Shit Gets Complicated

November 28, 2015:

Shift is contacted by an old friend from MI5, who delivers intelligence that affects the UAE operation. (Warning: harsh language and use of a racial slur)

A divey diner in Gotham

Characters

NPCs: Waitress, patrons

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: New Person, Same Old Mistakes by Tame Impala


Fade In…

Covert intelligence work is largely unsexy. Sure, there are the rare occassions when you play a game of baccarat across the table from a world-class villain, or race through the streets of Berlin in stolen Ferraris. But overwhelmingly, it's incredibly dull, and done with little to no real fame to the name. If a spy's name gets attached to an operation, or even his /alias/, then it becomes a thread in a narrative that can be undone by someone doggedly determined enough.

Some spies just 'deal' with that. Others embrace their anonymity, mostly by irritating the hell out of their friends when they do. Such as this meeting, coordinated by dead drops, texts to a burner phone, and ending up at a shabby diner in Gotham. Shift's been there just long enough to start checking his watch for the time when a fellow stumbles into the booth and drops heavily into the seat. He's of indeterminate ethnicity- his eyes are somewhere between brown and hazel, his skin either duskily Middle-Eastern or just well seasoned by sun.

"Hey, lady, coffee?" he wheezes at the hostess, scattering a few well-worn coins on the counter. Just enough that a homeless bum might have gathered through panhandling. He doesn't precisely smell like a bed of roses, but he doesn't stink, either. In all, he's a thoroughly normal looking fellow.

"What's up, asshat?" he asks Shift cheerily, in a perfectly boring Midwestern American accent. He flashes a tight grin from inside the cowl of his hoodie, a ballcap tugged just low enough to make his eyes hard to see. "Like the disguise?" he asks, gesturing at the hoodie. "Ten quid at the local thrift store," he says, momentarily slipping into an voice Shift should recognize. Also, the codeword 'asshat' probably rings a few bells. "You Yanks throw out all sorts of perfectly serviceable clothing. It's not Saville, but it does the job. How's tricks?"

*

This meeting likely wouldn't have happened, had SHIELD not delayed the launch of their UAE operation. Shift had taken great pains to get the intelligence to them; he was beginning to wonder if it had been the right call. Still, he's developed a stronger code of honor, especially after his death and resurrection. He owed them. He owed May and Rogers.

When the fellow finally joins him, he is the recipient of a bored scowl. There's a cup of cooling coffee on the table, no food. Shift is dressed in the street clothes he packed for the operation, one of three outfits, this one designed for these sort of unsavory places. Local patrons might have pegged him as a drug dealer; he's got too much meat on his bones to be a drug user. Gotham's yet to instill a smoking ban, so a smoldering cigarette sits in a tray not far from the cuff of Kwabena's beat up, old leather jacket.

In time, the scowl lightens up. Al-Azid. Perhaps this explains why SHIELD delayed the operation, yet couldn't provide Shift with a reason why. "Don't lop me in with dese lunatics," Kwabena retorts. "I'm a Resident Alien, remembah?" The Ghanaian shakes his head, then lifts the fag to take a drag. "You still smoke, bitch?"

*

"Not the shit you Yanks peddle," Rasheed says breezily. "Thanks hun," he rasps at the waitress when she comes over, cupping the hot cup in his bony fingers as if it's a lifeline. A few scars decorate his fingers, pale lines against the darker hue of his hands.

Slipping into that American accent again, he fishes in his pocket for some scraps of paper, tossing them on the table in front of them, and pulls a worn old Bic pen out of one pocket. "Got your text," he tells Shift, writing on the paper. He was right-handed the last time Shift saw him, and his handwriting's distinctly different- blocky and crude. "You're ahead of the ball this time. London had no idea, and Bangladesh and Egypt were in the dark. I had to chat with a pal who used to be with Syria— he's pulling a berth with Iran, but he was willing to pass me some information."

He finishes writing down the few lines of text, wads it up into a ball, and flicks it into Shift's lap. "Your man was in the Emirates as of twelve hours ago," he tells the Ghanian mutant, sipping more of his coffee, elbows on the table and slouching lazily forward. It's a damned good disguise— only Shift would realize he's far more alert-eyed than his posture shows. Anyone looking in would guess he's just a junkie talking to his dealer. "He's holed up in a camp with a splinter group called Ad-Adnani," he explains. "They were operating in Syria until D'aesh took over and ousted them. They're the usual ravening religious types, but the current leader has political aspirations. He's hoping to copy from Daesh's playbook and inspire a holy war with the package he's currently hiding. The Emirs have no idea it's there, at least, officially. I'm fairly sure at least one bloke in the echelons of government is tacitly supporting them, if not providing support and materiel- but he's doing it off the books."

*

Well. This story just keeps getting thicker and thicker.

"Story of my life," Shift mutters, after eyeballing the note and listening to his counterpart's information. He offers no explanation to that end.

"So, he's traded hands," he muses. "Unless al Radim's brokering some kind of deal." Aiman al Radim of the IWO had last been in possession of Damian Woods. Either a full transaction has taken place, or al Radim is still involved somehow.

"Dis kid has no idea what he's gotten himself into," Kwabena assures the would be thug. "He's just some punk from Bushwick who got tied up in something much biggah den he could have evah imagined. From what I saw, dough, dey've got him radicalized, too. Convinced dat Western ideologies are behind de institutionalized racism he was brought up in. Easy fucking target. If it weren't for his unique talent, I'd be disappointed. What can you tell me about Ad-Adnani? It's not a name I've come across. You think…"

At this, Kwabena frowns. He draws another pull from the cigarette, then taps it out into the ash tray. "You think dey employ metahumans?"

Smooth, after all, can be a powerful tool in the hands of people wishing to control mutants. Kwabena's seen the side effects of withdrawal first hand, and where powers are concerned, it's ugly.

*

"Al Radim? Aiman Al Radim?" Rasheed blinks and looks a bit taken aback. "My man in the Emirates missed /that/ detail."

One ragged shoulder rises and falls in a shrug. "I'd guess that it's more of an alliance of convenience," Rasheed says, fingernail tapping on the mug in his hands. "My contact said that there were some other fellows he didn't recognize, who were a bit better attired and outfitted than the regulars Al-Adnani usually associates with." He frowns, gears turning.

"He mentioned that Woods was being handled with kid gloves," he offers, finally. "He has a bodyguard assigned, goes nowhere without a convoy and he eats in the officer's mess instead of with the regular troops. They couldn't give me a positive ID on the fellow escorting him everywhere— I thought it was just one more of Al-Adnani's lieutenants. If the IWO is working with them…" He scowls, suddenly. "Bollocks," he says, swearing in his British tonals once. "This is what I get for outsourcing intelligence work. It sounds as if the IWO has leased out the manpower and security work to Al-Adnani— they've certainly got more bodies to throw around, though they're quite a bit less wealthy. That might be an angle worth exploiting," he suggests to Shift. "Anytime you get two zealots in a closed room, they'll start arguing about who's best at beating their breast in praise of God."

*

"Balance of power," Kwabena murmurs. "Sometimes it's not acquisition, but something, uh, more troubling."

Shift drains the rest of his coffee, then raps on the table to get the server's attention. "Woman, can you bring more coffee?" he calls out to her, rudely. Drug dealers aren't always clever at what they do, this one apparently is a walking jackass. While waiting for her to do her work, he eyes Rasheed dubiously. Seems the man is sharing that 'pit in stomach' feeling that Kwabena's developed in the last few minutes.

"Here," the waitress says, and tosses a rag onto the table, before plopping the whole damn pot on top of it. "Jackass," she can be heard muttering as she walks away.

"I'll tell you something about Woods," Kwabena murmurs. "He's a mutant. Chemical manipulation. Used to make de finest cocaine dis side of Columbia, out of pure baking soda. Then he figured out how to modify street heroin, so that it temporarily removes X-gene effects. Side effects are… ugly. Imagine a gaggle of out-of-control mutants, firing off dere powahs like pubescent teenagers in a French porn documentary." This is what has Shift concerned about metahumans being involved. He's not going to press that issue, however.

"Good thinking, I'll pass it on. In about… two days, a SHIELD team is going in," he informs the man. "Quiet-like. Dey undahstand what would happen if de op ends up on de front page. And no. I haven't lost my mind. I'm going along."

Which means he's full of shit; Kwabena Odame really has lost his mind.

*

"You're out of your mind," Rasheed says, immediately. "This isn't an operation for a back-asswards hick from Ghana," he tells the mutant. "You've got two options, and they both suck. Go in Yankee style and risk an international incident assaulting an armed extremist camp, or go in silent and infiltrate it for an extraction. The last time I checked, your Gulf Arabic's not precisely spyworthy. You… hrm." He frowns, a thought striking him. "You /might/ be able to sell yourself up as a Boko Haram envoy, though. None of them are busom friends, but they're all at least willing to consider alliances or at least non-intervention discussions. They're mostly speaking regional dialects— not sure how your Hausa is holding up— but French and Portugese is fairly common for the cross-national communiques," he suggests. "It might get you in the gates, at least."

He downs more of his coffee, pouring from the pot to refill it. "I'm afraid I can't be of much assistance in a field operation, you know," he cautions Shift. "My intelligence assets are decent but I don't have any clout with the Emirates to pull strings in an operation on the ground. If you could give me a week or so, I could ferret out who's financing this operation, but I think time's working against us," he apologizes to the Ghanian. "I'm afraid I'm not much help this time around."

*

A broad smirk spreads across Kwabena's face. "Quand a Rome?" the African quips in a well practiced French. "No, boss. Dis time I'll be going for invisibility and de covah of night." A brief glance is given to the restaurant proper. As expected, nobody is looking at the would-be hoodlums, for fear of getting shot. Kwabena's left hand dissolves into black tendrils of smoke, which disperse until they have virtually disappeared. "First option is out of de picture. Nobody wants to see de UAE thrown into turmoil."

A quiet sound of air displacement, and his left hand rematerializes. "My team is big enough already. Got one supahsoldier, a telepath, and some kind of ninja. I believe we'll be able to handle an infiltration." He leans forward, fixing Rasheed with an intent look. "What you can do is keep your eyes and ears on all de potentially affected sovereignties." He taps the table three times. "If we can't secure it, and dis thing breaks into open watahs? We're fucked."

Kwabena leans back then and lights another smoke. The pack is a unique design, with Arabic written on the package. He nudges the pack toward Rasheed. "Dey've weaponized his concoction," Shift emotes darkly. "Dey're going to tahget de U.S., and dey're trying to set it to open water before de week's end."

*

Rasheed reaches for the smokes and lights on up, using a battered old butane lighter— the sort of thing a druggied would have in his pocket. His cheeks hollow quickly as he stokes the cigarette and he exhales through his nose, seemingly unperturbed by the harsh tobacco. "I'll make sure the proper agencies are informed," he assures Kwabena. "If I can get some kind of tactical support into the Gulf, I will. I think there's a Yemeni destroyer commander I'm on good terms with— I can let him know what's going on." He fishes for another scrap of paper and writes a series of numbers on it. "If you can't get to the package but you can tag it, then throw a GPS device on it and broadcom transmit this number on the frequency here," he tells Shift. "I'll flag it for military services over in the gulf, so if it slips past all of us we can at least try for a remote strike on the boat or plane or however they try to get it out of the country. No promises," he warns. "But at the very minimum we can get a boat detained, or track a plane fleeing the country. If they try to get out via the desert passes, though, you're on your own for following them unless you have some serious powerful broadcast equipment on that tracker. I know what the mountains in that region can get like."

He puffs again on the cigarette, ashing it out with hands that have started trembling. "Anything else I can do for you, my friend?"

*

Kwabena nods his head dutifully. All of the information is balled up and pocketed; he can plug it into the SHIELD database later.

"You've done enough," he answers. "Just one more thing, boss. I didn't die and come back to life for some MI5 cockhead to call me a backasswards hick." For a moment, he permits a ruse of insult, before a big smirk spreads across his face. He knows what he is, and he's not gonna knock it. "Now get outta here before I have to beat you up and demand for my money, or some oddah bullshit."

*

"Perhaps cultivate some urbanity," Rasheed says, in politely cultured tones. "Take up polo, or something. Good to see you, Shift. Do text me again if you don't die, hmm?"

Wheezing suddenly, Rasheed rises, grasping fitfully at Shift's hands. "C'mon, man, I just need a little fix, don' t leave me hanging, bro," he says, hands shaking. "I'll do anything! You want me to makeya feel good?" His voice rises in a reedy rattle, drawing attention of the less jaded diners. One more druggie, right?

*

Polo? Kwabena actually grimaces. Of all the… cultured… bullshit…

The change in demeanor is followed fluidly, without missing a beat. When Rasheed reaches for his hands, Kwabena bats them aside as if they were leprose. "Da fuck, nigger?" he shouts, and bolts out of the booth, glaring at the would be junkie. "Man, get yo' ass outtahere before I blow your fucking head off!!" He makes a point of keeping his back to the patrons, the hoodie drawn up over his head, and his accent well tempered and not only Westernized, but hood-I-fied. He hates using such derogatory language, but as he said earlier, when in Rome.

"Go on, bitch! Get the fuck out!" And with that, he gives Rasheed a brutal shove toward the door.

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