I Wasn’t Even There
February 25, 2017
“We can salvage this.” Tony looked around the lobby, catching the eye of a security guard who seemed disproportionately upset to be covered in pink ooze, and gave her a jaunty wave. He made a mental note to have Friday pay for the woman’s dry cleaning.
“Not only was the animation a complete failure,” Maria kicked at a gloppy bit and it begrudgingly slid a few inches across the floor, “but the color is all wrong.”
“Hm.” Tony stared at the ceiling, watching a drop slowly coalesce and then distend, pulling down and away until gravity finally took over and it fell thirty feet to hit the terrazzo. It didn’t splat so much as it slithered which was both disconcerting and interesting on a scientific level.
“We should have never branched out into biology.”
“I think this falls under the category of chemistry, Junior.”
“Dude. That piece is fucking looking at me. With disdain.”
“Okay. I’ll concede biology but you have to admit that there were some valuable lessons learned. Every failure is an opportunity…for…something…and try again and all that.”
“Name one lesson we learned from all this.” Maria crossed her arms over her chest and squinted at him. Upon closer inspection, Tony wasn’t sure she was squinting so much as trying not to let her eyes fully close. He glanced at his watch. Through a thin sheen of pink mucus he could tell it was after two a.m. Oh, shit.
“You know what? I need to think about that. Probably all night. You should go to bed. While I think. And you will sleep, and rest, and in the morning you’ll be a totally normal, well-adjusted child-person who does not have brain damage or whatever from lack of REM. I’m sure I’ll have a whole list of lessons learned by breakfast.”
“Oh. Please.” The cool, controlled voice came from behind them, near the private entrance. Tony turned slowly. A tall, gorgeous redhead in a dashing black wool coat with Bottega Veneta luggage trailing behind tapped one pointed Louboutin boot. Tony briefly considered that if he threw himself into the biggest gloppy pile, Pepper might be too concerned with his health to worry about laying blame. She continued, “Don’t let me stop you, I’m on tenterhooks here. What lessons are there to be learned from slathering the Tower lobby in pink snot?”
“First and foremost,” Tony began, while trying to surreptitiously shoo Maria toward the elevator, “there is the importance of only doing science when fully rested. A well rested brain is a…safe and…innovative brain.”
“Really.” Pepper looked like she wanted to step closer, but most of the floor was sticky. And also slippery. It was an incomprehensible dichotomy.
“Flank her,” Tony whispered out of the corner of his mouth, then looked down to find that Maria was no longer beside him. His head snapped up to see that she was duck walking behind the security desk, below Pepper’s line of sight, and toward the private elevator. Quick and opportunistic, nice style. Tony prepared to throw himself on a grenade. For the good of the kid.
“And also,” he said loudly to draw attention, “scaling. Yes. Scaling of experiments is essential. First attempts should always be small enough for proper containment. Which brings me to my next point. Containment. An essential-”
“Hold it, young lady.” Pepper stopped Maria with an upraised hand before the kid could slide past, careful not to touch her pink glistening coveralls. Tony winced, scrambling to think of a better way to take indictment so Maria wouldn’t get into trouble. Parents should take responsibility. That was on a post-it note somewhere, too. Pepper continued to Maria in a concerned voice,
“Leave your clothes on the floor in the guest bathroom closest to the foyer and rinse off in there, okay? Just wear a towel to your room and make sure you shower again – really scrub your hair – before you go to bed. Is this a biohazard?”
The security guard’s eyes widened again, and she began flipping through screens at her station, no doubt looking for MSDS sheets on pink goo and the emergency procedures for building contamination. Tony was happy that Pepper wasn’t mad at Maria, but also a little disappointed that he was apparently going to be weathering the ass-chewing on his own.
“Nah. It’s inert,” he answered. “Mostly. And we designed it to dry and crumble after an hour’s exposure to air. Maintenance should be able to just vacuum it up in another forty minutes or so.” He picked his way across the floor, still wary of Pepper’s cool demeanor. Maria made for the elevator without saying anything else. Smart girl.
“And why, exactly,” Pepper asked in a lower voice once he was within arm’s reach, “was this experiment being conducted in the lobby, hours after her approved bedtime?”
“Well, we watched both Ghostbusters last weekend,” he began. Pepper nodded, indicating she remembered, and waved him to continue. “And you really liked the toaster, and Maria thought it would be funny to have ours dance when you tried to put in your English muffin in the morning, and then I said, ‘why not’ and we starting thinking about it, and the first run went really well, but we needed a good three hour window in order to propagate an amount suitable to multiple test scenarios and-”
“First,” Pepper interrupted, and Tony let her, “I am extremely concerned by the use of the word ‘propagate’. There are some connotations there that I am sincerely hoping do not apply. Second, you will get a robot of some kind down here to start work. This is above and beyond even the emergency pay clause for our maintenance people. Third, you will pay for Edna,” she smiled consolingly at the security guard, “to take a paid vacation. With her family. And for her dry cleaning.”
“I was already planning on that,” Tony muttered.
“Finally,” Pepper looked down her nose at him, her blue eyes boring into his very soul. Tony was sure she could see right to all the darkest, most cringe-worthy parts of him. Not that it mattered. She already knew, had seen, the worst of him. “Good job, Tony.” She smiled, softly. Tony blinked in surprise. “She looked excited and extremely happy. Exhausted too, but as long as we don’t make a habit of it. It isn’t a school night, after all.”
“Oh. Well. Okay.”
“I will be collecting a favor for this, of course.” She turned and headed for the elevator and Tony thought about offering to bring her luggage, but let her get it herself. She wouldn’t like it getting dirty. They were halfway to the penthouse before the shock of not being in trouble started to wear off.
“Did you get a toaster to dance?” Pepper inquired.
Tony winced. “Funny story. Ha. Haha. Erm. I didn’t want to use ours for the trial run, so I may have borrowed Steve’s. And the Bolshevik Boy’s. And Natasha’s. I’m sure they won’t notice.” He had put them back…afterward. Tony couldn’t decide if he hoped they never noticed, or if he hoped one of them tried to make toast in the morning. He reminded himself to tell Friday – just as soon as Pepper was out of earshot – to take notes. There was only a four percent chance it would explode when heated.
And a one hundred percent chance it would smell like a lingering, three day-old, wet, dead cat.
God, he really hoped Barnes liked toast.