1964-08-08 - Spies Like Me
Summary: SHIELD is used to truth being a total fabrication. They're usually the ones telling the lies, after all. Not today. Encrypted claims that Vietnamese naval units attacked the USS Maddox come as a surprise to the people monitoring that area. And when a desperate agent calls in, what should a good spy do?
Related: N/A
Theme Song: Paint It Black - Ramin Djawadi
bucky shang-chi teddy carol-danvers coulson billy rogue 

2100 hrs, New York City.

Most of the day shift working in the glorified cages at the Triskelion headed out two to three hours ago. Their replacements are more of a skeleton crew, crunching through data obtained by various agents, operatives, and listening posts stationed around the world. It's commonly understood the night shift's "happy hour" starts around 0200 hours, aka 2 AM, when global hotspots rev up to activity.

Nothing much indicates tonight should be any more or less tense than any other. Geopolitics waits on no man or woman. In the bowels of the building, analysts trudge through reports and feeds, intercept transmissions and tap party-lines. Their superiors wonder why they're condemned to a nocturnal existence.

And Phil Coulson knows perfectly well things have already hit the fan when chased down by a lackey about "Boxer" — shorthand for an operation currently ongoing in northeast North Vietnam, involving Agent Sill. One highly sensitive operation in which Communist powers that be are plausibly taking kicks at the hornet's nest.

The lackey in question is trying to jog the half mile down stairs back to one of the secure areas kitted out with top-of-the-line technology, where analysts live in almost perpetual darkness squinting at fuzzy grey monitors or microfiches, huge headphones over their ears, miles of tape rolling to capture every crackle. It's not a good sign if one of those birds started squawking.

Coulson makes it a point to spend one graveyard shift here each week. This week marks the second night in a row he's been here for the spooky night shift, which explains why he hasn't been seen around HQ. Armed with a mug of coffee and a tablet of paper in hand, he's hunched over one of those data crunchers with a squint to his eye and a smirk on his face. "Jansen," he calls toward one of the HAM radio operators, "you just keep trying to pick up that broadcast in South Vietnam. I need your ears, pal. Need 'em badly."

Shang-Chi is awake because he only sleeps for three hours a night. He's still adjusting to life in SHIELD. They like routine and structure and, while he is no stranger to discipline himself, their organization seems to be anathemic to the kind of freeform work that he's done in the past. He fought for his independence, after all, and isn't about to hand it over easily.

Luckily, their bureaucracy is also loose enough that he can essentially ignore the more restrictive elements as he likes and it largely goes unnoticed.

He's clad in simple silks, scarlet trimmed in black and is barefoot as he sips on a cup of tea. He's walking the hallway back towards his quarters for the night, for the moment oblivious to the chaos consuming Agent Coulson's attention.

The nice thing about being half-Kree, you don't need that much sleep. Carol Danvers sits in her SHIELD jumpsuit, complete with equipment harness, as she looks over at Coulson, sipping her own cup of coffee, "What've we got so far Phil?" She walks towards Phil and the data cruncher.

Training. A good agent is a well rounded agent. At the very least, he should have an idea of exactly what happens in each section in order to be able to see the large picture. Well, Teddy sees it. Teddy is also bored of it. The life of an analyst is most definitely not for him though his interest does pick up when some crisis seems to be in progress.

Technically still a trainee, it's time for Billy to learn about procedures and the inner-workings of the Triskelion. More then anything else this is observation and paying attention, but there is oh so much to learn. As is usual when he's anywhere near SHIELD, he's wearing his uniform and looking a little bit overwhelmed. But he mostly tries to hide that: its not that he doesn't bring all kinds of skills, its that there's so many *procedures* and *reports*.

Jansen may have wished his college career never translated into action. The HAM operator grimaces over his console, a desk cut from a slab to support several radios and a large amplifier. He keeps twisting the squat knobs, inching them along while examining the multimeters hopefully. Arrows dance and wobble. When no one's looking, he thwacks the metal case with his palm, making the tuning capacitor hum ominously.

Speakers from another direction crackle and grumble, and the second operator — Campbell — squeezes the radio speaker while a secondary pair of earpieces lie on the desk.

An explosive crackle of noise comes through. Desperate attempts to train any sort of images on the screens get no more than crackling white blizzards. Televised technology hasn't caught up to other methods of broadcast, especially not one hopped as a signal back to base.

0800 hours, North Vietnam.
A man's voice emerges among the muffled thumps and grumbling of engines, shouts and bounces an indistinct storm in the background.

"Is the boss there? Balls on toast, Campy, patch me through…"

Static interrupts his transmission.

"…better hear about this before Saigon's hoisting a sickle and marching red through the streets. Confirm you've got him, got someone. I can't guarantee…. long the link…"

Swearing in Vietnamese is plenty universal.

"I … Katyusha just rolled pas…."

Having already briefed Carol on what he learned on his assignment abroad, Coulson glances her way. "Nothing substantive, not yet. Some… action on the HAM waves last night. Could be sunspots, could be weather, but Jansen here is convinced it -"

Phil is cut off at the screaming from Campbell's amplifier, and he cranks his head toward the other technician with a grimace drawn across his face. "Jansen!" he calls, and snaps his fingers twice, gesturing toward Campbell's console. Coulson isn't wearing his SHIELD uniform, but rather, the suit and tie he's commonly seen wearing. That uniform is for field ops, in his opinion; his one way of bucking the system, and perhaps, his only method of doing so.

"Is it 'Boxer'?" he asks, holding up a hand to silence anyone else who comes near. Amateur radio is a complicated science, and at such a distance from the other end of the globe, locking in on that signal is going to be mighty difficult, unless SHIELD's repeaters are able to pick it up.

With that in mind, Coulson suddenly dashes over toward a handful of MC operators, who sit tapping away at their morse code inputs. "Signal the repeaters," he tells them. "Lock in on this range." He begins jotting down a range of frequencies based on where Campbell's tuner was noted, and tosses the tablet before the MC operators.

Shang-Chi overhears the burst of Vietnamese and makes his way to the communication area. Given that he speaks the language and, in his experience, Americans tend to get by more on determination and zealous insistence than actual knowledge, he suspects his language skills might be necessary, even if his martial ones are not. Yet.

Still, he calls no attention to himself, simply making his way into the communication room and calmly setting aside his cup of tea.

Carol Danvers doesn't follow Phil over, letting him organize things and staying out of his way. When he has something, he'll tell her. Until then, she glances over towards Billy and Teddy, focusing a bit on the former as she walks over towards Billy. "Need some coffee? It helps at times like this."

Teddy takes a couple steps over to the radio but stops. It's not like he can actually do anything to help, not knowing how to use them nor understanding the language. Instead he watches Coulson and listens while trying to stay out of the way.

The screaming has Billy wincing, "Is that chinese?" he asks, utterly ignorant of pan-asian languages, so guesses the biggest one. "Are we going to need to uhh, go there?" SHIELD has a very unclear idea, in general, of exactly what Billy can do: they know about the telekinesis, the electrokinesis, and the portals. He's a bit quiet on the particulars of his *magic*, though. He looks to Teddy, and then to Carol, to whom he flashes a dimpled smile, "Actually, that'd be great."

Repeaters, relays, and technical mumbo-jumbo only Tony Stark remotely fathoms do their job. The operators leap to the tablet like kittens on a sparkly foil ball.

Campbell elbows the headphones to anyone who needs them, bent over a pad of paper and painstaking writing out notes in a shorthand cipher. His interruption is short: "Boxer. Radioed at twenty-oh-four-niner, dropped for one minute. We're on third contact. Instructions, sir?" One squeeze of the radio opens it both ways, after all.

His pencil scratches notes as the flickering silence around them strobes a weird shade of green and grey usually seen only on submarines and naval consoles.

Agent Sill repeats himself: "Confirm, Katyusha in sight."

A burst of silence lasts maybe 8 seconds, interrupted by a staccato boom and rustling. "I'm locked down in a warehouse. Trying to figure out what's happening. Personnel started retreating back to three reinforced buildings fifteen minutes ago."

The background noise becomes louder, grumbling engines turning into a throaty, rattling presence like elephants stampeding past. Sill's swearing again.

"Four… repeat four BTR-40A transports. Machine guns on a traverse turret. What the hell are APCs doing in Quang Yen? This is a shithole port town. Someone give me some really good reasons why we got anti-aircraft guns rolling in?"

Another explosive burst of noise follows, and the sound of him hitting the ground.

Coulson listens carefully to the transmission, his eyes moving from one face to the other. "Hold it," Coulson tells Campbell, hand in the air. No instructions for Agent Sill, not just yet. His attention travels to Shang Chi, and he whips over a tablet of paper for the fellow to use should he wish to translate any of what he hears. Then his eyes move to Billy, and Teddy; recognition there, but going no further. He finally lays eyes upon Carol, and she will see it; regret.

Coulson turns back to Campbell with a grave tone of voice. "Protocol Zebra Zero Niner."

Protocol Z09. Universal standard SHIELD code; if you're spotted, use the cyanide.

Carol looks over to Coulson, eyes going a bit wide, then she nods a bit. She looks over at one of the younger agents, "Hey you… Johnson, right? An extra cup of coffee please." She looks over towards Billy, and the young woman in the SHIELD uniform nods and hustles off to get the coffee. But Carol looks… pretty distracted, mainly because she knows all too well what Z09 means."

Shang-Chi translates, but doesn't have much to add of note, sliding the paper across to Coulson, "Your friend in Vietnam has a foul mouth. I suspect he spends too much time in Cambodian brothels," he says.

He peers at the others present, surprised at the youth of some. He was lead to believe this was a sophisticated intelligence operation, after all. "There seems to be some sort of Russian incursion. A bold maneuver, if so. They generally prefer to use local proxies rather than risk their own. It must be something important."

Teddy looks over at Billy when he speaks up and shrugs. He can't tell one Asian language from another. Following the other's gaze, he looks at Carol and realizes she'd said something. To them? Replaying the last minute in his head, he shakes it. "Oh, no. I'm good thanks." Another puzzled look is directed at Coulson and the other more experienced agents. He has no clue what that code means.

"Wait, I'm not totally up with my protocols." Billy has a furrowed brow, looking to Teddy questioningly, "Z09 is… what again?" Apparently Teddy isn't more clear, so he looks around for someone to translate. There's *so many* protocols to remember!

One of the MCs says, "We've got him in Quang Yen. 20'56 north, 106'48 east. It's on the Gulf of Tonkin…" Another adds, "South China Sea."

Jenkins swivels in his seat. "Hearing a ton of chatter out of there. Bunch of gnats trying to sting a destroyer or something? Captain Herrick's been getting mighty steamed up."

Campbell's face is already pretty pale. He doesn't get a lot of sunshine given his night owl job, but it turns Hallowe'en-costume pasty after that statement. His pencil laid flat on the paper, he depresses a button to the side of the mouthpiece and repeats, "Protocol Zebra Zero Niner."

The next burst of sound from the radio is practically deafening, squeals and rumbling of a deranged jungle demon awakening from its sleep. It continues for a solid minute of shrill noises interrupted by very human screams and Sill scrambling. Probably getting up, fromunder something.

"Fucking hell!"

A distant cry, Shang Chi's sure to understand: "«Crusaders! They are making a turn, tell Comrade Sokolov!»"

Sill hisses under his breath, "Boss man, forget the pill. I'm seeing Soviet vehices here. Looking bad, these guys aren't Vietnamese. They're closing on one of the labs where they were storing salvage brought out from the port."

"Soviet…. armed to the…."

More noises as he's clearly on the move, the whispers of burlap and the rattling of metal a weird, eerie disjointed hymn. "They…. LOOK LIKE THE WINTER SOLDIER."

His emphasis is incredibly loud thanks to Jensen twisting the dial volume high enough for the whole Triskelion to hear it. "REPEAT THE WINTER SOLDIER IS HERE. SEVERAL WINTER SOLDIERS. Awh hei dao, girls, this went to hell in a handbasket and I didn't bring my red dancing shoes. Advise. Forget your pill."

"He knows too much," Coulson tells Carol quietly. "We can't have an American agent captured alive… especially if there are Russians, maybe even the Chinese…" His quiet and collected demeanor is briefly broken, when he tilts his head downward and lets loose a seething oath. "God damnit!"

Its but a brief moment of emotion. Once let loose, Coulson is his usual self again; cool and in complete control. He turns toward a stray agent and motions toward one of the stairwells to the left. "Go fetch Barnes from holding. Make it snappy."

He turns back to the reports, listening now as they come across in rapid fire. However, when Sill reports that the Soviets look like the Winter Soldier. His eyes go wide, and he turns toward the agent he'd just dispatched. "GET BARNES IN HERE, NOW!"

Whatever kindness he's shown in the base in New York, where he's got friends and thus by proxy a teeny bit of pull….here in the Triskelion, it's a very different situation. He's a prisoner, down to shackles and jumpsuit, and he's born with the new iteration of captivity with mute, deadpan patience. Thus it's that expressionless calm that he's wearing as he comes in, the zek's mask. Or, more accurately, is frog-marched in by a trio of attending agents. His hands are bound behind him, and there's the soft crackle of excess energy from whatever electronic device has the metal arm locked and subdued.

That a crisis is in progress is clear, but he offers nothing right off the bat, looking to Coulson as the obvious MFIC for whatever mess they're observing from a hemisphere away.

Shang-Chi finds himself looking placidly into Coulson's face as the agent screams for Bucky. "Breathe, good sir. Your wrath crosses the oceans as slowly as your fists and with less impact," he says.

"If an agent is captured, then we will extract them. Breaking a trained operative takes time and I assume anyone entrusted with secrets has the capacity to withstand interrogation. If not indefinitely, then at least long enough for a rescue to be staged," he says.

"Also: I am Fu Shang-Chi. I am, as they say, new around here," he says, turning his head to observe the Winter Soldier's arrival. He has heard of this person, but not encountered him before in the flesh. And, of course, he is as they all are: just a man, like any other, whatever his capabilities. And, from what little he's been able to gather, one who has suffered greatly, whatever his crimes. A pity.

Teddy just shrugs at Billy's look and continues to listen. "Russians in Vietnam? I thought it was the Chinese backing them." Least that's what the news says. He half turns to see who's come in then looks more fully when he sees it's a prisoner. Must be 'Barnes'.

"He…knows…too…much." Suddenly Billy remembers what that code means, and he nods to Shang-Chi, "Cyanide? Can't we do an extraction? I can get us there! And if I can get us there then as long as someone protects me I can get us back." Even as he says this he sounds uncertain: he's not sure where there is. He holds a hand up and closes his eyes, and electricity arcs between his fingers, though he's not *doing* anything more then getting a sense of the electricity in the radio, "If we followed the signal—" he murmurs, "Dangit I have never tried to summon someone, why has no one ever asked me to try to summon someone?" That goes from 'uncertain' to 'baffled' — he has no idea how to even try a reverse-teleportation. "But there's a source to the signal.." He's speaking to Teddy, "So if I have a lock on the *receiver*, I could lock on the *transmitter* through it? I think?" The reason for the youth's presence as trainees is that they can do things no one else can.

Carol Danvers blinks, "Billy…" She sees the youthful idealism, but then she overhears the reports that Bucky is there. Or rather multiple Winter Soldiers are there, and she mutters under her breath, "So much for no escalations." She glances at Coulson, "Phil…!" Her fists clench, and energy starts coalescing around them, "If the kid can get us there in time?" Because, well, let's be honest, Carol versus a hundred Winter Soldiers?

Sill isn't known for his gallows humour. Blame stress. "So much for the 1964 friendship Viet-Soviet sausage festival tomorrow. Not with all the soldiers everywhere!" There's Bucky, ruining the World's Fair and apparently a Communist culinary celebration.

"The soldiers are fanning out. I can't get a clear view. They didn't come out of the vehicles, though. APCs are carrying something else. They're doing some kind of sweep. APCs are manned still. Guns pointed at the salvage holding cells and a lab complex. Viet Cong, a few Soviet advisors on friendship status there."

It's almost unnecessary for Sill to relay what the radio announces a moment later. Machine guns mounted to a vehicle have a very specific tonality to them, a rattle of gunfire slanted to a thin tinny echo thousands of miles away.

Whatever goes down in that warehouse, it could well be the agent is now digging himself a nice hole to hide in for all the faint clicks. More knowledgeable souls probably recognize a magazine being loaded.

"Situation here is compromised. Request immediate extraction, map point delta-seven," Sill hisses. "Repeat, immediate extraction, map point delta-seven. And if you're sending in the angels, avoid map point echo-three. You'll incinerate me and probably six? Eight civilians. They're not — "

The line echoes and pops. Campbell and Jensen twist knobs to suppress the loud retort of it.

"Yes, but if the extraction fails?" Coulson asks Shang-Chi, turning his attention then upon Billy. "Then we have more American agents in this hot spot."

He turns then, when Bucky is brought in. A look is given to Teddy and Billy as they try to sort out this teleportation trick, but finally, Carol draws his attention. He only looks at her for a second, maybe two, but it feels like forever. A hardened gaze goes to the radio, and the time to make the decision is suddenly there.

"Billy, Teddy. You get us in, you get us out, or else it's World War Three. Shang-Chi." He nods his head toward Carol, indicating the three should join her, likely make any last minute preparations. Then, he's crossing over toward Bucky, staring the Winter Soldier right in the eyes. "And we're gonna need you, too. You with me, soldier?"

It's like watching ice fissure, the way Bucky's expression shifts from blank calm to growing dismay. Of course they'd've made more - he was always flawed. But then Coulson's right in front of him. No hesitation in his reply. "Yes," he says, simply. "I'm with you." A chance to prove his true loyalties….or get lost in the swarm that's out there. Button, button, who's got the button?

Shang-Chi nods to Coulson, "Then we shall not fail," he says. "Although I am not American," he adds mildly. He makes his way over to stand next to Carol. He finds it intriguing that the Americans have begun growing more open to allowing women in such roles. As it should be. He has certainly encountered his share of deadly females and his father, Fu Manchu, has been using female assassins for centuries.

He's uncertain of the Soldier's inclusion in the mission. But he has no fear of betrayal. All will be as dharma will. He may only control himself.

Carol walks over towards Bucky, and places her hand on his shoulder, "Hey, Bucky." She then gives him a warm smile, "/I/ believe in you, okay. I know you won't let us down." And as she meets his eyes, he'll know that she means it, 100%. It must be something that heroes calling themselves Captains can do with their voice.

"Maybe if you saw a picture of him." Teddy says to Billy. "Then close your eyes and just listen to him talking. He's there… he's there… he's here in front of you." See Billy? He does listen when you talk magic. "Or" he adds when Coulson speaks. "We can go get him."

Billy takes a deep breath, "I don't need pictures anymore— but listening and feeling the signal is enough, to make a target." He looks to Coulson, "Getting back is easy, its getting there that might be a challenge. But better then letting one of our people just die, right?" He shrugs, and waves people again, urging them to come closer, "I don't use doors anymore. Whoever is coming, come in close. Tell " So he closes his eyes and waves people over, "Ride the lightning." He concentrates, "Ride the lightning." And he concentrates harder, "Ridethelightningridethelightningridethelightningridethelightning…"

|ROLL| Rogue +rolls 1d100 for: 46

"Sir," mutters one of the other radio operators. "It sounds like the Navy launched aircraft close to those coordinates. We're not patching in to avoid violating protocol. But I think they've got an operation going."

The aides escorting Bucky glare and exchange unhappy looks, for here is an agent confessing their captive happens to be running amok in North Vietnam. "You sure about this?" one dares to ask Coulson.

Identification could be a mistake on Agnet Sill's part. Yet, the Winter Soldier is still the man for whom Queen Elizabeth holds unfettered contempt for interrupting her Australian birthday concert. Those sad, confused eyes earned the undying contempt of John Lennon, an exquisite judge of character.

They'll be filing reports in triplicate to Peggy once men and women start spontaneously vanishing from sight. Jansen scrambles back to the wall and trips over a chair. Campbell is left croaking into his radio. "Angels incoming."

For all of Billy's chanting, nothing happens. None here are able to see the fabric of reality or magic, the bending and twisting. Its only in the very last bit of sound from his lips that there's any sign the kid isn't nuts: and in that instant everything in the room blurs, goes indistinct, and then blurs more as it begins spinning in a circle around them. Its like motion but they don't move at all: and then new shapes are indistinct, and the spinning stops and slows and blurs into reality. That leaves the heros … where?

Coulson nods his head once to Bucky, and there is a smile. He's got trust for the Winter Soldier as well; he'll let Bucky prove whether that's worth the investment once they get to Vietnam. "Release him," he tells the questioning agent who accompanied Bucky. "That's an order."

Coulson is quick, then, moving toward a supply locker. There, SHIELD keeps emergency provisions, the kind one needs for a sudden field operation. Radios with enough power to link into the nearest SHIELD repeater, field rations, first aid kids and the like. He tosses one to Teddy, and another toward Bucky, after the Winter Soldier has had his bindings once again released.

To that radio operator, Coulson gives one final order. "Then call Washington. Wake Johnson, tell him what the hell is going on here." With that, he snatches a sidearm from one of the agents who had escorted Bucky, then steps up closer to the others.

"Lets ride some lightning," he says.

He'll be the only sad-eyed amputee in a SHIELD prison jumpsuit, at least. Carol's attempt at reassurance earns her a wan little smile. But he's straightened up a fraction more, and the smile fades into that grim expression. The Russians are going to have him again and all of this little sojourn in New York will be less than a dream. It should be comforting, that the cryostasis vaults next to him won't be empty anymore….

He flexes the metal arm, and there's a whine of tiny servos reactivating, the ripple of plates slipping back into place like feathers on a bird's wing. Then he's accepting what Coulson gives him, and stepping into place beside the agent. "Strike the bell and bide the danger," he mutters, under his breath. Well, Sharon's been getting him reading material….

One might be forgiven for thinking Billy led them to Hell.

An inferno engulfs their immediate surroundings, in part thanks to a building on fire and, around it, the thick greenery of a tropical landscape meeting the jade waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. Hot and stinking of charred metal, blazing oil, and pork chop sandwiches, welcome to Quang Yen.

Through a screen of sparks and black, oily smoke, figures move in chaotic choreography; some are hunched and mincing, others moving in precise lockstep through the billowing gloom. Low structures scattered higgledy-piggledy around crooked streets too close together make an excellent route for the fire to chase, and there's plenty of broken glass and rubble to go with a sonic boom overhead. The faster-thinking personnel send shots into the sky, at least those not ripped apart by the heavy machine guns atop the fab four armoured personnel carriers. To say nothing of the mobile anti-aircraft batteries or the assassins prowling the streets to seek their quarry.

It takes a very sharp eye indeed to notice one of the jets banking hard to most likely avoid a violation of Chinese airspace about 150 kilometers away. Or the pilot's coming back around to take more shots while his buddies strafe the sea.

Shang-Chi sees the world melt. He knew that joining SHIELD wouldn't be the same as MI-5. That he might meet gods, walk among legends. That magic and myth would be part of the equation. He saw a bit of that, with his father's Chinese black magic, but so much of that was hidden in trickery and clouds, chicanery and sleight of hand. What Billy does is far too real, far too alien, to be anything but magic, to be anything but the transfiguration of the woven fabric of existence. Buddha had always taught that existence is a gossamer, a figment, sprung from the ego and crafted to deceive. And now the proof of that truth shimmers before Shang-Chi's eyes, promising to take him forward into an unknown hell.

"Fuck," mutters the Master of Kung Fu.

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