Do Dead Men Tell No Tales


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and featuring…

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Scene Title Do Dead Men Tell No Tales
Synopsis Agent Baumann uses her ability in attempt to gain insight into the assassination of Deacon Malone.
Date April 4, 2018

Fort Jay, Conference Room B

Conference Room B is an out-of-the-way room on the second floor of Fort Jay. Sitting on the corner of the building, the 10 x 10 room is separated from the rest of the building by two heavy glass walls, the heavy brick providing a solid support, the walls muffling any sounds of the outside world or of people passing by outside. The glass also gives a modicum of privacy thanks to the smoked texture that’s been applied, allowing people on the outside to see if there’s someone in the conference room by the diffused shapes moving, rather than seeing them directly. A large rectangular table takes up the center of the room, multiple chairs surrounding it, with a projector mounted to the ceiling and a large cabinet on the wall behind.

Yesterday’s events in the market had caused a stir in SESA and with just about everyone else connected to them. A killing in the safe zone is uncommon, but not unheard of, but with so many loose threads to be tied off after they were viciously cut by Danko’s well-placed shot in the middle of a crowded market, Director Choi and Director Brenner thought it best that the investigation proceed as quickly as possible, with as many of the interested parties included that could be. Add in the hot-button issue of the deaths of Yamagato personnel around Cle Elum in the dead zone and the appearance of a thought-to-be-dead war criminal in the case of Emile Danko, you get a very sensitive issue that needs to be taken care of quickly, and properly to boot.

Cassandra Baumann, direct witness to the assassination, asked for by name by the deceased, is here, setting out bagged pieces of evidence on the cabinet behind the table. The rifle used to fire the killing shot. The bullet itself that ended Deacon Malone’s life. His registration card. An empty holster. Clothes, tacky with dried blood. Photos of Deacon’s tattoos. The contents of his pockets, all laid out in individual bags to taste Cassandra’s ability in the hopes that something could be gleaned from what he knew, where he was, and why someone thought he was worth reactivating one of the most wanted men in the country to take care of him. A few of her things are laid out on the table, too. A tape recorder, a file folder with what information they have so far, a notepad with a pencil and a pink gum eraser, and a long blindfold of cream-colored silk are laid on the conference table, near the chair closest to the evidence.

She glances to the clock on the wall and goes to get a cup of coffee, waiting for the others to arrive.

It's rare that Deputy Director Choi personally attends a discovery meeting, but given the severity of the situation and the Sword of Damocles looming high and unspoken over the organization this last year, things have changed. That she is three minutes late to this meeting is also out of character for her, but the look on her face indicates that it's been a long and trying day already.

Choi is a woman who carries herself with an authority and confidence that betrays her short height. As former Deputy Commissioner of the NYPD she bore witness to the worst of society and the best of those under her leadership. She led the NYPD through the chaos of the civil war, and stood at the front of the line when officers threw down their badges and refused to uphold the Mitchell Administration’s increasingly draconian policies. Her reputation is as storied as her patience and composure, so to see Madeline frustrated speaks volumes about the situation.

“Baumann,” is Choi’s smoother greeting than her appearance might indicate. Under one arm she has a stack of old paper files, some of which are marked with varying levels of classification. One is very clearly marked Operation: Apollo. As she comes in, Choi moves to stand at the back of the room rather than the front. This is Baumann’s investigation, she's just here to observe and discuss.

To say that Robyn Quinn looks comfortable would be a bit of an understatement. Even with the circumstances around this meeting, it's a relief to be working a normal case, rather than being up in Rochester this week - an assignment she'd taken a bit of a reprieve from in the wake of Operation: Skycastle. And even then, it was of interest to the group she was charged with looking after. Liaison works both ways, after all.

"Cassandra," is her greeting as she files into the meeting room, looking over the various gathered pieces of evidence. She had read the briefing before showing up, and it had made her slightly late as well - but for her, that's not particularly uncommon. This sounds like a mess, but then, what doesn't if they're involved?

Making her way around and to the side, she surveys the gathered materials, pictures, and other miscellany, her one visible eye flicking across them rapidly as she waits to hear more. She looks a bit rougher than usual today, having crashed the night before at Eve Mas' establishment, but that doesn't stop her from being wide eyed and - in a change for her - smiling today.

The buzz reached Cesar’s ears fairly late, but hearing the briefest of details: sniper, Cassandra, assassination, was enough for the agent to press himself into the meeting. He’s arrived a little before the Deputy Director, found himself a seat and scanned over the spread of evidence. But mostly, he’s watching the other agents in the room. Choi’s entry has him sitting up straighter in his chair, a direct, respectful nod going to the woman who up until he joined SESA was his boss’ boss in the NYPD.

Not far behind Choi is Sylvester, dressed to impressed in one of the many suits that populate his closet at home. He enters the room without any fanfare, however, and chooses a seat several chairs down from where Cesar has settled. In his hand he holds a cup of lukewarm coffee from the cafe across the street, which earns a slanted look of disdain when he takes his first sip.

It’s the same expression that crossed his face when he first received word that Cassandra was in charge of heading up this particular investigation.

There might be some envy behind his eyes, too.

Cassandra was expecting Cesar to make an appearance. Since they were both working on the food theft case, they were kind of partners, but as other people started to trickle in - Robyn, Sylvester, and even Director Choi, the enormity of what was about to happen started to settle around her young shoulders. Still, this was her investigation and she was going to do her job to the best of her abilities. Each person, as they entered, were greeted with a firm handshake and a murmured “Thank you for coming,” and once it seemed no-one else was coming, Cassandra took her place near the evidence table and sat down, pulling her notepad closer and hitting record on the digital tape player.

“Let’s go ahead and get started. There’s a good chunk of evidence to get through and I think we’d all like to be home before the last ferry runs. This is Agent Cassandra Baumann. The time is 1330 hours on 04 April 2018 and I, along with the witnesses in this room, will be investigating the murder of Deacon Malone by the suspect Emile Danko.” She flips over the first page of her notepad, the yellow tag dark with tight little notes. “The exact details are in the case files, but to make a long story short, Deacon Malone approached me, Cassandra Baumann, in the Red Hook marketplace last night about 1730 hours. He approached me, called me by name, and asked for protection from…” She references her notes. “The people that stuck it to those Yamagato folks.” Mr. Malone claimed to have information on the attack in Cle Elum in the Western Dead Zone that was recently reported, and also claimed that he had information that conditions were worse than what was initially reported.”

She takes a breath and straightens. “About ten seconds later, a sniper fired a single shot from a second-floor kitchen window more than a block away. The bullet entered the back of Mr. Malone’s skull in the center of the parietal bone on the back of his head and exited approximately between his eyes, killing him instantly.” And covered Cassandra in gore, but that’s left out of this quick and dirty explanation. “The bullet was fired from the rifle marked exhibit A and was matched using forensics ballistics testing. The bullet was recovered, exhibit B, and was not touched by anyone besides the killer.”

Cassandra pushes her hair behind her ears and flips to another part of her notes. “After this, Miss Eve Mas fired two shots into the crowd, startling the gunman, who turned to see who was shooting. She pursued, firing a third shot over the heads of the crowd. The man appeared to be Emile Danko, a war criminal thought to be dead. I recognized his face from mugshots and historical texts that I studied while preparing for my position here with SESA.”

Cassandra pauses, looking to the gathered group. “This inquiry will be twofold. First, we will attempt to ascertain who Mr. Malone was, where he came from, and if any of his information can be recovered by using my evolved ability. Second, we will examine the bullet and the gun to see if we can discover if the shooter was Emile Danko and, if so, why he was sent to shoot Mr. Malone in the middle of the safe zone. This will require reports from each of you, since my ability is unable to be recorded on video or tape and, since I’m blindfolded while it happens, writing is difficult.” That explains the tape recorder.

“I also assume that most, if not all of you, are familiar with the way my ability works. If not, just sit back and watch. Nothing can hurt you - it’s only images from the past. Now, if there are any questions, let’s go ahead and get them done and, if not, we can start with the elephant in the room - Mr. Malone and his items, unless there are any objections?”

Madeline’s attention drifts to Sylvester as Cassandra begins speaking. Her grip on the files under one arm take on a white-knuckle quality, and when she turns her attention to the rifle it is with scrutiny and disdain. She exhales a slow, short breath and steps closer to Cassandra, watching the other agents with the same assessing quality she does the evidence from the crime in question.

“In the event that is wasn’t abundantly clear,” Deputy Director Choi briefly interjects, “the results of this reading and this entire investigation are classified. Do not discuss what you see or hear today with people outside of this room without my express permission. This includes other SESA agents or other government officials not associated with this case.” It isn’t often that SESA invokes such broadly-reaching privacy restrictions in their day-to-day work. But nothing about this situation is day-to-day.

As Cassandra gives the rundown of the previous day's events, Robyn curses under her breath. Eve Mas and Emile Danko are not names she needs or wants to be hearing right now. But she's here now, so she pays full attention to Deputy Director Choi when she speaks up. A nod is offered to her, and then a slight tilt of Robyn's head.

"Understood, M'am." A beat. "In the interest of full disclosure, I am close friends with Ms. Mas. Someone else will need to handle anything that involves her that comes up." She has enough conflicts of interest on her plate right now, thanks.

With that, she falls silent and waits. She knows Cassandra's ability, and while she has misgivings about trusting the veracity of it as fact, it will likely prove helpful regardless. Hands folded in front of her, she offers a nod towards the postcognitive.

By comparison, Cesar isn’t nearly as fancily dressed as Sylvester. But he gives the other agent a quick uptick of his chin in acknowledgment when the other man comes in too. Once the presentation proceeds and details are given, a concerned expression forms on Cesar’s face with narrowed eyes and the flattened line of his mouth. He turns to look back at Choi when the deputy director speaks, and only when she makes it clear how unusual the situation is does he crack from the stoicism.

“Well, before you do your thing, Baumann. You got his name,” Cesar remarks to Cassandra, his pen lifting to indicate his questioning, then dropping to tap lightly on the notepad beneath it. “You already dug up any records on the guy? Is that his real name? Any aliases?” He turns his gaze on to the rifle and bullet. “And he must’ve been being followed for a while, or the sniper knew the guy was going to be out there somehow to get set up enough to plug him at that range in a crowd.”

Cesar pauses in his own theories, glances around, then clears his throat and sets his pen down to cover with his hand. “Sorry. Go on.”

This is the part where Sylvester chimes in. He reaches into his suit jacket and produces his journal, which he flips open and slaps onto the table. His fingers deftly navigate the pages until, “Malone, Deacon. Twenty-two years old. Born in Boise, Idaho to Jason and Rose Malone. Both deceased as of November 8th, 2006. You get three guesses as to how, but you’ll only need one.”

He taps a knuckle against the corresponding margin note. “Dad worked in the finance sector. Wall Street. Would have come into a lot of money if he hadn’t fucked off. No legal guardian, so he bounced around in the foster care system for awhile where he was registered with an unmanifested ability. At some point, the kid fell in with Humanis First, lied about his registration status and fled West when the war started. My guess is he was feeling homesick.

There’s a pen behind Sylvester’s ear, which he plucks out and twirls between his fingers. He pops the cap. “Alias Bluebottle. Don’t know if that’s supposed to refer to the jellyfish or the fly. Shitty code name, either way.”

Cassandra is just about to speak when Sylvester gives his input, the brown-haired agent sitting, nodding along to the info dump. “That’s correct, thank you, Agent Sandoval. I’ve got the rest of that workup in the file folder on the table behind me. We don’t have an autopsy just yet, but they’re working on it and cause of death is kind of obvious.”

“I am also not the lead in this case, since I am a key witness, and I have a lead role in the food thefts from the safe zone, so if anyone would care to take the lead on this, I’m fairly sure that you’d be welcomed.” She looks to the gathered agents and pushes herself to her feet, looking over the evidence behind her, trying to prioritize what might be best to start with.

She finally decides to take the first item off the table behind her - his clothes. “Let’s start with the largest piece of evidence and work our way backwards.” There’s a rustling sound as the heavy plastic bag is opened, the bloodstained clothes taken out of it in their individual bags. Each item is folded neatly inside the bag, so Cassandra takes a moment to remove each item and place them carefully on each individual evidence bag. This is followed by pants and shoes, all placed on top their individual bags. Next, her blindfold is taken off of the table and is wrapped around her eyes three times, tied tightly in a bow. “The first item we’re taking a look at are his clothes.” She reaches out to take the first bit of clothing in her bare hands.

There’s a soft shudder as she takes the clothes up, rubbing the cloth between her thumbs and fingers as her power starts to take hold. The room darkens slowly, even though no-one is near the lightswitch, until nothing can be seen beyond the walls of the room and then, nothing in the room itself aside from the living people. The table and chairs are there - you’re sitting in them - you just can’t see them, and gravity works so up is where it is supposed to be. It’s a little freaky for those who haven’t experienced it, but slowly, images start to leak into view. Ghosts moving from place to place, vanishing into nothing, disjointed movements at the edge of people’s vision, and sounds from the middle of conversations moved to the end. She works to focus on the most powerful images….

Fires burn in oil drums and fill the air with woodsmoke and embers that flicker like fireflies in dense summertime air, except that it isn’t summer and their glow lasts only a few seconds before the rain slanting down from the inky sky extinguishes it permanently.

The SESA agents assembled in the conference room are somewhere else, somewhere with tall trees that smell like fir needles and sap. Their branches block out what little moonlight struggles to penetrate the clouds, which are dark like the bottom of the ocean is: so far away that they might as well exist on another plane entirely.

Men dressed in wool, leather, and other repurposed materials gather around the drums for warmth and conversation, their voices overlapping with one another to create a raucous din from which it’s difficult to pick out individuals. There are at least fifty, maybe seventy-five assembled in what looks like a fern-choked clearing deep in the heart of a mountain range that could be anywhere in the world where it’s still cold.

There is laughter, too. Some play cards while others drink, filling metal cups with moonshine or frothy beer that sputters intermittently out of the keg someone has set up in the back of a truck on the clearing’s edge. Music booms from inside the truck’s battered interior, but because the doors are thrown open, it can be heard by anyone within close proximity, although — like the conversation — it’s impossible to decipher the words.

If the SESA agents had to describe the mood in one word, it would be: celebratory. Except—

Deacon Malone sits alone on an overturned behemoth of a log beside the drum nearest to where Cassandra is standing, his back hunched and gloved hands held close to the flames for warmth. A heated game of blackjack is starting to simmer on the other side of the fire between two men who have had too much to drink — Robyn and Cesar can smell the rancid syrupyness of the moonshine on their breath — but his focus lies beyond them to where a larger figure sits on a throne-tree stump with his legs splayed, statue-still as he surveys the revelers while the silhouette of a woman fills the gap between his knees.

No, not like that.

Firelight reflects off the edge of a straight razor. She’s shaving his face, which both Choi and Sylvester recognize as belonging to Joshua Lang, also known as The Butcher of Mandritsara. Her identity seems less important; in the darkness, the only thing notable about her is the pronounced shape of her shoulder blades and the way the fire’s glow reflects off her pale skin, allowing them to see Lang more clearly.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Madeline Choi whispers as she experiences Cassandra’s ability firsthand for the first time. But it isn't just the sensory experience, it isn't the depth and reality of it all. It's the face she recognizes. Choi shifts the folders in her arms around, pulling the one marked Operation: Apollo to the surface. She opens it, rifling through paper documents until she finds a series of 8x10 glossy photographs in vivid color. She pulls all of them from the thick folder and closes it, then affixes them to the back whiteboard with magnets.

“Joshua Lang, former US Marine awol in 2004 in Afghanistan. Considered for the CIA’s Royals program before his departure. Reemerged in Bali in 2006 and was fingered for a civilian massacre that left two hundred and sixty dead.” The photographs Choi puts on the board are of Lang’s horrifically mutilated corpse, skull crushed in, jaw shattered in nine places, teeth scattered across his face, one eye pierced by a piece of rebar, chest caved in.

“Reemerged in Madagascar in 2008, leading a military coup of the Malagasy government alongside local Vanguard cell leader Edmond Rasoul.” Choi puts up a photo of Lang when he was alive, a blurry reconnaissance shot from Madagascar. Same tattoos, same facial features. “The CIA pulled Lang’s body from an industrial facility in Antananarivo following the completion of Operation: Apollo, a joint task force that took down the Vanguard worldwide.” Practically dinner table knowledge in a post-Albany trials world. “His remains were positively identified by two medical examiners.”

Choi looks back to the projection of Lang, scowling and head slowly shaking. “Agents, tell me what I'm looking at here.”

"Dead man walking," is Robyn's quick - and obvious - statement. "Assuming this… scene is from the last few years," likely given that they're drawn from clothes, "a few possibilities present themselves, almost all Evo-centric. Reconstitution, impersonation by illusion or shapeshifting, facial rearrangement, cloning - others more grisley." The single eyed agent cocks her head to the side, glancing over to Choi. "Has anyone checked to see if Lang's body is where it was left?" And undisturbed.

A hand taps her chin. "Troubling, if he was running with someone like Lang. If it is Lang, could be a Humanis celebration of some sort." A pointed look over to Sylvester, then to Choi. "Or worse."

She takes a deep breath, looking at the picture of Lang's impossibly destroyed body. "If it's not actually Lang, someone is using a Vanguard face for… something." And that's a possibility that shouldn't sit well with anyone, no matter how far fetched it is. She thinks about the scene that had been before them, about the trees, the warm clothes, the smell of the phantom air. "Northwest? Not quite Pacific?" That's her guess for location at least.

Silent and listening to the given info on Deacon Malone, Cesar cuts his gaze over to Sylvester at the mention of the date and swallows hard. He doesn't speak on it, though he doesn't look amused by the other agent's flippant remark about the significance of the date. It's likely Sylvester doesn't catch the twitch of a frown before it smoothes back into a flat line.

The rest of the information about Malone's background merely gets a long nod, filed away in Cesar's mind for reference later. "Unless he was named that way for drinking a truckload of SKYY vodka," Cesar remarks to the comment about Malone's 'Bluebottle' alias. He looks around to see if the comment holds any water for being humorous, though not for long. Ahem.

The whole process of Cassandra's ability is a thing of interest to Cesar, who sits up and leans forward in observation. He'd only seen the ability at work one time in the sewers to minimal effect, so the darkening in the meeting room draws in the agent with a mutter under breath when the power appears to alter the reality and senses.

When it appears that Deacon Malone isolates himself in the celebratory atmosphere, Cesar frowns, studying the young man before his attention turns to the unmistakably prominent figure of Joshua Lang. And he sits up in recognition too, having had such conversations around bar tables and officers' desks back when the trials had gone on. "The fuck?" is what comes out of Cesar's mouth, until he trains his initial reaction back down to a level of professionalism.

Responding to Choi's question and Robyn's remarks, Cesar says, "A duplicator or cloning ability could also be in play. And we'd need more detail to pick out environs." The pen in his hand scratches away, making a few notes on the notepad. "Who's the woman?" he wonders aloud.

While the questions rage, Cassandra spends a few moments dictating exactly what she sees, down to the smallest detail that she can, her voice a low murmur into the microphone of the tape recorder. When Director Choi curses, she stops mid-sentence, listening to the information given before pushing herself to her feet. With one hand on the table, the other still holding the bloody shirt, Cassandra walks around, feeling her way, shifting her touch to the wall where she knows there are no chairs or other obstructions before walking closer to the echo she's projecting, the image freezing after a few seconds, like a living museum display. "I can't give you exact dates of when this occurred, unfortunately, or where. I can only see the moment. and since there isn't a calendar, a clock, or any papers around… Definitely within the last few months is as close as I can tell. Somewhere…" She looks around - and with the blindfold, that's kind of creepy as she sees without being able to see. "Pacific Northwest sounds about right. Probably just inside the nuclear exclusion zone. Where the radiation is at lower levels. It would fit Mr. Malone's claim that he came from the dead zone, but adds a lot more questions.”

The scene projected with Joshua Lang lording over his subjects on the makeshift throne reminds Cassandra of the ending scene of Conan the Barbarian - an old movie she watched when was a little girl. With the image paused, she walks around and peers at the woman and Lang. "I don't recognize her, but my knowledge of the anti-evolved resistance is kind of lacking, aside from the major figures. And the back of the head isn’t a thing I normally study." She straightens, turning to look at Lang again, and then the room proper. "My ability isn't stuck on Mr. Malone's point of view. Keep an eye out and see if you can see anything else or recognize any of these faces. They’re probably low-level soldiers but you never know - we could get lucky.” The images start to move again to give people a chance to look and to hopefully pick something out that they need to focus on. With Cassie’s ability, she can rewind or fast forward as many times as people like.

Lang, for those who come and look, does look a little older than he did in his file photos. A little more gray in his stubble, a few more wrinkles. Hard to tell if his visible scars are any different, that would need to be compared to a coroner's report.

She goes quiet as she thinks, rubbing the shirt between the heels of her hands, her back to the wall. "This…" She gestures to Lang. "Happened. He's alive and doing as well as a guy can with that much blood on his hands can do. Now the simplest explanation is that we're looking at who we're looking at. The medical examiners who examined the body were either wrong, incompetent, got a very similar clone, or they did examine Joshua Lang….just not this Joshua Lang. He doesn't happen to have a pair of triplet brothers anywhere that we somehow never found out about, does he?" A facetious question, sure, but the simplest explanation. “Let’s watch to the end, though. See how much happens. See if anyone says anything before we start to study."

It’s dark, and shadows like to play tricks. From Cassandra’s vantage point, limited by the dimensions of the room, she makes her best guesses. Sylvester wonders how accurate they are, but keeps this to himself, either out of kindness or to further his own ambitions.

That’s not to say these two things are mutually exclusive. Instead he says, “If we could locate the clearing, we’d have more room to roam. Choi, how’s the budget these days?”

A joke. He knows they probably can’t afford to send the department on a wild goose chase through the Cascades. His attention flicks back to Lang as Cassandra’s vision resumes, but only because he’s the first to speak in a voice the agents can actually distinguish.

“Do I look like a model American citizen yet?” Lang asks his unofficial barber, running a hand over the top of his head, smile spread from ear to ear. “Born on’a Fourth of July, rifle in hand, ready to serve his country?” His eyes divert to something beyond the firelight and in the darkness, a shape, someone walking but out of sight. Then back to the woman with the razor.

There’s a smaller figure fixed at Malone’s back — too idle, too alone, and too distant to register as more than a peripheral presence. He’s one dimension removed from the celebration, zeroed in on the boy warming his hands in the same way the SESA agents in a far away conference room are.

But he’s not in a far away conference room.

He’s winding closer through the shindig, hands pushed down deep into the tactical black of his jacket, boots smearing smashed fern stalks deeper into the mud. All the way around to Deacon’s trash fire, sharing the warmth opposite an especially noisy game of blackjack.

Close enough for Cesar to touch.

His eyes are sunken in pale under his brow, glassy sharp and shadowed deep against the lick of the firelight. A week’s worth of stubble hasn’t done anything to buff the edges off his skull, shaved down level with the fuzz of his burr. He’s 5’7”, lean as a skinned cat, strapped with a service pistol, and absolutely, undeniably, Emile Danko.

“You mind?” he asks, and tips his head to the stretch of log at Deacon’s side. There’s plenty of room — confirmed at a glance before he looks back to prompt for an answer, a cigarette already in his hand.

Deacon shakes his head, no. He doesn’t mind. Or if he does, he has the smarts not to say anything. He fishes his lighter out of his coat pocket and holds it out to the older man.

“I think after today we may be able to have a better leg to stand on at the next budget negotiation,” Choi admits with reservation, but there’s something else nagging at her. “Fortunately, recon work like this can be outsourced cheaper. There’s no landmarks here, it’s too dark to pin down exactly where this might have taken place. But we might have an opportunity to have some affiliated eyes on the area in the coming weeks.” Though she doesn’t explain any more than that right now.

Flipping through her files, Choi pulls out one on the current focus of the visions. “Emile Danko, born in Virginia in 1958. His father, Jakob Danko, was a Russian spy operating within the United States. Apprehended in 1971. Emile and his mother Magdaline were cleared of any involvement in the espionage and the incident was kept quiet by the CIA. It is still a classified topic.” Flipping through the file further, Choi looks at later details. “Emile joined the US marine corps in 1976, moving across the glove in international theaters leading up to the first Gulf War.”

Shaking her head, Choi continues to flip through the file, “Danko earned the attention of top brass during the Gulf War, was sent to a hotspot in Angola shortly thereafter. During his tour in Angola, Danko massacred a local village. This event was classified, later re-opened, and currently stands as evidence of collusion between the Company and US Government in covering up the massacre. Emile was stripped from active duty shortly after the Angola incident. We believe this is when he fell in with elements that later became the founding elements of Humanis First.”

“Danko’s lieutenant, Khalid Sadaka, among them.” Narrowing her eyes, Choi flips to another file and makes a noise in the back of her throat. “Sadaka is believed to still be alive somewhere in the Dead Zone. He was spotted during four altercations during the civil war with no confirmed kill. It’s possible they’re back and working together again. We have records from Raven Rock that indicate that Mitchell’s camp was in communication with Sadaka throughout the war…”

Choi paces around, looking at the files on Danko again. “The US Government rounded up Emile in 2009, brought him on board Operation: Apollo where he helped fight against the Vanguard. Emile was instrumental in their defeat in Antarctica, and later dropped off the radar again. The problem with all of this is…” Choi looks back up to Danko’s silhouette. “He turned on Humanis First and the Mitchell administration toward the middle of the war. Confirmed death as well, which led to that ghastly posthumous statue in Ferrymen’s Bay.” The one that was torn down and dragged into a marsh.

Breathing deeply, Madeline closes her folders. “That’s two former US military terrorists back from the dead. If they are impersonators, under any circumstances, why them? Danko I can understand, he was a leader of Humanis First. But he fought against Lang and his people, fought against Humanis First at the end. That’s a spotty record to fall back on if you’re joining hands with the enemy. Same with Joshua Lang,” Choi notes with a motion in his direction. “Lang wasn’t well known, even among the Vanguard. As a face, he could be anyone. No powerful connections, presumably no surviving leadership to tether to.”

Nothing about this makes sense to her, and Choi looks to the other agents again. “Assuming they are imposters, round table me some potential motivations for why these faces over anyone else.”

"Cogs in a machine," is Robyn's first thought. "The history between Emile Danko and Lang, with regards to the rest of the Humanis remnant, may not be widespread among certain cells. Could be someone trying to… 'inspire' others." She studies the pictures of Danko for a long moment, before looking back to the pictures of Lang's body.

A hand moves up, fingers curling around her chin. "Lang is harder. In the right circles, he may inspire fear and uncertainty. If they are imposters, it's a niche choice. Maybe just…" She pauses, thinking for a moment. "Odds of two imposters together, clones, shapeshifters, or otherwise are exceptionally low. But with two thought dead figures of note…" It's hard to deny unfortunately.

Her eyes move to other pictures of Lang, to the scenes around. "He is an imposing figure. The Butcher. Even lesser known, he looks the part enough that simple insistence may be believed." She clicks her tongue. "Conjecture, though. No basis in what's here. It seems likely that Lang is leading this group," she remarks, motioning to his makeshift throne. "Possibly with Danko's help, real or fake. That, at least…" She looks up to Cassandra, to Cesar and Sylvester, and then to Deputy Director Choi. "Accounts for why Emile Danko would be murdering a defector looking to SESA for protection in cold blood."

"What makes you think this was a few months ago? Like you said, no evidence of calendars, clocks, newspapers. That last time you did the rewind, we saw some flashes from years ago," Cesar eyes the blindfolded agent with a frown. He leans forward, head turning to survey the stopped image. "The only thing you can see is that it looks cold out there. The way they're dressed."

He studies Lang a little more, but then turns back to the post-cog and grimaces at her words. "Yo, watch what you're saying, Baumann. 'Wrong' and 'incompetent'? Who died and made you medical examiner, huh? I dare you to say that to Amalia's face. She might smack you." Or he might. His tone takes on a defensive stance. Fight him if you want. But the bristling settles as the agent does, leaning back into his chair to try and focus again on the projection.

Cesar's dark eyes narrow, following the line of sight that Lang takes when the man looks away from the woman shaving him. And then when Emile Danko walks out of the shadowed edges of the vision right next to the agent, Cesar sits up rapidly, wary eyes fixed on the newcomer. Someone whose statue lies at the bottom of the Ferrymen's Bay harbor.

Once Choi has debriefed them on Danko's background, Cesar frowns at the theory of the two figures working together. "If they've got no leadership to tie to, could it be assumed they're working together to start a new terror cell. Like lions, coming together to take over, claim a territory, murder the shit out of anybody who crosses them. And, pretty much, they both hate Evolved, right?" He nods at Robyn's words in agreement, though he appears skeptical that the pair are coincidentally in the same spot.

He rubs a finger on his chin. "If they're not set up properly yet, maybe Deacon knew something important. Where they actually are. Or who they're working with. An operation's going to need supplies, and contacts for them. Two dead men ain't much for contacts."

Cassandra makes her way back to her chair as the discussion goes on, after the vision has run, She sits in her seat quietly, watching the motion of the players in the vision and, after Danko appears next to Cesar, she turns to face him after the first line of questioning. "It is cold, which means it's in the winter or early spring wherever they are, so that narrows it down some. There are other things, too, Agent Diaz." Cassandra nods slightly and swivels her chair to face away from the group before pulling her blindfold up just enough to see, the vision wavering for a second, like someone kicked the projector it was coming out of. The blindfold is up long enough for Cassandra to grab something from the evidence table before pulling the blindfold back down securely, turning to face the room again. A black streak of what looks like ink trickles down her cheek, a quick motion wiping it away with a bit of kleenex.

"This is the physical evidence why I think it was within a few months." And she holds up a lighter in a plastic bag - the same lighter Danko appears to be currently using to light a cigarette in the vision. "This was recovered from Deacon Malone's body the day of the assassination. These lighters burn for around twenty minutes to an hour of continuous use, and this one is nearly empty. Assuming it's full there and using the maximum time, that's around 3600 seconds of fire. And let's say, just for math's sake, that it takes five seconds to light a cigarette - longer for anything with weed in it, but five seconds. Seven hundred twenty smokes. Can't see him carrying a lighter he doesn't use all the way from wherever this is. So…within the past few months. Add in Mr. Danko looking remarkably similar here to the way he looked when he blew the kid's head off? I think I can narrow it down to a few months or so." She sits back in her chair a little, back straight, 'gaze' fixed on Agent Diaz. "And in regards to seeing those flashes from the past? If you noticed, the more time someone spends in a place and the more emotionally charged a situation is, the clearer it gets. The images of the Ferry in the sewers during the Red Cross investigation? They were there for minutes at most, going from A to B. I'm surprised I got anything there, really. This?" She gestures to the scene. "This was emotionally charged. They're celebrating something. My guess was the Yamagato raid - a success in their eyes. Some time was spent here. And it's more recent. Which is why it's clearer. So. Again. Within the last few months at least."

She blows out a breath, turning to Agent Diaz again at the comment on medical examiners. "Perhaps my sarcasm did not translate appropriately, Agent Diaz. No-one died and made me medical examiner. Two independent examiners called the bodies that, if I recall correctly, physically and genetically matched the man sitting right there. We have photographic evidence of that man, sitting right there, mutilated. Dead. A chunk of rebar through his skull in an injury that isn't something that works to allow the continuation of life. Either something crazy is going on - my thought, or they screwed up. I'm voting for the first one."

Cassandra lets out a sigh, pushing on her eyes with the heels of her hands, returning them to the arms of her chair. "Look." her voice is calm and hasn't raised at all through this whole affair. "I'm not saying that anyone was wrong or incompetent - I was alluding that they weren't. Did Amalia do either of the examinations? If so, let's get her in here so she can tell us what we're looking at. I thought it was some people in Madagascar who did it. Please correct me if I’m wrong, anyone. If not, I'm going off the assumption that whoever examined him did their jobs just as good as she would have, filled in the boxes with the evidence gathered, and answered the question of who the body they were dealing with was. If we could find where they dumped Lang's body, I'd say go make sure that he's still rotting in the hole we dumped him in. Which leaves the question of who in the hell did they examine if that's who we think it is?"

Cassandra goes quiet. "They hate evolved, but I can see Danko as the sort to use every advantage he can. Everyone's a tool to be exploited. Kick someone enough until they break and then use them until they're not any good anymore." It's a grim thought, but there it is. "Let's see if there's anything else on these, then move to the lighter."

“Don’t know if we can get our hands on Lang,” says Sylvester. “Foreign government’s going to ask questions we’re not equipped to answer, yet.” Although his tone suggests that doesn’t mean they can’t try. “Danko. That’s a different story. Good ole Peachfuzz expired on American soil. If we can locate his remains, there’s always a chance we can match his DNA against any surviving family.”

He squints at the black substance bleeding into Cassandra’s kleenex. “What’s more likely: ghosts or shapeshifters? One’s backed by science. The other—” His pen twirls in the air. “I’m not saying it’s impossible. Volken transcended death, but Volken was a special case. From what we can tell, his ability predated his own birth in 1889 and had a long and established history of transferring from host to host, and even then it was never able to hold onto the same body for very long. These men are duplicates, right down to the tattoos.”

A shout slices across the assembly, pulling Deacon's focus. Movement, shadows and silhouettes in a jerky clash between two men. It's hard to tell if it's serious, especially when the sound of a thump from a blow struck resonates far enough to reach Deacon, and the way the men that surround and spectate the commotion kind of dance around it like snapping wolves.

The line breaks for a man staggering backwards and out onto his ass, someone grabbing his jacket as if to pull him up and throw him back in, but they're slapped away as he rolls over, surrender. The other that follows is bigger, and apparently the victor. Broad shouldered, dark hair, a serious, expression carved out of stone, not so unlike what could be discerned from recent surreptitious photography, Iago Ramirez doesn't appear like he's totally done with this fight as he stands over his fallen foe.

Ramirez makes three. Three dead men.

But he offers the other man a hand up. No smiles. Someone offers him a metal cup, which he takes without looking, prompt to drain it of its contents.

The woman dips the straight razor into the basin of steaming water at her side and cups Lang’s cheek with her hand. Whatever she’s saying to him is too soft, too gentle to be overheard, but she looks in Iago’s direction at the sound of the scuffle. Nothing about her body language suggests that she was ready to intervene, regardless of the altercation’s outcome. She’s more concerned that Lang doesn’t.

It turns out no one has to. The loser grudgingly accepts Iago’s offer of help and hauls himself back to his feet.

Back at the log, Deacon is lighting Danko’s cigarette for him. “I used to look up t’you, you know,” he says. His hand drops back down and rests against the side of his thigh, curled loose and looking relaxed, even if the rest of his body is so tense that he’s about to snap like a rubber band. “Back when I was a kid.”

He’s still a kid.

Choi has to flip through her Operation: Apollo dossiers a few times to find the relevant information on this new face, and it’s a single sheet front and back. There’s a few photographs behind it, but she disregards them. “That one is… Iago Ramirez. Born February 21st, 1964. His father… who we don’t have a name for, is believed to have fought for the nation of Argentina — Ramirez’s birthplace — in the Dirty War when the CIA was cocking everything up in South America.” Choi flips the sheet over, making a noise in the back of her throat.

“Not a lot to go on here. Anecdotal history of Ramirez’s dealings with Kazimir Volken, a fortune in Nazi gold in an Argentinian mountain bunker that was destroyed during Apollo. After the initial defeat of the Vanguard in 2009, Ramirez cut his cell off from the others and broke from the ranks, taking to branding and massacring SLC-Expressive humans throughout Argentina. He was listed as KIA in Operation: Apollo… and…”

Choi squints. “I’m reading directly from a quote here from a Richard Cardinal, an Apollo operative. He was — and I quote — ‘turned to fucking ash and blew away in the goddamn wind,’ unquote.” Choi looks up from the one sheet over to Sylvester, then the other agents.

“Thoughts?” She asks, because that’s about as much as Choi has to go on here.

Despite the seriousness of this all, Robyn can't help but chuckle at the quote from Richard Ray that is shared with the rest of the group. Sounds about right, at least in her recollection. "Ramirez I'm more familiar with," she notes. "Anecdotally, and from the case files on Apollo." She sucks in a deep breath. "Not just Richard making this claim. There are other witnesses to the fact that Ramirez is actual dust in the wind." A long sigh escapes her lips. "Though I believe several of them are dead or reclusive now."

She looks back at the pictures, then down at Choi's files. "No body this time, unlike Danko and Lang. More likely, then, that these aren't dead men walking among us. Not in any- well, there is no normal sense. But." A finger taps at her chin and she leans forward, looking around. "Three known anti-evolved terrorists. Two with ties to the Vanguard, one a face for Humanis First."

With a click of her tongue, she moves to look at the pictures close. "Three dead men who almost certainly could not have been together in their prime. When they were known for their work. Statistical improbability. So, what's turning back the clock here?" That's her question. In a metaphorical sense, this is more like something out of 2010 than it is 2018, at least to her.

For all the explanation and mathematics provided, Cesar remains silent. Staring incredulously, maybe confusedly, but he straightens in his seat when Cassandra turns to 'look' in his direction. Upon her defense of her sarcasm, her reasoning, a counterstare from him concludes with widened eyes. "You just used the words wrong and incompetent in reference to the MEs who examined the—" Cesar starts again on the protest, but he visibly jerks himself to a stop and blows out the remainder of his argument with a push of his chair back, a stand up to his feet, and a hard huff of noise like a bull staring through a fence. "Nevermind," he grunts.

He redirects his gaze to the scene unfolded, moving and finding a new spot in the room to stand and watch the Ramirez fight and Deacon's chat with Danko. After Choi pulls out yet another dead man's dossier, the agent shakes his head as he anticipates the worst. And hears it. "Three dead men and a bottle of dumb," he utters.

"Could they all be replicants, but, altered somehow? And with this many fish, there's got to be ripples in the pond," Cesar says. "Deacon can't be the only one who would have misgivings about what he signed up for. And for Danko to come out all this way and pay the Safe Zone a personal visit? It's got to be something important. Valuable for them to keep it hushed, besides the fact that all those three are apparently alive." He folds his arms across his chest. "And what's more, I'm wary about Smurfette over there. What's a woman like her doin' in a place like that?"

The argument with Cesar over and done with or, at least, to be continued and clarified later, Cassandra retakes her seat near the evidence table, the clothing still held loosely in her bare hands. Antibacterial hand wash might be a good thing to pull out later. “I wish I had an idea that didn’t sound like it came out of a science fiction book.” She ‘looks’ to the gathered people in the room, turning to Lang and his pale-skinned companion for a few moments, tantalizingly out of reach outside her ten by ten projection area. “Right now I’m only showing you what there is. Explanations are what we need to come up with. I’d like to try and discount the crazy suggestions of aliens, but things like time travel, alternate realities bleeding into ours or evil-er twins from another dimension, might have to get thrown into the maybe pile. These three, at this time, were alive and kicking, and our Mr. Danko was here in New York within the past few days. Clones. Copies….maybe even the men themselves. Somehow.” She shakes her head.

“We can follow the echo as far as we can. Perhaps we’ll see why Mr. Danko lost Mr. Malone as a fan or…something else.” She looks over her shoulder at the labeled evidence. “There’s so much more to go through….and this is just the one item. Director Choi - all of these men were taken out in Project Apollo, yes, save for Danko? We may have to assume, then, that something happened, and the project had some unexpected consequences.” She doesn’t say failed, deliberately.

“Danko participated in Operation Apollo,” says Sylvester, circling back to Choi’s notes on Ole Peachfuzz. They’re similar to what he has written in the margins of his own notebook. “If these are professional lookalikes, and it’s my opinion that they are, we should do a deep dive into our own records and cross-reference everyone who had access to these files.”

He leans further back in his seat at the table and crosses his long, lanky legs at the ankle. “I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that all of these identities are lacking abilities. No one can ask them to prove they are who they are by showing off their powers, because they never had any to begin with. This explains why we’re not seeing— ” His eyes dart down to a sequence of names scribbled at the bottom of the page. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe Zhang Wu-Long, Grigori Zhukovsky, or even Volken himself.”

Fingers pinch the pronounced bridge of his aquiline nose. “I’ve compiled a list of all Vanguard’s recorded operatives, both known to possess the Suresh Linkage Complex and not. There’s a book— Wolves of Valhalla: The Rise and Fall of Kazimir Volken’s Vanguard. I’ve already put in an order for you, Baumann, and anyone else in this room who wants one. You can thank me later.”

Sylvester spreads his hands. “That said, our best resources are the surviving members of Operation Apollo, and former Vanguard operatives who were cleared during the Albany Trials. Ethan Holden. Jensen Raith. Sasha Kozlow. Our intelligence indicates that both Amato Salucci and Yvette Krausner are still alive, but we haven’t been able to track either of them down.”

The log is too heavy to shift when Danko takes up a seat next to Deacon, the arch of his skull angled in for the lighter. A drag, a puff, and he leans back up into his own space, eyes slicking clammy cold over the conibear coil of the boy next to him. It’s quiet, somehow, in this little cavity by the barrel, surrounded on all sides by the clamor of drunken retelling of the day’s events, wagers being made, grown men kicking the shit out of each other.

He nods, as he draws in a deeper pull of smoke, watching the fire spiral up into oily smog, featherlight scraps of scorched plastic rising with the sparks.

Too close for comfort, someone slings a glass bottle into a burning barrel in celebration of Iago’s victory, and a fireball blossoms up through the canopy. Emile ignores it, voice scuffing ashy dry in his throat.

“So what changed?”

Deacon, on the other hand, flinches at the crash and wave of heat that licks over their heads. His breath catches in the back of his throat. He blinks a few times, involuntary fluttering of his lashes — there’s smoke in them, and they’ve begun to water. “Dunno,” he admits, hoarse. He scrubs his hand over his face. “I know we’re not supposed t’leave witnesses. I know. I wanna keep the colony safe, too, it’s just— ”


“Those Yamagato folks got their own people to protect. What right do we got to decide who’s more important?”

The vision flickers, sputtering like the flames in the oil barrels around them or an old film reel, then plunges into blackness.

They’re back in the conference room.

Choi exhales a slow breath, closing the Operation: Apollo folder she’d been reviewing as the scene passed. Reaching up to thread dark hair behind one ear, there’s a look in her eyes that is the expectance of fatigue, as though she understands just how many manpower hours, how many reports, how many conferences all of this will entail.

“As I said on the outset of this fact-finding expedition, this is classified need-to-know information.” Choi reminds the others with a firmness to her voice. “You are not to disclose it outside of this room or among yourselves without permission from myself or Director Kenner. At present we are going to… take this all under advisement. I have a meeting with Director Kenner in thirty minutes to discuss our findings.”

Looking down to the folders in her arms, Choi furrows her brows. “We’re going to determine the next best course of action on this, and those of you who were involved with this may be pulled in for further review. As it stands, continue your current assignments per-usual.” There’s a crease in Deputy-Director Choi’s brows, a furrow that does not leave as she looks down to the floor, lost in a moment of thought.

“Whatever it was we’ve seen here, will require…” Choi hesitates. “Further review. Let’s not jump to any conclusions just yet.” Mostly because those conclusions are either maddening or horrifying, sometimes in equal measure of both.

The mention of Yamagato results in Robyn in drawing in a long breath. As the scene fades around them. she looks down at the papers in front of her, notes and thoughts collected together at the top and bottom of pages. "If I thought I could track down Jensen Raith, I would." But she shouldn't. "I can speak with Richard Ray about Apollo as well, if desired, but…" Same problem. And of course she could ask Magnes Varlane, were he still here for it.

"Confidential. Yes, ma'am," she replies with a nod, looking up at Cassandra, and then over at Cesar. "Given that this involved potential Vanguard assets, should I assume someone will be informing Wolfhound, and if not…" It's been said this is classified, so it's not a question on if she should speak to them or not.

"Are the Apollo files available to us to look through?" Should they wish to do research. "Otherwise… no questions, Deputy-Director. I'll be returning to Rochester soon. Please, let me know when there's more information."

Watching the scene play out more, Cesar folds his arms across his chest to wait and listen in silence. There’s a definitive catch of his breath when Deacon mentions Yamagato. The agent’s eyes twitch wider for a split second, then narrow at the phrase accompanying the mentioned company.

Once the scene plays out and the vision dissipates, he straightens. Choi’s orders get a single nod, the man looking around the room to the faces there, then to the bagged evidence. Whatever his thoughts now, they’re kept closed off in mind. He does add to Sylvester, “Drop me a copy,” with the mention of the book.

But that’s it from the agent, a glance moving to Robyn as she mentions more names for him to take mental note of. And her question’s a good one, which he looks over to the deputy director for an answer to as well. In the beat that follows, poses a question that’s more comment, “Swing by my desk later, yeah?”

When the vision fades, the seer sits back in her chair, her hands crossed idly across her lap, using her toe to turn herself back and forth, from three o'clock to nine o'clock and back again. "Having a conscience doesn't mesh very well when you're wanting to be a bloodthirsty force everyone's supposed to be afraid of. I think we all feel a little sorry for the situation this kid went through. Fell in with the wrong crowd after the bomb and eventually found his conscience after the Yamagato assault."

At Director Choi's words, Cassandra nods. Secrecy is a common thing nowadays for her visions - what's one more? "Yes ma'am, no questions at this time. I'll spend some time with the rest of this stuff and write a full report with any interesting things brought to your attention." She reaches back to unwind the blindfold from around her eyes, holding it there with both hands for a second, wiping her eyes. "If I'm needed for…emphasis in any of these meetings, please let me know. Agent Diaz and I should be able to carve out some time on fairly short notice if necessary."

Sylvester flips his notebook shut. Apparently, he doesn’t have anything else that’s useful to contribute to the conversation. His hand disappears inside his suit jacket as the other agents are dismissed and take their leave from the conference room, but he lingers even after Deputy Director Choi has disappeared into the hall.

His phone is out, thumb deftly navigating the onscreen keypad as his other hand tucks the notebook away and smooths invisible wrinkles from his dress shirt.

Need a favor.
Do you still have access to Lowell’s files?
The special ones.

He flicks off the lightswitch on his way out.

Something’s come up.

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