The Wonderful Wizardess of Gotham

March 12, 2018:

Jessica Jones' request for a local forensics lab recommendation yields a little more from her latest employer than she expected. "Miss Delphi" offers an invitation into a secret team.

A Secret Lab in Gotham

It's weird, but what isn't in this town?

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Big Barda, Red Sparrow, Raven, Red Robin, Batman, John Constantine

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The directions that her contact gives her cannot possibly be right. The address matches up to a sketchy part of town; then again, what part of Gotham isn't a little sketchy? At least this area is mostly just run-down. Just a few doors down, interestingly enough, is a martial arts and self-defense studio, and while men are allowed in some of the classes, it appears to be geared toward women teaching women. There's a few takeout places, too, as well as a bodega that might not be run by a mob family. There's a laundromat. There's all the usual sorts of things that you might find in any part of Gotham, with the exception that it's… maybe a little cleaner? Perhaps the Nightingale Society, the group that owns the Clocktower, makes an effort to keep things clean.

When Jessica asked for a recommendation for a crime lab, her contact, a Ms. Delphi, did her one better: she sent an address, a contactless keycard, and a pin code by courier. The outer door was locked, but Jessica got buzzed in as soon as she reached for the door's handle. Who buzzed her in is a mystery: there's no one in the rather sad and disused lobby of this building. It looks very convincingly like the front room of one of those fly-by-night sales operations where unsuspecting people are exhorted to Great Opportunities where The Sky's The Limit. At the back, however, the dingy looking door has a surprisingly strong and hefty looking lock. A good PI would also notice that this place has at least two well-hidden cameras and one not-at-all-hidden camera.

The locked door will be opened with the keycard, and on the other side? An AMAZINGLY well appointed lab. From the look of it, it's possibly a one-to-three-person version of whatever lab the GCPD uses, but there are several pieces of curious equipment they probably DON'T have.

On one of the worktables is a rectangle of high-quality paper: a business card with only a few words on the front.

"Please text before visiting. No extra guests." A phone number, presumably for the texting, is on the bottom. On the back? A face, green, like a stylized female version of the Wizard of Oz's projection.

Yeah. It's weird.

Jessica travels past this motley arrangement of buildings with a shake of her head. Gotham is so fucking weird. She's only even heard about the Nightengale Society in passing, one more thing to dig into for her weird siterep job. Women's martial arts is something she approves of on one level and disapproves of on another. She has a soft spot for women who want and need to defend themselves, and understands why they might only want to train with women. On the other hand, there are a whole lot of men out there who might attack them. And be real good at attacking them. It seems like they would want to be prepared for that. Still, whatever it takes. She ends up with a firmly neutral stance on that count.

This level of Gotham-level cloak and dagger and paranoia is just getting to be old hat. Really, it's reminiscent of Kinsey Sheridan's own technomagic and foresight, and Jess finally just decides it goes with the ambiance. Honestly, as long as she gets her goddamn evidence processed, she doesn't care. She'd do it in the dressing room of a Goodwill if they had the right equipment. She notices all the cameras and gives 'em a wave and a salute. Hey.

"Hello?" she calls, but her breath catches. This is what she needs access to. All the time. She has been paying for crime lab work and expensing it to Tony, but…

"I might sell the Wizardess of Oz my soul to have access to this whenever I want," she mumbles, even though she knows that selling her soul is a bad idea. On the other hand, hers is crusty, black, and crumpled. Not even worth that much.

There's a beautiful computer which will prove to be state-of-the-art. There's a really big metal box that will turn out to be an X-ray diffractometer which will, to the trained user, determine the actual material and elemental composition of the object put inside. There's also, in one glassed off area, a coffee maker, a vending machine, and a small break table and chairs. Cabinets of chemicals, drawers of crucibles and torches and beakers and test tubes and just everything. You could probably do an autopsy in here if you really wanted to.

"The Wizardess of Oz," a humor-tinged voice replies, "doesn't actually ask your soul. At least, she doesn't think so." This voice has clearly gone through some kind of distorter. It sounds a bit too… computer-y… to be natural. "Though it's 'Oracle' for short."

"Yeah, I figured," Jessica says dryly. "Your name's come up on the street. Miss Delphi? Kind of on the nose."

She turns to face the source of the voice and says, "But I wasn't entirely sure. Nice to…meet you? For some given value of that word?"

And then, dryly, "I don't actually know how to use this equipment. I'm chomping at the bit to learn, but. You'll either have to talk me through it, send a robot, or come down."

For her part, she takes out her phone and pulls things out of it. Her evidence kit. And bread. Lots of bread, bought from every store that truck visited, all over town. To do…things with. Science genius things.

"Barely have my diploma," she says dryly. "So I do my learning Abe Lincoln style. On the fly and wherever the Hell I can take it."

She narrows her eyes, thoughtfully.

"Did the Blazing Bat Kids end up on that surveil because Bat Kids End Up Everywhere, T-Em, or did you send them messages with your secret decoder ring that put them on-site to fight tentacle monsters? How much did you know before you sent me there?"

Barbara's smiling off in the tower. She's amused, even charmed, by Jess's straightforward manner.

"Well, generally when I really want to stay anonymous, I do. You taking the job was the first step. You doing well with it was the second, though even I didn't expect… what you found. If you like," she continues, "you can just tell me what you want done with the samples and I can have the information sent back to you. If you want to do it yourself, I'll walk you through some of the basics. And if you REALLY want to see me…"

There's a very faint chuckle screwed on to the end of that. "That's going to depend a lot on you, Ms. Jones."

In response to her little question at the end, Barbara goes on: "I knew Red Sparrow and Big Barda were on patrol that night. Red Sparrow has a lot to learn, but she has a lot of ability to learn, too. Raven was a bit of a surprise. As to whether those surprises were something I set in motion; if I said they weren't, I'd lose a little of my mystique, and if I said they were, I might not have a heart. If I'd known there was something in there eating passers-by, I wouldn't have sent you. You're very capable of throwing lots of weight around, but let's be fair: lots of people can do that. You met one that night. I need more brains than I need brawn; that's where you come in. You could be not just my eyes and hands, but a brain behind them. So. How much do you REALLY want to know, Jessica Jones?"

"I always want to know every damn thing," Jessica says dryly. "That is why I'm the brains. But for right now? I'd like to learn to use forensics equipment. So. You can stay put and keep your mystique at least that long, and let's solve ourselves a mystery. What did you think was going on there?"

She pulls out each bit of evidence in turn. "Got a fingerprint…"

She pulls out all the blood samples. "Several blood samples…"

And she points expansively to the bread. "I don't know if this shit is magic, alien or weird science. I figure…some sort of tox screen?" she watches television. "Some sort of…nanite screen thing?" She has also encountered those. "Some sort of other useful screening? And if we can't find anything, I'll take the bread to a few specialists of my own to check for magic."

Because here's the truth. The chances Jessica would have to learn this skillset anywhere else are slim to none. And given the chance to learn short-term knowledge she may get sometime anyway, or long-term knowledge that's hers for life? She's going to take the latter every time.

"Honestly? I wanted proof that the place was run by the Sollozzo family. Which is was, but I wanted an official PI's word on it. I also wanted to observe your technique. It just ended up being on a day when the gangsters who ran that bodega and the chop shop out back happened to get eaten by… whatever that thing was." Oracle frankly doesn't sound that happy about it.

There's a moment where Oracle is clearly observing Jessica's stash of goodies. Blood. Fingerprint. Mrs. Baird's. "The bread looks like it's been factory sealed," Oracle muses. "It's possible someone could have punctured the packaging or otherwise tampered with it, but I'd expect to see a wider-spread infestation than what we seem to have here. The… bread delivery man's shirt was found on the thing that attacked Sparrow, though, so he might have had something to do with it. Or he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. So let's go for the fingerprint first. If he had some kind of criminal history or if he was a bonded worker — which he might be as a delivery driver — you now have access to the city, state, regional, and federal fingerprint databases. On the computer to your right. Make a slide, slip the slide into the holder — should be pretty self-evident, but if you need help, I'm here. Then boot up, open the fingerprint recognition program. It has a very imaginative icon. Of a fingerprint."

Jessica finds herself chuckling as Oracle makes that comment about the imaginative icon. She follows the directions without much trouble. She's seen a little labwork, she's done a little in high school. Enough to make a slide anyway. She hits the imaginative icon and lets the thing go to work with every evidence of just…pleasure. Sure, this isn't rocket science. This is CSI 101. But it's new.

"Well, we can tackle the Sollozzo family too, they sound like total assholes, just because they probably aren't making tentacle bread doesn't mean something shouldn't be done about 'em."

As for her technique, she says dryly, "I'm not sure you got a fair look at my technique. Usually there's a lot more investigating and a lot less tasing bread?"

And there's just something that much fun about doing it yourself. You can feel a little more confident of the results that way. Even if they're not necessarily more likely to be accurate. Oracle knows the feeling.

"It's pretty self explanatory from here. It's not exactly like the movies, but give it some time and it'll flip through likely suspects. It's an unfair question, but you didn't happen to get a wallet or any other kind of ID from him when he was trying to chew Sparrow's face off?"

Oracle makes a small sound of aggrieved agreement. "Yes. That would have been easier if the evidence of most of the people working down there hadn't mysteriously caught fire in a mysterious gas explosion." Throatclear. "But how are you at forensic accountancy? Given where that explosion occurred, it wouldn't be entirely out of the question to investigate the businesses around there. We clearly wouldn't find evidence of explosives… well, unless there actually was evidence… but if you can track down money laundering through accountancy?"

"I'm pretty sure the wallet and ID was somewhere in the…goo," Jessica says, shaking her head. "There may be an employee number somewhere in his manifest that just isn't jumping out as one. I'll call his employer, see if I can't match it up. I didn't have time to go on a goo search, cause. Cops."

Though she totally would have. The woman is not afraid to go elbow deep in much. This has resulted in situations that she will never, ever live down.

"I have a forensic accountant, I don't try and do it myself," Jess says honestly. "Leslie does my taxes and chases the numbers for me. But I'll have a look. See what kinds of typical money laundering concerns are in that immediate area. Damn. I wish I'd thought of that."

"Reasonably solid thinking," Oracle confirms. "Try not to reach into dangerous goo when cops are on their way. Especially not without gloves, unless you want to burn off your own fingerprints. Don't ask me how I know." There's a faint smile in the voice.

"None of us thinks of everything," she adds. "If everyone in that chop shop was taken out, and I suspect they were, there's going to be a power vacuum in the neighborhood. It's going to be interesting to see who tries taking over. If you're willing to go on working for me, I'll be willing to set you up there again."

"Meanwhile," she continues, "while the analyzer is going, let's get on that blood. How much do you have?"

"Three samples. One from the steering wheel, one from the dash, one from the manhole cover that might belong to someone else," Jessica reports quietly. "And yes, I'm more than willing to keep working for you."

She hesitates as she lays out the properly-taken blood samples, then admits, "Nothing makes me happier than someone saying…hey. I think there's an asshole over there. Go find what it takes to stop his bullshit. Taking case work focuses my efforts, you know? I don't run around trying to patrol things or stumbling over shit randomly. Focused, direct. Take a case, solve a case, solve the next case. So if you've got the work…"

She shrugs a shoulder. "You may be in the Land of the World's Greatest Detective but most criminals are stupid. So it only really takes a good one."

A mild snort from the other end of the intercom. "Well, we have several extremely good detectives in Gotham City, each of whom is his or her own special challenge when it comes to gathering information. Including me. We all want to see justice done. Sometimes the police aren't equipped to see justice done. Not just because some jerk who deserves to get punched isn't getting punched, or even because of chains of evidence which, believe me, is a problem in the information and vigilantism industries."

This is all said with such dry drollery that it's hard to tell if she's joking or not. "It's a combination of those, plus the time and money they don't have, plus the resources, plus the cases that are hugely above their heads. I'm glad those things weren't around to eat Gotham's Finest. Okay. Once you have those on slides, we're going to start taking a look. The microscope there is digital and it's networked in, so we can both see what's going on."

Jessica Jones has been failed by the police more than once. It's a matter of public record by now. She only rolls her eyes at the mention of cops. She doesn't say anything, she rarely does. But it doesn't take a great detective to have looked into her and to know that her opinion of most is very low. Some very, very few detectives are given respect. The ones that actually do their job. Everyone else is a useless thug in Jessica Jones' opinion.

She gets the blood onto the slides and slides it under the microscope. "Sounds better than that shit I could never see shit on in high school," she comments. And she couldn't. She'd look into those microscopes in high school and it would be like. Oh look. A light and a blob.

But now she's getting a chance to see the digital one in action, and she looks more than intrigued to see what it can do.

It's… actually a delight. The whole thing is digital except, of course, for putting the physical slide in the physical slot. It takes a little fiddling, but most of it is totally automated. There's some knob twiddling, but it actually works like it was always supposed to.

"Take heart. It probably wasn't your fault. Those things typically get broken quickly, and few teachers are patient enough to really teach anyone how to use them. Particularly if they don't expect any tiny biologists or chemists in their class."

The lower magnifications don't seem to show much, though, as they pass over the sample. Further focus and searching will be needed.

"This is going to require some patience, but. Okay. Do you know what blood SHOULD look like under a microscope?"

"Uhhhhh…"

Jessica doesn't, but she doesn't ask Oracle to show her. She pulls out her phone and Googles it like any 21st century citizen should. It's her responsibility to get the knowledge she can get. Just like the time she did stitches on someone (Red Robin, as it happens) for the first time in her life by consulting eHow.

"I do now."

But she looks up at The Voice of the Oracle to see what the next step is, now that she does. Patience, she can do. She may be an impatient soul on the interpersonal front, but when it's time to look? To search? To take a deep dive? She could do this shit all day, all night, and straight on till morning. And will in fact love every minute of it.

It's not like Barbara can't see what Jessica is doing. Another smile from her.

"Okay. So here's the deal," she says. "Before we go on: You don't have to sell your soul. I really don't think anything I would ever ask of you is going to be anything you don't want to do." Not least because that's how she chooses people and it's how she chooses jobs for them. You have to know your team. "You have a decent moral compass. I expect you to tell me if you think I'm going too far. I don't even have to TELL you I expect you to tell me, because you're going to do it whether I like it or not. You can use this lab and I'll teach you what I can. I'll provide you study materials. I'll even provide you lesson plans. You want to learn something, I'll make sure you have that opportunity. And you can use this lab as long as you call ahead."

"What I want from you," she continues, "is to be able to call on you for work. You have every right to refuse a job you can't or don't want to take. I'll pay you a fair wage in the normal way. But in return for these opportunities, I need strict confidentiality from you. Nobody can know about our deal except members of this group. You met two of them the other night, Sparrow and Barda. I'll provide you with a comm unit so we can keep in contact. While on a job, you'd have to agree to follow my orders. I will never order you to kill a person or cause a death indirectly, not if I can help it. It's possible, even probable, that we won't ever meet face to face. You may never see your teammates without masks; you may never know their real names. Is there any part of this deal you can't live with?"

The sudden change in topic, from blood to job offers to offers of knowledge and facilities, surprises Jessica. Though her mouth starts to quirk as Oracle opines that Jessica will tell her, loudly, and at length, if she doesn't like something.

She's not wrong, after all.

But she listens. She even stops paying close attention to the blood, her gaze fixed on whatever point she's decided The Voice is coming from. It's not because she needs to look there. It just feels polite. She does the same with AIs. It's just a quirk.

She doesn't answer right away. At last she says, "More than acceptable." She almost tells Oracle to keep her cash, but this lab alone says, that like Tony, she has the cash. Jessica Jones feels the arrangement of rich heroic people paying her to be as heroic as she's capable of being is a good arrangement. She gets to eat, pay her rent, and do the work she really wants to do.

Pause. Beat.

"But my Lazy Superhero Outfit— that's my Miss Scary shirt, by the by, or my flair which says Lazy Superhero Outfit— is the only costume I'm ever wearing, and the only time I will ever wear a mask, of the Domino or any other damned variety, is a time when I'm trying to be ironic and hilarious."

"Solid. Welcome to the Birds of Prey."

A beat, then: "All right. Let's try 100x magnification. Start pointing out anything you see that's unusual." And it's straight back to work for the Oracle. Why that moment? Why interrupt their actual work to make the blunt offer? Perhaps some part of what Jessica did, of some part of what she is, made her decide. Maybe it was just time. Maybe she wanted to get it out before Jessica had time to think of a good reason why not.

Jessica seems pleased, though she makes no outward sign of that pleasure rather than a slight smile. "Glad you didn't say Team Getting Shit Done, that name's taken," is all she says.

There actually is a team by that name. Blame John Constantine.

But. Jessica has a job to do, and beyond this warm feeling of camraderie— and a note to go find these other people and try to get to know them better— she wants to see what happens at 100Xs magnification. She presses the appropriate buttons and leans forward. Something has gotta be happening with this blood. An agent of any kind does not burst out of people and turn them into tentacle monsters without impacting that blood.

And there is… something. It's a… a smudge? A weirdness of color? There's something around the white blood cells that doesn't look quite right. Or something about them that doesn't look quite right.

The most likely place for Oracle's voice to be coming from is, well, in the ceiling. Right up where the Obvious Camera is. There's a small 'hrm' that comes from there, and the faint sound of someone leaning forward in their chair. "It could be a digital artifact," she murmurs, "but I don't think so. Let's increase magnification. If we can't get a good read on it, we can start with color filters. Do you see what I'm seeing?"

"I see something that looks funky," Jessica mutters.

She goes right for 1000xs magnification. She's the type of woman who had to be taught that increasing the heat on the oven does not decrease the cooking time, it just burns stuff and leaves it raw in the middle. All the same, if seeing something at 100xs doesn't provide the answer, surely seeing it at 1000xs will.

If that's wrong though she'll fiddle with it, trying different settings until they see something. While she's no biologist…well.

"We might want to extract DNA from some of the rest of it when we're done staring at it," she adds. "And do questionmark-questionmark-questionmark to it to see if that tells us anything."

Step 3, profit, apparently. But this is the way of things. Jessica's whole MO is get good, smart people on her side, ask them questions and throw brainstorms at them until they either do the thing or tell her how the do the thing to get the answers. It's why she's patently unthreatened by there being better detectives out there, say. She doesn't have to be the smartest person in the room to do what she does. Just the most curious, usually.

And it's really the stubbornness mixed with forthrightness that appeals to Barbara. She recognizes that quality pretty dang well: it's part of who she is. Well. The stubbornness, anyway. The forthright quality is one she likes other people to have. Specifically, people who give her information. She's just enough like Barbara for Barbara to like her, and she's just different enough for Barbara to enjoy working with her.

"To get a better bead on what's going on? For sure. But it LOOKS like… okay, up and to the right a bit… yes, there. I think what we have is two separate kinds of blood here. Some foreign material along with human blood, and it started to interact very quickly. Not great."

"Can we put the blood in the swirlie thingie…centrifuge? And separate them out? They probably…have different weights right? Like plasma and blood do." She knows about that because when she was hard up she stupidly went and donated plasma to get a couple of bucks for booze. Stupidly, because she was basically throwing her altered plasma out to people and neglecting to mention that to the plasma collection people. Probably, whoever got it just had a short-term miraculous recovery. She hopes. She really hopes. This is not something she does any more, but she sweats a little, wondering.

"There are a lot of aliens around. The mix might not even be happening on purpose."

"Possibly not different enough for this tiny amount to be able to separated that well. We could use a centrifuge if we had a larger sample. Don't worry, though: we're going to have some fun with this. But before we start playing this game, you're going to need to get nice and protected. Take the slide under the vent hood, then get yourself a lab coat, some gloves, a face mask, goggles. All the fun things. They're in the closet next to the door. We're going to see if we can remove the blood from the slide and leave whatever's left."

Oracle settles in. Jessica might not know how long this night is going to get.

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