To Catch a Robot

February 19, 2016:

Natasha calls Peggy and Howard to try and come up with a plan to stop the Dottie bot.

New York Public Library

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

The reading room is warm with golden light beaming on wooden shelves and tables. It's a magnificent place, even in its smaller alcoves, and the acoustics are those peculiar to well-built reading rooms: conversation more than a few seats away is no more than a buzz echoing in the ceiling. The wood mutes the sound that the stone doesn't carryr upward and this, along with the odd Central Park park bench, is one of the traditional places for a covert meeting.

It's late when Natasha calls Peggy, and her phone call is curt and brief. They need to meet. Somewhere safe, somewhere they can talk, somewhere not Peggy's home. The New York Public Library is no great distance at all for Natasha, and she's staked out a remote set of tables for the two to claim.

Peggy Carter is not far away, either. Her own flat is close enough that Natasha is not waiting long before she will see Peggy walking through the doors and scanning the area for the red haired woman. It doesn't take her long and she quickly and efficiently moves toward Natasha. The Reading Room is quiet, a few hushed voices discussing some form of literature or modern day politics. Her heels echo against the high ceilings in the few steps she takes off the carpet runner - one of the few things that seem to carry.

Slipping into a chair, Peggy doesn't mince words or waste time. This doesn't seem like the time for it. "What's happened?" she asks, voice soft without whispering.

"Agent Carter," Natasha intones, nodding to Peggy and not bothering to rise. The woman from the past is as businesslike as she is — one of the reasons she rather likes her. "I've left a message with Howard as well. This concerns both of you."

She glances around, but no one is any closer than they were before. They should be quite safe. "Someone made contact with me. Technically, possibly some/thing/. I've been contacted by an early-model Soviet LMD. The program ran, mmm, roughly parallel to the American LMD program. Part of the Cold War. The decoy was performing jobs in the US, probably local to New York, before being deactivated. Howard's the LMD expert, but you… may be more of an expert in dealing with the personality in question."

As Natasha speaks, Peggy doesn't lean forward in any way to denote they are having a confidential conversation. She's used to looking like she's in a normal conversation while discussing sensitive topics often enough. However, as Natasha starts speaking, her eyes narrow slightly and the hands she's placed on the table clench just slightly as she can guess what she is starting to say.

"Dottie Underwood." Her words a clipped with annoyance and anger. "Yes. I'm…aware of her activation. It was in one of Howard's secret workshops." Then, she pauses, realizing she needs to move beyond the anger toward something that will be helpful. "She contacted you? Due to your background?"

There's a touch of surprise in Natasha's eyes when Peggy cops to knowing. Just briefly. But then she smiles faintly. She doesn't even bother to say it: of course Peggy knows. The woman is good. She was good when Natasha was working against her, too.

"That's the one," she confirms. "I've requested that she stop murdering people, but she has her programming, and let's just say our LMDs didn't obey the Three Laws. Yes. She contacted me. Evidently I'm the closest Soviet agent to her," Natasha adds with a sardonic little smile. "I gave her a phone so we can contact each other — and so that I can track her. She'll follow my orders… to an extent, I believe."

At the surprise, Peggy gives a small quirk of a smile. She does still love to surprise other people. Of course, it also helps that she knew the old Dottie quite well in her own time and was there to see her leap onto a crate only a little while ago. As Natasha explains, she processes without moving, though her brow furrows just slightly.

"I see." She hasn't thought of Dottie in a little while, but the emotions and files on her are quick to return. "That's, at least, something to work with. Dottie was always…unpredictable, however. When I knew her, she was paranoid, crazy and had quite a good right hook. Were you able to see if she was well functioning or if she needed repairs? If that's the case, we may be able to find some way of heading her off at the pass, so to speak."

Howard is not a very good spy. Where the other two walked in casually like they're here for some kind of business meeting, he walks with purpose - and with sunglasses on indoors. He's still something of a well-known face, after all. He tends to forget he's got a chameleon mask built into his systems. Or, he tries to forget because that's a firm reminder of his LMD nature.
It takes him a few minutes to find the right room, then he enters. "Natasha, I got your message. Why are we meeting here? Oh…hey Peg." He takes off the sunglasses.

"She does need repair. And knows it," Natasha replies. "I need to investigate the project she was a part of — she did give me the name of it, though who knows whether there's any documents on it anymore — and we're going to have to see about what to do regarding her need for repairs."

On cue, in walks Howard Stark. Natasha gives him a brief smile as he joins them; studying him, in particular eyeing his sunglasses, she very visibly decudes to Just Not Bother. "Evening, Howard. Have a seat. I'm guessing you too already know about Dottie Underwood. Thing is," she adds, glancing between the two of them, "she's /looking/ for repair. I don't see why we can't just bring her in under those pretenses, deactivate her, and perhaps give her a few needed readjustments. At the very least, I may be able to explain to her that I'm currently a sleeper agent in SHIELD and we both have to play along until I get reactivated."

"Which is a lie," she adds. Probably, she doesn't add.

As Howard walks in with glasses and hurried, Peggy merely sighs and takes in his attempt at being unnoticed. "Sunglasses in winter?" she raises an eyebrow. While Natasha may not comment, she certainly will. She can't help herself at times. As Natasha called the meeting, she'll allow Natasha to answer the larger questions, merely giving Howard a quirk of a smile and a nod. "Lovely for you to join us, Howard."

As for Natasha's plan, she nods once or twice. "That seems like a fine plan. Though, Dottie already knows I'm here and may wish to continue to play games with me. I won't be able to help much on the ground team. If she sees me, she'll realize it's a trap."

"Hey, the snow glares," says Howard to Peggy. Then he jumps right in to the conversation. "That's all presuming she isn't messing with you." He takes a seat. The sunglasses are tucked away into his jacket pocket. "Don't assume that she trusts you. A project like her, well, she's going to be on the paranoid side even if she pretends otherwise. If they gave her Dottie Underwood's brain imprint, she's harder to predict than a herd of cats. That, and, well, she's gotta know who I am and that I'm still around."

"I've considered that, too," Natasha replies. "I mean. Let's face it. The only people who can lie to me and expect to get away with it are other people who have my training. Dottie's been doing this slightly longer than I have. It's conceivable that I wouldn't know if she was lying. Or if she's actually as damaged as she says. It's possible she's looking for guidance, just as she said. But something about that… I knwo she's an LMD, but we were taught to be autonomous. We knew what we had to do. Who had to be taken out and how. In general, if we didn't have any specific assignments, we just… well. You knew Dottie. We joined society and played along until we had orders. That she would reactivate and come to me is… troubling. Unusual. But if that's part of her programming in this project she was a part of, it's conceivable."

Natasha takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "And then, just like you say, Dottie was never all that predictable. She had a reputation for being perfectly, even magnificently capable but slightly on the… well, dotty side. Even for us." Another quirk to the corner of her mouth.

"Howard," she says, eyes drifting back to the scientist. "You can change your face. Are your fingerprints the same? All the… other bits? Could an LMD tell you were you even with a different face? Peggy," she adds, looking to the other woman. "I know she'd recognize you, but you know her. You know her buttons better than I do. Her tells. There'll be changes for all kinds of reasons, but you'd make a hell of a good eye in the sky for me. It's always possible she knows I defected and this is all some elaborate dance to take me in and take you out. As long as we go into things knowing that, we have a better chance."

At Howard's explanation, Peggy merely raises an eyebrow. However, she does nod at the implication that no one knows Dottie and she cannot be trusted. "I've fallen for her tricks and I've also interrogated her. She's clever, just simply madder than a hatter. For awhile she was fixated on me, so I managed to gather an edge on her. To trust her would be a folly."

As Natasha continues with the plan, she gives the other woman a grin and a nod. "I would be glad to do so. Though, she may already guess. Dottie is not someone who sits back on her laurels waiting for others to find her. She will certainly take matters into her own hands - especially if she's telling the truth about her injuries."

"The thing is, the Russians never got the bugs out of their LMDs. They were always behind me by a good measure, and I didn't even make significant progress til the 80s. They pushed forward with brain echo mapping instead of consciousness control by a remote host. Different goals. It makes sense that their LMDs would be programmed to 'return to base' if anything about them was in danger of failing to the point of conspicuousness. Once it gets out that LMDs exist and can pass for people, well, you've lost your advantage." Which is why Howard operated out of secret labs and semi-autonomously.
He arches his brows as Natasha reminds him he can change his face. "Ah, well, not currently. Fingerprints. Other things. And I don't know. If I knew her model, if I knew if she'd been upgraded, I might…" he snaps. "The diagnostic equipment at my lab might give me some clues. She knew enough to purge the buffer, but I might be able to recover some echoes. Then we might be able to tell if we're dealing with a fox or a chicken." He rolls his wrist. "That was a metaphor for intelligence, but it didn't quite work."

"They never were a project I had much of a connection with. I knew they weren't a patch on the real thing, but that's about all I knew. I didn't know they were, say, using old Widow imprints for their memories and skills and personalities." Natasha regards Howard thoughtfully, shrugging: "You don't speak Russian, do you? It would be handy if you spoke some Russian. That would help, though. Clearly we can't do this at THINK or Stark Tower, so we'd need to set up a lab somewhere in a building you don't own. She /does/ look at purchase records. Effectively, if we want to trick her, assuming that we're tricking her at all, you should really try to fool me."

Peggy merely shakes her head at the analogy. "So, we could be dealing with a bit of a scrambled Dottie. I would say we should plan for this as if we were meeting with the fully functional one with the added bonus of robotics." At least that way they will hopefully not be surprised. "I'll find a place for our meeting," she looks between Howard and Natasha. "I'm sure I'll find something suitable and it will not taint anything. I have a far less recognizable face than Howard." She looks at Howard at the question of Russian. He's a smart man, it's entirely possible he's learned Russian over the years.

"Of course I speak Russian! I was working with the SSR on counter-intelligence." Howard reaches up to straighten his tie. "I also speak German and Italian. And French. Though that last one was mostly so I could chat up girls on the Riviera." Ahem. "Though if this plan hinges on me tricking a robotic Russian agent who may or may not be on to us…well, that might be a problem. Subterfuge has never been my strong suit." Lying? Yes. Pretending to be something he's not? Not so much.

"Less recognizable to the average person; not so much to Dottie Underwood. Still, that should do if you're careful. I can give you access to some accounts. If I'm paying for the place, that should make it significantly less suspicious." Natasha quirks a tiny smile again and nods her approval to the notion of how to treat Dottie: "Prepare for /and. expect the worst. A woman after my own heart."

She looks to Howard then, letting out a brief laugh: "As if an American flyboy millionaire needed French to woo the French girls. Hopefully you won't need to do much acting, given that the part you have to play is 'LMD technician who is not Howard Stark'. Alternately, do you have anyone on your staff whom you trust /and/ knows enough about LMDs to at least deactivate her?"

"Dottie would recognize Howard," Peggy looks between Howard and Natasha. "She's attempted to kill him before. I would not be surprised if she's the kind of agent who never forgets a mark. She tailed and seduced him for a job before. I can imagine her knowing his idiosyncrasies." She pauses and studies Howard. "Perhaps, though, not now if he changed his face. You're a different man than the one she would have known. However, the tech knowledge may be a give away. There is Mr. Jarvis, but he can get a bit flustered under the wrong circumstances."

"That depends. Do you want her just…deactivated with no hope of revival? Cause I can't promise that if I or anyone else hits the 'off' switch that we'll be able to turn her back on again. Which…if she's really a broken, crazy-strong Russian agent working a thirty year old agenda, might not be a bad thing," Howard's eyebrows arch and his shoulders shrug in concert.
"Yyyyeah, Dottie and I had a weekend back in the day." A beat, and he looks to Peggy for confirmation. "That…was her, right? I'm not getting her mixed up with another ex of mine who tried to kill me?" It's like she's some science fiction creature who Howard immediately forgets after she's out of his sight. "Natasha, you might need to butter her up a bit more before we attempt this. Is there anything you can do that isn't…hugely illegal that might remove any doubts that you're still on her side? Although, the longer she's out roaming around, the more likely she is to find evidence of your heroics and get even more suspicious."

"That's not a terrible idea, actually." Natasha actually looks pleased as Howard makes the suggestion. She gazes off into space for a moment before nodding once: "I think everyone will be so much happier if they don't know what we end up doing, but I'll try not to end up in the papers. Let's just say that it shouldn't make any of our friends really, really upset." Just marginally. But it's for a good cause.

"That's her, yes, by the way," she confirms. "But Peggy has a point: you're not the same man you were sixty years ago. A lot about you has changed. Subtleties about the way you move, about the way you carry yourself. Oh, you're just as arrogant as ever you were — confident, should I say? — but there's an age to you, even a grace, that a younger man rarely has. As far as deactivating her? Being able to reactivate her again later would possibly be preferable. She's very talented. She's also very unpredictable, so I can understand the impulse not to keep her around. Still, consider me just like one of those little old ladies who keeps odd bits of string just in case they prove useful."

"There have been so many," Peggy tells Howard dryly at his quip. Despite the tone, there's certainly a tease in her tone. "But, yes, she did attempt to kill you after a weekend. Though, I believe the weekend was part of the plot to kill you. And not the other way around." She smirks at Howard just for a moment and then is right back to planning. There's quite a lot to do.

"Perhaps, though if she's still as murderous and crazy as the Dottie that I know, it might be best to have her switched off without the possibility of turning on again." She raises an eyebrow at Natasha. "This is an odd bit of string that will come and strangle you on its own if you're not watching it properly." With a sigh, she shakes her head. "Though, I can see the benefits of having the possibility of keeping her activated." That said, she sighs and looks about again. "I'll see what I can do about a space. In the meantime, Natasha will attempt to gain her trust while not doing anything too illegal."

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