The Salesman

July 25, 2018:

A salesman comes to peddle a new product to Emma Frost, looking to get access to the deep pockets of the Hellfire Club's clandestine Inner Circle.

Hellfire Club of New York


NPCs: Aldrich Killian (NPC'd by Tony Stark), HFC Guards

Mentions: Tony Stark, Sebastian Shaw, Harry Leland


Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

The Hellfire Club is known by its membership for its seemingly inexhaustible list of indulgences. If a member wants something, the club’s resources are hard to prove less than up to the task. That is why members pay their ungodly dues. Well, that, and being able to say one is a member is a special privilege so exclusive that most of the world doesn’t even know what it’s being denied.

And then there is a membership more exclusive still.

It came by recommendation of one Harry Leland, an appointment. With Sebastian Shaw and Selene travelling on other business, that means that Emma was asked to do the work of meeting in their stead. This is the business of kings and queens—not their pawns.

The woman known by so few as the White Queen has settled herself in one of the reserved back rooms of the club, behind the doll-masked guards that certainly make it readily apparent that she is hardly powerless. Appearances to the contrary. She’s in the clothes that are prescribed for her on these occasions, corset and boots, and she drinks claret. A high slitted skirt has, however, quietly replaced the shameless expanses of flesh typically left exposed by the panties she’s been known to prance about in.

She reclines on a one-armed settee of velvet, a fireplace candelabra burning with probably twenty pillar candles behind her as an augmentation to the dim lighting of the room. Her eyes—perfectly framed in cosmetics—are closed for the moment, as she filters through the minds present tonight without apology. That, after all, is her real playground.

Her meeting for today, one Aldrich Killian, seems to be a scientist type. A tech type. An inventor. Though for the most part he’s stayed out of the spotlight. The opposite of Tony Stark. A man of anonymity. If she did her homework it's not that surprising. He seems like a recluse. Plagued by ill health, a game leg, and a half dozen respiratory problems.

So when a six foot tall, smiling, handsome, well put together man in a pristine white suit is shown in. Well. It might be a slight surprise.

“Ah,” The man smiles, blue eyes sparkling and the smile even and brilliantly white. “Miss Frost, a true pleasure to finally meet you.”

His mind? A brilliant string of calculations. Similar to other scientists, but there is a bent towards the ruthless calculus of numbers and finances. The surface thoughts are familiar enough to one like her. Taking in her look. Hoping that this deal is sealed. Calculating what he can get out of her on a first meeting. But there is something odd about it, a soft buzz of an undercurrent. Right on the edge of the senses. Something slightly off…

…but that isn’t unusual around here either.

Emma’s gaze is the one that is cultivated towards that nature one oft calls ‘alluring’, but there is an otherness to it that cannot really be helped when she is both seeing the external and internal of a person at once. The undercurrent is troubling, but her smile holds with the everlasting serenity of a supremely patient woman. Well, patient when patience behooves her, anyway. She tends to be a fairly decent judge on when time is a friend or an enemy in the realm of relationship—it’s part of the perks package of being a psychic.

“Mister Killian,” she greets without rising, her voice set in a sultry contralto as she makes no secret of perusing his form. “I would get up to greet you, but—fortunately for me when I’ve been drinking all evening—that is not the custom. And I’d have someone here to fill in the gap and pour you a cup to join me, but… we don’t really want company, now do we?”

A satin gloved hand, pristinely white despite the risk posed by her red wine, unfurls its long fingers in the direction of a sideboard laden down with all manner of spirits and a pair of wine decanters. One white. One red.

“So, let’s decide to be as good friends this evening, hm? It makes everything decidedly less awkward when I offer for you to help yourself to the club’s selections. Have a drink, make yourself comfortable, and let’s have a very pleasurable talk about business, shall we?”

“It’ll be hard to concentrate on business with you there, Miss Frost. But I’ll do my best to manage.” Killian’s reply is practiced. Polished as the image he seems to project. Strength, intelligence, a smiling face of a born salesman. She’s seen it all before, and he knows she has. But the game and the dance must go on.

He moves easily to the side table, picking the red wine himself. His hands don’t shake when he pours, every motion and move perfectly precise. “And no, I don’t think we want company for this specific venture.” The man adds as he smiles slightly towards the reclining woman as he picks up his glass. Moving back to his own seat he eases himself down. “I always find business a pleasure especially with the present company so engaged.”

He can’t help but watch her. That allure of hers just draws the eye. He pulls his gaze away from her form after a moment or two in order to try to concentrate on her face. On business. It’s more difficult than most would believe.

“Thank you though for meeting with me, you see…I represent a…business venture I think some of the members of the Club might be interested in.”
He’s the face man.

“Mm,” Frost hums in the wake of the compliment, sipping from her glass and then letting her head fall backwards onto the rolled arm of her perch. Her eyes close, affording her guest all of the impression that he can look at will without her being aware of it. A prize, perhaps, for his kind words.

He’d be wrong about her awareness, of course, but she lets him think it if he likes. She’s contentedly getting a sense of the room from his perspective.

“Oh, I think you’re quite right in that regard,” she agrees without opening her eyes, her empty hand lifting to idly toy with the upper edge of her corset. “Else you wouldn’t have gotten as far as me in the process.” She stretches a little, and then turns her languid expression back towards Killian and opens her eyes once more.

“So. Let’s have it then. Pretend you have me in an elevator for a forever-long forty-five seconds. What do you have to offer me that is of value, Mister Killian?”

The sense of the room? Killian thinks he has all the cards.

He knows not many have what he’s offering. He knows that he can name his price. He knows the people connected with the inner circle will likely pay whatever he wants. Confidence brims in the man as he sits there, politely sipping his wine.

“The pitch then.” Though there is a slight /twitch/ of something in his mind when she mentions elevators. A memory rearing up, and not altogether a pleasant one. He pushes past it, the smile never falling from his face.

“To put is simply the human body is…full of unused potential. The people I represent have developed a method to fix that. To enhance a human to previously unheard of levels. Which, let us face it, is going to be the next big arms race. So we are wanting to let people get in on the ground floor so to speak. What I’m offering is…agents.” Mercenaries. “That can fight, or sneak, or whatever the client pays for, on a level that is a match for most enhanced individuals. While still looking entirely human. No genetic manipulation. No cybernetic enhancement. Surely you can see the interest.”

One of Emma’s sculpted brows pricks upwards skeptically. Oh, the resonance of sincerity might be there, echoing the assertion in the psychic waves. “Oh, really?” she asks, sounding just a little bored. Maybe a touch disbelieving.

“And how, pray tell, do you accomplish such a feat, hm?” Her empty hand lifts to wiggle her fingertips in some pale mimicry of a stageman’s flourish. “Magic?”

Her head lolls lazily to a side as she smiles something that is neither kind nor hurried nor concerned as she watches her guest and begins to sort a little deeper into his mind without much regard for his need for privacy, towards the unsettling places where the edges of his thoughts don’t quite line up like they should.

“Well they say that sufficiently advanced science /does/ resemble magic, but no. It is simple invention and research that has brought this project this far.” The man replies with an easy smile, a chuckle. “This Project has been a long time in the making but thanks to a few recent breakthroughs…well…it is in the finished stages.”

There is very little in the way of worry in his mind. Whatever project this is, well his people and him has accomplished enough to do exactly what he is promising. What there /is/ though is that odd…buzzing. It isn’t quite part of his thoughts, almost like background noise. However it is…not something that is in most people. It /almost/ puts the teeth on edge. Almost.

“I’d be happy to set up a demonstration for any possible customers, I don’t want them to get bad merchandise. That never makes anyone happy. As for the actual hows…” There is a flash of a even smile. “…it is a company secret. But I can give out a few details. Extremis is a miracle of sorts, and I do like to carry on about the company that hired me. After all that is what they pay me for.”

From past the curtains of cornsilk blonde, Emma allows an expression of curiosity to turn in Aldrich’s direction. “You know,” she begins, rising fluidly from her place in order to walk towards the sideboard with her smooth and swaying step, “Nature has afforded the world…” Her empty hand whirls a little at her side as feigns a momentary lapse in recall. “What’s the word they’re using nowadays in the public square?” She’s not really asking, because she barely looks over her shoulder and stops in the sweep of her searching gaze at the corner with its mahogany crown molding, rich and deep and intricately carved with the feather-shaped flourishes and blank-faced shields that would make Versailles envious. “Mm. Metahumans, yes?” With a final thoughtful swirl of her wine, she finishes the last of what’s in her glass.

She seems satisfied with her choice of term, because she turns her attention back to the selection of alcohol and pulls up the decanter to pour for herself. “Without a markup, I might add. She’s not even charging the world to help her recoup her R&D.”

Turning back towards Killian, she crosses one arm across her belly and takes a sip of her new portion. “I assume there is some benefit to your human enhancement over the naturally found specimens.”

The telepath surely feels the discomfort of what is in Killian’s head. A defense mechanism of some sort, perhaps. Beyond the natural psyche, of what the human brain naturally puts around its better secrets? Harder to tell.

This is—to her, anyway—very literally child’s play. This is what she cut her proverbial teeth on when she first came into the Club in the first blushes of her ability and was introduced to society’s veritable cornucopia of business secrets. She teases around the edges of that buzzing in her guest’s mind, looking for a crack in the defense.

And none of that plays upon the smooth facade of her face with its Mona Lisa smile. She simply allows a hip to slide a degree to the side, intentionally arranging her body in an artful curve.

“What is that, pray tell? What does your backer do that makes this all so very special?”

“Come now, Miss Frost.” Killian’s voice is even and easy. The man’s confidence not even in the least dinged by her words. “Finding a metahuman willing to get into some lines of work is difficult at best. With this solution you can simply give an already trained and loyal agent the powers they need. That in and of itself is at least worth looking into.”

He does have the manner of a salesman, confident, smiling, always promoting his product. Emma has seen the type so many times.

In his mind though, she begins to dig. The buzzing seems to permeate every square inch of his mind. Integrated with his thoughts. Thoughts that are much faster than most humans. He’s more than just a salesman as he claims, but he is a scientist in his own right. So it is hard to tell one way or the other.

What is more disturbing though is when the buzzing stops and suddenly there is the feeling of some…thing looking at her probe. Watching it. No sentience there, only what seems to be a reflexive response of…something. But the feeling is there, and odd.

Frost holds her ground in the metaphysical world for a long moment, moving no deeper nor retreating from her place in Killian’s thoughts. The sudden silence does, however, feel strange. And her own sense of paranoia—of discovery—begins to gnaw.

Without any warning, she extracts her presence from his mind. The current social climate means that risks must be mitigated. Except… Except… Except that there is a case to be made for some certain risks to be taken.

It’s not an awareness, she justifies. It’s something else. And she is not the sort that will be taken by surprise just because this upstart selling knock-off mutants figured out how to scare off one of the world’s premier psychics like she was some little mouse in front of an owl decoy. No, but this time she is far more circumspect in looking about for whatever could be causing that strange feeling as she hunts about for the nature of his product. The source.

Pride. It’s a thing.

It’s a dangerous thing.

And it puts Emma right back into the midst of Aldrich Killian’s thoughts as she laughs softly at his chiding of her. She teases at the information she wants, tempting him to bring it to his less-guarded surface thoughts. She is the sort who knows how to slide in sideways, and already she’s projecting sentiment. The assuredness, the feeling of control. The peace and relaxation that could come and lessen those mental defenses of his. “Alright. I’ll bite,” she tells him, gaze sharp as she closes the distance between them. “How precisely do I go about getting a demonstration, then, hm?”

“Well asking is the best way,” Killian smiles easily, relaxing back. “You know us science types. We love to brag about new discoveries. I have test footage of my agents, but since that can be faked I can arrange a more personal demonstration for any interested parties that wish it. After all I don’t want to be accused of selling an inferior product.”

His mind relaxes just slightly and a name drifts by. A face of a dark haired woman working hard in a lab. The name Maya floating by in his thoughts. Obviously someone important to the project judging from the feelings that go along with the name. Pride at finding her. Possessiveness at keeping her working for him. Frustration though at…something. A problem she can’t quite fix with the project. Then relief that he found a workaround.

But that much is certain. He did find a work around. The system does work. He did find a non-traditional work around.

A sudden whooping can be heard down the hall by way of the vents as one of the events being hosted here this evening, and there’s a look of mild irritation that briefly crosses Emma’s features as her glance flits in the direction of the open door. But then she’s back to the game, an arm crossing casually across her belly to seize her opposite arm as she perches gingerly upon the arm of the chair that Killian occupies without asking his permission.

“Ask and you shall receive? Goodness, my dear Mister Killian! You do take playing God very seriously.” She ducks her head in to murmur near his ear, “So I suppose I’ll just have to pray that you will grant me that demonstration, hm?”

And even as she’s still hovering in the man’s thoughts, she continues to meddle. There’s the careful awareness she brings to him of the smell of her perfume, heightening the sense for a brief moment as she straightens and appears distracted in the sip she takes of her wine.

Distractions, all, as she continues to sift through his thoughts and memories like a picture book. The woman is noted—his Maya, his find. But the workaround? What is it? She coaxes the memory, trying to tease it forward like the end of a piece of yarn that’s been lost in a tangle. Looks for that workaround to learn the truth of it.

“And I’m not even really the praying sort. Look how you inspire me.”

She doesn’t do personal space, but really it seems Killian doesn’t mind. In fact, he craves the attention, almost preens under it. He keeps the smile on his face relatively easy but the way his eyes travel over her body for a moment it is obvious her distraction is working fairly well.

“Someone has to,” He says with a droll smile. “But yes, and you won’t even have to pray for long…I can explain some of the science behind things if you like. Though I’m glad I’m inspiring. I mean that is the intention of a salesman isn’t it?”

Still playing the humble face of the company when he is anything but humble. She can feel that from him. He /is/ a god. Agreeing with that sentiment of hers floods his mind. He has solved the human problem. Pushed the human envelope further than anyone thought possible. Why shouldn’t he be called a god.

The thread is followed, danced down, but the further she gets towards the end the more intense that watched sensation gets. Prickling on the back of her skull. Pushing on the back of her eyelids. Just over the shoulder. A billion eyes staring at her. Watching. Waiting for…something…

It’s disconcerting, that feeling. That ominous feeling. But so is the thought that this man will give to humanity everything it needs to wipe her species—superior by evolution—from the face of the planet.

More comfortable is the way she maneuvers Aldrich’s baser instincts. This is old hat, and he doesn’t surprise her with his reactions.

Not that Emma isn’t used to sliding in around people’s grey matter with anonymity—with impunity. She is. Consequences that never materialize, for the so many aren’t aware of the spy who lurks in the crevices and trenches of their own brains, nestled among their thoughts. She passionately dislikes the thought of something looking back. And she’s not certain why that feeling—a dread mice might feel when throwing a leisurely cocktail party under the shadow of an untripped cheese-laden trap—persists.

It’s probably her common sense nagging, she justifies.

She tries to diminish her psychic presence. She is not Jean Grey or her ilk, a burning and raw power, impossible to mask or hide. She is Emma Frost, whose formidability comes from consummate control and adaptability. She who thrives in shadow and secret.

But she cautiously treads a little further yet, to see if she can shake the uncomfortable exposed feeling that nags at her.

The woman pushes up from her perch in a whisper of satin, but turns to stand in front of him as she continues to sip her wine as she turns her gaze down upon Killian with a look that is a careful balance of distance and engagement. “It is,” she replies, voice low and playful. “So, go on, then.” Her empty hand uncrosses from its comfortable resting place, loosely hooked in the crook of her opposite elbow, and unfurls in open invitation towards him as she smiles and lets her eyes flare open for a brief moment from their otherwise lingering half-mast.

Science me. How do you do it? How does it work?” And in so doing, pave an inroad to the information she needs for her to slip along. Make it easier for her to slide by unnoticed. Let her see if she can make the feeling stop.

He can’t help but watch those movements of her. Flashes of desire in his mind, though he at least is professional to keep /much/ of it from his expression. It would be next to impossible to keep all of it off.

Managing to tear his eyes away from her a moment, Killian focuses back on his mind. “I’m sure you hear this all the time, Miss Frost. But you are delightfully distracting when in the middle of a negotiation.” His voice easy as he takes a sip of his drink. He hasn’t crumpled like tin foil yet, so he at least has a strong enough willpower to focus on the mission. However what she is doing is working. Working quite well.

“Of course I can’t go into the details,” He says instead as he turns his gaze back towards her. “But we use a proprietary blend of nanotechnology to enhance a human body to its fullest potential and beyond. We know that the human form has an amazing amount of potential and that humanity as a whole only utilizes a very small part of it. We simply have found a way to unlock the rest of it. The Extremis project on the whole grew out of a desire for healing in fact. Regeneration of wounds to assist veterans and the disabled. I’m sure though you can see just how much more though that the project can offer. We are in the process of tailoring it so we can enhance the properties we want in our agents, tailoring them to a customer’s requests.”

He’s good, the words flow smoothly from his lips. No hitches no hesitation.

That probe into his thoughts though hits on a few things. Again he is telling the truth, though he is hiding a few…undesirable side effects with the project as it is. A general frustration for lack of progress until recently. The exact side effects he is trying to repress simply because he doesn’t want to dwell on them, but they were definitely lethal.

Beyond that there is just a touch of smugness to his thoughts. He knows he is offering what other people can’t offer. That it's too good to be true yet if it is…no one can afford to refuse.

Where this fix came from though is harder to pinpoint. He’s buried it deep. But just for a second there is an image and a familiar faceplate. Its red and gold armor scorched and pitted, covered with disgusting black…slime? Then it's gone again. Buried once more among thoughts he doesn’t wish to dwell upon in such company

Of course, I can’t go into the details, he says.

Of course, Emma wordlessly echoes with a small click of her tongue, a gentle close of her eyes, and slight nod and turn of her head. It's a foregone conclusion, after all. She understands, doesn't she? She's a woman of business, and she should know proprietary information must be protected.

She does understand. Her nod says so.

But so, too, he must as a salesman understand the need to verify a product.

“Nanotechnology is certainly the up and comer nowadays, isn't it?” Emma smirks and airily shrugs. “Transportation is more my speed, but there are certainly those with whom I associate who would more expertly value the intricacies of what you’ve achieved. Alas,” she breathes with a sigh of lamentation and exaggerated self-pity, “you Would need to explain it to me like you would your grandmother.”

A lie if ever there was one. All she would need is fifteen minutes and unimpeded access to the man’s brain. Fortunately for Aldrich Killian, the telepath is too circumspect and patient for that. She plays ignorance instead, even when a familiar ostentatious crimson and gold suit flits briefly to the surface of the man’s thoughts.

It would be a mistake to let her poker face crack or dive after the thought, to see it with better clarity, and so she doesn't. She simply briefly and silently contemplates the murder of one Tony Stark with a casualness that would make some blanch, sips her wine, and moves back to the assessment of trouble at hand. The clock, as they say, moves backwards for none.

…it’s really inaccurate, but they still say it. It is, for her current predicament, close enough to truth.

“A grand promise,” she concedes after she swallows. “And how many clients do you presently have using your product?”

Tell her how many, because she’s waiting for him to think each one by name.

“Not as many as I would like, but that is always the issue with a new idea. No one trusts it at first.” There is a wry smile on Killian’s face at that. Condescending almost. As if all should embrace the new and do away with the old. Always on the cutting edge, that is where humanity should be.

At least in his opinion.

His thoughts make that much obvious.

“Our investors are happy with our product of course, but we always want to expand. After all that is the goal of any good business. Of course again, I can’t really go into specifics. Non-disclosure agreements, you understand in this kind of business how important that is.” His mind though swims with contempt at one investor. The image of a skull surrounded by six tentacles on a circular blazon. Hydra. He feels superior to them, men and women mired in the past when he looks to the future. He’ll take their money and surpass them in every way. Other investors, names, swim round in that mix but less than he is truly letting on. Maybe only six in total. Large ones, with deep pockets. But not /many/.

He lacks verity.

“We will of course try to get into the lucrative government supply business once the project is in its final stages. That seems to be where the steady money is.” A twitch of a smile at that. “But everyone must start somewhere. And so we need investors and buyers.”

“Oh, industry always leads, Mister Killian. We set the tone for government. At least, we do when we are ambitious enough to take that privilege on.”

Emma’s gloved hand comes up to drag along the line of her own pale jaw as she makes yet another open appraisal of the commodity in the chair. A valuable brain with heretical thoughts swimming about.

“So. Demonstrations. We’ll need one, of course.”

An eyebrow pricks upwards. “Because you are selling a finished product. My associates and I will need some verification that such a finished product actually exists, and the opening offer.”

Her bare shoulders shrug once more. “Anyone can spin fantasy when dreaming up research. What we are interested in is results.

Dropping that hand back to its resting place in the crook of her elbow, the blonde sips of her wine. Drains it dry. “And once that business is concluded, who knows? Maybe I can distract you in a negotiation of an entirely different sort.”

Her crimson lips turn upwards in knowing smile. “But… until then. Numbers, a place, and something to show me.”

He raises his glass as she drains hers then returns the gesture before setting the crystal down on the table. Standing in a smooth motion, the man smiles easily. Confidently. “Please, call me Aldrich. I don’t want things to be /entirely/ formal between us.” His voice is smooth as ever as he nods once.

“But yes, I’ll have someone contact you with times and dates and locations. You and your friends will see, Miss Frost. This is not simply me spinning a story. This is fact. And this is the future.”

A pause.

“Forgive me,” Now there is a smile. “That sounded like a bad salesman line. I promise that I’ll work on that in the future. A future where I hope to have man more…intimate…negotiations between us. To hash out the details as they say.”

There is relief there. One talk down. One or two more to go.

“I’ll have something by next week. And now…I’m sure you have a busy schedule today. So I suppose I will leave you to it.”

As he stands, Emma takes only enough retreat for herself to let her guest rise and not occupy the exact same patch of ludicrously expensive floor.

“Deliver on this one thing, Mister Killian,” she says the words quietly as she leans in, the sound barely more than a murmur. “Deliver, and we can perhaps pursue the possibility of familiarity. For now, goodnight.”

Then pale eyes lift to the doorway, and her voice strengthens as she calls beyond it. “Guards.”

Sauntering away from him at last atop her stiletto heels, Frost makes her way back towards the sideboard and her wine of choice. Behind her shoulder, two doll-masked men in uniform emerge. Without looking, she waves her empty hand in their direction and focuses on the important task of replenishing her cup with a very generous portion. “Our business is concluded. Do see Mister Killian out, please.”

Her lungs don’t let out the very frustrated sigh that she had kept pent up until, at last, she is again alone. And then she turns to the very important task of drinking and crafting precisely what to tell the devil that is Sebastian Shaw.

Figuring out how much to murder Tony can wait til morning.

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