Cornered

Had today off.  A late start (around 1300) but was able to say down about 1700 words:  Sylvia in her new position, recruiting allies, and with a sudden, unanticipated visitor.  I think she handled herself very well.

I see one more “dream sequence,” which we know now is when she is summoned into the Machine’s world.  Then she sets off to New Mexico.  Things… things go to shit there, I’m afraid.

Barely alive, Sylvia arrived in her new office just after six in the morning.  Telling everyone else to be there at seven had not been a test, she simply preferred to get a jump on things.  Her first priority was taking her mug back to the ground floor and topping it off with strong black coffee from a small vending kiosk.  Back at her desk, she unlocked the file cabinet and hurried to finish what was in the New Mexico folder.  Once finished she went back to the beginning and began to take notes on a new piece of paper.  It was about then she heard everyone else beginning to filter in.

Santa Fe might be the capitol but the State’s center of gravity was its largest city of Albuquerque; not just in the geographical center but also the hub of all road and rail lines.  I’ll need to coordinate this with Stephens, no, Baker, over in Second.  We will have to mass a force around Amarillo in the panhandle and drive due west along old I-40… if we put to many forces in El Paso it might panic the Mexicans into something stupid.

She continued reviewing the file and her page slowly filled up.  She recognized Jones’ scratch at her door.

“Come,” she called.

“Morning, Deputy Director,” he said swallowing around a lump in his throat.  “I apologize for my tardiness – ”

“I said be here at seven,” she glanced at the clock over his head, “and it’s six fifty.  You’re good.”

She was too professional to smile at his relief.

“How may I serve you this morning?” he asked, noting she already had coffee.

“Draw up requisition papers for a car, fuel, and so on,” Sylvia began, leaning back to stretch.  “I want it on my desk to sign in an hour.”

“Of course, Deputy Director.  For you?”

“Nope!” she lowered her arms and allowed a smile.  “You.  I want you in Albuquerque by nightfall.  I need a man on the ground gathering intel now, not two week from now.  I want you there one week and back in here in my office on the morning of the eighth day.  I want to know who the movers and shakers are:  the oligarchs who really run the State.”

She was pleased that he was taking this in without fear.

“And, John, I want you to exercise your judgment:  if you think some of these men can be trusted to know what’s coming – that is, us – then I want you to reach out to them and let them know that we can work with them.”

“Certainly, Deputy Director!” He paused, uncertain.  “By ‘we’ you mean ExComm, of course?”

“No.  I mean the Second Chief Directorate.”

Even with the little space heater running all-out, it was colder.

“I… I understand, Deputy Director,” he said to her treason.  He turned to go.

“One last thing, John?”

He turned back.

“Yes?”

“Miss Fernandez, please.” Another small smile.

“Yes.  Miss… Fernandez!  I’ll return presently!”

If, she paused before returning to her notes, he comes back with the paperwork, he’s mine.  If he comes back with guards… well, I am the fallen soul who built the Conveyor.  She turned her attention to crafting a legal reason for Texas to seize land and people of the… Transriogrande Region… she coined it.

Jones was back in forty minutes.  She signed everything, advised him on clothing (talk to the oligarchs in a nice suit; their minions in your ExComm kit… it scares the hell out of people) and what weapons to carry.

“All your notes are either on paper or in your head,” she concluded, standing and coming around her desk.  “Nothing electronic or telegraph or phone.  And anything very sensitive is only in your head, got that?”

She emphasized her point by tapping his temple with her right index finger.

“Yes, ma’am!”

“Good luck, John.  See you in eight days.” She extended her hand.

“Thank you,” he didn’t smile but came close to it, “Miss Fernandez!”

As he left a courier came in with a four inch stack of files.  Pertaining to Oklahoma, she quickly saw.  With that plus the rest of her old team coming in for a briefing as to their new roles, this was going to be a very long day.

 

The week of Jones’ absence flew by.  Her provisional secretary as Assistant Director, Michelle Llon – born in Singapore – was firmly ensconced outside of Sylvia’s office, serving notice that the new Deputy Director would do things her way, not necessarily the ExComm way.  Sylvia had wanted to send Kharachan to El Paso and Las Cruces to gauge the readiness and dispositions of the Mexican Army, but he’d abruptly been seconded to First Chief Directorate for a mission to the southeast.  Rumor had it that the Director himself had traveled to just across the Sabine River, about ten miles into former Louisiana along old Interstate Ten, where he stood under a forest of several hundred crucified, and told the effective-dictator of what was left between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that, “if you cannot control your people, ExComm will; with tactical nukes we salvaged when Fort Hood came over to our side.”

If these rumors are true, Sylvia thought, the fact the Director said ExComm and not Texas was very troubling.  From 1917 to 1991 the Soviet security forces, no matter what their name, were a parallel army within the state.  This cannot happen here!

Her most recent communiqués from Binger in Oklahoma City were good news:  Austin had yet to replace him.  If I can unite this to another front in Albuquerque… she looked up as her door opened.  Michelle always called first or knocked once.

Oh.

“Director!” Sylvia said, standing.  “A pleasure.  I apologize for the mess…”

She saw his head shake once.  Besides dressed as a ranker in the Extraordinary Commission, on his left chest was a single decoration.

“Sir!  Congratulations on being awarded the Order of Texas,” she said with what was hopefully sincerity.

“I wanted to tell them to stick it up their asses,” Clive Barrett said tactfully, setting his briefcase down, “but the President insisted.  I think it tarnishes the award for anyone who comes after me.”

He can be so direct, so honest!  How can he order deaths so casually…?  She watched him sit before, with an afterthought, pulling his briefcase from the floor into his lap.

“While not official policy, I know that you rarely come to your staff’s offices,” she said, sitting as well, hoping he would not produce a pistol.  “Is there a problem, Director?”

“Not at all,” he said, producing a thin 250mL bottle of whiskey and a small glass, both of which went onto her desk.  He paused.

“I’m told you don’t like it, correct?” he asked with a curious glance.

“That… that is correct, sir.”

A minute passed in silence while he poured the glass half full, drank it, and refilled it.

“Relax, Sylvia,” don’t call me that!  “Things in the southeast went fine.  The governor of Louisiana , so to speak, has been put in his place.  Except for one, the borders of our new state are secure.”

“New Mexico,” she said.  He nodded and took another drink.

“The Mexicans have moved up their timetable; as they see it their hold on Tucson has a wide-open right flank.  They are moving in two weeks.”

“I have,” she countered with no sign of surprise, touching a pile of papers with her left hand, “all of the legal work complete for the new province.  In two days I shall be able to add and footnote some political additions, as well.”

“When your man, Jones, gets back?  Good.”  He refilled his glass again.

How did you know that?  Try a different tack.

“Just now, sir, you said that you’ve been told I do not appreciate whiskey,” she said, forcing herself to relax.  “That’s an odd, personal rumor.  May I ask where you heard it?”

She watched him watching her.  His eyes took on the cast when he was thinking about something funny.  Of course, what Clive Barrett found funny could result in a bloodbath.

“A mutual acquaintance told me,” he allowed, taking a much smaller sip of his drink.  “You, know:  Thaad.”

I’m going to be shot, she thought.

“I didn’t know, Director, that you moved in hacker circles, as well,” she managed, wishing for a glass of water.

“Hacker? I guess that’s true; he certainly made a joke of what we have of electronic security, hasn’t he?” Barrett now almost smiled.  A cat with a mouse?

“And how is it you know I have spoken with him?” She used the voice one spoke to a judge when realizing you are losing the case.

“He told me,” the man opposite her said, pouring the last of the alcohol into his glass.  He looked about for a trashcan.  Sylvia leaned forward and took it from him, tossing it into the bin under her desk.

“I see.  I did not know he was one of your men,” she allowed.

A snort.

“He most certainly is not!” Were the drinks finally getting to him?  “He contacted me when I began to set all of this up; he calls in every few weeks or so, when it appears our agendas touch at some point.”

Barrett leaned forward.

“And they touch on you, Miss Fernandez.”

He leaned back, holding the last of the drink is his lap.

“I cannot imagine how…”

“’Power to the imagination,’ Miss Fernandez, as one of the few things that new, young Pope recently said.  I, for one, can imagine quite a bit.”

He set the glass onto the table, having not had any more.

“Why do you think I did all this?” he whispered.  He looked past her, out her frosty window.

Sylvia made sure her eyes got nowhere near his breast pockets, where over a week ago he had stashed the tiny picture of his lost daughter.

“Then, sir, it should not be a… issue… that I, at times, rely on this Thaad person, too?” she ventured.

Into the long pause she was about to repeat her question –

“No!  Not at all.” He picked up and finished his drink.  Barrett took a few moments to return the glass to his briefcase before standing.  She did, too.

“While unsaid, I get the distinct impression that Thaad and I am fighting for the same thing,” he said in conclusion and moved to her door.

I have to ask!

“And what might that be, Director?”

His hand rested on the doorknob.  He replied without turning.

“Family.”

The door slammed behind him.  Sylvia more fell than sat into her chair.

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