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Calm before the storm
The Custody Press Corps was a group positioned on an elite tier. The reporters assigned to the corps were given accreditation to report on the innermost echelons of CCD politics. During speeches, the reporters dutifully copied the Ascendancy's words. At events, they followed every wave for insights others could not read. But to gain access to the Ascendacy's office, a one had to be either from a favored news outlet or a favored reporter. Of the two-dozen members with permanent positions, only two, maybe three, names were lucky enough to speak with the Ascendacy himself. None were so cherished that they dared make fun of him or his guests, however.

With these corps guest reporters, Brandon was playing a brand new game. Reed knew he was planning more than the puppetry it appeared. To be honest, she didn't care to know any more than what her superiors assigned to her. Right now, she'd been told to care about one such guest - an American reporter named Nicholas Trano.

Trano was proving to be a pain in her ass, that was for sure. But she'd handled worse than a white-boy, Connecticut Mister Wizard. For whatever reason, ZARS and the CIA both thought Trano was a threat to the enemy - that being each other - so Reed was here to make sure he was taken care of.

For what it was worth, Trano was getting a grasp of the understandings inherent to his position. He didn't ask many questions, but those he did posit were acknowledged at one level or another. He was there to prove free speech. Because if anyone was going to ask the hard questions, and expose corruption, it would surely be America's catholic-playboy.

What the fuck had he done so far? A whole shitload of nothing. Maybe Reed should be happy, she mused. His head kept low meant he'd dodge most of the flying bullets, but this was the heroic savior of America? By the time the press corps landed outside Mecca, she had to wonder.

"Alright, Trano." She told him when they were finally given a quiet moment to themselves, a central location out of which the press corps would work for the duration of the conference. She had on her usual jacket, a short cropped thing, but this time over a plainer shirt, snug jeans and ankle boots. There wasn't a grain of sand smart enough to work its way in her shoes. Not in this outfit.

"Looks like we have the evening to chill. The fireworks start tomorrow." She detangled his tie from the badge looped around his neck, and poked him on the chest. "So get some rest tonight. I'm going out for a few hours." She winked, "You know, the usual spy stuff. Don't swallow a bullet while i'm gone."
CCD spy and all around badass
The scenic route accomplished exactly what Jacques needed of it. By the time the three vehicle motorcade made it back to the hotel, he was left pondering the cryptic message. Perhaps it was literal? There was certainly a shit-storm brewing for DV. Extremist demonstrations and attacks were on the rise. Accendancy himself was in the Dominance, the living embodiment of the CCD and everything those very extremists hated.

They pulled into the underground parkade without issue, where they had to pass through an unusual level of security. The Ascendancy wasn't staying in the same hotel, but apparently many of the reporters that were cleared to speak with the man were.

Some time later, Jacques stood in his suite over looking the Grand Mosque, sipping from a bottle of water as his men settled into the adjoining suite. Cpl Ime and Provost Boipelo sat at the island in the suite kitchenette.

Ime continued to brush up on the CCD's corporate laws and legislation's, while the Provost familiarized himself with the more day-to-day laws and firearms regulations.

Another sip of water, and he frowned slightly to see crowds gathered so far below. In the distance he could see the highways and train tracks, all packed with pilgrims flocking to the holy site. A sea of tents that had a strange sense of permanency about them had gathered on the outskirts of the Grand Mosque, and corrals of horses, goats, and camels could be seen even from where he stood. "Provost. Heading to the roof. I need to see the big picture here."

The two men glanced over at Jacques, but he waved them off to resume their own tasks. The building's security was tight enough that he wasn't concerned with wandering the halls without an escort.

A short time later, Jacques let himself onto the roof of the hotel, twirling a key-ring and access card he had temporarily purchased from one of the building's staff around his finger. He still wore his suit jacket, although it hung open since he was out of the public eye, and a pair of sunglasses were plucked from the pocket to shield his eyes from the bright sun above.

The roof was much as he expected; gravel, various exhausts and air vents, and of course a helipad for the especially rich that could pay the fees to allow a helicopter so close to the Grand Mosque. He was neither so rich nor so disrespectful to have bothered with something like that.

He stood a moment to adjust to the sudden blast of heat and light as the door fell shut behind him, and casually scanned the perimeter of the building's roof. Or at least what he could see from where he stood. Quiet and isolated, just as he had hoped. Two steps from the door and his field of view shifted as he passed one of the air vents, and he paused again. Not so alone, apparently.

A woman. Caucasian, and decidedly out of dress for the neck of the woods she was in. What would the pilgrims so far below have thought should they see her? Hell, what did the building's staff think behind those professional airs they put on? He shook his head then started towards her, making a point of being heard; the crunch of gravel under foot would surely tip her off to his approach, even over the wind so high up.

Of course, approaching from behind, he couldn't exactly complain about her choice of attire. Short jacket, AND tight jeans? An excellent combination in any other part of the world. Maybe one of the reporters? No...they were too image oriented not to at least through a headwrap on. And with her choice of imagers which she used to survey the crowd below and what lay beyond, she was surely not some simple reporter. The way she held herself was off. Some added layer of security, perhaps? She had an air similar to the woman Michael had sent to pluck him from the good Doctor Weston.

He stepped up to the rail that lined the building's edge a few feet to her left, and rested a hand on the rail and another on the arm of his glasses as he peered down the building's face to the road below. "Afternoon, young lady. An interesting view, isn't it? So many, travelling so far, to look at...what, I wonder? Can you believe that not so many years ago, folks like us would never be allowed to stand where we are now?"
The wind lifted her hair from her neck, and curled and whipped around her throat like a silken noose.

It wasn't Arabic architecture that drew Reed to the roof this afternoon. Hell, she guessed there were two dozen similar operatives on any of a number of rooftops in her study that'd already spotted her just as easily as she'd spotted them. Knights, Vegas.... shit there were probably as many ZARS lurking around as there were reporters, and Reed knew from personal experience, that there were more reporters crawling around than cockroaches in an Amsterdam canal drain.

The footsteps scowled her expression with frustration. She was hardly without defensive measures, but she was more irritated with the prospect of dealing with clean-up crews than the actual wetworks. Thankfully, when she spied out the newcomer, she saw only some shitbreak kid out looking to get a tan. Although, much more of one and he'd fit in on the streets below.

She sighed and pressed the button on her viewers to transmit her scoped out data back to operations. They turned into regular sunglasses then, for the most part, and Reed popped them on her face in time to face the little shit. Correction, the french, puckerfaced.. son of a bitch its Jacques Danjou, CEO of Légion Première, a backward little unit operating mostly in Northern Africa. What the fuck was he doing here? This kid's balls must have dropped when he was nine. Damn, he'd filled out since her days running desk-work for the field.

He joined her like she'd invited him. Reed crossed her elbows across her chest and thought about shrugging off her jacket. It'd been eight years since she'd worked a good desert gig. The sun would crust her shoulders like a steak if she did. So, despite sweat dripping between her shoulder blades, she left it on.

"Young lady? You must need your vision corrected, kiddo. I've probably got ten years on you. Maybe fifteen?" She barked a laugh, and turned her back on the view he seemed so interested in ridiculing.

She had half a mind to correct him. Folks like us, huh? If he only knew. She'd seen the inside of the oval office while the President of the United States took a shit down the hall. But she was playing another role. Might as well make good of it.

She leaned on the rail, elbows backwards perched uncaring of the soaring heights between her back and the distant street below. She cringed at the glaring sun. "Thank God for the CCD, then." Her lips twisted with a smirk, "equal rights and all that shit."

She stuck out a hand. "Julie Reed," and flashed her press corps badge from somewhere.

"Your boys expecting some heat, Jacques?" Her brows lifted above her sunglasses. "Thats right, I know who you are." Again, she gestured at the badge dangled between her breasts. "..My job to know who people like you are."

Heh, if the kid only knew.
CCD spy and all around badass
Jacques laughed warmly; both at her come-back about the age difference, and for the discovery that, yet again, his reputation had preceded him. A few practiced movements of his eyes and, much like her toy, his glasses sprang to life. He watched the flow of traffic, setting tracking reticles on some vehicles to get a feel for where traffic was going and how fast it traveled. The same was applied to the crowds of pilgrims far below.

Locations of construction equipment and materials were flagged and logged. That led to investigating what companies owned the equipment, owned the contracts for the construction sites. A bit of clever thinking on his part, and he added onto his glasses' display the cleared routes of travel for the equipment and materials, tracking it back to their points of origin.

Far below an ambulance could be seen. Ambulances meant hospitals, medical supplies, and sadly, ripe targets for extremists looking for an easy score for the big headlines. Overlays came next, showing him the areas various hospitals and police departments held jurisdiction over, and that looped back to his study of the traffic. Response times, best routes of travel.

"I must admit, it isn't unusual for people to know who I am, in Africa. Average, every day folks, maybe not so much, yes? But in the right circles. Government and business. Especially business. My company means huge profit margins for big business. Employees feel safe, but more importantly, so do investors. To say your drill sites are protected by Légion Première speaks highly of you, and of how serious one is for profit."
He couldn't help but grin as the puzzle pieces of the city started to fall into place. Next came the thought games; the what-ifs and devil's advocate arguments. What if there was a riot, there? How to contain, how fast to respond? What could be used in the area?

"It's in how you carry yourself, Mademoiselle Reed. Age is in the mind, as they say. I am thankful to the CCD for this opportunity. There is much history here. History is important, there are lessons to be learned from it. One can study history, and avoid trouble in the future. In the late '70s, two hundred armed extremists took some thousands of pilgrims hostage right down there. That was when this area was known as Saudi Arabia, you see. The extremists. They felt that the ruling government was not...Islamic, enough. Pakistani forces, aided by the Groupe d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale, ended the siege. Hundreds died. Mostly disease, lack of food. Some in the fighting."

He leaned against the rail to look at her curiously, "French commandos, leading and training Pakistani troops, liberated the greatest holy site in Islamic history. They knocked down Muhammed's wife's tomb...her name eludes, me, sadly. Knocked her tome down for lavatories. These hotels are built on the foundation of a Ottoman Empire era fortress, built to protect the Grand Mosque below."

He pushed off the rail to accept her hand, although rather then shaking it he went with the far more interesting option. Heels were clicked together and he leaned over to kiss her hand, smiling up at her from over the rims of his glasses. "It is my job, Mademoiselle Reed, to find lucrative work for my men, and to be aware of the dangers, and there is no shortage of either in Dominance Five, no? And to know a reporter when I see one."
He glanced towards her badge, but was more interested in the snug t-shirt then the fake piece of plastic she wore there, then turned back to the railing to watch the crowds below. His tone hinted that he didn't believe in the slightest that she was a reporter, but was perfectly willing to carry on with the deception. It would make life easier on everyone involved, surely.

Edited by Jacques, Feb 4 2014, 09:08 PM.
Damit. This one liked to hear the sound of his own flaptrap, didn't he? Well, Reed indulged him the chance to show off. She wondered what he was seeing when he scanned the terrain. No doubt it was something similar to her own analysis, but Reed wasn't a soldier. She was something entirely distinct. Though she'd wager his salary far outstripped hers. Living the life of a double-agent apparently isn't grounds for a raise.

She wasn't overly reactive if his story about the Grand Mosque Seizure of '79 was meant to provoke one. The seizure was led by Juhayman al-Otaybi, who belonged to a powerful family of Najd. He declared his brother-in-law Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani to be the Mahdi - sound familiar? - or the Islamic redeemer. His followers took that the fact that Al-Qahtani's name and his father's name are identical to Muhammad's name and that of his father, according to the prophecy that His and his father's names were the same as Muhammad's and his father's, and he had come to Mecca from the north to justify their belief. If two generations of conspiracy were all it took to name a new Mahdi, then the world should be crawling with them. In fact, glancing over her shoulder to study the distant tops of white-shrouded heads roaming far below, the world probably was.

The bodies piled up after a couple weeks, between hunger, disease and execution. "Is that right?"
She asked of the impromptu lesson with a derisive snort. Islam forbids any violence within the Grand Mosque, to the extent that plants cannot be uprooted without explicit religious sanction, unless of course, its God's will. Apparently God wanted a bunch of his most faithful to get their throats slit.

Of course the Saudi government exacted their revenge. The so-called Mahdi sealed his own fate. Public executions "for religious transgressions" were tried and beheaded in public squares across eight different cities to set an example for future rebels. Imagine it. The bloodthirsty contradictions squashing a rebellion over a whole fuckton of voodoo, palm-waving, and chants. It sounded eerily familiar to the situation unfolding right in front of her and the tongue-flapper; honestly, she wouldn't mind putting that tongue to better uses; Damn! When did that kid fill out? At least it meant she had job-security.

She shook his hand firmly, sizing him up to so speak. Behind the glossy lenses of his glasses, she wondered if he was searching her face for recognition status. There were a few dead-end plants about Reed's identity as a reporter, though technically the name was credited as behind the scenes producer type work rather than as a journalist. It was likely to explain the shortage of sites to clock her face. The rest was a relative dead end. There was just enough backstory on her to make the identity plausible: a college degree, a social security number, etc. But there was a distinct lack of prom pictures, or childhood ski trips, or any of that other personal shit that staked her claim to an American lifestyle. Not much more than a well-practiced accent, at least. Julie Reed was a ghost, literally. Her DNA, fingerprints, and retinas led to the same statue positioned in a long hall of sculptures.

If he suspected anything amiss, he played along to which Reed was thankful. Like earlier, she was in no mood to deal with extra paperwork.

They released hands amiably, ridiculous press of his lips still seeping onto the back of her hand, but Reed made sure to tilt herself just so to give him a better view of the badge resting against her chest. Or maybe to taunt him with their ongoing charade. He was french, she was American - supposedly - it only made sense to skip the pomp and circumstance and go right for blatant flirting. That, and Trano had wound her so tight lately, the idea of driving him a little jealous wasn't a bad move to make. He was so close to having actual feelings for her - loyalty, primarily - that maybe witnessing her manipulation of someone else might drive him closer to her side of the fence? He was sentimental enough to fall for it: all for good-cause, of course. She had to have his blind trust, or else the entire mission was in jeopardy.

"I may have been a little misleading,"
she met his with a quirky grin of her own, "I work for Nicholas Trano who's downstairs no-doubt buffing up his mani-pedi as we speak."
She thought about sliding closer toward Jacques, but it was too fucking hot to even think about getting within a foot of another human heartbeat. So the knowing glint in her eye would have to suffice. Reed had to dig deep to play damsel in distress, but thankfully Jacques' profile would respond better to ambitious slave-driver than to pampered little princess.

She winked. "I take it you've heard of him? Maybe I could get you an interview."
She carefully monitored Jacques' reaction. "So. Does Légion Première have any interest in America's sweetheart, Nick Trano?"
CCD spy and all around badass
Jacques let out a sudden bark of laughter, glancing at her with a bemused grin before returning his gaze to the city beyond, leaning once more on the railing. "The Yanks, they do love their image, no? As I said, Mademoiselle, it is my job to know reporters. Monsieur Trano is a very well known reporter. Exactly the sort I prefer to avoid on my off hours. They are useful tools, but most are far too full of themselves. Preconceptions, misconceptions, arrogance. I much rather duel wits with lawyers and the Col Blanc in their boardrooms. There, the rules are clear."

"No, Légion Première has no interest in the Americans. Their time has come and passed. Africa is still picking up the pieces from American interests. The future is in the CCD's hands now, yes? And so long as the Custody is strong, the fatherland is strong."
The Americans had, at face value at least, returned to their foolish isolationism. Just like the aftermath of the Great War, and the depression that followed it, the Americans had shut themselves in behind their paper walls, intent to ignore the world, blinded by their beliefs of self-importance and dominance. Of course, he had no doubt that, much like the Cold War, they were still active on the world stage, just from the shadows now.

If he wasn't far off the mark, the woman was trying to use him for something. And it wasn't a promotion. He continued his thought games, the display on the inside face of his glasses growing more convoluted by the moment as additional fields of information were applied.

So what was her game here? He didn't doubt she was there with the great American reporter, but as he understood it, Mr Trano was hunting a far larger prize. Wasn't he the personal reporter for the Ascendancy? Something like that. Some grand prize lap-dog position. High prestige and no real work to be done. Sounded perfect.

So she didn't want to get Mr Trano an interview with some merc CEO. She seemed to paint a very clear picture that she wasn't fond of the man, and that her work was less then ideal. Which was odd; who wouldn't want to work for someone who had no real work to do? Again, great prestige with no real effort. But then again, she wasn't a reporter.

And she was very, very good at flaunting her assets. Subtle yet bold. She knew she was attractive, and did not have to work to sell the idea. Maybe a gambit to win the man's trust? If she were really a reporter's assistant, she would do what she could to find interesting impromptu interviews. Reporters loved the impromptu stuff. No lists of pre-approved questions. Those were dangerous, unless of course you were perfectly willing to look like some fool soft business man type. Which was, of course, exactly what he enjoyed people thinking he was.

A cursory review of 'Julie Reed' turned up all the usual and no real depth. Exactly what he expected. He didn't bother running down that rabbit hole. Either she hated social media, or she was a very, very boring woman.

So, would an interview with Trano be of use to him? It would help draw attention to Légion Première. But would they also become associated with the Ascendancy himself? That would be damaging to their ongoing reputation in Africa then. They had carefully marketed themselves as the underdog African company moving into the CCD big league.

He turned his gaze back to the crowds below, "No, Mademoiselle Reed, I have no interest in an interview with your boy. I think that would make things very hard for my boys, working here in this Dominance. We've a reputation to maintain, and it is in everyone's best interests that we keep it as far from the Ascendancy as we can."
Captain French was sucked back into the world of his Lenses. Reed doubted that he was scanning the horizon for future photo op's. She couldn't blame him, honestly. Anyone with the balls to stroll into Mecca on the verge of popping like hot cherry was a-ok in her book.

Whether Jacques was another grunt in a trussed-up suit or not, Reed decided he wasn't a threat to her or Trano. He probably wasn't even a threat to her reports. They probably knew all about him anyway, but she'd make mention of it just to be safe. If only to avoid a future ass-chewing.

She shoved from the wall. Her own glasses she pushed up through her hair until they rested across the top of her head. She gave Jacques a civie-bred disgrace of a salute. "In that case, you enjoy the view. If you're going for a selfie, I'd suggest getting that ugly ass clocktower thing in the background."

She swung an arm around the opposite direction where lording over the city loomed what looked like an ugly combination of Dubai's Burj Khalifa and London's Big Ben. Its shadow cast an eerie focus that was a long source of controversy in the city long before the CCD's conception. Not only was it built atop the ruins of a demolished Ottoman fortress, but the golden spires were gaudy enough to appease an Egyptian Pharaoh.

Reed loved it for other reasons. That tower represented the strange compatibility for the local flavor of Islam with capitalism, the hallmark of the entire CCD. That tower was like staring into the eyes of your enemy and smirking.

But just to be a smart ass, Reed added one last thing before leaving. "If that's not to your taste. You could always swing by the McDonalds for a coke."

Edited by Julie Reed, Feb 13 2014, 08:11 PM.
CCD spy and all around badass
Reed's wallet buzzed with Nicholas Trano's name. He was calling her. If she chose to pick up, which she probably did because it would be a bit silly not to considering that protecting him was her primary mission objective, she saw a live feed from Trano's own wallet camera.

A mob of angry men were clearly visible, beating the living daylights out of a camera man and screaming abuse at a female reporter. Nicholas spoke at the same time. "Reed, remember Jacques Danjou? CEO of that mercenary group? Find him and tell him he's got a job. I know you probably already have access to my accounts, just pay him whatever he needs to clear these guys up."
The beating and the shouting intensified. Tears were plainly visible on the woman's face, although the wallet's microphone was barely picking up any audio at that distance. "I don't think these two are going to last very long, and I'd rather not have to do something I might regret."

He was going to have some explaining to do later, but she hadn't exactly told him he couldn't leave the hotel. She'd just implied it. Strongly.
Continued at: Something to do
CCD spy and all around badass

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