Special Delivery

June 27, 2015:

Peggy and Tony discover an injured Howard.

Howard's Penthouse




Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

He's repaired his suit after the most recent damage it took. He's even started tinkering on his new one, because he always has a new one on the way. As Tony sets down his tools and pulls off his goggles, though, even he is tired after a long day (or so; sometimes he does stay in there all through the night, after all). "JARVIS," he says, his step quickening as he gets out of the lab, "route all my calls to the hot tub for a while. I think I need to kick back."
"Certainly, sir."
Tony only makes a brief pause by the refrigerator. The beers in there have mysteriously been replaced with bottles of lemonade. He rolls his eyes a little but grabs one. Probably better for beating the heat, anyway.

"Mister Stark!" That's not JARVIS, but the voice comes through on JARVIS' channel. "Mister Stark! There's been an accident." FRIDAY's somewhat fussy Irish tones sound downright agitated. She's not as sophisticated or as deeply wired as JARVIS, but she does have a direct line to her creator for emergencies like this. "His vital signs are erratic but I'm not equipped to cut through LMD false biosignatures and I can't call an ambulance. Please come quickly. He's in his penthouse lab."

There's a voicemail on Peggy's phone, there and blinking from about a half an hour prior. It's Howard's voice. He sounds distracted, but somewhat pleased. "Hey, Peg. It's me. Can you come over when you get a chance? I managed to get my handsd on a shipment coming out of the Sokovian factory. I've been analyzing it and I've got some weird results. I could use your help on this one, pal." Beep.

It's not that Peggy doesn't know how to use her smartphone, it's that it's not a habit yet to constantly be checking it. When it rings, she knows to pick it up, when there's a blinking light she knows how to pick it up; she just doesn't check it often. It's as she's rooting around in her purse for her keys that she sees the light on her phone blinking. After hearing the message, she turns from her front door and heads immediately to Howard's. It's not a far walk; her own apartment is rather close by to her old friend's.

For the long period that she lived in his penthouse flat, she is able to briskly walk through the lobby, past security and up into the elevator. She still has all the codes and keys that she needs to get into his place. Knowing him to be in the laboratory, she doesn't bother knocking. She can do that on his lab door to announce her presence. Instead, she simply lets herself in.

It's just as well that Peggy thought of visiting Howard herself: Tony's not thinking of anyone else when he gets the message from FRIDAY. Of ways to make him flip out and go off half-cocked, something happening to his (bastard of a) dad is high on the list. He doesn't even bother going for the car: he's in the Iron Man suit in a moment, that being the fastest way he has of getting anywhere until Richards makes him a teleporter, and he's shooting through the sky towards Howard's penthouse. He has just enough ability to tell JARVIS that yes, all bets are off just now. Anyone who isn't on a very short list isn't going to be able to reach him. Presuming Howard has a helipad (and why wouldn't he?), that's Tony's first stop before motoring inside.

It's easy to tell something is amiss the moment they enter the apartment. Bobby Darin croons Mack the Knife over the stereo, but there's no sound of movement. A piece of equipment beeps steadily, indicating a result is ready, but no one goes to check it. The lab door is open. There's a crate on the ground and the workbench is scattered with various machine parts and weaponry. At first, there's no sign of Howard. Then there's the sight of a foot sticking out past the end of the bench.
Howard is unconscious on the floor, probe on his back. There's some kind of dark purple substance that has made its way up his arm and is covering half his face. The nanobots that constitute his left hand have partially lost cohesion and look to be on the verge of collapsing.

Peggy steps through the door and pauses for a moment. She's been in war zones and infiltrated multiple apartments. She knows the feeling of something wrong; especially involving a place she lived for multiple months. She didn't have the message from FRIDAY and has no idea why the atmosphere feels strange. Reaching into her purse, she pulls out her Walther PPK and flicks off the safety, keeping the muzzle pointed at the floor. Slipping out of her high heels, she silently starts to glide through the living room and toward the laboratory, glancing around corners as if she is scouting enemy territory.

She moves into the lab carefully, meticulously looking about until she sees the foot protruding from behind the bench. Though her breath hitches, she completes her search. It won't do Howard any good if she misses something. It only takes a few moments and then the gun is slid onto the bench and she is kneeling by his side.

"Howard? Howard!" Snatching up a pair of safety gloves, she snaps them on and starts attempting to wipe the purple substance off of his face.

It's not subtle when Tony lands outside or when he comes jogging in. The mask is just sliding away from his face as he steps into the room; he pulls the rest of his helmet off and pauses, taking a moment to look left and right. Something might need to be repulsor'd in here.
When he hears Peggy's voice, though, there's a sense of sickening relief. Relief because he isn't alone; sickening because… "Be careful!" he calls, stepping further in. "You don't know what's done this to him. FRIDAY, can you tell us what happened before he fell over?" He's hustling to the fallen Howard as he speaks, ignoring for now the beep of completed results.

When Peggy wipes the substance away, it reveals a very disturbing sight. The stuff seems to have eaten away at his skin and is preventing the nanobots from healing the damage. It's not very often that he doesn't appear human, but some of the bots have lost their camoflauge ability. That means they've stopped providing their bio-mimicry functions. It also means his face looks rather like something out of Terminator.
"Mister Stark was inspecting the crate from Sokovia. That stuff was in a glass container, what he thought was a power cell. When he picked it up, it shattered and sort of…well, attacked him." FRIDAY sounds deeply worried. "I'm not completely integrated into the laboratry systems so I only know what I overheard while he was working. But I did register a sudden fluctuation in his internal power signatures. He tried to rid himself of the substance, but then he collapsed."

When Tony comes barging in, Peggy quickly turns. Startled, she reaches for her gun even with the safety gloves still on. It takes her a moment to recognize Tony in the Iron Man suit. She's never actually been there while he's had it on. Even with the helmet off it is a bit of a juxtaposition. There's a moment of confusion, then determination.

"It's whatever this is," she gestures. As the substance peels away his skin to reveal more of the machine, it certainly puts her ill at ease, but it's more because that means his LMD isn't working properly. "If we clean it off, it might get him to start healing himself. Determined, she carefully goes back to trying to wipe as much of it away as she can - attempting to be gentle and not pulling off his skin. "We need to figure out what it is."

"It might be some sort of nanite itself," Tony begins, frowning deeply. "Shattering is one thing, but if it — FRIDAY, did it seem to move on its own, or did it splatter as if consistent with being pressurized?" Though he can certainly find out himself. It's not hard to find a swab and a specimen slide; kneeling beside Howard, he smears a bit of the goop onto the thin pane of glass. It's not pleasant to look at Howard just now, but he can't actually tear his eyes away.
"Don't get any of that stuff on you," he murmurs, "though it might just affect LMDs. Let's not risk it. But it sounds like we may need to debug my dad." Grimacing, he adds to FRIDAY: "What's beeping over there?"

The substance seems mostly inert now. It also seems to have no effect on human flesh. No effect on cloth, either, judging by the fact that the purple substance seems to have gone under Howard's shirt and up his arm rather than simply eating through it.
"Spectral analysis on the power source of one of the weapons produced by the factory," says FRIDAY. "I'm not hooked up to it so you'll have to check the results manually. Mister uh…" she hesitates as she struggles to differentiate two Misters Stark, "…your father has hesitated in integrating me fully into his equipment and the equipment at THINK."

Despite the fact that it may be inert, Peggy doesn't stop until it's all cleaned off of Howard. For a moment, she looks at her unconscious friend and the horrible mess the purple substance has made of him. Then, determined, she pulls off the gloves and stands. "Was Howard expecting this package, FRIDAY?" She knows they were looking into the factory, but she didn't think he was going so far as to find a way to get what they were developing delivered to his home. "How did it arrive?"

Moving to the container in question, she starts to inspect it. There may be a clue inside for all they know. To Tony, she frowns. "If it came from the factory in Sokovia, there might be an antidote of some sort there."

"And why the hell did he open it if he wasn't? Or if he was, why the hell didn't he tell anyone?" Tony's clearly getting more and more upset, but at least he's not acting erratically. Yet. Sitting down and holding his father's hand is not going to help; it's Dad's robot, after all. Not actually him. This may be what's holding Tony together.
He's rising as he says this, glancing over the readout on the spectrometer as he places a second little sliver of glass over the slide. "That's not a weapon," he murmurs. "I mean, there's no weapon in it. Except whatever blew up all over him. It was just made to look like one."
The sample is going under the microscope as Tony turns, scooping up another sample of the stuff for the spectrometer. "Peggy," he says, his voice audibly hanging onto calm by its fingernails, "whoever did this may know a lot about Howard. Like, how he was built. We…"
He breaks off. "We need to start an isolated analysis on him on a system not connected to any other network; God knows whatever's in him we don't want to spread. The only thing that could do this to him would be something that rewrites the code of his nanites — something that nobody alive should be able to do. Someone would need a full read of exactly how he was made. I don't even know if SHIELD has that. The only person I know of who would died just after Dad did."

"Yes, Ms. Carter. He contacted the factory through various intermediaries and requested a sample of what the factory was producing. I did help him with that," FRIDAY sounds a bit pleased with herself. "It should not have been possible to confirm he was the one who made the request despite being the owner of the property."
The degredation seems to have arrested now that Peggy's gotten the stuff off him. Given his speed of healing, the damage should have already started to knit back together. Much like a venomous bite, this wound doesn't seem to want to heal.

"Howard, you secretive idiot," Peggy mutters to herself as she moves away from the crate and over to Tony. "He called me earlier saying he got his hands on a shipment of it, but I had no idea he was actively searching for it. I should have known."

At Tony's explanation, her frown merely deepens. "If it's not a weapon, why would it be made to look like one? Not to mention the fact that why would you need an entire factory in order to produce this just for one man? It doesn't seem to effect skin or fabric. It's something complex enough to rewrite the nanites, but how many people or devices in the world use them?"

As for who has the knowledge to do that, she shakes her head. "If that person had the technology to make an LMD of Howard, why wouldn't that stop them from making one for themselves? Or passing it down to someone else?"

"It could be that they're making weapons and shipping them out. But if this was a new, unknown client, they might have guessed it was you. Sorry, FRIDAY."

Tony lets out a deep breath, shaking his head again: "It's conceivable, I guess. If he knew something was on its way, he might have backed himself up, too. I suppose it's possible he could be running around, but why would he? Even if Bastian Long is LMDing it up somewhere, he was beyond loyal to Howard. He'd never do anything like this."
Tony tilts his head slightly. "JARVIS," he says. "I need you to send over one of your kids. I'm going to set up a closed network here and see if it can work on… debugging Dad. I don't know if it'll work, though, and failing that… failing that, we need to go to Sokovia."

"Oh. Oh dear. I really hope this isn't my fault," says fussy FRIDAY.
The purple goo proves to be completely impenetrable, even for Tony's genius and JARVIS' processing power. LMD technology was designed to fool anyone who looked at it. Without knowing what you're looking for, it's nearly impossible to figure out how the agent is attacking the systems in the first place. It's a bit like trying to perform open heart surgery on a kangaroo without knowing anything about kangaroo biology or how a virus - and that's essentially what it is - works. The only things that can be determined for sure is that the agent was specifically designed to attack early model LMDs and the substance prevents the nanobots from self-repairing.
Ironically, the only person who could make real headway on counteracting the substance is currently comatose. The coma seems to be as much a product of the injuries as it is a protective measure. With his systems in standby, it effectively protects his higher functions from further damage.

"Yes, and Mr. Erben was incredibly loyal to you, Tony. That didn't stop him from attempting to take you and your father hostage in the middle of a steakhouse," Peggy tells him dryly. "Even if it wasn't Bastian Long, it could be someone he entrusted with the knowledge."

As they work through the purple goo and Peggy helps where she can. Despite knowing quite a bit about science, she's not on Tony's level. Few are, of course, and it's a testament to her friendship with Howard that she can even keep up with him. Mostly it's just because she knows where to nod.

"So, this was a deliberate attack on Howard," Peggy frowns at the results. Why else would anyone develop a substance designed to attack early models. She sighs and looks to the comatose Howard. "We should move him to bed." Moving back towards his side, she retrieves the gun she discarded to help him. "And then we should get ready to go to Sokovia. There will be answers there. If not a way to reverse this, then there will certainly be clues as to who did this to him."

"Well, more my father than me," Tony manages. It's… not that much comfort, really. "Hell. We both know we're going to end up there. You might as well make sure your passport's in order and you can take some time off work." It's an attempt at humor that comes complete with a slightly sickly smile.
In the end, they really do just have to scoop Howard up and put him in bed. While there, though, Tony sits by his side and sets up the closed network in order to prevent the virus from getting any further… and to back Howard up, if he can. But there's no denying that their hand has been forced: they need to go to Sokovia, and sooner rather than later.

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