TE Clue NB in Tales of Justice | World Anvil

TE Clue NB

Fact-gathering has always been one of Nathan Bourne's most valuable skills. Since before his earliest memory, he has carried an internal drive to go find out: is every tennis ball in the can actually the same color, does each folder really contain papers with content relevant to the listed topic on the flap, does the tip of the tongue honestly detect sweet but not bitter, on and on in every direction. Every time Nathan discovered for himself that the truth contradicted the original expectation, he felt better about the world around him. So many people believed untruths! Knowing correct facts came with better options!
His proficiency in finding out is the core of what made him a good operative.
His work as an intelligence-gathering operative is what convinced Nathan that certain people will choose the most harmful option available to them. These people need their options pruned down. Sometimes that means getting facts about those people into other people's hands. Rarely, distastefully, that means that false "facts" must be planted to replace the truth.
Nathan would much rather refuse to be a source of truths, if he has that option, than become a source of fallacies.
When Nathan's career as an operative derailed, when he was reassigned to a desk job as a Language and Foreign Area Specialist, Nathan thought his days of pursuing facts directly to their hiding places had ended forever. His first two weeks of training showed him otherwise. Truths lie in wait in the gaps and overlaps of patterns. Inspired analysis, informed by the weight of past experience, could shine a spotlight on the place where a false "fact" leaves a gap in the fabric of reality. The trick is to collect skilled observations in sufficient number, then figure out how to sort them into a pattern.
Nathan Bourne spotted a few patterns that nearly any other analyst would have missed. They got him a clandestine invitation to a part-time career as a superhero.
Last August, Nathan's work as an agent of SAFEGUARD drove him to uncover some agonizing facts.
If, indeed, these are true "facts" … they may be fiction!
  • Simon Kincaid, Nathan's former colleague and now , may not be the same "Simon Kincaid" that betrayed the forces of Good so long ago!
  • This "Kincaid" states that he is from a parallel reality.
  • He claims that it was Samantha Vodel who betrayed them both.
  • Kincaid works with an organization calling itself SHADE. Facts on this organization are sparse -- in part, because they too are from another reality!
What happened to "this reality's" Simon Kincaid? Did he ever exist? He must have! The rogue agent in Bucharest had only one miscalculation in his scheme, which was that he lacked any suspicion of Agent Chameleon's secret mutant powers. This other Simon Kincaid possesses an inverted mirror of photokinesis, an "umbrakinesis" perhaps.
(And what of all Kincaid's claims about what Process 17 "really" did to them both? What of these claims that they were once best friends as well as colleagues?)
What else has SHADE accomplished in our reality?
Who else serves their interests?
How can there be any supposedly-parallel lifetime where Nathan's beloved Samantha would have, could have, turned willful traitor on the man and country she so loved?
All this and more has driven Nathan's work over the past four months. He has not squandered any time on the Kitsune cover. He has barely taken an hour each week to keep up his digital correspondence with the contacts he cultivated among the "caped crusader" set. Agent Chameleon has done three things with his time:
  • Eight hours of every twenty-four for sleep, sanitation, and sustenance.
  • Four hours of every twenty-four for skill upkeep: physical training, including that nifty new boost to his athletic jumps. Martial Arts drills. Weaponry practice, both melee and ranged. Combat driving and piloting in military-grade simulators. Lockpicking, safecracking, security system analysis, all of that.
  • Twelve hours, broken up into strict four hour segments to fit the previous two into place, of collating and sorting and analyzing data that might have even the vaguest tangential relevance to the question of this new terrorist threat from another reality.
For one day of every seven, regulations from both the State Department and SAFEGUARD require that Nathan Bourne take a rest break. He has begrudgingly complied. He catches up on sleep, cooks up the next week's worth of meals to reheat on schedule, cleans his apartment, and generally tries to prevent his brain from doing any work at all. Bright and early the next morning, he throws himself back into the mission.
So all of September 2009 went. Also October. He passed the point of grasping at random straws back in early November. By the end of the Macy's parade on November 26th, he decided to take on any low-priority work that no other analyst wanted to tackle, especially if it somehow touched on unexplained or suspect phenomena.
(Nathan has started to feel like a real life "Fox Mulder". Shudder. If he catches himself saying "the truth is out there!", he should probably check himself into the psychiatric counseling office for a full mental fitness assessment.)
On Tuesday, January 5th, another towering stack of reports came to Agent Chameleon's division. His peers sorted through the pile for anything marked with their case numbers. Nathan collected all of the rest. He got the usual work done on each of these reports by the end of his last four hour block that day.
Something about a few of those "miscellaneous" files nagged at the back of Chameleon's mind through all of his rest period.
This is not about SHADE.
They are in it.
They are only an eddy, a side-effect of the undertow.
The riptide starts
much deeper
Nathan found himself hurrying through his morning exercise period. He had to control himself to not run from the elevator to his desk.
Janitorial has not come by. On Wednesday morning, Nathan shifts all of the old coffee cups onto nearby file cabinets, making room. He unlocks the necessary drawers, retrieves four report folders from one compartment and his personal analysis chart from another, notes dates and times and file numbers on the enclosed pads, relocks the drawers. He logs into his terminal. He dates and initials the covers of each file before he opens them.
He arranges the documents into a different pattern. Not chronological, not geographical, but historical: what past event is the indirect progenitor of the direct causes listed in these reports?
  • The oldest brickyard in the Hudson Valley
    may have been in Haverstraw in 1771, but few brickyards have ever operated for long in what is now known as New York City. Bricks used to be shipped down the Hudson River -- still are, in fact. Someone used variants of the same name ("G.N. Von Ägon", "Vang Onon") on written queries for old municipal records, requesting a Manhattan or Brooklyn location for the "John Woods Haverstraw Brickyard". Obviously the answer was negative in each case, and that ought to have been the unremarkable end of it. What made it a CIA case was that the queries came in international mail from Vanuatu. Why would anyone from Vanuatu want to know about ancient New York bricks?

Note to self:
check in, informally / "off the record", with Sahara
re: library logs of patron and visitor "brickyard" searches in Municipal Records Collection.
Are any collated municipal records of city business locations not available in the Atlases of New York City collection?
Answer: No one from Vanuatu would.
Vanuatu is a dodge
. It is a cover-up so old that no functional intelligence network uses it any more. Even the most hayseed-backward terrorist organization has learned that Vanuatu is a traceable drop.
That might not be true, however, in alternate realities; some miscreant group like SHADE might not know, at least, not until they do the right sets of research on their own.
Let's theorize a miscreant group that is used to being the sneakiest, most artful liars in their world. They had a similar written-mail-from-Vanuatu technique back home, a way to fly under the radar in a digital age.

Note to self:
check in with NuTech
re: index of General Ross's site surveys.
High digital tech usage overlap with underdeveloped encryption tech?

  • Agent Dynamo reports on unusual "Subsea Cable Maker" solicitations in Cyprus.
    This was obviously included as a just-in-case thing, not relevant to whatever Dynamo's ongoing mission is. As is sadly typical in a world tax haven such as the Republic of Cyprus, the contact info is a dead drop whose owner and even the middleman have impenetrable anonymity on their identities. The solicitation calls for two full-sized spools, properly wound as ready to lay. Dynamo notes that this is an odd requirement: the industry-wide standard is to wind the spools at manufacturing in the inverted order, so that the cable can be fed out to a spool already integrated into the ribs and hull of the "cable layer ship" that will be unwinding it into its final destination. If the "starting" end of the cable is topmost on the purchased spool, obviously winding it into the cable layer ship's hold will put the "terminal" end topmost.
"Possibly", Agent Dynamo commented in the footnotes, "this is to rule out respondents who plan to simply steal a pre-existing spool of cable?"

Note to self:
Great catch by Agent Dynamo. Many Agents would have included such an odd minor fact in a daily download of all black market business, and done no further research.
Recommend commendation for diligence under pressure.
Note to self:
check in with Mediterranean Division
re: was this purchase offer ever filled?
The first subsea communications cable was laid in the 1850s. Modern versions use modern materials, but the principle remains: (1) Have a detailed plan before loading the first cable spool into the first hold. (2) Have a plan for making repairs. (3) Do not cross the lines. (4) Use several layers, each made from a different material, each meant to insulate the core against a different hazard of the sea.
This solicitation does not call for the most modern technology, except for where it absolutely does. It is a strange mix of modern and older tech.
They do want alternating glass-based and plastic-based fiber optic core.
They specifically state that they do not want repeaters or amplifiers. They will reject delivery and refuse payment if any erbium is present in manufacture.
They are fine with petroleum jelly as a setting medium and sheath around the fibers. They want the polycarbonate middle shell.
All other layers should be plasticine resin, non-conductive, non-metallic in any sense, and the outermost layer is to be the tarred hemp and gutta-percha of the earliest English Channel cable experiments.

Note to self:
check in with caped crusader "Gadgeteer" contacts for out-of-box interpretations
re: Why contract black market sources for manufacture?
Focus A -- why no metal? Go beyond "nonferrous" and "no reaction to magnetic fields".
Focus B -- why not a legitimate manufacturing contract? Surely aboveboard process would include better QC + lower overall cost.

  • Agent Chameleon keeps a pet project in a single file at his desk: collated copies of any other fact related to a certain Manhattan skyscraper.
    Located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan Island, this building once featured in a heroic intervention back in 2003. His notes in this file have been careful to not spell out how "Nathan Bourne, Language and Foreign Area Specialist" is personally connected to the incident or the building. However, it is smart planning to make sure that in the event of his untimely deactivation, Agent Chameleon's successor will start off their own investigation with plenty of background intelligence.

Note to self:
Tentatively sorted with originating "past event" date being 2003-September-09.
Possibly should be oldest "past origination point", approx 5997 BCE
(or 4004 HE if I need to do year-based math quickly.)
For right now, I suspect it was activation of the Science Judge's supergadget that is the originating event, not the duration of existence in the past.
Fact-gathering efforts have gone forward and backward.
(1) After the incident, the case against the "Science Judge" and his "Science Court" contributes some valuable notes about the building itself, but the parts about the "Science Judge" character, his henchmen, and his Gadget are largely irrelevant to this file's purpose. The villain may have chosen Seagurn Insurance from a (lengthy!) list of potential "Accused" because of the excellent care this skyscraper's owning company has always taken of the structure itself. The Science Judge did not expect the building to teleport like that. (Even in the full transcript, it is unclear what the Science Judge did expect to happen! Something, something, "assert the proper Laws of Physics", and possibly something about having said natural laws provide testimony for the "prosecution".) He may have determined that the design of the power cabling and the interior floor reinforcement would best serve his Gadget during operation.
(2) Each of the survivors affected has had at least two anonymous wellness check-ups by State Department assets under cover of "building insurance" or other means.
(3) The businesses which had personnel involved in this incident have also been sporadically surveilled, including those businesses on the floors immediately above and below the actual incident.
(4) Every contractor in the emergency inspection and repair crews has passed a background check.
(5) Every business that applied to take one of the emptied leases, created by companies choosing to move out of a building that could undergo some sort of Villain Gadget Mishap, has also been investigated by the City of New York and the federal State Department.
(6) By early 2005, the building's repairs and reinforcements got the seal of approval from all possible regulating bodies, and it was back to full functionality. Several of the processes applied were then put into action on other NYC high rises and skyscrapers, on the remote chance of a catastrophe such as an earthquake, flood, or a nearby supervillain fight.
(7) One of the involved businesses has spent the past five years in development of a spray-on film for such buildings, that will form a lightweight fire-resistant reinforcement "skin" in the event of sudden shockwaves. Their progress was good until mid-2009 when they were bought out by Cavanugh Construction. Legal details of patents and so on are still being straightened out in the wake of the purchase.
The Lower East Side does not have an easily defined "skyscraper building era", but it is true that more skyscrapers in this area were constructed in the 1930s than any other decade. This building is more recent, having begun work on its foundation anchor in the late 1970s. It was noteable for reconditioning and recycling many materials from other skyscrapers in the northeastern US that were in the process of being dismantled. Several of its steel girders and pipe fittings came from central Manhattan, from Boston (Massachusetts), from Hartford (Connecticut), and from Metropolis (Pennsylvania). No materials came from the state of New Jersey due to a political feud then in progress between New York City Mayor Abraham Beame and New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne.
A recent addition to this file is a photocopy of a faxed page. On the letterhead of a Brooklyn law firm, a small organization state that they are the direct descendants of the Lenape people who lived in southeastern Manahatta eight thousand years ago. They wish to reclaim ownership of the land described at this address, meaning the skyscraper in question. The letter says that they are prepared to show a court ancestral artifacts, carefully concealed during European colonization and only recently recovered, to prove their claim. They want the deed turned over to them; they are prepared to waive leasing costs for the lifetime of the current property owner, who they will designate as their "property management representative" for the next ten years.
Obviously this is nonsense. Neither Delaware Nation nor the Haudenosaunee Confederacy have signed off on any of this. No one who expected a sincere legal conversation would have sent such a letter to a United Nations office "on Biological Diversity Voluntary Funding Mechanism for Indigenous and Local Communities".
What particularly bothered Nathan, back in 2005 when this odd document cropped up, was the banner art in the law firm's letterhead. It includes a gibbous moon with a trailing ribbon. Inside the bright part of the moon are the simple outlines of a palm tree and a fox.
Agent Chameleon investigated this Brooklyn law firm immediately. He found them to already be doing poorly. Whatever backers had helped this idealistic trio of recent graduates to open their law office, they were not doing well -- one was already applying to join larger firms in upstate cities, another had gotten sentenced to a short stint in jail on Contempt of Court charges and would probably face a bar inquiry when he got out, and the third had hidden away resources for an application to the Nevada bar, with an eye to relocation before the firm folded. They had a firm website on one of those cheap monthly subscription sites, not as high quality as GoDaddy. They had an invoice for a graphics artist named "T. E. Metet" who created a letterhead design for them; the invoice shows that they received one ream of pre-printed letterhead. Chameleon was able to find the dusty, coffee-stained package that still contains most of this ream. It looked like only the first few sheets may have had a crisp image of the gibbous moon with roughly accurate maria -- by the first third of the way down, the blotches of the maria have warped terribly. Clearly, the firm soon swapped to a different, more traditional letterhead design on slightly better quality paper.
They are unlikely to still be operating at all, much less at the same location in Brooklyn.
A graphics artist for hire named "Toshi Metet" was listed in a tiny office space, essentially a large closet, on another floor of the same building in Brooklyn. Metet had not renewed the office lease after the first six month contract.

Note to self:
It is off my own standards that I do not have this law firm's NAME listed here. And names of every member and employee. And name of landlord. And official name given of client "direct descendant" organization, their signatory representatives on whose behalf this letter was sent, and every single member on their payroll and membership roll at the time of this letter.
In fact, I swear I had all this. Where did it go? No line on file log of me removing the list, or of someone else accessing this file.
And I would have been cheesed if some other agent accessed it.
If I removed all names, leaving only this one badly smeared photocopy of a fax, why did I not also remove the graphic artist's name?
Suppose I had "legitimate" orders to wipe these names and then forget about them. Sure, I would have complied and covered my own tracks. I would have deleted all reference to the court filing. If that would have left a gap I needed to fill, I would instead have replaced subject names with dead end cover names.
Not what happened here. Ergo, not done by me.
I think some other Agent did what they were told to do. They might have gotten partial instructions from Kincaid, but not full ones.
I think Mental Powers were used in an attempt to censor out this event from the historical record. But the Agent used to do it was not cooperative. Little details got left behind. Hints, breadcrumbs, a chance to find the truth.
Check in, off the record, with colleagues re:
what psychic abilities could cause aberrant behavior without raising an alarm in Psych Evaluation Dept? And without killing someone who has undergone Process 17?

  • In the third week of June 2004, known lesser Black Masks based in New York City made one or two appearances with new "henchmen".
    The underlings in question, called "Shivans", were shaped as unusually large humanoids. They appeared to be slightly glowing blobs of translucent blue ectoplasm, with a partial human skeleton of large proportions in its core. Razor-sharp curved splinters of stone extruded from the tips of their upper limbs as "claws". A cluster of five to twelve additional such splinters stuck out of the creature's upper back, just below the collarbone.
They must have been a failed project of the scientific terrorist group Advanced Idea Mechanics. An A.I.M hovercraft surfaced in Hudson Bay and was defeated by a hero team headlined by Iron Man of the Watchmen. Iron Man then fished the damaged vessel out of the bay. He brought it back to his Stark Industries workshop for proper forensic investigation and dismantling. By the 24th of June, no reports of these "Shivans" have ever been made again, worldwide.
Agent Chameleon's primary employer created a file on these things because of the A.I.M. connection. It did not officially land on Chameleon's desk, however, as this is not his assigned area for analysis. However, a few gentle nudges from SAFEGUARD brought him a partial copy of the information gathered.
(1) While they were designed to seem eldritch or alien in origin, the Shivans were semi-autonomous drones piloted remotely by Dr. Achilles Theron.
(2) Superconductive ballistic gel and mutagenic compounds were combined to form their exterior "blob" layer.
(3) Theron created these things as an application for membership into A.I.M.
(4) Defeat means that Theron's application is permanently rejected.
(5) During the hours when "Kitsune" finished his collaboration with Sahara and the Wyldfire visitors, another minor villain known as Bonestealer showed up at the Nigerian Consulate on the corner of 2nd Ave and East 44th Street. Like the other villains accompanied by Shivans, he loudly announced his intention to prevent a crime: theft of the "Zuma" sculpture outside, created by noted Nigerian artist Billy Omabegho. Bonestealer then flung himself upon the mercy of the embassy guards, begging to be taken to the IT specialist on duty so that he could be properly searched for contraband. This was sufficiently odd behavior -- even for a man dressed as a caricature of an archaeological looter -- that the embassy protective services promptly called over to the United Nations Police office for someone to take this man and his "minions" away.
Bonestealer entered custody peaceably. The Shivans fought until destroyed. Yulis Digby soon pled guilty to a charge of trespassing. He was committed to a mental care facility, where he remained for six months. Various governments began plans to try Digby for his alleged international thefts. He escaped from the facility during his discharge process; his current whereabouts are unknown.
Agent Dragonfly reported in mid-December that Digby's contact information had surfaced.
Dragonfly specializes in making notes on an internet forum used by some Black Mask independent operators, something called a "Yuku board". Agent Dragonfly maintains a cover identity as a potential provider of disguised packaging materials, used by some of these villains to make their illegal possessions seem to be legitimate goods during transportation between hideouts. Dragonfly noted that Bonestealer asked after former co-workers who may still be in the workforce. He was particularly interested in any with coastal connections from Delaware up through Rhode Island. He said he wanted to invest some project money on personal eyeball observations of a specific type, and would ask for nor accept any greater risks.
Six days later, Agent Dragonfly followed up her report. She said not only had these conversation threads had no visible responses, but in fact they had been wiped out of existence. She said they had also been digitally erased from all histories and archives she had the skills to access. She acknowledges the limits of her skills, and requests to know whether she should pass the task over to a dedicated hacker for deeper investigation. Her project lead nixed the idea, feeling that the potential value in any lost information here would not be worth a risk to Agent Dragonfly's cover.
Agent Chameleon is also not a highly skilled hacker. However, he understands just enough to suspect that it took more than one skilled individual, working in a team, to expunge the traces of such a conversation. It could have been ex-Cobra operatives. It could have been a SHADE digital infiltration team. Why would either group -- or any equivalent, for that matter -- want to?
If Nathan Bourne is interpreting this report correctly it is as though Bonestealer's original post never happened.
Hours of intense work into his day, Nathan sits back in his office chair.
He has been staring at papers and screens for too long; his head has begun a dull ache.
The smell of stale coffee is distasteful.
The air in this closed office dulls his senses.
The idea is nonsense.
Isn't it?
Maybe if he says it out loud.
It's as though someone went to the minute
when Digby hit the 'send' button
… and prevented him somehow.
The January frost on Bourne's single office window has left a weird smear pattern of city smudge. With the sun shining through it at that angle, a tired mind could imagine that a greyish-white coyote grins down at Nathan's whiteboard.
"I'm seeing things," Nathan tells himself. "Time to get out of this room for a while."
He tidies away the files, logging date and time on the covers as he closes them up. He locks them away in their proper drawers. He glances at his personal analysis chart one more time before it, too, gets signed and put away properly.
If he sends a request for Agent Dragonfly to confirm whatever she knows about Digby's physical location for that missing post, he won't hear back for at least a day. But he could go look around for that Brooklyn graphics artist, right? People tend to stray no more than half an hour from their previous residence. He might be able to find where Toshi Metet had been living when he rented that office.
Out in the late afternoon sun.
More facts are always useful.
It was next to a laundromat, wasn't it?

Cover image: by Jarissa