Mission Logic

June 22, 2017:

The year is 1991. Rule Britannia has overdosed on his meds, becoming a cold killing machine intent on taking down weapons factories in the Latverian Mountains. 3 years into his career as a field agent, Agent Phil Coulson is dispatched to bring Michael home.

Latverian Mountains

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

1991- LATVERIAN MOUNTAINS

The foothills are craggy affair, full of crevices a skilled navigator could use to great advantage. A small cell of industrious Latverians have been running several small weapons factories in the foothills. Whether this is with the government's blessing is anyone's guess. If nothing else, they seem to turn a blind eye to the shipments of assualt rifles making their way out of the country and into the hands of unscrupulous people.

British Intelligence got wind of one of the factories when they intercepted a shipment on its way to Kuwait. One of the men accompanying the shipment confessed to the existence of a factory and gave them rough coordinates.

Agent Michael Carter was assigned to investigate the factory and shut it down if possible. He entered the country with a small, nimble team. The first night, they scouted the factory and took note of the layout and the guards. The workers, it seemed, had been pressed into service from a nearby village. The people looked to be in poor health and were treated poorly by the armed men.

The unit then retired to their camp to plan an attack. In order to prepare for the next day, which could potentially be long, Michael double-dosed himself with a drug designed to keep his emotions on an even keel. What he didn't know is that British Intelligence sent him into the mission with a formulation of the drug that was already stronger than usual. He had unwittingly overdosed himself.

The unit, unaware of their leader's dependence on the drug, continued to follow his orders.

At the end of the mission, only three men were left standing - Michael, his second-in-command, Wright, and the master of the factory. The fact that Michael put a bullet in the factory master's skull without so much as flinching was the last straw for Wright. He abandoned his post, climbing over bodies of civilians as he did.

The drugs in Michael's system had almost completely turned off his empathy. He became single-minded, and intent on taking out addiitional factories. The factory master had been kind enough to give him the location before he coldly pulled the trigger.

Michael now stands on a small outcropping of rock, looking down at a small, slightly rusted complex with civilians moving about. He's got dried blood on his face, a backpack full of weapons, and thre days of travel dust caked on his fatigues. He's continued to double dose himself with the drug. He has barely a shred of empathy left.

*

Earlier…

Back when he was a simple data analyst, Phil Coulson never got rousted at an obscene hour of the morning to attend to a briefing on a crisis. But a regular sleep schedule was one of the first things that got sacrificed when he found himself being promoted into operations 3 years ago. He has since become a go-to Operations Agent for a variety of delicate situations. And if it's a very bleary Level 5 Agent who first arrives in a briefing room in London, England…

He grows alert enough, really, when the situation is explained to him.

Now…

He comes alone. Bringing a team seems a good way to get shot. Sending the unassuming Phil Coulson, a man who is really good at using his words, is the way to prevent more violence. He looks like he ought to be counting beans somewhere, not sweating in the 95 degree heat, pushing his sunglasses up his nose and hiking his way up the outcropping. The first task had been to figure out which facility Michael Carter would hit first. That was mostly a matter of proximity and pattern though. He's wearing hiking boots, tan cargo pants, a baseball cap, an unassuming blue t-shirt. No visible weapons at all, though there are a few little surprises tucked away in the pockets of his pants. He definitely is not covered in dried blood, though the dust is pretty unavoidable.

He is, however, remarkably silent, without ever walking in a way to indicate sneakiness. And he just sort of…is there on the ridge next to Michael. He peers at the facility, just like he was meant to be here, producing a flask of water and drinking out of it before just…offering it over. Just like that. "You know what you really need to pull this off?" he asks, in that mild way he has of just producing patter and non-sequitor when he pulls his appearing acts. "A cape. A really good, tattered, black cape so it would flare out like wings. Course that would make the fact that I'm kind of here to spoil your moment even more irritating, I suppose."

*

A half a breath before Coulson appears, Michael becomes aware of his presence. Which means the agent is speaking down the barrel of a gun. The Brit turns his head, his eyes somehow distant and cold at the same time. His pupils don't look right. They're barely a speck surrounded by blue. He backs up a few steps, out of easy gun grappling distance.
"If you're not my backup, I suggest you move along." His accent is crisp, refined, but with a jagged edge to his voice. His lips are cracked from the heat. "I have a mission to complete."

*

Phil doesn't even flinch. He gives a mild, gentle smile that reveals very little of what he might be thinking or feeling.

"I'm not your backup," he agrees. "I'm your abort order, Michael. Agent Phil Coulson, SHIELD. MI-6.5 asked me to tell you that they'd like you to come home now. They'll probably let you do the factory thing after, but I think they want to towel you off, give you some lemonaid, see about those loose screws you've got rattling around in there. I mean you know. Wright, he was pretty freaked out. You gotta know you did a little coloring outside the lines at that last facility."

He keeps his hands out, raising an eyebrow, showing he means no threat. He rattles off an authorization code for the abort order in much the same tone. He could as easily be sitting in a restaurant remarking: 'the bread is pretty good here', if it weren't for the fact that he's wrinkling up his face a little to try to keep the sweat from rolling straight behind the frames of his sunglasses and on into his eyes.

*

Like the aching in his joints, the sting of bruises from where the bullet hit his armor, Michael ignores the sweat sliding in rivers from his temple, making streaks in travel dust and dried blood. He stares Coulson down, first with squinted suspicion, and then with cool curiosity. "I don't take orders from SHIELD. Why did they send you?"
The rest of it, though. Outside the lines? He blinks, once, clearing flashed images of shouting civilians. They were in the way. They didn't listen to warnings. They could have been the bad guys. After a moment of conflict, he re-grips the gun, lifts his chin, and says, "I can complete my mission. My superiors tend to underestimate me."

*

"Because I'm delightful company," Phil quips, in response to why SHIELD was sent.

He watches Michael's reactions carefully. He's just ignoring this gun pointed at him, like it's not even there, despite the fact that he knows very well that Michael might very well pull the trigger. He watches every minute little reaction. The conflict provides some hope to him; maybe he's getting through.

"Your superiors know you can complete the mission," he says gently. "That's what they're afraid of. Come on Michael, think it through. This isn't normally how you'd approach things, is it? Normally if you were asked to abort you'd assume there was a good reason and you'd simply put the gun away and come with me. I have the proper authorization codes, so even if you felt a little grumbly at the Jurisdiction Friction, you'd do it."

He pauses, slowly pulls off his sunglasses so that Michael can see what's in his own hazel eyes. Empathy, and compassion, and lots of it, but no judgment. His tone softens, not that it was particularly hard before, and he asks, "So, logically, what's stopping you from doing it now?"

*

It's true. Michael is a company man. Usually when an order comes from on high, he obeys it without question. But loyalty is an emotion, and the drugs are doing a lot to mess with those. "Because I'm right here," he says, nodding once down towards the factory. "And if I stop now, this shipment will make it out of the country and into the hands of militants and terrorists. Taking out one factory is not enough." His words are unnervingly cool and even. He could just be talking about bread.

*

Phil is immenently patient. He looks content to stand and talk about this all afternoon, really. As long as Michael is talking, he's not killing people. This is as delicate as any hostage negotiation, a task that Phil has been on many times over the years. This, in fact, was 'why Phil'…the hope that he could just somehow talk Michael down.

"You are right here," he agrees. "And they will probably do that. Those would be good reasons to complete your mission."

He lets that hang in the air, not challenging it, before he says, "But the point of stopping militants and terrorists is to prevent them from killing civilians. And if you go down there and pull a repeat of what you did at the last factory, you'll be killing a lot of civilians. Which means you'll basically be duplicating the feat that you're trying to avoid. You'll be acting precisely like a militant and a terrorist. Which means you'd be undermining your own objective, doesn't it?"

*

Does not compute. Michael has a glitchy moment, where one eye squints and the other pops further open. His hand rattles a moment on the gun and he lifts his other to grip more firmly. He draws in a visible breath and steps a little closer. "You don't know what happened back there. The civilians went for weapons. They didn't move out of the line of fire when they were warned. I couldn't be certain they were there against their will." The ice in his voice breaks a little.

*

It takes every bit of Phil's discipline not to tense in response to the firming of Michael's grip, to the closer step. He keeps his breathing slow, even, listens carefully to what the rogue agent has to say.

A breaking of ice. Can he choose the right approach, the one that will break it a little more? A slow line of sweat rolls from Phil's temple, down his cheek, down his neck, staining the collar of his simple t-shirt. "Hey man, I'm not judging you," he says quietly. "Neither are your superiors. We'd just like to see the next couple of factories go down in a different way. Let's go back to London, regroup a little bit, debrief. It'll be here tomorrow, and the day after that. Wouldn't it be worth it to take the time, if it meant saving more civilian lives? Isn't that, ultimately, the mission we're both tasked with?"

He keeps looking right into the eye that remains open, steady, unwavering. His voice never rises, never takes on an edge.

*

"I told you," Michael is back to calm again. "By the time we leave and regroup, they could have moved half a dozen shipments." And then he takes a different tack, head tilting faintly. A thought occurs. "Help me finish the job. It's a small factory, only a half dozen guards and thirty civilians. If they are indeed civilians held against their will, then these should be easy odds for two trained intelligence agents."

*

Phil's smile flickers half an inch, because really, he admires the counter-offer. He even admires the conviction behind it, though he knows it comes from a place of psychosis. It's not even that unreasonable a request, except, of course, for the fact that it can only end in tears.

This means he has to play a different card, try another tactic.

"Michael," he asks. "How many of your pills have you taken today?"

There are subtle changes in his tone, subtle variations in inflection that are meant to gently draw Michael's own attention to the fact that he is being influenced by something other than his own thoughts, feelings, and conclusions. Phil had wanted to avoid this route if he could, seeing it as a risky conversational path to take. It's a gamble, but…if he allows himself to stay on this one he knows he's not going to get anywhere near what he wants. Mostly because other than the fact that he already knows Michael will just conclude the thirty civilians are enemies and start shooting, but he has no logic to convince Michael of that here. And having already appealed to Michael's sense of duty and authority, only to be rebuffed…this is really the only sensible avenue he has left.

Not that he wouldn't stand up here and recite the phonebook like a Congressman on filibuster if he thought it would do some good.

*

And that is the problem with Michael when he gets like this. There is a certain amount of logic to it, of reason and sense. But it also means his list of acceptable casualties climbs exponentially. After all, things that are logical are not always humane. In fact, logic can be quite cruel.
The mention of the pills brings a wave of anger. His finger rattles on the trigger, but doesn't squeeze. The fact that there are pills at all is an extremely high-level piece of information. The fact that an American knows about it is galling. But after the wave of anger crashes, something seems to poke through. "I double-dosed. I needed to be sure I had a clear head. The formula isn't perfect and I've been left too vulnerable in the field."

*

"I understand. We're all called on to make some judgments like that. And that probably would have been okay, but there's something you didn't know."

Phil pretends not to see the gall, pretends not to see the anger. He pretends not to see the rattling of finger on trigger. He keeps all of his attention on Michael himself, on the man's face.

"You're very correct. The formula isn't perfect. And this batch? Was formulated beyond incorrectly. Your handlers have discovered each pill was already too strong. So…Your head isn't clear. Furthermore, there could be side-effects to your double dosing that you aren't aware of. It would suck if parts of your brain started rotting and dribbling out your nose. But this is all fixable. Put the gun away, let's head back to London. You can get a medical exam, maybe have a vindaloo after that, get some better pills and then…voila. Back to work. With a side bonus of a vindaloo break and a brain that isn't turning purple."

*

The other thing about logic is that it cuts both ways. He knows his medicine doesn't always work properly. It's the reason he's been in and out of stasis. There have been other incidents like this one over the years as they tried to strike the right balance. So all of this is certainly plausible, especially since Coulson did quote the right code.
He steps back one step, two steps, then starts to lower the gun. Not all the way, and both hands are still on it. His reflexes are fast enough that it is not really an appreciable difference when it comes to his defenses. But it is a sign. "I don't much care for vindaloo," he murmurs.

*

A good sign, though Phil doesn't noticably change his demeanor. He can feel the entire exchange balancing on a knife's edge. He hopes he didn't screw it up by as little of a thing as saying vindaloo when he should have picked something else. That's been known to happen. Because he can think of other reasons why Michael is putting distance between them, too.

"Well, it was just an example. Any kind of food break would have done as well."

After that, though, he waits…waits to see what will happen. Waits to see if Michael will holster the gun, turn away from the facility, follow him back to the truck parked down on the road, and come home, or…

Or something else.

*

For the moment, it seems like all Michael is doing is adopting a less threatening posture - a sign that he might actually believe what Coulson is saying. If however, the SHIELD agent is looking for an opening, he's about to get it. He lets his guard down only for a split second when a noise comes from the factory. A large truck is rolling up. His head turns towards it, and his hand lowers. His attention is not on Phil.

*

This may be the moment where Phil makes a mistake.

He could take it. He can see it playing out in his mind:

He slams Michael's gun hand down with one hand, he grabs the armor de-activation device from his left pocket, he jams that into Michael's side, and he pulls the trigger on it. Mission success. Even at 27 he doesn't look nearly as strong or as fit as he is, and he's put a lot of effort into looking like someone who isn't a threat. He knows he could probably turn that to his advantage, even against the MI-6.5 agent's considerably superior physique.

But he's also an idealist. He was sent primarily for his skill at talking people down, and he wants to handle it that way if he can. He isn't considering the way the truck might have just utterly altered the equation, might have broken the spell he's woven with his words.

Instead of darting forward, he opens his mouth to use his words again. "Come on," he says gently. "Let's get out of here."

*

Michael looks from the truck, then back to Coulson. A wave of calmness seems to wash over him. The look is nearly serene. He reaches to the side of his backpack, pulls out a grenade, pulls the pin, then throws it out towards the truck with precision and speed. Without even looking to see if it lands, he starts to walk away. He slides his pistol back into the holster. "Shall we, Agent Coulson?"

Seconds later, the grenade goes off, destroying the truck and sending the camp into chaos.

*

Phil opens his mouth as the grenade flies.

Then he closes it with a snap as he understands the rationale behind it. Realizes this was the compromise that had to be made in order for Michael to feel like he could do the right thing. Alright. Mission success. Excellent!

He turns back towards the truckward side of the mountain, keeping an eye on Michael as he does. He slides his sunglasses back on, because…you know. It's what you do. When walking away from explosions.

Though Michael Carter still has more of a cool factor even without sunglasses. Is it the British thing? It's the British thing, isn't it.

Phil could probably do the accent. Would it help?

Naw. He'd just look like a big British dork then, instead of a big American dork.

Can't win 'em all.

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