2019-10-11 - To Be Or Not To Be


Oracle follows the data trail from Avery's old house and Batgirl gets to deliver the news.

Log Info:

Storyteller: None
Date: Fri Oct 11 09:37:48 2019
Location: Investigation Site

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Theme Song



It has been a few days since last Avery and Batgirl had delved into the younger woman's past. The prior investigation ended up needing to call on the medical skills of Lesley Thompson to deal with one badly burned left hand as well. Fortunately they got Zeal to her in good time, and got the hand dealt with in good order.

It has been a fairly hard few days for Avery, once again she's not able to work, and she's got some very real and valid concerns for her job. And with that she's had far too much time to brood, so, she's been pulling extra shifts at the clinic she volunteers at to fill the time and trying not to turn into a doom pile.

She does check in with Oracle and thus with Batgirl every night, though she can't even do a lot of training either! Injury sucks.

Tonight finds the girl dressed in somber earth tones, not her usual, and hair gathered in a fairly severe braid as she approaches the Safe House where hopefully the ISP hack will give them some of the missing details. She moves carefully, steady of pace, no sudden changes as she makes a game of being stealthy but not overtly so. A valuable skill that!

Batgirl has been monitoring Avery and is aware of the income problem the young woman faces. She doesn't have a solution yet, but she's working on one.

When Avery gets to the Safehouse, the OracleApp beeps at her and she can hear the door unlock. "Come in, Zeal." comes Batgirls modulated voice from the depths of the apartment.

Inside, the lights are on and Batgirl is projecting the results of Oracles hacks above the table. "We've been able to track that data feed we found. I thought you might like to see how we find what we find."

There's a critical look in the young womans direction - the mask portrays that - "I trust you are healing and not doing too much?"

It really doesn't help that the girl is absurdly generous, she just doesn't value 'things', she values people, she values doing right by others. Sadly, that's a difficult life model to sustain on her income with her means, no matter how laudable. The girl is far too selfless, it might be even be unhealthy.

But that's a conversation for another day, one where they try to beat the concept of 'moderation' into Avery's head. She's just not wired for that!

A smile at the beep and the clicking open door, yup, more artifice magic. So nice to work with such puissant spellcasters! She enters, and offers Batgirl a smile, perhaps not as bright as her usual, but genuine all the same - she IS happy to see her Liege Lady. "Hello, Batgirl, hello Oracle." Moving up to stand beside the other woman, hazel eyes flecked with gold peer with curiousity.

A glance up, Avery does look a little tired, but not beyond the norm. And her hand is still bandaged, likely will be for some days yet. "Aye…" She sighs. "…I mean, 'yes', I have been trying to keep myself from doing too much, with some small measure of success." Twelve hour shifts at the clinic don't count as too much, do they?

"You might try cutting your shifts at the clinic down to eight hours, every other day, until your healed." The redheaded bat comments. It would be dry if Avery could make out the tone.

"Greetings Zeal." Comes Oracles voice in response to the greeting. It's a miracle of programming that it seems so lifelike.

"Let's get started then. I have a patrol to do tonight." Batgirl turns to the display above the table. "Oracle tells me they traced the data to the city of Kazan, in Russia. They've had to work to get through the security and find what we're looking for."

"Oracle, would you break it down for us…"

"I…will adjust, yes." Avery sighs very faintly. "I just…I am not /good/ at being idle." And she doesn't want to brood more. She does not like brooding. Ah well, maybe some movies. She'll have to give Carin a call sometime, see if she'd like to get together again for more movies. "I take it that it would not be acceptable to do more running, yes?"

Avery smiles to the VI's greeting. "Hello Oracle, I trust you are well?"

Oracle responds. "Quite well, thank you."

Avery settles down when Batgirl gets them back on task. "Of course, Batgirl." It is amusing that both Oracle and Avery said it at almost the exact same time!

"The security on the systems was actually quite good, Batgirl. Layered defenses, multiple firewalls and advanced anti-intrusion countermeasures." The VI displays images of the routes it had to take to get to the ISP, and then some examples of the various defenses. Mindful of its audience, the images also have been tagged with iconic representations that would do well in a computer game to help gauge their effectiveness.

It continues. "Fortunately, they did not air-gap the secure servers where the data feed went, and I was able to break in."

Oracle pauses then to give Batgirl time to discuss with Avery, since this is to be educational /and/ informative.

Under her mask, Batgirl smiles at the woman. She's worked out how she's going to help Avery. Avery's employee is going to get a call in the morning from Gordon Investigations, asking for the courier Avery Aaronson to be assigned as their courier.

It will cost the redhead a little more to do that, but she's good for it.

"So the idea with security, Zeal, is to make it hard to get through. To discourage those who might try and encourage them to try other places. In this case, the ISP we're looking at uses layers of protection - a bit like an onion - you get through one layer, there's another to deal with. That's what taken Oracle a couple of days to get through."

Pausing to see if there's questions to that, Batgirl continues moments later. "An air gap simply means the server with the sensitive data isn't attached to the network. It's the only *real* way to ensure that it can't be hacked remotely. Physically maybe, but not remotely. In this case … they relied too heavily on their other defenses.

"What did you find, Oracle?"

Avery will be surprised to say the least, she has seldom gone out on deliveries, she mostly works in the warehouse doing fairly grueling physical labor. To be specifically requested as a courier? That's going to make a big difference! She might even harbor a suspicion that Batgirl called in a favor to arrange it, because that is how she rolls. And rightly so! Avery is her sworn follower, false history or not, the girl believes in knightly virtue, noblesse oblige and that the compact between liege and liegeman involves support in exchange for loyalty and service.

Also…she'd like to think they're friends.

She listens hard about the defenses. "Ah, much like when you fortify a city, it would be foolish to rely wholly on siege weapons, or magical wards, better to have guards and gates and other such as well, yes?" A hint of the old Avery as she adds. "I like onions." A flash of smile.

"Ah, I wondered about the 'air gap', my mind pictured a city on a prominence next to a cliff with nothing but air between." She nods at the assessment then and nods.

"Essentially correct, Avery. The mechanics are more involved, but your analogy is sound."

The VI continues. "Once through the defenses I was able to tap into the file system, and have implanted a number of trace and logger bots into their network, data is feeding from several other sources, a preliminary analysis indicates that these men are working on a means to implant subliminal messages into VR sims. At present they are in my estimate six to ten weeks from having a deployable product, currently the intent seems to be to deliver advertisements, oddly enough. Though that might be merely a live test. I cannot speculate as to their ultimate goals."

The VI calls up some images. "Directly relating to Zeal's situation, I did find some interesting data - first, video of Doctor Aaronson working on two of the cryo-tubes, over two hundred hours of recordings. It seems there were two Zeals, the first being the one we saw in the recordings last gathered, the other a clone, well over eighty-eight percent likely."

"Subliminal messaging?" There's an audible sigh behind Batgirls mask as the redhead shakes her head, the crimson braid moving as she does. "When will people get the results are unpredictable at best? They've been doing this since the 1940's and no one can say they work effectively." beat "Keep digging on that on though, see if you can find the scope or terms of reference documents for the project. If they're going to use it for something nefarious, we should know."

Batgirl might just work on some alternate code for that product to embed in it. She'll work that out later, though.

"Two Avery's? One you suspect was a clone?" Batgirl looks to Zeal then "I'm going to ask Oracle to display the pertinent parts, is that going to be ok, Zeal? Or would you rather not see it?"

It does explain though, why this Avery is healthy and whole.

"A clone. That's serious money if it's correct, Oracle. Have you managed to correlate bank records with anything that might support that?"

If Zeal says it's ok, Oracle will display the footage.

"I do not understand, what is 'subliminal', it sounds like it would be something beneath light." Avery is a little lost, here. Oracle speaks up. "A sound inference, Zeal. It is embedded images and such that are hidden in in a fashion that the mind does not actually consciously perceive, so in a way it is out of sight."

The VI then answers Babs. "Of course, Batgirl, I have been seeking such files in anticipation of your request, it is possible that they have them hosted elsewhere, at present I have only my supposition based on the rest of their data on the server."

"Yes." Oracle answers. "It explains some odd purchases that Doctor Aaronson made, some very expensive purchases from dubious sources. His financial records indicate that his efforts in the basement were far beyond his means to support."

Avery blinks. "A clone, I have seen movies with clones in them, are they not subhuman monsters then?" Not like Hollywood portrays such in a positive light! Of course, being Avery, she nods. "Please show the footage."

The process is actually fascinating, Avery's father was clearly a genius, but he had to cut corners. His ability to adapt, to find alternatives is truly memorable. They can literally see him working to create a second Avery, the biology is a bit intense, it will need close study, but the body in the second tube aged at a vastly accelerated rate, and once there was parity the 'blank' was wired into the first tube, and then THAT was wired into the VR rig.

The man worked himself to /the bone/, he visibly lost weight over the weeks of footage that Oracle displays in condensed snips.

Seems Avery gets that drive honestly!


Batgirl doesn't comment on whether clones are subhuman monsters. There's a lot tied up in the question. Clones - are not really possible - this is bleeding edge technology and then some.

"Oracle is there anything in Mister Aaronsons files that indicate what he was trying to do? I mean, we can intuit it from here … he was his daughter a new body. I'd … like to confirm that if I can."

"Play at double speed and bring us to the time just prior to the explosion. Cross reference bank records, phone calls and meetings around that time."

The redhead puts a hand on Avery's shoulder, squeezing gently to remind the woman she's there.

Unfortunately Avery is not clued in enough about medical science, or science in -general- to know how out there a cloning project like this is. Her father really was doing some ground breaking stuff to try and save his little girl.

"Working on those correlations, Batgirl. It seems that the Russians of 'Star Web' had been quite thorough in stealing his research through various backdoors into the system. It is seventy-three probable that the new body was intended for his daughter, it is almost ninety-percent likely that the VR rig was intended to keep the brain of his daughter active after he'd induced a medical coma, and cryogenic suspension, though, the system was not full suspension. It seems that it was designed to buy time, nothing more."

The VI runs more data, analyzes it. "Doctor Aaronson had several meets during the time spent on this project, he met with several representatives of criminal organizations, not just the Bratva, he was deeply in debt to legitimate financial institutions as well. He had ruined himself with the expense of his research and curative efforts."

The video shows that he was striving to reverse damage to the non-clone Avery, it is clear she was fully paralyzed from the neck down, but he simply could not get the nerve damage to regenerate and he tried for literally years. "I would posit that cloning attempt was a last ditch effort to effect repairs, however, he also seems to have engaged in a number of meetings at various sites known to be safehouses and properties owned by criminals, after each such visit he received a sometimes substantial infusion of monies which he then sunk immediately into his research."

Avery reaches a hand up to rest atop Batgirl's at her shoulder, but she is a little sick to her stomach watching this stuff. It is pretty raw.

Batgirls arm slides around Avery's shoulder as Oracle delivers the news, hugging the younger woman but keeping the contact loose - in case she wants to pull away. "Do you understand what Oracle is saying, Zeal?"

It's a story that breaks the redheads heart.

"I think then, Oracle, we can assume several things. Mister Aaronson was trying to give his daughter a better quality of life and he ended up heavily in debt to the wrong type of people."

There's a silence as Batgirl lets Avery take all this in. "We can't be sure, but I imagine the Bratva we identified already, were coming to collect on their debt."

Avery does not pull away, in fact she leans into that embrace, and she is faintly trembling. "I am not sure, Batgirl. It sounds like I'm not the Avery who was born from her mother, but that I'm a made thing. That my father, /made/ me." Her other arm is curled in tight against her abdomen. "That the real Avery was hurt somehow, that she could not have moved. That he tried to fix what ailed her, and could not. So…he put her in a coma and built machines to keep her mind engaged, only…somehow her mind and mine got mixed up? That be…that /is/…what I cannot understand. Is this -my- mind, or -hers-?"

A faint sigh. "I suppose it does not matter, this is the only mind I have, is it not? Though…my life is a story, not a real life, not until I came here." She's actually shivering now, tense as a overwound spring. "And he probably did terrible things to pay for it." She looks up, cheeks damp with silently shed tears. "I remember Father fighting the Bratva, he was hurt, and then the explosion when they did what they did to the pods." A sigh, half a sob. "And then I can't remember anything more until I woke in the hospital."

"You speak like they're two people, Zeal. And I don't know that's entirely true. It's your mind, of that I'm fairly sure. You remember being in two places at once, I think that was the point of transfer. Does it matter, that this body was 'grown' and not 'born'?"

The redhead hugs the smaller woman as she talks. "There are people who have parts of their body replaced. Are they any less human because of that?" beat "Or use nanites, tiny micro computers that enter the blood stream, to repair damage and replace functions. Are they any less human?"

"You are Avery Aaronson whose father loved her so very much, he dedicated his life to making her whole again."

"Are they not? Is a clone not a person too?" Avery is clearly anguished by the thought that another person might have essentially died, though there's no signs that the cloned body was ever educated or even conscious, she's still tortured that it might have had a soul of some sort. "I…do not know if it matters, I just…I wonder…did someone die that I might live?"

Oracle pipes up. "There were never any EEG readings of conscious thought in the clone, Zeal. It DID on occasion mirror the source body's patterns, this would tend to support the premise that the clone was never a person in any logical sense."

Avery sighs, still tense, but she listens to all that the redhead has to say, and she turns her face into the other woman, arms holding tight as she does. "I…people are who they /are/." She murmurs. "Form, shape, and composition are not /them/." She starts to relax. "He did go to extraordinary effort." She looks up at Batgirl then. "He -did- love me."

"If the clone had a personality and had lived, then I would say yes. However…. " Oracle speaks, so Batgirl goes quiet and nods - the ears on her hood emphasising the movement. "… just so. The clone was a … receptacle for you. Therefore it is you."

Avery can't see the smile under the hood, but there is absolutely one that appears as the young woman works it through.

"This is just so, Zeal. It is your actions and thoughts, your spirit that make you who you are. And your father paid a high price to give you this life. What are you going to do with it?"

Avery squeezes Batgirl after a moment, and steps back. "Do? I will do what is right, of course. I may not have had a real life before now, but now I do. I will use my skills, and hone new ones and do the most good I can in what time I have been given." She wipes her face then, and no, she is not a pretty crier at all. Looks rather blotchy in truth, and then she smiles, it is a faint thing, a weak thing, but it is a genuine smile. "I think I am going to be learning who I am rather a lot, and it will take time."

Avery's shoulders slump, and she looks down. "I am sorry I have been so…weak. It must be a great disappointment to you, Batgirl."

Like -anyone- would take the news they're a clone with an utterly fabricated life well? Who can prepare for that?

"We are always learning about ourselves, Zeal. We grow and change as people and as we experience things. You will have more to do than most, I think, at least in the next little while." Letting the younger woman go, Batgirl cuts the video projection and stands, taking Zeals chin in her gloved hand and tilting her eyes to look into her hood.

"You are not weak and I can never be disappointed when you try to improve yourself." That's all she says as she gestures.

"If you like, we can go and visit the Bratva but I suspect that might be something that is better left … alone." If they come looking for Avery, that's a different story.

"I'm going to patrol. Would you like to join me?"

Avery looks up into the hood, and swallows once or twice, and then nods. "I can do no other." She admits. "I do not have it in me to give up, I am a /terrible/ patient because inactivity drives me literally mad." And with her amped up metabolism she likely has valid biological excuse for being so active. It might even be a lingering effect from the accelerated aging process used to mature the clone. That could be a problem down the line, but it is what it is.

She shakes her head. "Let sleeping Bratva lie." Avery says firmly. "I have no need to anger them, they have not come calling yet, so perhaps for the nonce I am free of them." A half wry smile. "It is not like I can pay any debts left by my father." Though that is is a very valid worry, they do tend to go after families, not just individuals.

And then the offer comes to go patrol, and Avery nods. "Yes! I have been practicing with the grapple gun in my overabundance of spare time, it is fun."

"I'm sure you have been doing that when you should be resting. You should be resting now, but I know you won't." The redhead answers, gesturing to the door and ushering Avery out.

"You can come with me for a few hours and then I want you to go home to sleep and recover." She's such a hypocrite.

"Oracle, deactivate the safehouse and reset the security. We're done here."

With that she and Avery disappear into the night. Just a Bat and her shadow.

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