The Christmas season has officially started and in a tradition so durable that not even a terrible extinction causing plague can stop it, people have flooded the shopping malls and other commercial venues in search of sales, gifts and the holiday spirit.
Jericho prefers to do most of his shopping online but he does like the ambiance. So today he is at a coffee shop a bit unlike his usual haunts. It’s a chain for one, and the coffee is more overpriced than usual. But it is in the middle of the mall on the third floor and the seating for the shop gives a good vantage point to just… watch. There’s holiday music playing on the speakers and a general hubbub in the air. A slightly less desperate and more hopeful hubbub than at any other time of the year.
Shopping malls are not Kaylee’s idea of fun and even less so at this time of year. Too many people, too rushed and too many things ‘yelling’ at you to buy them. At least the people aren’t as desperate as they usually are and at least there’s Christmas music to listen to.
Like the one that’s playing now. It’s one of her favourites. Silver Bells.
There’s a mug of tea sitting in front on the table, all but ignored, as she sits next to Jericho. She’s lost in her thoughts, clearly – possibly considering the experiments she’s running. Heavens knows getting her out of the lab had been challenge.
The yelling has only become more literal as near field communication and personalized AR ads mean just walking by an area can generate all kinds of noise on your wearable. Or in Jericho’s case in his actual field of vision. Good thing he’s able to go stealth on public networks.
“It’s gonna get cold.” Jericho says as he sips his coffee. It’s… french roast. Too dark and bitter by half but there you go.
“They’re going to have to heat it up. Again.”
Kaylee had got such a surprise the first time that had happened. The A/R ad projecting from her wearable. She hadn’t thought to go stealth – she might have been happier if she had.
“Hmmmmm?” She looks up and blinks almost owlishly at Jericho. “Oh. I … might try their hot chocolate. It’s got to be better than their tea…” wrinkling her nose at the mug. She really is a bit of a tea snob.
“Besides it’s no good heating it. It just causes the tannin to concentrate and makes it even more bitter.”
“Elitist.” Jericho snorts in jest and takes another sip of his coffee. She has a point. Their brewed drinks are not great. Maybe the slightly harder-to-mess-up hot chocolate will be better. He might order one. Fortunately he doesn’t ahve to get up for that. Nor does she.
The mass of people moves and sways like it’s a living thing unto itself. In the past this might have featured children excitedly looking through the stores and at the decorations. Now that scene is long gone.
“You’re awful quiet. Anything on your mind there, Kaylee?” It’s not that Jericho has been chatty himself really but he asks anyway.
“Snob. Is the correct term.” Kaylee says primly as the song playing changes. Little Drummer Boy starts up and Kaylee blinks for a moment. The hot chocolate might be better as long as it’s made with milk and not water.
There are a few children still. All mutants of course – some natural born but most clones that have been placed with families.
“Always, you should know that. Apart from trying to work out those nanites and reprogram Ians, it’s this time of year, isn’t it?” beat “Maybe I’m thinking of dancing to Vera Lynn songs as well.”
“Does correcting me make you a snob-snob?” Jericho snorts again, his eyes still cast out over the crowd.
“She had good songs.” The old war. Not even the last war now, but a few wars ago. That’s how far removed that conflict is from today. There was a hope to it, even in the darkest moments, that the world just generally lacks.
“I heard that the Associate Director approved your request to establish a research base on Wrangel Island.”
“It might do…” Kaylee snorts softly and puts the order in for Hot chocolate. Laced with peppermint and topped with marshmallows. She leaves the order open to see if Jericho wants something.
“She did. And they’re easy to dance to.” Clearly the displaced biochem is feeling a little nostalgic – though even Jemma was to young to remember that.
The segue to the AD’s approval gets a soft ‘ahhhh’ of understanding. “He did, yes. Did you really expect anything different? I made sure to highlight we didn’t know how to kill the nanites and we weren’t sure where they came from, it was almost a given.” There’s another sigh though “It’s not just a research base, Jericho. We’re going to have a military facility there, as well. The Russians … ” Well, he knows about the Russians.
Jericho leans over and taps a warm eggnog drink. He’ll see how it is. That stuff can be delicious if, you know, one does the custard right. He’s slightly dubious but… nothing ventured…
“You are going to get us into a war…” Jericho is slightly exaggerating but the presence on Wrangel Island is going to have to be concealed somehow and there’s indications that the Russians DO know something is there even if they don’t know what. There are ways to manage that and he suspects he knows how it WILL be managed. But clearly he kind of disapproves of this move.
“Or at least get the Russians and the EU really huffy at us.” Which won’t be the worst of it. The worst will be if they decide they really have to study whatever SHIELD is studying there.
“Who’s assigned to it? Or have they done that yet?”
Eggnog. Not one of Kaylee’s favourite drinks, despite all the years that Jemma spent in America.
“Don’t say that …” she says quietly, running a hand down her arms where the traces are. A war isn’t something she wants. “But if these are Sentinels or can be used to make them, we need to know as much we can. Also, do you think that blowing that area up with a coordinated strike will be any better? And that’s what our options are.” If the Russians and EU get huffy, they’ll just have to deal with it.
“They’ve asked me for my recommendations. I will be spending some time up there but I need to split time between … everything. I’m sending one of the Simmonses and one of the Fitzs, probably Arthur. Doctor Moore may do a rotation up there but the rest, I’m still working out. That’s the SciTech side of things. Military? I’m not sure. One of the Macs and one of the Coulsons. I’d appreciate some recommendations.”
“My advice is get an actual Colonel or Commander from the military side of SHIELD to help run that for you.” Which likely means a human. Coulsons and Macs do a lot, of course, but they’re vastly more suited to the intelligence side of things than the military side of things just by their experience.
It won’t take long for the drinks to come and when they arrive Jericho takes a long sip of his warm nog. Not bad.
“What is it you think these can teach us?”
He still wants to blow them up but that’s an honest question. What is it she thinks she can learn? In theory Sentinel Tech is 50+ years old. These nanites clearly aren’t so there’s a great deal of wiggle room there but Sentinels they know about.
In Theory. Funny though how theory doesn’t always work out in practice.
“I was going to do that. But I’m not sure who …” Maybe the AD or maybe one of the others will have a better idea. Jemma, or at least her imprint of Jemma, never did anything like this really.
Sipping the hot chocolate, Jemma sighs almost happily. It’s made on milk at least and it’s rich.
“How it came to be there, more than anything. Is this from the originals or has someone been … experimenting. The Master Mold is missing, after all.” she pauses “Why does it form a brain, regardless. And why did we hear those … memories. Recordings. Whatever they were. If someone is experimenting, we should be able to counter it.”
Apart from that. It’s Science!
SCIENCE! Was Jemma’s passion after all and it makes sense that it’s Kaylee’s also. That is a good question though and one that Jericho has been considering from a technical standpoint.
“The only reason they’d always configure themselves into a neural network like a brain regardless of the amount of nanite material present is if they were hard coded to do so. That means they almost can’t be the same nanites Ian was infected with.” Or at least not the same variant. Which isn’t to say they might not be dangerous. They might be designed to metabolize organic matter in some fashion, for example.
“The only reason to be on Wrangel Island at all is because they don’t want to be found. What I’m interested in is how long they’ve been there. The memories they were computing over are fifty years old and we still don’t know the nature of that analysis. There’s only a few places they could have GOTTEN those memories from though.”
And that’s ominous. Someone or something had access to the original Sentinels’ recording units. And saved the recordings.
“Exactly.” Kaylee nods decisively. “More questions we need answers to. And another one. Are they self replicating? And if so, under what conditions? Did those pools form by accident? Or did someone make them? I’m more willing to believe to that someone made them, but what if there was a variant of Sentinel that never made the archives? And what if one of the units crashed in that area?”
It’s all very ominous. All of it. Sentinels were dangerous when they were controlled by people. What would happen if a variant arose with enough self awareness to direct itself?
“They might not be the same nanites as Ian has but I’m willing to wager there’s a connection to the signal we’ve tracking. But that’s certainly one of the things we’re testing – the similarities or otherwise between Ians nanites and these.”
Kaylee doesn’t believe in coincidence.
“That seems likely given that they seem to operate on similar frequenceis.” Jericho takes another drink of his warm egg nog and thinks. The song becomes ‘Silent Night’ which is… nice. Soothing. It’s the kind of thing that always plays will with the crowd though it’s a bit melancholy these days. Holy Child. Children are holy indeed these days.
A couple of seconds later Jericho frowns and tugs on Kaylee’s sleeve, pointing wordlessly. There’s a young man just passed by with a denim jacket. It had a design on the back. A triangular design that looks… very, very familiar.
“So there’s a lot I’m hoping to learn …” Kaylee trails off as the music changes. She does rather enjoy christmas music. Fitz used to tease Jemma mercilessly about it. She’s lost again in her thoughts as she drinks her hot chocolate and she might have missed have the denim jacketed man if Jericho didn’t tug on her.
“That’s the design from the patch on Wills jacket.” At least she can say the name without her voice catching. “That looks a modification on it, though. It could be coincidence that it looks so similar.” Hadn’t she only just finished thinking how didn’t she believe in coincidences? “Can you … track him? Or should we follow?”
“I can yeah. Following him in this crowd might be difficult.” The design on Will’s jacket, his unit patch, was fairly abstract. It could be a coincidence that they’re seeing it now. Could be, but Jericho tags him anyway for the cameras to watch and shunts the feed over for Kaylee to view.
“He doesn’t look familiar at all does he?” Kind of not. He’s got a bit of Will’s jaw but not enough for there to really be much of a resemblence. The way he moves though is not the weaving of someone swimming through the crowd. There’s purpose to it.
“Mmmm. He’s headed toward the theaters at the north end.”
“I thought you could but I didn’t want to assume you would.” In all the time that Kaylee’s known Jericho he’ll track anything. Maybe it’s because he can or maybe he’s just really paranoid. “I’m likely to get stepped on out there.” Humanity, or is it mutanity now?, has become taller as expected.
“Not really, no. The type I might usually go for … ” she blushes and casts Jericho sideways look “… but no real resemblence to Will at all. Maybe he saw the design on a documentary or online or something.” Somehow though, she doesn’t think so.
“Maybe he’s going to see a movie and it starts soon.” Kaylee drinks more of her hot chocolate and looks at the hacker. Are they going that direction or ….
Jericho slides from his seat and motions to Kaylee. There’s quite a press out there but they can probably maneuver around it. They don’t really have to keep up with him since Jericho is adept at keeping the cameras switching to keep him in view. After five or six minutes the young man ducks into one of the side areas that leads to the network of halls behind the storefronts that allow stores to move people and goods without having to pull it through the main floor. He looks around furtively and then kneels down, pulls out a small knife and pries a tile off the wall. A small hole is revealed to be behind it.
“Well well…” Jericho murmurs.
What he pulls out is a small… greyish looking crystal.
Kaylee’s quick to move, grabbing her jacket as they depart the coffee shop, following close behind Jericho in his wake. He can deal with the crowds, she’ll just follow and let his height shelter her from being stepped on.
Of course, it means she has to peak around him to see where the man has disappeared to. “What … is that?” she pitches her voice low so that only the hacker can hear her. “I … don’t think the patch is a coincidence.” Her hand is on her ICER that she carries.
“I have no idea. Looks kind of like quartz…” They’re still about 100 yards away from where the young man is and there’s a lot of people between them. “It doesn’t look especially valuable. I wonder-”
Jericho is cut off by a blurring on the camera behind the kid. In the sheltered darkness of the entryway the profile of a very, very large four footed being emerges.
“Is that a dog… the size of a small horse?” It’s hard to tell but it looks like it. The young man reaches out, touches the being, both blur and then vanish.
“Quartz? I suppose so.” Kaylee wonders whether her traces would be useful with analysing something like that. “I wonder wha—-” She blinks as the blurring appears and that … dog. “It’s a horse, Jericho. That thing would be almost half my height. I could ride it.”
Kaylee is really only just middling height at best.
“Did the dog do that?” She just stares before she tugs on his sleeve. “Come on. I want to look at that area.”
Jericho starts pushing his way through the crowd which kind of gives him dirty looks. He tugs Kaylee along because, well, she’s ever so little. She’s not but she is smaller than the others.
When they get there all that’s left is the hole. Jericho leans down and shines the light from his wearable inside. “Kaylee there’s dust in here. Er. Mineral dust of some kind not dust dust. I don’t suppose you brought any gloves or something?”
Paranoid or not, this is one thing he does not generally carry.
“Stop tugging on me.” Kaylee mutters as Jericho wrenches her along. At least he’s acting as a buffer. “Don’t touch it…”
That’s probably not necessary given his actions, but she’ll say it anyway.
“Of course I do. What do you think I am? Some half assed Scientist?” she’s still grumbling a bit as she reaches into her bag and pulls out a small box of disposable gloves. And a vial and … a brush. A small one. It might have a make up brush had it been just about any other woman.
“I take it you want me to collect it?”
“Probably but I think you want you to collect it.” Jericho stands up and stands aside. No he had not been about to touch it. It’s //probably// safe given the guy they were following handled it with bare hands. Probably, but probably is not the kind of thing to bet on. Especially not when there is a scientist to hand.
The material itself is smokey grey, but translucent. It appears to flake easily given the way that small pepper-grain sized chunks of it come up on the brush. It’s a stone or crystal of some kind. Beyond that not much else can be told with the naked eye. It doesn’t //look// valuable. Buuuut…
“Why would you hide something like that in a mall…”
“You’re wired for sound, can you look up what was here around Jemma’s time? Around the time she came back from that planet or there abouts? It was probably something like this, but it’s worth checking. If wasn’t a mall at the time, what was it?”
She’s a suspicion that she’s not giving voice to yet.
“I do, yes.” the biochem murmurs as she starts to collect the dust, filling the vial using the little brush. She’s careful to not breath it in. “But I also want to … try this …” There’s the faintest of hums as her traces start to glow – the effect visible through the long sleeved t-shirt she’s wearing. The lines of light visible down her shoulders and arms, over her chest and down her belly. Judging by the faint light through her jeans, her legs too.
A small swarm consisting of light emits from her arms to surround the dust, etching small sigils on it (not that the naked eye can see that) but not changing it. “It’s a pity you can’t read my mind anymore …”
“I don’t think so. Telepathy is not all it’s cracked up to be.” Jericho says quietly as he stares seemingly at nothing. “So. Fifty years ago or so this area was light industrial. It’s been redeveloped a couple of times. Turned into residential as the population swelled. The mall’s been here for a solid twenty five years though.” It looks older but that’s rather deliberate.
The composition of the element she’s looking at is… unclear. It’s organic or at least partly so, which is not to say it’s alive or ever was, just that it’s made of organic compounds. Beyond that… it’s of very STRANGE makeup. There are ways in which it ALMOST looks synthetic.
“You could see the results that I’m formulating. This is probably the only thing I really miss about being a LMD, I have to translate my thoughts so others can see them.” The swarm continues to work as Jericho gives her the information. “So whatever this is could have been put here before the mall existed?”
“This is interesting, this compound. It’s manmade but from organic materials. Like someone might grow a diamond or emerald. What I can’t tell, is //what// it is.”
“Well sure I could but…” Jericho looks back at Kaylee. “What would I do with them. You’re the chemist.” Biochemist, not run of the mill chemist, but still.
“Do you think it’s at all dangerous? I assume you’ll want to run tests on it so I won’t ask what it is now. If it’s toxic in some way we should at least seal the hole back up though. And possibly alert someone so that it can get a proper cleanup.”
“Jericho. It would make explaining //easier//.” Kaylee sighs, head canting as the traces finishe their analysis. She’ll confirm that in her lab with known equipment and processes but this could be handy, for sure. “You didn’t answer my question – could this have been placed here before this was a mall?”
There’s a reason for the question, Jericho can be sure.
“It’s inert in this form but it could become dangerous under the right conditions, I suppose. I just don’t know what the right conditions are and none of this is prompting any of Jemma’s memories before you ask.”
“But yes, we should reseal it and I’ll get a team down here to do a full analysis. Can we find somewhere that does good Irish Coffee, now?”
Jericho shakes his head. “Sorry. No. This mall doesn’t incorporate any of the structures that used to be here. At the earliest it could have been placed during construction but that’s it. So 25 years old maximum. I’d be willing to bet not quite so old though. It didn’t look too hard to get that tile off when we saw him pry it. Means that this place might be used as a drop regularly.
The hacker picks up the tile and pushes it back into place. It stays at least.
“There’s a bar up the block if you want to try there, mmm?” Irish coffee. That should be interesting now that she can actually get drunk.
Coffee and people watching turns into a small adventure.
November 29, 2051