Like Clockwork

May 07, 2017:

In which Isa Reichert meets the Chief Operations Officer of Stark Industries, Pepper Potts.

New York City - Stark Industries

Rising high into the skyline with the name of it's Lord and Master for all to see, the Stark Industries Tower is the most visible component of the Stark Industries complex centered in Midtown Manhattan. Manufacturing, office space, power generation and even some inventory is housed in the tower and its associated subelevels. It also contains guest housing and, at the top, the penthouse suite that is the domain of the Main Man himself, at least, when he's not at his Malibu home.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Phil Coulson, Rusalka Stojespal, Tony Stark

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

Evening has fallen over New York City, at an hour when most people are settled into their homes, preparing to start their week in the morning. Not everyone is ready to start that process, though. There are some in the city who are still working.

So it is that a vaguely familiar red-headed woman pushes open the door to the lobby. She cuts a trim figure in a cream-coloured business suit and skirt, professional, with a classic beauty to her, with long loose red hair and a striking blue eye the colour of winter afternoon sky.

The normalcy stops there, because the right side of her face is a ruin of burn scarring; a dove-grey patch rests over where her right eye should be. That ruin stops just shy of her hairline, and plunges down past the collar of her suit.

Judging by the mottled skin tone of her right hand, or the fact that there's still some mottling just above her right knee, it was an expansive wound, and something that probably should have been lethal.

She has a briefcase clutched under an arm, and she's striding briskly toward the elevators like a woman on a mission. Her mouth is set into a grim line, her gaze fixed on the elevators.

In fact, she doesn't even stop to say hello to the receptionist.

The receptionist – a diminuitive woman in a Security uniform – tries to call after the red-haired woman, but FRIDAY notifies her quietly that the woman has authorization to proceed. The elevator opens for the woman before a button is pressed, and upon stepping inside, FRIDAY's voice offers, "Good evening, Ms. Reichert. What is your chosen destination?"

In her office nearer the top of the tower, Pepper is getting a few remaining emails sent off, having come in for a few hours to get Tony's schedule for next week cleared. He'd told her he was planning to go to London, and since she hadn't known sooner, she's having to do the hasty schedule shuffling to make sure there aren't any crucial meetings that he'd miss.

"Miss Potts," FRIDAY speaks up. "Ms. Reichert has entered the Tower."

Pepper blinks and glances up. "Who?"

"Ms. Reichert, Miss Potts." A holo image of Isa entering the elevator appears over her desk. Pepper studies the image for a moment then glances down at her own jeans and tshirt. Crap.

"FRIDAY, delay her as long as you can," Pepper says as she all but throws herself out of her chair and runs for her office's attached washroom. Thank goodness she's in the habit of keeping a spare changes of clothes here. She'll just … pull her hair back tight and hope it's not too obvious that she hasn't washed it today.

Not until she reaches the elevator does the woman slow from a brisk and purposeful stalk. It isn't until she turns around to face the panel of the elevator's buttons that she realises that there's nobody there to greet her.

Another artificial intelligence, then, like the one she had been introduced to the other day? Just how much of that machine is really its own entity, anyway? The issue of artificial intelligence is a wormhole she's always been a little too queasy to investigate too closely.

Her single eye flicks up, then down, as though deciding where to direct her answer. It's the kind of creepy, unnerving thing that would make a great interrogation technique. The kind of thing that plays on a man or woman's psyche.

The pilot licks dry lips before settling on an answer.

"I am here to deliver paperwork for Mister Stark." Her choice is English, and despite her grammar being technically correct, there is nonetheless a heavy Russian accent to her words. The specific dialect further refines it; placing it within Moscow's city limits. "A floor that has any secretary working for him will do. I do not need to see him today; nor do I have an appointment." Oh Merciful God, please don't make her talk to the man-child today. She's already on edge over Coulson's investigation, and doesn't need any more fuel to the fire.

She turns, eyeing the bank of buttons. They're meaningless to her, of course. There's no telling where the specific floor she needs could be. "Engineering revisions," she adds, holding the briefcase up to the empty air as though by way of explanation.

AIs are very unsettling, she decides silently, a moment later. Creepy and weird. For all its glaring faults and flaws, the Motherland at least had that much right; relying on a blend of machine power and manpower – and knowing not to lean too hard on the former.

The elevator begins to move. "Very well, Ms. Reichert. Upon arrival, please exit the elevator and turn left. Then proceed to the end of the hall."

Either the building has become considerably taller, or the elevator is moving almost distressingly slowly.

Pepper hurriedly sheds her jeans and tshirt to don the blue silk blouse and black pencil skirt that she had tucked away in her washroom. They're some of her most comfortable pieces, hence why she keeps them here. A hasty face wash, fast ponytail, and the casual clothes disappearing into the laundry chute later, Pepper steps into her heels and back out to her office just as the elevator dings at the end of the hallway. Whew.

"Thank you, FRIDAY."

"Of course, Miss Potts." Pepper moves to start a pot of the Russian Caravan tea that Sally liked so much to give herself something to do while Ms. Reichert approaches down the hall.

There's one thing that these artificial intelligence things are good for, and that's giving directions in a place as enormous and complex as the Stark Industries Tower.

After a few seconds, though, she tilts her head to look up at the corner of the elevator. According to the security footage, she's probably looking for wherever the camera is, mostly as a distraction from the fact that this is an incredible waste of her time.

Not that she had anywhere else to be, at this particular juncture in time. She's off-duty for the moment, although thank the heavens her enforced leave is over. The inexcusable idleness had almost been enough to send her climbing the walls of her apartment.

After what feels like a small eternity, the elevator reaches its destination with a crisp and clear ding that is almost assuredly electronic rather than the bell-tone it sounds like. Apparently no expense was spared here for the little touches like that, either.

It doesn't take Isa too long to approach. Her strides are long in spite of an unimpressive and average height.

Her hand raps in businesslike staccato against the doorframe, but she isn't inconsiderate. She'll wait in the hallway until the door is answered or until she's told to enter, clutching her briefcase loosely.

"It's open," Pepper calls at the knock.

And it is. The door is left wide open, revealing the interior of an office that is impeccably furnished in pale greys and light natural wood tones. To the left of the room is a plain door and past it a small seating area with a comfortable looking sofa flanked by matching armchairs, the three facing a coffee table set under a decently large flat screen TV mounted on the wall. Aforementioned TV is softly playing music. The entire far wall of the office is floor to ceiling windows, with a glass door leading to a balcony in the center of nearly incomparable view of NYC. To the right of the room, a large executive desk is back near the windows with a pair of chairs in front of it. Closer to the entryway on the right side is a small, round conference table with four chairs around it placed between a large wet bar style credenza against the right side wall and the entry. The wet bar looks like the kind of thing that would normally hold several decanters of liquor and crystal glasses, but instead houses a collection of teapots, teacups, and tea tins in sufficient quantity to rival a tea room of old.

At the credenza, a thin woman wearing sapphire blue and black with her hair pulled back into a ponytail is just turning with a gently steaming teapot in her hands. She offers a smile hello as she sets the teapot on the conference table. "Hello. Please, come in."

The door is pushed open. When the one-eyed woman steps across the threshold, her eye is already roving the room. She takes it in with a cursory look, and then another, more detailed study. It's the classic symptoms of a skittish individual; she's not admiring the decor so much as looking for escape routes and committing them to memory.

It isn't obvious, but it's still noticeable to somebody whose profession includes the ability to read people, and react to those readings.

An eyebrow is quirked at the view, though. Whoever owns this office, it doesn't belong to a grunt secretary down in the clerical trenches. This corner of Stark Tower is absolutely prime real estate. Room with a view, indeed…

Isa's head tilts just slightly too far to the right – an acquired habit to compensate for her blind spot. It gives the sometimes-unsettling impression of focusing just beyond the person she's speaking to, much like a blind person, but there's no mistaking that she can see. Her eye settles precisely on Virginia Potts and her teapot.

Politely, she dips her head, eye half-closing for an instant. "Dobriy vecher," she states, in flawless Russian. According to her file, she originally hails from Moscow. "Good evening. This is the office I was directed to."

Something about her seems wary as she crosses the rest of the way into the room, but she manages a brittle smile – half a smile, because she keeps the scarred side of her face tilted slightly away from Pepper. What's visible suggests that the scarring is mostly rigid, and creases into a rictus-smile only with conscious effort.

Her eye settles on the teapot, blue meeting blue as her eye flicks back to Pepper's face. "I do not believe we have been introduced. I am here only to deliver documents to Mister Stark. You are one of his… secretaries? Assistant, perhaps?" Even as she speaks it, the guess feels wrong. A secretary would not have an office like this. Her second guess feels closer to the truth.

Isa seems to remember herself a moment later, shifting her briefcase to her left elbow and offering her right hand. The scarring does not stop at her collar – her fingers are mottled, skin unevenly healed into vicious burn scarring; a past record of life-threatening kinds of wounds. If she's at all mindful of the image she presents… well, she ignores it, really.

"May I leave these with you?"

Setting the teapot down gently, Pepper steps around the table to greet Ms. Reichert more properly. "A pleasure. I'm Virginia Potts, Chief Operations Officer. Call me Pepper." She shakes Isa's hand without so much as a hint of hesitation, and she also manages to maintain eye contact and not glance at the right side of Isa's face.

"I can accept those documents for Tony, if you like." She's by no means failed to notice the woman's scars, but she's had years to train herself into seeing, acknowledging, and mentally dismissing what's not important to the task at hand. If Ms. Reichert wants her to know more, she'll offer the information. But Pepper sure as heck isn't gonna pry.

Chief Operatiosn Officer has a rather formal ring to it, and it's a damned sight better than a lowly secretary. It's no surprise that this office has such a fantastic view and a generously large floor plan.

Hey, wasn't that elevator supposed to drop her off at some scullion's office so she coud get out of here before Tony noticed she's here? Speaking of which, he's bound to notice sooner or later. The realisation makes her skin crawl. Even the burnt stuff.

Her grip is firm and unwavering, though, when she shakes Pepper's hand. Despite all the outward damage, she must have engaged in one hell of a physical therapy program.

Once more, her head tilts very faintly to the right, which lets her fix her left eye on Pepper. There's no mistaking that Stark's Chief Operations Officer is being studied, and studied very closely; in an odd sort of way, the regard of one warrior for another.

The Russian may not dwell in the corporate world, but there's no denying that it can be no less ruthless than the world of intrigue and danger that she does dwell in.

"Very well. I will leave these for you, then. They are suggested changes to the current quinjet propulsion and load-balancing model." She frowns. "If you do not remember, that is fine. I believe Mister Stark will know what they are, and what to do with them."

She tilts her head, eyeing Pepper, but her regard is almost wary. "Chief Operations Officer. That sounds like an important title. What is it you do here, Miss Potts?"

Accepting the documents, Pepper turns to set them front and center on her desk – a place indicating she has no intention of setting them aside and forgetting.

"Well, listen to the water cooler talk and you'll hear that I'm a scheming backstabber and social ladder climber. But while I lucked into my original position as Tony's personal assistant, I like to think I earned this job through perseverence and hard work."

Moving back to the credenza, she pulls down to mismatched tea cups. "I'm the one that makes sure that all day to day functions of Stark Industries happen when they're supposed to happen. I plan and approve research and development schedules and areas of focus, I ensure that manufacturing plants have the materials to produce the items they are supposed to produce in the quantities needed to meet demand without excess or deficit, and, well…"

She pauses to pour a cup of the tea. "I still about a fourth of the time make sure that Tony is getting enough food and sleep and reminders to shower regularly."

"Would you like some tea?"

After listening to Pepper explain her position with the company, Isa tilts her head very slightly in acknowledgement. There's an unspoken third option that comes to mind, for her – inheriting the position because nobody else wants to manage the rolling public relations disaster that is Tony Stark.

Hmm. A hypothesis she'll have to look into later.

The rest of the explanation more or less confirms what she had suspected, and that's that Tony Stark needs reminders and nagging to get through his day to day life. That isn't surprising at all. The man is infuriatingly immature; an overgrown child in a man's world.

Or a woman's world, as Pepper proves.

Clearing her throat, Isa glances over at the mention of tea. "Thank you, but no. I must be going, soon. I have an appointment that I must keep."

That is to say, she promised Coulson that she would lay low while he was busy, and keep herself out of trouble – and out of crosshairs. The last thing she needs is to get herself shot. Again. Once is more than enough. It's not really a huge lie, considering she did promise Coulson that she would be in a particular place (her apartment at the Triskelion) at a particular time (any time she wasn't doing anything else).

Right?

Right.

"I will be returning in two weeks. I believe Mister Stark also expressed some interest in a prototypical quinjet design, particularly with an eye toward the propulsion systems and load-balancing; specificially, he requested my input on the designs." Isa gestures to the papers now neatly placed on Pepper Potts' desk. "That, namely."

She lingers in the doorway, though, studying Pepper almost guardedly – yet for all that, there's a hint of approval in that single blue eye, too. The other woman hadn't startled at her scarring. She also didn't raise a fuss over the fact that Isa Reichert is a relative nobody, yet someone whom Tony apparently has working in advanced engineering on somewhat sensitive hardware. The right tool for the job, indeed.

"I will return with the other documents in two weeks to bring the rest of this, but this should keep him for the time being." Isa bobs her head politely. She even manages a half-smile, although it seems a little crooked; almost a little sardonic. "I am sorry. I do not have time to stay for tea, although I am appreciative of the offer. May I take a… rain-check on that?" She stumbles, very slightly, over the unfamiliar expression. "I have an appointment I must keep. You understand, I hope."

"In the meantime, if you do not have anything else for me, then I will take my leave, Pepper Potts." Isa's use of Pepper's full name seems to be a token of respect; since Pepper has no patronymic as part of her name, the full name will do for polite addressal, Russian-style. Well, it makes the pilot feel better, anyway. "Was there anything else?"

Rather than a strange and awkward repetition of her name, it seems to be a gesture of respect – Pepper isn't Russian; having no patronymic to use, a full name is the closest thing she can get for these Americans with their awkward naming habits.

Pepper nods. "Well, at least take some with you, as I made much more than I can drink myself." She turns to the credenza and produces a good quality thermos-style beverage container which she pours the rest of the pot into to offer to Isa. "And I will hold you to the rain-check. Perhaps after I have a proper samovar?"

"I will personally see that Tony receives those documents, and if you like, I'll make sure he has a way to send you any questions he might come across as he reviewes them." She then steps toward the door, apparently to walk Isa back toward the elevator.

"Have a good evening, Ms. Reichert, and if you have any other questions for me, do contact me at any hour. I'll help in any way I can."

"Is that so? Thank you. I will surely take some with me, in that case. It smells very good, and I would venture that it is high-quality tea." Isa tilts her head slightly, although it seems more an opportunity to study Pepper more carefully. Her single red brow arches. "A samovar? I am impressed. Most Americans do not even know what that is."

The pilot starts for the door. "Good. I do not think he will have any questions, unless he should find fault with the information." That's possible. He's a willful and stubborn man, and unless something is presented to him with just the right spin and logic, he's going to insist it's his way or the highway. Such is her perception so far, anyway.

"Indeed. The same to you, Miss Potts. My lines of communication remain open at any time to Stark Industries." A crooked half-smile flickers across her features. "Do svidania." Farewell.

With that, the pilot is soon gone, that determined stride taking her back into the elevator and from whence she came.

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