A Purloined Corpse

January 27, 2017:

Red Robin and Jessica Jones brainstorm and compare notes, which leads them to undertake a heist and weird science in the wee hours of the morning. The result? A way around Hydra's mind control kill switches.

Characters

NPCs: Some Hydra Goons

Mentions: Zatanna Zatara, Batman, John Constantine, Captain America, Matt Murdock, The Winter Soldier, Jane Foster

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Jessica had called and asked if Red had a little time for her. She'd offered to take the train out to Gotham, but in truth she sounded…relieved…when he'd said he could get to NYC easier. There are a suddenly a lot of responsibilities for her in NYC, and going so far away held little appeal for her.

She figures he sounds way too upstanding to drink, so she has some bottled waters and a couple of Sal's sandwiches for him. Hopefully he's not a vegetarian because they're both roast beef and horseradish; the deli owner is finally back to work and mostly mystified about his 'episode.' She just figured it seemed polite. There's a little table. And folding lawn chairs, on the roof.

Probably not the most classy place he's ever had a meeting, but it has a pretty good view of the river and the night is cold but clear. Here and there a star defies light pollution to shove its way through the pervasive darkness, demanding to be seen.

The young man who refused to remove his cowl even when they'd been eating in Constantine's apartment had indeed refused even the suggestion of a drink; even after everything they'd seen and experienced during that strange night on which they'd saved Zatanna's soul, he hadn't imbibed.

Of course, he hadn't explained why he was teetotal. That it was one of the key pillars of discipline he'd learned from the Batman, the importance of maintaining as much control of one's own faculties as possible at any time. There were social situations where it would be expected to drink, of course… Where it would look strange in civilian garb for a rich and socially active young man to not drink at all. And that's why Wayne Manor is always well-stocked with ginger ale.

"Miss Jones," says a spot of shadow on the rooftop, a confident, self-assured voice blurred by a familiar touch of electronic modulation, before that shadow detaches from the rest, the caped and cowled figure of Red Robin straightening up. "Sorry, if I kept you waiting long."

He had to make the dramatic entrance, obviously.

It's in the contract.

Which is why she suggested meeting outside, on the roof, where he could do it without kind of invading her safe space.

Plus she really didn't want him to see the apartment.

She gestures to the other chair. "Hey Red. Thanks for coming out here. Those are for you, if you want them. If you don't eat in the suit you can always take them home, cause the sandwich is good." She drinks some of the water herself.

Of course, he might not be able to just lounge in a lounge chair either; that might also be in the contract. So she digs under her chair and brings out two file folders with Tasha and Karl's driver's licenses clipped to them. "I did all the digging I could do without physically visiting their homes. Complete TOL sweep, an Accurant for known associates, credit reports, a summary of their online footprints. I thought I'd pass it to you so you could do your data mines. Maybe if we collect enough of these there's a way to put together a predictive pattern of who might get drawn into Hydra's web. If I had any ability to pull deep financial information without losing my license," or calling in favors she no longer has to call in because she burned them already, "I'd say it would be interesting to go over bank statements and credit card data to see if some patterns could be isolated that might point to areas where Hydra facilities or operations might be located…if they got gas at the same places or regularly had lunch somewhere or another and it wasn't near the hospital operation. I can't decide if this is all deeply useful or if it is just busy work undertaken to make myself feel better, but…I figure it's past reached the point where I can do anything with it, whereas you and your Computer-fu might be able to."

"You've seen me eat in the suit," Red Robin mutters to himself, though he supposes it wasn't really the thing that would stick out in Jessica's memory, after that night. Zatanna had made /sure/ that he ate, in fact, absolutely refusing to return the cape he'd used as a pillow for her until he'd eaten to her satisfaction.

'I have others,' he'd reminded the gothic magician, exasperated.

She'd just smiled at him, with that infuriating certainty that he'd do what she wanted.

But he moves closer, his head tilting slightly to one side as Jessica produces those file folders, and even in the dark he can see the pictures, recognising them immediately. The cowl hides any reaction on his face quite effectively, especially with those featureless white lenses over his eyes. He had, in fact, not gone out of his way to investigate anything about the two dead HYDRA techs himself. He wasn't sure if he was more concerned about discovering that they were willingly part of that organisation, or if they were useful sorts brainwashed into being good little workers.

Which would be worse?

"You never know," he says, on the usefulness of Jessica's work. "An organisation as vast and secretive as that can't cover every loose end. And if we can find one, we just need to start pulling."

Red Robin does, in fact, pick up one of the sandwiches, because it was a bit of a trip getting to New York, and then of course he had to swing halfway across the city, didn't he? He has his store of energy and protein bars, of course, but sometimes you just need a sandwich.

"I'll see what I can turn up, in any case."

"Yeah, so I did. Sorry, Red. I was kind of lost in my own head for all of that." She remembered joking, almost uncharacteristically, complimenting the food, almost a little too much, and clutching that necklace till her hand hurt; she remembered thinking about nothing at all, she remembered feeling nothing but relief to see Zee looking exactly right again.

"I keep thinking about those chips," she admits, staring out at the river. "The kill switches. I mean what would it take to keep them from activating them? A signal jammer of some sort? Would that do it? At least until they could be removed?"

She's aware, on some level, that her concern about James Barnes might seem a little…overly concerned…to everyone in their team, knowing as she did that his were the hands that had hurt Zatanna in the first place. But…there's knowing.

And there's knowing.

So she doggedly continues to have no mixed feelings at all about saving them.

She gives him a faint smile. "I figure if anyone could figure it out you could."

"It would depend on how they're activated," Red Robin says after chewing and swallowing a mouthful of sandwich. He doesn't sit, though, which is probably not all that surprising; it had taken more cajoling from Zatanna to get him to sit that night after the hospital, too, as though even relaxing that much were somehow a deep betrayal of whatever code the masked vigilantes of Gotham City operated by.

Though if they ever met Nightwing, they'd probably realise that it wasn't. Red Robin is just… Peculiar.

"It's also possible that they might have a failsafe that causes them to trigger if they're jammed. Like a deadman switch, though it would have to be something that checked in periodically, in that case. Otherwise there'd be a lot of stories about people's heads exploding on the subway." It's the sort of ridiculous thing to say that might be a joke under other circumstances. When he says it, it's not a joke. It's a legitimate concern.

The young man in the cowl remains silent as Jessica smiles at him, as she admits that she thought that if anyone could figure it out, it would be him. He isn't sure what to say to that, because without getting his hands on one of those implants - and he'd subjected himself to a CAT scan and a few other examinations after returning to Gotham, to make sure /he/ hadn't been implanted with anything - anything he comes up with will be at least partially guesswork and wishes.

But, if you wait to have every piece of information, you'll never act, and people will die for your inaction. So, maybe…

"I should apologise," Red Robin says, seemingly apropos of nothing. "I saw what happened, while you and Constantine were in those 'utopias.'" He'd named it hell rather than heaven, because of he inevitable torment that would come with knowing it wasn't real, but that doesn't mean he didn't wonder what it would've been like, if he'd been in their place. "I understand what it's like… A little," the young man amends; everyone's pain is different, is theirs alone. "I lost my family, too."

He knows that isn't everything there is to the story of Jessica Jones, because he is after all a detective, and generally an excellent read of other people. He knows that there's something else, but he can't figure out what it is, like a dark and terrible shadow. He can see the gravity of it, see where it blots out other things, but he can't see it.

"But you're worried about Barnes and Foster. About the chips they've probably been implanted with." The audio file about them was suggestive, after all. "I can try blocking it, but if I'm wrong it could kill them."

"Why would you apologize? That's how it was set up. It wasn't like you shoved me and John into utopia holes to see what would happen," Jessica asks, though she clutches the water bottle tight, making indentations in the plastic, until she slowly forces herself to let go. It's only when he says that he lost his family too that she relaxes a little bit. It's an opportunity to ask, to share, to forge a human connection. But he moves on to business, and after a moment she has to ask herself if the both of them giving details would have been a great thing to do. He had an identity to protect, and she still respected that.

It also spares her from poking at the complicated mix of emotions she feels at knowing someone else, someone so inscrutable, got a big raw window both into all the things she wanted deep down. And he didn't even know that she'd killed them.

One careless act. Throwing a Gameboy. Somehow she got rewarded, they got punished.

Careless acts. The Tarnhelm.

Murdock.

Was it really as John said, rear-ended cars and friends hit at crosswalks a month later? How much of it was her responsibility and how much just…her being the instrument of some sort of terrible chance?

She can't. She can't poke at this. Not when there's work to do. But the smaller shadows certainly dance with the greater, more terrible one for a moment. A sensation: too-tight skin, too-small lungs, too-tight throat, all threatening to drag her down.

"We need to find someone who might have that chip," is what she says instead. She drums her fingers against her knee. A conclusion she wished she'd come to when Hydra's soldiers took over the Milano; she could have at least taken a body.

But now her mind is working, working, and she reaches a conclusion. "I might have an idea," she says. "I want to ask you one terribly stupid favor, and then…I can let you into my apartment because the embarrassing part will be over, and maybe we can tug that thread. Because…I think I know how we might get one, one of those chips, if we get very, very lucky. I think we could have a shot at getting one tonight, and if we're careful and quiet about it…maybe you'll get a chance to examine it. Even if we have to break into some MRI room at Metro-General to do it. But…first the stupid request."

"It's uh. Really stupid. Well. No. The request isn't stupid. But…I was stupid."

She apparently feels she has to brace him for this.

Perhaps that's exactly why Red Robin moved on to business; he had an identity to protect indeed, and there was something powerful and even important about the mystique that came with the cape and the cowl, the secrets. He could do things that other people couldn't because he wasn't a person, he was a mystery shaped like a man. And thus with no superhuman powers, with no mystical knowledge or eldritch talents, he acted where others would and could not.

It would be harder, if too many others looked at Red Robin they way they would anyone else. Even allies. It was bad enough that Zatanna knew what was behind that cowl, but he was still certain he'd made the right choice there. Despite everything else, he was sure that it had been the only way forward that would've kept her trusting him enough to bring him along on the mission. And what would've happened, if he hadn't been there?

Would Zatanna have died? Would Constantine and Jessica still be trapped in their personal hells?

"A corpse with a still functioning one would be preferable," Red Robin says, knowing that while he has a rule against killing, there are others who very much do not… Particularly those SHIELD agents, who might well have eschewed non-lethal takedowns when their enemies started shooting at them with the weaponised energy of a human soul. "Tampering with it might set it off, and I'd rather not kill anyone."

In a way, that's a lie, as a thought is quick to remind him.

He still wants to kill the people who were responsible for hurting Zatanna, even knowing that it would violate everything he stands for, everything he has ever stood for. It's something he hasn't felt in years, not since his father was killed.

His head tilts, though, when Jessica asks him for a 'stupid favour,' a birdlike gesture in keeping with his codename and motif.

"Uh." Red Robin says, making clear his confusion at the way Jessica is behaving. "Okay, what's… This request?"

She's not sure if she can swing dead. There's a chance. There's a maybe. But…she pushes that aside for a moment, switching to the second of her two plans with his preferences in mind.

But it's still possible.

She exhales. "Well. It…really only matters if you can speak Spanish like you do German." She puts the water bottle down and stands, shoving her hands in the pockets of her hoodie and walking to the edge of the roof, leaning on the safety railing.

How the hell can she explain this?

"I'm an alcoholic," is her opening salvo.

"I don't have a drinking problem. I can't stop whenever I want. I am a bonafide alcoholic. And I'm really fucked in the head too."

This is the first time, other than telling Zee, so very offhandedly, that she was thinking of going to AA, that she has ever said those words aloud.

"When I thought Zee was going to die, I got very drunk. Like…a grocery basket full of booze drunk. I trashed the shit out of my apartment. I got a 7-day notice to vacate from my landlady, Mrs. Alvirez."

She reaches back, pulls her hair into a tight, temporary tail. This isn't fun to talk about, but…"Here's the thing. I've made some money. I know how to fudge a rental history. I could right now take that money, plunk down deposit and first month's on another place, and leave her with the mess before that eviction ever hit a public record that could slow me down. I could do that. This isn't about fixing my mistake in that way. If it were just about me getting my apartment back, I'd never ask."

"But…I just keep thinking, then she'd be stuck with the clean-up bill long before she could rent the apartment out, which means she'd lose all my rent too. I'm late a lot, but I do pay. And I keep thinking…" Well. He saw, right? How much more embarrassing can her hero worship be?

"Cap wouldn't do that. He'd face his mistakes, and he'd fix it. But she barely speaks English, and my Spanish is terrible. I want to humbly apologize, and tell her that I'd like to stay and fix the apartment myself, out of pocket, and keep living there if she'll have me. I suppose I could also run off and get a new place and try to pay her back, but the way my finances go if I have to pay for a new place too I don't think I'll ever scrape together what it will take to make the repairs. This way I can pay up my rent and use the rest to put in a new bathroom sink—that was the worst bit, the bathroom sink. The paint and stuff can happen later."

"Anyway, if you speak Spanish…I thought maybe you could translate? I mean I know it's a little weird cause you'll be in costume, I'm not sure how that might impact things for better or worse, but…you're the only one I know other than Zatanna that might be able to do it. And…I know her.If she knows how bad off I am she'll try to write me a check/ And I don't /want/ her money. I took my deposit when she was just another case, but…we're friends now. And doing what I do is the only way I know how to be a friend to anybody. Which means I can't let her give me another cent."

'I'm an alcoholic,' Jessica admits; it's a way of coming out swinging in a conversation like this, he supposes, highlighting her own flaws rather than trying to minimise them. That's admirable in its own way… Most addicts Red Robin has encountered tend to deflect from their situation. That the PI has the self-awareness to face up to it, well… Don't they say that admitting you have a problem is the first step towards finding a solution? She even has a choice comment to make about her own emotional and psychological state, which causes the young man to look down at himself briefly, then back towards Jessica.

"Have you seen how I dress?" he wonders; the cape, the cowl, the armored costume with its utility belt and bandoliers. A person doesn't dress up like that and go around punching muggers and serial killers because they're psychologically stable. Of course, there are different degrees.

But aside from that self-deprecating interjection, the masked young man listens to what Jessica has to say, having figured her for the sort of person for whom these conversations didn't come easily. She was not a person to admit to vulnerability, not a person to look to other people for help fixing her mistakes. She seemed more the type to cut her losses, to shrug and move on when it got too difficult.

Not that he doubted her courage or her determination, but people handled those sorts of situations differently.

"All right," Red Robin says, once Jessica has finished her 'sales pitch'. He doesn't hesitate, or pause. He's already weighed her words while she was speaking, already considered the angles. Besides, he didn't get into this job just to punch criminals in the neck: He got into it to help people. Rescuing kittens out of trees might not really fit in with the Bat-family portfolio, but this is the sort of thing he can do with ease. "Luckily for you, I do speak Spanish." Among several other languages.

The Batman had a high expectations from his sidekicks.

She chuffs a laugh, his lack of judgement warming her eyes for a moment. His joke gets one out of her. "Do I look like a person who understands fashion? For all I know that's the latest Chanel #5 or whatever."

When he says he'll do it she sags a little. It was hard, and now that it's done it's like she's just…well, not run a marathon, that's stupid easy for her, but something similar. "Thank you. She's probably in bed by now, so…if we could do it first thing, after we do this other thing, and I will owe you. Not that I think you trade in favors, you're not like that, but…you know what I mean."

On to easier things, though she doesn't suggest going down to her computer after all.

"Hydra attacked my buddy's space ship in a State Park near Gotham. They're probably the types to send a clean-up team, and it was a messy battle. It will take days to clean up. Right now it will be dark, and while they might have floodlights up, well. We might either have the opportunity to snag a body, or a person working the clean-up site. You might get what you need to start unraveling the chip problem. A live person might be our only opportunity…but that would be our best shot at a dead one."

"I know what you mean," Red Robin assures Jessica, surprisingly gently despite the electronic blurring in his voice. He knows that it was difficult for her to even ask, so he doesn't do her the additional indignity of pointing it out, his tendencies running more towards emotional masochism than emotional sadism.

A state park near Gotham, she says, and Red Robin is already bringing up the maps he's got largely memorised inside of his head. Recalling the likeliest places, the easiest and quickest ways to get there. He's briefly frustrated that he didn't bring a vehicle - he'd travelled to New York in his civilian guise, and worse yet on a school night - but there are always ways for someone with patience and determination.

"Bit of a trip. We'd better get going then, if we want to get there while it's still dark out. Hopefully, we find something we can use." He notably does not suggest that the odds are much higher that they won't find anything; while any investigator knows the danger inherent in chasing down a 'lead' that turns out to be a dead end, knows the importance of cutting your losses on some threads, Red Robin knows that sometimes you have no choice but to chase a long shot.

"Don't suppose you have a car?"

Jessica did not have a car, nor a license, but she was willing to dip into her funds to rent one if he was willing to drive it. She'd opted for the kind of black sedan that government types drove in the hopes that it might fit in, though she didn't really know what to expect.

It was easy enough to direct him to the part of the park where the Milano had been hit, to find a place to park off-road that wasn't too conspicuous.

And there is a team of about 15 people picking through the forest, though most of those efforts have wound down for the night. They have a sort of coroner's truck set up on the perimeter where the collected bodies have been bagged and tagged…getting a "dead one" is going to require getting close to that, and it is illuminated by the many floodlights. There's also a guard perimeter to deal with; the team is mostly military with one or two techs, who take advantage of the illuminated areas even now to pick away bullet fragments. The reason it's still an operation, even several days later, is a result of the way bodies were flung about; there were explosions and a host of other things that made the entire thing non-standard. The quest to make sure there was no evidence at all took time.

Jessica surveys all this with a frown. Just jumping in and busting heads isn't going to get them what they want…so she looks silently to Red to see if he might be able to formulate a plan.

Naturally, Red Robin is a very good driver.

He'd basically have to be, since Batman gave him the keys to a supercar when he was fourteen years old, which was in its own way just as dangerous as all the gun-toting gangsters, murderous ninja assassins and knife-wielding murder clowns the third Robin had also had to deal with at such a young age.

But hey, he turned out okay.

The drive there is careful, with Red Robin strictly observing the rules of the road, doing nothing to draw any legal attention their way. He might have a driver's license, but you can guarantee that it doesn't say 'Red Robin' on it, and that he's probably not carrying it in his utility belt either. He would prefer to drive faster, but the last thing he needs is a high-speed chase with the state police… Especially in a car like this.

At the site, Red Robin watches silently from a shadow, so still that he becomes nearly invisible even to Jessica, who knows he's there. He's watching with low-light, with other visual filters that let him pick out how many people there are, how armed they are, where they are. Creating a mental map of the site.

"If I lead the guards on a wild goose chase, can you get a corpse?" Red Robin asks. He knows that Jessica is strong, very strong. He's pretty sure she can tote and carry a human body with ease, but that's not quite what he's asking. "I'll take out the lights and pull their attention. You slip in, get a body, and get out while they're otherwise occupied… Then I'll lose them and we'll regroup at the car."

"Yes," Jessica says, without hesitation. She'll have to break the lock if the coroner's van is locked, but…she doubts it is. Because they will want to haul more bodies into it. They might notice later one is missing, but they'll take stock of their equipment first, their live people, and might even assume they'd run off their attacker successfully, nothing more to see here.

It's a good plan, and it's simple, which means it has the least chance of going off the rails. "Earbud me again if you've still got one. That way I can come lend a hand if you need me to double back and provide you with some support." He's incredible at what he does, but Jessica is not one to ever dismiss the possibility that things can go tits-up, and quickly, even for those who are very good at what they do.

A black-gloved hand is held out towards Jessica almost before she says the word 'earbud', holding exactly that. 'Be prepared' might be the motto of the Boy Scouts, but when you're a member of the exclusive little club that Red Robin belongs to, preparedness is less of a motto and more of a life or death necessity, worn into your bones.

Once she takes it, the young man is simply gone.

There's proof that Red Robin still exists, that he isn't just some figment of Jessica's alcohol-soaked and trauma-cracked brain pushed towards a psychotic break by recent events, of course; small objects lance silently out of the brush to crash into the floodlights, not all at once but one at a time, plunging the site into darkness with a deliberate slowness that ensures the personnel on site know what's happening.

Then, one of the guards is suddenly pulled upwards into a tree, left dangling and disarmed but conscious, the costumed vigilante leaving a trail on purpose, making sure he can be seen and observed… Tantalising hints of his presence, of the possibility of more than one assailant, to draw the rest of the guards' attention, to pull them away - if not physically, at least to keep their attention away long enough for Jessica to get to work.

Boy that would actually be kind of hilarious in a dark, sick way. Jessica solemnly telling John and Zee about her imaginary friend, Red, while they stared at her in growing horror…

No, actually that's not hilarious at all, even in a dark sick way.

The guards, of course, react immediately.

There's shouting. There's shooting. Some of the shooting sends bullets into parts of the trees that they suspect other people might be suggests his gambit has worked. Of course, plenty of those bullets are heading his way too.

Jessica crouches, waiting for the guards on the truck to move a bit away from it, waiting for techs to dive for cover behind a couple of armored jeeps also present at the site. "Moving in," she whispers, a warning mostly influenced, again, by alcohol induced Netflix binges…but communication is a good thing.

She leaps, but not high and not strong, just crossing the distance to land neatly and silently behind the truck. She wastes no time flinging the door open, grabbing the bagged body on top, and throwing said body over her shoulder.

She is very gentle when she closes those back doors with a silent 'click', then she's leaping away again. "Got him," she whispers, already racing back for the car. It's all for naught if she gets caught with it, so she leap-runs, putting as much distance between them as she can as fast as she can. She also wants to minimize the amount of time Red has to get shot at. You know. Just kind of as a matter of courtesy.

The chase is a purely defensive tactic: The point is, after all, to keep them going after him, to keep their attention on him, which means that he has to let himself be seen enough that they don't think he's left, but not leaving himself any more vulnerable than he needs to be. It's a difficult balance, but it isn't Red Robin's first rodeo, either: The military, the police, armed gangs, he's done it before.

When he hears the quiet signal of 'got him', though, the game changes. He needs to leave, to completely lose the people after him so that they can escape without fear of reprisal or leaving behind any additional traces.

Jessica would hear a sound, a terrible high-pitched noise that only the benefit of distance and her own superhuman abilities keep from damaging her eardrums; the sound is paired with a bright light, as though someone had dropped a sun into the park in the dead of night, lasting long seconds, destroying the night vision of the soldiers who had been operating in the pitch black after the loss of the floodlights… Along with its stunning, disorienting effects.

Jessica will definitely make it to the car first, but not far behind her is Red Robin, melting out of the darkness. He's holding his left arm gingerly, keeping it tight against his body.

Which probably has to do with his having gotten shot a little bit.

A little smile curves her lips. Impressive.

But not for long; she skids around to lay the dead guy in the trunk of the car. They are definitely not a car that wants to get caught now.

"How bad are you hurt?" she asks urgently, eyes widening. She still heads for the passenger's side on autopilot…she really cannot drive and she can only hope he can without, say, passing out. But she's concerned about him anyway. Then again, unless he has a better plan there was always the hospital MRI room she'd discussed potentially borrowing…she supposes they could stitch him up, or something, there, kind of, but only kind of if they weren't borrowing a doctor. Then again, he might have some better solution still…having come up with 'let's snatch a body so you can poke it and see if there's a death chip inside and how it might work' she's woefully out of her league. The poking part is all him.

"Not badly," Red Robin replies, settling into the driver's seat. "Left bicep, grazing hit. Suit took most of the impact, little bit of bleeding." It hurts, but he's good at compartmentalising. The pain he pushes to the back of his mind, making it small, making it something he doesn't have to worry about just yet. "How are you at stitches?" he wonders, starting the car and backing it out so he can head back to the highway… Without turning the headlights on a second before they're back in traffic. No point in drawing any extra attention their way.

They absolutely are going to need to 'borrow' a lab, but fortunately they're near Gotham, and he knows a few people who can be convinced to look the other way.

Still, he'd rather not have to give himself stitches.

You know what's not a good sign?

Jessica's lips thinning as she whips out her phone.

She…You Tubes how to give someone stitches.

"Doesn't look that hard," she says, trying to inject more confidence than she feels into the exercise. Which means Red Robin might…be in for a little bit of a long night. But on the other hand, it's not exactly rocket science either. Right? Right.

But long night or no, once they borrow a lab Red will most certainly be able to get some information off their purloined corpse. Though a straight MRI won't get it…apparently the metals in the chip distort it. He'd have had to use one of his high-tech toys to get around that. It seems to have some sort of connection to the pre-frontal cortex. The technology is strange; he finds inert nanites that aren't doing much now, but which were certainly embedded in the neural tissues. It's possible the chip would have served as a gatekeeper, stopping or inciting synaptic activity, inhibiting or encouraging certain behaviors or feelings with childlike ease.

Cutting edge mind-control tech.

It could be worse, Red Robin thinks to himself after Jessica starts looking up guides to giving stitches on her phone.

Not much worse, but still.

"It's not just a suicide chip," he muses out loud while reviewing scans; he doesn't have his full complement of toys with him, of course, much of the technology he might like to have instead sitting in his criminology lab in his own hideout, or the larger and better-equipped one in the Batcave, but Jessica's presence closes off both of those options. Part of the sleeve of his costume has been cut away, revealing the spot on his bicep where the bullet had carved a furrow along his flesh. It's shallow, fortunately, and it will almost certainly heal up fine even with Jessica's possibly ham-fisted stitching, but it certainly hurts.

"Nanotechnology… The chip is part of a control mechanism, designed to affect the brain directly with nanites. This is extremely advanced, not some little butcher job with a bit of plastique inside. But the signaling…" That's the first thing he needs, the crucial step. It must be able to receive commands from somewhere, to keep the subjects properly conditioned, and more immediately germane to their current goal, to know when to flip the killswitch. A hologram in blue hovers in the air, as some of Red Robin's more interesting toys help to create a visual of the implant itself, which he turns about using his uninjured arm.

"If we can find a way to isolate the devices without setting them off…"

We, Jessica thinks, is being really generous. She follows pretty well with his explanation, but she has no suggestions to give. All she did was dab on a whole lot of local anesthetic once she got her hands on the supplies, and then did the job as gently as she could…which was still pretty hamfisted, yes. Still, at least he didn't have to do it himself.

"There might be hope," she finishes. "Especially if you can do some sort of wide area thing, which might disrupt the response. Though…is it possible for you to MacGuyver that before everyone starts converging on Ozone Park?" She got the word that Zee had finally gotten the location; she assumes that word is making the rounds to all of the myriad of interested parties. "Or…"

Well. She can always throw ideas at the wall to see what sticks. She excelled at brainstorming, though until recently it was an exercise she'd done with herself…now she has smarter people than her to do it with. So she asks dumb questions, usually, or throws out unworkable ideas, knowing that they might lead the better minds down a track towards the good idea.

"An injection? Some nanites that counteract the nanites? Though I guess nobody just walks down and buys nanites from The Nanite Emporium."

A team is a team.

Red Robin frowns, his lower face visible in the opening of his cowl, but that and the spot of his arm visible, stitched and covered in a white bandage pad already slightly dark with blood is the only evidence that there's a flesh and blood human being under that costume. He doesn't have time to give in to the pain, to even really let himself feel it. Other people don't have that time. He listens to Jessica as she speaks instead of ignoring her, and he manages to not even react when she gives a name to the place they're going.

Zatanna hadn't told him, hadn't wanted him to go haring off on his own. Still, he is good at keeping secrets.

"Maybe some kind of interference would slow it down, but without knowing exactly the frequency it works on or the specifics of the system it wouldn't be very effective, and it would block other things, too. An injection… I don't have the materials, or the time. But…"

Counteract the nanites.

Some wide area thing.

"Oh," Red Robin says, quietly. "Maybe… If I can get access to their computer system. There must be a central control. A system that handles all these implants. Tells them what to do." He remembers the events in the abandoned hospital. Had it been the intrusion into the computer that caused Tasha and Karl's implants to go off? It would be dicey. He could kill Barnes and Foster, and who knows who else, in trying to save them.

Jessica frowns, turning her phone over and over in her fingers.

"What if it's maybe simpler than that?" she asks thoughtfully. "A nanite…is just a tiny computer, right? It has a tiny little hard drive up its tiny little ass. Magnets wipe computers. Completely reformat them. So…what happens if the nanites and the chips don't have any instructions? Do they blow up, do you think, or does someone at Central Command just hit the button over and over again for this entire system to say File Not Found?"

Slowly, thinking it through slowly. "And…if that's what it would do…could you rig up a big magnetic pulse?"

"That's the issue," Red Robin replies, to Jessica's astute observation. "I don't know if the chip has some kind of a killswitch on it. Though it didn't react all that badly to being put through the MRI, but…" He sighs faintly, weighing his options. He's not sure how functional the chip currently is, but the fact that it didn't self-destruct when the bearer died could be indicative that they wouldn't simply go off. He isn't sure how much tampering the chip will put up with before setting itself off, either, but there's at least one thing he can try.

"This is a focused electromagnetic pulse," he explains, holding up what appears to be… A plain disc. "Enough to fry most computers, unless they've got good hardening. So…" He puts the device against the dead man's head, over the implant, and sets the timer.

Then he guides Jessica out of the room so they aren't in there in case it /does/ go off when the EMP triggers.

She doesn't have to be told twice; Jessica follows Red.

The EMP pulse goes off. The lights flicker, but the focused pulse of course isn't aiming for those. Seconds tick by…but the lab does not explode in a flurry of fire and light.

When they go back in Red will see that the chip is dead as a doornail. The nanites, weirdly, have stirred to sluggish life. Inert in dead brain matter, the sudden cessation of chip signal has confused them briefly, telling them that something is going on. They crawl, sluggishly, through the brain matter, some trying to make changes in the matter that's there, before the lack of neuro-electrical impulses or chip-based impulses sends them back into dormancy.

So it's a partial success; while nanites apparently do not have tiny little hard drives up their tiny little butts, the suicide switch is disabled by a good old-fashioned EMP, but the nanites are more complicated than that. Still, as a short-term solution for getting people out alive, it's not bad. Maybe it would even buy people time to figure out how to uninstall the rest of the noggin malware…even if the damage the nanites has already done is almost certainly irreversible.

A brief flicker of lights, but no sign of the chip deciding to go off. He figured it would be much the same as when the two techs' implants killed them, but better safe than sorry, especially when there are bits of somebody's head flying around.

"Hrn," Red Robin muses.

Of course, he immediately resumes his study, once they're back in the room with the corpse. He'd prefer to take more time, to be more in-depth, but they're running out the clock as it is… Both in the grander sense of being able to foil HYDRA's scheme and rescue some of their victims, and the more immediate sense of how much spare time Red Robin's contact could allow them in the lab.

"It's not great, but it might work," he tells Jessica. "If there's no way to disable them from a central control point, we can use a focused pulse to brute force the chips down. But… We may have to face the possibility that there will be long-term damage." What's visible of his face is grim, solemn as he turns towards the PI. "Barnes and Foster may never truly recover."

But then, does anyone?

Jessica slides her hands into her pockets and looks down at their purloined corpse as Red delivers the prognosis. Her face is blank, unreadable. It's one of those good news, bad news situations, isn't it?

"As long as they're not dead, or made into vegetables or something, I guess everything else can be dealt with." She doesn't realize she's echoing his thoughts when she says, "There's no such thing as being the same person after something like that anyway."

She'd told Steve Rogers to expect a long road. That hadn't changed.

She exhales. Back on track, back on focusing on what needed to be done. She paused to start picking up after themselves, packing up the suture kit as the one thing she feels capable of touching in here without breaking it. "These pulses, will they have to be literally that close to their brains to make it happen? Just how many of those discs do you have?"

"No," Red Robin agrees. "There isn't."

He is, naturally, quite good at cleaning up after himself, at leaving no trace or at least as little of a trace as possible. The body will have to disappear, but he'd already taken care of that, knowing that his contact at the hospital could deal with the errant cadaver. He feels a twinge of guilt about that - whoever they were, they might well have been another victim rather than a willing agent - but there was no other choice once they'd stolen the body.

"They're a short-range device, designed to be put on a computer that needs to be disabled… So, yes, ideally you'd want them as close to the implant as possible. I only have a few on me right now, but I can make more."

Which, yeah, of course he can. That makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

"This is the part where you offer to go toe to toe with Barnes so you can use one on him, right?" the young man in the cape and cowl says. It's not really a question.

"If you're willing to provide me with one, absolutely, but I'm not the only one who should have them. I am getting the sense this is going to be a group effort. There are a lot of interested parties, and given what we'll probably be up against that's all to the good. If you can make more, why not hand one or two out to everyone? Not to just indiscriminately spend your money or anything, but there's always the chance someone will shoot me in the head, or someone else will be the only one to get that chance."

Always looking for the 100s of ways it could all go wrong, but redundancy was a good policy for those who could swing it, and given the resources he's already proven he can bring to bear, it seems like Red Robin can. And if he can't, surely SHIELD can.

"And then we'll just make sure everyone who has one knows that if they get a chance to set one off right next to Barnes' or Foster's ears…do it."

Red Robin knew it was possible that there would be a larger group going this time… It was probably inevitable, with so many different interests converging, and with what he had been told by Zatanna about what was going on, it would probably be for the best to bring as much strength to the table as possible. Part of him balks at the idea of involving too many, preferring to operate in small groups, or alone, but he knows that probably isn't feasible here. He knows that's the Batman talking.

"It's a good idea," he says, nodding as he slips out of the lab, as they head towards where the rental car is parked. "I'll see what I can put together on short notice. Though you should avoid getting shot in the head if at all possible, Miss Jones," the cowled young man adds. "There are people who would regret to see you gone."

She follows him out, and a smile curves her lips for just a moment. "I'll avoid getting shot if you will," is what she says. Sure, he may be talking more about Zee and Constantine than himself, but hell, she'd regret to see Red gone too, so she'll just make it inclusive and take the opportunity to let him know that in a round about way.

She lets that hang in the air till they're back in the car, and says, "Thanks for this, Red. I know you've got all your own reasons too, but…you still took me seriously and cancelled whatever other plans you had tonight on the basis of my half-ass plan."

"It's easier when you're not /trying/ to be seen," Red Robin mutters, ignoring the sting of the wound on his arm. He'll have to be careful of it, even with the techniques he learned from Rahul Lama it'll take some time to heal up fully… But it could've been much worse.

It's not like it's the first time he's ever been shot, in any case.

Once they're both in the car, he starts it up quickly, soon heading for the highway to get back to New York, to take Jessica back to her apartment. He does have a promise to keep, after all.

"Helping people is the job," he says to Jessica, as she thanks him for cancelling whatever other plans he'd had for the night to instead drag himself out to NYC, and then go on a bit of a road trip. "Besides, you're a good investigator. Tenacious. I knew you'd have a good lead to follow."

Once they'd returned to Jessica's building, her landlady was treated to the wholly bizarre occurrence of having a costumed weirdo translating the PI's apologies and her request for some kind of clemency from the eviction notice, in broad daylight. It seemed to go well.

What Jessica couldn't know, of course, was that Red Robin took some… Liberties with how he phrased her request. Made some suggestions that Jessica had not intended. But he knew what things were like in parts of town like this. New York and Gotham weren't all too different, once you got down into the grime and the dirt. People trying to live their lives while being ground down by those who would exploit them, use them without a second thought. Fighting crime wasn't just about punching people in the face… It was about making a difference, at the foundation. Fixing the problems for which most criminal activity was merely the symptom, the end result of desperation.

Which is why, later in the day, a team of workers arrive at Jessica's door. A plumber, an electrician. Drywallers. One of them hands Jessica a note.

You're covered for six months with your landlady. These men have been hired to fix your apartment, they'll also do some work on the building to bring it at least a little closer to code. Get help. Good things happen, too.

-RR

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