Manly was nervous. He’d been in the game long enough not to let anything rattle him, but this was something that he just wasn’t used to dealing with. If he was hearing right, it was bad news on almost all fronts.
“Frankly, I don’t see any other choice on the matter.”
Manly took a slow and metered breath. Burrell and now this. Would it ever let up? “I’m not so sure she’s ready to go back into action. Not so soon after the last time.”
“That’s your professional opinion, then?” Jane asked. Manly knew that ice cold exterior, the harsh edge to her tone. He’d known Faye long enough to know she was just very efficient. You had to be when working with nothings and everythings.
“That’s my opinion, yes, but it’s hardly my area of expertise.”
“Would you go on that alone?” Jane asked. The office was about as strict and deadpan as she was. Everything about the Bunker was. All tight and close packed. Just the sort of place a bunch of spies would hang out, Manly always thought. “Would you be willing to give that as your opinion without going to the Principle on this one?”
Manly stopped short in his thinking. He just stared at Jane, across her desk. The wide screens over her various displays swum in the air before her, but only obscured her by part. Her expression was unmissable behind the transparent screens of reports. Their brown screen glow added a strange cast to her features. Almost made her look haggard. Manly found himself briefly wondering how long they had both been doing this.
“You mean to pull the plug don’t you?” Manly asked, cautiously. “Cut the Nippons off.”
“I’m talking about more than just that. I’m talking about a Code Black. Shut the whole system off. Let Constance do her job. Code Black for a few months, to make sure the new codebase isn’t compromised.”
It had been as bad as Manly suspected, and it did nothing for his nerves. He’d suspected a Code Black, but he hadn’t figured on Constance’s involvement. He considered his reply very carefully, and knew Jane would give him the time to formulate it.
‘What would I even do for a job if all this went belly up?’ Manly thought, rubbing at his chin. Impeccably smooth. ‘Back to SIS I guess …’
“We need to act swiftly on this, and if anyone can flush the system clean, it’s Constance,” Jane remarked. Manly felt her eyes, pointed in his stare. “Or is she? Do you have confidence she could do the job? Could she plug the leaks?”
“Yes,” Manly committed finally. “I think so.”
“Ok then. Do you want to call in Agent Carter, or shall I? Will you need any other resources to get the job sorted?” Jane was already putting things in motion, Manly was sure. Opening links, making calls.
“No,” Manly remarked, already standing. He felt something in the pit of his gut. This wasn’t right. But he would still have to go along with it. “I think the rest of the Agency would be better served taking care of front of office. Constance can sort out the leak. I’ll deal with Carter.”
Jane just nodded, behind her sea of displays. They were already flickering, changing fluidly. Her lips were pursed tight. When Manly didn’t move, she looked through the screens, up at him, a questioning expression on her face.
“This is it,” Manly said, pulling his jacket closed, unable to stop the fidget. “I mean, Code Black. How long has it been since we even came close to calling a Code Black?”
“Not so long the Agents don’t know how to react, I would hope,” Jane said. Manly wondered how she could play so cool and calm with the lives of so many. Or was he just worried about his own future. He wasn’t suited for field work, and he wasn’t so sure about freelance consultancy.
“It’s this or let the corps gut us,” remarked Jane, sharply. “Either that, or let the Ministry gut us. I’m not beyond thinking there’s someone beyond Brockman pulling strings. We can keep the corps in line on their own front door step, but it doesn’t mean we can stop them messing with our parents.”
“Cut and burn then?”
“Cut and burn,” Jane replied. Manly knew that was the end of it. Time to get to work.
* * *
Manly could see the smoke still, the dense and messed street scape beyond Carter. Over his link, the smoke was coming more like a fog, estimated rather than portrayed in its real, visceral brutality. It spoke of harsh fire, broken dreams and a lost Agency. Carter was looking grim, nothing like his usual, joking self. Manly figured that he had half a clue what was coming.
“Ah,” Carter remarked. The rain was lost in the haze of smoke, Manly knowing the link was working overtime. “I’m guessin’ that you’ve got plans for me if you’re calling me personal though.”
“Constance. Go and collect her. I’m sending you through some truths for Constance to look through. Take as long as you need. Just don’t take too long.”
Carter gave one of his usual half grins. Manly couldn’t find himself heartened by Carter’s attempt at cheer. “So what? Life or death? What’s the Principle say about all this? He think she’s up to the task?”
“We haven’t asked,” Manly remarked, flatly. He felt drawn into the ruined scene before him. tried to keep his mind off Burrell. “I’m giving you hands on with this one.”
“Fuck no. No thanks,” replied Carter, his expression hard. Manly had expected that. “I’m not about to play handler. I’m a field agent. I haven’t got the first clue about playin’ what you guys play at.”
“Given your involvement with Constance so far, I think it’s prudent.”
“I’m not playing handler,” Carter stated, more firmly. Like he thought it would make Manly change his mind. Manly kept his eyes off the emergency crews. “Find someone else.”
“There is no one else, Agent. This is it. Code Black. So just suck it up, and deal with it. It’s your assignment, so deal with it.”
Manly watched Carter’s quiet face, taking in the ramifications. He hoped that Carter realized the importance of things. He was starting to wonder if Carter even knew fully what a Code Black would mean for them all. He was too young of course. He’d come on board after their last scare.
“I’ll send through the truths,” Manly remarked, firmly. The smoke was hazing about him, carried by a wind that Manly didn’t feel, but could sense in the way Carter was standing strong against it. “Go to Constance. Tech services will sort the rest. There will be a total shutdown until you and Constance can come up with the answers.”
“What, and then you just run through the Bunker and knock off the ones she fingers?” Carter said. Manly knew that the cold hard reality was starting to sink in now.
“That’s how it works.”
“What about Burrell?”
Manly had to rub at his forehead. “I’m hands on there. Just get to Constance. Sort this all out. Link me when you have her answers.”
Carter nodded briefly, and Manly wondered if he really was up for the job. Jane seemed to think so, and her opinion on the matter counted for a lot. Her experience counted for the rest. Manly shut the link, and watched as the smoke smudged and vanished, leaving him in the cold interior of the Bunker.
Manly could sense the change. It had already started while he had made the call.
It was time for the Agency to clean house.
* * *
Constance smiled, feeling the sun against her skin. The blackout had done her good, to get her nerves about her again. There was the soft pulse of her wetware, reporting only the barest minimums, spam free. Before her was the endless blue of the Pacific, and the golden beaches of Tonga.
She’d always told Carter how when she finally got time off, she’d take her downtime to Tonga. Frankly, she couldn’t even remember now what had got her so stressed that she thought she needed it.
Carter was looking down at her, wearing a rather grim expression. He looked strange out of suit. Instead, he was dressed the part for vacation too, his tank top showing off those brawny shoulders of his. Camouflage shorts and flip flops. A t-shirt tied back over his head.
“Not every day I get a face to face with you,” Constance remarked with a smile. She lifted her shades a moment, but Carter’s bulk did a decent enough job of blocking the sun. “I hope you’re not here to call me back. I’d rather hear that you were getting some downtime yourself.”
“I am in a way,” Carter replied. Constance smiled up at the man. “But somethings come up, baby girl. We going to have to do some work on side.”
Constance glanced about the beach, but it was still as empty as it had been when she had settled in a few hours ago. “Eyes and ears, Toa,” she remarked, light heartedly. She wondered why he was being so grim. It was unlike him.
“Yeah. Eyes and ears.”