All Kinds of Masks

June 01, 2015:

Peggy and Howard talk about Anatol Erben

THINK - Howard's Penthouse

Characters

NPCs: FRIDAY

Mentions:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

Howard does spend a lot of his time working on projects at THINK these days. He's been making a real effort to keep home life (such as it is) and work life separate, There are still, however, certain projects that are either too personal or too sensitive to work on in a lab with other people. He's currently bent over a display. "FRIDAY, can you increase the magnification?"
A pleasant Irish woman's voice chimes in, "I'm afraid not, Mister Stark. My resolution isn't sufficient."

*

There are quite a few projects going on at the Stark Penthouse. Though Peggy still lives there for now, she's quickly gotten herself more and more involved in SHIELD's business to the point of actually being an Agent there again. Which is either a good thing or not with this Anatol business. The time displaced woman knocks on the door before stepping into Howard's lab. She knows well enough to keep to the side and away from anything that could be too dangerous. "Got a minute?" she asks.

*

"For you, I got five," says Howard. There's a drawl to his voice that recognizes that it's by no means an original statement. He flips up the pair of goggles. He's standing over something that looks like a very fine mesh. "Drink?" He motions to the small bar. The big bar is elsewhere, but he's a Stark - there's always a drink close at hand.

*

Peggy smirks and steps further into the lab with a grin. She knows that Howard can't really drink because of the LMD stuff, but she's not about to bring that all out at the moment. "No," she tells him, still sounding friendly. "Thank you, though." Her eyes scan the very fine mesh, not yet commenting on it, either. There's a time and place for things. "You know, interrogated Anatol Erben the other day. The man from Keen's."

*

"You mean the man who tried to kidnap me and Tony and/or blow up a whole restaurant full of people?" Howard lifts a brow. "How's he doing? Well, I hope?" The sarcasm is thick. He cracks one of his patented wry grins and turns around to make a few adjustments to the holo-display. It's all very sciency.

*

"Yes, the very one." Peggy's worked with Howard enough times that she doesn't need the thick sarcasm to know his feelings. "He is quite a fan of your son, though he is convinced that you were the one that opened the weapon's factory again." That, of course, he should already know. Her eyes scan the holo-display with a curious look, though she's really more focused on the man manipulating the sciency display. "He has quite a history with SHIELD and with Tony, helping the agency against HYDRA. He apparently lost a sister when they attempted to find out more about the factory." There is nothing accusatory there, she's stating facts, much like in the question she raises. "What do you remember of the region when you were there?"

*

Howard glances over his shoulder at Peggy. He makes a few more complicated finger motions with only half an eye on the screen, then turns back to her. He rests his hands in his pockets and levels a gaze at her. "I was never there," he says matter-of-factly.

*

Peggy may not understand the complicated finger gestures, but she can certainly level a look at Howard. "Do you even know where 'there' is?" she asks him with a raised eyebrow. It's a legitimate question and one that she might expect Howard to not guess. She briefed him on Anatol to a certain extent, but from her own experience that doesn't often mean he has absorbed everything she's told him.

*

"Sokovia, a former Soviet nation. And if you've been reading up on history, you know that around the time of my accident, we weren't exactly friendly with the Soviets. If I went anywhere near a Red country, I would have been in front of the McCarthy hearings…" a beat, "…again." Howard crosses towards the bar and starts mixing himself a drink, whether or not Peggy is going to join him. "Why I do I feel like I'm being interrogated?"

*

"Yes, but you can't deny that the factory in question was under Stark Industry ownership," Peggy tells Howard. While her eyes follow him as he starts to mix himself a drink, she does not. Instead, crosses her arms in front of her, looking very much like the SSR Agent she is used to being despite not being in her uniform. There's a bit of a quirk of a smile at the question. "If you were being interrogated, you'd be at the Triskelion. As you're neither in handcuffs or a padded room, this is merely me asking some questions to get a greater picture." Or it is her attempting to get better answers from Howard in his place of comfort. Sometimes it's hard to tell with Peggy.

Her eyes look back toward the projection with seemingly unseeing eyes as she says, "Mr. Erben said he was certain he saw you touring the factory. If it wasn't you, who or what could have given him that impression?" It's a genuine question, not an attempt to trap him in semantics. Howard should know quite a bit about allowing someone to look like someone else.

*

"Peg, you pack up and take your interrogation kit with you wherever you go," says Howard. He pops an olive into his mouth, then drops a few in a glass. He shakes up a very dry gin martini, then pours it into the glass. He turns back to her and leans on the counter. "Look, I don't have a damned clue what this is all about. All I know is, I've got a very long list of enemies. That list is now old and angry and has had thirty years to stew and build resources. You want to know who could be trying to set me up? I can give you a dozen names."

*

"If I were truly going to interrogate you, Howard, I would make sure that it was recorded, on the books and witnessed." Peggy watches her friend finish making his drink without waiting for him to finish shaking out the mix. "People know we are friends. They know we founded SHIELD together. I'm attempting to figure out what happened while also giving you the benefit of the doubt." It's something he has earned, at least. Few do.

"This man worked with Tony and with SHIELD for multiple years. He claimed the bomb didn't have the safety disabled. And that his sister was killed in attempting to figure out why that particular factory was restarted." This is more explanation than accusation. "He's convinced that you visited the factory when he was a child. I'm attempting to figure out why. It doesn't seem to be simply because he is your enemy, Howard."

*

"And why do you think I have answers?" says Howard, arms outstretched. "Someone's setting me up, Peg. People have tried it before. Do you know how many times I've been railroaded at Senate hearings like the one you had to endure because someone planted evidence?" He sips the drink, then crosses back behind the work bench, to the thin piece of material sitting there. "C'mere."

*

"I'm trying to figure out what you know, Howard." Peggy sighs at the arms outstretched gesture. It's a similar one of good nature and good will that she's seen before. It doesn't mean she doesn't trust it, just that it's not what she's looking for at this juncture. "I need to find out all I can and you're not answering any of my questions. You keep side stepping everything I'm asking with questions of your own. I'm not the bloody inquisition and I'm not the Senate. This man had personal issues with you, Howard. Not with Tony and not with Stark Industries. With you. And I want to know why. I thought I would ask you face to face, but this is proving a fruitless exercise."

She, reluctantly, takes a step toward the work bench, eyeing both it and Howard. "How does this, exactly, have anything to do with my questions?"

*

"Don't you think I want to know why, too? I have never heard of this man in my life. The factory was on my books, on the books of an extremely large company. We bought it in the 70s after it looked like Sokovia might break away from the USSR. We wanted to be first in the door to exploit an untapped manufacturing sector. It was one of a dozen properties all in Soviet countries or ones bordering soviet countries. It got me in trouble with the US government, but it was a calculated risk. The fact that I was in trouble for investing in the Reds is why I would have never set foot there. I was already under suspicion for being a goddamn Communist." He leans on the workbench and towards her. "Me, the quintissential industrialist, under suspicion for Communism." He can't help but chuckle. "Yeah, right."
Then he picks up the nearly-transparent material. He holds it up. "Press this against your face."

*

"Well, if you wish to know as well, stop skirting about my questions and start answering them with definitives, Howard." The former head of SHIELD looks at Howard with a very distinctive look. "I'm not some Congressional Hearing, I'm attempting to figure out the truth of the matter here, so stop treating me as if I haven't stuck my neck out for you before." As she has done so multiple times; often under the threat of treason, she should not need to remind him.

Peggy rolls her eyes and takes the transparent material. "If we're about to do demonstrations, perhaps you better pour me a drink, then."

*

"Peg, honestly. There's nothing to tell. There's a difference between evading and not having an answer." Howard sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. "All right, I admit that wasn't always the case with me. But you're the last person I'd lie to. Swear to god, you probably know more about the situation than I do."
He eyes her when she hesitates. "It won't hurt, I promise." He slides the martini (which he's barely touched) over towards her.

*

With a frown, Peggy looks at the pushed over martini glass and then back up toward Howard. It's not that she doesn't trust him so much as that he can often dance around the truth so easily that his not saying what me means seems like the truth. She sighs and does not respond at the moment, instead, placing the material up against her face.

*

The material feels rather like a thin, wet piece of paper towel slopping against her face. As soon as it contacts, though, it seems to absorb and adhere. It's a very odd sensation.
"OK, open your eyes. Try to relax your facial muscles." When she opens her eyes, Howard is holding a mirror up to her face. A stranger is staring back at her. A stranger who looks very much like Rita Hayworth. "You want to know how I could have visited that factory? I can think of a few ways."

*

Seeing herself as Rita Hayworth is certainly a surprise. This was not a technology she knew could be applied to human faces. Peggy's seen Howard age himself upward to what he would have been in the 80s, but a fabric that could do this to anyone? Well, that she did not know.

There's a few moments where she doesn't speak and thens he peels the wet paper towel-like substance off of her face. "This is what I was asking you before," she tells him. A sympathetic, familiar expression crosses her face. "You said you were not there and I believed you. I've been trying to figure out who or what was able to do this. But, was this available in, what the 1980s? That's when Mr. Erben said that he saw you."

*

"It wasn't, but I was working on developing disguise technology." Howard takes the cloth back from Peggy and smooths it against the work bench. "This is for you, by the way. SHIELD has nanomasks, but they don't give them out to everyone. In the pecking order over there, they still see you as the new girl. It'd take awhile before you'd be given access to one. But they aren't the only one with toys." He chuckles.
"Besides, I wasn't exactly all over the papers in Sokovia. All someone had to do is pull up with an entourage and a moustache and say they were me. There'd be no one to tell them otherwise. Hell, Obadiah probably set the whole thing up to make the factory look legit and appease the local warlords that they had a powerful American backing them up." He bites the edge of his lip and then admits, "There is, of course, another possibility."

*

Peggy looks at the thin fabric that once again looks nothing like a human face in her hand curiously. "Thanks," she tells him. "Though, is it possible to make it look like something other than Rita Hayworth? I have a feeling that might not be the most innocuous cover." And she's used to make up and wigs.

"And that possibility is?"

*

"I can make you look like anyone you like. All I have to do is adjust the parameters. To duplicate an existing person, I'd need multiple camera angles - ideally a 3D scan. But for a generic cover, I just need to tweak a couple of things. Rita was just a test." Howard grins.
The follow-up question makes him a tad uncomfortable. He clears his throat. "That possibility is…that I really did visit the factory. I don't know if you know this, but my LMD transfer process wasn't perfect. I've got gaps in my memory after the late 40s."

*

Most of the words he's speaking of mean nothing to Peggy. She nods for a few moments and lets it slide. "I did not know that," She tells him. Her confirmation is gently, though. "So, I think the best thing we can do is try and figure out what happened and what exactly it is that Mr. Erben saw and why that factory started up again weeks after you awoke here." Regardless of what happened in the past, is her subtext.

*

Howard does not get embarrassed easily. When he does, the tips of his ears go red. It's a testament to the wonder of technology that is his body that his ears turn red now. He clears his throat. "I'm not sure how to go about that. You're the spy. I make the gadgets."

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