2010-03-18: Knowledge Is Power



Date: March 18th, 2010


Carl confirms Tracy is alive when they meet in a restaurant. It's not a coincidence.

"Knowledge is Power"


Despite his well-deserved reputation as an office rat, Carl has been spending some more time away from work over the past week or two. Even got a thumbs-up for it from the psych staff, whose job it is (among others) to watch out for possible burnout.

Well, they can think what they want; what's really pushed him to it is discovering that not everyone in the Protocol is on the same page. With only the vaguest idea how to separate the one from the other, he's letting the issue churn in the back of his subconscious for now, while he works his way through a half-order of roast beef and whatever.

This very restaurant has gotten some attention lately for the incident that occurred — a shooting, those who witnessed it said …or thought — but it was a story with a bizarre, if happy ending, and the press doesn't favour happy endings half as much as homicides. Thus, all around Carl are nothing but customers of the restaurant eating their late dinners, or at the bar enjoying a drink. All normal patrons.

Except for one.

Tracy Strauss was in this very establishment but a few days ago. She was looking for someone when she met Gene instead. And now she's back again on the trail of that very same person. Having been here for hours, not knowing precisely when the mark would appear, it's a dark-as-possible corner she inhabits, her back to most of the restaurant. She blends in with the crowd as much as she can, doing little to disguise herself aside from staying quiet and not drawing attention. A black, turtleneck sweater with no sleeves and the long, slender shape of her blonde ponytail are all that can be seen, save for the moments where Tracy glances over her shoulder subtly at the back of one man's head. Carl Warner.

There's not much of an excuse left to stick around. The sandwich is pretty much down to crust and crumbs, and he's not in the mood for pie. Maybe if Jo were— but she isn't, and why is he even having that thought? Boundaries! Shaking his head, Carl rises to his feet, cutting toward the back so he can wash his hands before heading out.

Halfway there, he happens to meet Tracy's gaze directly— and stops dead in his tracks. It's not that he doesn't believe what he's seeing - oh no, he believes it all too well. Did she really kill those agents? Is he next on her list? Instinct tells him to make a run for it… but no, it's not like she's going to attack him here. And if she's been hired by the Protocols, then this may be his best chance to follow her trail back to them.

"Ms. Strauss," he says, all nice and calm on the outside. "You're— looking well."

Like any average restaurant-goer, and any average person passing the time, Tracy lifts a glass of red wine from the table in front of her and sips with little interest — it's a prop — as she slides her gaze toward Carl, holding the glass casually in one hand. Being here is a waiting game, and it's also a risk — one she meets head on when the man spots her. Recognizes her. Calmly, without taking her cool blue eyes off of Carl, she places the wine glass on the table and seems to settle her hands on her lap beneath. Though there's nothing aggressive about her demeanour, there's nothing friendly about it, either. "Care to join me?"

"Not really," he replies, before taking a seat anyway. Well, if he wanted a simple life, he knew where to find it.

Carl has seen Tracy before, and been seen by her; not very often, not for long, but he was in the background once or twice while someone else was trying to sweat her. "I don't suppose it would do any good to just ask what you've been getting up to?"

"I don't suppose."

Tracy had accounted for meeting Carl here just as much as she had accounted for trailing him out. This scenario isn't ideal, but there isn't a hint of anxiety to be found anywhere in her expression — but her eyes, as they lock and settle on him, certainly hold an intensity that could very easily dip into threat. So far, it's a calculating need-to-know.

She tips her head back slightly, examining him from across the small, two person table. "You don't look a hundred percent surprised to see me."

A shrug. "I didn't expect to see you here" - well, that much was obvious - "but… there were some hints, here and there." And Carl has had more time than most to sit back and mull over the evidence, compared to the field agents pursuing their next target, or the guards focused on watching the people they've already locked up.

"A… friend of mine said she saw you, too," he continues. "Thought she'd seen a ghost." Lots of them, actually, but he's not about to tell her everything he knows.

"Your friend has some serious issues." Issues that are not Tracy's concern. She glances away from Carl, a roll of her eyes that turns considering. It's brief; her gaze is back on him fast, just as it was a moment ago. "I know you're not an agent," she states, simply and with purpose. Her methods would have varied in seeking him out were Carl an agent. No, she's pegged his type. "You're a behind-the-scenes guy, right — the kind of guy who sees more than everyone else."

Carl leans forward, resting his arms against the edge of the table and nodding ever so slightly. "Somebody's got to keep the computers running." In other words, yes. And in other words, she seems to want to share something with a behind-the-scenes guy. He remains where he is: okay, I'll hear you out.

"The people you work for aren't who they say they are." Tracy watches for any reaction out of Carl. He may have leaned forward, but she doesn't move an inch. "I don't know what you signed up for when you joined Alpha Protocol, but the fact that you said my name instead of walking right on past and calling an army on me tells me you know there's something going on worth hearing from a dead target."

This news, in itself, doesn't come as a hundred percent surprise to him either. No honest black-ops program makes a routine thing of killing off its own staff and sweeping it under the rug. What does interest Carl in particular is that Tracy is choosing to bring it up to him. "Funny— up until you said that, I half-thought they'd talked you into working for them. I'm happy to be wrong." Because, if those deaths are indeed her work? Whoever she's been working for, she's disquietingly good at it.

"… Interesting theory, I'll give you that," Tracy admits with the first smile of the evening, legitimately amused, but the sentiment burns out as her loathing of the idea takes the forefront. A dark glare is cast Carl's way. "But I would never work for them." The only person who could have convinced her to do so (and did, in a way) is dead, thankfully. The memory tinges her words more bitterly. "If I was, I wouldn't be controlling my own free will. D'you know anything about the human weapons programs? The other protocols?"

And Carl's face falls, as another big piece of the picture emerges. "All I picked up is that there were some 'pink slips' that were more than just a forced career change. I didn't know why—"

After a moment of consideration, he leans back. "I won't lie to you," he says, "I think these abilities are more trouble than they're worth. We can argue some other time over where to draw the borderline— but it sounds like we agree this is as far on the wrong side as it gets."

There is no argument from Tracy, at least here and now. She doesn't even flinch at Carl's opinion of abilities being more trouble than they're worth — and by proxy, her being more trouble than she's worth — though her expression may grow just a touch disdainful. "They're running the alphabet on Greek letters, every protocol worse than the last. So you better either rethink your career choice or start using it to look in the right places. I guarantee that you'll find out I'm right."

While he doesn't have the Greek alphabet memorized, Carl knows enough about it to know that that's a bunch of levels of worse. "I'm working on that second one. If you come across any other tips you feel like sharing…" A quick glance around at the restaurant: it's as good a rendezvous point as any, provided that no one thinks to tail either of them to it.

Tracy follows the glance around the restaurant, getting the drift easily. It's accepted with a slow nod and a gradual (and ever-so-slightly self-satisfied) smile of matte red lips. She brings her elbows up to the table, casually swiping her wine glass back in hand to sip from it. "I'll be here if you are. Lemme make it clear. If I find out you're lying even a smidge, or … you have a sudden change of heart about the people who sign your paychecks…" She gives the man a pointed look. If he got hints of her being alive, he must know that she's not exactly a force to be reckoned with.

"Mm, 'n' if you need help in your hunt for proof…" Tracy sets her glass down, gives a lift of her brows. "I'm sure you've heard've Rebel."

"Heard of, yes." In fact, Carl talked with him online once - though he doesn't know it, and it was before the Protocols got going. He hadn't thought to contact the mystery man - not when it seemed that all he had to worry about was an internal witch hunt - but now the stakes are higher. "Thanks, I'll think about it."

No response on the other point, out loud, but he maintains his serious expression. Yes, he knows, he won't see it coming.

"Same goes if you tell anyone you as much as saw me." The blonde political advisor-turned-fugitive certainly sounds like she's more than prepared to follow through on those threats. Tracy seems poised to say more … no, ask more; a question lingers in her gaze but goes unvoiced as she simply decides to study Carl some more. To say she's distrusting of anyone with their hand in AP is an understatement, and now she's in some kind of contact with no less than three.

Carl frowns, equally put off about casually talking with someone who - if the Protocol was doing its job properly - would still be locked up. "I'll keep your name out of it." But the rest of the information is fair game for discussion with those he still trusts; he's not about to take Tracy's story completely at face value.

Tracy gives another few nods. "I'm glad you listened." Even though she doesn't expect him to take her info at face value. That's why she gave him some direction. And, with any luck, he'll find more. That's the question that still lingers: will Carl share his information with her, a fugitive? A would-be target? "There are other people who want to stop this from happening as much as I do… as much as you should." She tests the waters, though there is nothing cautious about her continually confident tone of voice. "You know what they say — knowledge is power."

"They do say that," he agrees, and for the moment he leaves it at that. This is a coincidence of common goals; she'll have a long way to go to convince him of any more than that.

As a waitress approaches, he shakes his head: no, he's not ordering a drink to match Tracy's. "I should get going," he murmurs, rising to his feet once again. "You stay out of trouble, would you?"

Carl's parting comment earns a smirk from Tracy. Before she addresses it, though, she tells the waitress: "Check, please." She then rises to her feet. "I'll try by best. You should be more worried about staying outta trouble yourself." It'd be a shame to lose a possible contact — or at the very least, another disloyal employee to weaken the Protocol — so soon after their chat.

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