The Interrogation

After the botched mission in Russia, Hill and Coulson interrogate one of their few leads around the incident.

SHIELD Base, Russia


"I might not count those as mutually exclusive."

Low lying flourescent lights flicker and buzz in the very white very small SHIELD 'briefing' room. At least that's what its official name is. No agent wants to find themselves in this room: a never spoken, agency-wide, known fact. The white room means something went wrong. Something went very wrong. It's the briefing room you're taken to when the world is not right, and you have royally fucked up.

The while floors, ceilings, and walls all sheen with glossy surfaces, waxed and pure. One wall is lined with a mirror. It's rumored to be a two-way mirror, but access behind it is so limited, it may just be a mirror on the wall to make the room feel more intimidating. The only non-white surfaces are the table and chairs. The metal table, plain, with just four legs is a perfect match for the three perfectly uncomfortable chairs, also metal. Three chairs normally means you are in here with not one, but two of your superiors. But in this case, neither has shown up yet.

In the third chair, Anthony Masters' hands are still zip tied (perhaps for someone's amusement?). His hair is a mess, matted and fuzzy rather than its usual polished appearance. He now has a black eye, and severe bruising has formed along his face. In front of him, his zip tied knuckles are also bruised and bloodied. His split lip had been acquired sometime after the incident in Russia, possibly from one of his colleagues at hearing how he had apparently foibled the mission, or, at least, his hand in the mission foibles.

Currently, his eyes are closed as he listens to the sound of his own breathing. There's a peace in each breath. It's weird, really, for someone with so many anger management troubles, yet he's doing it. Perhaps its the only way to pass the time.

Currently holding the file typed up on the Russian Debacle, Maria strides into the room Masters is being held in with a neutral expression. Despite the fact that she has just been waiting for him to slip up so she could put him in his place is a minor personal gain. Everything else is purely business. In fact, Maria does not even need to look at the file before she places it on the table to the far side the man she has been sent to question. "So." She can stay here all day. Happily, in fact. This is what is keeping her from her meeting with Fury. Forgoing the chair, the second in command leans on the table. "Why didn't you stay in the car, Masters? That seemed like quite a simple request."

When she walks into the room those steely-blue eyes openly stare at her as if she's just gotten interesting. But for once Masters doesn't have the first word. Or the tenth for that matter. He just stares. All out stares. If she is happy to be here, he won't challenge her for once, it seems. His eyes cast downwards, but he still issues no comment. The question however, has those eyes tracking up once more. There's a long pause in between the question and his answer. Too long. "I said it already," he hisses. "I don't remember." His eyes close and he sighs, "I don't even know what happened." His chin lifts and he inspects the room, "Evidently it wasn't good."

It certainly gives Maria pleasure to surprise Masters speechless. It also helps that he's still ziptied for security reasons. "Well. Then, let's go back to what you can remember." Finally, Maria drags a chair out from underneath the table. It makes an ear splitting screeching sound as metal scrapes against polished white floor. The woman doesn't flinch at the noise as she settles herself. Even when relaxed, she has a rod straight posture. "What's the last thing you did under your own recollection?"

Squeak. This one heavier than the chair belongs to the door. After the initial flex of the lock, it swings open noiselessly, and in steps Agent Coulson, the soft pattern of a formal smile barely on his face and offering both of them a quick, fleeting impression of an apology. Tucking a phone into his pocket last minute gives off an impression of near disorganization — except this is Coulson; his movements remain deliberate. A little tic in his half-smile of general pleasantness and he settles into the second chair, hefting once backwards to pull his suit coat into place and then soothe it down, nodding to both other occupants. "Don't mind me. Carry on."

Maria's question causes Masters' eyebrows to raise just a little higher on his forehead, an expression that is emphasized further by Coulson's entrance. What does he remember? It's probably not supposed to be a difficult question, yet the ultimate taskmaster almost seems stumped. His face scrunches into a scowl. "Well," he clears his throat and stares out at the back wall, "I was in the car." So specific. His eyes track back to Maria, "Cut to waking up in the back of one of our cars with my hands bound."

Although… he sighs. "I have fragments," he says vaguely. As his blue eyes squint. "Almost like… dreams." It's probably not what either of his superiors want to hear, but it's what he can offer. "Or… like an echo of a memory. Like something that happened. In another lifetime." But didn't really happen. And then, more deadpanned he adds, "I'm not even sure any of it happened."

The noise of the door is barely acknowledged by Maria. She turns her head only slightly to give the agent a nod before turning her attention back to Masters. With a slight lean forward, she puts her elbows on the files she brought with her and then folds her hands. She's all ears. "Well, tell us what those fragments are and we can determine if it actually happened."

Adjusting gently in his chair, Coulson contents to listen, glancing once down at the phone he's half-curled out of his pocket before appraising Masters evenly.

Masters' eyes squint and shift to the left as he attempts to remember whatever he'd been dreaming. "A hallway. A mask. A fight." He shrugs. It's more than a little vague, and he knows that it won't fly with Maria. And so he thinks a little harder. "I was outside. And it was cold. Ridiculously cold. So I put on a ski mask." Because when you're cold that's what you do. "And the cold changed. It became… different. Like I was inside somewhere." His lips purse and he sucks on the inside of his cheek.

"But it was white. Like heaven. And it shone." He blinks hard. "And then… a punch. A fight. A voice.. female berating me in… Scandinavian?" His eyebrows draw together. "Russian, maybe? She was angry. Ridiculously angry. For no reason. Cursing." He sighs again. "Red. I was hit. Down. Someone reaching in my pocket." Now he chews on his bottom lip.

"I got up later. Much later. Hazy. I ran. It was a giant maze. The kind you run through as a kid, made of vines and thorns, and bushes… I turned. I was chased." He pauses. "I ran. Needed to get air. And again I was hit. I recoiled." And that was that. "And then I woke up in the back of the car looking like this."

Maria doesn't need to take notes. The room is being taped and she'll rewatch it later. Not to mention the fact that this doesn't seem to be the sort of conversation she will forget quickly. As Masters continues to describe what he saw, the agent merely glances at Coulson without her expression changing much. A small uptick of her eyebrow and a quirk of her mouth must mean 'seriously?'. However, it takes knowing the woman to read her meaning.

Coulson's mouth twitches minutely to one side in a approximation of 'well, let's hear it out'.

"So, you're saying everything was normal until you put on a ski mask? We don't hand out ski masks. Do you remember talking to the Black Widow or me on the com? And the time between when you went out of contact and finding you on the steps wasn't all that long."

"No," Masters shakes his head, "I'm saying everything was normal until the comlink went dead. The ski mask was the start of my dream." His eyebrows furrow as his hands, in their bound state, reach downwards towards his pants pocket. "That bitch," whoever she is, "stole my gum."

And then to refocus on the second question, "That's all I remember. I was muted. And then… I was in the car for— I don't know how long— and then I had a dream. Maybe. Or maybe not…?" His lips part. "it's like time passing but not passing. And I couldn't do anything in the dream. You know how, sometimes when you're dreaming you can control it because you know you're dreaming? Well it's the opposite of that. You can't do anything. Your muscles are frozen and you go wherever you're going because you have no choice."

The way that Maria rolls her eyes from Coulson back toward Masters shows in their nonverbal conversation just how much confidence she has in his recollection. "So, everything until the comlink was muted is normal. You must have been drugged, but you don't remember anyone coming up to the car? No one gave you a shot, gassed you, gave you a pill? We're running a sample of your blood under all scans that we can find right now, so if you remember anything about how you might have come under that state, it would be useful." She's about to dismiss everything he's said until the mention of gum triggers a bell in the back of her head. Maria opens the case file and flips a few pages. Showing Coulson, her thumb practically underlines the part where traces of bubblegum were found on the bomb wreckage they salvaged. The Black Widow was attacked by someone before they lost contact.

While Coulson's main posture remains far more open than Maria's, there's nothing suggesting he's particularly excited to be hearing this kind of report from a vetted field agent. Indicated to the page, he leans forward, reads a second, then looks to meet Hill's eyes and nod; he's on the same page as her — literally. The light tic of his lower lip up as he nods, and the dip of his eyebrows forms a silent 'makes sense', perhaps aligning with Masters' account of a pissed off woman. Much deserved. His own thumb gliding, he types a few letters then tips his phone in Hill's direction so she can merely dip her eyes and read his subtly turned screen: Gamma?

Masters coughs as his head turns to the side— the spottiness of his recollection causes his lips to twitch to the side in contemplation. And then, finally, he answers: "No. I don't remember anyone coming up to the car. And the more I think about it… I was in getaway position. I barely knew where I'd be parked until I got there." Pause. "Unless they tapped into the GPS on the car. In which case— " He exhales a long breath that comes out as a sigh. "But why?" comes his final question as his fingers drum along the table in front of him. He sucks on the inside of his cheek contemplatively, "Of course, that's assuming any of it happened." Which he's still not convinced anyways. And then, as if to give the final clincher he adds, "I assume someone took inventory of the car. I don't go on a mission empty handed. The trunk was loaded with extra equipment. Not limited to advanced weaponry, but including it." There's another pause. "And Widow's uniform, of course, in the back seat. Her idea, not mine." A strange request for a woman used to pretending to be someone else.

Maria's eyes flick to the slightly glowing screen. At the words there, she looks at the page - which shows that gamma radiation was all over the bomb - and then at Masters, she gives a slight nod. What else fits? she seems to say. She's still listening to what Masters is saying, however, and as he continues to talk, the more she's starting to think that things are getting fishy. Perhaps not just with his testimony, but the way it all went down. "Some of that inventory is gone. Widow's uniform included." Done playing, Maria smacks her hand on the table. It's time for some good cop, bad cop. "Something doesn't add up here, Masters. He knew we were coming. He knew we were coming five ways to Sunday. And you are the only SHIELD agent to end up fighting me at the top of the stairs at that party. So, why is that?"

"I don't know," Anthony actually hisses back before allowing his gaze to drop. "All I know is waking up in the back of a SHIELD car cuffed. That's all." And then there's a pause, "He knew we were coming because he virtually invited us! I mean come on. Everyone knows it." His lips twitch to the side again in contemplation. "You don't write all of those SHIELD scientists' names on an article that you know we'll read. Our people. And then Thunderbolt's daughter." And then as far as how he knew what they'd do, "Red said in the meeting that this one was beyond intelligent— " he emits a sigh. "— he tested off the charts, you know. It's not in the file. Thunderbolt though— " he clucks his tongue. The things agents leave out of files can, evidently, hurt them. "Off the charts. His exposure did something."

As far as Masters' bloodwork is concerned, his gamma radiation is, much like Sterns' intelligence, off the charts…

With a soft inhale, phone slipping into his pocket while he listened, Coulson scoots his chair up closer with several little squeaks; one hand raising kiddy-corner to Maria to politely suggest she back off a moment, please. "It wouldn't be the first time," he notes, mildly, of the exposure, eyes lowered in bashful sarcasm to the table before he raises them attentively to Masters. "Agent." A tic of his mouth is not a smile. "Since you've mentioned General Ross— " oy, these higher-ups and their extravagant nicknames— "Were you aware that you wouldn't be the first one to associate dream-like memories with gamma exposure?"

Masters's eyes squint at Coulson and Maria in turn. His jaw tightens, and his fingers, though his hands are cuffed, steeple together as he leans back in his chair, still trying to develop a read on the situation at hand. His own throat clears in turn, but the question is reconsidered from his first answer. "I'm not sure— " his gaze shifts between the pair once more as he hmmms quietly. "— maybe?" he manages as a question more than an answer. "I honestly don't remember," he deadpans and then adds, "I assume you're referring to Beta team's primary mission. As I'm sure you're both aware, anything we know about Banner and his alter-ego is highly complex information. I'm familiar with the files, but to say I know every detail by heart… " his head shakes while his chin drops. "Thunderbolt would know every word by heart. But then I spend more time working on tactical detail than information."

Though Maria opens her mouth for a moment to counter that if they're not talking to General Ross they are talking to Masters. However, she respects Coulson's polite suggestion to take lead. It might be best if the good cop to move the discussion forward some. Instead, she crosses her arms. She does not lean back. Instead, she watches Masters incredibly closely, reading body language and generally exuding a distrust and dislike of the man.

A pinch of Coulson's mouth. It's also not a smile. "Of course." He knew. Masters' right. That's the truth. Any number of equally pleasant and omniscient things suggested by the cool, utterly unruffled tone of Phil Coulson. An unflinching gaze has been watching Masters for even the slightest hints of deception, of a practiced speech: that there's a possibility at all that this is a fabricated story from said complex detailed reports. "Do you think," no pressure; Coulson shifts lightly in his chair but elicits no further squeaks, "If you were to return to the site that you'd be able to recognize any landmarks from these images? Perhaps where it is you had your gum stolen by Agent Romanov?" Singular line creasing above his one eye is a repetition from the slightly disturbance when hearing the uniform had been Natasha's idea as well. They've agents on site to determine these kinds of forensic investigations, but there's a secondary purpose here.

Masters' lips part as Coulson asks his questions. "Wait… " he holds up a hand (zip tied as it might be to its companion), and his head tilts to the side, "what?" Natasha. "You're suggesting Romanoff stole my gum? But then…" Oh. The Scandinavian/Russian… red. His eyebrows stitch together. "Huh." This changes things some. "I don't— " he begins only to stop and puzzle over the entire thing once more. "Maybe I could piece things together if I saw them?" it becomes a question rather than an answer. "I wasn't even aware that it was the Widow." His jaw tightens and his blue eyes stare intensely at Coulson and Maria in turn, "You could always ask her. I'm sure I didn't exactly seem like myself— " Pause. "Or is she the one asserting I belong here in cuffs!? That bi-witch hasn't liked me since the moment she laid eyes on me. Distrusting piece of a-as if the Bird were the only one with skills— "

While Maria kept silent for Coulson's line of questioning, the bad cop stands up. The chair screeches behind her. "That is enough of that." It's time to bring out the forces. She places her hands purposefully on the table in front of her and leans just slightly forward. Not enough to get in his face, but enough to emphasize her point. "You are the one alleging that you were somehow drugged while on duty and then abandoned your post. Now, I'm trying to think up a damn good reason why you were so easily compromised, Masters, and I'm coming up blank. You're either incompetent or you are a mole." There's another possibility - that there is another mole that they haven't found yet - but she's keeping that off the table.

Purpose achieved. Having studied Masters' face more intently than he listened to the words, without showing it, he now glances up along his shoulder at the standing Maria, falling quiet to the superior officer's demands, until: "Since he's sitting here," the agent mentions mildly, glancing down to the restrained SHIELD employee, "I might not count those as mutually exclusive."

There is a moment of silence after Masters is berated by his superiors. "Ma'am," comes the first response, "I have no idea what happened, and frankly I was alleging nothing. Just what I remember and trying to piece it together. I have no idea how it's even remotely possible." None of it seems possible. His hands clasp one another as he exhales a long breath. "I couldn't even tell you if it was real. Although— " the missing gum seems to suggest it happened. Maybe.

Maria studies Masters as if he were an animal behind a cage. She's pinpointing behavior and deciding what he means. "Quite correct, Agent Coulson." Maria straightens and catches the tail end of Phil's glance. "I'm finished with him. If you'd like to ask him more questions, feel free. I'm not beyond taking him through the crime scene to see if anything shakes loose. I'm sure there's one or more people who would be only too glad to do the shaking." Decidedly, she flips the folder on the table shut. It makes a 'wuff' sound as papers smack into each other.

"Noo…" Somewhat distracted from Coulson, though professional, as he glances up from the phone he's been attending to look off of Maria to Masters, impressing the same, "thank you," and tight-lipped tic to both equally. A turn of the phone indicates it without giving Maria the chance to see his screen fully; he steps aside, ushering her with a polite gesture to advance before him. "I've a few things to see to." Things that blessedly aren't childishly bickering agents and dreams admitted as evidence.

Smile, Coulson. Smile.

The lights begin to flash and a very annoying alarm begins to ring.

Something is wrong

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