Why COs Need XOs

February 23, 2018:

Sharon Carter takes a moment to update Phil Coulson on recent events. Orders are issued and plans are set into motion.

Phil's Office, The Triskelion

Where coffee continues to get brewed in a percolator as old as yer mom.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Scott Summers, Sally Stojespal, Sloane Albright, Tony Stark, Captain America, Bucky Barnes, Jane Foster, Atli Wodensdotter, Peggy Carter, Michael Carter

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Plenty of agents are almost entities unto themselves in SHIELD. Oh, everyone has a boss—
even Nick Fury has someone he answers to— but there are field agents who enter the field alone and spend most of their time self-reliant.

And then there's teams, and Agent Coulson's one of the best leaders in the organization. He knows no agent is truly an island. He knows how to manage and how to inspire. It's a big reason why Sharon was so thrilled to become his XO.

It's also snapped her into a great deal more attention. She wasn't slack before, but now she's in early and out late and providing carefully-noted reports and analyses and Powerpoints and she's maybe being slightly that irritating overachiever type.

This means that when the little meeting-in-five-minutes reminder pops up, she's already at Coulson's office door, tablet in hand, pert smile gleaming. "Afternoon, Phil," she says. "Have a few moments to go over the current assignments?"

*

Phil may be all of those things. But he's also been distracted.

But then, Sharon knows part of why. He came in one night and grimly told her that every warehouse where they have been storing relief supplies and weapons needs to be moved. New warehouses, and the location of those warehouses classified and encoded to a higher clearance level, because someone has been robbing them.

He's also been in a variety of closed-door meetings, and he's been talking to the other regional directors as well as his bosses. Sometimes via conference call, sometimes in person. Whisper has it he's urging a stance, an official stance from SHIELD, on the matter of mutant registration. And given his press conference, it's not hard to guess what stance he is pushing. He may even be making some sort of progress with it, but it's tough to tell. SHIELD isn't exactly eager to tie its hands in any way, shape, or form. If he pulls this off it will be the result of gargantuan effort and stubborness.

There are rumors he plans to go to Genosha, a place he really has been reluctant to touch with a proverbial ten-foot pole ever since Scott Summers came and gave him 25% of a plan that sounded god-awful, refusing to give any further details than that.

"Come on in," he tells her, pushing his laptop aside. He closes it.

As for overachieving, he either appreciates it or doesn't see fit to complain about it. He hasn't said a peep, not even one of his signature understated snarks.

*

Sharon closes the door behind her, then strides on in to settle herself in one of the chairs opposite Phil's desk. Has she spent a few sleepless nights lately after the warehouse-moving and the half-dozen other things she had to make happen? Of course. Was it worth it? Would she be Agent Carter if it wasn't worth every minute?

"I have reports," she says. "The list I sent you of the new warehouse addresses is carefully incorrect, but I'm sure you know that. I have a paper list that was delivered to you in interoffice mail. The one with the expense reports." Being covert, shockingly enough, is becoming something of a habit.

*

"I found it," Phil says quietly. "Thank you. The list of whatever agents knew about those warehouses is sadly too long for me to make any good inferences from, but I'd dearly love to know who decided to leak them." He's had just about enough of various SHIELD agents with side projects, whether those side projects are Hydra or their own personal ideas on who ought to be doing what where.

"Good work," he adds, with a hint of a weary smile. "What do you have to report?" Because through all of this, he has lost touch with some things he really would have liked to keep a more careful eye on. Needless to say this business of having a formal XO is proving to be more important than he ever thought it would be; he's not sure why he waited around to appoint one before. Probably because it had to be the right person, and that right person is Sharon.

*

"At least if we figure out how they're getting the information, we can narrow it down." Sharon lets out a thin sigh. "I had some trouble sleeping the other night, so I tried crunching the numbers on that. As far as I can tell? It can't be just one person. But I guess we always suspected that."

She taps on her tablet, dragging this here, that there. The file she's opened is Birthdays 2018. "The short list is… not short. I'm still working on a solution for maintaining security on the warehouses and I'm about ready to say it's a better idea to just sit back and watch how security gets breached again. Against my better judgment."

She pauses a moment, then: "Regarding mutant rights and registration. I've gone over articles, blog posts, tweets, and surveillance reports. Well, I say that. Our resarchers collated them. I took their collated information and condensed it into a report including hotspots, related organizations pro and con, and an analysis of the growing tensions in M-Town. This pot has been really eager to boil, but I think we're having some luck turning down the temperature."

Grimacing, she adds: "The Genosha situation… I don't think I need to tell you much about that. Stark took himself and some colleagues over to pick up some of his old toys and get them out of the fight. It could have been more disastrous than it was. Poking an anthill doesn't do much when the ants are already on the march."

*

"Hmm."

Phil considers this. Then says, "I want you to take the list of everyone who knew where the warehouses were. I want you to just slowly leak maybe a small section to each list. Don't leak the same, say, 5 warehouses to any one person. You might have some overlap, but let's see which one gets hit, and maybe we'll find ourselves a shorter list of who knows where they are. We'll lose some more supplies that way, but we'll catch our mole, too, and once we catch our mole we can move that small subsection of warehouses one more time and be done."

Phil looks heartened at the comment about M-Town. He says: "I'll level with you, Sharon, about what I'm trying to do." He stands up to pour coffee, and silently nods his head to his ancient percolator to ask if she wants some. He knows how she takes it by now and is happy to serve it up. "I'm trying to urge SHIELD to a clear statement that reads as follows: SHIELD will refuse to enforce or participate in any registration or testing activities, or any attempts to imprison or institutionalize mutants who aren’t a clear danger to themselves or others."

He shrugs. "It's no more than saying we'll do what we always did but aren't going to bow to any foolishness just because some states let the bigots win. And since I suspect some states are relying on organizations like SHIELD and the DEO to enforce these laws it might pull the plug and start bringing some peace and sanity back, while opening up the way for more diplomatic efforts. I'm pretty sure our acts of terror are tracable back to Genosha, I'm flying out there to try to take a stab at some early diplomacy. It might encourage extremists to ease up and melt back into the woodwork. I think we need to calm those waters more than we need to catch ourselves a pair of teen terrorists right now."

But this last makes him look pained. "Not that Stark's actions haven't perhaps complicated matters. Can I have a full report on that debacle, then?"

*

Bless the man. Especially for making the coffee in the first place. Knowing how she takes it is, ironically, the cherry on top of the sundae. She accepts gratefully and wraps her hands around it, taking a long slow drink.

And then she stares, and the look on her face is both astonishment and, oddly, a bit of joy. She's not a metahuman or a mutant, but she knows plenty of both. There's even a few in SHIELD, sometimes to greater or lesser extents in the more-than-human closet. "That's going to be hard to make happen," she says. "We're beholden to more than ourselves. But we need to make that statement, and when we do, I believe other organizations will follow our example. We SHOULD be the example the rest of the world looks to." And as much as any SHIELD agent dissembles, that was said with as much honest fervor as can be found in the building.

She takes a deep breath at the rest. There's always snarls and complications. It's their job to untie the Gordian knots, no matter how many there are.

"The after-action report is in our shared folder. Long story short? Stark grabbed a scratch band of whoever he could gather up — Captain Rogers, Barnes, Foster, Agent Albright, Atli of Asgard, some… kid from New Jersey, and flew them all out to Genosha to pick up his property. The Genoshans didn't take kindly to that and went on the attack. It would have gone a little differently if Magneto himself didn't show up and use Stark's weapons and his own special skills to take out the Genoshan troops who were attacking Stark's people. Magneto's clearly going to try to use the event to his own advantage. I don't think it made things substantially worse in a conflict with no "good" side. There WAS, though, a report of a massive robot that identified metahumans by type. It sounds like some Genoshan technology they use to root out mutants in their population."

*

Phil gives a little smile. Well, that's one more agent on board, anyway. "If only everyone else saw it as clearly as you do. It's slow going. I believe I've got a few on board, but not nearly everyone yet."

But then? She's listing names.

Every name makes his headache grow. "Oh good," he says, with all of the understated sarcasm he's known for. "I was afraid you were about to say he'd done something sensible and well thought out. I was afraid you were going to tell me, don't worry Phil, nobody affiliated with SHIELD was out there at all. Instead, one of our biggest poster children went, one of our more identifiable mutant agents, along with one of our contracted researchers, along with one of our covert contractor assets, and the Asgardian we're supposed to be keeping in check whose idea of being told she's getting out of control is to be bitten in uncomfortable places. I'm glad I know this now, before I walk in there."

He exhales, pulls up the holographic version of the report on his watch, and notes the name of the kid. "Do we know why he plucked some random child out of Jersey and dragged her to this excursion?" He might either have to go talk to this kid himself, dispatch someone to talk to her or…have a chat with Stark about why random kids do not belong in the thick of international incidents.

Or all of the above.

*

"I wish I could also tell you that none of it was recorded," Sharon replies with a tight smile, "but just because there's no footage of it officially released doesn't mean it's not waiting. But this is Stark. If you want sensible plans, talk to…" She considers this. "Yourself, I guess, since that's where they seem to come from."

Gesturing to the image of the brightly-dressed nineteen year old, she adds: "She's a metahuman. Another costumed hero, popular in Jersey City. Which isn't hard, since nobody really pays attention to Jersey City. Given Stark's own movements, she and everyone else who went were in and around Stark Tower at the time. Could have been for tech, could have been for some other reason. She's of the right age to be an intern there, or some kind of very junior tech. Given how everything turned out, though, I don't think we need to belabor it with Stark. The man feels bad enough."

That seems to spark a memory, though: "On that subject. Michael Carter. I'd like to get the report on his injuries in Norway. It seems those bullets caused him some permanent damage, and Stark's eager to get going on fixing it." What she doesn't have to say: this is a good project for Stark to be working on. This is a really good distraction for a very distractable person.

*

Phil hears it though. His entire expression turns wry, and he notes the kid. "Ah. An intern. Of course she is. Everyone is Stark's intern eventually. Tell Agent Stojespal to get to know the kid, would you, and to give me an assessment of her?" If only so he knows who is swirling around Stark and his towers. Since he suspects Stark will throw her into something else soon enough.

He tilts his head about Michael Carter. "Ah, yes," he says, and he pulls up a file, firing it over to her. "You're welcome to pass that on to him. I'd like to try to get Michael absorbed into SHIELD before MI 6 snaps him back up. Do you think he'd have an interest, or is he a bit too embittered by the twists and turns of the profession right now?"

*

"My great-uncle," Sharon replies with a brief almost-laugh, "is currently gluing together model airplanes in a SHIELD safehouse. I don't think he wants to retire, but I don't think he wants to come out right yet. He also realized before he even said hello that SHIELD was hoping I'd talk him into being helpful. He's not an idiot. Let me work on him. I think between Stark getting him back on his feet and his own restlessness he'll be with us soon."

She makes a note, though, to have a word with Agent Stojespal. Shouldn't be difficult. It's possible she's made contact already.

*

"No, he never was that," Coulson agrees, entirely unruffled. "Which is why we want him in the first place. He'd certainly find us more hospitable, I think, than his last employer, but he's got no reason to trust that other than the family ties, which may have their own, unpredictable effect on how he sees us. Still, he's too good of an asset to let sit. Tell him he can keep the model planes, perhaps. We all have our hobbies, after all."

Some might argue Coulson doesn't. He argues he absolutely does. He collects things, listens to baseball games and…sometimes…gets to fish.

"Anything else I should know before I head out to Genosha?"

*

"I've never been so glad to be so overworked in my life?" Sharon smiles, but just a little. "It's a privilege, Phil. Thanks. If there's anything I can be working on out here… the other investigations have been going smoothly enough, and if you have questions on those reports, I'll answer them whenever you like. But there's nothing else pressing that I can think of. Just take care in Genosha. It's a tough neighborhood."

*

"Do me a favor and just mention Supernanny to Tony in passing," Phil says as he stands up. "It will be as good as one of these."

He makes the two fingers pointing at two eyes gesture at himself, then points them at Sharon. "He will read that as me doing that, to him, and we never have to have more of a discussion about his actions than that, because by this subtle act he will know precisely how I feel about his activities there."

He smirks as he takes up his duffle bag. Apparently he intended to get the flight started right after this meeting.

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