Dress/Code

August 09, 2014:

Nancy gets spruced up for a meeting at Stark Industries, Mike and Jericho talk code. Sort of.

Bobby's Flat

An inexpensive flat in M-Town

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

Nancy is trying not to panic. Showered? Check. Dressed in a suitable fashion to meeting someone super important? She looks down at herself. She's wearing her orchestral outfit, long black skirt and white blouse, with her hair tied back and her make-up downright subtle. Check. Paperwork? Check. She's currently double-checking the paperwork now.

*

It's relatively early in the morning, and Bobby Drake has apparently had to leave early … Mike left a helicopter-wasp in his apartment a few weeks earlier, and it notifies the mutant robot that someone is moving around in Bobby's place. It informs him, flipping between "suppressed robot report mode" and mutant full-telepresence mode as his connection is intermittently blanked, that Nancy is preparing to go to some sort of interview, and she has not eaten.

He has food for normal humans. Fresh Italian sausage, lightly scrambled eggs, buckwheat pancakes (two) with maple syrup. A veritable Martha Stewardship Drive breakfast - well, his Mom's a priest, and he had to fix breakfast for the vestry and the stewardship committee once or twice a year, and this was the one that worked best. Fast, fairly light, but digestible. Oh yeah, and some orange juice, pulp filtered for ease of drinking, and coffee.

<tap tap tap>

"This is your emergency breakfast service robot providing you with the don't-you-dare-go-to-McDonalds emergency food-before-you-go-out service," Mike's semi-artificial sounding voice comes from the door to the apartment.

*

Nancy looks up at the door and hears the knock and smirks. Breakfast? Who has time? Who could eat when this nervous? Still, Mike is a sweety and she opens the door.

"Come on in, you. Just getting my presentation ready for the people at Stark Enterprises. I got an appointment for an application for the Martha Stark Foundation. I haven't been this nervous since my audition to Juilliard." She starts to pace, trying to remember where she was. The visit, though appreciated, has derailed her train of thought.

*

"Appointment for an application for? That's remarkably indirect. I'll drive you there, so you don't have to worry about that," Mike says, placing the breakfast service on the small kitchen table. Fortunately Ice Nerd is not Ice Slob, or he'd be forced to drag out a flamethrower and make repairs, and that would make Nancy nervous and possibly late. He produces a large linen bib as well - yes, his Mom's a priest, and she's had to be forced to eat breakfast while in her liturgical garb, so he has such a thing available. Because it was shipped out with his stuff.

"So what are you presenting?"

*

Nancy shakes her head. "No… I applied yesterday. I just got the call this morning. They want to meet me. I didn't think it would happen so fast! I mean, I only put the application in yesterday!" She paces some more, trying to encourage herself to breath.

"It's a request for the money to allow the farm be bought off from the X-Men. Of course, I'm not wording it like that. I don't want to reveal them, even if Tony Stark *is* Iron Man. You don't out your friends. Even if they are ass hats."

*

"I see," Mike replies. "That's helpful, but realize that they may not be willing to sell. It might not even be possible, if this 'school' is set up with funding sources from trusts and so forth. They might not be permitted to do so. But in such a case, you could probably use the money to buy a different place out of their reach."

He pulls out the chair. "Sit. Eat. Breathe. You will do fine. We will make sure of that."

*

Nancy sits. No, she's not zombie Nan. This is too important for her to not be keeping up her sugar intake. Her coffee has her usual dosage of sugar, after all. "Yes, I've thought of that and that is the secondary plan." She starts to gather up all the paperwork and puts it in the leather bound folder. "My hands are sweating. I don't think I could hold a bow now if I wanted to." She looks over at her cello, wondering if she should play something to try and calm herself.

She stands up and starts to pace again. "What am I thinking?! I'm only 21! I can't do this! I have no experience in treating physically and mentally abused people! Hank and Kurt were right. I'm being an idiot!" She turns to Mike, her eyes wide. "What was I thinking?! I'm going to Stark Towers today and asking for more money then I have ever seen, for a venture that they are going to laugh at!"

*

"So you're basically applying for a grant," Mike says. "They must've thought your initial proposal was worthwhile to give you this quick a response. So… you have your need, your timeline, your expected cost, and your expected results, and contingencies. You also need to include the resources you're bringing in to assist in the things you haven't had time to learn by yourself. And, by the way… You're wrong about not having experience treating physically and mentally abused people. You have your mother, for whom you have been the effective caregiver most of your life. You have yourself. You have the advantage that you are speaking on behalf of these people as one of them, rather than as an outsider trying to decide what's best for them."

Mike sighs, and hands Nancy the orange juice.

"DRINK," he orders.

*

Nan doesn't argue but just drinks the orange juice. She sits down again, trying to focus on staying calm. She was the same way when she auditioned for Juilliard.

"I have the assistance of Dr. diLucci, from the Avenue C Clinic. I have Gus Forsythe, one of the parents of the Nutates. He used to be a school principal, so he's very used to dealing with large groups like this. I… After I finish my degree for the cello, I am planning on going back to school to learn to be a therapist. I love music, but I don't need to be paid for it to do it. I could have a career that helps people and my music being for me. My center. My joy."

*

"Eat something. It'll calm you," Mike says. Or that's what his Mom always told him. He sets up a presentation page - the guy's not just a computer, he also contains a computer in emulation, and it's got the usual software. He talks quietly, as he enters the information.

"Proposal is a grant request to underwrite the purchase of a farm for the rehabilitation of a group of victims of human trafficking, who are also victims of unethical genetic experimentation across two generations, intended to create enslaved weapons for use by a terrorist subversive organization against legitimate governments world-wide. Page two - Who are they. Page three - where are they - Page four - What is the need. Subheading level one - Rescued from forced incarceration and indoctrination; sub level one - The Farm, currently property of $organization, loaned for refuge without strings; sub level one - $organization is now attempting to coercively sieze control of victims without actual examination of needs. Mainheading level - Funding to purchase property to forestall siezure, or to purchase alternate property; funding to pay for additional medical and social workers to assist in the treatment, recovery, and re-integration of victims as productive, self-actualized, and self-sufficient members of society."

*

Nancy watches as Mike starts doing her presentation. She puts food in her mouth, stunned.

"This is way better then what I have. It sounds more professional. Smarter." As she listens, she eats and it is indeed calming her down. She smiles and shakes her head.

"You never cease to amaze me, Mike."

*

"I've done grant work before. It's pretty much saying what you want and showing how it matches to what they want."

He pulls out a wasp and turns it into a holo-emitter so Nancy can see what he's got.

"We can go into more or less details on page two and three, depending on what you can reveal about them without violating privacy and their permissions. The Where Are They, that's where we describe the Farm and what the facilities there are," and at this point, Mike says, "You should dictate what you want and I'll just enter it. I can also lock this so I won't remember any details you consider private."

*

"Well, we have two houses and a barn and about 20 acres of land. The properties do need repairs, as we are using the work involved in upkeep and upgrades as a form of therapy. Ummm… " Nancy takes a moment to think about what else to say.

"There a total of 14 mutates and 18 family members. Four of those family members are actually to mutates that have not yet been located, which we are trying to do with the research that Hydra had on them. Ummm…. We are hoping, once the farm is a bit more repaired, to use some of the property for growing crops to assist to feed those that live at the farm and then use the rest of the land for a nursery, to help with the finances. As the mutates and their families heal, we would allow spaces for people that need a setting like that to heal for themselves."

Nancy takes a deep breath. "Does that all make sense?"

*

"You said last night what happened, so I'm going to enter that into page two, along with the rough information on who has been recovered. I think you're going to want a confidentiality agreement here as well, because this might get used by Stark Foundation publicists and that would be bad," Mike observes.

He starts entering the data at speed: Who they are - Hydra-front corporation Polyglobal experimental program (references to dates and published information so they can check, as hyperlinks) performed unethical genetic manipulation on twenty known women, using a substance that caused heritable changes to genetic code, then arranged for the women to become pregnant. Paid for medical care and for upkeep, continuing. All subjects became paranoid-schizophrenic and exhibited strong alcohol cravings, most committed suicide within ten to fifteen years.

Offspring developed active X-Gene with specific low-visibility subtle powers, each one different. Known examples: probability manipulation, contact telepathy, and verbal charisma that overrides even alert and wary opponents; all powers were shaped and weaponized by Hydra, ensuring that they were, where possible, harmful for the subject or their loved ones. Further, family and loved ones were kidnapped and used as leverage to force compliance with Hydra training as subjects were confined to Hydra facility and conditioned. Continued abuse over at least five years for many of the subjects.

Other residents - the family and friends who were used as leverage. Of these, some are leverage for mutants who have not been recovered and who may still need to be rescued.

Mike enters the information about the farm, and about possible future use as a general refuge for victims of human trafficking who need safe space to recover and to regain self-confidence, in the event that they have no better safety net available.

*

Nancy sits at the table as she and Mike go over her presentation. He's forcing her to eat breakfast, so she has to sit down and stay calm. Nancy has cleaned up, no sign of her goth self showing other than the black hair. She's in her orchestral duds, long black skirt and a white blouse. Her hair is tied back and her make-up is minimal. Mike is standing, going over details with her that she might have missed.

*

Mike looks at page two of the presentation and glares at it. He re-factors part of it out into separate headers and makes it more bullet-pointy, but the tale of how PolyGlobal destroyed the lives of twenty women and weaponized their children is simply not something that can cleanly be bullet-pointed. So he turns it into a multimedia link instead, with 'representative artists images to protect the privacy of the victims.'

THEN he starts putting in the information about the farm.

"You know, I'm not convinced that either of the two you've named is competent or qualified to be it, but I think you're going to need to find trauma specialists fast. It's fairly easy to create an unhealthy dependency."

*

There's a knock at the door. Jericho had been in the area, actually on the way to drop by the Avenue C Clinic and talk to Angelo about this entire mess. So happens that his route took him by the location Nancy calls him from a lot these days. It was something of a whim, but he decided to take a detour and see how Nan is holding up. Protective Brother Wolf is protective, yes. In any case, the mutant inhabitants of this part of town aren't generally unfriendly so he didn't have any trouble getting up to the third floor.

It's still morning anyway, right? Not like he has an appointment with the good doctor.

*

Nancy nods her head. "Confidentiality agreement. Really good idea. I didn't even think of that." She grabs her coffee, preferring that and some toast to 'real' food. "Yeah, this is sounding *way* better then what I have." She looks over at the folder she has and sighs. "I don't know how I can thank you enough for this, Mike."

She nods her head. "I'm sure that Dr. diLucci will be able to get us in touch with specialists. Actually, we have specialists at the farm already. And I'm not saying they aren't good at their job. That's not the point though. It's that all control has been taken out of our hands."

*

"Right. I need to fix that… Hm."

A wasp peers through the peep-hole in the door.

"I think that's the guy in the glowing force-field armor from the thing. Should I let him in?" the robot asks. He changes the annotation on Page Four, "What is the Need" to state that $organization is now restricting caregiver access and asserting control over the victims in violation of the terms of their initial offer of refuge. Further, most of the caregivers are also victims, and in need of their own counseling and treatment.

The wasp opens the door for the not-quite-stranger.

*

And the door is opened by… um… no one. So that's new. Jericho peers inside. "Hello?" Not often that doors just open themselves. But this is friendly ground. He thinks. The hacker steps inside to see the occupants at the table eating. "Ah. Hello folks. Am I interrupting something?"

*

Mike isn't eating, he's got a wasp projecting a holographic spreadsheet, or more precisely, presentation, describing the farm. Nancy is eating, but only toast and coffee, having finished her OJ. Mike nods towards the two buckwheat pancakes, fresh Italian sausage, and scrambled eggs which are being neglected.

"Want some breakfast?" he asks. "I'm helping Nancy sharpen up a grant proposal."

*

That makes Jericho grin. "Mike, right? Or am I confusing you with another one of Nancy's friends." He's only seen Mike the one time and he didn't look like he currently does. Sounds familiar though. In fact his voice recognition routine seems to think that this is the guy.

"Grant proposal? Excellent. May I ask who you guys are approaching." That familiar odd hum-buzz from Jericho's traces may well be tingling on Mike's senses. Oh, and the man's eyes. There's definitely more amber than there used to be.

*

"Yes, Mike. AKA Z-Mech. That's up to Nancy," he says, although Ms. O'Neal seems to have excused herself for a quick 'freshen up'.

Meanwhile, as he tidies up and fills in more of what Nancy told him, Mike looks at Jericho who he can now perceive with his elemental metal and technology senses without having to pretend not to because more important skatta are about to hit the propeller.

«Hello, there,» he says to the cyber. «You're looking at me, aren't you?» Of course if he'd said this out loud it might be disturbing. Depending on how the cyber reacts, it might be more disturbing.

*

"Sure, we'll just wait for her to come out from the b- um… hang on a sec…" Jericho frowns as his HUD goes a little crazy. Mike is immediately targeted as his Cyber Warfare suite logs incoming messages - rather incomprehensible ones - and pulses out a microburst reply.

«We are.» It's not a… sentient reply. Per se. Well it is to Mike because he can talk to machines and Jericho's are more awake than most. «State your designation and function» There's more burst code that's in demonic, though Mike's unlikely to be able to read it.

*

"I'm just chatting with your noisier half," Mike says. «Z-Mike. Technomancer. Repair, upgrade, and recycling.» Mike frowns at the debased Enochian. Although he can't actually read it, he certainly recognizes it, as the son of a priest and a former priest, and he says, "You have been letting your cyberware incorporate … things that are likely to cause you or others long-term harm. Are you in charge, or is it in charge? Or did you incorporate the demonware deliberately?"

Sentient and Mike and technology … well. If it isn't at the moment, it will be for a while after he talks with it, and then it'll probably stop being so, unless he gives it specific orders and it agrees to follow them.

*

Jericho watches as his traffic indicators light up again. He folds his arms and eyes Mike. How is it that every third person he meets can sense this. "It's just kind of doing it. There's something about the physical - er metaphysical? - properties of the traces themselves that draw in mag- how on earth did you know about that anyway?"

«We are Digital Adaptive Warfare Suite number six. We are optimized for defense, combat and network manipulation. Stage Three integration with meatware»

*

"Mutant Technomancer, of course," Mike answers, "I'm also a robot, so it's sort of my specialty. Hm. Stage three integration with meatware. I wonder what that's supposed to mean."

«Request: Describe integration levels.»

*

"Huh?" It's somewhat odd for Mike to be having a conversation with his implants. Not, like, interfacing with them, and via them, ultimately him. No. Talking to them as if they were a separate person. Which… if they are, is kind of a frightening thought.

«Request received. Processing. Integration Level One: Primary implantation and Trace network growth. Integration Level Two: Trace network integration with peripheral nervous systems. Optimization for primary combat functions. Addendum: This meatware has been implanted with network-centric warfare functionality. Networked linked during Level Two. Level Three Integration: Merging of trace network, sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Autonomic functions isolated. Level Four Integration: Theoretical. Attempted extension of trace network into cognitive processing centers for full optimization of meatware-metalware-manaware functions. Level Five Integration: Hypothetical. Extension of metaware and manaware capabilities in line with programmed combat and survival functions. Further data classified.»

*

"Well. That's very interesting. Your warfare system has been integrating itself into your body. Would you like to know what it can do? Or what it's trying to do?"

Mike has stopped working on the presentation, because it's finished to the extent he can finish it without help from Nancy, and he's saving it for later.

But the real reason is that he's very interested in this system. He's now imaging it and how it interfaces with Jericho's human organs, and comparing that with how his personal mecha-parts were integrating into his own body, for so many years, and it's disturbing him.

*

It's a triumph of cybernetic engineering, that's for sure. The implants themselves are tiny. Little nodes about the size of a quarter placed in about a dozen locations. These have spun, slowly, throughout his body a network of fine metallic traces of which the ones visible under his skin are just the beginning. Some of the metals involved are extremely rare. And the interactions with his body are… complicated at best.

"It's supposed to have stopped doing that a couple months after the implantation surgery. What is it telling you?"

*

«What was your last programmed checkpoint?» Mike asks the cyber. He looks up at Jericho. "Finding that out now. It's reached level three integration, which is to say, it's merged the trace network, the sympathetic, and parasympathetic networks. It's now integrated completely with your nervous system. It does not override autonomic functions but if I translate that concept from mech to English correctly … you're now completely dependent on the cyber-system for your nervous system. Which means, do not try to remove it."

*

Coming out of the bathroom, Nancy has calmed down. She actually took the time to go through her favorite concerto in her head, the fingering, the bowing. She hears the conversation and frowns a touch.

"I guess that means that Illyana gets to keep her favorite disco ball," she says sadly. Jericho is like her, an experiment. A weapon. Maybe that's why she likes him so much.

*

The hacker rubs his temples. "I was afraid that might be the case." Damn. Looks like he is going to be stuck with this after all.

«Programmed checkpoints in suspension due to malware infiltration.» The cybernetics reply. «Uploading status report.» Another flash feed of demonic comes to Mike. Yay. It's decided to use that as a programming language.

"So Nan… what'cha up to? Grant proposal, I hear?"

*

"Oh for ffffuurrrrrxxxx. Yeah." Mike has terrible bedside manner? "Jericho, your system was hit hard with malware. That's part of why it's still invasive. I can work on that, but it's using Debased Enochian as a programming language, and I neither know how to read that nor do I want to learn how. I'll see if maybe another guy I know who is good with languages wants to risk it, but for now," the robot shrugs, "It's working on fully integrating into your brain, into the higher reasoning centers. At which point it expects to access meatware/metalware/manaware functions. You better start thinking 'design review' pretty soon."

He shows Nancy where they are on the presentation - basically, she needs some names. He's added a nondisclosure agreement and encryption tool, and provides these to Nan on a keyfob. He also offers her a small tablet that resembles a StarkPad, for reviewing it.

"So, when you're ready, I'll take you to your appointment."

*

Nancy goes over to give her big brother wolf a hug. She used to think people sucked. Now she has a few in her life that she likes and… well? This whole liking people thing is kinda nice. Maybe partly because she's come to find that she seems to be more likable as she likes more people. Sort of a weird friendship spiral thing.

She nods her head. "Heading to the Stark Tower. I only put in the application yesterday and I already have an appointment. I didn't think it would go nearly so fast. I thought I would have more time to set up my presentation."

Mike's comments about Jer makes her bite at her lower lip with worry. "How can we fix it?" she asks.

*

"Good question…" Jericho sighs. "Yeah, I knew about the virus. I've tried to get rid of it but it's a hell of a bug. It's almost like it's alive in some ways. It adapts it's code to combat attempts to flush it out and it was written by someone a bit smarter than me." Which in the code world is saying something. The number of hackers on his level or better probably wouldn't fill a decent sized classroom. "So it's using demonic as a coding language now?" Ay ya. Good thing he's slowly learning it.

"Stark Tower? Appointment with whom?" He may change his plans. "I've met Pepper Potts a few times. She likes me, I think. Might I be of help?"

*

Mike starts to answer that it's not something 'broken' that can be 'fixed' but then he learns that the virus is still there.

"Fix? Probably not. But I can maybe do something with the viral code. It may be that the cyber is using debased Enochian as a defense, rather than the virus…"

«Hey, DAWS. Are you using the <symbol> language for security reasons or is it part of the malware intrusion?»

Nice to be able to just ask, huh?

*

"I'm not one hundred percent sure who I'm talking to. I just got the call this morning saying they would like to review my application and meet me in person." But right now she is more concerned about Jericho and this virus/malware thing he's got going on with him.

*

«ManaCode adopted upon exposure to manaware functions for superior data density, mana-storage interface and defense against hostile malware» The implants respond.

"Well, maybe I should come anyway. Er, that is, if you want me to come. If you don't, I understand, I'm sure you can handle it."

Ugh. Having someone have a conversation with machines implanted into his body is starting to creep him out just a little. It's not Mike, it's just the whole concept. "I've been living with it since you've known me Nan. It hasn't killed me yet."

*

Nodding her head, Nancy is looking at Mike as he talks to Jericho's traces. She keeps herself at a distance so she doesn't go and mess things up. "Umm… yeah. Coming with would be great. That way I don't look like a kid asking for a handout. They might take me more seriously with a 'real adult' there." She looks up to Jericho, her eyes meeting his. "Yeah, but you have a virus now, and malware and it speaks in demon. I can't help it if I'm worried."

*

"Yep," Mike says brightly. "It says it started learning ManaCode when it was exposed to Mana, and that it's using it for defense against hostile malware."

He looks over at Nancy. "You … didn't confirm who your meeting is with. I may do more than just drive you there. And Jeri, if you know Ms. Potts, it might be good to ask her to verify that meeting."

Hydra's everywhere, man, Hydra's everywhere, man, it's in the deserts bare, man, infests the mountain air, man, it's traveling every fairway, man, Hydra's everywhere…

*

"ManaCode, cute." Jericho shakes his head. "I'll give Pepper a call now." God only knows why Pepper likes Jericho, but there you go. "In fact I'll do it on the way. We can talk a bit more about what the hell my traces told you. Then after this I need to swing back and see a doctor about his patients." If Angelo hasn't heard already… he's going to be so upset…

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