Robert Jackson was fast to respond to Sharon's cry. His daughter was a seasoned spy and not one to show emotions or lose control. He knew all too well the reasons she was at wits end!
"Sharon, I'm truly sorry. I've been battling our agency the second NCIS forwarded the intel and have been caught up in classified meetings since. It all went down fast: NCIS asked for help and since you knew of the situation, I assigned you to NCIS, but no time to properly read you in. I arranged for a late dead drop with one of your assets. That USB key has a summary of all MI-6 findings and hypothesis before and after you were cut from the mission. I gather you haven't worked through it? I've managed to declassify the MinInv mission, you are free to brief our partners with the contents of that key. Now would be a good time to get on it!"
At her father's words of not studying the intel, Sharon sheepishly grinned and Eyal lipped, for her only, 'Sorry'. He remembered she had asked him to help her work through the intel. The way he was feeling at that time, it was better he not be in close quarters and alone with her. The timing wasn't right for scouting a possible, even probable, love relationship and from what he was hearing it would not be anytime soon! The girl did intrigue him, but he was still recovering from a lost opportunity with one Annie Walker. He wasn't ready to open his bruised heart to another spy just yet!
Robert addressed Director Vance directly "Director, I don't know who's in your custody but it isn't Max Hunter. We're exhumed the body and I've just received DNA confirmation that we have the real McCoy. I'll be arriving in Washington tomorrow morning. The terrorist cell your ISIS double ID, 'Mind Invaders', is the same MI-6 and Mossad have been trying to figure out for now more than a year. Never thought they would strike across the Atlantic."
Eyal lifted his index to speak and Robert acknowledges.
"Chief Jackson, could you tell me the time line of that mission?"
Robert smiled and nodded his head "Very good Officer Lavin! You know it all too well: A year ago, you with Mossad, Officers Welby and Max Hunter with MI-6, were working a parallel mission. Mossad pulled you off yours on my orders. At that time, Rivka Singer was not read in, the intel was way above both your security clearances. She's now in the loop. Eyal… your conclusions, on that mission, were dead on and your recent off book actions might just have saved your agency from a total shutdown as the DPD - CIA is now facing."
Eyal shook his head and whispered "Semper Occultus (Always Secret)"
Robert's response "Look who's talking - For by ruses thou shalt make thy war"
Eyal concluded "MI-6 needs to update itself, the Mossad's real motto is 'Where no counsel is, the people fall, but in the multitude of counselors there is safety'."
Vance stepped in "People, play nice!"
Gibbs added "Semper Fi!"
Vance rolled his eyes and shook his index at all three!
Eyal and Robert said "Sorry" while Gibbs shot his boss an 'I don't give a damn' look!
Robert continued "I guess you have many questions, some Sharon/Eyal can answer, some I will address. Director Vance, I suggest you review the security clearances for the agents assigned to this mission. Officer Lavin, Rivka has settled the matter, you now have a level 16 clearance. (Eyal's head shot up!) As for the CIA, I contacted Joan Campbell with the same demand. Want you all to realize that we are dealing with a ruthless but a very intelligent group of people – Cyberspace terrorist at its best well…. worst! When MI-6 and Mossad pulled their intelligence officers (Welby and Lavin) off their respective mission it was not because they had failed, but more stumble on actions that was well above their security clearance and, as us Suits wrongly thought, above their spycraft. MI-6 and Mossad decided to unite and put their best senior Suits on the case…. I was a part of this task force: Wrong move on our part. If Officers Welby and Lavin had not disobeyed direct orders and continued working their mission off books, I'm guessing Mossad and MI-6 would have, at least, four spy drones in deep cover within their ranks! Sadly, due to their superiors' inability to get the upper hand on the situation, they had to permanently silence the rogue spies who were friends and colleagues!"
Gibbs spoke "Chief Jackson, do you have a proof Officer Hunter was under terrorist control?"
Robert put his head down and lifted it up very slowly. "… Nothing conclusive, but we have reasons to believe he was 'controlled' in some way. The autopsy only revealed he had two bullet wounds by a Walther P99. The kill shot was to the head, making it virtually impossible to detect an implanted object if one was there."
Gibbs continued "Would it be possible for us to have Max Hunter's DNA for further analysis."
Robert answered, "I'll be bringing all the physical evidence we have and Mr. Hunter's remains. Sharon has the encrypted data of the mission. They tell me you have a countryman of mine acting as chief medical examiner and that's he's a maverick in his field. He might find something we missed. (Ducky saluted him!) "
Abby asked "Chief Jackson, I might not have the required security level, but could I have a look at Sharon's USB key. I might have a hunch for the two Mr. Hunter!"
All heads turned towards Abby, she smiled and pinched her lips with her thumb and index "I will not speak till I can prove it!"
Eyal looked at Sharon. She was struggling to keep it together. He now knew where her compassion and understanding at his gloomy mood was coming from: She'd been there, done that….. with Max Hunter. He discreetly squeezed her hand, she acknowledged and Annie Walker winked at both of them! Eyal smiled and said to himself, 'That girl never misses one!'
Robert continued his briefing "Six months back, a special multi-agency task force, consisting of intelligence/case officers, special agents and suits, was what should have been set up. Director Vance, I salute your quick thinking and open-mindedness. You had the astuteness Mossad and MI-6 didn't! I want to assure all that MI-6 is engaged and will cooperate fully in this "technology" coalition against terrorists, cyber criminals and other malicious actors bent on causing many countries harm. Massive effort will be needed to counter this force as the propensity for a future attack is high as the technology behind them gets better and more ground-breaking with time."
After MI-6 signed out, all looked at Sharon and Eyal.
Gibbs said "Seems you two have much to share, who's going first?"
Sharon stepped up "Gibbs, before I 'tell all' think we need to read in the others on the basis of this mission. They only know the teams formation, the intel was to follow. My fainting and my father's briefing interrupted that. Plus, Mossad has not declassified Eyal's mission."
Eyal said, as he was leaving the room, "I'm on it and if I can't get in touch with Rivka, I'll just 'buck the system… again!"
Seeing this Gibbs suggested "Look, let's take a breather. I'll bring Officer Welby to observe my interrogation of the MI-6 officer we have in custody. Abby, I'll need his DNA analysis ASAP."
Tony asked "Boss, can we, at least, have some clue of what we are facing?"
Vance answered "In a nutshell: We might have terrorists with the capabilities of invading/controlling the mind of any human being. I liked Chief Jackson's analogy to 'droned spies'. It gives just the right gloomy picture of the present situation."
Tony quipped "Would we be entering an 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents - the twilight zone' kind of mission."
Auggie turned towards Tony "Think you nailed it, Tony!" All nodded
Eyal re-entered the room. "I am cleared to read you in. Plus, the Mossad will be sending most of its evidence and the remains of the three Mossad's rogue officers I took out of circulation!"
Vance shot Eyal a side glance and chuckled "Heard that annoyed tone of voice before… what did it cost you, Officer Lavin?"
Eyal shook his head "It's just another 'smudge' in my file cabinet. Nothing to worry yourself about."
Vance rolled his eyes at Eyal's remark.
Gibbs approached Sharon and asked "Your father mentioned a US… thingamajig, we have three of the best tech wizard (Abby, Tim and Auggie Anderson-CIA), on standby waiting to analyze and PRINT the information that is on that…."
Sharon smiled and handed over the USB key "It's a USB key, Mr. Gibbs. It has over 5 gigabits of data, photos and timelines on it. I wouldn't recommend printing it all."
Tim McGee interrupted "Sharon, I set up a secure and encrypted location on a server for this mission's data, but will need to print much of it."
Sharon asked "Why? With the security clearance, we now (or will) have, the data will be electronically available to all."
Gibbs whispered in her ear "Because a USB key and the server are thingamajigs to me, but paper and I speak the same language!"
Sharon smiled, but kept Gibbs close to her "Old school, I get it! Mr. Gibbs, I really need a breather before facing whoever is in your custody."
Gibbs smiled and said in a pleasant nurturing fatherly voice "Go, but not alone, prefer somebody be with you. In the meantime, I'll coordinate Auggie's, Ducky's, Tim's and Abby's work. We are going to be receiving a cargo of evidence (Mossad's and MI-6's), I want to make sure nothing is left unturned!"
"I'm a big girl Mr. Gibbs, why are you suggesting I bring/need a friend?"
"Officer Welby, it wasn't a suggestion!"
"You're not my…"
The look Gibbs shot her made her lower her eyes. It hit her (too late) that they were now a multi-agency task force with Gibbs and Eyal running point making them her boss'
As she looked, wanting to signify that she 'got it' and to thank him for giving her some time out, he was gone. She smiled and thought 'I see Eyal and Gibbs can both disappear into thin air!'
After leaving Sharon, Gibbs joined Eyal in the cafeteria. "Mr. Lavin..?"
"Hey, let's stop the Mr. and Mrs., prefer being on first name basis, especially if we are going to go to war together!"
"Eyal it is then! I just talked to Sharon; she asked for some down time before facing Mr. Hunter # 2. It might be good if you went with her…. maybe share your respective mission before briefing us. Something might come out of it."
Eyal bowed his head "Great minds think alike!"
With a smirk Eyal continued "Didn't you just tell me it would be best not to cultivate a relationship with Mrs. Welby while working this mission. It's the second time you want me 'to stand by her', you into matchmaking? Ziva told me of Rule #12 - Never date a co-worker, you seem bent on breaking it."
Gibbs answered "Rule #51: Sometimes, you're wrong!"
As Sharon was walking out of MTAC, Eyal grabbed her hand. "We need to talk, care to join me for coffee, I'm buying?"
Sharon smiled and answered "Add a very big piece of cheesecake, replace the coffee with milk and I'm in!"
Eyal put his arm around her waist and said "You drive a hard bargain but I'll oblige. Come, I know just the place!"
Serving Sharon's milk and cheesecake, he sat down in front of her with the same order.
"Mrs. Welby, I'm hurt, you lied to me!"
She responded "Lie… well, I did and didn't. Our outing on the beach was real and I truly enjoyed myself. I pulled one on you when I 'guessed' the reason behind your moodiness. I knew all too well what had happened to you. I knew… because I was there! A good operational officer has a number of different cover stories, it's how we survive: I wasn't lying but surviving!"
Eyal shot her an 'I'm impress' look and said,
"If it's not too painful care to share your side of the story (mission), promise I'll reciprocate?"
Sharon swallowed hard and spoke, ""I was paired with Max Hunter to drill down on a new and presumed terrorist cell. MI-6 was getting disturbing intel on their actions. It was, at that time, based in London (so we thought). Our orders were to get close to the top. We started by mapping out what we could about that terrorist web, understand who the key figures were, uncover connections between them to try and get a real sense of how the individuals operated in this particular network. Standard infiltration protocol. We decided our 'in' was to go our separate ways and try to befriend a member of the group. I bombed out, but Max turned one of them, she called herself Wendy. I became Max's handler. The man changed dramatically in the first month of hooking up with that girl. The guy was old school as Gibbs and a couple of dates with Wendy and he was talking expertly about encryption, hacking, scamming, phishing and drones I witnessed him attempting to put in motion a 'digital' leak to Al Jazeera. I intercepted it and scanned the content of his messages. It was hundreds of secret intelligence documents from world's spy agencies (some were Mossad's). Reported it only to have my father pull me off the mission. He stated that the shadowy and highly politicized realm of global espionage this mission was awakening was way over my security clearance. The mission was scraped but I had a bad feeling something BB (big and bad) was going down so I continued working it off books… as you! I spent 6 months shadowing Max and at one point was obliged to confront and permanently stop him. I realized he was going to leak glimpses of the daily working lives of people whose jobs are kept, by spy agencies, secret from the public: His intel spanned from 2008 until September 2015, the documents included surveillance video, writing detailed briefings and internal analyses written by operatives. It also revealed the South Africans' secret correspondence with the US intelligence agency, the CIA, Britain's MI6, Israel's Mossad, Russia's FSB and Iran's operatives, as well as dozens of other services from Asia to the Middle East and Africa. I couldn't let that happen so I defied my father's orders and killed the bastard! I was not summoned by MI-6 because it turns out they were way off base as to what Max Hunter was really up to."
Eyal swore between his teeth and Sharon took a breather to be able to continue;
"As for the action that happened just before I shot him: I confronted him just as he was about to press the 'send' button, he couldn't deny his treason. He angrily turned on me, his agency and even his family, it was like talking to a suicidal bomber, I'll never forget his eyes. His monologue was dark and unreal, it was like listening to a robot. He pulled out his weapon… Eyal, it was him or me, the fact that I pulled the trigger first was pure luck! (She lowered her head and whispered) I know from the leads I followed afterwards that you faced sensibly the same situation."
Eyal asked "Sharon, were you stalking me?"
"Not you directly, but the 3 targets you were assigned to. I analyzed the data Max was going to send out and those 3 appeared numerous times in the documents. I decided to follow their trail (paper and electronic) and it lead me to Israel."
"Answer the question, did you spy on me?"
Sharon puts her head down and answered "Yes"
Eyal breathes out, ""I must be getting old, I didn't spot you."
Sharon interrupted "Don't fret, I've learned from your best"
"I was with Kidon for 22 months, so I knew/know your MO. Don't put yourself down, I needed to pull every trick in my arsenal for you not to uncover me. You are a Master spy, Mr. Lavin, don't go doubting yourself!"
"You with Kidon, impossible. We would have met at one point."
"I was your director's special project, well more Ziva and I were. We were not to be seen or heard from. I can't say any more, sorry! Eyal, your turn to 'tell it all'."
"First, what do you know about my mission?"
"It dealt with Spy Cables (leaked correspondence or intel between top agencies). Again South Africa's State Security Agency (SSA) was implicated. Contrary to my intel, where it was mostly files or videos, you were dealing with human intelligence (HUMINT) and living assets or spies. Your orders were to find possible moles/rogue spies in Mossad's ranks. When you reported your findings/conclusions to Rivka, they pulled you off the mission... well MI-6 did (my father to be more precise). As I, you stayed on it, off books. It took you 4 months to gather enough to confront your three Mossad's colleagues. You went about it in the same way I did with Max: told them you had proof they were traitors. One of them, Ariel was a close friend…. He's the one that tried to kill you, but somehow, as Max, he missed. You finished the job... did what you had to do… as I. That's the bulk of what I know."
Eyal whistled and said "I can't add anything, you know as much as I do. I thought Rivka wanted me out of Israel to spare me the punishment Mossad's suits would surely spring on me for running this mission off books. I now realized it was a ruse on her part. Rivka, Robert and Joan wanted to make sure we would accept to continue working our respective mission after being bluntly told we were not 'up' to it! We went from being horse's ass to their ace in the hole! Have a question: Am I wrong to assume your father has many ties to my agency?"
Sharon sheepishly looked away "You're right. He always had, why do you thing I was allowed to spend 22 months training with Kidon's best. Ziva's father (Eli David), Robert and Leon Vance have been 'best pals' for a long time."
Eyal eyes' opened wide "That why your manners were so familiar, you and Ziva were paired together!"
Sharon spat "Yes, we were 'Best Killing Machines' two years in a row!"
"Sharon, I was Kidon, know what you lived through! Don't put yourself down in that way! You, Ziva and I are not 'killing machines'. I'm guessing, like myself, you asked out when you realized the training was becoming indoctrinating."
"Yes, please can we return to the matter at hand? That's a part of my life I don't want to reminisce on. It was necessary and I am a better spy because of it, but not sure I could go through it again!"
"Same here….. I have a question. I'm sure those terrorists knew we were spying on them: Why didn't they try to use us in the same way they did Max and my three colleagues? I don't want to boast, but I'm more valuable than my three colleagues… you are also quite a catch plus you're MI-6's director's daughter. If that terrorist cell has the capabilities to control minds, why didn't they grab us? What do we have that Max didn't or vice-versa. Also how does South Africa's State Security Agency (SSA) fit in? They are often scrambling to deal with fallout from leaked spy cables. Not the best spy agency in the spy world! Why use them?"
Sharon closed her eyes and gulped "That's the questions I've been asking myself every night since I pulled the damn trigger and killed a dear friend. Also have another one: Why are we both alive?"
Eyal asked "'Killed a dear friend…..So he wasn't a lover?"
Sharon answered "He wasn't a lover …."
Eyal came in closer, bent down and gave her a comforting kiss. She grabbed the side of his coat and pulled him towards her and deepened his kiss.
He responded to her invitation and whispered "Don't know if you're presently an undercover angel or a honey trapping specialist: One way or another, I'm having the thrill of my secret life as your bait."
They both jumped at hearing "Get a room and get over yourselves!"
Holding their breath, they turned around to face a very concerned Gibbs.
Eyal regained his wits and asked "Where you following us?"
Gibbs smiled and said "A couple of hours ago, you both told me you were not a involved, Rule #3: Don't believe what you're told. Double check. I just did and got my answer."
Sharon spoke "Gibbs, it's not what you think. We are both coming out of a very taxing mission and about to be thrown in the lion's den again. That kiss was our way, well my way, of releasing some pressure that build up. We are not 'a couple' I can assure you of that."
Eyal put his arm on her shoulders and said "I second hat, we are not sleeping together, we barely know each other!"
Gibbs smiled "Not yet, but the law of Karma is simple; every experience is repeated or suffered till you experience it properly and fully for the first time. You two can't beat Karma, have fun repeating till the 'first time'! It will come, that I'm sure of!"
Our experienced spies were left speechless and uncomfortable at Gibbs words
Gibbs chuckled "Come, let's get some coffee and head back to MTAC. We are ready for your 'tell all' moment."
Eyal and Sharon looked at each other and followed Gibbs in silence. The man had a chilling tittle-tattle way about him that was going to take some getting use to!
As they entered the squadroom, Tony, Tim and Ziva jumped up and seemed to be waiting for an order of some sort. Sharon and Eyal looked at each other then at their three partners' and smiled.
Sharon spoke "Gibbs, do you expect me to jump up like that when you enter the room?"
Gibbs answered "Sharon, I expect you to anticipate my possible questions and needs pertaining to the case. Always be AHEAD of the situation! I realize it's not your usual point and shoot MO. You might need to adjust your skills to fit in with this team."
Sharon snickered and said "I'm more than just a 'point and shoot' operative, but not going to lose time justifying my MO, you'll see as we go."
"Well then Officer Welby, take the floor and dazzle us!"
Sharon signaled to McGee to give her the remote and instructed him to put up a file from her USB key on plasma.
"This is Max Hunter, a MI-6 senior case officer. I stopped him twice from transferring critical and multi-agency intel to what seemed like South African intelligence agency (SAIA). The first time I reported his actions, I was pulled from the mission by my own agency; the second, I didn't have a choice: I pointed and shot!"
She eyed Gibbs, he smiled and asked "You said 'What seems like SAIA'… why 'seems'?"
"This is the 'stay AHEAD' part of my work! SAIA, as we see it today, is the result of a couple of mergers of old entities. They put together "arch opponents," who had been allied with different foreign powers, "different philosophies, different ideologies, and different understandings of what a post-apartheid government should look like, what its foreign policy should be and what its security concern should be. The combination of a new philosophy, centralisation, and an absence of oversight was/still is a dangerous cocktail for the basis of a country's spy agency. My own conclusion is that it has turned South Africa's intelligence apparatus into "a state within a state' beyond effective scrutiny and oversight by parliament. In other words they are open targets and NOBODY is looking! A couple of months ago, it was leaked that they were developing a secret satellite with Russia to enable it to spy all over Africa. It put MI-6 and others on pins and needles! That rumor turned out to be bogus and MI-6 concluded that SAIA, themselves, put that rumour in the pipeline! Raw intelligence is being "stove-piped" to leaders without any analysis. It's the 'Cry wolf' theory at its best: Today, nobody takes 'rumors' coming out of that agency seriously. Eyal's team will need to drill down on the possibility that our terrorist cell is using SAIA as a front. They found a weak link, in a weak agency, in a country that is still consolidating its democracy, this is downright dangerous."
Both, Eyal and Gibbs, shot her an 'I impress' look.
Gibbs added "See someone did her homework. Tony, what do WE have?"
Tony looked at all and said "WE have a problem! The man we have in custody is no longer Max Hunter."
Gibbs asked "What?"
"Boss, Mr. Hunter # 2 changed physical appearance overnight or escaped and was replaced. I sent Tim to transfer him into the interrogation room so you and Sharon could talk to him after our debriefing. The guy we had in custody yesterday is not the guy we have now. LOOK."
At that Tony put the feed, coming out of the interrogation room, on plasma!
Sharon swore before saying "That is Officer Wallace Fox from MI-5, a tech wiz a bit like Auggie! About two years ago, he suffered a heart attack while jogging and was declared dead at the scene. Max Hunter was old school as Gibbs, he never could be the master mind of the intel transfer he was about to put in motion when I stopped him. But Wallace Fox could have easily put such a plan in place. What in the hell is going on here: It looks like Wallace's brain was placed in Max Hunter's body. That would explain a lot… but how!"
Tim came in the squadroom at a very fast pace.
"Boss, think I can explain!"
Gibbs just said "Go ahead, please!"
Tim looked at Sharon and spoke "Sharon, that guy has the same height, built, eye color and facial bone structure as Max Hunter. Let me demonstrate what I think happened."
Tim when about putting Wallace's picture on screen and using a morphing aging software easily transformed Wallace into Max.
All heads turned towards McGee. Eyal asked "How?"
Tim McGee was being put on the spot but seemed proud to be have an answer.
"That easy; Hyaluronic acid based dermal fillers. Has the same result as Botox but can be dissolved with Hyaluronidase. It can quickly, within 24-48 hours, reverse the effect of most common fillers such as Restylane and Juvederm. I noticed some bleeding, blistering, and discoloration of the skin, at possible injection sites. He has needle prick on in his neck, the base of his skull and behind both ears."
Gibbs asked "Tim, is that the same program you and Abby use, from time to time, to see what a baby of mine would look like?"
Tim bit his lips, lowered his head and answered with a very low voice "Yes…."
Eyal slapped his hand on Gibbs desk, making all jump.
"Damn, are we to conclude that, not only do they have the technology to control/take over the human mind, but are also capable of finding a perfect 'shell' by using a simple morphing software and then injecting wrinkle fillers to successfully clone a dead man! They gives a dead person a voice, a mind and a dark protocol, make the 'shell' do the dirty work then just reverse the cloning effect and bang…. The shell and the brain dies again….. Leaving no trace whatsoever and one hell of a mystery for the living to solve."
At those words, two NCIS agents came in to announce to all that their prisoner had just suffered a massive coronary and was dead…. For a second time!
Director Vance, who had been listening from the second floor, swore loudly, Gibbs just looked at him and shook his head!
To be continued!