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Spies Like Us (IC)

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The Espadas School of Self Defence and Swordsmanship!

202 Fall (early November), a Saturday morning (probably after So Cruel and Beautiful)


Davyd Palahniuk had graduated from the Claremont Academy a few months ago, but still wasn't quite sure what to do with himself.   He'd had a few ideas, and one of them -- after overhearing Uncle Sasha gripe about "government spooks" -- had been worming its way through his mind for about a year.  He'd tried doing his own research on it, but, due to the idea's nature, he could only get so far.  But then he remembered someone who had (it was rumored) fist-hand knowledge with the idea, someone he'd met (briefly) last April


The idea gained traction.


And so he had returned to The Espadas School of Self Defence and Swordsmanship!, dressed plainly and simply -- brown khaki pants and a long-sleeved gray tee -- and knocked on the front door.


Should I have called ahead?  I probably should have called ahead.  Or maybe not calling ahead was the right move?   The initiative, the element of surprise...


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Saturday morning was a popular day for classes, which meant Talya was downstairs and dressed in what she usually wore for teaching. The blonde woman that opened the door didn't resemble Talya at all, and yet it wasn't even much makeup. Clothing, posture, body language transformed the stunning spy into an attractive twenty-something that was right in the pocket of pretty but not pretty enough to be memorable. With her hair straightened and pulled back in a braid and a loose tanktop over exercise clothes, she fit right in among the college students that often flocked to the Saturday morning class. Which, of course, was entirely the point. 


Talya opened the door for Davyd, just as the class finished up and smiled, popping the illusion of normalcy like a soap bubble as Bombshell's sharp edge smile briefly flickered across her features before vanishing behind a blandly polite smile and an indiscernible American accent that could have come from anywhere, really. "Hello, Davyd. Come on in. Class is just wrapping up. Are you here to see Erik?" Talya asked, pulling him out of the way before the women from the morning class started to file their way out of the dojo, chattering and smiling - occasionally waving at Talya who replied with the same bland smile and a laconic wave that seemed to somehow encourage ignoring her. 

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Davyd did not recognize Talya at first, and assumed she was one of the students, before she gave herself away.  "Wow, that is... uh, I mean," he stammered, "I'm not here to see Erik, no.  Well, uh," he tilted his head slightly as more questions bubbled up in his mind, "maybe later, but not now.  I was hoping to speak with you.  And about, ah," he scratched the back of his head, "about the stuff you did... I mean, the rumors are that you..."  He laughed nervously to himself, "<wow, this is a lot hard than I'd expected>," he muttered in Ukrainian.


He cleared his throat, stood up straighter, and slowly exhaled.  "Let me start over, yeah?  I graduated from Claremont a few months ago, and I'm still trying to figure out what to do with my life.  And I thought I could maybe ask you for some... career advice."

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Over by the mats recently in use by the students, a lanky boy in an oddly-outdated pageboy haircut wearing a DOJO STAFF sweatshirt was hard at work with a towel and bottle of spray sanitizer. Owain spared a glance for Talya and her visitor but he took it to be not really any of his business who the...who one of the ladies of the house met with. So instead he got back to work sanitizing, his singing as he worked occasionally making it over to the two of them as they spoke. "Lully, lullah, thou little tiny child...Bye bye, lully, lullay....Thou little tiny child...Bye bye, lully, lullay." 


Neko's arrival was a bit more direct. Her geta clattering on the floor as she came up behind Talya and Davyd, she bowed automatically to the latter before turning to address one of the mistresses of the house. Her ears and tail hidden from Davyd's eyes, she looked like any other Asian girl, albeit with carefully-coifed bright white hair and a well-used kimono that made her look like she'd stepped out of a costumed drama. "Talya, it-oh! I am sorry, you are with someone," she said, making to withdraw. 


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"It's alright, Neko. This is a former Claremont student," Talya said, starting in the false American accent and finishing sounding much more like herself as the last of the students cleared out. She nodded towards the door, "Davyd, this is Neko. She and Owain are staying with us when they're not busy at school." Talya inclined her head towards Owain as she stepped away to flip the 'back in fifteen minutes' sign that perpetually hung by the dojo door and flip the lock in place. Fortunately, even if they had to cancel a class to deal with other matters these days, there wasn't much financial concern thanks to Talya's finances - though it was still a topic not much talked about in the house; just one of those situations that Talya quietly stepped in to address if there was a concern. 


That done, she gave Davyd her full attention, pulling herself up to perch on the countertop. It was tacitly clear that Neko and Owain could loiter should they chose to. "Career advice, hm?" She tipped her head, taking Davyd's measure. "Well, you're no thief so is it soldier or spy that you've come to pick my brain over?" 


She shifted, dropping her teacher's aide persona and assuming her superhero mannerisms instead. It was a million tiny details, her body language became more flamboyant, her posture more languid and the smile as sharp as dagger's edge even if she wasn't wearing the red lipstick that had been her signature for decades. "I can't imagine that Headmaster Summers sent you my way for advice about either, so I assume this is entirely your own choice?"

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He smiled at the two, waved to Owain and nodded to Neko, "pleased to meet you.  So you're both at Claremont?  Good, good," he nodded, "that's a great place.  They helped me out a lot with my, ah," he glanced around, looking out for any lingering students but finding none, "with my abilities.  And with, y'know, regular school stuff."


He turned back to Talya, eyes widening a bit as he took in all the tiny changes she'd made in so short a time.  "Wow, and I thought I was," he whispered to himself, then shook his head to re-focus.  "Ah, right, well, you're right, Summers has nothing to do with this, it's all my doing"  A small part of him wondered if that was completely true, what with the rumors of her having so many plans and schemes and subtle ways to influence students.  "And I'm no thief, not by training, though I could probably be a pretty good one, yeah?"  He held up one hand and made his fingers elongate to about three times their normal length, then pulled them back to normal.


"I'd rather not be a soldier, but I have had thoughts about being a spy.  Slipping into places, getting others to give up information," his body shifted again, this time completely changing into a copy of Talya herself.  He held it for a few seconds, then shifted back to his original form.  "So, yeah," he nodded, "I was hoping to talk with you some about that.  If, ah, if now's a good time."

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Neko turned and waved her arms at Owain, who looked up to catch her signal as she pointed across the dojo floor to the residential quarters. A startled look on his face, the boy bolted to his feet and darted quickly for the basement stairs, where he disappeared just as a low, regular rumbling came from what Talya could recognize as the laundry room.


Luckily the noise didn't last long past Owain's disappearance. "Oh, um, okay." Neko colored slightly as she turned back to Davyd and Talya. Slowly she took in the conversation, sorting through what was being said in her limited English, her eyes widening as Davyd demonstrated his abilities. He's changing his shape - but there is no magic to him at all! Is he some sort of alien? She couldn't remember the name of the shapeshifting aliens that had first come to Earth after the war, but she knew they were one of the many frightening things that existed in these days. Figuring there could be no harm in letting Davyd see her true nature, she relaxed slightly, her ears seeming to unfurl from atop her head and tail curling around behind her. 


But then she really took in what was being said, and tensed all over, ears up and tail poofed slightly. She shot a look at Talya. It was not her place to say anything here but she certainly had thoughts. Davyd was older than her but he didn't look so old as all that. He was a boy. Talya and Erik had told her and Owain that the wars were over and that young people were young people now. Was that still true? 

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Talya inhaled once and then exhaled slowly. With her fingers laced in her lap loosely, she gave Davyd her full attention. 


"Now is a fine time. Tell me, what do you find appealing about it? I am assuming you're well aware that it isn't anything really like the movies make it out to be." Talya said with a tip of her head. From her intonation, it sounded like she assumed he already had some idea of what actual spywork was like. "And are you thinking for proverbial queen and country or free agent? They're vastly different experiences; both with their own dangers."


Talya steepled her fingers together, choosing her words carefully before she continued, "It's not a choice you can walk back. Once you step into that world, it's going to change you. There are going to be costs, some of which you might not realize for years down the road."

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Davyd chuckled nervously, "oh, yeah, I know it's not like the movies."  His form shifted smoothly, mimicking all the James Bonds.  "I'm a film freak, yeah, but I know they're for entertainment.  Though that does tie into... that is," he shifted back to himself, "it's why I had thought of... wait, no, that's not-"


He stopped himself, closed his eyes, took in a deep breath, let it out slowly.  When he opened his eyes again, he looked to Tayla, "becoming a spy is not-"  He glanced at Neko, did a double-take at her new appearance, "<oh!  So you're a... um... well, I don't want to presume, but I'm honored you feel you can reveal your true self to me!>"  Tayla and Neko both heard him speak Japanese -- the archaic Japanese of Neko's home!


He focused back on Taylo, switching back to English, "it's not so much something I'm interested in pursuing, and more something that I want to prepare for being pulled into.  Does that make sense?"  He wrapped his arms around himself, "so, I like movies, I like helping others... but I don't like being the center of attention.  I was originally planning on becoming a makeup artist, before my," his arms shifted into tentacles that wrapped themselves around him several times, "accident.  But since then," his arms shifted back to human, "I've thought of taking a more on-screen role, as a stunt person."  He struck a cheesy heroic pose, "the ultimate stunt double!  Able to look like anyone, and to bounce back from anything!  But, uh," he deflated a bit, "the actor's unions are still undecided on letting in people with powers, so there might be some barriers there.  Though some other Claremonters," he perked back up a bit, "liked the idea, and we'd talked a bit about starting our own production company-"


He suddenly held up his hands defensively, "sorry, sorry, straying off-topic.  So, spying.  I've heard that several famous actors had done some work as spies," he nodded, "voluntarily, even.  And I'm sure there are less well-known cases where espionage agencies sought out recruits in Hollywood or Broadway, or the Bolshoi, or wherever, and didn't take 'no' for an answer.  Add in my abilities," he tilted his head a bit, "and I'm sure some spymasters would love to have me working for them.  Sooo," he shrugged, "I figured I should be prepared for when they come calling."

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Neko looked back and forth from Talya to Davyd, her ears pointing forward and spine hunching slightly, like a cat getting tenser and tenser. Finally, when the boy had finished his speech, she said, "<Movies lie about life so they don't frighten the people in the audience. It is not like at Claremont at all.>" If Davyd spoke Japanese she certainly wasn't going to hold back from using it with him, especially if it gave her a chance to speak with him with something approaching privacy. "<American superheroes have a soft, easy life. Especially now.>" she added firmly, and with not a little trace of bitterness. "<They do not kill, or decide to let others kill for them, or witness terrible things. Becoming a government agent will make you do things you never would have thought possible.>" She couldn't quite make eye contact with the big boy as she spoke, but the feelings in her words were sharp. 

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Talya nodded slightly, her expression smoothing out from the faint furrow between her brows. She waited patiently for Neko to finish speaking, even if she couldn't understand the language. It was rare for the girl to come out of her shell, and any time she began to feel comfortable was something to be encouraged, even if it couldn't be immediately understood by Talya. She was nothing if not patient. 


"Then let me explain what the process is for the level of espionage that you are talking about; by the time you are approached, you will have been felt out by operatives who are very good at not revealing who they are. There will be casual conversations with vague acquaintances that are utterly unmemorable and those will be used to build a profile; your profile. This will be done by someone sitting at a desk, who has been trained to sift through all of the data available and compile a very accurate picture of a person. They won't have access to your Claremont records but anything else you can assume will be sifted through. Profiles will be done on your family, on your friends, on your lovers. When you are finally approached, it will be by someone like me. The approach will be carefully crafted to appeal to your sense of duty, your beliefs and your interests. It will be only just a little out of your comfort zone; something like getting close to someone very bad to get information about the very bad things they are going to do. It will be a relatively clear cut situation that won't keep you up at night. It'll be a one time request, or so it will be presented."


Talya tipped her head to the side, her lips curling in a smile that held no humor. "And then your handler will have another 'one time' problem that only you can help with. Only your skills will be able to stop another very bad man with their very bad plans. This time, however, you'll need to take another step farther, and then another. That's the handbook approach for turning a hero to secret government service. I would know; I helped write it."


There was no pride in that statement, or guilt, merely statement of fact. Talya's expression was studiously neutral. It was difficult to read what she might have actually felt about the topic. "The only real counter is to say 'no' early and often when anything smacks of spycraft. Or, you craft your public persona with just enough flair and panache to make someone think you lack a gift for the subtler arts. If you do decide to embrace that lifestyle, it will change you. You might not like who you become."

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Davyd leaned back away from Neko as she spoke, the intensity of her words having more impact than perhaps she had intended.  He looked her over again, noting just how young she looked.  "<You speak as if you have personal knowledge of such things, yes?">  They heard the archaic Japanese again, though Talya may have noticed that his lips were not matching what she heard, like a poorly-synced dub of a foreign film.  "<Was someone in your family involved in espionage?  An elder sibling?>"


From practically no real information to an abundance of it.  Lucky me.


He nodded at Talya's words.  He'd figured something like what she'd described would happen, though the bit about her "writing the handbook" did make him flinch a bit.  He was quiet a moment, thinking over her words.  "What you say makes a lot of sense," he replied, in English, "and brings to focus a concern.  I... have trouble saying 'no' to people."  He actually shrank a few inches, "I tend to go along with what others say, especially those close to me.  Part of that may be my attempts to help others, part of it may be the Grue in me."  His skin tone shifted more towards an alien crimson, and he chewed a bit on a thinning lower lip, "so, um, you got any advice on that?"

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"<I speak as one who has - > " 


Neko closed her eyes for a moment and saw it, all of it. And it was too much. 




She took a breath, swallowed, and said to Talya, "I will go with Owain." She turned and stepped aside, slipping out of her clattering geta as she passed a shoe rack near one wall. The only sign that anything was wrong was the way she then ran on bare feet, giving a brief glimpse of pointed toes as she disappeared downstairs into the laundry room. 


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Talya watched Neko go with a ghost of concern briefly disturbing the smooth mask of her features. "Vince, be a dear and let my husband know that one of our time-displaced children is in their feelings, would you?" 


She didn't speak the language but there was no mistaking the play of emotions that ended in distress before Neko left. She tipped her head back to Davyd, offering unasked for reassurance, "It's good that she's starting to feel safe to open up to others. She's in good hands, I assure you. No one is allowed to ignore their feelings very long in this household."


The smile that flickered across her features was fond and gentle, nothing like the sharp edged smile that Talya seemed to wield like a weapon when it suited her. She gave a little shake of her head, turning her attention back to the teenager still standing directly in front of her. "I do have advice - provided you wish to shut that door entirely. Just because something has consequences doesn't mean it isn't worth doing. If you asked me, I wouldn't go back and change my life. For good, and for ill, it's led me to where I am today and I like my 'today' very much. I just want to make sure that whatever choice you make, it's the one that you choose. Making a mistake is always better than having a mistake forced upon you."


Talya slipped off the counter then, all liquid grace, to land on silent feet before moving behind the desk. After a moment of flicking through the paperwork, she produced an old fashioned business card on expensive card stock. "I understand that there are some Dangers in your age range. Hanging out with Dangers is an excellent start to putting yourself out of the spy game entirely. They're too flashy, too flamboyant and too damn hard to control." Talya extended a card that simply read Ace Danger and a phone number below it. "But, call Ace. He'll be able to put you in just the right public light alongside him to give you a bit of breathing room without closing too many doors in the process."

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