - or he's aged very well. He's also got goggle marks on his face, bags under his eyes, three days' worth of shaggy facial hair growth and hair that looks like it's badly in need of a wash. "What do you want? The academic review is not until next week." His English is French-accented, but otherwise fluent and natural.

Howard hangs back and steps to the side, doing his best to have a look at the equipment on the table. He nudges Jarvis. The look he gives is subtle, but his friend and caretaker knows what he's after. The camera pen. He last gave it to the other man to develop the last roll of tiny film.

*

Peggy does not look to the side at either Howard or Jarvis. Knowing that she has Rosh's attention, she is not about to squander it. "We're not from the academic review, doctor." She takes a step forward, attempting to be non-threatening. Though she does have her gun hidden on her, her hands are easily seen and not reaching toward anything or anyone. She just wants to close the gap between them just in case. His handsome face and ragged appearance is not unnoticed.

"I am an interested party in your work. I was hoping to discuss it with you for a moment."

*

Right! Right. Camera pen. Time to be nonchalant. How to be nonchalant. If there were a book on this, Jarvis would have read it and made note of several key passages.

As it is, he does his best to let Peggy take all the attention as he nonchalantly pats himself down, nonchalantly reaches into his inner coat pocket to pull out a notepad and two pens, and nonchalantly slides one of the very nonchalant pens nonchalantly into Howard's hand or pocket, whichever is handier for nonchalance.

Let's see if anyone notices.

*

Doctor Rosh turns back to his work bench and scoops something off the table. He holds it close to his chest and steps backwards, away from Peggy. His eyes are wide and paranoid. "No, this will work. I know it will work. You have to give me more time." Either he didn't hear her about the academic review, or he doesn't believe her. "The energy signatures are temporal. Don't you see? I've generated temporal energy from ancient blueprints. Don't you realize how significant that is?" And then suddenly, he seems hit by a wave of paranoia. "Unless you do believe it and you want to stop anyone from finding out about it." He clutches the device harder.

Howard just watches Jarvis with a deeply perturbed expression. Later, he will have a conversation about what it means to be a spy. He takes the camera pen and sighs as he runs a finger over it to engage it. Presumably the film has been loaded properly. And, of course, this is the right pen. Otherwise he'll end up squirting ink on his very expensive suit.

Luckily for Jarvis, Edwin Jarvis, their quarry is not paying much attention to pens. He's too busy clutching his blue box for dear life. Peggy proves enough of a distraction for Howard to take a few photos.

*

At Rosh's incredibly paranoid reaction, Peggy puts up a hand. Something is certainly wrong here. She knows nothing about temporal energy, just the signatures that Howard has been able to discern. Time travel is a myth. "Dr. Rosh, I am sure you research is very significant." Her eyes flick toward the blue box that he has scooped up into his arms and does not stop her approach. If he truly is responsible for these disturbances, then that box must be the crux of his work, judging by the way he is protecting it.

"I want the opposite of that. I want to know more about it. I think the world should know how important that box is." Trained in talking with a crazy person with a weapon, she knows that agreeing with them no matter what they say is important to not anger them. Just make it believable. "That is why I'm here. I'm from Oxford University, Dr. Rosh. We would like to offer you a position at King's College to further your studies."

*

It's definitely the right pen. Jarvis is very well organised. At least one of the pens is the right pen. But it's certainly all queued up and ready.

Rosh's reaction startles even him, though, and he actually jumps a bit when the man's voice reaches a strident pitch. "That's quite right," he says, picking up on Peggy's line. "We're quite intrigued. And we believe that King's College can offer you the resources and the independence you clearly need — and deserve — to continue your research."

*

It doesn't take a medical doctor to see that Doctor Rosh is in distress. He's sweating. His eyes are wide. He clutches the box like it's the most precious thing to him in the world. "Y…you are? Well, if that's the case, let me give you a demonstration. I was just finishing some calibrations." He sets the box down on the workbench, then grabs a series of tools. "I am…I'm very much on the verge of something spectacular. It took a bit to work the blueprints. There were some holes, you know. Fragments. Missing pieces. But I've done it." His smile is quite mad.

Seeing as Howard couldn't fake an English accent to save his life (and he's fairly certain his friends would be offended by the attempt) he keeps his mouth shut. That, and if Rosh comes out of it enough to recognize him, he'll see through the obvious lie. Instead, he works at photographing as much of the lab as possible.

"Now, please do keep your distance. I'm not entirely certain…" he hits a few buttons. A spark of yellow energy whips out from the box and slams against the wall. Suddenly, everything in the lab starts to shake and vibrate. A portal starts to form - expanding far more quickly than the others, which means it's likely to collapse just as fast.

*
All too late, Peggy realizes that she's made a mistake in attempting to coddle him. However, it affords her the attempt to be close enough that as he switches on the device she can attempt to grab him. "No…doctor, no demonstration is…"

But, it's too late. The blue box is switched on and a large portal hits the wall with force. As Peggy is close enough, she lunges forward in an attempt to turn off the box. She's hoping that the switch she saw before is enough to do it, but in her panic, she calls out, "Howard! We've got to stop it!"

*

"Oh my goodness — "

Chivalrous gentleman that Edwin Jarvis is, he darts forward as well, imagining that he might be able to help turn the thing off. "Howard!" he shouts, all pretense of King's College forgotten. "Can you counteract it?" And if he can drag Peggy and the professor away from the ever-growing portal, all the better.

*

"Peggy! Get back! Don't!" The alarm on Howard's face is plain. He pulls a scanner out of his pocket and watches in dismay as all of the needles pin.

"The portal is stable!" says Rosh. There is none of the fear that really should be hitting him right now. Instead, there's only a sort of manic glee. "It works! You see?" He points towards the event horizon. And then, before anyone can stop him, he surges forward and throws himself through the portal.

This anomaly formed faster than any of the others, perhaps due to its proximity to the device. It also closer more quickly too, leaving the familiar green ooze and no trace of the doctor.

As Peggy steps forward, her foot hits a prescription bottle. It's a bottle of barbiturates - sleeping pills. The prescription was filled recently, yet the bottle is nearly empty.

*

Many things happen at once. Peggy lunges forward away from the device in an attempt to grab at Rosh when he makes his jump through the portal. "Doctor! NO -" However, her hands grasp only at air as he's through the space in less time than it takes her to reach for him. "-o." He's gone. There's a moment of complete an utter dismay at losing another person to this horrible portal and device before she focuses.

"Howard!" she calls again, whirling around, mind focusing on the here and now of the situation. What just happened here? Why was there no ectoplasm? Her foot taps against the bottle and, absently, she scoops it up in an effort to make sure no one slips and falls on it. Focusing once again on the device, she beckons him forward, handing the nearly empty bottle to Jarvis without much of a second thought. "What is this thing? It looks like it was responsible for what happened before, right?"

*

The opening of the portal is a terrifying moment. The disappearance of the doctor into it is almost as much so, and Jarvis actually reaches out to try and catch him, pull him back, just as Peggy does. But neither of them is at all successful, and luckily neither follows him into the portal.

When Peggy shoves the pill bottle at Jarvis, he juggles it a bit to prevent himself from dropping it. Raising it to take a look at the label, he notes the date and rattles the bottle to confirm it's empty.

"Oh dear," he says. "These are quite strong. If Dr. Rosh had insomnia, enough of these might actually have exacerbated it."


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