Deep Crazy
Roleplaying Log: Deep Crazy
Participants
IC Details
Synopsis:

Ulysses Arngrim tells Phil the truth about what Ben Palmer was looking for in SHIELD's computer system. With his faith in the organization destroyed beyond repair, Phil comes up with an audacious, and potentially deadly, plan.

Other Characters Referenced: Hashmark, Daisy Johnson, Tony Stark
IC Date: March 06, 2019
IC Location: Unmonitored Storage Room, Triskelion, NYC
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 07 Mar 2019 04:24
Rating & Warnings: G
NPC & GM Credits:
Associated Plots

It's been a very tense few weeks in which Ulysses is pretty sure that it's mostly in his own head, which he figures works out well for timing considering that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been in its own state of tension what with the Registration Act looming around the corner. And then it didn't happen, pushed back a few weeks, and he wasn't sure whether people were supposed to breathe a sigh of relief or be thankful for the extra time to batten down the hatches.

That still doesn't change a lot of things, and he'd had his orders, his own personal mission which seems to have gotten worse for its execution. He's got things to report to Phil, but he wants to keep things on the downlow, and when you work in a place like this, that just makes things very complicated.

So you have to get creative.

Creativity in this case, comes in the form of a rather flashily colored drone, painted purple and silver after its apparent namesake, so Ulysses has explained, but alas, there don't seem to be many gamers where it counts. It's small and flies smoothly, buzzing along the halls, little red lights blinking on and off to signify testing, which really isn't anything new, as time and again people have asked Ulysses why he couldn't test these things elsewhere. …to which he'd explain (and at great length) that it was an ideal obstacle course as you never knew what sort of environment you'd be having to work one of these babies, and Pulled-Pork is absolutely the best, yes he is.

He's gotten odd looks a plenty, but today just makes it one of those days, in which there's absolutely nothing strange going on whatsoever. Right? Right.

Pulled-Pork might flit a little closely by Phil should it finally come across the agent, zipping almost erratically across his path, little lights flashing intermittently… or is it?

… _ _ _ …

It continues to veer off and along, wobbling back on course, its lights returning to the standard blink as it trails off and around a corner.

***

It's as well Ulysses has used this time to practice with Pulled Pork.

Phil hasn't even been in the country. Shortly after discovering Eddie's betrayal he just sort of hit a wall. He turned her into a triple agent. Peggy gave him something to believe in again. But he couldn't handle one more conversation about registration, couldn't handle one more argument with former friends, couldn't handle the continuing disorientation of his life-after-death, or the fact that almost all of the details of how he was brought back to life have been classified out of his reach.

So he took an assignment in Madripoor. Get back to basics, Peggy had said, and he had, putting himself in the field again like a man half his age to track down a real, legitimate, honest-to-God terrorist threat involving big nasty superweapons instead of superpeople. The subject of metahumanity didn't even come up. Not that there aren't any metahumans in Madripoor. There are plenty. But it wasn't relevant. And that's what he needed before he could even consider coming home to New York.

As it stood, part of him was very tempted not to. To put in a transfer request that put him halfway around the world, far away from any of this. But the people who are still his friends still matter. The metas who need help still matter. The organization he devoted his life to, that's falling apart at the seams? Well, that needs him here, too.

So he's sunburned but besuited as he ghosts (less literally than he used to) down the hallways.

But he catches that flash of Morse, and reads it instantly. And thus he simply changes his intended course, walking after the drone. He knows whose it is. There are people who still update him, and one of his did so by way of a seemingly innocent gripemail about Ulysses' buzzing everyone with this thing.

***

It's hard to ask about someone without wanting to draw suspicion, so Ulysses has had to do so in the round about way. Keep an ear out. 'Poke' around for the right information. He might be thankful that people have found him a nuisance if that hadn't been his intention in the first place. He'd just never thought that he'd actually have anything he wanted to keep under the radar from his own workplace.

Tailing Pulled-Pork, Phil would find it wind its way not to Ulysses' cubical but a storage room. The drone taps ineffectually against the door before it's swung open from within, Ulysses decked out in goggles and strange manipulator gloves, one of which he'd tucked under an arm so as to be able to open the door.

"Hey buddy..!" he greets his drone before pausing and turning his mostly obscured face towards the man who's followed it. He shoves his goggles up over his head, his expression somewhere between awkward and an uncertain smile in greeting, not that awkward is uncommon to him.

***

Phil is more than used to the various personas at SHIELD who are of the computing and engineering and other scientific persuasions doing things that look downright weird. And if Ulysses in this moment reminds him of Ray Stantz, or perhaps the forbidden lovechild of Stantz and Spengler, he nevertheless takes it in stride. He steps into the storage room as if that's the daily too, and simply closes the door behind him.

"Is this the part where you serenade me?" Phil asks in response to the awkward look. "Because you look like this is the part where you serenade me."

It's just minor understated snark, accompanied by a twitch of a smile, and followed with, "Relax, Agent Arngrim. I assume this is not the part where you tell me you decided to use my access to create a dozen Seymour Butts emails, and thus I do not in fact need to shoot you."

***

Ulysses blinks, completely unprepared for a proper rejoinder. He at least remembers to close his mouth so he doesn't look like a dead fish. Coughing into a fist, he scoops up his drone and steps back into the room to let Phil in if he so pleases.

"Dead zone. Not that I think anyone'd care but um, I don't know who all to trust in this place anymore, apparently," he not quite rambles as he sets his drone on stack of file boxes that he's apparently made into a makeshift workstation. He peels off his other glove and then tugs the rest of his rig off to toss it on a beanbag chair that most certainly does not belong in there.

"I'd very much like not go get shot, sir, and as tempting as using your access to do so would have been, I—" he goes on as he closes the lid of one laptop to set another on top of it. " —have managed to do exactly what you asked for and I'm not sure what I've gotten myself into, sir, but I don't think I like it."

***

Phil pulls a metal storage box over, and this last comment produces a gently sympathetic look, one that makes the kindness shine out of his eyes even though the overall expression on his face doesn't change much. That hint of Cheshire Cat's smile almost always seems to be there, even when there's little to smile about, save for when he's furious or just too sad to manage it. Right now he is neither.

"You were already in it," he says quietly. "You just didn't know it until now."

Which isn't entirely sure. Phil plucked him up from the periphery where he might have mostly sheltered-in-place, and threw him into the heart of the storm. He was talented. Checking into him showed Phil someone he thought worth investing the trust into. It is, perhaps, an unfortunate place to be by any standard.

"Show me," he says. "Or tell me."

***

Those quiet words are mostly a confirmation to something Ulysses had been reluctant to acknowledge, and perhaps even though Phil might not be completely sold on, he might understand why the younger agent would think so in a moment.

Swallowing, Ulysses nods and fiddles with the laptop, making sure the wireless and bluetooth are off for a third or fourth time as he pulls up files. He draws in a long, deep breath before releasing it slowly before he starts speaking again. "…that little thumbdrive code? Wasn't trying to screw things up," he says as he works. "It was searching for information. Very specific information. Data mining."

He rearranges some of the windows before picking the slim laptop up and holding it out to Phil. "Search phrases that came up," he explains, tapping a finger at the screen. "Focused on mutant gene research. Tests that have been run within SHIELD, but some of the information isn't exclusively SHIELD's."

The text block on the open window might be difficult to go through but there are key phrases that definitely stick out. Possible means that can overwrite the mutant gene, turn it off, target kill… All but the last are marked as 'maybes', all but the last are tagged positive for 'tests under surveillance.' When it comes to search details for potential things that might kill people with the mutant gene, it reads 'clearance not accessible.'

"I don't know how old this information is," Ulysses says quietly. "…but whatever's happening? It's been a work in progress."

***

There's a spark of fury in Phil's eyes. "Do you mean to tell me that SHIELD has been working on a genocide program this entire time?"

He absolutely didn't know. Every line of him vibrates with outrage. This is not what he signed on for. This is not who he is. And for a moment, for the weirdest moment in his entire life…

Phillip Coulson starts to wonder if he should be trying to sign on with the man who killed him.

He sucks in a breath instead. "This information…it wasn't planted?" There have to be other explanations, right? "Who ordered it? Who's been overseeing it? Do you know?"

A more relevant question is probably what does Palmer want with it.

And Phil notes right away that Clearance Not Accessible. He's back to mentally staring at the 4 Level-9 Agents and Fury himself.

***

"Someone has, but I can't tell too many details aside from that things are still green-lit." The other agent shakes his head, but as much as he feels like stepping back from Phil, he manages to remain where he stands. He waits, feeling like someone waiting on a bomb being disarmed. It's a small breath he exhales once Phil finds words to continue with, his head again twitching in a shake of his head.

"I wish I could say yes, but everything is from the system directly and it'd be difficult to alter that information. And even if it was planted, what would the purpose be?" Although thinking about it, Ulysses supposes he can think of a few, but he's still certain, unfortunate as it is, that the data's as in tact as it can be.

"Couldn't get any further specifics than that," he says, refraining from another headshake, if just barely. "I'm thinking this virus was designed to find as much as it could while still remaining under the radar. Further digging would have definitely set off some warnings." He could have tried, he might have wanted to, but at the same time he didn't want to risk getting caught without being able to tell Phil his findings.

***

"And by now he's probably got everything he needs from it," Phil says. He presses his hand to his forehead and just slowly drags it down his face, as if he could somehow wash this entire situation away, banish it into the ether. But it remains there, stubbornly, the way reality tends to do.

But there is, he finds, an awful lot he can do.

"Can you," he asks carefully, "rewrite that string of code? One of our enemies already used it. Nobody else has found it successfully. There's a lot of plausible deniability there. Can you perhaps download the evidence to a thumb drive now, and then rework the data mining worm to erase any data it finds that meets the criteria?"

That ought to set the research back a fair bit.

And then he's proposing something even more audacious.

"If I find a way to get you Level 10 access, could you use it to erase even what's behind the access firewall?"

This is insane. Phil is now basically proposing he commit treason and drag this poor young Agent into it. But it's the right thing to do, and he's built his entire life on doing the right thing.

What are they gonna do, anyway? Kill him?

No. The worst thing they could do is kill one of his people, Ulysses included. He sets his mouth into a grim line. It's still the right thing to do. The right question to ask.

***

It's been long enough that Ulysses wouldn't doubt it. Whoever had planted that virus knew what they were doing. Still, he wishes he had something reassuring to say.

Coulson speaks up first, and with those two words to open, the younger agent steels himself for whatever whackadoo request the man proposes next and it shows as he presses his lips into a thin line, folding his arms tightly in front of him. He arches a brow once Phil continues, his the edge off his stance softening slightly. "I can try to rework it, yeah," he says, nodding, even permitting himself a small smile, or at least half of one. "And already ahead of you with the backup."

"If I find a way to get you Level 10 access— "

His half-smile freezes in place then, and he blinks in that manner of one trying to decipher whether they'd actually heard correctly. Oh, Ulysses knows what it entails, knows what Phil's asking him, and the expression that crosses his face then clearly reads everything short of him actually voicing questioning the senior agent's sanity.

"That's…" The word comes out somewhat garbled, his throat suddenly dry.

***

"If you can't be a party to it, tell me now, and I will try to find another programmer," Phil says. But who? There's nobody else. Nobody else in this organization who is that skilled, except Daisy, and she's wearing a wrist cuff. He'd have to go outside the organization. That's maybe not such a bad thing, but it does complicate matters immensely.

"Or perhaps you can just give me a program. I can stick a thumb drive into a port just like anyone else."

Is he sane? Phil couldn't say. Phil can't even say, on a good day, if he's really alive, or if he is some sort of zombie who managed to escape the zombie-related hazards of looking awful, smelling awful, and developing a taste for brains. If he's alive or undead. He might well be mad as a hatter. He already lost his shit once.

But there he is. Looking at Ulysses with steady hazel eyes that aren't wavering. They're a bit green-grey at the moment, reflecting his suit, the light in the room. Steely yet kind. He is going to do this, or he's going to go down doing it. He's decided.

What remains to be seen is what Ulysses will decide.

***

This is crazy. He's crazy. They're both crazy. Sure! Why not? The world's already crazy. What's one more crazy? Except this is deep crazy. Like, really, really deep.

Why couldn't I have listened to mom and kept my old office job, Ulysses finds himself thinking. It's a familiar complaint, yet for every time it's come to mind he couldn't say that he'd regretted the choice he'd made. Now things have changed, and it's a scary place to be in, being so unsure.

"-I'll do it," he says, while his head's still wrapping around the logistics and before he can think of the worst case scenarios. As though to stave off those looming thoughts of negativity he rallies on. "You get me a way to access that level, I will do what I can to make sure that info disappears."

His heart's racing, but he stays grounded in the moment, meeting Phil's gaze. "But I wanna be the first to say that this is a horrible, horrible idea and what if we get caught, what happens? I thought we were the good guys? What's happening anymore…" Okay, so staying grounded doesn't last terribly long as he loses his cool and brings up his hands to rake through his hair before dragging them down over his face as though he can hide from the rest of the world, his words muffled. After a moment or two he sags like a deflating balloon, lowering his hands as he lifts his head again to look Phil in the eye. The overall appearance suggests a kicked puppy.

"I want to do the right thing."

***

"Doing the right thing isn't the same as doing the legal thing," Phil says gently, impressed with the young agent's courage. He claps him briefly on the shoulder. "Just say no to genocide is always the right thing."

This could destroy SHIELD.

No. SHIELD is an idea. The idea will always survive. The idea is not the organization. Especially not now.

What he's looking at is some sort of…

Well. It's a hydra. A many headed snake. Whether Hydra has infiltrated the organization or whether the orgnization just sort of slowly came to collapse into an ideological stance that Hydra would have approved of, that's what he's looking at now.

But he needs to explain the consequences clearly.

"If we're caught, and there's a decent likelyhood we will be,we will be arrested, and we will probably be held without trial indefinitely in the most secure facility they can find for us. If we're lucky, it will be a SHIELD facility, which is humane. If we're unlucky, someone is going to shoot us in the head. If we're unluckier, they'll put us in a CIA blacksite, which is not. And we might be there for the rest of our lives. If we're even more unlucky, they will put us on death row, and we will be given a traitor's death. They will inject a cocktail of drugs into our arms, make a huge example out of us and everyone they can prove helped us. There is perhaps some eleventh hour 1% chance that we'll miraculously engineer a coup wherin the good people of SHIELD oust the…whatever or whoever is in place now, that we'll be hailed as triumphant heroes. More likely, we'll go down in flames, and perhaps 80 years from now some history geek will decide we were heroes. Or we'll go down in flames, and we'll end up a forgotten footnote."

He gives a wry, tired smile. "Still in?"

***

The gulp is audible in the span of quiet that follows Phil Coulson's lengthy explanation of the potential consequences. Ulysses looks like he's about to be sick to his stomach.

"…I think I was better off not knowing all that," he mutters in that unique tone of his, borderlining whiny while still maintaining an edge of sarcasm. He sighs, closing his eyes as he rolls back his shoulders. Then he reaches over to close down the laptop and all its damning information.

"Ye- Yeah," he squeaks, clearing his throat before shrugging. "I mean, what's worse, being unable to sleep at night forever or maybe possibly just getting killed. Eventually. Maybe."

***

"Good man."

Coulson produces two thumb drives. "Get me the evidence you've got now. Get to work on the programming. Don't unleash any of it until I've either got the access, or it's clear I've been caught. If I'm caught trying to get it for you, trigger the worm to erase as much as can be erased, then get the Hell out of SHIELD before they figure out it's you. Go to Tony Stark, tell him what's happened, and ask him to hide you and protect you. He'll do it. While you're working on the bug, create a false identity for yourself and make it damned good. I am going to set up a drop for you with cash and a few other assets."

Retirement fund? What retirement fund? Who cares? Phil hardly expects to retire at this point.

***

This is happening. This is really happening. Horror passes over Ulysses features like a drifting cloud, but even as he stares at Coulson wide-eyed, nodding. He nearly drops one of the drives when he reaches over to take them, then nearly dropping the other as he juggles with the first.

Oh yeah. This'll all be fiiiiine.

"Wha- Wait a minute, the Tony Stark? I can just go to him like that?" Sure, it's part of a back-up plan but who just says 'go up to a renowned billionaire and tell him to look out for you'?? Another realization dawns upon him as Phil Coulson must have a far-ranged net of associates or allies or whatever it is one might call it. Ugh, he can't think straight.

He's just so glad that he's not prone to hyperventilating. Does that just happen, or is it something you're born with? Is it happening right now? Ulysses sucks in a deep breath and shakes his head, patting his cheeks.

"Phew…! Okay. Yeah. I… Got it. I think. I hope it doesn't come down to all that but yeah, better safe than…not." Once the data's all transferred onto the thumbdrives he resumes closing up shop and starts to shove the laptops into a carrying case. "Anything else to shorten my rapidly dwindling lifespan that I should know or is that our game plan?"

***

"He's been known to hire people who break into his building, but I'll stop in before pulling the trigger on this thing so he knows to admit you if you ever come knocking."

Which means he's got to see Tony. After that heartfelt letter. After the funeral. After…waiting months and months and months to not see Tony, because of all the shame.

He firms his jaw, somehow more afraid of that than he is of dying. For a whole bunch of reasons. He watches Ulysses fumble thumb drives and slides his hands into his pockets.

"If I think of anything else to shorten your lifespan," he says, again with that hint of understated sass, "I'll be sure to let you know. I guess they neglect, in all the recruitment brochures, to put in how much being one of the good guys can suck. Even in the fine print. I'll have to see to that at some point."

***

"Oh, well that's nice to know." Ulysses has no idea what sort of history Phil has with Tony Stark but he's got enough on his own plate that he doesn't try to wonder too much. The corner of his lips quirk in the briefest spasm of a smirk.

"Well when that happens I hope I get credit," he says as he picks up Pulled-Pork, dusting imaginary motes off of the drone. "So I guess all that's left to do right now is make it convincing that we weren't having some clandestine conversation about committing treason and you were really scolding me about flying my drone during work hours."

***

"You're getting better at this every day," Phil says, with a twitch of a smile.

And then, once he has the thumb drives in hand and tucked carefully into the inner breast pocket of his jacket, he storms out scowling, looking for all the world like he's fuming. "Just make sure it doesn't happen again," he says, leaving it at that. It's something he has in fact said to subordinates before, and there is all the footage of the drone buzzing him. It's convincing enough as far as he's concerned.

Really, how different is this from his entire life? Only the theater has changed. Only the face of the enemy has changed. It's just all come closer to home.

And even now, Phil can't decide if he vastly regrets not staying put in Madripoor, or if he's beyond glad that he came home after all.

***

Practically cradling the purple and silver drone to his chest, Ulysses follows Phil just to the open door, cringing on cue, although it really isn't too difficult to fake. Phil is definitely convincing him at least.

"-yessir..!" he blurts after the other agent as the man heads off, peering juuust around the corner before he ducks back into the storage room to presumably clean his stuff up. He gives Pulled-Pork a pat as he sets it and the rest of the control rig into a padded bag.

It's either too early or too late for him to be regretting things, but he knows if he overthinks things the inevitable panic won't help. He just needs to take things one step at a time.

And hope they don't get caught.

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