Final Interview
Roleplaying Log: Final Interview
Participants
IC Details
Synopsis:

As part of an undercover operation for the DEO, Kinsey Sheridan applies for a job with Cybertek. CEO Corey Abrams flies Kinsey to the west coast for a first meeting and final interview

Other Characters Referenced:
IC Date: July 04, 2019
IC Location: Palo Alto, California
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 25 Aug 2019 21:14
Rating & Warnings: PG-13
NPC & GM Credits: Daredevil
Associated Plots

Good spy craft takes time. Time and patience. A successful operation requires an extraordinary amount of preparation on the front end. There's painstaking research. There's exacting recon. There's the deliberative choreography required to establish a plausible cover. It's the work of months, not days.

But if you do it right, says DEO Special Agent-in-Charge Jamie Sullivan, they'll never even see you coming.

Which is all to say that it's some time after Kinsey and Jamie pegged billionaire technologist Corey Abrams as their target, or since they decided Kinsey would be the bait with which to hook him, that she ever has cause to actually meet him face to face.

It started with some coffee meetings with carefully chosen associates in the field — people who know people who know Corey's headhunters. A few dropped lines, visual cues of dissatisfaction with Tony Stark's latest reinvention of himself, this time in Delaware, of all places. Then a pitched story to slightly elevate the profile she'd worked to keep so low, for so long. "Meet the Other Woman Behind Tony Stark," went the surely infuriating headline from Wired.

Eventually, the right headhunter called her cell phone out of the blue, talking opportunities. More meetings then, the first one before it was even clear Abrams was one of those opportunities. But he was, the headhunter assured, and was very interested in Kinsey Sheridan joining the "Cybertek family."

Don't seem eager or too impressed, Sullivan cautioned her. Say you're flattered, but don't sound like it. You know how to be coy, don't you, Sheridan?

Then, this week, another call: "He's eager to meet you. There's a private jet that can get you out to us. You can take part of the long weekend, can't you? It'll be worth it."

—-

Coy is not the word Kinsey would've chosen, were she to describe the lack of starstruck enthusiasm with which she met those initial offers. Inconvenienced, perhaps. Cynical, definitely. It works in part because — as the WIRED article so helpfully, irritatingly pointed out — Kinsey is the kind of person who turned down a job offer from Tony Stark straight out of high school. Not easily impressed may as well be the title of her never-happening memoir.

But it also works because none of that is a lie, and she doesn't have to pretend. Attempting to walk the line between civility and mistrust of the institution that Cybertek is doesn't read as a falsehood because it isn't one.

Nor are her conflicted feelings about Stark, or her annoyance with the amount of attention his politically volatile choices have recently aimed not just in his direction, but in the direction of virtually everyone in his orbit — including herself.

When she isn't sure she knows how to pitch something precisely as it needs to be, she smiles a little and says nothing, and lets people do what they do best: fill the blanks with whatever it is that they expect.

Thus, the call.

She's working when it comes in. Not on the feint. Not on the endless roadmap for the cybernetics division of the company formerly known as Stark Industries.

She's moving the lab.

It's in a state of orderly chaos, being gradually dismantled for relocation. Hair up, messy. Gym clothes and perspiration. Everything is heavy, but she's doing the work alone.

<I wonder what his definition of 'worth it' is.>

…mostly alone.

She turns her head to look over her shoulder at a bank of holoscreen projectors not yet dismantled, and a picture — an image of a young Kinsey, standing next to an old Adam Wolmer and several other colleagues — unfolds, silently bidden, to hang there in empty space.

"Mmm," she says, finally, a single syllable too small to hold any hint of the red-black blossom of anger that unfurls in her chest. "It's very…last-minute." Pause. "How are the fireworks in Palo Alto?"

Like that might matter, as to whether or not she agrees — or like she's kidding, humor particularly dry. Over a phone, it's probably impossible to say.

—-

The cynicism she does't have to front has served her well throughout. Whenever she's been aloof, the phone calls and texts come harder. Here she seems on the verge of another polite demurral, and she can almost hear the breath gathering in the headhunter's voice for a performative sigh.

It's cut short, and even though she can't see his relieved smile, she can probably hear it. "Oh, Kinsey, darling," he says, voice smooth as silk. "You've never seen anything like them."

That's almost certainly untrue. New York's fireworks display is legendary. But it's all in the pitch.

A few days of whatever preparations she'd make, whether they were with Jamie or with Matt or both, and then it's time. The plane is waiting for her on the secluded Long Island airfield on the morning of July 4th, as promised. It's small but sleek and state of the art. She'll have it to herself the whole ride, but it's a short one. This thing is fast. It's all but a few hours before the door opens and the California sunlight is kissing her face.

There's a driver waiting for her, taking her to her room at the Four Seasons. By then it's still early afternoon, timezones being what they are. She has time to rest and unpack, but Mr. Abrams has invited her for dinner — Yelp says it's French. Chic and upscale. The reservations, she's informed, will leave plenty of time for fireworks after.

—-

Preparations are not extensive. For the most part they involve Kinsey reviewing what she knows about Abrams — not the thinkpieces about his relevance, not the articles almost certainly encouraged (if not outright paid for) by Cybertek that border on idolatry, lauding his accomplishments or possible accomplishments or, on the other end of the public spectrum of obsession, decrying his obliviousness to the realities of normal people, residing as he does in the Venn diagram overlap of those hallowed bubbles of wishful thinking inhabited by tech bros, and the insulation of extreme wealth.

His dossier, mostly. Whatever Sullivan provides her with. She'd investigate him more thoroughly in her usual way, but until she knows what kind of technology he's acquired, what kind of security he might be capable of…

Best to not.

She downplays the significance of her trip with Matt in spite of knowing that it won't matter: it's a job interview; the only thing I'll be in danger of is choking on all of the things I have to swallow in the name of making it work.

True to character she's more interested in the aircraft that conveys her to her destination than she is in trying to make conversation with anyone else involved, or in the accommodations she's been given — though each of those choices have something to say about the man, or maybe organization, that made them. She turns up at the airfield dressed in what could be considered upscale casual dress, and packs for business rather than pleasure — but slant.

Wild horses could not drag the confession from even her lifeless lips, but the truth is that Kinsey's learned a great deal from her time with Tony Stark, and not just in the sense that his brilliance as an engineer continually surprises (and irritates) her. The very same differences between them as people that she finds so abrasive have taught her a great deal about what it means to live like a fucking rockstar. For the little Irish girl raised in a disciplined, military family tradition, it has been…illuminating…watching Tony Stark give not a single, solitary shit about showing up to a press conference visibly hung over, possibly in his pajamas, because he's Tony Stark and he can back that up, so who's going to tell him otherwise?

She's learned that Tony Stark needs people, in spite of his fierce pretensions to the contrary…

But also that his pretensions to the contrary are part and parcel of…that. Him. A mythos.

She is not Tony Stark, but her decision to turn up at a chic French restaurant wearing nine tenths of an elegant, pencil-skirt outfit for business, polished off with a too-high-for-the-office pair of stiletto heels and, instead of a blazer, an asymmetrical Rick Owens jacket (with a price tag she took immense pleasure in billing to Jamie Sullivan's office as a business expense) is calculated. It's a cocktail recipe she learned entirely from Tony: sixty percent appropriate, fifteen percent stylish, wealthy futurist in-the-know, and the remainder just inappropriate enough to contain I don't have to conform to convention for you because I know what I like and I know what I'm worth, so take it or leave it.

—-

The restaurant should be closed. The internet says it should be closed. And why not? It's the 4th of July. But the rules are different for men like Corey Abrams and Tony Stark.

And so when she walks through the doors and into the small and black-windowed dining room, with its dusk-colored walls and its heavy curtains that cordon off dark wood tables from each other, a maƮtre d is there to greet her. The twenty-something woman smiles welcomingly. "Ms. Sheridan," she says, clasping her hands in front of her, not even batting an eye at Kinsey's rock-star affectation. "Mr. Abrams is already here. I'll take you to your table."

And she does, with a quick clip to the corner of the room, where he's waiting.

He's in a tailored navy suit with a crisp white shirt — no tie. He is not attractive in any conventional sense. At least not anymore. The pictures in Sullivan's file showed a handsome boy, even if he was a victim of 90s hair, but his face has both wizened and somehow gone to fat. He wears an unflattering but expertly landscaped beard to cover up for it. And his haircut looks like it cost a million bucks.

He's looking at his phone when they approach, but when he glances up, his sly, callow blues squint in satisfaction. He drops the phone on the table and rises. Perfect teeth glint in the lamplight. "Man, have I been waiting for this," he confides, hands outstretched. He circles the corner of the table and walks towards her, one hand extended. "Corey Abrams."

That file of Sullivan's is extensive at this point, even exhaustive. But here is how it starts: He grew up in the DC suburbs. His father was a Reagan State Department appointee, his mother a tenured professor at a prestigious university and the beneficiary of family money.

Corey showed no particular distinguishing signs in growing up. A high IQ, sure, and family connections. But his grades were not exceptional. No clubs or sports or community service in his record. Lots of parties, though. Pedigree and a high SAT score was enough to get him into UVA, but all the same, he looked ready to coast on those native talents and privileges to a successful but unremarkable life.

Something changed. Or rather, something changed around the same time he took Adam Wolmer's Introduction to Philosophy and joined — as DEO has subsequently confirmed — Wolmer's secretive weekly D&D sessions with students and former students. His grades skyrocketed. He took a heretofore unexpressed interest in the hard sciences, almost changing his major. When he went with Stanford, it was for a PhD in engineering.

Adam Wolmer changed this man's life.

"Come on," he says, smile close-lipped but effusive — and slightly smarmy. "Come and join me."

—-

The eyes that land on Abrams — as the man himself finally comes into view through that thicket of curtains and tables — are analytical, Kinsey's glancing-over of him perfunctory. Not dismissive, or at least, not aiming to be: just not curious in the way that people are often curious about public personalities.

She takes the hand he offers, and shakes it with the same firm grip she's always had — or nearly so, anyway, discounting the fact that her hand isn't the same hand she's always had. His confession sends both of her brows slightly upward. "Have you? They did tell me six-thirty." A willful — obviously knowing — misunderstanding of what he meant, polite and easy, and not quite wry enough to be actually playful. Putting the focus on that, maybe. On that dynamic, or that balance in whatever equation they are. "I'd introduce myself, but…" She turns her head, casts one bright, hazel eye over the rest of the restaurant, its tables haunted by shadows. "Well. It seems sort of self-evident, doesn't it?" That is slightly more wry, a mote of something very Kinsey in it — a twinkle, however brief, of something less guarded.

She murmurs her thank-you for the official invitation to sit, and makes to do that, stopping at the corner of the table to shrug her absurdly expensive little jacket off of her shoulders, glancing up as though expecting someone to materialize from thin air to take it from her: her experience of this sort of thing suggests it likely.

If not, she'll just drape it over the back of the chair opposite Abrams' own, setting the tiny little clutch she's carrying down, too.

"I enjoyed my flight. It's always fascinating to see what people are doing in aeronautics. Zippy little aircraft. I might have enjoyed it more if I'd been allowed to spend it in the cockpit." She glances over her shoulder, lofting one dark, perfectly groomed eyebrow, and a moment later the corner of her lips follows it. "I didn't think the pilot would appreciate my asking."

—-

"Aaaah," Corey says as he lands in his seat, eyes turned ceiling-ward in mock-frustration. "That would have been a baller move, wouldn't it?! Send you to that empty jet, proverbial keys in the ignition, set of coordinates on a postit note?" He sighs, eyes sparkling, and shrugs. "Maybe for the ride home."

He resettles into a slouching recline in his chair. Meanwhile, Kinsey's jacket is taken before she can even think to drape it over the back of her seat. "It's tasting menu only," Abrams explains while the handoff is happening, fingers interlaced on his stomach. "You just kind of sit back and enjoy what they bring you."

She is unapologetically analytical in her look; he is unapologetically appraising. "But yeah, that little something's one of ours." Meaning the plane, presumably, and he confirms it with: "We're working on a hypersonic line for personal and commercial. Air France was what, fifteen years ago? We can do better now."

His eyebrows tick up, tick down. His lips curl at one corner. "Bet you could help with that."

Jesus, this guy's a fucking douche, comes Jamie Sullivan from the internet. We should just black box this prick right now. You in?

That's a joke, presumably. Not that it is beyond the scope or scruples of the DEO… but this is about more than that, Sullivan has assured her. Finding her lost tech. Finding out whether Corey Abrams killed Adam Wolmer, and if not, who did, and how, and what it means for the DEO.

But it still probably felt pretty good to type.

—-

Baller move, says one of the most pivotal, controversial figures in modern engineering. As if Kinsey needed any further reminders that he seems to have ended up where he is now almost through happenstance and accident.

She smiles anyway, because it's true: it would've been. She spreads her hands, like: what can you do? and lets that smile turn ever so slightly sympathetic in acknowledgement of the missed opportunity. "I'd say that it would lose some of its impact as a gesture if the idea was mine, but…I'm more into aircraft than gestures, so I'll hold you to that, Mr. Abrams."

She doesn't — cannot — slouch like Corey Abrams, but she sinks into her seat, lets herself sit back, and rests her arms on those of her chair, rather than perching more formally on the edge of it, legs crossed and napkin her lap.

Bet you could help with that, he's saying, as all of her settling-in motion lapses back into stillness. It makes the twitch to either corner of her lips more evident by contrast, and her, "Maybe," is a maybe that makes it clear it's not a question of whether or not she could help — it's a question of whether or not she will.

The subtlety of her smile loses some of its nuance as Five dutifully feeds her that information from Sullivan, growing just the littlest bit. Oh, I don't know, SUllivan. I've had worse dinner dates. They don't usually lead off by offering to let me take prototyped supersonic jets out for a joyride. Really, more men ought to add that to their playbook, it's quite effective.

Five, in turn, passes her thought back — probably lacking some of the arch, dry quality it contained in her head, post-translation.

"The Concorde was really only impressive if you didn't know a thing about it. A…novelty for people with money to burn. Built on swiftly outdated systems, horrendously fuel-inefficient, eventually crushed beneath the weight of its own elitism…" She lifts her hand, lets it fall. "I'd be very surprised if you can't do better."

—-

Man, comes Sullivan's reply. That pro-bono boyfriend of yours is in trouble, isn't he?

Corey, meanwhile, seems tickled by her reply and gamesmanship. Whatever Kinsey is bringing to the table, it it doesn't seem to be what he's used to. "Sure, done," he says of her ride home with a half-shrug. "Give her a stress test if you want. It's been a while for you, hasn't it?"

The first of eight courses comes out, appropriately tiny: yuzu and beetroot sorbet. The first expertly paired glass of wine too.

Abrams sits up to steal a spoon and a small scoop. "You're not wrong," he tells her of the Concorde. "We can do it cheaper and more efficiently. We can get the world moving. Six hour commercial flights becomes two hour commercial flights. Imagine what that saves everyone. Money, wealth. Break it down, it's all just time. Give more people more of it, and you're making the world richer."

It feels like a riff he's given before, lazy. But still honest, and the first time he's seemed earnest about anything since she walked through those doors.

A beat. "So tell me, Kinsey. Where do you want to do better?" Then he takes that first bite of sorbet.

—-

not a chance

—is the instant response on Sullivan's screen, delayed not a whit by the ongoing conversation he's privy to via other channels. Simultaneous. Undistracted.

All of those hours spent levitating little spherical drones, maneuvering them together and independently, have not been for nothing.

"A while," she agrees, neutrally enough that it's difficult to say whether there's emotion wrapped up in that observation or not. She watches with genuine interest as the tasting plates come out, one by one — small and lovely, and a little bit novel for someone who spends a whole lot of time surrounded by half-empty boxes of take-out and cans of full-sugar soda, staring at readouts as an entire metropolis of information is indexed late into the night.

Less novel and more familiar is what she listens to as she watches the procession of tidbits: the rote sentiment, however honest, is a lone sour note in an otherwise convincing charade of an affable evening. Sullivan's terminal spits out a few fragments of thought: Naive optimism and fundamental oversight and systemic inequality. They aren't whole sentences; maybe they were pieces of thoughts emphatic enough that Five assumed they were meant to be shared.

Still, she's watching him as he says the words — by the end, anyway — and when he pauses before turning the spotlight her way, as was only inevitable, the expression she's wearing is already pensive, the way she's looking at him weighted — charged — with history and experience. It's a look from across a chasm, a rift. The great, yawning crack in the world that her accident created, riving her old life from her new one.

She reaches for her wine glass as she shifts that inadvertently intense regard away, lashes lowering to half-screen her gaze as she contemplates her answer, and takes the occasional sip. Weighing, as she does, her truths against whatever half-truths or wishful ideals are likely to land well with the man across the table.

What Sullivan will hear her say has resonance with those thought-fragments of hers — but it's hard to say how much of it is truth, and how much of it might be a funhouse mirror reflection of the truth, warped to a purpose. It's possible to hear the smile in the tone of her voice, at least at first: "Everywhere. In everything."

The smile turns rueful, then wanes. "That probably sounds like a facile answer. Maybe it is. But for all that, it's also true. Except I ask myself, quite often of late, if that's what the world actually wants. To 'do better.' Does it really? What does that mean: better? Who gets to decide? There's never been any such thing as an equal playing field. Recent events have only impressed that truth upon a society already beset by inequalities of every kind, distracting from terrestrial inequalities with what must feel like otherworldly, incomprehensible imbalances in power. What is 'better,' in a climate like this one? It depends on whom you ask, and where they reside in that hierarchy of security and control. For as long as those imbalances exist, it's altogether too easy for people to shift blame from place to place, claiming one or the other is responsible for all of our collective ills. Government, metahumans, the wealthy and privileged, the educated, the uneducated…"

Another sip from her glass, and she sets it down on the table, gauzy fabric whispering as she leans forward into the resting of her forearms along the table's edge, voice pitched low and soft, like satin backlit by some subtle fire. "The world is guilty of almost precisely the same crimes of engineering as the Concorde, and I find it appalling. Outdated systems. Massive fuel inefficiencies, leading to catastrophic environmental impact, all in the name of serving only an elite few and even then only in the most meaningless, uninspired ways, ferrying us from one fixed point to another without taking us anywhere new as it gradually shakes itself apart at the seams, in spite of every indication that its ultimate fate will be an ignoble, sudden, crashing end, as befits every oblivious Icarus." Hazel eyes linger on her tablemate, pricked with whatever sharp thing is sheathed in those words, and then gentle slightly as she twitches a small, self-aware smile. "You probably think that makes me a radical. You wouldn't be the first. But I'm not, really, I'm just incredibly dissatisfied, and continually disappointed in the…complacency, all around us. The assumption that because things are the way they are, this is the way they always will be — or even the way they always must be."

One little beat to consider whether or not she has anything to add, and then she finally picks up her spoon and drops her eyes to her plate. "I do like yuzu," is how she finishes that manifesto of half-truths.

—-

Abrams' eyebrows loft when she levies that pensive look his way, marking as he does the gulf between her arch and aloof demeanor and what the look hints will come next.

When she starts into her monologue, his delicate chin inches upward. His blue eyes slim into slits, and his spoon hovers just above that last bite of sorbet. It's hard to read that expression at first, just how what she's saying is landing with the faux-philosophical CEO.

At the end, when she makes her quip about the yuzu, he lets the spoon drop. A beat of silence follows, during which the plates are whisked away.

He leans forward into the silence and the empty space created by that absent dish. A long beat, and then a slow and close-lipped smile of relish. "You do sound like a radical," he says, with obvious appreciation, and even a hint of fervor. "But radicalism is what this moment calls for, isn't it? How much has the world changed in the last ten years? It's not just mutants anymore. Aliens, benign like Superman or malevolent like the Chiutari. The gates of hell opening above New York City. The world leaped ahead of us a thousand years, and humanity — we're still fumbling around in the dark. At best we're that monkey with the stick in 2001, only able to use what we've discovered to break shit, or each other."

The next dish comes: rich caviar, paired with pureed fennel. Abrams ignores it for the moment, his eyes fixed on her. "I love that you were DEO," he offers, a lift and point of his fork towards her. "I love its mission; what it stands for. It's my mission too, though my approach is — different. Men in black suits won't save us." A beat, an inch up of one eyebrow. "Any more then men in iron ones. Society — humanity — it doesn't need heroes. It needs transformation."

Just be glad I'm not sending you gifs, Sullivan writes. That's an act of fucking restraint right now.

—-

I wouldn't be able to see them anyway, Five passes along on her behalf, which is itself a half-truth, but nevermind that.

She's hard to read. She accepts his silent stare in the quiet that follows her quietly scathing indictment of modern civilization with the same placid ease she walked into the restaurant wearing, and eats until the moment he speaks again, finally lifting her eyes from her plate, and by that time finished with what was a woefully small portion of a thing she likes.

Just in time to have it replaced with a thing she doesn't.

Gross, Five prints on the terminal screen for Jamie Sullivan, seemingly apropos of nothing.

She's a quiet, attentive, focused listener. The only change in her expression as Corey speaks comes when he says I love that you were DEO, earning a faint uptick to one brow. She's not quick to reply, either, taking her time relishing (choking down) the fish eggs and fennel (god why) and taking a slightly longer sip from her glass of wine before picking up the thread.

"Transformation is violence," she says, words that could easily have sounded like a moral judgment on another tongue. From Kinsey, they're matter-of-fact. "Change by its very nature creates conflict. Violence is unpredictable; humanity has been trying to model the threat landscape for centuries, and we're still no closer to being able to dictate where the chaos of any fully violent event will take us. The Chitauri, the dimensional rift — our ability to adapt quickly has improved, but we're still utterly unable to predict the outcome of any sufficiently turbulent upheaval in the order of things."

She sits back in her seat again, away from her dutifully emptied plate, and perks her brows at him, interested, curious, rather than challenging. "Do you believe you can shepherd humanity through this necessary transformation in a way no one else has been able to, to date? Or is it that you believe the need outweighs the possible costs? 'Evolve, or perish?'"

—-

She poses him a question while he's occupying himself with a spoon-full of caviar. If he shares any of her revulsion, he doesn't show it. He swallows, takes a sip of his wine, and mulls. "Has it?" he asks, sidestepping her pointed query for the moment. "Has our ability to adapt truly improved? Our ability to manage crises has, sure. But actual adaptation? Improving ourselves our our culture to compete for limited resources? That I don't see. I see the opposite, if anything. We're being outpaced. Even by the machines we create!"

Abrams' brow knits as he reaches for his wine glass again, swirls it around in his cup. The waiter mercifully claims the second course from both of them, while Abrams goes on: "I had the most fascinating conversation with Tony's, uh, attendant, last year. Jarvis?"

The billionaire spreads his hands, the one with a glass of wine and the one without it. "He was very — very polite?" It's said in a tone that practically screams: And one day he could decide to launch a bunch of nukes that kill us all.

A filet of turbot is next, and refills of the wine glass, and all the while Abrams continues: "But no, I don't think I can shepherd humanity to where it needs to go. Not alone. My head's not that big. But the need? Yeah, it's pretty damn high." He taps his fork in her direction. "So — I need fellow travelers. People ready to think big. To make big moves."

"Jarvis," Kinsey confirms, when asked. There's a spark of humor in her eyes, but it's muted. "He is. Very polite."

She absorbs the quasi-invitation implicit in that conclusion in silence, to all appearances mulling over the offer and its vague contours. And she is, albeit at a remove, eyes angled off to one side, down.

"Mr. Abrams," she begins, finally, in a tone of voice that says reluctant, and also apologetic.

But she stops there. Lifts one of her hands, palm outward, in a staying gesture, as though to halt the flow of the moment. Of time, maybe.

Starting over. Lifting her eyes, and her attention. "Corey. These are easy things for people like us to agree about and — I hope you'll forgive me the honesty — it's nothing I haven't heard before. Which is not to say that it doesn't mean something different. Just that…well. You know. Every serenade from every worthy start-up with stars in its eyes, every roadmap, every job offer wants to impress upon me that it, they, are going to change the world." For the first time, humor bubbles up openly in her expression, lighting her face and displacing some of that assessing distance. She quirks a half-smile as amused as it is apologetic, the notch between her brows emphasizing the latter.

Along with it comes another minute scrap of something truly genuine, seemingly out of place set against the heady idealism and casual disparaging of the human condition: "Were you an X-Files fan as a kid, Corey? I'm sure these days I'm sort of nailing the Agent Scully vibe, right? Former spook, coming at your proposal like a skeptic? Dry humor? Sort of a stick in the mud? …God. And I'm doing pencil skirts and sensible shoes on weekdays, now," she adds, an almost-mutter, and mostly to herself, that seems genuinely disconcerted. "But I'll tell you this, for having brought me out here on your beautiful plane, to have a lovely dinner and, I have been promised, watch a few fireworks: I had to learn Scully. I'm a Fox Mulder down to my bones. I want to believe. But I need you to show me something I can believe in." She looks, as she settles back again, quite pleased with her — is it even a simile, anymore? "So, Mulder in a dress. Which — I suppose that's Denise, isn't it? Um. From Twin Peaks, when David Duchovny-" She pauses, and then reaches for her glass of wine. "Never, nevermind. I think you know what I'm saying."

It's possible this sudden digression into INTENSE GEEKERY was calculated, too; a momentary vulnerability put on display for a man who got his second start at a weekly tabletop game with a former colleague…

But, it's also Kinsey. So, equal odds it just happened that way.

—-

Corey's sun-bronzed brow knits when as she lays out the various early 1990s pop culture figures best fit the strange nexus of cynicism and idealism in which she's landed. The fish sits cooling beside him; she has his complete and undivided attention.

And at the end of it all, a quizzical smile. "You're saying you… 'want to believe,' Kinsey? Like — on the poster?"

Abrams sits back in his chair, squinting. "Look, here's what I can tell you. Cybertek is changing the world. Every single crisis you laid out — each one of them intersecting, existential — we're doing something about. Kinsey, we can power an aircraft carrier with water molecules. We can grow a beating human heart, and in a decade, I swear we'll be able to help amputees grow back an arm or a leg. We're developing tech that will augment the human brain and allow it to compete with A.I.s and whatever else is out there. We're going to the moon, to Mars, to the far corners of the galaxy. If Kryptonians and Chiutari can do it, so can we. Every single major challenge humanity faces at this moment, we're there and out in front."

He leans forward then, something feverish in his eyes. "Listen to me. You're a lot prettier than David Duchovny in a dress, but I wouldn't have flown you out here for some fish eggs and fireworks, you know?" His jaw shifts, his bright eyes betray a mulling mind. "Let me lay it out for you. I need a new head of R&D. You've got the skills and the chops. And you've put up with Stark, so you sure as hell can put up with my bullshit. If you don't believe in me, then believe in yourself. Because you'll have several billion dollars worth of budget and resources at your disposal to think as big as you could possibly want. I'm not telling you I'm going to change the world. I'm giving you the keys, Kinsey, so you can fly that plane."

And with that, he reaches for his wine glass and takes a long sip. But his eyes never leave her, never blink.

Like, on the poster?

The impatient flap of her hand seems to suggest she's dismissing the nerdy particulars, or at least sweeping them under the rug — but, she doesn't deny it.

It's quite a thing, what he produces for her, having been asked. Show me something I can believe in was not bait, meant to lead him toward incriminating himself; it's far too early for that. It was the kind of thing she would say if she really were interviewing for this job: everybody has big ideas, so tell me why yours matter more.

Within the limits of his ability to do so — non-disclosure and all of the rest — he does so, and in spite of the shadowplay of it all, in spite of the many grim possibilities concerning the culpability of this man in Adam Wolmer's fate or the theft and misuse of Kinsey's research or any of the rest…

There is a tiny part of her that still feels the tug of longing that all of those forward-thinking things elicits, as a young Kinsey would've. Not just the funding, but the atmosphere, the drive, the hell-bent focus of a team of minds all dismantling the problems of the future, dreaming wild solutions. Exploration without horizons.

It ruined her entire life.

And yet. She feels her traitorous, idiot heart skip a beat, anyway.

It makes her laugh, after a stretch of taut silence that carries all of the fervor of his response. Spontaneous. Not in mockery, but in surprise and amusement with herself, and other things, subtle things, none of them derisive. The smile, wide and bright, is still in place after the laugh has been absorbed by the greater silence of the restaurant. "It's a great pitch," she admits, almost grudgingly — but smiling, still. Eyes glittering, but weighing. It's the look of a woman intrigued in spite of herself which — let's be real — may not be an expression that Corey Abrams is accustomed to seeing women wear.

"I really should put that on my CV," she murmurs, eyes flicked elsewhere as she reaches for her wine glass and brings it to her lips. "'Put up with Tony Stark for an entire calendar year.'"

But it's just filler, followed with a long, slow exhale. "You know I can't promise anything until I've seen the contract."

Which is, really, as good as a yes.

—-

It's been a long time since Corey Abrams had to make a hard pitch at anyone. For the last five years he's been used to the fawning coverage, the obsequious hangers-on, the accolades and easy sells. His skeptics have been loud, but irrelevant; they exist in altogether different orbits. Just as Kinsey feels the ache in those old set-aside parts of her, the phantom limbs of longing and idealism, he finds a relish he'd almost forgotten in the chase.

And then it's done. He hears that silver laugh and that all-but-yes and allows his face to show real pleasure, triumph, enthusiasm, and even a note of gratitude. "I have a good feeling about this," he says, lifting his glass towards her in a silent toast.

"You're going to like the contract," Corey assures her, lips curling at one corner. He touched on her idealism, both because it's what her record suggested and because it's what she invited, but it's not hard to imagine that he was prepared to lean on other advantages.

"And you'll like the fireworks, too. I, uh — may have added a few touches."

Nice work, comes the text, mediated by Five. Short and sweet.

—-

It wouldn't be like Kinsey not to feel — even as she smiles in that grudging-but-nevertheless-pleased way, and raises her glass in an answering toast — a twinge of guilt for her duplicity. I have a good feeling about this, says the man with an expression of real satisfaction on his face, and Kinsey doesn't know whether or not he means that. She doesn't know whether or not he buys the pretense they've crafted, or is merely playing along; doesn't know, in any provable way, that he's anything other than an idealist who saw an opportunity and felt a mandate to act, no matter the cost, to save his fellow man, as opposed to a cutthroat pioneer afraid of the changes being wrought in the world around him and willing to do anything and everything necessary to post himself at the helm of what will become humanity's historical response, to avoid being left behind.

In the moment he seems happy, optimistic about the future. It's enough to cause that pang of regret. It didn't have to be this way, she thinks, as she sips to that toast.

But now it does.

We're going to get this bastard. We're gonna get your work back. And then we're going to bury it so deep no one will find that shit again.

Whatever it takes. No matter the cost.

Her smile widens. "I do love fireworks."

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