Appropriate Dinner Time Conversation

June 01, 2017:

Jessica Jones brings Red Robin the server drives recovered from Auspex International. The two detectives spend an evening doing what they do best: sorting through information and bouncing ideas off of one another.

One of Red's Secret Hideouts in NYC

Phenomenal computing power! Itty bitty pacing space.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Zatanna Zatara, John Constantine, Daredevil, Trish Walker, Batman, Elinor Ravensdale, Dr. Strange, Wonder Girl, Miss Martian

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The easiest thing to do was to meet in New York City.

There was no point in making Jessica trek all the way to Gotham, and then head back again, when Red Robin could make the trip quicker and more easily… Besides which, getting her to the Nest without letting her know whose house it was located behind might've been tricky. She's an investigator too, after all. Presenting her with too many clues might lead her to realising uncomfortable details about who the young vigilante actually was, whether she meant to 'solve' the mystery or not.

Fortunately, Red Robin was prepared for these sorts of eventualities. His penthouse in Manhattan was no good, there wasn't any room to make the necessary adjustments to the building for his purposes… But with the necessity of operations in the Big Apple came the necessity for some kind of hideout, which is how Jessica Jones finds herself in a concrete bunker underneath a storage facility, not far from the Port of New York and New Jersey.

It's surprisingly spacious, but it's not exactly a cheerful and welcoming place, largely centered around a multi-monitor computer setup and a basic - or, basic to him - crime lab, along with a simple armory and some tucked-away living facilities.

Who even knows when he built all of this.

Or how.

"Miss Jones," Red Robin says once Jessica has climbed down the ladder into the bunker; after seeing him out of costume (and instead in a thorough disguise) in Germany, the sight of him in his full cape and cowl might be strange, along with the electronic blur back in his voice. "Welcome to my home away from home."

—-

Jessica Jones spends a lot of time in places that are neither cheerful nor welcoming. She's as at home in this concrete bunker as she was in the lush penthouse. The truth is, her life is a study in 'middles'. She was raised in the middle class, was exposed to the lap of luxury, and then spent several years crawling down in the depths of poverty. She is as at home talking to homeless people as she is talking to business magnates. She can understand and empathize with pacifists and trained killers alike. She is who she is regardless of where she is standing, as evidenced by the jeans and the t-shirt she's currently wearing…though she does know how to modify her verbal approach to make the people around her either comfortable or vastly uncomfortable, depending upon her own needs and purposes.

As to how he built all this? Jessica's shorthand guess is: 'he paid someone a fuckton of money.' The most important clue that Red has dropped about himself is also the most unavoidable. He's loaded, and being loaded means being able to get anything done. He is in fact loaded to a degree that surpasses even most loaded people's loadedness. The people who can say that occupy a short and exclusive list. She has often been given to wonder if he realizes what an easy starting place he's created if she ever did care to start Solving for Reds.

But she of course has no interest in doing that at all. Red is her friend, his secrets are none of her business, and in truth…she's carrying around quite a few people's secrets as it is. It's no easy thing to do, when you get right down to it, and she could do without one more.

"Red," she greets in turn, holding up two plastic grocery baggies. One is full of the server drives that Daredevil pulled from Auspex International. The other…is full of wrapped up gyros. It is Red's turn to get food from Jess, it seems. "I come bearing gifts."

—-

The money issue is a difficult one to avoid, but the way the modern economy works there's a proliferation of multi-millionaires and billionaires who might be putting on funny suits to punch crime in the face, or at least funding someone to do it.

Income inequality, the way more and more wealth accumulates where wealth already exists creates all sorts of social issues, to be sure… But when you're a rich vigilante, it's an excellent source of plausible deniability.

The lighting in the bunker is dim but not terribly so, overhead LED lights providing suitable illumination to work (or brood) by, though of course they can always be turned up at need. It gives the place a suitably utilitarian air, which is probably part of the point. It's certainly not as comfortable as the place they'd been staying in Germany… Which did, admittedly, get blown up.

The scent of food he notices immediately, his cowled face turning from the computer screens towards where Jessica stands, before his head tilts very slightly. Birdlike, one might say, in keeping with the whole codename thing.

"Thanks," he says, with a faint smile. "At least this time nobody's pointing guns at either of us while we eat, right? I hope it wasn't too much trouble for you, coming out here…"

—-

"Why would it be trouble?" Jessica asks with a shrug. She puts the food down, not insisting he eat it while she's here. She knows he isn't super comfortable eating in the mask. Microwaves are a thing, so it hardly matters if they get cold. "As it is you saved me a trip to Gotham, right? Besides."

She puts the drives down next. "If you can use these things to get us a lead on these Silicone Valley Cult Crazies then it's worth any amount of travel time. Cause we sure as Hell have a limited number of tools to pull leads from."

The body in John's valut. The drives she's brought to Red. A handful of all-too-public IP addresses, about 20 of those. An e-mail address for a man who might not exist, and the number three.

"Though while you go through that mess I might just sit quietly and see if I can't do something I thought about doing on the way over. Look for other start-ups that fit Auspex's profile that might be targeted for quote-unquote outreach."

She speaks as if Red knows everything about the earlier efforts at Radio City Music Hall and Auspex International (also known as the Amazing Disappearing Building of Suck), figuring either Zatanna filled him in or, by now, he has gone through the scant iDol file that is in the new digital Alias Investigations database that he's been invited to log in and make himself at home in. And if her notes aren't always professional, containing, as they do, the occasional growly, swear-filled comment, speculation, or reminder to herself woven in and among dry facts and write-ups, they are pretty thorough.

—-

Examining the body is still on Red Robin's 'to do' list; especially since he was able to get ahold of the blood samples Zatanna had preserved by cleverly bagging her boots after the incident at Auspex.

"I'm interested to see what's actually on these," the young man says, indicating the hard drives. "I did some research on my own after Miss Zatara told me about what happened at Auspex International… Mostly just due diligence, since I'm sure you already looked into the company itself, but I was surprised to find some kind of backdoor on their website. It looks like it was connected to a different in-house server, not a very secure way to handle valuable customer data. Since the server is, uh… Gone," in an extremely final way, given what he's been told about what happened, "I'm hoping that there's some data about it on those drives. That's a good idea though, looking into other tech startups. I hadn't thought of that."

It happens sometimes. He's a lot of things, but perfect isn't one of them.

"I was analysing iDol itself, running it on a closed system to see if there was anything weird about it. It seems completely mundane, in and of itself, but the app is constantly communicating with an IP address that isn't connected with the iDol server farms. I think that's how it does… Whatever it does. But I want to get some more information before we go poking that with sticks."

Not, like, literally.

Probably.

Before Red Robin does get started on the hard drives, though, he actually goes for the bag of food, taking one tightly wrapped foil bundle and resting it on a clear section of his work desk, turned away from the computer so he doesn't get any crumbs or sauce or anything in those expensive parts.

"That woman, Emily Montrose. I think they're using her body to store something," apparently this is dinner conversation, for him.

—-

Jessica follows the conversation about back doors as best she can. Her computer knowledge is practical…she knows how to use them to get the results she wants. She nods though, frowning, jotting all this down. "Is it the type of IP— this special one— that could maybe lead us to a specific location? Or does it just…float around, existing in cyberspace?"

If he didn't think of her methods, she certainly didn't think of his, other than a general: Red poke computer good. Sometimes she feels like a real gorilla compared to the younger man, but nevertheless, she appreciates what happens when they come together as a team. Their different perspectives have usually produced some fairly explosive results, which is why he is on the short list of people she can sit and happily 'detective' with at all.

If she's bothered that he's eating and talking about corpse storage at the same time, it doesn't show. She has taken out her phone and pulled up an AR display, tippity typing at the holographic keyboard to set up some search parameters. It does give her pause.

"That means it could have been a trap. They could have wanted us to take the body, and whatever is in there is just waiting for the right moment to burst out of her stomach and facehug whomever happens to be nearby." Good thing she brought him gyros and not spaghetti, she supposes. She frowns. "Don't suppose you have a spare one of the airport's obnoxious body scanners lying around one of your hideouts? Maybe we could figure out what's in there that way. Though screwing with it could trigger it."

A slow dread feeling steals over Jessica. "Trey's state was a little convenient too. Didn't seem so at first because Zee literally had to bring him back from the dead, but I was thinking like us-people. Magic-people would have to know a good magical investigator could have done that. It's possible any and every 'clue' we think we have…is all part of some dangerous and elaborate set-up. Shit."

—-

"It might be a trap, yes," Red Robin agrees. "I have a few ideas about checking, I'm going to contact Constantine about it… It's probably better if we limit the number of people present, just in case. The body's in some kind of stasis, it… Well, Miss Zatara showed me the pictures. Her body was completely exsanguinated, and whatever was done to preserve her has also affected the blood that was in her body. The samples I took off of her boots haven't congealed, or done… Anything."

At this, he takes a big bite of gyro. Apparently it doesn't bother him enough to put him off of food: Of course, given the world he operates in, and given the sort of people he deals with on a pretty regular basis, he'd need to have a strong stomach or he would've just sworn off of eating entirely years ago.

"So it seems likely that her blood was removed to replace it with something else," he continues, after chewing and swallowing. "If it's a trap, it might be more of that Primordial Darkness stuff, or… Oh, right," he interrupts himself, suddenly realising something; he sets the food down and gets up from his chair again, walking to the armory. It doesn't take him long to find what he's looking for, and when he comes back, he's carrying a… Flashlight? The casing is rugged military-grade aluminum.

"Take this. I rigged it with an extra high power setting that'll throw out an enormous amount of light for maybe two minutes before something gives out. If you run into any of that Primordial Darkness stuff, it should at least slow it down enough for you to get away. Um… A few basic warnings: It will probably blind you permanently if you look directly into the beam… You could probably start a fire or cook an egg with it, if you really wanted to."

It's also strong enough that she could definitely bash someone's head in with it, assuming she weren't already strong enough to easily do so with her bare hands, which she is.

"If the body is a trap, and if this all is some kind of a setup, then it'll be directed at people like Constantine and Miss Zatara. I doubt the individuals behind all of this would even consider the possibility that anyone without mystical abilities would be a threat. Which, if we're lucky, means we might find a mundane mistake that they overlooked."

—-

She is gifted the flashlight, and Jessica looks instantly appreciative. "Bad ass. Enter UberLight! I was wondering about portable light sources, but I couldn't think of anything strong enough. Thank you. And…not to step on your generosity, but do you happen to have a couple of more? I'd like to outfit Daredevil with one, since he's actively working this investigation as well. And my sister. She's…"

Jessica pauses. And then sighs. "It…would just be good for her to have one," she finishes lamely. Explaining that her sister might be donning a mask soon enough could create clues to other people's identities, not just Trish's, but perhaps it's enough that creepy darkness stuff is everywhere and Jess would like to protect her sister.

And yes, she absolutely appreciates that it can be used as a weapon. Having no need for it now, however, she carefully opens up the STUFF app and tucks it inside.

She tunes back in to the rest of what he's saying and nods her head thoughtfully. "Yeah. That's why we've stayed ahead of this madness I think. If Zee and John didn't benefit from the perspective of non-magical people they'd just go off and do this all on their own. We're the wild cards and dark horses." Huh, maybe body scanner wasn't such a stupid idea after all. "But I agree with limiting the number of people present. Doesn't seem like the right time to have a party, for sure."

—-

The prototype for the amped-up light, he'd used in Germany during the fight at Brandenburg: Sadly, the flash bulb on even his rugged, custom-built 'work' phone hadn't been up to the task of sustaining that much light for more than a couple of seconds, leaving it an absolute last resort.

Then on the other end of the scale, there's the modifications he's made to his car's lighting. It might not ever actually see use, but there's no point in not being prepared.

"Sure, I made plenty," Red Robin says, ducking back into the armory to grab a couple more flashlights, offering them towards Jessica. There's nothing weird with wanting to protect your loved ones; if Jessica wants to make sure that her sister has something to at least give her an edge just in case she ran into that terrible, all-consuming darkness, who is he to say otherwise?

He's heard quite a bit about what happens to whatever that stuff gets ahold of, after all. Months ago, the same night when Jessica had invaded Shadowcrest drunk and heartbroken, he'd sat in the study of the Great Zatara and Zatanna had told him about her own encounter with it, with the angel it had tormented into insanity. With the Brujeria, and how they had known her name.

"Besides… Trap or not, setup or not, all we can do is work the case that's in front of us, right? We'll take the precautions we can, and we'll be as safe as we can manage… But this is some big deal bad shit. One way or another, we've got to get to the bottom of things."

—-

Jessica takes the flashlights with every evidence of real gratitude. "You're incredible, thank you," she says, with a real warmth and sincerity she rarely lets show. She tucks those away as well.

(As for that damned night, she wishes she could erase every part of it. Her overreaction, brought on, in part, by the fact that she was, for the first time, not denying and numbing every feeling she had anymore. Her deplorable display. And, now that she's got a better sense of the private nature of the man she still cares about, the fact that she spewed that everywhere makes her wince, internally, every time she thinks of it).

Nevertheless, time marches on, and she nods thoughtfully as she taps away on her search. "You're right," she says, as he speaks of working the case. "And we will do just that. Man. I will never understand these assholes who just want to fuck up the world. Seriously. Don't they realize all their shit's here, even if they don't like anything else about it?"

It's rhetorical. She moves on to something more practical. "You know, if I can't find a likely company maybe we should set up a fake one, go undercover, see who approaches us. I can do a convincing job of being the sales and marketing half of the team, since I actually do that shit for my own business, and you could be the tech half. That could get dangerous fast, but…it might get us a bit farther if we can't get anywhere with the leads that we have."

—-

"Evil is selfish by its very nature," Red Robin says, no matter how rhetorical Jessica's complaint was. "That's what makes it evil. Usually, the people who want to ruin the world for everyone else believe that since they're different, since they're not like everyone else, they won't be affected. Of course, sometimes you get the ones who don't care: True believers who would die for their cause, absolute nihilists… Or those who don't have any stuff in this world to lose. I suspect this bunch are the latter. From what Miss Zatara said, anyway, I doubt they'd lose much by wiping the slate clean."

He gets back to eating, while Jessica suggests the possibility of starting up their own fake company as bait, in case she isn't able to find anything else that seems to fit the profile that Auspex did. It definitely could get dangerous, since they don't know exactly what the people behind Auspex went through to get whatever capital investment or the like led to their predicament, but…

"It might be worth a shot," Red Robin agrees. "Let's see what else we've got before we go putting ourselves on any hooks, though. Could be those hard drives have exactly the information we need on them. Although," he adds, with genuine amusement, "it would be pretty entertaining watching you give a presentation to some potential investors about our cross-platform social media innovation."

—-

Jessica smirks at this last, and apparently? Challenge accepted.

She adopts a breathy voice, high-pitched, not quite sounding like an airhead, but definitely sounding like the type of person who just goes all ga-ga for social media metrix. "Meet Dragnet," she says, in quite bubbly fashion. "Dragnet allows users to add over 150 social media profiles to a single centralized profile, and then update and manipulate content to match those profiles at a touch of a button. We all know that content is different dependent upon whether you post it to Facebook, Tumblr, iDol or Twitter, which is what has defied cross-platform posting and scheduling in the past. Our app effortlessly and intelligently applies changes to the content based upon the selected platforms and allows for instant publication to all followers. #Convenient, #Incredible, #AnAdvertisersDream. Of course, this also allows us to gather all of the user's data in one centralized location. #DataDomination!"

She mimes gesturing to an invisible power point, and beams at Red as if the biggest concern in her life is how she is going to hashtag post all about her business success to her friends before posting some a-mazing wine bar date about three hours later, as if she were the type of woman who enjoyed boutique shopping and swiping right for new dates.

And then she drops the act and goes, "Jesus Christ, forget the danger. I don't know if I can stand to be…" Hmm, what would her name be? "Millie B. Loflin…for the amount of time it would take to make that work for us. But given we might have to use it, I guess I've got some homework to do about that, cause I just delivered the sum total of the b.s. I could pull out of my ass without advance preparation."

—-

It happens that his prediction was an accurate one.

That was pretty entertaining.

There's a sound from the costumed young man, rendered strange by the device at his throat, hidden under his suit's cowl; amusement and then quiet laughter, as Jessica shows off her impressive ability to bullshit when she needs to, creating on the spot the persona of a young woman whose favourite season is probably the part of autumn when everything is suddenly pumpkin spice flavoured. Exactly the sort of trendy young marketing type he's seen way too many of in his civilian life.

"You should use that character more often, if you really want to scare people," Red Robin suggests. "Everyone's expecting serious, no-nonsense Jessica Jones, and instead you start telling them about how you gave up gluten and started doing hot yoga."

Joking around about Jessica's adventure in being a basic white girl, though, doesn't change the tasks in front of them… But it would be hypocritical of him to try and pull the hypervigilant, all-business card now, when he'd spent the better part of a day trying to get Spoiler to relax, earlier in the week. And what kind of a world is it where that reversal happened?

"Still, at least we've got a back up plan now, 'Millie'."

—-

Jessica shoots him one of her rare grins when her performance manages to elicit a laugh. She even goes so far as to offer a bow.

Somewhere in there lies the heart of a ham. Buried deep. Very deep. But it can be brought forth every now and then, and he's brought it out of her now.

"I did try yoga once," she admits sheepishly. "It was after Bucky told me that I wasn't flexible enough. He'd actually meant fighting style, but I was— well, am— so hell-bent on being the best student I could be that I marched in there and did the thing. Twice. That was all I could stomach."

But maybe that's where she picked up some of what she needed to adopt a personality like Mille. No experience or knowledge is wasted, and if Jones has a rather ecclectic set of it compared to the more disciplined learners among them…

Well, at least it's good for an evening's entertainment.

Still, she frowns down at the displays. She hasn't gotten anywhere yet, but this isn't exactly the type of search she can just type into a database, after all. She has at least narrowed her search to New York and Jersey…she doesn't fancy another round of travel if they can avoid it. Sure, a company matching their needs might be out in California, but that would mean freaking going to California.

She works on this for a bit without interrupting Red in his own work before admitting, "I feel like I've missed something. Overlooked some really damned important detail. I don't know what it could be, but it's nagging at me."

—-

By this point, Red Robin has started checking the hard drives, after having cleaned up after his meal. A physical check, first, making sure none of the drives have any obvious damage from what was probably some rough handling… He's met the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, if only once, and the man didn't seem like the type to gently store computer equipment. To say nothing of the probably rather frantic escape from a building being devoured by the Primordial Darkness itself.

Then, of course, he's hooking the drives up to an isolated system - methodically, one at a time - and making a copy of each drive, each on its own virtual machine. Careful. Cautious. Thorough.

"Start from the beginning, then," he says without looking away from what he's doing. Once the drives are copied over, then he'll be able to take a good look at their contents, but first things first. "Pretend I don't know anything. Walk me through it."

—-

That's good advice for anyone. Jessica leans back.

"From the beginning as I know it, focusing only lightly on the ins and outs of the magic, because that's not our area," she agrees.

She stands up, paces. Lets Jarvis (little Jarvis) run her search for her for awhile.

"One. We caught the practicum half of this case after a Auspex International ran a test at Radio City Music Hall which involved channeling mystic energy through people's smartphones, presumably the iDol app, to summon a demon that provoked a Fight-or-Fuck response in the entire crowd."

She paces again, moving the length of the little space…

She pauses.

"That's it. That's the missing bit, I think. The people who came and ran the test wore robes. Wizard types. They didn't just send a bunch of Auspex Employees in with a point-and-click demon summoning spell. They had a dumbass intern to be sure, but there were wizards on staff. Maybe as part of the merger agreement. They weren't original employees, because Trey and Em were just run of the mill people. But when we first caught the case, we thought the problem began and ended with Auspex. We didn't even find the name iDol till we went to the Auspex building. Which means, however briefly, our wizards might have been on the payroll. And if that's the case…their payroll processor might be somewhere in this mess of information I stole off Trey's computer…and if that is the case I might be able to pretext them as Emily cause nobody knows she's dead yet, and if that is the case I can get payroll records for the whole company—"

She stops 'if that is the casing' and springs into action, pulling up another window. "C'mon, Trey, you asshole, don't let me down." Course, this could take awhile.

—-

The pacing doesn't bother Red Robin: He does it himself sometimes, though he prefers to have a larger space in which to do it. The Nest back in Gotham is certainly roomier than this little bunker, but then the bunker was never intended to function as a real base of operations. A backup, sure, or part of a network of other places… His hideout in the City of Yesterday is more of a command center. And that means room to pace around.

Many of the details of the Radio City Music Hall incident weren't known to the young vigilante anyway, as he'd only been brought on to the case by Zatanna while they were in Germany, in the hopes of using his skills with computers and criminology, and she'd only really told him about what had happened at the headquarters of Auspex International itself.

So really, this is an interesting additional perspective for him, too.

"That's a lot of ifs," the young man says, watching sidelong as Jessica returns to her screen, to start checking the information she'd pulled from the dead man's computer. "You think that evil wizards are going to be listed on the payroll? Well… I guess it can't hurt to check," he allows. People do make those sorts of mistakes, after all. It was tax evasion that brought down Al Capone.

"If they don't fall for your pretexting, I'll just hack their system."

—-

"Well, this line of inquiry didn't help me last time," Jessica allows. "At Radio City Music Hall I went looking for who bought their seat tickets, and there was nobody. But…at the same time, if they had to integrate into an organization…if they weren't directly iDol…if they were wizard mercenaries who wanted to be paid? Fuck, I dunno. I could be grasping at straws. Probably am, but due diligence is due diligence."

She sighs gustily. "It is a lot of ifs," she admits. But she doesn't stop pursuing the line of inquiry either, sifting through the information with narrowed dark eyes. "Maybe only the damned Intern was Auspex and they just said 'go with these guys'. Also possible."

Which means she'd better keep moving through it. "DHK had the Auspex name before he ever got to us, he had it from the Intern. We pulled all the info on Trey and Em and whatnot to find the building. Took us awhile to get in said building, the landlord was nervous about it."

It's possible her feeling of missing something isn't even missing something. It's possible it's the itch that comes from feeling like she is not moving fast enough and that's all there is to it. Or maybe it was just remembering that it was guys in robes at Radio City Music Hall.

—-

"My concern would be that the people behind all of this are the types to prefer to be hidden partners," Red Robin muses from where he sits. "If an organised crime outfit bails out a business they see some profit in, they don't want their names on the letterhead, it seems reasonable that these guys are the same." Even if the Cult of the Cold Flame has a lock on being the 'magical mafia', that doesn't mean they're the only organisation who's going to operate in a manner similar to that. The League of Shadows is much the same - though he has fingers in all sorts of pies, you're not going to find Ra's al Ghul listed on anyone's board of directors. And definitely not on their payroll.

And he's not even a magical being from before creation, dedicated to unmaking the world as they know it.

"But you still might shake something out. Bryant and Montrose weren't professionals, they were in over their heads. They might've left clues without even trying." He saw the shape of that part of the story, at least, not long after he did his own preliminary digging, turning up information Jessica already had. The sudden paying off of a substantial debt to their creditors. An abrupt influx of capital requires a new investor, and theirs seemed to come from nowhere at all.

Usually, this story ends with the once-clean business owners taking the legal heat for their secret new business partners, or winding up part of the family. Maybe in a shallow grave somewhere. This time, it had a distinctly weirder result.

"Why was the landlord so nervous, though?"

—-

"Because Auspex specialized in collecting user data. The landlord was afraid of bringing some legal liability down on himself for letting us in. And that was with me posing as an FCC ombudsman," Jessica says, in answer to the question. She nods as he teaches her a bit of the underworld side of things, tucking that away. The truth is, until recently, Jessica did not chase criminals and murderers. She chased parents who had given kids up for adoption, or debtors, sometimes missing children or deadbeat dads. The trails of how she got this information, and the kind of information she needed to get, were different.

Sometimes, in her new life, the old techniques and methods create pure solid gold. Sometimes? It just leads her to a bunch of dead ends.

"There were other employees. They were having a company picnic," Jessica says thoughtfully. "I guess I could always go back and talk to some of them, see what they saw and heard. They can't have slaughtered all the rank and file, and someone might know something. In fact…that's the next step of due diligence I guess." She's already mentally dividing up her calendar, trying to prioritize, but really it will depend on when some of these employees are able to see her. "I'd better take some back up to that I guess, otherwise I could hit someone nervous and deadly without meaning to."

—-

The investigator's explanation makes sense; there's no reason to read any deeper motivations into the landlord's nervousness, when she puts it that way. Of course, even if the landlord had been threatened to not let anyone into the building or the like, it hardly mattered now.

The building might as well have never existed.

"That's a good idea," Red Robin agrees on the topic of talking to the other, surviving employees of Auspex. "I wonder if there were any personnel changes around the time they paid off their creditors… New employees coming in around six months ago might be worth investigating more deeply, just in case they're not quite what they seem. The smart choice for backup would probably be Miss Zatara or Constantine, since they could sense things you and I can't."

—-

"Truth," Jessica says, nodding her head. Those are interviews that could take weeks, but at least Red has narrowed the playing field some with those parameters. She takes out her notebook and makes a note. "And I think you pretty much heard the rest of what we found at Auspex. The primordial darkness, Trey-as-printer, Emily's body, the man with the terrible teeth. Man. It's like Zee, John, and Elinor are the only magic users in the world who do not royally suck ass. And we really need ourselves some kind of fucking…Azkaban…like fucking stat."

So that killing the bastards stops being the only way to make them stop being bastards who do bastard things. Having to make one special bullet for each wizard is just an insane and inefficient way to go about things.

She finally sits down, pinching the bridge of her nose and closing her eyes. "I think that's everything. The truth is we're still in the baby phases of this thing. I've got Elinor ghost-whispering to create a pinpoint map of nasty magical incidents all over town. If there's a pattern, I haven't identified it. The answer is mostly 'a metric fuckton, everywhere.'"

—-

"There are others," Red Robin says; the mystical is traditionally outside of his purview, and he never really bothered to try and understand it until he'd fallen into Zatanna's orbit, but that doesn't mean he didn't know anyone else who was involved in that sort of thing. "Doctor Strange, a member of the Justice League for one." The costumed vigilante considers something for a long moment, and then lets out a slow exhalation of breath. "I bet he and Constantine would hate each other's guts."

Or perhaps already do; neither Constantine nor the Sorceror Supreme are exactly unknowns among the community in which they operate.

"If there's some kind of wizard jail though, I definitely haven't heard of it. I suppose something more conventional could work, if their abilities could be suppressed…" Naturally, the vigilante was not very happy with the way things were resolved in Brandenburg; all of the cultists he dealt with personally had survived - except for some during the battle at the Union Jack no doubt, torn apart by their own master's Unmaking - albeit probably crippled for life, and in at least two cases blinded.

But he's not sure what else he could've done, really.

"You'd need more specific criteria," the young man says, on the subject of Jessica's project with Elinor. "It's a city with over seven million people, doing all the stupid, selfish and awful things that people do to each other, and the magical ones are no different. Just 'nasty magical incidents' is going to get you a lot of background noise, and make it harder to find any pattern. Well, it's not all flashy explosions and life-or-death battles, right? Most of the job is this, slogging through nonsense in the hope of finding some answers."

—-

The vigilante is not alone in his reaction to the outcome of that night in Bradenburg, even though when her adrenaline got high, driven by the twin dangers of fear and anger, Jessica did not hold back. And she still can't say that the entire team would have survived, or that they'd have stopped the bleeding moon, if some of those cultists hadn't been weeded out by bullets, magic, and, perhaps— though she still has no idea— her own fists and feet, which maybe took them down permenently and maybe didn't. She looks at him with a bit of the weight of that night in her eyes, but doesn't address it, unwilling, unable, to talk about it yet.

Germany has changed her.

She's not 100% sure how yet.

How does one simultaneously regret a thing, feel remorse over it, and not regret it because ultimately their choices were down to bad, worse, and way worse?

That is the equation she's been trying, and failing, to work ever since she came home. Germany cast spectres over her heart she can't express, because she also can't find it in her to judge those in their party who she knows have already solved that equation in a different way, and to express what's on her heavy heart would be to perhaps seem to be rendering indictments she has no intention of rendering.

She swallows and looks down, grimacing. Focus on the here and now. On today's mission. "Specific criteria. That…is a great point. Now, the data is being fed into Ritchie's magical predictive analytics program, so maybe he's still sorting through the noise in ways I don't understand, but. Problem is…I don't have any more specific criteria yet, but…I'll ask John if he can think of any. Or I'll call Ritchie and ask what data points he's zeroing in on already. Or both."

She exhales, then nods her head to his rig. "Good thing we're both good sloggers. That's looking like it's going to take awhile to spit out any kind of answers, and I think we've exhausted the ideas we can kick around in this particular Detective Confab. I'm thinking of leaving my searches to run in the background and packing it in. But. Before I do…you got anything you need done that falls within my wheelhouse? Cause if you do, I'll take care of it."

She is trying to mostly get out of the advice and verbal comfort part of the friendship business, because her experiments into this tell her she's a bit hit and miss at it. About 80% more miss than hit, in fact. But…material support? Physical comfort? Hard work on behalf of people she cares about? These are things she can pull off with a much higher success rate.

—-

"When I started working with Batman, this is basically what I did," Red Robin says, on the subject of his slogging. "He didn't want me in the field as much, since I was…" A child. "…New, so I spent a lot of time working the computer systems. Chasing leads, sorting though information. Learning. Really, I'm used to this. And I've designed a bunch of programs that handle a lot of the work for me while I do other things."

Because, of course, Red Robin never only has one case on his plate. He's always got a number of things going on at any one time, frantically juggling them all and trying to not drop any. Which is something that Jessica could surely empathise with.

"No," is his answer about having anything he needs done that falls within her 'wheelhouse'. "Yes. Maybe. Something to keep an eye on, at least… Well, two somethings. One, there's a new drug on the street, I was investigating it before we left for Germany. They're mostly running it through Gotham, but I found a distribution site at the docks in New York, as well. It's called Blue Belladonna, and it's mostly targeted at women in their prime. The Odessa Mob gets them hooked, then a lot of them end up smuggled to Eastern Europe. I'm tracking their networks, but they're smarter than the average bear."

"The other, and I don't know if he's actually going to leave Gotham, is there's another Red Robin. Same costume, but he's bigger than me. He's an old enemy. He's been hitting the Odessa Mob too, and I'm not entirely sure why… He's also been trying to kill me."

—-

Jessica can more than empathize with that, yes. It's one reason why she offered to help, because she had an inkling that at the end of the day there would be something she could take off his plate.

She listens carefully to what he says, surprised, but pleased, that he actually does find something for her. "Blue Belladonna. What's the address of the distribution site? I'll start running some surveillance on it. Maybe see if I can't follow the drug around New York a bit. Being a woman might be helpful. Frees you to focus on Gotham. I'll let you know if and when those efforts turn up anything we can go have a look at."

She pulls a sour face. Human traffickers. They seem to be everywhere, and they disgust her on a level so deep that it would be more than her pleasure to beat some of them into submission, shortly before making sure their perfectly mundane asses end up in prison.

Her eyebrows shoot up at the Red Robin decoy. "Wow, that's some sort of crazed fan, there, Red. Pissed off because he couldn't figure out his own damned motif? I know all the good superhero names are taken but what the shit is his deal?"

—-

There's a slight shake of that cowled head.

"That distribution site is gone. They had some metahuman muscle, so I brought some of my own, and well… Girls who can fly and throw tanks around aren't really subtle when they start busting up the place. I got the information off of their network that I needed, at least. If I turn up any more sites in New York, I'll let you know."

Letting Wonder Girl and Miss Martian bust up the place had been the point, after all. They were the distraction that let him sneak in and get into the computer system. Besides, he couldn't say the mobsters didn't deserve it.

As for the other Red Robin…

"Actually… He was Red Robin first," the young man explains. "His deal is that he's brilliant, but almost a total psychopath. He hates me in particular because it's my fault his siblings are dead."

—-

Jessica gives him the thumbs up on that one, putting her notebook away. He now knows she's a resource he can use if he needs her on that front, and she now no longer has to figure out where to fit in 'go stare at docks' time. She smirks at girls who can fly and throw tanks around. "Man. Wish I could fly. Like for real fly, instead of stylish falling."

But it's just a random aside. She quirks an eyebrow at 'He was Red Robin first' and the entire explanation that follows. Her face registers skepticism that any deaths could actually be his fault…she has heard him, after all, take responsibility for deaths that were anything but. As do they all seem to, it seems to her. But she doesn't call him on it. She well knows it's easier to absolve a friend than it is one's self. And words are pretty terrible magic wands for making things better, when one gets right down to it, unless, perhaps, one happens to be particularly gifted in that regard.

"I'll keep my ear to the ground while working my other things," she promises. "And put a word out among my contacts, quietly, to get in touch with me if they hear about any of this stuff, including Psycho Red 1.0."

She picks up her phone and tucks it away. "If anything shakes out on either front, you'll be the first to know. If I run into him I'll text you before I start trying to beat the crap out of him for you."

She starts towards the stairs and smirks. "Hey. Don't forget about that sleeping thing." She makes the two fingers at her eyes, two fingers at him, two fingers at her eyes gesture.

—-

Having already dredged up the memory of those dark days in conversation with Zatanna - who he felt owed the full explanation, since Ulysses had tried to kill her too - Red Robin is in no rush to return to thoughts of what happened when Batman had been absent from Gotham for so long. With the proverbial blood in the water, so many of Gotham's worst had come hunting, and it had fallen to the various followers of the Dark Knight's path to try and pick up the slack. The young man sitting there, in particular, had taken the brunt of it on himself. He had stumbled, he had failed, and he'd come out of it changed.

More focused. More driven. More serious. More distant. Colder.

More like the Bat.

So he doesn't really say much of anything, at Jessica's promises regarding the things he told her. Not even her assurance that she'd text him before trying to take down the other young man who wears a similar costume.

What she says as she heads towards the stairs, though, gets a teenager's disgusted sigh.

"Okay mom," Red Robin retorts to the departing Jessica, but there's a hint of teasing in his electronically modified voice.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License