Aletheia

September 30, 2017:

Jane and Matt, having captured Elektra, bring her to the SHORO Investigation Deck for questioning. Jessica lets them in, and Elektra — backed into a corner — reluctantly gives them a key piece of the puzzle in the Wakandan infiltration.

SHORO Investigation Deck, Wakanda

The SHORO Investigation Deck, located in the security ministry building, is a 360 degree holographic recreation system used by Birnin S'Yan's security service to process the huge amounts of forensic data gathered by the city's personnel and scanning drones. It allows the investigation teams to walk through and recreate various crimes by compositing the scan data from nearby observance modules.

The majority of the deck's operation occurs from the conductor bridge, suspended over a vast expanse. It is one of the few major computers in the city powerful enough to composite the entire stream from a Wakanda security relay in addition to extrapolating and inferring from other sources of data.

It is also capable of advanced chemical analysis and facial recognition and uses primarily gestural and voice commands, similar to systems driven by Kimoyo technology elsewhere in the city.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Bucky Barnes, T'Challa, Luke Cage, Peggy Carter, John Constantine, Zatanna Zatara

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

When it comes to the matter of securing Elektra Natchios, accounting for strength is less important than accounting for her ability to bend in ways no human should bend. As such, regular restraints suffice — but many of them are used, secured at her wrists and ankles and in ways that prevent her from sliding herself loose like a perturbed cat.

The eventual destination for Matt Murdock, Jane Foster, and their unexpected captive? The SHORO Investigation Deck, where Jessica has been circulating as of late.

It's an impressive device, doubtless capable of far more than the team can actually access at this point in time, and significant enough it has its own wing in the security ministry building. Getting Elektra in might be a bit of a feat — she's still out, though it's been long enough that's liable to change any second.

Back in Birnin Azzaria, it takes Jane some time to recover from her strange offensive against Elektra Natchios.

It's several minutes before she can walk, and that's after she wipes a nosebleed and coughs up a bit more blood. Her strange use of magic-through-technology takes its toll.

As for Elektra, she explains it to Matt as a neurobiological reboot. No lasting trauma, no damage, no dump of the previous OS. Little more than a power surge in a machine, a flickering through its hardware. It has its own failsafes to shut down to prevent trauma, and that's what she was betting on.

Of course, this computer is Matt Murdock's /ex/.

Jane is otherwise quiet on the way back. Fatigued, sick, and possibly trying not to think too much about what she just did, even though she seems to possess no remorse abut it.

With a short call to Jessica to tell her what they just did, and who they now /have/, their car routes them back to S'Yan to meet with her back at SHORO.

There is the matter of sneaking Elektra in through WIS — people who'd probably enjoy seeing /her/ head mounted on a pike at the Southern border — but Jane has a solution for that too. "I can tunnel you both in once I'm inside," she proposes to Matt, with a bit of a wince. She remembers how he reacted to quantum superposition the first itme around. "Same rules apply. If you want to ninja it, though. By all means."

Elektra Natchios may be full of surprises, but it's safe to say that she won't awaken without tipping off the man who sits beside her in the back seat of the car that makes its way towards the ministry building. Not when all of his formidable powers of attention are currently centered on the beat of a heart at rest, her slow and even breaths at sleep. He watches her, in his own way, like a hawk.

Daredevil has been almost entirely silent since that insane, horrific moment hours ago when the two women, scientist and assassin, fell unconscious at his feet. Diligent, attentive, and focused in both the way he bound the still-prone Elektra and tended to a slowly recovering Jane — but silent. The ride back to Birin S'Yan has been absent the easy banter that marked the journey to Birin Azzaria save for a few brief, terse exchanges. He sits alone with his thoughts, and with the unconscious woman he feels a healthy mix of revulsion and concern for.

But they're nearing their destination, and Jane Foster is laying out options that rouse the man out of his reverie. "Jane," he says, worlds of weariness in his voice, "I'm not a magician or a scientist, but it doesn't exactly take one to tell that you're really messing yourself up with this stuff. We ought to try another way to get her in if we can."

Jessica Jones' voice, on the phone, had been rough, thick, wan, subdued, and strange. But she'd said, "You unbelievable badasses," and "I'll be there."

And then she'd just hung up. In the hours following the attack of someone who can't possibly be Elektra— good to know— she had, after a wildly emotional reaction, doggedly gone to case every last standing house in that neighborhood, even trying out some of the words she's picked up in Wakandan and Swahili to try to beg information out of anyone who saw anything of the man with a missile launcher. She had appealed heavily to: "Tafadhali, tafadhali, he killed Rizza." Casing is of course the old-fashioned gumshoe's way of doing things. WSS uses drones.

Which means, sooner or later, she'd have come right back here anyway.

The almond stench of deadly cyanide. The clinging odors of smoke and fire. A touch of friends: Cage, Carter, Constantine and Zatara. And a lot of saline around the eyes. That's what Jessicas are made of. She isn't in the building yet. She just comes leapfrogging across city blocks towards the SHORO tower, unconscious of the way she sails higher and further than before, lost in a mental morass.

She lands with a thump beside the car and leans down to peer in the window of the car, knocking gently, eyebrows lifting above eyes ringed with running mascara, smudged lipstick mouth twisting into one of those expressions she makes sometimes that is a little hard to read, one of those ones that's just generally tired or depressed.

Like all of them, really.

"WSS is pretty distracted right now," she says, in her smoke roughened tones. "I can probably walk us through the back hallways to the room I've been using, and talk us through anyone who gives a damn right this second."

It's neither ninjaing or sciencing or magicing (or throwing a giant ball of catnip, which would at least have the benefit of hilarity) but…it might do.

No one actually would give a damn. Jessica has been here often enough the Wakandans know her about as well as she knows the back ways of the ministry, and with the WSS indeed heavily occupied with the firebombing in Azzaria and with the missile attack, those back ways aren't really seeing a lot of traffic right now.

The problem would be that there is an obvious inherent fishiness to 'carrying in an unconscious woman, heavily bound,' around the halls of the ministry building, but an unexpected solution might be found in the fact that Elektra starts waking up right about now.

She slits open her eyes, and the first thing she looks for is Matt Murdock. "Where have you taken me?" she rasps, testing her bonds.

Maybe in different circumstances, Jane Foster would dredge up an ounce of empathy toward Matt Murdock's obvious concern.

Right now, however, she searches herself and finds only impatience.

"I'm fine," she answers, a little too terse, because if there's something Jane hates worse than being told she can't do something — it's being told she shouldn't. "It's the fastest option. Once we get James back, I promise I'll sit down and listen to whatever lectures, but right now —"

Her annoyed words cut off to Jessica's knuckles on the car window.

"Jessica," she says, even though she's sure Matt still knows — his senses seem incalculable in many ways — and duly opens her car door to greet.

"Hey," she says, somewhat unceremoniously, Matt's caution still annoying her for reasons unknown. Probably tired. Jane unfolds herself out of the car, grateful to stand again, moving out of the way to allow Jessica better access to see in — on Matt, on the Elektra-shaped parcel they've wrapped for delivery. She lingers a little looking up at the detective, obvious questions about her appearance, though with suggestions being offered to bring them all up, she stays on business. "Sounds good —"

And Elektra rouses. Jane slants a look back, eyes hooded. No answers forthcoming from her end.

She's fine, Jane tells him, and under his mask he rolls his sightless eyes. He's seen — smelled — her nosebleed twice now, and any time you're coughing up blood you're in real trouble. He, who has taken so many beatings in a scant eight months, should know. "Jane, we've got enough time to fig —"

And there's Jessica Jones.

And Jane's right; Jessica announces herself to Matt long before she actually lands adjacent to her car, each bounding step registering shockwaves that register with the hyper-sensitive aspiring superhero. It's when she does finally arrive that she truly surprises him, not with the fact that she's there but with all he can glean about what she's been through: the cocktail of scents that supplant the vanilla soap, the cigarettes, and (once upon a time) the booze he once associated with Jessica Jones. Cyanide and ash, saline and smoke. His head snaps in her direction. "Jess, what happened?" he asks with urgency and genuine concern.

Then Elektra is rousing, and his head turns towards her — hardly necessary, but born of force of habit and lingering human instinct. She's herself again — not someone stuck in some hellish nightmare where her father is being butchered — and for that he feels a twinge of unexpected (and perhaps unwelcome) relief. "Somewhere you can answer our questions," Matt says, trying to keep his voice even, wry, knowing. "Somewhere a lot more fucking hospitable than wherever you'd be if we'd handed you right over to T'Challa and his people. And, yeah, Elektra, probably with more avenues for escape down the line, too. Want to come with? Or opt for Plan B?"

"Hey," Jess says back to Jane. She sees in, and she narrows her eyes at the psychobitch who stabbed her. Matt (Daredevil, even in thought, she reminds herself) — asks what happens, and for a moment she hesitates.

Elektra's— the first time she got a name for her, M— Daredevil's habit of keeping things close to his chest having meant an omission of a name even during their deeply honest conversation in the aftermath of the stabbing— waking gets her attention, and she's not sure how much to drop in front of their prisoner.

"The real bomber happened. I think." What dances along her tone is grief, though it's all undercurrents; she's aiming for matter-of-fact, and missing, hitting, instead, the bite of habitual cynicism.

A hard look at Elektra, one that all but says 'oh please choose the hard way when I'm not coughing my face off first.' But she doesn't actually address her, opting to say, "Let's hope she can help us catch that murderous shitheel." Grief morphs, predictably, to simmering rage, but she manages to keep it all mostly under the wraps of the sardonic shroud.

Elektra is initially silent as she recovers slowly from whatever Jane did to her, listening as Matt replies her question — and presents her with her options. Her blue eyes flick to Jane, then to Jessica, and a brief calculus transpires behind them.

"Ah, well, you are correct in one thing," she eventually says, in that lilting cultured voice of hers. She sounds as poised and unconcerned as if she were sunbathing on the white sand of Myrtos, not captive in the back of a car with only Matt between her and two women who hate the shit out of her. "I have no interest in meeting either T'Challa nor his people. Yes?"

She sits up, keeping a wary eye on Jane and Jessica in case of any rough handling. "I might know a few things," she says. "Enough that you may even see your man again!" This, to Jane. "I will even come in with you to show you what they are. Good faith! My price is that you allow me to walk back out afterwards — and no tricks."

She cants her head, her dark hair framing her sly smiling and half-shuttered eyes. "I may even hand back this contract, afterwards. I am not hurting enough for work that I need take just any job, and I believe they would understand 'conflict of interest.'"

Elektra's blue gaze rests solely on Matt. Tellingly, she does not call him by name in this mixed company. "Truly I had no idea you were involved, or else I would not have taken it at all. But who would ever expect a sudden transformation into a vigilante named 'Daredevil?'"

She laughs. "Though I find it a fitting choice!"

The real bomber, says Jessica. It's enough of a revelation that Jane forgets her prior aggravation.

Her eyebrows shoot straight up. "You're sure? We found a second bomb site in Azzanin — though not recent enough to know for sure they'd still be local. Good. Good." She doesn't inquire either after Jessica's condition, who looks more than a little roughed up — whether on Jane Foster's part it's her impetus, or colourblind callousness, or simply a more implicit faith in the strength and hardiness of Jessica Jones. Especially here, and especially now — she's expecting no less than everyone to be at their best condition for James.

Even herself. She's not allowing herself any opportunity or wasted ounce of energy off the mark. After James is returned, then she can remember what emotions are, indulge in their weaknesses, and —

Elektra's sharp words draw Jane's dark eyes. She closes up, the look on her face positively glacial, listening with a needly intensity as the captive woman offers her way of a parlay. She's willing to hold both her silence and her own tongue, first because it's no use and no good to get off-focus, and second because she's got the obvious history with Matt, and Jane /likes/ Matt. Jane /owes/ Matt.

And then Elektra mentions James and all that gets shot to hell.

Fury thins out her breathing and slows her heart. Some people, not just annoyed, not just irritated, not just superficially impatient, but truly furious — show it in vast and expansive, explosive displays.

Jane Foster goes hypothermic. "I was playing before while I made you cry. You want round two?"

Elektra's coquettish, playful expression goes flat. Her eyes freeze over. She twists, there's a slight pop behind her back where her hands are bound, and then they make a reappearance: freed, her fingers already jointing back into place.

"I don't know," she says. "Do you, skila?"

Elektra confirms and debunks any number of theories about what she's doing here and why in these brief exchanges, with all her talk of contracts, jobs, and conflicts of interest in flirting, coquettish tones that he once associated with very different matter. At one point in the — perhaps as she commends him on his transformation and the appropriateness of his alter-ego's moniker, Matt's horned head dips down and his naked teeth grit and grind. "Oh my god," he breathes in tones of quiet and baffled wonderment. "What happened to you?"

She's bending and twisting out of her artfully-crafted bindings like some Houdini while she trades barbs with Jane in multiple languages, and Matt pays it next to no mind. His aspect is cast askew as he ponders this new reality they're in, the costs and the benefits. His chin juts forward. "You charge too much for too little," he says at last, iron in his tone. "You give us what you have, and you're with us until James Barnes goes free. If he walks? You walk, and turn that contract back in — if anyone still cares about it after that."

A beat. Does he need to say it? He does, not for her, but to bind himself: "If Barnes dies, I give you to the Wakandans. That's the deal. And the only deal."

'You sure?' Jane asks.

"All I know is someone shot a missile at an old grandmother's home because I stayed with her whenever I worked here, and now she's dead," Jessica replies. What's twisting her up isn't physical impairment but guilt, fury, and sorrow. Rizza's death has brought the six other dead Wakandans home for her, along with the 47 injured and terrorized ones. It's about all of them now too, not just Bucky. 7 dead, more to come, and a campaign of terror that strikes her as both pointless and cruel.

But… she certainly seems in okay physical shape, indeed; whatever Jane's motivations she seems to be fine with the response of the diminutive badass scientist too. She is in a mode where she deals by not dealing; dealing will happen later, possibly with a reappearance of the booze Matt used to associate with her.

"But it's not the worst theory I've ever had either."

And then: "Michael had to disarm another bomb the other day too, so maybe the fucker has help. Or is a…bomb-o-sexual, Hell if I know. Just spewing them like jizz all over the fucking country."

Elektra earns herself a dark look that says 'crazy bitch' on that expressive face, just about plain as day, but again, Jessica doesn't deign to speak to her. For much the same reason why Jane is holding back: the one and only Matt Murdock.

Elektra turns cool, trades those barbs with Jane, and she's tempted, very tempted, to point out that she had best be very glad her former beau is here to play buffer. But Jane can handle herself, and Jessica can only escalate the situation by pointing out that she certainly has no qualms with torturing the posh little murderess. It's when the woman unbinds her hands that she tenses, steps closer. A flick of a glance to those fingers. One fast squeeze and she could break one of Elektra's bones. A glance to the collarbone, where Jane told her to strike.

But Matt's deal is a satisfying one on some level, if they can keep hold of her long enough to throw her to any panthers. If the master assassin doesn't just give them the finger and run away laughing while she sings 'Tra La!'

Either way, despite her private misgivings, she's still not keen on interfering with that. What she is keen on doing? Is getting them all inside.

She pulls out her panther tooth necklace. She motions for them to follow her and leads them to a side security door near an employee break area. She taps the little tooth against a small panel shaped like some sort of Wakandan flower, and then leads them through the winding architecture to the SHORO room. She opens the door by virtue of another little necklace tap, then holds it open for them in a parody of civility that has a lot more to do with mantling protectiveness than manners. Mostly verbal protectiveness; if someone comes by for this, even with Elektra Unbound in the mix, she wants to be able to intercept and chat them up rather than leaving someone out here to face uncomfortable questions.

"What happened to me?" Elektra hisses. "You know what happened to me. Your new best friend Miss Cunt just jacked off to it. What happened to YOU?" You might have given half a shit about that before, goes unsaid in her silence after.

She spits to one side at the terms he gives her, but she listens. She makes no reply, but that's probably as good as he'll get so far as an answer.

Instead of a verbal response, Elektra shoves the car door wider open with a heel and slides out. "Do you want this or not?" is all she says.

She lets Jessica lead, at least for the process of getting to the SHORO, but once at the supercomputer herself, she takes point. She places her hands on the interface, scanning it intently, before she rolls her eyes. "All this time and you haven't cracked the WIS clearance level for this thing?" She rolls her eyes. "Thought you were all supposed to be smart."

The information she disseminates is not just the password, because it seems Wakanda does not merely secure things in such a way where people enter 'codes' and things open up — it's the password, and the current randomized salt and hash function being used. No handholding in this country — for something as critical as WIS-level access, it seems, they expect people to just solve for the correct hash for themselves.

Elektra does not seem interested in doing it for them.

The story of others lost in those same bombings, even those more recent — Jessica's retelling earns Jane's eye, but no real outpouring of empathy.

It may make Jane lesser of a person, harder, or more unkind — but those other deaths do not weigh on her. Cannot weigh on her, nothing left in her worried, tired heart to give to anyone more than the one who matters right now.

And Jane Foster is running on fumes. Fumes and too-little blood, bits and pieces forsaken again and again to cut all the necessary corners on this search, and everything else for her own comfort long forsaken. Blood on her hands, blood still tinny at the back of her throat, blood images burnt behind her eyes every time they close and she cannot sleep. She is so /exhausted/ —

— and exhausted enough that the fury spills out of her the moment Elektra invokes James's name. For all her ice, Jane is one single exposed nerve, flesh and muscle cut away to strip her to ringing pain. She's so angry and so tired that even she understands the implicit danger, lethality even in meeting the eyes of a woman who sniped her car with a shot so precise she hadn't wanted it to kill —

But in that moment of anger, she doesn't care. In that moment of anger where, for a moment, she tries to look down the jaws of a reality where James Barnes dies.

Jane regards Elektra and Elektra's newly-freed hands in a moment more of her own silence. Then she says no more, as Matt speaks for all instead, withdrawing once again.

She joins the rest of them on that strange walk into WSS, keeping a wide physical berth between herself and Elektra. The woman moves as quickly as Jane's mind; can't be trusted, and she made herself a promise she's not dying on Wakandan soil.

And then — the SHORO. It's enough Jane forgets much of her fury, even that eclipsed with what is truer and far more powerful: that itch for discovery. Faced with a technology that is the stuff of /dreams/, the woman is all wide eyes and long, fascinated looks, trying to appraise what it is, what it does in a few long looks, as Elektra mans the controls and rebukes them for the low clearance level.

Jane doesn't rise to the taunt; she does, however, rise to the challenge.

It's a familiar one, in the end. Every cryptographic method has been her life leading into James's trial, trying to break and translate HYDRA's encrypted data in several dozen different ways. Her eyes scan the read-out only once.

"Got this," she assures. She goes quiet. No calculations drawn out. No script necessary. Jane does this entirely in her head inside a minute, and enters the solution.

Jessica Jones gives Elektra a flat-eyed look as she works her magic with the console. Her tone is deadpan as she says, "Me smart. Me high school graduate and everything."

Nevermind that she wouldn't know a salt and hash function from a salt shaker and hash brown function, or that the former straight-A student might have, under other circumstances, bristled and felt embarrassed to be reminded she's the only one in the room without a college education, and the only one who has been using this SHORO thing to date.

"Are you sure I can't just rip her arms off for her?" she says as an aside to the Daredevil. "I mean. I don't mind." It's mostly a joke. It even kind of sort of sounds like one. Mostly.

In a more normal tone, with real chagrin: "Sorry, Jane. I should have brought you in here to fix that ages ago. It never occurred to me even once. It was already so much more than I've ever gotten to work with in my entire life. I knew maybe they'd cut me off from some things but…"

She trails off. The oversight, like the one she'd discovered when John pointed out the religious angle she'd missed, seems unforgivable. A misstep that could get James killed in the end. She'd known they'd cut her off from some things, and moreover had respected their right to do so, and that seems somehow even worse.

So, she doesn't rip off anyone's arms, of course. She does privately and quietly rip herself a new asshole, but she does that with a blank look on her face, because now's so not the time. She can't help whatever Matt might sense from it, other than to force herself through meditation exercises until the feeling goes away so she doesn't end up being a distraction, now that she's aware that's a Thing.

She decides to make herself useful while she's at it. Jessica waits till everyone's inside. She plants herself in an arms-crossed lean against the door in the console-side of the room, a maneuver that serves two functions.

First, she's the human doorstop. Nobody Wakanda-side is gonna get in while she just hangs out there, planting her feet.

Second, she's the guard. Elektra would have to stab her again to get out of there.

And from there? Jessica Jones shuts her mouth and listens up while watching keenly, because she'll be damned if she misses one iota of information now. And that's pretty much the posture she'll stay in for the rest of this fun-filled reunion. She's too fried to even try to ask questions; that, she'll leave to the other two.

What happened to her, Matt asks, and Elektra all but spits it out: I saw my father butchered in front of my eyes. What do you think happened to me?

The answer quietly galls him. That's not an excuse for doing what you do, he wants to shout back at her, but three things hold him back. The first: his acute extrasensory powers, which tell him that, whatever his own sturm and drang, both Jane Foster and Jessica Jones are at the end of their ropes. The last thing they need to do is hear him arguing wth his ex-girlfriend about her poor life choices. The second is what Elektra herself says next: Where were YOU? she demands of him, and that arrow strikes true on a tender emotional pressure point that has been sore for days now.

And the third? A clear-eyed sense that Elektra — for all she has consumed his waking thoughts for days — is a distraction. Fighting with her won't save James. Working with her, as excruciatingly uncomfortable and surreal as it is, might.

They move on. Through bartering — with an uncertain and tentative conclusion — and right into action. They make their way as surreptitiously as they can into the laboratory, where Jane does her own brand of magic — but not before Elektra, always possessed of a mean streak even before her assassin days, gets her digs in. "Computers have never really been my strong suit," the blind man quips darkly.

Elektra stays as far from Jane as Jane stays from her, though there is a moment during the trade-off of access to the SHORO where they brush past one another. The woman watches Jane as she moves up to the computer, her gaze a lethal promise that makes clear: she is a grudge-holder, and this one she will not forget.

Jessica, for her smartass comments, gets a somewhat less venomous but no less annoyed look.

For now she does nothing — too risky to, here surrounded by enemies — but it doesn't stay her tongue. But it's not particularly Matt that put Elektra is such a bad mood as to make such nasty digs, and surprisingly — or unsurprisingly — enough, it doesn't seem like Matt was an intended recipient. She shoots a sharp glance over at Matt at his quiet comment that computers were never his strong suit, before her gaze improbably mollifies. The softening of her expression makes her look younger.

"I know that," she says, in a tone oddly subdued, and not because of her captivity.

The lot of them don't have long to wait before Jane cracks open a higher level of access to the SHORO. Whoever it was that Elektra nicked these credentials from, they had a high clearance, and there are files accessible on a number of topics that are likely familiar — the three distinct operations brought under the single umbrella of Orisha — and some that are less familiar.

Then there's the correspondence marked 'WRIGHT, BHEKIZIZWE.' A highly restricted file, it indicates that while codename: Blackstone has woken from his injuries, he must not yet be moved from his concealment in a hospital in Birnin Zana, and in fact the security detail should be strengthened, as a retaliatory assassination is feared before he is sufficiently recovered to fully report on what he witnessed.

"I was meant to kill him," Elektra sulks. "But I suppose you shall all ruin that now."

There is something else in the system: an option to composit an interactive holographic walkthrough of various of the recent crimes that have transpired in Wakanda, among them the Mizizi conference bombing. The recent Azzaria bombing, it seems, is still being constructed from the scan data of observance modules.

Jane, for her own reasons, does her best to avoid Elektra —

The reasons being somewhat obvious: in a contained room, within arm's reach, and with no convenient distractions or time to access her own offenses — which requires time and preparation — she is no match against the woman. And especially now, underslept, unsure of when her own last meal was, certain her weight is in the eighty-somethings pounds, and having lost so much blood in the last few days she's still pale even baked in the Wakandan sun — Jane is so tired. She knows of Jessica's strength and Matt's quickness, but even then, she's caught glimpses of how the assassin moves. Would they be able to stop her in time?

And then when SHORO comes into sight — Jane's attention sieves to a pinpoint. With Elektra branding a promise into her back, and swearing she feels eyes on her, she almost glances back over her shoulder — but the computer system draws her back. What little left of her energy dedicates itself to learning.

Jessica's saying something to her, something like an apology, and Jane answers in a quiet, detached, "It's fine," her voice of someone not really listening. At the very least, it doesn't seem like a deliberate ignorance, with the way her dark eyes appraise and calculate the system, calibrated for use by someone with the right authorization. With Elektra's stolen ident fed in, and Jane's math filling in the spaces to allow access —

Accessing that first file, the one that Elektra mourns not being able to kill.

"Holy shit," Jane says her piece. It takes her a moment to realize Matt probably has no idea what they're seeing, because — yes. "So — we know where Blackstone is."

It draws her scattered attention back, even as her hands dance along the holographic controls. Jane's attention looks back on Elektra, centered on her, pensive in a way — 'meant to kill him.' She considers the woman, not with the fury of before, but the long look someone gives a fatal chasm, staring the distance into a deep darkness and wondering if there's any surviving that fall. "Meant by who, Hydra?" She goes quiet. "You should check behind your left ear. If there's a scar."

It's not said cruelly. Instead, a moment later, Jane turns her eyes back to SHORO. "It looks like they've assembled the scenes of the bombings and — Mizizi," she says again, for Matt's benefit. "I'm — going to play this."

And she does.

Matt can't see the softening of Elektra's expression, of course, but he can hear her voice quiet itself — subdued under the weight of shared memory. And she can't see his brow knit — not beneath that helm — but she can no doubt see his chin dip under the self-same weight.

That's memory, sure, but also frustration. He is useless here, in front of screens and projectors he can't begin to make out. Useless, of course, save as a watchdog against his one-time girlfriend. Jane worries Elektra might lunge for her. And even with the assassin deprived of her weapons, the concern is valid. Elektra is fast — faster than Matt even remembers — and so his focus rests on her. Watching for the quickened heartbeat that signals aggression, or any other sign that might indicate the evening is about to go more sideways than it has already.
Hisnd, because he's fixing his attention almost wholly on her, he can't help but note the way she sulks at being denied the opportunity to kill — who? Blackstone, Jane quickly clarifies, but that's not the point Matt fixes on. She's pouting over not being able to commit murder. Who is this woman? Who was it that he'd —

You should check behind your left ear, Jane says. If there's a scar. If anyone in this room were as attuned to the world as Matt is, they'd hear his breath still in his chest. He's almost tempted to reach over and under that veil of dark hair and do it himself, however unwelcome the gesture would be. He remembers vividly what that slight span of skin behind her ear felt like: thin and delicate and humming with her pulse. Is there a scar? Could whatever has happened to her be undone, the way it was undone to James Barnes? In the span of the moment that question looms larger than any of the others — even as Jane begins to play the tape.

Elektra initially maintains her silence to Jane addressing her, though her eyes narrow when the other woman finally prompts her to check behind her ear if she was 'hired' by Hydra. "I know about those," Elektra says, a little peevishly. "As if I would let that happen. I am a professional, not a zealot."

Worse and worse news for Matt's emotional state.

The holographic reconstruction, when it hums to life, is likely a welcome distraction. It is a remarkable marvel of engineering, because it is so complete a reproduction that even Matt finds a great deal of usable information reaching him even despite lacking the most important sense for analyzing a hologram. While there might not be any reproduction of smell, nor tangibility to the images to give him a sense of depth or distance, sound is reproduced in perfect detail.

A visual of the grounds of the Mizizi conference knits to life in the vast empty space beneath the control bridge of the SHORO. There are controls to pan, focus, and zoom, though the system seems intelligent to a degree — enough to follow the path of much of the action on its own.

That, or — much more likely — WIS has already run this simulation several times, combing the footage for any information on what happened.

As the stream plays, the view pans, predictably, to the locations of each of the planted charges throughout the center. The observance modules at each location, as might be expected, catch nothing of whoever it was set up the charges… though at the last one, the module catches the slightest sound of fading footsteps.

No, nothing about the stream itself is out of the ordinary. It's the annotations made on the stream by the Wakandan investigators that warrant notice. There are four points throughout the stream that are marked out with audio notes, recorded by the forensic investigators in their cool voices. Two are noted to be 'Erasure points: stream recovered,' and two are regretfully noted, 'Erasure points: unrecoverable.' All fall under a single heading: 'These segments were scrubbed from the stream. Tampering obvious. We expect the same actor as was responsible for the drones.'

The first recovered portion of the stream, when played, shows a quiet storage and control room manned by two individuals, both working on what appears to be a malfunctioning extinguisher drone, which would be eminently familiar to Matt by now. It's certainly making the same calm humming its brethren make, albeit with a sickly little clicking that the technicians are clearly working out. They suspect nothing amiss up until the door opens, they look up —

— and the first collapses without a sound to the thrown knife that embeds in his throat. His companion lives one second longer, because one second is how long it takes the dark and unmistakable figure of the Winter Soldier to cross the room and break her neck in his left hand.

He drops the second body atop the first. The observance module catches the clear blue flash of his eyes as he turns towards the control panels. It's visible on the holographic reproduction, audible in the soft audio confirmations that emanate from the panels as the Winter Soldier works: he is calmly reconfiguring the drones to path a different track than they are programmed to path.

Once finished, he turns and leaves without preamble. The recovered footage ends, flowing seamlessly back into the main stream.

The second segment awaits.

For a moment, Elektra meets Jane's eyes — and she can feel that glare ice-picking beneath her flesh. With the quiet thought that it may only be Matt's reflexes — and possibly his mollifying presence — that keeps her alive this very moment, she forces herself to keep the assassin's eyes. It's an important question the scientist wages: important for Matt Murdock.

She doesn't need extrasensory abilities to pick up how tellingly quiet he gets; his silence is a low ache in her chest. If this were James, she'd be feeling the exact same thing: that hope, that horror. It was nearly her, too, with that microchip grafted into her head.

Then, just like that, Elektra gives her reply.

Jane is quiet, no words, no movement, save for the subtle tightening of her jaw. She looks at Elektra one moment more, in her eyes one word — why? — before she looks away.

In all the time she allows before she has to go back to work, to focus again on James's rescue: her heart twists for Matt. The chip is one thing. And this — "Tampering obvious?" she repeats the words of the audio.

Swallowing, she instead fills the silence of the room with the activation of the simulation, drawing back a half-step as holographic footage webs light waves through empty space, forming a moving picture of what apparently was.

Jane, in few words, tries to describe the moving picture for Matt's benefit, to provide context to the sounds he is already familiar — control room, those drone, people there — Wakandans —

Then she goes quiet. Quiet the same time as the trajectory of that knife. And then —

The Winter Soldier murders, and Jane Foster looks like she's seen a ghost. A man she's not known for a long time. That mask. That arm. Memories from last November prickle her thoughts and burn her eyes, and she looks helplessly as the image of the man she loves kills again with his bare hands. The plates grind audibly, familiarly, down the length of his synthetic left arm.

"I don't —" Jane says helplessly, when it ends. "Why would they create this? Because it has to be a forgery. That is /not/ James. That's /not/ him. Either they made this, or it means this is —"

She impulsively hits the second segment to play.

In the span of moments, Elektra Natchios peevishly confirms all of Matt's worst fears about who she has become, what she does, and why. The revelation prompts a visible tightening at the corners of his jaw and a less visible tightening in the chamber of his chest and shuttering of eyes obscured behind the crimson lenses on his mask. At the same time his ex-girlfriend confirms the worst, the eerily precise audio from the hologram, paired together with Jane Foster's reaction to it, raises a host of new questions about the man he has spent the last half-a-year of his life defending.

To sum it up: it's an unpleasant couple moments for Matt Murdock.

"If someone tampered with the recordings," he says after an audible clearing of his throat as he strives for a measured tone, "they could just as easily add as remove — and for the same reason. To cover their tracks and cover up what really happened and draw suspicion away from themselves."

With that observation made, he waits for what's next.

Elektra has no opinion about the recordings, how they might have come to be there, why they might have been erased, and what one should infer from the fact the Wakandans were able to get them back, essentially, from the Recycle Bin. She just folds her arms and frowns in her spot off to one side. She'd be considering bolting if not for Jessica blocking the door.

Jane hits play on the second segment. This one is shorter. It is a brief capture of the Winter Soldier moving purposefully down a hallway, towards an exit that would take him to limits of the conference center. Once he nears the end of it, he lifts his head and pulls a device from his pocket.

A moment later, all those planted charges erupt in explosive flame, and Mizizi begins to burn.

The Soldier turns a last corner. The perspective switches disorientingly to another observance module to follow him. The new perspective provides an excellent view of the assassin unexpectedly confronted with a witness: a startled young boy, no more than eight or nine, midway through running back into the center from where he was presumably playing outside.

The Winter Soldier doesn't even hesitate in his forward stride. He keeps walking. The way he snaps the child's neck, in passing, is almost incidental to his departure.

Elektra mutters to herself as the recovered segment ends. "Dramatic nonsense," she's saying, mostly to herself. "But then, men always need to be so theatrical."

Jane stares into the recording without speaking, without blinking, without breathing.

If she did not trust infinitely in the mind and soul of James Barnes, and if she did not for certain John Constantine's magical reins on him — the surety that their link would shut James down in the chance of something going wrong, even she would be moved to wonder: what if?

Even with the mask, it's a seamless likeness. What if his freedom flickered, and the programming returned? What if he went back to That, the lie they told him for decades? She averts her eyes before she can see the child die, feeling cold, feeling sick.

But Jane does not allow herself to doubt. And, remembering the others, she knows she needs to speak up, and speak fast. They wouldn't know of John — know of the request James asked of him months and months ago. One of James Barnes's many secrets, and he only told her.

"I know it looks — " she utters, low, thin, grave, "I know it sounds — but I promise you it's not him." Jane could say why, but isn't — not in Elektra's earshot. Hydra's not going to learn shit. "Just trust me. It's an absolute impossibility that's him. Which means —"

Elektra says something — about the unnecessary theatre of men killers. Jane slips the woman a look, but her dark eyes seem to stare through her. Not listening, not really, because her own frantic attention spearheads back on one thought.

It is dramatic. Botched footage? Recording created, pretended to be destroyed, only to be recovered again? It sounds cyclical and unnecessary. "It /moves/ like him. It's — could someone create this? Why would — and then destroy it? If you want to ensure James's guilt? What would be any other reason? Is it some other asshole with a metal arm?"

Matt can't see Bucky — or this facimile of Bucky — kill the boy in the hologram, but the sound and the reaction of the others watching tell him most of what he needs to know. Theatrical, Elektra calls the murder, suggesting that she would be oh-so-much more understated in her child killing. Matt can sudden taste a hint of bile in his mouth; he forces it down. But he can't surpress a sally back. "Yeah, there's no theater in you, is there?"

Jane assures the room that the man represented there cannot be Bucky Barnes for — reasons. But then, having eliminated one impossibility, she throws out a barrage of questions. "From everything we know about HYDRA, very few things are beyond them," Matt says. "And yeah, if this isn't Bucky then it has to be part of a frame job." A beat, and then a grudging: "It certainly explains why T'Challa gunned so hard for him."

His profile turns sidelong towards Elektra. "You said you were late, when we stopped you. Where were you headed?"

Elektra, arms folded, has little to offer on the analysis. She's probably still sulking. She is listening pretty closely, however, which makes it a good thing that Jane doesn't talk about specifics of why it 'can't be James.'

The assassin does seem to enjoy her obvious confusion, as proved by her many questions.

Her gaze turns to Matt when he asks her something directly. She looks as if she's considering whether to answer or with what, before she grudgingly says, "I was on the way to Birnin Zana," she says. Mockingly, she repeats her orders: "'It is of imperative importance that Blackstone be removed as quickly as possible.'"

She tosses her hair. 'No theater in you' doesn't even merit more than a scoff and a glance of her dark eyes. "Of course, that's all blown now," she says.

Those quips go over Jane Foster's not-so-tall head. Mostly because she's isn't listening, isn't in the mood for sharp words and traded barbs — not with her eyes still burned with the image of what looks like James Barnes breaking a child's neck with his left hand.

It fills her with revulsion and fury; it could not be him, could not even be an override if anything of the Winter Soldier still exists to erase his memory, so what else? A farce, a lie, someone staging something to undo all the humanity James Barnes is trying to reclaim. She'll kill whoever did this.

Staring coldly, darkly into that holographic image, Jane thinks. She goes back in her memory, to her audience with T'Challa at the consulate in New York. He implied to her there his respect in the scientific process, and the importance of evidence — only evidence would exonerate James.

Footage alone, tampered or created, would not be enough to convince him. Jane bets it. There has to be more. Something substantial —

"It isn't beyond them," Jane concedes Matt's words, her own low and wan. "I just don't know how far their limits go. This image — he /moves/ like James. Did they train more? Give them a prosthesis? Did they create a new Winter Soldier?"

Her jaw tightens; she only goes quiet to listen as well to Elektra's answer to Matt's very important question. "We need to get to Blackstone," she concurs. "Before they catch on the murder isn't happening."

Matt has no answers for Jane's questions. Doctored holographic footage? A faux-Winter Soldier? A real one, imported from an alternate timeline like the ones they were manipulating below Echo Park? The possibilities are endless, and hypothesizing in a lab won't narrow that list. Nor does he have a salve for her understandable fury. Has ever a mortal man suffered as much and as long as James Buchanan Barnes? Bits of old scripture — of Job — flicker through his mind.

But now stretch out Your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse You to your face.

Meanwhile, Elektra's answer confirms Matt's suspicion that Blackstone was Elektra's target, and Jane's assertion that we must reach him echoes the next steps he's silently putting together. They have only until HYDRA realizes that Elektra has been compromised to reach Blackstone and find out what he knows and how it can help James. That means speed, and perhaps force — all with limited resources.

"Is there anything else," he says to his erstwhile love in weary tones, "that you can tell us about what HYDRA has done here in Wakanda, or what it's planning? Anything that would help us?"

James Buchanan Barnes, somewhere far away from here (or perhaps not so far away), wonders that very same thing himself, often and ruefully.

Why does my life, in particular, continually and abjectly suck? As if seventy-five years of continual suffering weren't already ENOUGH?

Elektra seems highly disinterested in the provision of any additional information that would help with the plight of James Barnes. She actually examines her nails as Jane talks, laying out her various theories, though she can't resist a little remark there — "I imagine I would have heard if there were a new Winter Soldier. The community is… rather small."

She stretches in her corner, languorously, catlike. Matt, long-suffering himself, inquires if there is anything else she can tell about what HYDRA has done in Wakanda, and she cants her head at him thoughtfully. Their deal does hinge her release on Barnes walking free, and there is a moment where she does a visible calculus: how much can she say to ensure she gets out of this, but without more of a black mark from HYDRA than she's already going to get for her capture?

"Well, it's not as if they told me that much," she hedges. "Do you tell everything of your life to the contractor you hire to build your home? I can certainly tell you that you had better not stand around here and should get to Blackstone with all haste. He is being targeted because he clashed with the leader of the HYDRA infiltration efforts here. Dear 'Beck' is the only one to have seen that man."

She half-lids her eyes. "I have a feeling if you find that man you will have a fair prize to throw to the Cat King in place of your 'Bucky Barnes.'"

That familiar ire briefly guts the reason from Jane's brown eyes, the moment Elektra meanders back on dangerous topics — namely that of James Barnes and the Winter Soldier.

This time, however, she says nothing, perhaps most for the reason that Elektra provides something close to actual intelligence —

— that is, if the woman is telling the truth. Another unknown in Jane's over-complicated world.

She has no time but to take the woman at face value. More than that, she's right. Find the false Soldier, exonerate James. Seems simple. But it never is.

"Good enough reason for me," Jane declares, already moving, stepping down from SHORO's controls. She appraises Elektra one last time, discerningly, wishing herself in one moment for James's experienced eye — being able to read, know someone's training, aptitude, proficiency in few glances. The woman is deadly, but not even she knows entirely /how/.

"You're going to be OK keeping an eye on her?" Jane asks Matt, an eye turned on him. Her voice couches in unspoken apology; to her, it's best Elektra stay delegated his watch and responsibility.

Elektra hedges when pressed for more intel on HYDRA, and Matt hears her edge. He doesn't need to hear the accelerated heartbeat that comes from an outright lie. He's a natural polygraph, but that's not what gives him grace here. It's that he's too familiar with what half-truths and gentle elisions sound like coming from her. The hinge of his jaw clenches visibly, itself a hint that he means to press her further, before —

Jane promptly agrees with Elektra, and asks whether he's willing to sit out the next adventure watching her.

The latter doesn't bother him. He's already been through this with Jones: he spent the better part of his spring and summer leading the defense of James Barnes. Investigating every lead, marshalling evidence, and commanding a small army of witnesses — expert and personal — as well as poor Foggy and the paralegals they hired on borrowed money. He's played the general, the quarterback, the point. And while the time, money, sweat, and heart he invested in protecting Bucky fairly well demands he be here in this godforsaken jungle and see this through, he no longer needs to be out front.

It's the latter — the prospect of spending significant time alone, with Elektra — that gives him a moment's pause… and makes him wonder whether he should have let her walk out after parceling out those bits of intel, as she'd first proposed. It's a trepidation he doesn't — can't afford to — show in the world-weary reply: "Yeah. Yeah, I've got her."

Jessica hasn't reacted much through all of this, though when it's revealed Blackstone is at the hospital she literally facepalms and mutters, "That is literally one of the first places I went."

But of course, she didn't try to check it room by room, nor had she had any way to get at hospital records, and the one doctor that would talk to them hadn't exactly been forthcoming. Still a facepalm moment.

Then the drama plays out on the screen. She doesn't really need Jane to tell her it's a fake Winter Soldier. What she wants to know, as she narrows her eyes and watches, is how, and who tampered with the footage to make it work.

Then the child dies right there in holographic living color. The snap of the kid's neck reverberates throughout the room.

A sharp intake of breath. It snaps something inside her too, something that was already fractured in there. The event sends the detective's mind reeling. She turns without realizing what she's doing, presses her palms to the door, lowers her head. In her mind, everything distills to a single sort of singularity.

Senseless. Senseless. Senseless waste.

Coherent thought spins away for a moment; her stomach plunges, her ears roar. For a moment it's as if her entire mind has fallen down a well. Cold and deep. Sounds come to her distantly, she's looking up from underwater, the sun is shimmering overhead, she needs to get up there so she can breathe but she can't, because she needs something to cling to.

Catch him.

Right. Catch him, catch the killer, vindicate the dead and clear the innocent, clear James, save his life, prevent one more senseless death. They need as much evidence as possible to make their case. Jane is going…somewhere. Jessica steps aside for her, on autopilot. Hospital. Blackstone. Matt saying he's got the Monster who is trying to get inside of his head.

Her consciousness breaks through the mental waters and she stares around. To her perception, all the colors have been washed out of everything she sees, like all the world is this mad painting left out in the sun too long. But it's back in focus, and she finds she can function again. She's functioned with this dull, painful stone in the center of her chest before, this iron band that makes it hard to breathe. Functioned with the world going slowly grey.

She goes over to the terminal though, and pulls up a list of the dead, seeing all six of them for the first time. They'd been classified, before. Mostly, she wants to know the kid's name. It doesn't take her long to match the right victim name and description to the right little victim. When she does, she bows her head a second time, clenches her fists, gives no signs that she's chosen any kind of a detective's next course yet. Just this: one moment of mourning for a kid she never knew.

"Maliq," she says softly, and not to anyone in particular. "The kid's name was Maliq."

Elektra is bland as water to Jane's inspection. She stands loosely in her position leaned against the far wall, arms folded, half-lidded eyes revealing little.

That is, up until they gleam when Jane basically assigns Matt to watch over her. Her gaze tracks over towards him, to see what he makes of that. And just as he knows her, can read her without effort… she seems able to read him, too. Whatever she sees in his pause, in his expression, closes hers off too, Jane suddenly the third wheel to a former couple gone obviously, devastatingly wrong.

You going to be OK keeping an eye on her? Jane asks, likely without thinking, and Elektra shoots her a sharp glare. "If he had an eye to keep."

She huffs an annoyed breath, even as Matt asserts that he's 'got her.' "Do you," she says, her voice arch. "We'll see."

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