Nobility's True Badge


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Also featuring:

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Scene Title Nobility's True Badge
Synopsis Raith joins the ranks of the Vanguard.
Date September 28, 2007

Cairo, Egypt

An open-air bazaar in Cairo is far removed even from a flea market in the United States. A flea market may have its own sights, but that's where the differences between one and the next end. But every day in Cairo, the bazaar is different. Different sights, sounds, smells, different everything. Even the crowd is different not just in its make-up, but in how it moves. When it moves, as crowded as the streets are even under the hot, mid-day sun, music, voices and the rattle-clatter of merchandise mixed with the honking of car horns as drivers impatiently move from source to destination, delayed as much by pedestrians as their fellow motorists. It's an easy place to get lost in.

And getting lost, or at least escaping notice is exactly what at least one member of the crowd is looking to do. Although plainly not a "native" Egyptian, he blends in well enough, moving with purpose through and with the swarms of people, but still throwing a glance out occasionally should something catch his eye, wearing hiking boots, light khaki pants and a beige survival vest, some pockets bulging with money or food or je ne sais quoi, complete with a bicycle (presently lifted up and carried rather than ridden or pushed) and a hydration pack worn on his back, he looks like any one of the thousands of other people on the street. Only his sunglasses with dark, round lenses may seem out of place.

Past vendors, stalls and shops alike, he walks, sparing no more than a passing glance to only some of them. They don't have what Jensen Raith is interested in. What he is interested in is not merchandise, but people. One in particular, and one by consequence, some small distance in front of him. An ordinary tourist might easily lose two persons of interest in the crowd, but Raith not neither ordinary nor a tourist, and has been following his quarry, slowly drawing closer to them, for some number of minutes now. Ten? Twenty? Sixty? Who can say? This is the mystery of the bazaar.

Few people negotiate the busy street markets of Cairo in a black three-piece suit, it makes the old man wandering the markets with his teenaged companion all the more peculiar. "Herodotus said that Egypt's sacred Ibis was a ward against incursions of serpents, like the deadly asp." The looming figure of the old man standing in the market addresses the young and waifish girl at his side, blue eyes regarding her with an askance stare, one peppered brow raised. "I think that's why Daiyu stayed in Berlin," he notes with the suggestion of whimsy in his tone.

Beneath the green and white cloth awning of one of the market stalls, these two are cast in shadow, relief from the burning sun scalding high above their heads. "Do you see something you like yet?" He asks of the girl, lifting blue eyes from her to the sounds of wings fluttering and the cacophonous chirp of caged birds hanging from wooden supports inside of the market stalls.

Colorful greens and blues, muddied browns and grays, a variety of exotic avians clutter this section of the bazaar, though the reason these birds seem so unnerved, why they continue to sing and cry and chirp and flap their clipped wings is not out of some desire to be purchased, but out of an instinctual sense of wrongness from the darkly clad old man browsing them.

Nature itself knows what lingers inside of Kazimir Volken, and while the tired looking old man may seem harmless, with his dour countenance, soft middle and thinning hair, the animals know better. His gloved hands creak where they are folded behind his back, chin tilts up and sunlight casts across half of his face, deepening the creases and wrinkles like scars thorugh old stone where it touches his skin. "Take your time…" he adds to his tiny ward, "…we've plenty yet."

In her love for cities, Eileen is polyamorous; her heart does not belong to any one, and as she travels between them by sea and by rail, she embraces with both arms everything that they have to offer. Cairo is entirely unlike anywhere she's been before, and although its unique culture dictates that she cover her hair and limbs and refrain from traveling alone to avoid unwanted male attention, the opportunity to visit places like the Giza Pyramids and the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities with its royal mummies, collections of frayed papyrus behind glass and treasures recovered from the tombs in the Valley of the Kings far outweighs any discomfort she might feel as a result of the restrictions imposed upon her.

Dressed in conservative clothes, including a calf-length black skirt, blouse and a chiffon scarf worn over her dark hair, she has spent most of the morning perusing the local bazaars and indulging in simple pleasures like exploring the texture of ornate silk carpets with her fingertips and sampling slivers of mango, guava and small melons with her small mouth. When shopkeepers offer her tea, she has an infuriating habit of accepting every time, but the leather satchel draped over her shoulder and the floral perfume at her nape were both purchased on previous expeditions at a price discounted by her demureness, as were the silver rings glittering on her fingers and the ivory comb in her hair beneath her scarf.

She's shrewd as well as frugal, not just when it comes to managing her purse but managing people, too. She might have mentioned to Ethan that she wanted to pet a camel, and she might have told Amato that she left the knit cardigan she intends to wear to dinner back at the inn, and she might have done it to steal a few minutes alone with Kazimir. Either that, or she grew tired of their bickering when the former tricked the latter into putting his hand in basket swimming with live snakes.

She extends her touch to the birds in their cages and enfolds them in her presence like a mother swan gathers her cygnets to her breast, beseeching calm. "Daiyu stayed in Berlin because you were afraid he might give himself a stroke from leering at Ethan too hard," she says.

There is always, perhaps, a certain degree of nervousness and uncertainty that birds, even caged birds, exhibit around strangers. Perhaps not this strongly. Anyone else might overlook it, chalk it up to a strange coincidence. Given who, given what Raith is looking for as he comes to a rest behind the pair? If only in his own mind, that settles it: Now is the single best opportunity he's going to get, and when the birds, almost as if cued by a director, calm down and become docile, it provides a near perfect opening.

Pausing for a moment alongside his targets and the cages of winged creatures, Raith sets his bicycle down as if he had simply found the whole display interesting. "Haven't ever seen birds this quiet around people. Not this many people." He speaks without the arrogant wonder one might associate with a foreign tourist. "I don't mean to bother you, but is there some trick to it?" he asks, addressing little Eileen more than he is Kazimir, "My neighbor's are always so noisy. It would be nice to eat lunch at home for a change." Risky? Probably. Exciting? A little bit.

Raith's already aware of the jarhead some hundred feet behind him in the crowd that's gotten up from the stoop of one of the nearby buildings to make his way towards this gathering. His reflection's visible in an antique mirror propped up against one of the market stalls, looks like he might be from somewhere in the south pacific judging from his bone structure and complexion, carries himself like ex-military, not very good at subtle either.

The glare off of the windshield of the parked truck across the street is showing the hulking African man on the roof of the adjacent building three stories up. He's in a doorway on a radio, given how his head is tilted forward and back is slouched in comparison to the top of the doorway, he's probably pushing seven feet tall.

"The eagle suffers little birds to sing, and is not careful what they mean thereby." Comes the improbably lifted quote from Kazimir's lips as he regards Jensen's figure behind him. "You'd learn well from the Bard," Kazimir offers in explanation, those pale blue eyes looking past Jensen and to the former US Army soldier approaching from behind, then back to Raith.

"I do believe you're to be invited to leave." Kazimir adds, and Raith can hear the crunching footfalls of long-legged strides, brown leather loafers scraping across the sandy street, and Eileen now can see the man dressed in a loose, unbuttoned white shirt and tan slacks storming up behind Raith. For all that Edmond Rasoul lacks in stealth, he makes up for in punctuality.

It takes a few moments for Eileen to place the stranger's accent. She doesn't meet very many Americans; most of the Vanguard's ranks are European or of mixed heritage like the man coming up from behind him. Having no real authority does not stop her from fixing Rasoul with a sharp look directed over Raith's shoulder that's as pleading as it is pointed. It would be nice if she could placate men as easily as she can placate birds, but she — like anyone else in her position — has to resort to appealing to him with her eyes instead.

Elias de Luca has imparted upon her a fondness for Americans. Even the brazen ones.

"Sweet mercy, is nobility's true badge," does Raith reply. In some sense, it might seem as if he views this exchange with Kazimir as a game of sorts. "It isn't birds that I'm looking for, sir, you may have guessed. In fact, I'm looking for you, and I've had the damnedest time finding you. You can likely deduce from that fact that I won't just walk away, and while I have no doubt that you have methods of, uh, 'convincing' me to leave, it'd make for an awful scene if you tried it. None of us want to deal with a scene right now, so allow me to state a counter-proposition to your proposition that I have been invited to leave." To show that he is feeling fairly safe at this juncture, Raith even has a seat on his bicycle, either oblivious or indifferent to the approach of the man behind him.

"Please, allow me to buy you and your granddaughter lunch," the spy, now the ex-spy offers, "And listen to what I have to say. If it doesn't sit well with you, then I'll disappear just as I did from the United States, and won't bother you again. Be honest with yourself here, what have you got to lose by saying 'yes' to a free lunch? There are at least two men watching me, at least three, realistically, and I'd be awful stupid to think you didn't have at least two more around should I become unpleasant. I have candy."

"Titus Andronicus." Kazimir lifts one brow and in the same motion a gloved hand, gesturing not to Raith but to the same soldier that Eileen had made pleading eyes to a moment ago. Wary eyes flit to Munin in quiet consideration, then settle back on Raith. The sound of approaching footsteps has halted, but Rasoul has not backed off, just made himself stationary just shy of twenty feet from the former CIA operative. "That you presume to know who I am enough to look for me is warrant enough to accept your offer, if only to indulge my curiosity on who you are."

Looking down to Eileen, Kazimir's gray brows furrow, and his gaze sweeps away from her and up to the roof beyond Raith, fleeing eye contact made with the broad silhouette of Abdul-Aziz Nwabueze when he emerges from the doorway, then back to Raith again. "My youngest has her eyes set on a bird, and I promised her I'd not leave the market until she makes up her mind." Chin tilting up, blue eyes narrowing, Kazimir scrutinizes the brazen American closer.

"Dinner," Kazimir insists, "1089 Corniche El Nil, eight o'clock, the Zitouni." There's a look up and down Jensen's silhouette, "That should give you time to find a suit."

The prospect of dining out this evening just got a little bit more interesting. Eileen's only regret is that she asked Amato to return to the inn for her cardigan too soon. If they're eating at the Zitouni, she'll need to bathe and change into clothes more flattering than the casual skirt and blouse she's dressed in now, feet bare except for her flimsy leather sandals knotted halfway between knee and ankle.

Her features soften into a more gracious expression, the closest thing to a thank you that Rasoul is capable of receiving with the distance between them. It doesn't take her gaze very long to find its way back to Raith, however, and soon she's studying him with a different kind of scrutiny than the father figure at her back. "Do you have a favourite colour?" she asks.

A favorite color? Raith answers the question almost immediately with a simple, "Purple." How much more does he need to say? With a hint of strawberry? Nobody would buy that, not even for a dollar.

If Kazimir's look alone could strike someone dead, the stare he's affixing to Jensen at the moment may well have done it when Eileen asks him for his favorite color. It's the very hawkish and protective look of a parent that is clearly putting a barbed-wire fence around his graceful and beautiful daughter— most of the time.

Footsteps scuff up behind Raith, and a hand comes to settle on the former spook's shoulder, the unfriendly clasp of Rasoul's right on Raith's left. "You heard him," the soldier tersely spits out, "take a hike, glasses." There's a furrow of Rasoul's brow as he makes that tug to turn Raith around, and Kazimir's attention moves from the former CIA operative to Munin at his side, one brow lifted as if to imply; where were we?

Several hours later…

Large picture windows offer dramatic views of the Nile from secluded alcoves featuring rich wood decor with burnished copper inlay that glows gold under the Zitouni's intimate lighting. It's the restaurant's location and atmosphere rather than its cuisine that makes it such a desirable dining destination, and although it's located inside the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel off the Nile Plaza, the cuisine that its chefs offer is all authentic and ranges from local fare to what it's best known for: Lebanese cuisine.

Sweet sesame paste, baklava and shoelace pastries stuffed with soft white cheese, stuffed squash, fried eggplant and cauliflower, whole fishes marinated in chilis, citrus and cilantro, lamb ribs and marinated game birds served over steaming beds of rice. One of the first things Jensen Raith learns about the Vanguard is that they eat like royalty.

Across the table, Eileen is showing more interest in the American than her food and watches him with eyes lined in dark kohl to exaggerate their shape and bring out the green in them, but it's the purple lotus she wears in her hair that's meant to draw his attention. A black dress paired with a patterned shawl to cover her shoulders and provide protection against the evening chill complete the young woman's ensemble, which is conservative without appearing too prudish. Kazimir, at least, knows better than to mistake her behaviour for flirting; ever since he used her to secure Elias de Luca, she's shown a keen interest in every potential recruit the old man has exposed her to. It's one of the ways she likes to contribute.

Whether Raith has taken Eileen's interest to be flirting or simply interest, he keeps the answer to himself. She's clearly English, and Volken is Austrian, German, perhaps Belgian, or maybe even Dutch. Both are European, even if he looks more like un Indio than ein Deutscher. If she is flirting, the ex-spy isn't about to respond to it, no matter how much his eye is drawn to that lotus in her hair. However, dinner has, so far, been more about getting to know each other and sharing opinions of the cuisine than business, and eventually, that will have to end. Now is as good a time as any. "You're a powerful man, I've heard," Raith says, most interested it seems in the poultry than the fish or lamb, "Powerful and influential. I hope I'm not ruining the mood, talking about business like this." At the very least, Kazimir can be assured that this man, Jensen Raith, is able to follow instructions: His slate grey suit is either imported, or a very convincing counterfeit, but has been carefully selected to not be the best of the best. He may be under 'orders' to dress nice, but nobody out-dresses the king.

It's traditional at these meetings between the Vanguard and outside contacts or potential recruits that a dinner of sorts is held, this one patently more private than most. Somewhere in the restaurant, Ethan Holden and Edmond Rasoul are arguing over surveillance tactics and the enforcer better known as "King" has kept himself as far away from civilized gatherings as he can, likely somewhere down on the Nile's edge — and, if Ethan Holden's joking commentary is ever to be believed, tearing into a gazelle with his teeth.

Despite the niceities of these dinners, Kazimir himself rarely participates in the actual feast itself. An untouched glass of wine sits near one gloved hand, and there is little about Volken's attire that has changed since he was seen at the market, save that his tie is now red, instead of black.

"We came here to discuss business," Kazimir offers after a long enough pause to make it obvious he was either collecting his thoughts or waiting to see if Jensen had more to offer. "However I'm not entirely certain what business it is that we're discussing. Perhaps you can continue to talk, tell me what you know and who you think I am, and what it is I do. Then, we'll see how off-center you are."

Eileen doesn't have much of a sweet tooth, but there are usually exceptions to every rule and this one is the baklava. She's abandoned her half-finished plate of assorted foods, having found that spending all morning and most of the afternoon in the sun leaves her with a diminished appetite, and is in the process of picking at her dessert when the conversation shifts with the swift and sudden ease of schooling fish swimming in unison.

There's no fork in hand to set down. She rubs the tips of her fingers together to loosen some of the honey stuck to them rather than licking them clean, which is something she might do in private but never in polite company.

Raith offers a nod, taking and finishing once last bite of fowl before carefully placing his silverware down and dabbing the corners of his mouth with his napkin, careful to extract any bits that have become entangled in his whiskers. "I want," he begins, pausing for drama and clasping his hands in front of him, elbows resting just on the edge of the table, "To make the world a better, safer place to live in. We can all agree that times are, uneasy right now, and I want to do my part to smooth them out. Now, the U.S. Army isn't the place to do it, they can't even do their own housekeeping. The CIA isn't the place to do it, they aren't interested. And so, I have been left to my own devices to make the world a better, safer place and I thought, what better way to do that, than to help out another man who, like me, wants to make the world a better, safer place. And the fact that this same man has the resources to do that, well-" Hands part to give a half shrug before reuniting- "Mark in your favor. Pretty close?"

"That didn't answer my question." Kazimir notes with a raise of one brow. "The United States and I have something of a chequered past, and for as much as I'd like to imagine that— for the first time— I've had a voluntary recruit come and look me up for whatever business they're interested in, you'll forgive me if I don't seem cautiously optimistic." Leaning back in his chair, Kazimir's gloved hands fold in front of himself, brows furrowed and blue eyes sweeping up and down Jensen slowly.

"How did you find out about me?" Is the straightforward question, and Kazimir's head cants subtly to the side when it's asked. "How did you know where to find me," comes next. Then, "lastly, what makes you an asset instead of a liability. Good intentions," Kazimir's brows come up tauntingly, "not withstanding."

A half-nod, head cocked slightly to the side: Fair enough. Raith understands. "Rumors, to start with," the ex-spy says as he begins his explanation, "You go globetrotting the way I did, you meet a lot of people. Some of those people know things worth knowing. You get a lead, follow it to the Czech Republic. Nothing, but you know someone there, who knows a guy who might know something. You follow that to France, and the next one to Spain. Finally, you find one good one and you follow it to Egypt. You ask around, narrow down your search until you're looking for an older gentleman, talks like a German, looks like an Indian, scary beyond reason. There aren't a lot of men in city that match that description, so you find him, you follow him, until you know you either move or chase him to another country and try once more.

"So it took me a while, but I found you," is the way the man finishes his explanation, "And as far as I know, you didn't know about me until I asked your girl if there was some trick to quieting birds down. How many men do you have with a story like that, hm? Not many, I don't think."

"What I do is not business," Kazimir explains without prompting, his expression shifting from a coldly interrogative one to something more reflective with mercurial quickness. "Business implies profit, and there is not profitable end result for people like myself, or those of mine. What I do is Work," one gray brow lifts at the notion, and Raith can almost hear the implied capitalization of the word, "and the Work has a beginning, a middle, and ultimately an end. You could consider what you know to be the second act of a very long stage play, and we are rapidly approaching the curtain call."

Wringing gloved hands together, Kazimir's brows crease and his eyes lift back up to Raith with marked scrutiny. "What I set out to do began in earnest just over fifty years ago, but has been ongoing much longer than that. If you're a man of the world as you say, then perhaps you've heard the rumors. There is little room for exaggeration in this day and age."

Offering an askance look at Munin, there's a momentary softness in Kazimir's features, before his blue-eyed stare levels back on Raith. "The world has a infection that must be cleansed, before it can do greater harm than it already has. To do the Work requires conviction, tenacity, and most of all an understanding that we are fighting fire with fire, or as one of my aides would say devils with demons."

Lifting a gloved hand to scratch idly at the side of his neck, Kazimir's gaze remains steady on Raith's. "People die. People who deserve it. Sometimes people who don't yet— but would eventually. Our work is a cleansing one, and while I admire your tenacity, I worry about your conviction."

Eileen places her small, bare hand on Kazimir's much larger gloved one in a silent show of support. Her touch is light but firm, and as she traces her thumb along the outer curve of his palm through the leather, she marvels at the prickling sensation it inspires the same way she'd admired the make of the silk rugs in the bazaar only a few hours. Green eyes dutifully lowered, she does not interrupt the exchange with her own thoughts — whatever they may be. Behind her lashes, it's impossible to determine what the girl might be thinking, only that she is.

"Panama," Raith says in reply, leaning slightly forward on the table, "Iraq, Mogadishu, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea. The world has a lot of infections. And when one of them needed cleaned up, I was the guy Uncle Sam turned to. People die in these operations. Most of them deserve it. The ones that don't deserve it, well." A brief pause, as if he were about to let his dinner companions reach their own conclusions about his stance on these deaths. "Oops. It'd be great, just great, if the only people that ever died when the government was denying I was someplace I wasn't supposed to be were the ones that deserved it. But sometimes, where you're going matters much, much more than how you get there, and sometimes, all you can say is, 'oops.'"

"Oops." Kazimir echoes, shifting a look askance to Munin, then back across to the American that's — so very Americanly — insinuated himself onto the edge of Kazimir's organization. "Oops…" Kazimir notes again, as if not even sure how to react to it. Lifting blue eyes up to Raith, one of Kazimir's brows lift, and the unlikely emergence of a tug at one corner of his mouth is as much indication of approval as it is a rare show of actual amusement.

When Kazimir leans back into his chair, no one at the table is aware that a small, particularly hairy brown spider has crawled up the side of Raith's left shoe and acrobatically made its way onto the side of his pant leg. None but the spider are aware of the scurry up the seam of his pants, along the side of his jacket and into his left pocket. None but the spider and its master, of course.

"Introductions are in order, I believe." Always an odd timing to these meetings, to when names are finally less of a liability. "This young woman at my side is Munin," a gloved hand not beneath Eileen's lifts and gestures delicately to the frail-looking teenager, "and I am Kazimir Volken." Lifting his peppered brows quizzically, Kazimir regards Raith with a momentary scrutiny. "To whom will I be telling the crew of the Invierno to expect?"

Eileen's mouth curves around a smile that shows no teeth as Kazimir introduces her. Even with a glass and a half of red wine in her system, there's not much of a noticeable difference between her demeanor now and the way it was in the bazaar. There's more colour in her cheeks, perhaps, and the hand on Kazimir's is a little freer than it might otherwise have been, but she remains as poised and dignified as the stately gentleman seated beside her.

Despite her behaviour toward him, there isn't much of a physical resemblance. It's a pleasure to meet you, would probably be appropriate. What she says in gently conspiring tone instead is: "I don't have a favourite colour."

"Well, maybe you like mine," Raith suggests to Eileen, although it's a short-lived distraction before it's back to business. "Jensen Raith, from Rhode Island," is apparently who they should expect, "I travel light. I hope that isn't going to be a problem." Business, if it has concluded, has at least concluded on a pleasant note.

"We all carry heavy enough burdens," Kazimir states flatly, though not enough to spoil the dinner. "You'll find yours soon enough, and hopefully when you do there will be shoulders enough to bear it." Reaching out for the glass of wine that has sat untouched on the table, Kazimir lifts it in one hand, gloved fingers curled around the bottom of the glass, stem extending down between his leather-clad fingers.

"Tomorrow, then, Raith… you will be departing for the jungles of South America to meet with our munitions expert, and he'll find out just where you'll fit. If you survive Velasquez' tests," there's a tip of Kazimir's head into a nod, "then you'll get to head out into the jungle." By the tone of Kazimir's voice, there's something ironic about the term jungle when he says it, though the implication is easy enough to imagine.

"To new acquaintances," Kazimir offers, lifting his glass in a toast that lips will never touch, "to chance encounters," blue eyes drift to Munin, then over to Raith, "and to proving one's worth."

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