Unlikely Singularities – Chapter 3


Hold Me Closer, Kevin Bacon: We Don’t Need No Water

October 12, 2016

So they couldn’t even begin the review?” Pepper handed Darcy a glass of wine and sat adjacent to her on a low-slung peacock blue couch that brought out flecks of color in the Jawlensky painting behind her.

I mean, they all have the copies I emailed out before the meeting, so technically they could be going through it. But the University requires a board of three at every thesis hearing, and Dr. Goraslazw got called to D.C. He does some consulting for the diplomatic corps.” Darcy toed off her flats and tucked her feet under her, happy to settle in for a long evening of drinks, desserts, and chatting with Pepper Potts. She had never admitted it out loud, not even to Jane, but she had a little bit of a girl crush on the CEO. Maybe even some hero worship. The woman was brilliant, powerful, and her shoes. Darcy had seen the Malibu closet. It deserved its own shrine.

They couldn’t get a replacement?” Pepper pulled out a few hairpins and her sleek ponytail tumbled around her shoulders like an ad for expensive shampoo.

They don’t have anyone else on staff with the security clearance to review my source documentation. Thank you, again, by the way, for helping me get access to everything.”

Pepper waved a hand. “It was the least I could do after you talked down that scientist at the LA facility who was trying to exterminate his colleagues. You saved lives, and millions in Stark Industries payouts. Besides, it is gratifying to see someone with some sense going through the Accords.” She took another sip. “Have they rescheduled you yet?”

Not yet,” Darcy sighed. “I have time, I guess. This is the first of two reviews before my final presentation next spring. I just really wanted to get another perspective before the winter break, and with all the calendar conflicts it probably won’t happen until January.” She snorted and reached into the massive shoulder bag slumped against her chair, “Plus, I paid a small fortune – like enough for a month of lattes – to print off hard copies, and now they will be wasted. I’ll have to reprint before the meeting again.” Her thesis, three hundred pages of presentation, dissection, conclusion, and documentation with color diagrams and tables, made a heavy thump as she set it on the coffee table. Darcy glowered at it, thinking of the price of deforestation and how it directly exchanged into caffeinated beverages and tacos.

If you don’t mind,” Pepper raised her eyebrows and gave a hesitant smile, “I would love to read it. I could give you some feedback – not anything as insightful as you would receive from other political theorists, I’m sure, but perhaps-”

Oh, god, seriously Pepper?” Darcy could not believe her luck. In the two and a half years since she had first met Pepper Potts, they had gone from a professional association that left Darcy in awe to a friendship that was strange and unbelievable and extremely gratifying. Pepper might not have a poly-sci degree, but she ran an international company and made billion dollar deals every other day. She negotiated with the likes of Tony Stark, Warren Buffet, and Lei Fanpei and came out on top. Not to mention, she had first-hand experience with more than one Avenger. It was good to be friends with Pepper Potts. “That would be amazing. Just,” sudden hesitation overwhelmed her. Darcy was proud of her work, she had poured a ton of effort into that paper already and the topic was pretty close to her heart. It was probably the best thing she’d ever done – which also meant that if it sucked, well, she didn’t want to think about how that reflected on her. “It’s a work in progress, you know? I’m only about forty-five percent done with the final section, and I haven’t started on the exec summary yet. And I need at least two more rough edits before I can move on to-”

Thankfully, Pepper cut off her babbling. “I am sure it will be great.” She set down her glass and picked up the bound copy before standing gracefully. “I’ll put this by my bed – so much better reading than the financial prospectus I was going to get to tonight.”

Oh, I don’t want to take you away from anything important.” Darcy tried to sound sincere, but she didn’t think she managed that. She definitely wanted to have Pepper read her paper.

Don’t worry about it,” Pepper called over her shoulder as she disappeared into another part of the house. Darcy stared out through the wall of glass to the ocean far below, wondering if Pepper ever had nightmares about the old house and Mandarin. They had only spoken of it once. There weren’t many people that knew Pepper had been in the house during the attack – fewer who knew what had happened afterward. Darcy understood that keeping it a secret was a security issue for Pepper and Tony, but she also understood that it was difficult to talk about to a normal person. Only Darcy’s parents and her mom’s wife knew the whole story about the Destroyer, and she hadn’t told them all the details about London. It was too hard to make someone who had never experienced real danger understand what it had been like. That and it freaked out Darcy’s dad to think that she had fought against aliens. He was still sending her brochures about self-defense classes and the requirements for concealed carry permits.

Do you want New York Style, Dark Raspberry, Turtle, or the Mango Triple-Cream?” Pepper padded barefooted back through the room and into the kitchen.

Darcy turned to rest her chin on the back of her chair and grin at Pepper over the wide vetrazzo island. “Do we have to choose?” Pepper laughed and swiftly returned with a crystal plate of bite-sized cheesecakes. Darcy’s mouth began to water and she did her best to maintain the fiction of conversation while she plotted in what order to begin her taste-test. “So, enough about my un-ending college career and inevitable slide into student loan debt. What’s up with you? Big Board meeting this week, right?”

Yes, unfortunately,” Pepper gave an inelegant snort. “There is a contingent of ancient hold-outs on the Board, from Howard’s heyday, who are slavering over the tension at Pym Tech.”

Their CEO disappeared, right?” Darcy waved a cheesecake in the air.

That’s the official word, but Natasha has made some rather pointed comments about Scott Lang that lead me to believe no one will be finding Darren Cross any time soon. It has created a power vacuum over there. Hank Pym was a contemporary of Howard’s. They had an…adversarial friendship.”

Frenemies? Do men do that?”

Apparently. But Hank was ousted by the Board before Cross took over, and he doesn’t have controlling interest by himself. If he and his daughter were on the same page, they could steer the company, but they have been in a Cold War since her childhood – according to Tony. All that disarray at SI’s biggest competitor has lead to talk that we should buy them out.” She viciously bit into a Mango Triple-Cream and swallowed. “Even the intern who delivers my mail could list the problems with that idea.”

Inquires into price-setting, patent fraud, and monopolies,” Darcy suggested.

Yes, and that is only the legal end. I spent hours in private meetings with board members one-on-one trying to explain to them the benefit of competition in research and the marketplace.”

Nobody wanted to fund space exploration after it was just about the science and not about rubbing the Soviets’ faces in the dirt,” Darcy agreed. “So did they go for it?”

Barely,” Pepper snorted and took a large sip of wine. “I have about a third of the Board solidly on my side, and another third at least willing to hold off until after the new year and see who Pym Tech selects as the next CEO. If I am lucky, it will be Van Dyne – she’s smart, professional, and not tied to antiquated ideas. If I’m unlucky, Hank will be in the mix and then it will be all hands on deck to keep Tony from inciting some sort of intercoastal pissing contest.

I imagine robots, cyber warfare, and probably mutated houseplants or something.”

Don’t give him any ideas. He’s preoccupied with the whole Accords issue right now, but having his Dad’s old nemesis on the playing field could probably pull him back into impromptu press conferences and three-day benders with the SI engineers.”

Ms. Potts,” Friday interrupted politely, “your dinner has arrived at the gate, and security is clearing the delivery person now. Shall I lower the shades for your movie?”

Yes, thank you Friday. You go ahead and pick,” she told Darcy, “I’ll sign for the food and be right back.”

The moment Pepper was out of earshot, Friday spoke again, “Ms. Lewis, I was directed not to notify Ms. Potts, but I feel you would like to know that Mr. Stark has accosted the delivery person and is approaching the front door now.”

What? Why?” It took Darcy a few seconds to process, and she almost immediately regretted asking. She was pretty sure she knew why. At their last girls’ night, Pepper had confided that she was going to lay down a few ground rules for a new relationship with Tony. Darcy had gathered that it had not gone as well as it could have.

Friday began before Darcy could stop her, sounding more amused than an artificial intelligence should be able to, “He has been sending apologies for six days, but Ms. Potts insisted that he think about their discussion and return only when he was ready to, and I quote her, ‘speak like an adult for at least ten minutes’.” A boisterous greeting drifted to Darcy from the entry-way, followed by a low murmur from Pepper.

Maybe I should just…” Darcy juggled her shoes and wine in one hand and her bag in the other.

If I may suggest, Ms. Lewis? Ms. Potts has had your usual guest room prepared for you. Distance from the master suite and excellent construction practices should prevent your sleep from being disturbed.”

Thanks, Fri,” Darcy let out a relieved breath. She didn’t have a car in LA – she usually borrowed one from Pepper – and she hadn’t been looking forward to trying to find a hotel so late in the evening. Her Little Sister was planning on having lunch together with her the next day, and Darcy was not going to be late just because she couldn’t afford a cab. She shoved her shoes into her bag and snagged the open wine and a bottle of water from the kitchen on her way through. “Let me know if Tony takes off and / or Pepper decides she wants company.”

Of course, Ms. Lewis. I took the liberty of bringing up your Netflix que in the guest room.”

That’s kind of an invasion of privacy, Fri. A little creepy. Awesome, sure, and I totally love that you did it for me. But just so you know, a little creepy.”

I will take note of that. Good night, Ms. Lewis.”

Sweet dreams, Friday.”