An International Incident


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Scene Title An International Incident
Synopsis Richard Ray is summoned to SESA to discuss the circumstances of his kidnapping.
Date January 22, 2020

The buzz of a ceiling-mounted fluorescent light is near deafening.

No one is saying anything in the fifteen-by-twenty soundproofed conference room nicknamed the Vault. Kristopher Voss sits with his head in one hand, fingers massaging over his brow, looking down at a notepad that is full of hastily-scrawled notes. Across the table from him, Agent Rhys Bluthner is burning a hole into the table with his unblinking stare. Neither of them are willing to say anything, least of all to the man at the other end of the table, seated below that buzzing fluorescent light.

Richard Ray.

Well,” Voss finally says, his voice dry as if he hadn’t talked all day. He looks across the table to Rhys, who only looks up when he feels eyes on him. Rhys says nothing back.

How could anyone after that?

Thirty Minutes Earlier

Fort Jay
Governors Island, NYC Safe Zone

January 22nd
5:12 pm

“Thank you for coming in on such short notice, Mr. Ray.”

Kristopher Voss isn’t normally this accommodating, but under special circumstances and with specific persons of interest he can pretend that he doesn’t have an iron rod up his ass. Holding the thick soundproof door to a minimalist-decorated conference room open, he makes a gesture for the man on the other side of the door to step in, followed by Agent Bluthner with a pad of paper and a pen that he hands over to Voss. There are no electronics permitted inside the Vault.

“I know the last thing you want to do is sit here and relive what you’ve just been through,” Voss says as he shuts the door, not knowing just how accurate that statement is. “But I want you to know that I’m beyond relieved that Wolfhound was able to retrieve you before this situation escalated any further. We can update you on the investigation into your kidnapper, or if you want you can take a seat and we can discuss your experience.”

Rhys stays by the door asking Richard, “can I get you anything? A coffee?”

With a nod of thanks, Richard steps along into the room, reaching out a hand to pull out a chair before dropping into it. It isn’t his usual confident sprawl, no, but something bone-tired and boneless, one hand coming up that pushes his shades up and rubs gloved fingers over his face. The sunglasses aren’t unusual; the gloves are, an affectation he hasn’t shown until returning from this most recent incident.

Technically he didn’t need extraction either, but he’s willing to let Wolfhound take the credit there. They did drag him away from his self-imposed fool’s mission of vengeance, after all.

“No, thank you, Bluthner…” A wan smile as he glances back to Rhys, then back across the table, “We can start with Lancaster. She was acting out of character, have you figured out if it was her, or a double, or…?”

Rhys looks to Voss, who subtly nods in response, and moves away from the door. “We don’t know for sure. We know that Rue Lancaster wasn’t involved in your kidnapping. I inspected her with my ability and the chain of connections didn’t exist to explain the events as described. She also has something of an alibi for the time she wasn’t present.” Rhys moves to take a seat opposite Voss near the middle of the conference table. “Unfortunately we also haven’t been able to find whoever was responsible.”

Voss folds his hands in his lap and leans back into his chair. “We held Lancaster for 72 hours while we confirmed her non-involvement. Unfortunately it was her double that suggested this course of action as a smoke-screen to make her own escape. She was able to fool Epstein and Harrison as well as another Wolfhound member on-premises. The real culprit left after that meeting and we arrested an innocent party.”

Rhys shakes his head and looks down at the table. “We were hoping you might be able to fill in the gaps. Agent Carrington shared the findings of your security team with us. Your kidnapper placed a call to a number located in the Confederated States of Iraq.” Rhys looks from Richard to Voss and back again. “When Wolfhound told us you’d resurfaced and they were going after you, well…”

“We weren’t sure what to think,” Voss explains. “But there’s a number of federal agencies looking to pin the blame for this incident on a number of bad international actors.”

“Fuck.” Richard closes his eyes, “Of course she did. Whoever she was, there’s a— hundred and seventeen powers that they could’ve been using, too. Well. I guess it doesn’t really matter in the long term…”

He grimaces, looking away to try and hide a flicker of pain as he starts to go into things, “I don’t know if Epstein reported it, but I wasn’t the only one taken by her. I was taken shortly after— “ Shit, shit, what was her faux-name? “Berlin. Berlin Beckett. One of Wolfhound’s operatives. And yeah. We were in Iraq, alright. Baghdad, actually.”

Rhys makes a note in his book and angles a look at Voss, who leans back in his chair and just takes off his glasses and rubs at his eyes. “Epstein hasn’t so much as contacted us once since you returned, despite numerous attempts at getting through to him.” Voss tries to say as diplomatically as possible, but there’s several nonverbal fucks in that sentence that Richard can pick up by inference of body language.

“Beckett, though,” Voss shakes his head and slides his glasses back on. He doesn’t notice how attentively Rhys is listening now. How nervous he looks. “I don’t know much about her, why don’t you walk me through what happened and what you know about why you were both taken?” Then, as if an afterthought. “Where is she now?”

“Dead,” Richard says flatly, “Which is probably why Epstein isn’t answering your calls right now.”

Re-adjusting his shades, he looks over to Rhys behind them, considering the man’s expression before looking back towards Voss. Silence a moment, and then he sighs, hands spreading, “Because they’re crazy fanatics? I don’t fucking know. It was Shedda Dinu, and they’re kidnapped us for Mazdak— specifically for Baruti-fucking-Naidu, who if I ever lay eyes on again I’ll gladly take a fucking murder rap for what happens afterwards.”

His hands drop back down onto the arms of the chair, “As far as I can tell it was some insane prophecy bullshit. I didn’t listen to all the garbage the guy was spewing. They dragged me out there to watch her die. I got away before they could do the same to me.”

There’s a long silence between Richard and Voss, during which Rhys is quick to get up from his seat and hurry to the door, excusing himself and shutting the door behind him. Voss doesn’t seem surprised by Rhys’ departure, and he folds his hands in his lap and leans forward. “Alright,” comes with a more clinical tone. Richard’s never had the opportunity to see this side of Voss before, watching him immediately start compartmentalizing emotional responses. He takes on an almost automaton-like quality. He feels less like the smug and confident man Richard has come to know, and more like a federal agent.

“Let’s talk prophecy,” Voss suggests casually. “That’s a heavy word to throw around, even more so given the fact that Beckett is dead and you’re here, alive, and without a scratch on you as far as I can tell. Walk me through what happened, starting with Lancaster and up to when Epstein showed up. Anything could be significant, especially if you think there’s something precognitive behind all of this.”

Voss’ tack is an unusual one for Richard. Normally these sorts of conversations begin and end with you’re full of shit. But Voss doesn’t live in the ordinary world that came before all this. He lives in a world where prophecy is absolutely real, along with a host of other logistical nightmares. He embraces the contemporary world, its challenges, its wrinkles. “Help me understand.” Voss adds, seemingly eager.

“You’ll have to ask the crazy guy that kidnapped us, unfortunately,” Richard answers with a shrug of one shoulder, regarding Voss with a slight frown, “Unfortunately he didn’t subscribe to the monologuing villain school of thought regarding all of his plans, so I can’t reveal all of his nefarious plots to you…”

A hand comes up, fingers splay in the air, then fall again, “He claimed to have been the power behind Rupert Carmichael, which fits with other intel I have about there being Dinu cells across the planet. For all I know Mazdak have a goddamn shopping list of people they’ve been trying to pick up— “

Eyebrows lift, “Like Martin Pines for instance, who’s disappeared off the goddamn map and I really hope you all have secure.”

“Pines is fine,” Voss says rather nonchalantly. “It looks like someone got to him before Mazdak — knew about Mazdak, too — and had him in safe-keeping. There was a mixup with a cross-departmental operation against the Triad, Pines was arrested, but he’s fine now. Alice Shaw had him picked up and moved to a safe house outside of Kansas City until we can determine he’s safe to return to New York.” And Voss’ tone indicates a clear thread of god knows when that will be.

What Voss doesn’t do is address anything directly related to Richard’s explanation. Instead, he drills back down. “Someone masquerading as the Rue Lancaster you knew abducted you. How? What was the method of abduction? Abilities used, drugs, force. All of that could help identify her or give us an idea of her operational ability. Let’s start there.”

Richard leans further back in his chair, both hands folding on his chest as he regards the man across from him. There’s something off about all of this, and after the very incident being discussed, he doesn’t like that feeling.

He doesn’t like it one bit.

“She showed up to a scheduled meeting regarding our contract with Wolfhound to supply gear. She drugged my drink,” he admits, “Then kept me distracted until it hit. Apparently she had a teleporter *pop* in and out with me, and was out of the building before anyone was the wiser. Given how deftly she’d done it, I’ve got to imagine that at least one of ‘Rue’s’ previous visits to the building was the impostor.”

“We heard about the teleporter too, though we don’t have a line on who it could be. Wolfhound didn’t have any security camera footage of that night either, it had all been disabled. Whoever it was had intimate familiarity with the building’s security systems.” Voss explains, sitting forward and scooting his chair in, hands folded on the table in front of him.

“So you were drugged,” Voss nods, eyes searching a distant point in space for a moment. “What do you remember next?” Right around now, Rhys comes back in with a stack of printed documentation, returning to his seat and organizing what it is he’d printed out, looking up to Richard and Voss every so often.

“Pink hair. That’s all I know, about the teleporter.”

Richard watches Voss from behind those sunglasses with an ever-so-slightly furrowed brow, like someone looking at a ‘find the differences’ pair of pictures and attempting to figure out one last thing different that’s escaping him.

Silence for a few moments before he breathes out a sigh, eyes closing, “Mirrors around me. Arms chained above my head. Water, dripping. That asshole mocking me for ten minutes straight. Nothing pleasant.”

Rhys looks at Voss, brows raised, and Voss holds up one finger to him, then turns back to Richard. “Mirrors?” He seems intrigued by the notion. “Mocking you how? Generalities, or personal knowledge?”

“Yeah. Not sure what all the mirrors were about. Some kind of psychological torture, maybe? You get to see your condition no matter where you look. Worked, I mean, it was more fuckin’ unnerving than just sitting in a bare stone room or something…” Richard draws in a breath, then shrugs, “And a bit of both. He bragged about taking Hana down. Quoted Carmichael at me, claimed to have been the one behind him. Made the usual ‘we are all part of a greater design’ comments that the religious nuts always make…”

What was it that he’d said, specifically? Richard strained to remember.

“Your assumptions, from top to bottom, are all incorrect,” Baruti explains casually. “But your questions, they are astute. I brought you here, to this place and this moment in time, because you and I are are not entirely dissimilar people. We are servants of a greater design, a latticework of probability, cause, and effect that guide history inexorably toward a specific goal.”

What the hell had Naidu meant by that?

“Gitelman,” Voss says, looking to Rhys who is already writing that down. Rhys takes the momentary lull in the conversation to chime in himself.

“Epstein forwarded us information on hardware Mazdak may have developed that acts as a trap to technopaths. Agent Carrington analyzed information on it several months ago, indicating that it could have been used to trap a technopath in a recursive simulation of reality. The framework for the design was originally constructed by the Institute for a defunct program called Structure.”

Rhys flips through his notes. “You mentioned Baruti Naidu,” and then he grabs one of the printed files, sliding it across the table to Richard. There is a photograph of Baruti taken outside somewhere urban some ten to fifteen years younger than he looks now. “Baruti Naidu is on most-wanted lists of several international communities. He was first known as an arms dealer in South Africa, migrated to the Middle East right around the time of the US’ withdrawal from Afghanistan and the reinvestment of military force in Iraq. We believe that’s when he may have connected with Mazdak, but we know almost nothing about their organization.”

Voss sits back in his chair and folds his hands in his lap. “As for Carmichael, that’s a longer story from the way I know it. Did you pull Shedda’s file?” He asks, and Rhys nods, flipping through it.

“As far as we know, Shedda Dinu is an international organization, though we suspected it to only have a handful of members worldwide. We’re beginning to believe that may have been incorrect.” Rhys flips through more of the papers, stopping on one file. “We believe Rupert Carmichael first came into contact with them when visiting his brother Jonathan in Monaco in 2000.”

Rhys moves to another document, paging through that as well. “We know Carmichael held some strong pro-Expressive ideals, but sometime after he made contact with Shedda Dinu, he was flipped by the Department of Evolved Affairs. We think after he shuttered the original branch of Shedda Dinu and began work on Messiah he’d already been radicalized by the United States. What we don’t know is how Dinu reacted to that, or if they even knew.”

“Furthermore,” Voss states, smoothing his palms together in brief prayer-hands. “We don’t know how Shedda-Dinu relates to Mazdak outside of tangential connections. That said, Mazdak is a much more known constant and a visible player on the international scale. Which brings me back to your dungeon incarceration.”

Voss leans back in his chair again, folding his hands once more. “So Naidu quotes Carmichael to you, confirms his involvement with Gitelman, and then talks about purpose and design.” He spreads his hands. “Why?” There’s a moment of pause that hangs heavy in the air. “You already said he wasn’t giving you the James Bond routine, why say those specific things?”

“I think they’re a sort of…” Richard lifts both hands, holds them apart, then meshes his fingers together, “…Venn diagram, actually, and who’s actually in charge depends on where in the diagram you are.”

His hands fall back apart, and then drop back down to fold again on his chest, “To be fair, I don’t think he was purposefully quoting Carmichael. It’s just that when I accused him of it, he pulled a huffy ‘I’m not an imitator, I’m the original’ line on me. Douchebag.”

Frowning, “He wanted me to… guess things, where I was, what he was doing. I don’t know, he was toying with me I guess. I’m not a psychologist.”

He does probably need one, though.

“Not an imitator,” Voss echoes, glancing to Rhys who once again is studiously taking notes. “Alright, so…” there’s a look back to Richard. “What happened next?” In the interim, Rhys finishes his notes and flips through the file on Naidu, then sets it aside and looks back and forth between Voss and Richard, paying close attention to the conversation.

“I…” Richard grimaces, his head tilting back and eyes closing. He remembered the room so well. Remember the sound of the man’s voice in his ear. Remembered…

“I’m tired of reliving this. Alright. Look, it doesn’t matter now anyway— so the next thing he did was stab me half to fucking death. Which I’d really like to gloss over right now because I don’t think the details of that part matter.”

“To death.” Voss and Rhys both say at the same time, though Rhys’ has a question mark on it and Voss’ delivery more like ellipses. Rhys motions for Voss to talk, and Voss sits forward, once more fully-engaged in the conversation.

“I didn’t see so much as a limp when you came in, Richard, so you’re going to need to walk me through what you mean by to death and how you got to this point.” Voss’ ask is a seemingly logical one. Richard’s story seems unusually shaky when it comes to the death part.

Half to death,” Richard corrects.

He straightens up again, looking between the pair, “Look. Berlin’s ability— I know it was registered as Life Sense but she had some healing ability she kept under the table. A lot of Evolved downplay their abilities, you know it, I know it…”

A look away, “It was— it was enough to save my dumb ass that got caught in a honey-trap, but it killed her doing it.” Then silence, as he stares at the opposite wall. The guilt’s real, even if the story is a half-truth.

Voss’ brows furrow and he leans back in his seat again, lifting one hand up and resting his chin on his knuckles. “And Naidu just let you go? Let her go to die saving you?” He looks confused, motioning with one hand to Richard. “Why?

“I don’t know!” Richard snaps as he glares back at Voss, pushing up straight, “I don’t fucking know! I should’ve been dead back there, and she should be sitting here trying to explain the reasons behind a maniac’s decisions! I don’t know why the fuck he let me go, Voss, and I wish I did. Because whatever his fucking reason was, I’m sure it’s not one I’ll be happy about if I ever learn it!”

Hands lift in a disgusted splay, then fall back down, “I don’t know what else you want from me. I’m not my sister. I can’t read minds. I’m not Eve, I can’t predict shit. All I know is what I see and hear, and it doesn’t always make sense.”

Voss watches Richard carefully, then sits forward again with a sigh. He motions to Rhys, who grabs the last packet of paper and slides it across the table to Richard. “We have one last thing,” Voss explains. “That’s a waiver of reservation of rights for reasonable expectation of privacy.” Rhys slides a pen over as well. “You’re one of the only people we have access to who’s been in contact with Baruti Naidu. I’d like Rhys to do an association matrix on you. The information would be privileged between you and Agent Bluthner and he would be expected to inform SESA on anything pertaining directly to Baruti Naidu, Mazdak, Shedda-Dinu, and other known terroristic activities.”

Rhys leans forward on his elbows over the table. “It’s what my ability does. I’m not actually sure if you’re one-hundred percent aware of how it worked. But I can create an association profile based on a person’s last contacts. I’m only going to go surface level, since your encounter with Baruti Naidu was so recent. But with this I can get a chain of association from you to Baruti to one tier of other people Baruti has had face-to-face contact with. I won’t focus on any other personal associations you have.”

Voss looks at the waiver, then back up to Richard. “If you’re interested in helping us get to Naidu, I’d sign it.”

Richard simmers for a moment, but he’s not really angry at Voss after all. It’s the man that arranged all this, that made sure he’d crawl out of that old bunker as the only survivor, that’s who he’s angry with.

He finally exhales a breath through his nose, and then he reaches out to draw the waiver over to his side of the table. “You know some of my history, Voss,” he observes with a forced lightness, picking up the pen, “I’m going to assume you’re not going to hold old terroristic activities against me?”

Before he signs, a more serious question, “I assume this’ll be done in private, Bluthner?”

“It doesn’t need to be, it’s entirely telepathic and doesn’t require any physical contact. Just line of sight.” Rhys says as he levels a look at Richard and his pupils widen slowly. “It only takes a mmmmm— ”

Voss slowly looks from Richard to Rhys, one brow lifting, then back to Richard. He waits a moment, then turns to look at Rhys again. “Agent Bluthner?” He asks, professionally. But then Rhys doesn’t respond. He’s just frozen there, staring at Richard without an expression on his face. “Rhys?”

With a quick glance back at Richard, Voss leans across the table, snapping a finger in the air. “Bluthner.” Voss states flatly. “Agent Bluthner!” He shouts, followed by a slam of his hand against the table. That sound jostles Rhys out of whatever fugue state he was in, pupils snapping back down even as he bolts up out of his chair, exhales a shuddering gasp of breath, clutches at his chest and then falls back down into his chair again.

Voss freezes, watching Rhys’ expression. But the second he opens his mouth to say anything, Rhys just gasps out. “It’s fine I’m fine. We’re all fine down here. How’re you?” Followed by a sharp look up to Voss, then over to Richard.

“As I said,” says Richard, leaning slowly back in his chair with an arch of an eyebrow, “My career has been rather unusual, so I’d like to speak with Agent Bluthner privately in case he has any questions that I can answer about anything he’s seen that doesn’t match the…”

A wave of the pen at the paper, “…non-restricted subjects like terrorist groups. Do you really need me to remind you that my file probably has sixteen different classifications on it, Voss?”

He doesn’t look away from Rhys. Not once.

“No questions,” Rhys says with an exasperated breath, slowly sinking down into his seat, smoothing one hand over the top of his head. “N-none. None whatsoever.” He squares a look on Richard, then looks to Voss. “Naidu’s hiding himself somehow,” he says with a slow shake of his head, “might be an ability or— or— I don’t know. There’s… “ Rhys swallows and shakes his head. “I couldn’t get a good read. It was— it didn’t work.”

Voss furrows his brows, slouching back and running one hand through his hair. Rhys too, looks like he’d been hit by a proverbial bus. There had been hope from Voss that this entire situation, that Richard being pulled back from Iraq, would open the case in finding Naidu and understanding his motivations wide open. Instead, Voss is left with more questions than he had when Richard first came in here.

Hoping for something actionable, Voss grabs Rhys’ notepad and flips through it for a moment, hoping one other question will come up that will make any of this have been worthwhile. He sits with his head in one hand, fingers massaging over his brow, looking down at that notepad full of hastily-scrawled notes. Across the table from him, Agent Rhys Bluthner is burning a hole into the table with his unblinking stare. Neither of them are willing to say anything, least of all to the man at the other end of the table, seated below that buzzing fluorescent light.

Well,” Voss finally says, his voice dry as if he hadn’t talked all day. He looks across the table to Rhys, who only looks up when he feels eyes on him. Rhys says nothing back.

How could anyone after that?

“I guess you can go.”

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