Techus Returnus

February 12, 2015:

Maria Hill takes a gamble in dealing with Howard Stark.

Howard Stark's Condo

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

It's been an exhausting few days. Howard's agoraphobia is now mostly under control, but that doesn't mean he's not happy to be back inside, in a controlled environment. He's currently seated at a baby grand, tinkering away at the keys. A glass of scotch sits on the top (beneath a coaster, naturally.) His tie is undone and hanging around his neck. His waistcoat and jacket are draped over a nearby wingback chair.

*

If a Quinjet needs to touch down without making a lot of noise, it can do so. The one which is now landing on the helipad of the condo where Howard Stark is (still) living does so with barely a whisper from the turbines, more noise created from the jetwash pushing against the concrete pad than from any mechanical feedback.

Unlike the last unannounced Quin to make a landing here, there isn't a crowd stepping down from the cargo ramp. This time there is just one figure hopping out of the cockpit, clad in SHIELD blacks and whites with a warm coat tossed right over the uniform.

It probably shouldn't be much of a surprise to Howard that it's Maria Hill that shows up outside of the door up on the roof, finally making her arrival official. Whether this is by knocking, ringing the bell, or tripping a motion detector, doesn't much matter to her.

*

The phone by Howard's elbow makes a chirruping noise. This condo might not be JARVIS-equipped, but it's still a smart home. Surveillance cameras pop up to show him just who has arrived. When Maria comes to the patio door, she'll find it unlocked. Howard doesn't get up from the piano. Instead, he starts to play in earnest.

"The way you hold your knife. The way you sip your tea. The memory of all that. No no, you can't take that away from me." He's a quite competent jazz pianist, and he has a fair voice. Nothing that would get him a recording contract, but certainly nothing to sneeze at.

*

There's worse ambience for someone to walk in on. The door is left to close behind Hill as the Quin out on the pad begins to cool, heatwaves shimmering from the ducts in the cold winter air.

Finding Howard is easy, all she has to do is follow the sound of his voice. It's almost cliche! Moments later there's an Assistant Director standing at the outer edge of the room, propping a shoulder against the wall and lightly crossing her arms as she waits. Silently. Quite patiently, apparently.

*

Either Howard's lost interest in singing, or he's forgotten the words. After Maria walks in, he continues with the instrumental portion of the song, fingers dancing lightly over the keys. "What can I do for you, Agent Hill? You know, I really should get an assistant so you'll have someone to contact to make appointments."

*

"Making appointments isn't my style," Hill replies while giving the room a once-over glance. She doesn't move away from the wall until she's gotten the proverbial lay of the land, making her way right on over to the piano-playing Stark. "They take too long."

It's like she just happened to know he was home tonight before she used up the fuel to fly on over…

The first real indication of anything being wrong might be what happens next. She initiates small-talk. "You're not half bad at the keys there, Howard. Got a minute?"

*

The condo is elegantly appointed, but not personally so. There's little in the way of personal effects, which suggests he has very few or doesn't plan on this being a permanent home. He stops playing and stands up, retrieving his drink as he does so. He looks at her with a glimmer in his eyes. "Well, let's just say the door would still be locked if I didn't. Can I get you a drink?"

*

Given that Hill just flew herself out here and would probably have to fly herself back, a drink may not be the best of ideas. Not that it stops her from saying "Sure." Whatever happens to be available, she's not going to be picky. The offer also gives her an excuse to shed the coat and set it aside somewhere, though she doesn't take a seat just yet.

"I wanted to thank you for assisting us last week. Things could have gone much worse, though it sounds like this is going to be a semi-regular situation which we're all going to be sharing. We've been getting some useful information out of our pal Virgil, it sounds like there's a growing cult movement which happens to hold your inventions in high regard."

*

This is one of those Gift Horse situations. Howard is certainly suspicious of how pleasant Hill is being suddenly, but he's not going to question it. She could have just been stressed, after all.

He crosses the room towards the fully-stocked bar. He chuckles and spreads his arms in front of it. "Agent Hill, I'm a Stark. And I can mix just about anything that tickles your fancy." He refills his own glass from a bottle of nice, but not flashy bottle of scotch. A solid 14 year old single malt that runs about a hundred and twenty a bottle. Positively bargain basement, considering how much single malts can run.

"A cult around me, huh?" He pauses and basks in that for a moment, chin uplifted. Then he drawls, "Were they all sporting moustaches and waistcoats?"

*

"I'm not feeling particularly inspired tonight. Any extra of whatever you're having?" Hill suggests without really having a clue just what it is he's drinking tonight. Hopefully it isn't antifreeze.

The next question is met with an idle smirk, "I don't know yet. That would sure make them easier to dig out, though."

Yeah, she's never been real good at this whole 'idle discussion' thing. She's just going to stop trying.

Idly running a fingertip across the surface of the piano, she says "Because we've got more of these little treasure hunts ahead of us it would naturally be within everyone's best interests if we were able to come to a understanding, whether it be personal or remain professional in scope. I've reviewed our operation down south in great detail, and I've come to a few executive conclusions."

*

Howard ends up pouring Hill a measure of the same scotch he's drinking over a pair of ice cubes. He hands the crystal glass over to her and tries to catch her eye. It's a searching look, a sizing up one. It's the way he'd look at someone he was facing across the negotation table at a business deal. "And what conclusions would those be?"

*

The glass is taken without a word about it, though Hill waits before taking the first sip. It can wait another moment.

"First, that we're dealing with old, unusual, and potentially unstable technology. Tech which only you have a proper understanding of. Second..that we don't much have a reason to keep it contained if we cannot determine if any of it actually does happen to pose a threat. We could be wasting secure storage space on a pencil sharpener and a tape dispenser for all we know."

She'll take that first sip now, giving her words a chance to settle into play.

"I've pulled a few strings. Gotten what possessions of yours are in our inventory marked down from 'hazardous tech' to 'stolen property,' which means the Division no longer has any tactical reason to continue holding them."

*

Howard listens to what Maria has to say, while sipping his own drink. He stands casually, with one hand dipped into the pocket of his trousers. He does grin a bit at the 'pencil sharpener' comment, and his brows go up at her last words. "Why do I feel like there's a favour you're about to ask me?"

*

"Not a favor so much as a condition," Hill corrects while automatically holding a hand up between the two in silent protest. "And before you go off on a tangent… It's still my job to make sure that things which potentially need to be secure happen to -stay- secure."

"When I mentioned the cults it was for a reason. There are a lot of people out there who are falling over themselves trying to get their hands on your inventions, new or old. The number of ..'enthusiasts'.. is rising every day. This, of course, potentially becomes a Very Big Deal for me."

"What this means is that I want your word that these old projects of yours are going right back into a vault. Preferrably one which is much more difficult for anyone else to crack open without prior authorization. Can you give me this guarantee?"

*

"I can't promise that," says Howard casually and immediately, with no hesitation. He tugs his hand out of his pocket and leans on the piano, both hands wrapping around his glass. He looks at Maria, lips slightly pursed.

"What I can promise you is that they'll be developed responsibly and the technology only shared with trusted associates. I'm not about to lock up my creations just because someone wants them. If I had ever done that, there would be no Stark Industries. There's a difference between technology used responsibly and irresponsibly. These…cultists, were using untested technology without really understanding what they have. Taking it off the street and putting it back in my lab solves that problem. My formula for fusing flesh and metal, for instance, has a lot of applications in the medical field. Its use just needs to be controlled and regulated so crackpots don't try turning themselves into walking tin cans. To put it another way," he says, pushing off the piano and pausing to sip his drink. "You don't take guns out of hands of the police because criminals are using guns irresponsibly. It doesn't make sense."

*

It would appear that there's been a misunderstanding between these two, one which Hill is only now realizing. It can easily be read in her expression, her eyes now slightly wider than a moment ago.

"You're still -working- on these projects?"

Well, this certainly explains why he's been upset with SHIELD hanging onto them…

"You have to understand that I'm not privy of everything that you're doing, Howard. You wouldn't allow such an invasion of your privacy." She's tried! "I was under the impression that all of these projects had been mothballed years ago because you were finished with them. Forgotten toys in the basement. If they're still in active development, with your return to the workbench and all, then we have somewhat different parameters to work with."

Though before the inevitable eyeroll can take place…

"Just try to make sure they don't fall into the wrong hands, alright? It really messes with Poker night back at HQ."

*

Howard takes a deep breath and runs a hand up through his hair. "My labs, the secret ones," plural, "…were secret because I didn't want it on the books for either SHIELD or Stark Industries, which was, as it is now, a publicly-traded company."

When he's being entirely honest, he has certain tells. It's the kind of thing a spy would notice. His body language becomes less guarded, more New York slips into his accent (as it does when he's angry as well.) In general, he seems more…human.

"These are my personal projects, Agent Hill. Or ones, like the LMD program, where the technology was so sensitive that if there was any corruption at all, someone could take pieces and sell. It was also where I felt free to indulge my mind. There was tremendous pressure to have every project I worked on succeed. In my own lab? I could be free to fail."

He finishes the rest of his drink in one swallow. It might be worrying, except he can't get drunk. "The technology that was stolen from me, and the contents of the LMD lab where SHIELD found me are the only things I have left that are wholly mine. Everything else is a matter of public record. Everything else no longer belongs to me." There's something vulnerable about the man in that moment. He's woken up from a very long sleep to find the world has moved on without him. Stark Industries isn't his. SHIELD treated him like property. He missed watching his son grow into a man. He's a walking piece of history - not a whole man.

*

"I am well aware that these are your personal projects," Hill confirms. "Which is why I'm here dealing with you as an individual and not as the face of a corporation."

"What I am offering you here carries some unique risks for everyone involved. Fairly big risks. I could end up taking a hell of a lot of heat over what I'm doing here but this is me, making a call. You're a lot more helpful when you want to be helpful, turning it into a job requirement doesn't work with you. Everything that we've reached up to this point all balances on this one moment in time."

This isn't so easy for her, either.

"This is me trying to place my trust in you, Howard. I'm putting myself on the line for you here. If this backfires then they're going to come seeking my head before they come after yours." Which means if something -does- go awry she'll act as something of a buffer between the man and her superiors.

She takes another drink before setting her glass aside. Free of her hands, though not forgotten. "Trust is a two-way street but someone still has to take the first step," she says while reaching for her coat.

*

"You know about the Manhattan Project," says Howard. He doesn't make that a question. "I was involved in that. So let's just say that I know a little something about the consequences of mishandled technology. I'm an ethical man, Agent Hill. I know it might not look like it from my reputation." He pauses and looks over at her, "But you of all people should know that reputations can be deceiving."

He lets that thought hang for a moment, then turns back to her. When he looks at her now, it's with some earnesty. "I appreciate what you're doing. And I know you don't entirely trust me. That's okay. I don't think I'd trust me either if our positions were reversed." He cracks a grin. "But you have my word that I'll be responsible. Enough people have died directly or indirectly because of my mistakes. Of my…" he hesitates to admit this, but he does, "….arrogance. My aim now is to make amends."

*

"I do," Hill confirms in a perfectly neutral tone. She also confirms the other point a moment later, "You're right. I don't fully trust anyone. That much does happen to be a job requirement. However, it is important to have allies."

She also offers a thin smile in return. "Everyone screws up now and then." No, she is not going into detail about when she happened to make the wrong call. Not at liberty to say! Instead, she zips up her coat and motions with a twitch of her head back to the patio door. "Now you've got the opportunity to do just that. Everything that I could find is in the Quin."

It's entirely up to him if he'd like to lend a hand or not. She's prepared to truck it all back indoors by herself.

*

Howard pauses long enough to retrieve his suit jacket. It's cold as hell out there, but he's not exactly human. He feels the cold, but he's not going to get hypothermia. "You know, I really should hire some help. My shoelaces aren't going to tie themselves." It's a wry crack at himself. He follows her out onto the roof and towards the Quin. "Y'know, I built the first prototypes of these things." Of course he did. "I can still see my fingerprints all over 'em. Something to be proud of." Avionics has always been a side passion for the engineer.

*

"Couldn't you just build a robot for that task?" Hill teases the inventor. "If that's too complex, I hear that 'Velcro' stuff is pretty useful."

A press of a small remote button causes the cargo ramp to begin lowering as they both approach the awaiting jet, almost like a soccer mom using the key fob to open the side door of a minivan parked at the curb.

"Of course. It isn't lost to me that you had been the driving force behind the creation of the Division in the first place. SHIELD owes a lot to your work over the years."

There just -might- be a hint of respect in her words, and her actions behind seeing the inventions returned.

Sure enough, with the ramp lowered and the lights within the bay active the collection of aged 'Stark Technologies' crates are all easy to spot right there in the center.

"It's all a little before my time. Fortunately, we're real good at proper documentation."

*

"I'm glad to hear someone admit that," drawls Howard as he stands back and lets the ramp lower. "Some of your people have no sense of history. I'm not looking to be worshipped as a living god," he wobbles his head back and forth, as if he's entertaining that notion. "…but a little respect would be nice. I know I don't look like the silver-haired charmer I used to be, but still."

Once the ramp is down, he trots up towards the crates. If there's an inventory list handy, he checks that over. "Did you find anything there that wasn't mine? Anything you need me to look over?" See? Favours for favours. "I know you have some fine scientists, but it never hurts to have a second opinion."

*

Go figure. 'A little respect would be nice.' If this just doesn't completely agree with a certain conversation the Assistant Director had with another super spy down in New Orleans a few days ago…

"There might be a thing or two," Hill admits while handing over..an inventory list. They're real good at proper documentation! "There is something of a dividing line between what I'm able to return to you and what needs to remain pinned beneath our collective thumb. Checking secure items out of the vault takes a little more arm-wrestling, though if you fancy a field trip at some point we can dust off a table down in the science labs for you."

For everything which she's tried to accomplish here, she still can't work miracles. Those items which are clearly part of Stark Tech can be found. Anything which SHIELD might happen to be in possession of which -isn't- clearly marked may have slipped past her notice. There's always time to work such things out later.

*

"Honestly, I was never expecting to get any of this back," says Howard as he flips through the documentation and glances around at the crates. "From my experience, once SHIELD gets its hands on something, especially something they think is dangerous, it never sees the light of day again." This means his machinations at Bileau House were unnecessary. Maybe. It remains to be seen whether the blue box would be in these crates had he been entirely honest with her.

"I take it you've already copied my formulas? Not that I mind, really. I had hit a dead end with a couple of them. And frankly, had the accident not happened, I probably would have passed some of these projects over to SHIELD. So you still might find some of these back in your hands. With proper documentation this time," he promises. "OK. No idea where I'm going to put these, but the penthouse is secure. Tony wouldn't have let me come here if it wasn't."

*

The thing is, Maria knows just enough to realize that any number of this man's inventions could result in big, bad things happening. If they ever do, it won't be a subtle matter. She will hear about it, and she will know who to come looking for. By offering Howard his inventions back she's shifting such responsibility back onto his shoulders, giving him all of the motivation he could ever hope for in order to prevent their improper use.

This hasn't turned into a criminal investigation yet. It -could-… But it hasn't. Howard just has to keep playing his cards right.

"Perhaps a few," she admits. "Most of the team has had more than enough other matters to focus on, and it really would have saved everyone a lot of time to simply ask you about most of this stuff. Nailing down the fort has been taking priority, seventies tech can wait another couple of weeks."

*

"You know, you're not so bad when you're not yelling at me like I'm a rank recruit," says Howard with a wry grin. He grabs hold of the dolley to start pulling the crates down. The ease at which he moves the crate is a subtle reminder that he's not quite human anymore. The Quinjet is offloaded in short order, with the most delicate pieces stored in a vault in the penthouse (of course there is one.)

"Good luck with everything, Agent Hill. I don't envy you right now. I remember what it was like over there when things got hairy. I know what it's like to be the one making the hard calls. Why do you think I left SHIELD and joined the low-stress corporate world?" Wry, that. "Fly safe."

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License