The Return of Shield

The Rising Tide Helps Out

Kat took the weekend to formulate a workable plan. If she was going to depend on her scientific training, then her first step had to be testing her Hydra hypothesis. That was going to be tricky. Jim already was keeping an eye on her and if he ever believed she was a threat, she would be eliminated and Kat was beyond that stage of the grief process when she would have welcomed death. So, if she wanted to stay alive and help SHIELD, she needed to be careful.

Kat knew she needed untraceable computer access, so she immediately called a source she had obtained in an investigation not long ago. SHIELD had been scrutinizing a hacktivist organization called the Rising Tide for some time now. During one recent case involving the group, Kat made a strategic decision, one she didn’t tell anyone about lest they call into question her commitment and loyalty. In fact, Kat herself was hard-pressed to explain why exactly she had made that decision. All she could say was that it felt right at the time. Now, when that decision was maybe going to pay off, she knew it had been the right one.

During the case, Kat uncovered an exceptional Rising Tide member, one who had any number of computer skills. Rather than arresting Cassady or even alerting SHIELD to her existence, Kat explained to the hacker the dangerous position she was in and why the Rising Tide was on SHIELD’s radar. Kat let her go free only after obtaining her contact information and requesting that she assist in future investigations as needed. Cassady had laughed and, much to Kat’s delight and consternation, said she would only help if she felt the case warranted it. Kat had yet to call on her but knew that now was the time. Much to her relief, Cassady agreed to furnish her with an untraceable laptop with a disguised signal and firewall so strong that Kat should be safe even when hacking into SHIELD databases.

On Monday morning, Kat had another sit-down with Jim. “I thought about what you said and I think you are right; it’s time for me to move on. But in the interests of being thorough, I thought I would check the SHIELD databases for any other operations with fingerprints similar to this one. I don’t expect to find anything, so once I do that, I’m done.”

Jim once again had a quick satisfied expression that instantly transformed into his caring face. Watching him, Kat internally shook her head and wondered how she’d missed Jim’s obvious tells all these years. “I think that’s a great idea, Kat. Look, I’m sorry I never mentioned anything earlier, but I was really worried about you after what happened in January. I cannot tell you how glad I am that you seem to be getting better and want to move on from such a horrible experience.” Hearing those words of compassion, Kat experienced a feeling of doubt. What if she was wrong about Jim?

“Well,” she told herself, “that’s why you’re testing the theory.” Einstein would approve. She quickly thanked Jim and left his office to put in motion the rest of her plan.

Over the course of the next two weeks, Kat logged any number of hours searching through archived cases. She started by looking into assaults on SHIELD, ones that were similar to her own experience, in which the group responsible was unknown or where assault ended in damage to SHIELD’s internal functioning. After that data was exhausted, Kat moved on to a deeper investigation. Knowing that she most likely was watched, she didn’t spend a significant amount of time on any one case but instead, surreptitiously hand wrote the names of the SHIELD agents – both dead and alive – involved in operations that went wrong. The names of the operations themselves were carefully noted as well.

Kat also took the time to casually watch the agent in her division with the worst memory. When he went to the bathroom one afternoon, she quickly went through his drawers in order to find his password. Groaning softly at his carelessness, Kat copied down his password (did people seriously still use their name and birthday?) for use in getting into SHIELD databases from Cassady’s laptop. If she wasn’t on a clandestine mission, she would have had a talk with him about his lax security protocols.

The following week, Kat asked Jim for her next assignment so everything at work would go as planned. However, she contracted a bad case of the flu that left her so ill that she was forced to stay at home in bed recovering for close to a week. Jim told her it was due to overwork and that she should take all the time she needed to heal. At first, that made Kat feel so guilty that she could barely stand it. But, as the week wore on and she worked almost round the clock on Cassady’s computer, checking and double checking flawed operations, her guilt quickly faded. What she found made her sick to her stomach.

Kat discovered a large number of operations that significantly hurt SHIELD. Many of the operations were subtle and, at least superficially did not look as though the damage was anything but minimal. However, soon a pattern began to emerge and Kat started being able to tell when an operation went wrong due to random human error or purposeful mistakes. Most of the agents involved in the missions did not overlap but, once she traced the level of access such an assault would require, put it together with people who had access and then matched them with those involved with the operations (Supervising Officers were often a strong link), she realized that they were more connected than they would have been by chance.

Not all the operations involved death or even violence. In fact, those cases were fairly rare which made her think that keeping the anonymity of Hydra intact was, at this point, more important than gaining intel or hurting SHIELD’s overall functioning. Even so, the outcomes of the flawed operations mounted up. Kat detected a lot of missing deadly artifacts, criminals who somehow slipped through SHIELD’s grasp and then disappeared, and agents acting in slightly uncharacteristic ways. There were those who seemed like cowboys (she figured those were the most dangerous because they tended to be charismatic people with sizable followings) while others were almost too perfect. Kat paid special attention to the loners, agents who seemed to interact well with others but never found a group of friends. She also took note of agents whose estimation of their own abilities seemed to outweigh their actual performance evaluations. As Kat knew only too well from her work, arrogance without justification and with a dash of entitlement frequently is dangerous.

Kat returned to work on a Friday. Her coworkers commented that she looked like she could have used a whole week off instead of a few days. Kat agreed with their assessment and went home early to sleep for a few hours. With all of her newly acquired information, she decided it was time to talk with Steve.

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