"So, what is it that you're interrupting my valuable time for now?" With a long mess of chocolate brown curls pulled lazily away from her face the woman, dressed in casual jeans and an old black tank top was overly confident and impatient as she spoke. Dusting her grease covered hands, sore and scarred from mechanical accidents and slips of tools, on her jeans, she continued. "Another financial discussion, perhaps? My terms remain the same just as they did the last time we went over this. I refuse to lower my fee. You get what you pay for, you know. Are you having some difficulties coming up with what you owe me? That's a problem. You will pay me, one way or another. Considering I've already done half the work and improved the, shoddy I might add, tools you'd provided me with non-payment is out of the question."
Wiping her grease stained hands on her jeans once again fruitlessly, she placed both hands on her hips and waited expectantly for a response from the three board members of the Medical Engineering Development Corporation, MedCo for short. The trio sat behind a polished oak table, looking grim and severe.
She'd been told their names several times on several occasions and while she was sure she had them hidden somewhere in the recesses of her memory, she didn't find them important enough to recall. Ever since she'd signed a contract to work for MedCo a month prior the trio had interrupted her nearly every day with news of some pointless delivery or update for her project. More recently these meetings had begun to sound like threats. Luckily, she was not one to be intimidated by threat and innuendo; in fact she was usually the one doling them out.
"Scarlett," The severe looking older woman who sat between two younger men, her hair pulled back tightly into a graying bun spoke. She clasped her hands together and leaned on the table. There was a plastic smile plastered across her features that were tight from one too many surgical procedures of a cosmetic nature.
"Miss Damien, if you don't mind," Scarlett corrected the woman behind the oaken table. Scarlett's confident smile faded, replaced with a stone cold grimace. While she pretended she was upset with the trio for having interrupted her work, once again, she also had a bone to pick with them. The late hours of the night before Scarlett had received updated specifications for the machines she'd been hired to design and build.
"Fine." The pleasant smile on the older woman's face faltered for but a moment and her eye twitched in frustration. "Miss Damien, would you please be seated. We have some rather important matters to discuss."
"And I, with you." Any pleasantries Scarlett had awarded them on prior occasions had been tossed out the window.
"Oh?" The man on the left adjusted his glasses and peered at her curiously over the top of them. "Is that so?"
"When you hired me and my partner…," Scarlett sneered when the man interrupted her.
"We hired you. You refused to work without Scott Aaronson alongside you, if I recall."
"It's rude to interrupt but since you choose to argue over trivialities..." Scarlett narrowed her eyes dangerously and started over. "When you approached me with a job opportunity, I was less than thrilled. Your company's reputation precedes you, I'm afraid. Colleagues of mine have mentioned your name and you would blush at the things I've heard them say. When you pursued me I agreed reluctantly but only because of the subject matter and the need for a more steady career." As the woman in the middle made a motion to interrupt, Scarlett held up her hand to stop them in their tracks and made an irritated sound to accompany it. "You will wait until I'm done and then I'll be taking questions."
The trio behind the table leaned back in their seats, exchanged glances, then with the smiles completely eradicated from their faces they sat and waited for Scarlett Damien to say what was on her mind.
"Thank you." There was no gratitude in her voice, it was merely a pleasantry. Reaching into the pocket of her jeans she pulled out the folded piece of paper she had received via fax machine in her lab the night before. "When you told me you were looking to revolutionize prosthetics, I was curious. When I found out you were looking for a way to recreate limbs so pristinely that they would be unrecognizable as artificial to the untrained eye I was intrigued enough to agree to work for you, on my terms of course. I was to have access to all the requirements and goals for the project beforehand. I would have my money. I would have my assistant engineer. Most importantly I would have unrestricted access to all the supplies I deemed necessary for such a project whether previously requested or not."
"Are you coming to a point with your ramblings, Miss Damien or are you simply reminding us of our duties?" The man on the left chuckled through a heavy accent, attempting to clear the air in the room that had become thick with tension ever since Scarlett had corrected her name. Scarlett, though innocent upon first glance, had a reputation of her own and it was nothing short of ruthless.
"My, my." Scarlett unfolded the piece of paper she'd removed from her pocket and gave it a second read through. "Impatient, aren't we? You know, I've been around the block a few times. You're not the first shady, underhanded company that I've dealt with and I'm sure you won't be the last. I can teach you a few things I've learned from dealing with others like you, if you want." Approaching the desk, Scarlett placed the paper down in front of her turning it toward them. She enjoyed watching the trio squirm in their seats to see how long it would take them to reach for the paper. When the woman in the middle did so, Scarlett placed her hand flat on top of it to keep her from being able to move it close enough to read.
"Impatience usually implies you're nervous about something. But why would you be nervous if we're on the same team?" A rebellious curl fell in Scarlett's face as she leaned over the desk, but she ignored it and glared at the three who had hired her. "Do I intimidate you?" There was little response outside of nervous shuffling in plush chairs. "I doubt that. As dark as my reputation may be, what chance would I stand against your entire corporation?" Scarlett finally let go of the paper so it could be taken from her. "Rather, you have something to hide from me and you're terrified I'll become wise of it before I finish my work."
"While we don't doubt your perception, Miss Damien, what on earth would we be hiding? We have met every one of your demands, no matter how absurd they were!" The man with the glasses adjusted them again; it was a nervous tic.
"I don't like liars, sir." Scarlett stood upright. "There's only one thing, as a matter of fact, that I hate more than liars and that's liars who work for Stark Industries." Tapping the logo on the memo with her forefinger she turned to face away from the trio. She pulled her hair from the ponytail she'd put it up in earlier only to tie it back a second time in hopes of capturing the stray hairs that kept managing escape.
"A memo with the Stark Industries letterhead? This is what you're upset about?" The woman scoffed and started on what would surely be an ideal explanation. "Come now, how do you know it's not a misplaced piece of paper? I heard you were paranoid, but I never thought you would be one to jump to conclusions. Besides, Stark Industries is a reputable Fortune 500 company, I would think this would be a comfort!"
"Don't talk to me to like I'm one of your pathetic lackeys. I'm not desperate for money, quite the opposite, so you can't twist my arm. I took this job because of the challenge it provided me with and the potential advancements that could be made." She didn't mention it but her partner, Scott Aaronson, had been a big part of the decision to take that job.
"Even if we are affiliated with Stark Industries, what would it matter?" Glasses were adjusted once again.
"Yes, I'm sure you're thinking of excuses now. Tony Stark, ever since his experience in the Middle East, is a changed man! He's no longer an arms dealer, no longer selling his weapons on the black market for a hefty price to less than favorable characters around the world. He saw the light and has moved onto energy research! Sure. Those who believe the press are fools and I am not a fool. Tony Stark is a joke and his company is a threat to mankind. And if you think that I didn't become suspicious after receiving that memo with the list of changes to your specifications then you are grossly underestimating me." That time the trio behind the table stayed silent and let Scarlett continue.
"Which brings me to the point: I'm not building prototypes for medical means anymore, am I? I'm building complex robotic technology to later be dissected by a team of professionals so it can be rebuilt and weaponized without my knowledge. You knew that I would never agree to build such weapons, particularly for a company already known for doing such dastardly things with plain old guns and bombs. This… this is something entirely different than your usual run of the mill weapon. Is Tony Stark outsourcing now? He couldn't continue his robotic wet dream thanks to the United States Government and that pesky senator breathing down his neck. Something about owning unregistered weapons technology, right? So he did what he always does. He handed the problem to someone else. He hired me." Scarlett paced toward the chair a few feet from the table where she'd earlier been instructed to sit.
"I hacked your database after receiving the memo. I found out what you were actually up to so there's no reason to deny it. You have a storeroom filled with crates from Stark Industries that just happen to be missing from your official inventory list. There were files I didn't have time to get to, but I assume they're off the books anyway. Is Anthony Stark paying you with weapons to fund your acts of terror disguised as minimal charity? Well, I'll have no part in it. I'm done. I've destroyed the schematics for what I've worked on and I'll be taking what I've made with me. Unfortunately the idea you had pitched to me was a good one but I'm sure I'll find another company willing to fund the idea and actually make a difference in the medical world." Scarlett sat down, leaning back lazily then crossed her legs. "I'm keeping what I've been paid and we'll part ways."
Scarlett wiped lazily at her jeans while she waited for a response from the owners of the corporation she'd basically just given the middle finger to. The three exchanged glances before deciding on their response. The woman in the middle leaned back in her chair and fiddled with her cell phone for a moment before looking back at Scarlett.
"Well you are correct about a few things, Miss Damien." Clearing her throat, she put her cell phone to her ear. "You can send them upstairs now." Hanging up, she leaned forward against the table and narrowed her eyes at the confident young woman. "You're right about many things actually. Everything except for one... You are cunning, Miss Damien, far more cunning than we were prepared to give you credit for. Your reputation preceded you but upon seeing you we doubted."
Scarlett leaned forward in her chair, ready to argue with the woman. Somehow, she knew that MedCo had anticipated this move and had prepared something to try and keep her on board with the project. They would be hard pressed to find something that would sway her short of physical confrontation.
"I'm sorry that you no longer have interest in our little arrangement, Scarlett." The woman got up and stood in front of the table, the two men behind her remaining in their seats, but looking straight at Scarlett. "Your credentials are incredible. Graduate of Cambridge in the top of your class, medical work in Senegal that has made you a common name in the physics world, then you disappear off the grid never to be heard from publically again. Unless you count the numerous arrests on your record and start looking in less than savory places."
"I've done my time and paid my dues, so if you're looking for something to blackmail me with, then good luck. I don't hide who or what I am." Scarlett wasn't easily threatened and had prepared for confrontation. She had gone off the grid on purpose due to the dark turn her work had taken after inventing affordable surgical tools in Senegal. Regular work had left her bored. The only times she had been arrested had been unrelated to her work and were mostly for petty crimes.
"Oh, I've never been fond of blackmail of that type, per se. People like you hang their dirty laundry for everyone to see or burn it with their bridges," the woman chuckled and walked over to the far end of the room where a flat screen television hung. When the door opened, Scarlett expected to see an armed guard coming to threaten her life, but was surprised when no such thing happened. Instead a man came in and leaned against the door, no weapon in sight. Still, habit had urged her to lean forward, and closer, to the small caliber gun she had strapped to her ankle beneath her jeans. Since her years in Cambridge she had never gone out unarmed. "I find that reputations like yours are very hard to argue with. Unfortunately, as much as I would like to let you walk away from us, Scarlett, I can't replace you without getting Tony Stark himself to come down here and that's out of the question."
"If you know anything about me, you know you can't keep me here. I can't be muscled into working for you. Yours wouldn't be the only blood on my hands if I found it necessary." Scarlett's expression darkened. The woman across the room finally smiled and Scarlett knew this was bad news for her. There was something she must have missed, something that cost the battle against MedCo; something that was going to force her to work for this sinister company against her will. Mind racing across the details of her work, Scarlett was unsure where the conversation would lead so instead stayed silent.
"Oh, I know that we can't fight you on it. Of course, I'm sure I could outman you without any effort as you pointed out before but… I need you in one piece. If we had intended to kill you then we wouldn't be here talking right now, would we?" Scarlett didn't respond. Suddenly a buzz filled the room. Eyes flitting in search of the source, Scarlett spied one of the men at the table picking up his cell phone. Without a word, he listened and ended the call. He looked to the woman standing near the flat screen television and nodded his head in signal.
Smirking at Scarlett the woman looked truly deranged with power. Scarlett had never liked the people who owned MedCo. It had been partially why she'd turned down the job offer several times in the first place. Scott had been the one to talk her into taking the work. When Scarlett's mind went idle, she tended to leap into unnecessary danger. Scott preferred when she'd been contracted by a reputable company to do long term work to keep her out of trouble. Scott wasn't the type of boyfriend who would come running to her aid in moments of disaster. Scott was the kind of boyfriend who would bail her out of jail after a bar fight and remind her that she had responsibilities to the people who loved her. Wincing at the thought, Scarlett knew what would be on the television screen before it was turned on.
How had she missed that? Of course, Scott was the only thing that had repeatedly left her vulnerable over the years.
Pulling her gun from the holster on her ankle she stood from the chair, cocked the gun and aimed it at the woman in front of the television. The owner of the company flipped the button on the television to turn it on. The screen came to life and instead of any television station or static, there was faded looking security footage, the words 'Live Feed' in the corner. Scarlett glanced at the screen only for a second before turning her attention to the woman. She didn't need to see anything else to know what demands would be made.
Scott sat tied to a chair in the middle of the room on the footage, two armed men on either side of him. Scarlett could only assume he'd been gagged, though by the look of him he didn't seem injured. At least none that she could see on the blurred camera footage for the split second she'd observed it.
"You see, Scarlett, if you don't finish the work you were hired to do then your dear… Scott was his name, correct? Well, he'll have two bullets between the eyes. I'd put away your gun dear, we both know you're not going to shoot me. It looks to me like I've found some leverage."
"Let him go, you know this has nothing to do with him," Scarlett said plainly, even though she knew the woman was right. Scott had always gotten her out of trouble in the past. She owed it to him to make sure he was safe.
"It doesn't have anything to do with him. You're right. He's useless to us and useless to you. A failure of an engineer, not half of what you are or even a third. Why do you even bother with him? He's clearly holding you back from your true potential. Is he your moral compass, perhaps?"
"Release him and I won't shoot you between the eyes." Scarlett ignored the snide remark, half wondering why on earth she did bother with Scott. This was not the time for such thoughts. There'd be plenty of time to address it later. Right now, she knew what the right thing to do was and she didn't need Scott there to guide her moral compass.
"If you shoot me, he dies. You're a good shot Scarlett, I'm sure. But… there are three of us here, and security watching from the cameras overhead. Be logical, Scarlett, dear. Give me the gun and stand down. By the time you've fired a shot your precious Scott would be dead and his blood on your hands." The woman held out her hand expectantly for Scarlett's weapon.
She weighed her options. Scarlett knew if she shot the woman Scott would die as had been threatened. Even if she shot the two men at the table first then the woman, someone would hear the gunshots and Scott would die. Every scenario she played out in her mind ended with Scott dead and unnecessary blood on her hands. But was Scott's life really worth the price she had to pay to keep him alive? Turning her gaze finally back to the screen she could see the fear in Scott as he sat blindfolded, gagged and chained to his chair. He was trembling, not even trying to escape. How many times had he bailed her out of foreign jails, drunk and roughed up from some bar fight? How many times had he taken care of her when she'd given herself a colossal hang over after she'd drank herself into a stupor? Despite their problems and her misgivings on their relationship, Scarlett owed him. Scott was a good man, he'd simply chosen to date a less than good woman.
Pulling the clip of ammunition from the gun, she handed over the weapon reluctantly. Scarlett averted her eyes and slipped the clip into her pocket for safe keeping, but was forced to turn it over when the woman eyed her the wrong way.
"That's a good girl." The older woman clicked her tongue and nodded toward the man who still stood silently at the door, waiting for his orders. "Take her back to her laboratory. She has some lost time to make up for." Staying fixed to where she stood, Scarlett stared at the floor, weighing the consequences again in her mind. She could take the guard out as he came close to her, but she no longer had a gun. There was still no way to save Scott and keep from building weapons for the vile company. "Oh, and about that financial agreement we had?" Scarlett looked back up at the woman and narrowed her eyes. "You can forget about it. Your fee? It's the price of getting to survive to see your boyfriend again."
Scarlett didn't dignify the woman's words with a response. Anything she'd say now would just be adding insult to injury. Any further attempts to irritate the trio running the underhanded company would only result in punishment for Scott. While she was unsure of her obligation to him, Scarlett wished no harm be done to him. If there was anyone undeserving of such treatment, it was Scott Aaronson.
The guard grabbed Scarlett's shoulder and she shoved him off of her and walked to the door on her own.
"Don't bother, I know my way." Hand on the doorknob Scarlett only stopped when the voice of one of the men at the table, the one without the glasses, met her. Finally placing his accent as Russian, Scarlett closed her eyes and concentrated. Searching her memory for their names, the ones she'd purposely locked away and ignored, she listened.
"Oh by the way, Stark Industries thanks you for your cooperation." The smallest hint of sarcasm caught her ear through the accent and Scarlett finally recalled his name.
"No offense, Mr. Ivanov but you and Stark Industries can kiss my ass." Without another word, Scarlett walked out the door, hearing the sound of the guard close behind her. He'd obviously being given the order to follow her in case she did something drastic, like try to escape or save Scott. If they'd known anything about her capabilities they would know she wasn't the type to run in front of a gun without a plan unless absolutely desperate. Everything she did had a purpose. While half her plans were made up on the spot, Scarlett usually found a means of escape or calculated decent odds for her survival before executing any plan.
She was the type to run in front of a gun if, and only if, she had a plan. Stopping in front of her laboratory in the basement of the large MedCo facility hidden away in the African desert, she turned to face her guard.
"I don't suppose you have a cigarette I could have, hmm?" Scarlett raised an eyebrow, nodding to the door behind her. "Ignore the highly flammable sign hanging on the door. How's a girl to get any work done while fighting an addiction?" The man looked at her skeptically before relenting, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a pack of cigarettes. Scarlett pulled one from the pack, slipped it between her lips and then grabbed a second to slip behind her ear. In that instance she knew what kind of a man the guard was. "Thank you. Don't suppose you have any scotch in there either, huh?"
Apparently the guard did not share her sense of humor as he reached past her and opened the door to the lab then gave her a look that clearly told her he was done entertaining her.
"First date and I don't even get a kiss goodnight. I really know how to pick 'em." Scarlett turned on her heels and walked into the lab staring at what was left of her work. The door locked securely behind her, sealing her fate.