Okay, so you know how I said that Bruce would be in this chapter? Well, I kind of lied but only because I decided to split this chapter into two separate ones. I know, I know. I posted the next chapter, with Bruce in it, though.
Chapter 3. The Starkinator
"So," Stephanie was explaining while they were eating, "In my universe…Er, or would it be alternate dimension? I don't think that I'll ever get used to saying that…Well, anyways, where I come from Iron Man is a comic book character and some movies were based on the comic books made about him.
She decided to leave out the part about the Avengers -she realized that she ended up in this dimension before the story arc of the Avengers movie took place. She wanted to be careful about her knowledge about the Avengers; she didn't want to let something accidentally slip, and end up setting this dimension on a different course, changing what had happened in the movie.
"I hope the actor who plays me sufficiently captured my sex appeal and charm," mused Tony.
"Stephanie" Pepper began, ignoring Tony, "I'd like to thank you. For yesterday. You saved my life."
"I owe you." Tony said seriously looking at her.
"Oh, um no problem. I'm glad that you're okay." Stephanie replied touching the back of her neck, an action she did whenever she was nervous. She wasn't used to people, especially Pepper Potts, thanking her for saving their lives, and it was making her uncomfortable.
Before anyone could speak again, a man, whom Stephanie recognized as Nick Fury, burst into the room. "Stark! What the hell have you been up to? We picked up an incredible amount of energy originating from near your building yesterday!"
"You know, there's this thing called a doorbell that you might want to try. It's quite handy, let's people-" Tony was saying before Fury cut him off.
"Answer me, Stark."
Stephanie glanced at Tony anxiously. She knew that she had caused the burst of energy, albeit unintentionally, when the device somehow turned on and took her here. If he told Fury what happened, it was likely that he'd take her back to S.H.I.E.L.D., lock her up, and run dozens of tests on her.
"Just a few experiments for Stark Industries," answered Tony curtly. "Now if you don't mind, we're in the middle of dinner."
Fury continued to glare at Tony waiting for an answer.
Stephanie spoke up as something suddenly clicked in her mind; her mind began to race. "Are you sure that the energy originated near Tony's building?"
Fury broke his glare and turned towards her. "Yes, I'm sure." Suddenly, his face lit up in recognition. "You're the woman who stopped the Grey Gargoyle."
"We've been looking for you," Fury stared at her intensely. "One of the security cameras in the area picked up footage of the scene. Funny thing is, you seemed to just appear in the middle of it. Care to explain?"
"The burst of energy must have disrupted the footage." She lied. It did make sense from a scientific standpoint -it just wasn't the truth about what really happened.
Fury continued to stare at her. "What's your na-"
"Okay, that's enough. You're bothering the new Head Research Scientist and Chief Developer of Stark Industries." Tony butted in coming to her rescue. "We'll make sure that S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't pick up any more of our experiments. Now, if you don't mind our dinner is getting cold."
Fury held Tony's gaze before heading off to the elevator. "If this happens one more time, Mr. Stark, it's on you!"
"Did you hear what he said?" Tony asked after Fury had left.
"That you really need to be more careful not to upset S.H.I.E.L.D.?" Pepper piped up sarcastically.
"That the power burst originated in New York. Your New York." answered Stephanie who knew where Tony was going with this. "That would mean that something in your world turned it on."
"Do you think we can trace the power trail?"
"It could be too weak, but we can try. Follow me -we're going to the lab." He was halfway to the elevator when he turned around, "Thanks for dinner, Pep!"
Stephanie hesitated, not wanting to abandon Pepper.
"C'mon loser, we're going to do science!" Tony yelled when he noticed that Stephanie wasn't behind him.
"Sorry." She told Pepper as she followed Tony into the elevator, leaving Pepper alone at the dinner table.
"I think we need a name for the device." Tony remarked while they were riding the down elevator to the lab.
"Why is it named after you? I'm the one who invented it."
"But The Starkinator sounds better than The Berlininator."
Stephanie couldn't argue with that; Berlininator was a mouthful.
"What about…Oryx?" She proposed.
"You want to name a device that lets you travel to different dimensions after an African antelope?"
"I was thinking more of the character Oryx in the novel Oryx and Crake than an antelope."
"My name isn't in it, but it'll do." Tony consented just as the elevator doors opened.
Tony Stark's personal laboratory was, in one word, incredible. Nothing Stephanie had ever worked in compared with it. Tony's Iron Man suits were in cases on one wall of the lab, high-tech technology such as microscopes and lasers, were abundant throughout the lab, there were a few fridges in order to store blood and saliva samples, and knowing Tony beer, in another corner, and numerous canisters (which Stephanie assumed contained different types of gases) were beside some of the workbenches. All of this was just what she saw at first glance; she would soon discover more machines and high-tech devices that would make any physicist squeal in delight. She noticed some motorcycles and expensive cars in his workspace and rolled her eyes a little. Only Tony Stark could make a physics lab into a total man cave.
Pausing from her appreciation of the lab, she turned towards Tony. "Do you have it?" He nodded and tossed her device to her. "You're lucky I caught that."
Tony ignored her comment. "I want you to examine Oryx to see if anyone could have hacked into it, possibly setting it up to turn on at a specific time. I'll look into the energy specs for yesterday so that we can start tracing it."
Stephanie nodded and sat down at one of the tables. She put her hair up into a messy bun using the hair elastic that she always wore on her wrist before she started examining Oryx; ever since she was a child, she put up her hair whenever she was in deep thought.
"The circuits are fried. If someone did mess with it in my dimension, there's no way to tell." She sighed after a while of inspecting the hardware of her now defunct device. "But I don't think someone directly tampered with it. It's more likely that they latched onto the frequency with some remote device. They would have had to known the passwords for itand how it works…"
"How many people know about Oryx?"
"Just me…There were two others, but they died a couple years ago." Anticipating what Tony was about to ask, she added, "And yes, I'm the only one alive who has the notes on the project; they're in a notebook instead of stored on a computer…Well, I guess you and I are the only ones since the notebook that contains all of the information was in my bag, and I'm sure you read it." She gestured to her brown messenger bag that was sitting on one of the tables. Tony had gone through it while she was unconscious in order to discover who she was, and if she was a threat to him or Pepper. All of the items that were in Stephanie's messenger bag were now organized on the same table that the bag was on.
"Did anyone ever tell you that you have the handwriting of an eleven year-old boy?" Tony remarked confirming Stephanie's assumption that he read the notebook.
"Yes, my mother," answered Stephanie, not reacting to his comment. "Did you find anything useful with the energy trail?"
"I discerned the amplitude of the energy, but the trail is weak due to the time lapse between when you arrived and now. And-"
"Let me guess that freakish statue guy distorted it, didn't he?"
"How long will it take to filter out his energy and strength the trail?"
"Soon; I started the program a while ago."
A beep from the computer sounded signaling the completion of the program interrupted them.
"I know. I'm amazed at my genius sometimes, too." He glanced at the computer screen. "The burst of energy originated somewhere between 5th Avenue and York Avenue bounded by East 72nd and East 86th."
"I guess that narrows it down a little. Let's see if we can hack into the security cameras in that area. It's a long shot, but they might have picked up someone holding a similar looking device."
After two more hours trying to track down whoever set off the device, Stephanie and Tony decided to take a break. They were getting nowhere. Dust had obscured many of the video recordings and, to Stephanie's amusement, the burst of energy did actually cause the footage of some of the security cameras to be jumpy or to cut-out in some cases.
"So…What happens now? I mean, I don't think that I can go home for now; the device is fried, and I'll have to re-calculate everything which will take a while..." Stephanie touched the back of her neck.
"I was serious when I said that you're the new Head Research Scientist and Chief Developer of Stark Industries. The job is yours if you want it."
Stephanie was stunned. "Are…Are you sure? You barely know anything about me, and you're offering me a job."
"You were born on November 22nd, 1985, which makes you twenty-seven years old; you're Canadian, but you've been living in New York for the past seven years working for Pyper Industries, which makes you a genius for getting a PhD at twenty years-old; you're fluent in three languages: English, French, and Italian; you have an older brother, but both of your parents died; you eat a disturbing amount of Pad Thai; and your musical tastes aren't bad, but you need more classic rock on your iPod," Tony took a breath after he had finished listing things about her.
"I'm slightly impressed that you got all of that from going through my bag." Truthfully, she wasn't fond of him knowing all of this about her, but she reasoned that it was only fair since she already knew personal information about him and Pepper thanks to the Iron Man and the Avengers movies.
"Only slightly?" Tony pretended to be hurt.
"It's not that hard to elaborate an idea of someone's life based on receipts, a USB stick, personal notes, ID cards, and an old family photograph," Stephanie shrugged, thankful that she didn't keep a certain ring in her bag. "But you're wrong about one thing. I had a brother. He died three years ago."
"Atticus worked with me at Pyper Industries until he died in a lab explosion. They, um, say that he burned to death. It didn't take long; the heat levels in the lab were incredibly high, turned his body into ash." She explained, her eyes beginning to water a little. She did, however, leave out details about the experiment that her brother was conducting on the day of the explosion, that she was the one who should have been working in the lab that day, and that another man died that day as well.
"Your brother's name was Atticus?" Tony asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah, and his middle name was Heathcliff," Stephanie slightly smiled. "My father was an English literature professor. I'm just thankful that my mom talked him out of naming me Bathsheba."
Tony grinned. "So, what do you say about the job?"
She hesitated for a second.
"Yes, I accept. Thank you."
"Good. You'll have to live in Stark Tower seeing as you don't exist in any government records. I'll see what Pepper can do about getting you some clothes." He said, gesturing to her pajamas.
"You know, for a billionaire-genius-playboy-philanthropist, your company has a strict dress code."
Two months later.
"Hey! Berlin! Get up!" Tony shouted.
Tony had taken a penchant for calling her by her last name soon after she started working for him. Stephanie thought it might have to do with how close they'd become; Tony was almost like a stand-in for Atticus, albeit a more sarcastic version of her older brother.
After her first week with Tony and Pepper, Stephanie had conducted medical tests on herself in order to examine if she was affected in any way by stepping into an alternate dimension. So far she'd found nothing; all of her blood samples and DNA appeared normal, so she focused her attention on her work at Stark Industries instead.
During her first month at Stark Industries, she had created a serum that counteracted the process that the Grey Gargoyle used to turn people into stone. After that was done, Tony had asked her to start creating and testing ways to improve his prototype for green energy. She still continued to work on her device, Oryx, but it wasn't an immediate concern anymore -she was happy here.
"No. Sleep. Go away, Tony." Stephanie sleepily muttered while weakly throwing a pillow in his general direction. The glowing red numbers on her clock read 3:23am.
"It's important!" Tony turned on one of the lights in her room.
"Lies." She pulled a pillow over her head. He woke her up one time at two am to ask if it was tacky that his socks matched his tie.
"How much do you know about gamma radiation?"
Stephanie's ears perked up. "Gamma radiation? I…I'm pretty familiar with it."
"Good. I need you to look this over." He tossed a couple large folders onto the bed and brought up some screens with the different Avengers' profiles.
Stephanie sat up. The word 'Tesseract' instantly caught her eye on one of the files. She had a feeling that the Avengers movie's story arc was beginning.
"Make sure you read everything by this afternoon. I'm sending you as my substitute to S.H.I.E.L.D. for a consultation about the Tesseract. You're leaving at 2pm."
"Why aren't you -Oh, it's your anniversary with Pepper isn't it?"
"Yes, and I need to be here to fully enjoy it. I'll join you after Pepper leaves for D.C."
"Guess I better start reading then…Hey! Tony!" She called as he was beginning to leave her room.
"Does Fury know that I'm going tomorrow instead of you?"
"Not exa-" A pillow had hit him square in the jaw before he could finish. Tony darted out of the room before Stephanie had a chance to throw another pillow at him.
She looked up at the profiles of the Avengers that were now on display around her bed. One of the cool things about living in Tony's building was how you could bring up computer information anywhere.
Up until this point, it never really hit her that she'd get to meet the Avengers. The real Avengers. Just as suddenly as this thought came to her, so did another. 'I hope they like me'.
Nearly four hours later, Stephanie had finished reading everything that Tony had given her and some of Bruce Banner's scientific articles –it was strange to view him as a real scientist, a real person, instead of a comic book character. She glanced over his file one more time before deciding to get some sleep before she had to leave.
"Oh, what have I gotten myself into?"She wondered aloud as she fell back on the bed.