Time to spend some time in the Black Room.
Jane Faye’s expression tightened as she waited for the security to clear. It hummed almost silently, as it checked through all her credentials. When they finally checked out, and she had faith in the system that it always would, the door opened with a dull sucking noise. It slid open on the dead, empty gray room.
Empty save the single, nondescript chair.
Hyper reality was already flickering around her, almost dreamlike if not for its sharpness. The door closed and locked with that same sucking noise. She waited, wearing the same severe expression, and close dress suit that she was always known for. She’d attempt to keep this one brief, of course, but then this was the Ministry of Homeland Security.
A desk. The hints of a door off on her periphery. She thought she saw windows, but it could have been some sort of painting. When the smudged contents moved, she decided on it being an executives view of the Capitol.
John Brockman shifted into view. He had the weight of the well fed, the grooming of the People’s money. All the trappings of office. Yet he still had the all too rushed appearance of an honest man, swimming in a world where his kind were a dying breed. He pulled his suit jacket closed, settled back in his chair. Jane studied his drawn expression for a moment, and decided to speak first.
“I take it you got the report.”
“Yes. Read over it last night.” Brockman tapped at a slicksheet and Jane hoped like hell it wasn’t her Echelon report sitting starkly on the mans desktop. “Tell you one thing. Doesn’t make for good bedtime reading. Not if you want to believe all this shit about how we live in a free and just society.”
Brockman waved towards the chair, and for a moment she wondered if he had even been getting her end of the feed right. Motioning at the chair decided it. She considered standing for the time, wondering if that would have the right impression on the man, before opting to take a seat.
“Pretty grim reading,” remarked Brockman, leaning back in his chair. “I take it you’re not roughing up the figures to make it look better. You know how the SIS is always causing a storm in a tea cup to rustle up more funds.”
“I wish it were as straight forward as that. But no, that’s how it is, I’m afraid.”
Brockman raised an eyebrow, “Hell, Jane, you’re painting the picture of a department in total meltdown. If you’re willing to have me believe this report, then I’d have to figure that we have some a serious compromise.”
“We do have a serious compromise,” she reported, sternly. “Fact of the matter is that Section 17 has suffered some serious setbacks in the last few months. We don’t have anyone else to go to on this one. You know that as well as any.”
“You think it’s a leak?”
“We’re tighter than SIS,” Jane remarked, still watching Brockman with the same keen eye. She hoped the link portrayed that well enough. “We’re talking the compromise of no less than seven agents. Either dead or vanished. Four handlers dead through various means. I’d like to think that it wasn’t a leak, but you just can’t guess those sort of things. Agents don’t drop that quickly without some sort of pointing.”
Brockman took the words with considered thought. Maybe a wakeup called then, Jane decided. Brockman should know better than to think she minced her words on thinks like this.
“What’s this thing about the chopper incident? Accident or design?”
Jane shook her head, feeling her temples tighten. That was all too fresh. “I’d like to think it was random, but no. The Agent and his hander both reported Sigma’s involvement on the ground. We have to assume that they would go for a terminate if they couldn’t convert.”
“You’re fingering a lot of fat cats with this report,” Brockman remarked. The painting along the wall to Jane’s right danced and the smudge ran full length, looking almost like a whale for a moment. “Not just Sigma. Biodyne too. Point is, the reports raised too many questions for me to just let it slide.”
“Well, actually, I was sort of hoping you’d do anything but.”
“If it’s really as bad as all that, and we have the big names trying to either rub out or destroy the Section, then I don’t see too many more options than to shut the whole Agency down.”
Jane’s expression flickered, probably the only indication of her surprise. Her tone was clipped and short when she spoke, “That wasn’t what I was expecting to hear you say.”
“No, I didn’t think so. But then what sort of choice are you giving me?”
“You know me better than to come to you with cap in hand, expecting more funds. The Agency runs on goodwill enough –”
“You don’t exist, Jane. None of your do. You know it. The SIS knows it. There’s only so many funds that can be siphoned.”
“I’m not asking for funds,” she shot, sharply. The chair was starting to feel as hard as it looked. “You asked for a frank report, you have it, John. You know me better than to think I’d sugar coat a situation.”
“Might be a bit late to plug the leaks, if you’re losing this many Agents and handlers. What sort of capacity do you have right now?”
“It’s tighter, sure. But I expect we can pull things back in line. There are too many projects on the go, and too many Agents who are in deep enough that shutting up shop would be signing their death sentence.”
“Everyone comes to me for something, Jane,” Brockman replied, frankly. “At the end of the day, they come report in hand, asking for something.”
Jane’s mind was swimming, “Then if you need me to ask for something, then give me more time. I mean, if you’re meaning to pull the plug on the whole damn Section.”
“I give you time, I need more tangible results than just getting back into the black. When was the last time you managed to pull in a large arrest.”
“Is this what this is about?” Jane shot back. She could feel her whole body tensing up. “Is that what the others are calling on about? Lack of arrests? I thought I knew you better than to let the carrion pick over us now we were on our back foot. How many others have read that report?”
“I’m doing what I can to keep it all straight and level,” replied Brockman, putting his hands up defensively. “I am in your corner here.”
“That’s the barest damn minimum, with all due respect. You are the head of the Ministry. If we can’t come to you for support, we can’t exactly go anywhere else. Like you so aptly pointed out, we don’t exist.”
“Can you plug the gaps? Stop the leaks?”
Jane allowed her mind to think on the subject quickly, turning over things in her head. Each piece itself was a puzzle. “Well, I’m not exactly sitting on my end, waiting for things to happen. That’d be negligent.”
“Can you stop them, and pull in some more serious names? Can you turn some of these attacks around on their heads? Make the names like Sigma and Scion smart a bit from getting their hand bit?”
“What sort of time frame are we talking here?”
“Sooner rather than later, of course.”
Susan took a measured breath, let it flow through her. “I really didn’t think you of all people would be answering to others on this sort of case. After all the work we have done with Skye.”
Brockman rocked a little in his chair, glancing back at what was probably the report. “Yes. Saw that a few hours ago. Smart move putting the idea in his head right on the daily news.”
“It’s always been a possibility,” Susan replied. “If it wasn’t Head of State, then at least Lord Mayor.”
“The freaking damage that would do, too!” said Brockman. He sat up straight again. “He practically rules the place as it is.”
“He did almost build the city from the ground up. It’s a miracle he hasn’t run for office before now. Shouldn’t be much longer though.” Susan added, firm, trying to keep the hint of imploring out of her voice. “Just give us the damn time. Don’t waste the work of my Agents. Because at the end of the day, they aren’t just numbers on your slicks. These are people I work with.”
Brockman threw another curve ball, Susan almost figuring that he did it on purpose, “What about Constance?”
“What about Constance?” she asked, curt. Less said about that the better.
“I mean what sort of progress are you getting there? Would it be better using those Agents to spruce up your defense?”
“And let the whole thing slip back to Nippon?” Susan asked, incredulous. “After all this time and investment? Frankly, no. No. Truth be told, it’s probably all the time we’ve spent on Constance that has let our guard fall.”
“Slippery Japs, huh?” said Brockman, with a smile. Susan realized it was his way of trying to lighten the mood.
“They’ve been here since WW2. They’re as much a part of the fabric of our culture as the corps, frankly. I know which I would put my money on to screw us over first.”
Brockman nodded, toying with a stylus as he regarded her. Susan had the sense that her time was over. She was thankful, not about to let Brockman see him rattled. And that was the truth, after him mentioning Constance. She would have to do something about her, and quick.
Time and time. End of the day, it’s all just plugging gaps. Maybe going to ground would be the best option.
Susan watched as hyper reality waterfalled around her, and then she was alone in the Black Room again. Sitting on her chair.