Avengers-Peggy smile

Agent Carter fanfic: Wonders of the World

Yessss, the [community profile] marvelismarvel reveals are out, so I can share my AC story! I have been looking forward to being able to admit to it, because I had ridiculous amounts of fun writing this.

Title: Wonders of the World
Fandom: Agent Carter
Word Count: 3700
Pairing: gen
Summary: Howard has a new venture involving the La Brea Tar Pits. Unfortunately for Peggy and Jarvis, it goes about as well as anything Stark-related ever does.
Cross-posted: http://archiveofourown.org/works/6613126


Peggy was not quite sure how Howard managed to talk her into driving out to see a tar pit, of all things, on one of the only actual days off she'd had in years. And yet, here she was, with Jarvis acting as not only her chauffeur but also as the world's gloomiest tour guide. Still, the sun was shining, the top of the car was down, and they were gliding along Wilshire Boulevard. She was determined not to think about work, particularly the ongoing investigation into Chief Thompson's shooting, or anything having to do with ... anything. Therefore, not even Jarvis's distaste for all things Californian could successfully dim her spirits, supported as they were by a whalebone corset of pure, forced optimism.

"They call this stretch of road the Miracle Mile, because it was said it would take a miracle to prevent the development along it from becoming a colossal failure." Jarvis's tone implied that the failure was self-evident.

"Is that so." Peggy eyed the busy traffic bumper-to-bumper on the broad, smooth boulevard, and the not-inconsequential scale of the buildings along it. Further out, there were housing developments in progress, and scaffolding surrounded more buildings not yet completed. Oil derricks, which she had become resigned to as an inescapable feature of the L.A. landscape, were sporadically visible, but the developers seemed to be making a concerted effort to drown them out with ever-taller buildings. "It seems to be working out adequately for them."

"Until an earthquake reduces the underlying layers of the soil to pudding and pushes the entire mess into the sea," Jarvis predicted darkly.

"You've been reading up on earthquakes, have you, Mr. Jarvis?"

"In the immortal words of Sun Tzu, 'Know thy enemy'."

"Mr. Jarvis, you are a man of hidden depths."

Jarvis turned into the parking lot at Hancock Park, home of (as far as Peggy had been able to discern from Howard's babbling) some sort of inexplicably interesting oil seep. The curving drive into the park showed signs of recent paving. Beyond that, Peggy saw an odd mix of lawn, overgrown weeds, fences, and small, shallow ponds. The place seemed to be one part park, one part industrial district. An oil derrick or two loomed in the distance, crowded by half-constructed buildings.

The park grounds themselves were clearly going through revisions. Part of a new drive had been blazed across the lawn area, and the skeleton of a not-very-far-advanced construction project -- a building with a gently curving facade -- stood beside it, attended by cranes and various other equipment. More interesting was the wire and mesh skeleton beside the small parking lot. Peggy got out of the car, looking up at its lumpy contours. It appeared that it was going to be, eventually, a life-sized sculpture of some prehistoric thing or other, though right now it faded into lumpy incoherence in the upper sections.

Well, at least Howard seemed to be investing in something educational this time.

Peggy straightened her skirt and touched her hair briefly to smooth it into place from travel-related disarray. "So Howard is having a museum built?"

"He's one of the investors, and a guiding hand on the project, I understand," Jarvis said, with the long-suffering air of someone who had heard more than he wanted to on the subject. "Mr. Stark is fascinated by prehistoric fauna, particularly dinosaurs and creatures of the Pleistocene."

"Of course he is," Peggy sighed. "Well, let's find the man, shall we?"

She made an educated guess that Howard was to be found in the general direction of the construction site, and strode off in that direction, with Jarvis trailing her. Thus far, she was unable to see what Howard found so fascinating about this place. It looked rather like a large cow pasture with some boggy pits and a handful of tourists wandering around. There was also what could most delicately be described as a faint sulfurous aroma in the air, although in Peggy's experience, much of L.A. had the same problem.

As they got closer, Peggy realized that some of what she'd taken for construction equipment was actually not machinery at all, but several more life-size sculptures in progress. She spotted Howard by his air of manic energy; he was up on a stepladder, adjusting the angle of a mammoth's tusk by pounding on it with a wrench. He looked down and saw her.

"Jarvis! You brought her!"

"To my everlasting shame, sir," Jarvis said, but Peggy thought she detected a hint of complaining-for-show's-sake. Jarvis was looking up, with interest, at some sort of giant long-toothed cat crouched atop a fake-looking plastic boulder. The tiger, or whatever it was, didn't yet have what Peggy assumed would be eventual museum-style finishing touches on the outside, such as fur and paint; most of the unfinished sculptures, in fact, wore skins of burlap, which gave them all a slightly eerie quality, as if they'd been lifted straight out of the bog.

"Peg," Howard said, looking down at them from his ladder. "I'll have you know you're looking at the eighth wonder of the world, right here in Los Angeles. Or at least it will be when I'm done with it."

"That's quite an ambitious goal."

Howard slapped the shoulder of the mammoth next to him. "So? What do you think of my babies?"

Jarvis kept his mouth shut, offering no help. Peggy ventured, "They're ... large?"

"An astute observation." Howard hopped down from the ladder. "Life-sized in most cases, one and a half scale with some of 'em, as it makes them more impressive. We've got mammoths, we've got saber-toothed cats, we've got Megalonyx --"

"What was that last one?"

"Ground sloth. It sounds more impressive in Latin. Jarvis, where's my hat?"

Jarvis wordlessly stood on tiptoe to retrieve the straw sun hat hanging on the tip of one of the mammoth's tusks and handed it to him.

"But you haven't seen the best part yet. Come here."

Bemused, but willing to humor him since she was here anyway, Peggy fell into step with him. "They're very impressive, Howard, but most museums have dinosaurs and other such creatures. Which is certainly not to say these aren't ... quite large, but I'm surprised to see you spending your time on something so mundane."

"Come now, you've known me how long, Peggy? You don't think a Stark mammoth is just going to stand there with pigeons nesting on it, do you?"

"Oh God," Jarvis muttered behind Peggy.

"What are they going to do, Howard?"

"They're going to move," Howard announced with boyish glee. "They're going to live! Forget about Messmore and Damon. People will be saying --"

"Messmore and who?" Peggy asked.

"Yes. That. Exactly." His smile faded somewhat when he realized she had no idea what he was talking about. "Messmore and Damon! Moving dinosaurs! Chicago World's Fair? 1933? Where were you, Peg?"

"Hampstead."

"Right," Howard murmured, then brightened. "Anyway! Come see what my babies can do!"

He opened the door to a trailer beside the frame of the unfinished building; a wave of cool air hit her as he held it for her and then for Jarvis. The interior was air-conditioned. It was also ominously full of equipment, entire banks of control panels with levers and switches. Large windows in the trailer's side granted them a view of the stripped earth of the construction site, with the burlap-covered megafauna scattered about in the baking California sun.

"I feel compelled to remind you that your last batch of babies nearly destroyed much of New York, Howard," Peggy pointed out as he rubbed his hands together and examined the banks of mostly unlabeled switches.

"All the more reason not to make the same mistakes twice."

"You would never do that, sir," Jarvis put in. "You are extremely dedicated to making new and different mistakes every time."

His sarcasm was definitely turned up to the maximum today. Peggy shared a small, commiserating smile with him. At least they were out of the sun; Jarvis still obstinately refused to capitulate to the California climate's influence on wardrobe, and therefore was sweltering in his usual three-piece suit. He'd started looking noticeably more comfortable as soon as they stepped into the trailer.

"Watch that big girl there," Howard announced, pointing out the window at one of the nearest looming mammoths. "I call her Tess, by the way."

"Do they all have names?" Peggy looked around for a place to sit, but there seemed to be nowhere that wouldn't put her in too much danger of accidentally bumping something important with her elbow. Jarvis was standing as close to the door as he could get, possibly for the same reason, or just to have a convenient escape route if necessary. Given that Jarvis had an even more extensive acquaintance with Howard's inventions, Peggy supposed she'd better take her cues from him.

"Of course they have names! The cave lion there is Iris, and the dire wolves behind her are Millicent and Giselle. That's Daisy and Agnes, the sloths, over there by the trees --"

"I shall endeavor not to ask if any of these creatures share their names with ladies whose acquaintance you've recently made."

"For the best really," Jarvis murmured.

"I haven't named the saber-toothed tiger yet. Peg, I was hoping --"

"Howard, if any of those animals turns out to be named Peggy, Margaret, or any variation along those lines, you will regret it."

"Angelina she is, then. Anyway, keep your eyes on Tess."

He flipped some switches. At first, nothing seemed to happen; then the great statue lurched into simulated life.

It really was impressive to behold. The beast's trunk swung forward; it flicked its ears and, as Howard slid a lever, shuffled a few steps on its big feet. The handful of nearby tourists and construction workers stopped to watch, pointing in awe.

"The movements of the mammoths are based on elephants, of course. The big cats are harder to get right." Howard stepped to another bank of controls, and the saber-toothed tiger crouching on its plaster boulder straightened its legs and stood up, then took awkward, halting steps down to the ground. Howard was right that it looked less catlike and more like a marionette. The mammoth's stiff movements didn't seem so unrealistic. If Peggy ignored the burlap, she could almost believe it was a real elephant, taking slow steps with its trunk swinging back and forth.

"I have to admit, Howard, I had my doubts, but --"

Jarvis interrupted, "Does anyone else smell something burning?"

There was a frozen moment as all three sniffed the air. Then Howard let out a yelp and lunged toward the end of the far bank of panels, where a wisp of smoke was curling up from underneath. "Jarvis! Fire extinguisher! Damn cheap fuses -- third time this week --"

A sudden series of loud pops ran down the control board, snapping like fireworks. Outside the window, the rest of the animals began to lurch into jerky motion.

"Howard --!"

"On it!" Howard snapped back. Across the room, more banks of controls popped and sparked. "Not on it! Damn! Chain reaction!"

He and Jarvis were both armed with fire extinguishers now. Peggy looked around for another, but couldn't find anything. The entire room stank of burning electronics.

By now the entire mechanical menagerie were staggering aimlessly around the construction site. The watching tourists still seemed enthralled. A cheer went up when two mammoths collided. One of the sloths blundered into a stack of pallets, sending it cascading, and then stomped through the splinters. Those things were heavy, Peggy thought. And very large. Their massive feet obliterated anything unfortunate enough to be caught underneath.

And the tourists think it's intentional ... they'll expect them to stop if they get close to a person ...

"Turn them off, Howard!"

"What do you think I'm trying to do?" He ran down the line of boards, pulling control levers down. This had no noticeable effect.

The tourists now seemed to be realizing that all was not entirely right, especially when a wayward sloth lumbered into the metal framework supporting the half-finished roof of the new museum. Girders bent and creaked as the huge shape plodded doggedly into them, its legs slowly pistoning while the entire structure warped bit by bit in the direction of its travel. Meanwhile, Tess the mammoth lurched in a straight line toward Wilshire Boulevard.

"Can't they be turned off manually?" Peggy demanded. "Do they have kill switches?"

"Why would I need to do that? They're controlled by radio signals! If they aren't getting signals, they should just stop."

"They aren't stopping, Howard!"

"I noticed!"

Another collision, this time between the cave lion and the other sloth, redirected the cave lion in the general direction of Howard's trailer.

"Someone has to do something," Peggy announced, and yanked open the door of the trailer.

"I'll keep working in here!" Howard called after her. "See if I can get the controls back online!"

Peggy pelted out the door without bothering to answer. Heat and sunshine hit her like a wave of scorching desert sand. From inside the trailer, it had almost been possible to imagine that the whole thing was happening on a movie screen; at least some part of her hindbrain seemed to think so. Seeing the creatures from the ground, with nothing between her and them, she was developing a brand new appreciation for how big the bloody things were.

"Miss Carter!" Jarvis caught up with her.

"It's dangerous out here, Mr. Jarvis; you should stay with Howard."

"You need my help more than he does. Besides," Jarvis added with a dark look back at the trailer. "If I remain in his company right now, I may be tempted to do something that would jeopardize my continued employment."

"I'm glad to have your help. First of all, we have to clear the civilians out of the area. And divert that one," she added, pointing to the cave lion that was on a collision course with Howard's trailer. She scanned the area, desperately searching for ideas. "Mr. Jarvis, can you operate a forklift?"

"Er ... I've never done ..."

"I'll take the forklift, then; you take the tourists."

She'd never driven one either, but how hard could it be? She sprinted across the sun-baked clay, dodging a large wolflike thing that gave her a start when she saw it bearing jerkily down on her out of the corner of her eye. She knew they weren't real animals, but there was something about having all of them milling around like this that made her instincts respond as if they were.

There were more hazards out here than merely being stepped on. The frame of the half-built museum was making a deeply ominous creaking sound as the mindlessly plodding (and apparently unstoppable) sloth took out more and more of its support structure. And she couldn't see Tess anymore. With luck, the mammoth would trip over something before it managed to snarl up traffic on the boulevard, but luck hadn't been with them so far.

The forklift had its key in the ignition. Peggy twisted and it roared to life. Excellent ... it appeared to operate much like a normal automobile, except with a long lever to raise and lower the forks. She threw it into gear, veered wildly around the feet of some sort of giant elk, and slammed into the cave lion from the side.

The impact jarred her, and jolted the forklift's frame, but the cave lion was pushed to the side, its feet churning up hard-packed clay. Peggy gunned the engine and her wheels spun. The lion's legs were still attempting to carry it forward, while the forklift pushed it to the side; as a result, they both rotated in a slow circle, pushing up dirt.

"Come on, fall over," Peggy muttered. Sweat trickled down her hairline. If she pointed it in a different direction, it would just create a new hazard somewhere else. She had to take it out.

It didn't seem unstable enough to fall over on its own, though. Damn Howard and his quality engineering standards.

Still ... the park, by definition, was full of big holes in the ground full of tar, wasn't it? Peggy didn't seem to be able to control the lion's direction while pushing it from the side, but maybe if she wasn't fighting its direction of movement ... She backed off, brought the forklift around, and slammed into it from the rear. Ah ... that was much more effective. She still had to push it through the dirt, forcing it forward at a faster speed than its legs were moving, but she was able to steer it simply by turning the forklift.

She pushed the cave lion past the trailer, crunched through a safety fence, and put on the brakes. The lion lurched a few steps forward, tottered in midair, and tumbled with a tremendous splash and a gloopy sound into what appeared to be a mud pit edged with weeds.

It ended up on its side, streaked with mud and half submerged. Its legs were still moving, but all the massive pulleys and gears were doing now was causing it to rotate slowly around on the bottom of the pit.

Excellent, Peggy thought; she had a working strategy, so now she simply had to --

An enormous foot came down on the blades of the forklift, suddenly filling her field of vision with burlap.

Peggy let out an involuntary sound -- not a shriek -- and flung herself out of the forklift. Hands caught her and pulled her away, and she and Jarvis tumbled to the ground just before one of the other mammoths stomped into the driver's seat where she'd been sitting.

In a small stroke of luck, the mammoth's feet were now thoroughly entangled in the forklift. Oblivious, of course, it continued to piston forward, and slowly, ponderously tilted to the downhill side, while Peggy and Jarvis stared from where they were sprawled on the ground in a tangle a few feet away. Gravity took it, and it landed heavily atop the cave lion with a terrible squealing of tortured mechanics.

"Timely save, Mr. Jarvis," Peggy said briskly, brushing herself off and pleased that her voice remained steady. "The civilians are safe, I trust?"

"Everyone seems to be in good health. I've seen to it that the park workers understand the situation and are conducting an orderly evacuation."

Peggy stood up and stretched to see what was happening with the mammoth-on-Wilshire-Boulevard situation. From here, she could see a snarl of traffic and the mammoth down on its side, legs pumping slowly and mechanically. A number of people were out of their cars, gawking, so hopefully the lack of panic and smoke meant there were no casualties. At any rate, it couldn't go anywhere while it was lying down, so that was one less to worry about.

"Do you happen to see any more forklifts?" she started to ask, when one side of the half-built museum came down with an unspeakably loud cacophony of shrieking metal and crashing beams.

Bloody hell. She'd forgotten about the sloth.

Even having the museum collapse on top of it didn't seem to be capable of stopping it. Movement was visible in the dust cloud as steel girders continued to fall, and then the sloth came plodding out of the wreckage. A severed electrical cable, spitting cascades of sparks, had gotten tangled around its burlap-covered legs. This managed to slow it for a moment, and it looked for an instant as if it might fall over, but instead its forward momentum snapped the cable.

Not, however, before the sparks ignited its burlap covering. Black smoke rolled up into the sky and flames climbed its hindquarters.

Peggy and Jarvis stared in disbelief, and a certain amount of awe, as the flaming sloth lurched free of the wreckage and plodded its way, one flaming step at a time, in the general direction of the housing development behind the park, leaving a trail of small brush fires in its wake.

"Right," Peggy murmured, tearing her eyes away. "Forklift --" Her eye fell on something better.

She didn't think her glee showed in her face, but Jarvis made a sound she'd only heard him make when Howard blew something up or handed him a pipette of volatile chemicals to hold -- somewhere between a groan and a whimper. However, he was right on her heels as she raced for the bulldozer. Peggy pulled herself up into the cab. There was nowhere for Jarvis to sit -- bulldozers not generally being equipped with passenger seats -- so he stood behind her seat and clung to the door.

The bulldozer started up with a satisfying roar. Its controls were more complicated than the forklift, but she pulled levers until she managed to get them moving in a forward direction. Mindful of her previous experiences, she came up behind the flaming sloth and smacked the bulldozer's plow blade into its back legs. Compared to the forklift, the bulldozer was in a class of its own; the sloth's onward plodding progress provided some resistance, but not much. Peggy pulled more levers and managed to get the bulldozer to turn, swinging them slowly around in the direction of the pit where they had dumped the others.

Very distantly, over the rumble of the bulldozer's engine, she heard Howard shout triumphantly, "Got it!"

With a clunk and a jolt, the sloth's legs stopped moving. This also meant it stopped providing any resistance at all. Fortunately bulldozers weren't prone to speed under any circumstances, but there was an unexpected lurch forward. The flaming sloth was more or less kicked into the pit.

At which point Peggy became aware, an instant before the inevitable, that the surface of the water in the pit was gleaming with an oily film -- whether because of leaked oil from the damaged machines already in the pit, or because of natural seepage from the area's underground petroleum deposits, she would never be sure.

In any case, it didn't react well to having several tons of flaming sloth shoved into it.

The results were, perhaps, predictable. Other words that came to mind were "impressive", and also "incendiary".


***


"So, you took an actual day off," Daniel said. "Like a normal person. How did it feel?"

"Oh, excellent. Very good really." Peggy carefully maneuvered her body around the end of Daniel's desk to conceal the newspaper with the headline TAR PITS CONTINUE TO SMOLDER. "It was very relaxing. But I don't think I need to do it again anytime soon."




Notes:

The La Brea Tar Pits are a tourist attraction in L.A. It was surprisingly difficult to find information on what they would have looked like in 1947, but poking through various websites and old photographs seems to indicate that the area was in the process of being built up (although the commercial district along the Miracle Mile was well established), and the park would have been fairly undeveloped, with only a few small buildings, most of the rest consisting of fields, paleontological digs, and shallow ponds. (I should note that I have no idea how much tar is actually in the tar pits, or whether they'd burn.)

The other interesting thing I didn't know before researching this story is that apparently oil derricks were a common feature of the L.A. landscape in the first half of the century. They began to vanish (or at least to be camouflaged in the urban landscape) in the '30s and '40s, and I'm not sure how many would be left by Peggy's time, but it's certainly something she would have seen in her explorations of the L.A. area.

And here's an article on Messmore & Damon, and their animatronic creatures.


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Hee!! That is wonderful and adorable and sooooo perfectly *them*!! Love it all!! <3
Oh, this is wonderful!! Only Howard, right?!! :D :D

This was so much fun, and so them!! :D
"You would never do that, sir," Jarvis put in. "You are extremely dedicated to making new and different mistakes every time."

Clearly, Peggy should always work, because the alternative is not any safer.

We had a tar pit kit when we were kids. It was orange plastic; we were supposed to paint it after assembly (which took very little time), and I think eventually we did. I preferred to move the pieces around unpainted and imagine various scenarios. I had loads of fun with it. You've had just as much fun with your textual tar pit!

This is our kit.