About an hour after Doctor Banner and Alexandra had started focalizing their search for the cube, Fury called them up to the bridge again.
They had located Loki in Stuttgart and Captain Rogers, Natasha and Tony Stark had apprehended him, whilst also stumbling into, or being hijacked by (Alex wasn't one hundred per cent on the details), Thor, who had returned with them to the Helicarrier.
They'd gotten Loki into custody, and while Fury went and made sure he was detained in the glass cage created for 'The Hulk', Alexandra, Bruce, Steve, Natasha, Agent Hill and new arrival Thor listened in on the conversation between the Director, and the God of Mischief.
"Just in case it's unclear, you try to escape, if you so much as scratch that glass, its 30,000 feet straight down in a steel trap. You get how that works? Ant, boot." Fury revealed, gesturing to Loki as the ant, and the console as the boot, making Alexandra roll her eyes. That was atypical Fury humor. Mocking his detainees with their own words to add salt to their wounds.
"It's an impressive cage. Not built, I think, for me." Loki replied, and Alexandra's eyes flickered to Bruce, who she had quickly become friends with. Their love of science and their mutual somewhat uncontrollable powers made them bond as Fury had hoped they would.
He glanced at her and she gave him a brief smile, in support, because that's the most she could give him. Comfort was not particularly her strong suit at this moment in time. Not when she was the one who probably needed it the most.
Barton was still unaccounted for, as was the Tesseract.
"Built for something a lot stronger than you." Fury retorted.
"Oh I've heard," Loki said, as he walked towards the camera that we were watching the exchange through. "A mindless beast. Makes play he's still a man."
Bruce caught her eyes then, and Alex rolled her eyes again, making him smile, though it was only slightly.
"How desperate are you, that you call on such lost creatures to defend you?" Loki continued.
"How desperate am I? You threaten my world with war. You steal a force you can't hope to control. You talk about peace, and you kill because it's fun. You have made me very desperate. You might not be glad that you did." Fury threatened, in the subtle way that Alexandra had gotten used to over the years.
"Ooh, it burns you to have come so close. To have the Tesseract, to have power, unlimited power. And for what? A warm light for all mankind to share. And then to be reminded what real power is." Loki said, completely seriously.
"Was he talking about himself just then?" Alex muttered to herself, earning a half smile from Natasha, who was sat next to her.
"Well, let me know if 'real power' wants a magazine or something." Fury said, as he walked out, making Alexandra mentally applaud him.
Alexandra half tuned the others out then, and turned her attention onto Natasha.
"Did you see Barton?" Alexandra asked.
"No. He got the iridium and was gone by the time we got Loki. We'll find him, Alex." Natasha reassured her long-time friend.
She knew that Alex and Clint shared a connection that went beyond the physical relationship they shared. She was waiting for the day they admitted it to themselves and each other. Ideally, it should have been years ago, probably before Natasha herself had come onto the scene, but there was one particular trait that both the elemental and the archer shared; stubbornness.
They were both so insistent that they were happy with how their situation was that neither one of them wanted to be the first to admit that they actually wanted more.
"What if we can't reverse the mind control? What if we don't get him back?" Alexandra whispered.
"We'll get him back. He's Clint. He's come out of worse situations before. We just need to find him as quickly as possible." Natasha retorted, because only one of them was allowed to think about the worst outcome and apparently that was Alex's domain for now.
Alexandra nodded, then looked up to see that Coulson was back with Tony Stark in tow. Or Tony Stark had him in tow. Either way, but it was most likely the latter.
"It's a stabilizing agent!" He said, making Alexandra wrinkle her eyebrows in confusion, until she realized someone must've asked what the iridium was for. Stark turned back to Coulson and continued speaking in a quieter voice, as they continued walking. "All I'm saying is pick a weekend, and I'll fly you out to Portland. Keep love alive."
Alexandra rolled her eyes at Stark's antics.
He walked up to Director Fury's viewing station, pretending to be a sea captain, announcing that an agent was playing Galaga, which he was and Alexandra would deal with him later, and then asked how Fury could see all of his screens.
"He turns." Hill answered.
"They're using the iridium as a stabilizing agent so the portal doesn't close in on itself like it did at SHIELD." Alexandra explained, while Stark prodded and pressed things on Fury's monitors.
His attention was then drawn to the beautiful brunette woman in the wine red top and leather trousers, whose blue eyes sparkled with interest. The lab coat tossed over the back of her chair meant that she was most definitely a scientist, but, being the pure man-child that he was, he was not above riling her up to see if she would stand up to him, or if she was just going to get in his way by being another 'Yes, Mr. Stark' kind of lab geek.
"And who is this beautiful woman?" Tony asked.
"Agent Cosmos. She's assisting Dr Banner with finding the Tesseract." Fury announced as he approached.
Stark moved away from the Director's station after he'd planted his bug, and walked towards Agent Cosmos who had stood and was walking towards Dr Banner, figuring that they were going to be returning to the labs to finish their work.
"Why don't you let the men do all the heavy lifting, sweetheart? Don't tire yourself out." He remarked, not knowing that his joke to get a rise out of her was going to spark a lot more than just a rant on feminism in the work place.
The demi-goddess saw red. She glared at Tony, and heard Natasha's quiet chuckle, most likely earning her a few puzzled looks from everyone but Fury, Hill and Coulson. Steve, who had been watching the two women quietly conversing the entire time, was probably the most shocked when Alexandra turned her palm upwards, her eyes still locked on Stark, and fire suddenly covered her entire hand.
Tony, however, looked only mildly concerned for his life, because he was mostly fascinated. She was spontaneously creating and manipulating fire in her hand, and wasn't even burning.
"I'd be careful with what you say, Mr Stark. I don't tend to play well with others after they've insulted my intelligence. And usually, things get a little hot. And not in a way I'm sure you'd like." Alexandra smirked, as his eyes widened, unable to tear themselves away from the fireball in her hand.
"So this is one of the secrets your secrets are keeping?" Stark asked Fury.
"Agent Cosmos isn't exactly a secret, Stark. Her file was made available for you to look through when Agent Coulson gave you the information he did," Fury answered, defending himself and supporting his greatest adviser and his best agent. It was the least he could do to repay her for all the confidence she had showed in him throughout all the years. "If you'd read all the information, then you'd know that Doctor Cosmos is more than qualified to assist Banner. I'm sure Cosmos and Banner have it under control."
Stark just ignored the Director, walking past him and stopping in front of his fellow scientists.
"Doctor Banner, your work on anti-electron collisions is unparalleled. And I'm a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster." Tony grinned, thinking he had complimented the doctor, as he shook his hand.
Bruce looked at the billionaire with uncertainty.
"Doctor Banner is only here to track the Cube. In fact, I was hoping you'd join them."
Alexandra began to play with the little ball of fire in her hand, bouncing it up and down like a bouncy ball, while Rogers stared at her in wonder. How did she do that? Is that something that SHIELD was dabbling with?
He shook his head, and went back into Captain America mode.
"I would start with that stick of his. It may be magical, but it works an awful lot like a Hydra weapon." He suggested, turning his head to look at the three scientists.
Alex nodded, remembering her studies on the weapons HYDRA had created way back in the forties with Howard Stark. The orb in Loki's scepter actually reminded her of the Tesseract, the power that emitted from it sent the same feeling through her body.
"I don't know about that, but it is powered by the Cube. And I would like to know how Loki used it to turn two of the sharpest men I know into his personal flying monkeys." Fury remarked, and Alex felt stab of worry lance through her heart when she was reminded of Clint's situation.
"You're not the only one." Alex replied, putting out her little ball of fire, and redirecting her attention back to the room.
"Monkeys? I do not understand." Thor said, looking at Fury with a look of confusion that let Alex's heart warm a little to the brother of the god that had brainwashed her best friend.
"I do!" Steve said, pointing at Fury with glee. Alex and Natasha traded smirks. The Captain was so far out of the loop that he was excited that he understood a movie reference. How cute. "I understood that reference."
Tony looked at his fellow scientists, more so at Alex, but not before rolling his eyes at Captain Rogers' small victory.
"Shall we play, doctors?" He asked, nodding in each of their directions.
"This way, sir." Bruce said, gesturing to a door leading away from the command center. Alex walked ahead of the pair, tapping away on her tablet, going through equations and algorithms to try and get some work done as she routinely ignored the stares of the other agents who walked past.
While Stark set up his own equipment, Alex and Bruce started to run tests on Loki's scepter, scanning the weapon and uploading the image to the SHIELD servers, and then copying it to her own.
"The gamma readings are definitely consistent with Selvig's reports of the Tesseract." Bruce informed Stark.
"It's going to take weeks to process. Weeks that we don't have." Alex added, as she began running a diagnostic on the two readings just as second confirmation they were the same.
"If we bypass their mainframe and direct route to the Homer cluster, we can clock this at around 600 teraflops." Stark replied, doing what he said as he spoke on the computer that he brought with him. Bruce looked up at him, and let out a chuckle. Alex smiled at him. Bruce seemed like a sad, lonely guy, so she guessed it was rare for him to laugh.
"All I packed was a toothbrush." Bruce said, as Tony walked back towards them.
"You know, you two should come by Stark Tower sometime. Top ten floors, all R&D. You'd love it. It's Candy Land." He said, picking up an object that made Alex narrow her eyes, but she simply rolled her eyes as she was curious as to what he'd do with it.
"Thanks, but the last time I was in New York, I kind of broke Harlem." Bruce replied, making Tony divert his eyes to her next.
"Sounds cool to me. I'm in." She replied, letting his earlier sexist comment slide. He was Tony Stark after all, blissfully unaware of anything around him but his own needs and, of course, his ego.
"Well, Banner, I promise a stress-free environment. No tension, no surprises." And then Alex's curiosity was fed, as Tony gave Bruce a tiny shock on the side.
"Ow!" Bruce said, turning to look at him with an amused face, as Tony scrutinized Bruce's face to see if he showed any signs of 'hulking' out.
"Hey!" Steve made his presence known.
"Nothing...?" Tony asked Bruce, who shook his head, and went back to work. Alex pretty much mimicked his actions and began logging her findings on the gamma radiation emissions from both the Cube and Loki's scepter. They were identical, but she wanted to see the difference in the emissions when the Tesseract opened the portal.
"Are you nuts?" Steve asked Tony, anger clear on his face.
"Jury's out. You really have got a lid on it, haven't you?" Tony asked Bruce, as Steve strode forward, still in his Captain America suit. "What's your secret? Mellow jazz, bongo drums, huge bag of weed?"
Alex had to let out a chuckle at the last bit as she tried to picture Bruce smoking a joint, but then her mind turned it into the Hulk smoking a joint and it instantly became a lot funnier.
"Is everything a joke to you?" Steve questioned Stark again.
"Funny things are."
"Threatening the safety of everyone on this ship isn't funny. No offence, Doc." He added the last part on, with a nod to Banner, who just nodded and carried on working.
"No offense, Captain, but Doctor Banner is more of an authority on what kind of stress he can and cannot handle," Alex glanced up from her work to shoot America's Man with a Plan a dark look. She was being disturbed from her work and that was irritating her. This is why she worked alone in here most of the time. She hated being disturbed. "Also, you and Mr. Stark are disturbing me from my work, which is going to delay our progress, which will make me angry and believe me, Dr. Banner isn't the only one you don't want to make angry."
"It's all right, Alex. Steve, I wouldn't have come aboard if I couldn't handle pointy things." Bruce said, trying to smooth things over, but Alex just scoffed and tried to tune them out.
If push came to shove, she'd throw them all out of her lab and lock the doors so she could finish her work in peace.
"You're tip-toeing, big man. You need to strut." Tony said, walking backwards to pick up his snack. Dried blueberries, Alex noticed, a super-fruit and quite healthy. Surprising, considering the person who was eating them.
"And you need to focus on the problem at hand, Mr. Stark." Steve snapped.
"Do you think I'm not? Why did Fury call us in? Why now? Why not before? What isn't he telling us? I can't do the equation unless I have all of the variables." Tony said, looking at Steve. Alex looked up at him as well, noting the seed of doubt that Tony planted showing up in his eyes.
"You think Fury's hiding something?" Alex laughed at this, and all three man looked at her with raised eyebrows, before she stopped and carried on working.
"He's a spy. Captain, he's "the" spy. His secrets have secrets. Our favorite female brunette scientist was one of them. It's bugging them, too. Isn't it?" Tony said, stuffing another handful of blueberries into his mouth, and gesturing at the other two scientists, who were struggling to do their work with the distraction both Tony and Steve were creating. Alex and Bruce exchanged a glance, basically saying that they weren't going to get in between this.
"Uh...I just want to finish my work here, and..." Bruce said, before he was cut off by Steve.
Bruce looked down at his keyboard, before looking at Alex and sighing. He took off his glasses, and held them in one hand as he began to speak.
"'A warm light for all mankind.' Loki's jab at Fury about the Cube." Bruce started.
"I heard it." Steve nodded.
"We think that was meant for Stark," Alex said, taking a handful of the blueberries Tony offered towards her and Bruce. Bruce did the same. "Even if Barton didn't tell Loki about the tower, it was still all over the news."
She tossed one up into the air and caught it in her mouth, grinning victoriously.
"I like this girl." Tony said, grinning at her. She winked at him and smirked.
"The Stark Tower? That big, ugly...building in New York?" Steve paused for a second when Tony turned and looked at him for the 'ugly' comment, before he continued.
"It's powered by an arc reactor, a self-sustaining energy source." Bruce explained, before his female colleague took over.
"That building will run itself for, what, a year?" Alex estimated, and getting her calculations correct.
"It's just the prototype," Tony replied, nodding at her. "I'm kind of the only name in clean energy right now. That's what they're getting at."
Steve looked back at Bruce and Alex, waiting for the rest of what he wanted to say.
"So, why didn't S.H.I.E.L.D. bring him in on the Tesseract project? What are they doing in the energy business in the first place?" Bruce asked rhetorically. Steve wouldn't know, but the SHIELD agent in the room might.
"Wouldn't you know, Dr Cosmos? You are a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, right?" Steve asked her.
"I've been on leave, Rogers. Since last year. I was sunning myself in the tropics, trying to stay relaxed. And S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't send round a newsletter. I'm as out of the loop as you, well on this topic anyway. I have no answers."
"But if you asked Fury for answers, wouldn't he give them to you?" Steve questioned her, making her feel as though she was being interrogated.
"Captain, you may have just been chilling like a bottle of beer in a giant freezer for the past seventy years, but while technology has leaped forwards not everything has changed so drastically. Fury is my equivalent to a CO, and I'm just a soldier. I get assignments, I do as I'm told, and I complete the mission. Fury knows me. He knows I don't ask questions. So if I went up to him and started questioning S.H.I.E.L.D.'s motives...alarm bells would start ringing in his perfectly round head. Bruce has a point, though, why is S.H.I.E.L.D dabbling with clean energy? We've never bothered before. We're a defense organization. Not a bunch of hippies who insist that eating meat is contributing to climate change. So why the sudden interest?"
"I should probably look into that once my decryption program finishes breaking into all of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s secure files." Tony said, looking at his Stark Phone.
Alex grinned, shaking her head. She finally understood why he had gone to Fury's station and started messing with the screens. All the flair and fun was just a distraction so he could plant a bug. If he wasn't already such a recognizable face, he might have made a good spy. Might. If he could learn how to keep his mouth shut and attract less attention to himself.
"I'm sorry. Did you say-" Steve trailed off.
"Jarvis has been running it since I hit the bridge. In a few hours, I'll know ever dirty secret S.H.I.E.L.D. has ever tried to hide," Tony revealed. Alex and Bruce traded another wary glance. They weren't sure how this would play out, but both could tell it wouldn't end well. "Blueberry?"
Steve stared at him with a stern expression. It was a look that reminded Alex of fathers. Over her existence she'd seen dads give their children that exact look when they were reprimanding them for doing something they shouldn't. It was the look Fury gave agents, had even given her before, when they mess up.
"Yet you're confused about why they didn't want you around." Steve remarked.
"An intelligence organization that fears intelligence? Historically, not awesome." Tony retorted, with what Alex would start calling 'Stark Sarcasm'. She'd known Howard Stark and this was exactly the kind of sarcasm he used to use. A smile ghosted across her lips as she recognized that while Tony was like Howard in many ways, he was so different as well.
"I think Loki's trying to wind us up. This is a man who means to start a war and if we don't stay focused, he'll succeed. We have orders. We should follow them." Steve said, trying to shame them. Alex chuckled.
"Were we not trying to work before he and Tony had their little testosterone-fueled pissing match?" Alex whispered to Bruce, who hid his laugh under a cough and his hand.
"Following's not really my style." Tony replied, tossing some more blueberries into his mouth.
"And you're all about style, aren't you?" Steve asked.
"Of the people in this room, which one is, A, wearing a spangly outfit, and, B, not of use?" Tony retorted, and Alex tried not to laugh at Steve's face as he got cut down to size.
"Steve, tell me that none of this smells a little funky to you." Bruce said, trying to play peacekeeper.
Steve looked at Bruce, then back at Tony, before looking at Alex. She looked back at him with a look that said she wanted him out of her lab, and he noticed that while he was preaching about following orders, he had been keeping Bruce and Alex from theirs. He didn't care about Stark. Stark didn't follow orders anyway.
"Just find the Cube." Steve said, before he stormed out of the lab.
Alex sighed, and moved across the room to a different screen and began to use the cross-match of the Cube and the scepter to locate the Cube.
"That's the guy my dad never shut up about? I'm wondering if they shouldn't have kept him on ice." Tony said, as he began working.
"The guy's not wrong about Loki, he has got the jump on us." Bruce said, subtly coming to Steve's defense, though Alex wasn't sure he really needed it. Sure he was completely lost in this century with its rapid advances in technology and communications, but he could hold his own well enough.
"What he's got is an Acme dynamite kit. It's going to blow up in his face. And I'm going to be there when it does." Tony replied.
"Yeah. I'll read all about it."
Alex turned to look at Bruce as he walked towards her and took over her screen, and smiled at him as she moved out of his way.
"Or you'll be suiting up with the rest of us." Alex said, crossing the room to use the other screen.
"You see, I don't get a suit of armor. I'm exposed...like a nerve. It's a nightmare." Bruce said, and Alex, while on the other side of the room, could hear the sadness in his voice. She knew that Bruce had done everything he could to cure himself. She'd read all about it in his file. She knew all about Betty Ross and Harlem and General Ross and she wished she could help him.
"You know, I've got a cluster of shrapnel trying every second to crawl its way into my heart. This stops it," Alex turned just in time to see Tony tap the small arc reactor in his chest. "This little circle of light, it's a part of me now, not just armor. It's a terrible privilege."
Tony Stark getting deep. Alex had officially seen it all.
"But you can control it." Bruce countered.
"Because I learnt how."
"It's different." Bruce said.
"Hey, I read all about your accident. That much gamma exposure should have killed you." Tony said, trying to put it into perspective for Bruce.
"So you're saying that the Hulk...the other guy saved my life? That's nice. That's a nice sentiment. Saved it for what?"
"Everyone has a purpose, Bruce. My guess is we'll discover yours pretty soon." Alex said, bringing herself into the conversation.
"You may not enjoy that." Bruce replied, as all three started working again, each individual running their own test that would bring them closer to locating the Cube.
"You just might." Alex said, a smirk on her face.