The Thumb Drive

November 23, 2017:

When Six deciphers Reva Connors' thumb drive, Luke Cage and Daredevil are forced to confront some dark truths about their pasts.

Danny Rand's abandoned walk-up in Harlem.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Jessica Jones, Danny Rand

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The question of where to meet had really been the only sticking point, once Daredevil had communicated to Six that Luke Cage was interested in passing along the thumb drive. On the matter of whether or not she wanted to be involved, there had been no question: not just willing, but eager. It's only the hurdle of secret identities that needs clearing — a point on which she remains inflexible, for unstated reasons.

Very luckily for all parties, Danny Rand happens to have a load of properties that he's barely even aware of. One of these became the impromptu prison for the doctor they…'liberated'…at the hospital. It's dilapidated and empty, and has plenty of room in it for three people who want to put their heads together about what they've found.

The rumble of a motorcycle dies off outside the building and shortly thereafter Luke ambles in with his helmet hooked on one hand. "Just me." Comes the booming greeting to herald his approach, just on the off chance all this business has made anyone jumpy or trigger happy. Not that the latter is much danger to Luke save he's rather fond of the leather jacket he's wearing, a grey 'Rand' branded hoodie beneath. He wanders until he finds room Six is occupying.

The broker of this little meeting is punctual too. In his daytime life, Matt Murdock often seems to be struggling to catch up, having slept an hour too late, or having fallen just a few minutes behind. Chalk it up to his disability. Daredevil, however, learned his lessons from his sensei: If you're always there early, no one can ever get the drop on you.

"He's here," the masked man murmurs to Six from his vantage in the shadowed corner, catching that booming call from eight-stories down. And when the man finally arrives, the Devil of Hell's Kitchen nods in greeting. "Hey, Cage." The tone is quiet, and as close to affable as his costumed persona ever comes.

Sadly, Power Man won't be able to hear the smile in her voice, given it's all completely synthesized from the ground up via her helmet. But she displays for the first time a new feature she's been tinkering with: the glossy black faceplate, sleek and featureless, illuminates with tiny LED lights in the shape of a momentary smile. Given the lack of eyes or a nose or anything else to break up the smooth curvature, it's not entirely humanizing, but that's also working as intended.

"I know," she tells Matt, wry. "Security cameras are sparse in this neighborhood, but the Seven-Eleven has one." Across the street. Matt probably knew he was coming significantly before that, but — details!

Tilting forward, she levers herself up off of the wall and crosses to meet Luke on those artificial feet, for the moment in that 'heeled boots' configuration, significantly less weird than the claws they can turn into. "Thanks for thinking of me. I've been working with Daredevil on some related matters."

She lifts one hand, turns it palm-upward. It's skinned in a black, matte glove, but it doesn't appear to be artificial like the rest of her limbs, perfectly natural in size and shape. It's an expectant gesture.

At the appointed time, Six is already present, leaning up against a wall covered in peeling wallpaper, flakes of the stuff littering the worn, paint-spattered wooden floors underfoot. The light that penetrates the windows is hazy, milky almost, from dust and grime — but it occludes any curious eyes that might want to have a peek into an eighth story window. In the relative dimness she's a stroke of ink against the textured canvas of the wall, arms folded. There's a chair nearby with a small silver device on it, circular, with a cabochon-shaped lens atop it.

Luke looks at the man shadowed in the corner. "Daredevil." Yeah, that never stops being weird. And speaking of weird, Six now comes complete with emoticons. Luke just gives a weary little shake of his head, but then again it's been a long week and his dark skin looks a little ashy like he's under the weather. "It was either that or I try and take it to Stark, but I'm, uh, trying to play this one a little closer to my chest." Speaking of chest, that's where the thumb drive is fished out from, being pulled from the collar of his shirt where it's been strung on a chain. It's dangled over her palm for a moment like he might change his mind, but it finally drops onto her glove. "Sorry. What do you go by? We didn't really do introductions."

Daredevil 'watches' the exchange between Six and Luke Cage quietly, and with something like contentment: his back against the crusted and crumbling wall, his arms folded over his chest. At one point his lips actually twitch at their corners; a rarity in this guise. "You made the right call," he says simply of the choice between Six and Stark. "You can trust her to be discreet." As for who precisely she is — well. He'll leave that to her.

The thumb drive swings over her palm, dangled, but Six fails to reach for it, the way most people might: she just waits. Like she's leaning on that lack of humanity thing, or — possibly — like she knows more about it, and its connection to Luke, than she should.

Her fingers close over it when he releases it, at which point she pivots neatly and crosses to the chair and the small device on the seat. "Six." It stands alone as a word, so it must be the answer to his question. She sinks into one of those unnaturally smooth crouches, then fits the thumb drive into one side of it. The spherical lens on top begins to glow, but there's no display yet.

"I have some other information to share with you both. I ran a battery of tests on the pills we recovered from the hospital."

"Those are my dead wife's initials on there." Luke says to Daredevil in some sort of appreciation for the discretion, before his eyes swivel to watch Six for a moment. He's unsettled, agitated even when she plugs the drive in, and so he paces to look out one of the windows. Bracing his hands to either side of it, he squeezes the wood until his fingers start to make little dimples in the surface. "Something tells me they weren't aspirin?"

Daredevil's chin dips, and the subtle glint of good humor snuffs out when Six strays into the matter of the pills. He's already heard some of what they can do second-hand, and some of what they were intended for straight from their developer's mouth. His ribcage expands, nostrils flare as he draws in a deep breath. "No," he echoes on the matter of aspirin, "but some of them can probably keep you from feeling pain." He abandons his lean against the wall, making a slow, stalking pace to the opposite corner of the room. "But what did you get, Six?"

"They were not aspirin." Six says nothing about dead wives — not even in sympathy. It's not her function here. "I'll tell you about the pills while I decrypt and sort the information on the thumb drive."

Theoretically that must be happening at this point, though it's difficult to say how, as rises and steps around the chair she's using as a table to place her hands in a fold atop the chair's back. The little device on the chair finally erupts into a holodisplay, a cloud of information in various documents and images that swirl to the foreground as she speaks in illustration of what she's saying. In this instance, most of what she shows them won't be of any interest: they're her lab results. There is a picture of some very grotesque dead rats, however, mutated and deformed.

"The pills all contain a virus retrofitted to contain the payload of active ingredients in each pill. The virus acts as a delivery system. Each contains DNA strains. Some pills contain the DNA of only one individual, while others contain a mix. Based on analysis I believe they have multiple metahumans hidden somewhere, from whom they're obtaining this genetic material."

"The pills also contain a secondary substance in trace amounts." Seemingly from nowhere, she lifts her organic hand, and held between two fingers is a small vial of extracted substance. She holds it up into the light to be seen, and then with a neat flick of her thumb pops the cap on the test tube open..and turns her helmet very slightly in Daredevil's direction, as though waiting to see how he responds.

"This mutagen may act as a catalyst for the body, convincing it that it's mutating, allowing the payload of foreign genetic material to take effect. However, the half-life of this mutagen is poor. When it metabolizes, the body recognizes the mutated DNA strains for what they are. By now, the body is saturated with the virus. The immune response alone call kill the individual — quickly, through fever, or organ failure, or-" The rats rotate into view, "Through an alarmingly swift development of stage four cancer. The body becomes saturated with tumors."

Luke makes the mistake of looking over his shoulder at the images and files that pop up and the big man blanches before his eyes return to gazing outside, though his eyes focus on nothing in particular. "There's something the both of you should know." Not that it won't become grossly apparent once Six digs further into those files, "That specimen the doctor talked about, the one that broke out of jail and they lost to the wind? I…I think he meant me, just didn't realize it."

The Devil of Hell's Kitchen absorbs that initial wave of information quietly, carefully, as he continues his glacial trek from one end of the room to another. He's no scientist in his day-job, so there's no barrage of follow-up questions a Jane Foster or Tony Stark might offer Six. What matters to him most are the practicalities: What will it do to the people who take it? What can the people who take it do to others? And she answers at least some of these questions, and a few more, like: How are they making it? Those answers — subjects harvested for their DNA — see his torso tighten, his jaw clench. But he still moves, restless — at least until Six opens that vial, flooding the air.

And then he comes to full stop, swallowing hard. She wants to see a reaction? Of course there's a reaction. The scent that pours out of that test tube is the very first thing his heightened senses ever took in. And because scent is tied more intimately to memory than the other senses, the acrid, pungent smell carries a multitude of sense impressions. Screams from pedestrians, that searing, unbelievable pain, and the last glimpses of the visible world dissolving into black. The sound of his father's voice: "Matty? Matty!"

Luke's revelation is enough to distract him from that unpleasant flashback. "It, ah, makes sense," Daredevil says, voice thick. "It's the sort of DNA they'd want, after all." A beat. And then, with derision, he adds: Super-soldiers."

The vial clicks quietly as she closes it, confirmation amply gotten. It disappears again. "I see."

That's directed Luke's way, if the turn of her head is any indication. "I'm glad you were able to escape. As the doctor indicated, they're attempting now to backtrack to previously confirmed successes in order to bolster their product. Jessica Jones, yourself, Kilgrave, all of you appear to have a different marker that allows your mutation to remain stable and survivable. It's very likely that Trish Walker possessed the same gene, or — I think it more likely — suite of genes. In theory, those individuals able to take the pills and survive may have a similar genetic profile, but inevitably they do succumb to the side effects on a longer timeline." Pause. "It's more complicated than what I've explained, but we have limited time. I'll provide you with my results and you can examine them further at your leisure, and I've included a list of the individual pills and what I've been able to discover about each of them, as they vary in make, effect, and consequence."

"One pill makes you bigger, one pill makes you smaller." Luke mumbles something he remembers from a childhood book before he leans his forehead on the cool glass. He feels like he's burning up from the inside, and his eyes close at the chill it provides. Cold, icy, like fingers pulling him into shadows.

He steps away with a start, swallowing thickly. "We should shake the doctor down for anything else that he knows, now that you have this information to back up our questions. I think if I were just alone with him though, I'd break him in half before I could get my head screwed on straight again." He scratches at his neck, a futile gesture because even if he /did/ have an itch there, it's not like he could scrape away epithelials to get at it. "Anyone talk to Jess by the way? I'm, uh, sort of giving her some space." Michael Carter sized space, to be exact.

"Yeah, go ask Alice when she's ten feet tall," Daredevil says dryly. He's renewed his pace after that momentary hitch, this time rounding back to his shadowed point of origin. He casts his next words in Luke's general direction: "Parker didn't need much shaking." Though, like Cage, God knows he wanted to make a ruin of the man so utterly indifferent to the suffering he'd caused. "He's already coughed up a lot about the current project, which involves marketing the drugs that have lower fatality rates to pretty much anyone willing to buy them. They're hitting a roadblock on most of the powers, though — Kilgrave's mind control, others."

He blows out a breath, grimaces, shakes his head. "As for Jones — I checked in on her. She's alright. But I'm trying to keep her out of this one right now."

Whether it's the question about Parker or the one about Jessica Jones, the only response that Six has is to turn her head to the side, though Daredevil is behind her. She expects him to answer, obviously, and he does.

It leaves her standing there in silence, more or less motionless — but it's a busy silence. Within the helmet, softly glowing text scrolls endlessly off to one side of her field of vision, and as the two men speak, comes to a sudden stop.

«File decryption complete. Accessing data.»

The helmet muffles her soft inhale, but not the words that follow. "There's so much."

"Keep her out of it, when she's one of the people undoubtedly on the 'list' seeming how we pulled her out once already?" Luke isn't criticizing, he just doesn't have it in him right now. Speaking of, "Do me a favor and tell her to steer clear of the bar for a while too, not that she's really apt to be lurking around there, but -" Who knows, she might be back to her stalkery ways, and he'd have know way of knowing, so it's better to be safe than sorry. "There's a … weird chick trying to get ahold of my bartender and I'm not sure what the fuck happened last night but I think she was in my head, which'll mess Jess up ten ways to Sunday if it happens to her. Unfortunately, I think it's that damn bear thing the stubborn woman is after, so. The warning might be short lived."

When Six seems to have at least been able to get into the thumb drive, Luke plods in that direction to loom over her shoulder, trying to make heads or tails of anything himself. "Look for anything about Seagate or Noah Burstein."

Luke rightly points out that Jessica is already involved in all this, despite Daredevil's good intentions. To that, the man in black says: "Parker was going rogue when he nabbed Jones. She's too connected and too protected to target. Barnes, and half the Avengers. His boss doesn't want that kind of scrutiny, but Parker got — impatient."

And then Luke is delving into the matter of the demon bear, divulging that he himself was confronted, and that Jessica Jones might be too. To that, the masked man has only silence, for varying reasons.

Fortunately, Six steps in with the single-best lead he's ever heard. If someone with supersenses were in the room, they'd hear his heartbeat spike. But he still says, quietly: "Take your time with it."

Six is very suddenly there, and not there. Her helmet tilts, turns — if she weren't wearing one it might be an evasive posture, but here it feels more as though the bulk of her focus is decidedly elsewhere.

"Yes," she says eventually, in the wake of Luke's remark. The display from the device on the chair is a veritable hurricane of documents, lists, images, even something that looks like video footage.

Eventually, something specific comes to the fore: %R It's extremely technical stuff. DNA records. A glowing text frame around the display links with her HUD, providing context: Number of records found: is prominently displayed, and the number races upward to over 200 in short order. Another piece of text declares: AUTHOR OF FILES: DR. NOAH BERNSTEIN, DR. REVA CONNORS.

"DNA records of individuals. Different colors. Red, yellow, green. Some familiar names in green…people we've heard about previously. Jones. Kilgrave. …Lucas?" After a pause, some green names are filtered out off to one side:

Jessica Jones (dated 2003)
Subject #14 (dated 2004)
Subject #48 (dated 2005)
Subject #72 (dated 2007)
Carl Lucas (dated 2011)
Zebediah Kilgrave (dated 2014)

One after another of the names blinks and flashes white, and another file is extracted from it, spawning in the air. Genetic profiles, chromosome maps.

"They were trying to find the marker we were talking about. The one that's stable." Pause. Quiet: "…Oh."

A long, long list of black names pops into view. All of these have death certificates attached.

"There's more under 'Seagate.'"

One thick finger points at the name that she pulls off to the side, one that she had the question about. "Carl Lucas. That's me. Or …was." It seems like a lifetime ago that he became Luke Cage. "Reva was part of the project, not realizing what it truly was. Or at least I thought so." Contemplating another betrayal might just break the man right now, so he skims past it. "She was the one that helped me get out of it." A sigh, "Maybe I should text her." Jessica, presumably, not his dead wife.

The Devil of Hell's Kitchen is missing half of this conversation, premised as it is on a display he can't see. But he won't let it show; he'll follow along carefully, mindful and observant of the gaps he'll need to fill in later, privately. He'll even halt his slow but relentless pace, standing in the general direction of the chair and its minor constellation of information. He may not be able to see it, but he knows which way their heads are turned.

And he can fake all that, absorb what he can while leaving the rest, until Cage comes to the matter of Jessica Jones. To that, he's quiet but emphatic: "Let's figure out what's what before sending out texts. Six said there's more about Seagate, likely meaning you and your Reva. Let her show it."

Not realizing what it was.

Six — no. Kinsey, inside of the helmet, inside of the persona that is Six, stares at the information hanging in front of her, not yet fed to the display: information that describes a vast, corrupt series of experiments by Bernstein and Connors on prisoners at Seagate, one of whom…

…was Carl Lucas.

Six patterns herself after machines. Cold and calculated, sterile and efficient. Alien. Kinsey is as human as human can be, and feels a twist in her heart at the prospect. It's a sinking feeling unmitigated by glimpses she's had of the rest of the documents, in which frequent mention is made of a young boy exposed to the mutagen in an accident in Hell's Kitchen.

"There's too much here to review in this format. We need time. I'll notate the technical documents to explain where I'm able." A pause. Her helmet turns in Luke's direction. "If we want to do this here and now, you can use the projector."

Daredevil? Is harder. But: "I may have an additional piece of equipment you can use." Does Luke know that Daredevil is blind? She has no idea, she realizes: thus the cagey phrasing. "We could reconvene afterward."

Luke glances aside to Daredevil, "Oh, sorry. I meant about the bear thing. Truth is she gave me some big speech about poisoned ground and that she was dating Carter, and I don't know why I'm being such a dick about not picking up the phone, except like you I guess I'm just trying to protect her, but she'll find out any way. And then she gives you a face that can make your balls shrivel. But yeah, I'll respect your decision to keep her out of this thing for now. But like I said…she'll find out anyways. And then ball shriveling." Why is he suddenly full of verbal diarrhea? Because he's being laid bare in text files in front of two relative strangers he calls Six and Daredevil. He clears his throat. "Make yourself a copy, but I want the original back with the encryption. I don't…I don't need this stuff just floating around though, if you get my drift. I became Cage for a reason. Put it up on the…projector thingie. I don't know if I can make heads or tails of any of it, but if I can help…"

"Nothing's going to be floating around," Daredevil quietly assures Luke, even if Six is offering an opportunity for exactly that: spectral characters floating around the room detailing the sordid goings on in Seagate, IGH, and wherever else. He's a good guard of other people's secrets largely because he's so sensitive about his own. And of course he has no idea that he himself is among the offerings in this file, though a moment's thought should allow for at least the possibility. Six's suggestion of a reconvening is met with little more than a short, allowing nod.

But in the meantime? "You've been waiting for these answers for a long time," he says, having no idea what's behind them. "Up to you."

Make a copy, says Luke, and Six — who has already propagated the file to two different servers in her laboratory buried underneath Gotham City — the one she works from remotely, and a backup — only says: "Alright. I will." After a pause: "I keep secrets well, Lucas. You have no reason to worry."

When Luke agrees to the time set aside for all of them to review things independently, she bends forward and does…something…with the object on the chair.

"I've given you access to a…" Pause. "Digital assistant. Lacking a keyboard you'll require its help in browsing the files. You can speak to it as you would a person. It…" Another pause. "It should understand your commands."

It feels wrong somehow to pretend that Five isn't a fully sentient thing, and instead only some sort of highly advanced Clippy, but there are things she's just not prepared to explain at length to someone she hardly knows — even if holding that in reserve, given all she now knows about him, is decidedly unfair.

Pivoting then, she gestures at Daredevil. "Come with me. I'll give you an earpiece with the same functionality."

"Please don't call me that." Luke rumbles quietly as six addresses him as Lucas, his arms folding over his chest in thick bands, the flex of muscle making the leather of his jacket squeak in protest. "So I just … talk to it?" It doesn't even occur to him why Daredevil can't just do the same thing and get the same results, so focused as he is on the screen. "I think I'm going to be here a while."

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