Levels of Hell


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Scene Title Levels of Hell
Synopsis Director Kenner and Major Gitelman touch base on Wolfhound's standing and activities… and on the rabbit hole that only ever seems to get deeper, to mutual dismay.
Date April 13, 2018

Fort Jay

Decades ago Fort Jay was a crumbling ruin on an abandoned island overgrown by scrub vegetation. Twelve years ago, Hana Gitelman and Noah Bennet stood on this island and scouted out its environs for purposes of what would become the Ferrymen. They explored the drainage tunnels beneath the island, old concrete bunkers and ammunition stores from the second world war. Ultimately, it was decided that the site was too visible and provided not enough cover to even serve as a safe house. The Ferrymen would — for better or worse — eventually get an island castle all their own, but the memories here on the revitalized Governor’s Island are hard to ignore.

What now stands there is nothing short of whiplash from the days of old. From the moment one sets foot on Governor’s Island, they’re presented with the juxtaposition of modern architecture against old colonial style. Cobblestone paved walkways intersect with asphalt roads largely devoid of any real automobile traffic. Immaculately tended lawns and towering oak trees create a verdant pass up through a collection of two-story office spaces belonging to individual agents and United Nations observers.

But up on the hill overlooking the entirety of what was once New York City is Fort Jay, the star-shaped former army post upon which the SESA offices are perched. Up the old stone steps, growing with tall stands of dry grass covered in dew from an overnight rain, the building represents the attitude that SESA presents to the world: the new, built atop the foundations of the old. Hana once ascended these stairs with Noah at her side. Today, she walks them alone.

Hana is greeted in the lobby by the officer administrator Dirk Dicksonb who gets her situated in a VIP waiting room while her security clearance is double checked. After that, she’s granted a visitor’s badge and briskly escorted into the department’s inner workings. What is immediately evident to Hana on entering is how much her very existence has changed the world’s concept of information security. There are remarkably few wireless pings in the building. Cell phones, certainly, but no bluetooth devices, wireless peripherals, even wireless internet. There is a grave concern over technopathic intrusions after the secrets of the Ferrymen — and how they eluded capture for so many years — were laid bare during the Albany Trials. Hana, and by extent technopaths of the past who were like her, changed the world.

Hana’s ultimate destination is fraught with familiar enough levels of bureaucracy against an office atmosphere that isn’t sure whether it wants to be a Crate and Barrel advertisement or an Etsy Store. Glass walls, wood paneling, everyone has a plant on their desk. SESA’s offices are designed to feel welcoming, even if they crib a bit of style from 1970s couture.

Ultimately, Hana arrives at the office of Executive Director Donald R. Kenner, head of SESA’s New York branch. Prior to the war, Kenner held leadership positions in the Counterterrorism Division of the FBI, the National Security Branch, and the Washington Field Office, and also served as the FBI’s associate deputy director from 2009 to 2011 when he stepped down after the SLC-E reproduction legislation was passed. He has, and so far has maintained, a powerful pro-evolved stance.

Somehow Kenner survived the war and wound up here, sitting behind a sleek black desk with an avocado-colored lamp and a bonsai tree in symmetrical arrangement with one another. Behind Kenner’s desk are two portraits, one of President Raymond Praeger, and the other of Secretary of State Catherine Chesterfield.

“Major Gitelman,” Kenner greets from behind his desk, giving Dirk a motion to dismiss him and shut the door. “I’m glad you could make it.”

The world has come a long way since Hana and Noah climbed those steps twelve years ago.

Everything has changed. It's become hardly even noteworthy in many respects, just the ordinary course of affairs — although every now and again a flashback strikes, the sudden sense of deja vu. The sense that she might just turn around, find a familiar face otherwise just out of view —

She'll just have to send a letter; it's about that time anyway. But that's a concern for later, much later.

Inside Fort Jay, there aren't any surprises — the usual bureaucratic rigamarole, the digital silence that can only be expected of an agency practicing due diligence, however belatedly. It may be an inconvenience for her in some ways, but the major also approves, and it's approval that runs the stronger. If it comes to it, there's always the human element, after all.

Arriving at last at her destination, at least the current one, Hana inclines her head in return to Kenner's greeting. She's dressed in simple black, a near-featureless mandarin-collared suit jacket above plain pants, thin black leather satchel at her side. "Director Kenner," she greets in return, settling herself into one of the chairs on the guest side of the desk. "Of course," is appended in response to his pleasantry, matter-of-fact in the way that self-evident truths are.

Hana lets herself consider the office setting for a moment, simple as it is. She approves of simplicity, too. "It's nice to see the fort rehabilitated," she remarks, by way of conversation. "Looks like you've done a good job of it."

“Well,” Kenner flashes a smile and leans back in his chair, crossing one leg over the other in a manner that implies some level of casual cadence to the meeting. “The President wanted these offices to be an example. The ones in Kansas City aren’t nearly as nice, but that’s what makes us special out here in the new frontier.”

Folding his hands in his lap, he looks to his trimmed bonsai in a moment of contemplative silence. “I’ll cut straight to the meat of things,” he finally says, belatedly looking away from the tiny tree. “I finished reviewing the March report from Agent Quinn, and I wanted to let you know that she’s had a favorable opinion of Wolfhound’s activities. Trust me when I say this document has been relieving in its circulation through the administration. I also wanted to level with you, at least to the extent I can, about our choice of Quinn’s placement with your organization.”

“Quinn’s appointment has… pretty much everything to do with her time as a member of the Ferrymen. Yes, on the surface it appears like a conflict of interest, but it’s also a public relations approach. Half of what we’re doing here is viewed from a PR perspective, in the event that the Liberty Island incident becomes public record. That said,” Kenner reaches for a document on his desk and drags it into his lap, flipping through some pages.

“Agent Quinn has described Wolfhound as ‘well-disciplined’ with an ‘acceptable level of errant performance among its younger membership.’” Kenner looks up at Hana on that quote, then back down to the report. “Furthermore, and this is… part of what I was hoping to get out of her perspective, she points out the familial camaraderie of Wolfhound. How its teams ‘feel like small families, supportive and responsible for one-another.’”

Closing the file, Kenner tosses it back onto his desk. “This is important, the ability to distinguish Wolfhound from groups like, say, the Vanguard.” There’s a noticeable stiffness in Kenner’s expression when he switches conversational gears to that topic, though he does backpedal a little. “Any appearances of conflict of interest has been sufficiently weighed by internal experts. Trust me when I say that we’ve taken it into account. You may not have expressly stated allies on the inside, but…” Kenner’s head bobs around a bit. “A lot of us know you by your reputation. Some of my direct reports wouldn’t even be alive without your help.” He spreads his hands, as if to say, so there’s that.

The director may adopt a casual posture; Hana does not, remaining straight in her chair, hands folded in her lap. But then, reading between the lines of whatever file SESA has on her, the question does she even know how to be casual? can likely be inferred. She meets his initial silence with the same calm equanimity as the words that ensue after, his statements striking like stones might into a lake if the lake surface did not so much as ripple.

At the last, when the conversational ball has finally passed to her, Hana inclines her head. "Thank you for sharing this," she replies. "I appreciate it." Which is true, although it is not evident whether the major can be said to be relieved by Kenner's confidences. She's not about to let her guard down that much, not in this setting, not before this man.

Not even enough to underscore that Wolfhound is family, in its unorthodox way. Hers.

A moment's pause follows, seeming consideration of allies and reputation. Or perhaps the comparison between Wolfhound and Vanguard, not that she hasn't heard them named in the same breath before. "I do what I can," she says at last, "and I try to act on what is right. I expect no different from my teams." There's a hint of smile then, just around the edges, thin and sardonic. "We hunt monsters, as it were. Making them in the process would be… anti-productive."

The subject of Vanguard, she lets rest a moment, to see where Kenner goes next.

“I don't need to explain operational security to you,” Kenner starts right into the thick of things. “We’re still taking lessons from the people you trained in the Ferrymen about information handling and compartmentalization. There's a dart board with your face on it in Kentucky down in one of the CIA’s counterintelligence vaults.” Kenner smirks, amused. “Anyway, this is all between you, me, and my plant.”

Picking up a second file on his desk, Kenner uncrosses his legs and leans forward, sliding it over to Hana. It is a plain powder blue folder containing a transcript and file photos of former Vanguard members. Some agent names in the file are familiar — Robyn’s is there — others less so.

“We had an informant come to us with intelligence about the paramilitary raid on Yamagato assets in the PNW Dead Zone.” Kenner doesn't presume that she needs any catching up on the basics of that. “He was killed in broad daylight by the late Emile Danko.”

Brows raised, Kenner folds his hands on his desk. “Take some time and check the file. The transcript is from our most recently appointed postcognitive asset Cassandra Baumann. I think you'll not want the Cliff’s Notes version.”

A dart board. Cute, in the way that isn't cute at all. Hana merely continues to regard Kenner, waiting for the proverbial other shoe that will follow this. It's not at all long in coming… nor is it truly a surprise.

The given folder is set out on her side of the desk; seemingly contrary to direction, Hana proceeds to leaf through its contents at a quick clip, too fast to do anything more than scan over each page. But when she stops at the end, expression pensive, she then rewinds to study certain aspects in more obvious depth and detail.

"Danko, Lang, and Ramirez," she says at last, leaning back and lifting her gaze to Kenner. "Makes me wonder who that woman is."

There's a slight pause as Hana closes the folder. "If they were imposters, sustaining the act even around a Dead Zone campfire would be exceptional dedication." Her tone implies no belief in that explanation, not even a grasping at straws. "The most plausible theory we have is alternates, crossed over from a timeline where they didn't die."

Such a world they live in, that alternate timeline becomes most plausible.

Kenner laughs and smiles broadly, about to change the subject when he hesitates. “You're… that wasn't sarcasm.” There's a light that dies in Kenner’s eyes and a twitch of his brows. He tries to smile, but it comes off as more of a spastic facial tic than anything.

“I've… read some very distressing files before. About the things that happened on November 8th, 2011. The kinds of things people talked about at the Albany trials, conjecture about time travel.” One of Kenner’s hands comes up to the side of his head and he just braces it there.

“Before…” No. Kenner decomposes his thought with a sweep of one hand down his mouth. “Timelines. So, time travel. Or some— something like that.” It's a hard act to prove, but what happened to Moab is now a matter of record, even if it's transposition in time and space isn't fully understood. “Can you back that up with anything?” It isn't a knock to her credibility, but that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

Hana regards Kenner steadily as his laugh sobers, a thin, humorless smile torquing the corners of her lips. She waits as he works his way through the conceptual headache, and at last inclines her head in response to his request — not affirmation, but a sympathetic acknowledgment.

"What I have is — not conclusive by any measure, but there are enough pieces to paint a picture I do not like." Feelings. Hunches. Yet those too have a place — as long as they aren't pursued too freely or preemptively.

Reaching into the satchel at her side, Hana picks a folder out of it by feel — plain manila, unmarked by any label. "A project referred to as 'Looking Glass', started by researchers at the University of Kansas, appropriated and abandoned by the Company, and finally continued by the Institute. To my knowledge, a working version was constructed in Kansas in 1982, and another at the Mount Natazhat facility in 2011." On the subject of Moab.

"The Looking Glass was devised by an eminent quantum physicist, a hypercognitive, and a probability predictor. Its original intent, per its name, was to view 'alternate quantum states' — in plain speaking, past and future events. However, one of the axioms of quantum physics is that to observe something is to affect it— " Easy enough to find that by poking around the Internet, which is not nearly the same as saying Hana truly comprehends it. "— and it is conceptually a small step to progress from window to door."

Setting the file on the desk, she slides it over. "The device is a miniaturized particle accelerator; the difference may simply be a matter of power, the number of particles affected." Folding her hands in her lap, she gives the director a level look. "Finally, the project's supervisor at the Institute was Erica Kravid, and the associated physicist, Richard Schwenkman, worked under her. They are both still at large, and I suspect still together."

She nods towards the blue folder. "Whether these are in fact linked, I cannot say. But the Looking Glass was brought to my attention independently, less than a week before that picture was taken. And no matter how I consider imposters, resurrection, cloning — " Hana shakes her head slowly.

"I'm not saying to count those out as potential explanations. More data may fill in a very different story, and I will try and get that data. But if Kravid is in play somehow… I felt it best you be aware of that potential."

Kenner takes time to leaf through the folder, worry spreading across his face as he reads. Eventually he's just slouched at his desk with his head in one hand, massaging forefingers at the wrinkles deeply creasing his brow.

“Jesus Christ, Edward Ray?” Kenner closes his eyes and the file, then pinches the bridge of his nose and slowly leans back in his chair. “Ok, well… this is…” he doesn't have an immediate explanation. “This is a new and fresh level of hell that I hadn't been previously aware of.”

Dragging his hands down his face, Kenner pushes the file back to Hana, not making the assumption that the information stays at Fort Jay. “We have stewardship of some old Company and Institute files. I'm aware via Director Zimmerman that there is a trove we can requisition from higher up. I think… I'm going to do that.”

Scrubbing a hand at his neck, Kenner eyes his bonsai tree briefly, then looks back to Hana. “I can make some confirmations for you. Schwenkman and Kravid are together. We’ve been getting information out of Lauren Gilmore since she was turned over to our custody and she's named several people of interest. But this… Looking Glass? She hasn't mentioned it, but that'll be for another round of questioning.”

Shifting to sit back in his chair, Kenner folds his hands in his lap. “Diverting from the walking dead for a moment, and on the topic of Gilmore… I need to share some other Intel with you, since your teams are most likely to find this in the field. It… We believe Gilmore was the recipient of some form of genetic engineering. Based on Quinn’s report on Operation Skycastle and our own discussion with her, it's beginning to appear as though the Institute is trying to re-develop Pinehearst’s formula.”

“Gilmore’s had portions of her memory modified. But what we were able to ascertain is that she was temporarily bestowed at least two different SLC-Expressive abilities on top of one another. The process seems to have burned itself out and left her considerably unwell.” Rubbing a hand over his face, Kenner considers the implications once more. “I figure… you realize how bad this could be. How bad it is.”

Reclaiming the file as it's pushed over, Hana gives the director a sidelong look, eyes narrowed slightly. "If there happens to be anything on one Caspar Abraham…" Unfinished, the statement is not a request. It's exactly as close to one Hana is willing to come, given the nature of higher up in this case.

The major nods slowly as Kenner continues, releasing a quiet breath at the mention of Gilmore's genetic engineering. There's no surprise, given how Skycastle went down. And yet — "Yes," she replies, single syllable stark and grim.

"I have one more for you," Hana states a beat later, that thread of humorless smile reappearing. It's sharper this time, darker. "No evidence, only word of mouth, but I have been informed that Adam Monroe is stirring up trouble. Specifically, gathering pro-Evolved forces on a possibly worldwide scale. Also hunting down former Institute executives," is the part neither of them are apt to weep over.

Her eyes close briefly. On the subject of levels of hell… "If Kravid is creating Evolved…"

Drawing in a deep breath, Kenner scrubs his hands over his face and manages to compose his thoughts. It comes, admittedly, with a rueful series of laughs as he reaches out for a long-ignored cup of coffee. It’s cold, now, but he can still use the comforting reassurances it provides. “Adam Monroe’s a name I’m only tangentially familiar with, but I know we have a file on him. I also realize that the context surrounding his name being spoken is…” Kenner takes a swig from his coffee, “well, it’s not ideal.”

One more huffed sigh, and Kenner sets down his coffee and looks at the surface of his desk. “One thing at a time I suppose. After having some time to talk the situation over with the FBI, we’d like to bring Wolfhound in to investigate what’s going on in the PNW Dead Zone. You’re the best equipped to assess what’s going on out there, and the least likely to stir up an unavoidable political shitstorm while doing it.”

Kenner regards the coffee mug again, swirling the mug around in one hand. “That said we’re pursuing a couple of other options for later on down the line. But right now, there’s an alarming level of things moving in our periphery and I know the last thing either of us wants is for them to take root and bear any kind of fruit.” Tongue sliding across his teeth, Kenner looks back up to Hana.

“Aside from her discussion of, uh… genetic engineering… we managed to get Gilmore to flip pretty quickly with some other details that I feel are actionable for your group. She’s indicated that Dunlap was recalled to a Colorado because they feared that her safe house was compromised.” Kenner grimaces a bit, as Gilmore’s assessment was accurate. “Your folks crossing the border into Detroit must have spooked them. We rounded up the folks at customs who were working with Gilmore as well, and we’re pressing them for what we can. So far it looks like they were just paid third parties.”

Fishing for a couple papers on his desk, Kenner retrieves one and looks at the information on it. “So, Gilmore gave us the location of a facility called the Geopoint Scientific Enclosure, which is apparently a biodome that the Pinehearst Corporation was working on up to about 2009. It was swept up by the Institute after that, and according to Gilmore is where the lion’s share of the Institute remnant are performing their genetic research.”

Kenner looks up from the paperwork to Hana. “Now, I don’t need to tell you how bad of a situation this is. If you’re interested, we’d like for you to mobilize on this as expeditiously as possible. I’ve spoken with representatives from FORSCOM and TAC, and they’re willing to mobilize if Wolfhound isn’t, but I think you realize how a US Military response would be.” There’s a look from Kenner that is all raised brows and implied distaste.

“We don’t have any recent intel on the Geopoint facility, just satellite imagery which— I’m just going to guess you’re already looking at in your head. The Pinehearst-era data is floor plans and research. Something about the Garden of Eden, which sounds… worryingly biblical.” Finally, Kenner leans back in his chair again, hands folded in his lap.

Hana inclines her head as Kenner reorients the conversation back to the Dead Zone. "I have people going out Monday," she grants. She did say she would be getting data. "If they do learn anything of relevance, I'll pass it along."

Dark brows lift at the mention of Colorado, what could either be surprise or familiarity; then a thin non-smile flickers across her expression, there and gone in a breath. "Oh, we'll mobilize," Hana assures, tone dark.

They wouldn't be Hounds if they didn't run their quarry to ground.

Leaning back in her chair, Hana is quiet for a moment, considering. "I am told the Garden of Eden project was intended to restore a 'post-nuclear Earth'," she remarks, almost an aside. Which sounds innocuous, until one realizes that objective presumes the existence of said post-nuclear Earth… and someone to bring it about.

"And yes, I have some information on that facility." Though she doesn't seem inclined to confirm, even by implication, whether that information was obtained just now, or… not.

All of this weighs down on Kenner in a visible fashion. He's silent for a moment when it's clear Hana is at least one, if not two steps ahead of this situation. For the time being, he's thankful for it. But when Kenner speaks up again, it isn't about a piece of intelligence or a matter of national security.

“One… two decades ago…” Kenner muses, attention on his bonsai, “did you ever think you'd be sitting here?” He looks back at her, a crease growing between his brows. “Maybe not here, here. But this situation. You, a successful head of a war-criminal hunting paramilitary organization, me a director of an alphabet agency dedicated to protecting folks like you and I… and one that actually meant it.”

Kenner glances back at the bonsai. “It feels surreal, being here. Us talking freely. The world moving on…” he looks down to his folded hands, then back up to Hana with a smile. “It reminds me to appreciate what's important to me.” But then his smile he offers is just a twitch, uncertain if he should even be making the expression.

Hana's brows lift minutely as Kenner takes the conversation into a sudden meander. In contrast to the uncertainty of his expression, his deflective study of harmless bonsai, her own manner remains inscrutable, closed — save for a slight narrowing of eyes, and the fact that the major studies the director for just a little too long to be comfortable.

How does she want to answer this nearly-personal question, posed by this man who could be considered a peer but not by any measure anything like a confidant?

"No," Hana says at last, in a tone devoid of inflection. "Ten, twenty years ago… I lived very different lives." She doesn't go into details, and won't; not on those different lives, not on the futures she expected then, not on the subject of what's important. There's talking freely, and then there's talking freely.

She, too, glances at the bonsai for a fleeting moment, then looks back to Kenner, offering a small, close-lipped smile. One concession to his attempt at connection. "Some things I find less surprising than others. Consider, I came to this country on the strength of a lie. If I had actually been recruited by the CIA…" One hand lifts, open-palmed, letting him fill in the rest of that hypothetical.

Now there's a surreal thought, indeed.

“Imagine that world,” Kenner admits with a dry laugh, “if it wasn’t the Company ruining lives left and right, it might’ve been the US Government. Or maybe…” He waves a hand dismissively in the air. “This talk of parallel timelines and… all of that sometimes gets me thinking about the could-have-beens. Where would we all be, if we weren’t here?” Shoulders rising into a shrug, Kenner is slow to let them deflate down into a slouch.

“I suppose we’re done here, for now, Gitelman.” Kenner rises up from his desk to offer her his hand. “I look forward to your team’s report from out west. God knows the American citizens trapped out there could use the support.”

Hana refrains from pointing out that it in fact was the US Government ruining lives, after the Company was swept from the stage. There's no benefit in belaboring that point now.

Rising to her feet as Kenner does, she instead simply shakes the offered hand, brief and firm. "We'll do what we can," she says — which won't be much, against the disruption of nigh a third of a continent.

"I'll be in touch."

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