The cleanup at the facility had taken much longer than Kaylee had wanted but that’s often the way these things go. The duplicate was taken into custody, held ready for Agent Grey to speak to – he might be mad but he might also give them a lead on the Prime.
Kaylee had inspected the equipment, noting part and serial numbers whilst Jericho had recovered the storage drives from the computers – the ones that hadn’t been damaged – and they’d returned to her labs in SHIELD Central.
The biochem is at her workbench, the holodisplay above it running through suppliers for the equipment she catalogued. In all honesty, she doesn’t expect to find anything but better to not leave a stone unturned, so to speak. In another window, to the side, is Jemma’s journal – the encrypted one that Cullen Fitz had been slowly decoding for her.
She’s also casting glances at the hacker – they haven’t spoken much since the other night. He might not realise the reaction she had to the portal opening while they were extracting Anastasia.
Jericho is a hardware tech’s nightmare. The move to solid state drives four decades ago had created a whole new type of stable, survivable media that is now several generations developed. Which means he doesn’t have to be… gentle with the hardware. Usually he just rips it out mounting brackets and all, stuffs it into a bag and takes it somewhere that he can take his time. At the moment though he’s not doing that. He’s using a cutter rather than raw strength to remove those brackets. Same cutter he used to extract the drives. He either can’t or doesn’t want to engage his claws and make this easier.
“No corpses today. Not a bad day.” Beat. “Aleksei didn’t leave any corpses, did he?” Aleksei can be an angry man. He has reasons but still. Agent Grey at least tends to not kill people without exceedingly good reason. Jericho doesn’t necessarily have a problem with killing. He’s done it before. But he knows that sometimes you can get away without it and any time you can is a good day.
Kaylee actually chuckles, she hasn’t been laughing much this last few days. She’s had a lot on her mind. “No, he didn’t. Not today. A few flattened security guards but that’s it.” The chuckle dies as she looks at that journal, swapping her windows so the search for equipment is the smaller one and the journal the larger. The page she’s stopped on has a drawing – it looks like Jemma drew it by hand and then scanned it in. It looks awfully like a stepping disk portal, if perhaps stylised.
“How much of your processing is impaired?” she finally asks as she turns to face the Hacker. Yes, he’s not using his claws or his strength and she knows why.
“I don’t have the memory for a lot of my functions so… quite a bit.” It’s less that his processing power is being taken up and more that Anastasia takes up a lot of ‘space’ in his head. Enough that he can’t push other things in there without taking her offline.
And to be clear, doing so would probably kill her. So he hasn’t even come close to trying to tax his memory.
“If I’m just hacking I still have a lot of options. I never used my own processing power much for that except for on the fly functions.” It just means he has to be a bit more careful and in many ways ‘traditional’. Not the deft ‘Glitch’ that many in the hacking community would recognize, but he’s spent a lot of time building up resources like botnets and custom malware. He can go old school for a bit.
“How’s progress coming on the journal?”
“Then we need to make sure you aren’t in the field much. Without your traces and the extra’s they bring, you’re more of a squishy. Be sure to check a set of tac armour out, please.” Kaylee’s just working through the manual, it seems. Jericho’s one of the most competent soldiers she’s met and well trained but that won’t stop a stray bullet from finding him.
At the question, the biochem pauses and gives him a searching look before starting slowly “How … aware is she of her surroundings when she’s not ‘active’? Can she see and hear things?” That’s … an interesting question.
“I’ve got body armor from the service. I was using it today. It’s slimming. In style, I hear.” Jericho says with a slight smirk. He knows he’s at much bigger risk than usual without his powers and he doesn’t have most of his abilities right now. Not the direct combat ones in any case.
“I’m not clear. Probably a bit, but she’s sort of ‘squestered’ in the back of my head. I took the time to put up some code blocks to prevent her runtime program from interacting with most of my… biological functions. She’s probably aware of most things I am aware of at some level but I haven’t asked her how much. She’s been a bit quiet.”
Beat. “Not quite sure why.” What can Anastasia access back there. Well she is in his head after all so possibly… quite a bit.
Kaylee snorts at Jericho’s comment about the armour “Well. You need something slimming, if I might say so…” she quips but she soon turns pensive. “So she’s aware of this discussion, then.”
That doesn’t seem to thrill the LMD at all. And he might wonder why.
“What’s it like, sharing that space with someone else?” Kaylee had spent a short time in Jericho’s head but he’d firewalled her off very well. Why it’s different for Anastasia then it was for her, she doesn’t know and given the chance, she’d be experimenting on him.
As she asks the question, she looks at the image on the screen – it takes a whole ‘page’ in Jemmas journal. Through the portal, clawed appendages can be seen, along with horns and tusks.
Jericho snorts. “You might say so.” She might be right. Or not. The hacker keeps in pretty good shape.
“It’s odd. Buffering you was a transient thing. You never took up quite that much room because you were in two other places also, your chassis and the SHIELD servers. Also I just buffered your program. I didn’t have to run it also.” That she woke up in Jericho’s head was an oddity, but not a taxing one.
The hacker comes over to look at the page she’s looking at also.
“This is the journal right? Those look like sketches.” They look like monsters. “Nothing I’ve ever seen suggested that Jemma was an artist. Whatever she saw must ahve made quite an impression for her to want to record them.”
Kaylee hesitates to answer, still looking at the image. “Can you mute her? Anastasia, I mean. I don’t … I mean … I remembered something. I think.” And clearly she doesn’t want anyone else hearing it.
“It is the journal and I wasn’t. Um. Jemma wasn’t. Not really. It helped to be able to draw chemical interactions but this … not like this. That portal, the one the one formed when you downloading her – Anastasia I mean – it triggered something in my memory.”
And yes. They look like monsters. Very demonic ones in fact.
“Mmmm. I can try.” Jericho pauses for a few moments before nodding. He gets some measure of privacy from the blonde sorceress if only because she isn’t always paying attention and it’s not clear to him how time passes inside his own head. When percieving it time can be in fact quite subjective.
“Oh? What was it?” Jericho might be able to hear Kaylee’s murmured moment of panic if he went and ‘played the tapes back’ but he hasn’t had any reason to do so. He might shortly but since she’s here she can tell him.
It’s curious that a portal should trigger it. The hacker would not have thought Kaylee had any particularly strong associations with them.
“You have?” Kaylee seems dubious if only because she’s not sure how the interactions work. That he doesn’t why is a relief to her. How does one explain that //she looked at me// was enough to have you crawling under the covers? You just don’t. It’s not sensible and it’s not explainable and yet, that thin lipped mocking look was enough.
The biochem considers the image for a long moment again “I had seen it before” she says quietly, wrapping her arms around herself “And when I did, it was full of … monsters spilling forth. Monsters that ripped and rended when they arrived.” There’s a long slow breath out through her nose and Kaylee turns to look at Jericho “So I searched her journal, looking for something and that’s what I found. She //saw// this and it’s in the memories that have been corrupted.”
Corrupted? Or … locked away?
“I wonder…” Jericho folds his arms considering. “Jemma’s service record goes on after that period of time so presumably it didn’t affect her so badly as to drive her…” Insane. He dooesn’t say it.
“Still, clearly it bothered her and it’s more than a little coincidental that her journal was encrypted after the fact while her memories are unaccessible.” That he’s not willing to put up to conspiracy yet. The hardware defects Kaylee has would be hard to arrange ahead of time but that doesn’t mean it’s not connected.
“Alright. So, she’d seen something like this before. And it was monsters. Demons. Whatever. And not just one or two, but a lot of them. Do you know where the memory was? Which facility or country?” He’s assuming it was on Earth. An understandable assumption but perhaps a mistaken one.
“I checked her service records after this date. My imprint was taken nearly a year after this entry and there was nothing to indicate that she wasn’t of sound mind or body. If anything, she was more than alright and given a promotion.” //She// Kaylee is finally starting to disassociate her with her progenitor.
With another searching look at Jericho, maybe she’s trying to see if it’s just him there, the pink haired biochem gestures over the screen and several pages are laid out. All with two ‘phrases’ highlighted. “I … think… this phrase means New York. It’s mentioned in different contexts and Cullen is still checking. But this one …” the second phrase is highlighted “… appears less frequently and Cullen is sure it means ‘unresolved’.”
Cullen is still decoding then. That makes sense. Even if it’s ‘his’ code, the algorythm was very complex. It’s something that would have taken Jericho hundreds of thousands if not millions of processor hours to crack and that’s if he could crack it at all. Code breaking power is great but you need to have something to translate from.
“There could be a lot of things that are ‘unresolved’ in an agent’s career. What about the context makes you think this particular unresolved thing is related to that ten month period?” Context. Code breaking is about context and clearly Kaylee or Cullen know something. He’s just trying to get a more complete picture.
Cullen is and as Kaylee had mentioned previously the cypher changed throughout the encryption. Whoever encrypted this … well, they didn’t mean for no one to find and understand it because if they had, they would have deleted it. This was meant to be found and decrypted but only by the … best and brightest?
“No. This is place. ‘Unresolved’ refers to a place … I’m sure.” Kaylee says. “Look here. It’s paired in context with New York, like a … train schedule.” Her bright, brown eyes seek the hackers “It’s a code word for the destination of where she saw this. We’re convinced that the entries are in chronological order. We know Jemma had been asked to consult on a project and this project had to do with ‘unresolved’. Whatever they were doing, they were doing there and she saw … something.”
“Sounds like a code name, then.” Unresolved is an unusual code name but code names can be all manner of strange or silly things. Sometimes they mean something, like Jericho’s project. Prometheus. Fire from the gods. Sometimes they’re more about throwing anyone who might be looking into them off though. This could be either of those.
“Something related to portals, it seems safe to assume. And if they’re like Anastasia’s portals, then dimensional ones. Sounds like the kind of thing SHIELD might be in on… though it also sounds like the kind of thing they wouldn’t be doing by themselves. I take it you searched the databases and not come up with any projects called ‘Unresolved’? Or facilities?”
“That’s what I was thinking.” Kaylee answers. “There’s so much secrecy about this project. All of her notes encrypted, codenames, vague references. What could be so secret to warrant all this?”
The look the biochem casts the hacker is speaking “Of course. That’s the first thing we did. And we did get hit on facilities. Related to the this project. There was a base there, SHIELD sent troops to support a government taskforce. It was shut down though and all the files on it … locked.”
“Want to guess the timeframe that facility operated?” She’s not offering odds.
Kaylee Simmons has partially disconnected.
Kaylee Simmons has partially disconnected.
“Roughly the time frame that you’re missing memories, if I had to guess.” Jericho murmurs. “It could be coincidence but it’s getting a bit too… coincidental. It might be drifting slightly into conspiracy to suggest that the journal was encrypted to leave some manner of record but… as you point out if the people involved wanted to keep it a secret they could have just destroyed it.”
The hacker taps his fingers against his arm in thought.
“If we assume that the journal was left deliberately in SHIELD systems and somehow survived whatever purge of the data that followed then it’s reasonable to think that there are other clues. Run a check for anything else in the database that’s using the same encryption.”
“Mmmhmmm.” Kaylee says watching Jericho as he works on removing the drive. “What if Jemma encoded this and hid it so deeply in the system that it couldn’t be found? That she knew they would delete and purge the data related to the project and wanted to make sure something of it survived?” That’s a long shot and the pinkhaired biochem knows it but to her, it’s worth turning all the stones so bad hypothesis can be discarded.
And she seems to have forgotten that Anastasia might be listening.
“I can do that…” her hand moves over the console in front of her and Jericho will see another window kick up. The search that he requested “… it will take a bit to run, there’s a lot of data there. I just hope we don’t trigger something.”
“When you looked at my corrupted memory, was it encrypted at all?” She hadn’t seen it. The spidery text that roiled and crawled. But Jericho had.
Jericho shakes his head. “Never got that far really. I couldn’t even properly look at the sectors of memoery that held it. It’s like they’re broken except for the fact that they’re clearly not. It flies in the face of everything I know about hardware… which admittedly isn’t much. I’m a software guy not an engineer.”
The hacker finishes with the drive and blows the dust from the cutter off of it. Good thing these things are so durable.
“All that’s possible but it’s a bit of an assumption. How long do you think before Cullen has the rest of the journal decoded. That might tell us more. I hate to go off theories when facts are at hand.”
“Well, yes.” Kaylee agrees “We’re conjecturing based on the evidence that we have and we know that it’s not much.” She frowns about her memory. He’d told her that of course but she had hoped … well, wishful thinking and all that.
The search is still running, working through files fairly quickly but there’s been no hits so far.
“Cullen … ” Kaylee checks her messages and sighs as one pops up. Jericho can read it and might snicker. Along with an update saying the next of batch of encryptions will be ready tomorrow is an invitation to dinner with the Fitzbot.
The drives being removed has Kaylee looking over “Oh good. That took longer than usual… Can you access them so we can see what’s on them? They should have survived the assault the other day.”
“That’s the idea.” There’s an electronics rig next to Jericho that he plugs the drive into as he goes about the tedious business of shucking the next one out of its brackets. The screen flickers and starts to go about parsing the data. The hacker frowns. “Mmmm. Older OS. Alchemax make. Securite on the files shouldn’t be too hard to break. Give that one a few minutes we’ll see if they have anything.”
Another few seconds passes in silence. “So. What did Cullen say?” He has to suspect, or so she might think, that there’s some not particularly subtle flirting going on. It seems to… mildly amuse him. “Curious to me that the Fitz’s seemed more attached to you than you do to them.”
Kaylee frowns as Jericho looks at the drive, detailing the make and OS. “That’s … unusual, given the rest of the technology we found in the building. The security systems were right up there. Why … would these drives be a little older?”
The security on the files might be a little more difficult than Jericho expects but nothing the Hacker can’t handle.
As for Kaylee, she colours slightly and looks back to the search that she’s running. Still no hits but it’s about a third of the way through the search. “Uh, he said he’ll have the next set of decryptions tomorrow and … uh … he wants to go out to dinner.” She brushes her hair back from her face, hooking a strand behind her ear. It’s a nervous gesture, she’s uncomfortable and the colour rises a little more as Jericho asks the next question but it also makes her stop and think.
“It is, isn’t it?” she says slowly, looking back to the Hacker. “I know that Fitz and Jemma had a thing for a while, but … I don’t recall anything of it. I mean, I remember being fond of Fitz, he was like my brother really.” She’s slipping back into ‘Jemma speak’ “But I don’t remember, or feel, that it was ever more.” There are Simmonses around, do they feel the same? Or was Kaylee just that much different. “It’s strange that, I suppose.”
“When he gives me the next set of decrypted notes, I’m going to ask him to focus on this period of time and beyond. Maybe he’ll find something quicker.”
Do they? Jericho hasn’t inquired into the personal lives of the LMDs insofar as they have them? Have some of the Fitz’s and Simmonses paired off or otherwise rekindled an old romance? He can only guess. What he finds most pertinent are not the things that makes Kaylee similar to them, but the things that make her different.
The hacker glances up from his work. “You look figety and nervous at the same time. And your blushing.” He points out.
Smirking as he does.
“Hrm… that’s… interesting. Half these files are in French. Give me just a moment…”
There’s another pause and then the hacker quirks a brow. “Ah, interesting. I think we have our first hint of the man behind the curtain. The Chemist who created this nightmare is from across the pond. And what’s more, he’s not with HYDRA. Or EuroMIND. He’s with ULTIMATUM.”
Neither has Kaylee enquired. It hasn’t crossed her mind to do so. But if they have and she’s not driven that way – why? What’s different about her? “Oh well. Being asked out at all is a bit of anaethema, isn’t it? I mean …” she’s still blushing about the invitation and sharing it with Jericho. She means what? She’s just a scientist and her work is her life? Or it was for Jemma. Or does she mean something else?
Jericho’s not likely to find out just yet, as he manages to crack the files and delivers his news. “ULTIMATUM? I feel like I should know that one … ” she frowns “But regardless, a drug from Europe that uses mutant hormone … that’s just bad news. Is there anything there on what it’s supposed to do?”
Because really, right now, it doesn’t make such sense to the biochem.
“The Underground Liberated Totally Integrated Mobile Army To Unite Mankind.” Jericho says unable to keep from rolling his eyes a bit. “An Anti-Nationalist terrorist organization that seeks to revive the UN as mankind’s one true government and abolish nation states, corporations and so on for good. Normally they’re just a European problem. They’ve never gotten much traction in the land of Baseball, Mom and Apple Pie. The fact that one of their chemists worked on this drug is… unusual…”
Jericho pauses, looking at the data as it comes up. “The notes seem to indicate that the drug was a test for something. It doesn’t say what but it does seem to intimate that the test was terminated early or the project deemed not viable and our Chemist here took the research and applied it to… other ends.”
Kaylee frowns at the name and grows introspective, somewhat thankful that Jericho isn’t asking about her … love life. Or Jemma’s. “They weren’t big in Jemma’s time but there were some scattered instances.” She says slowly. “I would think that in this day and age though ULTIMATUM might get more traction. Perhaps not here in America, but in Europe… maybe.”
It is unusual that this chemist worked on the drug but Kaylee isn’t jumping to conclusions. There’s not enough data. “So a disenfranchised chemist who felt their work was going to be trashed? Who are they working for now? I mean, if the project was shut down and another group offered to fund it …” It’s the only thing that makes sense really.
Another glance at her search and the frown deepens. “Found something.” There’s some silence, much like Jericho’s, as she taps at the console. “These … are requistion orders …”
“Maybe this is their way of funding things. The profits off these drug sales must be insane. After all, they’re selling it as THE CURE and a way to get back at THE MAN all in one.”
The news that Kaylee has found something now has Jericho walking over to look. “Orders mmm? Can you tell of what? Or from where?” Beat. “Or to whom?” There are lots of things such orders can tell them. Hopefully the combination of clues here will give them something actionable.
“Not sure.” Kaylee glances at Jericho, nodding at his explanation. Splitting her attention between his information and what’s just been presented on her screen. “Let me run this through the decryption that Cullen’s already given me. It might not work … ” And it mightn’t – they’d already identified the algorithm used varied but this time they get lucky.
“It’s research equipment from SciTech.” Jericho can see that as the decrypted order is displayed on the screen. The ‘delivery address’ is probably something that resonates with him more than Kaylee. Just one word.
The word makes Jericho swallow. He’s only been to Limbo a handful of times and they haven’t been pleasant experiences in the main. He knows the place is dangerous better than most who don’t make a permanent home there.
“Limbo. That explains some things and raises entirely new and uncomfortable questions like ‘how did they get to Limbo decades before the Arks had been discovered’?”
The one question it might answer relates to ‘hordes’. But Jericho hasn’t seen those hordes. He can’t make that connection. Not yet.
“SHIELD, and perhaps others, had a station in Limbo. That’s…” News. The hacker isn’t sure what kind of news it is but it probably isn’t //good// news.
“And Jemma was involved in it. Somehow.”
“Limbo …” That has Kaylee frowning “That’s the place that Anastasia mentioned… where is it?” She really hasn’t caught what the place is, but she shivers. There’s a memory associated with the name, it’s not pleasant, but it’s deeply buried and for a moment, Jericho might see a green light flicker in the LMD’s eyes.
It might have been his imagination though.
“So it seems and someone went to a lot of trouble to hide it.” she says rather redundantly. “Hide it, I might add. Not delete it. Why?”
“She was. I’ll get Cullen working on the rest of the journal. It must tell us something.” She sighs. They’ve answered some of the questions but created more. This is something that Kaylee is used to but it’s frustrating and it touches on her … current problems.
“What do we do about the ULTIMATUM scientist?” Having something else to focus on might stop her going mad.
“Find him, shut him down. Find out if anyone in Europe is connected to this in ways that need following up on.” Jericho’s plan is rather simple if ALSO easier said than done. That’s true of many plans, sadly. This one is fairly general as such things go. Not a whole lot of detail in it. The how is yet to be worked out.
The what, though? Jericho never had any question about that.
“Find out if anything can be done to treat the people who have already used it, hopefully. We don’t need to be writing any more people off. There’ll be few enough of us soon enough as is.” Us. Well, him. Kaylee could outlast the human race, potentially.
It’s something at least and gives them a place to start.
Kaylee shuts the windows on the holodisplay one by one. When there’s nothing left, the display is dismissed with a wave of her hand.
That Jericho hasn’t answered her question about Limbo might be bad. She saw his response to the name.
“We’ll need the chemist alive if you want to find out if there’s anything to be done. Right now, I haven’t been been able to do much more than stabilise them. They’ll survive, but many of them are broken.”
Rubbing the bridge of her nose, she stares where the screen had been. Limbo. What did it mean to her. “How much longer do you need here?”
“A couple of hours. I won’t crowd you for too much longer.” There may be more they can get here but it’s going to need the usual coalation and analysis. Jericho can do a lot of that remotely… but he’s got to get the data off the drives first.
“Soon as I get the last one plugged in I’m going to get a tuna melt. Want anything?”
“Take as long as you need…” Kaylee says vaguely, looking at Jerico and then back to where the screen was. “You’re not crowding me.”
She’s quiet for a long while and then turns to grab her jacket and heads out the door. “I uh… need to get some fresh air. I’ll be back … later. Enjoy the tuna melt.”
Kaylee prods at her missing memories and the encrypted journal - and neither she nor Jericho like the answers they find.
February 13, 2051