January 23, 2017:

Monday night finds Peggy Carter going through the USB drive Red Robin gave her in Why People Hate Mondays.

Peggy's Apartment - NYC


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Red Robin, James Barnes, Steve Rogers, Jane Foster


Mood Music: Run Devil Run/The Big Guns - Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins

Fade In…

The rest of Monday passes. Peggy Carter is no stranger to enacting her duties as if everything is fine when her mind is actually a million miles away. Throughout the day, she combs through files, she makes notes and annotations, she interrogates a possible lead, she alerts an agent about a possible loose window. All the while, her thoughts circle the simple USB stick that rests in her pocket. It presses against her hip like a reminder, impossible to forget.

As soon as she is in her apartment, Peggy pulls a small plastic bag from her jacket pocket, sheds her coat and tosses it over the couch. Without stopping or pausing, she travels to the kitchen table to collect her laptop. She tucks it under her arm as she pulls a bottle from a cabinet and continues into her office. Closing the door with her foot, she slides the laptop onto her desk, tosses the plastic bag to the side and sets the bottle down with the soft sound of wood meeting weighted glass. Once everything is in place, she walks to the two windows and securely shuts the curtains.

Only then does she pull out the USB drive Red Robin set on her office desk hours ago. For a moment, she contemplates the plastic stick and its contents. She should have already turned it in. Opening the lid of her computer, she boots it and then slides the USB key into its proper slot and sits down. A hand reaches out for the bottle, the soft pop of the cork and her sigh of pained anticipation the only sounds in the room. That is about to change. Taking a generous swig, she places it back down on her desk and then starts to click through the folders.

She sees everything Robin says she would find: names, locations, data. All of this SHIELD sorely needs in their fight against Hydra, if this delay has not already made the information obsolete. Then, of course, there is the audio file. The cursor hovers over the name for only a second before she double clicks. Immediately, there is the voice of a man she does not recognize that fills the room.

"Phase One. Breaking. Subject is to be segregated and isolated from all human interaction. Food and water is to be withheld except the minimum to sustain life. Subject is to be refused light and kept in darkness. Sleep is to be permitted only in one-hour intervals. Physical exhaustion is key to achieving an initial compliant state of mind. In such a perceived crisis state, the brain becomes willing to accept anything in order to sustain its own life.

"Phase Two: Erasure. Subject's memories and individuality are repressed forcibly via repeated hypnotic suggestion, and the application of negative stimuli at any indication of recollection and independent personality. Expressions of independent thought are to be immediately punished so that it associates the punishment properly with the infraction.

"Phase Three: Implantation. Performed on those most at risk of compromise. Subjects receive Pythia chip via a minor invasive process to place it in the skull, behind the left ear.'

"These have been our conditioning techniques in standard use for decades. These methods were first trialed, to great success, in the Winter Soldier Program. Apart from occasional lapses, the Winter Soldier has subsequently performed without hitch or issue apart from a regular need for re-conditioning, as it is inclined to naturally begin to recall its birth nature as 'James Barnes.'

"Under guidance of AVG a new process flow has been developed. Phase Two: Thought reform. Subject is taught to accept a replacement narrative as reality through reinforcement of implanted ideas. Refusal of the narrative is punished immediately— electroconductive stimulation is the preferred mechanic— while acceptance of the narrative is rewarded with absence of pain. This replacement narrative is broadly similar to the subject's own life, save altered appropriately, to reduce or entirely forestall inevitable mental rejection.

"Procedure appears to be successful thus far, as performed on the Winter Soldier. Second subject is to be Number 13727, Jane Foster. We anticipate observing the performance of this new process upon an individual without existing damage to memory, nor prior history with our previous procedures. A list of potential future candidates, pending successful conversion of Foster, follows—"

It ends. The file is not long, but it feels as if she has listened to it for hours. Peggy looks at the folder that contains it for long minutes. She imagines Steve’s face when he listens to this, to hear what they did to his best friend for years. Years he was on ice and could do nothing to help him, to save him. Years of what it took to turn James Barnes into the Winter Soldier. And now they are doing it to Jane Foster.

There is no one to see her expression change from pained to determined as she picks up the yellow plastic bag and pulls out the USB stick she bought earlier. It looks identical to the one Red Robin gave her earlier. Putting it in the second USB slot, she formats it and then carefully copies over every file but that one audio clip.

As the files copy, she takes another swig from the bottle, leaning back in her chair as the progress bar fills. Once it is complete, she thoroughly checks to ensure that everything she wishes is accounted for and without corruption. She ejects the replacement drive and returns it to her pocket. That safe, she ejects the original and sets it down on her solid wooden desk. Standing, she takes another long drink before decidedly corking it. Then, with a quick and merciless blow, she brings the bottle’s heavy base crashing down on the USB drive.

It takes a few tries, enough time that if she were to feel remorse or question her decision she could stop. She doesn’t.

When she is finished, the drive is plastic shards and scattered metal chips. She takes four different envelopes and parcels the remains into each of them.

The next day, she tells Steve of the USB Drive and hands it over to SHIELD.

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