World On Fire: Stark and Ectoplasm

Summary:
March 14, 2015: Howard Stark finally returns to New York and Pezzini, Manning and Simmons corner him to discuss Simmons' findings

Howard Starks Penthouse - New York


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NPCs

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Howard Stark has been impossible to contact for the last two weeks. Calls to him go unanswered, emails unreturned. The only contact he's had at all with anyone (as far as anyone can tell) is a phone conversation with Captain Rogers yesterday. In that call, he mentioned he would be returning to the US soon. Which is why a low-level SHIELD agent has been assigned to watch his rented Manhattan penthouse. About a half an hour ago, word was sent to HQ that he was spotted pulling in to the parking garage.


Sara is really too new to the whole SHIELD agent thing to be sticking her nose into some things. But Sara's never really been the best at following rules. She heard the name Peggy Carter. She knows enough about Steve and about his period to know what that name means. And while she isn't always the best girlfriend, she is an excellent detective, and the idea that something might be going on that would affect Steve like Peggy Carter might without her knowing about it doesn't sit well. So when she saw that apartment on the duty roster, she kept an eye on reports. And when the word came back from the apartment, she stopped by Simmons' office to give the scientist a heads up. And an invitation. "Want to see if we can talk to Howard Stark?"


At Sara's words, Simmons looks up from the tests she's running and hastily removes her safety goggles. "Yes, very much, I do." Shrugging out of her lab coat, the biochem grabs her tablet and field bag and is already hurrying towards the door. "I have all my results here…."


"Tell me again why you want to talk to him?" Paul asks, leaning against a wall as they wait for Simmons to get ready. "Not that I object to getting out of this oversized warren but seeing as how he just got back from wherever, he might not be feeling chatty."


Sara glances to Paul, then down at herself. "Yeah. No, it's cool. I've got this." And she undoes two more buttons on her blouse before looking back with a faint smirk. "We'll manage." She leads the way to the motor pool, signing out one of those nondescript black sedans and waiting for everyone to get loaded before she starts toward Howard's apartment. "Apparently," she continues as she drives, "Howard's got clearance on something that has to do with these portals and Agent Peggy Carter. Simmons needs info to help analyze her results. And I don't like getting blindsided." Sara's not the most adept at relationships in the first place. Introducing ex issues with her boyfriend from the forties? Way above her level.

When they reach the building, she pulls into a parking place on the other side of the building from the assigned observation spot. No sense in letting the rest of SHIELD know they're meddling. And the delivery bay should work for getting inside.


Simmons frowns a little as she follows the two Agents to the car "In analysing the results from those anomalies we were discussing yesterday, Agent Manning, I found an old case file that had been sealed by Howard Stark. I want access to it, so I can continue my research."

Falling silent until they reach the building, Simmons is more than happy to review her findings, preparing herself to meet Howard again. At least Agent Pezzini may get the flirting today.


Paul snorts as Sara prepares to play vamp. "I think you're getting the hang of this place. Though you're making an assumption. You know how closeted they were back then. So just in case…" He reaches up as if he's about to unbutton his shirt but doesn't actually do so." ON the way to the car, he looks over at Simmons. "Paul. Or Manning. Save the agent bit for formalities." When they get to the the building, he shakes his head. "Be nice to have enough money to waste on living here."


They are able to gain entrance via the loading bay. However, the building is one of those expensive Manhattan highrises full of multimillion dollar condos. Getting past the doorman is one thing - getting into Howard's penthouse is another. The elevator has floor numbers for every floor except the top one. For that, they need to call up and be granted access.
It's not paranoia when you're the ex-head of a multibillion dollar company, the father of a superhero and your body is the prototype for functional immortality.
Before any of them can type in a number though, the elevator starts to move up, up towards the top floor. A voice crackles over the radio, wry and a bit tired. "You know, I just got off a sixteen hour flight. I'm not really in the best state for visitors."
Within a few moments, the elevator doors open on a sprawling, mid-century furnished penthouse apartment with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline. There's a suitcase near the door and the lights are only half-illuminated. Their host is not readily visible, but there is the telltale sound of a cocktail shaker from around the corner.


"You know, Paul, there are so many reasons I love you. It's a good thing I'm just not your type." Sara chuckles at her partner, pausing with that instinctual look up when the elevator starts to move. "What, you flew commercial?" she asks to the voice over as the elevator rises, stepping out with her hands in her pockets once the doors open. "If you tell me Howard Stark made his millions by pinching pennies and as a result you just ship yourself places now, you're going to crush all my dreams."


"Alright then, Age… um Paul." Simmons looks over to Paul and rolls her eyes slightly as he moves to unbutton his shirt. Jemma frowns a little as she follows Sara out of the lift and waits silently till their host appears.


"We'll try to take as little of your time as possible, Mister Stark." Paul says. "Thank you for being willing to see us." Given that the elevator is moving up, it's the logical assumption. Reaching over, he tugs the edges of Sara's shirt apart a bit more and gives her a wink.


There's a chuckle, then Howard appears from around the corner, holding a martini glass. He's looking tanned and his hair, rather than being combed neatly, is roguishly ruffled. He's wearing a white linen suit with a soft blue checked shirt and a deep red kerchief in his pocket. If he was wearing a tie, he's shed it. He's also wearing a pair of immaculate brown leather wingtip shoes. The man knows how to dress.
"Although shipping myself in a cargo container would have a few perks, I'd have no one to serve me cocktails. Speaking of. Can I offer anyone a drink?" He looks over his three visitors. Simmons gets a wink. "I'm guessing you're here about the file. Is the NYPD in on this, or have you two thrown in your lot with SHIELD?"


"Card carrying," Sara answers Howard with a flash of badge and a rueful smile. "So far, so good, but 'agent' just doesn't have the same ring as 'detective.'" Tucking the badge away, she eyes the cocktails with a faint quirk of a smile. "What're you making?" It's not a request for a cocktail, but she's not turning them down just yet, either. And she's not pushing the issue yet. This whole SHIELD security level clearances thing is going to take some getting used to.


"Mr Stark." Simmons nods to the man with a small smile. "Yes, I am. I left a message for you a few days ago. And this is purely SHIELD." The offer of a drink is met with a shake of her head "No thank you, I'm fine without a drink for now." Rushing straight in, the young biochem says in a hurry "What can you tell me about the file?" She's not surprised he knows why she's here.


"Thank you for the offer. Something non-alcoholic maybe? Coffee?" Paul answers. "We'd just like to ask you a few questions." Such as the one Jemma asks so he leaves it to the two with actual questions.


"Gin martini. I like to rehydrate after a flight," says Howard with a wry smile. He motions for the trio to follow him further in to the apartment, to a sunken living room. He sets the martini down and goes over to the bar to prepare an Americano for Paul using a suitably fancy-looking espresso machine. "What did Fury say when you tried to get him to open the file? Or did Hill or May take it to him?" A beat, "And how much do you already know?"


"Okay, if the coffee's coming out of that, then I'm with Paul on the coffee," Sara chimes in once she sees the machine in question, taking a look around as she steps down into the living room. She doesn't seem particularly comfortable in the rich surroundings. To be fair, she doesn't have great associations with penthouse apartments, though. "Simmons here said you sealed it," she adds. "So I figured we'd start with you."


Paul moves closer to examine the espresso machine. Undoubtedly expensive but perhaps not so much that it couldn't be saved up for. Since he knows nothing about the file, he jus listens and turns to study the apartment with an eye toward seeing where someone might be hiding and ready to spring. Old habits.


"We haven't asked Director Fury, yet." Simmons nods to Sara "I'll have a coffee please." Settling onto a chair, she places her bag at her feet and gestures to her tablet. "As to how much we know? That would depend. The locked file came up because I was investigating some green ectoplasm we'd found." The young biochem won't reveal any more than that at this point.


Howard chuckles at Sara's comment and starts another set of espresso shots. "Milk?" he asks, casual as you please. He eyes Paul as the other man looks around the apartment. "You're scoping things out like I do when I'm asked somewhere for a meeting. There's no one else here, I assure you. I'm a little paranoid about security these days." After he's pulled the shots, he lifts the trio of crisp white mugs up onto the bar counter and nudges over a pot of sugar. Not many people can say they've had Howard Stark make them a cup of coffee. He really should get someone to tend to such mundane tasks for him.
Once the hosting duties are out of the way, he retrieves his martini and sips it thoughtfully. One hand rests in his pants pocket. He looks at Simmons and then slowly inhales. He seems to be deciding how much to divulge. "We encountered the same anomaly in 1948, on one of the first cases after Peggy and I formed SHIELD."


"Black's fine," Sara shakes her head, taking the coffee with a murmured thanks. At the mention of green ectoplasm, she shoots a sidelong glance toward Paul. Bad time for a Ghostbusters joke, right? Probably. Better stick with…oh god this isn't coffee, it's ambrosia mixed with heroin. "Damn," she sighs after a sip. "I think I just found the one thing worth all that money." On the subject of the file, though, she stays quiet. Simmons knows what to ask.


"Thank you." Paul does add a little milk to his cup, commenting as he stirs "You'd be surprised at what could be lurking in the shadows. And not all of them need to use an elevator." But nothing is pinging on his awareness so he just lifts the cup to take a sip. And then another. And a third. Yum. His gaze meets Sara's and just knows what she's thinking at Jemma's mention of ectoplasm. So not the time.


Simmons mixes in a little milk and takes a sip before tilting her head at Howard. Flicking her eyes between Paul and Sara, Jemma takes her time before speaking "The coffee is lovely, thank you Mr Stark. Just how much do you know of these anomaly's? I only mentioned ectoplasm…. Why don't we start from the beginning?"


Howard's eyes dance with warmth and amusement as they react to the coffee. "New Guinea. My favourite beans for an Americano." Meanwhile, he's 'rehydrating' by sipping his gin martini. "You should let me make you an Irish coffee sometime. I know the perfect mix of beans and whiskey." He actually manages to make that sound…a little dirty. It's also not clear which of the three of them he's talking to.
Then, it's back to business. He reaches up and undoes the button holding his suit jacket together. "The file was marked Level 10 for a reason. Well, actually," he wobbles his head back and forth, "…we originally used a colour coding system, but as SHIELD grew, that got confusing. We moved to a numbered security rating in the mid-60s." But that's neither here nor there, and he knows it. He clears his throat. "We were investigating localized disruptions in spacetime that sucked people in. It started as a string of missing persons. The…ectoplasm as you call it, was the only evidence at the scenes that anything strange had happened."


Sara takes another sip of coffee for each use of the word 'ectoplasm,' like some sort of bizarre drinking game. At least it keeps her from actively snickering every time. Sip. Sip. "And time travel being the theoretically disruptive thing it is, you wouldn't want just anyone figuring it out. So, sealing." She pauses, then raises a hand. "I promise, I'm in no danger of decoding the secrets of the space-time continuum."


"Easier on those who are color blind too." Paul points out. So does this… slime appear when someone got sucked into a time hole as well as when it spit someone out? And has anyone or anything that came through had powers of some sort or just an altered appearance?" This is to Jemma as well since she's had at least one encounter. "I know it might be classified but if it keeps happening, you know who they're going to call."


"Missing persons getting sucked into the anomaly." Simmons relaxes a little "I think we might have found some of those, Mr Stark." Pauls question gets a considering look "Well, we've only got one human alive and I'm still investigating that. But one of the two deceased was superheated. Whether that's a power, I couldn't say."

Turning back to Howard, Simmons considers a moment longer "We found something interesting on the lastest one that came through. Did you give Agent Carter a gift at some point?"


"Wait…so people are coming through into this time period…warped?" Howard looks rather alarmed by that, but then suddenly, not overly surprised. His eyebrows go up and down. He purses his lips and sucks air through his teeth. "Well, that explains a few things." He sips his martini while he gathers further thoughts. "My theory back then, and now, is that the slime is some kind of extradimensional residue. It defied all my chemical analysis. It simply shouldn't and can't exist. It's not from here."
He drains the rest of his drink, chews on the olives, then sets the glass aside. "Peggy's watch. Steve mentioned it. She lost it when she was trying to stop a woman from being pulled through the portal. Agent Simmons, if you've got someone alive, they won't be for long. And even if they are, well, you're not doing them any favours keeping them that way. No one can survive passing through that portal as anything resembling their true selves. If it's a constructed phenomenon, it's not designed to allow the likes of us to pass through it."


"What if they were stabilizing it from this end?" Sara can't quite get herself to lean back on the modern couch. Instead, she sits on the edge, elbows on her knees and coffee between her hands. "Assuming you didn't catch whoever was doing this in 1948, they've had 60 years of exponential technological development. And if it's the same person, or someone with their research, and they kept decent notes, they'd know where and when the portals had been opened in '48. It'd just be a matter of biding their time until now, setting up shop where and when they know one will open…" She pauses. "And I'm going to stop there, because that's when the paradox parts of time travel get fuzzy for me. But you get the idea."


Paul pauses with his cup halfway raised and his lips twitch despite his best efforts to not smile, grin or smirk. "So what you're saying… is that the slime might be some sort of wormhole lube." Okay, he didn't really say that or imply its purpose is to facilitate travel through the portals. But it could be. "And who's to say that the creators of the portals aren't from our time in the first place. Did you ever discover a purpose to them back then?"


"You've spoken with Captain Rogers, already?" Simmons sips her coffee and listens "Yes, her watch. I was worried the being we had might have been Agent Carter. I'm going to try and conduct some DNA tests, to be doubly sure though." Letting out a deep sigh, the biochem looks slightly stricken "I will do what I can to ease their passing, Mr Stark. But they are still human, regardless of how warped their DNA has become."

"That's a good idea, Agent Pezzini. Look for the missing persons reports, if they were recorded properly. I searched our databases for similar occurences of the anomaly, it was one of the first things Fitz and I thought of, and found nothing." Simmons considers a moment longer "I think that means that the anomalies are targetting from now onwards."


When Sara starts to go into her theories about motives and such, Howard goes silent and sets his jaw. He looks like he's considering saying something, but continually decides not to. Paul's comment provides a neat distraction. He laughs. "Well, I suppose you could call it that. But a more apt description might be adding orange juice into a milk carton after it's been emptied of milk. If you pour a glass of orange juice after that, you're going to find it's been contaminated by milk." He waves a hand. "That's a terrible analogy. But you get what I'm saying."
After a moment of further thought, he admits, "We never found any evidence there was any active intelligence behind the portals. I think it was an industrial accident. The result of someone messing with something they didn't understand. Hell, for all we know, it's a natural phenomenon." He looks over at Simmons and says plainly, "I can guarantee that the person you've got is not Agent Carter."


"I've seen plenty of portals," Sara shrugs. "There's a kid who looks like a cat that popped in and out of the precinct a few months back. You've seen demons come and and out of them," she nods to Paul. "What I haven't seen is one that's reliably controlled by science. But I promise it's possible to move from one place to another through portals of some sort. Unless it's the time element that's messing with things."


"Never assume natural phenomena when something can also be explained by enemy action. It's safer that way." Paul points out. "And as Sara says, it's totally possible. We also don't know if the entrance and exit points are connected. It's entirely possible that a portal in the past leads to somewhere or somewhen else where there are portals to our present. Or even ones in the future. Is there any actual evidence that a 1948 portal leads /directly/ to here? Otherwise it's all conjecture." They might be scientists but he and Sara are detectives.


Simmons has been watching Howard as they speak and her eyes narrow slightly, she's not missed his behaviour "Something you said, Agent Pezzini, had Mr Stark considering adding something." She might be a scientist but she wants to she can read body language. "What do you know, that makes you so certain it's not Agent Carter, Mr Stark?" Simmons doesn't believe it is either, for the record.

"You are correct Agen… um Paul, we don't know the portals are connected at all. It's just a hypothesise and a place to start looking again." The biochem offers a small smile to the Agent.


"I'm not saying two-way portals are not possible. I'm saying that these portals sucked random people through in 1948, and seems to be depositing them here, in 2015, warped by their trip. We investigated this thoroughly, and we found no intelligence behind the portals. Now, could we be wrong?" Howard hesitates, then admits, "…yes." Then he motions to Sara and Paul. "You're the detectives. What possible motivation could there be for this?"
He tilts his head at Simmons, smiles in that charming way of his, then chuckles. "Of course there's a lot I'm not saying. This is still a Level 10 classified file. I'm telling you what I can, but I can't tell you everything I know. It was classified for a reason. They may be new to SHIELD," he nods towards Paul and Sara, "…but you know how this works, Agent Simmons." He looks her in the eye. "You're what, a 5? And I'd guess the former Detectives are not yet more than a 3. This is 10. I'm telling you what I can, but if you came here looking for full disclosure, you're not going to get it. I'm guessing Fury won't give it to you, either." He straightens and unconsciously tugs at the cuffs of his shirt. "Look, I'll go through the old file. I'll see what data and information I can release. It's going to be redacted, but I know this is dangerous. I'll try to give you what you need to have a shot at stopping this thing. But you have to understand that this file is classified for a very, very good reason."


"Honestly?" Sara sets the coffee mug down, turning a very direct gaze on Howard. "All I really care about when it comes to portals is what does or doesn't come through them. I'm interested in this portal phenomenon for a different reason." She pushes a hand through her hair, choosing her words. "How bad is this going to mess Steve up?"


Paul looks to Sara and comments "And here I thought working for SHIELD would be strange and unfamiliar. I guess all agencies believe in mushrooms working for them." Kept in the dark and fed shit. So it's SOP as normal. "Mr. Stark, is there anything we need to know about beyond portals opening, seemingly at random in our time, and disgorging people who have been altered in some way? Anything that could pose a danger to us or to civilians who happen to be nearby."


"Very well, Mr Stark." Jemma places her coffee cup down "I accept this is a level 10 file, but the case has come to me to work on. There have been two incidences so far, in very public places." Sighing slightly "Please do go through the file and give me what you feel you can." Simmons will be speaking to May as soon as she gets back to the Triskelian. May can speak to Director Fury. Saras question about Captain Rogers has the young biochem blinking at the Agent in surprise.


"I don't have any data to give you about what's happening on this end. We didn't encounter any warped people. It was strictly missing persons, ectoplasm and strange temporal readings." Howard leans on the counter and rubs his forehead. "I can get you copies of my data." Howard looks between the three of them. "I promise that if I had anything that I thought would immediately save lives, I would tell you." He sounds like he means that but, your mileage my vary.
At Sara's question, his expression softens. "I get the feeling Steve is trying not to think very much about the old days lately." And by 'old days,' he means Margaret Carter. "What I can tell you is that from what I remember, so…" he holds up a hand, "…diverging timelines notwithstanding, Peggy came out of the mission completely unscathed."


Sara nods to Howard, pensive. "You knew both of them in their own time, Mister Stark. I know waking up here's been hard on Steve. It's been a hell of an adjustment. But it's one he's been making." She pauses, reaching up to rub a hand at the back of her neck. "Whatever goes on with the SHIELD end of this, give me a call if you hear something that's going to send him for a tailspin?"


Paul remains silent as he studies Howard then nods once, taking the man at his word. He finishes his coffee and sets the cup down, now just listening to Sara.


"We have some data about what's occuring at this end, Mr Stark" Simmons smiles faintly "Being to able to cross reference it with the past data, we might be able to draw some corelations." She shrugs and becomes interested in her tablet as Sara speaks about Steve.


"Look, I'll gather what I can and bring it over to the Triskelion. I'll even have a look at your data and see if anything jumps out at me, If you think that will help." Gasp. A Stark is offering his assitance without being asked, and without being dragged, kicking and screaming? That says volumes about what Howard thinks of the seriousness of the situation. "Give me a day or so." As for Steve and tailspins? He just gives Sara a nod.


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