1964-11-10 - Project Virgo: Dancing With Winter
Summary: Just what is worth living and dying for? What would you sell your ideals for, if it meant a better world?
Related: If there are no related logs, put 'None', — please don't leave blank!
Theme Song: None
coulson peggy wanda 


//1030 hours. East Berlin. Friedrichshain Borough. //

Friedrichshain is best known as an industrial district, badly affected by Allied bombs. Twenty years on and the reconstruction in oddly classic Soviet style sees a skyline staggered by workers palaces. That is true, at least closest to the wall separating east from west. However, at the southern tail of the borough, things look considerably rougher. Construction pits abound; Berlin looks rough here, the houses shabbier, the Brutalist apartments rougher. Pitted streets give way to empty shops where small German signs announce business hours never to be fulfilled. Working class, still, this shady corner suits shady dealings. There used to be a pharmacy here, no longer functioning. Another shop sells paper products, manned by no one. The upstairs spaces are vacant, full of rusty equipment and empty rooms with the occasional broken chair or filing cabinet. Graffiti gone to aged discolouration strips the walls of any welcome. Here Peggy Carter meets the asset called Leo, a man wearing a dull khaki coat and the cheap suit of an academic or businessman. His current cover probably has to do with pharmaceuticals, as his wife knows him. It makes sense for the shop below.

Whatever else SHIELD has done, they can be sure he is armed with no more than a briefcase full of papers affiliated with medical contracts, orders, requests that will never be filled by starving hospitals on the eastern side that can't obtain the refills required.

Peggy Carter's in her disguise. Drab clothing, hair gone blonde. Nothing that would make her look out of place. Having successfully made it across the border, and with two of the people that hold the highest rank in her organization…not to mention holding her highest trust…she's feeling as secure as one can when they're behind enemy lines. Her German is flawless, and that's the language she'll be using today. "So…why don't we start with a simple discussion of what you think you can offer us, Mr…"

One of those two people, Phil Coulson, has also maintained his disguise. The clothing hasn't changed much; it's still in a style that is designed to go unnoticed, but articles have been chosen that suggest a more rugged life. Aiding this. he hasn't shaved in 36 hours, allowing stubble to form on his otherwise smooth face. He's not one to miss a single detail; even the stubble has been lightened a shade to suggest that he is, in fact, blonde. A set of spectacles rest beneath an alpine hat, and he comes armed with a smile that could lend trust to anyone. Deceit comes in many forms, and today, Coulson is ready to play any angle. For the time, he adopts that of quiet observer. It's a play Peggy will know quite well, considering it's a standard procedure when Phil is involved.

He's not much to look at, but then the best rarely are. A man of average height, about 5'8" and distinctly unremarkable build, his sandy blond hair mark Leo as a proper Aryan by a canon two decades out of date. He speaks German as a loyal subject of the Fuhrer and now the Party born. His release to stand in the air of his American counterparts is made with ease; he clearly hasn't any discomfort being around other spies who hold his fate in the balance. Clear, plain eyes more grey than blue are framed by heavy, metal rimmed glasses. See, the businessman. "Mr. Berg," he says politely. "Wilhelm Berg." No doubt they are willing to see his identity card and his wallet is an open book, right down to the ration cards and travel permit to get around on the trains through East Berlin. He lays the fold of stitched leather on a table. "Pharmaceutical executive by trade. I have been assigned to the East Berlin region for the past three years. I have much more experience dealing with particular clients along the border zones. Vienna as a primary hub." His German wouldn't imply coming out of Austria; they have a more formal approach, less influenced by Prussia.

Peggy nods. Whether that's his name or not is really moot. It's something to call him, and it's just another step in the dance they all do. "Mr. Berg." She accedes. She reaches down to the wallet, eyes examining it before she puts fingers to leather, lifting it and looking at the paperwork inside with a praticed eye. "Let's cut right to the chase, shall we? You offer quite a bit…and no doubt you know you'd need to to arrange the sort of thing you're asking for. And yet, your position provides you what must not be an unpleasant life for you and your family." Business executive cover, KGB agent actual. "So, the key question…why?"

In Germany, it's not as uncommon for a woman to take the lead as it is in America. Coulson lifts a briefcase he carries, worn and unimpressive, and rests it upon the table. A code is dialed in, and the case unlatches. From within, he retrieves a tablet of paper that must have been in there for at least eight years, with more than half the pages ripped out. Then, he retrieves a recently sharpened pencil.

The briefcase secured once more, he rests the pad of paper before him and begins taking notes from the encounter. The dance, indeed; the man with a blond wig is the woman's assistant, and the notes are, in fact, notes that would be taken in regard to this staged Pharmaceutical meeting. Buried within those notes, however, will be secret messages, messages only Peggy should decipher. Coulson is a master of perception, you see, and he's watching this 'Mr. Berg' for any sign of deceit, any tell, any twitch that might suggest a lie, a play, a hiccup in what otherwise has been an operation that's moved flawlessly. Anything noticed, will be written down for Peggy to see, buried in code.

Wilhelm Berg, William Berg. Is there a pun in there? The man smiles blandly. He gestures around him. "Comfortable how, Frau? My daughter and my wife live in a thin-walled apartment as any. We have our allotments same as everyone else," he says. His tone is mild and calm. "Our lives have been quiet as long as the surface ice stays intact. A good shake breaks up all we have." He does not pace, addressing them both directly, his gaze moving back and forth between Coulson and Peggy. "Clearly you come because I offer something valuable to you and your organization. They won't tell you precisely what it is because they probably cannot countenance the truth. I hardly do and I have seen the proof of a project that robs my own countrymen of what makes them individuals." His jaw sets.

"Politics separate us, yes. Above politics, we share much in common," he says. "Our humanity. We want a safe, secure country. We wish our families to thrive. Our neighbours to be productive, our communities to have a common purpose and spirit. I believe our leadership tries to reach this, most of the time. However, I have proof that independent parties are undermining their efforts. They want to cast us into an age of fear and subjugation. I didn't fight in the war and throw off the Nazis to see us yoked to a cart to hell. It is, yes, a grandiose statement. But that is literally how we go, and where we go, America follows."

Peggy's lips curl just a bit, a slight smile. "Of course, Herr Berg. We all know that everyone is equal in the East." It's a reply to his comment about allotments; they both know that the vaunted communism is nowhere as egalitarian as they would have others believe. There are haves and have-nots, as with any society. And a senior KGB agent is definitely a "have".

"But you're correct; we're here for this valuable information. On the other hand, you're asking us to risk a number of our assets to make this happen. And I'm sure you understand that the amount of effort my organization is willing to commit to is going to be proportionate to the value of that information. I'm not fool enough to ask you to lay all your cards on the table." If he did, he'd lose his bargaining strength. "But you're going to have to give me something more than vague allusions before I recommend to my superiors that they proceed with this. Tell me about about this project."

Coulson cannot help but notice the level of Communist rhetoric in the way their contact speaks. He's not one to get involved in politics, but he can't help noting this, and it draws the subtlest of upturns right there at the corner of his lips. He still has nothing to add verbally, though he does pause in his writing to rest the pencil evenly against the tablet, only so that he might fold his hands in a pleasant manner. Still observing, he's yet to see any of those signs he's looking for… either there's nothing there, or Herr Berg is good. Damned good.

"The government has a perennial issue with youth and dissidents. Often they are one and the same. Police wish to break up the groups, as they often terrorize their neighbours with an anti-community sentiment. The key demographic are unemployed, truant adolescents, typically male. Nearly all in question are under age twenty. Most are under fifteen," Leo explains in his way. He's almost calling for patience, the directness of his speech and stillness telling. "Committees struggle to gainfully direct these young people to some kind of activity before they become a burden. They are not sent to schools or gymnasia, as you might expect. Various Italy projects reassigned them to factories, adoptive families, or different communities." Read: work camps or forced moves elsewhere. The GDR is not a nice place. "They are children, Frau. I am a father. One of these reassignment projects broke the pattern. We suspected fraud, misappropriation of funds. I investigated what few documents there are. Over five years, over two hundred children were deemed incapable of rehabilitation and vanished. These unfortunates are assigned to the same branches of an organisation in no official books, even ours. Their new assignments don't exist, in locations that are not there. Bureaucrats who are ghosts round up children and transport them on trains that arrive at their desitnations empty. They aren't going to re-education in Moscow, or in the east. There are no bodies anywhere to be found, Frau. Selected adolescents are being made to disappear, processed. My assets can confirm almost all of them are showing deviant ability in some fashion. We have enough proof to surmise they are being weaponized. Distilled, for purposes that are tied to a broader program kept from the Council of Ministers, the Marshal of the Soviet Union. We do not condone using our young people, or children, for practices that deny they are human, that make them into… Pieces of materiel, bits and pieces you would reassemble for a weapon or throw out like trash when they do not perform. The youngest was two. The next transport is due in a week."

Peggy's expression remains unmoved….which is a testament to just how good a spy she is, because she is certainly anything BUT unmoved. The blonde woman nods to Coulson, as if indicating for him to take notes. Instead, it's a doublecheck with her colleague, making certain he hasn't noticed anything she hasn't, about anything that might indicate this is a ruse or doublecross.

"I see. And does this information of yours include actionable information, Herr Berg? As much as my superiors would be interested in the existence of this project, ultimately, if there's nothing they can take steps forward on, it remains of minimal use." This is really the cornerstone of it, and subtle shifts in her posture, pre-arranged signals, indicate that if Berg's answer is in the affirmative, this is a go.

Indeed, it isn't long before Coulson begins to scrawl notes again, his utilization of the German language one of practiced perfection. There are a handful of messages within the language that Peggy will notice; particular words that, to them, are a code of sorts.

Youth and dissidents, breakers of law. Not lawbreakers. Utilizing the word in that fashion is a message to Peggy that Coulson has deduced that Berg is not being deceitful.

<20. Most <15. >2. Short hand. Not 'less than 20', not 'more than 2.' This also is a code for Peggy to decipher, given the use of greater-than and less-than symbols instead of words. This is a confirmation of identity; the manner in which Wilhelm has spoken of the Marshal suggests that he is, indeed, one of the Marshal's men. A confirmation of identity to Peggy, confirming Wilhelm to hold the rank, position, and ties that their Intel has suggested.

Transport due in one week. The 'one week' is circled, rather than underlined. This, a suggestion that Wilhem is not pretending when he became emotive of what's happening to the children. He really is sickened by it; that wasn't flowery bullshit designed to mislead them. It's the reason why he wants to defect. Had Coulson underlined the words, well… it would have been a message to Peggy that he feels their being played. To the contrary… Coulson has decided that no, they are not being played.

He pauses in writing, leveling his eyes upon Wilhelm when Peggy lays down the gauntlet. He can be a fairly disarming fellow, it's true, but there are times when Phil Coulson is able to look into another person's eyes in a manner that, quite frankly, could freeze water. This is one of those times.

Leo smiles thinly. "Timetables for the departure times, train car numbers, pertinent information of the routes and lines. They are through trains into the USSR. They take priority even over the industrial deliveries, and probably the Chairman's carriage if he were to travel." His expression is terribly bland, and those mannerisms Coulson is looking for are scrubbed clean. "We have three detention sites in East Berlin assigned for that upcoming transportation. The children and their monitors will have to be taken there, and soon. The monitors must be aware of the actual destination, and interrogation should confirm what we already have on paper. In the files are profiles of those disappeared over the last year, and those who have been assigned for re-education now. We are expecting somewhere between ten and twenty this time. My assets have the full records on microfilm, key assets, who may be behind the processing, and locations for suspected processing facilities. The secondary programs following this, too, for it's not the only black ops project treated in this manner. None are this protected."

He tugs on his coat sleeve. "We have the firsthand passcodes used by the different sites. This conspiracy goes beyond the Soviet Union and our allies, it goes directly into your own friends in the west. Men who are monitoring for useful assets they want to bring in this program and the other clustered around it. If they can make positive gains combining the… abilities… with a perfected template, they have a model to infiltrate enemy countries, suppress those who disagree with their agenda. This goes beyond soldiers. It is tinkering, a dangerous level of it. We know whom their agents in our territory are. I'm have prepared those lists, personnel files, all supporting documentation we have. Am I correct you would agree these must not be perpetuated?"

Peggy considers, listening. "I believe that's sufficient for us to move on the issue, Herr Berg. While our political leanings may be on opposite sides, I think that in this we can agree that we are in accord." She looks to Coulson, then back to Berg. "We can proceed. My colleague will arrange the details with you to handle the orchestration of your family members." That's work better left to Coulson and Fury; Peggy's aware that her gender still carries implications of lesser competency that she wishes to avoid. Besides…she'll be needing to coordinate with the larger bulk of SHIELD forces to make this happen.

There's a sheet of ice that cannot be broken. Phil shows absolutely no physical reaction to the bomb that was just dropped by Wilhelm Berg. Rather, he folds the piece of paper over its binding, in order to prepare a fresh one. He then reaches down to collect his briefcase once more, and lifts it onto an empty spot on the table.

"Herr Berg? Hugo Stiglitz." He offers a warm handshake, the smile on his face somewhat humored. Agent Stiglitz thought it would be funny to fashion Coulson's paperwork with a name close to his own. Clever, considering when the man defected to SHIELD during the War, he also managed to erase every single record of his service to the Third Reich, a feat that earned him his place in SHIELD's operations here. Until today, Hugo Stiglitz apparently never existed. "You must forgive me," he carries on with perfect, conversational German, not this Hochdeutsch bullshit they teach in American schools. "I'm a man of details, and sometimes, the level to which I collect these details can be… unnerving. I'll beg of you to be patient with me. See, I've found that details can mean the difference between profit and… well. Not profit."

He flashes Wilhelm a charming smile, then opens the briefcase to reveal a bottle of vodka, two glasses, and a collection of accoutrements including local maps, a book of various medicines (within the binding of which is concealed a very sharp knife), and some others. "A drink? Or, shall we just… cut the potatoes and move along?"

Leo doesn't move beyond that. He has given the hook, the line, and the reason to yank him off a sinking ship. He nods in understanding. "Naturally, my assets will not have cover when this goes live. I will provide the particulars as necessary." He makes that sound so incredibly simple, a matter of fetching the post from the office after work.

His handshake to Phil is particularly firm, precise. It's not entirely the gesture of a man who spends his day pushing paper around. Neither is the bearing, military hidden under the layers of civilian life. "No drink while at work. A messy and regrettable habit. Let us save the toast for the other side, when we may be assure dthe taste will go down. Your stomach may be too turned and curdle perfectly good drink."

Details, as it is to be. He will stand until bidden to sit, sit until called to stand. He's on their time, politely. If this isn't a Stasi ruse and someone is calling the mothership of the coup they're about to perpetuate. How far does a spy trust a spy?

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