The Sword Of Damocles, Part I


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Scene Title The Sword of Damocles, Part I
Synopsis Bradley Russo is tasked with the investigation of a murder that could unravel a massive conspiracy.
Date March 2nd, 2018

The accomodations for the SLC-Expressive Services Agency New York branch are nothing short of iconic. 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 buzzing. 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, a star-shaped former army post upon which the SESA offices are perched. Up the old stone steps growing with tall stands of dry grass in early March weather, the building represents the attitude that SESA presents to the world: the new, built atop the foundations of the old. For Bradley Russo, the walk up the front steps of this building is like walking into the past. Except the modus operandi of SESA is a far cry from the long shadow the Department of Evolved Affairs cast across the nation.

Key card entry, pleasant entry security, stale coffee, brief wait, unpleasant office admin. Russo’s path to his ultimate destination is fraught with familiar 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.

Fort Jay

At exactly 9:15 eastern standard time, Russo is invited into the offices of Executive Director Donald R. Kenner, head of SESA’s New York branch. Though a SESA agent, Russo hasn't had direct face time with Kenner across his tenure. Kenner is, largely, administrating at a higher level than most of the day-to-day concerns of agents. That isn't to say Russo is unfamiliar with the Executive Director’s reputation, however. 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.

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 awkward arrangement with one-another. Kenner isn’t alone in his wood-walled office, though. Already seated at one of the two chairs at his desk is a man who is several skip-levels above Kenner. The unmistakable silhouette of Vincent Lazzaro, Secretary of Homeland Security.

“Mr. Russo, I’m happy you could make it today. I’m sorry about the somewhat clandestine nature of this meeting, but there’s a reason why you’re meeting directly with us and not Deputy-Director Choi.” Donald motions for Russo to take the other seat, and unlocks a drawer on his desk from which he pulls a paper file folder with several levels of classification stamped across it.

One of them is Operation: Apollo — CIA Only.

“What we’re about to discuss does not leave this room under any circumstances.”

Despite not having met Kenner face-to-face, Bradley Russo has few nerves about being here in this space. With a vague smile, more polite than genuine, he nods in greeting to both of the gentlemen present. “Thank you for the invite, sir,” he glances between them and manages a wry smile at the mention of secrecy, “Of course.”

He finally slides into the last chair, elbows resting on the arms while he settles into the space. Without much context as to why he’s here, his mind flits to each of the possibilities he can consider and this prompts Russo’s eyebrows to draw together slightly while good humour still manages to reflect in his gaze.

“I like the tree,” Vincent is saying, at 9:44:40, shoulders set back, a thumb traced along the armrest under it. The desk is nice. The chairs are nice. “Really brings the room together.”

At 9:45:00, Russo enters, and Lazzaro turns to look at him.

It’s a look Russo’s seen before, black as coal tar with judgment on reserve behind his glasses — more of a medical assessment than a good morning, polite or otherwise. Once upon a time, Bradley was wallowing around on the floor of a hotel room housing Delia Ryans when Vincent rolled in to check on her.

Now they’re sitting in Director Kenner’s office together opposite a classified file folder.

“Don’t thank us yet.” Dry.

He nods for Kenner to proceed.

“Agent Russo,” Kenner folds his hands on his desk, briefly looking to Vincent, and then back to Bradley. “I’ve hand picked you for the assignment you’re about to be debriefed on because of who you are as an individual, not your current track record as a SESA agent. In 2011, you were among the few individual willing to go public about government corruption in the face of extrajudicial executions.”

Leaning back in his chair with a creak of leather, Kenner crosses one leg over the other. “You have a spotless public persona, are well-known, and regarded as having a strong moral compass by the general population. This public persona is why I want you handling this case, because if and when the time comes for this to ever become public record, I want it to be abundantly clear that this wasn’t a part of the good old boys club.” However many of them are still alive.

“We’re putting you as lead on the investigation into the murder of a SESA agent that occured in the summer of 2017. SESA, in coordination with DHS, has been investigating the murder with great discretion, and based on the information we’ve uncovered it’s beginning to become clear that we’re dealing with a tire fire.” Kenner makes a noise in the back of his throat and opens the folder, sliding a personnel dossier from the CIA over to Russo. A photograph paperclipped to the file shows a young-looking blonde caucasian male with a casual smile.

“The victim in question is Michael Lowell,” he explains, “former deep-cover CIA, served time in Europe working under the auspices of Apollo — an anti-Vanguard operation — from 2010 to 2014.” Kenner leans back again and folds his hands in his lap. “Lowell went undercover with the Vanguard for five years, staying with a disjointed cell even after the fall of the organization. He helped hunt down the surviving members of their terrorist cells and bring them to justice, even while the States were tearing themselves apart.”

Motioning for Russo to keep flipping through the dossier there are additional photographs of Lowell’s death. His body is face up on a street, knife wound in his neck, blood everywhere. There’s a gun nearby, yellow tags marked with numbers at other points of interest around the scene. “Lowell returned to the States in 2015, was given a year of sabbatical and returned to active duty — transitioning to SESA — in 2016. Lowell was a psychometrist, able to read the histories of people and objects with a touch. It was critical in his role of hunting down the Vanguard, and we suspect may have been involved in his death.”

“Lowell was killed on July 9th, 2017 somewhere around 8:30pm by this man,” Kenner leans forward and flips the dossier to a black and white photo of a much older man in a suit, eyes hidden behind sunglasses. “Avi Epstein, ex-Navy pilot, retired CIA and member of a former special activities division known as the Royals. Served with distinction for more than twenty years. Also a part of Operation: Apollo.”

Another flip, and another photo of Epstein, this time with an eyepatch and dressed in clothes that look like they were taken from a Goodwill. “Epstein disappeared after Operation: Apollo in 2010, fell in with the Ferrymen. To the best of our knowledge, Epstein was a member of the Ferrymen’s Special Activities division, then as the civil war came together, coordinated with the woman on the next page.”

As Russo flips the page in the document, there’s a photograph of a dark-haired woman that looks like its from a recent Registry ID. “Hana Gitelman, former Company Agent and registered Technopath. One of the most dangerous people on the entire fucking planet, when you consider technological infrastructure. Former founder of the Ferrymen, and effectively a folk hero under her codename Wireless.”

Kenner shoots a look to Vincent, briefly, then back to Russo. “Epstein is a part of Gitelman’s private military company Wolfhound. Effectively war heroes, on contract with the Department of Justice in retrieval of war criminals. Epstein turned himself in on the night of Lowell’s murder, professed to have killed him in self defense, but could not determine why Agent Lowell would have come after him.”

Hands folded on the desk, Kenner taps the dossier in front of Russo. “Epstein was being held for questioning in the Liberty Island Detention Center following the murder while we could figure out what the fuck happened. He was completely cooperational, showed no signs of aggression.” The next page is a horror show. Dismembered bodies, security teams riddled with bullets, blood-stained hallways.

“We held Epstein for four months as the investigation went on, until November 8, 2017.” Kenner gives the date the auspicious weight it deserves. Then, as he motions for Bradley to keep paging through the document the next photo is another registry card photo of a young woman with short, dark hair and blind eyes. “Wolfhound Lieutenant Colette Demsky led a one-person attack on the Liberty Island facility. She killed nine federal agents and critically wounded three more, before commandeering an impounded aircraft and escaping the facility with Epstein.”

Breathing in deeply, Kenner clasps his hands together and rests his hands against his chin. “Demsky and Epstein returned to Wolfhound’s headquarters in Rochester where they were detained by Major Gitelman, and she contacted DHS to discuss the incident. We were about to bring them in when Secretary Lazzaro received some extremely difficult information.” Kenner sweeps his hand down his mouth, slowly.

“We were moving fast on this and found a partially deleted interrogation video from the night of Epstein’s escape, where an unidentified man posing as a federal agent interrogated Epstein in a holding cell for two and a half hours. The unknown assailant then attempted to execute Epstein, but he was able to overpower the man and shoot him at point-blank range just prior to the escape.” Kenner’s eyes avert to his desktop. “We pumped the brakes on the whole situation and spent another 48 hours digging and found that five of the nine dead agents had financial ties to organizations that support the Pure Earth terrorist organization.”

Kenner looks at Vincent again, then back to Russo. “That man Epstein killed in the interrogation room? His body wasn’t found among the dead in Liberty Island, the holding cell he was shot in was clean of any biological or chemical agents. The security team who did not engage in the altercation has been on administrative leave and covert surveillance since.” Kenner spreads his hands, slowly. “Under the circumstances we made an arrangement with Wolfhound, remanding custody of their operatives to Gitelman. Demsky was removed from her command position and moved back to the Safe Zone. Epstein remains in place, with reduced responsibilities. Neither are permitted to leave the country.”

Scratching at the side of his face, Kenner exhales a deep sigh and deflates back into his chair. “We’ve held off on bringing them in on charges due to the potential shit-storm of a situation we’re dealing with. The country is just getting off of a civil fucking war, and we have evidence of multiple federal agents potentially funneling funds into an anti-evolved terrorist organization and disappearing bodies from a federal facility.”

“The last six months have been spent getting our house in order, keeping eyes on the agents who were assigned to Liberty Island that night, and looking for further evidence of collusion with terroristic organizations. So far we’ve come up completely empty-handed. We have one dead ex-CIA agent, two rogue paramilitary officers who shot up a government detention center, and five dead federal agents who supported a terrorist cell, and the families of all nine asking for answers.” Kenner’s stare flattens on Russo.

“That’s where you come in.”

Don’t thank us yet.

That sole memory of Lazzaro echoes in Brad’s mind— a gentle reminder of a very different life in a vastly different time. Delia had always been a connector of sorts, meeting plenty and offering opportunities to connect with others in turn.

Vincent’s statement about thanks causes Russo’s eyebrows to raise. The very energy of the room has already verged on grim, and that alone, causes a skeptical arch of Brad’s brows. He doesn’t give it a voice, just drops his chin into a pseudo-nod that doesn’t quite capture the extent of his thoughts on the matter.

Somewhere in the middle of the carnage and pictures, Russo’s chin drops and his mouth gapes while blue eyes scan each of the pictures, “Jesus,” he breathes rather than speaks— a quiet exhalation of air matched with the faint intonation of voice; more air than voice. The sweep of his fingers against the pictures, and the Kenner’s continued debrief ground him, reminding him to find that practiced pokerface that he’s cultivated over decades.

But that pokerface is hardly perfect. It cracks at the last when that horrible sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach draws all of his features downwards. Everything about him draws downwards: expression, shoulders, and very presence, falling towards the abyss and the realization this is more the same, and Brad has no way to keep the weight of it from writing across each of those features.

His lips part to speak, but he can’t easily find words. For a man ever-seeking questions, he finds himself painfully mute. The dryness of his mouth makes his voice crack just a hint when he finally speaks, “Have you entertained…” his lips corner downwards with the barest hint of a frown “…has this fellow not died? Over the last decade we’ve seen extraordinary things. Is it possible this fellow walked out of there?”

He glances between the pair a moment and then shakes his head. “Obviously, you’re seeking answers.” And then flatly Russo asks, “What do you have in mind?”

“He may well have walked right out of there,” Kenner notes, hands steepled. “DHS’ investigation has so far been inconclusive as to the individual's fate. There's also another matter of the eye-witness reports of the incident.” Kenner levels a look up at Vincent, then back to Russo. “Secretary Lazzaro collected a statement from Demsky, wherein she cited the number of individuals encountered as numbering closer to twenty, if not over. Now, we have reason to believe that between the missing agent on that recording and her inconsistency in her statement there may have been other assets in play on-site.”

Brows raising, Kenner adds one more curious piece of information. “Multiple sources also indicate that there was a Hunter drone on-premises. Now, the DoEA drone program was ended and the Hunters all decommissioned. We don't have any chassis, but trace chemical elements of fuel and hydraulic fluid was discovered at Liberty Island. But we can't be see how old that was yet.”

Wringing his hands together, Kenner leans forward at his desk again. “As to what we’re seeking, SESA is concerned with the maintenance of this office’s position as an advocate for SLC-Expressive humans, our administration, and of course that justice be served. Given your public record, your political position, and the general social currency you've accumulated we want you to put our best foot forward.”

Scratching at the side of his neck, Kenner levels a look at Vincent and then back to Russo. “I'll be frank. We’re, all of us, Evolved.” No politically appropriate terminology there. “Whatever way the hammer falls on this, it hits us. The American people were willing to spill their own blood to topple the last government that failed its people. I will not sit by and let us backslide.”

“So we want you to start from zero on this. You have the entirety of SESA and DHS at your disposal — within reason — on this. Whatever agent's you need, whatever assets you need. This is top priority. We've spent the last four months spinning our wheels, and a fresh perspective might help get us the answers we need.” After closing the folder on his desk, Kenner folds his hands atop it.

“Our goal is to understand this situation and persecute the guilty parties. But do so delicately, with understanding of the extremely sensitive political climate right now.” Kenner looks at Russo, then Vincent, giving the secretary an opening to fill in anything else.

Hunter drones. Incredulity tugs at the corners of Brad’s eyes, pronouncing the developing crow’s feet as it does. His hands clasp loosely on his lap while he processes that bit of information, only to drop to his sides and then back to his lap.

His eyes train on Kenner only to shift back to Lazzaro, “Your office figured out the Pure Earth connection— I assume it’s actively investigated all other agents’ financial ties? I mean, the ones here.” In other words, “We don’t have reason to suspect that our active agents are currently connected to a terrorist organization we are fighting against… right?” Another pause. “Did Demsky cite anything else inconsistent with the scene?”

A sharp inhalation of breath follows. “Starting from zero it is. We’ll need to interview both Demsky and Epstein again— “ Brad lifts a hand. “Memory is faulty, but if he was in custody four months without incident and then is jailbroken by a colleague the day some unidentified non-agent interrogates him and tries to kill him, that’s some damned coincidence.”

He forces a wry smile, not quite convincing but certainly aware, “I’ll keep our cards tight to my chest. But when we report the results of our investigation,” not if, “we need to be able to tell the public that this can’t happen again; that we have cleaned house and have eliminated the potential for this to happen.”

Russo swallows the growing lump in his throat. “I assume the entirety of this is need to know? I suppose, since we’re starting at ground zero, it’d be useful to get any case files on Lowell’s murder. Including any information we have about his time undercover as well as his year of sabbatical.”

“The majority of what I would consider sterile investigative work was carried out within forty-eight hours of the initial incident, by a team I hand-selected.” …is not a yes or a no answer, to the question of investigating financial ties. Vincent’s delivery is direct in aside — informal, even, on the subject of a potentially terrible and pervasive vein of as-of-yet unidentified corruption.

It’s not that he doesn’t care. It’s just that he’s come to close terms with how shitty the world can get when every atom of its being isn’t constantly monitored by him personally.

“As much as Kenner and I would like to comb through the finances of every Tom, Dick and Stanley under our employ personally, in the days and weeks that followed, work was delegated down the chain of command. The fact that no additional incriminating financial records have been identified doesn’t mean they don’t exist, “ he says. “It could just mean that the wrong person identified them.”

Something to think about.

He studies the way Russo takes to that, affect flat as Kenner’s nice nice desk, and looks back to the Executive Director.

“The war isn’t over for everyone.”

Vincent’s sentiment earns a reluctant nod from Kenner. “There's still active Humanis First cells hiding out west in the Dead Zone. Now thanks to our own military operations and the work of PMC groups like Wolfhound, we have them on the ropes. But,” Kenner breathes in deeply. “Then we get what we have here.”

Another file, one not classified, is removed from a stack at Kenner’s side and delivered across the desk to Russo. “This might be a good place to start. That file is on Sylvester Sandoval, he was Lowell’s partner in SESA. Sandoval is a criminal profiler with a specialization in SLC-Expressive killer. He's currently researching and writing a book on Sylar and his string of killings. Sandoval would have been one of the last people to see Lowell alive. We didn't get anything useful from him when we spoke initially, but we don't want to close that door.”

As for Russo’s other suggestions, Kenner nods slowly. “Demsky is off of her administrative leave from Wolfhound as of the 8th. It's a five hour drive up to Rochester from here, but you could probably kill two birds with one stone that way, and talk to Epstein too. Our observer in Wolfhound, Robyn Quinn, would also be good to check in with. I'll have her info forwarded to you.”

With one hand scratching at the side of his neck, Kenner adds. “The investigation is need to know. You have discretion to share what you absolutely must to in order to get information, and we’ll expect regular reports on your findings and information released. SESA and DHS are behind you on this one-hundred percent.”

Russo’s lips turn into a solid thin line. Vincent’s words make it clear that the less others know about the case, regardless of their presumed trustworthiness, the better. His eyes deaden, flattening into something deadly serious. Distance, as cool and calculating as he can manage it, seems to be warranted.

The war isn’t over for everyone.

Hard fought, but maybe never really won; Brad will think more on that later. For now he states, “But it’s trying to internally bring us down,” which now looks inevitable.

He accepts the file and looks over Lowell. With a small nod, he looks over the file. “I’ll start with Sandoval and then move onto Demsky, Epstein, and Quinn. Robyn and I are acquainted—used to work together at K Studios before all of this.”

“Anyone you want me to pair with on this?” because normally SESA investigations involve partnerships between evolved and non-evolved agents. “I’d like to ask Agent Ayers. I’ll keep it need-to-know, but protecting the appearance of impartiality is important too when,” not if, “we put this to bed. And that means following our own policies and procedures when we can.”

“Ayers can keep a secret,” says Vincent, without any outward assessment of Russo’s strategy so far, expression on the neutral side of resigned now that pieces are in motion. This is Bradley’s show.

“Tell him I said hello.”

His next look to Russo is more easily read — bleak and black under a lift at one brow. From one chair to the other, in plain sight of Kenner.

Don’t fuck this up.

“Ayers is an extremely competent agent, though he juggling a few cases right now. I'm fine with you bringing him on as-needed, but you're going to need a dedicated partner on this and I had a recommendation of my own. Same stock, same skill sets, better PR.” Kenner briefly looks at Vincent, then back to Russo.

“Elizabeth Messer. Former Company, like Ayers, but she joined the Ferrymen in 2010 and participated in the evacuation of civilians prior to Heller’s attack. She's brilliant, dedicated, and her public-facing moral compass is considerably harder to besmirch.” For all that Kenner seems interested in solving this delicate matter, he's also clearly juggling directives from Director Zimmerman on public-facing elements in the case. “Messer isn't lead on anything right now, and I think you two will compliment one-another nicely.”

Breathing in slowly, Kenner does consider the Ayers angle from a different perspective. “Ayers has some unconventional and off the books assets at his disposal for information gathering. A contact he's retained from the Company days that — while he hasn't disclosed it to us directly — I suspect is someone he can leverage. A dream manipulator by the name of Hokuto Ichihara. Listed as deceased, but I think she's in hiding or something along those lines. She was Ayers’ partner and his psyche evaluations and dossiers we have from his Company tenure indicate an extremely severe sense of loyalty to her.”

Kenner spreads his hands. “She's not a threat to the best of our assessment and Ayers has only ever been a valuable and resourceful member of our office. But, just keep in mind the distinction between his career trajectory and Agent Messer’s. But Vincent’s assessment is spot on. He absolutely can keep a secret.” Scrubbing one hand over his mouth, Kenner leans back and motions to Russo.

“We’ll file paperwork for Ayers and Messer’s clearance on this and you can let them in on what you feel is relevant. In the interim, we’ll kick notifications up to Rochester that Epstein and Demsky should make themselves available at your leisure.” Folding his hands on the top of his desk, Kenner smooths one hand over his brow. “And Russo?” Kenner’s tone becomes conspiratorial in a way. “Watch yourself out there.”

The line of work they're in is dangerous enough, but what Bradley Russo’s been thrust into is something altogether more precarious. Multiple agents have already been killed. Kenner’s tone and Vincent’s raised brow seal it.

One false move, and Russo could join them.

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