King's Knight Opening

February 17, 2017:

Obidiah Stane reacts quickly when a new chess piece steps out onto his personal board, engaging Jessica Jones in a dance of lies, deceit, psychological manipulations and metaphors that leave the PI more than a little uneasy.

Stark Industries, New York, NY


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Tony Stark, Peggy Carter, Pepper Potts


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

New York City.

Stark Tower.

Once the greatest structure any company had ever taken upon itself to build, it was now a building owned by a a private individual, with a private mission. Obadiah Stane, Tony Stark's oldest ally and confidant, was a big part of that mission. And so when Jessica made an appointment, knowing things as Obi often does, he moved his schedule around to be accommodating.

The ride up in the elevator is serene, detached from gravity in a way most elevators strive for. It's the little things, you see, that set this place apart. Not a simple technological wonder, but the 8th wonder of the world itself.

The elevator doors open, and there's no real pretense for the office as a whole. No one gets up here unless a secretary lets them up from the floor below, and so a simple glass door that lets her see the entirety of the office - if you could call it that - is the only thing that separates her from Obadiah.

It is a place of warm, dark colors, earthy and fatherly in the way it harkens back to a bygone age with a desk that appears to be wood - but is not - situated on the far, opposite side of this great room. There's a pane of glass that wraps to the curvature of this floor, and gives Obi a view that is the second best in the building. Between the desk and the entry way is a recessed floor, just two short steps, with a couch, a few chairs, and a coffee table. In front of those are a dozen or so monitors, some with news, some with other information. It is, in so many words, a second home, one that it seems Mr. Stane is using to much that effect.

There on the couch, with his suit jacket folded up as a second pillow, Stane sleeps, a gorgling snore emanating against the backdrop of news from around the world, his very posture both peaceful and altogether pathetic - the old man who needs a nap, just to get through the day.

Unsure of what Obidiah Stane actually knows about her sudden hire, Jessica Jones arrives in his office under the guise of Jessica Knight, Efficiency Consultant, a guise she will remain in until and unless he indicates he knows who she is. She would have had to, anyway, to get up here, but…she's not ready to drop character yet.

So when she arrives it's in the black power pants suit and red power blouse Tony provided for her, tailored to fit her precisely and made of much the same kind of fabric Stane's clothing is made out of. She has pulled her hair into a tight, severe bun and has even duplicated, as much as she could, some of Kitty's tricks with make-up, though she gave the candy pink lipstick a hard pass in favor of a red meant to match the blouse precisely. Her nails have been painted to that same shade, and she's even put on red flats. A pair of no-prescription glasses sit on her nose, but unless someone put them on they'd be hard pressed to tell.

In a case like this, "trust nobody" is good advice, after all, and Stark didn't show up himself in her grungy office for her to make assumptions about anyone. So she makes none now, neither good nor bad, simply observing, cataloging what she sees, which is, so far, this: Obidiah Stane is old, overworked, and power naps to get through the day. He keeps his fingers on the pulse of everything. He enjoys the finer things in life, but is not overly ostentatious about doing so. He doesn't have time to be disturbed, but his decor indicates someone who wants people to feel comfortable in his presence when they finally do get up here. He's never home, a fact which could be really useful later.

Stark wanted fresh eyes, he's getting fresh eyes.

One might imagine that a PI presented with a sleeping old man and a empty office would take a moment to start snooping. Jessica does not. It would be supremely out of character for her, and if this fellow is at all involved after having tipped Stark off to the whole thing— he's not going to be stupid enough to leave a smoking gun in his own file cabinets, and certainly won't be stupid enough to leave something where she can find it in a few swift minutes.

So she simply stands in the doorway, and offers a slight clearing of her throat, too soft to wake anyone who is sleeping deeply, too loud to be ignored if the man is merely dozing.

"Sir, you have a guest."

JARVIS chimes at Obadiah, who wakes with a glance at his fancy Stark Watch and then pushes himself up, the doze still clear in his eyes. There's a long blink, and finally he reaches down to straighten his tie and pull his folded jacket up. Thankfully, the material of that jacket won't wrinkle easily.

"Well this is embarrassing. I guess the hour comes and the body demands a sacrifice - sanity or sleep. I'm not sure if I chose poorly or wisely." He says this as he stands, careful to make sure he hasn't made a mess by drooling in his beard, and he fastens his shirt cuffs back into place before pulling his jacket on. He still looks like he's shaking the sleep off, and when he steps towards Jessica it's with all the apology in the world.

"Ms. Knight, isn't it? I don't ahh.. well. Normally consultants aren't my bread and butter. Pepper always handled that back in the old haunt. But every business can use a pick me up or a check up for time to time, and Tony said I should pencil in an hour for someone special to stop by. So here we are." His smile is as genuine as a summer breeze, lacking any of the pretense someone younger might offer her, patting himself down for.. well, who knows. Maybe his cigar. Maybe his phone. Finally his hands drop in an amazed fluster, and he offers her one for a good shake.

"Really, my apologies for sleeping at my desk as it were. There was an attack the other night and, it's the kind of thing that keeps Tony up at night, so it's going to keep me up too. I'm Obadiah Stane, nice to meet you."

Jessica takes his hand, offering a very proper handshake. Her tone is neither overly warm nor overly cool; it's soft-spoken and highly professional, Knight is a woman who has learned to coat her steel with velvet. "A pleasure to meet you as well. And…no need to apologize. Rest assured I believe sanity to be the better choice, Mr. Stane. It is my hope that my presence here shall indeed be little more than a tune-up that helps your fine organization continue to operate at its very best."

She watches as he pats himself down, wondering what he thought he needed. "It is a pleasure to meet you as well. I'll try not to take up too much of your time, but it's important to get the bird's eye view before I start auditing issues at the department level."

At the news of an attack, she gives an owlish blink and cants her head to one side. It's an opening, but of course it's nothing "Ms. Knight" would start quizzing him about directly. "An…attack? I was under the impression Stark Industries had the finest security in the world. Should I be concerned about my safety during my work here?"

"Jarvis, can you get me Ms. Knight's file?"

The holographic drop down shows up and follows him around as he invites her with a wave of his hand to come over to his desk, moving around it to have a seat as he narrows his eyes on one detail after another. "Efficiency programs for unilateral and cross platform development. So.. you make things go faster." He peeks around the hologram to give a little smile, and he stops before fully sits down, rising up to lean in and look at some detail or another. "Oh, my manners are left in the dream world. Did I even offer you a drink? I think that bottle of scotch over there is older than most of my kids."

The nectar of the Gods awaits. And Obadiah has an expression, an old man's mischief, that says it's okay to sneak a drink during a meeting. How many seconds have passed since he asked his question? Did his brows just lift? Will he repeat it?

So what's the answer, Jessica?

"I think I'll have one, if you don't mind." It comes out before she has a chance to answer, and he moves past the desk, towards the bar which was hidden away in the corner, just out of sightline from the main entrance. The glass is the sturdy kind. The kind that has the right kind of weight in the hand.

Jessica can't feel it of course, but the way he handles it, she can tell. He opens a a sliding panel on the bar, and inside are balls of ice. Carefully, he places one, two, into the glass. Big and perfectly round, careful not to crack them.

If you crack them, the ice melts to fast. It ruins the flavor.

Then there's the bottle. It's the kind of scotch that comes unmarked because it isn't from a distribution house. It's made somewhere half way across the world, in a sub basement, in a barrel that weeps tears for year and years, until the crisp sound of that perfect liquid pouring over that ice has traveled thousands of miles to reach Jessica's waiting ears.

There's an itch at the back of Jessica Jones' throat which she tries to combat with a vision of screaming at Peter Quill to do something she would have severely regretted. There's a slight tightening at her mouth and a slight twitch of her fingers as she watches the liquor cabinet like a hawk. She can feel the warmth smoothing down her bloodstream even now, even from this far away. Some days are easier. Some days are harder. Some days make a bit of sweat pop out on her brow, just as they do now. She pulls out a small red hanky and dabs it away, swallowing hard. That's alcohol like she's never even tasted. She wants it.

She wants it so bad she could scream. She wants it to blunt the edge off the stress of having walked herself into a case where everyone she meets could be an enemy waiting to take her down. Work has been providing a fine distraction for everything else, but as that beautiful smell hits her nostrils she finds she wants it for every other thing that's been bothering her too.

She could have one.

Just one.

Just one wouldn't hurt. She's got advanced physiology…

I admit that I am powerless over alcohol. My life has become unmanagable.

"Not that kind of efficiency," she says. "Employee efficiency. Finding out which employees should stay, and which should go." She allows a ghost of a smile to touch her lips.

"I'm here to be the bad guy, so you don't have to."

There is a very slight tremor in her voice, one she thinks she's hidden well. "And while I appreciate your fine offer, I'm afraid I must decline. Medication."

Her advanced physiology has saved her from the shakes and the hallucinations, from the seizures and the other dangerous symptoms of trying to quit cold turkey. But the other signs and symptoms of withdrawal do plague her. She feels a headache starting up behind her right eye; a touch of nausea in her gut. It hadn't been so bad at the night club, cause it hadn't been that long. As of today, however, it has been 5 dry, sober days, and Jones is…jonesing.

"You know, one of these days I'm going to realize it's not the old days, and that I shouldn't drink this stuff like it's mineral water. Speaking of which. I try not to drink alone."

Another glass, despite what she said. The drop of one piece of ice. Then another. The clang echoes out, drilling past that headache that Jessica is nursing. Then the pour, it hurts so good, rumbling through the veins.

When he returns to the desk he sets her drink in front of her, and then he moves to his own seat, his little smile every bit as polite as it should be, the clank of his glass a gentle reminder of what he has.

And what she does not. Because all she has is a crystal glass of ice cold water.

"So, you said you could be the bad guy. If I needed one. I'm not sure what Tony had in mind, but I'm mostly fine with the personnel that we have. All good folks who share our vision - keeping weapons from proliferating across the globe."

He lifts his glass, and that liquid pulls past his lips with a tiny sip, enough that he has to tease the rest from his whiskers, never wanting to waste a drop. And certainly, as he looks her over, waving his hologram away, he notices her distress. But he doesn't mention it. Not yet.

That would be ever so impolite.

A little more sweat has popped out on her brow by the time he sets that glass in front of her, and for a moment what she sees is amber perfection and the cracking of her resolve entirely. She picks up the water and brings it to her lips, and almost starts when she realizes that it's not that. For a moment she fears she is having hallucinations after all.

She swallows the water and swallows it hard while her gut churns uneasily. She needs to focus here. "Really? There aren't any problems in any departments at all, Mr. Stane?" Jessica asks, lifting an eyebrow.

She at least gets back on target quickly, though her hand shakes enough to make the ice rattle in the glass. Her gaze is direct. "I find that hard to believe. I've never been to any company where there wasn't some sort of a problem somewhere. Problems with employees who aren't performing up to par. Problems with employee trust. As it is, I don't make any decisions; you do. I dig a bit, I bring you the reports, you or Mr. Stark decide what you want to do about them, but publicly, many of my past employers have seen fit to blame me, and that was perfectly fine."

Back on script through sheer force of will, gently probing for information, trying to see what shakes out, trying to ignore the fact that what she really wants to do is launch herself at Stane's drink and steal it right out of his hand, upend it in her mouth before he can do a god damn thing about it.

"Accounting? R&D? I can just start from the ground up, but if I can address any areas of specific concerns…"

It hasn't escaped her that he has sidestepped the issue of the attack entirely, but it's not good to press. This is perhaps the longest game she's ever agreed to play; usually her pretexts last minutes. Not hours. Not days. For one brief, distressing moment Jessica Jones wonders if she'd gotten a little too confident in her own abilities, if she was suddenly way in over her head here. She'd been successful swimming in relatively small ponds on her own; she'd done decently enough out in the deep lakes with her friends. Suddenly she feels like she just decided to try to leap in the ocean without land in sight to see if she could swim her way to shore.

It's a thought she banishes as she takes another slow sip of her water. She's going to do her damndest, the investigation does not begin and end here, and there are a lot of avenues to try.

The way his gaze settles over her is the measured, experienced gaze of a man that has had this conversation before, and his free hand lifts with a veil of innocence. "Well, you have to understand, Tony and I aren't part of Stark Industries anymore. He's the R&D. I'm the accounting. And the manager, the CEO and the COO. Sometimes I even tuck him in at night and I certainly act as the last line of defense against some of his crazier ideas." His brow furrows, and then he shakes his head.

"Unless Tony hired you already to fire me. Trust me, I'd take the vacation. I'd even ask you to come with me. I'm sure you could teach me how to fish. You look like someone who knows how to fish."

She might be thinking about ponds, but he's thinking about what she's really up to. Before his gaze can be to pointed, his gaze shifts to one of the sidelong monitors, and then a new holographic display pops up.

There's an alert, and his brows lift. "Show me."

He leans, taking another sip of his drink, and when he sets it down on the desk it's almost halfway between the both of them.

On the hologram is the attack. New video. The Iron Monger, beating Cindy half to death. It's a killing machine, and it almost got to it's ultimate purpose with Jessica's roommate. The brutality of it fills his gaze, and his expression turns sour, until he waves it off, his gaze leveling at Jessica.

"I didn't know how to answer your question before. I didn't want to alarm you. But yes. I'd say we're all in danger."

"Fire you? No." Jessica says. Well, as far as she knows, anyway. Unless she uncovers evidence that he in fact needs to be fired, though so far she hasn't seen evidence of anything, except that this man is protective of his employees and has amazing taste in booze. She gives a little smile to try to take the sting out of this; this is not a comfortable situation by any stretch of the imagination.

She longs to just cut the bullshit, tell him who she is, and see what he has to say. That would be the efficient way, and he's so fucking low on the suspect list that it's not even funny.

Her gaze goes still as she watches that video. She's got a good poker face, but probably not good enough to hide the flash of anger that rockets across her eyes as she stares grimly at the carnage yet again, at her young friend getting the ever loving shit beat out of her. The fact that Silk is a "super-hero" has not inured Jessica to feeling a little sick to the stomach to see that brutality. It adds to the nausea already sending bile to the back of her throat.

She puts the water aside. Takes off the glasses. Begins to clean them. It's a cover that allows her to think through what she knows.

This man put Tony on the trail in the first place, but then Tony came to her in secret and by himself to hire her. She might get more out of him if she levels with him. But if she levels with him, she might lose any advantage she might have had by playing her cards a little closer to her chest…she'll have, in fact, shown her entire hand in one swift motion, an irrevocable move that she can't take back once it's complete.

Perhaps there's a middle ground, a way to cautiously place a card or two without blowing the whole shebang. She puts the glasses back on her face and says, "I'd say so. Look, we both know I'm not here because Mr. Stark decided to take a deep interest in the running of the company. Because hiring a person like me would, in fact, normally be your job. He could probably bleed $2.5 million in a day and would simply trust you to handle it." Given how he basically threw money around…offering her a phone when she'd asked for a number, a bulletproof wardrobe when she'd asked for a vest loan and a 20%r larger deposit than she'd requested, she knows that one for a fact. Tony didn't even really have much of a concept of money and what it was worth, as far as Jess could see.

"But. People like me are also auditors with a keen eye for loss prevention, and it wouldn't be the first time an inventor took the misuse of his work very personally indeed, enough to take matters into his own hands and to look at hiring an outside specialist. That looks like a flying, shooting, violent hole in the One Big Happy Family picture you just painted for me. As does the image of four dead employees, all single, separated, or divorced, all suicides. Perhaps we are to go fishing together…but I don't think trout is what's doing the biting around here, do you?"


He rises after watching the video, a level of disgust on his face that he hides from her when he turns to look out over the city. The sun is on it's way to setting. At least he took his drink, and all it's wonderful beauty, with him.

"A good friend of mine is terrified of them. Goes on and on about it. Thing is, they're too deep to go fishing for. You have to drag a net low and long, and pay attention to ever detail a long the way. Or you'll snag a shark, lose your net."

His drink finished, he turns to set it on his desk, and the way he looks at her is more than skeptical. "I would hire you in an instant, Ms. Knight. If you were real. Truly I would. But I'd much rather hire the real you. The one who shows up on youtube." He waves his hand, and there's the video. Of course he pulled the file of Ms. Knight before she came by. Of course he ran her against the entirety of the internet to match her face. And if he had held back, and played this game to long, well then he deserved to be fired.

This was his job, after all.

Of course, he couldn't know about her addiction, because if he did, if he offered her that and knew, well. He'd be a monster. She'll find a cigar tossed in her direction, and he slides a cutter and a lighter in her direction.

"So you know about our little problem here, and I can only assume that Ms. Carter brought you into it. Checking her back channels again? Making sure I'm okay, and not being worked?" He doesn't look upset, more like.. impressed. But also a little world weary. He lights his own cigar, the sweet scent of the Cuban filtering through the room. "Spill it. Or I will take you fishing. Waders and everything. You'll smell horrible after."

But he could. He absolutely could have known about her drinking problem.

Because Tony Stark had known about her foul language, and had hinted that he kept tabs on everyone. That's a detail that one can't find sitting around on a background check. And finding out she's a fucking alcoholic is child's play. Her bank statements have so many purchases from the local liquor store until a few months ago that one might have wondered if she ever ate. She's going to AA, a place people could follow her into…the meetings sometimes had over 50 people in it. Easy to slip a spy into

So, Jessica Jones files that away in the back of her mind. Maybe it was a feint, maybe it was a power play, maybe it was an oversight. But he did it, and on that count? She suspects he knew damn well what he was doing. The question was why.

Maybe he just didn't appreciate her own duplicity.

But it's there. A detail. As is this metaphor he's given her. Truism? Or threat?

"I hate that fucking video," Jessica Jones says, dropping the act at last. She takes off her glasses and scowls. She shouldn't hate it too much; it kept her out of jail, but it hadn't exactly helped this situation either.

She decides to just go ahead and let him think Agent Carter brought her in. She'll make sure she knows to back him on his assumption when she meets with her in a few days. "Peggy and I have worked together before. I guess she knows I'm the type to hold on to my net with everything I've got." Which is true, though Jessica has never presumed to call the woman "Peggy" to her face.

"It wouldn't be the first time I've smelled awful," she says darkly. "But alright, Mr. Stane. You've caught me. I have seen the surveillance video of the drop. I've got all the employee files. I apologize for trying to pull one over on you, but I was just doing my job. Let's just assume I'm as up to speed as she is. Do you have anything new for me?"

That's a quick, efficient question to ask. It's not her only one, but it's a good start.

There's a wave of his hand, as if to dismiss the deception, and he nods at the cigar he offered, while taking another long pull of his own. There's a press of a button, and he reaches down below his desk to produce a flash drive. Presumably from a station that houses them beneath for easy access.

"A little more, but not much. A few more technical specs we pulled from their computers. All drawings, done manually from.. well. What I can only assume is tapped free from JARVIS and his sensors. A dangerous proposition to consider for all of us. You shouldn't be so hard on yourself about the video, though. It's impressive. It's the kind of work I'm trying to do."

Finally he leans back in his chair, and tosses the flash drive over to her. "Any friend of Peggy Carter's is a friend of mine. You have a reputation I'm familiar with but, only recently. Still, I trust that woman with my life. So I'm trusting you with all of ours. I'm actually.. I'm glad you're here. Something in my bones tells me it's a rogue operator inside of SHIELD. Maybe they've been compromised. I don't know. This doesn't feel tight enough to be a real player in the spy world. It's someone playing at it, but someone who's worked these people over in a way that…"

There's a moment that that will make it hard to look at him, a crease of pain that flashes across his face. He stares down at the fire of his cigar and gives a slow exhale. "I failed those people, Ms. Jones. I put them at risk by not insisting we be more vigilant. Tony blames himself, but I was the one who shouldered this. I'd appreciate an objective eye, here."

She finally takes the cigar. She's already been good enough in resisting the booze. An expensive cigar is really too much to resist. She uses the cutter as God— or at least whomever invented cigars— intended. Then she lights it. She closes her eyes and just lets the nicotine hit her blood stream. She enjoys the scent of it, swirling all around her. She has never smoked something so fine. She shouldn't be smoking at all. But she can't fight a war on three fronts, and resisting the cigar? That's one front too many.

She opens her eyes in time to catch the flash drive. Stane believes it's a rouge operator in SHIELD, Tony patently does not. She wonders what Peggy believes.

"Well. Let's not assume anything right now," is what she says. "I'm going to do the ground work, start from the beginning, and believe nothing until I've got a verifiable fact to back it. So let's work with that. Verifiable facts. Does your company keep keyloggers on employee computers, or video tape anything that happens in employee work areas? While I understand they're copying things by hand, there's any number of other tell-tale things that could be on those computers or video tapes. I'd also love a phone dump of their work phones. I came up with the 'consultant' idea so that I could interview their supervisors, their co-workers, see what they knew."

Him blaming himself strikes a chord. She's uneasy after the alcohol maneuver, but she has no verifiable facts about him at all, other than that one. Other than the fact that he does his god damn homework. Is he playing her? Do they have full fucking psych workups of her in there?

"In my experience, Mr. Stane, the blame very rarely lies with the people who are heartsick over what has happened." She takes another long drag on the cigar— god, so amazingly good— and blows out a perfect smoke ring. "It lies with the monsters. The ones who both took the harmful actions in the first place and will never feel a lick of remorse. They're the only ones to blame. So says my objective eye."

"Tony and I are monsters. Recently reformed. This, all of this, it's the undergrowth we seeded long ago. We made money on weapons, and this is what happens when you make the greatest weapon: A power source to make the worst things in the world smaller and more dangerous." A pause then, and he gives a nod regarding her question, as if realizing that was the important part of their conversation.

"I'll see that what I have gets rounded up. Makes it's way over to you. When Tony split from the company, when I went with him, we worked with Pepper to make sure that we had enough controlling interest, enough security interest to keep the company safe. Part of that was access. But we should have been looking harder. Reviewing backgrounds of people who had passed before Tony put on the suit."

A slow shake of his head, and the he sets his cigar aside, leaning in to look her in the eye. "You work for Peggy. That's fine by me, but I came to her because I needed an old kind of trust. The kind that seems to not exist anymore. The kind of trust I only have with Tony, with her. Maybe with you, if you can make sure to keep me in the loop. I'm still working it from my end, so I'm sure I'll need to update you anyway. My office is always open."

His hand extends, as if to make sure she understands that right now the world has narrowed, that this kind of thing, him taking the first step, leaping off the edge for trust, is not something he can do often anymore.

Then again she must be pretty trustworthy, she didn't try to take his wallet while he was asleep.

What would she need his wallet for? Unless he's got evidence in there, she doesn't give a shit. Is that trustworthiness? Even Jessica herself couldn't say.

She stands, puts the cigar in an ash tray, and takes his hand. There's no good reason not to. Either she's being honored by someone who doesn't extend that honor often, at which case it would be ridiculous to turn down the goodwill, or she's being reeled in by someone charming who wants her to think that she's being honored. Either way, she's already shown more than enough of her cards this evening. So she smiles at him, though it's the world weary half-smile of a hard-bitten PI who does not see much trust or courtesy in her line of work, lets the side of her that is routinely gratified by such things win out for a moment because if she needs to sell him on being thoroughly manageable, that's the side that's going to be able to do it. And if she doesn't, that's the right side to use. Win-Win.

"I thank you, Mr. Stane. It may be several days before Ms. Knight visits the office again. I've got a lot of footwork to do out there. But rest assured I'll be combing through every last scrap you send me. It doesn't take a super-genius to see the importance of getting this thing nailed up and dealt with."

Then she swipes up the cigar and salutes him with it. "These are exquisite, by the way."

Yeah that's coming with her. She turns to go.

Well, at least he knows to have one waiting for her whenever she comes by. A long few moments after she's gone, as the chess moves play out in his head, he presses another button on his desk that turns on anti-surveillance measures. Not even JARVIS can hear or see whats going on in here now. His phone comes out, and he whispers something into it.

"Pull everything we have on Jessica Jones. Call in the asset for an off sight meeting."

He wasn't lying about his cram session. There's more to know about it, more that Hydra knows, for sure. He presses the button once his phone is away, and he stands to look out over the city. He'll need to review that information, see where her pressure points are.

Surely there's someone in her past that will stand out. Someone that will cut like a knife.

Then all he needs do is ask a certain Jinn to become that person for a little while. Maybe not up close. Maybe in the corner of her eye, dancing at the edges of her sanity.

It's time to see what kind of operator Jessica Jones really is.

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