“Let me be clear on this, Ms Lomas,” Base One’s voice deepened to a barely audible bass on her name, “you wish to dispute the assessment?” His fingers squeezed the armrest until the leather squealed.
He sounded like a wounded lion. Safi leaned back, crossed her hands over her lap. The cane clattered to the floor. She lifted her diaphragm, curled her toes in the tight court shoes.
“And the reason?” Deeper again.
“Sir, I respectfully request an interview with a legal representative before signing the final exit debrief.”
“Why now, Ms Lomas?”
“I’d like someone to read aloud each section and explain the purpose and regulations. I’ll sign each one as that happens.” What would push it in her favour? “I don’t feel comfortable signing something I can’t read.” Reasonable.
“I’ll read it to you.”
“Sir, I’d prefer a legal adviser.” She had to make this work, had to find a way to delay the dismissal process. Time, it was all about time. The codes on the signal, the time-line. That name.
The metallic taint in the cold air stung her eyes, swirled around her, chilled her legs, lifted every hair on her arms. Safi loosened the tension in her back and neck, slowly, slowly, to be unnoticeable. If Bunny were here, she’d pat him as an excuse to move, to breathe, to stop herself from doing something so stupid. It was all she could think of to get the time she needed. One last reason, one last mission.
Rafe was active. Her head hurt just to think his name. Rafe Bajana, senior agent, alive. Unlike Thom, who was now dead and cold for the last year. Shot. By Rafe. Rafe shot and killed her training partner on her first field-op mission. He stole her dreams, her career and her sight. A mole. A traitor. And active — why?
Because they didn’t believe her debrief report. She was the rookie, and Rafe the veteran.
If she could keep the smart-tech eye, not hand back her card or be tied down to location, she could go after him, find him, get him in front of a Situation Panel. If she hadn’t been hospitalised for so long before someone came to take her statement, Rafe wouldn’t have had the time to cover his tracks.
“You’ve wasted my time.” Base One’s voice rose as he pushed the chair back from the table. “Why didn’t you consider your options prior to this meeting?”
Oh, she had. Two options: get out and forget about the dreams she’d worked hard to create. The role with the Agency was offered while she studied at university. The light that came from the heard work. She paid her way through full-time study by working two full-time jobs. She’d achieved the dream. To be invisible and valued.
The other option … she’d considered it. It was always there, waiting for her to slip into that black hole. She’d beaten it, barely, during a childhood of foster-care. Now she needed to beat it again. For a few days. For a purpose.
Not an option today. Even if she didn’t have any other reason to live, she could do this. Get the rat, bring him up before a panel of his peers and superiors and show them the evidence.
No, she’d have to gather evidence, or manipulate a confession. And for that she’d need —
“Ms Lomas?” He stood at her side, stooped to picked up the cane, held her arm as he placed the handle against her bunched fist. “Do you need me to escort you to the ex-fil area?”
“No, sir.” He didn’t realise she wore the good eye, or he wouldn’t have touched her.
“I’ll see you out, then.” He lifted her from the chair and walked her to the door, pressed his thumb against the panel, lowered his face to the iris reader. The door hissed open. “Take care, Ms Lomas.” He pushed her ahead of him and into the long, white hallway. His boots marched toward the east wing, rang against the metal and concrete, echoed down the many branches of the hallways that were too low, too deep, too unsettling to her senses.
Prickles of alarm rose on her skin, her feet itched, her nose twitched. How?
Time. She needed time. And a few tools. Not much. And Bunny. She wouldn’t get far without the dog as an ally. And an excuse. The harness and pack — a good carrier for some of the equipment. When this was over, she’d offer him back. He could have a second chance with someone who deserved him, who could love him.
Note: just in case you’re worried about the dog, she doesn’t give him back.