Veritas Liberabit Vos

June 25, 2017:

In the wake of Wakanda's public investigation of James Buchanan Barnes, Jane Foster begs a private audience of King T'Challa.

Wakandan Embassy - New York City

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Bucky Barnes, Jessica Jones

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

'A gift for the king.'

A more transparent plot never imagined in the minds of his guard and intelligence agents—as the timeline of events unfolds, the supposed female astrophysicist attached to Buchanan Barnes contacts the consulate shortly after the press releases concerning their position towards the traitor and terrorist requesting audience — privately — with King T'Challa. A gift to hide the spear, and a private audience to separate him from his guard.

It is entirely likely that Jane has come within breaths of being killed and unceremoniously shipped to the police station several times before she ever reaches the grand hall.

In the end, it is only at the suffering of the young king himself that Jane is admitted into the inner sanctums of the Wakandan consulate. It is hardly that Wakanda trusts the young woman. Hardly so. But the gyre that turns goes far deeper than simple enmities. She was a woman of science, was his understanding. Surely that means she is also a woman of reason, reason enough to understand the truth of things. It is his interest to see how much she does.

It is for this reason that T'Challa has dismissed most of his retinue and attendance today, leaving the hall empty. Masks corresponding to the tribes and cultures of Wakanda hang amidst the colorful tapestries, but T'Challa sits, straight-backed on a stone and gunmetal perch, a throne at the foot of the largest mask, a 20 foot tall elaboration of the panther. Certainly, the Wakandan delegation has advanced quickly since the days of the hotel. He does not bear an abundance of caution.

He wouldn't expect an assassination attempt today.
But he, panther, would welcome it.

The woman is many things, but not a fool, and even she knows she walks into peril. There is no safety promised of her the moment she steps on Wakandan soil: and through the embassy's threshold it is one and the same, her own country left behind at its closing doors.

For all Jane Foster feels of late, she welcomes even a symbolic reprieve from America. It's testing her love as of late.

On the heels of last night's news report, declaring Wakanda's intent towards the on-trial Winter Soldier, Jane made a decision. It was not a simple thing to convince James; however, of this, she refuses to be deterred. Even Jessica calls them with her own passionate furor, to which Jane offers one request: let me handle this.

She is ten pounds lighter than that night in Germany, thin and wan and sleepless under the eyes, but Dr. Foster dresses respectfully and well, offering her coat before she is scanned and searched. As testament to her good faith, she comes unarmed and free of her peculiar technology — especially that of her phone.

He has an idea what her phone can do, and the weapon she has made it.

All that remains in Jane's possession are two items: one is a simple and common flash drive. The other, in a plastic baggie, is a small microchip one-fourth the size of a fingernail.

Adrenaline runs her blood with each step she takes to the main hall. Never in her life has Jane attempted such a thing; never in her life has she had reason to do so.

There is no assassination attempt; only a small, five-foot woman who approaches the throne only as closely as previously instructed — as previously warned — and, after a moment she takes to let her dark eyes drink in her first look of the unmasked T'Challa, she hesitates, then bends into a deep bow. "Your majesty," she says.

Impatience twitches her mouth to say more, but Jane remembers her tongue. The King speaks first of business.

She was warned, many times, before she entered here.
Even one indiscretion would be enough.
And Wakanda's king is said to be a man who can read sin on the soul.

He can catch the smell of impatience about her. Anxiety and fear mark her scent as plainly as that of cheap New York City laundromat dispenser detergents worked into her clothing. Sleepless nights and forgotten chores are beginning to take their toll on her, and it shows plainly. In a glance, T'Challa knows the nature of things; desperation is the act of thieves at worst. To kill, a droplet of ambition is required. Ambition and anxiety can be confused, but T'Challa has a great interest in discerning the difference, as marked in his sharp-eyed gaze as Jane approaches.

And prisoners and kings are the same in only one respect — they have nothing but time.

"Miss Foster," T'Challa remarks in greeting, his tone as noncommital as a sheathed sword held in hand. Interestingly, there is not a great effort to search her before she enters. "Though many amongst my beloved would have preferred to strip you to the skin," he points out, "I have spared you the indignity of a search. I have sampled what you and your chosen," he remarks, placing special emphasis on the word, "are capable of. I have decided it would be easier to merely end your life here than to root out any deceptions you mean to make."

He might as well had been wearing a mask. T'Challa makes his feelings clear immediately, but his face does not show them, the same motiveless disposition he took as the panther written across his face now. There is no malice in what he says, no sadism. Only a face carved from the stone, and fact.

"In that vein," T'Challa continues, "I hope that your gifts are illuminating. Despite a remarkable bravery to stand up for the accused, there is no favor to be had on these grounds for you and yours. Speak only truth in this room before me."

Straightening back to her full but not significant height, Jane lifts her head to absorb all of King T'Challa's words.

The hall, and its startling emptiness, amplifies each and every curve and pearl of his words. She listens to it all, and in more ways than the obvious; the job of a scientist is to observe evidence, and it does not escape her that the Head of Wakanda deigns her incredible detail to glean.

He accepts her offering thus far; he has even gone the length to award her with his private audience. The answer for which Jane searches herself but does not know: honour? a test? something else?

He tells her it would be easier to simply snuff her out like an insect. Her eyes pinch slightly at the corners, and not in disagreement.

"Thank you for seeing me, your majesty," she answers, care infused to every word she speaks. Her fingers curl at her sides, not in emotion but simple, rote restlessness: the years' habit of a woman to fidget under the close attention of another. Jane does not give herself permission to do so now. She's not here on her own behalf: this is for James.

"I first want to say: I don't wish to dishonour you by speaking of regrets I do not feel. But I would have hoped to have ever met you, it would have been under different circumstances. You protect a vast territory. Mine is far smaller…" Jane speaks, low, soft, "But I try to protect mine just the same."

Remarkable bravery, speaks the king. Jane just has to remember she still has it. She breathes in deeply to continue. She thinks once of James, and her weathered spirit steels strong.

She proffers her right hand but does not approach, not until he bids her closer. In her palm rests that simple, convenience store flash drive, a cheap and laughable technology wrought of this country. "I have no deceptions, and this is yours. The data on this sources from HYDRA intelligence. Intelligence I personally recovered. It is significant, and in my sorting, I've found evidence of two Wakandan nationals financing particular individuals and cells sourcing within Europe, particularly Belgium. I have never released this intelligence. The only ones aware of those names are me, James, and… you."

To see how your enemy will react, speak your mind. The mindful must always remember that some ideas are better off to be spoken aloud than thought only to oneself. T'Challa watches Jane's response to the gravity of things. His expression does not change appreciably; he is disinclined to be impressed, even if others may have fallen to a knee in attempts to placate his country now.

She begins low, small, talking of the things that she would have hoped. Implacable, the grim king does not appear appreciably pleased or mollified by the sentiment, however noble. But then, what few have truly seen the young king smile?
What few have seen him with reason to?

"You speak of the winds after the kite has crashed, Foster," the young king replies, his voice a deeply accented whetstone to match his onyx-cut brow. "You are greatly misfortuned, but it would take a set of hands indeed to mend the birch and the cloth of the trust that was infringed upon that day…"

Slowly he considers Jane's words, and the most imperceptible incline of his head indicates one of the two pedestals that flank the foot of his throne, beckoning her forward to lay the evidence before him. "Do you understand what it is you do…." T'Challa continues. Rancor is a long smouldering thing in the young king, the panther. It is not something fast to kindle. He does not show surprise or alarm at Jane's revelation, or even any particularly Wakandan derision at the technology levels of her supposed gift, as may be expected.

"The right to discover does not belong to you. As king, it is my right alone, and I have not given you permission to investigate our affairs. As a reprobate to our nation, the allegations you make consequently imperil both you and the one on whose name you swear defense. Toying with me and impugning the authority of the nation itself is not a game you wish to play. Only your discretion barters my own."

He does not speak with overforce, but his word is like banded iron.
"I will kill him," he assures. "With my bare hands, Miss Foster."

The truth is Jane Foster is not sure what she expected. But she is a creature of hope, and most assuredly hoped for a response far more than this. Perhaps not clemency, not mercy, and most certainly not forgiveness, but not —

Her heartbeat quickens at the King's promise to kill. It hurts to hear such a vow, and on top of everything else — Jane nearly unravels. He can scent it, quick and unmistakable, her emotional tangle, and how quickly even bravery can become despair.

She fights it back and tries to ride the current of his words — rich, eloquent words, so different from those she employs. Impatient Jane, restless Jane, rambling Jane. She needs to find in her the diplomacy she's never believed she could ever possess.

"You misinterpret my intent," she answers, forcing her words to stay slow. Slow and calm. "I recovered this months ago. Months before Mizizi that you assert is James's doing. This intelligence I've gained is incidental, and I give it to you because the last thing I wish anyone is ignorance. And not when it comes to Hydra — never when it comes to them." The woman pauses, and swallows against a throat run dry. "I'm not in the business of allegations. I am a scientist. I present evidence."

Bid forward, only then does the woman move, with the brave intent and the subtle, sleepless tremble in her legs. Her hands lay her professed gifts forward at regal beckon, both flash stick and the second — that pinprick microchip closed in plastic, so small it could be dropped and never found again.

"This is also something I want you to see," speaks Jane of it. "Perhaps you've seen something like it before. Perhaps not.

"An incision is made behind the left ear. They remove an inconsequential piece of the skull. You would presume a device that alters personality, that — controls thought — to affix to the prefrontal cortex. They attach it to the temporal lobe." Her words are dry, hollow, brittle: dead bird bone bleached under the sun. Only now does Jane look away, and without meaning to, averting her eyes briefly down at her feet. They turn back up. "Hydra tried to put this into my head back in January. They've done so to countless others. Are doing. What I know is they are behind what happened to your people. Them, and not James. I know this evidence exists, and I've come here…"

Her formal words falter. "I'm here because… I came here to asks that when I find it, should I give it to you — would it convince you?"

Diplomacy is a thing T'Challa never considered his primary interest. Two men in a room could get more done than a hundred. But like all things, it is a useful tool to impose on one's enemies. Even now, the Americans are trying to get in contact for a meeting in response to the media coverage surrounding his announcement, requests for attention which he has been pointedly slow to respond on. A certain amount of deception is required when dealing with some. But with others, there is no such need.

"You are not here for your friend then?" T'Challa asks Jane when she suggests that he misinterprets her. The question does not beg an answer.

The young king falls quiet, his patience a razor thin line as she brings him more baubles of technology from the secret organization, HYDRA. Of note, the only thing that T'Challa bears with any measure of interest at all is her dry read of the proess. Every sense is attuned to the subject of his audience, and the tonality of things is not beyond him, nor is the shiver in her leg. She finds what she knows of the process, revealing her involvement.

The gears of a cynical mind turn.

"You know much of the process, Miss Foster," T'Challa observes, supposing her words to be true. "There exists the possibility for hallucinogenic implants that work in the temporal region," he considers. "Some call it the seat of belief. Obedience can be stimulated in any number of ways, Miss Foster. One color can be believed to be another much more easily than a personality can be compelled.."

His hand opens, to gesture to the impossibly small baggy.

"I find it peculiar that HYDRA concerns itself with you as well as Barnes. If they are tampering with what a person sees and hears…. tell me. How can you be sure that they did not succeed in their so-called attempt? That you are not inferring meaning…where none exists."

"To whom could such agency be beneficial…." the panther wonders aloud.
Some other thoughts are perhaps best left quiet.

"If you interfere in my intelligence service's ongoing investigation," T'Challa continues after the moment wears thin, "there will be two for the sands, and not just one. I will only be convinced by the truth." The conclusion of things returns with the quiet nod to an unseen actor, and the doors unseal behind Jane. It was impossible to know they were even locked. "As scientist, you should be able to determine the difference between a piece of evidence and a truth…"

The king understands immediately enough of the device she brings; Jane doubts any less of him.

That is her hope. This is her expectation. Science begets reason, and reason is something she can work with. Reason is the key that unlocks every gate otherwise closed by ideology or dogma.

"That is what I considered," she replies, soft-voiced as if it hurts her to speak aloud of all of this. A subject too close it still cuts her, and transparently so. Jane tries to hold her head high, though from the simple look at her, from the square of her shoulders to the absent flinch of her half-curled fingers to her scent speaks of trauma. "Stimulation of the lobe to affect something like… capgras syndrome, I'm not sure. What better way, I suppose, to force obedience than to fake the favour of a messiah."

He poses a question — possibly rhethorical — followed by the rumination that perhaps —

— Jane Foster was never set free from Hydra. She has had this nightmare. Awakened from it scratching raw the skin behind her ear. Unsure who she is. Unsure if she can trust the voice in her head to be her own. Unsure, unsure, unsure.

"They didn't succeed," she repeats, and her voice squeezes with certainty. Jane has to believe it because she could not live any other way. The alternative would be to put a gun to her head. "I was assessed by third parties. By SHIELD. They couldn't find it. And if there is something else, they're doing a shit job at convincing me. Because all I feel for Hydra is anger. And hate."

Her sleepless eyes try to search his. Even if there is nothing there in the king's eyes to be found — to be offered to her. That is what Jane does. She looks the unknown expanse for something that bears light.

Nothing comes —

— but the king still speaks. And the doors do open. This is something. It's more than she could ask for.

"Thank you," Jane says, and there's no more formality inflicted in her voice: only the raw, half-rasped gratitude of someone promised something precious. Hope. Even if she cannot do anything else to help James, she can help him here. She's not certain how, but she can. She /can/. "Please. Consider the data. I won't interfere. Once I find anything, I — I'll find you."

Her heart like thunder in her chest, she closes her clammy hands and bows again. It is one last look Jane takes before she will take leave from the king's audience. He speaks of evidence and truth. Her eyes reflect understanding. "I study the stars, your majesty," she says. "All I've ever done is chase the light."

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