Tension Knives

March 19, 2015:

Steve and Howard meet to discuss the issues with the time portals. It's awkward.

Howard Stark's Old Lab

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The text came with none of the usual Stark fanfare or flair. After being hung up on last time, Howard senses he's not in Steve's good books.
"I'll be at the lab where you found me if you want to talk. - Howard."
The lab itself is at a dockyard in New Jersey. It's the only place he has that doesn't belong to his son or SHIELD. He's slowly been fixing it up, but the defenses are not yet in place. Steve won't hit any turret guns or poison darts this time. There is, however, a new heavily-reinforced door leading into the basement lab beneath the warehouse. The door is sealed with biometrics, which - perhaps surprisingly - respond to Steve. That's trust that he doesn't afford very many people.

Steve arrives soon after the message. There are many things he is working on but this has taken precedence. He disembarks his bike, pulls his sunglasses from his face and hooks them on his shirt.

As he enters the facility the reminders of when Howard was first found come rushing back to him. He slides his fingers over some of the grooves in the walls and inspects the area before making it past the biometrics. His boots echo throughout the facility as he walks downstairs slowly.

"Howard?" he asks, calling out.

The sound of Frank Sinatra fills the basement lab. The music isn't coming from any expensive digital sound system - rather, a record player and a pair of large speakers. It's not exactly Steve's era, but it's far closer than an iPod dock.
There's the bang and clank of metal, then the purr of machinery. Howard's on his back beneath the LMD bed, adjusting some wiring inside. Despite the fact that he's working, he's still wearing slacks, a dress shirt and bracers. A tie is a safety hazard. It's draped over a nearby chair along with his suit jacket.
"Steve!" he calls out, then rolls out from under the bench. He stands up and brushes his hands together. "I wasn't sure you would come by after the last time we spoke. Was it something I said?" Wry, that.

"Something you didn't say," Steve responds as he stays just a few feet from the landing. "I've done a lot of digging since then. Have a lot of diggers I'm speaking with. It's not going as well as I'd hoped."

Howard steps towards Steve and his extends his arms, palms up. "Ask me what you want to ask. I'll be as honest with you as I can." While that seems like a strange statement coming from him, he sounds like he means it.

"Last I talked to you, what you could be honest with me was not very much," Steve says as he folds his arms over his chest. "What's this watch business have to do with you and Peggy?"

"I told you, it has to do with one of our first missions as SHIELD." Howard drops his hands and tucks them into the pockets of his trousers. "These portals. We saw them open in 1948. And now, their contents are spilling out into 2015."
He pauses, purses his lips, raises his eyebrows. "Do you mean that, or why did I give Peggy a watch?"

"We can talk about that later," Steve says simply. "What are the portals?"

"Temporal rifts. And, no, I think we should talk about this now. It's obviously bothering you. The last thing I want is for Captain America to not have his head in the game because he's distracted." Howard cants his head and says plainly, "Peggy and I were never anything more than friends. You know that, don't you? I hit on her once when we first met. She shut me down. I never tried again. Do you know why?"

"I'm not sure this is really any of my business," Steve says, trying to move on from the topic. "The person we found who came through the portal was human and covered in a green substance. What was it? And what was the first SHIELD mission?"

"Why isn't it your business? You'd like to know if your girl dropped her standards enough to be with the likes of me after you were frozen. The answer is, absolutely not." Howard says that as a statement of fact, rather than a note of self-depreciation. "And I never even tried because I respect Peggy Carter too damned much. She's my best friend, Steve. She put up with me for thirty years. Yeah, we were close, but not in that way."
He sighs and runs a hand over his hair. "Look, I told all this to the SHIELD techs. It was a missing persons case. People disappeared. The only evidence at the scene was that ectoplasm and some strange readings. I've given the frequencies to Fitz and Simmons so they can calibrate their machinery to track the next rift."

"I want one of my guys from the Justice League to be able to analyze some of the work," Steve says in response, not mentioning anything regarding Peggy to this point. "You're making it sound like a simple thing now, but weren't willing to tell me before. Why? And if it wasn't such a big deal, why was it level 10?"

"I didn't want to tell you any of this over an unsecured phone line. I was also in the middle of a public market in Tangier. It's sort of a place known for having spies everywhere," Howard drawls. As for why level 10? Well. "Causality. I know how to close the loop and stop the rifts from forming. But things have to happen in a specific way. If I reveal everything in that file, it will change the course of causality and we'll be left with no way to close the loop. I know this will work right now because the breaches stopped in 1948."

"They stopped the last time you did this?" Steve asks with his eyebrows raised. "Is it just one loop, then? From then to here? Or do these things just start popping up whenever and however. And how did they start?"

Howard lifts a finger, wags it once. "Can't tell you. Partially because I don't know for sure, and partially because it may affect causality." He rolls his shoulders back. "One way. From then to now. Curling out in Fibonacci spiral that doesn't directly correlate geographically. The people who are coming through the portal are coming through mangled, because the portal is not stable. Either that, or it was never meant to transfer organic matter at all. The theory is that the epicentre of both is the same, and that's the point where we'll have to close it."

Steve exhales, becoming slightly frustrated. "So I take it your advice is to just sit back and relax. You've got this all under control, right?" It's clearly not what Steve intends to do.

"No," says Howard. "I need help tracking the portals. And I obviously can't contain what will come out on the other end. A few more portals at least will need to open up before we can accurately predict the epicentre's location."

Steve smirks with a swift exhale, "Alright. I'll help. If you let my guy look at what evidence SHIELD has thus far."

"SHIELD has it," says Howard with a toss of his hand. "I'd be happy to give you what I have, but the data's incomplete and out of date. You'll have to talk to them for the rest. They stopped listening to my orders a log time ago." He grins wryly.

"Well," Steve says as he unfolds his arm and looks over his shoulder for the door. "I suppose you better get them to start listening to you if you want my help. Good to see you, Howard."

"Lest you forget that I was their science experiment not that long ago. I think they're far more likely to listen to you." Howard points. "Listen. I feel like something went sour between us, and I don't know when that happened. That's really the last thing I want. You're one of the few people around here who actually understands what things used to be like."

"It started when you stopped telling me the truth," Steve says without looking back as he begins to ascend the stairs. To him, things used to be very different. In all sorts of ways. He reaches to his shirt to pull his sunglasses from where he's hooked them and begins to wonder where to go next.

"When did I lie to you, Steve?" Howard asks. There's an uncharacteristic note of earnestness in his voice. "Withholding information to stop spacetime from getting torn to shreds doesn't count."

Steve doesn't respond; instead the loud rumble of his new Harley Davidson can be heard outside the facility. The roar gets louder as he give it gas and begins to pull away.

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