Continuing Tales

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 24 of 37

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Overlapping Spacesl

Jane gave herself another day to absorb the whole Malekith situation and another night of sleep, then asked Frigga about the counselor profession and how she'd go about finding somebody to talk to, on that basis, in Asgard. Frigga said thoughtfully, 'You already get on well with Birla, don't you?'

'Er, yes,' Jane said with some confusion, hoping there wasn't a misunderstanding here. Jane liked Birla. She was starting to see her as a friend, which made nearly ignoring her to talk to Loki feel peculiar even though Birla had assured her, while off-duty, that the comparison to applauding stagehands was not all that far off. (Actually, Birla had offered a few other metaphors first that Jane hadn't been as sure about.) She really appreciated the visit right after she'd been disenchanted. But a friend wasn't quite what she was looking for in this case, not to mention Birla belonged to a specialty she didn't need and, perhaps most to the point, already had her hands full.

'She can easily provide a recommendation, then,' said Frigga, which left Jane relieved but a little puzzled. Possibly this showed, because Frigga added, 'She selects and coordinates personnel more broadly than as a tactical leader for monitoring patients. Holda is in charge of Loki's treatment, but Birla evaluated the situation and suggested her.'

'Ah.' That kind of made sense. Birla had made it clear, without any undue specifics, that the kind of monitoring Loki received was not altogether novel, but Jane imagined that going straight from one such patient to another all the time might be a pretty exhausting career. 'Thank you.'

'Given that you are our guest - let alone that that's what put you in danger,' said Frigga, 'for which, by the way, I am deeply sorry - this is our responsibility.'

So that was settled rather rapidly. Jane's Asgardian therapist turned out, rather to her surprise, to be Holda's mother Birchta. Apparently it was a family business, of sorts. Although Birchta was not in the version of it that involved acting as a sort of two-way guard, she did offer to accompany Jane next time she visited Malekith. And if Jane wanted, also to the preparations for it. Jane was not entirely sure at first about Birchta's suggestion that refusing to torture Malekith did not rule out taking some advantage of his forced service, but when they hit on the idea of bleeding him - figuratively! - for information, it started to sound more appealing. There were definitely a few things she'd like to know, even if the idea of his being magically compelled to answer made her uncomfortable.

There were things she wanted to ask other people, too. The Bifrost was obvious and ongoing. The transformation question, by contrast, was entirely outside Jane's area in pretty much every way she could name. It was advanced magic, which she couldn't do - or animal magic, likewise. She was not a biologist. It was not her family history.

None of this prevented her from being plagued by curiosity. She'd always been susceptible to that. And after some deliberation, she decided that just because Loki wouldn't take advantage of being able to ask the person most likely to know what was going on didn't mean she had to pass it up. So she asked over one of the family breakfasts if Odin had time to answer some questions about magic, and ended up in his study that afternoon.

Odin eyed her notepad with a faint smile. 'You are expecting a complex response, I take it.'

'I'm hoping for one,' Jane admitted with a smile. She added, 'Thank you for making time to discuss this,' which made her sound like she was talking to a senior professor, not a king. Oh well. 'Loki and I got to wondering about the cross-species transformations. Both his and, well, turning Thor human and back. But if there's anything directly relevant in the library, we haven't been able to find it. Loki's looking for a possible relationship to medical treatment for genetic problems.'

Odin looked briefly perplexed and then rather pleased. 'That is... not unrelated. But no, there wouldn't be much. We speak of magic that was built into Asgard near its beginning, and long before we had developed writing. It is, literally, one of the most solid parts of our early history.'

Jane found herself both intrigued and thoroughly mystified. 'Species change is?'

'You may have noticed,' said Odin, 'that your tongues on Earth preserve a telling set of structures. Aesir, the people. Asgard, the fortress of the Aesir.' Jane was not sure anyone had translated it quite that way to her before. 'Asgardian, the people of Asgard.'

'The people of the fortress of the Aesir?' She raised her eyebrows, thinking. 'Sounds a little roundabout, now that you mention it.' Telling? 'So... the Aesir founded the place, but aren't the whole population?'

'The Aesir were the worldmakers,' Odin said with a nod, 'and our ancestors. And the source of much of our strength. In some ways we've surpassed them and in some ways perhaps we never will - in that whatever we may do, we may hope it's never from as severe a disadvantage as the tales we've preserved imply. And one of the things moulded into the world, into rock and biosystem and spirit, is that to be a citizen of Asgard is to be - if necessary, to become - Asgardian.'

'That,' Jane said slowly, 'is not an explanation that had occurred to me.' She'd known Asgard was to some degree artificial, however much that blew her mind in itself; the laws of physics weren't different enough for its weird shape to have formed naturally, and she'd asked Heimdall about it weeks ago. There was a certain logic to the language. World of the people who made it, people of the world that... remade them? And it raised all sorts of further questions, although she guessed some of them were the same ones but with a new cast. Okay, one at a time. 'Does that come up a lot? Loki said adopting someone who's not already a relative was unusual here, let alone a different species...'

'True,' said Odin. 'Blood-kin is important to us, and children are normally kept within the same family if at all possible. But the Aesir were few in number at the start, and it has historically been somewhat more common to marry with other realms.' A faint smile, weary and wry. 'It is of somewhat limited political use in that we have always been extremely reluctant to give up the Asgardian spouse, for reasons you may begin to see. I should probably also warn you that we tend to be possessive of our offspring.'

He stopped there, and Jane's already spinning mind took a few seconds to fetch up against the more personal implications there. She flushed. 'I'll keep that in mind.' Not that she was planning to have a kid at all at the moment, but accidents were theoretically possible. She didn't quite like the implication that there would be no question about custody even if she wanted it, but she couldn't exactly raise a child who might take a thousand years to grow up properly, either. Actually, yikes. 'But I hope gestation isn't proportional to lifespan.'

Odin's rather startled laugh reminded Jane unexpectedly of Loki. That seemed odd, on examination: Loki's references to his father didn't seem as if Odin's children would have heard that sort of thing often. Maybe she should ask Thor. 'It is not,' he said, still looking amused.

Jane took a breath, trying to decide what to ask next. 'So exile is... fairly drastic,' she said.

Odin's lips tightened, and he looked... greyer than usual. 'It is.'

Jane winced. 'Sorry, I wasn't -'

'You were thinking in terms of the technical implications, not emotional,' Odin said, accurately enough. 'It is not an offence. Yes, it is drastic. I was profoundly angry with Thor and I considered him to need a drastic lesson.'

She hesitated, but only for a moment. 'Would that be the usual result? If somebody's not of Asgard anymore, they're...' What? 'Approximately human? Or did you do something special there?' Could Thor really have died permanently when she hit him with her van, right after he got there, and if so why was anybody still speaking to her? What had Odin been thinking? 'Compared to what you're all usually like, that seems like an awful risk.'

'It was a great risk,' Odin agreed. The lines around his eye deepened; she thought some new ones might have appeared alongside his eyepatch. Jane had sort of been hoping he'd say there had been precautions that weren't obvious. 'And I bound much of his personal power to Mjolnir, which weakened him further, although it also provided some protection. But Idunn's work makes us longer lived, more durable and more powerful. We outlive even elves and giants, though not the Vanir, and that has at times been our survival. She created the Alltongue, and if you know how to listen, the realm still speaks her name. And I took most of her gifts from my son for threatening to reignite the war of the generations.'

Jane's notepad was rapidly developing a branching set of questions to go back to - messy ones, because her hand was starting to shake a little. Idunn sounded somewhere beyond impressive and a bit scary, especially if there was really some magical means to be sure everything she was credited with was really the work of one person. Or even just the foundations of it. She stared at the word generations for a few seconds. 'Just... how long were you at war with Jotunheim? I asked once if there had been any contact beforehand, but...'

Odin snorted. 'It's hard to be sure at this point whether there was ever any peaceful contact. It's been a very long time, even for us. We know the Jotuns sought to alter your planet to suit themselves about two and a half million years ago, and that your ancestors were beginning to show promise but had no hope of resisting them.'

'Two and a half million,' Jane echoed faintly. Two and a half million. And their years were, oddly, almost identical. (She scribbled a reminder to ask if this was coincidence or somebody's orbit had been adjusted for convenience.) She'd somehow imagined that the Jotuns and the Asgardians had clashed over Earth... briefly, from their own perspective if not a human one. She'd thought they met the Vikings, not the Australopithecines. She hadn't thought they'd shown up -

-Allowing for error and year length, around the start of the last ice age. Oh.

When she looked up at Odin again, he looked slightly more alive than before and was smiling, just a little. 'Do you need a moment?'

'I'm having one, thanks,' she said, a little ruefully. 'No wonder you got taken for gods.' Or for all she knew, originated the concept. Well, on Earth. 'And... how long is that for you? I mean, you said generations, but - uh, I'm not sure there's a tactful way to ask this but I don't actually know how long you tend to live.'

'Death from old age, for those who reach it, is likely to be between ten or twelve thousand years.' A wry smile. 'I am over nine thousand, myself, and I am hale but beginning to tire.'

No wonder their society glorified warriors. No wonder Thor had wanted to prove himself against the Jotuns, no wonder Loki had been so shocked at being one. 'It must feel like this is just a, a breather, to all of you.' She looked down at the paper for a moment, trying to pick out a single thought. 'You said there weren't very many Aesir. And they built themselves a new planet, basically. Do you know anything from before that?'

'Not know,' Odin said slowly. 'Idunn's inventiveness did not quite stretch to writing, and the tales we preserved are not altogether clear. Some think they were dwarfs - at any rate, it seems very likely Idunn was a dwarf. Dwarfs making a new world would not particularly surprise anyone, but making it outside of Alfheim would be unexpected. Some imagine they were explorers, adventurers from a world we know not, or the survivors of a cataclysm.' He stopped for a moment there, breathing more heavily than the slow speech seemed to justify. 'Most people... care little for the question. And my grandfather Buri had an exceedingly unpopular theory that the Aesir were small Jotuns, outcast, who changed themselves as much as they did the world they fled to.'

Jane blinked at him. 'So when Loki "changed in your hands"...'

Odin's mouth quirked, but he leaned his head heavily on his hand. 'I confess, it was the first time I took the idea seriously.' A grimace. 'And I fear I must call a halt now-'

Jane eyed him worriedly. 'Are you all right?'

His jaw clenched. 'I was preparing for the Odinsleep when Heimdall announced he had found Loki.'

'That was -' Jane shook her head and stood quickly. 'You're how many months overdue? Should I get Frigga?'

'Tell the nearest guard first.' The words were somewhat mumbled, and the King of Asgard put his head down on his folded arms on the desk.

Jane bit her lip, hard. Hale but beginning to tire. It seemed strange to worry about old age in someone who might live another two or three thousand years, but she could see why everyone had been so upset last time, suddenly. She told herself that staying awake half again as long as you were supposed to did logically tend to lead to dozing off inconveniently, and it didn't usually mean you were dying... and then she let herself break into a jog.

Overlapping Spaces

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by Khilari

Part 24 of 37

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