The Lab

December 13, 2015:

A secret lab of Howard's sets off a strange alarm. He and Peggy investigate

New Jersey

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

It might be a surprise to Peggy to hear that Howard has an entire off-books lab. Or maybe it's not. She knows him well enough to know he has more secrets than a bag of fortune cookies.
A few nights ago, the security system was switched. All the remote signals indicate that no one got in, but Howard is a cautious man. The lab's location is a carefully guarded secret. Only the small assortment of heroes who found him when he was woken up and a few SHIELD agents even know it exists. He isn't close with any of those people (well, except Tony, but he doesn't want to bother his son with this) so he's asked Peggy to come along, just to double-check that all is well.
They're currently headed towards a dockyard in New Jersey. Howard is actually driving. He's a mite rusty, but for the most part is doing okay. "So. What're your Christmas plans? I feel like I should've asked that earlier."

It may be Peggy who is more nervouse about Howard's driving than he is. It's clear the man is rusty. "For heaven's sake, Howard, why didn't you let me drive?" she asks as she holds onto the passenger side handle as if bracing herself for a crash she knows is imminent. Her eyes are glued to the road.

"My plans are mostly to celebrate with Dugan." Without much family alive any more, it seems best to celebrate with others who may not have loved ones to go hoem to, either. "I may invite a Canadian that used to know me. I'm sure we'll all simply have some drinks, eat a bit of turkey and crack the crackers." She ventures a look for a moment as she asks, "Will you be spending yours with Tony?"

"Y'know, I'm not sure how you're living with that guy. I love Dugan. He's a helluva guy and loyal as they come. But, as a roommate?" Howard puffs up his cheeks. He nearly misses the exit and makes a sharp turn. Fortunately, there's no one behind him, but he didn't exactly shoulder-check properly. "Relax, Peg. I flew fighter jets and there's probably two of my patents under the hood of this thing. I can handle it. I'm just a little out of practice."
Things get quieter and slightly dodgier as they approach the dockyard. "I'd imagine so. Though, Tony's not any better about holidays than I am. Don't be shocked if you hear that we both end up in our respective corners and only emerge for a glass of wine." He grins and shakes his head. They are who they are. "You'n me. Chinese food on Boxing Day. That was a tradition you and I had starting in the 60s up until you got hitched. Then I just imposed on you instead. We should revive that."

"It's been a bit of a trial," Peggy replies truthfully. "However, he was living in SHIELD Headquarters when I went to visit him. I couldn't let him stay there. Unless you're willing to have him stay with you…" she trails off and smiles. "You, Mr. Jarvis and Dugan could have your own bachelor apartment." It's a tease. She clearly doesn't mind having Dugan stay with her for now, otherwise she would have said.

As they take a sharp turn, she clutches at the door again, "Yes, but I'm reminded that I often lept out of the plane when you were piloting," she replies dryly at his nonchalance. "Yes, Chinese food sounds lovely. If we survive this little field trip."

"Jarvis has made it clear that the only roommates of mine he'd tolerate would be of the feminine variety. Or you, of course," says Howard with a nod. It's not a dig, really. It's not that he doesn't consider her feminine. It's just, well, she's Peg. It's different.
He slows the car and turns off the lights as they hit the road. They're only going about five miles an hour, and the ambient light is enough to help guide the way. He pulls the car over about fifty yards from a warehouse that has a series of external lights. "Here we go. This area doesn't have any security besides mine, but I still don't want anyone seeing us going in." He gets out of the car.

At being called not the feminine variety, Peggy snickers. She knows what Howard means, but it also is something she can't help but shake her head at. Though she may be a fighter and a spy, she is still a woman. "Of course." She doesn't seem to take offense to it.

When the car pulls to a stop, she unwinds her hand from the doorway and unbuckles her seatbelt. She's more businessy now that the warehouse is in view. "We should make our way toward the shadows, then," she advises. Opening the car door, she doesn't slam it shut behind her. Instead, it is closed softly - almost making no sound. "Though there will be movement, but they won't be able to identify us should anyone be watching."

Howard reaches into his pocket for a small device. He points it towards the building and keys in a code. The light flickers almost imperceptibly. "There. That'll stop the rooftop turret darts." The…what?
He starts forward, though he follows Peggy's lead. "North entrance," he whispers, gesturing around the side.

Peggy merely raises an eyebrow at Howard when he says the rooftop turret darts. "You always had a flare for the dramatic, Howard," she sighs at him. "What if someone merely randomly showed up here because they were lost?" However, since they are turned off, she moves forward toward the North entrance.

Her gait is steady and silent as she moves forward, clear in her direction and destination. She's also very aware of her surroundings as she leads Howard in the proper direction.

"There's nothing out here, Peggy. No reason to be here unless you're looking for something. Plus, they're proximity triggered. They only engage if it they sense multiple targets and detect forced entry. That's what happened the other night. I got an alarm trigger, but the perimeter still read secured."
He follows in her wake, carefully keeping his eyes to the shadows, searching for non-rat signs of movement. All is quiet for a long time, then as they get closer, there's the sound of whirring and clicking. One of the aforementioned rooftop turrets engages and starts to sweep the perimiter with a laser. He uh, he upgraded the tech when he had a chance. The original 80s-era security was a tad less sophisticated.
"Shit," mutters Howard. "Why aren't the turrets disengaged?"

With a single nod of her head, Peggy acknowledges that she's heard Howard. Whether or not she agrees with his advanced security is something for another time. They're here now and they'll have to get through this. "I'm going to assume it has something to do with why the system set an alarm but read secured. Are you sure it's still working?" She doesn't spare a moment to give him a look, but he can tell by her tone of voice that she thinks that may be what is happening here. "When was the last time you were here?"

However, there is work to be done. Following the mechanical sweep of the laser, she moves forward. "Is there a manual override?" Even if there isn't, she's going to have to take care of them somehow. Instead of moving fast, she waits, going slowly and always making sure the laser is moving away from her. He said they'd only fire if they thought there was forced entry.

"There's an access panel by the door." Howard's face is all scrunched up. She's seen that expression before. That's his 'one of my toys isn't doing what it's told' face. He's already going through a dozen scenarios in his head about what could have gone wrong. "If someone hacked me, I owe them a Coke," he mutters.
He digs out the remote, then tugs off the panel to get a direct access. "I'm seeing if I can alter the toxin levels in the darts just in case they do fire." A beat, "You should let me go ahead. If a dart hits me, I'm not going down."

"Toxin levels?" Peggy sighs and should have known it would fire toxic darts. As she continues to move forward, she shakes her head at Howard. "You can follow me if you wish, but I don't think simply letting you walk forward into the darts is really our best option." Her progress is slow and steady, her eyes always moving and aware of where the laser sightings are pointed. Hopefully if she's not walking fast, she'll be able to make her way to the access panel.

"Peg, watch where you're stepping. There's pressure sensors. I'm not sure whether or not they're…—"
Howard's thought is cut off by her stepping on the edge of one of said pressure plates. The turret's laser suddenly sweeps towards her. There's the whirring of three other turrets engaging. Oh, crap.

"Of course there are pressure sensors!" Peggy yells as she hears the turrets whir and the laser sweeps toward her. Not wasting any time, she quickly jukes right. By now the slow going won't be doing her any good. Instead, she runs, zigging and zagging in an attempt to make sure that she doesn't get hit by a dart. Once she's flush against the warehouse door, hopefully the rooftop turrets won't be able to hit her.

Thwip thwip thwip. The darts cut through the air. One whizzes so close to Peggy's head that it ruffles her hair. Meanwhile, Howard is hanging back and furiously attempting to hack his own system. It's a good thing, too, because there's a sudden bite of a dart into Peggy's arm.
"Don't worry," calls Howard from behind a crate. "I neutralized the toxin. The darts'll sting like a bastard but they won't do anything. See if you can open the access panel. If you can get to the keypad, punch in 7-5-Niner-Zero-Alpha-Alpha-Tango-9."

Cursing under her breath as the dart hits her arm, Peggy rips it out and drops it uncerimoniously to the ground. "We really have to talk about your trust issues, Howard," she calls back to him as she pulls open the access panel. Quickly, but careful to hit the right buttons, she plugs in what is hopefully the proper password. The darts guns already aren't working as Howard wanted them to and she doesn't want to see what will happen if she put in the password improperly or if this also isn't working.

"If I had trust issues, they'd be poison instead of sleeper darts," Howard calls back as he continues to work.
Then, as soon as Peggy completes the code, the turrets whirr, drop and stow. As soon as things look clear, Howard darts forward to join Peggy. "Well, that's a bad sign. If I was wrong about the turrets being disengaged, the whole system could be compromised." He motions her aside and then he yanks off another panel. "I'm not even going to try and input my code. I'm just going to hit the manual access. The good news is, nothing looks compromised in this panel. Are there mutants who can interface directly with tech? Cause that'd explain this."

As the turrets wind down and stop, Peggy sighs and rubs at her arm where the dart hit her. It still stings, though she's not going to complain. She's had far worse, after all. "It still rather denotes a lack of confidence in others," she tells him with a raised eyebrow.

Then, it's back to business. "Yes, there are," she tells him with surety. She's met one, at least. "Or, there are certainly people who are able to deal directly with tech in a way that I would never have believed."

"Peg, this was my LMD lab. This was the lab that I kept off the books even from Stark Industries. SHIELD only saw the results of my work, not the process. This is where I did some of my most sensitive work." Howard grunts as he crosses a set of wires. There's the sound of a magnetic lock popping open. He gives Peggy a look, then stands behind the door and pulls it open far enough for her to enter in ahead of him.
The warehouse itself is large and full of crates and boxes circa 1985 or thereabouts. It's dark and dusty, but there's evidence of disturbed dust that since had a new layer - presumably from the day that Howard was woken up. Whoever entered, they must have come in the other way. Either that, or they can fly.
"Southwest corner, to the left of the stairs. That's the lab entrance." It looks like nothing, but when they get closer, there's more, fresher disturbed dust.

"I'm not saying there are things that should be kept secret." Peggy would be quite the hypocrite if that were the case. As the magnetic locks pop open and the lab is revealed, she moves in and surveys. If this is the work of someone with the power to manipulate electronics, then there may be other surprises waiting for them. Even if this is just another one of Howard's malfunctioning devices, there could still be unpleasant surprises.

As they head deeper into the lab, she notices the fresher disturbed dust and stops their progress, gesturing at the clue. Now that it seems like there may actually be a culprit, she's moved into Agent mode. Pulling out her gun, she slowly moves toward the wall to see if she can find the source.

"Whoah, whoah…" Howard reaches out and stops her from approaching the area of the most disturbed dust. "A panel is going to open to reveal a steep staircase with reduced visibility. Pointing at the stairs will be a pair of turrets that do not shoot darts. They should answer my voice print. But if they don't, you want to be out of range."
He steps forward and places his hand against a panel. It scans. And yes, Howard is betting on his technology working. If it doesn't, well, his LMD body can take a couple of bullet holes and still be repaired. Not an ideal situation, but.

At the stop from Howard, Peggy heeds the warning. He's the one that knows the layout of this place. With a frown, she nods. For now she'll stay silent. Though Howard is talking to someone, it's better to not give anyone who may still be here an idea of whot hat other person is. For all they know, Howard could be talking to himself.

Stepping back and away from the entrance, she gives a nod to Howard to let him knowt hat she's ready.

The panel slides back to reveal the steep staircase just like Howard said. There's the telltale whirring of turrets, which indicates they're already active and alert. He hesitates before approaching the stairs. "This is Howard Stark. Tango-Alpha-Six-Seven-Zero, stand down."
There's a brief lag, then several mechanical sounds. Given that turrets don't bluff, it's safe to say they're actually stowing. Still, he creeps down with an abundance of caution. Only when he's down at the foot of the stairs and can see the turret panels are currently closed does he gesture to Peggy.
The lab itself has been upgraded since Howard woke. It's also been dusted and reorganized. This is LMD equipment. A lot of the repair functionality has been transferred to THINK, but the equipment to actually build LMDs is still here. It's dark, though - darker than a lab should be. Only the ambient lighting is on.
"Lighting to full," He says. No response. Howard frowns. "Reset lighting sequence to defaut illumination." Still nothing. He moves towards an access panel.

Peggy waits till it's safe before she follows Howard. She takes in the lab as best she can with the darkness. As the lighting doesn't work, she straightens, raising her gun and surveying the open spaces. Covering Howard, she scans the rest of the area, as if waiting for another attack to happen.

As Peggy makes her sweep of the perimeter, she'll feel the texture of the ground beneath her shoe change. When she takes another step, her foot will slip. The floor is covered in blood and gore. A hand lies in a slice of light, but the rest of the figure is in shadow.
Meanwhile, Howard continues to work away, cursing silently at himself. "I have no idea how they broke in here."
And then, suddenly, from the far back corner near one of the LMD pods, there's a flash of movement and a click of feet. The figure moves unnaturally fast around Peggy and at a dead sprint towards the staircase.

Though Peggy's foot slips, she manages to keep her balance. She's been in a fair many firefights with injuries and knows how to stay up when the need arises. There' sno time to respond to Howard. The flash of movement causes the SHIELD Agent to train her gun on whatever or whoever it is. She tracks how fast it's moving and is quick to pull the trigger, aiming for what she hopes is center mass. Quickly, she follows after it, trying to make sure she can keep it in her sights.

The shots ring close, nearly hitting the sprinting figure. One shot actually seems to have grazed the figure because there's a brief hesitation in movement. Still, whoever it is is just //too/ fast.
"Peggy!" Howard calls. He may have LMD strength and speed, but that doesn't do much good when he doesn't really know how to use it.
The figure is up the ramp and into the factory proper. She - and it is a she - runs down the aisles of boxes towards the rear entrance - the entrance they didn't come in through. She's wearing a military jumpsuit and combat boots that looks ill fitting.

Peggy hears Howard's call, but she mostly ignores it. She's in the chase now with something to pursue. Whoever it is that she's chasing is good and fast, but she trained super soldiers. Letting the gun stance drop, she takes after the woman she's chasing, heading through the aisles of boxes and toward the rear entrance. Even if she may not be able to catch the woman, she could hopefully see where she's headed. Or even maybe set off the turrets again and hope a sleeping dart will hit her.

The woman comes to a stop just by the entrance and turns. For a split second, Peggy can see her face.
It's Dottie Underwood.
Or, someone who looks very much like her. In the moment that their eyes meet, there's no recognition from the woman. In fact, she looks a bit…empty and distant. There's blood on her cheek and on the hand that reaches up to grab hold of a shipping container. With one flick of her hand, she moves the huge, heavy hunk of metal into the road between them. Peggy could climb it, but chances are her quarry will be gone by the time she does. Ditto with going around the other way.

When Peggy recognizes Dottie, she skids to a stop. There's a moment of complete and utter surprise, flabbergasted. Perhaps she shoudln't be by now, but this still floors her. She springs forward to give chase only to realize it's impossible. She watches the blonde woman go, stunned, before slowly making her way back to Howard.

"Peggy!" calls Howard from the other end of the lab. "There's a dead man in the lab. I think he's our technopath. He's got input ports in the base of his skull and contacts on his fingers. At least that makes me feel better about how they got in. Did you stop whoever that was?"
He's got a bit of blood on his fingers from where he checked over the fallen man. "I think we're after an LMD. I just checked the logs and several repair cycles were run."

As Peggy walks back to Howard, her shoulders resolve. The surprise and confusion fade into determination. "It looked just like Dottie Underwood," she tells Howard. She's unsure if the man will remember the woman - despite their past. It was quite some time ago, after all. "The Russian woman who was working with Dr. Ivchenko." While suspicious as to what Howard may have been up to in this incredibly secret lab, she's pretty sure he didn't make a Dottie LMD. Pretty sure. "But, no, she pushed a shipping container to block her path. I thought it better to come back than pursue." She frowns, looking at the dead body and then back up at Howard. "It's a bit more than just an LMD. It's an LMD with intense Russian military spy training."

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