Scene 2 first draft (Scene 1 here – and updated 4 Jan 2019)
“You asked for the top three, sir. May I continue?” Safi didn’t frown, she didn’t let her voice betray her. “I may be the only operative available, and the cost of failing to use the tool available —” She wasn’t going to let him get away with dismissing her for no reason.
“I do understand, Ms Lomas. However, if you fail at the first hurdle, how many will die this time?” Base One gathered the items on his desk into a pile and held out his hand.
Safi pulled the manila folder in closer to her chest.
“No, sir. I request the right to a second opinion.”
He’d have to call in his supervisor, the person in the senior position Base One held. Until the death of one of his operatives while on a personally approved assignment which included a rookie.
“Well, you asked for it, Ms Lomas. But give me the top five now. In order of risk.” The freeze in his eyes was matched by the tinkle of ice breaking his words up like floes caught in a powerful current.
“I’ll start from the beginning shall I?” She didn’t wait. “One,” she lifted her index finger. “Infil turned or gone native or rogue. To be blunt, the risk determination is low for this contact. He was part of the team at my induction. His specialty was detecting physical and psychological changes to the legend that would indicate a shift or slip from the purpose of the role. I excelled in that group simply for seeing beyond the visual aspects of change.
“He also knows my current duties and role, and wouldn’t have requested a fast infil if he didn’t know there was suitable personnel available. And he’d know who. He was the secondary leader of the group last year. Under your direct supervision.” Was that a shiver in his ear-lobe? Was that his tell? A touch of annoyance? That would make it worth all this bullshit. She breathed out again. In.
“Rafe would expect me to be up to speed on the target and the group.” After all, he was the one feeding her lies and misdirections that were too easy to thrash apart until it was only the smoke and mirrors left. He didn’t need to know that.
“There is also the issue of revenge based on the incident that killed Thom, isn’t there? You want to be sure that’s not my purpose?” Safi shook her head. “That’s not part of my duties. My only concern would be to remove any potential risk of this group perpetrating a life-threatening act against the Australian people and assets. Revenge is not the goal, is it? Not even for Thom, who made the ultimate sacrifice in the last contact with this group.” The thin ice cracked, but didn’t break. She wondered if the sound she heard was the scrunching of his feet. There was always something that gave people away.
Safi took a breath and tapped her middle finger.
“Two — the wrong group infiltration. This explanation needs more strategic details about interpersonal skills and adapting assets for purpose. It may appear to be the wrong group infil, or it may be the outer layer of the cell. Assumptions aren’t made despite the potential of frustration, time-lines, or lack of evidence.
“These groups cannot be underestimated. They have processes for allowing only staged progression through each level.” And now she’d push him just that bit further, see if he broke under pressure.
“There is only this one opportunity, and ego or fear or stupidity shouldn’t block the way. You,” the word fluttered into the air like a feather — with barbs, “will not punish me for your failures, or for Thom’s life.” The sneer was there, not in her features, she couldn’t feel it, but her disgust in his leadership scratched at the walls. “That was not my fault, was it?”
Base One’s chest didn’t move. His eyes didn’t move. His fingers didn’t tap on the desk.
“Three — loss of support.” The detail in how she could get around in an unknown location was relatively easy. The dog was the major element in this discussion. He was more than an ordinary dog.
“None of the attached elements can be lost. The other items that can’t be lost are attached to his gear, to my glasses, the contact lens in my right eye, and this!” she snapped out the white cane until the tip parted the top fluff of his white, white hair.
Base One didn’t move, didn’t flicker an eyelid or a twitch or a breath. Either he believed the connection to the bionic eye was off or disconnected and she couldn’t see, or the other option was that he was inhuman. Probably the latter, but pushing too hard now wouldn’t get her what she wanted.
Safi took a quick breath. It wasn’t going to break him, but she had a bit of time yet.
“Four — loss of equipment.” The outline she gave went on a long time. The glasses, the earpiece, the contact lenses, the dog’s gear, the smaller items that might be useful and were included as standard for all operatives.
“What will it matter to a blind person to lose equipment that only sees? There are five other senses, and I still have them intact, don’t I? My instincts are still good — I brought several items to rapid conclusions by highlighting anomalies that weren’t obvious to others. I’m not black and white just because my sight is monochrome.”
No response. This would be her last opportunity to turn him enough to want her out of his luxurious white hair.
“Five — loss of contact comms.” Safi outlined every contingency, including what she’d have available in the case of a nuclear event. If he wanted to go the whole hog, here it was.
“Being stuck in a situation with no communication isn’t as bad as it seems, not to me. I have these tools,” she waved the cane in front of his face, lifted the glasses with her other hand and used them to point to the dog brooch, “and something better than any tool — people skills.” What she wouldn’t mention was her lack of confidence in those skills, or the fear of jumping in too soon because she’d waited too long with Thom. “Places have people, even if they’re not part of the target group. People have tools; people can be tools if necessary, and I know how to evaluate the individual and group dynamic to best suit my purpose. People are the most useful tools, right? And in any tight situation a good operative makes use of what’s available, right? Policy,” she said on an out-rush of breath, “as written by you.”
Base One sat as still and stiff as a scrubbing brush.
Forty minutes on the details, and he didn’t blink once. Her throat and nose were scratchy and raw. She hadn’t talked so much since, well, since before the accident.
He leaned in, picked up the black pen, slashed it across the bottom of the signal, tapped his keyboard and printed off the details without speaking. Base One cleared his desk and locked his drawers. He left the room while she read the printout.
Safi remained in place. She didn’t let her body sweat until the final click of the lock before she turned to check it wasn’t a trick. No, he was gone. She was alone in the assessment chamber.
All the talking got her past the internal reactions, but now that she held the signed the chit and upgraded pass for tech and outfitting, the gnawing pain came back. Hard.
The door-lock wouldn’t accept her palm print until she’d wiped it off three times — each time using a screen-wipe to clean the reader as well. She needed a shower. Cold. Or a sauna. Something to shock her out of the numbness.
She needed her head read. What — what — what was she thinking? How could she go into a hot location, and with Rafe?
The corridor pinged with each stride. Each breath, each ping carried her closer to the deep underground rooms that hid the tech guys, the outfitters, the unknown researchers.
They’d kit her out, but what did she have permission to use? Would she get a gun? That was something she’d say ‘no’ to because if it was found on her, or in her possessions, she’d be shot with it.
The door at the end of the long, white-walled, windowless corridor glowed memory-red when she put her hand to the reader. Safi stepped back, focussed on her inner workings, slowed her heart-rate, slowed her mind — this wasn’t the time to panic! — reduced her physical reactions. It wasn’t a race, she wasn’t in the F-F-F state — not yet, anyway. Okay, maybe the Freeze state at the start of the syndrome. She could deal with that.
The freeze was the time to consider options, to give the mind the short space of time it needed to find the best way forward — either fight or flight. Both of which she’d deal with after she knew what gear she’d have.
The dog was a given. He was part of her legend. She was blind, he was her guide-dog.
The dog was smarter than she was, more experienced, so what would Bunny do?
Simple. Bunny, the guide-dog, would work when he had his harness on, and only then. All the other times were for ordinary dog business. If Safi took the advice of the smarter partner, she’d do the same.
Done. She’d kit up, get the codes and LRNG put into the dog’s collar, and …
That was as far as her mind would take her.
Kit first, then she’d know what she had to work with. Apart from Bunny.
What a stupid name for a dog.