Decrypting
Roleplaying Log: Decrypting
Participants
IC Details
Synopsis:

When DEO agent Jamie Sullivan asks Kinsey to help him go through case evidence of Adam Wolmer's death, she walks a fine line between furthering justice and obstructing it. As she does.

Other Characters Referenced:
IC Date: January 09, 2019
IC Location: Manhattan
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 23 Mar 2019 04:02
Rating & Warnings: R (Language)
NPC & GM Credits: Daredevil
Associated Plots

Chinatown is a warren of narrow streets and jam-packed avenues. The latter are thronging with people, and at least at certain hours the former you can walk down by your lonesome — a rarity in Manhattan.

It's 8:30pm, well after sundown this time of year. The bitter frost of the last few days has yielded to something warmer but dank. For all that it's still cool outside, the air feels thick and humid. The street he has her walk is seemingly empty save for long shadows, although all the noises of the city are there just beyond her immediate range of vision.

It's an unassuming building she's directed to: could be a residence or an office. Either way, she's been told to tap the buzzer for 'Abrams Copies' twice. When she does, the glass door opens and she can make her way down the hallway under the watchful red eye of a security camera, until she comes to an old, grimy, barely lit elevator at the end. It's slow going, that single floor down to the basement. And when she's there, another long hallway is before her. That, and a suit-and-tied Jamie Sullivan.

"Heya, Sheridan," he says soberly, the brashness and bluster from their drink in a ritzy Midtown bar abandoned. He looks tired. There are bags under his eyes. "Come on, this way." A beat, a sidelong: "So you must think you're pretty hot shit to do what HQ couldn't."

Well, maybe not all abandoned.

—-

Six would never hesitate to roam these lonely streets. Six can see in perfect darkness. Six can see through walls.

It's not Chinatown that makes her nervous, but the errand that brings her here. It's not Jaime Sullivan she finds unnerving, it's having contact through him with the leviathan threat of the DEO. Every dark corner and deep well of shadows seems to hold the promise of imminent danger, but none of those dangers feel to Kinsey like criminals, organized or otherwise. They feel like surveillance equipment and biometric scanners. They feel like EMP charges and tranquilizer darts fired from on high through a barely-extant seam of space in a windowsill. They feel like government.

But here she is, thumbing the buzzer she was told to thumb, ignoring the camera in the hallway that prickles her awareness the way a magnet will prickle iron filings, like something that has weight and presence even after it's behind her.

Her lone thought as she steps into the elevator, pivoting to face the doors as they slide closed, arrives unbidden — the rote stuff of mercenary habit.

Killbox.

She starts to smile when the doors open on a silhouette she recognizes, and then lets the smile fall apart as she gets a clear look at him. One brow leaps up, then slowly sinks down and inward, from surprise to concern in moments.

"Stark tried to recruit me out of high school," she says, but it sounds distracted, disinterested. It is. "Sullivan, you look like hell."

—-

"I guess he got what he wanted eventually," Sullivan throws back on Stark. He tucks his thumbs into his belt and maxes an exaggerated shrug when she calls him on his appearance. "Long hours," he replies tersely.

Which she knows, of course. Because she's been watching him. But it's more than just that. There's a weight on his shoulders that wasn't there just a few weeks ago. It could be the stress of the new, demanding job. Running your own shop while also trying to get a new state agency and pilot program off the ground would tax anyone.

"Come on," he tells her again before he about-faces and begins walking down the hallway. And as he walks, he explains: "DEO has a few safehouses in cities where we need to keep tabs. They've got their own network and internet access, all kinds of I'd tell you but then I'd have to kill you secrets."

There at the end he pushes the door open to reveal a large, spare room dominated by rows of naked white tables. Beyond them at the far end is a chain-linked wall, and beyond the wall is a line of computer servers decked with loose wires that travel into drilled holes in the wall.

There's a bulletin board agains the north wall with pictures and notes pinned on it. Some of the pictures are to be expected: Fisk, Wolmer, LeGrasse. Others, maybe less so: CEO Pressley, a man in what looks to be a white doctor's jacket, a few lower-level researchers at Arkandale.

Sullivan makes his way into the space, walking alongside the empty stretch of white table until he stops at a small box of electronic equipment, which includes an ostentatiously-LED'd laptop and a Pixel 3 phone, both shut off.

—-

Long hours. Kinsey's mouth changes shape, suggesting skepticism, but she keeps it to herself as she falls in beside him and attempts to match his stride. Of Tony she has nothing to say at all.

Just inside of the room he leads her to, she stops and takes it all in, one hand hooked on the strap of the purse over her shoulder, the other lifting to fold over the top of that. It's a very passive posture, the kind of keeping my hands to myself signal that tourists instinctually adopt in museums, but it's superficial at best. The wall of case materials inevitably pulls her focus, and that's where her attention remains as she draws up next to Jaime. The faces she doesn't recognize immediately, more than anything.

A beat later she shrugs her purse off and holds it up by the strap, the rise of one brow asking silently if he prefers to hold onto it while she's here. She can afford to do that because there's nothing whatsoever in it that she wouldn't want him to get his hands on. "How much time do I have?"

—-

She offers her purse, and he won't say no. He takes it with a half smile and a 'what-are-you-gonna-do' shrug? She can offer it to him knowing there's nothing inside, but he can't run the risk that it's some feint or fake-out to give him confidence.

There's a reason for his caution, one assumes. Perhaps the same reason they're off-site rather than in DEO headquarters, or that DEO staff dot that evidence board she gives a once over before she turns her attention, finally, to the electronics she requested to see.

Perhaps Jamie Sullivan can't really trust anyone right now.

"Hey, we've got all night," Sullivan answers, spreading his hands widely as he steps backward. The purse is still in one hand. The drift of his jacket tugs fabric against the gun holstered on his left side.

"You wanna tell me if you've got any reactions while you work?" he says as he finds his way to a chair and plants himself down on it, man-spread with hands on his knees. "You know, to the background."

—-

With the purse in his possession, Kinsey turns back to the table, the box, and the contents thereof. She wastes no time, flicking a glance over the tabletop to see if there are gloves for her to use in handling the things in the box and, if not, will assume she has carte blanche to touch it outright, unpacking it onto the tabletop either way, taking stock as she goes — and checking battery levels on everything, plugging in whatever can be plugged in.

"I do," she says after a stretch of busy silence, slanting him a sidelong look. "Before I tell you about my first impressions…why don't you tell me what you see?" Hazel eyes flit over him, then return to the work of her hands, such as it is. Everything gets an inspection externally before she does anything else. "I know what my thoughts are, but…humor me." The slight upward turn to the corner of her mouth is rueful, self-deprecating, but also genuinely amused. "You're not a lab rat like Wolmer or myself. I'm interested in your perspective."

—-

"Hey, aren't I the one paying you for your opinions?" Sullivan says with a weary, half-hearted brand of mock-incredulity.

It seems like he's going to leave it there; the two of them at an impasse. But something she says nettles at him for a long, quiet stretch.

"Rat is right," he says, training sharp blue eyes on the cement ceiling, seemingly genuinely offended — if not necessarily at her. "I think the asshole got pissed off at the company because they wouldn't keep floating his science experiments, and instead of taking it like a goddamn man, he cashed in. Instead of forty pieces of silver he got —"

He waves over towards the VR headset peering out of the cardboard box. "—whatever the fuck that is."

A beat. "Okay, your turn."

—-

There's a twitch to one side of Kinsey's almost-smiling mouth that somehow says, with perfect clarity, that she expected his first response to her request — probably almost verbatim. He quiets, and she lets the quiet spool out, going through the box with a methodical attention to detail.

Under other circumstances she might bristle to that uncharitable view of Wolmer. Not now. In part because it would be counterproductive. In part because Sullivan is clearly a man under considerable pressures, whose life has been inordinately complicated by the actions of the man under discussion. And in part, too, because there's truth nestled in with the anger, even if it's an unflattering truth, and even if Kinsey is uncertain that it means what Sullivan believes that it means.

"He was definitely unhappy," she agrees, reaching for the headset he gestured at, lifting it out and pivoting to face him, bringing it up to her face to hold it there briefly. The lips beneath are caught in something equal parts melancholy and wry. "It's a virtual reality headset." She lowers it and her eyes with it, passing the pad of her thumb over the foam cushion where her cheekbone was a moment ago, and Wolmer's must have been at some point in the not-so-distant past. "Adam Wolmer believed in a transhumanist future, and the events of the last several years must have done nothing to discourage those beliefs. He saw, like the rest of us, the rise of metahumans in the public eye. He drew the conclusions that most of us must have drawn, some with greater certainty than others: that the world is full of extraordinary things, and humanity's survival might well depend on its ability to rise to meet them in extraordinary ways." Her long, slow inhale is audible in the comparative silence, as is the exhale that bleeds out of her afterward, turning to set the headset gently down on the table, too. "But he was also excited by the prospect of our evolution on a personal level. That being said, I don't think this was a cash grab. Wolmer was…" She reaches for the phone, and finally turns it on. The laptop is where the encrypted partition is, but she begins with the phone, anyway. "He wasn't that kind of mind. He could've worked anywhere, for anyone. He did work for Stark. You don't work for the government if you want to make money. He was there for the same reason I was." She pitches her voice to something closer to Wolmer's, mimics his speech patterns. It's not spot-on, but it's recognizable. "'Sure, you could go to Stark or Luthor or Trask or anywhere you want to make big bucks, but this is where you get to play with all the really good stuff.'"

As she waits for the phone to start up, she returns her eyes to the big man in the chair and leans her hip into the table's edge. "At this point I can't prove that he wasn't going to sell them, but I just don't see it. If he took them, I think he took them because he had an interest in some aspect of each of them, and looking at them with that in mind…" Her eyes, typically so expressive, are troubled but otherwise impassive. "Well. Keeping in mind that it could be a great many things, at first blush it looks to me like he wants to engineer a mobile platform of some sort. The high-capacity, high-intensity energy source says it's something that requires a lot of power, and the compact solar tech suggests something independent, something that can recharge in the field rather than being beholden to a location. There's also a focus on human biology, obviously — modifying it, mainly. Maybe he wants to build something that requires a pilot. Maybe he wants to merge the mobile platform with a biological user's actual body. Maybe he wants to use a VR suite to run simulations, train on a specific environment — say, zero gravity." A beat. A shrug. "Maybe he didn't want any of those things. Maybe you're right, and he was planning to hock it all to a despot in a war-torn country. I don't know." Her eyes drop to the phone. "I'm hoping we'll find something suggestive." Another beat, and then, abruptly, with a lift of her eyes, "Is there a counteragent for the Helios drug?"

—-

Sullivan rolls his eyes. "Oh for fuck's sake, I know what it is," he says with exasperation of the VR helmet. "I was being rhetorical. What I don't understand is what a grown man would want with one."

Jamie Sullivan: clearly not a gamer.

But then Kinsey lays out a few uses for just such a thing, as well as potential applications for the hodgepodge of technologies that Wolmer stole from the DEO archives in his final days of life. It's surely part of why Sullivan brought her on: this ability to imagine possibilities out of component parts. It's what made her a brilliant engineer, and it's a skillset that Jamie — for all his other talents — lacks.

The philosophy, though, the arguable underpinning of Wolmer's drive, that is something that Sullivan can engage with. "The whole point of the DEO is to make it safe for people to stay the same," Sullivan says. "We shouldn't have to stop being human to keep up with all the crazy out there."

He also has a knack for research and details. So when she asks him whether there's a counter-agent for Project Helios, he knows right away. "Yeah, there is," he says. "They developed it while they were trying to even out the initial drug, try to salvage the project. It — mostly works. Dampens the worst of the hallucinations, shortens the time-frame."

An eyebrow inches up, and an questioning upnod follows it. "Why?"

Recovering the data on Wolmer's phone is not, in and of itself, a barrier. This was Wolmer's (new) personal android, not the souped-up unbranded phones given to DEO employees with all sorts of fancy protocols for data destruction. A look through the recovered data will find it loaded up with apps, many of them extraneous and unused, like a kid who picked out more toys than he could play with — or someone who was bent on testing to see which photo editor he liked best.

There are a lot of video games. Adam Wolmer was apparently a big Squaresoft fan.

But most interesting to Kinsey would be his text messages and phone records. The former come in two batches, neither of which go back very far, given that he purchased the phone just a month before his death. There are the garden variety texts: to his building manager about assorted necessary fixes, to his tax lawyer, some sort of group chat for a LARP club.

Then there's Signal. The encrypted voice calling, video calling, and instant message service with time-triggered, self-deleting functionality. That requires something more than the average DEO forensics agent can manage. But it is not, as it happens, beyond Five's capabilities.

There's only one text thread to be found here, with half-a-dozen text messages sent to an unnamed Palo Alto number.

9:50 p.m. ET
05/04/2018
unknown
you're gonna do great

9:55 p.m. ET
05/04/2018
Wolmer
That's you're pep talk for me? You can do better than that.

9:55 p.m. ET
05/04/2018
unknown
haha role reversal. you got this man. you're gonna do great.

9:56 p.m. ET
05/04/2018
unknown
WE'RE gonna do great. change the fucking world. WHEREVER IT MAY LEAD am i right???

10:05 p.m. ET
05/04/2018
Wolmer
Better. I'll call you tomorrow.

7:30 p.m. ET
05/07/2018
unknown
i know things got heated just now but you have to know this is a huge fucking mistake

7:36 p.m. ET
05/07/2018
Wolmer
It's going to be fine. It's just something I need to do for me. Nothing's changed.

7:37 p.m. ET
05/07/2018
unknown
really? now you're going to get all prickly about a point of honor? you don't owe these people anything

7:37 p.m. ET
05/07/2018
unknown
you gave them so much already

7:40 p.m. ET
05/07/2018
Wolmer
I sometimes forget that you never had to learn what it means to owe loyalty, did you? Only to expect it from others. It's a character flaw.

7:44 p.m. ET
05/07/2018
unknown
oh my fucking god. ship has pretty well sailed on loyalty don't you think??? if you just stick to our plan this is gonna work but you've GOT to follow through

7:46 p.m. ET
05/07/2018
unknown
unless this isn't about notice or false pretenses or and this is all just a cop-out because you don't think you'll be able to swing aother few months and BE COOL

7:50 p.m. ET
05/07/2018
Wolmer
Argumentum ad infinitum.

7:53 p.m. ET
05/07/2018
unknown
you are one frustrating motherfucker

7:55 p.m. ET
05/07/2018
Wolmer
Argumentum ad hominem.

8:05 p.m. ET
05/07/2018
unknown
jesus christ. okay you do what you've got to do. im just trying to look out for us. we're BOTH in this.

8:06 p.m. ET
05/07/2018
Wolmer
Be assured no one knows that better than I. I know what I'm doing. I'll call you after.

8:15 p.m. ET
05/07/2018
unknown
ok

—-

The indignant exasperation arrives as a surprise, winning a glance and wide, bright smile from Kinsey, who keeps her laugh silent only because she's listening to the rest of what he has to say. As she does, she plugs the powered-on phone into the laptop, turning that on as well, and then does…things. Kinsey Things. There are windows with black backgrounds and boring grey text, a lot of ugly code — nothing the least bit comprehensible to one Jaime Sullivan, unless he's concealing a lifetime aptitude for not just programming languages but information processing. It happens fast.

Called scripts, maybe? Certainly Kinsey's interaction with it is not as frantic as the scrolling itself, tapping a key now and again but still listening to the man in the chair with half of her attention. "Nothing ever stays the same," she says, eventually. "It's only a question of the timeline we're on. Wolmer would have agreed with you, I think, but he believed that we needed to be deliberate and conscientious about our advancements. About how we…progressed, as a specie." Her lips tilt. She weighs sharing with the former soldier Wolmer's thoughts about the probability of humanity's survival over the next hundred years, then thinks better of it. Besides: that's the moment that things begin to get

«Interesting.»

Don't keep me in suspense. What have you got?

«Decrypting. Patience.»

She tugs her eyes from the screen, returns them to Jaime. "A lot of reasons. We don't know whether or not Wolmer managed to offload what he took, so we have to assume that he did, which means someone out there may be wandering around with a supply of it, and I'm not sure which of its qualities they were after, but none of them are great."

«Finished.»

Kinsey turns back to the screen, leaning forward. The glow of the laptop reflects bright white wedges of light in her eyes. "It wouldn't be a bad idea for you to have some on you. Counteragent. …Hm."

Slim fingers glide over the keyboard. Windowed displays bloom into overlapping tiles and collapse again. Things Happen.

Five spits the text messages out onto the laptop in a word processing document, formatted and clean. Kinsey's heart lurches in her chest, cramps around a barb of adrenaline to see Wolmer's exchange — not just because it means possible leads to follow, but because it's a piece of a dead man she once knew. The swift beat of her heart isn't eased by what she finds when she reads it. If Matt were here, her pulse would sound to him like a war drum.

"Well…" Pause. "He wasn't doing this alone."

She is, truth be told, proud of how steady her own voice is.

—-

So much of what Kinsey does in those few moments is opaque to Jamie Sullivan. Not just the flurry of text and windows across two screens, but also the internal dialogue between Kinsey and her secret houseguest.

But he knows a pregnant pause when he hears it, and it's enough to sideline both their practical discussion about counter-agents to hallucinogenic drugs and the more philosophical discussion about the teleology of humankind, and sit up attentively in his chair. He can't read the screen, but he can at least try to read her, and he searches her profile while she works.

Then the texts come up and he rises from his chair, comes up to stand behind her and bend over near her shoulder so that he can get a look himself.

"Holy shit," he whispers. "This is the night before he died. Hours after he set up the meeting with Pressley."

A meeting that never happened; cut short. Jamie's reaching for his phone in his suit pocket. "We gotta run a trace on this number…"

—-

Holy shit, breathes the man behind her, and Kinsey, eyes still locked to the screen, nods. Barely. She's still standing there, staring at the screen, when she hears the sound of his clothing behind her, processes what he says, and turns in place, extending a hand that doesn't actually touch him but nevertheless comes close in something of a forbidding gesture. "Whoa, whoa. Hold on. Sullivan." Grave hazel eyes shift from the hand reaching for his phone to his face, his expression. The silence that follows has a weighted quality, prelude to something she intends to broach that she holds on a reluctant brink for a handful of heartbeats.

"One of the things I wanted to bring up with you today is my role here. Doing this. You could've asked anybody in the labs to look those projects over for you. Hell — doctor Bell would've been the natural choice. Right? But you didn't do that. You came to me. I can look at the project information, give you my thoughts about that, and call it good. I mostly have. But…" Her outstretched hand lowers, fingers curling and flexing once at her side. "I can be a hell of a lot more useful than that. I was NSA for a while. In tech, sure, but I know people. Things. Example: I know that the last thing I would do in your shoes is pass that number along to the DEO before you know what it is, or who it belongs to." She glances away, toward the board with its posted dossiers and dates, then up again, brows nicked together. "This whole thing stinks. Whoever was on the other end of that text message wasn't DEO. Wolmer died on-site. What if you hand that number off, then turn up in Palo Alto for an interview to find somebody else with a slit throat, Vernon-Le-Grasse-style?"

—-

They're close enough now that when she turns, she'll have to hold her hand close to keep it from actually touching him. And in that split-second before she speaks there's a sudden tension and readiness to his frame, a sense of static in the air, and a tightening at the corner of his pale eyes. It's probably the way you get when you're a soldier and someone is grabbing in the general direction of your firearm.

But then she speaks, and the moment passes. "Who the fuck says I was calling DEO?" he asks wryly, straightening himself up and buttoning his suit jacket.

He runs both hands through his choppy blonde hair, clasps them behind his head, and adds wearily: "Come on, Sheridan. We've had not one but two moles in the last two years. Not too hard to imagine three, right? Yeah, I went to you because you're on the outside. That's why we're meeting in a basement of a Chinatown copy-shop."

He eyes her a moment, equal parts skepticism and grim amusement. "But yeah, if you wanna do the honors, go ahead, trace away."

—-

It isn't that Kinsey doesn't recognize that tension for what it is. She spends time with nervy, jumpy vigilantes with lightning reflexes, for whom violence is an almost daily (or in some cases nightly) occurrence. She knows. It doesn't seem to put her off, though, save the brief beat of stillness before the moment finds its equilibrium again. She carries on as though it had never happened.

"No one said you were, but you didn't say who you were. It was worth interjecting." She turns her head, angling a look over her shoulder at the laptop, its encrypted partition like a physical presence, something dense, possessed of its own gravity, pulling on her with boundless temptation. The need to know things. To learn things. Discover them. The infinite, impossible allure of information.

"Yeah, I do wanna. I'm not sure about doing that here, though, and there are other things to explore in association with a phone number that don't require an active trace, so…I want to be careful about it. What if the phone it's attached to is advanced hardware, like a Stark phone?" Hazel eyes return, playing over the dubious look on his face, underneath the amusement. It causes a series of different things to parade across her own: amusement and sympathy, exasperation, determination, mild annoyance. Somehow none of them look contradictory. "This is personal for me too, you know. You can trust me. You won't take my word on that, and you shouldn't…but I want to know the truth, too." Rueful, then, after a pause: "So did Wolmer and his friend. 'Wherever it may lead.' That's Jefferson, to Adams. 'The institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind, for here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.'" The small, regret-laden smile turns sad in the moment before her eyes lower, and with a slow, bleeding-air sigh she reaches up to undo the clip in her hair and toss it on the table that she turns back to face, raking her splayed fingers into dark tresses crimped from their day-long pinning, shaking them out. There's a subtle tension underneath that sighing regret, visibly winding upward as the hand in her hair presses momentarily over her eyes. "Fuck."

Just that, standing on its own long enough to be a centerpiece of sentiment. Then she's leaning forward again, fingers on the keyboard. Looking, at least for now, for any files on the computer that could be used with a VR headset. "I had really hoped that wasn't what he was planning to use the injector tech for. The — the splicing technology, the genetic weapon. It's fundamentally versatile. It never had to be used on mutants exclusively. Developing that was — optimistic? Short-sighted?" Pause. Frown. "Like my work."

—-

Sullivan rolls his eyes sideways when she justifies her sharp interjection. Neither of them are used to giving an inch in an argument, and it shows. He folds his arms across his chest and looks like he might say more, but what she follows with — this is personal to me too — adds nuance and complication to an already complicated expression. There's something briefly searching in his look, above and beyond the sort of perpetual pool shark glint in his eye.

The expression changes again when she throws that Jefferson quote at him, humor returning to the fore "Aww, fancy you," he says, jostling. But it's brief, and followed by a furrowed brow. Some thought is nagging at him, but he doesn't give it voice right then.

He's mulling whatever it is, chin down, while she rakes her hair and voices regret and scans the encrypted partition looking for VR files. She finds one. The file was created on May 6, 2018, but the file name is a different date entirely:

2-17-16

—-

Icewater in the veins.

That's how it always feels. That hot-cold flash of adrenaline, over for most people in lingering seconds, perhaps, but for Kinsey — in her protracted perception of time, whenever she focuses the entirety of her splintered consciousness down to one moment, one matter — it feels like being flash-frozen and incinerated at the same time, in the belly of a roaring furnace made of ice.

«He knew,» Five says.

We don't know that.

«The format is suggestive.»

Yeah. It feels like an eternity of weighing the options, though it chews through only a second at most. The room is a deadzone. They wouldn't have to worry about anyone accessing this shit down here, so maybe they didn't disable the connectivity on Wolmer's phone. See if you can siphon this into mine, lock it off in the flash memory so it doesn't show in storage.

Nerveless fingertips begin to move over the laptop keyboard. The itch to slip into the machine herself is almost overpowering. She resists. She looks, instead, at whatever else the encrypted partition of the disk contains. Taking inventory. "Fancy nothing," some piece of her, dedicated now to the conversation she was having, finally responds. "It's the kind of quote that gets tossed around a lot in academic circles." After a beat, she adds with a shadowed murmur, "Or revolutionary ones."

—-

Kinsey's suspicion pays off. The connectivity of Wolmer's cell is on. In fact, it is currently searching vainly for signal and wifi in a basement that has neither to offer. But Five can use that as a tether and entryway into it, and into the bluetooth connection to the computer the restored version of the phone is paired with.

In short: she can grab the file with no one the wiser. Whatever Adam Wolmer did or did not know about her accident or condition, Agent Sullivan at least seems unprepared to deal with her unusual set of powers. Lucky her?

Sullivan is distracted anyway, planting his backside on the table beside her as he rubs at the sore muscles on his neck. "Hey Sheridan," he says, seemingly oblivious to the delicate dance going on around him, or Kinsey's reaction to it. "Humble-brag-little-miss-genius schtick aside, that's kind of an obscure quote to just throw into a text message, isn't it? Like, it must have meant something to the two of them."

A long beat. "Fuck me," he says with a sidelong glance to her. "Common in academic circles. Was the institution our man Jeffy talking about U-V-Fucking-A? You know, the school the guy built with his bare hands."

Jamie Sullivan: stealth history buff.

As for her scan of the files, she will find a treasure trove. Not just the original DEO files, which Wolmer must have uploaded from the flash drive he took with him to the Washington, DC archives, but saved and modified versions with elaborations. Highlighted sections, notes in comments. From the date modified section it seems he spent the final days of his life pulling all-nighters playing with the new information at his disposal, and all of it could potentially point to his ultimate avenues of interest.

—-

"It was said in a manner that suggests they had exchanged words on the subject before, yes," Kinsey agrees readily, still tap-tapping away. It's taking almost everything she has not to let the things being stirred into a tempest in her chest manifest on her face.

She pulls the modified project files out from behind the partition, but leaves the virtual reality file behind it…for now. Of primary interest to her are the notes he took on Cerberus — notes that she very much wants to get a look at before anyone else.

Such is her focus on that task that even with her attention deliberately split, it takes her a moment to connect the thing that Jaime is saying with the point he's making. It stops her typing, lifts and turns her head to glance at him. "Yeah, I think so. Where Adjunct Professor Adam Wolmer spent the better part of two decades. So…a colleague, then? Or a doctoral student under his advisement, maybe?" Pause. "'Role reversal.' Right? Whoever was on the other end of the line, Wolmer was usually the one giving them pep talks. And it sounds like they had a fight on the day he put in his request to see Pressley. If it was on campus, maybe…" Her eyes tick away. Her head tilts. "Okay. Try this. Are any of the people he played in that tabletop game with from Palo Alto?"

—-

She shouldn't worry too much about Jamie seeing anything he shouldn't, at least not for the moment. This breakthrough in a case that is, if not cold, at least tepid has him striding over to the bulletin board.

"All that argumentum shit," he's saying as he stalks to the board and scans the players on with a new eye. He scribbles a note down and creates a new section: UVA. "That's straight outta ball-breaking prof-speak. And Wolmer taught philosophy of science to undergrads, not just science. Was probably calling kids on their logical fallacies all day."

He angles a look back at her. "Death by D&D club," he says with a smirk, an arched eyebrow. "You've got a dark turn of mind, Sheridan. Okay, we'll check it out. Shit, we've gotta run a search for everyone he ever taught or advised and look for flags."

A beat. "What do you think all that shit about 'never needing to learn loyalty' was about?" he asks, back still towards her.

The information she'll find in the files — annotated feverishly by Wolmer in his final days — will show he was preoccupied with Cerberus and the circumstances around Kinsey's accident. He went through Bell's initial analysis of the explosion with a scathing eye. "Conjecture," says one note. "Bullshit," says another, more emphatically. "Lazy," a third. Particular attention was paid to the spike in neurological activity in the minutes, hours, and days following the accident.

On a very cursory read: he seemed intent on the same goal that has preoccupied Kinsey for the better part of two years. What happened that day in the lab, and what did it mean?

—-

As Jaime slides away from the table and over toward his board of leads, Kinsey turns her attention back to the screen in front of her, beginning to comb through the information as it flickers by at speed. Gleaning, from Wolmer's scattering of notes, the general shape of his interest, like bread crumbs left behind by inordinate genius.

A piece of her continues to listen to Sullivan, but the rest of her is heart-in-throat focused on the files in front of her, chasing the hints, tracing the lines of thought, hoping and hoping against the possibility of some conclusion Wolmer may of drawn — some answer he may have found. That there doesn't seem to be one is simultaneously a crushing disappointment and profound relief, poised as she is on the delicate line between earnestly wanting to help Jaime Sullivan, and also protect herself.

"I'm not sure his co-conspirator was responsible, so I don't know if it was death by D&D club. But there's something to be said for engaging with other people about other worlds, right? Stories about more fantastic settings, places and timelines with boundless possibilities…" The words all sound distracted, but not unduly so. "For a man who felt shackled by an institutional overabundance of caution, maybe it was the right forum for a meeting of like minds."

Having taken a tour of the Cerberus notes, she moves on, methodically tearing through the rest of what's there — looking, now, for a bigger-picture view of how his interests in Cerberus fit in with the rest.

It's a moment before she answers that latter question. "Mmm…good question. Maybe whoever it is, they're in a position that frees them of having to worry about that sort of thing. Wealth? Status? Maybe they're not capable of learning it, a sociopath or…" She pauses. "…or something."

—-

To be fair to Wolmer, he only had three days with unfettered access to the details of the accident before his life was cut short. And what is there may provide answers, or at least raise fruitful questions. Which in Wolmer's mind were in some ways more valuable.

Unfortunately, a look through Wolmer's frantic final days of work doesn't immediately yield big picture answers either.

Some of the pieces — like Project Hercules and Project Helios — are virtually untouched. Maybe he didn't have time to get to them. He did make notes in both Prometheus and Icarus, all geared towards questions of the technology's functionality over extended periods of time — think decades, not years. In particular, Wolmer was interested in providing solar-electric propulsion for spacefaring vehicles. The supercapacitors, meanwhile, he seemed interested as a stopgap or backup system should the vehicle be out of range of a star for an extended period of time. Project Memnon was also of interest, particularly in its ability to replace core essential organs: heart, liver.

And Endgame, far from being a cure to the mutant menace, seemed directed towards an arguably far more beneficent end: wiping out genetic diseases.

Sullivan is still mulling the identity of this mystery accomplice, arms folded across his chest. "And the fight — Wolmer went off script somehow," he's saying, almost to himself. "Or was about to. Maybe with that Pressley meeting Wolmer asked for. The timing fits."

A glance away from the board, over his shoulder. "Anything good in there, Sheridan?"

—-

There isn't much…

…but it's more than she had. It's something.

"It was definitely the meeting with Pressley," she agrees, and sounds fairly confident about it. "All of that talk about 'you don't owe them anything,' and the loyalty stuff, yeah. Wolmer told Co-Conspirator Prime that he was giving his notice of retirement, and Co-Conspirator Prime wasn't entirely sure they believed him. It made them nervous. All of that stuff about 'you don't owe them anything,' 'you've already given them so much.'"

Her expression is remarkably neutral until she arrives at the implications in Project Endgame. They arrive not as a surprise, but as a reminder of the mind of the man in question — an echo of a soul deeply invested in truth and progress. In love with those things, to the extent that he could embrace an optimism that would eventually fail him in the face of unyielding opposition.

"Oh, Adam," she murmurs, and there's real regret in it. She straightens away from the screen, reaching to curl a hand over the nape of her neck. "Yeah. I'm going to need time to look at it, but it looks like the encrypted partition is where Wolmer was storing his personal copies of the project files. He made notes all over most of them. I think he…" She glances at the big blond, acutely aware of what he might think of the words about to come out of her mouth. It makes her sigh, leaves her looking slightly weary. "I think he wanted to save the world. No surprise, honestly, he was always an idealist. Minds like his can see so many possibilities that most of the rest of us can't." She gestures at the screen. "There are notes here about using Project Endgame to wipe out hereditary diseases."

—-

She knows what she says will get a reaction out of Sullivan, and it does. There's no flash of temper, no wry quip. Just a glance at her full of smoldering anger. "He was already saving the world," Sullivan says, with real conviction. He believes it: the DEO is saving the world. Or at least the best country in it. "And if he didn't know it, shame-the-fuck on him."

Rather than engage further, Sullivan heads over to the far corner of the room, where a desktop computer sits. Wires run from it through the chain-linked fencing and to the servers. A tap of the key, a few keystrokes, and he's in, typing furiously.

"Fuck whoever this is," Sullivan says heatedly. "We think we've got two solid datapoints, right? Colleague or student of Wolmer. That's thousands of people. But what if we cross-referenced it with something else? We think this guy may be privileged, or a sociopath, right? So let's check for both."

It shouldn't surprise her, just how easy it is to do exactly that. Pry into academic records, pull out social security numbers, and compare against IRS records. All the information that makes up a person's life — education, income, mental health records — at the disposal of security apparatuses like the DEO with just a few keystrokes.

And for all that Sullivan is a field agent, Knightswatch, a grunt, he wouldn't have risen as high as he did if he weren't adept at using the awesome information at their fingertips.

While he works, he talks: "Look, I'm sorry, I know you two were close — this is just some scary shit he got ahold of. Gave out, maybe." A grudging addendum: "Maybe not our scariest shit. I know he didn't take weapons aside from Endgame. But still — stuff you wouldn't want slipping away, even if it could be used to do some good."

—-

There's no concealing the faint flicker of her lashes when he comes back at her with that: shame-the-fuck-on-him.

None of the rest surprises her at all, though it's eerie to be in the company of someone who can access that information as easily as she can. "Scary shit," Kinsey agrees, with an audible effort in the direction of patience, neutrality. "But that's why we're doing this. We'll fix it. To do that, though, you're going to need to understand Doctor Adam Wolmer, and you can't do that if you're too pissed off to acknowledge what kind of person he was."

Her footsteps are audible as she approaches his workstation — one might fairly get the impression that's deliberate. "Should he have stolen that information? Obviously not. But you've read all of the same information I have, or will have done once you read the unencrypted files with his notes. Wolmer was an idealist. You find that stupid — fine, but look at things the way you think he might look at them. Here you are, working with the most advanced technology the United States is presently in possession of, things that could be put to use in alleviating suffering, improving lives, and the people who have the final say throw one of these projects after another into deep freeze because…because they can't be weaponized, mostly. It took a toll on him. He saw wasted opportunity. He saw an unforgivable disinterest in the wellfare of the human race. I'm not defending his actions, or his naivete, I'm just…"

She draws up next to him, sinks her hip against the table's edge, and finds herself crossing her arms in spite of herself, knowing full well it's defensive body language and unable to stop herself, anyway. "I know…better than most, what can come of believing you can change the world for the better. What mistakes can be made, when you believe wholly in an uncompromising vision, or…" Pause. "Or allow yourself the luxury of blind faith in an essentially political institution."

Her eyes flick down. "I regret those mistakes every day. But that perspective defined my choices. My behavior. His will have done the same."

—-

Sullivan probably can't miss her displeasure at his speaking ill of the dead, even if she stifles it. But he does his best not to give it recognition, or even the very sensible words she adds about how being a good investigator means putting yourself in the shoes of others while temporarily withholding judgment. He addresses none of that immediately, directing himself towards the desktop monitor and building his search with fierce, seemingly single-minded attention.

At least, right up until she sidles up to the desk with her arms folded.

Then he does look at her, angling his profile her way, watching her sidelong out of icy blues. "You think it was a mistake, working for the company?" he asks her while the computer runs its search. There's no accusation in his tone. It sounds for all the world like an honest question. "I mean, even aside from what happened to you."

—-

There isn't any easy name for the quality of the gaze that meets his. Not guarded. Not even careful, necessarily. Pensive for a certainty; perhaps pensive in a way that makes them difficult to read not because she's hiding anything, but because she's unsettled on the answer to the question, herself, and there isn't any clear, visceral response to glean. Laced with regret, touched with a sympathy and melancholy for the breakpoint of her own history, unapologetic about her frank rue. It's complex enough that the brief silence that precedes her answer is probably no surprise.

"No," she says, finally, the word leaving her slowly, the way words do when someone is feeling their way through the thoughts as they go. "Not exactly. The DEO wasn't responsible for what happened to me. That was a risk of my own making, and one I took willingly. Insistently, in fact. And the Knightwatch is important. The DEO is necessary. I think…" Hazel eyes hold blue, locked there as her expression changes in subtle ways, dim echoes of currents beneath a still surface. Troubled? Frustrated by her own lack of a ready answer? Something striving for honesty, at least, and clearly personal. "I think…my mistake was in confusing a thing with an idea." She unfolds one of her arms from her middle, propping her fingertips in the dip above her chin, a restless fidget. "You know my family. We're patriots. I grew up believing in this country. More than this country — believing in the institutions that protect it. Her. The…the sanctity of her spirit. So for me, the bodies sanctioned by her, explicitly for the purpose of defending her…" Her mouth opens, closes. She finally turns her eyes away, to one side. "I'm not saying I was so naive as to be oblivious to the fact that no system is beyond corrupting, or that all institutions always have the best interests of the people at heart. I just felt — I strongly felt — that I would recognize it if I saw it. I really did believe that while individuals may fall from the grace of that noble purpose, the whole of the institution itself would be too…powerful to succumb to a few bad actors. That I could pursue my work because its final shape would be held in the hands of an organization founded on beliefs that were, for me, too powerful to readily discard. I was assigning an identity to a construct. It felt to me like a guiding hand, but the construct is…is imaginary. 'The Knightwatch' doesn't actually exist. Right? It's only the sum of the people involved. It's all only ever people."

Her brows buckle, visible in the shape of her profile. "I knew that, obviously. Intellectually, I knew it. But emotionally, I…I had faith, and it colored my choices in irrevocable ways. Having faith in something as beautiful as the spirit of the Great American Experiment — that feels right. It feels just. Like: if we don't have that, what's the point? Doubt, questioning, they feel…ungrateful. Like they might compromise the foundation of everything. Learning that they have a place in protection of those very things was…hard. For me." A beat, a flick of eyes up to meet his, and a self-deprecatory, self-aware quirk of the lips, stained with something apologetic. "I'm sure that sounds foolish. It's no secret that the country was founded on an act of rebellion, after all. But even now, after all of this time to think on my blind faith, I still struggle with it."

—-

He knew it was a loaded question when he asked it, so the brief pause and the length of the answer that follows is in itself no surprise. He swivels in his seat, semi-slouched in his chair, eyes trained unswervingly on her while the computer continues to spool out the results of its search. He listens to every word, watches her face for its many nuances of expression as she waxes on about —

Well, about America. And her relation to it, and the institutions that comprise it and arguably defend it. And to the people within those institutions, including him.

"Golly, Sheridan, glad to know our existence has your endorsement," he says dryly, because of course Jamie Sullivan's first response to that heartfelt speech was going to be sarcasm.

But he heard the rest of it, and even though he's famously pragmatic, he's not so in-the-trenches or tunnel-visioned that he can't grapple with the issues she raises. "Look, I don't think you were naive," Sullivan says with a little shrug, a downward tug of his lips. "Are institutions made up of fallible people? Fuck yeah. But institutions aren't just people. They're cultures, right? Developed over time, with the weight of history and ideas behind them. People can change them — for the worse — but good institutions can also change people for the better."

He reaches to rub at the stiff muscles behind his neck. Too much time bent over a desk. He needs to get to the gym again. "The tough part about DEO R&D is —" his eyes slim, brow scrunching. "Think about the problem it's gotta solve. It's gotta figure out how to deal with fucking Superman if he should ever stop being a goddamn boy scout, but do it in a way that doesn't create problems just as big and bad. That's a tall order, even for good people working for a good company." A beat, and then a sardonic: "Case-in-fucking-point with all this, I guess."

—-

Whether that first reaction was expected or not, it has immediate consequences. Whether those consequences paint the reflex as a mistake or not depends, probably, on whether or not one values those kinds of rambling philosophical lines of thought from the woman standing next to his workstation. Either way, it doesn't take an expert in reading people to see the way Kinsey's expression clangs shut, the things that made their subtle way across her face all locked back up wherever they came from. She turns her head, shifts her eyes to the board of profiles and relationships, theories and questions, like it's a touchstone for everything he says by way of response. It might even be that. But that's almost certainly not why she turns her gaze away, and almost certainly not done quickly enough to conceal the way the walls go up again, all at once.

"Maybe," she says, of institutions. She may really not know the answer, but it also sounds like a non-answer, an abrupt disengagement from the entire subject. The words that follow are brisk, and so are her steps back toward the ostentatious gaming laptop she'd been pulling apart for secrets. "I did think about it. I thought about it every day, almost every hour of every day, for years. I don't believe anymore that it's possible. If you create leverage enough to contend with enormous threats, you're opening the door to its misuse. It's inescapable. Perhaps it's a regrettable necessity; that's not up to me to decide, thankfully. Do you want this information copied to an external storage medium? I'd like to go over the notes he made in more detail. He only had a few days to add to them, but he was clearly hell-bent on his aims, so it may take me some time."

—-

He can't miss the closing of Sheridan's expression, and when she turns to walk back to her laptop there's a flicker of regret that passes over his face, though it's paired with a longsuffering expression that as much says: What the fuck did I do?

Jamie Sullivan may have scored a 1600 on his SATs, and he's damn good at working a case, among his other admirable qualities. But emotional intelligence will never be his strong suit.

"Yeah, copy 'em over," he tells her before swiveling his chair back to his own desktop to finally take a look at the search results. He gives the names on the list, the product of Adam Wolmer's side-hustle as an academic, a cursory glance. And it takes him all of a minute before he says —

"Holy fucking shit. Come over here, Sheridan."

The list that's apparent on the screen is mostly unremarkable. UVA is a venerable institution that produces any number of people who go on to have successful careers as white collar professionals: lawyers, judges, doctors, politicians, lobbyists. It's known for its old-money culture and its strong sense of tradition — for better or worse, given the chequered history of the South.

Which is all to say that Adam Wolmer taught many successful, unremarkable people. That may be why the name towards the middle-bottom of the screen leaps out.

Corey Abram, 32. Billionaire wunderkind and founder of Cybertek, a rapidly expanding technology and engineering company that has dabbled in everything from solar-powered hover-craft to advanced prosthetics. It's known as much for its outspoken, Twitter-happy CEO as anything else. He's alternately considered a visionary disrupter, a blowhard faux-intellectual, and a union-busting blight on the economy.

He may be some or all of those things, but it turns out he is also a UVA grad, class of 2006. He took all of Wolmer's classes, starting with Cybernetics in 2004. The rest is history: he went off to get his M.S. in Engineering from Stanford, teamed up with several of his classmates to raise venture capital money to found their own company in — Palo Alto.

"Holy fucking shit," Sullivan repeats.

—-

When she finds what she needs to transfer the information — and simultaneously funnels it, via Five, to her phone, just as she did the other file presently burning an unsettling hole in her awareness — Kinsey settles in to wait, and browse the information in the meantime. For a time, there is quiet.

She glances up sharply when that quiet is broken, the rate of her pulse picking up less because of what he says than how he says it. Leaning in when she's close enough, bracing one hand on the back of his seat, she flicks her eyes down the list, and then — when she sees it — makes a soft humming note of something between acknowledgement, interest, and satisfaction. It stands on its own for a moment, but is followed eventually with a an inhale-exhale that stops just shy of being a sigh. "Well, that's not ideal, is it? He has a platform. And he won't be rudderless with Wolmer out of the picture, either." A beat, a soft tch. A glance at the man in the chair. It's still unavailable in a way that it was not, before, but it's still focused. Attentive. "How do you want to go about finding out what he's up to?"

It was probably inevitable. Five whole seconds pass before she can't help herself.

"Do you think he'd be interested if one of the project leads for the stolen information suddenly turned up in the jobs market?"

—-

"Yeah, that's one way to put it," says Sullivan of this being not ideal, all gallows humor. Billionaires are a headache to investigate, even for an agency with sweeping and secretive powers like the DEO. They come with lawyers, and cyber-defenses, and politicians in their pocket.

But there's still relish in his expression. He thinks they've found their man, and there are few things Jamie Sullivan loves more than the chase.

He doesn't have to turn his head much to engage her, hovering over him the way she is to get a look at the monitor. How do you want to go about finding what he's up to? she asks him. He's about to answer, but she answers for him, and in a way that — well, he says it all, and with a crack of a white-toothed grin to match:

"Lady, you read my mind. We could get you the job Adam Wolmer was clearly lining up for himself."

There's a beat as good sense nudges against his eagerness to close this goddamn case. "You've never done field work before. Much less undercover." It's a statement, not a question.

His not-a-question meets with a brief silence from Kinsey, too, though her expression doesn't change. Weighing things, perhaps. "That's right." She accompanies the words with a very small nod, and then turns her eyes back to the screen, the name on it. "If I had to pretend to be someone I'm not, I would tell you I wasn't sure how viable that is. Since it hinges specifically on being myself, that seems less an issue. Information gathering, however? That, I have done. TECHINT. Knowing where to look, how to analyze what I'm looking at. I've just never done it undercover."

She tips her head, mulling what she knows about the man — which is really only as much as anyone knows, given Abrams' media presence. "His messages with Wolmer — we need to confirm that — were a bit cagey, a little nervous, but my recent employment with SI puts me back on the market, and with Tony making changes to how he's doing things, the timing is right. How much pretending do you think I'll actually need to do?" Her brow lifts, the gaze that returns to him curious.

—-

She offers him all kinds of assurances, outlines the ways in which she's suited, provides cogent explanations for why this won't be the heavy lift a true undercover job might be. "Being in a place, being surrounded by the enemy and pretending to be one of them," he says to her, caution in his voice — maybe even some tiny sliver of concern. "You don't know what it's like until you've done it."

For all his caution, he's clearly, visibly tempted. "I bet this guy would love to poach you from Stark, even if you weren't former-DEO," he admits with resignation, frustrated that this idea makes so much sense. "Masters of the universe and their dick-measuring contests."

There's a beat. "He may have killed Wolmer, Sheridan," he reminds her. "You could be going into this with a killer." Maybe it's his way of saying: Last chance to change your mind.

The enemy, Jaime Sullivan says, and Kinsey works very hard to keep her reaction to that off of her face. It's not that she isn't concerned about what Abrams might intend to do with the information, it's only that she's seen evil, now. Seen it up close in Hell's Kitchen, stepping over the charred and crushed remains of what had been families, in an effort to see if any yet lived in the ruined desolation in every direction. It felt like weeks to her before she couldn't smell the Kitchen burning, anymore. On her skin. In her hair.

"I believe you," she says, anyway, of not knowing what a thing is like until one's done it. She does believe him, but she's still not afraid. She has her reasons — and, in offering her a last opportunity to reconsider, he opens the door to finding out what they are.

It's not the open-eyed, accessible window into her chest that came before, but it's frank. Honest. "I'm not responsible for Wolmer's choices, but I'm responsible for my work, even though it's not really mine anymore. I told you when you came to me — no more tragedies, Jaime. Not if I can help it." Her mouth quirks, just a little. Something wry lowers her lashes. "I was military, too, remember? And a test pilot, in another life." She straightens, letting go of his chair, and refolds her arms. "Risking life and li-" Hitch, pause. "…limb…" The awkward moment hangs, and ends as she rolls her eyes ceilingward in a seeming bid for patience, her sigh almost theatrical. "You know what? Idioms are like, the worst part of this situation. Do you know how many idioms there are in the English language that rely on limbs? 'Risking life and limb,' 'let me give you a hand with that,' 'break a leg,' the list goes on and on…"

Letting the dry humor ride just long enough to drain that moment of whatever tension it had for her, she returns her attention down to the man in the chair, and shrugs. "Look. It's not new territory for me, and if I die, at least I'll die trying to fix it. Plus…you'll be keeping an eye on me, right?"

—-

He listens as she explains her reasons, cocking his head ever-so-slightly while she lays out the reasons this is worth the risk to her. Sullivan has a good poker face, and it would have held even past her unfortunate slip of the tongue… if she hadn't called attention to it in quite that way.

Humor breaks through his sober, intent veneer, shatters it into a million pieces. He laughs helplessly before giving his tired face a good scrub. "Yeah, foot in mouth's another one," he quips.

There's another little chuckle before Sullivan draws in a breath that expands his broad-shouldered frame. Then, a shift in tack: "You know the reason you're in here and not out there?" he says, pointing to that bulletin board filled with persons of interest at the end. It's the first time he's referenced the fact that she should, by rights, be a suspect. "It's because you were the only scientist in the whole R&D shop who tested your work on yourself. Most of the time, when it came time to move from chimps to people, it was grunts like me they'd strap in. You —"

The CAS, former Knightswatch, former Seal, former POW, allows a little half-smile to form, rueful and laden with regret. "You risked everything and gave up more than your fair share, when you could have just let others stand in your place."

And here she is, about to do it again.

It may be the most straight-forward and emotionally honest he's been with her since parachuted into her life outside the steps of Stark Tower. And while the shrug he gives is insouciant, the words it's paired with arrive with quiet conviction: "So yeah, Sheridan. I got your back."

—-

Whatever Kinsey expected from Jaime Sullivan in answer to her reasoned response, this is not it. Her glance down over foot in mouth has something like quiet acceptance in it, whether it means what it seems to or not; his offer to explain what set her apart for him, in structuring his investigation, gets the expected, open curiosity. But what follows

It's surprising enough that it wipes most of the expression from her face, dismantling in small part the distance she's reasserted after the reminder — useful, and probably prudent — that, whatever else this is, an opportunity to work through her baggage about the past it most definitely is not.

It's not an angle she considered, when it came to his motivations. It hadn't occurred to her, in fact, that it would matter to anyone at all.

It all makes perfect sense when he says it, but it's revelatory, and — Kinsey being Kinsey — the emotion of that is too quick to rise in her expression for her to stop it. When she remembers to close her parted lips and turn her head to the side, she needs perhaps five seconds to ease the knot in her throat enough to carry on as though it hadn't existed.

Jaime Sullivan is not your friend, she reminds herself, but the small, tight smile from her is profoundly grateful. The ever-so-brief, light squeeze to the top of his shoulder is, too. "Thanks." Her eyes tick back to the screen. To the name. Corey Abrams. "If this is going to be as challenging as you say it is, I'll need it."

And, hell: if he knows the truth about her? That's all the more true.

She threads her fingers into her hair, and tries to reorganize her thoughts around that unexpected moment. "So…okay. Next steps?"

—-

Sullivan's probably about as bad at 'moments' as Kinsey is; he self-consciously scratches at the bridge of his nose and slants his eyes down when she visibly reacts to his rare compliment.

He'll still smile a little when she squeezes his shoulder, though.

And when she says, Next steps, there's no mistaking the subtle undercurrent of relief. "Yeah," he says. "Well, look. This guy probably uses a headhunter. And I'm sure DEO knows people this headhunter knows. It's not hard to put your name on their radar in a way that doesn't make you look hungry, or obvious."

He slants a look her way. "Then you kill the shit out of your interview," he adds, "while I start digging through every single detail about this fucker and his bullshit company. Hoverboards. What the fuck does he think this is, Back to the Future?"

"I'm not even sure that I'll need to do well in the interview," Kinsey admits, with a glance over her shoulder at Wolmer's laptop, still displaying his annotated project notes. "Adam was extremely interested in Cerberus. Abrams has money to burn." She glances at Jaime, then turns to retrace her steps, finalizing the laptop's transfer to the external flash drive. "I mean. I will kill the shit out of my interview. I'm just saying." A few taps of the keyboard later, and she's carrying the copy back to him, holding it out to be taken. "I'll…need to tell Tony I'm uncomfortable working for him during his…'reorganization.' He might blame you, given the timing of your appearance at the tower. I suppose I'll let him." A beat, a shrug. A quirked, skewed brow, intrigued and skeptical. "You're not really saying that you wouldn't want to try a hoverboard if they became commercially sensible, are you?"

—-

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, hotshot," Sullivan says with a roll of his eyes as he reaches up from his seat to take the offered flash drive from her hand. The tone is grudging: she's already proven herself multiple times over today, literally cracking the case open with a little computer forensics.

When she says she'll funnel Tony's anger towards Sullivan, the DEO agent spreads his arms in the universal signal of: Come at me, bro. "Tony knows where to find me," he says coolly.

He laughs at the last part, though, tipping his head back. "What, do I look like the Silver Surfer to you?" he asks with a grin. "Come on now."

The humor lingers a heartbeat or three, suffused with the additional euphoria that comes with real progress. And just perhaps, too, the prospect of having a partner in — well. Anti-crime.

But he only lets it last that long before clapping his hands together and rising from his seat. "Okay, Sheridan, come on. We've got work to do."

—-

It's almost enough to make her feel badly about leaving that VR app in digital limbo until she's gotten a better look at it.

…Okay, maybe it does. It does make her feel a little bad.

Not enough that she's going to hand it to him without checking the contents first, but…a little.

She shakes her head, mystified, as she turns to make her way back toward the laptop, the notes, and the mysteries thereof, marveling as she goes: "Yeah, but…hoverboard. Seriously? Do you hate fun, or something?"

The tedium of double-checking the facts and compiling information is rarely the exciting part of any investigation, but it's where the heart of the case lives, and at least for Kinsey, for whom the plodding pace of most scientific discovery is nothing new, it's familiar. Comforting in that way, and distracting, too. Distracting from the gnawing questions that remain: what is Corey Abrams planning to do with the project data, exactly? Did he kill Wolmer, or was it an inside job at the DEO? And what the fuck is she going to find, when she checks that VR file from the day of the accident…?

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