2019-11-23 - Shadows of Razors Past


Old K.G.B. communication starts working again using patterns of Red Room code. The Black Widow goes to investigate and happens by Darkstar, who points in the direction of Okhotnik — the Hunter.

Log Info:

Storyteller: klavidya-vasiliev
Date: Sat Nov 23 16:22:25 2019
Location: Mutant Town

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The first clue that something could be afoot comes to the woman - the legendary superspy - known as Black Widow via a scrap of data from a rather old intelligence source. The transmission is a bit garbled, which she can eventually figure out is because it uses some substitution codes that fit the old pattern, but use a key she does not have access to. But there is enough information she can puzzle out to know that someone is tapping into and using intelligence resources thought deactivated for decades, connected to the USSR. And that the header for the message included a code stamp she recognized as coordinates using a defunct Russian ordinal system, which maps out to a spot in the heart of Mutant Town in Manhattan, at the heart of New York City.


There's not much of a Natasha Romanov within the Black Widow, throughout her life, Black Widow has been the constant, the familiar. But the women behind the codename? Natasha? There were so many versions of her, that Natasha herself wasn't honestly too sure which were real, which were covers, and which were ingrained in her brain. The Red Room wasn't an easy experience, and it didn't care much for its cadets beyond training them to perfectly execute their ops. But Natasha did carry a variety of keepsakes with her from the old days.

It just so happens she was in her room in the Avengers Mansion, going over some of her old Soviet gear, when an old K.G.B. related code came alive. More curious still, if her memory didn't fail her, it almost rang of a subset of codes specifically reserved for Red Room operatives. A guaranteed draw for Black Widow's interest, she looked into some of her old memories, trying to work out what she could with that key which was slightly off. Eventually she did glean an address, which meant one thing, she was headed there on her motorbike.


Mutant Town is … well. Mutant Town. A curious sort of ghetto for mutants, most of them obvious in one way or another, that have instead formed a living and reasonably vibrant community. They're not rich, but they make due far better than most would expect. They also don't see much police activity; the cops tend to avoid the place, whether that is because they feel rather inadequate against even the law-abiding citizens living there let alone any criminals with intent, or if it is because they just don't care as much what crime preys upon these people some view as - quite noticeably - less than human.

With her SHIELD access Natasha would be aware of a few things that are not immediately apparent when visiting. First, Mutant Town has an incredibly vibrant and active network of food kitchens, shelters, clinics and other community service facilities supported by philanthropy of an unprecedented degree compared to the local GDP. Second, that a fellow SHIELD agent - and fellow Russian expat - Laynia Petrovna is actively engaged with one of those food kitchens on a regular basis and has been noted to spend a decent amount of her off-duty time in the area. And thirdly that SHIELD has a file on a rather interesting group that operates within Mutant Town: The Pride.

The Pride are ostensibly a tightly-knit communal network of the homeless in Mutant Town. Like the rest of Mutant Town, they seem to survive far better than one would expect. But what the SHIELD files also reveal is that the Pride have proven to be a covert neighborhood watch and protection force. Organized crime throughout the rest of the City does not operate in Mutant Town to any significant degree for any significant period of time; SHIELD has files which show several times in the last six years when operations by La Cosa Nostra, the Bratva, the Maggia, Tongs and others have found their warehouses raided, soldiers beaten or eliminated, and all of their resources gone. The conclusion of SHIELD's analysts is that the Pride become aware of these threats to the community and the people, and then mobilize to eliminate them.


The Pride was certainly something to keep an eye for should they somehow come to suspect she was a threat, after all, Natasha didn't quite scream mutant the way she looked. But she figured so long as she does nothing to stand out, she needn't concern with them, particularly when those group they been raiding more than deserved that bit of karma.

Having her old student involved in one of the food kitchens, was a curiosity. She decides to go visit that location as her first step in narrowing down her search for a lead. After all, it doesn't get as old school USSR as it does Laynia Petrovna. She finds a place to park her motorcycle a couple of blocks away, and makes the rest of the way on foot, trying to keep an eye for anything out of the ordinary.


This being Mutant Town, there's plenty out of the ordinary by normal Manhattan standards: crab people, lizard people, purple people, some with horns or other bony growths, and more. But it all seems to blend into the melange of 'strange normal' that is Mutant Town, which Natasha's expert situational awareness would puzzle out with a few minutes to adjust. If no one else around here sees this or that as strange, and they don't react to it as strange, then she can figure out it isn't actually strange for them.

That same finely-honed situational awareness will notice the homeless here and there. And she will eventually become aware that they deploy a sort of old-school visual communication with one another, staying alert and aware of their surroundings and passing reports to one another from spot to spot, alleyway to alleyway. There's nothing overt or aggressive, just observation.

But that does change when Natasha reaches the food kitchen. Here is a place where the homeless are 'at home.' The approach of an unknown draws their attention, and more than a few look at her openly. There's no aggression, no threat, just observation and alertness.

After close to a minute an older African-American man in worn-out clothes approaches the woman, offering a slight - if jerky - nod. "Miss." he offers in a tired, well-worn voice. "C'n we help you? Startin' teh cook up f'r lunch. Yeh need anytin'?"

Natasha's situational awareness would also pick up that the other homeless in the food kitchen seen to back off a bit with this man's approach, as if ceding this concern to him. A natural, if unspoken, deference.


If anything, there has to be more than homeless vigilantism behind the Pride, because they operate like an actual intel network. Someone had to instill that in them, and there is potential interest in someone with the means and desires to do so. Albeit she'd need to do more digging for that.

"I was just looking for a friend," Natasha doesn't even try to play as if she came here for lunch, she doesn't look like she's homeless. If she wanted to return undercover, she'd more than fool anyone around, but that's not right now. "Heard of a Laynia Petrova? I believe she may be a volunteer in the kitchen…?" Noting the deference granted to the African American talking to her, she prepares herself just in case.


The older black homeless man considers Natasha carefully, clearly giving her a solid once-over. He visibly considers what to say for a few moments, and then nods. "Yes. Ms. Darkstar is here in the kitchen. If you'll wait one moment, I'll see if I cannot free her up to come speak with you, Miss …?" Yep, he leaves a leading space in there, as if asking for a name or reference to offer Laynia when he speaks with her.

"I am Weather, by the way." he offers, with a little self-deprecating bow of introduction.


"Tarasova," Natasha intentionally picks a name of an old handler Laynia would be familiar with from the 1960s, not that the odds are high Lyudmila Tarasova was still alive and well, but if anything, should be enough to get Laynia eager to meet with her.

"Is everyone using this or that nickname instead of proper names?" Natasha asks as if she never heard of codenames before.


Weather listens and nods. "I will tell her, Miss Tarasova." Clearly the name means nothing to him, at least. But when Natasha asks about their codenames, Weather stops his progress and turns back to consider her briefly. "This is our community, Miss. Here, most choose to put aside the names they were assigned by a world that does not understand or accept us, much like the slave names given to those of African decent many decades ago. We instead choose to embrace our mutant names, which we choose as we embrace our lives as mutants, over what we call our 'flatscan names', assigned by that other society."

The whole brief speech is delivered without actual or directed animus or aggression, but there is clearly a lot of emotion to the deliver; this is deeply meaningful, even spiritual, to Weather. That said, though, he offers another nod and heads for the kitchen.


In the back, Laynia was hard at work helping with the prep work, she's a fair cook actually, though she's not on the line today. Nope, today she's just dicing vegies, and helping facilitate things. One nice thing about working in Mutant Town? Powers are /expected/. She can fashion a Darkforce dagger that is far sharper than anything present, and that need not be cleaned. The girl is also rather good with knives, which would not in the least surprise her friend and mentor outside in the least - she's the one who taught her the bulk of her hand to hand, after all.

A smile as she's spoken to first by Tarbaby, and then as Weather approaches. She is doffing her apron, and stepping to the side to make room for her replacement at the prep tasks. She gives no sign as to what that name means for her when he informs her, but those that know her well would recognize Laynia's 'game face'. She grips his shoulder briefly. "Red head, very pretty, hard to read?" She's hopeful, but not taking chances. Once she has his confirmation she visibly relaxes a bit, and then heads out to the main room. "Good day, Miss Tarasova, it has been a while." She approaches the other woman and will hug her, an unmistakable imprimatur - she marks this woman as a friend.

Laynia is dressed in simple jeans and a tie-dye t-shirt at the moment, and has cut her long hair short, a simple pixie cut.


When Laynia embraces Natasha, even briefly, that is enough that Natasha's situational awareness would become keenly aware that the very subtle air of tension and alertness in the dining area of the food kitchen unknots itself and eases off. Everyone flows more easily into their tasks as they arrange tables, put out chairs, and sweep the floors in preparation for welcoming guests once the meal is ready.


"I understand," Natasha remarks as Weather explains it to her, musing over his explanation, "perhaps I should think up one for myself…thank you for explaining it, Weather." She doesn't reveal whether or not she is a mutant, but in this town of all places, even what looks normal may not necessarily be that.
When Laynia comes out of the kitchen, Natasha greets her with a smile, gliding into the embrace when Laynia shows she's about to give her one. "I didn't know you had a penchant for working at kitchens like this, very honorable of you, Darkstar." She tilts her head slightly to take in the new haircut, before asking, "I love what you've done with your hair."

When they slip out of the embrace, Natasha looks around, and asks, "would Weather mind if I steal you for a moment? I missed you and we haven't had a chance to meet in a while…also, are they looking for any more help?"


"It sort of just happened, but I do not regret." Laynia smiles as she steps back. "These are fine people, people who take great pride in their community and do good works here." Yes, the word pride was mentioned quite deliberately though she's talking in low tones with her friend. In answer to Natasha's question Darkstar nods and smiles. "There is time for us to speak, old friend, I think." She looks to Weather. "I am going to take a short break, da? My friend and I will be in the second floor office if you need us."

And then as she leads the way upstairs, she can heard en route. "As to help, I will be glad to vouch for you, perhaps this will ease the process, but yes - we can use all the help we can get."

The second floor is still pretty busy, but once Laynia gets them into the aforementioned office she closes the door and seems to trust that their privacy will be respected. "So…social or business visit?" She asks, though the smile is intact, she needs to know where this is going. Though she does add. "Do you really like it?" She taps at her hair.


Natasha is very eager to hear what Laynia has to say, and allows her to do most of the talking as they had to the office in the second floor. Once there she gives Laynia a look, as if to check if she knows the room is secure enough to talk freely in.

Just to be sure, she reaches for her pocket where she turns on a device that should play some interference if there are any recording devices or microphones in the room.

"You know me, I rarely do social, it's good to have proud people around. Makes the neighborhood better. But when did you get involved in kitchen shelters? Do you think I'll like working here…?"

She waits on Laynia's ok, and to see her device shows it's safe before saying anything further.


Laynia's chatter is very much non-stop, very bland really, very much 'in character' for old friends who haven't spoken in a time, until the very moment that device is activated. She chose the particular office she did because it has no windows to the outside, and only one door. Once the scrambler goes up, she makes a probably unnecessary gesture and lines the room with Darkforce, fully enclosing them in the stuff. Natasha would probably be able to make out the patterns used, it is a fairly complex weave designed to baffle sound - and this stuff can be very durable as she well knows - VERY tough after her long nap, no doubt she's kept up on Laynia's files at SHIELD.

"I think you would love it here, Nat. These are /good/ people. And they can definitely use all the help they can get, though they're also proud, yes. You'd have to prove yourself, but I am more at home here than I am in my own apartment in Little Odessa. HERE I can just be /me/."


Once Laynia makes their conversation dark force proof, Natasha is much more at ease, as she asks, "so you're here of your own volition as an honest life choice? There's no investigation undergoing…?" Natasha lets Laynia have a moment to answer, if she so chooses, before she informs her, "an KGB frequency had gone active, using a malformed Red Room code…the only thing I was able to decipher is that something is happening in Mutant Town. Likely tonight…have you seen anything suspicious while being in the area?"


"Actually, I have been investigating as well, da." Laynia admits. "This place has a…protector. This community." She leans against the desk, arms folding over her chest, legs straight and ankle's crossed. "Hunter is her name. Ex-Military, ex /Russian/ military, and she's got some sort of powers, but I do not know what - one thing is sure - she /feels/ as a predator and has great physical prowess, beyond human norms, though I cannot say how much greater."

A sigh. "She mentioned some former Red Room black ops specialists - the Razors, you remember them, yes? Experimental units, advanced weapons, proved unreliable as field agents, too hard to control."

Her gaze narrows, cinnamon eyes hidden behind wisps of her power as she holds the armor over the room. "I have not seen anything suspicious, but there have been interesting goings on in general, the feelers I extended about the Razors turned up little." She frees a hand to rub the back of her neck. "I do no have the contacts that you do…any idea what the target will be?"


Hearing the name of the Razors should be enough to trigger a hint of memory for Natasha; a hint she can then follow, spelunking through her decades of memory to find what she needs to put a pattern together. More than a few records in SHIELD files and elsewhere speak to the existence of the Razors, and of some association with at least figures connected to the Red Room, if not to the Red Room itself. But having lived through that time, and with her own unique access, Natasha knows more, once she recalls it, including not just the Razor's association with the network of Red Room operations, but their specific mandate: to recruit, control and combat meta-powered operatives.

The memory of that, once unearthed, would likely connect almost immediately with Mutant Town. And hearing of a Russian expat former military operative with noted metahuman capabilities might also awaken a very different but equally important memory: a brief, terse report some seven or so years in the past, picked up by SHIELD in the regular performance of their duties, mentioning a Russian Spetznaz soldier, callsign Okhotnik - translates to Hunter - going AWOL from Chechnya, location and reason for departure unknown.


"Razors…" Natasha repeats the words silently, as if tasting an old taste she almost forgot, nodding at Laynia's words. "Someone might be creating a squad to take down powered individuals…" she pauses, shakes her head, and adds, "worse…someone may be looking to sway other super powered individuals for their cause. And if they employ the Razors, I assure you they don't mean well."

"I would see what SHIELD can find about Okhotnik, see if you can dig up anything about the woman, I'm pretty sure she would be a link to the rest of this…"


"Da. She is the one who first mentioned them to me, she was worried that there were many people of Russian descent in Mutant Town of late, myself, Mikhail Rasputin, others…she feared that Mikhail WAS one of the Razors at first, I think. Or me. The woman…we have spoken…she is not well, PTSD I think. She is quite 'security conscious'." AKA Paranoid as fuck! "But…she is the one who first mentioned the Razors, I never really dealt with them back in the day, but I remembered a bit, so…I have been making discreet inquiries."

Of course Laynia is a competent spy, she is not a /super/ spy, not like Nat. And likely not like these 'Razors'. If they had the full 'benefit' of Red Room grade training, Laynia might very well have drawn their attention /with/ those discreet inquiries, and be none the wiser for it. "I know they are specialists at infil and exfil ops, and used advanced weapons and armor, but little else, I found no indications they were still live, but…" A tense shrug as her hand drops from the back of her neck once more, and the other as well, both holding to the edge of the desk.


"If a Spetznaz doesn't have PTSD they are lying about being Spetznaz," Natasha notes ever so casually to Laynia, showing she at the least expects the woman to not be normative in any way.

"There's also no indication you are still alive, and certainly not that I am," Natasha offers Laynia with a wink, indicating that they're all in the same boat. "At least we'll have much to talk about, who knows, if the work on Razors was as good as on us, maybe they remember the good ol' days," Natasha jokes. Any who lived in the Soviet Union knows there were no 'good old days'.


Thoughtfully chewing on her lower lip, Laynia studies Natasha. And then nods once, coming to a decision. "I will see if I can arrange a meet with Hunter, and da, definitely Spetznaz - fully functional sniper, very very well prepared to protect, though I think she'd rather everyone went to ground and let things blow over." A shrug. "She might even be right to do so, but…this is a place I value, these people, her included, deserve better than that."

"That you live is a miracle to me, that I am as well, why not someone in their ranks? I found old reports that seemed to indicate the Razor program had been shut down." Wryly. "But of course there's no way that information could have been inaccurate, da?"

A snort, clearly amused. "Ah yes, the good old days."

The smile fades. "You will help?"


"You remember ghost stories of Winter Soldier?" Natasha offers to Laynia, who likely never had the honor of meeting the man, "they said he was shut down too…they say a lot." She taps Laynia on the shoulder, "of course I will…I'm just not sure if I want to involve SHIELD or not." Needless to say, she's not about to offer involving the Avengers in something that hits far too close to home.


"Da, I remember the Winter Soldier stories." Laynia nods. "It does not surprise me he is both real, and still operational." She quirks her head to one side a bit, smiling. "You know him personally, mm?" Laynia is /tense/ when Nat taps, but that tension drains largely away. She hadn't been involving SHIELD either, for the very same reasons - too close to home. "Well, first things first, I will see if I can arrange a meet with Okhotnik, 'Hunter', see if she will talk with you."


"Excellent, you know how to reach me without drawing attention, so we'll keep it with minimal attention, da?" Natasha slips at the very last bit as she offers her old student a beaming grin that fades almost as soon as it appears. "Okhotnik is next step, have a good day, Darkstar," Natasha keeps to that non flatscan name, as she makes her way out.


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