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June 26, 2020
It took him a moment to place the buzzing sound.
His phone. Not his work line, but the other. The mystery phone. The one that belonged to the Legion.
He had it analyzed on six occasions, each a different intelligence group with a long-standing, sophisticated tech department. People who had a hand in the development of international communications systems scratched their heads. They told him, to the best of their knowledge, that it was an inert rock. It didn’t even hold a magnetic charge. There was no wiring. Nothing.
It acted like a normal phone, down to the buttons, though they didn’t press. In it, there was only ever a single number.
The text message had lit up the black rock where the display should be, telling him to meet her at the office. He gathered his civilian uniform, worker’s khakis, and a black collared golf shirt, changing quickly in the lockers and heading to the meeting room.
“Is there a reason the coffee pot is always dry? Anyone?” He speaks the words to four empty walls, the camera in the corner, and whoever is watching. The pot, grabbed casually on the way past, is empty when he goes to tip some into his cup. He does not have time to make another.
Manon Leroy, when she enters, is in a similar state of unhappiness. The pleasantries have been left by the wayside. “We’re having issues, Peter, and they had better not be caused by you.” The French accent is dominant, forming her words with a pleasant softening of her English. His eyes roam her form, the tight pleated green dress bringing out the matching flecks in her blue eyes. “And why on Earth have I gone through three security checks to get this far?”
“New protocol. There have been minor changes at the top here. Nothing to be concerned about, I assure you.” He watches her flick a loose strand of hair out of her face, deciding not to reform the simple ponytail it escaped from. Her hair color matches his own blonde locks. They might pass for siblings had his accent not been Oxfordshire English.
“It is an annoyance,” she says. They take seats in the steel chairs. Manon folds her hands across her stomach, levels that cool, confident gaze across the table. “I have many of late. Someone has been picking at our assets, both within our organization and from without. I’m here to ensure that you are not the root cause.” She arches one finely shaped caramel brow. “You aren’t, are you?”
“It is always a shock to me how far you travel to gather a simple answer to a simple question.” He leaves it there, offering nothing more.
After a precise moment she stirs, moving towards the next step in her methodology. “If we were to find that it was, indeed, your hand in the matter, we would not be pleased.”
“My, my. But why would we want to disturb a collection of ghouls and boogeymen?”
She shifts her shoulders, the act somehow intimating a secret. “We have power that you do not. And though we’ve chosen not to use it against you, that fact has been made a consistent problem for us, these many years.” The threat is plain enough.
“You may have been grandfathered into the UN based on actions of valor performed in the World Wars, but this leeway we have granted you is not carte blanche to make threats or act with autonomy.”
“We will protect ourselves at any cost, Peter.”
“To operate with a greater level of authority, you might first consider our pending request.”
“Your request has been pending since we arrived in the Great War, and will pend long after we are naught but ashes and dust.”
“Yes.” It’s delivered in perfect British accents, a dragged syllable to indicate the presence of the next word. “But. There’s nothing to keep us from simply detaining you, the agent of this Legion. Indefinitely.”
“You do love to remind me of this. I suppose I will not tire of reminding you either. Beside my face and details, you do not know who we are or what we do. You do not know where we go, or how I and my predecessors have escaped from the tails you set on us time and time again. You do not know the power we wield. All that you have is in this rather thin file in front of you, and even that is filled with inadequacies. ‘Inexplicable,’ ‘Bizarre.’ ‘Magic’.” She cocks her head. “Since we are your allies and advisors, I will take no offense at your threat, nor remind you that we might rain fire down on your heads. Instead, I will ask again. Do you have any operations being conducted to discover our identity? Or have you already made progress and are now moving to hinder our operations?”
The posturing is dropped.
“You know that our office is kept small. No one wants to know we have Merlin’s cabal in our closet. And though we prefer to deal from a position of power, your organization is an old, dear ally. We do not hurt our allies.”
Manon’s mouth twists into a smile.
“That is good news. You should be willing to help your allies. For the moment, we need assistance with a missing persons case, and allowance to conduct some use-of-force operations to protect our assets.”
They discuss the details for some time, the missing person explicitly, the operations to be conducted in vague detail. They come to some arrangements. There is not much more that he can do beyond pretending. UNSEC had no control at all over the Legion, and everyone at that table knew it.
He escorts her out, stepping close at the door. The breath of her perfume is intoxicating, like life itself.
“Your tone is different today,” Manon says as they walk through the concrete corridors between checkpoints. “Is everything okay?”
He weighs his response. “The new boss is a bit tight. Not what you would describe as a people person.”
“I see.” They step through a second security door, the magnetic buzz proceeding the swing of the armored steel portal inward. “You have a democracy. Have you voted?”
“Democracy is a lie told to make everyone feel equal. Most people are very comfortable being told what to do.”
She laughs then, brushing his shoulder with a warm hand in commiseration. They reach the third door without words, stepping beyond into the sunlight.
Manon only waves. Peter watches her go.
From beside him, the door opens again. Dean Glocke steps out, the dark of his skin warmed by the hazy afternoon light of the Hague. He closes the heavy latch of the UNSEC Headquarters.
In companionable silence they watch Manon Leroy disappear past the security pylons in her swishing dress. She will be tailed back to her house in Dordrecht, one that she does not ever leave. Within an hour Manon will be gone, and that house will stand empty. It is the way it has always worked. But Peter never had trouble finding her when he wanted to.
“How’s the relationship?” Peter asks.
Dean says, “Not so loud, Bettice. Trying to keep it cool. It’s an Operational Security issue.”
Manon’s car disappears from the parking lot on the other side of the chain-link fence. Peter struggles to hold away the thoughts of what he and that mysterious woman did together last Sunday. He fails miserably.
“I know what you mean,” Peter says after a time.
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