Chronic Backstabbing Disorder

September 02, 2017:

Nathaniel Richards briefs Phil Coulson, Sally Stojespal and Kate Bishop on the status of events in Transia.

The Triskelion

Please address your suggestions on the decor to the conveniently located SHIELD-themed suggestion box.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Bucky Barnes, Natasha Romanova


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

The proposed after action report for the Ukrainian affair has been delayed several times. First due to Nathaniel injuries, as Crimson Dynamo broke several ribs. Then the Ukrainian and the Russians were being difficult, accusing one another of working with terrorists and withholding information about the route of the convoy and the destination. Interrogating the Kobra prisoners was also messy. Most were brainwashed fanatics.

But it is finally happening. Nathaniel came a few minutes ago, looking sharp in a dark three piece suit, and surprisingly accompanied by Hawkeye (the pretty one) and not the Scarlet Witch as originally planned. But whatever the Avengers are planning is going to involve the whole team, not just two or three of them. Once in the Triskelion, the two heroes follow Coulson directions to meet with the senior agent.


The Senior Agent has commendeered a very nice conference room for this meet-up. He'd been right in there. Managing interrogations, calmly slipping in between Ukranian and Russian diplomats to drop a diffusing word, to nudge them, here and there, towards a resolution. A patient man, he never let the very real headaches all of this was starting to cause show on his face or in his demeanor. Few would have guessed, and those few are probably only those who know him very well indeed.

He, too, is in one of his sharpest suits, though his tie seems to have migrated away long before this meeting, leaving a few of his top dress shirt buttons unbuttoned. He meets Nathaniel and Hawkeye at the door, offering a companionable handshake to each of them. "It's good to see you both," he greets. "I've included Agent Stojespal in this meeting, as her actions were invaluable in the field, and because I expect her cultural and regional knowledge will continue to have a positive impact on our activities there."

Coffee and tea are both available; Coulson's already working on his. He heads back to take one of the comfy seats at the table. It has some phenomenal videoconferencing and display equipment if they need it. Everything is SHIELD themed, well demonstrating the organization's perhaps baffling habit of putting their logo on just about everything they can find.


Sitting not too far to Phil's side is, of course, said Agent Stojespal. A high-fashion suit as well, one she's come to see as her 'dress uniform' for SHIELD, combined with a pair of low heels gets her looking just the right aspect of aide for Coulson…and hopefully ignored, as she circulates between the various diplomats. Silently nodding or smiling, of course - her accented english would blow any idea that she doesn't know what they're whispering to themselves, and if she can pick up a tidbit or two that is useful it'll get passed on quietly to her boss.

Otherwise she's happy to settle back against the wall more than anything else, staying out of people's way - and hoping she looks for all the world as just some high-paid secretary more than anything else.

SHIELD is, as she's teased Coulson before, an American agency more than anything else. Marketing and branding are terribly important…the fact that she usually wears her own family's coat of arms is totally not the same thing. At least she'd thought ahead to remove it today.

She stands first when the others arrive, greeting them quietly and leading them in. Junior agent gets the junior work, after all. "Mr. Richards. Ma'am." This last to Hawkeye; she's never met the other woman. "Sally Stojespal, ma'am." Her hand extends to shake softly as that Sokovian-accented voice continues. "Pleasure to meet you. Does anyone need anything?"

Might as well play the role of server as well…


Kate Bishop might come from an affluent family, but uses all that access to money to dress incredibly simply without a single impression of designer labels or obvious brandnames. Nope, those dark wash jeans, loose white t-shirt, and brown leather jacket look like she got them off the rack somewhere. It's really her boots that indicate any obvious spendatures, as they look as if she could go free-running around town in them without much trouble. She's at least not got her hands in her pockets despite all instinct to go moseying beside Richards. She is just a half-step behind Nathaniel when they enter the conference room, and Bishop is already sweeping the room with an intent to scope out corners and windows. She upnods to Coulson at his greeting, but then sidesteps casually toward the coffee to get herself a steaming cup of joe. She shakes two packets of sugar before tearing open the thin paper and dumping them into the bottom of the mug. They are promptly drowned in coffee. "You must have spent big money on your branding exercise." She says this just as she taps a finger against the nearest emblazoned SHIELD logo. She sips her sweeted black coffee. "You ever think about maybe trying some neon in the next upgrade? Maybe some day-glo blue?" Sip.

Kate half-turns toward Agent Stojespal. "I got coffee. I'm good. The Hawkette," god, she hates that, but somehow still abuses herself with it, "is sated." She then nods to Coulson, ready to listen without (too many) snarky interruptions.


"Agent Coulson, Agent Stojespal," greets Nathaniel pleasantly. Out of his armor his voice carries a faint, hard to identify accent. "This is Hawkeye," he offers the codename, although Kate has no secret identity and he is sure Coulson knows perfectly who she really is.

"Thank you, nothing for me," he replies to Sally, waiting for Kate to return before settling on a chair in front of Coulson. "As we commented briefly just before the confrontation with the Kobra terrorists, I believe an intervention in Transia is necessary. The past few years the country's situation has taken a turn for the worst. Democratic guarantees have been suspended and human right violations against the Gypsy and Muslim minorities are becoming systematic and horrifying. Incidentally all this has come in parallel with the creation of this company, the Transian Corporation, that has taken over the state-owned business the government was using to finance itself. Particularly the uranium mines of the country."

With no apparent projector a large holographic display of Transia landscape appears over the table. A small nation south of Transilvania, Transia consist of a single large-ish city, East Transia, and a large number of villages. A mountainous country, it seems built around the infamous Mount Wundagore, witch Sally will probably remember as the source of dozens of tales told all over East Europe. More famous in some regards than Stonehenge in England or the Giza Pyramids in Egypt.

Transia was part of the Eastern Block and after the fall of the Soviet Union it made a complicated and murky transition into democracy. The current President, Dumitru Russoff, was an officer of the communist secret police and no one really believes him to be a democrat. He has quite a bit in common with Vladimir Putin, at a much smaller scale.


"I'm still waiting on the approval on my plan to outline every single logo in LED lighting depicting every color of the rainbow," Coulson quips, unruffled by Bishop's snark and more than willing to poke a little fun at himself too. "I told Fury it would help us blind our enemies with the power of love, but so far he remains unmoved."

Assuming Coulson Knows Things is generally wise. He snarks, and he knows things. And sometimes, he says things like: "Gypsy's a racial slur isn't it? I think the appropriate term is probably Romani."

He says it gently, but he's going to call out such things when he catches them.

He listens to the background being laid down. Quite a bit of it is review for him, but that doesn't mean it doesn't get his full and complete attention. "SHIELD agrees it would be best to address these issues. What are your thoughts on the logistics of getting that done, Mr. Richards?" He has an inkling the Avengers have a plan they already want to float, and is more than content to hear that plan out. That doesn't mean he won't poke some holes in it and suggest some counters if he sees them, but to his mind that's just how one gets to the very best plan.


Hawkette? Hawkeye, it seems. Curious name, it must be a codename of some sort…or just plain nickname. It isn't as if everyone is a superhero or anything. Sally nods when she says she's covered, and grins a little. "I've always felt that blue is a fantastic color," Sally says, then gives Kate a wink - the joke is obvious, now, with the girl's cobalt-blue eyes. Of course, she can't help but snort with amusement at Phil's suggestion - the next thing she knows, he might end up in a big fuzzy bear suit with a neon-pink SHIELD logo on its chest.

Or for that matter, she might.

"Sir." The last is said with a nod to Richards, clearly the senior agent in this particular discussion. And then she blinks hard at the mention of an intervention - the idea's a little scary, and she looks to Phil to get his reaction first before taking in the map.

It's not directly bordering Sokovia, but it's close - close enough that as he speaks, she can't help but worry about her homeland. "Those mountains, yes. They are the same range, just further down, that passes through Polyuchyn - my hometown, in Sokovia," she adds for the other two. "Both nations are similar, one major city, many smaller lands. Mountainous, rural. And…"

Rusalka frowns a little. "A direct 'intervention' is not something that would be easily received. There is much old history in this land, more than the last ten or twenty years. Centuries of invaders come to claim 'protection' and 'help' - and for a little while, they do. But then it gets worse. Always." She frowns, thinking of the legends of Mount Wundagore.

"Romani, Muslim, Orthodox, Slav, Balkan…so many little groups. But they unite when they are scared, when they feel threatened. Anything…should be soft, most of all. There is little reason to trust each other, why should they trust a true foreigner? Sokovia is not the only, ah…prickly nation, when it comes to such things. But."

She drums her fingers on the table. "The uranium mines, and now this corporation. This…is not, at least, the kind of thing that most of my people would do. And this strongman, Russoff, he supports this company?" There's something itching her brain that doesn't feel right, but she can't say what.


"How very inclusive of you," Kate quips back almost too easily. "You should just have him listen to that Celine Dion song… or if you wanted something more 80s, you could always go Huey Lewis and the News." She's settled herself into a seat and quiets down to listen to Nathaniel's information. She looks almost uncomfortable at being called Hawkeye, but she accepts it without verbal complaint. For a time, she stays quiet, just being the New Kid on the Block. When the talk turns to the segmented populations, she leans forward a bit more, hands cradling her coffee. "So… we don't come in offering to save them. If these little groups unite when threatened, then it sounds like they need to be given support to save themsleves." A shrug, and another sip of coffee, and Kate concludes with, "Just a thought."


"Romani." Wanda says 'Gypsy'. But sure, Nathaniel will always be politically correct. Or at least he will until New York finally corrupts him.

"The logistics are not too complex, as thankful the country is small. The Transian army is outdated and poorly training, they have a handful of T-72 tanks and Tiger combat helicopters. They also have a few elite mountain troop platoons and counter-insurgency units that could give a tough fight to SHIELD units in the right terrain. But I think we should try to bypass them entirely. In fact, destroying the Transia Corporation will destroy the current government."

The holo-display changes. Several installations are presented, one alongside other. Most look old but reformed soviet age buildings. A holo-screen appears over the table, there is a bulky man in his forties there. "Transia Corp CEO Wolfgang Mallick. This man did not exit three years ago. I have done some research, which I will provide to SHIELD, of course. His background is remarkable, and entirely falsified. He and his men seem to have taken over the country in an almost bloodless coup. Transia Corps employs also about two hundred mercenaries, most foreigners, they are very well armed."


"The power of love is a curious thing," Phil replies, but then Sally is speaking and Kate is weighing in with her agreement. As it happens, Phil sees what Sally's getting at, too. "See? Invaluable," Phil says, as Sally begins giving her assessment of the country. The lines around his eyes crinkle as he concentrates, and listens to the rest of the briefing.

He tap taps his fingers thoughtfully against the polished surface of the conference table.

"Sally," he asks, "if we armed these groups and gently encouraged them to come together somehow— how would you do that, in a way that made sure they did? Further, if what Nate's saying is true any intervention, even a soft intervention, could result in a power vacuum. Do you have thoughts on how we could mitigate that before it gets messy?"

Because as it happens, he agrees. A big SHIELD-Avengers military strike sounds pretty much like a disaster waiting to happen here in terms of long-term impact. He does nod to Nathaniel; he looks forward to reading Mallick's information to be sure.


Mallick? "Wait. This is not a slavic name. It sounds too western." She frowns, thinking. "And - you say that he is the one in charge? Not Russoff? Has anyone…" Her voice trails off as she taps away on her tablet, just looking for Transian news. Any secret-police leader like him should be making speeches, especially with something new like the corporation's founding.

Coulson throws it to her, and - she swallows suddenly. It's her assessment, and the weight of it lands on her shoulders hard. How could they accomplish that? What would work?

A few seconds pass, as she stares at the map - then looks up to meet the other three's eyes. "Russoff is still in power. But…I don't think he would trust someone like this Mallick. A foreigner, an oligarch? And foreign mer-that's it."

She glances back at Nathan. "You said, perhaps two hundred soldiers? Under his control?" Without waiting for a nod, she glances at Coulson. That number sounds a little like the working staff at Icarus Dynamics, their facility in Sokovia that had nearly been in her family's backyard. After a liberal application of her great grandmother's thermite collection and a number of local gunmen, the facility had been dealt with.

Her voice is a little slower, more heavily accented, as she thinks. "I do not think it would be hard so much, arranging something similar, Agent Coulson. Mr. Richards, ah…this corporation. Transia. Are they specific to mining? What do they do, specifically?"


Earwormed. Kate at least refrains from speaking about men weeping and singing, and focuses on the mission at hand. She nods to Sally and Coulson both at the slowly-forming plan, but then her eyes cut to the information about this bloodless coup. She grimaces. "Those are the worst." Beat pause. "I mean, when it comes to convincing people to rally against it. Get a bad guy to come to power in that way, it's almost impossible to get people to agree to fight against him. He may be bad, but hey… no one's dead." Bishop looks slightly out of her league. Country-level politics are a bit beyond her. She just needs targets to shoot at. "Could always merge the plans here… try to get the populace to rally against the Big Bad, while also trying to take out this, uh, foreign element." She hesitates to say the A-word, but she's definitely suggesting some assassination here.


"Mallick is Muslim, actually," comments Nathaniel, as a side note, offering Rusalka a faint smile. "I would be surprised if Mallick is Transian, though. I think the man is a Roxxon agent, but I do not have solid evidence yet. But some of his men come from Roxxon Energy subsidiaries, many of the mercenaries have worked for 'security companies' depending from Roxxon."

He pauses. "Under normal circumstances I would expect large sums of money going from the Transia Corporation backers to elements in Transia government. Bribes. I have been unable to detect those transactions. Admittedly they could have taken place through Madripoor banks or similar. But given the scale of the operation… I would expect some of Russoff's cronies making displays of wealth. I have seen nothing suspicious, so there are unknown elements at work."

As for the corporation operations, he nods faintly. "Uranium is pretty much the only element of value in Transia. Half the city's industry revolves around the refining of the mineral. They have avoided developing even a tourism sector."

He turns to Coulson. "Ultimately I think a chirurgical operation with minimum political intervention is the best. We have evidence of trading with international terrorists. But if we take it to the UN Council, nothing will be done for years. And the Russian will veto UN troop deployment unless the evidence is overwhelming, which we cannot provide right now. But moving under the presumption we are hitting a criminal organization, we can act quickly. If Director Fury authorizes us."


Assassination had crossed Phil's mind as well. Of course, one very good assassin is currently enjoying some "enforced hospitality" at the hands of the Wakandan King, a situation that is as under control as it's going to get, which is to say May and Carter are on the ground. Natasha is a natural possibility for taking this fellow out, and he mentally makes a note of that.

But Nathaniel isn't talking about some major loud strike operation. And the fact that the natives might be hard to arm in this case has been registered and noted. Their status as a criminal organization is also noted. He steeples his fingers thoughtfully and says to Richards, "I need to know more about what you envision the shape of this chiurgical operation looking like."

Rest assured, all the feedback, ideas, and thoughts are being parsed, thought about, and examined one by one. The questions flying around the table are good ones. And now that they're well and truly into it, the jokes have stopped. Hazel eyes track the hologram in the center of the table.


Sally nods at Kate, brown hair bobbing around the hairband she wears. "Da, yes. When noone is harmed, or maybe just a couple, it is easy to forget. Especially when the sun shines the next day, the power stays on, and the trains run." She frowns; the politics aren't things she normally considers or is particularly trained in. She's just here because she's got the closest view to the mindset of the locals.

"I think…that might be possible. Though, getting them angry enough to unite - as you said, the guards, the mercenaries, are all foreign. This Mallick, the man who did not exist?" She nods at the confirmation from Richards. "Absolutely is no local. If he were he would not be bringing foreign fighters in; he would know better. If he can hire them, he can hire from the local police or military. He should have."

It might be less trustworthy, but mercenary troops know the number one loyalty in life - who butters their bread. "Instead, being cut out of ah…the 'gravy train,' the police and military will be disaffected. Especially if this Mallick is pushing for eventual control overall, yet relying on foreign muscle. There will be friction. If he is not paying bribes, there will be more friction."

Eyebrows furrow. "This…Kobra organization. The terrorists that stole the shipment initially; they were very well armed. Were you able to find out their backers?" If Transia Corporation money isn't going to the Transian government…who is it going to?"

An errant thought comes to mind, and she just speaks for a few seconds to let it out. "Did Mallick…steal his own shipment? It would give him immunity in who received it, in the end…and would let him claim security needs…but it is foolishly daring. It is just an errant thought, I am sorry."


Nathaniel nods at Coulson. "I can provide you a list of target and an estimate of the expected resistance," he offers. Because yes, he has plans to conquer the entire country and they are detailed. Nathaniel is that special kind of crazy person that probably will ends up calling himself Kang and goes into world-conquering schemes over several time-lines.

But Coulson will only get the cliff notes. They are still good enough to make happy anyone in SHIELD's strategic command.

"Capturing Mallick would be one of the priorities. As well as obtaining evidence of the corporation crimes. Obtaining evidence of Roxxon involvement would be ideal, too. Secondary but key concern too is finding out if the mines are truly exploited by imprisoned minorities and acquiring evidence of crimes against humanity. That will bring down the wrath of the UN and be the end of Russoff and his coterie."

As for Mallick being part of Kobra, Nathaniel gives a hesitant headshake. "As I said, I suspect Mallick is a Roxxon agent. And that he did sell the uranium to Kobra as well as Russian companies." The interrogation of the Kobra prisoners seems to support that theory, as Coulson should know by now.


"Don't be sorry, Sally, it wouldn't be the first time someone has done something like that," Phil comments. "And you should be having and sharing those thoughts. I found it strange myself, that we had a terrible organization stealing from a terrible organization. As it turns out you're close enough to being right. They sold it to someone else, then sold the intel to Kobra to steal it from them. That has to rank right up there as one of the Seven Habits of Highly Demented Corporations."

Nathaniel is promising to give him the intel, and that's so very refreshing. "Finding evidence is a good strategy," he agrees, "especially if we're going to hinge anything at all on the criminal angle. It goes without saying that something like that has to be slow, steady, and quiet, or else it'll backfire. Once I've read over the strategy I'll take it to Fury. Assuming I don't see flaws in it that I need to discuss, I'll provide my positive recommendation."


Capturing Mallick. "If things are as bad as you say," Sally admits, "then it would not be hard to start a fire with any but the lightest touch. The police, the military, are cut out of the money flow. Possibly even the head of the government. The people are forced to work, for a foreigner, in terrible conditions." It's definitely a tinderbox she's describing. "Capturing him may be difficult, if the people get to him first."

When Phil confirms her dark thought, she flinches and grimaces. "I did not intend to be right. Ugh…it is a terrible thought, though. I believe…what is the term? Chronic Backstabbing Disorder?" She can't help the moment of humor, but the point is made. "Perhaps the customer is not the only ones that this Transia Corporation has dealt dirty with. If so…that land would be ripe for a potential revolution - from within."

She thinks back to her great-grandmother's stories. "A mine 'accident'…a protest…foreign guards for a foreign billionaire stealing 'their' resources. A crack down, seen nationwide, and…" Shrug. "It is not hard to start a fire in such a place, especially if the people decide to unite and see this man as their enemy. An occupier, a thief. There might even be partisans forming against him now."

And then she cringes. "Or Kobra. More than their shipment, they lost their helicopters and a -" A pause as her voice catches for an instant, and a swallow. "A number of their fighters." The slightest of glances to Phil, and a headshake. "They may seek revenge of their own, at which point…"

There's a lot of ways this could turn very bad. Alternatively, there's a lot of levers that could make this very good. "Mallick must be a very careful person, though…but he cannot have thought of everything. Especially if he is working for another organization; he cannot play his whole hand if he must keep one or two cards secret. Yes?" Hooray confusing metaphors.


Chronic Backstabbing Disorder. Yes, it feels like Roxxon's malady.

"You are thinking in politics, Agent Stojespal." Replies Nathaniel. "I think we want a quick operation. Go in, get the data and bring Mallick to an international court of justice. Russoff will fall if crimes against humanity are proven. The UN has mechanisms to deal with people like him and he will be weak if the Transia Corporation is in ruins. Revolutions are long, messy affairs, and the Avengers are ill suited to join them."

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