World on Fire: Causality

Summary:
March 25, 2015: Howard Stark asks Booster Gold for a favour.

Howard Stark's Penthouse - Manhattan


Characters

NPCs


Mood Music:


The address referred to Booster by an assistant is…well, one of Manhattan's more posh high rises. It's the kind of place with a doorman and no numbers in the elevator. A camera embedded in the ceiling decides whether or not a guest is wanted. This is doubly so for the penthouse suite, which is where Howard Stark - father of Tony Stark and founder of Stark Industries - lives. It used to be he lived in Stark Tower, but between attacks and various other personal things, he's struck out on his own.

Booster does seem to be on The List, as he's let past the doorman and into the elevator, to make the ascent towards the penthouse.

*

"Sweet digs," Booster remarks as he enters the building, giving the doorman a friendly finger-gun gesture. He is in his super suit, but once in the elevator he takes off his visor and cowl. He has no secret identity, and going 'unmasked' is a friendlier way to meet someone. When the elevator doors open, he is saying aloud, "One day, I'm totally going to live like this."

*

The penthouse is as sprawling and as elegant as one would expect of the top floor in a building like this. It's all decorated in classy, mid-century furniture. There's a fair bit of chrome, but also dark wood and leather. Beyond the glass paned walls, there's even a helicopter pad. It's not quite the same as the top floor as Stark Tower, but it's clearly of a similar standard.

"Can I offer you something to drink?" comes a voice, before Howard Stark makes his appearance from around the corner. He's holding a crystal glass with amber-hued liquid in it - most likely a fine dram of single malt. He's wearing a finely tailored brown three-piece suit, though he's just in waistcoat and slacks at the moment. It's timeless, but also slightly archaic at the same time.

*

"Oh, hey…" Booster turns, as he had been admiring the space. "Hi. No, but thanks for the offer." He smiles brightly, and extends his free hand to Howard for a handshake, the other occupied with holding his cowl and visor. "It's awesome to meet you. I'm Michael Jon Carter, also known as Booster Gold. But you know that."

*

"I do," says Howard as he shakes Booster's hand. "Thank you for coming. I uh, well, I have a very particular reason for inviting you here." He motions towards the sunken living room. "Let me be blunt. Do you have the ability to travel through time?"

*

Heading towards the living room once invited, Booster says, "Yeah. I mean, I'm from the future." He spreads his hands in a shrug. "I tell people that regularly, it's even part of my PR materials. I don't think anyone really believes it, though." Turning, he sits on the sofa and adds, "This is a very cynical era."

*

Howard chuckles at that and sips from the liquid in his glass. "I'm not going to argue with you. Do you know my story at all? It's a little hard to swallow, I admit. But the conspiracy theories surrounding me are…well, let's just say they're rather brilliant in their capacity for sinister intent." He takes a seat on the sofa.

"Long story short? I have already seen you close a causality loop that stops the whole island of Manhattan from being wiped off the map via a quantum singularity. I first saw you in 1948."

*

"I… was actually planning to visit 1948," Booster admits, because at this point, why lie about that? "I haven't been there, yet, though… I only just found out that these recent problems originate in 1948 but I hadn't narrowed it down to a month or day." He leans forward, so that his forearms can rest on his knees, his fingers lightly interlaced. "I know who you are, of course. I don't know what about you is true, though. I tend to accept things at face value when I'm in this era, because it's hard to know what's normal and what's fantastic."

*

Howard extends his hands in an expansive gesture. "By all means, ask any questions you like. I'm asking you to trust me on something particularly vital, so I'll be as open with you as I can be." He does sound quite sincere, though, he's made a business out of that.

*

"Well…" Booster sits up again. "I mean, I'll leave aside the more personal stuff since it's probably not relevant, and I'm not here to be nosy." He picks up his visor, which he'd set aside, and just toys with it in his hands. "I do believe you probably saw me in 1948. Moving through time in any direction isn't an issue for me, and I intend to follow through on that. It'd help to know exactly when you saw me, though. Usually, I'd be able to backtrack a wormhole or portal and find its origin point but… I can't do that with these tears. They're mangling the temporal energy and I can't figure it out."

*

"Mangled is a good word for it." Howard draws in a deep breath. He leans forward, elbows on knees, face drawn into a grimace. "The part that's not publically known is that I helped to found SHIELD back in the mid-40s. One of our first big cases was a string of missing persons. A brilliant, but unhinged scientist by the name of Mouab Rosh created a device capable of forming the portals. He wasn't even aware that he succeeded. He…thought he was working off ancient blueprints, but I'm convinced that he was a genius who was projecting his own designs on to the blueprints." He sighs. So sad to see genius wasted that way. "The very existence of his device started causing temporal tears all over the city. In 1948, it made them disappear with no trace other than a strange signature and an odd ectoplasm. In 2015, those same victims emerge as creatures who became badly warped by the completely unstable portal."

He pauses there rather than speaking further, to let that bit of weirdness sink in.

*

Booster is blinking a bit as he listens. His expression gets a little unfocused as he says, "Oh. Oh gosh, that explains a lot." Rubbing his hand over his forehead and through his hair, he says, "Getting into the timestream, by which I mean the stuff outside and around a timeline… which is… not an accurate way to say it but it's close enough… takes a lot of energy. And once you're there, your typical person is going to need a lot of protection. No wonder these people were so warped, it'd be like slowly pushing someone through a ball of plasma."

*

Howard's expression tightens. He nods once. "It's tragic. Both for Doctor Rosh's victims, and for the genius that was wasted. What he accomplished was monumental. Sane or not, no one else that I'm aware of was able to create semi-stable time portals."

He pauses a moment to gather his thoughts before going on. He sips the amber liquid from his glass and purses his lips. "The key to all of this is the device he created to generate the portals. I was - along with Peggy Carter and Edwin Jarvis - able to close the portal in 1948. The portal needs to be closed on this end. The causality loop needs to be completed." He pauses again and drawls, "This is where it gets a bit headache-inducing. In an attempt to shut down the box and stop people from disappearing. Agent Carter and Jarvis were exposed to some kind of…temporal lag. The result of which duplicated them, and the device used to create the portals. I saw you in 1948. You appeared only long enough to scoop up the temporal duplicates and the duplicate of the blue box. You disappeared. The original versions of Carter and Jarvis remained, as did one of the boxes. And the portal was closed on that end."

*

"Ugh." Booster sits back again, slouched against the back of the couch, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Yeah. It's actually my job… my real job, I mean. I shut down threats to the space-time contiuum. Normally they're not as confusing as this." Opening his eyes to look to Howard, he explains, "You could say that time is a chaotic energy that's forced to flow in an orderly way. It loves to act up if it gets an excuse. It branches all the time… sometimes the branches merge back in, sometimes they're robust and you get an entirely new timeline."

Booster looks thoughtful, now, rubbing his chin. "I can't say this for sure until I actually get my hands on them, but it sounds like there was a branching error. Eh…" He shakes his head and vaguely waves a hand. "This isn't a great language for discussing temporal mechanics, at least not for me, sorry. But I do have to grab the ones who don't belong in the continuity."

*

Howard sets his now-empty glass down on the table and laces his fingers together. He leans forward and looks across to Booster, eyebrows raised. "My theory is that bringing the duplicate box in contact with the one in the present will collapse the singularity and prevent any further temporal incursions. This file has been locked at a Level 10 for decades because I believed if anyone read the file, it might damage the chances of closing the causality loop."

He then leans back slowly and drops his shoulder. "I'm damned smart. I'm a genius. And this gives me a headache. I stayed away from temporal physics for a reason."

*

"Don't feel bad," Booster actually grins, now. "It's pretty difficult to understand if you're stuck inside a single timeline, moving one second per second along it in one direction. Here, normally I wouldn't share this kind of stuff, but these are… you know, interesting circumstances." Pulling on his cowl, he adjusts his visor and then a translucent holoscreen appears before him. He 'touches' the rounded corner of it with his fingertip which makes it turn to face Howard.

*

The screen shows a morass of pulsing colors, some soft and some vivid, in blobs and strings and hazy areas. Booster explains, "This is a … what would you call it, a snapshot maybe? Of part of the timestream." When he moves his finger, a distinct line appears as he 'draws' in the air. The line twists and advances in three dimensions. "This is part of a timeline. These little things that kind of look like solar flares and arcs are branches, they tend to just merge back in at a later point, keeping the overall shape of the timeline intact. So…" He shrugs. "I'd like to say I could go back and stop this all from happening, and I could. But that would become another reality, and this one would still be in trouble. I just hope somewhen exists to put your friends, once I get them."

*

Howard examines the display with the appreciation it deserves. He watches the arc and makes a low hmming sound. "Closing a causality loop. That's what I'm trying to do. The incursions in spacetime were so erratic and so poorly-formed, that I believe any tangent universes created from a diverging timeline would still be unstable and prone to collapse. This…" he begins, with a wag of his finger, "…is why this file has been beyond top secret since 1948. I couldn't risk jeopardizing this chance to close the loop. You're the only person currently living who knows the whole story."

He pauses a moment after Booster's last comment. "Theoretically, any point after their original selves have stopped influencing the timeline should be safe, right? Peggy Carter is an old woman in a nursing home. Edwin Jarvis is…well, he was in his 40s when this happened. Even with the best of health, he wouldn't still be alive." He notably avoids addressing what the man's Prime version fate was. A beat, then, "If this is all successful, I'd appreciate if you didn't try explaining to them what's happened. They deserve to hear it from me."

*

"Uh…" Booster looks uneasy for a moment. "If they're not supposed to exist, they might die. Or stop existing." Hurriedly, he adds, "That's the worst case scenario, I hate bringing it up at all but it's something to keep in mind. Although…" He is looking thoughtful, again, poking a little at his holo-display. "I think I can guarantee their safety. Make sure there's a safe place for me to put them with you, maybe here?" Booster gestures at the palatial penthouse. "I can drop them with you so you can talk to them, and if you could have a power source on hand it'll let me recharge immediately and I can go back into the timestream and stabilize things before we have a problem."

*

Howard's face has been giving the illusion of openness and transparency. It's only apparent that he's been playing cards close to his chest when Booster brings up the possibility of Peggy and Jarvis dying. His expression hardens. It's the 'that's unacceptable' face that employees would find deeply worrying from their CEO.

He relaxes only slightly when Booster proposes a solution. "I can get you whatever you need," he says plainly, and without hesitation.

*

Booster looks cheerful now, relaxed and happy. "Good. Even if it's just a generator. The fastest way for me to charge up is to grab a live wire, but if I do that to something connected to the power grid, it might cause a blackout." He reaches up and waves a hand through the holoscreen, which vanishes. "Other than that, I leave it up to you to give them an environment they'll be comfortable in once I bring them here. The journey won't hurt them but they might be irritated at being kidnapped by a stranger."


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