2020-06-06 - There Can Be Only One!


Ava and Veronica have some difficult conversations about the future of RESCUE and REACT.

Log Info:

Storyteller: None
Date: Sat Jun 6 17:27:05 2020
Location: RESCUE Campus

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"My office? I've been offline for a while, now. I'd like to get back upstairs, see how things are proceeding, and check on a few things while we talk, if you don't mind?" Veronica responds to Ava, as she rolls towards the hallways that will lead to an elevator going from the Proving Grounds back up to the Spire.

Within ten minutes, Roni rolls down the hallway to the door of her office, which opens before her automatically as it detects her approach. She rolls through her office and around behind her desk, laying her pad there as she logs into her computer and starts checking messages and alerts.

Once Ava is inside, the door will close behind her. And when she sits into one of the other chairs in the office, Roni will key the command to activate the privacy seals and anti-snooping tech she has had installed for just such conferences. "You were saying?" she queries.

"Go ahead," Ava defers readily as she walks along at Veronica's side. Lifting her visor, the cyborg pulls a granola bar from her pocket and eats on the way. There's no apparent rush or unease on her face; whatever it is, it's still strictly business.

After seating herself properly in Dr. Kelsey's lab (and disposing of her wrapper), the white-haired woman removes her helmet fully and sets it in her lap, then begins. "I need an increased REACT budget to form a special operations force to replace our current QRF. REACT-Sec is missioned for conventional campus security and low-intensity engagements during crisis situations. They weren't trained or equipped for the engagement in Ukraine, the rescue mission for Neena, or the convoy raid last night, and I can't re-task them without diverting essential funds from other operations."

Veronica checks over a few other things, sends a note to the nurse bots watching over one of her patients in the Wellspring, and then locks her computer to return her full attention upon Ava, watching her curiously. "A special operations force? Explain, please." Roni could make assumptions, granted; but she would rather hear Ava out before she attempts to make judgement.

Ava accepts the request evenly, expecting it. "A team trained and equipped for direct action raids, special recon, and hostage rescues against military and meta threats. That's exactly what you and I have been doing and every time REACT comes with us it puts the whole mission at risk - and with AIM and that technopath it's now a risk to HQ security, not just our ops outside the wire."

"We'll really need two to three teams to maintain full readiness," the cyborg adds, "but they would multi-task as our existing QRF and crisis security team; the skillsets overlap."

Veronica frowns as she considers Posse's words. She hears the other woman out, and can see her points. But this does not sit well with her. "I know that our engagements have been proceeding far beyond our mandate. We have been rather forced to do so, for the sake of our people, our safety, and our own mission." She is not a pollyana, unaware of the issues.

"I don't want to see us becoming a PMF, Ava." Private Military force; the other woman taught Roni these terms, these abbreviations, and won't need them explained. "If we let that happen, we're taking major risks with the trust we have established with the authorities, including PCB, NYPD as a whole, and SHIELD, let alone others." No one in the law enforcement space is ever sanguine or trusting when dealing with military-caliber mercenaries of any stripe.

"I recognize we need to step up and change training regimines to adapt to our changing needs. And possibly upgrade some of the equipment accordingly. And you are probably right that we need to expand our roster so that we can draw out a REACT unit without crippling defenses and operations here." Veronica answers.

"But I want to be very, very careful about whom we select for this, and how we position this for them, and others. Hank, Toni, myself, you, Dom, even Martin and Angela take these kinds of things on because we are, like it or not, operating within the arena accepted as 'superheroes'." Veronica has never liked that term applied to herself. She has 'issues' with it, to say the least. Issues she has not, yet, explained. "Arming up our REACT units to actively and regularly assist with those kinds of operations … is very likely to send the wrong signals. Not just to law enforcement, but to our own personnel."

"I'm not suggesting we requisition rockets and mortars," Ava assures, "but conducting the ops we've run with REACT is reckless and as their leader, not something I can keep supporting. It'll get them killed and it could get you killed," the cyborg warns as bluntly as she can. The white-haired vet has her own issues with super heroics, which in a way she's now getting plenty of room to voice. "I accept full responsibility for their missions so far. Like you said, we had to eat a—"

Ava stares into the doctor's brown eyes, flinches, and forces a small cough. "Had to eat a dirt sandwich and did the best we could on short notice. But I misused our personnel and it's only luck that we didn't have casualties in that subway. You can only tempt the reaper so many times, and now that we're a target. All RESCUE is in that arena now because this is where AIM, that technopath, The Hand, and Neena's other friends will plan to attack."

Veronica considers Ava's words carefully, visibly still tense and concerned. When she at last replies, she does so with visible effort to be judicious. "So, your interpretation is that we should expect greater threats on-campus, and prepare accordingly. And you feel that we are likely to face additional ad hoc primarily conflict-focused crisis scenarios, and a need to respond to them effectively?" The words are the words of a scientist, attempting to re-state the problem to be sure she comprehends it, before trying to theorize any potential responses.

The security chief's green eyes look back steadily as she replies, "Yes. PCB and whatever vigilantes feel like it may reinforce us but REACT-Sec is based here; they'll always be the first contact."

Roni frowns at that, but nods; she hears and respects the message, but clearly does not like it, or its implications. It takes her a while to evaluate that and decide what steps she deems appropriate.

"Alright, Ava." Roni offers after a minute or so. "I have always respected your skill, awareness, and experience. I'm not going to start doubting that now. I have three requirements for proceeding with this idea." She takes a breath. "First, I want a detailed and in-depth psychological evaluation of every candidate before secondary interviews." That will mean no one could possibly be offered a job with RESCUE before they have had their evaluation reviewed professionally. "I want us to be sure that they are suited to more than just conflict scenarios, and can internalize de-escalation techniques."

Roni takes another breath, focusing herself. "Secondly, two complementary changes. Every new operator hired, their contract will specify cross-training in multiple areas, to assure that they can rotate in to help out with a wide array of needs and scenarios. Conversely, all of our existing REACT-cleared personnel who do not already have conflict crisis skillsets and training will be cross-trained to provide them the basics and chances to grow in that arena, so that they can prove not to be the dangerously weakest link in the field, here or elsewhere."

"Thirdly, although this has already been assumed in the past, I want it firmly established in our rules of engagement that no REACT personnel field any weapon or system that is not approved explicitly by the REACT advisory panel." Ava, Veronica and Toni are the current members of that panel. "I don't want them bringing in weapons or systems we haven't evaluated. They can collect, and practice with, anything. We're not here to adjudicate the Second Amendment. But when they are in the field on our dime, they wield the stuff we have approved."

Roni lifts her gaze back to Ava's eyes, locking on. "Feedback?"

And now come the negotiations. It's the part Ava's been waiting for and she leans comfortably back in her chair while hearing Roni out in turn. She might be the expert on matters of combat but in this discussion they're equals.

"Full support on condition one, and I recommend re-screens to maintain credentials. Day-to-day they'll use the same counseling resources of REACT and Wellspring. For condition two, using them in other REACT roles will reduce their readiness. They need a much higher training tempo than REACT-Sec so there's not much downtime to use. It can happen but we'll need more staff than keeping them single-purpose. And I agree with training up REACT-Sec but not all our REACT personnel want to be trigger-pullers; if that cross-training is not strictly optional we risk losing current personnel."

"On the third condition, what are your thoughts on banning unapproved systems from the campus?" She asks straight-faced, despite it including most of her personnel collection. "Controlling gear on a deployment is easy but ad-hoc defense actions can end up with "whatever's in reach" including a truck gun."

"I'm not trying to train up everyone in REACT as 'trigger-pullers,' Ava." Veronica explains. "But I want our people trained up in what to do, and not do, in a scenario where those 'trigger-pullers' are deployed. How to stay alive, how to stay out of the way, how to understand our signals and communications in that crisis."

Then Veronica addresses the other side of this. "And I want these people trained as something more than just trigger-pullers. They will come in with experience in that. And that will continue to be their primary calling. But we are not building a mercenary company. I'm sorry, but if all they're good for is that, they're not going to work out here, amongst us."

"I have no desire to ban unapproved systems from campus entirely. We have private quarters here. And they should be allowed to use our ranges and such without prejudice." Veronica explains. "But I do not want unapproved weapons wielded in our operations and crises. If they've a need, we have plenty of gear available everywhere. But they need to use our approved gear, when we are the ones responsible for what is done in our names."

The cyborg's jaw sets and her eyes narrow subtly. "How much non-trigger-pulling is enough? Be advised, the more roles they fill the less effective they will be."

Veronica considers and nods. "I think my expectation would be that they would cross-certify in at least one other role within three months of hire, and preferably I think a second role within six months afterwards." Surely that gives it enough time and leeway that it will not prove too onerous?

"Done. I'll draft a budget for the teams under different configurations and we can work out the details from that," Ava replies, willing to leave the finer points for a later discussion. Reaching to her side she unclips a small canteen and brings it to her mouth for a short drink. Between here and the closet, the stoic cyborg's been doing a lot more talking than usual. "We can also contract out this role. That will give RESCUE more PR cover."

Veronica considers that. "I … I am not sure on that last point. But, that is something we can bring up with Toni and debate. Draw up a version with internal hires, and another with contract solutions. It'll take a little bit longer, but that way we can debate it, and then put in place whatever is decided promptly thereafter." Then Roni gives a wry smile to the cyborg. "Sorry for all the talky-talk. I know it's not your favorite. But you were right to bring this up. I don't love it, and it's going to be expensive. But we have controlling interest, and the money to afford it. And in the end, I think it likely will be for the best. I hope."

Ava tips the canteen and extends it towards Roni in a silent offer when she's done. "PCB's been expanding since it was formed but the response time isn't down to what we need. If that changes one day we can talk about cutting back security and relying on city forces. Getting more quick-response vigilantes on speed dial will help too."

"I'll also be screening for personnel who can give us consulting input on our combat cybernetics and weapons - someone from the special warfare center if we're lucky. That's close to their core mission and double-dips in our sec readiness and DoD appeal."

Veronica nods. She doesn't always adore still being attached to the DoD, but she respects it, and those attachments allowed her company to become all that it has. Gift horses and their wide cakeholes. "You'll have to review the idea, but that may be the way to put Neena on the payroll. Assuming you eventually agree." Roni is not campaigning, here, but it does seem like a potentiality, and she is always one to look at those squarely and label them ahead of time. "I will leave you to it. But when and if you need my input or advice, you know I'll give it."

And there's the elephant in the room. Ava's silent for a moment while she takes her canteen back and screws the lid on tightly, at the same time letting a heavy breath out her nose. "Neena's a difficult one. She's got unique expertise we can learn from but she relies heavily on her luck - in everything. I've been assessing her on personal time but I don't have a sense for her skills and teaching ability when the luck turns off yet. And there are all the liabilities attached to her," the cyborg reminds grimly. "You're aware she passed our security check with a fake ID /and/ we still don't have a recognized ID to pin to her. She's a non-person buried in some black program - with a literal cat from hell in her."

The tawny vet grimaces lightly at the whole situation. "The day you want her on our roster, let me know and I'll make it happen. If you can make clearance magically appear I'll farm her for intel that can help our projects too."

Veronica nods and sighs. She very well recalls Neena getting security clearance, and what followed. It does not please her, though she has let go some of her resentment over it.

Some. But not all, and certainly not all of her own guilt, which she then splashes on the woman to put her in that situation in the first place.

"I will look into it, Ava. Make contact with our DARPA liasons, and see what might be done. They may tell me to go to Hell. But at least then we'll know." It'll be a thorny wicket of a conversation, but it won't be the first time for Roni, or for RESCUE, threading that needle. "I'll let you know what I find out, one way or the other."

That said, Roni nods to the other woman. "Thank you for bringing all of this up to me. I know it wasn't easy."

"Will do," Posse acknowledges as she takes a fresh breath and actually grins while injecting a moment of levity. "I just pass intel, you're the one actually makin the call. Then if things go tits up just blame bad intel. I know what your bleeding heart benefactors think of me already," she teases with a wink from her scarred eye.

Roni smiles and nods. "Sure. No problem." Of course, Roni doesn't really have any bleeding heart benefactors; she is the bleeding heart benefactor. Her benefactors that helped RESCUE to explode to its curent potential are DARPA. And while RESCUE is now a public company, she and Toni together still hold majority share of the company, which is a rather powerful arrangement. But it is not something they discuss often; it's just part of their reality. "Get some rest, Ava."

"Too late in the day for that Doc," the bionic woman replies, smiling back at Roni's concern. "One other thing we should cover before I beat feet: opening a rec for a permanent REACT Chief of Security. I can have a requirements list drawn up for you by 0900 tomorrow. It's time they have a full-time leader."

Roni frowns, and freezes. When her voice comes out, it is rigidly tight, laden with the stress now holding her bowstring-taut. "You are the Chief of Security, Ava."

The cyborg calmly raises a metal hand and waves it downward in a calming gesture. "Breathe easy I ain't quittin', I'm talkin' about the future. I'm also TDA to PCB and your prime candidate for the DoD cybernetics project," she reminds as her bionic hand spins a full 360 before she rests it back on the arm of her chair. "In those roles I'm a direct action 'be as good as I can be' operator and the success of that project depends on the performance of those cybernetics /and/ their user. Chief of Security isn't an individual role, it's leadership, like an officer. RESCUE's security and REACT deserve someone who gives 110% to supporting personnel, structuring training, and giving them the logistics and direction to succeed. Every hour I'm coasting around town in PCB armor is an hour I'm not doing my job for them, and every hour I'm handling REACT-Sec billeting and supplies is an hour I'm not training with my cybernetics or working meta-response drills with PCB. What kind of message do you think it's sending to the staff here that the person most in charge of protecting them is a part-timer?"

Veronica listens. Even when it is stridently clear that she disagrees vociferously, she listens. And she allows herself tiny ticks of nods at Ava's various points; she gets what Ava is saying, and why she is saying it. But the rigidity in her posture makes it pretty damned clear that in spite of all of that, she is unswayed.

"I get every bit that you are mentioning, Ava. And on a purely logical scale, you are right." See? Honest even when she hates it, is Roni. "But there is no one drawing breath on this Earth I trust more than you with this responsibility. And no one you can bring to me is going to fit that bill. I will not give over that level of control of this company, the company I built, and the responsibilities we have taken up together, to anyone else." Roni does not say it aloud, but at this moment if Ava died, Roni might very well shut down REACT entirely rather than continue operations and try to find someone else for a head of security.

The cyborg across from her sighs, her piece said and out in the open. Come as it has seemingly out of nowhere, it might bother her more than she's letting on. Green eyes look back at Roni with something akin to gratitude - but also concern. "So what happens if PCB turns into an upgrade and I get picked back up by SOCOM?" she asks neutrally. It's a heavy question and she realizes it. She almost feels bad for asking.

Veronica shrugs. "If it happens? I do not know. Probably shut down REACT, and hire in some DARPA-approved PMC. And spend a lot more time in my labs." Wow. That got dark in a hurry.

Ava's eyes bug out at the news as she passes straight through surprised to shocked and an emerald glint betrays a scan from her cybernetics triggered by reflex. Yes, across the multiple spectrums she has access to the real Veronica Kelsey just said that. "You'd shut down all of REACT over me?! Geez Doc," she balks, then cringes at the implication. "… even I'm replaceable," the bionic woman mollifies.

Veronica sighs, and looks at Ava, nodding. "As I said, there's no one else I would trust as I do you. Having you here is what inspired me to support Toni's plan, and build REACT." She does not say 'and get into the stupid superhero game', though she does think it. Loudly. "Until then, my only goal had been to build and perfect the cybernetics, to be able to help others as I helped myself, and you. I suppose it is possible that someday I could meet someone else that would inspire that. But I don't know them, would have no idea how to find them, and even less idea how to ever build up that level of trust with someone else, Ava."

The bionic vet tucks her chin, more subdued in trying to walk across the egg shells she's now thrown in front of her own path. As she relaxes again Ava smiles a little, she can't help it, and softly shakes her head. "You and me've really got somethin good…" she mutters. "That ain't something we're solving today. I'm not comfortable with all REACT sittin on my one-and-a-half shoulders, but you've got to be comfortable too before we execute on anything. Don't worry about me going anywhere imminent. If the DoD have sat on their hands this long I doubt they're changin soon."

Veronica nods. "Well, if you think of something, Ava, I promise always to listen. That much I will always do." That said, though, Veronica is going to let Ava leave. She is going to sit quietly, and then maybe summon a bot with something to eat. She wants to be quiet and alone right now. "Have a good evening, Ava." Roni murmurs softly.

"You too, Roni. You know how to reach me," the cyborg assures, as if they didn't already workout together on a regular basis. The smile spreads on her face as she replies, not just a parting gesture but something warm enough to reach her eyes. "Hey," she calls, firm in one single word to keep the auburn woman's attention. "And I mean that, Doc. I ain't sayin it just to be polite back. We're buddies."

With that Ava finally does move to stand and make her way out of the office. Like it or not she's got a full schedule to attack after the half-night of sleep she scraped and scrounged following their raid. It's definitely another energy drink day.

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