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Raveled

After Action Report (IC)

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Jessica Parker was taking a full load of classes from HIT, and they occupied most of her morning. She took lunch in the cafeteria and then drove to the Dawes Technology Solutions campus upriver. The executive offices were in a rather uninspired triangular building of cement and rebar. The R&D building, y contrast, was a series of white cubes of varying dimensions, butting up against each other or linked by multi-level walkways. Jessica would much rather spend her free time in the white cubs of the R&D department, but her grandfather has emailed her and asked for a face-to-face meeting in his office. Which meant she had to go into the concrete office block.

As heir apparent to the Dawes Tech empire, Jessica had virtually free run of any Dawes Consumer Technology campus, and most DTS ones. She even had her own security pass. Still, she rarely visited the executive offices and it took her awhile to find her grandfather’s office. It was close to, but not the very, top floor and Jessica couldn’t see much difference with the other floors, besides the fact that it was all offices and the doors were further apart.

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Malcolm Dawes’s office at one of the angle of the three-sided building, looking downriver to the harbor and the ocean beyond. The office itself was almost as big as Jessica’s apartment, and was mostly empty. The main feature was the expansive, obsidian-topped desk in front of the window. The deliberately empty space lent the man behind the desk a quiet gravitas.

In his prime, Malcolm Dawes had been a broad-shouldered, heavily muscled man. Time and age had softened and creased his body, but he still had a cold glare that made younger men shake. Jessica had never been the focus of that glare before, and it was a sobering experience. She took a shaky breath and pressed on, adopting a cheery expression that did little to hide her true feelings. “Hi, Grandpa. What’d you want to talk about?†Malcolm didn’t waste words, merely pointing at one of the straight-backed chairs in front of his desk.

Jessica made herself as comfortable as possible on the thinly upholstered seat while he grandfather punched at a control on his desk. A small plasma-screen monitor rose from the inky blackness, an image already on it. The girl recognized it easily, as would millions of Freedonians – it was Rock Royer, a reporter than had made his name with on-the-spot interviews of Freedom City’s supeheroes.

Jessica’s heart sank: she knew what was coming.

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Malcolm pressed a button on his desk and the recording began to play. It stayed on a the still picture of Rick Royer as an off-screen announcer introduced him, just in case their viewers had been living in a cave for the last few years. The feed cut to Royers’s point of view then, looking for the harbor; the moon near the horizon suggested it wasn’t much past sunset. Royer took over then, his voice rolling and

“Thanks, Mike, and I wish the Comets better luck next season. I’m here at Freedom City harbor where, mere hours ago, our fine police force found themselves in a desperate battle with some surprisingly well-armed smugglers. It could’ve been bad for our brave boys in blue if it hadn’t been for Freedom City’s newest superhero.â€

The view had rotated during the segment, taking in a pair of police boats; a warehouse cordoned off by many police cruisers; and finally an armored figure, with an inverted delta of a helmet, oversized gauntlets and decorated in a green and red-gold scheme. “Let’s start with the basics. What should we call you, miss?â€

Jessica expected the synthesizer to be even harsher on television, but perhaps because of Royer’s powers she was perfectly intelligible. “Ironclad,†the figure on TV said. “Two.â€

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Malcolm punched another control and the recording paused on Ironclad’s image. Jessica’s misgivings had been all but swept away by a warm wave when she realized how many people knew her name, and how easy the fight had been. She had heard the call for help over the police band and liberally dropped from the sky onto the smugglers, crashing through a skylight for her entrance. The criminals had been armed with machine pistols and shotguns, all small caliber and unable to so much as scratch Ironclad’s paint. She’d made short work of them, and had been riding high on the inevitable adrenaline buzz when she agreed to the interview. Now, sitting her under her grandfather’s stormy gaze, it all seemed like the stupidest thing in the world.

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Malcolm turned his hard gaze on his granddaughter. “Ironclad,†he said, his voice low and monotone. After a moment, he demanded, “Where in the hell did you get a stupid idea like that? Dressing up in a suit and try to do the police’s job. Who do you think you are?â€

Jessica’s stomach was full of butterflies, but she took a deep breath and answered him. “I’m the next Ironclad, and the granddaughter of the original.â€

Neither of them spoke for a long moment, and finally Malcolm leaned back in his chair and steeped his fingers. “What makes you think that?â€

His tone of voice was neutral, but Jessica knew it was a challenge – and she rallied in response. “I started looking about ten months ago,†she began. “We had that discussion about actuators and grounds, remember? I said that no system could go above a certain limit without grounding into the earth. A couple of days later, you showed he a system that could do just that. I poked around and found more – ammo feed systems, man-sized fire and forget weapons, and fantastic armor.†She was leaning forward in her seat now, elbows on her knees. He anxiety was almost forgotten as she explained her process.

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“There was other stuff, too,†Jessica continued. “Test data and scanned-in forms with the USAF’s logo. I did some cross-referencing and came up with a government sponsored hero who went by Ironclad. He was active with the Army after World War 2, until the Air Force was formed. His last mission was just a few months before you were discharged. And, of course, all of this stuff is on the Dawes Tech serves. QED, you’re Ironclad.†Jessica’s eyes were shining and she was very clearly proud of herself. She seemed to have forgotten that the man sitting across from her was angry as her.

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Malcolm didn’t speak for a very long minute after Jessica finished talking. He might’ve been mulling over what she said, or working to keep quiet pride off his face, or counting to ten in his head – he was much better at hiding her emotions than she was at reading them. Finally, he stirred and asked her, “If all that was true, why did you take up the name? Why are you trying to be a hero?â€

The question surprised Jessica, and the trying stung. “You told me, grandpa,†she said. “’Of those who have much, much is asked.’ I’m smart, and I’m good with machines. Once I knew what was possible, I had to try it, and once I knew what I could do I had to use it to help people.â€

“You’re young. You don’t know how to fight.â€

“I’m a year older than you really were when you joined the Army, and I know as much about fighting as you did – and you survived.â€

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Malcolm didn't let up. "It was in the Army. I had support, I had training -- and I still got my legs shot out from underneath me!"

Jessica's eyes lit up as an idea occurred to her. "Then by my support. Help me, train me, grandpa! I don't need the whole military, I'm not looking to save the entire world. But you can help me o a little good in the city."

He frowned, turning the idea over in his head. "I'm too old to go out in the field," he said. "And I'd be a liability in a fight. If I tried to use my old suit, I'd probably have a heart attack."

"You don't need to be physically there when you can be virtually there." Malcolm gave her a look at the suggestion, but she plowed on. "I can set up an audio-visual link from the suit, to your house or even right here! You'll see and hear everything I do -- or, everything the suit does, anyway -- and can talk straight to me."

Malcolm rested his forearms on his desk, interested despite himself. "You couldn't use radio," he pointed out." Too noisy around the city, and too easy to intercept."

"there's a Dawes Tech communication satellite overhead almost all the time." Jessica pulled a notebook and pencil out of her pocket, flipped to a new page, and started sketching. "I can keep it point to point using a gyroscope. Whoever wanted to intercept would have to be in low orbit." She looked up, her eyes alight.

Malcolm held up his hands in a gesture of surrender, only half mocking. "Alright. I guess I'm going to help you."

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