Riding in a Car with Spies

August 28, 2017:

First, Jessica Jones and Michael Carter talk Peggy Carter out of a Wakandan jail with some back-up from Melinda May. Then, Jess gets a text that freaks her out, one that prompts a frantic, if futile, ride back towards the capital.

Birnin S'Yan, Wakanda

The Fortified City

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: T'Challa, Sizani, Jane Foster, Bucky Barnes, Matt Murdock

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Jessica Jones has a hard, unhappy look on her face that she's worn ever since she got the call that Peggy was in prison, and had stopped saying much to Melinda May. Instead, she has been sitting there on the ride over kicking herself for each and every time she ever suggested taking a legal risk in this draconian nation. The security is too good. The penalties too harsh. There's not really anything like due process, just…due T'Challa'ing or various forms of delegated due T'Challa'ing. Not a system of government she's in love with.

The self-driving car that conveys them to the building arrives, and Jessica spends a few moments arranging her panther tooth necklace so that it's prominently displayed. The amount of good the thing does has been a little hit or miss, but she has noticed it getting most of its play here in Birnan S'Yan. She wonders if the Kupaa hail from this region, or if it's just a matter of dealing with WSS instead of WIS. The security services have seemed marginally friendlier. Tribal lines and views? Or just jurisdictionally irritated at WIS to begin with?

Jess has no idea.

When she gets up to the front desk she greets the guard as she's been taught. She carries no weapon— trying to buy one here seemed like a good way to get arrested, and the cooking knife that's in her STUFF app seems a little stupid— but she clenches her fists at her side in a way that suggests that her body is the weapon, which is not only true but, she's learned, is legitimate. She tilts her head to one side without baring her throat, a motion that says 'I see you, I acknowledge you as a fellow warrior and as a true threat, but I am not here to fight today.'

The system of government may bite, but there are things about Wakandan culture that are sort of sinking into her in one way or another, probably due to her relationship with Sizani…or whatever resonance between the culture and herself that might have brought T'Challa to her very dingy doorstep what seems a lifetime ago in what has to be the weirdest twist of Fate Jessica has ever encountered to date. "We'd like to discuss the release of one of your prisoners," she tells the guard. She gives him a wry, self-deprecating smile. "I'm sure you can guess which one."

Look, sometimes humor…and being willing to poke fun at oneself…works in any culture.

*

Michael Carter is a very hard man to read. Whether that's a purposeful poker face, or one cultivated for so long it's become habit it's hard to tell. He doesn't give anything away about what he might be feeling when he learns Peggy is in lock-up. And he doesn't chat much on the ride over.

He's not foolish enough to come armed, either. He's not carrying much of anything, as a matter of fact. He steps up beside Jessica at the desk.

After Jessica has spoken, he adds, "If necessary, a formal request for her release will be made by the British Government."

*

Melinda May donning the hated heels again, May also brings her bag and suitcase along because she's not sure that they'll get the same car back when they're done here. So she looks even more out of place than Jessica, if that's possible. At least she DOES have a weapon on her, though only people who know what it is would recognize it as anything other than a decorative . And, well, the wents that are normally in the ends are currently hidden in the bottoms of her shoes.

Trailing after Jones, she simply stands there quietly and waits while the pale woman explains their reason for being in the station.

*

The woman behind the desk is dressed brightly and professionally. The opening of the door and the admittance of Jessica, Michael and May is met with indifference. As Jessica approaches, she is met with what might be a familiar sight for a New Yorker - a front desk clerk who is just simply done with distractions.

While Wakanda is certainly a different place and culture, boredom is something that translates throughout the world. With a rolled eye upward, she raises an eyebrow first at Jessica and then at Michael's assurance that the British government will formally request for their intended's release. A finger is held up to indicate them to pause for a moment. In a few words spoken through the beads around her wrist. Then, without another word, her head drops again away from them and she returns to her work.

After a few moments, another woman in the same colors of the guards, but with more designs steps out and gestures the three forward briskly. It's one turn and then another until they reach a small, neat office. The woman sits behind the desk and speaks - in English - to the others, getting right down to business. "I have been told you are here for the release of one of our detained. A - " she looks down at her wrist which glows for a moment with a small screen, " - Margaret Carter. She was rounded up attempting illegal activity. This woman was brought here under good faith and clearly broke it. Why should she be released to do only more of the same?"

*

Jessica winces a little and glances at the MI-6 agent as Michael goes straight for the British government… threat? Promise? But. This is his sister, and he's no doubt worried. Beyond worried, really.

May doesn't…exactly seem like a big talker.

And Jess. Has a fantastically bad history with cops.

Oh well. Do or die, welcome to Wakanda. She takes a few, deep, meditative breaths.

Then? She studies the decorated woman, comparing and contrasting her to…to…well. Peggy herself. No-nonsense, has a job to do, not particularly malicious, but unwilling to be deterred from doing it.

She holds her hands out from her body and says, "Well, maybe she shouldn't."

Sometimes seeming to agree is better, to start with. Even if she doesn't.

"We don't know for sure what happened yet, after all. I'm sorry, ma'am, what was your name?" She drops that in there, but continues. "We simply heard she was in prison, and it's not really like her to conduct illegal activity. What precisely was she doing when she was taken into custody?"

*

"With respect…" and clearly Michael actually means that, or does a good facsimile thereof.

"If my sister was suspected of a crime, it may be simply a matter of a cultural misunderstanding. As you are such a private people, it is difficult for foreigners to come prepared to navigate your laws and customs." What he says is said very calmly, sincerely, and diplomatically. That is to say, very British-ly.

He side-eyes Jessica a little, but presents a united front.

*

While Jessica and Michael — she's guessing that's who he is, considering the familial resemblance and the identical accents — plead Peggy's case, May continues to follow along silently, her eyes taking in every last doorway, police officer, likely place for cameras, and so on. Once they're in the office she turns her attention to the woman seated before them.

Is she WSS, or WIS, or simply local law enforcement? Is there a way to tell without outright asking? The almost complete absence of intel is honestly frustrating, but she knows throwing around her SHIELD credentials would just make matters exponentially worse. So she doesn't.

*

The officer behind the desk spreads her hands out as Jessica concedes the point that perhaps Peggy should not be let out, a raised eyebrow given at that. If they do not even believe her to be released, why should she acquiesce? However, she does give a name, "Officer Miya." The woman before them certainly has a authority. While it is certainly not impossible that she is an embedded WIS agent, at the moment it does not seem likely. For all intents and purposes she seems to be acting as an officer of this holding rather than an intelligence officer or security detail.

The woman's eyes shift from Jessica to Michael as they both make statements. "Your sister was found amidst illegal traders and traffickers within our country. She was not actively doing business with them - so she has not yet been officially charged - but it seems rather frank that contacts were being made. We do not take illegality lightly here, especially from outsiders who abuse our trust." The tone of her voice underlies how hard won that trust might be - even if begrudgingly given. "It is better to be safer than sorry. Ms. Carter could be one of the hundreds - if not hundreds of thousands - wishing to steal our advancements for their own gain."

*

Jessica sees that side eye, and it produces a flicker of irritation in her own eyes, but it's soon gone. She's focusing rather hard on the task at hand.

"Officer Miya," she says. "You must know that King T'Challa has allowed us into this nation primarily to investigate a crime. Though he will not stay the execution of James Buchanan Barnes, we are given leave to gather what facts we may so that we might set his family's mind at ease after his death."

And doesn't saying all that just stick in her craw, but that was the official line she was given.

"Further, you see the necklace that I wear. I am Jessica Jones, sister to Sizani, Daughter of the Kupaa, Adored One, Dora Milaje, named an Agent of Wakanda's interests by the King himself."

She swallows, glances back at her companions, and then looks back at Officer Miya. "You are an investigator yourself, are you not? You know, then, that we must speak to a variety of individuals across all walks of life if we are to make any progress here. Mere words cannot hurt Wakanda, and if she were after the nation's secrets I should think she'd be looking after them in Birnan Zana, not the roughest parts of Birnan S'Yan. I pledge to you upon my honor that she meant no harm and that I shall take full responsibility should she give you cause for alarm again."

This. Whole speech. Almost makes her. Want to laugh. Hysterically. Jessica Jones, world's biggest piece of shit, offers her shit honor as reassurance.

But she'll use any fucking tool in her toolbox if it works, up to and including pretending to be someone who matters.

*

Michael's side-eye turns into a surprised look that flashes only for a second before he pushes it down. That was some speech. He does his best to hide the surprise and instead turns into solemn nodding back-up.

Only after Jessica has finished does he add, "With all due respect, Officer Miya. If a government were going to send someone to steal technology, the last person you would send is my sister. To say she is a a technical luddite would be something of an understatement. She wouldn't know what was worth stealing. And…" Michael arches his eyebrows. "If she were that kind of threat, it seems unlikely she would have been issued a visa in the first place."

This whole meeting really feels like parents going to the principal's office to try and get their daughter off for being near a fight. Except…with much higher stakes.

*

Even while standing here saying nothing, May can only agree with Michael's assessment of Peggy. Jessica… is an unknown quantity still, so she has no way to know if her word counts for anything or not. Based on who she's here with, though, May's going to err on the side that it is.

She shifts her weight slightly, as if to give the impression that she's losing patience with this whole song and dance.

*

Officer Miya looks to all three parties as they study her, make their case. The woman listens, though with an air of someone used to people making pleas for the criminals in her custody. There is, actually, an extended raised eyebrow at Michael's defense of his sister. In fact, there is a bit of a smirk at that. "I must say, this is not the first incompetence defense I have heard, but this might be rather unique." Knowing about technology to the Wakandans is almost like being illiterate - it's not completely unknown, but it is also quite the oddity and also is looked down upon.

She looks to May for a few moments, a head tilt as she studies the Agent SHIELD. There is a few moments of silence as she does so. There is an assessment happening that May can certainly read. After it, with a slight nod, she turns back to Jessica and her impassioned speech to release Peggy Carter. "If you assume responsibility for this woman, I will relinquish her to your custody. Should she find herself anywhere astray of our laws, despite her disability we shall have to be harsher in our detainment and we will hold you similarly responsible. Should I see either of you again? There will be no negotiation."

With a nod, she looks to each of the three and then speaks into the Kimoyo bead on her wrist. "She will be released to you in the lobby." Apparently that is a dismissal.

*

Jessica's pocket buzzes. She's getting a text. She ignores it for the time being.

"Thank you, Officer Miya."

And then she promptly turns and heads for the lobby, seeing no need to belabor that point.

Under any other circumstances Michael's amusement might make her smirk. Sometimes it's fun to surprise people, and really, the fact that she made a spy second guess her could have been kind of fun. But she is, in truth, vibrating with tension, and won't feel right till they're all out of this place. The ignored text ramps up her anxiety levels too, but one problem at a time.

She leans against the wall to wait for Peggy, unwilling to check her phone or let her guard down in any way until that's done.

*

Michael opens his mouth to say something, but thinks better of it. Something about not telling his sister he used an incompetence defense. Instead, he decides on, "Thank you Officer Miya. For your time, and your understanding." He doesn't linger, and instead makes for the lobby.

As they wait, he tries to read her tension. In a low voice, he says to them both, "Let's all of us keep our mouths shut until we're out of here lest they change their minds." It's a caution for himself as much as them. It almost feels too easy.

*

The thanks are met with a nod, barely perceptible. Jessica, Michael and May have been dismissed from memory the moment they step out of the doorway.

While the trio wait, it does not take long for Peggy to step through the doorway. Her usually coifed hair is now just stringy and the guard begrudgingly takes off the handcuffs. With a few tired blinks, the ruffled Peggy Carter takes in those who sprung her from jail with immediate and complete thanks in her eyes. Rubbing the pain of where those handcuffs have certainly been for hours, she gives a bit of a sheepish smile - as sheepish as Peggy can manage. It's not really apologetic. Once they are out of the office, she takes a quick and deep breath. "Thank you." She looks at each of them in turn: Jessica, Michael and May.

*

Michael's advice is good advice, and it's advice Jessica follows. Peggy comes out and Jess gives her a grin of relief.

"You look like me after a bender," she teases, though she hasn't had one of those in a long time.

Still, she's eager to get out of there. The moment they all are? She finally checks that text.

What she sees drains the blood out of her face.

The car is still there, because nobody else has called one, but she does a power leap for it, and starts frantically programming the GPS after waving her phone at it. There's probably room for exactly one of them to make it into the car with her before she takes off to places unknown.

There's…the rash, impatient Jess Michael more expected to see?

*

Peggy Carter - fresh out of Wakandan holding - might just be that woman. She gives thanks to her brother and the SHIELD agent here that has helped her out of custody. It's almost out of complete and utter instinct that she gets int he car with Jess as it pulls up. She is still processing her own fears and thoughts and getting involved in everything. There is a smirk to Jessica. "You must have an epic bender look," she says with a smirk.

It's only as she is pulling herself into the car that Peggy even realizes that the car is taking off and that other things are happening. She looks backward toward May and Michael, both confused and annoyed. "Wait, what is going on?"

The car is already tearing away, wasting a perfectly good opportunity for Jessica to respond to the epic bender quip. Michael gets in there in time, but May is left to get her own car.

She'll make her apologies later.

Jessica texts madly into her phone, but soon drops it into her cargo shorts pocket. The last thing she wants or needs is for the Carters to see the second name on that group text. She reminds herself to change all the names in her phone to stupid nicknames or something when they correspond to secret superhero identities.

"Jane landed in Wakanda today. She was conducting part of the investigation stateside."

She growls at the car. "Faster, robot car!"

The robot car ignores her.

She could scream. "She's outside of Birnin Zana and a shooter's got her pinned down and god damn it we won't get there in time. But…some of our team is still there. But…but…"

She doesn't know how to explain to Peggy and Michael that however futile it may seem for her to go right now, especially given 'south outside of Birnin Zana' is fucking vaguebooking as far as pinpointing directions goes, that she can't help herself. She has to go.

Oh god, when I worried I might not see Jane again I didn't think -she- might be the one biting the bullet.

And then: She's tough. She's resourceful. Oh god, Matt, get to her, get to her fast.

She remembers Luke Cage, and his invulnerable skin. She almost calls him. But…then…what? It'll be vaguebooking for him, too. Only Matt, with his super senses, might actually have a shot in hell.

*

Michael Carter is a man with no personal stakes in this whole endeavor. Or rather, his personal stakes just got out of Wakandan prison. He doesn't know who Jane is, nor why she might be being shot at. "I haven't a bloody clue," he murmurs to Peggy.

As the robot car moves at a leisurely pace, he reaches out to quickly and briefly squeeze her wrist.

But then Jess explains things a little better. "I do hope your other allies can reach her soon." To be more helpful, and, well, they don't have a firm warning on their heads to not cross Wakandan authorities again. The last thing they need is to end up right in the middle of a firefight minutes after walking away from prison.

*

A Wakandan holding cell is harsh for Wakandans - for outsiders? It was certainly quite a few steps below a picnic. From one fire to another, Peggy rests against the back of the car even as it peels out. It's impossible to miss her worried look to Jess, but despite that fear and worry, she remains resting against the cushions for now. It's hard to say exactly why or how long this will last. "We'll be there as soon as we can," she assures Jess as best she can.

The hand to squeeze her wrist is met with a look downward and then over at Michael. There's a few quick blinks at the gesture, as if the Agent of SHIELD is blinking back tears. But, they're never shed and it takes only moments for her to return to a neutral - if exhausted - expression as she levels it at Jessica. Without looking at her brother a hand reaches out in return to punch him - weakly - on the shoulder. It's almost an automatic response. As she does this, she asks, "Why is she out there?"

*

Jessica 's look for Michael is sharp and angry when he says that he hopes other friends get to Jane.

He's not wrong, of course. That's Jane's best chance. That's the only realistic outcome, save for some unlikely scenario where Jane holds off her shooter for an hour or more in the jungle while Jess and the Carters manage to get to her just in time for some sort of dramatic eleventh hour save. But it makes her angry that she can't be there, and it makes her angry that they might not be. It makes her angry that there's nothing about this she can control.

But she looks away just as swiftly. "I don't know," she allows. "If I were to venture a guess? She sent me a bunch of intel this morning. Something about some sort of blood being drawn to the south and in the west of the country. Something scaring people, confusing them, angering them. Something that wasn't Mizizi. If I were to guess, I'd say she was following that trail."

Angry at herself, now:

"And when she landed, I gave her her space instead of checking in with her right away, because I— "

She gives it up though. She cannot be everywhere at once. She is not precognitive. She cannot anticipate every last problem, attack, issue. She couldn't keep Peggy out of jail; she could show up and do her best to get her out of there. She can't keep Jane from being shot at. All she can do is the best she can. She knows this, she's learned this. Bucky gently reminded her less than a month ago, about her tendency to try to control it all, to think everything rides on her. It doesn't. It can't. It's almost an insult to the rest of the team to think that it can, or that it should.

So, ultimately, she curls up in her seat, drawing her knees up to her chin, watches the Wakandan countryside go by, and focuses on something in front of her here and now, knowing she's doing all she can. Her voice is steady, and gentle, when she asks:

"You alright, Peggy? Did they hurt you?"

*

Michael Carter smiles a little when Peggy punches him back. It's a small moment of connection, but it's something. He'll take it.

"Jessica. I understand you're agitated and your friend is in a bad situation. But looking like you're going to punch the roof off this car isn't helpful." He shifts in his seat, then looks at them both. "Look, let's talk about what we know. Let's review the major players."

Without looking at Peggy, he reaches into a bag at his feet, rifles around, pulls out a bottle of water, then hands it to her.

*

"There was no way you could have known," Peggy tells Jess in an echo of her own thoughts. But, hopefully the outside reinforcement helps dissuade any guilt that Jess might be feeling in regards to that situation. Attempting to bring a bit of levity to the situation, she adds, "If Jane can handle being in a relationship with James, she can handle quite a lot."

As for if they hurt her, Peggy shakes her head. Despite that, she looks incredibly strange. She's still dirty, rumpled and shaken. Jess has only seen her usually neatly coifed hair and clothes, even in combat fatigues. This is a far more fallible seeming woman. "No. However, they were not….friendly, either."

Almost automatically, she takes the bottle of water from Michael, unscrewing the top and drinking from it gratefully. It's only when half the bottle is gone and she takes a deep breath that she looks at it and, then, again, back at her brother. Gingerly, she offers it to him and then to Jess, as if unwilling to hog it for herself.

*

"It might if punching the top off the car would make it go faster," Jessica replies, but there's no heat in it. If anything, it's a bit absent-minded as she takes a few deep, meditative breaths.

By the time she's done, she's calmer; she nods to Michael and turns to face them both. Peggy offers her that water, and she smiles and waves it off. "You need it more than I do," she says quietly.

She may be passionate and temperamental, but she recognizes the value of getting her shit together and under control. And…they…have an hour, unless someone whips a teleporter out of their ass. She tries not to think of how very dead Jane could already be.

"Alright. Review away, Michael. You got anything new? Peggy? Did you learn anything before they swept you up?"

Peggy may look more falliable to some eyes. To Jessica's, she just looks tough as fuck. She imagines that might have been a look the woman sported once or twice, on some battlefield in WWII. A bit more noble than the grungy days Jessica has had, where she's woken up hung over in a pile of garbage. Which has happened.

*

"I've got another bottle," says Michael absently. He reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a meal replacement bar. This he also gives to Peggy, saying, "It's rather like hard tack, but tastes a bit like fig biscuit filling."

He shakes his head at Jessica. "I haven't, no. I've been turning over the players in my head. My theory is that it was an inside job by one of the isolationist factions to prevent further foriegn incursions onto Wakandan soil. Perhaps this person or persons also has a grudge against Barnes. We all rather agree on that theory, don't we?"

*

"I've got a lot more intel on the underground of Wakanda - or lack thereof, really." Peggy, again, takes the meal replacement bar. This time, though, she doesn't tear into it like the water. It sits on her lap, ready for devouring after knowledge is imparted. "There's quite a few gangs: The Red Soil Boys, The American, the 86th Crew, Mr. Scythe and the Lost Ones. They all mostly deal in drugs and poaching and most of that is done for protest. People are rather anti-outsider right now. Crime isn't done for desperation, it's done to prove a point. Someone discussed stealing something and then burning it in order to prove a point."

Shifting her position against the seats, Peggy takes another swig of her water, grateful that she didn't give it up just yet. "It seems the Red Soil Boys are the quite prominent, but there was quite a war leading up to the Mizizi that scattered most of them." There's a sigh. "I'm not positive, but I do not believe this to be a part of the criminal element. However, it does seem as if everything criminal is done out of protest and therefore that certainly might lend to the possibility of incident. Also, the anti-outsider sentiments."

*

"Yeah, I haven't seen anything to contradict that theory yet," Jessica tells Michael. But the bulk of her focus goes to Peggy, with the new information. She wrinkles her nose faintly in confusion.

"A Wakandan gang called The American? That's weird as fuck. So that's…5 groups who all could have had had a hand in it, or who could have been contacted and used by Wakandan intelligence. I've already got some searches running on Shoro; there were protestors at the event that day. I'll see if any known members of those gangs were among them."

Of course, Shoro is behind them, in Birnin S'Yan, but it is what it is. She'll turn around and drive back at any hour.

"Protest crime. This country's so fucking weird." She rubs at her face, then pulls out her phone, pulls up the holographic keyboard, and just starts typing it all into the case file with a resolute expression on her face. "So…okay. Hydra approaches WIS, WIS approaches the gangs, and that means they get plausible deniability. But someone had to approach those gang members in the first place. Maybe someone who already had a tie to one of them. Did you get anything else, Peggy?"

*

"If anyone has a tie to HYDRA, it's Blackstone," says Michael with a frown. "As an external actor, he would have opportunities to make contact with their agents. It's also possible he has a personal grudge against Barnes."

He goes quiet for a moment and works his jaw to the side. He's going through what they know again. Rather literally. His ocular implant brings up case files, though there's no evidence of it to the people he sits near. He just sort of looks like he's zoned out in thought.

After a moment, he snaps back. "I might be able to pull some case files and determine what British Intelligence knows about HYDRA activity in the surrounding countries."

*

"It might be merely an attempt at a bad joke," Peggy tells Jess with a quirk of her lips upward. "The American is incredibly professional, or so I'm told. He's the least likely to be a protest gang. So, perhaps apt. All about capitalism."

As for what else she knows, there's a shake of her head. "Crime, here is different. A lot of it is about idealism rather than - say - stealing a loaf of bread to feed your family. The black trade is a little more proper illegal, technology made for sale by stealing from the royal family." That's generally all the information that she has.

With a frown and a nod, Peggy listens. "So, we need to find more on Blackstone to find out if he has a tie to both this and James."

*

"Looking at Hydra activities in surrounding areas is good," Jessica says with a frown. "But…I think we need to break someone off into Armenia. I think Blackstone may even be there. Here…I'm going to text one of the files Jane sent me to your phone. I really only understood 'Hydra Hacker with stupid call sign' out of all of it, but…it seems like big time spy shit that you guys might get. I don't think Jane physically went to this location, and if she did she didn't know about Blackstone because she sent everything she had. May might be a good choice. Or you, Peggy, since Wakanda's keeping a closer eye on you now. Or you and May."

She hits the button, transmitting what Jane found, word for word for all the reasons she's just outlined. "I think Dot Hacker Love might have been the one who took over the firefighting drones, too, but that really is just a theory. I don't have any evidence for that other than…drones were hacked. Here is hacker."

*

Michael's phone makes a nondescript beep. He pulls it out and scans through the file. As he does, he says, "No wonder this country has been so difficult to gain intel on. Not just because of the secrecy, but human motivations seem different. If you're not fighting for money, then the only thing left to fight for is power. And if money doesn't necessarily equal power, then how do you go about gaining power?"

It's an idle muse from Michael as he continues to parse the file. "It could be multiple hackers using the same alias as well."

*

Peggy goes through the notes given to her and frowns as she does so. "A hacker in Armenia. Is it possible that is just set up there to get around the Wakandan technology?" There's a frown. While she has caught up significantly, there is still so much for her to learn when it comes to advanced technology. "I will say, if I leave Wakanda now, I fear I will not be allowed in again. As you've said, they're keeping a closer eye on me. It would be easier to lock me out of the country until this is all over."

Finally unwrapping the bar, she takes a large bite of it. Once she's chewed and swallowed, she asks. "Have we been able to go through the drone footage? Are we able to use this code word to hack them back?"

*

"I'm working on the drone footage, but that stuff takes hours, advanced or not," Jessica replies, frowning down at her phone. "I've got an email alert set up to let me know as soon as my reconstructions or tests are finished. You make a good point, Peggy. May just got here and has barely been noticed yet; she might be the one to send. It could be a dead end, but…well. A location is a location, and if Blackstone is in Armenia she might be able to find him. It's the first hint of another location besides the States or here that we have, after all."

Michael's observations about the multiple hackers gets a nod of her head. "Yeah, it could be." She shoots over more files; the accelerant results and what they mean, for example, and adds, "A…"

How to describe him?

"Another friend of mine, Luke Cage, has arrived to help. Not to put too fine a point on it, but he's black and invulnerable, so I set him to the task of trying to figure out how the elements of the firebomb might have been obtained. The Devil of Hell's Kitchen is here too, hopefully issuing a beatdown on Jane's behalf as we speak; he's very good at surveillance and grabbed us some info from the Aikili. Primarily, that Kagiso isn't too worried about Blackstone's location one way or the other, but that he's not particularly bothered by anything that's happening. He did pick up a name though: the Staff of Orisha. It is maybe the name of a weapon, maybe the name of an operation, maybe something else. Michael, can you reach out, see if MI-6 has any information on what that could be? I don't know if it's even related but at this point…" She shrugs. At this point it's all due diligence on everything all the time.

*

"Peggy, perhaps it would be best if you did go," Michael looks at her, eyebrows up. "I know what you're going to say, but you'll be no good at all if you end up back in a Wakandan prison." Then, "Armenia is a far easier country for traditional espionage. Before we send anyone, let's see if my contacts come up with any evidence of Blackstone operating there. If anyone leaves, they may not be able to get back in. So we best be sure it's worth it."

He opens another file on his phone. He can bring it up on his HUD, but the fact that he has it isn't exactly something he likes to go tossing around. So sometimes he just reads the old fashioned way. "There has to be something in the chemical analysis of the explosives. My gut is telling me that's where we'll find our next lead."

*

Peggy listens and nods through Jessica's information, frowning here and there and a raised eyebrow at the mention of a new friend arriving. She has not yet met this Luke Cage and so she will endeavor to meet him.

There's a glare at Michael. "I am not usually arrested, Michael," she tells him a bit shortly. It's not exactly a snap, but in British terms, she is certainly sharp. "I am not about to take myself off of this case on purpose simply because Armenia has better extradition laws. I do not mean to be arrested again: here or elsewhere." Despite the kindness before, she certainly seems to have bristled at the suggestion. "I have been looking into whether the black market has recently dealt weapons or anything of the like with that unique composition. Hopefully that will either mark this off or point us in the right direction."

*

"That's what I'm telling you, Michael," Jessica says. "The chemicals are this. Oxyacetylene? Welding fuel. Acetone? Just a fancy name for propane. Polyethylene microfilament? It's a long-tail plastic used in the fishing and textile industries. I already have someone trying to run down those leads. Because you can't just buy welding fuel anywhere. Propane is probably not as ubiquitous in this country as it is in the States, because they have better tech here, and that shit's dangerous. The microfilament could help us narrow something down too…maybe the bombmaker came from one of those two industries. The fact that it was an unknown process might have some legs, if we can figure out who might have been capable of coming up with said process."

She decides, rather consciously, to ignore the snapping between the two, as usual, and she says, "Of course you didn't mean to get arrested, Peggy, this is a tough country. Michael, checking your contacts before we send anyone is a good idea."

She leans back, sighing. This conversation seems to have slowly exhausted her…they've reached the end of their lead rope by this point. She gazes back out the window; checks the time on her phone.

*

There's the sound of a rustling package, then Jessica will feel a poke on her shoulder. It's Michael with another meal replacement bar.

Apparently Michael is the soccer mom of this trip.

"I will run down that particular combination and see if we have any record of a similar MO anywhere else, but in particular, see if it matches up with any location Blackstone was believed to be operating."

*

A poke on her shoulder. Jessica blinks twice. There is…this bar thing. She takes it, opens it up. Sniffs it a little, because 'meal replacement bar' doesn't sound promising. The smell reminds her of Fig Newtons, which she likes, so she tastes it. It's not bad. "Thanks," she says, which may be a little out of order here, but despite the fact that she would have told the elder Carter that being hangry wasn't exactly her problem right this second…

It helps.

"That sounds like a good idea too," the PI says.

"The fact that one of our party members is being attacked," she says, "is not great. But it does mean we're making more progress than it probably feels like we are. In my experience, the threats and attacks start when you start getting close." She's not sure who she's encouraging…them or herself…but she's holding fast to this idea that she's gotten that she needs to emulate Matt Murdock's commitment to rock-steady optimism. And if the best she can manage right now is quiet observation because of her worry…

Well, at least she no longer looks like she needs to punch anything at all.

*

Hangry might not be her problem, but taking a moment to just slow down and take a breath might be helpful. And in Michael's experience, nothing slows people down like food. "One thing that stuck with me from my time as a soldier is to eat and hydrate when you can, whenever you have a moment. You never know when you'll get your next chance.Aa full stomach and a hydrated body can give you the few seconds of edge on your enemy." His tone is..well, it hints at the man who is far, far older than he looks.

*

She's had this before, from Bucky, though Michael's British version is perhaps a bit more prim than Bucky will ever manage. Still, it makes her think of him, makes a wan smile cross over her lips. He'd pulled out another water bottle, and now she accepts it, saluting him with it, twisting the cap off, gulping it down. She's slowing down and taking a breath in spite of herself.

"Good lessons to learn," she comments, because his Soldier Momming is a little endearing. She dutifully works on the meal replacement bar then, deciding that it only makes good sense. She wants all the edges she can get for…

For what? Whatever has happened might already be over. The minutes ticking by are like hot coals and burning weights, each one seeming a lot like someone's lifeblood, slipping inorexibly away.

"What did your time as a soldier teach you about knowing someone is probably off dying, off where you can't do anything about it?"

*

Michael thinks about that for a moment, then, "To focus on what you can do. Don't let your imagination carry you away. You can't plan for a situation you can't see." He looks out the window at the very different Wakandan streets.

"During one mission, I was in a truck with a half-dozen other men. We were heading towards our objective when we got word that the village had caught fire before the civilians could be evacuated. A friend of mine was in the contingent to help with the evacuation."

He pauses a moment, takes a breath, then continues. "Then our radio went dead. It was over an hour before we could see the situation. Our CO made us talk about anything but the mission. We knew what we had to do when we were on the ground, and worrying about them would only wear us out mentally before we even got there. We talked about other operations, about how the war was going in general. We talked about our favourite films or strategies for keeping gear dry. Anything but what we were about to step blindly into."

*

It's fantastic advice, coupled with a war story, and Jessica can see why he immediately demanded they go over the whole case. Which was fine, they needed to, and on the deadline they're on they can't waste any opportunity to compare notes, generate next steps, and go pursue them. It's just there's more car ride than case. She takes the final bite of the fig newton, trying to imagine it in her head. Civilians dying, burning. It makes her sad, and she finds she can't ask if his buddy got out. He didn't say anyway, because he points out what his CO did.

She talks about the first thing that pops into her head.

"The key to solving cryptograms are the one and three letter words. The one letters always have to be A or I, right? Usually A is the safer bet if there are more than 3 of them. The three letters are almost always 'and'. Or 'the'. You gotta watch out though; sometimes it's for. Contractions are of course gold. T, S, NT. Double letters, also great. EE, OO, TT, SS. Language has patterns. Predictable. Sometimes, though, you just have to play. Sometimes there aren't any good hints. You're stuck with the two letter words, which are a pain in the ass…is it an, or as, or is, or if, or of, or what? So sometimes you just put in what it might be, and see if it does anything stupid to the rest of the puzzle. If you put it in, and it doesn't do anything stupid, then it's a pretty safe bet and you can move on to figuring out the next thing."

Even as she says it she feels a little ridiculous, but…he did say 'anything.'

*

It takes a moment for Michael to realize she's taking his advice. He doesn't know her well enough to tell the difference between a digression and the beginning of something relevant. He listens with a small smile on his face. "I've always been shit at number and word puzzles. Peggy's the codebreaker in the family. I don't even have the patience for bloody crossword puzzles."

*

As they conversation continues, Peggy listens as best she can, but she starts to drift here and there. It's unprofessional and it's not that the conversation matter is boring or irrelevant. Instead, Peggy has been inside a place where she was unable to truly rest for her entire duration. Any time she shut her eyes, it was possible for someone to try something, to make a political statement against the outsiders invading Wakanda. Being amongst friends in family in a comfortable and cool environment? Despite all her training, she starts to drift.

The keywords of cryptograms manages to rouse her slightly. A bit blearily, she says, "It depends on the code. Crpytograms as a literal sense are transcriptions with shifted letters or numbers, keeping sentence structure the same. A true code has all words and letters scrambled without spaces. It's enough to make it nearly impossible to crack without the keyword. Like the enigma code." Michael is right in thinking her the codebreaker. She was, in fact, briefly linked to Bletchley Park.

As she says that, she smirks at Michael's frustration with the crossword puzzle. "That's not even a code, that's simply trivia," she teases.

"I'll take a look on our way." However, it seems as if the rest of the way - despite the panic - will be spent recovering some of the sleep lost in Wakandan Holding. Without meaning to, Peggy drifts, inadvertently causing a polite silence in the car to allow her some rest. Her head lolls to the window as the landscape passes them by and the rush to meet Jane.

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