The Sword Of Damocles, Part III


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Scene Title The Sword of Damocles, Part III
Synopsis As a part of Bradley Russo's SESA task force, agent Liza Messer interviews Colette Demsky about the events at Liberty Island Detention Center.
Date March 14, 2018

Though the badges have changed, the long car rides haven’t. With Rochester New York a languid five hour drive out from the Safe Zone, it gives a long time for people to contemplate. Bradley Russo runs an efficient crew, and the agents with him on this road trip — Corbin Ayers and Liza Messer — are among some of the best SESA has to offer. More notably, they’re also both former Company agents. They have a particular way of thinking, an understanding of cause and effect that some traditional agents never obtain.

Their drive across upstate New York is through mostly rural stretches of land once they pass Albany. The headquarters for Wolfhound sits on the banks of a river splitting a run down and industrial western half of the city from a revitalized commerce district to the east. Wolfhound’s headquarters — codenamed the Bunker — is an old former hydroelectric plant converted into a paramilitary installation. Though from the looks of it on the outside, it doesn’t appear to be much. The crumbling concrete facade of the largest of the multi-building campus and its blown out windows implies that renovations haven’t completed. But security cameras whirr around nearly every visible space of the facility.

The primary offices of Wolfhound are in a smaller beige building past the power plant. Here, everything is remodeled with a sleek and Spartan aesthetic of exposed concrete, polished stone, bare wood, and other minimalist touches. The lobby of the Bunker is a study in polished concrete, its surfaces gleaming whether light comes from the east-facing windows or the bulbs recessed into the ceiling. Its walls shine natural gray, while the floor has been treated to charcoal tone with subtle streaks of darker and lighter shades splotched across it. The room is spacious, its ceiling high and its interior nearly empty: there is no reception desk, no art, no sculpture ornamenting the room. Two potted evergreen shrubs flank the entrance, and a handful of black leather chairs sit in clusters around equally black little tables, there for the convenience of any business guests who find themselves waiting.

Several windowless doors of dark-stained wood line the lobby's walls, each leading to an office: three each on the sides, two at the rear. Today,Liza Messer will be spending the majority of her time in one of those smaller conference rooms, a concrete-walled space with a glass topped table lined with black leather chairs and a single — currently deactivated — flat screen displays.

The Bunker, Conference Room

Rochester, NY

8:10 am

Awaiting Liza Messer is a tangentially familiar face from a lifetime ago. Colette Demsky sits at the table, hands clasped around a paper coffee cup and one knee jittering. The crisp white button-down she wears has its sleeves rolled up to her forearms, partially revealing tattoos on each limb. Her hair is neatly combed, black slacks giving her the appearance of a skinny federal agent, sans tie.

The folder in Liza Messer’s hand tells a different story. A paramilitary operative, former Ferryman, and war hero who led a one-woman attack on the Department of Homeland Security’s Liberty Island Detention center. Grisly photographs of dismembered bodies with cauterized limbs, federal agents riddled with gunshot wounds. The body count totals nine fatalities and three critically wounded. But notes in the file from a conversation between Hana Gitelman and Vincent Lazzaro puts the total somewhere at twenty six dead, and that discrepancy can’t be accounted for.

Worse, inconsistencies between Demsky’s story and the official report as to the presence of a weaponized (and now banned) war robot on site. The level of inconsistencies, the fear that something else was amiss, and the discovery that four of the nine dead agents had financial ties to Humanis First has made every federal agency hold their breath. It is also, ultimately, why Colette Demsky is not in a federal prison at this very moment.

When Liza comes in, she is met by a pair of blind eyes that seem to focus on her in spite of their impairment. There’s an awkwardness at the greeting, a fleeting smile, and then her eyes avert to the coffee cup. She’s understandable nervous.

Liza scoots her way around the conference table to a seat directly across from Colette, the folder in her hand set on the table in front of her as she eases into the chair. She’s dressed in professional black slacks and a dark blue button up, sans jacket. The sleeves are rolled up just past the cuffs.

“Ms. Demsky, it’s good to see you.” The blonde sounds chipper in spite of the seriousness of the situation. She sits up straight, opening the folder to the pictures of the bodies.

She cringes at seeing them again, even though she’d studied the photos several times before now. She flips past them for a moment before flipping back to the photographs, going through each one. “Don’t be afraid to answer honestly, I’m not here to get you in trouble, I’m here to help get to the bottom of what happened.”

“My first question… how many people do you recall seeing in that facility?”

It isn't an answer that Liza gets, so much as a briefly inscrutable look from Colette. But it's not until Liza talks that Colette recognizes uses who is in front of her. The visible look of I know you isn't immediately voiced. Instead, Colette furrows her brows and looks down at the coffee cradled between her fingers.

Silence hangs for a moment.

“It's… a bit of a blur,” Colette admits in a hushed voice. “Um, I think— at least twenty. When I first arrived at the detention center I saw an un-uniformed man in black BDUs, non-standard body armor and armed with a CZW 556. That stood out to me, the guns. They weren't standard issue.”

Colette wrings her hands around the coffee cup. “There were… yeah, a dozen and a half more inside. Some uniformed security. One field agent in an interrogation cell where I rescued Commander Epstein…” Blind eyes alight to Liza. “One autonomous Hunter-class robot. But— like nothing I ever saw before the war.”

Tensely, Colette motions to the file. “That's not in there.” She'd professed vocally to Secretary Lazzaro that it existed, and yet no remains were found.

“Out on the landing pad there were two uniformed emergency response officers, one aircraft technician.” Those three bodies are listed in the official casualty report. One aircraft technician, shot at close range in the back, two emergency response security detail each in critical condition. Both made a recovery. Four security officers killed in a monitoring room, and four tactical response agents shot in the hall leading to Epstein’s cell.

Nine fatalities and three critically injured, the official report asserts. Over and over.

“It was a small army down there. They were in full tactical gear. Felt like paramilitary, but I never got a long look at any of them.” Colette’s testimony flies in the face of forensics evidence. No blood found from any of these victims, but trace elements of industrial cleaners found in the concrete.

“It felt like…” Colette shakes her head,poking back down to her coffee anxiously. She doesn't finish the sentence.

As Colette speaks, Liza jots down notes in a regular fashion, taking time to underline key words and focus in on Colette’s words. That being said, she’s also listening intently for signs that the woman might be holding back, carefully studying her to make sure that at the very least, Colette believes what she’s saying. After all, there are discrepancies, someone’s account had to be incorrect.

“A small army,” Liza muses aloud. “That’s curious.” She may be willing to muse more, but she’s unsure yet how much she can trust Colette. Her natural chatty nature is a little more reserved in this circumstance. “Alright, out of that bunch, how many did you actually have any contact with? Anything of a physical nature. For the sake of this question, we’ll say that bullets will count as contact as well.”

“Every single one.” Colette states matter-of-factly. “Well… no. The aircraft technician— Commander Epstein shot him. He was already dead by the time I came into the Rook.” Colette closes her eyes, brings up her coffee hesitantly to take a sip and swallows nervously. “Every single security personnel I encountered was treated as a hostile.”

That factual statement has Colette hunching her shoulders and drawing her teeth over her bottom lip. It isn't so much that she's obfuscating the truth, but more that Liza sees a considerable weight of guilt in her eyes and in her posture. Her words may be technical and matter-of-fact delivered, but that feels more like practice than her own manner of speech. As if she's afraid to be candid.

Liza frowns slightly, studying Colette’s mannerisms. She isn’t sure what the woman is anxious about, but she isn’t sure how to ease her worries as well. For now, she’d simply have to continue her line of questioning.

“Alright, let’s take a step back then for a second. You did quite a feat to rescue Commander Epstein. Why? And why then?”

There’s a moment wher Liza calls it a rescue that draws Colette’s attention back up to the agent. Her brows furrow and for a moment the look indicates some measure of uncertainty. Eyes back down at the cup, she relaxes some, though it’s reluctant. “That’s… not really an easy question to answer.” Those blind eyes track to the side, perhaps focused on the glass surface of the table, then after a moment of thought return to the agent in front of her. “Not without— Not without some context, I guess.”

Taking another sip of her coffee, Colette slouches back into her chair. “Back in 2011 — back before the war — I was, I mean you know… I was with the Ferry.” Anxiously, she starts picking at the corner of the cardboard wrap that goes around her coffee cup. “My dad was picked up in a government roundup of known Ferry associates…”

According to Liza’s file, Colette’s adoptive father Judah Demsky. NYPD detective specializing in blood spatter analysis. Recorded as apprehended by DHS and detained in the Buffalo NY DHS holding facility until September 6th, 2011 when he died in custody. Also in Messer’s file is Colette’s Albany Trial written testimony, which mentions several events that could inform the psychology of the Liberty Island Incident: One, being the death of her adoptive father at the Buffalo facility after a failed attempt by Colette to rescue him. The second being Colette’s imprisonment by the Institute and their unlawful experimentation on her with psychoactive drugs.

“The government tried using my— my father’s capture as bait. They’d send false transfer notices out to lure Ferry operatives to attempt a rescue, then round up or execute whoever showed. I spent months trying to track him down. Once I finally did I…” Colette closes her eyes and shakes her head slowly. “I tried busting him out myself, and… and they killed him in front of me.” Colette’s fingers curl tighter around the coffee cup, and she starts to tear at the cardboard wrap around it.

“The whole thing with Epstein— his arrest in July, DHS not communicating with us, it all— it felt so fucking similar. Ha— nn— Major Gitelman,” Colette’s brows furrow, “didn’t authorize me to do anything. I knew… I knew I’d be… “ she shakes her head again and starts tearing the now detached cardboard wrapper into smaller pieces. “It felt like it was… I don’t know, I just had a gut feeling something was wrong. I didn’t think Epstein would actually… that he really…” She sighs, deeply, and continues tearing up the cardboard.

“We waited months. Months without a real answer from DHS. They’d impounded our jet, they’d detained Epstein without access to an attorney. It felt like it was all happening again. When the 8th rolled around, I… the anniversary of…” Colette tears small pieces of cardboard into smaller pieces. “I packed up some gear and headed south to the city. I was convinced he was being held without having committed a crime.” But unfortunately, he had. Epstein had surrendered himself willingly after he allegedly killed SESA agent Michael Lowell in self-defense.

Colette finally runs out of cardboard to tear up, having made a neat pile in front of her. “I didn’t find out how much I fucked up until we were already out. But… but something was going on there, the interrogator was going t’fucking kill him while he was handcuffed. I just— ” Colette had no way of knowing that.

In the classified file Liza was able to view before the meeting, there is some corroboration with Colette’s story. An erased video file was recovered by DHS data analysts that showed Epstein being interviewed by an unknown man in interrogation room B4 in the Liberty Island facility. The interrogator is not a known government agent, and was killed when he attempted to threaten Epstein with a gun and had the firearm taken from him shortly before Colette burst into the room. Video of this event was scrubbed from the Liberty Island servers and the interrogation room cleaned of all evidence. No remains of the interrogator were discovered.

“I think, were I in your position, given all of the circumstances and context surrounding the incident, I probably would have done the same thing. The government has done a poor job of upholding justice in the long term and it’s got a lot of trust to earn back. That’s why I’m doing my best to get to the bottom of all of these unanswered questions. I want to make sure you and Mr. Epstein get a fair deal. I want to make sure that no one else on the outskirts is threatening the lives of people.”

Liza flips through the folder again, but it’s something to do with her hands, similar to Colette’s tearing of the cardboard only less anxious. Slightly.

“I’m not at liberty to tell you a lot, unfortunately, but I can tell you that things don’t add up. What happened in that facility doesn’t match up with what we found. So someone’s covering something up and I don’t believe they have good intentions.” She doesn’t go into detail there before moving on. “So I’m going to ask you to try and remember anything you can about those men—was there something similar about any of them? Their faces maybe? Just anything you can recall. I know you said the guns stood out to you, but did anything else?”

Making a noise in the back of her throat, Colette relaxes some as Liza lays her information out as clearly as she can for her. The move pays off, and Colette relaxes some. The combination of a familiar face and an easing of her concerns opens her up more.

“They… all looked like military, or ex-military. Big guys, crew cuts, rough. They weren't typical federal agents, definitely weren't with DHS or the DoJ.” Colette reaches up to thread a lock of dark hair behind one ear. “Same gear on all of them, more expensive than you find on typical US military — even after the war. Higher grade body armor… similar weapons too, Czech manufacturing.”

Brows furrowing, Colette looks at her coffee cup. “The one Avi… shot, in self defense,” she reiterates pointedly, “in the interrogation room? He was older, thinning hair, graying. Tall and skinny. I didn't get much more of a look at him than that. He might have been… late forties? Early fifties?” Her fingers drum on the cup.

“The— the drone was insane. It was like, the old Institute Hunters, but at head was just…” she makes vague gestures with her hands, then concentrates and starts painting in the air with a fingertip as though she were drawing on a white board. The sketch that hangs in the air — neon pink in color — is crude but illustrates what she explains next. “It's head was just… four guns around a central lens. I've never seen anything like it. It looked new.”

After the Praeger administration took power, autonomous military drones like the Hunter robot were removed from active use and outright banned in use against civilians. There was no room for the nightmares of the past. None had been created since the war either.

Jotting down Colette’s words in her notebook, Liza also copies the sketch in front of her, crude as it is. Details were important in this. “I’m guessing there weren’t any identifying markers on the drone that would make this easier,” she says with a chuckle. “But are there any other details you can remember about the drone or these men? Anything at all? I know you’ve given me a pretty thorough description so far.”

Exhaling a sigh through her nose, Colette shakes her head slowly. “No… no. It— a lot of it was a blur. I got hit by gunfire after that thing showed up, so adrenaline and— it's fragmented.” Finally drinking from her coffee, Colette looks over the rim at Liza.

There's still some nervousness in Colette’s blind eyes, visible in the tension in her brows and at the corners of her mouth that threaten to pull into a frown. “I… I don't think I remember much more.”

“No worries, I just want to make sure I’ve got everything.” Liza offers a bright smile. Still the same person in spite of the job. “Just call or text me if anything else comes to you, anything at all. The more information I have to work with, the sooner we can make sure everyone is safe.” She makes sure to emphasize that there’s still danger at work here and there could be more trouble.

She gets to her feet, closing the folder as she looks across the table. “And Colette,” she drops the formalities a bit. “… thank you for being candid with me. I appreciate your honesty.”

The moment of candor from Liza allows Colette to relax, and the blind woman pushes her chair back and stands up as well. “Most of the time I dunno what t’think about… all of this,” she motions around the room, “but… whenever I see people who worked with us, down in the trenches, who knew what it was like in Pollepel… “ her brows furrow, and attention settles back on Liza. “When I see you in a job like this, it gives me hope that— maybe I’m the one who was in the wrong.”

Colette’s expression shifts to something more sentimental, smile more bittersweet. “I never got t’thank you personally,” she says in a small voice, as if this was something conspiratorial. “I heard… I heard you were with Francois and the others, trying t’rescue my dad back in the day. I trust you, Liza. More’n most folks in the government. So… believe me when I say if I think of something? You’ll be the first t’know.”

There’s a brighter smile from Liza. “I’m hoping this job allows me to really help people. So far it’s proven true, so I’m going to keep doing my best at it.” When the moment turns bittersweet, her smile stays the same, still bright and comforting. “I did my best then and I’ll continue to do so now. Your trust won’t be misplaced— I’ll get to the bottom of what’s going on. You and Mr. Epstein won’t be tangled up in this mess forever.”

That concession has Colette momentarily averting her eyes from Liza. The look of guilt over what she'd done, against the government now trying to help her discover what truly happened, sets a new perspective for everything. Resting one hand on the back of her chair, she finally looks up to Liza and affords the blonde a momentary smile.

“If you have other questions,” Colette offers in like return to Liza’s request. “You know where t’find me.”

And depending on how this investigation goes, that could be a ten-by-ten cell.

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