Monica Warren loves her job. Physics is her passion, and sharing it with the best and brightest students New York has to offer is how she has chosen to spend her life. Seeing students thirst for knowledge, and the joy in their faces when they find something that sparks their interest is so fulfilling she can’t imagine wanting to pursue a different career. Many physicists are devoted to pure physical science, viewing other people as a vaguely annoying side issue, but Monica is not one of them. Physics makes the world go round, but the reason the world needs to go round is the people. Seeing young people grow to appreciate the complexities of the world is the most rewarding thing she has ever experienced. She is, at heart, a teacher, and she loves it. Mostly.
There is a buzzing from her desk drawer. She sighs, looking up at her class as they work silently through a particularly tricky question she has posed them. Well, most of them are working. It’s the last class of the day, so it’s hard to get the kids to concentrate. Michelle Jones is reading a novel, not even attempting to hide it. Flash Thompson has already finished and is tapping his fingers impatiently on his desk. She’s been trying to get through to him for months to slow down and check his work for mistakes. He could be a very good student if he wasn’t so desperate to win. Ned Leeds and Peter Parker are whispering to each other about a Lego spaceship of some kind, clearly audible in the quiet room. They’re good kids, those two, but easily distracted and both exhibiting some behavioural issues recently. She’d had to discipline Ned for inappropriate use of the computer lab recently, and Peter – well Peter has been off all year. She’s already taken Peter’s phone away from him today. He’d been watching Spider-Man videos during her lecture. Her class is too easy for him and he doesn’t need to listen to her long explanations and multiple examples to understand physics principles. He almost always gets the answer right when she calls on him, regardless of how little attention he has been paying, and his test scores would be perfect if he was a little more thorough about showing his working. He has an internship at Stark Industries which he seems to prioritise above all else. It’s not very clear what he does there, the internship paperwork being very sparse. The job description consists of the word “intern” and nothing else, but it’s a genuine contract so she can’t ask too many questions about how much science he’s actually learning.
The buzzing in her drawer is getting louder. Usually, if a confiscated phone rings, she just leaves it and the caller gives up, but not this time. She opens the drawer. Peter’s phone is vibrating violently and flashing blue light. She picks it up, pressing the button to turn it off. A clear, female voice rings out. “Biometrics not recognized. You do not have the authority to operate this phone.” At the back of the room, Peter Parker’s head jerks up. Monica presses the off button again. The voice says, “Peter, are you alright? Shall I activate instant ki-”
“NO! No! Karen, do not activate instant kill!” Peter’s voice sounds shrill with panic, probably embarrassed about having his role-playing game accidentally playing for the whole class to hear. Teenagers worry too much about that sort of thing, Monica thinks. Far too caught up in the opinions of others for their own good. Each to their own is her philosophy. Her brother does medieval live action role play and loves it.
Peter is out of his seat, hurrying to the front of the class. “She’s just my teacher, I repeat, do not activate instant kill!”
“I’m glad to hear that, Peter,” the phone says, “deactivating instant kill mode.”
The phone continues to buzz in Monica’s hand. It’s a new model she doesn’t recognise, and apparently will only respond to Peter. “Peter, turn this phone off immediately and return to your worksheet,” she orders in her most authoritative teacher-voice. “This has caused quite enough disruption.” Sure enough, not a single student is concentrating on their work anymore.
Peter takes the phone from her. “Karen, turn the phone off,” he orders it.
“Peter, Mr Stark is calling you. Shall I answer the call?” The phone voice says, ignoring Peter’s instruction.
“I can’t talk right now, I’m in class,” Peter tells his phone, “My teacher wants me to turn off the phone.”
Monica looks at Peter in astonishment, firstly that Tony Stark himself is calling her student and secondly that Peter is declining the call from the single most influential living man in any scientific field.
“Answering video call from Iron Man,” The phone ignores him completely in favour of picking up the call.
“No, Karen!” Peter protests, “I said turn off! I’m in class!”
This is wildly interesting to Monica, because it’s the first time ever Peter has shown any willingness to comply with the no phones in class rule, and it’s when someone she knows is a hero of his is calling.
“Tony Stark has initiated baby monitor function. You may not decline this call.”
Monica can see Peter looking around in horror to check if anyone has heard ‘baby monitor’. Everyone has. No one is even pretending to do any work anymore, too eager to watch Peter fight with his phone, and hoping to catch a tiny glimpse of Iron Man on the screen.
“I’m at school, Mr Stark!” Peter says as Tony Stark appears on the video screen. “I can’t talk, my Physics teacher’s getting really mad.”
Honestly, she’s not that mad. She shouldn’t give Peter a pass, but she’s burning with curiosity about why the head of Stark Industries is calling a high schooler who probably fetches coffee for the receptionists or files meaningless paperwork for hours at a time because he’s not allowed any responsibility. Peter certainly hasn’t turned in any sort of project on what he’s doing at Stark Industries, or even an outline of a project. She tries to keep her face stern and impassive as she says “Mr Parker, end this call immediately and return to your seat. You are not exempt from the rules.”
“Ms. Warren, is it?”
Monica starts at suddenly being addressed. It takes a second for it to dawn on her that Tony Stark is speaking to her. He knows her name, because she’s Peter’s Physics teacher.
“That’s correct. Now, I’m sorry Mr Stark, but Peter needs to end this call and return to his calculations.”
“Oh, Peter’s already finished those, haven’t you, Pete?”
Peter laughs nervously. “Well, yeah, like fifteen minutes ago, but I still have to go.”
“Well, Ms Warren, I need to borrow Peter for a minute. I have some urgent questions for him regarding his internship.”
“I’m afraid I can’t let Peter leave class for his internship, you’ll have to discuss it later.” It’s strangely satisfying to firmly refuse to do what Tony Stark says. He’s not a man many people stand up to.
“”I’m afraid it can’t wait until later,” Tony Stark replies, mocking her tone, “My whole lab might be swallowed up by then.”
Peter gulps visibly, “Mr Stark, I –“
“I leave you alone for five minutes, Peter,” Tony Stark says. His voice sounds exasperated, but there’s a hint of something else. Fondness? Amusement? Maybe even pride? “Why is my lab covered in glowing green slime?”
“It was way longer than five minutes, Mr Stark!”
“Not the point, kid.”
“And it’s not full of green slime! There was, like, a tiny bit of glowy green stuff, but I caught it and put it in explosion room B for when you got back and could tell me what to do, and Droney was monitoring it and I didn’t want to interrupt your meeting…”
“Is this your definition of ‘a tiny bit’, Peter?”
Monica can’t see what Mr Stark is showing Peter, but she can see Peter’s face light up with excitement. “Holy shit! Cool! I mean… oops, that’s bad. That’s grown since I left.” He’s trying to assume a serious expression, but he’s never been very good at hiding his enthusiasm for things he finds interesting. It’s very endearing and probably part of the reason Peter gets away with so much. For instance, Monica should definitely have sent him to the Principal by now, but she hasn’t.
“What happened? And what do you mean, you caught it?” Tony Stark is doing his best Dad voice, but there’s something in it that makes Monica suspect he’s finding it just as interesting as Peter.
“I don’t know what happened! All I did was add extra salt to try to make the precipitate form more quickly and it kind of turned green and went all glowy… and then I put it under the UV light to try to make it stop and it just went nuts and started, like zipping round the room like in that really old movie Flubber, you know, the one with Robin Williams in it? How have you not seen that Mr Stark? I mean the science in it’s really unrealistic, but it’s good. Anyway, it’s ok, I caught it before it escaped and put it in a sealed container in explosion room B.”
Peter seems to have forgotten where he is, too caught up in the excitement of glowing green slime that moves on its own to notice that the whole class is staring at him openmouthed, hanging on to his every word.
“Well, it’s not in explosion room B anymore. I actually can’t see explosion room B anymore, the Blob has blocked off the doorway.” Tony Stark says, “Here’s what’s going to happen: you’re going to fix this. Make it go away before it takes over the tower. You’re going to get the glowy green stuff off all of my equipment, and next time this happens, you’re going to call me directly. You’re going to interrupt my meeting, and you’re going to lead with ‘Help me, Mr Stark! My experiment’s come alive!”
Peter’s starting to look worried. “Do you not know how to fix this, Mr Stark? I thought you’d know what to do.”
“Weirdly, this has never happened before. Get working on it. Happy will be waiting when you finish school.”
The screen of Peter’s phone goes dark. “Iron Man has ended the call.” The soothing female voice of Peter’s phone informs them. “Would you like me to turn off the phone, Peter?”
“Bye Mr Stark,” Peter says to the inactive video link, “Yes, please Karen. Turn off the phone.” Much to Monica’s surprise, he hands it back to her. “Sorry Ms. Warren. I kind of had to take that. Can I work on some stuff for my internship for the rest of the class? I’m finished my worksheet.”
Monica blinks at him, trying to process what’s just happened and decide the best course of action. She’s saved the trouble, because the stunned silence in the classroom breaks. The room is filled with a babble of voices all talking at once.
“Omigod! That was Tony Stark!”
“What’s he like, Peter?
“Holy crap, Iron Man called you!”
“What were you making? Why were you in his lab?”
“Peter broke the lab at Stark Industries!”
“Have you seen the Iron Man suit? Have you touched it?”
“What’s the baby monitor function?”
“Why does your phone talk like that? Did Tony Stark make it?”
“You’re so fired!”
“Have you met Thor?”
“Have you met the Hulk?”
“Have you met Spider-Man?”
“Iron Man called Peter!”
The only people who aren’t talking are Flash Thompson, Michelle Jones, and Peter himself. Even Ned Leeds is exclaiming, “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me about the Flubber stuff!”
Michelle has set aside her book and is sketching something in a notebook. Probably drawing Peter again. She does that a lot, and Monica should really have a word with her about that, or possibly send her to the counsellor to discuss healthy ways to express feelings. Crushes are normal, though. Monica can remember when she was in high school, planning her wedding to Mr Lal, the calculus teacher, and never saying anything about it.
Peter is floundering under the barrage of questions, still standing at the front of the room, arm outstretched to hand back his phone.
Flash is staring at him in dumbfounded and horrified silence. He’s been insisting all year that Peter’s never met Tony Stark.
Monica gathers herself. She runs the student internship program. Student internships are designed to give students practical experience in a scientific working environment, and an opportunity for observation of applied science in a practical setting. They are not designed to allow students to wreak unsupervised havoc in their employer’s personal laboratories. She takes the powered-down phone from Peter. “I’m going to need to schedule an interview with your immediate internship supervisor,” she tells him, “I think it’s time we discuss the specific focus of your internship and you provide a progress report on your project.”
Peter looks nervous. “I’ll ask him, but Mr Stark’s pretty busy, what with Iron Man and the Avengers and designing all the tech and everything, and he hates meetings…”
“So you’re telling me Tony Stark, head scientist of Stark Industries is your immediate superior? There’s no-one directly supervising you on a day to day basis, that I can speak to?”
“No, I mean there’s Happy, but he’s not a scientist. Tony’s nearly always there when I’m in the lab, though, and I talk to him about my projects and stuff, and Karen helps, but she won’t respond to anyone but me or Mr Stark.”
Karen – she’s heard that name… “Peter, are you telling me that your project supervisor is a phone?”
“Karen’s not a phone, she’s a suit lady – I mean an AI, like in the Iron Man suits and the lab. Mr Stark’s really in charge though.”
Monica takes a deep breath to steel her resolve. “In that case, I’m afraid I’m going to need to have a meeting with Mr Stark, or I can’t allow your internship to continue.”