The Theta Contingency
|This tale has been told! It's done!|
|The Theta Contingency|
|Start||late August 2017|
|End||early December 2017|
|Prerequisites||Project Infinite: The Legacy|
|Rewards||No known rewards|
A hacker manages to put the Club Penguin Island at a standstill by hacking into its government databases as well as its various public utilities. From there, they had spanned their influence throughout the United States of Antarctica before jumping through country after country, crippling their databases and stealing sensitive documents. The world can only watch as governments scrambled to find their answers, exhausting their resources in order to find who there is to blame for this new brand of cyberterrorism.
EPF Anti-Terrorism Commander Rogue Tvarkov was among those who were called to respond to this new threat. As she traverses through the chaos left at the wake of the hackings, she is left with more questions than answers. While the world around her scrambles to recover from the onslaught of leakages and the outrage that comes with it, she finds herself questioning the validity of her ideologies. If law was truly black and white, why does she see it in various shades of gray?
Derived from the term used by attending agents during the UAN hearings, The Theta Contingency tackles the angle of Tvarkov as well as those around her as they go into the race against time to get to the hacker first.
Adrian runs as quickly as he could, feet hitting the ground as he took sharp turns to avoid colliding on the trees that were in his way. He hefted the rifle in his flippers as he looked around, night vision visor illuminating a path for him as he did. He relishes the adrenaline that roars through his system, feeling his feathers tingle with contained energy as he moved.
"Status report?" The words are drawled into his earpiece, prompting him to raise a flipper up to reply. There's a low ping that indicated that his speaker was on, and he spoke.
"I'm in pursuit. Suspect seems to be bleeding out." Adrian answers in clipped sentences, watching as his visor lit up the patches of crimson on the snow as he moved. He huffs out a breath and watches the smoke rise up before continuing to speak. "Pauses are more frequent."
"Alright team, lock and regroup towards Hepson. Castillo, you're approximately 37 seconds away from Hepson." The commander as always was being commandeering. Adrian could only hum out a reply before jumping over an overturned log, skidding slightly on its surface before continuing his sprint. He's later joined by Bridgett, who appears to be a bit weary from all the running.
"Fancy seeing you tonight, Hepson." There's sarcasm dripping in her tone. Bridgett offers in greeting, head hardly moving with all the equipment on it. Adrian could only spare a glance at the various cameras and scopes on her head before turning back and narrowly avoiding a tree stump.
"Could say the same, Castillo. Don't you have somewhere else to be?" He replies coolly, turning when the path split to two. He could feel Bridgett next to him as they ran, shoulders occasionally hitting whenever they swung too harshly.
"Duty called. I'm sure Clark would understand." She shrugs in the corner of his eye, and he fights back a laugh before they hear the rustling of bushes and the followed stomping of boots against snow. He knows that the rest of the units were behind them as they pushed forward, following the trail of crimson as it became more and more apparent on the snow.
They stop when they reach a small cave that was carefully tucked away by bushes and trees. Adrian raises a fist to signal the officers to resume break-in formation, lining themselves up at the sides of the cave.
"This is the EPF! Surrender yourself!" Adrian yelled towards the cave, waiting for a reply as he did. He shares a look with Bridgett before raising a flipper to his earpiece once more. "Boss, he's not budging."
"Wait." It comes off a growl. It's almost as if she wants to wait it out. It's too late for that.
"This is the EPF!" He yelled again, turning his head and wondering if their suspect was going to walk out of the cave. His adrenaline is pumping into his system and making him buzz with pent up energy. He spares a glance at Bridgett. She knows what to do.
"You are surrounded!" She yells as a warning. "Surrender now or we will use force."
They are met with silence. Adrian does not have the patience for this.
"Redline." There's an urgency in his tone as he speaks. The question hangs there. His heart is hammering against his chest as his nerves struggle not to move quickly and get this night over with.
"Go." That's the only thing she needs to say. Adrian nods and gives a signal before they turn into the cave and point their weapons.
The built-in lights in their uniforms automatically lit up as the cave was flooded with light. They watch as their suspect squirmed under the lights and shield themselves with a flipper. In his ragged black uniform and scruffy boots, their suspect was a 19 year old Academy recruit. On normal circumstances, he would have been in his dorm or somewhere in the recreational rooms that were scattered around the island. Tonight, though, was a night for testing.
"Game over, kid." Bridgett says behind him, as the overhead lights that were bolted to the walls kicked in around them. The lights on their uniforms switch off as Adrian and the rest of the unit removed their night vision visors in favor of the lighting provided.
"Great job, 76. You managed to keep them in pursuit for 3 hours." Rogue Tvarkov's voice is careful and level as she spoke, booming through the speakers that were bolted to the walls as well. "I suggest you give yourself a pat in the back and consider turning in for the night."
"Of course, General Tvarkov. Thank you." The recruit – 76, given the number that the general used – nodded and hefted himself up. Adrian watched as two unit members stepped in to help him balance, clutching at his injuries as they gave him a quick look over.
"He's injured, ma'am." Adrian lets the words go up in the air, knowing that she would be listening. He isn't sure where the microphones were placed on this cave, but he would take his chances. "We should take him to the med bay."
"Do what you deem necessary, Hepson. I won't stop you." She seems preoccupied, he notes, as he nods at the two officers. They only gave him a nod back before hefting 76 up and waddling him out of the cave. The unit begins to make its way out and back to the campus, some chatting idly amongst each other as they did. Adrian finds himself walking side by side with Bridgett, who more or less drags her rifle behind her.
"As always, it was fun working with you." She mutters next to him, tilting her head back and groaning when her joints popped under the pressure. He tries not to wince at the way they popped and only keeps his eyes trained on the path before them. Their world is flooded by light as overhead lights that hung on trees illuminated their way back. "Any plans tonight, Adrian?"
"Eat dinner." He laughs into the cold air, shaking his head as his stomach growled in agreement. "Look at some reports before going to bed. Maybe a nice good book will do me good."
"How eventful." She replied back and joined him in laughing, shaking her head as she looked around. "I hope Clark's still awake. I might be able to call him if we get their fast enough."
"There's a thing called running." Rogue bites into the conversation, her voice sparing a hint of humor. Adrian finds himself cracking a smile as Bridgett sputtered and flushed.
"I didn't know you were listening, ma'am." Bridgett muttered, rubbing the back of her neck with her flipper.
"Well, I am." He could practically hear the shrug in her voice. "I'm sure he's still awake. Boy's patient enough to skip a few hours of sleep."
"Did I just hear Rogue Tvarkov offer love advice?" There's a tease in Jason Laurenson's voice as both agents paled and stopped their walk.
If Adrian listened hard enough, he could hear the barest falter in her tone. "Laurenson, you don't just steal my microphone."
"Commander Laurenson is there too?" Bridgett squeaks, the flush spreading across her feathers. Adrian could only spare her what he assumes is a merciful glance as she spoke. "Oh Benny. This is embarrassing."
"Not at all. You shouldn't be embarrassed 'bout having a life outside of the EPF." He drawls only slightly. The two are back to walking as he speaks. "I do think you should be walking faster, though."
"I second that." Rogue cuts in quickly. The two speed up their pacing. The dormitories loom ahead of them.
"I can't believe our superiors are playing matchmaker." Bridgett mutters as she hefts up her rifle, feathers still flushed from her earlier ordeal.
"They aren't wrong." Adrian could only shrug as they walked faster and closer to the dormitories.
Under the glow of computer screens and holograms, she looks older.
This is an observation he makes as he glances occasionally at his partner, who was in the middle of poring over reports. She looked the same as always, with hair pulled back to its signature ponytail and cap perched on her head. Yellow feathers look like a mustard yellow under the dimmed lights and the electronic illumination. He considers telling her what's on his mind when she turns and looks at him.
"Are you hungry, Crash? I'm about to ask an agent to get some food from the mess hall." There's the barest hint of exhaustion in her tone as she tapped her stylus against her flipper.
"Not really." He lies, when in reality he's been hungry for about an hour then. The thing about reading mission reports was that they tend to be detailed enough to make one vomit out their last meal. "Thanks anyways."
She only hums in affirmation before turning back and pressing a button on her desk. She only gives a few instructions before leaning back and sighing, twiddling her stylus in her flippers.
She looks older now than ever.
"Take a break?" He suggests quietly, swiveling in his chair to look at her. She could only scrub a flipper on her face before shaking her head and pulling back a few stray strands of hair.
For a minute, her appearances flicker and he could see the few strands of white in her hair.
"No use working now. It's rather late." They both automatically spare a glance at the clocks on the side of their desks. 2346. It's nearing midnight. "I'm only taking a break if you'd join me."
"Are you asking me out on a date, Tvarkov?" He's teasing again, the barest hint of a smile on his face. She scoffs and rolls her eyes.
"In your dreams, Laurenson." She replies back smoothly and turns back to her work, clicking away on her computer and looking over holograms.
He bites back the smooth reply. Her offer is too tempting. "Fine, I'll take it."
She hums once more before spinning back to him and leaning on her chair. She sighs and looks over to his table and at the pictures that decorated it. There's a small smile that tugs on her beak when she catches sight of a familiar shot.
"Isn't that a picture of us when we graduated?" She stands and walks over to him, more of dragging her feet against the floor. He turns his chair to look at the questioned picture and smiled.
"Sure is." He said and chuckled as he picked up the frame and ran a flipper over it. There was something about the picture that always made him smile, and he could never put a flipper on it. "Didn't Jacobs almost fall asleep during the closing remarks?"
She lets out a bark of laughter. "Oh, I think he did. Almost fell off his chair while at it."
"Iconic." He shakes his head and sets the picture frame down. The smiles on their faces reflected back at them, youthful and unknowing to the path that would follow.
"Do you remember when our lives were a bit simpler?" The question comes out of nowhere. He turns to see that she's looking at the picture, looking as if she could go back to that moment if she glared hard enough. "You know, before we got promoted to our own divisions."
"Nothing about our lives were simple, then and now." He said and shook his head, looking back to the picture and sighing. "You and I know that."
There's a knock on the door, and they both knew the promise of food that was on the other side. Rogue took quick strides towards the door and took the offered food, thanking the agent before shutting the door. She sets down a tray of food in front of Jason as she takes her own.
"I said that I wasn't hungry." He frowned as he poked at the fish that laid on it.
"You're a terrible liar." She shrugs and picks up the cup of hot chocolate that came with her food. He raised his own cup of hot chocolate and clinked it with hers as she spoke. "Nostrovia."
One: Incident Report
Widespread hackings puts the island at a standstill
By Raven Westley (Club Penguin Times) | Updated August 31, 2017 - 11:59 pm
Club Penguin Island (First published: Aug. 31, 2017; 7:13 am) – The island finds itself at a standstill as hackings interfere with the Servers as well as traffic lights.
As the Island awakened and readied itself for the new day, citizens found themselves scratching their heads at traffic lights that shifted color or remained at one color for a prolonged time. While many penguins were left to wonder and wait for the light to shift back to the correct color, there were a reported few who tried to take matters in their own flippers. There have been reports of near stampedes occurring across the island due to this. It took an hour before the police department can shut down the traffic lights and station crossing guards to compensate for the occurrences.
Additionally, Servers have been malfunctioning and bringing penguins to other locations across the island. The glitch is the first of its kind since at least 2011, and has caught many by surprise with the suddenness. There have been reports of penguins being transported to other servers or other locations far from where they were supposed to be, causing needless frustrations that took a while to sort out. Due to the obvious glitches and technical difficulties, many offices granted amnesty for tardy employees and the Club Penguin Island Airport has adjusted its scheduled flights to make do for latecomers. As of the last update, Baron-Volt Industries has yet to issue an official statement.
Sources from the Club Penguin Police Department (CPPD) tell us that the hackings began at about 3 am, during the two minute rotation of duties that occur during the hour. This would be considered the singular weak spot of the CPPD when it comes to taking night shifts, according to CPPD Chief Petras in a phone call. The hacking was made noticeable at around 4 am, when on duty officers were unable to access the precinct's database. From there, they received reports of other databases being inaccessible to other officers who were on duty. The CPPD has been trying to get back into the database as of the last update.
The EPF was among the first to release a statement regarding the hackings. "We remain unsure as to what the motive is behind these hackings," An EPF representative said in a conference that was conducted on the afternoon of the incident. "But we can only reassure the public that we are putting our best agents on the case."
The CPT has been tapping the Moderators for a statement, but they seem to be unable to respond to our calls.
Morning starts early in the Tvarkov household.
In the little officer quarters that she managed to take when she returned to the esteemed Academy Island, Rogue is always the first one up and about. She takes it upon herself to relax her stiffened muscles and stretch leisurely in the morning, letting the sleep evaporate from her being as she did. From there, her morning routine was a simple affair of doing her morning workout and taking a nice good shower to soothe her burning muscles. Then, it's a minute trip to the kitchen of the quarters to prepare breakfast. If she was alone, she would have forgone cooking in favor for going to the mess hall, where she could catch up with instructors and recruits alike.
Except no, Natalia was with her on this island.
The kid was ever so curious about the line of work her biological mother was in that took her life and the duty that her adoptive mother had to persevere through. She was so insistent on joining her on her month long stay in the island, refusing to stay behind and live in one of her friend's houses. Rogue would have to give it to her for her stubbornness and incisiveness. She would have probably gone mad without the kid around to keep her still.
"Good morning." Natalia greeted tiredly, as she rubs her eyes and stumble into the kitchen. Breakfast was already waiting for her, and probably prompted the kid to wake up in the first place. She pushes back the chair and slides in as Rogue leaned down to press a kiss on her forehead in greeting.
"Good morning, dorogaya." Rogue replied with as much cheerfulness as she could muster, taking a sip from her mug of coffee. It's on this day that Rogue pauses to regard the girl and think about how she looks like her deceased mother, watching as the girl speared the pancake onto her fork to carelessly eat the food. She's still weary with sleep, but it doesn't stop her from eating the delicious food in front of her. For a distinct moment, Rogue remembers an older woman with longer hair who did and looked the same thing.
Then she goes back to her coffee and takes a longer sip to drown out that thought.
Natalia wouldn't look at her while she eats her breakfast, only listen to her stride over to her side of the table to set her mug down. Rogue loomed over the table as she pored over her morning schedule, occasionally bringing up emails that demanded her attention. Breakfast was always a peaceful affair, with a silence that was interrupted only by the scrapings of cutlery on ceramic or the sipping noises from a mug. From there, Natalia would collect her empty dishes and do the morning dishes.
"Any plans today, kid?" Rogue asked, not looking up from the email that she was reading. Natalia doesn't mind it when she does that; she was simply dividing her attention and trying to make conversation.
"Mrs. Olivia is going to try teaching me French again." Natalya said offhandedly, scrubbing away at the plate that was in her flippers. She can hear Rogue set down her mug too quickly, as if surprised by what she said. Perhaps she was.
"Again?" There's a hint of a strain in Rogue's tone. The 10 year old doesn't try to hide her smile. "Dorogaya, I think you and I both know that your French is terrible."
"You're such an optimist, Mama." She teases at her, and can just feel from across the room how the older woman flustered a bit at the calling. "I'll be good at it, one day."
There's a pause in Rogue's speech. She can almost hear the gears in her head turn.
"Ever the persuasive one." She can hear Rogue mutter under her breath. She speaks louder after that. "Radova is teaching you well."
She only smiles to her own satisfaction, shutting off the faucet and wringing her flippers. She turns to see Rogue regarding her warmly, giving her a wide smile before she's running off to get ready for the day. Rogue turns back to her tablet and takes another sip of her coffee, listening to a door shut close. With the noise of a shower running in the other room, Rogue gets a phone call at 7 in the morning.
"Tvarkov speaking." Is how she always greets, as she gives the kitchen a sweeping look out of mere habit.
"Hey boss, any chance that you could drop by the office early?" Adrian is the first call of the day. That doesn't surprise her. "We got a bit of a situation."
She shakes her head at the thought, but indulges the man anyway. "What's so important that it requires my physical presence?"
"It's why I need to tell you in person, boss." There's something about his tone that unsettles her. "I don't trust a phone call at the moment."
"But this is a secure–" She pauses. She turns back to her tablet to key in a quick search in the news app.
Widespread hackings puts the island at a standstill
"I'll call you back." She mutters and ends the phone call. The shower is still running in the other room, and she waits patiently for it to switch off and for the door to swing open before she makes her way to the girl's room. Natalya is toweling off her hair in front of a fan when she looks up to Rogue.
"What is it?" She always seems to know if something is wrong. It's probably something she got from her mother, Rogue thinks as she leans on the doorway. Her EPF phone is still on her flipper. "Is everything alright?"
"We need to go soon, dorogaya."
"Mama, you aren't even dressed."
She doesn't think much about the way the girl claps back so easily. She sounds a lot like her mother. "Then I will get dressed. I have to go to work early. Duty calls."
"You can always go ahead." She sounds sheepish. How could she possibly be this selfless at the age of 10? This is something Rogue may never understand.
"Not a chance, dorogaya." Rogue could only smile before turning to go to her bedroom.
The office is buzzing by the time she gets there.
An agent was waiting with Adrian in the main communications room, who nods nervously at his superior. The agent steps forward and towards Natalia, who remained by Rogue's side throughout the whole trip through the winding hallways of the EPF Academy station.
"Take her to Olivia. She has French to learn." The agent nods once and offers a kind smile to Natalia, before the two disappear through the doors that they just walked into. Rogue turns back to Adrian to see him tapping his foot, fidgeting slightly with his flippers.
"I'm here, as you asked." Nevermind the agents the hustled around them, hands on tablets or files or coffee. She lets her flippers slip into the pockets of her skirt as she strode past him and into the twisting hallways of the ATD station. Whatever this was, it was important enough to take in the safety of her office's four walls.
They go through the twisting hallways without incident, only stopping occasionally to let an agent barrel through or a mail cart to get across. Agents left and right greet the two warmly before they find themselves in Rogue's satellite office in the Academy station. Her computer was already switched on and she could vaguely see the stream of emails appearing on the built in screens on her table. She hears Adrian click the door shut behind them as she strode over to her desk to bring up holograms and reports.
"G's been bolstering up our tech defenses since." Adrian said as she looked over messages sent in through the commanders's channel. There was a constant stream of updates coming in from all over, reassurances that their databases were still secure and whatnot. She looked up to see Adrian tapping his foot on the floor nervously.
"Do we have any information regarding the hacker or their motives?" She frowned as she spoke, her frown deepening when he shakes his head. These things were never a good sign. She readied herself for what he would say next.
"Whoever they are, they have the databases in an iron grip. No one has gotten close to breaking into the affected databases." He fidgets with the phone he took from his own jacket pocket. "Reports are telling us that they have the criminal records, the traffic lights, and the Servers under their control."
"This isn't our territory, Hepson. We're a specialist division." As much as this hacker unnerved her too, she had to be rational here. A lunatic who manages to hack into CPPD databases isn't exactly her field of interest, especially when there were other pressing matters that required her attention. "Let's let the events unfold first before we spring to action."
"I don't want another ATD hacking in the Main Office, boss." Adrian said after a moment's silence, as Rogue looked down at the stream of reports and messages that were coming in on her computer.
"I don't want one either." She said more to herself, bringing up a report on database glitches that were quickly being repaired by the experts on base. "We just have to get ready."
Afternoon had a two hour free time before Rogue had to be brought to a meeting on office conditions and evaluations. Coincidentally, it lined up with Laurenson's one hour lunch break before he has to get back to teaching a class on reconnaissance missions.
She was already in the middle of doing a treadmill run when he gets there, already showered and ready for a good workout. They only need to lock eyes for Rogue to turn off the treadmill program and for Jason to stride over to the supply closet and bring out the necessary materials.
Years of working together has made them easy to read by the other, despite the differences of their line of work. While Jason's position allowed him to travel through different offices leisurely, Rogue's position required her to retain a strict schedule. The conflict in their states of being makes it near impossible for the other to understand the other's choices, and yet here they were. No one really knew how they could pull it off, but it isn't exactly questioned.
"Looking for a fight, Laurenson?" She asked in between deep breaths, throwing back her head as she uncapped her water bottle and drank a good half of it. He only threw wraps at her feet as he wrapped his flippers with the tape.
"If you don't mind." He flashes her his charming smile, prompting her to shake her head and set her bottle down.
She wraps the tape around her flippers and narrowly avoids a punch that is thrown at her direction. "Now you're playing dirty."
"You and I both know that dirty fighting isn't a thing in missions." He chuckled before she throws a punch at him and quickly steps out of the way.
Sparring always start with this, with one of them throwing a punch and the other deflecting. There was no such thing as pulling punches when these two spared; they never feared hurting the other and knew that they can take a hit. Jason takes a step forward to swing a punch at her jaw, only watching as she grabbed for his arm. Intercepting her next move, he watched as she twisted his arm away only for his other fist to meet her. Her stunned figure steps back before she ducks down to tackle him down, ready to pin him before he kicks at her stomach and stands himself up.
When they sparred, they weren't kind. That was how it's always been.
He's looming over her when she pushes his face away, as a means of unbalancing him before she aims for a kick on his shoulder. He falls off of her just in time for her to get up and grab for her water bottle.
"Tired already?" He managed to huff out in between breaths. Her kick seemed to have knocked the wind off of him. "Redline, we've hardly hit 10 minutes."
"I have a meeting in 30 and I have been here for an hour and a half." She mutters and takes another sip of her drink. He laughs breathlessly and rests his head on the mat under them.
"You've already been informed about the situation back in the Isle?" He sits up a bit to watch as she set her water bottle down and sit down near his feet.
"Of course I have been." Rogue said and frowned, grabbing a towel from her duffle bag to throw it at him. He takes it gratefully to wipe away the sweat on his face, relishing the coolness of the towel before throwing it back at her. She raises her water bottle in offering but he shakes his head, only prompting her to put it down.
"The Director wants us on standby. We're not so sure if this is something that needs the EPF." Jason informs her as he stared up at the ceiling. "The CPPD seems to be in control, but the Director doesn't want to take their chances."
"They're being reasonable." Rogue shrugged and rolled her shoulders a bit, energy buzzing off of her as she did. The adrenaline was still there, but she didn't want to use up all of her energy on that. "You don't just hack 3 different databases in the span of two minutes."
"The hacker's just warming up, whoever they are." Jason said into the air, more of to himself than to her. Rogue let herself pore over what he said as he continued. "The Director's right. We're needed on standby."
"We'll see." She muttered before standing up and offering a flipper at him. "Come on, let's get you out of there. I doubt you even ate."
"You know me too well." He chuckled and took the offered flipper, hoisting himself up with little effort before he smiles at her. "After you."
"Ever the romantic." She could only roll her eyes as she ushered him out of the gym and into the winding hallways of the Academy station.
It's a late work night.
Natalia was already informed of the situation, anyways. Rogue made sure to leave instructions for her to look for food to eat at the mess hall, promising her that the food isn't as bad as her cooking. Of course, this was met with protest as apparently the kid likes her cooking and doesn't want anything to do with the bland food of the mess hall.
She can't really blame her.
She scrubs her face for the nth time for the evening, shaking away the edges of sleep that crept at the sides of her eyes. The stream of messages in the commanders's channel have slowed down just a bit, lapses of silence increasing as the minutes trickled by. She leans back on her chair to watch the stream of information go in and out of her computers, watching idly the headlines that appeared on her screen.
Jason brought food for her, something he managed to cook before he was dragged away to some important meeting with the standard divisions. As touching as it was for him to do so, they both knew that she would be unable to eat it tonight. The soup and bread are cold on her desk and she considers microwaving it, before shaking her head and rubbing her forehead again.
There is a barest hint of a migraine making its appearance.
But still, she doesn't let herself succumb to sleep just yet. She stands up to stretch her stiffened limbs and sighs, feeling her muscles ache from prolonged sitting on her office chair. She should probably put in a request for a new chair for her satellite station, given how she spends so much time sitting here whenever it's—
There is rapid beeping coming from her table.
She turns back to look at it. She reaches over to press the screen, barely reading the caller ID before she heard the familiar tone of her subordinate.
"It's happening." That's the only thing he needs to say. She grabs at the cardigan on her desk and pulls it on her as she hurried out of her office, running down the hallways before finding herself in the main room.
For lacking of better terms, it was a mess. Agents were hunched over computers while speaking to someone on the other line, trying to confirm details and attain the necessary information. There's a flurry of paper and chatter as penguins ran around the place, trying to find the needed codes that would hopefully protect the system from whatever was happening. Adrian stood at the back of it, nervously tapping his foot as he glanced at Rogue with relief.
"We don't even know how they got in." He breathed to her, walking over to her as she met him in the center. She switches on her headpiece and listens to the stream of reports from the commanders's channel, a mix of languages that took a while for her to pick out in the haze of the world around her. It took her a while to notice when Jason appeared next to her, equally concerned with his own earpiece up to his ear.
"This is not how I imagined my night to go." Jason greeted her, shaking his head as he pressed his earpiece to his ear.
Rogue could only shake her head in agreement before turning to Adrian, who was in the middle of speaking to an agent. "What do we know?"
"Hacking started approximately 3 minutes ago." Adrian said as he looked over the reports that were written in rushed handwriting. "System Defenders are trying their best to fight back while others are trying to salvage sensitive information."
"What are the affected databases?" Jason asked next to her, bringing out a tablet as he scrolled over the information that was being given to him.
"The main database is currently under fire, but we can only do so much." Adrian said before he cursed. "The main database has fallen."
"Protect the ATD databases!" Rogue could only yell as she scrambled to put in her override code to put the database on lock down. She was met with an error message that made her growl and shake her head.
"ATD database under fire!" Adrian called out to her, as if she didn't know. She shook her head and tried to find a solution, trying to recall what happened the last time such occurrence happen.
"Tell ATMO that I'm about to do initiate an alpha lock down." She said calmly, much to the surprise of Adrian. She could feel Adrian and Jason's heads snap to her.
"What?" Jason hissed next to her.
"It's the best option I can think of. It's best for us both to be in the dark then us alone." Rogue said and brought up commands to put in her lock down code. It was the next best option, as she thought that the built-in self-destruct sequence was unnecessary. Jason was too busy taking care of his division.
"Are you sure with what you're doing?" It's so rare for Adrian to doubt her. She fought the knowing smirk on her face as she turned to him, who loomed over her shoulder.
"It's the best shot we got." She could only say before pressing down on the command button.
She could only watch as the lights flickered above them, computers producing error messages as agents squeaked and stepped away from them. She could vaguely hear chatter cease in the commanders's channel as she watched the computers overheat and shut down before the world was bathed in black.
The emergency lights kicked in and made the world red, alarms sounding as her lock down sequence began.
"This is going to be a long night, boys." She muttered mostly to the two next to her, as everyone scuffled and readied themselves for what was to come.
ATTENTION: Anti-Terrorism Division (ATD) Station Commanders
THIS IS NOT A DRILL. ATD database deemed insecure at 2256 due to hacking conducted by unknown hacker. Lockdown has been initiated and will remain to be in place until the Director or G says otherwise. Proceed with protocol and await for further instructions.
Two: Lockdown Protocol
It takes three hours for her to sort out a team that will manage the Academy station while she returns to Club Penguin.
Adrian stays behind to remain in the Academy, mainly to take care of communications traffic as well as take over for the classes Rogue was supposed to teach the next morning. He's a bit reluctant of letting Rogue leave without him, for he feared that anything could happen to the general while she was up in the air. She could only offer him her reassurances and a small smile before she leaves to pack up her officer's quarters in the bags she came in there with.
Waking Natalia up was a bit difficult, for lack of a better way of describing. It took a while to convince the girl to get out of the relatively comfortable bed at 2 in the morning to get on a plane that will bring them back to Club Penguin. Rogue was thinking of just carrying her out herself when the girl got up and threw her things into her bags, mumbling tiredly about how she'll be sleeping when they get on the plane.
They board a cargo plane back to Club Penguin. Supposedly, the plane was supposed to be carrying rations for the main headquarters, as it was running low on them and the Academy had some they were willing to give. With the lockdown and the situation at hand, well, there had to be some changes. Rogue seats herself on one of the foldable chairs and brought up her tablet to go over whatever was left of her paperwork, occasionally checking on the emergency frequency that was activated upon lockdown. She wouldn't look up when the rest of her team and the others came in to board the plane, only when someone would greet her or ask her something. She didn't mind when Natalia sat down beside her and stretched herself out a bit, fitting her head on Rogue's lap as she continued to scroll over her paperwork.
Jason sits next to her and straps himself in. He spares a glance at the sleeping kid on her lap and smiles a bit, "Bringing her home with you, Tvarkov?"
"Had to cut her French classes short." She could only shrug as she wedged her tablet between her and Natalia, running a flipper through the girl's hair and sighing. "Have you already briefed your team?"
"Of course I have." He almost snorts, shaking his head as the cargo door lifts itself up. Rogue straps herself in and rests her head against the plane's walls as they began their ascent into the air. The engines roar about them as they climber higher and higher, gaining altitude as they made their way into the sky. She doesn't recall when they stabilize, or when the agents about her began to unstrap themselves and hassle about to check on equipment and supplies.
"No one's ever gotten this close to shutting us down." Jason mutters to her as he brings up his tablet, tapping away on his own emergency frequency. "Alpha and Epsilon Division have fallen. Beta and Gamma have also activated lockdown."
"What about Weaponry and Special Groups?" She asked, pulling out her tablet and pressing in her passcode and going over the previous messages on the commanders' emergency frequency.
"They're both mum. I don't know what to make of it." Jason sighed and shook his head, "Nick hasn't checked in on us."
"Give him time." She said and paused, gripping her tablet with both flippers. "Has SAD checked in with us?"
"Last I heard from Kowlaski, they had everything under control." He shrugged, gripping his tablet tighter when turbulence hit the plane. Rogue gripped her tablet tight as she waited for it to pass, her other arm reflexively keeping the sleeping girl on her. Once the turbulence ended, Rogue went back to looking at her tablet.
"You should at least try getting some sleep." Jason said next to her as he set his tablet away in his bag, leaning on his stuffy chair and tilting his head down. "I'm planning on getting some shuteye."
She doesn't say anything but nods as she listens to him doze off, not minding when his head presses against her shoulder. She continues reading the reports as they come in, gripping tight when turbulence struck and stroking a flipper through Natalia's hair when she was in the mood for it.
The Anti-Terrorism Main Office was a mess when she arrived.
Penguins hardly noticed when she stepped in, only pushing pass and scurrying about as they tried to fix the mess that the hacker made on them. Rogue could only share a look with Bridgett before someone noticed and yelled their arrival. It seemed to have calmed the hectic office as all eyes laid on the General and her Captain, who only stepped back and gulped at the sudden looks.
Rogue remained unfazed.
"I hope all of my reports are on my desk when I get there." She said into the air, more of to put order to the situation rather than threaten. She can only watch as agents scurried about to get that done, a different flurry of noise erupting as she did.
Cyrilla hurried her way to Rogue's place, rubbing coffee grounds from her flippers. She looked as if she was dragged out of bed, and she probably was. "General! I wasn't aware that you were taking the cargo flight."
"It's alright, Cy, let's just get our work done." Rogue could only offer a small comforting smile before she turned to nod at Bridgett. The girl nodded and hurried off to do her own work, calling on some agents while at it to assist her. Cyrilla and Rogue quickly made their way through the hallways of ATMO, occasionally squeezing their way through densely packed ones. They eventually find their way to Rogue's main office as she pressed in her passcode.
"The reports are all on your desk." Cyrilla said as she stood by the doorway, nervously adjusting her glasses. "Your wall computer is ready for you to use."
When she glances at the general, she couldn't help but notice the carefully hidden dark shadows under her eyes. There's a certain weariness in her face that doesn't show in her posture, an air of exhaustion that never really dissipates. She watches Rogue turn to her and smile, worn and weary and unnervingly concerning.
"Thank you, Cyrilla. Go get yourself something to eat." Rogue said offhandedly as she tapped her ID against the palm of her flipper, walking to her wall computer to look at it. "I could use a cup of coffee."
"Of course." Cyrilla said and scurried off quickly, leaving Rogue to sigh and shake her head. She flipped back her ID and pressed it against the surface of her wall computer, watching as the screen switched and shifted as files began to appear. She watched as big red letters glared back at her as her computer read:
She watched as a keyboard popped up at the side. She frowned and stepped forward to press in her override code, frown deepening when the computer made an error sound.
"You're kidding me." Rogue muttered as she brought up options for an alternative override code. she pressed her flipper against the scanner and waited for the biometrics to recognize her. The computer hummed once her biometrics were confirmed, and she stepped back to watch as her files zoomed about to organize themselves before she stared at it once more.
- You have one (1) new message.
"What's this supposed to be?" She thought aloud as she pressed on the notification and read the message.
- FROM THE OFFICE OF THE DIRECTOR
- Standard lockdown protocols are to be observed by all agents. With the communication towers down all over the island, it is best to reassure the public and prepare for any other scenarios.
- Redline, remain on standby. We don't have confirmation if this is a case of your specialties.
Rogue looked up in time for Cyrilla to knock on her door, holding a steaming cup of coffee which she gladly took from her flippers. She takes a long, warm sip and sighed before setting it down on her coffee table. Beside her, Cyrilla was reading the message that was written on the computer wall.
"Is this a case of cyberterrorism?" She asked to the agent beside her, turning her head slightly to regard her.
Rogue could only nod before she scrubbed her face with her flipper and sighed. "We'll have to start with the files, then."
"Just like the old days, isn't it?"
Rogue and Mike Prisma walk side by side, turning through the dizzying hallways of the main headquarters. They are greeted occasionally by junior agents who catch sight of the two, offering a small smile or a greeting in turn. They make their way to the file rooms with as much ease as they possibly could, narrowly avoiding hustling agents or mail carts as they went. The file rooms were found in a single hallway, near the armory of the headquarters and G's laboratory. It was a long hallway of 6 doors, each containing files of information that could be handy for agents when the time came.
Not that they were often needed. With the advancements of technology and the rapid modernization of the force, the file rooms were a relic to those who pass it. It was a reminder of a different era of power, a different time when the EPF wasn't the current intelligence agency and the PSA was still existent.
Oh, these old school blues.
The only constant in these rooms was the shuffling of files. As cases progressed and information was gathered, junior agents would regularly be stationed here to re-sort, rearrange, and put in new files. The EPF wasn't that reliant on technology, last that either of them checked. The file rooms were a corporeal version of all the information stored in the databases, in case for situations when the servers were down or the files cannot be found.
Today was a day for that.
They pass by the first one, then the second, then the third. Those filing rooms weren't the ones they were looking for, anyway. The first three file rooms were for mission reports, with the fourth being for files on current agents. Mike presses in the passcode on the fifth file room before they stepped into it. The lights blinked open as they got in, and the air conditioning unit behind them switched on. Mike pulled a chair from the table in the middle of the room and sighed as Rogue strode over to the first filing cabinet to her right.
"I heard that some PSA cell towers are still intact. Signal could be a bit clunky and weak, but they think it'll do." Mike said as he placed his suit jacket behind his chair and loosened his tie. "I'm a bit too old for this, but oh well."
Rogue pulled the first part of the filing cabinet, and coughed when dust started to fly up to her face. She fanned away the rest of the dust before peering into the cabinet, frowning a bit before pulling out the first stack of files.
"Don't we have a color coding system around here?" She rasped, hauling the files to the table and dropping it with a thud. Mike lunged forward to open the first file, scanning the profile before shaking his head and setting it aside. "Not even a card system?"
"Rogue, my dear, we're an intelligence agency. Not a library." Mike chuckled as he went over the second criminal profile. "I don't think we have either."
"So much for organization." Rogue muttered to herself as she picked up a file from the pile and scoured over it. She shook her head and set it down on the pile next to Mike. "What were you saying about the cell towers?"
"They're thinking of connecting EPF phones to the PSA towers." Mike said and shrugged, picking up several files to pore over. "If they can't do that, they can always hand us back our old PSA phones."
"I miss those tiny things." Rogue chuckled as she held up another file. "Have you heard anything about the databases?"
Mike shook his head, setting down the stack of file he was poring over in favor of another one. "The other divisions are still locked out of their own."
The lights overhead flickered above them, causing them both to look up out of instinct.
"This'll be a long day." Rogue muttered as the lights remained steady.
"We'll just have to hurry up." Mike said before going back to his files, reviewing and setting them aside.
Status update: The hacked databases
By Raven Westley (Club Penguin Times) | Updated September 12, 2017; 11:11 pm
Much has happened since the hackings that occurred on August 31.
Not long after the hacking of the Club Penguin Police Department's databases, the power grid as well as communication towers were hacked into. The hacker allegedly locked out personnel from the databases and obtained an unknown amount of information while doing so.
'"We strongly condemn these acts done on Antarctican soil." USA Spokespenguin Oscar Fleming said in a press conference not long after the attacks started. "We can only ask for the general public to remain calm and to report any information that they think is useful to the relevant authorities."
The EPF and the CPPD, two of the agencies with the island who were hacked, shared the same sentiments. "This is clearly an act of terrorism," EPF Spokespenguin Clark Penning said in a press conference the afternoon after the attack. "We can guarantee that we are placing our best agents on this case, and will be collaborating with the CPPD to solve this case."
To compensate for the loss of energy and communications, Rory and G collaborated to help get the island back to a semblance of functionality. G unveiled a snowball powered generator that he would be giving to major blocks of the community to use, as well as solar panels that could be used to harvest energy. He also assisted in setting up emergency frequencies that penguins can communicate with.
On September 12, specialists managed to get back into the CPPD and EPF databases after two weeks of being locked out of it. While results of the database sweep still haven't been revealed, officials are telling us that the situation is looking not good. "We are seeing lots of missing files," CPPD Chief Petras said in an interview with the CPT. "We'll have to bring this up with the EPF."
Several days after returning to Club Penguin, Rogue lifts the lockdown order.
It's a flurry of activity after that. It's afternoon of the day when Rogue is going through her computer wall, poring over reports coming in from the other stations. On the side, she can see a notification for the database check that's going on at the Main Office. After the fiasco that happened a few nights ago, they wanted to make sure that the ATD database was intact.
"Good to see your division up and running." She jumps a bit but turns slowly, the gears in her head coming to a halt as she looked at Jason. He leaned on the door casually, mug of coffee in hand as he took a sip. "Delta is still on lockdown. Since our database is directly connected to the main database, I don't want to take my chances."
"Good afternoon to you too, Laurenson." Rogue rolled her eyes as she collapsed her other reports and turned fully to him. "Is there a reason why you came here?"
"The Director has a mission for us." She felt the world around her slow a bit when he spoke, as her mind went a mile a minute at the prospect of going on an actual, proper mission. She almost doesn't hear the next words that come out of his beak, "We have a briefing in 5. You in?"
She shook herself from her trance and frowned, taking her ID from the computer wall and slipping it into her pocket. "Why are you even asking me that?"
Together, they turn and walk briskly to the briefing room. She wasn't so sure which one was going to be used, and instead relied on Jason and his knowledge of the mission to guide her.
"Why's Delta involved?" She asked offhandedly as they round a corner, nodding when agents would greet them.
Jason narrowly avoided an agent as they rushed past him. "It's not. It's just me."
"So why are you involved?" She asked again, correcting the question and turning to him. They both step off to the side when a mail cart goes past them. They continue walking.
"The Director thinks that this warrants both of our specialties." He shrugged as they entered the main office. Agents rushed past them as they turned towards a team of tech agents who were hunched over the computers, reading line after line of codes. Jason has to grab for Rogue's arm to direct her away from her agents and out of her division, quickly making their way through the hallways of the main headquarters. "Or they just think that a partner for this would be handy. How can I be so sure of their intentions?"
"We'll have to ask." She sighed as they made their way into one of the briefing rooms. The door clicks shut behind them and locks itself, as Rogue sat down on one of the office chairs. Across her, Jason sits down and takes a sip of coffee from his mug. The lights dim as a projection pops up on the large screen, the hidden face of the Director clearly shown.
"Good afternoon, agents." Their disoriented voice booms from the overhead speakers. The two of them could only nod and greet politely. "Tvarkov, how is the database check going?"
"A few chinks in our armor, but no noticeable major damage." Rogue said and smiled politely. "I appreciate the concern."
"Of course. It would be rather inconvenient for the EPF if its Anti-Terrorism Division has fallen." The Director said. There's the noise of something shifting before they speak again, tone calm and collected. "Agents, you have a mission to take."
The two agents shared a look before sitting back on their respective chairs. Jason steepled his flippers on his lap while Rogue crossed her arms. They both waited as the Director shifted once more and cleared their throat.
"I am giving you two the go signal to take the forefront in investigating these hackings." They said with a restrained ease as the two shared another look. This was something that the Director appreciated most about the duo, their unconscious ability of sharing a look to read what the other was thinking. "You are allowed to use any resources you deem useful to you."
"You seem to be a bit tense, sir." Rogue said and frowned, turning her head slightly towards Jason's direction. "Is something wrong?"
The Director took a breath and sighed, "Tvarkov, for the sake of urgency, I may have to inform you that we believe that the Project: Infinite file has been stolen."
The reaction was instantaneous. Rogue visibly tensed as she squeezed her flipper into her arm, digging into the feathers as she stared straight towards the screen. Jason glanced a worried look before turning back to the Director and speaking.
"We accept this mission." Jason said before Rogue could open her mouth, glancing back at her as she nodded tensely in agreement.
"We'll give it our all." Rogue muttered more to herself as she gave him back a look and offering a tight smile.
"Excellent, I believe you are both dismissed." The Director said.
They've never seen those two bolt out of their chairs so quickly.
She never thought she'd miss home.
She gladly let the puffles tackle her to the ground, laughing and giggling as they squeaked in greeting to her. Natalia slowly got up and shuffled her way to the kitchen, where Rogue left a note that her dinner was in the microwave for her to heat up and eat. She checked the microwave to see that it was indeed there before setting it to her preferred heating time and turning as it started to heat up the food.
She toed off her boots in the shoe shed and padded around the house, looking for any signs of her adoptive mother. True enough, she hears the hushed whispers of her mother as she spoke to someone.
"... do you think, Jason?" Oh, she must be with a guest. She neared the door to her mother's bedroom and listened. "Joshua is in danger, Laurenson. I hope that's getting through that thick head of yours."
There was a sting in her tone that almost makes her step back, but Natalia wants to listen. Anything that has to do with her endearing uncle is worth listening to. "Rogue, we will get to your brother and speak to him regarding this. But first, we need to locate that hacker–"
"Our hacker has information that they could use any time they want." The hiss is still there. "I don't want them to ruin the peaceful life my brother has."
"They won't." How Jason can sound so calm is beyond her. Natalia steps a bit closer to peak at the crack of the door. Rogue was sitting on the chair, leaning on Jason a bit as he wounded an arm around her shoulders. He looks up in time to Natalia's movement, and she almost steps back in fear. "Come in, Natalia."
"How long did you know that I was there?" She couldn't help but ask as she walked into the room. She knows that Rogue hardly touches this room, mainly since she is usually working herself to death or busy with something else. She sat down between them and kicked the air as she looked at them both.
"Long enough." Jason said and smiled sadly, a bit too sadly. His flipper is now on Rogue's shoulder with Natalia separating them, squeezing a bit in comfort. "Listen, your uncle's in danger because of this hacker."
"I know." She said and felt Rogue flinch next to them. She pats her mother's flipper and smiled at her when she looked. "He'll be fine, right?"
Somewhere in the kitchen, the microwave beeps. Rogue muttered quietly, "Your food's heated."
She knows that it's her cue to leave. Natalia stands and wraps her arms around Rogue's shoulders, smiling a bit when her mother places a flipper on her hair. She turns and scurries off to get her food, listening to the two resume with their hushed conversation as she left.
"She's a good girl, Rogue. Take care of her." Jason muttered lowly to Rogue as he pulled her back to him.
"That's the only thing I seem to be good at." She muttered back in a resigned tone that does weird things to Natalia's heart.
Three: The October Leaks
Hacker breaks into more databases, leaves other countries alarmed
By Raven Westley (Club Penguin Times) | Updated October 10, 2017
"We strongly condemn these terrorist attacks."
This is the common utterance of politicians and representatives alike as the hackings continue to spread towards the Ninja Archipelago as well as the Asiapelago. Ever since the hackings that occurred at Club Penguin, three more countries fell under the clutches of cyber attacks. The Finipines, Shops Island, and Zhou were later hacked in the said order. While access back to their databases was achieved weeks later, the countries were still alarmed of the occurrences. Red alert warnings popped out all over the continents as governments buffed up cyber security while making contingency plans for the situation at which hacking will occur.
"We are receiving reports that this is done by a group of cyber terrorists." A SIA representative said in a conference two days after the attacks. "While we have yet to verify, we can only hope that more information could be attained while the investigations occur."
Meanwhile, sources tell us that the investigations conducted by the CPPD and EPF remain slow and sluggish. "Leads are growing cold as fast as they are made." Delta Commander-in-Chief Jason Laurenson said to the press in an interview last Tuesday. "It's as frustrating as it sounds. We're working with all of our connections around here."
As of the last update, the UAN is calling for a joint international investigation team to investigate these findings.
The weeks have taken a toll on the both of them.
Jason stirs slowly to find that her side of the bed is as cold as when he crawled into it, frowning as he came to consciousness. He can hear the shower running in her bathroom and considered going back to bed when it stops, followed by the silence of Rogue doing whatever she does in the bathroom.
He remains still as he thinks about the past two weeks, trying to remember all the leads they've chased during the relatively short timespan. It seemed as if the list of missing files increased day after day, increasing the urgency of their search for answers. They've exhausted legal sources to find the solutions, jet set to other stations to check if everyone was alright. He cannot forget the many times he had to speak to foreign intelligence agencies for information they can give up to assist in the hacking issue, with the promises of sharing information at the tip of his tongue as he negotiated fervently. He can remember watching Rogue as she hunched over another file on her holograms, eyes weary and appearance flickering against the holographic glow.
He tries to remember a time when all he worried was not flunking his test in The Academy, when he wasn't thinking about bureaucracy and red-tape. He knows that there was a time, when what was on his mind was the mission and not paperwork that had to be submitted. On some days, he could hardly recognize the man in the mirror whenever he stepped out of the shower and stared at its reflective surface.
They've gotten older.
He's snapped out of his thoughts when the door opens, and Rogue steps out with a towel on her head, feathers a bit brighter and fluffier now that she stepped out of the shower. She's already in uniform, minus the hat and tie that were usually on her. Their eyes lock and she freezes, as if ready for whatever lecture he had in store for her for not being in bed when she was supposed to.
It doesn't come out of his mouth. "Good morning."
She steps forward, a bit unsure with herself as she replies. "Good morning."
The sunlight is streaming through a window behind her, and he couldn't help but notice how the edges of her figure are hinted by the glow of sunlight.
No wonder, the EPF golden girl.
"How long have you been awake?" She steps forward and sits down on the floor, uncaring for if her skirt would crumple underneath her. He doesn't say anything as he places a flipper on her hair. It's still a bit damp. He's forgotten a time when her hair wasn't in its restricting ponytail.
"A while." He replied and sat up a bit, stretching on a bed not his as he kept his flipper on Rogue's head. There's a certain comfort to keeping his flipper there as he looked down at her. "Have you tried sleeping?"
She could only look at him. Bad sign. She shakes her head, "Sorry."
"Don't be sorry." He pats her head a bit, letting himself think as he spoke. "You know that it's a weekend, right?"
"As if the hacker respected weekends when they hacked into those databases." Her tone is sour as she stands up and strides over to her bedside table, him tilting his head to watch her pick up her phone and hat.
"Get out of your uniform." It's out before he can dwell on it, and he curses when she slows and turns to him slowly. "Get into civilian clothes."
"Where are we going?" She's frowning when she sits down on the bed, the mattress dipping under her. Her phone is discarded between them.
"We're going to the Forest." He said as he stood up from bed, watching as she looked at him confusedly. He couldn't help but smile as she complied anyways, tapping a quick text into her phone before she set it aside and moved back into the bathroom.
The two sat down on a log as they watched Natalia run about, Dulce on her heels as she giggled and let the puffle chase her.
Jason turned to Rogue, as if ready to speak to her and tell her what was on his mind. There's a tiny, barely there smile that graces her face as she watches the girl run about. It sometimes alludes him that she was just as old as him, when most of the time she looks as if she's aged beyond her years. Perhaps that's the effect of leaving a specialist division with the capacity to end wars if she worked hard enough for it.
She must have sensed that he was looking because she's looking back at him. She's mildly confused before she speaks, quiet but sure. "Why did you bring me here?"
"We both could use a break." The answer is easy. He shrugs as she frowns at him, as if trying to find the ulterior motive behind his actions. She finds none. "And I wanted Natalia to have some fun, so I brought her along.
"That was nice of you." She said and turned back as the kid tried climbing a pine tree. They watched as she scurried up the first few branches before falling down onto the snow. He could feel Rogue tense next to him. She was always so protective over that kid.
"I'm okay!" Natalia waves at them before she tries climbing it again. They both keep their eyes on her as Jason speaks again.
"She reminds me of Catherine." He knows that it's been a while since her death, but the memory would always be fresh in Rogue's mind. She's quiet and waiting when he continues, letting his voice fill in the silence. "You think she'd join the force when she gets old enough?"
There's a beat of silence. He can hear her take a deep breath. "I wouldn't stop her if she wanted to join."
They remain silent as Natalia victoriously finds herself halfway through the tree. She looks at them and waves again before climbing higher and higher, as if she can get any higher. Jason chuckles a bit at her antics before turning back to Rogue, only to see that she was drifting away as she stared at the little girl.
"Hey, she'll be fine." He said and smiled, brushing her flipper with his. She's not responding until his phone beeps, prompting them both to look at his pocket as he grabbed it and looked at the message scrawled at it.
"There's a situation at headquarters." There's a chill down their spines by the time he's done speaking. They both share a look before turning to Natalia, who is at the top of the tree and raising her fists victoriously. Rogue only has to give her a look to have her scurrying back down, twigs sticking to her clothes and hair as she grinned widely at them.
"Natalia, we have work to do." She said calmly, and she tries not to wince at the pout she gets in return. "Where do you want to go while waiting?"
"I wanna go home." She said simply, as Dulce bounced up to her shoulder. The blue puffle blinked her eyes up to her owner before nuzzling against Natalia, who giggled and rubbed her head. "I wanna be with the puffles."
"Stay safe." Rogue could only nod before the girl ran off, Dulce bouncing with each step. Jason and Rogue share one more look before they both grip each other's arms as Jason presses the HQ button on his phone.
The air tightens around them as the world becomes a blur, and their stomachs drop as they are split into particles. They are hurled through the island at lightning speeds as they kept their grip on each other, waiting until they are on solid ground before they release each other. They find themselves in the EPF Command Room, only taking a moment to collect themselves before they are walking to the double doors that leads to the winding hallways of the EPF Headquarters.
They walk quickly as they make their way to the briefing room, the very briefing room they went to all those weeks ago. The hallways are blessedly empty, but they didn't have time to worry about that. They could only push and pull each other to hallways before Rogue keys in the code to the briefing room and dragging Jason in. They sit down on their respective chairs and turn in time for when the lights dimmed and the screen popped up once more.
"Good morning, agents." It only strikes Jason then that it was still morning, a little bit past 9. He listens carefully as Rogue takes out her personal phone, tapping away into her notes. "I have urgent information I need to tell you."
"What is it?" Jason was always the more patient one of them two. Rogue only hums as she pauses to wait for what the Director has to say.
"We have intel that suggests that our hacker is selling information to terrorist groups." There is a stillness in the air that vaguely hides the panic. Jason schools his face as he slips a glance at Rogue, finding that she too has steeled herself.
"Is there anything we can work with?" Rogue asked steadily, tone careful and measured as she stared at the screen as if she wanted to burn it down with a look. Perhaps it would, if she tried hard enough.
"They may be actively trying to go after your brother, Tvarkov. We can't think of a good reason why." It comes after a moment of thought. The reaction is instantaneous. Rogue gets up and leaves the room, making Jason stand and look at the Director.
"There's a jet waiting for you two at Hangar 5." The Director sounded so resigned, it was a bit concerning. Jason nodded and saluted before he turned and ran after Rogue. The Ruscan was running to her office, darting into the Anti-Terrorism Main Office and navigating through with as much proficiency as she could possibly have. He catches up to her when she pauses to key in her code, getting into her office and slamming the door behind him.
"You heard what the Director said, right?" His words are rushed as Rogue brings up her holograms and pores over reports. He grips her shoulder to reassure her as he read over her shoulder, scanning line after line of information that confirmed what the Director has told them.
"We're going to Rusca." There's an air of finality when it's punched out of her lungs. She turns to him and there is a fire in her eyes as she speaks again. "We're going to Rusca, and we are bringing him back."
"Okay." He knows better than to argue. There were better things to do with their time rather than argue. "What do we do with him when we bring him back?"
"He can stay with Natalia. She misses him anyways." She draws up more reports in her holograms and takes a deep breath, holding it as she read them. "Do you think we still need to pack a bag?"
"We can always just grab a rush bag." Jason shrug, referring to the pre-fixed bag all agents were made to keep in the event of an emergency mission. Rogue nodded as she turned to circle her table and kneel down, pulling at the duffle bag that was under it. She hefted it onto her shoulder and nodded to Jason, collapsing her holograms with a move and striding past him.
"We can take a stop at Gemini before going to Rusca." She said as she turned to him, "That's where you were based, right?"
He could only nod before he goes after her, hot on her heels as they make their way to the exit.
The plane that was given to them was different than the one that brought them back to Club Penguin. With it being smaller and cleaner, it was obvious that it was built to carry highly valued personnel or high-ranking commanders, much like themselves. Nonetheless, it took a while for them to be comfortable in the rather luxurious plane.
Rogue's going over information on her laptop, with a holographic projector next to her showing a news channel. Going by the curl of words that were coming out of the projector, it was a Russian news outlet. He was considering going to her when the news was interrupted by an incoming call.
She swipes at it without looking up. "Tvarkov speaking. What is it?"
He can make out the image of Adrian Hepson on the hologram. Since she required her full concentration on this case, she had given Hepson the role of running the division.
"A bomb was set off in the Business servers, ma'am. A unit's already being dispatched." How he can be so even toned at such a time surprises him. He perks up a bit on his seat as he watched Rogue click her tongue and tap something into her laptop.
"Do we have any figures yet?"
"None that I know of, ma'am." There's a slight from on his face as he spoke. "We hardly know much yet."
"Well, keep me posted." She said before the call ended and the hologram went back to showing her the news.
Jason thought then and there to stand up and start making his way to her. Rogue was going through reports on her laptop when he sat across her, leaning back and digging his fists into his hoodie. He managed to find it in his main office before he took his rush bag, and now he was wearing it in front of the other woman. She only gives him a cursory glance before going back to work, eyes scanning the screen before he slaps it close with a quick flipper.
"What is it?" She's exasperated, a bit on the edge of annoyance when she asked. "I don't know if you heard, Laurenson, but there's a bombing situation."
"I know, I heard." He said as he squinted at the hologram a bit. "That's Rusca, isn't it? What's going on?"
"Apparently some top secret project has been leaked to the media." She said as she glanced dismissively at the hologram. "I don't really know what it is, but it seems to have caused outrage."
"You're the one who speaks the language, not me." He shrugged as he noticed the flicker of annoyance in her eyes. "Got something in mind, Redline? Hacker problems?"
"They're picky with what they leak and to whom." She clicked her tongue as she flipped her laptop open and turned it to him. He pored over the reports on the screen as she continued. "There's been a sharp influx of crimes ever since."
"These are mostly robberies and murder." Jason frowned and looked up to her. The frown on her face seemed to be permanent. "And you're an anti-terrorism agent."
"They're linked to the stolen data." She said as she took the laptop back and turned it back to herself. "As I said, picky. We need to get to Joshua before they decide to kill him too."
"We need to think up a strategy for what happens if they really are after him." He's so calm that it almost irritates her. She folds her flippers under her chin as she continued listening. "Knowing you, you'd take the offensive. Do you want me up in the roofs?"
"That would be best, yeah." She said and leaned back on the chair. Her cap slides off her head a bit. She readjusts it. "Do we escape to one of the safe houses or do we try to go to the manor?"
"I don't want to endanger your family–"
"Then we try going to the manor." He said and tapped the table between them.
There's silence for a while, a moment for them to think before she speaks. "Strength in numbers."
"Of course." He's quick with replying, rapping his fist against the table before he spoke. "Don't you have an apartment in Rusca?"
"I hope it's still functional." She grumbled as a frown cut through her face. "If not, we'll have to get some groceries."
"I wouldn't mind." He grinned as their plane veered to the right. The Ruscan motherland came into view as they turned to their windows, watching as they get nearer and nearer to the ground.
There's a car waiting for them when they step off the plane.
"I call driver." Jason is quick to speak as he made a beeline towards the driver's door. He gets on and puts on his seatbelt as Rogue huffed and took the passenger seat next to him, shutting the door. He fiddled with the radio as Rogue tapped on her phone, probably texting Joshua by the looks of it. "And as always, I get to pick the tunes."
"Of course." She's distracted, and he doesn't know how to take it. Nonetheless, he smiles to himself as he settles with a track and starts driving.
The hangar gives way to snowy terrain and carefully salted roads. While it was a welcomed sight for the Antarctican boy, Rogue could only tap her flipper against her phone as she watched the winter scenery go by. There were thoughts racing through her head that she cannot easily pick through, a mangle of ideas and plans she cannot really word to the man who was driving the car.
He only has to break the ice. "Where's the art college again?"
That seems to get her back. "Eastern Muscovgrad."
They drive in silence after that, the music playing to fill it in. They get to the art college without much of a hitch, with the occasional block of traffic or pedestrian crossing. Rogue keeps her flipper tapping while Jason weaves them through the streets, taking shortcuts he knew to get to the location.
"He's glad you came with me." She said as the guitar blared on the radio. They're stopped at a red light when he turns, trying to make sense of what she said before saying.
"You mean Joshua?" The light is green and they move again, making him turn back to the road as he drove. "I'm not sure I could think of a reason why."
"I don't know either." She shrugged in his peripheral vision, and he only nods before they find themselves at the gates of the art college. They pull down their windows as a guard walks to inspect them, asking questions that Rogue quickly answered in Russian. They are let in and Jason drives through the college, silent as he stopped when Rogue told him to.
"I'll wait here." He said as the track changed to something else. Rogue nodded and removed her seatbelt, stepping out of the car and slamming the door shut behind her. He watched as she leaned against the hood of the car as she waited patiently, watching the grand double doors of the university's building as they opened and let out a stream of chattering students.
By far, his day has gone badly.
First off, he left his oil pastels in his apartment and ended up having to sift through the art room's many broken ones in search of the perfect color. Then, he was running late for his sculpture class because the idiots in front of him were walking as if they had all the time in the world. To top it all off, someone spilled coffee all over his shirt and now the fabric is clinging uncomfortably to his feathers.
It's to his relief when he finds his twin sister, Rogue, leaning against what seems to be an EPF-issued car. He sighs and lets his shoulder sag as he hurried down the steps to see her.
"You have no idea how chaotic my day's been." He greeted her, giving her a single glance over. While she was in civilian clothes, there was something about her posture that made her appear like the rigid commander she remains to be. He peers over her shoulder to the tinted glass, squinting to make out a figure. "So why did you bring your boyfriend along?"
"He's not my boyfriend, Joshua." Rogue rolled her eyes at his antics and gripped him by his shoulder, spinning him around and turning him towards the car. He yelped and gripped his books tighter as she ushered him to the back seat without another word.
"Alright, alright. But I still want an answer to that question." He huffed as he clipped his seatbelt in. He looked towards Jason and grinned widely. "So, Jasie, haven't ask my sister out yet?"
"Don't even give him ideas." Rogue snorted before Jason could sputter out a reply. Jason looks at them with a mix of horror and shock that almost makes the boy laugh at the poor man's face. Rogue took her seat next to Jason and leaned back as Jason turned back to driving.
Joshua looked between the two commanders who were with him, watching with satisfaction as Jason fidgeted in his seat. It was clear to him that the man was bothered, whether because of his presence or his question, he didn't know. Rogue, in the meantime, seemed to be typing away in her phone, but he could feel her sparing glances at him through the mirror when she could.
"We're going to your apartment to get you some clothes. You're coming back with us to Club Penguin." She's too calm that it almost scares him. Almost.
"What?" He all but squawked, snapping up on his seat to glower at her. "I have a test tomorrow on Ruscan art!"
"Take the online test. I'm sure your professor would understand." She rolls her eyes again. He could almost snort at how oblivious she is to how college works. Then again, she never really did went to one. "Or I don't know, email him?"
"I might just do that, yeah." He tries not to roll his eyes back at her. For being a tall and mighty commander, she tends to be so oblivious to simple civilian things.
They lapse into silence again. He taps his flipper against his sketchbooks as he glances at the two again. There's something about them that tempts him to sketch them with charcoal, but he had to stop himself. He was in a moving vehicle, an EPF-issued one at that. He didn't want charcoal to go all over the place.
They stop in front of his apartment complex, Jason the first to get out of the car. Rogue steps out and talks to him quietly, Joshua spying the bag that he kept on his back. Huh. Weird.
"Come on, let's go." Rogue opens the door for him and he slips out, grabbing his stuff and slipping out. The three of them walk into the elevator as he presses the number 10, standing between them before taking a deep breath.
This'll be awkward.
She's twitchy when they reach to 10.
She gives Jason a nod before she and Joshua step off the elevator, watching as he hit the top floor button without a look. He waves at them before the elevator closes on him. Joshua turns to her and gives him a confused look.
"What is he–"
"Don't ask." She said and grabbed his elbow, looking around the long hallway of doors. "Which one is your apartment again?"
He shakes his head at her and twists out of her grip. He grabs her by the sleeve of her jacket to drag her to his apartment at the end of the hallway, jamming his key into the lock before stepping in. They are welcomed with the sight of wide, ceiling high windows and a hectic room as Rogue sniffs and frowns.
"Do you know how to clean, Joshua?"
"No, that's why you're here."
Rogue rolled her eyes at that and walked towards the coffee table, picking up a pamphlet about some exhibit that was happening some time soon. She reads through the Cyrillic as Joshua waltzes to his room, grabbing a luggage bag and getting to his closet. He yanks it open and rummages through his things, looking for suitable clothes to wear.
"So, how long are you keeping me?" He yelled from his room as he grabbed at his shirts and threw them on his bed. He wonders how fast he can fix his things when Rogue replies.
"As long as I have to. Don't worry, I won't let you die of boredom." He snorts at that. "I'll let you hang out with Natalia."
"Ooh, how is my favorite niece?" He looked towards his door to see that Rogue was still going over the things on his coffee table.
"She misses you." There's a lighter tone in her words when she said that. He fought back the smile on his face as he continued packing. "Keeps asking me when you'll send her another drawing."
"Glad to know that I have a fan." He chuckled and looked around his room. Where did he put his coat? "Has she been practicing her French?"
He can almost sense the way she cringed. "Her French is terrible, Joshua."
"Let the kid dream, Rogue." He shakes his head at her and finds his coat under his bed. Odd. He can't remember how that happened. "She's like what, 10? She can try."
She scoffs and doesn't say anything after that. He looks through his things before going to his bathroom to quickly grab at some things he needed. Then, he took his backpack and jammed his art materials there.
"So how's the case?" He asked, feeling the way she tensed from across the apartment. Too predictable. He always seemed to know what she was thinking.
She cleared her throat. "Slow and sluggish. You know how the media describes it."
"Of course I do." He snorted as he grabbed for his oil pastels. "But I want inside details here. You're obviously pulling me out for a reason."
She's quiet for a moment. Contemplative. He never really liked it when she got silent. "I already told you why."
She was always this cryptic when it came to this. He could almost roll his eyes. "Come on, I need the details."
He pulled out his luggage bag and hefted his backpack on his shoulder, marching out of his room with a wide grin. She's standing up and staring at him now, unsure if she should help or not. They end up standing before each other before she sighed, looking away and rubbing her neck.
"It seems that our hacker has leaked the information to the dark web." There's resignation in her tone, a bit of reluctance if he listens hard enough. "They know about Infinite."
He knows he shouldn't be laughing, but he couldn't help it when suddenly he realizes that his life is about to fall and collapse before him. He lets out a gurgle of laughter and bows at the force of it, not looking up but knowing that she is looking at him with mortification.
Infinite made Joshua Tvarkov and broke Joshua Helixon. Helixon was a man who died with the men he enhanced, a terrorist who desired to make right the wrongs of his life. Tvarkov was a man who loved life as much as he loved his art, gentle and caring to everything in his world. He's worked hard to create this life for himself only for it to shatter with two sentences and seventeen words.
Meanwhile, the cogs in Rogue's mind slowed as she tried to process the mess that was in front of her. Her brother was paint splatted from his previous class, acrylic paint drying on his blue feathers and black shirt. It almost looks as if he was a painting that was deconstructing, a breakdown she didn't really expect to happen right in front of her.
She almost didn't notice the red dot on his back.
She spoke quick and moved quicker. "Get down!"
The shot is more heard than seen. She pushes him down in time for the bullet to hit where he previously was, finding its home in the flooring of his apartment. He's still laughing when she looks at him, brain finally catching up and adrenaline seizing her blood. She presses a flipper up to her earpiece and hisses. "Laurenson, find me that sniper!"
"Working on it." He's rushed on the other side of the line. Another shot is fired and Joshua laughs harder, but she couldn't tell if it was sobbing. She grabs at his backpack and pulls him back to glare at him.
"The windows! Didn't I tell you that they were a security risk?" She practically hissed at him, when logically she knew that it was the last thing he wanted.
He was hysterical as he spoke. "DiDn'T i TeLl YoU tHaT tHeY wErE a SeCuRiTy RiSk?"
She groaned and yelled a curse in Russian before shoving him up his feet. She hauls him towards the door and narrowly avoids bullets as they come, pushing him and herself out the door. She's dragging him to the lift when she presses her earpiece again.
"Laurenson, anytime now!"
"Give me a minute." He's growling into his earpiece, clearly frustrated with the situation. "The sun's against me!"
"You're kidding me." Rogue could almost groan as she looked around to see that her brother was fine. She gets them on the elevator and slams her flipper on the 1 button, grabbing for the deletion gun in her coat before turning to Joshua. He's mostly calmed now, with dread on his face as he stared at the double doors of the elevator with loss.
"Listen. I'm not letting anything happen to you." She tried to be the calmer one of this, despite the weight of the gun in her flipper and the weight in her heart.
"Of course not. I'd haunt you in the afterlife if you do." His voice is weak, throat raw from the laughter. She doesn't try to flinch at it. "The car's bulletproof, right?"
"Yeah." If that was the consolation that he wanted, then so be it. She tapped her flipper on her gun before stepping out of the elevator when it opened and dragging Joshua with her. They cover the lobby quickly before pausing at the doors, staring at the car that was on the other side of the road and taking a deep breath.
"What's the plan?" He's a bit composed now, a bit stronger and back to himself. She turns to him and offers him a small smile before she's handing him her gun and nudging him forward.
"Run to the car and don't look back." She said before pulling out another gun. "I'll cover for you."
He doesn't say anything but nods, taking the gun with him. He squares his shoulders and looks ahead, visualizing the sprint he'll have to do to cover the ground and get in the car on time.
He's chased by bullets as he goes.
Rogue steps out the same time he does, ignoring the glare of the sun in favor of looking for the sniper. While she was still relatively blinded, the general direction of their shots remain known. She aimed for the general direction and fired, cursing when she heard nothing but the sound of bullets biting the heels of her brother.
"Redline, I'm hit." Jason's voice is strained when she hears him, and she curses before she turns to Joshua. A bullet narrowly whizzes past her shoulder as she watches him clamor up the car. Once the door was shut, she turned towards the apartment complex and pressed her flipper on her earpiece.
"Don't move, I'm coming." She said before running back into the apartment complex.
Joshua is blessedly silent when they roll up to the apartment complex that Rogue lived in whenever she had to stay in Rusca. Given that it was a few blocks away from the Muscovgrad station, she didn't need to worry about trying to contact headquarters to report on the current situation. He rushed to open the door as Rogue helped Jason to it, carrying his weight on her shoulders as they hobbled to the door. He pushed the key in and opened the door to a studio apartment, immaculately clean and designed with earthly browns and sharp designs. He sets down his bags on the side before making his way to the sink, knowing that she'd probably keep her first aid kit there.
"Thanks." Her words are clipped as she gently set the injured man down on the couch. He grabs for the first aid kit and hauls it to her, dragging it a bit due to its weight. He sets it down next to Rogue as she scurries to open it and rummage through its contents.
"We can always call in for a medic." Jason sounds tired, a bit exasperated by the tone. Joshua wants to wonder if it's the blood loss or the setting jet lag that makes him sound like that. Perhaps both.
"I can patch you up just fine." She finds tweezers and gauze before turning to Joshua. "Bowl of water and a towel."
"Coming up." He's quick on his feet as he spun around to get the requested material. Rogue and Jason and speaking to each other quietly, with Rogue reassuring him that she'll make it as painless as possible. He comes back with the bowl and towel and watches as she takes it.
"Don't look." He does, anyways. He doesn't say anything when she manages to pick out the bullet and set it away on a plastic bag. He watches as she cleans up most of the blood before producing a patch from the kit to slap over the bullet wound, taking into account the way Jason flinched before he sagged.
"Medical tech." She explained to him after cleaning up the mess and putting the first aid kit back in its place under the sink. Jason was sleeping peacefully on the couch while they talked, with her preparing dinner and him helping her out. "The Finipines has been stepping up their medical game."
"What is it supposed to do?" His eyes stray to the lump of mass on the couch, watching carefully for any telltale signs of pain. While he didn't really know much about the medical department, he was sure to keep an eye for the basics.
"Hasten the healing process without overworking the body." She said as she stirred the soup in its pot. "I'm pretty sure he wouldn't want to wear a sling for the rest of the month, so I did what I had to do."
He nodded before she switched off the stove and let the soup cool. They sit side by side on the floor while they eat, quiet as they watched the muted TV across from them.
"You can take the bed. I don't think I'll be getting much sleep anyways." She said after a while, bowls long empty and cleaned. The man asleep behind them hasn't stirred yet. He doesn't want to know why. "I'll keep watch."
"Are you sure you want to do that?" He narrowed his eyes at her, seeing the telltale bags under her eyes. The moonlight from the window across them casted shadows on her, making her look older than what she really is. There was no reason for her to keep up appearances now, and he could clearly see the white strands that struck through the black. He doesn't comment on it. "I can take first shift."
"Don't be an idiot." She glances at him again, obviously not in the mood for an argument. He nods and stands, clapping her in the back before shuffling to the small staircase that would lead to her bed.
When he lied down, he kept his eyes on the two agents that were downstairs. Rogue tilted her head back to rest it on the couch, closing her eyes as she seemed to be deep in thought. Next to her, Jason fidgeted in his sleep and twisted a bit, frown clear on his face as he muttered something he couldn't quite hear.
Sleep didn't come to him easily.
He cracked an eye open and looked around.
His muscles were still sore, but he would neglect that in favor for the dull pain on his shoulder. He twisted his head a bit to stare at the patch of gauze on it, knowing full well that under it was a warm med patch. He turned his head to look at the staircase and the bed, frowning when he realized that Joshua was asleep on the bed. His eyes drift down to finally find Rogue, whose head was tilted back and eyes closed shut.
"Hey." He tried, throat raw from the lack of water. Her eyes fly open immediately, a bit unfocused from sleep. She turned her head to him and relaxed a bit as she struggled to sit up further.
"You're going to hurt your back and neck if you sleep like that." He shook his head and sat up slowly, careful with his injured shoulder as he leaned against the back of the couch. Rogue ignored him in favor of stretching her stiffened limbs and loosening the hair tie that kept her hair in place. There are clear strands of white in the sea of black that he doesn't want to comment on, thinking that it would just grant him a scoff and a shake of the head.
"I didn't even know I was sleeping in the first place." She sighed as she shook away the remaining edges of sleep. She sits up and properly cracks her back, turning to him and frowning. "Is your shoulder bothering you?"
"No, not at all." He could only watch as she swooped down to get a better look at his shoulder, watching as she peeled away the gauze and patch to stare at the wound under. There was a clear angry cut of red on his skin, but she's sure that it'll be reduced to a tiny red scar by morning. She seals the wound shut and gets up, quickly checking his physical being before turning to make her way to the kitchen. "What are you doing?"
"Getting you food." She said as she flicked open the stove and reheated the food that was on the pot. There's a certain weariness in her eyes that he cannot easily read through, but he shrugs off the thought to heft himself up and on his feet. He takes a few steps before he's leaning against the counter and watching her watch the food.
Sometimes it alludes him how she carries this much responsibility on her shoulders. He remembers her when she was 15 years old, fearful but ready to take on whatever was going to come at her as the Commander of the Anti-Terrorism Division. There was a distinct spark that was in her eyes, a flair that was a source of comfort to those who were subordinate to her. Now, 20 years old and nowhere near getting younger, her duties have weathered her down to a constant state of exhaustion and weariness. She hid it when necessary, but he could always hear the edge of exasperation that was set underneath the even tones of command. Burnout was imminent for the both of them, but he have never realized that hers would come at her faster than his.
"We need to work faster, Rogue." He said after a moment of thought. There were other agencies who were after their hacker, and he was sure as hell that all Rogue wanted was to be the one to get them. "The hacker–"
"Cannot escape us." It's spat out as if it was poison. He doesn't say anything about it. "We're going back to the island tomorrow, and you and I will find a way to trace the leaks back to them."
"And if we don't?" He didn't want to be the devil's advocate here, but being reasonable was the only thing he could be right now. So far, they know that their hacker is deadly good at covering their tracks– no one knew a thing about who their hacker was. The objective she was asking for was both difficult and near impossible.
"Laurenson," There's something deadly about the way that tone dropped, about the way the room felt colder as she turned to him. "We will find that hacker, or I swear by Benny, I will tear this world apart."
Four: The Triad
He knew little about the other connections his sister has made with others.
Little is known about Rogue Tvarkov's social circle, but a few details were key: they were all relationships forged from work obligations, and all of these penguins had the likelihood of death hanging over them. Beyond that is a whole new mystery altogether. She never really did talk about her friends to him.
Anyway, he didn't really mind who she was sociable with. He's confident in her ability to make friendships with those around her, despite the fact that she can be a bit uptight and rough around the edges. He knows that she'll be friends with good people, evident in the form of Jason and Adrian who always seem to be at her side nowadays. Joshua taps the charcoal pencil on his chin before he is snapped back to reality by a haze of brown.
"What are you drawing now?" Always so curious. Natalia peered at the sketchpad on his lap and ooh'd over the bold and thick lines that crossed the paper to form an image she didn't really make out.
"That jar of cookies over there." He pointed with the tip of his pencil at the jar of cookies found across the room and in the kitchen. Natalia practically squawked as she flopped next to him, giving the sketchpad a closer look then turning back to the actual one across them.
"That doesn't look like a jar of cookies to me!" She huffs as he chuckled and reached for an eraser, gently cleaning out errors he made in the drawing.
"I'm using a different approach, Natalia." He liked trying to explain to a 10 year old how art worked, that it was beyond the cute cartoons she would look at when it's Sunday morning. "Geometrical design isn't really my forte, dorogaya."
"Then why use it?" She pouted as she looked at the paper. "You're just wasting perfectly good paper!"
"Practice makes perfect, dorogaya." He laughs and ruffles her hair, "And I actually want to perfect my technique, thank you very much."
He steps off the plane and takes a good, deep breath.
The hangar is mostly empty when he lands, with only the present maintenance crew quickly helping get his luggage out. He looks at the big, steel frame of Hangar 5 before looking out towards the white snowy landscape Club Penguin ever had to offer for him.
Ever since the call for a joint international investigation team, he knows that Rogue and Jason had been struggling on behalf of the beloved EPF to pull it off. He has heard Rogue negotiate with him to help with the investigations by letting her into the SAD database, and he's heard of the same requests being heard by other agencies. It took a while, but they had all managed to open up to the concept of sharing information through controlled means, and yet the atmosphere was always tense. From large, national intelligence agencies to smaller military intelligence divisions, they had managed to cooperate with finding their hacker.
But he knows that that will all go down the drain the moment someone catches a solid lead on the hacker.
Dr. Kowalski hadn't been in Club Penguin since the time he had to work with the triad. He rummaged his pockets for his phone and flicked it open, scanning the headlines that appeared on his newsfeed with a frown. While he was absorbed with reading a report about a protest against Slender, he almost doesn't hear the roar of a jeep as it zooms across the snow and skids to a halt right next to him. He steps back in alarm before the window rolls down.
"Get in, loser." Nick Tang greets him monotonously, wearing what seems to be his uniform and a pair of sunglasses. Peering over his shoulder, Kowalski could see Rogue sitting next to him wearing her own uniform and a pair of sunglasses. Huh. Weird.
"Nice to see you two still alive and kicking." He scoffed as he hauled his bags to the back of the jeep, swinging the door open and hefting his bags up. He finally gets up and slams the door behind him, belting himself before taking the offered sunglasses from Rogue's pocket.
"Do we look alive to you, Kowalski?" Nick's tone oozes with sarcasm as he shifts the stick to drive and smoothly makes his way back into the snow. The sunlight hits them fiercely and he silently thanks the two for giving him sunglasses in the first place.
"If you weren't, then who's driving the car?" He claps back in time, leaning a bit forward to give the man a good look. He can tell that the man's eyes shifted to his for a moment before turning back to the road.
"I'm going to die before even getting to headquarters because of you two." Rogue muttered in her seat, leaning her face against the window and sighing.
"Would you want me to revive you, Tvarkov?" He asked slyly, tilting his head to the exasperated woman in front of him.
"No thank you." She bites back easily, before they lapse back to silence. Kowalski looks as they near civilization, nearing the underground road that would lead them to the EPF headquarters.
"So, Rogue," Nick speaks up as they get into the tunnel, the lights flickering above them as they went. "When will you get together with that boyfriend of yours?"
Kowalski could only crack a smile as Rogue groaned exasperatedly at the man beside her. It wasn't their fault that she had to suffer their constant teasing. She was a decade or so younger than either of them; it was just too tempting to tease her about the simpler moments of life. While of course both men knew their limitations at this, it was still a fun thing to do as bonding.
"He's not my boyfriend, Nico."
"You know, I took my girlfriend to this really good Castillian place the other week." Kowalski chimed in, only to crack a wider smile when she thumps her head against the window. He pulls his sunglasses out to see better, knowing full well that if the light struck right he'd find her blushing. "You should take yours out sometime, Rogue, you look like you're gonna die."
"But wait a moment there, Kowalski, we don't know if she did anything with him in Rusca." This was his favorite thing besides the banter he gets with Nick. There was something light about the way they team up to push her buttons right. "I know your boyfriend got hit– wait, no, sorry your partner. We have to be professional at this."
"You both need to be professional at this." Rogue muttered more to herself, prompting laughter from the Margatian and a snort from him.
"I just wanted to express my condolences." He managed to say between laughter. The tunnel gives way to a massive underground parking lot that had agents milling around, probably getting ready for a patrol mission or whatnot.
"Our sincerest condolences indeed, little one." Kowalski mused as he unclipped his seatbelt and leaned to look at the both of them. There's a wide grin on Nick's face and a furious red flush on Rogue's. It was almost worth taking a picture of. "Would you like us to send flowers? A whole bouquet of red roses? We'll put it under your partner's name, don't worry."
That managed to get more laughter out of Nick, who unclipped his seatbelt and got out of the car. Agents could only watch in mixed surprise and alarm as he got out, shaking his head and opening the door for Kowalski as Rogue huffed and unclipped herself.
"I'm starting to regret inviting the both of you to this mission." She muttered to herself as she got out of the car and helped with getting the luggage.
"At least you're not dead, Tvarkov." He quipped back, stepping off the car and dusting himself off.
There was a lot to say about the Triad.
They were formed mainly to train a certain recruit in the late months of 2013. They were a deadly combination from the start – the three shared a profound ability of making training seem like living hell, with their methods equal parts brilliant and reckless. After the training stint, what followed them was a series of covert operations that only entailed praise and high success rates. Their combined skill sets seemed to be the reason why the Director kept tapping them for dangerous missions, as well as the explanation of why they all get along so easily.
Now, with the three of them in one room together, Adrian was feeling a small ways intimidated.
Not that he would admit that, of course. While being in the presence of his commander was a bit calming, the tense atmosphere was enough to seem suffocating. The two newcomers were busy reading through files and news clippings of information that could help them piece together a possible location of their mystery hacker, while Rogue was busy going over a report that was sent in from the Gemini station. He tapped his pen against the table quietly, trying to find a way to distract himself from the thought that he could almost hear the gears–
"Hepson, as much as I appreciate your presence here, I need you to run the division while I handle this." That was odd. He snapped his head to Rogue as she collapsed the hologram that she was reading through, turning back to him with a pointed look. Of course, he would understand why he was being asked to step out. Briefing was to begin and he wasn't needed to hear some touchy details. He could only stand and nod at the three before leaving, letting the door slide shut behind him. Across him, Bridgett tapped her stylus nervously against her tablet and sighed.
"Kicked you out?" She tried to offer a small smile at him, which looked more like a grimace. He only nodded before shaking his head, taking out his headset from his pocket and tuning into the ATD channel. He could hear the comfortable chatter on the airwaves before he turned to Bridgett, who was waiting ever so patiently by his side.
"We have a division to run." He said and pulled out his phone, looking over the files he would have to go through. "Think you're up for it?"
She could only nod and grin widely. "Let's go, Commander."
"Now, where were we?"
"Right." Nick pulled away his holograms in favor for the larger one that appeared on the wall across them. Headlines flitted about as it reorganized the information within in, a flurry of bits and pieces of information they have skimmed before starting.
Deep cover NRR agent found dead in alleged mafia hideout
SIA operation busted after agents were outnumbered by gang
SSS under fire after interrogation videos are leaked
How powerful is the SAD?
"We're pretty powerful, thank you very much." Kowalski scoffed as he read the final headline, leaning back on his chair and turning to the two. "So, Tvarkov, give us the run over here."
"We're trying to figure out the hacker's plans." She said simply as she gestured towards the screen. "So far, the pattern is to cause general havoc."
"How very general, Rogue. I applaud it." Kowalski said dryly as he leaned forward in his seat, tapping his stylus on the table as Nick rolled his eyes at him. "And the others? I know the SAD is being cooperative, but the other agencies?"
Rogue could only look down at her tablet to tap in a few commands. In a few moments, the screen shifted as lists appeared on the screen. Nick and Kowalski both frowned as they turned to her.
"That's a lot of redacted words." Nick said as he stared at the lines of black the crossed through the white of the paper.
"Give it time. We'll eventually lighten up to each other." Rogue said and sighed, shaking her head. "We're intelligence agencies. Secrecy is part of our thing."
"So what exactly is the plan?" Kowalski asked, turning to Nick.
"We don't have one yet. That's why we're here." Nick rolled his eyes as the hologram finally arranged itself. Rogue held up a tablet that seemed to be controlling it, and tapped in a few commands.
"I can talk about the plan more. We believe that our hacker is leaking scandals and sensitive files into the web, while selling out identity profiles to the criminal underworld." Rogue said, eyes flickering over the wide blue of the hologram before continuing. "The ones we can actually see are all relatively mild information."
"Are you telling me that you know of more extreme information that our hacker has?" Kowalski asked as he frowned.
"In theory. There are black lines there for a reason." Rogue sighed as she brought up more headlines and government files she managed to get from other stations and agencies. "We don't know much about our hacker, but this is certain: whoever they are, they are planning something big. All they're leaking is files from the intelligence community's databases. We haven't seen much from the government databases."
"Hold on a second there, Tvarkov." Kowalski easily snatched the tablet from her, earning a scowl before he flicked through the news app. He tapped in a few more commands before bringing up something on the hologram, bright letters almost blaring to look at.
Protests continue as government investigates alleged election rig
"Is that about Slender and the 2015 elections?" Nick frowned, reading the headline again before skimming the actual article. "Says here that he influenced media outlets to approve of him."
"But that's typical." Rogue pointed out, frowning too as she read the article. "You need to influence to approve. Isn't that how politics works?"
"It is, but this one is almost manipulative." Kowalski said as he handed her back the tablet. "He's shaped himself up to be a loved public figure."
"Look how that turned out." Nick frowned as Rogue tapped at a video file. It started to show angry Magonians chanting against the Chancellor, while burning what seems to be his effigy. The video paused at the face of a furious activist lunging towards the camera.
"This is all just minor, to stir up the pot a bit." Rogue said and sighed, tapping the sides of her tablet. "The big guns haven't been let out yet."
They lapsed into silence, trying to think of a solution. The hologram would shift and present more information before Nick took the tablet from her and typed up a few commands. Rogue scoffed at them and sighed, shaking her head. What was it with them and snatching her tablet?
"What were the files that they took from our database?" Nick asked aloud as he brought up the list of missing files during the last data sweep. They were welcomed with the sight of many agent profiles, with the occasional covert operation dotting the list. "Rogue, the Project: Infinite file is missing."
"I know." She said and rubbed the back of her neck. "Our hacker stole many agent profiles. They even got that of the Director."
"That's dangerous." Kowalski frowned as he looked over the list of files. "Some of them are deep cover. They might end up like that NRR agent."
"We have to move quickly." Nick said as he tapped in commands. He frowned when it stopped functioning, before grinning when a notification appeared.
- Incoming call from J Laurenson
"Well, glad to see that your boyfriend checks up on you." There is something about the strangled noise that came from Rogue that made him bark in laughter. "Alright, Tvarkov, take the call."
She muttered something in Russian as she snatched the tablet back from him, pressing on the "accept" button. The hologram is illuminated with the familiar face of Jason Laurenson, who seemed on the edge of exhaustion.
"Good to see you still alive, Laurenson. Your little stunt in Rusca didn't go unnoticed." Nick greeted before Rogue could open her mouth. She shot him an exasperated glance. "What do you have for us?"
"Agents from the Gemini station managed to track down one of the leaks to an apartment at Blizzard street." Jason said, ignoring the comment regarding Rusca. "I'm sending the coordinates."
"Thanks, boy scout. Is that all?" Kowalski was quick to match Nick's teasing, much to the chagrin of Rogue. "Anything to say for our solnishko before you end the call?"
Rogue knew he didn't speak a word of Russian, but it didn't stop the twitch of her eye as he laughed. "I have no idea what you just said, but I'll go now."
When the call ended, Nick pored over the coordinates that were sent to them. As he and Kowalski chattered amiably regarding their personal lives while looking into the coordinates, Rogue leaned back and watched the satellite images on the hologram narrow down to an apartment complex at Blizzard street. It was totally inconspicuous, a perfect hideout for a worldwide hacker. She rubbed her head in thought as she tried to think of the possible units they would have to inspect through, before she heard Nick call for attention.
"Drifting out on us?" There's a slight tone of amusement when he speaks, a tinier smile apparent as he turned towards the hologram. "Kowalski and I are thinking of putting on surveillance teams around the block. There are like, two available units in the higher and lower floors. Think you can use some of your agents for this?"
"Sure." Rogue said after a moment of thought, rubbing her chin. "I'm thinking we can narrow it down within 3 days."
"That, we can do." Kowalski said and nodded, turning to Nick with a smirk. "Tang, you mentioned about a new gadget?"
She could almost see the way his chest flared with pride. "Weaponry Development's got a tracing device in the works ever since the hackings started."
"Great. Now's the perfect time to field test it." Kowalski said before turning back to Rogue. "Ready to make the plans, Tvarkov?"
She turned to look at Kowalski and Nick's faces, taking in the determination that has always been there from the start. "Let's go."
Three days almost went by too quickly. Rogue paged through a Russian newspaper, drowning out the chatter of Kowalski and Nick discussing about the team formations until a clear tone cut through her haze of concentration.
"–absolutely not. I am not letting an Academy recruit anywhere this sensitive an operation."
That made her set down the newspaper. They had managed to locate the unit where their hacker was, the 4th unit of the 4th floor. While no one could really detect the penguin who goes in and out it, the evidence of someone occupying the unit was evident. The mail that appears and disappears at the doorstep, the squeak of a puffle in the inside, even the shower running was clear indication that someone lived there. As she trusted the two to form the best teams for the operation, the sudden snap from Kowalski was one that she didn't expect.
"Recruit 76 has near perfect scores in the last target practice he had." Nick reasoned as he held up a reasonably thick file. Rogue raised an eyebrow at the familiar name but didn't comment on it, instead watching the argument unfold before her. She gently set her feet down on the ground and righted herself on the chair as she listened. "His simulation results are consistent. We can put this kid on the field."
"Do you remember the last time we let a recruit in our operations?" Kowalski scowled, glaring at the Margatian across him. "The operation flopped, Tang. Remind me again who vouched for him."
"This one I'm sure of." Nick insisted anyways, patience snapping at the man's stubbornness. He caught the look of Rogue and gave her a nod, as if signing her to join his side. She crossed her arms at them and only shook her head, indicating that she would rather listen and think about how familiar the name was.
"Let me have that." Kowalski snatched the file from him and skimmed the details, frown deepening as he gone from line to line. "His scores are perfect."
"Told you." Nick rolled his eyes before turning to Rogue fully. "76 is enrolled in your ATD course, Rogue. He's just a month shy of graduation."
There is a moment of realization when the memories click to a 19 year old boy who bled out in a cave in the Academy's forest. "I know."
She's typing in the number on her tablet before she could really register it, before staring at the profile of the said recruit. Recruit 76 was a brown feathered, blue-eyed boy who wore an obnoxious cowboy hat in his youth. While she had no idea what prompted the growth spurt in his late teenage years, she found that it seemed to have helped him pass Academy training with flying colors.
"Hepson." She said after a moment, pressing her earpiece into her ear as she tapped into the ATD channel. "I need you to pull 76 from his classes for a while. He's needed."
Rogue tried to stare down at the recruit sitting across her.
She really, sincerely tried. It was difficult to when he was a good two or three inches taller than her, made of wide shoulders and a well-built stature. The angles of the cameras those few months ago didn't give him justice, and now she had to wonder how on earth this recruit slipped from her mind.
Recruit 76 – real name John J. Reyes – has mostly been polite and responsive. He sat straight and oozed with relaxation, though she knew better than to assume that. Under those layers of peace, reports have told her that he was prone to temper snaps and insubordination, if the situation called for it. She set her stylus down and collapsed the holograms before her.
"I will be straight with you." She cleared her throat and leaned forward on the table. He seemed to reciprocate and leaned forward to listen better. "The moment you step out of my office, Commander Nick Tang and Bureaucrat Kowalski will be carting you off to briefings and quick simulations."
"Nothin' I haven't gone through yet, ma'am." There's a lilt in his tone that she cannot identify. She doesn't think much of it. "Rest assured, I'll carry on ta meet yer expectations."
"I don't worry about your performance. I know you will do well." She tried to lighten the situation with a short laugh. It doesn't do the trick. The room seems to feel smaller with each passing second. "I just don't know how you will handle your first mission."
"With all due respect, ma'am, but I'm sure I can handle on my own."
"You don't understand." She took a breath and shook her head clear. "I have a bad feeling about this."
He's silent as he leaned back on his chair. There's a furrow on his eyebrows. "If ya think so, ma'am, why would ya let the mission continue?"
"We're low on options." It slips out too easily. She runs a hand through her hair and could practically feel the shift of the room's mood as his eyes set to the strands of white.
"I don' wish to appear rude, ma'am, but I could sorta see the stress wearing down on ya." Southern twang. It finally clicks as she recalls bits of his file.
"Disadvantages of the genetics." She said simply, waving her flipper in the air. "I age as quickly as I heal."
He nods and doesn't say a thing for a while. The office lapses to silence before she sighs, shaking her head. "I should not be holding you here long. You have a team to meet."
He nods once more and stands, saluting her before pivoting towards the door. The door clicks open and he exits without another word, before Kowalski peaks in and gives her a look.
"Tang's waiting in the situation room. We'll be out by 20." He said, frowning a bit at the look on her face. "Are you getting sick, Tvarkov?"
She shook her head slowly and stood, walking out of her door and clapping Kowalski at the back. "Take care of the rookie."
"You know I would." He nodded before he turned and left towards the direction of the team briefing rooms. She looked around at the hallway and sighed, turning towards the direction of the situation room and walking.
They had a mission to complete.
The situation room was filled with the noise of keyboards clicking and agents chattering quietly to each other. The smell of caffeine lilted through the air as Rogue was offered her second cup of coffee for the hour, enveloping the room with a different form of energy. Nick was busy talking to a team leader in his earpiece as screens shown footage from body cams that were on each agent.
"Adrenaline seems to already be kicking in." Bridgett said as she scanned the contents of her tablet. She was in charge of ensuring the health of all the operatives on the mission, and had their vitals on her screen. Rogue looked up from her own tablet to nod at Bridgett, before turning back and looking through the footage.
She never really liked the idea of an operation being done in broad daylight. The element of surprise was incredibly lacking, and she much preferred to do her work in the shadows. Except, well, the conditions of doing it in the day were better than night. With most of the apartment's occupants out at work or in school, there was no need to worry over possible casualties. They wouldn't really be calling much attention to themselves this way.
"In the building." Kowalski chimed in, his voice booming through the surround speakers. The noise lulls a bit as everyone turned to concentrate at the mission at hand, tapping ceasing as Nick leaned forward in is seat.
"Tang here. Alpha team, you are cleared to enter." Nick said and glanced at Rogue, who only nodded. They watched as Kowalski nodded towards Reyes, who too nodded. The footage shook as they took the staircase up to the fourth floor, guns hidden in case they run into a resident. They were all dressed in civilian attires with their gear under them, given that they had to mingle in the crowd.
"Fourth floor." Kowalski once again chimed in. The long hallway was ahead of them, and Rogue turned to Bridgett.
"Vitals are normal." She said, giving the commander a nod. Rogue and Nick shared a look as they watched the teams near Unit 404, them lining up in a neat line for a breach.
"Scanner." Someone is handed the scanner. They wait with baited breaths as the agent scans for any metal devices that were on. The scanner beeps and presents four metal devices that were on, all of which were mere appliances and a laptop. Kowalski shares a nod with one of the agents before they speak.
"Breaching." Someone kicks down the door. The footage becomes shaky once more as agents streamed into the apartment, guns raised as they scan the room for an occupant. Signs of living were evident, going by the puffle in the cage and the noise of a shower running. Rogue leaned forward in her chair as she watched, eyes scanning the footage as they moved.
"Where are they?" Rogue frowned, before she adjusted her earpiece and pressed it. "Kowalski, where is our hacker?"
There's silence for a moment. She doesn't think much of it. "Hold on a minute."
Her eyes follow his footage as it made its way into the bathroom. They frowned when they saw something connected to the shower, which was running and causing a small flood in the bathroom.
Nick didn't miss a beat. "Kowalski, it's a trap!"
Rogue's eyes went wide as dread dropped in her stomach. She scanned the footage and found herself staring at Reyes's, which was set at Kowalski's back.
She was about to open her mouth to yell in her earpiece when he beats her to it. "Sir, get down!"
Immediately after that, they lost connection. Rogue cursed and stood from her seat, running a flipper through her hair as she tried to think of what just happened. "Bridgett!"
"We lost two of them." She said quickly, looking up to Rogue with alarm in her eyes.
"Kowalski and Reyes?"
"Vitals are low, ma'am. We will have to get an extraction team on them." Rogue glanced worriedly at Nick, who has gone quiet. All around them, agents were scurrying around to reconnect them to the agents, chattering wildly into their own earpieces and typing erratically. She tugged at his arm and frowned, gripping it tighter.
"We need to do our job." She said in the calmest tone she can muster, before she turned and spoke to Bridgett. "Connect us to the CPPD. We need to clean this up to look like a gas leak."
"Yes ma'am." She said and quickly tapped in commands into her tablet. Rogue crossed her arms and waited patiently as the line in her earpiece reconnected to a different one. She handed it to Nick, who wordlessly took it and spoke into the headset.
"Petras, this is Tang. We need a favor." Nick said in greeting, adjusting the earpiece in his ear as he watched the screens reset in front of him. "Yes, it's important."
Rogue nodded at him before closing her eyes and quickly teleported to the scene. Her head spins with the suddenness of the movement, and she tries not to stumble when her feet find solid ground. The air around her turns hotter as she steps into the burning apartment, looking around at the scene before her. She quickly makes her way to the bathroom and found Kowalski and Reyes.
In her pocket, her phone rings. She answers it. "I found them."
"We should be there soon." Nick said as calmly as he could manage, "Are they movable?"
She turned back to them and quickly checked over their bodies. "I think so."
"Move them out." She nods and quickly sets the call to speaker mode as she slips it back into her pocket. She carefully hauls the two up and grunts at their weight on her.
"Hang in there." She muttered to the two as she starts to make her way out of the bathroom, trying to avoid the fire to the best of her ability as the sirens slowly became louder and louder.
Gas leak injures three
By Raven Westley (Club Penguin Times) | Published October 17, 2017, 10:45 pm
A gas leak explosion rocked an apartment complex at Blizzard Street earlier at approximately 2:04 pm today.
The explosion was believed to have happened in the fourth floor of the complex. Engine 02 responded to the gas leak explosion, easily ushering out the few who were in the building at the time of the incident. Given that many of the occupants were not present during the explosion, the fire department easily managed to evacuate and extinguish the fire. Three penguins were injured during the explosion, and were brought to the nearby hospital for treatment. As of the last update, two are stable enough to go home while one will be kept overnight for further observation. "They mostly sustained injuries from the debris," Dr. Henry Emmet said in an interview with the CPT. "They should all be fine by morning."
"That was one heck of an explosion!" Rory said in an interview later in the evening. "Thank goodness that the building's insured. My men and I will be getting down to fixing the damage as soon as possible!"
As of the last update, residents of the apartment complex have been offered to stay in the nearby hotels free of charge while the constructions are ongoing.
Officially speaking, only three civilians were injured.
Unofficially speaking, in the report that Rogue had yet to write, there were two fatalities and seven casualties.
Rogue rubbed her flipper on her face as she waited patiently for the doctors to clear her to enter the medical ward. She didn't need to think twice about what to do with the two fatalities; she had to simply give them the Force Star and ready the standard procedures for these situations. She closed her eyes for a moment and tilted her head back, resting it against the wall behind her and listened to the beeping noises of equipment reassuring her that 7 of her men were still alive.
"Commander Tvarkov?" Her eyes fly open at that. She almost jumps to her feet if not for the fact that Nick beat her to it, causing her to stabilize him. She slowly got up as a nurse nodded and lead them through the door, past various medical equipment and into the ward proper. Rogue searched the room for a familiar face before she found her eyes landing on a brown-feathered blond.
"I'll handle Kowalski." Nick said behind her, walking ahead and into the private room where the commander was. She slowly approached the recruit as he chatted amiably with the nurse who was tending to him, who seemed to be very distracted by him.
"What does your J stand for?" She asked flirtatiously as she checked his IV, a clear blush on her cheeks as she did.
Rogue could only shake her head as she watched Reyes flash a stark white smile. "Jesse, ma'am. My momma wanted that ta be my name if I was a lassie."
The nurse could only giggle before she wrote something in her clipboard. She looked up to Rogue and flushed harder, stammering an apology before she scurried off to another patient. Reyes watched her before landing his eyes on Rogue, before striking the same smile except a bit more sheepish.
"Charming." Rogue managed to say as she walked over to his bed. There was gauze wrapped around his arm and head, and there was an IV drip connected to his other arm. She placed her flipper on the bedside table next to him and leaned, a tiny smile on her face as she regarded him. "Is that what you do to get every girl who comes your way?"
He laughed at that and shook his head, rubbing the back of his neck. "I was only indulgin' 'er, ma'am."
"I see." She nodded, a bit unbelieving before asking. "How are you feeling?"
"A bit sore here n' 'ere," He said as he presented his arms, "As ya can see, ma'am."
She nodded once more and turned towards the clipboard on the table. She flicked it open and read its contents, frowning before turning back to him. "You're healing really fast."
"Must be good genetics, ma'am." He shrugged and offered her an easy going smile. There was something about it that didn't sit well with it. She let's it slip for now.
"Right." She said slowly, setting the clipboard down and putting her flippers in her pockets. "I suppose after being medically and psychologically cleared, we'll send you back to the Academy."
"Of course, ma'am." He nodded and relaxed back in bed. She watched him make himself comfortable before nodding, patting his shoulder before stepping away from his bed. She turned towards the private room and quickly made her way to it, twisting the doorknob and stepping inside.
"And I think that we should – oh, hey." Both of them looked up when she stepped in. Nick stood up while Kowalski greeted her, wearing what seems to be lots of gauze on his body. "How's the recruit?"
"Healing quickly, by the looks of it." Rogue said and shrugged, stepping further into the room. "I can't say the same about psychological. Couldn't tell."
"We'll have to wait and see." Kowalski shrugged as he rubbed his gauze wrapped arms. "I can be discharged from here, you know."
Rogue and Nick shared a look. She spoke first, "Is he thinking straight?"
"I don't know." He replied back and turned to him. "How much morphine is in you?"
Kowalski shrugged once more and raised the arm that had an IV drip. Rogue looked at it and frowned, as if doing so would tell her how drugged the doctor was. Nick shook his head and rubbed the back of his neck.
"We could check in with the present doctors." Rogue said as she picked up the clipboard at the end of his bed. "Though he is right, he could be discharged."
Nick quickly made his way to her side of the bed to peer over her shoulder, frowning as he read the notes of the doctor. "You're kidding."
"Unfortunately, I'm not." She said and turned to Kowalski. "Do you actually want to be discharged?"
He could only nod before raising his flipper and laughing. "We can go to my penthouse."
Rogue and Nick shared a look before Nick sighed, shaking his head. He tapped commands into his phone before bringing it up to his ear, talking to someone on the phone about Kowalski's condition.
They managed to teleport in front of the apartment complex that Kowalski owned, both of them supporting his weight as they walked to the private elevator. Nick pressed the penthouse button and sighed, leaning against the side of the elevator as it slowly brought them to their destination.
"Did you bring work with you?" He frowned when he noticed the messenger bag that hung on Rogue's shoulder. She nodded at him as she kept her grip on Kowalski's arm, struggling not to let him slip under her grasp. "Rogue, we should all be resting."
"The Director needs the report by the end of the week." She explained as the elevator dinged. The doors opened to a luxurious penthouse, designed to the doctor's tastes and with the best technology that he could afford. They both gently deposited the man in the nearby couch before she slipped her bag off her shoulder. "I need to get a head start."
Nick rolled his eyes at her, shaking his head as he surveyed the place. Above them, the staircase lead to bedrooms and the hanging garden. The sun was setting when they got Kowalski discharged, and now the sky was a darkened sea of black. Of course, ever the workaholic, he knew that Rogue would work the night through to "get a head start" on the report.
"Have you checked in with Natalia and Joshua?" He asked as he walked towards the coffee table to grab the remote. He flicked open the TV to watch a report on the supposed gas explosion, watching the reporter report the story. He turned back to Rogue to see that she too was watching, quiet before looking back to Nick.
"They know that I was far from the explosion." She said and sighed. "Hopefully, Joshua knows how to cook something other than cup noodles."
"Doubt it." He shook his head and handed her his phone. "Give them a call."
"I have my own phone." She frowned but took it anyways, quickly dialing and putting it to her ear. In a moment, her weary tone switched to one that was nice and smooth, a bit of energy in it as she chattered with the little girl on the other line. Nick listened for a moment before turning back to the rest of the penthouse in search for food.
He almost yelled, "Kowalski, your food supply is nonexistent."
The man in question waved his flipper carelessly in the air. "Listen, Tang, I haven't been here for two years."
"You could have at least resupplied."
"I wouldn't be here for long." Kowalski sat up from his place in the couch to look at Nick and shrug. Rogue rolled her eyes at them and walked away, still deep in conversation with the kid. "Besides, if I wanted food I'd go to your place."
Nick rolled his eyes at that, slamming the cabinet shut and making his way back into the living room. He managed to find some Zhouese version of Cream Soda in the cupboards, and he wasn't in the mood to see how old it was. He popped it open and took a long, long sip before setting it down and wiping his beak with the back of his flipper.
"Save some for me." Kowalski called from his couch as Rogue came back from her phone call, wordlessly handing Nick his phone before snatching the bottle. She was ready to tip it back into her mouth when he snatched it from her, earning an indignant huff.
"Tvarkov, you need to wait a year longer." He warned her, much to her chagrin. She frowned at him before muttering something in Russian and turning to her bag, probably planning to occupy herself with work. Nick shook his head once more and turned to Kowalski. "As for you, I doubt the doctor would be amused if you mixed alcohol with your medication."
"But I'm a doctor." Kowalski frowned as he grabbed at the air for the bottle. "Come on, Tang, a sip would do."
"Not taking my chances." He said and took another sip. He screwed the bottle shut and stored it in his inventory, much to the annoyance of the two. Rogue glared at him and huffed once more before going back to writing the report, while Kowalski crossed his arms on his chest and stared at the TV. "You're both acting like children."
"Am not." Kowalski muttered more to himself, but Nick paid it no mind. He looked at his watch and sighed, noting the time before looking at the two.
"I'm getting food. You two better be asleep when I get back." He said and turned towards the elevator, listening as Rogue and Kowalski lapsed to easy chatter.
Sometimes, he hated being the responsible one.
There's a crick in his neck when he wakes up.
He groans as he rubs his face in frustration, trying to get the edges of sleep out of his eyes. He looks around his apartment and tries to remember the objective in mind before sighing and getting up from his seat. After a quick shower and change of clothes, he managed to grab some ingredients to put in his inventory. After a while of considering it, he changed his mind and preferred to go for a jog to get back to the penthouse. After all, a good jog could wake him up further.
The sun is still down when he steps out of his apartment, cold wind biting his feathers. He turns towards the direction of the apartment complex and jogged, letting himself get used to the beat of his feat against the ground. Matching it to his breathing, he finds himself at peace as he got nearer to the complex. He slows when he gets to the lobby, shifting his weight on his feet as he considered if he should take the elevator or the stairs.
With the ingredients in his inventory, perhaps the elevator would do.
The penthouse is dark when he steps onto it. The television is playing some commercial that casted a glow on the two occupants of the living room. Kowalski was knocked out on the couch, snoring a bit as he slept. Rogue was passed out in front of her laptop, head nestled on her arms. He shook his head at them and went to the kitchen, preparing the ingredients and setting them on the counter. Boiling rice and making soup in the morning were a rare occurrence for his hectic schedule, but perhaps he could let today slip. After all, they had all worked themselves up after the operation gone wrong. Watching the soup boil and measuring the amount of miso that goes into the soup is literally the calmest and most normal thing he’s done in months. He takes a deep breath in satisfaction as he let the soup boil, leaning on the counter to think to himself.
The last four years of traveling back and forth to oversee his duties for both the EPF and MSB have left him with not much time for himself to enjoy life. Of course, there would be glimpses and blurbs of peace in his life, but they would always be few and far in between. His job has worn him out more than he would like to admit, and he would do anything for a nice good vacation that he could bring his girlfriend with. While she has been ever so supportive of his decisions, he has been unfair to her. Video calls and messages were becoming insufficient.
With the soup and rice cooling in Kowalski's fancy bowls and a neat pile of filleted fish on a plate, the next objective of the day was waking the two up. He made sure to wake Rogue up first, easily avoiding the angry jabs that came with it. She glowered at him from where she sat before she slowly got up, stretching a bit and running a flipper through her hair. He took his time with waking Kowalski, who seemed willing to burn him down with just a glare. Nonetheless, he managed to coax him and Rogue into the dining room where the food laid waiting.
"I'm amazed you didn't burn down my kitchen, Nick. Last I recall, you only knew how to cook army rations." Kowalski joked as he slipped into his seat. Nick shot him a look and shook his head as he got into his own seat.
"Just shut up and eat, Kowalski."
"This is nice." Rogue said as she got in hers and frowned, staring at the chopsticks in front of her. "You know I'm bad with these. Is there coffee?"
He found the need to roll his eyes at her and opted to pick up a slice of fish from the plate to put on her rice. "You'll ruin the taste of Japalandese food if you drink some. You can get some in the office."
She didn't say anything else but instead started eating, or as much eating as she could get with the chopsticks. Nick shook his head out of fondness at her and turned to Kowalski, who was pretty much devouring his bowl of rice. After moments of sleep-fueled frustration riddled her, Rogue decided to just sip her miso soup and sigh as the heat curled around her stomach.
They remained like that for an hour or so, at first quiet and eating their share of food. As the two slowly waked up more, though, they began to be chatty as they refilled bowl after bowl of soup. The topics drifted to anything but their mission, spanning from their relationships to the finer details in life. There was a mirth in Rogue's eyes as she laughed over one of Kowalski's stories, and there was peace in his tone as he spoke about his girlfriend. Nick found himself smiling underneath the rim of his bowl as he took another sip, relishing the way the heat curled around his stomach just right as the sunlight trickled into the penthouse.
There were many glimpses of peace in his hectic life, but he was sure that this one will become one of his favorites.
Five: The Zanzi Bar
That morning, Kowalski had to leave to take care of work in the SAD. While both of the EPF commanders weren't so keen on letting him go off on his own, the doctor insisted that he would be fine before he was whisked away by his own agents to his agency. From there, the two managed to get to work with the report without a hitch.
Rogue was in the middle of watching the footage that was compiled in the files when she heard someone knock on her door. She turned to see Jason, who leaned against the doorway and grinned widely at her.
"You look refreshed. Did you actually get some sleep while I was gone?" He teased her as she strode over to him. She scoffed and crossed her arms across her chest, standing before him and shaking her head.
"I see that your little office inspection didn't drain you a bit." She replied and sighed, turning back to her computer wall. "You've been briefed by Tang, right?"
"Of course." He shrugged and walked into her office, stepping past her to look at her computer. "So, what really caused the explosion?"
She nodded and stepped over to him, picking up her tablet to move files around before she got to the frame she wanted. There, frozen in time, a red dot appeared on a plant box on a window in the kitchen. As she pressed in a command, the footage slowly showed the dot disappearing before the room went up in flames.
"Obviously, a bomb was set off. We're thinking that plastic was used to make it undetectable for our sensor." Rogue said and tapped the tablet once more, freezing the frame to the split second when the plant exploded. "Very clever, using location and impact to start an explosion."
"I'm a bit lost here, Tvarkov." Jason frowned as he picked up her tablet and played the footage again and again, trying to make sense of it. "I'm not exactly trained to analyze bombing incidents."
"Understandable. There are some types of bombs that are sensitive to impact, so shooting them is easy enough to set them off. Given its location, the bomb can trigger a bigger explosion in the form of gas pipes found inside the walls." She explained, pointing at the footage as she spoke. "Whoever planned this knew that we were coming."
"So are you telling me that we're going after a hacker who is also a sniper?"
"Likely, but we couldn't be so sure." She said and sighed, taking the tablet back to tap in a few commands. "Going by the angle of the shot, it had to be a building right across from them. Nick's gone to investigate it."
"We should be able to get answers." He said as he watched the profiles of the killed and injured appear on her computer. He frowned as he looked at a certain profile, looking back at her tablet and frowning. "Is that the recruit you were testing a few months ago?"
"Reyes? Yeah." She said and tapped on it, watching as the profile enlarged on the screen. "Tang suggested that he join in the operation."
"Says here that he was discharged today." He frowned before going over the list of injuries. "And that's a lot of injuries. How could he be discharged that quickly?"
She pored over the list and frowned as well, racking her brain for an answer. "Must be good genetics."
"Awful good genetics." He snorted before she went back to the other files. He watched her for a while, watching the way the files went about before he sighed. "Aunt Arctic wrote an editorial today."
"Did she?" Rogue didn't look away from her computer as she went over the files, frowning as she tried to think of a way to word the events properly in her report. "What was it about?"
"The hacker, and the lack of information we have regarding them." He said and shook his head. "If I didn't know any better, I'd think that she's getting a bit impatient."
"We're all getting impatient. We hardly know an inkling about our hacker." Rogue said as she waved her tablet around, "We're all working hard to find our answers here and so far we've been fruitless."
"We'll just have to see." Jason sighed before clapping her in the back. "Good luck with the report."
Long after he left her office, as the morning trickled on and noon started to come in, Rogue set her tablet down and sighed. She pinched her eyes close and listened to the chatter of the agents outside of her office before picking up her tablet once more and tapping in a few commands and reading the latest issue of the Club Penguin Times
Editorial: Who is our hacker?
By Aunt Arctic
There are many questions that demand answers.
The basic details about our hacker are as follows: they are extremely good with what they do, and they know what they are looking for. Could it be that our hacker used to be an inside man of the government, in a position that allowed them to know what could be stolen and leaked? Either way, we could be sure of the fact that they are not afraid of revealing information to the public.
Which brings us to our first question: what is their objective? We have watched as they leaked video after video, document after document, file after file of information that puts our trust on our own intelligence agencies on the line. Our hacker has opened a Pandora's box of questions that do not have an answer. They've given us nothing but questions to ask to these agencies as they scramble to provide us replies. Whoever they are, they've revealed the flaws of intelligence agencies that we have always known since the very start. So really, is our hacker doing us a favor or are they bluffing with us?
As the tensions run high, we ask our next question. What has happened to our investigation? We haven't heard much from the EPF since the last interview. Last that's been known is that they have teamed up with other agencies to tackle the hackings and leaks as one unit. And yet, despite this, they have been slow with their updates and slower with their responses. Is the EPF truly giving up on providing us the justice we deserve?
And our final question stands: what comes next? With these leaks that occur all over the place, it seems to be the best question that we can ask now. When we eventually reach the justice that we desire, what happens then? We can only wait and wonder what the course of action the governments of the world will make against these offenses.
Joshua knew what was happening the moment he picked up that envelope.
His blood ran cold when he pulled it open and watched as three pips tumbled onto his flipper. They were relatively cool and small on it, and yet it struck fear into his heart as if it were something else. He slowly looked around the street, paranoid of any onlookers, before hurrying back into the house and shutting the door.
The Tvarkov household, as always, was having a relatively peaceful morning. Or, well, as peaceful as it can possibly get without Rogue in its midst. Natalia was munching on cereals he managed to buy from the nearby grocery when he found her, relieved to see that his niece wasn't killed by some obscure poison found in the milk.
"Natalia, we're not going to school today." He greets her as so, much to the little girl's surprise. She looked up with wide eyes, clearly excited with the thought of skipping a day of class. She grins widely as she almost jumps off her seat.
"Where are we going?" She squeaks in that small voice of hers. He could almost smile if not for the urgency of the situation.
"We're visiting your mom." A beat. He quickly corrects himself, "Y'know, Rogue, not your actual– Catherine, yeah we're not visiting her. Not now. But if you want to, we can."
"We're going to the EPF?" Her eyes were almost as wide as saucers now. "That's cool!"
"Yeah, now if you can hold onto me that would be great." He said as the girl scurried to follow his instruction. She gripped his arm in a vice grip that was almost unnatural for a 10 year old, before Joshua took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He imagined the office that Rogue worked in, clean white walls and black furniture. He felt the world shift and move around him as he kept a grip on the little girl, concentrating on the image until the air around him shifted and cooled.
He opened his eyes to see her staring at him.
She didn't expect anymore visitors.
She was still reading the editorial when she felt the air in her office tighten. She quickly set down her tablet in favor of her gun, which was set down on the coffee table. She waited patiently as haze surrounded the space between her and her table before she recognized the familiar blue feathers and brown ones.
"What in Benny's name are you two doing here?" She frowned as she quickly walked over to her door and shut it close. She felt Natalia scurry over to wrap her arms around her waist, and she let herself relish the girl's embrace before gently extracting her and turning back to her brother. "Joshua, you're supposed to be bringing her to school."
"We decided to have a day off." He said, quickly approaching her and near thrusting the envelope into her flippers. She was ready to protest when she felt the pips through the paper, words dying in her throat as she took the envelope and removed its contents.
"Natalia, would you like to visit Adrian?" Rogue asked slowly, turning back to the little girl and offering her a wide smile. "I'm sure he'd love to see you."
"But I want to hang out with you!" She protested immediately, pouting as she stomped her foot on her mother's office floor. On a normal day, she would have laughed it off and let the kid have what she wanted, but now was not the case.
"Dorogaya, we can hang out later. For now, I need to speak to my brother." She said simply as she gently ushered the kid to the door. Natalia gave her one more pout before she was off, running to the office where the man would surely be. She turned back to Joshua, who fidgeted where he stood. "Start from the beginning."
"I just found those in the mail." He said quickly, nodding towards the envelope. "Then I went here. Easy as that."
Of course it would slip from her mind that her brother's life was on the line. She cursed to herself as she strode past him, grabbing her tablet and quickly tapping in commands. Her computer wall shifted as she appeared to be writing up a protection order, before pressing in a final command. On her table, her printer started getting to work as it printed out the order she wrote in.
"What are you–"
"You two are under protection orders." She said as she grabbed the paper, scanning it quickly before signing at the bottom. She quickly walked past him again to step out of her office, exchanging quick words with Cyrilla before returning to him and sighing. "You did the right thing."
He couldn't help the grin that spread on his face. "Of course I did. I'm Joshua Tvarkov, after all."
She caught on quickly and rolled her eyes, "You are ridiculous."
"Commander Tvarkov, Agent Wolfe is requesting to speak to you."
Rogue paused from her report writing, looking up from her tablet to look at Cyrilla. The intern shrugged at her, answering the unspoken question of reason.
"Put him through." Rogue said as she nodded and disappeared from the door, clicking it shut. The lights dimmed slightly as her computer wall shifted away files, Rogue fixing herself up before the face of Robert Wolfe appeared on her screen.
The Shopper agent was her equivalent in the SIA, in charge of the very case she was handling right now. The red-feathered man nodded respectfully as he came into view, face schooled as he regarded his counterpart.
"I apologize if I kept you waiting. Ever since the hacking, we've been privy of anyone who tries to connect to our communication channels." She greeted him, nodding back with equal respect.
He doesn't seem bristled. "Understandable. We have similar protocols here."
She gives herself the time to fix the papers next to her tablet, waiting for him to continue speaking. When she heard nothing, she turned back to the screen and asked, "What is it you wish to discuss?"
"We've received word from our sources that SI:9 is also joining the hunt." He said simply, as if he were talking of the weather and not the fact that another country has joined the race towards finding the hacker. "They've been secretive about it for a while now, but they seem to be up to date with their information."
She frowned at that, taking a moment to think. Knowing Wolfe, he was a member of the SIA Red Herring Division. There was a good possibility that he could be lying to her. "Wolfe, you do realize that I still need to verify that information?"
He seemed to get where she was coming from. He flashed her a wide, bright smile that almost looks deceiving. She didn't like how it sit with her. "Now, Commander, I know what you're thinking."
"Wolfe, this isn't just about the identities of EPF agents and gigabytes worth of sensitive USA files." Rogue pressed on, frowning as she spoke. "We are talking about threads of information, secret projects and questionable files. We can't just let another agency appear out of nowhere."
"Commander, I know you have reservations about this particular agency." He speaks calmly, as if he was soothing an injured puffle and not the leader of an EPF division. "But at this point in our investigations, with no major leads coming our way, a new agency could possibly–"
"You know how they are, Wolfe. They can be aggressive." She doesn't hesitate with how she goes about it. She's known the Munian intelligence agency to be reserved from the rest of the intelligence community. She had every reason to be suspicious. "And I am absolutely certain that they know about the bounty."
"Everyone knows about the bounty, Commander." He almost rolls his eyes at her. She knows he has a good reason to, because everyone really does know about it. There was at least 2 billion coins pegged to the agency or person who finds the hacker first, not to mention the bragging rights that comes with it. While Rogue didn't care about the money, she was hellbent on getting to the hacker first before anyone else.
"My point still stands. Knowing the agency, they will try to get to them first before any of us. If they have to push us down to get to that point, they could most certainly do it." She said, shaking her head at the thought of sabotage.
"I did not mean to intimidate you, ma'am, only inform." There was something so wrong about how he said it that didn't sit well with her. His tone is light and relaxed, as if it didn't worry him the slightest. "I am suggesting that we invite them to our joint investigation team so that we can get things done faster. A bit of diplomacy will do us good."
Rogue paused at that, pondering to herself as she did. There was a convenience to letting another agency into the game. With new information and a fresh new angle, they can figure out a solution and the answer to where the hacker was. Thing was, though, the SI:9 is notorious within the intelligence community for its rather unorthodox methods. While not as unorthodox as the SSS, there was still something unsettling about their secretive nature.
"I will consider this." She said finally, turning to the screen and nodding as a final farewell. "Thank you for this information, Wolfe. I'll speak to you soon."
He nodded once more before the screen blacked, before returning back to the report that she was writing. She picked up her tablet and sighed, tapping once more as she tapped in a communications channel to Adrian.
"Adrian, I need you to verify information for me." Rogue said, not waiting for him to say anything else before continuing. "This is important. We've got a new player in the chase."
Afternoon came around with a solid three hours worth of free time. Given that she was handling a case, her duties as commander has been greatly reduced so that she could concentrate on her task. Given that she was not one for idleness, she found herself in the gym to work out. As she pounded her fists into the punching bag, she almost didn't notice when Nick walked in with his own duffle bag of gym gear.
"I shouldn't be surprised that you're here." He said in greeting, setting his bag down at one of the benches. He glanced around and spotted Natalia not far from where he stood, in the middle of drawing something in her notebook. "Oh, and your daughter's here too."
"She wanted to tag along." Rogue said in between breaths before she went for a kick, feeling her foot hit the bag as it creaked and swung on its chain.
He watched her for a moment before smiling, shaking his head in fondness. "You were never one for idleness."
"Then and now, yeah." She said as she paused, taking deep breaths as she regarded him. He knew by the way she looked at him that she wanted something from him, and didn't need to guess when she spoke. "Spar?"
"Sure thing." He grinned and turned to his bag to get wraps for his flippers. Natalia seemed to have noticed and looked up, eyes wide and curious as she watched the two get ready for their sparring session.
"Are you ready to lose, old man?" Rogue teased just slightly, a near wicked grin on her face as she watched him wrap his arms with the wraps. With the decade age difference between them, Rogue was unhesitant with calling him or Kowalski old men. After all, they tease her for her lacking love life. What's wrong with teasing them with their age?
"If you lose, I'm making Laurenson take you out for dinner." He grinned with equal wickedness, earning laughter from the little girl who sat in the sidelines. Rogue took a moment to glance at the little girl before shaking her head, raising up her fists as she readied herself to position.
"Tempting, but not on my watch." She said and quickly moved to land a punch on his shoulder.
He's not ready and has to step back, absorbing the jab before giving his own. He's aimed at her temple and prompts her to step back further, crouching a bit at the lost of equilibrium. He's quick with a kick to her side that she narrowly avoids, going for a jab on his arm then a kick to his chest. They circle for a moment, trying to find a weak point on the other, before Rogue quickly steps forward and goes for another punch to his shoulder.
He's quick to dodge and pull her arm, letting her slip before twisting it behind her back. She curses in Russian before pulling her weight down and rolling him over her shoulder, dropping him with a thud on the mat underneath them. In the background, Natalia ooh's as Rogue rolls her shoulders a bit, her arm a bit sore from the way it was pulled back. He stood and dusted himself up before huffing, taking out a baton from his inventory.
"Prototype weapon?" Rogue asked, stepping back to properly admire the silver weapon. It looked rather inconspicuous, but given the fact that Nick had it, it was most likely designed to cause damage.
"Not really, just a redesign of that old weapon I gave you a few years back." Nick said, snapping it back to extend it. The end flickered with blue electricity in time with her eyes widening, interest accelerating at the sight. "I've been meaning to field test it."
"Unfair of you to have one and not me." Rogue said, crossing her arms at him as he grinned. He took out another baton from his inventory and threw it at her, watching as she caught it. It was cool and lightweight in her palm, and when she snapped it back, electricity bolted from its tip.
"Now we're even." He said simply, before he's charging forward and giving her little time to block the move with her own baton.
The weight of his charge pushes her bag, but she quickly counters by sweeping him off his feet. He's down in seconds and he huffs, wind knocked out of his lungs when she plunges her baton down on his chest. He quickly rolls away and up on his feet, going for several strikes to her head. She tried to avoid them at best, until one connected to her side and forced her to step away.
"Lucky shot." Rogue muttered dryly as she rubbed the side of her face.
"If that's what you want to call it." He shrugged and grinned slyly, before he's snapping the baton longer and breaking it into two. The twin batons fizzle a bit with energy as Rogue gawked, grip slacking a bit.
"You've really outdone yourself with this one, Nick." She said before she charges at him with her baton with renewed strength.
Nick grinned widely as he narrowly avoided her jab, snapping at her back with one baton before pushing her away with the other. She steps back and shrugs off the blows, looking at him with combined shock and amusement as she rolls her shoulders and laughs.
Oh, this will be a good spar.
"Have we tried anyone else, Rogue?"
As Jason reclined on her couch, he turned his head to talk to the girl in question. She was deep in thought as she stared at the tablet in her flippers, trying to figure out the answer to his question. Her tongue clicks as she finally turned to him, frowning as she spoke.
"We've exhausted everyone who is one the civilian informant list."
"How about Zanzi?" He asked, shrugging as he put it to thought.
Rogue visibly freezes at what he said, grip on her tablet tightening as she frowned. "Why would I bring Zanzi into this mess?"
"I'm not saying you should," He frowned. They both didn't have the right to bring Zanzi back to the criminal underworld, especially when he's worked so hard to have what he had now. "I'm just saying that he might have heard things in his bar."
She paused at that, weighing her options as she considered speaking to Zanzi about the case. The man has been nothing but kind to her throughout the course of the Antarctic War on Terror, when frustrations required venting and information was a necessity. In exchange, Rogue has pulled as many strings as possible to ensure that he can safely start a new life in Gemini.
"I can set up a plane ride for you." He said without a second thought, watching carefully when she doesn't protest. "You'll be in the air in two hours."
"You better take care of Joshua and Natalia, Jason." Rogue said quietly, as she set the tablet down and strode across the room to grab her phone. She grips it for a moment and considers who to call, before she turns to Jason again. "Do you want anything from Zanzi's?"
He could only find himself grinning. "A bottle or two of his best Cream Soda would do."
Gemini was densely populated with penguins.
While Rogue didn't mind being around penguins who were of all shapes and sizes, it can be a bit of a challenge when she has to stand a bit taller to look through the dense crowds. She scans the roads as she walks as briskly as she could, bumping into the occasional pedestrian and quickly rattling off her apologies. She digs her flippers into her coat's pockets and sighs, watching as the air turns into smoke in front of her from breathing.
She turns a corner and finds herself assaulted by bright neon signs and brighter lighting. Music flowed out of the dance clubs and bars alike as penguins dragged themselves in and out of the establishments, wide grins on their faces as they scurried about. The crowds are denser here, given that this was a hub of activity in this part of the city. She is almost pushed down by an excited couple when she spots it, in bright orange neon lights.
She's in the bar without a second thought, relishing the warmth of it as she did. There's a jazz band playing on the stage, with light chatter in the air. She shakes off the snow in her hair as she removes her coat, slowly making her way towards the bartender to take a seat on one of the stools.
"You've been gone for quite a while." Benedict, the bartender, greets her as he cleans a glass in his flippers. In a neatly pressed shirt and trousers, he looked like the same man that she has seen all those months ago. She only offers him a small as she leans on the counter, scanning the crowd as she did. She could see a few regulars from where she sat, as well as a few new faces. She turns back to him and asked.
"Where's your boss, Ben?" She asked, the smile on her lips tugging further upwards when he flashes her a smile.
"In his usual spot. I can take you to him if you wish." He said, ever the gentleman. She hopped off the stool as he rounded the counter, setting down the glass and standing before her. "Before we go, would you like a drink?"
"I'm here on business, Ben. Perhaps another time." She said as he nodded respectfully and held out a flipper towards the rest of the bar. She nodded and followed him, shoulders bumping as they made their way to the booth where Zanzi was sure to be.
And of course, he is there. Zanzi was a man with black feathers and an equally black beak, white stripes striking the black to paint his face and flippers. He wore bright colors and a big, bloodstone pendant on his chest and a big smile on his face. His smile gone wider when he sees Rogue, standing up from where he sat and ushering her towards him.
"Tvarkova, what a surprise!" In most cases, she would have flinched at the usage of her proper surname. Except, well, this was Zanzi.
"Can we go somewhere private, Zanzi?" As much as she wanted to be there for visiting purposes, there was a case she had to solve. The Magellanic penguin only offers her a kind smile, turning towards the direction to his office as he did.
"Of course, dear. Come along." She walked behind him like a lost puffle. He weaved her through the crowds to get to his office, twisting the doorknob open and ushering her inside. His office is as bright as his clothing, every inch of the room oozing with his bright personality. He plops himself on the couch and offers her a glass of Cream Soda, which she declines until it is thrusted into her flipper. She only holds onto it before digging in her coat pocket to produce a small, circular device.
"Is that a gift, dear? Christmas is two months from now." He's light and bubbly as always, and she almost rolls her eyes in fondness. Instead, she sets the device down and presses a button at the bottom, watching as the lines in it glowed green and emitted a low, humming sound.
"I just don't need anyone eavesdropping on us." Rogue said, taking a seat across him and taking a small sip from the offered soda.
Zanzi tips his head back to laugh, a warm and infectious sound that bounced about the room. Rogue finds herself grinning when he turns back to her, a wicked glint in his eyes as he spoke. "Rogue dear, you always bring a new spy toy when you come here. When will I finally see you bring a boy toy here?"
"Not anytime soon, Zanzi." She shook her head as she set the glass down on the coffee table. "I have work to do."
"Not even that Laurenson boy that tags along with you?" Now she rolls her eyes. She fights back the laugh by taking another sip of the soda.
"I'll think about that next time." Next time. When would next time be? She would never know. "Zanzi, what do you hear around your bar?"
"Darling, I hear just about anything from anyone." He all but purred, leaning forward as he took another tentative sip from his glass. "Are you here to gossip with me, dear? I know some bits that you'd enjoy."
"No, Zanzi. I'm here for a case." It pains her just slightly to remind herself that she is not there for her own leisure.
"Is it about the hacker case?" His eyes widen by just a fraction as he watched her, grin wide and Cheshire-like. "I've heard talk that you're handling the case."
"I am just one of many who are 'handling the case.'" Rogue sighed and picked up her glass once more. "The UAN requested for a joint taskforce to be made."
"I know that, dear." He batted his flipper at her general direction and shook his head, taking another sip from his glass. "What do you want to know, Tvarkova? I'm pretty sure you've heard it all."
"I'll be the judge to that." She crossed her flippers on her chest and sat back, "Spill."
"Such a serious one." He sighed, but smiled anyways and set his glass down. "He's hacked several countries, and he's been leaking his information."
"He?" She frowned at that, "Where did you hear that the hacker's a he?"
"Some cocksure agent came in a few days ago and kept rambling to Ben about the case." Zanzi shrugged. "SIA, I think. Really cute guy."
Rogue furrowed her brows, "How does the SIA know and not tell the rest of us?"
"We may never know." He shrugs once more and tilted his head in curiosity. "He has a bounty on him, right?"
"He does, yeah." She said after a brief moment of thought and leaned back on her chair, contemplative about the new information. "Is there anything else?"
"He's Munian, though I'm not quite sure that's verified information. The agent kept babbling how that's their theory." Zanzi said and picked his glass up to take a sip. "If you think of it, it would make sense. What other country do you know has citizens with that much technological knowledge?"
"There's always a possibility that—" Her words die down at that as the threads of thought tug and pull to understanding.
"He was talking about a skill set of unparalleled hacking skills and the ability to hide from most of you." The way his wicked grin spreads on his face is almost infectious. It's almost amusing for him to see her so confused. "My dear, it makes complete sense."
Her mouth opens and closes, tries to thread the thoughts into words. She only comes up with a sputter, "No one—"
If the hacker was from said country, skills like that would not have been overlooked by the Munian government, of course not. He would at best have been hired and utilized to further improve the country towards the powerhouse it was now. Penguins with those skills can only enter at least two organizations within the government, but only one comes to mind when she considers the most likely institution that has a penchant for being secretive and highly-skilled.
She stands up hurriedly and ignores the clatter of the table with her movements, moving forward to Zanzi to pull him into the hug. He smells like Cream Soda and cologne, familiar and warm all at once. The man laughs and sputters something she doesn't exactly hear as the gears in her brain turned endlessly on its axises. She pulls away and openly gawks at him before she finds a use of her vocal chords.
"You have a point. I need to speak to Jason, so I should go." She spins around to grab the device on the coffee table, the green glow disappearing as it disappears into her coat. She's almost bundling out of the door when she pauses, turning back to Zanzi. "How are you and your husband, Zanzi?"
Zanzi grins a wide, toothy grin as he plays with the bloodstone pendant that laid on his chest. "Absolutely perfect, Tvarkova."
There was something very wrong about the current situation.
He had just gotten off the phone with Rogue, who was excitedly chattering about some man named Zanzi and this breakthrough of information. Joshua huffed as he got back to drawing, sketching tall trees with tall shadows as Natalia toddled over to peer at his sketchpad.
"What are you drawing now?" As always, her curiosity never ceases to amuse him. He turns and ruffles her hair as she squawks, stepping away to fix her hair.
"Surrealism." He said simply before he's turning back to his sketchpad and darkening the lines. Natalia leans on his shoulder as she watches, eyes dancing about on the paper as he exaggerated the shadows and turned the sturdy trunks into candle-like things. She's deep in it when they hear a clatter, prompting the both of them to snap up from their positions.
"What was that?" She asked, the innocence dripping in her tone as she spoke. He frowns and sets down the sketchpad, setting it aside and standing.
"Stay behind me." Joshua said steadily, picking up the deletion gun that Rogue has given him all those weeks ago. He makes his way out the door and in the hallway, looking around for signs of forced entry before someone's pulling him back. He doesn't think twice and spins around, yelling as he tried to shoot whoever it was into the CyberVoid. "Natalia, run!"
They've been through this. The girl scurries up to her room without another thought, surely to barricade herself and call on her mother. Joshua shoved the penguin that was on him and pulled the trigger, watching as they disappeared with a scream. He kept his gun up as he walked through the hallway, blood roaring in his head as he waited patiently for someone else to strike. While doing so, he tries to look for where Jason was. He was sure that he was in the kitchen when he went to his room to sketch.
There's a clatter in the kitchen and he surges in, gun up as he quickly shot down the black-clad assailants. They scream as well and he concentrates on finding the missing agent, racking his braid for a potential hiding place.
Then he hears the banging of a door.
He shakes his head as he makes his way to the coat closet, opening it to see Jason. He removes the bindings on his flippers and tugs off the strip of cloth between his teeth when the Antarctican sputters.
"I tried my best, alright? They must've been ninjas or something." He said and shook his head, stepping out of the coat closet and looking around. "Where's Natalia?"
"In her room." He said quickly, "Most likely barricaded herself."
"Alright." Jason nodded before his pocket starts buzzing. Joshua could only watch as he picked up his phone, giving it a glance before putting it up to his ear. "Hello? Yeah, I got your first call. I would have answered if I could actually hold it in the first place."
He turns away from Joshua to speak to whoever was in the other line, before he too gets a call. It's from Rogue, and it doesn't take him long to press it up to his own ear. "Hello?"
"Thank Benny you're alive." She said in relief. "I thought I had to press the pilot to fly faster."
"Good evening to you too, Rogue." He rolled his eyes as he looked around the house. "We're compromised."
"I know. I told Nick to inform Jason that the three of you are joining me in the plane." Rogue said, her voice cracking a bit due to the signal.
"Where are we going?" He frowned, looking to see that Jason was talking quickly to Nick.
"Rusca. We're going home." Rogue said bluntly, before the line is dead and he's staring at his phone once more. Jason is also quiet and he turns to him, seeing that he too has set down his phone.
"Well, get packing." Jason said quickly, shooing him off to the hallway he was in minutes ago. "She's touching down in 2 hours."
He can only nod before he's in his room, hurriedly packing his things as he hears Jason go up the stairs and knock on Natalia's door.
Six: Coming Home
Sometimes, she wonders why she took up this position.
Not because she was tired of it, no. The job of becoming the Commander-in-Chief of the Anti-Terrorism Division was one that she took with grace. She couldn't imagine doing anything else besides lead the specialist division, the task of managing multiple branches and thousands of agents a responsibility she had readily carried.
Of course, there were cons to her position. Field duty was few and far in between now that she was Commander, and every mission handed to her was equal parts difficult and exhausting. While she enjoyed a challenge as much as the next agent, the constant exhaustion was becoming draining. Bureaucracy and paperwork did not settle easily with her, despite the fact that she has done administrative work in the past as an analyst. The way her job required her to be a little ways diplomatic was a bit unsettling; politics was never really her strong suit. She has exhausted herself day in and day out going through paperwork and submitting reports that this little blip of peace was surprising.
They're still up in the air. The flight to Rusca was going to last the whole night, and she was going to burn the rest of the time away with going through paperwork as well as the information collectively gathered by the various intelligence agencies. She was situated at a seat near the window, reading through a report on her tablet when Jason slipped to the chair across her once more.
He's quiet as he lets her work, watching the way she goes over the report. She's weary and exhausted, possibly from going through various timezones just to reach them on time. He knew that jet lag will be ruthless on her when they touch down, but she would probably end up overlooking it in favor of finishing her job.
"Late night work?" He finally asked, almost startling her out of her concentrated self. She slowly looks up and nods, regarding him for a moment before speaking.
"You should be sleeping, Laurenson."
"So are you." He's quick to counter her. He watches as he eyes drift above his shoulder, to the bundle that laid on the other side of the plane. Natalia was sleepy when they lifted off, and Rogue was quick to tell her to go to bed. By shifting the seats a bit to fit the little girl, she will manage to get some sleep before they have to touch down and face the day. "You always stay up nowadays, don't you?"
"Do I have any other choice?" She asked, brows furrowing as she glanced back at him. "I have work to do, Laurenson. Get some rest."
"I'm not listening to that." He said and pulled her tablet from her. She huffed in annoyance but let him anyway, too tired to argue any further. He gestured for her to lie down and she did, back almost sagging into the stiff seats as she did. Across the table, Jason too laid down, staring up to the ceiling as he did. He glances to the side and notices that she's curled up on herself, back facing him as he stared.
"NRR and SIA has information for us when we touch down." Rogue said, exhaustion evident in her tone. He would have laughed at how she would still think of work even if she was half asleep, but the sullenness of the mood didn't suit it. "It seems to be important, going by how they insisted to not send it to me until we get down."
"Sounds good." He nodded and yawned, covering his mouth as he did. He glanced back to see that she wasn't moving, most likely asleep going by the easy way her chest expanded with each breath. He smiled to himself and turned back to the ceiling, closing his eyes and sighing happily to himself.
It's the gentle bob of the plane that lulls him to sleep.
Joshua would have never thought that he would say this, but he missed Rusca.
He takes a deep breath of the familiar, icy cold air as he stepped off the car. He stretched his stiffened muscles and let the morning sun warm his cool feathers. He ran a flipper through his hair as Natalia hopped off and took a deep breath.
"Is this the manor?" She asked curiously, turning to Joshua as she asked.
"It is, dorogaya." Behind them, Rogue circles the front of the car to get to them. She still looks exhausted from the lack of sleep, but she was still in some semblance of functionality when they touched down. Next to her, Jason popped open the trunk to pull out their bags, prompting her to turn to help him.
As if on cue, one of the double doors of the manor flies open. There's a blur of feathers before Joshua is on the ground, a familiar high-pitched giggle prompting a wide smile on his face.
"Privet, Lucy." He laughed as the little girl grinned wildly at him. He can see Natalia step back in surprise in surprise, immediately going for Rogue as she did. The girl above him looks up to grin at Natalia, who only hides behind Rogue in surprise.
"She's my niece, dorogaya." Rogue soothed her as much as she could manage, already exhausted from the road trip to the manor. Lucy giggles at her aunt's exhaustion and turns to Natalia, grin widening as she asked.
"Do you like playing with dolls?" Lucy asked curiously, tilting her head as she did. Natalia peaked out a bit before Rogue nudged her in front of her, making her wring her flippers and nod.
"Do you like drawing?" Natalia asked in turn, rubbing her flippers as she did. Lucy grinned and bobbed her head excitedly, grasping Natalia by her flipper and almost scaring the poor girl.
"Let's play!" The Ruscan managed to pull the girl away without another word, disappearing into the manor. The remaining three shared a look before shaking their heads in fondness, going back to the work of taking out bags.
"I can help with that." Someone picks up two duffle bags from the pile next to Jason, prompting the three of them to snap up. Ivan Tvarkov grins widely at them before Rogue smiles and pulls him into a hug, letting the big man wrap her in one as he did. "I missed you too, dorogaya. You don't call often."
"I have work to do." She pulled away to smile at him, gently ruffling his salt and pepper hair. "Papa, have you seen Viktor?"
He clicked his tongue at his daughter's antics, locking eyes with Jason and shaking his head. Of course she had to put her duties ahead of her family. "He's in the offices."
"Thank you." She smiled before she's turning and speaking to Jason. "Come on, we need to get this work done."
"Then we can sleep?" He asked, hopeful of getting sufficient rest. He was sure that he'll fall asleep on his feet if he wasn't so careful, so right now the notion of sleep was getting tempting with each passing second.
"Yeah, you can sleep." Rogue nodded before the two of them are going into the manor.
Whether they were gripping each other's wrists or not, Joshua wouldn't really say.
"You should go inside." Ivan said to Joshua, when he snapped back into reality and turned to his father. "I'll take care of these. You go and greet your mother."
"Of course." He nodded dutifully before he's walking towards the steps, before his name is being called again and he pauses to turn. "Yes?"
"I'm glad you're safe and sound, Joshua." There's a warm smile on his father's face as he looks up to him. "I'm glad you protected your niece."
He doesn't say anything about the way his feelings swelled up his chest.
Rogue was taking her second cup of coffee since touchdown when the list is slapped down in front of her.
She jolts a bit before straightening herself, peering at the list with mild concentration. The mug of coffee in her flippers is exchanged for the list as she properly reads it, scanning the names of the government officials and big names of media.
"Lost files that were leaked and may be leaked were traced back or identified as theirs." Viktor Volkov explained next to her, tapping his pen against the desk. The constant tapping was almost calming to hear, some semblance of white noise to fill the room as she read the list. They were all names that she was familiar with, many well-known and major figures in current history. She flipped the page to read the rest, frowning at the list of files that were connected to them.
"What in Benny's name is your motive?" She muttered to herself as she pored over the list of files. Viktor perked up a bit as she spoke, peering at the list from where it was held in her flippers. They both read the list silently before they hear a knock on the door, snapping up to see Jason with what looks like a tray of sandwiches.
"Mrs. Trotskaya insisted that we eat." He said before he shuffles in, setting down the tray on the coffee table. Viktor surges to grab a sandwich from it, quickly munching on it as Jason peered at the list as well. "What's this?"
"List of potential targets of the hackings." Rogue replied as she scanned the list. Her frown deepens a bit when she finds her name, along with two files that she was familiar with: Project Infinite and Operation Blackout.
"Are they aware of this, Volkov?" Jason asked, looking up towards the man who was wolfing down his second sandwich.
He swallows thickly, "They all seem to be aware of the situation. Most of them have extra security measures prepared in the case of it happening."
"Then who else hasn't prepared extra measures for the situation?" Rogue asked, peering up to look at Viktor as she picked up her mug of coffee again.
"There are a few, mostly because they insisted that they didn't need it." Viktor said and shrugged, "Must be a pride issue."
Jason hummed as he went over the list again, "That's weird."
"What is?" Viktor is quick to answer, perking up a bit as he finished his last bite of sandwich.
"The reasons why these personalities would be target are a bit obvious. Corruption cases, questionable deals, incognito projects." Jason said as he pored over the list again. "There are a select few here who don't add up."
Rogue read over the list again, going over names and files of information and connecting the dots. There were personalities in the list who really were surprising to see, especially since she was sure that they were mostly clean. She frowns a bit as she pores over personalities from the Asiapelago, going over lines after lines of names before pausing.
"He took a lot of identity profiles from the Finipines." She said aloud, going over the 6 public figures that were listed to have had stolen profiles. Her frown deepens when she recognizes a few names, one of them being the current head of Orion and another being–
"I'll check in with Director Cueva on why his name is on the list." Jason said as he frowned, "Besides the few shady deals, I don't get why his profile is in there."
"Me neither. He's a good man." Rogue nodded, frowning a bit at the man's name. She met him during a few conferences here and there, and has known the brown-feathered man to be amiable and respecting. The Director of the Initiative was not one to back down a fight, but he always knew his limits when he deemed it necessary.
"I'll be back." Jason said as he picked up his phone and started dialing, probably to call the man in question. Viktor and Rogue shared a look before she handed back the files to him.
"I think I've seen enough, thank you." Rogue said, standing and finishing the last of her coffee. She sets the empty mug down and shuffles off to the door, pausing a bit at thought. "Hey, have you seen Katya around here?"
Viktor cannot fight back the grin on his face at the question. "In the ice rink, as usual."
The music booms around the empty ice rink, but that doesn't stop the Tvarkova who made the ice her stage. She skates backwards to gain momentum, spreading her flippers before leaping, executing a triple Salchow flawlessly before she lands on her one foot and skates off the adrenaline. She can almost imagine the cheers of her fellowmen as she skates on, performing a triple Lutz and a triple toe to edge off the energy. The music fills her head as she continues skating, step sequence quick as she skated in time with the music.
On the sidelines, she knows that her aunt is watching her every move. Regardless of the amount of adrenaline and Tvarkov serum that runs through her veins, her aunt-instructor has been watchful of how she jumps and lands at every technique. Figure skaters burn out easily, early retirements a norm for their life. Her aunt didn't want her to get injured when the Olympics was next year in South Joseon.
This is the life that Katya Tvarkova has chosen. If she were to burn out early then by Benny, she will make sure she burns with as much fury and passion as she can.
The music ends to two sets of clapping. She turns to where her instructor is to see a familiar golden-feathered cousin, who looks very much pleased to see her.
"I see you're practicing your quads again." Rogue greeted as she hurriedly skated her way to the two. She almost kicks off her skates at the sheer excitement that buzzed through her body.
"I didn't know that you'd come to visit! I thought you would have slept off the jet lag." She said and enveloped her in a hug. Between Katya and Rogue, they only have a one month difference between each other. It's been a running joke that they are both the actual twins and not Joshua. "Did you like the free skate?"
"It's beautiful." Rogue said warmly before she pulls away and smiles at her. She turns her head to smile at her aunt, Bella. "You've trained her well."
The older woman flipped her braid off her shoulder almost dramatically. "What else would you expect from me?"
Katya laughed at her aunt-instructor before turning back to Rogue. It only strikes her now the stark difference in their appearance, with Rogue's short black hair and equally dark eyes and her own platinum blonde and cobalt grays. "How long are you staying around?"
"Until I get the information I need." Rogue shrugged as she stepped away. Her hair is pulled back in its usually ponytail as she spoke again. "I don't exactly have time to relax."
"Nonsense! You are being absolutely ridiculous." Katya said and surged forward, stepping away from Rogue to pick up her duffle bag. She rummaged for her phone excitedly as she spoke, "I know this little cafe that is a few blocks from the rink that sells blini. They taste absolutely divine!"
"I'm sure they do." Rogue turned to watch her and shook her head in fondness. "Don't you have to watch your weight, though?"
"Pah! My diet can go to town while I eat blini." She waved a flipper around as she picked up her skates and straightened her back. Bella regarded the two of them for a moment, as if ready to berate her before the woman smiled and nodded. She turned back to Rogue and grinned widely, "Come on! I want to get a frappe while we're there."
Rogue could only let herself be at the mercy of Katya as she was dragged off, only waving goodbye to Bella as they broke through the ice rink's double doors. There's laughter ringing around the air as she was pulled down the road, heads turning at them as they zoomed towards the cafe.
This'll be good.
Jason is poring over reports when someone sets down a cup of tea in front of him. He knows by the sweet smell of honey and leaves, which prompts him to set the tablet down in favor of looking at the grandmother that smiled dotingly at him.
Olga Trotskaya, for lacking of better terms, was the epitome of a grandmother. She seemed to be the matriarch of the whole manor, readily able to cook food for an army or turn the manor into a palace. She may appear stern to those around her, but it's obvious that she means well. Jason could only smile back as she sat down next to him in one of the many pavilions within the grand gardens.
"This will help you sleep later." She explained quietly, words scraping a bit in her throat as she did. "I know that jet lag is not kind to you children."
"I appreciate it ma'am, thanks." He said and took a sip, letting the warmth curl around him and relax his muscles. He can feel his shoulders slip down as he closed his eyes, leaning back on the chair and smiling. She's still watching him carefully when he opens his eyes again. He doesn't say anything about it.
"She brings you here frequently, doesn't she?" Olga said, tone cool and careful as she takes a sip from her own teacup. He asks her what she meant, she easily replies to him. "Rogue, our little matryoshka. She brings you here a lot, doesn't she?"
"She does, I guess." He shrugged and brought the cup to his beak. "I wasn't with her the last time she visited, though."
"I know." She nods with understanding. She watches him take a sip of tea once more. "Are you two...?"
"Dear Benny, why does everyone think we're dating?" He can't help the edge of annoyance in his tone. He locks eyes with her and like that his annoyance fades, replaced by sheepishness as he ducked his head. "I'm sorry."
"No, it's my fault for assuming." There's a tiny furrow in her brows as she stirs her tea with a teaspoon.
There's silence for a moment, Olga drinking from her tea as Jason looked around. The hedges were carefully trimmed to make their hiding place secure, and the rosebushes surrounding the pavilion were beautifully made. The pale pink roses were tempting to pluck if not for the fact that he respected the artistry that the woman put in making them perfect.
"You two must relax while you're here, you know?" She said as his tablet buzzed. He picked it up and frowned as he read a message from Nick.
- The Director has just given me instructions to tell you two to relax for a while. I got the case. -Nick
He's still processing the message when there's another ping, and he reads the next message.
- Seems that she beat you to it though. Check your Chitter.
He frowns again before he follows the instructions, tapping at the screen and finding himself staring at his feed. He scrolls past news tweets before he finds himself staring at something that someone chittered.
Blini reunions!! I missed this golden girl :)
Attached to the tweet is a picture of the two in a booth in a cafe. Katya Tvarkova's smile is wide and purely happy, while Rogue flashed a tiny smile. There were 10 thousand likes and chitters on the tweet, and thousands more replies at the bottom of it. He's about to say something when his tablet pings a final time, prompting him to switch back to the communication channel.
- Didn't I tell you to take her out on a date? Are you slacking on me, Laurenson?
"You know, everyone will be asking me why I'm slacking off when there's a hacker on the loose." Rogue chuckled at her cousin as the woman in question was scrolling her Chitter feed. There's a wide grin on Katya's face as she went over the replies, and she looked up to Rogue and giggled.
"I'll just chitter something in your defense." She said as her flippers flew over the screen. "They should know that you're allowed to relax!"
Relax. She hasn't heard that in a while. She's about to say something when her phone beeps in her pocket, prompting her to take it and read the message.
- Nick's told me to tell you that we can slack off. Enjoy that blini for me. -JL
"Is that work?" Katya asked curiously, sitting up a bit to peer at her cousin's twin. Rogue quickly pressed the button on its side and pocketed it.
"You can call it that. I've been told I can relax." Rogue said and smiled, taking a bite from the blini. "Tell me about this year's season."
The smile on Katya's face is almost infectious. "Absolutely fun, matryoshka! You won't believe how competitive Japaland has gotten over the break. Not to mention all the new competitors in the senior division!"
There's something about this moment that makes it almost surreal, Rogue thought as she let her eyes drift about. As Katya chattered excitedly over the season's details, she lets herself look around the cafe they were in. Their booth overlooked the front of the cafe, where snow started to fall down in a steady rhythm. Inside, the cafe is filled with the smell of coffee beans and blini and had a warm, amiable vibe. There weren't so many patrons, and yet the air buzzed with energy.
"... he has new quads under his belt! You should really come with me next time I go and compete." She's back to Katya, and she notices that the ice skater is grinning widely at her. "Come on now, tell me about the case."
"I would love to go and watch you live if I had the time." Rogue managed to side, before she spoke about the case.
She gave the overview of the investigation, skipping the classified details and giving her the narration of how it's going. There a times where they pause and eat the blini that's served to them, before they continue to talk. From the case, they span over their relationships and the people they work with before Katya asks.
"Are you ever going to consider resigning?"
Rogue paused at that, careful with the thought as she spoke slowly. "Resignation is not something I imagine doing."
"I know, or retiring. They both work." Katya said and shrugged, "I might retire a decade from now."
She knew how it worked. Competitive ice skaters don't last long in the playing field when they burn out easily. "What do you plan on doing then?"
Katya shrugged and leaned back on her seat. "I might open an ice skating school. I might go back to ballet. Who knows?"
Rogue nodded as she slumped back in her own. "Retiring is not exactly something I imagine doing."
"You're going to jinx yourself like that." Katya poked out her tongue at her. "You're going to live a long life, matryoshka."
"I hope I do." Rogue nodded and sighed, turning to the window and watching the snow fall.
Celebrities call for answers behind hackings and leaks
By Anastasia Zaryanova | Ruscan Tribune
Tensions between the public and the governments have spiked sharply due to recent events that have transpired. On August 31, a hacker had broken into the Club Penguin database to ransack it of many of its sensitive files. From there, they continued to hack into other government databases, quickly bringing them down to their knees. Not long after these hackings occurred, a series of information leaks spread across the World Wide Web.
The effect was instantaneous. Public outrage was an immediate response to the information that has been revealed to them, and protests were quick to follow in order to get the facts straightened. The information spanned from questionable government-private deals to pure graft and corruption. The hacker was seemingly ruthless in their methodology: they had not bothered to censor the names of those involved in these files. As a way to satisfy the public, many governments had called for a public trial or inquiry regarding these files.
'Along with the trials and inquiries came the attacks. Not long after the leaks have occurred, several unidentified extremist groups have attacked countries all over the continents. These attacks would range from robbery and hostages to bombings, with casualty counts that alarm the UAN. While governments all over struggled to handle the PR fires that were ablaze due to the leakages, many are alarmed with what was to come next. At around the same time of the attacks, many government officials have been found dead or critically wounded, with signs pointing to assassination.'
With this, one could only hope that the investigations are hastening. There has been little news on the updates behind , and it raises several questions. The world can only ask: are the governments still invested in finding out the answers behind these database hackings?
Celebrities from all over have been asking the same thing. Many have been airing their sympathies in social media, pressing for answers behind what was going on. Nutzilian DJ LC Santos has voiced out in his Chitter much recently "We gotta get our heads together to solve this! #NutzilianProtests" He has been referring to recent protests against Lisboagal and Dorkugal due to a recent leak made by the hacker. The hacking had revealed the penguins rights abuses that officials of these countries done in their respective territories.
In Club Penguin, Cadence had dedicated her recent performance to those who have been affected by the hackings. "Everyone deserves to be happy and safe! Hope everyone will have a good night!" She said in closing with her newest set, which garnered at least 10 thousand fans from the island.
In Rusca, meanwhile, a viral chitter made by Olympic ice skater Katya Tvarkova revealed that she has been speaking to her cousin, EPF Commander Rogue Tvarkova. Netizens responded mostly with well wishes for the two's bonding session, while many questioned the commander's presence in Rusca. In response, Tvarkova released another chitter, saying "Back off from my favorite girl, guys! She's gotta relax from all her work."
In response, the NRR has released a statement through their agent in charge of the case, Viktor Volkov. "We have kept the investigation under wraps because we believe that our hacker would shift tactics if we publicly reveal information." Volkov said in a press conference. "We apologize if it appears as if we do not care about the Ruscan public interest or that of the world."
It's their third night in the manor when they decide to take a stroll.
The wind is blowing on their faces as they step out into the grand gardens, taking their blessed time out the patio and into the artfully designed garden. The overhead lights are still open, and both of them knew that they would automatically shut off by 11. It's already 10:30, and yet they take their time to walk around and silently appreciate the flowers in sight.
The moon and stars shine down on them in favor, glittering in the sea of black like how sun would strike the sea during the day. Jason tilts his head up to pick out constellations, pausing from his walking as Rogue walked ahead of him.
"I can see Orion from here." He chuckled as he raised a flipper to trace the constellation. Rogue pauses from her walking and turns back to him, breath turning into smoke in front of her as she bounded back to him.
"Are we talking about the constellation or the organization?" She asked as she peered up the sky, grinning slightly at her own joke. It prompts a bark of laughter from Jason, who shakes his head fondly and looks back at her.
"The Belt would be insulted." Jason said and shook his head once more. "Have you heard from Nick regarding his talk with Cueva?"
She's quick to reply. "Negative. He must be busy."
"Picking up our slack, he would be." Jason said and tilted his head back again. "How is the list?"
"We're narrowing it down to a flipper's worth of names." Rogue said and huffed, watching the smoke rise up in the air. "We might have to do some house calls."
"Sounds good to me." Jason chuckled and placed his flippers in his pockets. He took a deep breath and tried to rehearse what was on his mind, "Listen–"
Before he can say another word, his phone beeps. He pulls out his phone and goes through the message, silently cursing whatever entity out there for interrupting his train of thought.
- Cueva here. I'm clear for a video conference now.
"Timezones." Rogue sighed, reading it over his shoulder as he sighed and pocketed his phone.
"Are you alright with me leaving you here?" He asked, even though he knew the answer. There's a weight on his chest that he cannot describe, a certain lowness for not getting his thoughts out.
Rogue scoffed and rolled her eyes. "Don't give me that. Go on, talk to Cueva."
He could only nod as he turns on his feet, making his way back to the patio and into the manor. He weaves his way through the hallways and staircase before he's in his room, overlooking the gardens as he sets up his laptop for the call. While waiting, he peaks out the windows to see where Rogue went, seeing that she kept her head tilted up to the sky as she silently admired the stars above her.
He wants to say something to himself out loud when his laptop rings with the call, and he is forced to turn around to answer it.
Meanwhile, in Club Penguin, all Nick wants to do is go home and sleep.
Not that it's an issue, anyways. As a Commander, he's allowed to go on and off duty as much as he wishes. Except now, it wouldn't be the best decision. He has a case to keep track of, information to collect, agents to speak to. It's a good thing that he's been put off of Academy teaching, at that. He can't handle a recruit bleeding out in the snow or drowning while handling this mess of a case. He could already imagine the headache that would form behind his eyes at the situation.
He's going over another report when the AI above him chimes.
"Sir, Recruit 76 is here to see you." Jewel, his new AI, said. He collapsed his holograms and tilted his head back, speaking to the AI in reply.
"Send him in." In an instant, the door flies open and the recruit in question steps in. He grins widely at the Commander a sloppy salute, prompting the man to roll his eyes. "Get in here, Reyes. Don't make me say it twice."
"Why sure, boss." He drawled as he marched over and sat on one of the chairs that flanked Nick's desk. With the other commanders, he would be amiable and respecting. With Nick, though, he's his usual self: mischievous and cocky. "Fancy assistant you got there."
"She's still a prototype, Reyes. Don't even think about telling anyone." He said and raised up the holograms once more. He presses in a few commands before he finds the files that he needs. "How are you nowadays, Reyes?"
"Small talk already?" He flashes an amused smile. "S'all good, boss. Still toppin' the stats last I recall."
"Good, because I have a mission for you." Nick said as he flipped the hologram towards the recruit. John – or Jack, as he prefers to be called – squints at the glowing text before he grins wider and leans back on his chair.
"Gee, boss, I'm pretty sure it ain't my birthday." Jack chuckled as he ran a flipper through his hair. "Ya got guts giving me an unsanctioned mission."
"You and I both know why I need you for this one, Reyes." He fights the urge to roll his eyes again. Inner peace, he thought, is necessary. Just imagining the comfortable bed he'll be crawling to at the end of the day was enough. "Kowalski and I are in on this. We need you to break into this building to see if our hacker really was there. If you can, find DNA samples so that we can figure who on earth this man is."
"Sounds like a walk in the park." Ever so cocky. He flashes him a final smile before he stands. This was one of the things that he liked about Jack – he didn't need to be told that he's dismissed to be dismissed. "Anything else before I get ready, boss?"
"Don't get caught. Stay in the shadows." Nick said, flipping back the hologram to him as he spoke. "Don't give me a reason to make an excuse to Tvarkov."
Jack chuckled at that, "Yer touching m'heart, boss."
"Don’t get too touchy feely, kid. I won’t be your officer-in-charge after this." He waved his flipper dismissively at that. The recruit had the audacity to tip his stupid cowboy hat at Nick before he left.
Nick sighed as he went back to work, bringing up the previous report that he was reading. He would have to be hard pressed to admit it, but he would have to say that he is starting to like the kid.
There's a certain air when he steps in.
And he can't really describe it, not so. Whatever it is, it's thick and runny and heavy on his body. Time seems slower in this room, seconds slowing to a halt. He could close his eyes and feel the weight if he wants to, take in the warmth and cold that moves around him at once. It's both rejuvenating and exhausting that he doesn't know if it's really happening or not.
And he finds her in the middle of it, of course he does. She's sitting on the couch with Natalia's head on her lap. While the little girl was fast asleep, Rogue was already awake and poring over a book. The fire fizzled a bit beside her, providing the heat of the room. Outside, the sun hardly peaked out from its hiding place.
He finally finds a word to describe this scene. Domesticity.
She looks up when she notices his presence, body tense muscle before relaxing at the sight of him. He only manages a grin and steps forward, slotting himself into the seat across them. They are separated by a coffee table, and he props his feet up on it and greets her warmly. "Good morning."
She sets the book down and offers him a smile, "You're awake early."
"Had a good sleep." He said and nodded at the little girl that was on her lap. "Did you get some rest?"
"As much as I can." She sounds a bit apologetic. "You know that I'm incapable of catching a complete 8 hours, Laurenson."
"I know." He nodded and leaned back into the plush cushions. He doesn't want to ruin this domesticity. Not yet. "Cueva's asking us to do him a favor."
"So long as it's within reason." Rogue said and sat up a bit further. Natalia squirms a bit on her lap, brows knitted before she relaxes and stills again.
"All six identity files were of penguins in power." Jason said, words slowly dribbling out of his mouth. He almost sounds reluctant to tell her. She gives him a look to go on. "Five of them reside in the country, but one of them doesn't."
The identity is already on her tongue. "Maria Yslenski."
"He wants us to check on her." Jason said, feeling the air thaw around them as the sunlight trickled into the room slowly. It's almost as if time is finally speeding up to this moment. "He hasn't given us a reason, but he wants us to check on her."
"If he's so insistent on us doing it, then he must have a good reason." She frowns, but doesn't say anything else. She gently sets the child down on the couch and turns to return the book in the shelf. There's something reverent about the way she moved that seemed almost surreal. "Come on, we should tell them."
The air is finally different when she leaves the room, leaving him to stare at Natalia who unconsciously scrambles to take the rest of the heat her mother left behind.
The farewell committee consisted of Joshua, Natalia, Olga, and Katya.
Natalia was reluctant to watch Rogue leave, again. While Rogue was speaking to her in hushed tones with hushed words, Jason and Joshua were loading the last of their bags in the car. Olga and Katya were speaking to each other in the side as their gazes flittered between Jason and Rogue, as if speaking of something neither wants them to hear.
In truth, Jason doesn't want to know.
"Safe travels, you two." Joshua said and clapped Jason in the back, a pointed look on his face as he goes back up the steps. He claps Rogue in the back and speaks to her in Russian before she punches him in the shoulder and laughs. Jason doesn't know what Joshua said, and he probably will have to ask Rogue when they're far away from the manor.
"Say hello to her for me!" Katya chirps at Jason, who laughs and nods. The ice skater was ecstatic when she found out where the two were headed, and gave them a passionate lecture about Munijoch's athletes. While Jason mostly filtered it out while he was packing, Rogue had laughed and promised her cousin that she'll take pictures.
"For the long journey." Olga said when she placed a small bag in Jason's flippers. It was radiating with warmth, and if he closed his eyes he could smell the blini that laid underneath. He could only smile sheepishly and nod before Natalia squeaks and pulls him into a hug.
"Take care!" she managed to say, before she gives him a look that's a cross between a pout and a frown. "Don't let her get hurt."
"I won't let her, Natalia." He chuckled and shook his head while Rogue muttered something in Russian. She's down the steps when he turns back, already making her way to the driver's seat. He turns to the rest of those present and laughed. "We'll be back as soon as we can."
"Take your time. Solve the case." Olga said and waved goodbye, Katya waving alongside her.
He nods before he's bounding down the stairs, making his way to the passenger seat. He belts himself in as Rogue starts the engine, about to say something to her when she rolls down the window and yells at Joshua.
"Don't forget to revise your thesis!"
"You can't tell me what to do!" He laughs at that. Rogue narrows her eyes at her twin before she turns back to the road and starts driving, making her way out of the familiar iron gates and into the snowy landscape. They drive into the main roads, making their way to the airport as Jason asked.
"It's an 8 hour flight, right?" He asked, turning to Rogue as they reached a red light.
"Got any plans, Laurenson?" She asked back, turning to him briefly before the lights changed once more.
"We could try getting some sleep."
"In your dreams, Laurenson."
He bites back the urge to say "Always".
Seven: Munijoch's First Couple
Munijoch only has one First Couple in their history.
Their first couple and their only couple, at that. Rogue pores over the shared files on the duo as they make their way to the said country, taking a sip of coffee as she did. The two had met as ambassadors of their respective countries, during a conference that occurred in Munijoch. After several scuffles and events that lead to the ousting of the former president, the two got married. The details were sparse around how that went down, but the fact was clear: Joseph Yslenski was married when he became president.
The Munian media ate up their concept as if it were the best story there was. It was a favorite and near timeless topic in the news outlets whenever they made public appearances. The President and his First Lady frequently made appearances together when they were newly-weds, at first shy to answer the questions that the media would throw at them regarding their relationship. It seemed to be a tasteful union at the time: the headstrong, brilliant Joseph Yslenski and the righteous, cautious Maria Santiago. Rogue can vaguely recall rumors that their marriage was arranged before the couple dispelled it with their charm and interactions.
As time progressed, it became clear that they were more than just the First Couple. The two almost seemed to function as a tag team, covering when the other cannot. Where Joseph excelled in foreign policy and national progress, Maria excelled in the finer details of society. Joseph was a man of science and mathematics, and Maria was a woman of the performing and visual arts. While Joseph secured deals and created organizations with other countries, Maria nurtured and celebrated the arts and culture of home. The country found a boost in progress under the two's watchful eyes, through their attention towards its inner and outer workings.
Talk about a power couple.
Rogue is snapped out of her readings when Jason sets down a plate of blini in front of her, possibly reheated from the microwave by the looks of it. She looks up to see him grin widely, as he slips into the seat in front of her.
"You could at least try filling your stomach with something other than coffee." He said, pushing the plate to knock against her flipper. She doesn't give him a reply and instead takes the offered plate, forking a piece to put in her mouth.
"I don't understand why he would try to target the Yslenski couple." She said through a mouthful of blini, swallowing it a moment after and taking another sip from her coffee. "I would have understood if there were other files taken from them, but all that was stolen were their profiles."
And it was true. The only files listed under the duo's names were their profiles, with Joseph's stolen from the Munian database and Maria's in the Finipino. Rogue and Jason wouldn't have been surprised if they found files involving programs and suspicious deals, and yet that was not the case.
"We'll have to see." He shrugged before he takes her tablet and flips it to himself. She's ready to scold him before he types something into it, then pushing it back to her. "SI:9 caught wind of our plans, though. They're requesting a meeting."
"We have to go through Tang before that." Rogue frowned and took the tablet anyways. She skims the details of the email before flipping the tablet onto its face. "He said he had something for us."
"Do we bring backup?" They both knew the grounds of his question. The Munian agency is seen to be reluctant to interact with the rest of the intelligence community, thus the manner at which to handle them remains to be a big question mark. While Rogue did not want them to assume that the EPF was being hostile, it was better safe than sorry.
"We send in a team to sweep the area." Rogue said as she tapped in the coordinates into her maps application. She frowns when she finds herself staring at a warehouse. "Alright, this better be good."
The plane jolts with turbulence and forces them to grip their seats, before the seatbelt icon is glowing above them. They strap themselves in as the plane jolt once more.
"That's a rough one." Rogue muttered more to herself as she felt nausea creep up her throat. As she tried to ignore it, the plane shook once more and forced them to press their backs against the seat.
"I guess we should sit tight." Jason sighed as he sagged into his chair, another bout of turbulence striking the plane. They both grip their seats before Rogue finds the sense to still her cup of coffee, cursing a bit when some of it spills dangerously near her tablet.
"I don't think either of us are getting sleep anytime soon, Laurenson." Rogue huffed before their flight smoothed once more.
The EPF's office in the City of Progress was small and mostly vacant, since not many agents end up stationed in the country. It was designed to accommodate at least 2 small teams of agents at the time. As Rogue woke up from her nap on the single mattress bed, she's come to realize that the last time this was used was during the Frosian War.
Jason's not yet awake when she sits up in bed. Typical. He'd sleep through the morning if she didn't wake him up any sooner, probably to burn off the rest of the jet lag that was in his system. She runs a flipper through her hair and finally gets off the bed to turn on the computers that were in the office.
While not as advanced as her computer wall in her actual office, the massive touchscreen computer would have to do. She pressed through commands to get into the Anti-Terrorism Division server, trying to keep herself awake while waiting for the coffee machine to drip out all of the coffee that will keep her functional.
"You're up early, Commander." Adrian mused when her headset connects to the communication channel. In the background, she can vaguely hear the chatter of the Main Office as it goes about its day. It's somewhat soothing. "It's 4 am over there."
"I need to check on my division." It's a flimsy excuse, but it will have to do. Adrian's chuckle rings through her head as she shuffles towards the coffee machine to pick up its coffee pot. She sniffs the pot and waits for the coffee to cool before taking a sip. She almost curses from the heat.
"We're fine, thank you for asking." Adrian said as he pressed in commands in his tablet. "We've managed to survive a month without you making all the major decisions."
"The division can sustain itself without me keeping so much of an eye over it." Rogue huffed as she took another sip of coffee. She doesn't want to know where the actual mugs were, since they would be useless at this point. "I made sure of that."
"Touching. How is the case?" Adrian is gentle with his prodding, but he couldn't help but ask how it's going. No one really knows why Rogue and Jason were sent to Munijoch, only that it was important and had something to do with the case. It seemed to be the frequent buzz around headquarters.
"We're following a lead. Seems to be a good one." Rogue said as she sneaked a glance towards Jason. He's still not moving in his bed, and she isn't surprised of that happening. She goes back to drinking coffee. "Have you seen Tang? I haven't gotten into contact with him yet."
"He's in his office." She can almost see the frown on his face. "Do you want to knock on his door for you?"
"I got it, thank you." Rogue shook her head and set the coffee pot down. It was halfway empty by then, anyways. "Take care of the division, Adrian. Tvarkov out."
Before Adrian can give his farewells, she disconnects from the communication channel. It takes her a bit of tinkering with the controls before she's connecting to a direct line to Tang.
She just hopes he'll answer.
The mission was a success, at most.
Key phrase: at most. They easily confirmed that the hacker was in the building when Reyes was assaulted with gunfire, probably from a sniper in the other building. It took a while for them to locate the sniper and disabling them before Reyes can get on with his mission, easily sweeping the room for DNA samples.
At most. Reyes just had to flirt with a Japalandese agent.
While he didn't really care about who the recruit would flirt with, the degrees at which he does and to who is where he needs to step in. The kid's in the medical bay where he's being checked for injuries, and in no time he'll be in Nick's office to give the samples. Nick tries his best to be patient as he taps his stylus against the table, eyes flitting between the holograms before him and his door ahead of him.
"Commander Tang, Commander Tvarkov is on the line." Jewel chimes above him, tone cool and relaxed. He looks up briefly as if to look at her before shaking his head, turning back to his holograms.
"Put her on hold. Geez, Tvarkov, she shouldn't even be awake at this hour." Nick could almost roll his eyes at her if not for the fact that he did not have the time to. He kept tapping his stylus on the table. Anytime now.
Jewel chimes in again. "Commander, Recruit 76 is here to see you."
"Send him in." He's quick with it. He stands when the door flies open and the recruit steps in, a medical pad on his neck and arm. He tips his hat at Nick before he steps in, standing in front of him and grinning.
"The samples, Reyes." There's no going around it. With Rogue on the line and the Furensic Analyzer 3000 beside him, there was no time for anything else. He can reprimand the kid later, the mission mattered more.
"I uh..." The kid had the audacity to scratch his cheek. "I may've lost it, boss."
"You what?!" Nick could almost choke him. He can feel the beginnings of a headache formulate behind his eyes. "Listen here, Reyes. I did not just send you to Japaland just to have you flunk this mission and go AWOL-"
"Relax, boss. I'm just messin' with ya." Reyes chuckled as he took off his hat and produced a plastic bag from within it. Nick snatches the plastic bag from him and mutters to himself, ripping it open and dumping the samples into his flippers.
He freezes when purple feathers tumble into his flippers.
Not that he expected anything else, no. He expected a penguin to be behind all of this hackings, but he didn't expect it to be this. He takes a feather and brings it up to the light, watching how the light caught on it in iridescent gleams.
"You stay here. I'm having a call with Tvarkov." Is all he manages to say before he looks back up to the ceiling and puts on his headset. "Put her through."
She's going through her second pot of coffee when the line finally clicks.
While waiting, she's pulled up a chair to sit on as well as a tablet for her to hook into the touchscreen. It gave her a semblance of familiarity as she slumped on the chair and took a sip from the pot, idly tapping commands in the tablet so she can review the email and coordinates again and again. She sits up when Nick finally clicks into the line, setting down the pot and clearing her throat.
"Finally." Her words scrape across her throat and comes out scraggly, and she curses the coffee for making it seem so. She clears her throat again as Nick brought up holograms in the background, before his urgent tone fills her ears.
"Rogue, this is an emergency." She stills at that. Her tappings on the tablet came to a halt as she waited patiently for what Nick had to say. "I have DNA samples from who we think is the hacker–"
"How did you get them?" Rogue frowned, wondering how Nick would get information on a location and DNA samples while she was out. She sits up a bit and picks up the pot of coffee from the floor to take another sip as he continued speaking.
"I have my sources." She wants to press, but he keeps talking. "Listen, I know why SI:9 is so insistent on having us back off. It's one of theirs."
"Of course it's one of theirs, Tang." Rogue rolled her eyes as she set the coffee pot down. "Why else–"
"Rogue, we're dealing with Theta."
She's completely silent after that. She is awful familiar with the name, and she cannot help the shiver that ran down her spine. Theta was known to be one of the most respected agents of the SI:9 before his death in a classified operation. She can distinctly remember his appearance in the community board.
"Isn't Theta dead?" She asked slowly, trying to process what she was saying. She was sure that the man was dead. She can vaguely recall being present for the memorial. They never did find his body, after all.
"Apparently not." Nick said, apprehensive at the thought of the man being alive. "He's dangerous, Tvarkov, are you sure–"
"I'm not called Bloodshedder without a reason." Rogue frowned, easily shooting him down. She had never met Theta in reality, but she was sure that she can take on whatever he would throw at her. There's silence for a moment before Nick sighs.
"Be careful." Is the only thing he can say. She couldn't help the small smile on her face at the thought that Nick would be a bit worrisome.
"Don't you worry, old man, I won't die while I'm here." Rogue said before shaking her head. "Alright, I'll wake up Laurenson. We need to get going soon anyways. Tvarkov out."
"You two should see the sights." Nick said, a vague teasing tone in his voice. She fought the urge to roll her eyes. "I heard the City of Progress has many–"
"Bye, Nick." With that, she ended the call. She sighed and leaned back on the chair, taking a moment to close her eyes and finally take in the information given to her. She takes a deep breath before standing, turning towards the direction of the beds and pulling out her uniform.
Better start the day early.
Nick scoffed as he was abruptly hung up on. He shook his head before he set his headset down, tapping on a few more holograms as he tried to bring up reports on the hackings. In front of him, Reyes taps his foot against the floor, both impatient and anxious of what his boss has to say.
"I'm still pissed at you, by the way. You have the audacity to go AWOL for two hours before coming back with an agent in tow." Nick said and looked up to Reyes, who frowned at the way his boss looked at him. "You know the rules, Reyes: no fraternization. If you want to see anyone who works in the agency, at least do it outside and not within agency grounds."
"I don' see you doin' anything when Commanders Tvarkov and Laurenson are flirtin' in the corridors." Reyes snapped in return, temper flaring at what his boss said. "Seems like a huge double standard to me."
"Commanders Tvarkov and Laurenson aren't dating, unfortunately. They're too dense to realize that they are actually flirting." Nick couldn't help but roll his eyes. "Really, if it comes to it I'd stick them in a closet and not let them out until they talk about their relationship, but that's not the point."
"The agent wanted to show me 'round, boss. Couldn't say no to that." Reyes narrowed his eyes as Nick turned back to him, gaze unwavering. "Ya can't 'elp it when an agent likes my Antarctican looks."
He rolls his eyes again and shakes his head, turning back to his holograms. "Just be careful. I'm not losing one of our best recruits to a fraternization case."
"Gotcha." Reyes winks at him before he's turning to the door and making his way out. Nick calls for him in an after thought and he turns. "Yeah?"
"There's a ramen place in Snowden Street, somewhere in the business servers." He can't help the tiny smile that tugs his face. "It's good, you should check it out."
"Aww, going soft on me boss?" There's a wide grin on his face that prompts Nick to roll his eyes for the third time. "Knew ya had it in ya."
"I won't be your officer-in-charge after this." Nick said and shook his head, turning back to his paperwork. The door clicks shut behind Reyes and he sighs, shaking his head at the kid's antics. He can't deny that he'll miss the kid when he graduates and goes to the Anti-Terrorism Division, despite the fact that he's both a joy to be around and an absolute pain. He sighs once more and goes back to his holograms, bringing up reports of the hackings as well as a general file of Theta.
Time to do some digging.
Neutral ground, the email claimed to say.
Neutral ground. It was neither EPF nor SI:9 territory. It was just an old, creaky warehouse in the outskirts of the City of Progress. It was randomly picked by whatever algorithm the SI:9 had. It was supposedly the best place to meet.
Neutral ground, the SI:9 said, but it was clear that they'll make it their own.
Rogue steps out of the car and tilts her head up to the sky, looking at the blue sky that stared back at her. It was already hitting noon, and the sun was high in the sky. The wind was nice and fresh around here, and it blew to make her coat trail behind her. Beside her, Jason slams the door of his side of the car shut and surveys the area, squinting against the bright sunlight. They had already sent a team of aerial cameras to scout the area, and the scans came out clean. Rogue started to doubt its validity when she stared up towards the huge warehouse.
She swears, this came straight out of some noir movie.
"Odd. There's no signal here." Jason frowned as he fidgeted with his phone.
Rogue knows better than to go in without backup. No one knows how the meeting would go down, but she didn't want to take her chances. If she wanted the SI:9 to trust them into visiting the former First Couple as well as do their investigations in peace, she will have to make risks that she's willing to take. Her eyes drift to Jason as he tries again to get signal with his phone, before shaking her head and rounding the car to grab him by the wrist.
"Let's get this over with." Rogue muttered more of to herself as she hauled the man into the warehouse.
How on earth did it get so dark?
In an instant, they are cloaked in darkness. They couldn't help but flinch when the door of the warehouse shuts close behind them, the noise booming around the two. There are no windows within their vicinity and they are forced to squint in the darkness. Rogue's tempted to bring up her night vision goggles, but thought otherwise. If this is how the SI:9 wants to play, so be it. She grips the wrist in her flipper tighter and waits patiently for someone or something to move.
Overhead, lights flicker on and land on the two. Jason winces and squints at the light, bringing up his flipper to shield his eyes. Rogue squints and looks around before another light casts down on a table that was a few feet away from them, probably at the center of the whole warehouse by the looks of it. She can vaguely make out the figure of a penguin sitting at the other side of the table, posture relaxed and expectant.
If she didn't know any better, she would have called the whole thing too dramatic.
She steps forward slowly, tugging Jason with her as they make their way to the table. The overhead light followed them towards the table and they slide into the seats that were waiting for them, shoulders bumping a bit before they settle.
"I am Commander Rogue Tvarkov of the EPF and I am the agent in charge of the hackings case." Rogue said as smoothly as she can manage, trying to make out any features with the agent across from them. She can make out the clean cut suit and the red tinted glasses, but besides that she cannot make out even the color of their feathers. "This is Commander Jason Laurenson of the EPF. He's my partner for this one."
"I am Agent I04 of SI:9." Masculine. The words sound a bit warped for her, and she strains to hear beneath whatever there is to pick out a normal tone. "State your business here."
She knows she's rehearsed this on the way to the meeting point, but she cannot help the shiver that rattles her ribcage. "Our primary objective is to further progress with the investigation through speaking to Mrs. Maria Yslenski. We've received information that she may know something about what's going on."
"Mrs. Yslenski is a diplomat, not an intelligence agent." There's something cold in that tone. She doesn't think hard on it. "Your secondary objective?"
Jason's quick to speak up. "The UAN is insistent on having the SI:9 involved in the inter-agency investigation."
There's a beat of silence. Rogue wants to think that he's considering their secondary objective. "We know that our primary suspect is your former agent, Agent I08."
"Agent I08 is dead, commander." He said is so bluntly. She doesn't like how it sounded.
"You and I know that he isn't." Rogue frowned as she leaned forward a bit. "Agent I04, we are not here to poke and prod around your agency. There's a mission to do."
The agent leans back on his chair, and the two shared a look. They did not know if this was to be taken lightly or not, but they were both ready for what was to come.
"Agent I08 is a dangerous operative. If you do see him, do not engage." I04's tone is dangerously low, warning clear. "You are to report his location to us and we'll handle the rest."
With that, Agent I04 stood and turned from the table. There's a clicking of shoes against the floor before the scraping of a chair as Jason pushed his chair up and stood. Rogue could only look up at him as he spoke.
"How on earth are we supposed to contact you?" He asked, voice near echoing around the room. The clicking stops and Rogue could almost sense the way the agent turned back to them.
"You already know." The clicking continues before it disappears completely. How the man managed to disappear, they would never know. The lights finally turned on to reveal the old and rickety warehouse, filled with crates and beams that neither want to touch.
When they step out of the warehouse, Jason's phone pings with a message as Rogue's headset beeps with a pending call. The two of them share a look and shrug before making their way into the car and strapping themselves in. They're mostly handling their respective messages on the way back, with Rogue speaking to Nick and Jason typing a message to whoever was speaking to him.
"Must've put up a signal jammer." Rogue said as they made their way to the outer spires of the City of Progress. They've been silent for some time now, the radio vaguely playing some guitar song as they did. "What do you think?"
Jason is silent for a while before he speaks, taking a deep breath as he did. "We should go speak to Mrs. Yslenski."
Rogue stills at that and lets the car slow, "Is she already expecting us?"
"I'm pretty sure I04 informed her of our plans." Jason shrugged as she turned down a road to the side. She guns the engine as she makes her way through the outskirts of the City of Progress. "We could always ask before going in."
"Polite." Jason managed to chuckle before they're slowing down and nearing a small mansion that housed the First Couple.
Little is known about the First Couple.
This is the presumption they make as they wait for whoever was inside to open the door for them. Surrounding them, the front yard was neatly trimmed and the rosebushes that lined the house and path were perfectly arranged. Whoever designed the front yard's landscape certainly had an eye for detail, as well as a green touch.
The door is opened, and they find themselves staring at a man with black feathers who wore what seemed to be workout clothes. Going by the profiles that the two pored over on the flight, they were most likely looking at Atlas dela Rosa, better known for his call sign "Defense."
"Commanders." His smooth baritone greets them as he nodded and stepped aside. The two were ushered in without another word as they made their way through the corridors. "Mrs. Yslenski will be receiving you in the study. She's been working."
"It's alright." Jason said as he looked around, trying to take in their surroundings.
Little is known about the First Couple. This is slowly cemented as they pass through the house to make their way to the study. Rogue can only look around in sheer interest at the mixed aesthetics of the design, the black and white complimenting the blues and greys. It was clear to the both of them that the two had planned the design of their home carefully, mixing in their own aesthetics as they did.
There were pictures of the couple, of course. Whether they were together or separate varied as they got closer and closer to the study. She could identify where most of the pictures were taken, UAN conferences or charity events that the two made their appearances in. Their smiles were bright and shining as they caught the light, the typical smile of a diplomat or personality that was in power. As they got closer, though, she couldn't help but notice the pictures where they were stoic, when their faces were younger and their eyes carried secrets that cannot be uttered.
Little is known about the First Couple.
They step into the study. It's a bright room that overlooked the small garden that was situated at the back of the small mansion. Its tall, floor to ceiling bay windows allowed the natural sunshine in, casting a soft glow on everything that it touched. The black and white design was more evident here, and the floor was made of nearly polished marble. The colors were in the form of the spines of the books that lined the shelves, as well as a big, gorgeously arranged vase that laid on a coffee table.
Next to the coffee table, on a black leather chair, Maria Yslenski pored over whatever she was reading on her tablet. Maria was a lime feathered penguin with brown, curly hair that was currently tied into a plaid. As she looked up at the newcomers, there was a tiny smile that spread on her face as she stood and deposited her tablet on her chair.
"Thank you, Defense." Her tone is hushed, as if she were speaking in a library and not in her own home. The two are ushered in without another word before the door closes behind them. There's a beat of silence as Maria glanced at them, before her smile widened. "You two must be hungry. Come, please sit. We have work to do, do we not?"
"Of course." Jason is quick to tug Rogue to the couch that was across the former first lady's own seat. On the small table between them, a neat plate of cupcakes and lemonade laid on it. They both shared a look before going back to Maria, who looked expectantly at them and gestured to the plate.
"Go on. I have so much time to myself nowadays, I couldn't help myself but bake." Maria shrugged before she takes the tablet back into her flippers and sits down. She's back to reading as they pick up a cupcake and dig in, sinking easily into the warmth that came with it. She clicks her tongue for a moment before she looks up to them and speaks. "Excuse me for being so preoccupied, but this is a really important email that I have to respond to."
"Concerning?" Jason couldn't help the question. She only offers him a smile. He doesn't know what to say about it.
"Progressional Law School wants me to do a talk with their students, and I'm not sure what to say." Maria said as she went back to the tablet and scrolled up the screen of her tablet. "It's going to be a tricky one, I'm sure of it."
"I'm sure you can talk to them about anything, ma'am." He cannot help himself. Maria could only smile before swatting in the air, shaking her head and going back to her tablet.
"Aren't you a charmer?" She's amused as she lets her tablet hibernate. She props her head up with her fist as she lets her elbow rest on the table, a grin on her face as she regarded the two. Rogue set the empty cup of her cupcake down and brushed away the crumbs from her coat, opting to sit up straighter and clear her throat.
"Mrs. Yslenski, we need to ask a few questions for our investigation regarding the widespread hackings." No better way to start than by that. Rogue leaned back on the couch slightly as Jason shifted next to her to produce a tablet from his inner coat pocket, popping it up to the notes app. "Where is your husband?"
"He's out." Maria pauses at that. She fidgets a bit in her seat before she clears her throat, "He's seeing some friends."
"Will he be back anytime soon?" Jason asked next to Rogue, tapping in the information as he did. Rogue kept an eye on Maria as she only smiled and shook her head.
She suddenly realizes how little she knows about the woman in front of her.
"Mrs. Yslenski, do you have any idea why your file would be a point of interest for Theta?" The smile twitches for a moment. She leans on the arm rest next to her as she tapped her foot slowly against the marble flooring. "Besides the fact that you are, after all, a person of interest."
She's quiet for a moment, as if contemplating over how to answer her. There's a flicker of something in Maria's eyes that Rogue cannot easily decipher, layers of chocolate brown blanketing whatever was in her mind. "What makes you think there is another reason besides that?"
"Ma'am, he stole your file as well as that of five others in the Finipino database." Jason easily supplied her as he tapped commands in before bringing up a news reports. He flips the tablet to face her as she leaned forward to read the headline and its contents. "Director Cueva seemed to suggest that you were all friends at some point."
The laugh that comes from Maria is too light and easy. "We are all good friends, I can't lie about that."
"Then why would he take interest in that?" Rogue presses anyways. Jason flips the tablet back to himself to type into it as Rogue kept tapping on the floor, rhythm slowly speeding up. "He wouldn't have taken them without reason."
"How do I say this bluntly?" Always so cautious. Maria taps under her beak for a moment, thinking to herself before turning to them. "Commander, I could only tell you that the contents of those files are enough to destabilize my homeland as well as ruin its relations with this country."
Rogue narrows her eyes at that, trying to scramble for a reason behind the former First Lady's cryptic reply. She did find it suspicious that she appeared to have experience in combat, going by the reports that came when she was still ambassador. Of course, she would have chalked that up to the civil war that ravaged the country years ago, but she now considered otherwise. Was there a possibility that the First Lady used to be a soldier?
"And I know the consequences that will come of it." Maria continued, sighing as she leaned heavily on her fist. She blinks at them slowly as her other flipper idly ran through her hair, loosening the plaid just slightly. "You're going to tell me that my life will be at risk, wouldn't you?"
"Consequently, yes." Rogue nodded as she sneaked a glance to Jason. He paused from his typings and looked up to Rogue, giving her a frown and a shrug before staring back at the tablet. The line blinked back at him as he waited patiently for what the former First Lady had to say next before they heard a shifting across them. They both look up.
There's a storm of emotion on her face, jaw set and frown clear. This is probably the first time either have seen her frowning. "It's not the first time it was on the line."
The room feels colder. The two share a look once more as they take in the information. They knew that she probably had toed the line between life and death a bunch of times as Ambassador or First Lady, but the tone implied a familiarity with the dangerous dance with death. Her eyes look miles away for a moment but retained their fury, before she blinks once more and the cold escapes from the room.
Maria finally rested back on her couch and sighed. "Please excuse me, I guess the stress of my current situation is getting to me."
Rogue fidgeted at that as her tapping slowed just slightly. There's a pause as Maria loosened her plaid some more, watching as she sighed to herself and looked at the two.
"If you want us to be frank," Thank Jason for knowing how to break the silence. "Director Cueva also asked us to come here to check on you."
"Did he?" There's a grin on her face as she turned to him. "How very kind of him."
"How are you doing nowadays, Mrs. Yslenski?" Rogue asked, trying to lighten the mood just slightly. Maria dips downward to pick up a cupcake from the plate, peeling the cup back to take a bite.
"Oh, I'm perfectly fine here. I can take care of Matthew while tending to the gardens." Maria said and shrugged, setting the half-eaten cupcake on the coffee table next to her. "While I'm not exactly one for idleness, the peace is soothing here."
Rogue could only sit back as she nodded, frowning a bit as she muttered more to herself. "That makes two of us."
"So, what did you get from Mrs. Yslenski?"
Nick is staring back at them in the built-in computer of the car as they made their way back to the City of Progress. The sun was already beginning to set, painting the sky with magenta and orange. The air is cool around them since they rolled down the windows, and the sun glowed down on them as they sped back to the capital.
"Whoever she was before becoming the Ambassador, she seemed to be someone she'd rather keep secret." Jason said as he pored over his notes. After informing her of the Orion Director's intentions, the First Lady became a bit more open to answering their questions. After the interview, she had ushered them out with a small paper bag of cupcakes for them to bring along, which was currently at the back seat. "Should we press Cueva for details?"
"Wouldn't want to if I were you." Nick frowned as he shifted his sight elsewhere, probably to some reports that demanded his attention. "He's stressed nowadays, don't want to add more grey hairs to the poor man's head."
"True." Rogue shrugged as she peered at the computer for a brief second before turning back to the road. "Do we have information regarding his whereabouts?"
"Now that we know what we're looking for, we're all going through footage to see where he could have gone." Nick said as he brought up files from his own computer. "He was last seen going on a plane headed to Munijoch."
"Then we'll meet him here." Rogue huffed, grinning a bit at the thought.
"Not unless SI:9 beats us to it." Jason sighed and shook his head, "They probably even know his landing time and the terminal."
"Sweet." Nick muttered sarcastically before he sighed. "Alright, guess that's all for now. We'll keep you posted."
"Bye Nick." Rogue said before the screen switched to black. She sighed as she slowed to a stop at a stop light, scrubbing her face as she did. "I don't get why we were sent here by Cueva."
"I don't know either." Jason sighed as he set his tablet down and stared ahead. The light turns green and they start moving again, making their way into the outer spires of the capital. "We'll just have to inform him and wait it out."
"I know." Rogue sighed as they got closer and closer to base.
When she turns to pace the study, it's already become nighttime. The lights in the study kick on to illuminate the room, before she reached over to a nearby dial to dim it slightly. She looks out the bay windows to stare at the garden that welcomed her, thinking deeply on what she was about to do. On her table, the cupcake still laid half-eaten and abandoned, as well as her phone. She quickly makes her way to it when it starts ringing, and picks it up at the third ring.
"Is our plan working?" Cueva sounds rushed as he spoke. She could only smile at him as she turned to walk back to the windows, sighing as she spoke.
"As scheduled." She presses her forehead against the glass for a moment and takes a deep breath. "James, you do realize I was a soldier and not a spy?"
"I know, but a little acting doesn't hurt." He laughs uneasily into her ear. Under normal circumstances, she would have laughed along with him. Now, she can only remain quiet.
"Why did I say yes to this again?" She asked, more of to kid the director rather than doubt him. She understood the reasons behind his intentions, but still wanted him to verbalize it as self-assurance. She turns back to the study and looks around at the clean black and white, at the vibrant bouquet that laid on the table.
"A chain is as strong as its weakest link." Maria could almost frown at that. She was no weak link. "You and I both know that your file will make the worse impact."
"I know." She sighed once more and stared out the window. "What will you tell Tvarkov and Laurenson when they inform you of how the interview went down?"
"Send them back, I guess." Cueva said. She can almost hear the shrug in his voice. "They're just a steppingstone, after all."
Why did she have to be the sacrificial lamb for this one? She wanted to voice it out, even if she knew that she'll be told the same thing. She could only grit her teeth as she felt a flutter of nervousness in her stomach.
"I should check on Matthew." She said, quickly scanning the room to grab her shawl as she made her way out of the study. "Good night, James."
The call ends at that. She lingers in the study to look around, taking in the room about her and considering what to do. The next thing she knew, she's out and in the hallways, trekking up the stairs and making her way to the rooftop. This is where she goes when she wants to think hard on something, stepping up into the rooftop garden that she built from scratch. She ran a flipper through the vines that crept up a frame she constructed, gently petting the flowers she'd come across. The wind is blowing through her hair easily, and the shawl around her shoulders kept her from shivering from the cold. She tilts her head up to look at the stars before she hears the door open behind her.
"Knew I'd find you here." She closes her eyes for a moment to let calmness wash over her at the sound of her husband's voice. She hears him take a step towards her before she feels a pressed kiss on her cheek. "Thinking about the plan again?"
Maria could only hum in acknowledgement as she opened her eyes and kept her head tilted to the heavens, her eyes shifting to look at Joseph. He has a gentle smile on his face, but she knew that he was worried. She turns to him fully and sighed.
"There's a lot of weight on my shoulders." She said as he directed her towards a wooden bench they made. They sat down and kept their eyes on the greenery before them, taking in the daffodils and carnations that were still brilliant despite the darkness. There were a few fireflies that drifted about the place, and the couple paid them no mind as they thought to themselves.
"Of course there is." He shrugged next to her as she leaned slightly against him. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders as he spoke, "But I know you can do it. You always could."
"You put so much faith in me." She laughed breathlessly and shook her head. "We can pull this off, can't we?"
"I know we can." Joseph smiled just a tiny bit, and frowned when he noticed how spaced out she seemed. "What's wrong?"
She pulled the shawl up around her and closed her eyes for a moment, then muttered quietly. "I don't know if I can do this to Matthew."
Joseph could almost flinch at the notion. They have gone over the possible cons that would happen while they go along with the plan, and one of them would be the effects it would have on Matthew. The poor child wasn't possibly ready to comprehend the secrets Maria and Joseph had, especially at such a young age. Trouble brewing up around him wouldn't be healthy for the toddler.
"We can get through this." Joseph said as he reached up to run a gentle flipper over her hair. There's something quiet and solemn about the moment, a certain intimacy as he sighed and closed his eyes. "We have to get through this."
There's silence as the couple sought for the comfort they needed. Around them, grasshoppers chirped and fireflies continued to fly about in lazy movements. Maria is quiet as she mulled over what is to happen, before taking a deep breath and clearing her throat.
"You know what I have to do." Maria muttered with an air of finality over his shoulder as she let herself sag into her husband. When he doesn't say anything, she speaks up again. "I'll have to say yes."
"Of course, dear." He muttered before he opened his eyes and tilted his head upwards to the sky, staring at the stars and silently contemplating on what will happen in the next few days.
Maria Yslenski talks backstory in recent uni talk
Agnes Volskaya | Munian Journal
Maria Yslenski, former First Lady of Munijoch, talked about her past in a recent public appearance in the Prgoressional Law School earlier this afternoon. She had been invited by the school to speak about her experience as Ambassador before an audience of students.
In light of the recent database hackings that occur all over the continents, Yslenski had thought that it was a timely topic to discuss before her audience of students. "If you break it down a bit, you'd realize that the motive is simple: this hacker, whoever they are, is just spilling out secrets."
Yslenski had revealed that before she was the Ambassador of Finipines, she had been an insurgent soldier of the Maharlika Corporation, the former ruling corporation of her country. She claimed that her mother was the one who was part of the organization, and had wanted her daughter to assume her position. She regaled the students with stories of the civil war in the perspective of the opposition, where she was the second in command of an assault team.
The turning point of her whole talk happens when she talks about the plane crash that took the lives of most of her team mates. "That was a dark time, if you want me to be frank," Yslenski said as she took that moment to sit down and take a drink of water from the provided water bottle. "All of my friends were dead, and the government kept me captive. No one trusted me and I didn't trust myself. Who wouldn't be distraught?"
From there, Yslenski had cooperated with the government in taking down the insurgency. Through providing the locations of insurgent strongholds as well as important names within its chain of command, she had managed to help take down the opposition. After the civil war, she had also helped with providing input that will help the country in bouncing back to a stabilized state.
"I was offered a position in Orion, but we all know how much of a terrible actress I am." Yslenski said towards the end of her speech, prompting laughter from the audience before her.
The reactions after the event were mixed. Many were shocked for the former First Lady's apparent military background as well as insurgency, while many were inspired by her redemption. Some students were suspicious as to why she spoke of her back story to such a large audience, while some admired her courageousness for telling such a story before them.
The Finipino government have yet to release a statement that confirms the authenticity of the First Lady's information.
When she had read the report, she immediately patched in a line to Cueva.
The slow, constant beeping was getting annoying as she tapped her foot against the floor, eyes skirting the City of Progress office as she did. They had to clean up the office before they leave, as well as restock some of its supplies. Jason was on his bed, poring over the contents of his tablet as he seemed to be speaking to someone in his headset. Beside him, a hologram projector showed him a list of reports he had to edit, as well as submit to the Director at the end of the week.
Director Cueva answered on the 12th beep.
"Sorry for the delay, Commander Tvarkov. I've been getting so many calls from the media." His tone is light against her ear, slightly breathless as he chuckled a bit. She did not have time for this.
"Cueva, do we have eyes on the First Lady?" She can't go around it. It was near obvious that with the exposure of her secrets, she's made herself an open target to those who are after her. Knowing Theta, he too would go after her, but for reasons she wasn't exactly sure of.
"I'm pretty sure SIA has a team within the radius." Cueva sounded as if he were shrugging by the way something shifted in the background. "NRR probably has a satellite that's hovering over their location."
"Is she safe?" She was near hissing as she tapped in commands onto the touchscreen in front of her. True to his words, there was indeed an SIA team ready to swoop in if ever Theta does make an appearance in the Yslenski household. She quickly tapped in a hasty request for their coordinates as she heard Cueva's lukewarm chuckle in her ear.
"Tvarkov, Mrs. Yslenski was a soldier. Her husband is a war hero and her best friend is a highly efficient bodyguard." Cueva said calmly on the other line. She suddenly found it irritable. "She made the right move, don't you think?"
"Her move was reckless." Rogue hissed before she cut the line. She swiveled around and stalked to her tablet, where she picked it up and quickly typed in a message into the encrypted communication channel that was set up with I04.
- Do you have eyes on Yslenski?
The reply is immediate.
- Inform all known agencies to stand down. We can handle this.
She frowned at that and stared at the screen until she read double. She shook her head and set her tablet down, shaking her head and sighing. Across the room, Jason huffs and sets his tablet down to glance at her.
"SI:9 being stubborn again?" He asked quietly, getting up from his bed and making his way to her tablet. He skimmed the short conversation and scoffed, shaking his head. "As expected."
"I would like to see them try and handle a UAN hearing." Rogue muttered dryly as she set the tablet away and rubbed at her eyes. Behind them, multiple screens were tuned to news channels. They were muted so that the office wouldn't be filled with the cacophony of reporters, and the silence was welcoming as they mulled over their options.
The massive touchscreen behind them pings.
"SIA's responded." Jason said as he looked over his shoulder, prompting Rogue to spin around to look at the coordinates.
She took her time to stare at them for a moment. "I'm pretty sure they wouldn't mind if they let us camp out with them."
At the sound of that, Jason grinned as he leaned across the table to pick up the car keys. "This time, I drive."
This was her favorite thing to do at night, when the day has gone by and the want to sleep tugs at Matthew. She watched as the boy hurried to get on his bed and dive into the covers, a wicked grin on his face as she waited patiently by the doorway.
"Thanks for coming with me today, sweet pea." She smiled sweetly as she made her way into the room, sitting down on the bedside as he kept his eyes on her. His smile transforms into a yawn as he tilts his head back, prompting her to chuckle and shake her head. "It's been a long day."
Weaving up a story for the little boy to listen to was her favorite thing to do at night. Sitting on the bed and conjuring up imagery of brave soldiers and wise rulers while Matthew looked at her with big, wide eyes were enough to ease her. There's a certain peace in gently weaving her own story into her tales, in a hope that her son wouldn't commit the same errors when the time comes for him to make his choices.
But tonight, he's already heard his bedtime story.
"It was a fun adventure!" He said cheerfully before he yawned again and scrubbed a fist on his eye. "But I got a question."
"Go on." Maria smiled as she gently batted her son's flipper from his eye. He squirmed a bit at her before he made himself snug and asked.
"What was the lesson for your story?" He asked, blinking his eyes up to her. She felt her brain pause at that. She can only stare at him as he continued, sinking further into the bed. "It's a real long one, Mama, so I couldn't find one."
"Villains can become heroes. The same way heroes can become villains." Maria said slowly, smiling a bit as she laughed to herself. "Reality is so different compared to the stories I tell you, little one. Penguins are far more complex than the simple ideologies they have, layers upon layers of personality. It's not all black and white."
Matthew can only look up to her with both awe and confusion before he yawns again and rubs his eyes.
And she can only smile, "It's time for you to go to bed."
Matthew nodded sluggishly as she leaned forward to press a gentle kiss on his forehead. She stood and switched off the lamp beside her, watching as the nightlight kicked in to illuminate a detailed map of the stars. Matthew blinked up blearily at the stars that adorned his room, thinking to himself for a minute before he closes his eyes and turns away. Maria made her way towards the door before pausing, turning back to her sleeping child to offer him a sweet smile. He doesn't see it anyway, already drifting off to a heavy slumber. There's a tiny smile that's curling on his face as he dreamed of whatever three year olds dream of. She huffed out a breath she didn't know she was holding before she looked around at the room, taking in the stars she loved to see before looking back one more time at her son.
If it comes down to it, she would give him the stars.
She slips out of the room and nods at Defense, who was waiting at the other side. He takes long strides towards the opened door and steps inside, pausing and turning as Maria gripped his sleeve.
"You know what to do." The murmur is quiet as she offered him a sad smile. None of them knew when Theta would strike, so it would be better if Defense were there to guard over Matthew while she and Joseph prepared for what was to come.
Defense could only offer her a terse nod. "Of course, Maria."
The door clicks shut after that. She waits for a moment to listen to Defense gently pull a chair to set under the doorknob, barricading the bedroom from the rest of the house. She nods to herself and turns around, looking back at the black and white, blue and grey house she's called home.
Then she hears the clamor of pots in the kitchen.
It's too obvious. She waits patiently in the hallway as she reaches under her skirt to pull out the PULSE gun that she kept in it. She turned down the hallway and slowly made her way towards the hallway that would lead to the intersection, pausing for a moment to take a breath before turning quickly and pointing her gun at both sides of the hallway.
Before becoming ambassador, Maria has always prided herself for her quick reflexes to match her quicker thinking. Her reflexes have saved her many times in the field, as well as others who were with her whenever an attack comes at them.
She sees the blur of purple and quickly fires two shots.
Maria ducks behind the hallway as she narrowly avoided two answering shots, cursing to herself when she hears a vase shatter at the other end of the hallway. She'll have to buy a new vase after this fiasco.
She calls over her shoulder, "Excited to come visit already? Hasn't even been Day 1 since my big reveal."
Theta clicks her tongue at her, and she hears him take a few slow, heavy steps forward.
"I know you have something planned, Mrs. Yslenski." How respectful. She slips her phone out from her pocket and quickly keys in her code, finding the app on it to send out a distress call. "You might as well tell me now. I would hate having to ruin your pretty face."
"You're just very predictable, dear." She said as she peaked out towards the hallway. She whips back when a shot almost hits her head. "Saw the whole thing coming."
They both know why he's making an appearance tonight. Theta had been known for being seen only when he wants to be seen.
"I don't need an obstacle to my plans." Theta pauses for a moment. Maria wants to think that he was thinking on something. "You minx."
He turns into her hallway and she surges forward, aiming and hitting as she makes her way to him. He slaps her gun from her grip and lets it skid on the floor, making her huff in frustration. He pulls out his gun and she quickly moved forward to wrestle it from his flippers as she tried to push him against the wall.
"I know that there is a different weight when things are leaked and when things are revealed." Maria said as she felt him pull the trigger. She flinches when pain soars up her side, silently thanking whoever designed the pulse ammunition-proof vest that she wore under her clothes. "A confession is better than a scandal."
"I had a plan." He gritted out as he pushed her away a bit. She stepped back with the strength of his push before she surged back forward to lock into his grip. "And I know you do too."
"Still not coming to terms with the fact that you've been outmaneuvered?" There's a smidgen of amusement in her tone, some sort of pride in ruining his meticulous plan. "Oh please, Theta dear, I've seen it a mile away."
"You deserved to be put to trial in your homeland for your sins!" Theta yelled as he overpowered her and pushed her away. She smacked her back against the wall and winced, trying to grab for her gun that was a mere foot away. "I had a plan and you had the audacity to ruin it!"
"I tend to do that a lot, my bad." Maria could only shrug as he took his gun and lined up a shot to her forehead. She considered moving away quickly when he pulls the trigger, waiting patiently for the shot to land. He stared at her for a moment, concentrating on pulling the trigger before he scoffs and sets the gun down.
"I won't be the one killing you." He said as he turned towards the windows that were at the ends of each hallway. He nodded slowly as he stepped back. "One of them would, I guess."
She almost misses the red dot that briefly appears on her flipper.
This is where time slows, where everything shifts to a flurry of movement. Something presses quickly onto her just as the shot rings out, a sharp whistle in the air. She's hurdled into the study as she loses touch with the world for a moment, only staring in shock at the brown eyes above her that flickered red. Her right ear's shot out and the rest of the world is muted for a minute as she tries to process and put two and two together.
"... alright? Maria!" The world comes back slowly and time resumes its normal pacing. Joseph is looking down at her and exerting himself over his gift, she mused to herself as she slowly sat up. She winced a bit as her side protested and rubbed her head.
"Where were you?" She asked slowly, frowning a bit when her voice sounded a bit dull in her ears. Weird, how isn't Theta running into the study?
"Meditating, what else would I be doing?" He's off her in seconds, letting her breathe as he looked around their study. He grabs for a cushion on the couch, briefly giving her a look before turning and flinging it into the hallway. What responded it was another sharp whistle and an explosion of down. He turns back to her as she stared at the mess that fell down on the floor. "To think you call me reckless."
It takes a while for her to pull words together in English. She clicks her tongue and tilts her head up to him, "You are reckless every time you think it's a good idea to throw Matthew in the air."
"We're flightless birds, dear. The kid can dream." Joseph shrugged as he peaked out a head towards the hallway. "Looks like Theta's disappeared."
Maria pushed herself backwards to rest her back against the back of a couch, feeling the adrenaline in her system drip out with the wound on her side. She hissed a bit as she turned to inspect it, catching his attention and having him hover over her in seconds. He's about to say something when they hear their doorbell ring, prompting the both of them to turn towards the hallway.
"I got it." he said as he grabbed for a cushion above Maria. As he leaned forward, he muttered into her ear. "You were still reckless with that, by the way."
"I wasn't exactly one of the best soldiers of my country, Joseph." She could help it when she rolled her eyes.
"I know you can patch yourself up, but I think you should get that checked by Defense." Joseph said as he narrowed his eyes slightly at her. "It's probably pulsating right now."
Maria groaned, "That's the lamest joke you've ever said this week."
"Glad to know that you keep track." He shrugged as he finally stood with the cushion in his flipper, throwing it back to the hallway. When there was no sound of a bullet firing, he nodded to himself. "I'm dripping in them."
"Joseph Yslenski, just get me the first aid kit and I might not banish you to the couch." She shook her head as he laughed. The doorbell rang again as Joseph yelled that he'll be getting it, quickly pulling out the first aid kit and sliding it over to her.
"I'll get the door now." He said as he stepped into the hallway and paused for a moment. She can hear his footsteps disappear before she sighed, closing her eyes and tilting her head back.
It took a while to convince Wolfe to just come along and not bring the whole SIA unit with him.
They park the car at the side of the road, while there was a big, black car near the Yslenski household. Rogue and Jason step out of the car and shared a look at each other, instantly knowing what was going on. Behind them, Wolfe muttered something neither could hear as they made their way to the house. There weren't any media yet, thank goodness, but they knew that if there would be some coming in soon. They make it to the foyer without much of a hitch, spotting Joseph Yslenski speaking to a crimson feathered SI:9 agent. His eyes drift to them and his words falter only slightly, making the agent notice and turn back to them.
His baritone is familiar, "We can handle this, Commander Tvarkov."
"Where is Mrs. Yslenski?" She doesn't have the patience for the SI:9 to turn down their efforts of helping again. Red tinted glasses stare back at her as they stare at each other for a moment before Joseph clears his throat from behind the agent.
"She's in the study." His tone is careful as he looks at the three. "Why are you here?"
"The UAN would want details, and we are getting them." Wolfe said behind her, prompting the former president to shift his eyes to the SIA agent. There's a flicker of familiarity there before he nods and steps aside.
"I see. Tvarkov, you should know the way." He nodded as the agent beside him protested slightly. "I04, let them through."
"The UAN wants details, and believe me when I tell you that it equates to an inquiry." There's something cold about his tone that almost prompts Rogue to step back. Was she imagining things or did his eyes flicker red? "Take it from me, you would not want to be stuck in a UAN inquiry."
So this was I04. The man only sighed before he turned to the trio, giving them a quick nod before stepping aside. They stepped further into the house as Wolfe muttered his gratitude to Joseph, who only nodded in understanding. They quickly make their way to the study, frowning when they come across two cushions on the floor, before turning and seeing the former First Lady on the floor. Defense was crouching over her, speaking to her in low tones. Behind her, on the couch, Matthew clutched at a cushion and stared at the two as they spoke. His eyes drifted upwards when the three came in and he near squeaks, surprising himself.
Maria snaps her head up, "Oh! We weren't really expecting guests."
Next to her, Defense mutters loud enough for them to hear. "For Benny's sakes, Maria, quit jostling around too much."
"Good evening, Mrs. Yslenski." Rogue greets as she quickly makes her way to the room and sits down on the floor. The top layers of Maria's clothes were set aside so that Defense could work on patching her up, and she could see a thin pulse ammunition-proof vest underneath the pile. She turns back to Maria, "Gunshot wound?"
"Reckless, I know." How she can still smile softly despite the possible pain she was in was above Rogue. "My husband already made that clear."
"Was Theta here?" Wolfe asked, taking a seat next to Matthew. The kid only looked up at him with confusion before Jason sat down next to him, prompting the boy to turn around and look at him.
"Yes." Maria said simply as she tilted her head and smiled a bit to Wolfe. "It's been a while, Wolfe."
"Details, please." It was already late and she didn't want to stay here any longer.
Maria told them how it went with the best of her abilities, pausing when Defense needed her to still or when she was in too much pain to speak. By then, Matthew ended up falling asleep on Jason, much to his dismay. Rogue could only nod and tap notes into her phone as Wolfe prodded at parts that needed explanation, until Maria was finally silent as the narration ended.
"I have a theory," Wolfe starts, moving a bit on his seat. "He was either going to leak your file to the public, or sell it out to some assassins."
"I can recall that he wanted me tried in the Finipines." Maria said as Defense finally slapped a medical patch on the wound. She takes a deep breath and sighs. "But he had at least one sniper with him when he came."
"It could be both." Jason hummed as he tapped his chin. He glanced at Maria to find that she looked exhausted, the drain of the day evident in her eyes. "You should rest, Mrs. Yslenski."
"I hope you recover soon." Wolfe said as he stood, while Jason gently eased Matthew on the couch. Defense stood from where he sat and helped Maria up, steadying her when she lost balance for a minute. She gives them a final smile before she waves, exhaustion evident in her movement.
They said their farewells and goodnights before making their way to the hallway. Jason quickly snaps pictures of the broken window, the blood on the floor, and the destroyed cushion before making their way back to the foyer. Joseph and I04 were nowhere to be seen, but they were probably gone given the absence of the black car. They could only trudge back to their car and get in, shutting the doors behind them as Jason started the car.
"We'll have to get to him before SI:9 does." Wolfe said as they started backing into the road.
"Tell your team to go to the EPF station." Rogue said as she leaned against the window and sighed, "We can work together on this one."
This was going to be a long night.
This is where everything will go down.
He didn't expect it to come any sooner, but the mid-game has turned into the endgame. He knew that the EPF, the SIA, the SI:9 were rapidly narrowing down on his location, and anytime soon he would be found. There were at least three outcomes to this situation: he could be tried before the continent's governments in the UAN, captured and tucked away from the rest of the world by the SI:9, or killed on the spot. They were all possible.
Theta takes a moment to look around the little studio he's called home for the past few months, sighing to himself as his eyes roved around. He still had to fix the leaking roof in the kitchen, as well as replace the boards that hammered the windows closed. The studio he's claimed as his own was scheduled for rehabilitation by the government, but seemingly forgotten by the ones in command. He let himself sit down on the scraggly old couch before he pulled out his laptop and typed in his codes.
He would have to admit that Maria Yslenski wasn't that bad an opponent, as she had used both her wit and agility against him. The First Lady had a well-controlled fury in her movements that almost surprised him. It didn't take him long to realize what she had in mind. She was supposed to provoke him and get him to reveal what he had in store, and he had so easily played with her ploy. While he was glad to invoke some sort of damage on her, her plan still outmatched his by a few points. He rubbed the medical patch that was on his stomach for a moment, contemplating on pulling it off to revel in his wounds' pains before considering it otherwise.
Funny, how he used to be someone else. Before he was Theta, before he was Agent I08, he was an actual penguin who lived in this mighty country his parents had called home. The life he's lived has become a blur to him that he cannot remember when he stopped being someone and started being another penguin. He cannot recall a time when his actual self and his work self were separate entities and not one mangled, tangled being with purple feathers. He tilted his head back for a moment to close his eyes, taking a deep breath before muttering in the air.
"Get it together, Icarus."
The SI:9 can turn him into anything it wanted and needed him to be, but they can never take away the destiny that's come with his name. He cannot help the memory that plays in flickers in his mind of a time when he was a little boy, when kids asked him why he was named Icarus and he didn't know how to answer them. When he asked his mother, she had always looked at him dotingly with big, clear eyes. His mother's smile is a faint memory now as she ruffles his hair and mutters to him words that are said with the faint memory of her voice.
"Because you were meant to soar high."
And soar he did. Rio de Vatica could only watch and gawk as he topped his level year after year, excelling in his academics and easily catching the eye of the government. He had been offered training in a WhiteBlood camp once he got older, and he had immediately accepted. He remembers boarding that bus with excitement on his face, ready to amaze his instructors when he got to the camp.
The opposite happens when he sets foot onto camp, much to his surprise. His instructors were relentless with their physical training, easily wearing him out and getting him sore. He has expected his training to be physical, but had not expected this much of his training to be physical, which was a stupid assumption to begin with. It gets worse as his instructors screamed at his face in between drills, pushing him down when he was too slow or dragging him up when he was getting too sluggish. They yell at him different things but their message is all the same.
He was meant to soar, but he's also meant to fall.
He finally sighed as he pushed himself off the couch, setting the laptop away as it clicked with the programs he'd left to work. There's something soothing about the humming of the hardware as it worked with inputting the codes, line after line of white appearing on the blackened screens. He takes a brisk walk around the studio to soothe his muscles before he turns back to the wall and stared through the cracks of the boarded windows. He remembers a time when he believed in the people who held power over this mighty, brilliant country. He had been confident in their ability to lead the nation, to refrain from repeating the same mistakes that were made many a time ago. He would be disappointed, of course, as he rises higher and higher into the SI:9's ladder and earn the codename of I08.
He made himself a name, and Theta was born from his own achievements. He started off in the A division, an internal affairs agent whose only task was to ensure the safety of his humble nation. But as time passed, with the combined efficiency of a soldier and the skills of a hacker, he's proved himself to be an invaluable member of the agency. He had been nothing but praised for every successful mission, and he became a prime example for SI hopefuls who dreamed of joining the agency and rising in its ranks.
He bounced around a bit after that. His letter designation changed constantly, from A to B, back to A, then to B. They trusted him with handling domestic and international cases so well. He only had one constant in his codename, and that would have been the number designation. They couldn't take that from him.
His instructors were right, of course they were. He was sure to fall, but he would have to surprise them by soaring high first.
She's pretty sure they're exceeding the recommended number of personnel who should be in the office at the same time.
It's been three days since the incident that occurred in the Yslenski household. 18 agents, 16 of them from the SIA and 2 from the EPF, have miraculously squeezed themselves in the City of Progress station of the EPF. In the day, they worked hard to try and track down Theta. Last night their search trickled into the night, and they had all pulled an all-nighter out of desperation to get the job done. To compensate for the lack of space, cabinets were pushed back and tables rearranged, and the floor became a second table for those who needed to work. There was a flurry of papers and coffee mugs that were strewn on the floor, more of them found on the table that was pushed back against the wall. The poor coffee machine was working overtime to churn out enough caffeine to keep 18 agents in some semblance of functionality as they work double time to figure out where Theta is.
Rogue sipped on her second cup of coffee for the morning, nerves shot as she struggled to stay awake by consuming the caffeine in her flippers. She's sat on the mattress of her bed that was on the floor, since they had to fold up the bed and set it aside. The mattresses were kept lying for anyone who would want to crash and go to sleep, and she was seriously reconsidering the option of just taking a cat nap on it.
"You look like crap, Tvarkov." She snaps her head up. Kowalski is glaring down at her with what seems to be exasperation and poorly hidden disappointment, shaking his head and crossing his arms. She's almost forgotten that Jason had left earlier to pick him up from the airport, and didn't realize the slip of time until Kowalski was in front of her. It takes her a moment to get her head to function again before she opens and closes her mouth around her words.
She can't blame him. She's pretty sure that her dress shirt is wrinkled in multiple places, and that her tie was probably a loose knot around her neck. She's left her cap somewhere in the office, but she cannot really remember. Her headset's next to her as well as her tablet. "Missed you too, Kowalski. Are you here as the SAD director or as my agent?"
"For now let's go with both." He narrowed his eyes at her and gave her a quit once over. There's a threat in his eyes but she doesn't quite register it. She pushes herself up to her feet and dusts herself off, standing tall before Kowalski. With him now being the 20th agent in the room, she's pretty sure the office can't get anymore suffocating. "Do you want me to use my needle on you? Seriously, Tvarkov. Go to sleep or something."
"I'll sleep when we locate Theta, thanks." She said dryly as she shoved past him and set her lukewarm mug down. She heard him scoff and take quick steps before her, but didn't expect him to drag her to the door by the back of her shirt. "Hey!"
He ignores her and instead pulls her into the parking lot. Jason is standing there, Kowalski's bags in hand as he gawked at the two. Kowalski looks between them before he nods, taking his bags from Jason and pointing to Rogue.
"Laurenson, please convince your girlfriend to take a nap," He doesn't notice if Rogue squawked in protest or Jason flinched. "She looks like she'll drop dead. So do you, by the way. You both need to sleep."
With that, the door is shut behind them. In the quiet of the parking lot, they can hardly hear the scuffling and chatter of the office on the other side of the wall. Rogue sighed as she leaned on the wall behind her and scrubbed at her eyes, trying to dispel the exhaustion in her system as she waited for the coffee to kick in.
"He's right, you know." She turns her head up to see that Jason was also rubbing at his eyes a bit. "We're not exactly useful when we aren't rested."
"I'm not going back in there and crashing on the mattresses, Crash." She narrowed her eyes as she pulled him towards the car. He fights back a surprise yelped as she did. "I don't want Wolfe commenting on our unproductiveness."
He raised an eyebrow as Rogue took the keys from his pocket and unlocked the car's doors. She got in the driver's seat as he took the passenger's, belting themselves in as Rogue started the engine. "Any ideas, then?"
"I'm pretty sure the SAD has a safehouse somewhere." Rogue said as she backed up the car from its spot. "Probably nice and furnished too."
"You're just going to bank on the theory that he has a nearby place to crash?" Jason frowned, even though it was obvious. It was an open secret that Kowalski's agency has a near uncountable number of safehouses for when its agents need a place to stay.
"We can always go for a hotel if you want, Laurenson." There's something easy about the way that she said it that made him shake his head.
"Penguins would be staring at us." If she thought that it would be a better idea to crash in a nearby safehouse, then so be it. "Don't you have to ask Kowalski for the keys, though?"
"He wouldn't mind." Rogue shrugged as she drove out of the parking lot. They were assaulted with the sun glaring down at them, and they both flinched at its rays. It takes a while before they reach a stop light, where Rogue pulls out her phone and quickly taps in her override code before handing it to Jason. "Give me a quick search of nearby SAD safehouses."
"Gotcha." He said and took the phone, quickly tapping in the search as the light turned green.
After dumping his bags on the side where the mattresses were, he turned to where Wolfe stood before a massive touchscreen that was mounted on the wall. He made his way to him in brisk steps, having to step over strewn out mugs and pencils before standing before the SIA agent. Kowalski muttered under his breath as his eyes roved over the screen.
"Sorry for the delay, had to kick Laurenson and Tvarkov out of the station." Kowalski said, nodding as the agent muttered his greetings. "They looked like crap and I had to play doctor."
"You mean love doctor, Dr. Kowalski." Wolfe rolled his eyes as he brought up feeds from SIA fly cameras that were flitting about City of Progress. "What's the news from your men?"
"He's in the capital alright." Kowalski said as he picked up the tablet in Wolfe's flippers. He quickly tapped in commands to bring up the SAD database, putting in his command code before watching the screen before them. "Tang and I sent someone to a location to get some DNA samples for your cameras. We thought if you could recalibrate them to find traces of it, the search would end sooner."
"Thoughtful of you, Kowalski. I'm touched." The sarcasm is oozing from his tone. Despite it, they both knew that Wolfe meant what he said as he picked up the tablet again and read through a report. "Who's this Recruit 76 boy?"
"Oh, he's a recruit of the Academy." Kowalski said, frowning a bit as Wolfe squinted at the text on the screen. "What is it?"
"I know who he is, Kowalski. I just want to know who he is in this whole frame." Wolfe said as he turned to him, frown more apparent as he spoke. "You don't just pull a recruit out of training just to participate in something as major as this. What makes him so important?"
Kowalski can only shrug as he looked over the report that appeared on the screen. It was a declassified file of the bomb explosion a month or so ago, and he couldn't help the shiver down his spine as he read it.
"You'll have to ask Tang about that." He finally said as he flicked his head back towards the feeds. The cameras were now in the Upper Spire, spiraling around the buildings with quick ease. "I wasn't the one who suggested him."
Wolfe could only hum in agreement as he tapped his stylus on his tablet. "I'll take note."
"Now, onto business." Kowalski said as he produced a plastic bag with a single purple feather in it. "Here's the DNA sample."
Wolfe looked at it and set down his tablet on a nearby table, picking up the bag and studying it carefully. He holds it up against the light to watch the light catch against the purple, gleaming iridescently before setting it down. He turned towards the crowd of SIA agents and yelled an order that Kowalski didn't quite catch, watching as an agent scurried off to do whatever he asked of him. Turning back to Kowalski, he gave him a tight smile as he turned back to the touchscreen.
"Right. Let's get to work, shall we?"
This is a risky move, he knows, but he takes a moment to step into the rooftop garden.
The wind blows gently on his face as he tilts his head up to the sky, admiring the familiar blue that stares back at him. It's a cloudy day in Munijoch, windier than usual and a little bit colder. Winter's coming, that he knows, and he can't wait to relish the first few flakes of snow. That was, of course, if the endgame would let him relish it. He knows that with every moment passing that his window to that opportunity is getting smaller and smaller, but he would rather hope to feel the snow than not think of it at all.
He's always been a bit sentimental.
The rooftop garden was a dwindling little thing, the vines a bit shriveled up and the flowers lacking its usual lackluster. He couldn't help it if he would project himself into it as he ran a gentle flipper over a creeping vine, watching the fragile leaves shiver off of the vine as it floated into the air. He could hear chimes sing with the breeze that came, probably something someone placed in the garden. He looks around and finds the little, rusted thing hanging from one of the frames that were there to hold the vines. He considers pulling it down for a moment to examine it, before shaking his head and letting it be. He finally sighs and finds himself seated on the edge of the building, letting his feet dangle on the edge to appreciate the breeze.
It's funny how Theta means "death" in some cultures, "life" in others. He has been able to save the lives of hundred by ending the lives of tens, with combined accuracy and efficiency that was expected of him. Theta was given to him as a badge of honor, a show of respect for his work in the field. Theta has been painted by his superiors to be judge and executor, healer and killer, a massive grey area to those around him.
He's definitely soaring higher than anyone would have expected.
Something hits his head. He frowns and looks up only for more of it to fall on his face, taking him longer than necessary to realize that it was rain. He chuckled to himself as reached out a flipper to feel the rainwater against it, relishing the cool curling into his feathers.
"How dramatic." He said to himself as more and more rain began to rain down on the capital. He knows that citizens below would take some time to stop and appreciate the rainfall before going about their usual lives, and he knows that one of them would be him. He closed his eyes and relished the rain on his face as it pattered down on this little garden that was hardly living, in a big country that was hardly dying.
It's already afternoon when they page in a call with Nick Tang, who wasn't totally enthusiastic with commencing a video conference. Wolfe had shooed off his SIA team back to the base where they can replenish and sleep, since he was expecting another all-nighter to happen later on. It was just him and Kowalski now in the office, with the touchscreen showing them an obviously sleep-deprived Tang.
"Before we start, I have a question." Wolfe said, running a quick flipper through his hair. There's a slight grimace on Nick's face that Kowalski relishes while the SIA agent continued. "Recruit 76 has been mentioned twice under SAD reports. Something you want to tell me?"
Nick shifts on his chair before he starts, opening his mouth to speak. "Boy's got potential, Wolfe. I wanted to show Tvarkov who I recruited."
"You were basically parading around your new recruit?" Kowalski snorted as he looked up from the table. With no one surrounding the table and the office mostly empty, he could find a chair to sit down on. "Not to be rude or anything, Tang, but that's not your usual routine."
"Whatever, Kowalski." He rolled his eyes on screen. There's a faint glow of holograms in front of him. "Alright, what's this call for? It's kinda late, you know, I actually want to go to bed."
"Stay awake a little longer, Nico." Kowalski said as he turned to his tablet to tap in some commands. "Come on, we got work to do."
"We managed to recalibrate our fly cameras to detect traces of Theta's DNA." Wolfe said as he turned to his tablet and tapped commands into it, probably to send bits of footage to Nick. "Have a look."
A split second later, a ping was heard from Nick's side of the call. He turned to look over the footage before he hummed, nodding. "I suppose you have a relative location radius?"
"That we do." Wolfe grinned crookedly as he tapped in a few more commands. Beside Nick's call, a map of the City of Progress popped out to show a radius around the southeastern part of the capital. "We're narrowing down the search around here."
"That's good." Nick nodded as he leaned back on his chair and pondered to himself. "Isn't it suspicious how SI hasn't found him yet?"
"Nick, quit jinxing us." Kowalski snorted as he stood to make his way to the screen. "But yes, it's a bit suspicious."
"We're planning a takedown operation once we locate him." Wolfe said as he kept tapping into his tablet. "We're thinking Tvarkov would want to lead it, since this is her case after all."
"Wolfe, you're SIA Special Forces. I'm sure she'd also like you to join in." Nick frowned at him. This wasn't like the SIA agent to turn down what could possibly be the takedown of the century.
"It's a joint operation, anyways." Wolfe said as he grinned up to the screen. "We can work out the details when we get there."
"I hope you two pull it off." Nick said before yawning, turning away from the screen before scrubbing at his face. "Alright, is that all? I think I'll drop dead anytime soon."
"Yeah, yeah, go to bed." Kowalski scoffed as he waved a flipper around in the air. "Your girlfriend would kill us if you end up getting sick."
"Fine. Good night." The screen blackens without another word before the map goes back to filling the entire screen. The remaining agents looked at the screen for a moment before sighing, shaking their heads.
"What is it with me and telling people to go to bed?" Kowalski said dryly as he tapped in commands into the SAD database. "Seriously, it's like people lack a sleep schedule around here."
Wolfe could only hum in reply as his eyes rove over the spy cameras' feeds, watching with slight anxiety as it scoured over the metropolis. It was raining hard now, and he was beginning to worry if the cameras could hold under the rain. Seconds ticked by as he watched the footage of cameras flit about as it scurried about to track the DNA to one place.
If their plan was to work, and if SI:9 hadn't found him yet, they had to find him fast.
It's pouring hard when his phone beeps in his pocket.
At this point, he's lied down on the solid ledge, on a literal teeter between life and death. He doesn't really mind the height, nor does he mind the way his body swayed with each gust of wind that blew. It was almost comforting to him at this point, the cold wind against him and the solid concrete beneath him. If he could afford it, he would close his eyes and let nature do its work, soaking him to the bone and swaying him in this ledge between life and death.
He lets his flipper slip into his hoodie pocket to pull out his phone. It's an old, battered thing at this point. It slips a bit due to his flippers but he manages to use it anyways, reading the notification on it.
- SIA fly cameras detected 500 meters from location
Ah, his computers must have detected it. On a normal day, he would have scurried down the steps and throw his door open to fix his things, hitch them on his shoulder and make a run for it to the next clear safe area. On a normal day, he would have taken out his PULSE gun to shoot down the cameras from where he laid, making sure it landed somewhere inconspicuous.
But today was not a normal day.
"Let them come." He murmured quietly to himself as he leaned back and let the phone rest on his chest, finally closing his eyes and letting himself relax under the downpour.
If this was when the endgame happens, he was ready.
It's afternoon when either of them wake up.
Jason wakes up in a bed that wasn't his, in a safehouse that wasn't theirs. They had managed to find a safehouse near the Upper Spire, a few blocks away from the EPF station. It was a small apartment, well-furnished and definitely up to date with technology, but neither paid attention and just flopped on the bed in the master bedroom. It only seemed to be designed to house only one or two agents, and neither really had time to discuss who would take the couch and who would take the bed.
Not that Jason minded, of course.
He sits up slowly and rubs his eyes, only coming to his senses when he realizes that it's raining. One of them opened the doors leading to the balcony before they crashed, and the cold air was flowing in with the lightest sprinkle of rain. He smiled to himself and turned to his partner, who was pretty much knocked out on the sheets. He considers pulling the blanket over her and thinking otherwise, before slowly rolling out of the bed and making his way to the balcony.
They were situated at a rather higher part of the capital, so the balcony overlooked the lower parts of the City of Progress. He lets the rain sprinkle his face as he leaned against the ledge, studying the scenery before him for a moment. Penguins walked on the sidewalks as they made their way to wherever they were wanted or needed, and cars zipped through the highways. The rain was background noise, but he could faintly hear the buzz of down below of the world around him.
He almost misses the beep that comes from the bedside table.
He turns when his phone beeps again, making his way back into the room as he did. His phone was beeping with a message from Kowalski, and he rushed to read it as he sat down in bed. Behind him, he can hear Rogue shift and groan as she started to wake up, but paid no mind as he read the message.
- Theta has been located. Head back to the station once you two are awake.
"What is it?" She grounded out sleepily as she looked over his shoulder. He turned his head slightly and watched as she blinked herself to awareness.
"We found him." He said simply, smiling as he noticed the sleepy look on her face. They both somehow got 6 hours of sleep, and he was glad that they did. He can overlook the strands of white in her hair in favor for the younger look on her face. "Kowalski wants us to report in when we wake up."
Rogue squinted at the screen for a moment to read it before huffing and flopping back into bed. If he was surprised, he didn't quite show it. "I'm not quite awake yet."
He wished he had a recorder then. No one's ever heard Rogue set work aside. "Comfortable, Redline?"
"Must be the weather." She muttered as she rolled herself into the blanket. There's a moment of silence before she speaks up again, a bit clearer this time. "Natalia and I stay in when it's a rainy day."
"I see." He nodded and got off from the bed, rounding the bed to make his way to the door. "You want some lunch?"
If she protested against lunch, he didn't quite hear it. He could only nod to himself before turning to make his way to the kitchen, starting to think of what he can cook for the day.
The moment he stepped out of the van, he knew that he was part of something big.
The office was too small for them to really step in, but not that he really minded. He nodded professionally as Adrian and Bridgett stepped into the office, while he and the other agents remained by the van. He and the others stood up straighter when Rogue stepped into the parking lot. He almost didn't recognize her under the layers of kevlar and black that she wore, especially with the black helmet that was on her head.
"Welcome to Munijoch, ladies and gentlemen." Her tone is rough and warm from the coffee she had probably been drinking. "I know that for some, this is your first time in the country."
There was a murmur of replies that rippled about their small team. He could only nod tersely as he gripped the duffle bag that was slung on his shoulder. This was going to be good.
"You have a briefing in five. Due to the lack of space, we had to convert some of the furniture for better use." He didn't want to know what that meant. "Gear's inside. Get to it."
The others immediately scurried into the office without another word. He managed to stumble to Rogue as she looked expectedly at him, eyebrows raising up. "Evening, Commander."
"Reyes." She rolls the r's very nicely. He thinks that this is the first time he's heard her say his name. "Tang sent you along?"
"He thought that I was field ready, ma'am." He said and grinned a bit, removing his hat and ruffling his hair a bit. "Didn't take much convincin' with Commander Hepson."
"I'll have to speak with him about this." She muttered and shook her head, bringing up a data pad that was attached to her arm. He peered at it curiously as she tapped in commands. "Once I get my verification, you're going to be in my squad. Is that clear?"
"Crystal, ma'am." His grinned widened as she shot him a look. She only shook her head once more before signaling him into the office.
"Come on, we don't have all day. We have a hacker to catch." She said as she turned without another word.
This is where everything will go down.
The rain has turned into a drizzle by now, lightly peppering his soaked skin. He can hardly feel it at this point, since he was soaked by the initial downpour. He knows that if he steps back inside to dry himself that his feathers will go all over the place, but he doesn't mind. He'll get dry anytime soon.
He remembered another endgame, one far earlier than the one he was facing now. When he was so high up in the SI:9's rankings, when he was the near favorite (but they would never admit that) of his superiors, they transferred him to the I division. They had deemed him too valuable to send into missions, too risky to send into a suicide situation. The SI:9 wasn't that foolish, after all; it knew potential when it saw it.
It took him a while to get used to a desk job.
But at least he got to hone his skills in hacking. At first it was pure curiosity, to wonder who was really the man who was leading the nation. Who was the war hero of Munijoch, the man who spearheaded a civil war that created the very nation he defends? The information was way beyond his pay grade, but that didn't cross his mind at all when he broke into the government database. He tried his best to be subtle about it, and found the file that he was looking for.
The curiosity only became insatiable after that.
The world had secrets, he had expected that, but the extent at which they hide them and the very things they hide away always varied. Curiosity rattled in his head as countless questions swarmed his vision. What was he to do with the information he has obtained? It never felt right to keep it. The rest of the world had the right to know.
That was the endgame the lead to this.
His hoodie is sticking uncomfortably on him, but he doesn't mind it when he finally sits up. His back throbs a bit from lying down on such a hard surface, but he ignored the throbbing in favor for the garden before him. It was a mess of fallen leaves about him, and the remaining plants that survived were heavily coated in rain droplets. He took a while to stretch his sore muscles by walking around the garden, running his soaked flipper along the leaves.
His phone beeps again and he pulls it out to read the notification.
- PROGRAM: Artemis has detected words "Theta", "operation", "Tvarkov" in EPF communication channels
He could only laugh as he tilted his head back to the sky, taking in the drizzle as it fell on his face.
"Let them come."
Their truck went through traffic in silence.
No one would really expect them to be there, anyway. It was an inconspicuous, common looking truck. As a way to decongest the traffic in the capital, the government had established underground routes for the trucks to move in and out within the city. The military closely guards it to avoid any sneaking ins, but they don't seem to notice their truck as it makes it way to the edges of the city.
They lurch in time to the pauses and starts of the truck as it weaves itself through the underground traffic. They are silent as they waited for the truck to finally stop, breaths baited as they waited for the final lurch. They are all dressed in black, to better blend into the darkness of night. In the dull lighting of the truck's insides, the built in patches of their uniforms glow eerily to make up for the lack of it. No one spoke as they waited, and waited, and waited.
Rogue shifted a bit from her position, keeping her rifle in her flippers. She can't recall the last time she's been in the field, mind muddled with memories of reports she had to stare at day in and day out. Through the safety glasses that she wore, she quickly scanned her team of agents that were handpicked for the operation, mind quickly going through their ranks and names before her eyes finally land on the boy next to her. He's tightly wounded, she knows that, as he tapped his flipper patiently on the side of his rifle. He only stares straight ahead when she looks at him, face showing no emotion as they lurched once more at the stop of the truck.
She should really look into the file of this kid.
She recalls thinking of this moment, wondering how the ultimate endgame would go. There were so many fantasies that will come true on this night. Will it end tragically, an ugly mess to sort out with the media and the UAN inquiry? She had run through the numbers a long time ago, already prepared herself for the casualties and fatalities that would come. There was no time for a sweep before the operation; it was too risky to expose their plan to Theta. Reckless as it may seem, but at this rate desperation overruled logic. Would it perhaps end peacefully, with everything going well and little to no casualties occurring? That would have been the better option in comparison to the tragic, though boring by Rogue's standards.
The truck finally lurches to a final stop, and she locks her eyes on the wall as the van finally goes dark. Her glasses helpfully adjust to the darkness with the built in night vision, looking around as the patches glowed in the light. It's a dull, red glow that is almost comforting, and she feels the blood in her head spin as the doors finally open. They step out as quickly and as silently as they could manage, boots hitting in dull thuds as they quickly scanned the street for intruders who would come their way. Luckily, there's no one in sight.
"Command, this is Alpha Team. We have reached the entry point." Rogue said as she scanned her team, watching as their crowd split as Beta and Charlie split away from them. She's left with two other agents and Reyes, who only gave her a nod. She gave her team a nod before she listened to the click on the other side of the line.
"Alpha Team, this is Command. You have the go signal to break in. Stay safe, everyone." Jason's voice is a bit calming to listen to, and she only lets herself nod before she tries the door. It opens without a budge, simply swinging open at the twist of the knob. She could only share a look with the other penguins in her team before they quickly made their way into the building.
They're in a foyer of some sort, deserted and abandoned as said in the report. The lasers of their rifles dart about the building as they quickly made their way up the staircase, weary of any waiting traps that would come to them as they went up floor after floor.
It's doesn't look good.
They follow the tracks that were helpfully illuminated by their goggles to the eighth floor, finding them leading to the eighth unit of the floor. Rogue could almost roll her eyes at that. Of course he'd pick something involving the number eight. She gives her unit a nod before she steps back, letting the agent next to her work the scanner in front of the door before they decide on breaking down the door. She quickly looks at Reyes, looking at his tense muscle and set look as he kept his eyes trained on the door. He looks as if he's ready to burst, to surge forward into battle rather than a covert operation. The agent finally gives her a nod and pockets the scanner, stepping back as the other agent kicked down the door. They quickly surged forward, flooding the room with their lasers as they scanned for threats or the very man they were looking for.
"Command, this is Redline. Our suspect is nowhere to be seen." She said into her earpiece as they looked around the studio. An agent next to her moved towards the kitchen area to look for anything useful for their operation, as Reyes made his way to the living room to pick up the laptop that was on the couch.
"We'll get back to you on that, Redline." There's mild irritation in Jason's tone. She can't blame him. She watched as Reyes held the laptop in his flippers, staring at the code that flitted about the screen before he looked up to her.
"Don' understand code, ma'am, but I'm thinkin' this is important or somethin'." He said, flipping the screen over for her to see. She can only look step forward to look at it, staring at the glaring white letters and numbers that filled the black screen.
"I'm not really good at it either, but it seems to be in some programming language." She said as she frowned, "Are you getting this, Command?"
"We're running it through, Redline. Wolfe's thinking that it's some program, though." Jason said, before there is a click in the communications again. "Redline, we're detecting a body in the rooftop. It's Theta."
"Let's get to it, then. Alpha Team, on me. We're going for the suspect. Beta, Charlie, cover us." Rogue said as she quickly stepped out of the studio. Reyes is already hot on her heels as they quickly made their way up the stairs. It was a good six flights or so up, and no one could wait for the final endgame, the final confrontation to occur. This is the moment she's been imagining, the final scenario she cannot easily predict or see. Her heart is racing from her chest as her mind rattled into silence, objectives clear as it narrowed down to the task at hand. This is her first field mission in months, and she is ready for whatever is to come in store.
And she will not be kind.
He can already hear the thundering of boots.
As much as he appreciated their lack of subtlety, he couldn't help his heart from sinking at the thought that the endgame was now. He slowly got up and turned his back towards the edge, waiting for the door to explode open. He tapped his flippers against the ledge, counting to himself as he waited patiently for them to come for him.
They kick the door down in 26.
28 is when they all swarm in. He can feel the lasers that were pointed on them, as if they were pinpricks slicing through his feathers and making their home in his being. The leader of the team pulls out their helmet – oh, no they're a girl. He's greeted with the familiar yellow feathers that gleamed dully against the moonlight. She's nothing but serious as he could only raise his flippers in surrender, offering her a shrug as she began to spoke.
"You have no idea how long it took us to find you." He had expected Rogue Tvarkov to sound as unkind as she could possibly be, and her tone is ice cold water on his body. He lets himself get manhandled by two agents who step closer to him, letting himself be checked for weapons.
"EPF Commander Rogue Alyssa Tvarkov." He lets himself roll the name around his tongue. She doesn't flinch and remained stone faced. Huh. Interesting. "Ruscan national who leads the Anti-Terrorism Division of an Antarctican agency."
"Theta is secured." She kept her eyes on him as she spoke into her earpiece. He wonders who's on the other line. He's betting his Grams on Jason Laurenson. "Beta, begin to pick up any valuable evidence we can bring along. Charlie, secure our extraction."
He lets himself be taken away from the ledge, back into the garden that was half dead as he stood before Rogue. She's placid and serious as she gave him a once over, taking in his wet hoodie and sneakers.
"Just three days ago, you assaulted the most respected woman of Munijoch." He'd correct her that the most respected woman in this country would be his mother, thank you very much. "Theta, you have much explaining to do."
She turns to someone behind him and nods, before he's being shoved to go down the staircase. He can only look back to see her speaking to another agent, one bulkier and a few inches taller than her. He wants to say something before he's turned to the next flight of stairs, stepping down in an even pace as they went lower and lower into the building.
This was just the start of the endgame, and he was ready for the worst of it.
They've kept him there for two days.
The SAD mansion was kind enough to open its doors to outsider agents, though that's probably due to the fact that its bureaucrat was great friends with those involved. It was a carefully manicured place for agents who wanted to relax, perfectly managed by a team of caretakers. It's meant to be a place of vacation, a reward away from the burden of duties and responsibilities. Of course, given the tendency of the SAD to be a bit one step ahead, it had placed some offices for those who want to work in between vacation. Its basement is known to have two holding cells, with walls lined with the latest anti-detection technology and soundproof paddings.
Rogue sipped the cup of coffee on the desk as she watched through the one way mirror, taking in the scene before her. Theta had remained the same as he had been for the past two days, bound to a chair before a metal desk. There were no visible recording devices in the room, but she knew that a camera was trained on him.
Behind her, Kowalski spoke. "Think you've given him enough time to brood by himself?"
She set her mug down to turn to Kowalski, her chair screeching against the floor a bit. "Let me finish my coffee first."
"Then hurry up. I want to go to the pool." She rolled her eyes at that. It was winter, and it was too cold to get in the waters.
"Then go ahead. I can handle Theta." She ignored the glare he gave her and shrugged it off, turning back to the mirror to look at it once more. "I'm a big girl, Kowalski."
He grumbled behind her, but turned and made his way towards the door. "You're welcome to join us."
The door closes behind him, and the room is filled with silence. The heat from her mug rose up to the air lazily, curling and disappearing as it melded with the air. Rogue finally pushed her chair back and stood, dusting herself off and looking back at her coffee. She'll finish it after the quick chat. She steps before the sliding door and pressed in the code, watching the light go green as the door slid back.
She quickly stepped into the room and made her way towards the chair across him, sitting down without another word. His eyes are still trained on the table, and he seemed to be thinking to himself before she leaned forward to speak.
"I had to pull some favors to get the information I needed to know." Rogue said as she leaned back to watch him. "Your name is Icarus Petturi, Munian national who served in the SI:9 for several years. You were supposedly killed in the September 30 WhiteBlood genocide."
He remembers September 30.
She was right, by the way. Icarus Petturi died on September 30, 2016, with 5 other SI:9 agents in an effort to stop a genocide from happening in Centrallica. Of course, the government would have never broadcasted that and instead would have added them to the statistics of the casualties.
So much for honoring the dead.
A team of WhiteBlood members managed to raid and hold hostage a sector of Centrallica that was in its outskirts. While the Munijoch Vanguard kept face and placed tension to a minimum in the frontline, the SI:9 had been tasked to infiltrate and obtain information about the belligerents. They also had to figure out a way to incapacitate the WhiteBlood insurgents, since killing them would have sparked outrage and another conflict that the country was not quite ready to handle.
He remembered missing the thrill of being a field agent the moment he stepped out of that truck.
The mission had gone easily. They weaved through the abandoned streets without trouble, as if their enemies had let their guard down and let them through. It was easy to find where the WhiteBloods had been, given that the building they occupied was the only one with functioning electricity. He and the team had managed to get in without a hitch, and they were able to accomplish the information portion of their mission. They were left to do the incapacitation when everything went wrong, when they realized that the insurgents had a bomb and oh dear, they had walked right into it.
How he overlooked that was beyond him.
He remembered waking up between the rubble. He could hardly breathe with the dust that settled in his lungs, but he relished the burn in them that reassured him that he was alive. He remembered not being able to hear a thing as he struggled to push himself out of the rubble, scanning his surroundings for any other signs of life. There were searchlights in the distance, probably of soldiers looking for bodies or survivors, and he considered his options. He could have called for them and let them bring him to safety, could have helped them by looking for the rest of his team.
Then he thought of all the secrets this world held, all the little things he saw on his little office desk in the SI:9 headquarters, then thought otherwise.
He remained silent, thinking idly to himself before he spoke. "And you're Rogue Tvarkova."
She doesn't flinch at the mention of her modified surname. He finally looks up to see that her glare is level, still and serene like the sea when it is calm. He wants to tell himself that she's asking him to continue, and he indulges her.
"Born into one of the most powerful families in Rusca. You could have been the perfect asset in the NRR and yet," He paused to collect his thoughts, only offering her a smile as he spoke. "You chose to serve an Antarctican agency."
"Finders keepers." He knows what she means. She shrugged and tapped her flipper idly against the metal table. "Theta, you know what is to come."
"Ah yes, the UAN hearing." He shrugged as he leaned back as well, copying her stance as he looked up at her. "The moment of truth."
Her tone is placid. "Are you ready to face the consequences of your actio–"
"Yeah, I think I'm going to skip that one." He could almost laugh at the lapse of emotion on her face, how it minutely turned into a scowl before it was schooled. "Kinda too lazy for all that bureaucratic work, don't you think?"
"Theta, you have to answer for the cyberterror crimes you have committed to the international community."
"That's not the endgame, Tvarkova." He shrugged again as he leaned forward a bit, or as much as the chains would let him. The lights above them flicker a bit. He fights back a grin. "The ending of this story isn't one where you bring me to the UAN and I sit in another uncomfortable chair while the diplomats grill me with questions they already know the answer to."
"There are questions–"
Oh, how it amuses him to interrupt her. "They know why I did it. They're all too proud to admit it."
"Do you understand the consequences that came with those leaks?" Rogue frowned clearly now, leaning forward to look at him. "There have been protests, riots, assassinations left and right. You have caused disorder in this world and I–"
"Do not stand for it? Yeah, I used to think the same thing." There's confusion in her face and he wishes he can keep it in memory forever. "Tvarkova, do me a favor."
She's quiet for a moment, as if she is weighing the reasons behind it. She frowned once more. "Name it."
"When your tech monkeys finally break the encryption on my laptops and hard drives, go over the files I took from the EPF." The confusion is back and he wants to relish it. "Maybe then you'll understand."
The lights overhead flicker once more, now stronger than before. They both look up to see it flicker some more before it finally shuts off, blanketing the world in black. He knows that they won't go back on as the air around them thickens.
She should have known something was wrong when the lights had first flickered.
Now, with the world dark about her, she couldn't help instinct to make her grab her phone and call for backup. It took her a second too long to recall that there was no signal down here, and cursed as she tried to adjust her eyes to the darkness. She grabbed for her gun as she felt the air thicken around her, a chill running down her back as she heard laughter.
It took her another second to realize it was Theta's.
"It's been too long, my friend." He said, as if the situation was familiar and he was taking it with open arms. In normal circumstances, she would have been bewildered and would have asked questions, trying to bid her time to determine what as going on. Now, though, she could only try and detect who was in the room, trying to listen a third heartbeat or another set of footsteps.
"We told you what to do when you found him." The voice is gravely and mechanical, cold with a clear warning in its tone. She fights down the second shiver that ran down her spine and tries to find the words to tell them to go away. She knew what the voice was talking about, and quickly tried to pin it down to a single location.
The air around her thickens as she feels as if the world is spinning, prompting her to grip her gun a bit tighter. She would never admit that she was afraid, that this wasn't one thing she expected as a consequence of their decisions. She knew better than to shoot into the air, she does not want to hit Theta. There is only silence before the lights finally flicker back on to reveal a clear room. Her eyes land on the empty seat before her and her mind slows, struggling to process the sight. Months of hard work, night after night of sleeplessness, every ounce of her attention, had equated to nothing now that Theta was gone. She was deep in thought when Jason and Kowalski scrambled into the room in the same time, taking in Rogue's lost expression and the empty seat across her.
"Where is he?" Jason sounds as if he's trying to restrain himself, eyes scanning the room for any clue of what had happened.
Rogue turned to them slowly before shaking her head slowly. "They warned us."
Behind him, Kowalski swore and scrambled out of the room, shouting out orders that she cannot hear. Jason made quick work going inside to take the gun from Rogue's flippers.
"What are we going to do now?" Jason asked as he gripped her by her shoulders, trying to snap her out from her trance. "Rogue, what are we going to do now?"
She swallowed thickly as she looked around the room, trying to figure out a way to accept what has happened. "I don't know."
Hacker has been identified and captured, currently behind bars
By Raven Westley (Club Penguin Times) | Updated December 2, 2017 - 9:41 pm
The hunt is finally over.
The EPF, along with several other intelligence agencies, have released a statement that the hacker has been identified to be Munian national Icarus Petturi, who was supposedly killed during the September 30 WhiteBlood genocide. The circumstances around Petturi's survival after the terrorist attack remains to be a mystery, but the EPF has been trying to coordinate with the Munian government to obtain their answers.
It has not been clarified when and where Petturi was captured, but inside sources have told the CPT that he was captured within Munijoch. Petturi is supposedly the mastermind behind the August 30 hack in Club Penguin, as well as several other hacking incidents around the world. He is also said to be the one who leaked said information to the public as well as the criminal underworld. These leaks have resulted to scandals, riots, protests, and an increase in killings.
Details around the capture suggest that it was a collaborative effort of the EPF, SIA, and the SAD. The CPT has been trying to get a statement from EPF Commander Rogue Tvarkov, who is the main officer in charge of the case. Unfortunately, she seems to not respond to our calls.
Petturi is set to appear before the UAN Security Council next week Tuesday, where he will be charged for cyberterrorism as well as disrupting the peace. He is expected to be sentenced to lifelong imprisonment, or exile, depending on the conclusions of the Security Council after the trials. From there, the Council shall determine the maximum prison facility where Petturi will carry his sentence.
Nine: The UAN Hearings
Cory Millers set her cup of coffee down.
Across her, Rogue tapped her flipper against the side of her mug. The psychologist could only raise an eyebrow in interest at the girl's fidgeting, taking in the concentrated look on her face to look at anywhere but her. Rogue kept her eyes trained on the windows beside them, looking down at what was below them with keen interest. Ever since the death of head psychologist Catherine Tvariench, Cory filled in her position as gracefully as she could manage. As the Anti-Terrorism Division's head psychologist, she was responsible of monitoring the mental wellbeing of all of the agents under the esteemed commander, making sure that they were in tip-top mental shape before and after they were sent to the field.
And sometimes, she also has the task of checking in with the commander herself.
They were in the EPF Tower, the whole of Gemini under them. They found themselves in the cafeteria, a huge chunk of one of the upper floors that had huge, floor to ceiling windows that gave a wonderful panoramic view of the city. There were picnic tables set up all over the cafeteria, with a huge island in the center where food is served. The station's chefs rushed about in the kitchen with its familiar clatters and clammers, but it seemed to be nothing but a distant scuffle from where they were. Currently, with everyone at work and busy with whatever the tower does at such a time, the cafeteria was mostly deserted, allowing the two to have coffee in peace.
"Rogue, I did not fly over to Gemini just to watch you fidget and squirm in your seat." She tries to be as gentle as possible, but she knows that a bit of force is necessary to get her to talk. "I hate to break it to you dear, but the hearings are any time now. The division needs you in your best."
"I'm not very good at handling diplomatics." Rogue muttered, taking a long drink from her mug. "You know how they are. They place their faults on someone else. It's not good territory to be in."
"And you're afraid that they'll pin the blame on you for losing Theta." Cory finished the thought for her. Rogue could only frown and slouch a bit on her seat, turning towards the windows to stare down at it once more.
"So long as I know the truth, they could do nothing to me." Rogue said indignantly, a mutter to herself as she turned back to Cory. The frown is clearer on her face as she spoke. "I will not be kind."
"I'm confident in that, dear. I just hope you're ready with the report when they call for you." She allowed herself to smile and lean back a bit, stretching her feet and sighing. "Have you spoken to Natalia lately?"
"She's still in Rusca. I'm thinking of putting her on a flight to South Pole City when the hearings start." Rogue said as she paused, thinking to herself before continuing. "She can visit her cousins."
"Thoughtful of you." Cory nodded her approval as she took a drink from her own cup of coffee. "Have you considered what you'll do when the hearings end?"
"I'll have to handle any paperwork that comes from the hearings." She said as she tapped her flipper against the mug once more. "It's the holidays. I'm thinking of taking a rather lengthy break."
"Wise choice. You deserve it." Cory said before she paused, realizing something. "Isn't the graduation of the ATD course recruits two days from now?"
Rogue nodded as she moved her mug between her flippers. Cory tried not react to the obvious nervous tic. "I haven't put much thought to what I'll be saying yet."
"Something that is timely will do." With the look that Rogue gave her after that, she broke into a smile. "Come on, you can use them as a practice crowd."
"You have a point." Rogue said slowly, before she stood and took her mug of coffee with her. Cory stood up as well to follow the commander as they made their way out of the cafeteria. They deposited their mugs in the nearby cleanup station before they stepped out of the cafeteria, back into the halls of the EPF Tower.
"I should let you continue with writing your report, Commander Tvarkov."
"Thanks for coming by, Millers." Rogue smiled at her as they stood in the hallway, where Rogue would turn to go to her satellite office while Cory went to her own at the other side. "It's nice to know that our head psychologist is willing to jet set to wherever I need her to be."
"Anytime." She nodded, before she turned and went to her office.
She looked up at the second knock.
"Come in." She called out, setting down her stylus as she leaned on her chair. The door slid open to reveal Nikolas Tang, and she found herself raising both of her eyebrows at the sight. "Tang, I don't think I recall a meeting somewhere in my schedule."
"Call it impromptu. Unless you have something up at the moment?" He raised his eyebrows in question as he leaned on the doorway, tapping his flipper against his arm slowly. She shook her head and waved him in, watching him step in to look around her satellite office.
"Take a seat." She said and spun her chair to the side to get up, walking over to a table at the side to get him a glass of water. "Flew all the way from the Island?"
"Of course I did, Rogue." He said and took a seat as instructed, whistling lowly as he looked beyond her chair to see the windows. "Quite the view you got. I'm starting to think that Jason gave you this office just for you to enjoy this sight."
"Don't be silly, Nico." Rogue frowned as she made her way back to her desk, setting down the glass of water before him. "I picked this location."
"Oh." At that, his eyebrows dropped. He took the glass of water to drain it, setting it aside once he did. "Well, you're good at picking."
"What is it that you need from me, Tang?" She asked, taking a seat before him as she brought up her holograms once more. The blue served as a barrier between them, and Nick didn't really mind. It was more helpful than invasive. "If it's a report from Tux again, you could have just sent it to me."
"No, not about Tux. He's actually a bit too preoccupied with er," He paused to find the best word to describe it. "Sorting out our mess."
"I see." she nodded as she scanned the files that she was looking at. "These are the recovered files from the databases. I've been going through them all day."
"Ah." He fidgeted just slightly on his seat. She didn't notice. "Which files are you going through now?"
"Mostly division yearly budgets. I don't really know what Theta would want from our annual budget, so I've been trying to figure it out." she said and leaned back, twirling her stylus as she looked at him through the blue. "I've gone through the agent profiles the other day. All were good."
"That's good." He perked up a bit as he read the lines that he could see, smiling when Rogue helpfully flipped the hologram to face him. "Well, if you want a comparison, looks like Special Groups has been putting lots of their budget into weaponry."
"Probably should invest in bulletproof uniforms rather than weapons." Rogue scoffed as she flipped the hologram back to herself. "They'd be more efficient if they get hurt less."
They both shared a laugh at that, and once it died down, silence filled the room. Rogue was going through the budgets when he cleared his throat.
"Listen, Rogue, I got to tell you something." She looked up to see him fidget in his seat, flipper reaching up to grip the empty glass of water. "I sent a resignation letter to the Director today."
For the briefest moment, her face flickers to shock, before it becomes painfully calm. "Who else have you told?"
"You and Gary know so far, I can't find Kowalski around here." He said and rubbed the back of his neck. "We live a hard life, don't you think? I was thinking its time I, well, stepped away."
"I know we do." She frowned just slightly as she dropped the holograms to pay attention to him fully. "You're still welcoming to hang around, though."
"Oh, don't look so down, Rogue." He grinned uneasily as he gripped the glass. "I'll stick around for the hearings. My resignation is effective in two weeks."
"You better." Rogue huffed as she stood from her seat and swiped the glass from him, turning to make her way back to the table. "But you're explaining this to Zanzi when we go to South Pole."
He knocked quickly on the door before coming in.
In her finest uniform, Rogue looked fresher than she ever has in the past few weeks. Jason relaxed a bit as Bridgett fussed about the commander, making sure that her hair was perfectly styled and that her uniform was spotless. The dressing room was a little thing, a bit outdated but still able to serve its purpose. There was a sitting area in the side, where whoever would be in it could rest or relax with others around. There were racks of clothes that were to the sides, and some heavy equipment that found its home here. To the other side, he could see a screen for whoever would get dressed as well as another door leading to a bathroom.
Across him, Rogue sat as still as she could possibly be. She sat before a large, bright dressing room table with an equally large mirror. Armed with a brush, Bridgett flittered around her and prattled as she worked.
"Your feathers look extra golden today, Commander!" She said as she dusted the poor woman with whatever was on the brush. Rogue tried not to show her grimace and instead stared straight at the mirror to lock eyes with Jason. "You look much better compared to last year."
"I'll agree to that first sentence, but not the second one." He piped up behind them, watching as Bridgett jumped and whirled around. "She's as brilliant as always."
"Commander Laurenson!" She squeaked and quickly straightened herself, brushing away stray locks in her hair and setting down the brush. "Didn't see you there."
"Can you give me a moment with Rogue?" He smiled easily, hoping that she doesn't get it the wrong way. Good Benny, everyone does nowadays. "We need to discuss something regarding the Theta mission."
"Of course, of course!" She waved them off and made her way to the door, speaking as she did. "I'll go check on Hepson. I'll knock when it's time for the ceremony!"
The door clicks shut behind them, and they're silent as Rogue sagged into the chair. She groaned in relief, "You have no idea how talkative Bridgett can get when she is excited."
"I know." He said and slowly made his way to the dressing table to sit down on it. He felt around the sides and found a switch, flipping it to switch off the lights that surrounded the mirror. Rogue blinked a bit to adjust to the sudden change of lighting and stared at him. "She wasn't kidding about your feathers, though."
"That's nice of you to say." She said as she leaned forward to reach for her peaked cap. He turned his head to watch her pull out her phone from under the cap. She started tapping into it. "What do you got for me?"
It takes him a while to find the proper words to tell her what's going on. He tells her, anyway. "Hearing's next week."
She frowned and tilted her head. "I would have thought they would wait for the public shock to die down."
"Well, it looks like they're riding the shock to make it controversial." He said and shrugged. "I've gotten the order. Looks like it's going to get heavy media coverage."
"Just our luck." She scoffed and shook her head. "What a way to end the year."
He's silent for a while as he watched her quickly scan for final emails on her phone before setting it aside on the desk. She squeezed her eyes shut and frowned, as if trying to think of what was to come in the next few days.
"They start on Tuesday. All agencies have been told to send their representatives." Jason said, easily supplying the rest of the details. She kept her eyes closed as she was deep in thought, and he considered repeating what he said. "When do we go?"
"Get us the first flight out of the island." Her tone is calm as she looked up to him and leaned her head on her fist. "We'll leave once the celebrations are over."
"Sure thing." He said and got off from the table, just in time for Bridgett to knock on the door and announce that the ceremony would start in 10 minutes. He started walking to door when he heard her call his name.
"Do you think we should bring Reyes along?" He paused from his walk and frowned, wondering why she would do such a thing. "The kid was involved too, and since Nick won't be with us, I think he'll be a good fill in."
"If you think he can handle it, bring him along." Jason said as he gripped the door handle. "If not, then don't."
He let the door shut behind him as he made his way out of the dressing room hallways.
[LEVEL 1 CLEARANCE]
OFFICIAL TRANSCRIPT: Commander Rogue Tvarkov's Address for the 7th Commencement Exercises of the Anti-Terrorism Course
Dated 03-12-2017 | Academy on the Art of Espionage Island
Good afternoon to all of you.
Before we start, let me clear something up. There's no need to worry of me going on and on here on the podium today. It's winter, I'm pretty sure everyone's excited to go into the auditorium to get some nice hot chocolate. [laughter] I'm as excited to go back into a warm room as all of you. We're all on the same boat here.
So, with all the formalities aside, let me begin with this: six months of grueling training, rigorous exercises, and brutal challenges later, Batch 07 of the Anti-Terrorism Course graduates with 103 recruits becoming sworn-in agents of the ATD. [applause] That's actually a good figure, if you look at the previous batches. I think we've been getting a little soft since the end of the Antarctic War on Terror [laughter]. Of course, I'll have to remind everyone that there will be a 1-month grace period before you are assigned to your respective stations and superiors. Do take the time to get proper sleep and food before you go back to work. [applause] I'm serious. We know what's been going on, you'll need it. [laughter]
If we're being frank about what I have to say before you all, I had to do a lot of thinking before choosing what I want to impart to you. I know that you are expecting me to talk about the latest mission I have been on — the Theta mission — and I shall indulge you all with it. Of course, who wouldn't pass up the opportunity of giving a nice good mission story to spook the fresh graduates? [audience laughs] Give me a break here, ladies and gentlemen, now get comfy.
The Theta mission has been a wild ride from the start up to the end, though I'm not quite sure we're at the end quite yet. Frankly, it has been grueling on myself and those around me. It has worn me down physically and mentally, and has put those closest to me in the midst of danger. I had exhausted every available resource to get this mission to progress to the endgame that we now are having, no matter that consequence that came with it. I've exhausted every ounce of my energy towards making sure my partner — who by the way, you should all be thanking. I almost got killed in Rusca if it weren't for him — and my loved ones were safe from harm.
We know of what happened throughout the duration of the mission: riots, trials, assassinations. The public and its media distrusted the penguins who served and protected them because of information that Theta had stole from databases. I cannot deny the truth of his information; there are really things that we'd never know until they are presented before us. I also cannot deny that in one way or another, I can understand the motives behind Theta's actions. Through careful observation and meticulous research, we would learn the motives behind his actions. He had wanted to reveal the uncomfortable truth that we lived with, to deny us the comforting lies we allow ourselves to believe in. Despite these, I cannot deny that the consequences of his actions will always outweigh his motives, righteous as they may seem. He may have believed that he was being of help to the public, but he has also brought about a new breed of violence.
The world we live in is far different than that of the ones who lived before us. Rumors are spread with a few clicks on the keyboard, scandals are exposed as easily as it is to move a pencil. We are modern and complex in a way we cannot compare to other times, and we learn more about ourselves with each passing day. We are a world of secrets locked behind encryptions and databases, protected and hidden under virtual lock and key. When they are too sensitive to hide through that, we hide them in our hair, in our smiles, in our neatly groomed feathers and our squeaky dress shoes. We've upped our game with secret-keeping that when they are exposed, we are at a loss. There is a vulnerability in our secrets that make them powerful, which gives us a reason to put them away from the rest of the world.
When you all get assigned to your commanders and stations, I want you to strive for what is right. You have made an oath before me and your professors, your families and your friends, to uphold truth and justice with as much dignity as you can. You have promised to safeguard the rights of those who look to you for their protection, to investigate terrorist crimes with fairness and a clear mind, and to serve and protect with every ounce of your being. Throughout your careers within the division, never be afraid to speak the truth, even if it hurts. Make yourselves honest men and women who serve for the pure purpose of serving and protecting those before you.
Well, I believe that will be all. I think I'd like that cup of hot chocolate now. [laughter] Again, I congratulate you all, and may you serve our division well. Thank you. [applause]
He tried to find her in the crowds.
There's a buzz in his veins in knowing that he was no longer a recruit of the EPF, and now a full-fledged agent of one of its specialist divisions. Since the ceremony, they had all been ushered into the auditorium to be welcomed with a warm room and warmer hot chocolate. The room hummed with the energy of newly sworn-in agents who are reconnecting with family and friends, of officers who have come to witness it, and other guests that he doesn't bother to differentiate from the rest of the crowd. He looked around impatiently for the familiar peaked cap and golden feathers to stand out.
"You're acting like a hyperactive puffle, Reyes." He almost forgot that Nick was right next to him. He gripped his mug out of habit to bring himself back to who he was talking to. "Relax. You'll see her eventually."
"Yer such a spoilsport, boss." He scoffed dryly as he adjusted his cap, not used to the different weight it held compared to his cowboy hat.
"I'm not your boss anymore, 76. I'm not really anyone's boss anymore." Beside him, Nick shrugged and took a sip from his mug of tea. In his finest uniform, it was surprising to think that this would be his last appearance as the Weaponry Development Division's commander. "I already sent in my resignation letter. It's to take effect anytime soon."
"Aw, yer going to miss all ta things that'll happen with me around, boss. I'll be ta talk o' the div when I sink my feet in it." Nick fought the urge to roll his eyes. Reyes grinned widely next to him. "Besides, d'ya really have to?"
"You know why I have to." There's resignation in that tone that Reyes doesn't like. He turned to his former boss to see that he's staring at his mug of tea with an unreadable expression. "I already told Rogue about it. She didn't seem pleased."
"Yer her friend, boss. Even though she ain't gon' talk bout it, she's kinda disappointed." He couldn't help but shrug. "At least ya gotta talk it out with 'er."
"Gee, Reyes, didn't know you knew our commander for quite a while." The sarcasm is dripping in Nick's tone as he sighed. "I know she's disappointed. But what am I to do?"
"I could always talk to 'er." When Nick didn't respond to what he said, he shrugged once more. "Ye'd owe me a pint for this one, boss."
"I owe you nothing, kid."
Nick turned away when he was called by some commander who wished to talk to him. The conversation ends like that, with Reyes left to fend for himself in the auditorium. He would have called his former boss rude if not for the fact that he still had a shred of respect for him. He set his mug of hot chocolate down on a nearby table and sighed, nodding to himself before he decided to stretch his legs a bit. Of course, it wouldn't take long until he knocked into someone and staggered back.
"Sorry!" The crowds were quick to give the two space as they clambered back, afraid to be caught in the accident. He quickly got down to help whoever he knocked over, before recognizing the green feathers and grinning. "Commander Hepson!"
"Good to see you too, 76." The Antarctican shrugged off the impact of his fall and accepted the outstretched flipper. The crowd around them neatly folded back into the space as he was back on his feet. "Graduated top of your class, huh? Rogue was pleased when she found out."
"She would've saw it comin' a mile away. Say, have you seen 'er? Wanted to congratulate 'er for the Theta mission." He wanted to ask why the commander's grin dropped a bit. "Finally got that son of a gun."
"Actually," Adrian cleared his throat as he gripped the man's flipper firmly. "She was just looking for you."
They made their way through the crowd, with penguins easily parting for them. Reyes would have thought that it was because Adrian was doing the leading. They found themselves stepping up the stage and going backstage, walking past agents who made sure that the celebrations would go without a hitch. They weave through hallways to finally come to a dressing room, Adrian not knocking and stepping in with Reyes in tow. He instantly recognized the peaked cap that laid on the dressing table as Rogue came into view, pulling at her tie to loosen it from its perfect knot. Her eyes set to Reyes and she nodded respectfully.
"Ye was lookin' for me, ma'am?"
"Of course I was." She nodded behind him, and he heard Adrian shut the door behind them. He turned around to see that the man had disappeared. Well. Guess this is important. "Take a seat on the couch, Reyes."
He was quick to follow the order. His foot bounced as he watched her pull out a bottle of Cream Soda from a nearby cabinet, pouring out two glasses. She offered one to Reyes, which he took with a nod and a tip of his hat. She sat down next to him and tilted her head back to down the glass in one go. He raised a brow at her and whistled lowly. "Yer celebratin' all alone in this ol' dressing room, commander?"
"If you can call it celebrating." Rogue said and swallowed thickly, looking at her glass and sighing. "Did you know that Adrian was top of his class when he graduated?"
"Was he now, ma'am?" He couldn't help his eyebrows from shooting into his hairline. The commander nodded and turned back to the wall, as if staring at it was better than staring at the agent next to her.
"Bridgett was right behind him. Those two are near impossible to separate." She said and picked up the Cream Soda to pour herself another drink. "As per tradition, I usually pull aside the top of the batch to discuss their station assignment as well as the work they wish to do within the division."
"Real kind o' you, Commander." He nodded as he stared at his own glass of soda. "S'that all?"
"Not really." She frowned as she took a small sip from her glass. "I also give a nice one-on-one talk with them that usually stays between us."
"Ye got mah word, Commander. Scout's honor." He grinned as she shot him a dry look, before she tilted her head back to finish the rest of her soda. She was ready to reach over to the bottle when he gently took her glass and switched it with his. "Save ya the energy."
"Thoughtful." She takes a long sip before she sets the glass down. "The UAN hearings are coming up. Tonight we'll be taking the first flight out to go to South Pole City."
"We?" He knitted his brows together and set the empty glass down. "Now, ma'am, I don' recall any orders from on high 'bout some trip—"
"I meant me and Laurenson and Tang." She said and glowered at him, taking another sip from her glass. "You've got a bit of a temper on you, don't you?"
He could only nod as she dipped her head back to drink some more. He coughed slightly, "Yer drinking a lot for someone who's gon' fly out tonight."
"With where we're going, I can drink all I want." She coughed a bit and wiped her beak. "We're going to the UAN to present before the Security Council our oral report of the mission."
"Why're y'all mentioning it, then?" Reyes asked as he leaned back against the couch.
"I'm considering bringing you along for you to learn more about what it's like to work in the ATD." She explained as she waved her free flipper around. "I'm thinking of putting you on field duties, but I know that a little bit of knowledge on the bureaucracy wouldn't hurt."
"Ain't my fault I don't know squint 'bout handling 'em." He shrugged, "Y'all know that politicians are so fancy n' all with their pretty words and pretty shoes."
"What an unfortunate truth." Rogue sighed as she shook her head, taking a sip from the glass once more.
They fall into silence after that, and Reyes couldn't think of a way to fill it in. He may have his Eastshield charm on him, but he can do nothing in comparison to the commander who sat beside him. He waited patiently as he watched her take tiny sips from the glass, as if she wouldn't be able to pour herself another. He slowly took off his cap and sighed, weighing it in his flippers.
"Ya got somethin' on yer mind, Commander?"
"It's classified." She paused from her speaking to think, mouth opened slightly. She shook her head and leaned back onto the couch, finishing the last of the Cream Soda with another sip. "So, would you like to come along to the trip, Agent Reyes?"
"Course, Commander. It'd be me honor." He grinned toothily at her. She gave him a look and nodded, a smile on her face before she set her glass down and leaned back on the couch. He watched her carefully, "Was the Cream Soda for courage?"
"Probably." He almost barked in laughter. "Give me a break, Reyes. I don't want to do any socializing today."
"I gotta get packin' then, don't I?" He asked as he got up from the couch. She looked up to him and nodded as he quickly made his way towards the door. "Do I gotta need ta bring anythin' special?"
"We can handle the suit you'll be wearing on the way." He doesn't want to think about that. "Go on, kid. Tell Tang the situation."
He was eager to follow that order.
"Good evening!" The pilot greeted them as they stepped in, grinning widely as she peered at the small group. "Oh, looks like the cavalry's here."
"Good to see you too, Emily." Rogue clapped her shoulder when she went by, quickly depositing her laptop bag on a nearby chair. She watched as Reyes clambered behind her with his obnoxious cowboy hat to get a seat somewhere in the back. She shares a look with Nick who only shrugged. She shook her head.
"We'll get off the island in no time, Commanders!" Emily said chirpily as she twirled around and rushed into the cockpit. The door behind her shut as the agents outside hurried to load the plane with fuel. The four could only look each other from their own seats, Reyes more of poking his head out from his place at the back.
"Who's she, boss?" Reyes asked curiously, removing his hat as he pulled on a hoodie.
"Emily Oxton," Nick beat her to it as he continued. "Our resident pilot. She's one of the fastest pilots around here so she usually flies us around."
"Sounds real neat." He said as Rogue turned away from the conversation to pull up her reports. She skimmed the contents before the plane began to lurch to movement, prompting them all to buckle themselves in.
"It's a 6 hour flight, so you should all get some beauty sleep while we're flying!" Emily's easy Puffish accent floated through the overhead speakers as the lights dimmed for the plane to gather power to lift off. "We'll be expecting a li'l turbulence so strap on tight."
"That's great." Rogue muttered dryly and looked around, surprised to see both Jason and Reyes already knocked out in their respective seats. Upon further inspection, she noticed Nick to be a few seats in front of Reyes, seemingly pointing his phone at him to take a picture. "Thanks, Emily."
There's a light giggle that replies back. "Anytime, love!"
As the engine hummed to life, Nick made quick work to get to the other side of her chair, strapping himself in, he grinned wildly at her and handed her his phone.
"You're like a little kid." She scoffed dryly, but took his phone anyway as she looked at the pictures.
"I'm officially unemployed in two weeks, let me live." Nick shrugged as he leaned back as they sped up. They remained quiet as they started to climb higher and higher into the atmosphere, in speeds that made their ears pop.
"Send these to me." She said as she handed him back his phone, turning back to her report once more and skimming it.
The plane lurched with the first bout of turbulence, prompting them to grip the table between them before relaxing. Nick grinned, "With pleasure."
They had managed to secure two hotel rooms within South Pole City, a block away from the UAN headquarters. Like many other buildings in the Antarctican mainland, it had floor to ceiling bay windows that gave a wide view of bustling Booklin. As Rogue stared out of the window, she could see the UAN building towering in the distance, and beyond it the Giant Pen. Behind her, her laptop and hologram projectors were set up on her bed, showing her the report she is to speak before the council as well as the files she has been reviewing. She turns away from the window in favor for the things on her bed, setting herself down and picking up her laptop.
The door clicked open in front of her, and she looked up to see Jason shrugging off snow from his coat. He set it down on a nearby chair and, stretching his arms, flopped down on the bed next to hers. She set her laptop aside and gently pushed away her projectors as she looked at him.
"Finally picked up Reyes' suit." He said simply, prompting her to nod and pick up a projector to deactivate. She threw it to his bed and let it gravitate to his side, making him grip it and activate it once more. He stared at the report that was projected upon it. "What's this?"
"Itinerary." She replied readily, turning back to grab her laptop once more. "Looks like we'll be stuck in the Conference Hall for two days before we get a looser schedule. We'd still be required to be within the complex, though."
"Well that sucks." Jason scoffed dryly as he set the projector down. "I wanted to go around Booklin."
She only nodded her sympathies before she turned back to the window. It's a bit dark thanks to the looming clouds ahead, and the snow was falling down gently. She rubbed her arm as she turned back to Jason.
"Dinner downstairs is still happening, right?"
He sat up a bit, "With Tang and Reyes? Yeah, definitely."
"Great, because I'm starving." She said as she got off her bed, making her way to her luggage to pick out clothes to wear.
"Alright, so here's the game plan," Nick said as he slid into his seat across Reyes. The agent only gave his former commander an odd look as Rogue slid into the seat next to him. He turned to nod at her in greeting. "We either eat quickly and retire early, or we actually enjoy ourselves and go to bed late."
"Do I look like the sleeping type to you, Tang?" Rogue scoffed dryly as she took a sip from her glass of water. Reyes gave her an odd look. "Don't look at me like that, Reyes. I haven't slept properly in months."
"Hey, you slept perfectly fine on the ride to the hotel." Nick jabbed as Jason took a seat next to him. "You were drooling all over Laurenson here."
"I was dozing." She rolled her eyes before she turned to Reyes. "Listen, I need you awake by 0600 tomorrow. I'm expecting you in the lobby by 0800."
"Course, ma'am." He nodded as a waiter came over to ask for their order. Nick helpfully gave him their orders before he left them alone.
"I 'eard a Ms. Winston would be presiding." Reyes couldn't figure out why the three flinched at that.
"Should've told me before I waved the waiter off, I would have ordered some Cream Soda." Nick said as he shook his head, turning to Rogue who was very interested in looking at her phone.
"I want to be absolutely sober when we face her, Tang." She said before turning to Reyes. "Winston is a force to be reckoned with. Take great care when you're around her, she's like a hawk."
"If ya say so." Reyes said and took a sip from his own glass. "Would we see Dr. Kowalski tomorrow?"
"He would be an idiot not to show up." Nick frowned as he nudged Jason. "You've been quiet."
"Not my fault you two are commandeering the conversation." Jason shrugged as he leaned back on his chair. "Besides, I don't need to tell any of you how I feel about Winston presiding over us."
"This is going to be eventful." Rogue sighed as she leaned on her flipper, scrolling through her phone with the other. "We'll be paired off, right?"
"You and Laurenson, me and Reyes." Nick said and rolled his shoulders a bit, grinning. "I'll give this kid a nice good talk before I hand him over to you."
"Gee, thanks boss. Real nice thing to do." Reyes rolled his eyes as their food arrived.
"Well, dig in." Rogue said as she rolled her sleeves back and picked her utensils up. "Might as well enjoy the evening before we step into hell tomorrow."
The snow is a gentle reminder of his childhood.
Blessedly, he found Rogue asleep when he woke up that morning. After a quick shower and a change of clothes, he stepped out of the room to get some coffee in the nearby cafe. It was a quick ten minute walk to the warm cafe, where he had to stand in line and wait for his turn. After he got his coffee and stepped back outside, he couldn't help but take a deep breath. The air turned into smoke with each breath he took, and he can feel his feathers and hair ruffle with the wind that blew around him.
Jason Laurenson remembers a time when his childhood consisted of visited his grandmother who lived in Booklin. As he stared up to the snow that fell down from the sky as gently as feathers would, he considered making the quick 20-minute jog to her neighborhood to greet her hello.
Then, the beeping of his phone told him otherwise.
He quickly removed his phone from his pocket and looked at the message that was glaring at him in alarming red, a stark contrast to the world around him.
- Hearing has been suspended due to the snow. Apparently planes can't land due to it. Do me a favor and tell Rogue.
He quickly tapped out a reply.
- Can't you just text her yourself?
The reply came in a second.
- I need to get to Reyes first. Kid's probably all alone in the lobby now.
He rolled his eyes at that and pocketed his phone, stuffing his flipper into his coat as the other gripped his coffee. He made his way back to the hotel with ease, letting the snow fall down on him gently. The coffee was a warm tether as he stepped into the lobby, welcoming the warmth that came with it. He quickly made his way into an elevator and pressed in his floor, before he's out and going into their shared room. The door opens to reveal her already dressed, coat and cap set aside on the bed as she pored over the contents of her laptop. She turned in time to him setting down his coffee, watching him shrug off his coat onto the nearby chair.
"Hearing's been suspended. Apparently the snowfall's too heavy to fly through." He explained quickly, ruffling out his hair and watching the snow fall down. She nodded as she loosened the knot of her tie and sighed, setting her laptop aside. It only made him realize now that she hasn't even tied her hair back. "I don't know when they'll call it back."
"That's alright." She said as she stood, tugging off the tie and making her way to her luggage. He picked up his coffee to take a warm sip as he watched her rummage around for civilian clothes. "What's the plan for today?"
"Not quite sure about that." He said and paused, realizing what he was thinking of earlier. "My nana lives a few blocks away from here. I was thinking of visiting her earlier."
She only gave him a look as she paused from unbuttoning her shirt, waiting patiently for what he was to say next. "Do you want to visit her?"
"Of course I do. I haven't quite told her yet that I'm in town for this hearing." He said and rubbed the back of his neck. "Look, I wanted to say, will you—"
"Yeah." His eyes widen a bit at that. She rolled her shoulders and quickly turned back to her luggage to remove the buttons of her dress shirt. "I mean— yeah, sure I'll go with you."
"Great. That's great." He said as he averted his eyes, suddenly finding the coffee he held far more interesting than the woman who just said yes to him going to visit his grandmother.
UAN hearings continue Friday
Jacqueline Morrison | CBN News
UNITED ANTARCTIC NATIONS (UPDATE) - UAN hearings continue this Friday after snowstorm delays flights to and from the United States of Antarctica.
UAN officials have confirmed last Thursday night that the hearings would continue, as all representatives have landed and are ready to submit their oral reports before the Security Council. Additionally, officials have reported that main suspect Icarus Petturi will not be in attendance during the hearings. The reasons behind his absence have not yet been revealed yet.
The hearings are about the recent conclusion of the investigations on the widespread hackings that had occurred throughout the world. It began on August 30 in Club Penguin Island when a hacker managed to break in to the government databases as well as public utilities. From there, the hacker managed to break into and steal documents from other government databases. Several intelligence agencies have responded to the call of the UAN to unite in the investigation, with the EPF leading as one of the main responders to the cause. The investigation was considered closed when on December 2, the EPF along with other intelligence agencies announced the name of their main suspect as well as his current conditions.
Main suspect Icarus Petturi is a Munian national who was supposedly killed during the September 30 WhiteBlood Genocide in Centrallica, Munijoch. He is currently facing charges of cyberterrorism, theft of government property, as well as disruption of the peace.
This was the arrangement they were currently in.
With Jason driving the car, Rogue sat in the passenger's seat next to him with her laptop bag on her lap. Behind her, Nick was tapping messages to his girlfriend on his phone, and seemed to be pretty engrossed with the situation. Reyes, meanwhile, sat across him. He shifted a bit in the suit that he was wearing and pouted a bit at the lack of cowboy hat on his head, instead begrudgingly switched for a beanie.
The car easily weaved through traffic as they got closer and closer to the UAN Headquarters. It was a complex made of five main buildings that overlooked the West River. Most of its buildings were wider and closer to the ground than taller, mainly as a security move to avoid any untoward incidents. There was only one building that towered slightly over the rest, the main office that housed the offices of the ambassadors of the UAN as well as other smaller conference rooms. They passed by a bronze statue of a penguin holding the hand of a chick on the way in, their bronze eyes hopeful and looking towards the sky.
Reyes doesn't get how that is called art.
Jason parked the car in the open parking lot. They all slip out easily and quickly put on their coats, the sudden shift of temperature making a chill run down Reyes' spine. They turned and made their way to the direction of the Conference Hall. As they walked, they had to cross a courtyard of sorts that lead to the building. It was a wide place, with the flags of the UAN's members flanking its sides. The flags fluttered gently with the wind as snow continued to fall, sky darkened with the clouds that were heavy with snow. Reyes noticed another statue of sorts in the middle of the courtyard, a small plaque that is surrounded by three towering pillars.
"The document that created the UAN." Rogue explained when he asked her what it was. "Flanked by three of its guiding principles."
"Peace, order, and unity." Nick chimed in as he laughed breathily.
They finally reach the end of the courtyard to step into the doors of the Conference Hall. It was a massive, circular building that had floor to ceiling windows. They quickly fell in line to be checked by security, chattering amongst themselves regarding the hearing that was to come.
"You're listed as an aide, so you will be sitting a bit away from us." Jason said calmly as he shrugged, "Sorry, Reyes."
"S'okay, sir." He grinned as much as he could, rolling his shoulders in an attempt to get the snow off of his coat. "Lets me see the drama unfold from afar."
If he saw Rogue glower at him after that, he wouldn't say.
They managed to get past security without a hitch, but weren't ready for what was to come after. There was a horde of news reporters who were waiting for them in the lobby, seemingly ready to charge at them with questions about the investigation. Reyes couldn't help but shrink back a bit at the notion of answering their questions.
"Let's just get to the conference hall, lady and gentlemen." Jason muttered as he quickly nodded at the nearby UAN personnel who tried to clear a path for them. Around them, questions were flung left and right as journalists struggled to get their opinion.
Reyes made the wise choice of blocking them out.
They are finally left alone when they reach the cut-off area near the doors. An officer was holding a tablet as he looked at them, quickly nodding at them as he checked his tablet.
"EPF Commanders Laurenson, Tvarkov, and Tang?" The three nodded at the same time. "And their aide, Agent Reyes."
"Yessir." Reyes said, nodding and reached over to his nonexistent hat, before he realized what he was doing and moved his flipper away. The officer didn't say anything as he nodded, stepping aside to let them through.
"Commanders, you should be able to find your seats in the tables inside. Agent, please follow the officer inside for your seat." He said dutifully before they stepped inside, into the conference hall where the hearing will occur.
Just like the structure, it was massive and circular. In the front was a wide panel that could hold five representatives, and Reyes inferred that it was probably for the Security Council. Before that panel was a podium, which was probably for the oral report that would happen much later. There were neat rows of tables that bent to look circular. He could already see several penguins already on the chairs, speaking amongst each other about anything under the sun. He tilted his head up to observe that the ceiling is decorated with a blur of colors mixed into a kaleidoscope-like circle. Tilting his head back a bit lower, he noticed the familiar one way mirrors that lined the conference hall.
"Private viewing rooms." Rogue told him as she caught him looking. "For any other guests who want to view the hearing."
"Who would be in them?" Reyes asked curiously, tilting his head back to her as he asked.
Rogue could only shrug, "I'm only presuming those who were invited."
He didn't want to know what she meant by that.
He was quickly ushered away to the outer tables of the conference room, a good three or four tables away from Rogue and the others. He sat back down and quickly noticed the headset that was on the table, reaching over to put it on him and switch it on. Upon realizing that it was connected to translation channels, he started moving through the channels with the button he found at the side.
Well, this is going to be fun.
Rogue looked at those who were in the first row of tables.
She could see Director James Cueva of the Orion Initiative in one of the central tables, who was chatting amiably with Robert Wolfe of the SIA. Cueva was a short man with brown feathers, who wore a neat blue suit. As she quickly looked him over, she could see the curl of black paint peak from his sleeves, a mere blip of the patterns that would be painted on his feathers. She turned her head away to look at Wolfe, who was wearing a clean cut black suit. She turned away to tilt her head back to look at the private viewing rooms. She recalls accessing the list of guests earlier that morning, and finding Maria Yslenski as one of those who has confirmed to be in attendance.
She wonders if she is there to just watch.
There's a hush that comes to the hall when the Security Council makes it way into the hall. Everyone is silent as they stood, before finally, Winston makes her way into the room.
The room seems a bit colder as she did. Her royal blue feathers shone under the overhead lights, and she looked regal in the blue suit that she wore. There was a clean, vertical scar that ran down her eye, how she got it no one knew. Her hair was pulled back in a plait, a mix of black and silver that gave off how old she truly was.
Athena Winston swept the room with one look, and sat down on her seat.
"This hearing shall begin." She said in a clear tone, eyes scanning the room once more as her mouth twitched to a smile. "We are here to discuss the conclusions of the investigation regarding the hackings. We shall begin the oral reports in alphabetical order, starting with the Elite Penguin Force."
It feels as if the wind is knocked out of her as the three of them shared a look. Winston is giving her a look as she grinned eerily, nodding to the golden girl in greeting.
"Commander Tvarkov, if you may?"
She stood and shuffled towards the podium, laptop bag on her shoulder. She smoothly slid out her laptop to prop on its surface, quickly connecting it to the overhead projector that projected the powerpoint she created for the report.
"I believe I need no introduction." Rogue said as she nodded towards the Security Council. "The EPF was alerted of a hacking going on in the island by the office of the mayor. We had dispatched agents to the office to handle it on-site, before the hacking spread to the agency itself."
"Where were you during the hackings, Commander?" Shopper Representative Philip Ricci asked from his seat, leaning before his microphone slightly.
"I was in the Academy Island, sir. I was doing my monthly inspections." She quickly supplied, before she continued. "Petturi managed to break into our main database and was beginning to spread to the individual division databases when I had to initiate an alpha lockdown to protect my division's database. Despite these measures, Divisions Alpha and Epsilon succumbed to the hackings. Other divisions were also on lockdown when I had to take the first flight back to the island. From there, we had to manually scour the potential suspects with the paper files."
"Just how severe was the damage to your databases after?" The Frankterran representative asked, a burly man named Klein Lacroix.
"Petturi managed to steal 287 agent profiles from the main databases, as well as 53 miscellaneous files of division budgets, mission reports, and project information." She said and flipped through her powerpoint. "Many of these agents were in deep cover, and at least 12 were in some way compromised after the hackings. While I have managed to infer his motives with the profiles, I am not quite sure what he wanted out of the miscellaneous files."
"Continue, Tvarkov." Winston said as she leaned on her fist, watching her intently as she spoke.
"In accordance to the call of the UAN, the Director has assigned me to the case as well as Commander Jason Laurenson of the Delta Division. We had to exhaust all of our known informants to find him." Rogue said as she went through her powerpoint. "While doing so, we had to find a way to make the other intelligence agencies cooperate with us to find the hacker. I had to go to Rusca when the leaks started. I had to pull my brother out to avoid his likely assassination. We inferred by then that Petturi was selling out information to hit-men and assassins in the underground."
"You returned to Rusca after some time, did you not?" Ricci asked curiously, "I saw the tweet of Katya Tvarkova. You were with her."
"I was, sir." She nodded in agreement as she forced herself to smile. "The Director had put me off-duty with Laurenson when they saw that we needed to take a break."
"But before that, Tvarkov, I recall that there was a gas leak explosion." Winston said, frowning just slightly. "In the papers, it's been reported to be so. I've read the report on that. That wasn't a gas leak, was it?"
She shook her head, "We were set up by Petturi to walk into a rigged apartment. We lost two agents that day."
"Unfortunate." There is a tug of a pout on Winston's beak.
"After that, I had went to Gemini to look for answers from an old friend. I managed to get news from him that our hacker was Munian." Rogue said as she nodded. "His information was true."
"And after, you go to Rusca to take a break." Lacroix said as he leaned back on his chair.
"I also spoke with NRR Agent Viktor Volkov regarding a list he and the SIA compiled regarding the potential list of targets." She said and turned to nod at Viktor, who was a few seats to her left. "From there, I went to Munijoch to speak with one of the targets. Director Cueva could expound further on that."
"And this... target happened to be Munijoch's First Lady?" Winston frowned once more.
She nodded once more. "Mrs. Yslenski's background was controversial enough to catch Petturi's eye. From there, I had spoken with her regarding what she thought was Petturi's reason for targeting her. She had been a bit vague from start to finish, and we had not really understood what she had meant. It wasn't until the talk she had with that university that we understood the target on her back.
"Petturi attacked Mrs. Yslenski at approximately 10 pm the night after her reveal. While she had been wearing a pulse ammunition-proof vest during the attack, she got injured due to the close proximity of the shot. She had been treated by Atlas dela Rosa on the scene when the attack was over."
As she spoke, she brought up a slide with the pictures Jason had took of the household after the attack. There was quiet murmuring from the council as they looked at the pictures of exploded down and bloodstains on the floor, before there was a hush as Winston looked up.
"Tell us about the operation."
She didn't need to be told twice. "SIA had managed to provide us information on Petturi's location through fly cameras that they flew around the City of Progress. He was located in the border of the outskirts, in a building that was supposed to be rehabilitated by the government. We managed to plan and stage a quick capture operation, then flew him to the SAD mansion in the USA. We managed to keep him there for two days."
"Managed?" Rogue tried not to flinch at the lapse of her wording. Winston cocked an eyebrow at her and tilted her head just slightly. "Managed suggested you hardly were able to contain him."
"Theta escaped." She can only say as the room lulled to a different silence than earlier. "Or, was abducted."
"You aren't sure?" Winston frowned as she sat up straighter.
"We don't know how to explain it." Rogue quickly tried to keep the situation from going downhill. "The SAD—"
"At least inform the council that you have footage of this incident." She sounded just a bit irritable. Rogue tried not to wince as she nodded. "Good. That will be all."
Rogue nodded and gave her thanks, pulling the cord off of her laptop and calmly going back to her seat. She could not bring herself to stare at Nick or Jason as she fidgeted with her phone, frowning when she felt it buzz.
- You okay?
She turned to look at Jason, but he only stared at the council as Winston called for the next agency. Viktor Volkov was making his way to podium as she turned back to her phone to quickly tap out her reply.
- I will need a drink after this hearing.
In her peripheral vision, she can see him crack a smile.
Rogue managed to block out most of Viktor's report, and tried not to visibly wince at the questioning that came with his. She could only help but watch dully as her cousin all but fled from the podium once his report was over, watching him get back on his seat with as much grace as he could manage. As said, it was in alphabetical arrangement, so Orion would be next.
Cueva was calm throughout most of his speech, and the details matched a lot of what Rogue knew. It's only when they reached the later parts of his report that she actually got herself to pay attention.
"When we realized that Theta would not reveal himself unless provoked, we had to find someone who would be willing to make a move. Call them a sacrificial lamb, so to say." He said as he waved his arms about in narration, a calm smile on his face as he spoke. "We thought it best if it would be someone who'd make the worst impact, and it happened to be Mrs. Yslenski."
"Describe 'worst impact'." Winston narrowed her eyes as she observed Cueva.
"Well, when we noticed that she was one of the six whose file was stolen from our database, it was easy to determine what Petturi had in mind." Cueva said, chuckling slightly as he spoke. "Of the six of us who could be compromised by a leak, she would be worst hit. If it had been leaked to the public, her file could have potentially ruined Munian-Finipino relations, as well as questioned the current administration's move to make her ambassador when she was younger. If it had been leaked to the criminal underworld and bountied, her death would have impacted Munijoch and Finipines together."
"So you had asked her to be the sacrificial lamb." It wasn't even a question.
Cueva grinned near mischievously, "The dearest First Lady was a bit reluctant at first, but in the end she did what was necessary. I'd like to thank Commanders Laurenson and Tvarkov along with Agent Wolfe for their, well, unknowing cooperation."
Jason and Rogue locked eyes when he spoke. Suddenly it made sense.
"Explain, Director." Winston frowned as she leaned back on her seat.
"It's a given that Petturi would have attacked Yslenski anytime after she revealed her past." He shrugged as he leaned on the podium. "We had a Theta contingency in the making, and Orion did not want to get their flippers dirty. We had to nudge them over to take care of the mess for us."
She noticed Wolfe lean into the microphone in front of his desk.
"Cueva, you son of a—" Winston sent him a cold glare from her perch at the panel. "biscuit."
"You can express your sentiments when it's your turn to present your report, Wolfe." Winston said calmly before she turned back to Cueva to nod. "Continue."
Rogue leaned back as she mulled over what Cueva had just revealed, ignoring the grumble from Wolfe as he muttered to himself.
Their break came later than expected.
Rogue surveyed the canteen of the main building, which reminded her a lot like the one in the EPF Tower. Since they weren't really allowed to leave the complex yet (security protocols that Rogue doesn't bother to recall, thank you very much), they ended up being ushered to the canteen of the UAN headquarters. Thankfully, there were no news reporters who would hound them while they ate lunch in peace.
Of course, that wouldn't prevent a UAN employee to come for her.
"Ms. Winston wishes to see you." A timid voice pulled her away from her thoughts as she looked up. The voice came from a rather short, timid looking woman who wore spectacles. Huh. Must be the secretary. "She said it's important."
She looked at the rest of her table and locked eyes with Reyes, nodding to him as she stood up. "Reyes, on me."
They made their way out of the canteen and into the hallways of the main administrative building of the UAN. They stepped into an elevator as the secretary pressed a button on it, before they were being brought up to the fifth floor.
"Did she mention what she wanted to talk about?" She tried not to smile at the jump that came from the secretary. She turned to her briefly before going back to staring at the doors, muttering to herself.
"N-Not really." The secretary shook her head. The doors dinged and opened as she hurried out, quickly tailed by Rogue and Reyes. They stop before a door towards the end of the hall, where the secretary ushers them in and makes them sit in the waiting room. "Please wait here."
The secretary disappeared to her desk in the corner of the room. Rogue took the time to survey the waiting room. It was a well-furnished, relaxing room with earthly tones to it. It was definitely warm in this room, a stark contrast to the canteen she was in earlier, and she couldn't help but relax a bit as she settled back on her seat.
But of course, she'd be interrupted by the office door opening.
"Come in, Commander Tvarkov." When both she and Reyes stood, Winston spoke again. "And leave your boy behind. It's just you and me here."
"But isn't Mrs—"
"I was not speaking to you, Wright."
The secretary ducked back to her desk. Rogue only gave her a pitiful look before turning to Reyes and nodding, prompting him to sit back down. She walked across the room to step into the office, forcing back the shiver that came when she was met with ice cold wind. Much like the waiting room, this office was made with earthly tones, and was very spacious. Her eyes quickly moved to the side to see Maria Yslenski, who seemed very much invested in drinking the cup of tea in her flippers. She raised her cup in greeting and smiled, before turning back to Winston to grin.
"I wasn't aware that you were here, Mrs. Yslenski." She greeted formally as Winston spun around to go to her desk. There were large, bay windows that overlooked the West River, and it allowed a nice stream of light to brighten up the office.
Maria grinned and tilted her head. "Athena didn't quite announce my presence."
"Have you been here long?" Rogue asked as she looked towards Winston, who was preoccupied with something that was on her desk.
"Not really." They both turned when Winston cleared her throat. She glared pointed at Maria as the woman nodded and set her cup down. "Well, I believe I shall take my leave. See you around, Commander."
With that, she disappeared through the door. It clicked shut as Winston organized papers on her desk, muttering to herself before looking at Rogue.
"Well don't just stand around there. Sit down." She made quick steps to sit down in one of the provided chairs before her table. Winston brought up holograms and pored over them, pausing before looking at Rogue and collapsing them. "Now, explain to me how on earth Theta managed to escape."
If she shivered she didn't show it. "Ms. Winston—"
"Commander Tvarkov, I am going through an SAD report right now and I can see that you're mentioned as the last one to see him. What happened to Theta?" It was more of a demand than a question.
Rogue frowned as she steeled herself. "I don't know."
"What do you mean you don't know?" There is something about being questioned in point-blank that makes this worse than earlier.
"If you have read the SAD report, you should also know that the lights were out throughout the whole thing." Rogue was quick to defend herself as she struggled to pull the best words together. "I was unable to see who or what took Theta."
"Took." Winston echoed as she leaned back on her seat. "So he didn't escape."
"Contrary to popular belief, ma'am." It sounded like poison. She sat up straighter. "He was taken."
Winston is still as she pondered to herself, leaning on her fist as she studied Rogue. She sat up a bit to summon the holograms once more, sighing as she scanned the SAD report that was on it.
"You sounded unsure if he escaped or was abducted earlier. Now it makes sense." Her eyebrows perked up a bit as she spoke, looking at Rogue through the holograms. "Have you made an effort to figure out who it could be?"
"We used everything we have to analyze the footage. We couldn't detect anyone." Rogue paused as she tapped on her arm rest. "I have a theory, though."
"Indulge me." Winston muttered as she went back to reading the report.
"As mentioned in the report, we managed to pick up a voice during the brief blackout." Rogue said as she cleared her throat. "I'm thinking it's SI:9."
"And what makes you so inclined to believe that?" Winston frowned as she leaned forward.
"We told you what to do when you found him. Laurenson and I were sent to a neutral site to speak with SI:9 before we interviewed Yslenski. We've been warned to stand down when we see Theta." She said and coughed into her palm. "Permission to speak out of formalities, Councilwoman."
"And the whole thing was too dramatic to be anyone else." She scoffed as she shook her head. "SI:9 has a thing for cloaking and secrecy."
Winston leaned back on her chair to think to herself, a tiny smile on her face as she nodded.
"I'll have to invite SI:9 again." She said as she waved her flipper dismissively. "You're dismissed."
Rogue stood and nodded tersely, turning to make her way out of the room. Reyes stood when she stepped into the waiting room, quickly following her out of the door and back to the elevator.
"What 'appened? Ya look like ye can kill someone." Reyes said as they stepped into the elevator. She jammed her flipper on the ground floor button and muttered.
"Point-blank interrogation by a diplomat is not how I wanted my appetite to be ruined." Rogue muttered as she leaned back on the walls.
Day 2 is when Kowalski and I04 show up.
There's a hush when the SAD Bureaucrat stepped on the podium, and he was quick with the details of the SAD side of the investigation. He managed to survive most of the questions without breaking a sweat, though there were a few he had to pause at to think over. When he sat back down on his seat, Rogue had tapped him a message through the communication channel they set up on their spy phones.
- RT: I can't believe you missed out on yesterday. It was a headache.
Before Kowalski can type out a brisk reply, Nick beat him to it.
- NT: Seconded. Can't believe Winston's a bit milder now. Did you like, soften her up when you were sent to her, Rogue?
- Kowalski: Guys, what the hell is going on
There is a hush when Winston calls for I04 to step into the podium, and Rogue discards her phone for a moment as she looked up towards him. There is silence for a moment as everyone waited for the maroon feathered man to speak, and when there was nothing, Winston spoke.
"Are you not going to present your oral report, agent?" Winston's tone is ice cold that sends a shiver down everyone's spine.
"I would need the permission of The President to present it." Rogue could almost roll her eyes at that. As always, the SI:9 would take a stubborn route.
Winston nodded at someone to the side, and an employee disappeared to do whatever they were bided to do. There's silence for a while before the employee pops their head out to shake their head, prompting Winston to turn back to I04.
"Seems like your president is not responding to our calls."
"You can always try Director Doe." Was there amusement in his voice? No one could really tell. There's a pause as Winston narrowed her eyes at him.
"I am not going to play this game. You will answer our inquiries or I will have to have a long chat with your president." Winston frowned as she spoke. "Where is Icarus Petturi?"
"In a place where he deserves to be." I04 said coolly.
"That is not a helpful answer, agent." Ricci piped up from his place in the panel. As if that wasn't obvious.
"It doesn't have to be." I04 said as he shifted his sunglasses a bit. How he can wear it indoors is beyond any of them. "Petturi is a Munian who was arrested in Munian territory. It is in our interests that we handle him."
"Do I need to remind you that Petturi is being charged by the international community for his crimes against it?" Winston said, clear annoyance in her tone as she spoke. "Agent, he did not just attack the Munian database."
I04 tilted his head to Winston, "We are aware of the fact that he is being charged by the international community, but we've elected to ignore it."
Rogue could feel near everyone cringe at the words. No one can just elect to ignore such a thing.
"Theta is a dangerous operative who is capable of taking down a battalion if he feels like it." I04 said, frowning slightly as he continued. "The international community has enough on its plate. A thank you would be appropriate since we handled him."
There is silence as the council spoke to each other quietly. Rogue tried to process what was going on before she heard Winston clear her throat.
"We'll call for an early dismissal. The council needs to think on this one." Winston said and nodded, "You are all dismissed."
An early dismissal would have meant that their whole schedule for the afternoon was free. Many were quick to scurry away, words filling the room as they made quick work to get out of the room. Some lingered to discuss amongst each other what just happened, flitting glances going to the council as they debated amongst each other. I04 was nowhere to be seen, and Rogue did not bother to think where he went.
She stalked to Reyes and grabbed him by the flipper. "C-Commander, wait—"
"I need a drink, and you're coming with me to Gemini." Rogue muttered as she thought of her hotel room. In an instant, she managed to teleport them there. Reyes yelped as he looked around.
"What the hell just happened?" He said as she grabbed the car keys that were on her beside table. They had two cars with them, and the other was in the UAN. "Commander, what the—"
"Do you trust me, Reyes?" She frowned as she turned to him, staring up to him with the best of his abilities. "I seemed to have forgotten that we still have a talk to get around, and now is a good time for that talk."
"But drinkin', ma'am?" He frowned as she shoved a coat at him. He hastily pulled it on.
She scoffed and winded a scarf around her neck, "You'll thank me later."
"Not to be rude 'n all, Commander, but yer acting weird." He said as she walked out of the hotel room. The hallway was blessedly empty, and they didn't bump into anyone as they went to Nick and Reyes's room to pick up anything he needed. "Not that I don' mind a drink, ma'am."
"I04 was pushing everyone's buttons on purpose." Rogue said as he picked up his cowboy hat to switch for his beanie. "And I know someone who would want to hear about this."
"In Gemini, ma'am?" He frowned as he turned to her. She nodded and turned as he hurried out of the room.
"You'll like him."
Benjamin can only raise an eyebrow as he watched Rogue and her companion step into the jazz bar.
"It hasn't been too long, ma'am." He can tell by the frown on her face that something was crawling under her feathers. "I suppose some Cream Soda is in order?"
"Please." She slipped into a stool before him, her companion reluctantly sitting down next to her. Benjamin eyed his cowboy hat and slightly wrinkled dress shirt before nodding, turning to give them a glass. A band was playing in the bar's stage, and a cool singer's voice sang through the chatter of patrons. The space before the stage was open for those who wanted to dance, and couples and friends pulled each other to the space as she began to sing.
"Welcome to the Zanzi Bar." Benjamin told her companion as he set the glasses down before them. Rogue was quick to grab her own and drink it down quickly. Benjamin looked at him pointedly. "My name's Benjamin. You are...?"
"Agent John Reyes." Reyes said as he tipped his hat in greeting and picked up his glass. "Jack'll be okay. Though the boss here ain't calling me that."
"Of course I don't." Rogue muttered into the rim of her glass.
"Of course, sir." Benjamin nodded as he turned to Rogue. "Do I tell Zanzi—"
"Yes." She shot up from her seat and turned to Reyes, giving him a blank look before turning back to Benjamin.
Benjamin rounded the counter as Rogue slipped out of the stool. Reyes followed suit. "Come along."
The band was still playing when they made their way to a hallway to the side, before they made their way into the office. Reyes almost stepped back in surprise with the bright colors that assaulted his eyes, and his sight zeroed in on the pine tree that was set up by the fireplace. In the side, he could see a black Magellanic penguin cooing over an orange emperor, both straightening at the sight of the two.
It took him a while to realize that they were both wearing bloodstone pendants.
"Tvarkova!" The black penguin squeaked as he got up to wrap his arms around Rogue, who sagged into the touch instantly. Reyes fought the urge to gawk, as it would be rude to do so. The emperor watched them amusedly from his seat as he sipped his own glass of Cream Soda. "And you brought a boy toy. Tell me about it."
"He is my agent, Zanzi." So this was the Zanzi that she spoke highly of on the way to Gemini. He straightened when Zanzi turned to him, smiling and tipping his hat.
"John Reyes, sir. Jack'll do."
"Cute." Zanzi grinned before he ushered them to the couch. They sat across the couple, both of them holding their drinks as Zanzi went back to sitting with the emperor penguin.
"Reyes, this is Caspian." Rogue supplied to him after she drained her glass, which Reyes helpfully exchanged for his own, untouched one. "Haven't seen you in a while, Cas."
"Haven't seen you in a while either, Rogue." The kind tone surprised him as he fidgeted with the empty glass he held. "What brings you here?"
"Why didn't you bring Laurenson along? I wanted to say hi to that boy for some time now." Zanzi pouted from his place in the couch. Then, after some thought, he shot up and grinned madly. "Are you here to tell us about the hearings?"
"Oh, is that today?" Caspian frowned as he turned to Zanzi. "I don't recall them being today."
"That's because you're too busy baking that three-tier wedding cake for Sophie, you dummy." Zanzi said and poked at Caspian's chest. He turned to Rogue and grinned, "Come on, darling, tell me all about it."
Rogue shifted in her seat as she took a sip from her Cream Soda again, reaching over for the bottle to pour herself a new glass. Reyes tried not to wince as he watched his commander, recalling the similar motions from not so long ago.
"I'm too sober for this." She muttered, prompting a laugh from Zanzi and a shake of the head from Caspian.
Nick heard the knock on his door, and knew who it was.
Of course, he couldn't blame Jason for worrying. Neither Rogue nor Reyes were responding to his calls or text messages, and no one had a clue on where they went. While logically, it would be said that they are fine, it was never wrong to be so sure. He slowly got up from his bed to open the hotel room door.
Jason looked around, "You haven't seen Rogue or Reyes anywhere?"
"No." He shook his head, opening the door fully to let the Antarctican in. He sat down on the nearby chair as he stretched his sore muscles, staring at the clock that glowed neon on Nick's bedside. 2304. Too late for either of them to be out. "Reyes's hat is missing."
"So they've been here?" Jason asked, looking around for any other clues. "Rogue's scarf was missing when I checked, and the keys to the second car was not there."
"That leaves us to one conclusion," Nick said as he grabbed the remote control to the TV and flicked it on. "They're out."
"But where could they possibly be?" Jason frowned as they both watched the dragon boat competition that was being televised.
"To Zanzi, obviously." Nick scoffed, before he turned to Jason to speak. "Something wrong?"
"I wanted to tell Rogue something." Jason muttered to himself as they watched the dragon boat competition in silence.
It's 1 am when they pull up in the parking lot of the hotel.
Rogue is relatively sober by the time Reyes cuts the engine, unbuckling his seatbelt and sighing. He leaned back on the driver's chair and waited patiently for Rogue to tell him anything, a dismissal at best so he can go to bed and sink into his bed. If he's lucky enough, Nick might have already been in bed a long time ago.
"Thanks for driving us back, Reyes." She muttered tiredly into the glass that she was leaning on, frowning as she righted herself and twisted the crick out of her neck. "I forgot that I owe you a talk."
"S'okay, Commander. Ya gotta get ta bed." Reyes said as he removed his cowboy hat to feel it in his flippers. It was a grounding motion that he's developed as a child, and now he needed it to not fall asleep in the car. "We still got two days of hearings."
He did not expect laughter to rumble out of her. He turned to see her laughing, shaking her head as she wiped away tears. "That's hilarious."
But her mood changes easily, as she sat up a bit and tried to fix her crooked scarf on her neck. He watched her carefully as she unbuckled herself and stepped out of the car. He was quick to move out, rounding the front of the car in case she would trip all over herself. Surprisingly, he found her leaning against the side of the car, head tilted to the sky as she took interest on the stars that shone down on them.
He cleared his throat, "Somethin' up, Commander?"
"The stars don't care about the things we do on earth, don't we?" She muttered more to herself, breath turning into smoke as she exhaled slowly. He watched her carefully as he righted his hat on his head, turning back to look at the stars.
"M'sure they don't." Reyes said as he kept his eyes to the sky. "What's it to you, ma'am?"
"They don't care about the things we do on earth." She repeated, shrugging to herself as she blew at the air around her to create smoke. "They are there even when we don't expect them to."
"S'this the talk y'all been meanin' to tell me?" He asked curiously as he placed his flippers in the pockets of his coat.
"I guess. I'll hardly even remember what we're talking about." She chuckled to herself and shook her head. She turned to him and smiled, "Be like the stars, Reyes. Shine despite all odds."
With that, she righted herself and turned towards the lobby, shuffling as slowly as a barely sober penguin can manage. He was about to run after her when she paused, turning to him and grinning.
"Our schedule starts in the afternoon tomorrow, Reyes. Sleep in." She said before she turned back, laughing to herself as she entered the double doors into the hotel.
He could only nod as he turned back to the stars, admiring their twinkle in the blanket of the darkness. Around him, the hustle and bustle of Booklin would be heard in the honking of taxis, or the yelling of awakened citizens. He didn't mind it as he chuckled to himself, leaning against the car and thinking to himself.
Shining like the stars? Sounds like a walk in the park to him.
Ten: Washed Out Sea of Gray
Day 3 came and went in a blur.
She had manage to wake herself up, the only remnant of last night being a dull throb at the back of her head. Jason had been more than happy to greet her awake, helpfully informing her that she had 10 minutes before they left to go to the UAN complex.
The afternoon hearings were a bit more public, Rogue noticed, the moment she stepped into the conference room. Her eyes zeroed in on the various cameras and recording devices that were found, not to mention the many reporters who milled the area. She could see some of those who came early were being flocked by reporters who wanted to get a good scoop, and she tried to nod respectfully at them as she passed. She had hardly settled into her seat when a reporter approached he.
"Commander Tvarkov?" The voice was familiar. Westley stood before her and grinned, camera dangling on her neck. "Hi, I'm Raven Westley."
"I've heard of you." She said as she stood to shake her hand, watching the teal penguin fluster at her words. "You've been tackling the Theta contingency, haven't you?"
"The Theta contingency?" Westley quirked an eyebrow in interest as she grinned, tittering with laughter. "That sounds real catchy."
"It's what we've been calling the investigation for the past two days." Rogue shrugged, smiling a bit as she sat back down. Westley hovered over her table for a moment before she found the energy to ask.
"I'm sorry, but would you mind if I interview you after this hearing? Ms. Arctic wants an exclusive from the island's leading investigator on the case." Westley explained, waving her arms in narration as she smiled. "I also have a huge multimedia take I want to use to achieve it."
"Tell me all about it later." Rogue said as she nodded, pulling out her phone to tap out a reminder for herself.
Westley grinned widely and nodded, "There's a coffee shop around the block. The Grindstone?"
"I'll be there." Rogue offered her one more smile before the reporter disappeared to speak to other reporters. In the background, she heard someone whistle lowly.
"Y'all get interviewed often, Commander?" She turned to see Reyes seated right behind her, playing with what seems to be parts of a hologram projector. She frowned as she spun around in her chair and scooted forward, glaring down at his desk to see indeed, a taken apart hologram projector.
"This better not be mine, Reyes." She frowned as she picked up a piece of it and shook her head. "And yes, it kinda goes along with the job."
"Why, I'd never, ma'am." He feigned surprise as he grinned at her. She rolled her eyes and turned back to her table to pore over reports.
The day went by smoother than she expected the first two, given that today and tomorrow was meant for further questionings and not heavy inquiries on the oral reports. Every now and then, a reporter would pipe up from the back with questions regarding a certain representative's statement, which then would have been clarified or explained further by the questioned penguin. Unlike the first two days, they weren't really needed to be as close to the complex as possible, and were allowed to roam around the city whenever they wished.
Once they were dismissed, Rogue made quick work to pull on a scarf and make her way to the Grindstone. Snow had began to fall again that afternoon, and she couldn't help but relish how it gets on her. When she steps into the cafe, she easily locates Westley, who was in a nearby table by a window.
She slid into the seat. Westley looked up, "Aren't you going to order something?"
"I'm not hungry." With the Cream Soda still sort of in her system, she isn't quite ready to eat yet.
Westley watched her carefully before nodding, bringing out a recorder and setting it on the table. She leaned back and brought out her notepad, turning it to a page.
"Let's start, then." She grinned, before she asked her first question.
Day 4 passes without much significance. There aren't many questions to ask for today, and it ends with the council concluding that measures shall be taken. Whatever those measures are and whenever they would be enacted was beyond anyone in the room, but one thing was certain: their job there was done.
It's only when they're in the hotel and when things are all packed up that realized that the weight of the mission is over, no more tense minutes chasing a new lead or waiting patiently in the dark. She lets herself lie down on the bed for a moment when she's done packing, closing her eyes and sighing.
"So I guess everything's going back to normal?" She opened her eyes to look up, locking eyes with Jason despite the angle. His smile is friendly and he's also relaxed as he stuffs his coat into his luggage.
She turns to look at him properly, "I just need to go through the final files before I make my report, then I'm all set for a long leave."
"That's great." There's something quiet about it that makes her frown. "I guess I'll see you during the office party."
The office party. She sat up from her place in the bed. "We already have that planned?"
"Apparently," Jason shrugged as he set down a scarf on his bed. "It's a potluck this year."
"Is it?" She frowned as she thought to herself. "I guess I'll bring some blini."
"Sounds good." He nodded and turned back to his packing.
She fidgeted with her phone to pass the time, letting the sound of him packing and folding flit in and out of her head. She was rather engrossed with reading one of the recovered files when she felt him clap her in the shoulder.
"Is it time to go?" She couldn't help the frown on her face as she stood up from the bed.
"It's time to go." He nodded, before she nodded in return and turned to pick up her luggage.
It was Nick who wanted to drive. The sun casted its glow on the world and gave it a purple tint as they passed by, sunset painting the sky in purple hues. They drive was quiet besides the radio that played some pop song none of them knew, getting closer and closer to the South Pole City station of the EPF.
She can't help but recall Theta in the shade of purple the sky gives.
They stop right at the entrance of the base, where an agent was already waiting for them. EPF Base ES-1 was a looming palace made of curves and spires, every inch of it breathing grandeur that the EPF rarely had. To Rogue, it was a stark contrast to her agency's typical aesthetic — clean lines and sharp angles. Of course, Base ES-1 was just a repurposed PSA base that was remodeled after the dissolution.
"I'll get going." Jason said as he pulled the door open and stepped out. He looked through the window to wave goodbye at them, before he was escorted by the agent into the base. Jason would be brought back to Gemini to get to work with running his division once more, and everything would be back to normal.
Nick turned back to the road to go back to their route, looking at Rogue from the rear-view mirror and speaking.
"You look a little sad, Rogue." Nick said as he turned back to the road, making his way to the suburban parts of Booklin.
"I'm not." Rogue frowned from her place at the back, but there was no malice in her tone. He couldn't help but raise an eyebrow in skepticism.
From the shotgun seat, Reyes frowned. "Why're we goin' here?"
"We gotta pick up Rogue's kid."
"Waddya mean the Commander's gotta kid?" Reyes frowned as he turned to Rogue increduously. "Ya gotta kid, ma'am?"
"She was Catherine's." She said as they reached the street, Nick slowing down as they did. Natalia is already running out of a house when they finally stop at the sidewalk, Rogue opening the door and stepping out only to get tackled down by the kid.
"I thought Catherine'd give 'er kid to her sister or somethin'." Reyes frowned as he got out of the car, slamming the door behind him and watching Rogue and Natalia talk excitedly to each other.
"I thought the same thing." Nick shook his head in fondness, a grin on his face as he watched Natalia hug Rogue tightly.
From the porch, Mint slowly walked over to them carrying a luggage bag, smiling in greeting. "She's been excited to see you."
"Has she? I hope she wasn't much of a fuss." Rogue said as she poked her head away from Natalia. The older lady could only smile and shake her head.
"She is a never a fuss, dear." Mint said as she turned to the two men and smiled. "I'm Mint Levite. I'm Catherine's sister."
"Nice to meet ya." Reyes greeted, tipping his hat as Nick nodded his greeting.
"You should go." Mint said as she smiled down at the two. Rogue got up and gently carried Natalia with her as she did. "What time's your flight?"
"Whatever time we get there." Nick said, beating Rogue to it. "Our pilot's patient."
"Well, let's not keep them waiting." Mint said as she handed Rogue the bag. "It was nice to spend time with my niece."
"Happy holidays, Mrs. Levite." Rogue said as she popped open the trunk, pushing the luggage bag in as she smiled at Mint.
The woman could only laugh and wave her away, "Happy holidays, Ms. Tvarkov."
The days are longer now that she's back on her desk again. After quickly shooing Adrian away from her office ("I can catch up just fine, Hepson, thank you very much."), Rogue had set to work poring over the remaining files to look over as she compiled her report. Time trickled by slow in the four corners of her room, and she couldn't help but feel unsettled by the lack of activity she's been having.
It wasn't like she was completely on duty, not really. Since she was still working on the final report to submit to the Director at the end of the week, her workload has been light and her schedule mostly vacant. Cyrilla hardly went by her office to drop any paperwork for her, only to pick up files that needed her immediate signature or to hand her reports that were set aside for her reviewing. With only a handful of files left to pore over, she could say that she had time to slack off just a little bit.
So she ventures to the gym.
It's lively and bustling with activity, as per usual. With a fresh new batch of agents in its midst, the ATD gym was filled with rookies who wanted to keep in shape. She passed by a group as she shuffled to the shower room, quickly changing out of her uniform in favor for workout clothes.
She's greeted by Reyes when she steps out. "Mighty fine seein' ya here, Commander."
"Good afternoon, Reyes." She greeted as she slipped into gloves. Why the kid would wear his obnoxious cowboy hat in the gym, she would never know. "Didn't think I'd see you here."
"Could say the same 'bout you." He shrugged as they walked over to one of the emptier spots of the gym. These were where the sparring mats and punching bags were located, and a few were actually sparring in them. "Saw ya from o'er there while I was doin' weights."
She tugged the baton from a clip on her belt and extended it, listening to the crackle of electricity that came with it. Reyes watched with keen interest and tilted his head to the side, frowning a bit as he observed the baton she was holding.
"Thought I heard Commander Tang talking 'bout an experimental baton in the works." He muttered as she looked up to him and nodded.
"This is a second model of the first one he made a few years back." She explained as she flicked it around, listening to it cut the air between them as she did. "I'm thinking of making it a standard issue for the ATD."
"Stun batons?" He scoffed a bit and stared at it with interest. "Ain't they for close quarters, ma'am?"
"They are, yes." She huffed as she placed it on her flippers, feeling its near weightlessness before tossing it over to him. He quickly caught it and frowned as he observed its weight, flexing his arm slightly to test it. "What do you think?"
"They're feather light." He muttered as he flicked it around a bit. "Ya think this'll do some damage?"
"Do you want to try me, 76?" She challenged him, using his recruit name as a taunt. He narrowed his eyes as he gripped the metal baton a little tighter, stepping forward into a stance.
"Don' like hittin' ladies. 'Specially if they're my superior." He said as he stepped forward again and went for a sweep, watching her sidestep him.
"I appreciate the gallantry, 76, but it doesn't work that way in reality." She said and narrowed her eyes as she waited for him to make his next move. "The world is not kind."
He surges forward. She quickly sidesteps and jabs his flipper away, trying to get the baton out of his grip. He quickly caught and dragged her down with her outstretched flipper to push her to the ground, leveling the baton to her face. She twisted a foot around his arm and kicked him off balance with her other, flipping him to his back with a huff. Around them, agents took notice and gathered to watch the commander spar with one of the newest agents, chattering excitedly as they watched them spar.
They both got up, Rogue holding the baton as she stepped back from Reyes. He quickly set off a series of blows and jabs that she tried at best to avoid, often using the baton to shield her or to deflect a blow if necessary. Much to her surprise, Reyes was fast; he was quick with his recoveries and quicker with his counters. She knew that he was calculating his punches as he went, watching for her minute movements and correcting himself to match it. She deflected a blow to her right only to be hit in the left, forcing her back as she jabbed at him with the baton.
"Tired, boss?" He teased, grin cocky as he looked at her. His hat was askew on his head, and she was tempted to knock it off herself.
"I'm just getting started." She huffed as she pressed at the baton's side and let it extend into a pole.
His eyes widened, whether or not due to surprise, she didn't know. "Ya gotta be kidding me."
She went for a jab to his chest. He hastily sidestepped as he looked at her with a mix of surprise and awe, quickly deflecting blows as they came. Agents around them cheered on as she managed to pin him to the floor by the shoulder, watching with mild amusement before leaning down and flicking his hat off of his head.
"So, does it do damage?" She asked as she retracted the pole back into a baton, clipping it back to the clip on her side. He only sat up and put his hat back on as the agents around them dispersed, chattering excitedly amongst each other as they did.
"Quite the punch it makes." He said and rubbed his chest, whistling lowly. "Gotta hand it to Commander Tang, ma'am."
She helped him onto his feet, "Do you have a background in fighting, Reyes?"
"Did boxin' when I was in middle school." He shrugged and adjusted his hat slightly. "Ma didn't like how I was gettin' in fights with the boys and Pa thought I could do better."
"I see." She nodded and gave him a quick head to foot look. "Nothing hurts?"
"Not a single part, ma'am." He grinned before tipping his hat and turning away. Almost immediately, agents flocked to him to ask him how the sparring went, and he replied easily with his drawl and cocky grin. From where she stood, Rogue watched as she rubbed her arms a bit, feeling the throb of the muscles as the adrenaline rush in her ceased.
She should really consider looking up his file.
Natalia slowly pushed the door to her mother's room open.
She was honestly surprised that she was sleeping in her room and not on the couch or her desk again. She gently closed the door behind her and let herself be covered in the darkness of the room, taking a deep breath before looking around.
She heard a thump and mutterings from her room across the hall, and she was worried over how she was. Not that she didn't trust her adoptive mother to take care of herself; there were times when she needed someone to check on her, that's all. With the mission coming to a conclusion in such a way, she just wanted to sure that she was okay.
She finds her on the floor.
The pillows are thrown about and the blanket is clinging desperately to her side, so it must be that she rolled out of bed. Rogue was muttering when the kid approached, cautious as not wanting to scare her from her sleep.
She's awake before she can reach over to her.
Natalia stepped back, expecting Rogue to lash back out of instinct or to hit her with something. Instead, she blinked up to her blearily and yawned.
"Did I wake you, dorogaya?" She yawned as she stretched from her place on the floor, groaning a bit at the weary muscles. Natalia shook her head and instead sat on the side of the bed, watching her recollect herself and slowly sit up to rest her back on the nearby bedside table.
"You were muttering in your sleep." Natalia said as she frowned slightly, tilting her head in curiosity as she did. "Were you having a bad dream?"
"No." She answered too quickly and reached out for Natalia's flipper. There's the tiniest tremor in her flipper as she smiled. "No, you should go back to sleep."
"It's okay to have bad dreams." She said with the slightest of pouts, feeling the tiniest squeeze in her flipper. The smile flickers for a moment and she sees someone older, someone with gray strands in their hair before Rogue sighed. "You're allowed to be a little weak."
"My, you're wising up on me." Rogue chuckled slightly and shook her head, "Was I not paying attention during the five months I've been working this case?"
Natalia only shook her head, "Aunt Irina was worried about you. She wouldn't stop talking about the case when I see her."
"Of course she'd be worried." She grinned and sighed, looking up to Natalia and huffing. "She's always worried for me nowadays."
"She probably has a good reason." Natalia shrugged. "She's your mama after all."
Rogue beamed just slightly as she got up from her place on the floor, tugging off the blanket and setting it back on the bed. She leaned down to pull the kid into a hug as she sighed, closing her eyes and letting herself relax.
"I'll tell you about it next time." She said and pulled away to look at Natalia. "Now, you need to get back to bed. You have school tomorrow."
There's a clear pout on Natalia's face. "But I don't feel tired."
"Then you'll have to stay here until you do." Rogue shrugged as she pushed herself back into bed. Natalia scrambled into the space beside her as she grinned, burying herself in the blankets.
"I don't have a problem with that." She said mischievously.
Rogue only shook her head before lying back down, turning away to try to get back asleep. Natalia watched patiently as her breathing evened out and her muscles lax, before she closed her own eyes to drift away.
There's a dull ringing in her head when she sits down to read through the remaining files.
She had managed to get a few hours of sleep before having to get back up properly. The comfort of Natalia being there was enough to keep the nightmares at bay, but not enough for her to forget what kept her locked in its clutches.
The world around her is a sea of murky grey, never-ending and ever-expanding as far as the eye can see. The water is heavy around her, sluggish and slow as it pulled down on her just slightly. She doesn't feel a floor but she is upright, she is not quite floating and she is not quite sinking.
And before her, too far to reach but close to hear, Theta watched her. He is observant and silent as he looked at her curiously, tilting his head to the side. There's a tiny, knowing smile on his face as he opened his mouth to speak. "Have you read it all?"
The murky gray is crawling around them, and Rogue doesn't know if she is sinking or the water is rising. The sluggish, slow waters grapple and tug at her from all over, pulling and sucking as if it wanted her to drown and fall to whatever was in the bottom. His knowing smile becomes a wide grin as the waters pull him down (or swallow him whole?) before she can reply with a coherent answer.
A small chirp from her holograms pull her out from her thoughts. She frowned as she read the title of the report that popped up on it.
PROJECT INFINITE PROPOSAL
Odd, she doesn't recall such a thing passing through her desk. Upon further inspection, she notices the Weaponry Development's logo on the header of the file, and frowned as she read its contents.
APPROVED BY COMMANDER NICKOLAS TANG
JULY SIXTH TWO THOUSAND SIXTEEN
Attempt 03 for Project Infinite ended in disaster with Subject 16-7854 (Joshua Helixon) escaping and attempting to destroy the EPF. This required the deployment of ANTI-TERRORISM COMMANDER ROGUE TVARKOV [REFER: ATD PROJECT INFINITE MISSION REPORT] to handle the threat to the Island. Despite this, however, one of two objectives were met. Serum TV-03 (Tvarkov Serum) had managed to enhance the subject's speed, strength and intellectual ability but did not guarantee the secondary objective of providing the EPF with loyal and reliable agents.
We propose to restart Project Infinite as success would mean additional assets to the EPF, and strengthen its position as a continental peacekeeping force under the USA and UAN. This program is crucial to allowing the EPF to keep with new technology and give it an edge over nations such as Snowzerland and Shops Island in times of war.
The development team has begun research into the Nexonan Penguin and the genetic alterations used to enhance their strength, speed and cunning as proven in the Battle of Nexon where Shopper forces suffered heavy losses against these soldiers. The serum will be tentatively known as MN-04 and is expected to take six months to synthesize the formula and produce. The development team believes that extraction of the required genes will be similar to the procedure used with Serum TV-03, and only require a vial of blood from a willing donor.
To prevent a repeat of the events of Attempt 3, multiple safeguards have been introduced, including restraining items to keep the subject within compound and an antidote serum. The antidote serum SHERB-K45, developed in Margate to counteract the threat from the Nexonan Penguins, will be used. It is estimated that SHERB-K45 will have a 0.1% failure rate, and thus is recommended for use.
The project is estimated to cost around two million Club Penguin Coins and require up to eight personnel, excluding the test subject. Upon completion of the project, we recommend initiating the process on SAD personnel to further their abilities in combat before expanding to the rest of the EPF.
Please read Annex A for the full proposal, and Annex B for approval for use of SHERB-K45.
When Cyrilla came with her usual coffee, she asked. "Where is Tang now?"
"I don't know, ma'am." Cyrilla looked at her confusedly. "Is something wrong?"
She only shook her head. "I'll look for him."
Rogue turned to look at the two annexes that accompanied the proposal, letting the holograms flicker to show her what she needs to see. Before her were graphs and charts, statistics and formulas that she didn't exactly have the patience to understand. She narrowed her eyes as she looked at the signatures of approval from Nick, considering if she should go off to look for him before she narrowed her eyes further at a related file she saw.
TENTH JANUARY TWO THOUSAND SEVENTEEN
VETOED BY COMMANDER NICKOLAS TANG, WEAPONRY DEVELOPMENT DIVISION
She frowned as she paused to sit back on her seat, trying to comprehend what she's reading. She looked around her office for a moment before she reached over to her tablet, tapping in a few commands. The lights dimmed and she heard her door click, before she set the tablet aside to bring up the related file. In an instant, she is assaulted with multiple holograms appearing to take up the space before her, charts and diagrams she cannot understand and reports that she can hardly comprehend. She frowns as images and video files appear before her, frown deepening as she sees familiar brown feathers and a cocky, confident grin.
ENHANCEMENT SERUM MN-04 FAILED
SUBJECT NAME: John Jesse Reyes [Designation: 17-0076]
BLOOD TYPE: O+
Subject experienced violent reaction to the serum about half an hour after the initial administration. He had managed to get out of his restraints and attack medical staff and researchers. He made a show of increased strength and speed by hurling medical equipment at them, as well as dodging any attempts of getting closer to him. He had threatened to kill them before he was knocked out by a dart.
While unconscious, the subject had experienced a 39.9 C (103.82 F) fever. Accompanying such were convulsions, increased heart rate, and delirium. Recovery serum SHERB K-45 had to be administered in order to stabilize him.
She turned to the video footage of the attack. She near winced at the familiarity of the situation as she watched him hurdle machines at defenseless scientists and nurses, yelling things she cannot quite hear as penguins around him scrambled to get away. In the midst of it, she noticed Nick trying to yell at him to calm down, before pulling out a gun and firing at Reyes.
When the video had ended, the holograms changed and flickered away, the hundreds of holograms disappearing to become fewer before her. The remaining file before her was a recovery log, one that seemed to be written by Nick himself.
TENTH APRIL TWO THOUSAND SEVENTEEN
SUBMITTED BY COMMANDER NICKOLAS TANG, WEAPONRY DEVELOPMENT DIVISION
It has been 4 months since the cancellation of Project Infinite.
Throughout those 4 months, we had kept Reyes within the compound. It seems that he has managed to retain parts of the MN-04 serum, despite the administration of the SHERB K-45. Physically speaking, Reyes has grown a few inches taller after the experiment, as well as increased in muscle mass. Besides this, he also shows enhanced strength and agility, as well as sharper memory. In consequence, though, Reyes can be very short-tempered and snappish. We are still looking into ways to help him control his temper.
After careful consideration, I have concluded that it would be best to send him to the Anti-Terrorism Division. While he could be a welcome asset to the Weaponry Development Division, he would be a more formidable asset to the ATD. Reyes shall be introduced into the specialist course in July 2017 as a vouched recruit of mine. After approval from Commander Tvarkov, he will slowly be eased back to being around more penguins. I will be monitoring him constantly for any changes while he is in the Academy, as well as making sure that he is doing well in his training.
She's out of her seat the moment she reads the last of the reports, the holograms disappearing with her movements. She pulls the door open and slams it back with far more force than necessary, ignoring the shocked look Cyrilla gave her as she stormed through the hallway, out of the Anti-Terrorism Main Office, twisting around the hallways until she finds herself in the Weaponry Development Division's wing. Weaponry Development is far more silent than Anti-Terrorism, what with everyone in laboratories or workshops. She navigated her way around them, past the testing rooms, into offices and finding herself before Nick's office.
She doesn't even bother to knock.
There are cardboard boxes all over the room, and it takes her a while to remember that oh right, he's resigned. She looks around and curses herself, trying to think of a plausible place he went.
A voice above her chimes. "Good afternoon, Commander Tvarkov. What is it you are looking for?"
She almost jumps at that. She's heard talk that Nick's been tinkering with AI programs to be utilized by the commanders, and now she is listening to one speak to her. She looked up to the ceiling as she wondered what she was to say.
"I am Jewel." The AI introduced herself. "What is it you are looking for?"
"I am looking for a who." She said as she looked around once more, as if Nick would appear out of nowhere. "Where is Nickolas?"
"Commander Tang has left to pack up his things in his apartment." Rogue was already thinking of the street, ready to teleport when the AI added. "Shall I alert him of your presence?"
"No need." Rogue shook her head, before she closed her eyes and concentrated on the apartment complex.
He knows she's there when he feels the air twitch around him.
That was her tell, really. No matter how much concentration she puts in jumping through places with as much ease as possible, he would always know the tiniest gusts of wind. He steadied his flippers as he looked around for a plausible weapon to use against her.
"Afternoon, Rogue." He said calmly, spying the ceremonial swords he keeps mounted to his wall.
"When were you going to tell me?" If he listened hard enough, there was hurt in those words. He fought back a grimace and instead turned to her, face calm as he took a deep breath.
"I was planning to tell you." It didn't answer her question; he knew that. He inched a bit closer to his swords.
"When were you going to tell me?" There's weight as she steps forward. He can see the tiniest twitch of her flippers as they both look at the swords.
"I'm really sorry." He's earnest as he inched closer to the swords. "Listen, Rogue, I can explain—"
"The files explained it all to me." She spits it out as if it were venom. He placed a flipper on the handle of the sword. She watches him closely. "Nickolas, if you are resigning because of this, I'll have to bring you in."
"You cannot do that." Nick said as calmly as he can manage, trying to keep the distance between them. There was no way he wanted to hurt her, but if it came to it, he would be forced to.
"Are you trying me, Tang?" She frowned as she stepped forward again. He gripped the handle tight.
"Don't make me do this." He inched some of its blade out of the scabbard.
She moved quickly, pulling out her baton from her belt loops to snap it back, the electricity crackling in the air. He pulled the sword out in full and held it up between them, the edge just slightly brushing Rogue's tie. She swipes at him and he quickly dodged it, pushing the blow away with his sword and taking several steps back.
"You knew what happened with attempt 3!" She yelled as they clashed once more, setting off with a series of jabs that were meant to incapacitate him. He tried his best to parry as they moved across his apartment, careful with not letting them hit anything in their way.
"What would you do if you had to pick a side?" He asked her as he blocked a blow, stepping forward with the advantage. He pushed at her baton as he got closer to her and spoke. "You hardly know the weight I had to carry with my decision."
She yelled in frustration and pushed his blade away, charging him and narrowly missing the photo frame behind him. He pivots and quickly lashes forward a bit too blindly, feeling the blade hit something as Rogue stumbled back. There's a red gash blossoming from her arm as she stepped back, groaning at the force of the blade as he dropped his sword and surged forward.
"I did not mean to do that." He said quickly as he examined the gash.
"I'm sure you didn't mean to pick Reyes either." She muttered dryly as he quickly directed her to a nearby chair, cursing at the droplets of blood that trailed them on the floor. She placed a flipper over the wound as he ventured around to look for his first aid kit, finding it in the kitchen sink and coming back with it.
"I'm sorry." He said as he quickly tried to stop the bleeding, pulling out a rag from the kit to press on the wound.
"You know the consequences that came with it."
"I said I'm sorry."
"Genetic manipulation for genetic weaponization is dangerous, Nico." She turned to him fiercely as she retracted the baton that she still gripped with her other flipper. "You're better than that."
"You don't understand." He said dejectedly, shaking his head as he produced a medical patch from the kit. He smoothened it over her wound before turning to fill a basin with water to clean her feathers.
"Then make me understand." He paused from his walking to turn around, watching her clutch the patched up arm. There's hurt and doubt in those eyes and he nods, turning away to make his way to the kitchen. He filled a basin with water and came back to her with it, getting the rag and wetting it.
"What do you think will Natalia think when she sees this?" He asked quietly, dabbing away the crimson that dirtied the golden yellow.
She frowned slightly, "I'm not sure."
They're quiet as he washed away the blood, before he set the basin aside and got up again. It was instinct for him to make tea in such a stressful time, going over the motions of heating up water and preparing the tea leaves.
"You take honey with your tea, right?" He called out, turning just slightly to motion to her. He hears a grunt from her and takes it as a yes, pulling out the honey as well.
"Start from the beginning." Rogue said when he came back with two mugs of tea, handing her one of them and sitting down next to her.
He stared at the mug of tea in his flippers, turned back to her, and took a deep breath and began to speak.
A sit-down with the general
By Raven Westley (Club Penguin Times - Feature) | December 10, 2017
Rogue Tvarkov is known to be the symbol of protection for those who look up to the USA to defend them from crimes of terrorism. With her golden feathers and peaked cap, she has seen a different kind of war than that of soldiers, in a different battlefield than that of tacticians. Her steadfast and perseverant leadership has seen successes that are not quite publicly uttered, instead accepted as fact and enjoyed by many. She has worked in the shadows to pull the strings necessary to keep the continent as safe as she can manage. When things slip from her grip and attacks occur, she sees to it that investigations are fair and just, that action is quick and justice is given in immediate. Due to her style of supervision and mannerisms, she has been dubbed as "General" by many.
I had been fortunate enough to sit down with her for an interview about the investigations of what they dub as "The Theta Contingency". It had been a rather gloomy day in South Pole City during the time of the interview, and she was just freshly dismissed by the Security Council. The Grindstone found at the corner of 2nd Avenue and Zenith was bustling with customers when we began.
CPT: It's been what, five months since the start of all of this? With the conclusion on the horizon, how do you feel about it all coming to an end?
Tvarkov: Well, I am a bit relieved that this is all coming to a conclusion. The Security Council has heard our reports and have asked their questions. All that's left is to hear their verdict and to file our mission reports.
CPT: I'm guessing that would be stressful. [chuckles] I won't trouble you with questions about the whole case, I'm sure everyone else would know sooner or later. What have you learned from this whole thing?
Tvarkov: [pause] Law and order, justice and truth, is a washed out sea of gray.
She was thoughtful when she spoke. By then, the waitress had come over to give us our orders. We drink our coffee in silence.
CPT: What do you mean by that?
Tvarkov: I mean, the whole of the contingency? You'd expect me to say — to what many would think — that law and order and all of that jazz is black and white. If it were so, this case would have never been so controversial.
CPT: True, true, I see your point. But could you explain that a bit further?
Tvarkov: Like, well, we've seen what Theta has done. In exchange for the truth that has been revealed to us, we've seen chaos and disorder. We have to admit that he's done the right deed of telling us what needs to be exposed, but at that heavy a cause? It almost makes you think that those secrets were better kept secret.
CPT: I see. After filing your report, what do you thin you'll be doing?
Tvarkov: Taking a nice, long vacation away from my office. [laughs]
CPT: [laughs] Oh, I think everyone would agree when I say that you deserve it. Do you have a place in mind?
Tvarkov: My home, most likely. I could also go back to Rusca to be with my family. I should really catch up with them.
CPT: I'm sure they'd be happy to see you.
Tvarkov: I hope so.
From there, our conversation had spanned from work to our own personal relationships. Tvarkov, despite what many would think, is good company to be with. She is much like an old friend you're reconnecting with after years of being apart, and she is welcoming with swapping stories whenever she deems it good for telling. Our cups have long been emptied and cleaned up when we finish our interview, parting ways with simple farewells and greetings for the holidays. Above us, the sky is a washed out sea of gray, and I couldn't help myself but smile at it.
ELITE PENGUIN FORCE - ANTI-TERRORISM DIVISION
SIXTEEN DECEMBER TWO THOUSAND SEVENTEEN
SUBMITTED BY COMMANDER ROGUE TVARKOV
[PAGE 52 OF 54 - MISSION REPORT]
Given that the SI:9 has graciously rid us of the responsibility of taking care of Theta, the UAN Security Council cannot do anything but determine what actions have to be made in order to prevent such an occurrence from happening again. They have released a mandate for all intelligence agencies to take extra measures in order to prevent such from happening, with recommendations listed to be protocols and contingency plans. In response, the ATD has proposed a protocol before the Director [REFER: Protocol Theta Proposal] that outlines the procedure in case another major database hacking is to occur. This protocol shall be dubbed as the Theta protocol.
In addition to this, the UAN Security Council suggests the creation of a specialized taskforce that is only activated by the approval of the Council [REFER: UAN Security Council Mandate No. 54]. This taskforce would be made of agents from the various intelligence agencies, and would be tasked in cooperating during major international investigations much like the one that has concluded. The Council has already made an outline of the taskforce's function and objectives, but has yet to release a roster of agents they are considering for it. The EPF is expected to have agents who will be included in this roster.
It is paramount to mention in this report that the world will still be reeling over the effects of Theta's decisions. Theta has brought upon us a plethora of secrets that were meant to be kept in the shadows, and with it ushered a time of disorder. The world still has questions that begs to be answered, and it is obvious that these will not be answered so easily. With this, it is expected that the riots and scandals will continue to be apparent in the media, and a sharp increase in crimes will come with it. The ATD is ready to step up to the task of cleaning up any major Theta-related crimes in order to restore peace within the continents as well as earn back the trust of the world.
The next day, she goes to the compound.
After her chat with Nick about what had transpired, she had become more understanding with the situation. It made her guilty to think so lowly of him, and she had promised that she'll take care of Reyes to the best of her abilities. To do so, she's thought of visiting the compound where it all began. It was listed as a safehouse in the Weaponry Development's database, and she found it logical the moment she stepped into the site.
It had long been cleared out, this she expected as she got into the courtyard of the compound. It made use of common Japalandese architecture, with a courtyard in the middle and the compound surrounding it. She looked around at the carefully maintained garden about her before she made her way to one of the steps that lead into the compound, taking into account the creaky wood under her feet as she looked around the room she's gotten into.
The door was steel-lined and there were furniture that looked like it's seen better days. It didn't take her a while to realize that she's in Reyes's former room, given the apparent wear the room has endured. She looked around and tried to imagine the restless recruit here, trying to cope with his sudden abilities with little success. She notices a dent in the wall next to the bed and tries not to think of how it got there.
Her phone rings. She answers it and puts it on speaker. "Tvarkov speaking."
"I'm guessing you're at the compound?" Nick's voice rings clear in the room as she steps out of it. She makes her way down the hallway and notices the recreational rooms and other rooms. "The compound was constructed just for him, but with the project shut down, it's been converted into a safehouse."
"That explains the numerous rooms." Rogue said as she looked around. There were dents in some places and creakier wood in some parts of the hallway. "Do you think I can convince Reyes to live here? I doubt he fits in the standard beds in the ATD barracks."
"You can try." Nick laughed as she shook her head and made her way into the courtyard once more. "The kid was relieved when I told him he was getting out of the compound."
"How could he say no to free housing?" Rogue scoffed to herself as she looked around the compound once more. "Look at this place. It's huge."
"Kid doesn't see the use to it." She can hear Nick shake his head. "Listen, Kowalski's set us up for dinner in this place in one of the business servers."
"Dinner?" Rogue frowned, "But the Christmas party's anytime now."
"We're bailing it, I guess." Nick said, "I'll text you the details. You in?"
"Sure." Rogue nodded anyways before the call ended and she was left to look around the compound once more.
He makes the uphill trek towards her house and takes a deep breath.
He doesn't really know why he's been told to go there, not really. The commander had only mentioned that she needed to speak to him about something, and since she wasn't expected to be anywhere near the office, it would be best to say that she was at home. After all, he did hear Nick speak about some dinner they're going to be attending before he goes off on his flight back to Margate.
Altitude Street was decorated from top to bottom with Christmas decorations. With every step upwards, he would see bright lights and reindeers that were placed on front lawns and draped on panels. He couldn't help the fondness in his smile as he finally turned to the house that he was looking for. It took a bit of prodding with Bridgett and Adrian to find that she lived in a house on that street, and he wasn't so surprised to see that hers was so sparsely decorated, besides the snowman in the front lawn that wore a hat. He shook his head and made his way to the front porch, pressing at the buzzer on the side.
The door opens and a familiar face peeks out from it. He's almost forgotten that the commander's got a kid. "You must be Agent Reyes."
"Jack'll do, darlin'." He smiled as he stepped into the house, shrugging off his coat and placing it in the nearby coat hanger. He looked around and noticed the baggage that was placed at the foot of the staircase, and a nearby Christmas tree that was decorated with thistles and balls. He looked back to the kid. "Where's Commander Tvarkov?"
"Mom's in her room getting ready." He will never get used to hearing her be referred to Mom. "But she told me to make in her office. Do you want some hot cocoa?"
Reyes could only nod as Natalia guided him to a door that lead to the basement of the house. They passed by a spacious gym before they made their way into an office, with a cluttered desk and a large hologram projector near the wall.
"I'll make you your hot cocoa." Natalia said, disappearing before he could ask anything else. He only sighed and looked around, taking in the cluttered mess of her desk as well as the various books that were stacked in the bookshelves.
He heard a throat clear behind him. He turned to see Rogue leaning on the side of the door, watching him steadily and frowning. "You may sit down, you know."
She looked as if she was going somewhere formal. He took a seat. "Yer lookin' real fancy, Commander."
"Dress code's formal in the restaurant I'm going to." Rogue said and shook her head.
"Ya should take a picture o' the commanders when ya see 'em, ma'am."
Her gaze is unwavering and calculating. Reyes doesn't let himself flinch at the way she looks at him before she steps forward. She shuts the door behind herself and slowly makes her way to him.
"Nickolas told me about what you are." He visibly bristled. He felt his muscles twitch just slightly.
"Did he now?" He tried to keep himself as calm as possible. He can't just lash out at her without listening to her speak. "Did he also tell ya why he did it?"
Rogue nodded, and he relaxed just slightly. "Blackmail."
"Then ya'd understand his circumstances." Reyes frowned, not stopping himself from speaking as he continued. "It was that or his friends 'n family, his country falls."
"But why did you agree to this, knowing the chances of it going wrong?" Rogue watched him as he paused. "You know about attempt 3 and yet you pressed on."
"If I said no, someone else would'a taken my place." He shrugged innocently. She narrowed her eyes at him before shaking her head, muttering to herself in a language he didn't quite catch. He spoke quickly, "What's it ta you?"
"Genetic experimentation is dangerous." She sighed, shaking her head once more. He sees a flicker of gray in her hair before it disappears. "I almost lost someone to it and I don't want anyone else to share the same fate."
He leaned back and tried to take in what she said. He tried to lighten up the mood with a grin and a chuckle. "Yer getting soft on me already, Commander?"
She gave him a dry look. She sighed, "You know, I would have to make you undergo some physical and psychological tests due to this."
"Now, listen 'ere—" His face darkened as he stood up and crossed his arms across his chest. "I'm done being prodded n'—"
"I know you are." Rogue frowned as she gave him another look. He grit his teeth to let her speak. "Since you're now my agent, Nick has to transfer your files to me. If I see anything that needs further clarification, we'll do the tests."
He could only nod as she sighed and turned to go to her desk. She pushed aside some paperwork as she seemed to look for something, before producing a file and handing it over to him.
"What's this?" He frowned as he paged through the file, taking in the several profiles of familiar agents before looking back up to her.
"The Anti-Terrorism Division is made of two main sectors. We have the administrative and the field agents." Rogue explained, leaning on her desk as he read over the files steadily. "As I said, I've been considering putting you in the field."
"Yer puttin' me in one of the Rapid Response Teams?" He looked up in surprise, letting himself gape. "Commander, I—"
"You know how it goes, Reyes. RRTs are always the first ones on-site, and I trust that you are capable of handling it." Rogue said and offered him a small smile. "Besides, I'm sure you like running in hot."
His face could almost split open with the smile on his face, and it took everything in him not to bound forward and pull her into a hug.
"Make me proud." She smiled at him, before he gave up on holding back and stepped forward.
He knew something was wrong the moment he stepped into the restaurant.
For one, it was absolutely deserted. He did some background research on the location after all, and he's pretty sure that this place just opened a few weeks ago. He would have expected tons of other customers here, and yet he finds himself surrounded by emptiness. Second, the waitress was smiling enigmatically as she ushered him into a table.
"Your other guest should be arriving soon." She said in a cool, Frankterran accent, before she disappeared to Benny knows where. He frowned and straightened in his seat as he fidgeted with his dress shirt and looked around.
"Laurenson, I didn't know you'd be back." He froze when he heard that voice. He immediately jumped out of his seat and turned to look at Rogue staring at him confusedly. "Why didn't you tell me that you were also invited?"
"Kowalski only told me to go here." Jason frowned as he looked away, feeling a bit of heat creep up his neck. "What are you doing here?"
"Nick told me to come." Rogue looked away as well and rubbed the back of her neck. She slowly made her way to the only other chair in the table and took a seat. She frowned and looked around. "This place is deserted."
He took a seat across her and sighed, "I know."
They're silent for a moment as they both fidgeted in their seats, not really knowing what to say until the waitress came back with a plate of sushi and chopsticks.
"I'm bad with these." Rogue muttered as she stared at the chopsticks that were laid out before her. "We got set up, did we?"
"I think so." Jason said before he looked away, muttering quietly. "You look good tonight."
There's a beat of silence for a moment before Rogue said in reply. "You do too."
"Thank you for finally making that happen." Nick scoffed as he leaned back on his chair and rolled his eyes. "Seriously. That took you forever."
"Who are you talking to?" Kowalski glanced at him confusedly, brows knitting as he observed the man next to him.
"No one." Nick said quickly and waved his flipper around dismissively. "I can't believe it, we actually pulled it off."
"You think Rogue would have our throats for setting them up?" Kowalski asked as he looked back at the CCTV footage they managed to hack into.
"Nah, look at her Kowalski. She's enjoying herself." Nick said as he pointed at the footage to see that the two were laughing over something. "Doesn't hurt to play matchmaker at times."
"Dot seems to be having fun playing waitress." Kowalski nodded at the pixelated version of Dot hiding out in the restaurant's kitchen.
"And I'm pretty sure Reyes and Natalia are having the time of their lives watching this from Rogue's office." Nick grinned as he turned to bring up the communication channel he set up. "Reyes, how're you two doing over there?"
"Y'all are crazy." Reyes said without malice. "I can't believe y'all managed to convince me ta kidnap the Commander's kid just so we can watch 'er go on a date with Commander Laurenson. Ain't this against the fraternization code?"
"They're equal ranked and from different divisions. They're fine." Kowalski shrugged as he watched the footage before them. "Jealous, Reyes?"
"I reckon somethin' 'bout it being against the code." There's a sly tone in Reyes's voice that makes Nick roll his eyes. "But, that's real sweet of ya, Bureaucrat Kowalski."
"Yeah, Bureaucrat Kowalski, that was real sweet of you." Nick turned to Kowalski just as he was rolling his eyes. "When would it be my turn?"
"Propose to your girlfriend first." Kowalski scoffed and shook his head. "I'm not renting out a whole restaurant just for you to take her out on another date."
"I just might." When Kowalski turned to Nick, there's a gentle grin on his face. He narrowed his eyes.
"You sly little—"
"Is Laurenson feeding the Commander?" Reyes squeaked through the channel, prompting them both to turn back towards the holograms with surprise.
A FEW MONTHS LATER
This was Rogue Tvarkov in her element.
In the Anti-Terrorism Division's Main Office, an operation was taking place. The Special Intelligence Division had found a Theta-related lead that would direct them to an arms smuggling ring in Liguria. Given anything Theta-related was being handled mainly by the ATD, they had teamed up with them to get to the bottom of the smuggling. The lights were dimmed as the division commanders watched their hybrid reconnaissance-quick response team.
Agent Tux was a man of principle and ethics, and only nodded respectfully to Rogue when he first came in. Rogue had worked with him a lot during the war on terror, and had become well-acquainted with. Here, he watched the body camera footage before them while Rogue stood next to him, bringing up holograms that glowed blue in the darkness of the main office.
"Back in my day, we would have already gotten that payload secured." Tux grumbled as his eyes scanned the screens. Beside him, Rogue turned away from her holograms. "It's just a blasted laptop."
"Give them time, Tux." Rogue sighed as she reached up to her headset to switch communication channels. "Reyes, status report."
"Bit stuck with breaking open this door, Commander." He drawled into her ear, as she looked up to look at his body camera footage. "Real stuck."
"Then find another way in." Tux said next to them, obviously listening into the channel while frowning slightly. "Clock's ticking, team. This isn't training anymore."
"Gotcha, boss." Reyes said as he spoke again. "Hey, Commander, when are ya goin' on yer next date with Laurenson?"
She rolled her eyes. Now it makes sense why Nick gave him to her. "Not anytime soon, Reyes. Focus on the mission."
They hear a clamor and look up to see that one of the other teams broke in through the vents. Rogue turned back to her holograms.
"There's a lot more we need to clean up, Tvarkov." Tux said, prompting her to look up and to him. "Theta's left quite a mess."
"I know he has." Rogue nodded and turned back to the screens, watching as the team break into the warehouse. "But I know that we can do it."
They watch as Reyes quickly shot down some assailants.
"Did you really have to give him double shotguns?" Tux asked next to her, clear disapproval in his tone as Rogue chuckled.
"I've been informed by his trainers that he works well with them." Rogue shrugged as she drew up the design of the shotguns in one of her holograms, passing it to him with a simple flick.
"You're spoiling the kid, Tvarkov."
"Let him live."
The screens before them light up as their team exchanges gunfire with the smugglers in the warehouse, and they could only watch as the events unfold. There are orders being yelled in the other line but they remain silent, watching and observing as their team nabs the laptop they were looking for. The two watch as they hightailed it out of the warehouse while avoiding bullets to the best of their ability, sprinting off into the forests and closer to the rallying point.
"Extraction coming in one minute." Tux said into the channel, as they watched pine tree after pine tree pass by the agents. "Double time."
"Send the information once you're all in the plane." Rogue reminded as they heard the cargo plane roar in the footage background.
They watch as agent after agent bound into the cargo plane with ease. The plane is roaring into the air when Rogue sees something appear in her holograms. She brings them up to show to Tux, and they pored over it.
"Looks like we have our work cut out for us." He huffed as he looked over the information that was sent to them. "What do you say, Tvarkov?"
She pondered for a moment at the information, studying it before turning back at him. "Let's go."