First Steps On a Warpath


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Scene Title First Steps on a Warpath
Synopsis Nicole returns from the Pine Barrens on a mission.
Date September 2, 2019

For someone who was supposedly fired, Nicole Varlane’s badge seems to get her through every security checkpoint within Fort Jay. The fact that she has one at all serves as a shock to the guards at the entrance, but a scan of the system and a phone call confirm that her credentials are, in fact, genuine and up-to-date. Maybe the use of those credentials has already triggered a phone call. An announcement that something unexpected has come up. Nicole didn’t phone ahead herself.

“You can’t just go in there!” Dirk’s voice drifts from down the hall to Director Choi’s office. “Nicole! You aren’t even supposed to— How did you get back here?”

“Get out of my way,” Nicole warns, a file held under her arm against her side as she pushes past her friend. A spark jumps from her shoulder to his as they brush, and he recoils. Her route to the director’s office now unimpeded, the smart click of her sensible pumps announces her arrival before she even pushes open the door.

Nicole at least stopped home for a shower and a change of clothes first. The jeans and tee shirts of Providence have been exchanged for the pressed slacks and elegant blouses of a SESA agent. The folder under Nicole’s arm hits Choi’s desk with an unceremonious slap of heavy paper on polished glass. She does not take a seat, nor does she wait for the director to open and page through the file. The reason for Nicole’s hard expression, the tempest behind her blue eyes, becomes readily apparent.

“Ryans has been compromised.”

Director Choi’s Office

SESA, Governor’s Island, NYC Safe Zone

September 2nd

7:13 am

Varlane.” Madeline’s Choi’s steely greeting is perhaps expected given the intrusion to her office. Her expression is drawn into the thin, flat line of her mouth and the crinkle at the corners of her eyes. She looks down to the paperwork on the desk, some of it scattered in the impact, then back up to Nicole.

No, past Nicole.

“Nice of you to join us,” comes from behind Nicole, the smooth and ever-smug tone of Noah Bennett. Stepping away from where he’d been standing by the window in Choi’s office, Bennet moves to shut the door Nicole had burst through, then levels a look past her to Choi, who reclines back in her seat and fixes Nicole with a somewhat expectant stare.

“Mr. Bennett was just debriefing me on what he saw, and we were hoping you and Ryans weren’t caught up in… whatever that was.” Choi glances to Noah, then back to Nicole. “Now,” she looks at the folder, then back up to Nicole again, “I want to hear your side of things.”

Rather than be ruffled by the voice over her shoulder, Nicole calmly turns her head to peer at Bennet from the corner of her eye. "Ah, good. I was going to suggest someone turn on the batsignal." She could probably stand to sound a little less acerbic toward her ally, especially given that those appear to be in short supply, but she can apologize later. If she even thought for a moment that he might have hurt feelings.

Turning her attention back to Choi, she nods her head once. "We were meeting at mine when the explosion happened. I haven't been near the site myself to investigate the cause," she's no expert, after all, "but I could hazard a guess." She doesn't bother.

"Monroe showed up at my door, looking for Ryans. Called him by first name, and was greeted in kind. He said something was after them, and that now that Ryans was awake, he had to come find him." Nicole's posture is rigid as she recounts the events, as though her spine could be made of reinforced steel. Her gaze slides from Choi's face and down to the folder in front of her, as if reading its contents as she continues.

"We argued. He was armed with my weapon and blocking my sights on Monroe. He instructed me to collect my daughter, who was sheltering beneath the house." It takes no small amount of will to keep the hurt and betrayal out of her expression and her tone. It's still plainly evident in her choice of words, and those she leaves unsaid. "He locked us both in the cellar and left with Monroe."

Slouching back into her chair, Choi seems like she deflates as she sighs. Her attention immediately snaps to Noah, whose placid expression hasn’t shifted one bit since Nicole started talking. “Something,” he says with that intentional uptalk at the end.

“Take a seat,” Choi says with a motion to the chair across from her desk. Noah remains standing, but circles back to the window beside Choi’s desk. “Nicole, this is a lot to process. Bennet was explaining to me what he witnessed of the New Jersey explosion, my phone,” she gestures to her intermittently vibrating cell phone on her desk, “has been vibrating itself apart since we got word of the blast. We don’t know what’s happening in any clear understanding and now you’re telling me that Benjamin Ryans was…”

Choi grows suddenly silent, looking to Noah and then back to Nicole. “Am I reading you correctly in implying that Ben Ryans was a sleeper agent?” Noah turns an intent look to Nicole, his brows coming together in a faint pinch.

“Honestly?” Nicole sighs, resting her hand against the back of the chair to lean against it while she decides if she’s actually going to sit. She’s restless and wants to pace, but she also has enough discipline not to. “I don’t know.” Rounding the side of the chair, she sinks down into the cushions and crosses one leg over the other, folding her hands together over the peak of her knee.

Her gaze lifts to Noah, shrugging one shoulder at his half-voiced question. “I don’t know what or who Monroe was running from, but whatever it was disemboweled him. He crawled to my door and his ability pulled him back together.” It’s a mental image she would be happy to scrub from her memory, thank you. Turning her attention back to Choi, Nicole shakes her head a little helplessly. “Ryans and I went through a lot together during the war and before. I’ve trusted him with a lot.” It’s no secret that the two work together well - it’s why she was chosen for this assignment in the first place. “This was different. It was like I didn’t even know him.”

Noah offers a worried look across the office to Choi, who volleys it back but in Nicole’s direction instead. Scooting forward in her chair, Choi folds her hands atop the paperwork on her desk. “Bennet’s report was distressing. According to everything he’s been able to piece together from his investigation,” whatever the fuck that was, since Nicole hadn’t seen him since their last debriefing months ago, “Adam Monroe’s operation is far more extensive than we initially feared.”

Choi slides a folder marked with the CDC emblem across the desk. “In May, just shortly after we assigned you to Providence, the Centers for Disease Control’s new headquarters in Kansas City was robbed. We haven’t been able to pin down how or by who, no one saw anything and no security camera footage spotted anyone leaving the building. But some of the staff accounted for strange instances of missing time and… conflicting recollections of events. Noah believe agents of Adam Monroe may have stolen a sample of a biological weapon codenamed Gorgon from the CDC building.”

“Gorgon,” Noah chimes in, “was designed by the US government during the Civil War to be deployed against people with abilities.” He slowly paces back from the window. “A weaponized neurological agent that only affected people with the Suresh Linkage-Complex. Not a viral weapon, but an advanced neurotoxin. It was based off the work Suresh did for the Petrelli Administration right before the start of the war.”

“The lab Gorgon was created in,” Choi picks up where Noah left off, “Fort Detrick, was a military research facility, every sample of Gorgon was destroyed by a Resistance attack toward the middle of the war. Every single Resistance fighter exposed to Gorgon died, except one who suffered severe neurological damage and loss of her SLC-Expressive ability. That’s a 99% lethality rate.”

Noah moves to the corner of Choi’s desk and looks over at Nicole. “I have reason to believe that Monroe isn’t just working with Praxis Heavy Industries like Wolfhound determined, but also a clandestine terrorist organization that once operated out of New York City, called Shedda Dinu. My contacts informed me that Dinu perpetrated several high-class heists simultaneously around May. They stole Gorgon,” he raises one finger, “kidnapped an engineer who designed military rocket systems,” then another finger, “we believe they were responsible for the kidnapping of former DoEA microbiologist Miranda Railey,” another finger, “and the theft of Chesterfield Act Expressive Records from Elmhurst hospital.”

“I’m sure you can put those pieces together,” Choi says gravely. “If Benjamin Ryans was working for Monroe this entire time, it means our whole operation is compromised. Even if he suddenly chose to have a change of heart and switch sides, we’re still back to square one and all of our current operations are in jeopardy.”

Noah casts a glance at Choi, then back to Nicole. “That all said, I have a bit of information Ryans might not. I think I… may have a lead on where Shedda Dinu is operating from.”

Jesus,” Nicole breathes out. Distressing does not begin to cover what that report is. Muttering, “It’s like the Vanguard all over again.” One hand rests on her forehead a brief moment before she runs it over her scalp. Each dark hair leaps up toward her palm in anticipation of the contact, but is left smoothed out in the wake of her touch.

“I’ve seen what Gorgon does.” Those glowing eyes are stormy as she remembers what happened to her eldest daughter’s friend. That operation had been a success, but at such a terrible cost. “We have to stop them.” Nicole turns her attention back to Noah. “What do you have? I was working on an angle in Providence that I thought could lead me back to Monroe. If you’ve got another alley to explore, I’m all ears.”

“Monroe’s still an enigma, I don’t know precisely where he is, but Madeline— ” Noah begins to say, before being cut off by Choi.

“California,” Choi says flatly. “We have reason to believe that Adam Monroe is in the California Safe Zone, quite possibly under Praxis Heavy Industries’ protection. Given the international complications of even so much as visiting their corporate holdings, we haven’t been able to independently confirm this, but I received a tip from Secretary Zimmerman that she vetted personally.”

Noah nods to Choi, then looks back to Nicole. “My lead points us up to Rochester, New York. Wolfhound has been cooperating with us on several instances, but it appears that a member of their organization may have been telepathically manipulated by Shedda Dinu, and that the organization could potentially have a safehouse in the region.”

“Major Epstein of Wolfhound raised the initial suggestion,” Choi notes, “but Noah seems to agree with the likelihood.” She looks back to Nicole. “If Adam is in California, it means Ryans may be there too. But we have to handle one problem at a time. First,” Choi stands up from her desk and comes around to Nicole’s side. “Is Pippa safe?”

The mention of a Shedda Dinu sleeper in Wolfhound’s ranks has Nicole unconsciously curling one hand into a fist on the arm of her chair. Even though her sister has left the organization, she still feels worry grasping at her heart. It’s a thread she intends to follow up on when Choi rounds her desk and poses her question.

Momentarily disarmed, there’s a look of genuine perplexity that crosses Nicole’s features. As though she might ask why should that matter? It fades into something harder, more resolute. “I’ve left her with one of her sisters for now.” Though perhaps the one in Wolfhound wasn’t the best move, given what she’s just learned.

“I don’t believe Ryans will come for her. He had his chance to take her and leave me behind, and he didn’t take it.” Which doesn’t, of course, mean that Pippa is actually safe.

“That doesn’t mean Monroe won’t,” is what Choi was getting at. “She’s Ben’s daughter, too, and if he doesn’t toe the line I wouldn’t put it past a psychopath like Monroe to use her as leverage. Or maybe Ben just changes his mind. Either way, we’d like to put an agent on your house, 24/7 coverage, just to make sure nothing happens to you or your family.”

Noah crosses his arms over his chest and looks side-long out the window. “We need to cooperate on this Shedda Dinu situation. If they had any involvement in the recovery of Gorgon, it could help us get ahead of this before we have a biological attack on our hands.” He’s quiet for a moment, expression distant. “Then, I suppose, we handle Ryans.”

“Nicole,” Choi slouches back into her chair, “we’re going to be moving on this carefully. We don’t want to spook Shedda Dinu, and we especially don’t want to get you or anyone else killed. You’ve been looking for active field work ever since we pulled you off of the Presidential detail so this…” Choi looks down to the files on her desk, then back up to Nicole, “this is going to mean getting your hands dirty.”

In the silence between words, Noah looks to Choi, then Nicole in anticipation. Choi alights her chin and raises one brow. “Are you in?”

Nicole holds just a little too perfectly still to appear disaffected by the notion of Monroe using her child as a bargaining chip in this game of war. She lets out a breath she’d been holding, slow and controlled. “I’ll place her with Ingrid and Sofia Webb.” If she can have a guard on Pippa, then she’ll want one on Ingrid as well. This spares her from having to explain why.

Talk of moving forward with the mission helps to bring Varlane back into sharper focus. She’d been afraid she was going to be benched for the remainder of the assignment. Afraid she was going to be told she’s too close to it.

She smiles, but it’s a cold thing. A brief glance is spared for Bennet before turning her attention back to Choi to give her answer. “Absolutely.”

“In that case,” Choi says as she flips open a folder on her desk, “take a seat.”

“We need to have a talk about Kenner.”

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