Forging a Master Key

August 19, 2017:

Seeking help with the threat of Hydra moles within SHIELD, Sally Stojespal talks Tony Stark into making a tool that will help the investigation remain covert.

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.



Mentions: Phil Coulson


Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

It's been a few days since one Sally Stojespal had been at the tower. After the incident in Sokovia, she'd returned with the SHIELD transport bearing the damaged jet that Stark had designed and built, settled back in…and then immediately required sick leave.

It wasn't actually her fault; the sudden shoreside attack by a large number of mutated rats - among other things - had been something that ended poorly for her. A trip to SHIELD's medical wing for a few days had been in order, less for the serious bite marks on her leg or the head wound and concussion…and more for purging whatever mutagen had been in the saliva and blood.

Rusalka Stojespal did not approve of the occasional wererat joke, either.

Today, though, she's got to finally get back to work - so she'd almost literally dragged herself out of bed, still nauseous and dizzy from the mix of poison and counterpoison, to see Tony. Something more important than mere 'work' is pushing on her, and she'd pushed herself to get here - conceding even her skill at driving to the urgency.

Hopefully Tony isn't watching her actually use and pay for a taxicab. Once /that/ embarrassing ritual is done, she'll make her way into the building, waiting for an empty elevator. At least the weather's not as brutal as it's been, and it lets Sally enjoy the Stark Industries tank top and a light windbreaker. Shorts don't do a good job of covering the bandages on her right thigh, but they're comfortable at least…and as her elevator finally arrives she'll settle against the back wall with a long sigh and resting her cane at her hip.

"JARVIS, is Mr. Stark available? It's rather urgent, but private. If he's busy, could you take me to my workshop, and I'll wait for him there, alone?"

"He is," JARVIS sounds slightly concerned as she asks. "Are you sure you should be up, Miss Stojespal?" He goes back to formal at times of worry like this. "Your medical scans show serious injury and that you are still suffering from side effects of the antigens." A pause. "More than that you did not arrive driving yourself. Which is quite alarming."

JARVIS is a thorough sort.

"I mean to say, Mister Stark is alone in the secondary chemlab. If you would like to join him."

The elevator opens for her as he speaks. Just to add to the offering.

The disembodied voice in the elevator is something that Sally's managed to get used to - and she smiles a little at the AI's concern. Leaning against its back wall, she closes her eyes and shakes her head.

"I am sure, JARVIS. I'll be alright. I-" Sally can't help the smirk; she imagines something like this conversation happening betwen the AI and Stark…a lot. And the inventor's countless spurious ways to brush off concern, usually by pretending the question wasn't even asked. She'll be nice.

"I am only here to talk to him, though it is important. I promise to be good and not exert myself." She opens her eyes, smiling a little and glancing upward for whatever camera might or might not be visible. It's the closest she can think of to looking Stark's personal assistant directly in the eyes. "And then I swear I will go home and get some rest."

The chemistry lab? "Please, yes, take me there." Once she's delivered, Sally grabs the cane and limps out of the elevator, looking around for the literal king of the castle. "Mr. Stark? It's-" …

"…It's Bunny, I was wondering if we could talk privately?"

The king of the castle at the moment seems to be standing near a microscope and a very strange looking device. Something which seems to be a cross between a centrifuge, a 3-D printer, and a blender.

He's looking at whatever oddly purple liquid is being distilled there. Ready to pour into a pitcher as she comes creeping into the lab.

"Bunny! Come on over, have a seat! No one else here and you're just in time."

A pause.

"And good to see you're not a wererat."

Whatever the device is, she can't help but admit it's pretty impressive. A whole mix of things together, as if it was something to rapidly replicate whatever someone was looking at in the microscope. Neat, Sally thinks; I wonder what it really does? She's probably on the right track, but knowing Tony, it'll have a few Hidden Surprises.

It's a signature of his work, after all.

One side of her mouth quirks upwards in a smirk when he greets her, and she nods. "Yes sir. Just…in time? Ah, for what, might I ask?" Creeping over she does, selecting a stool and parking herself near enough the device to see just whatever demonstration it is that he wants to put on.

And then a derisive snort. "It is good to be seen as such. SHIELD says I must continue taking pills for a while to make sure that…whatever it is, the chemical that was spilled, is no longer present. They are large enough to choke a horse, not just feed to one. And I do not know which feels worse, taking the medication or not."

She might just be a touch green around the face, after all. But with a silent admonition, she gestures her free hand to the thing he is doing. "I shouldn't whine. It could have been…worse," she adds, thinking of those she hadn't been able to save. "What is it you want me to see?"

"Me finishing this, and you're not supposed to see it. You're supposed to drink it." Stark replies as he peers at the solution. Its a truly bright purple. Even as it drains into a pitcher.

Stark looks up towards her with a smirk. "JARVIS gave me your med scans when you walked in. It should help." A pause. "You'll also likely pee purple for a day or two but you know. Side effects. It happens."

A shrug at that.

"I nearly died from some of em once. But I got better. This isn't that bad. Really." Then a tilt of his head. "Anyway you can talk while you sit and drink. Because you wanted to talk about something important?"

Drink it. One eyebrow raises at the concoction; it seems to have more in common with a lava lamp than anything edible. And then Stark explains, and Sally sighs and nods. "I see. That…took remarkably little time to put together," she adds, impressed.

There's a moment of a horrified, embarrassed expression on her face at the mention of that particular side effect, and then Sally's eyes narrow slightly. "I am sure this would not simply be a prank; that…ah." No, no prank. Apparently Stark himself had had such a thing happen.

"I see. That explains why you had it so quickly at hand. Or else you hacked my medical records," she adds, half-teasingly. Sally's pretty sure he wouldn't, depite his bragging about getting into SHIELD's information systems in the past. That, at least, was why she'd made her way here.

Sit and drink she is ordered, and sit and drink she does - the whole compound, whatever the thunderously purple liquid is, gets taken down in one dose. Best to get past however it might taste, she decides…and best not to nurse it. If it'll help clear her head and her body of whatever that mutant-poison is, the faster the better!

"Da. There is…kind of a situation. Although first things first, all three aircraft have been returned to the Triskelion, including Mrs. Reichert's. It landed at my mother's airbase, and it needed SHIELD transport home; the damage was a bit more extensive than it had seemed. But the situation in Sokovia is…calm, for now." Whether that might change soon depends on what her great-grandmother does.

But there's more to it - and she elaborates, trying to provide as much truth as she can while following Phil's order to keep it covert. "You remember that night, when we were ambushed? Those planes were already in the air, waiting for us. I…Baba is convinced that there is a spy, somewhere. That someone told Icarus that we were coming, and where, and when."

She blinks hard, focusing her attention and looking Tony square in the eye. "If there is a spy, then it would need to be someone within SHIELD, yes? I thought…since you've mentioned before, your ability to retrieve information from their computers as you personally see fit," she continues, trying for a polite turn of phrase, "that there must be some backdoor or private access for you. Much of their technology is built on top of yours, so."

Leaning back a bit, letting herself rest on the stool and against the table behind her, she continues. It's a story she's spent some time thinking about, and believes - but it's still a cover for her true need. "I would like to know how, so that I can search for that person. If they exist. My programming skills are not up to the task, and you know your architecture and design intuitively. Is there…can you help me? In some way?"

It tastes kinda like a taro root shake. Apparently he at least got a taste better than 'generic horrible medicine'. Its thicker like a shake too, but there is a slickness too it.

He watches her drink it then set the glass back down with a nod.

"Well nanomachines are really easy to reconfigure. And that Starr Labs medscanner is really good. Out of this world really. Like litterally, they use some kind of crystaline circuit patterns that are amazing. I adapted some of it for those planes we built."

Thats right. She just drag a jar of robits.


Then he leans back, a quirked eyebrow then as he listens. "JARVIS?"


"Scrub the last thirty seconds from the record, full security protocols. Lock to Alpha and Omega." Then he sits back as he waits.

"Done, sir."

A nod before he flicks his wrist. Calling up a holo-keyboard and screen. "So, does Vanillapants know about this?"

"He means, Mister Coulson." JARVIS cuts in helpfully.

"Of course I mean Phil, I mean really who else would I mean." Stark adds before he looks back towards her. "Because it really sounds like you're asking one boss to hack into the other bosses computer systems and go rooting around for truffles."

Okay, you got her. Sally's eyes widen in surprise as she listens, staring back at that glass and the mighty purple not-a-milkshake she'd just finished. "Nano…machines…" Huh. "is it…something long-term, then? Or are they short-lived?"

And is she going to have to drink another one of those anytime soon? It may not be terrible to taste, but she'd not enjoy a serious regimen of the stuff.

Crystalline circuit patterns? "Hm. Fractal pathways, a sort of potentially infinite decision tree? It would explain how well SIRIN worked." She nods, impressed. LIKELY FINE. Bery hopefully so.

A sigh of thanks is given as Stark wipes the last bit of conversation from whatever typical records he keeps and locks it away. Sally makes a note to herself, that JARVIS really is always listening - that whatever is said in the tower, anywhere, is potentially for Tony's ears as well. It only makes sense; it's his home and refuge. And Hydra is no friend of Stark at all - nor, Sally suspects, are they alone.

Sally can't help the choked sporfle of laughter at Tony's nickname. Okay. Calm down, she tells herself. Compose yourself, you are on a mission! She remembers the Senator, and allows herself a moment to gather her thoughts before nodding slowly - hair and bangs bobbing forwards as her everpresent hairband isn't there today.

One more sign of how ill she feels.

Reaching up one finger to clear her eyes, she shakes her head. "Not…quite such a situation, no. And yes, Agent Coulson is…aware. It is something that I need to search myself, without others' help. If there is a mole, if they noticed too many people…that is why Agent Coulson is remaining 'hands-off' in this situation."

Truffles? Possibly, but not quite. "It is not as if I am trying to change my academy scores without anyone noticing. If there is a spy somewhere, then…they are probably using SHIELD equipment. If there is a backdoor, either they have it and there is a way to prove that and find them…or they don't know about it, and I can track them down without their being aware."

"The'll be out of your system after they finish the job. Give it about a day or two and you should be mostly better. I need to submerge ya in a nanobath to heal the physical stuff, but toxins can be gotten rid of pretty easily." Stark replies with a shrug of his shoulders before he leans back and seems to regard her for a moment.

Then sigh.

"Great. So Coulson knows. And he knows that he can't know cause it'll scare people away and…" A pause. "…I hate esponiage shit. Fine fine, I can see what I can do. Well JARVIS and I can see what I can do. I can at least check for backdoors while I'm in their system. I'll just make sure to do something else while I'm there so they don't suspect me of being all spyish."

A pause.

"Great now /I'm/ doing it."

She nods, mulling over the thought. Another day, and then by the week starts she'll be better? Worth swallowing mouthfuls of tiny purple robots. And then - "A nanobath? Ah, like…a mud bath, as it were?" She considers, but vanity takes over - she's eighteen, good looking, and knows it. And wants it to stay that way.

Sally laughs. "Tomorrow is my birthday, Mr. Stark. I will accept your offer of such a thing as an appropriate birthday present. I am sure it will beat an afternoon in a health spa, and well." She looks down at her right leg, frowning. "I would rather not like to have the scars that SHIELD thinks I will, in all honesty. May I please?" By the time she's done talking, the playfully haughty tone is replaced with an honest, slightly worried curiosity in her question.

She nods. "Yes. Admittedly, we were all caught by surprise - the Tchernobog, we thought there was only one of them. Not eight. Thank you, by the way, for joining in that battle. My homeland especially is grateful to you." He'd personally accounted for at least two of the 'master' fighters, and a lot of their drone units. "If you are ever in Sokovia again, Baba would appreciate the chance for an audience. Officially."

But then talk turns to the technical side of things. "I know - and…if it would be easier, if you built the ah…the tool, and taught me how to use it? I would be grateful, and it would take pressure off of you. Especially if I am discovered."

Sally's voice trails off a little at the latter part, thinking back to stories she'd been told as a girl and paid less attention to than she should have. She's setting herself out as bait, almost, despite her position of tracking someone down without their knowledge. It was something that had happened several times during the War of Retribution, and it ha not always ended well for the sacrificial spy - even as it made their mission a success.

"I would rather not involve you so directly, but…in this case, I must at least ask. Can you build me such a device or program, and…will you trust me with it, sir?"

"Is it?" Stark pauses a moment to peer towards her. "Really? JARVIS is that right?"

"…yes, sir. It's on your calender."

"I have a calender?!"

"Yes, sir. Miss Potts bought it for you?"

"When did this happen?!"

"Months ago, sir."

"Is that the thing that has the kittens on it?"

"…yes, sir."

"…huh. Who would have thought."

"…yes, sir."

"That sounded dissaproving. Are you judging me, JARVIS?"

"I would never."

"You so are! Alright Judgey McJudgebot! Just fix the thing for Bunny."

"Yes, sir."

Turning back towards Sally he nods once. "Now that thats settled. You want me to build you a thing. So you can then go use a thing. So if you can get caught using a thing. Then you draw out the person trying to be the sneaking evil bastard. Am I following it right?" He asks as he leans back in his chair. Arms crossed over his chest as he watches her.

I mean he is kind of breaking down her plans right there isn't he.

Sally shrugs gently. "August 20, 1999. Though, it isn't as if I've told many people, really." She can't help but laugh as Tony and Judge JARVIS debate things, raising a hand after a moment to try to still things. "Really, it's alright! I didn't …exprect anything significant, but well." She glances down at the bandages on her leg again, then sighs.

"Thank you, Mr. Stark. Truly. I apologize for springing that on you quite so suddenly." And now she has less than twenty four hours to worry about what he's going to do her in return…

His follow-up summary is enough to get her eyes to practically cross. A finger raises, tapping on nothing in midair for a moment as the Sokovian parses just what was being described. She nods after a few seconds, Tony's summary more or less correct.

"Basically…ah, in so many words. Though I would prefer to use a thing, to find a thing, and the person with the thing, not…knowing that my thing knows their thing. I think. What frightens me, though…"

And here her voice drops a little - JARVIS would know that even in her current medicated state, the chill that comes over her is entirely legitimate. Yes, there very much does appear to be a mole in SHIELD, though from Coulson's quiet description to his ad-hoc team on the boat, there's far more than one. And at least one of them is a Level nine agent, Phil believes.

"I worry that it is someone at…" Her hand rests on the table for a moment before lifting up and stopping a few times - finally coming to a halt above Sally's head. Someone at the top, she wants to say - an Icarus, or possibly even Hydra, plant somewhere at the head of SHIELD itself. "I mean…they knew we all were coming. Even you. And it…was a close thing, in the end, that night last week. If you weren't with us, sir…"

There's a thought that Sally doesn't want to continue down.

"If I wasn't there then Phil would have figured something else out." The man replies with a nod. "Thats why you were there. Still. I'll build you your thing. And you'll wear a panic button and a watch of mine." The man replies with a smirk as he sighs slightly.

"You know I don't usually have interns. And I don't like using them as bait to dangle in front of bastards that seem to be intent on killing us all. I mean really. We have people for that." Stark sighs for a moment then nods.

"But if I don't do it. You'll do it without my help and like quadruple your potentional to get yourself killed. So I might as well help and at least help with the odds. JARVIS!"


"Fit her for a watch and get printing. Set it up to mimic her suit." He adds as he waves to dismiss the hologram screen.

"Add panicbutton function to it. And bring up the stats on that last hacking tool of mine." He adds as he stands up.

Phil might have figured something out…but as it was, the victory was tight indeed. Even with the last-minute assistance from the Sokovian Air Force, Sally wasn't sure it was entirely over. At the very least, Stark's help was instrumental in the victory.

Sally nods softly as he describes his thoughts on interns and their use as bait. "In all honesty, sir…I feel the same as you do. All I want is to learn, and build, and race. But it seems that fighting the many-headed beast is a family tradition." She shrugs, amused at the irony and distance from her mindset a year ago.

"Who am I, to buck family tradition?"

That he'll build it - and provide her with extra protection - comes as a relief. "Thank you, sir. I…cannot deny I would go ahead without your help, but I am grateful for it. It isn't as if I want to be said bait after all, so.

Suit? …Oh god. That thing. Sally nods as he stands, and she joins him. "Thank you, again. Hopefully I won't need to use it, but. Absolutely it is a comfort that it is there. If I can help with anything, you know I will - no matter what. Even -" She'd been about to suggest something as embarrassing as dressing up for his production work in an upcoming show as a booth-babe, then has a terrible thought.

Her free hand reaches for the top of her head as her eyes give the notorious prankster a hard stare. "That…nanomachine drink, I'm not…going to end up with bunny ears am I."

"Well you're welcome. I just don't want you to get killed doing something increadibily dumb and then I'll have to deal with your familiy yelling at me. Or crying. I hate dealing with either." The inventor replies as he starts to walk off. Apparently to get whatever he needs for this little toy he's making.

The last question though causes him to pause. He turns. He grins at her. Then double finger guns.

Then he's walking backwards away. "The'll be out of your system in a few days~" He singsongs as he strolls off humming to himself.

Today was a good day!

He's joking, right? Of course he's joking. Rusalka's happy to just push it all out of her mind, for now; she'll at least try to give him a hand with the device as much as possible. And work out the details on the 'nano-bath' thing, whatever that is.

That doesn't stop her from not sleeping all night and worriedly checking her scalp in the morning…

Scalp. Nope. Nothing wrong with her scalp.

…her hair on the other hand…

It's a good thing she has sick time accrued, and a known excuse for it. It's also a good thing she doesn't have to show up in person or on video to request it. Because despite spending over an hour trying to brush her hair back into control, she finally gives up, wraps a pillow over her head to squash the ersatz rabbit ears flat, and curls up on her couch for movies.

It had better be a short 'few days.'

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