This book is intended for a more mature audience, so be advised.
╗ SEVEN ╚
“The man just keeps talking...”
Standing arms akimbo in the half-light from the computer screens in front of him, Officer Sam Holloway shook his head and smiled with dark amusement. A monochrome video feed of Anna and Dr. Jarrod talking together at the cafeteria table flickered softly on the main monitor, and the pair's conversational audio played over the main sound system.
The two young security officers sitting in front of the monitors turned around with identical concerned expressions on their faces. “Should we intervene?” one of them asked.
Sam rubbed his stubbled jaw in thought. “I'm sorry, that wasn't a question,” he replied sharply after a pause. “And technically, he hasn't violated protocol. Yet.” He looked back to the monitor. “Miss McLean is entitled to know what her job entails.”
He watched the pair for a while in silence, his eyes flicking from one to the other and back again. It had been a while since the last time he quarterbacked a surveillance operation personally and the rush of the moment showed clearly in his face. Normally, an operation like this consisted of long stretches of time in which nothing of interest happened, punctuated at intervals by hectic activity, followed by more boredom.
This was different.
Ever since Anna had entered the first of the outer perimeters she had been interesting to watch. How she reacted to the guards, dogs, scanners, security protocols; he was interested in it all. Her time with her new sidearm had particularly intrigued him, especially the tight groupings she had perforated in her paper targets. But this conversation struck him as particularly worthy of his time.
Dr. Jarrod's voice crackled over the speakers: “I would recommend that you keep your eyes wide open. Something is going on here that is bigger than you, I think. As much as I will enjoy working with you, I feel your time with my laboratory will be brief. They didn't bring you in here just to program a protocol for me.”
Sam frowned and leaned forward towards the screen. His eyes twitched and he gestured towards the young officer who had asked the question. “Zoom in on Dr. Jarrod.”
All three men watched and listened further.
Dr. Jarrod's electronic voice on the speakers continued: “I wouldn't worry for the moment, I don't think. But...keep your eyes open. I like you already, Anna, and I wouldn't want to see you get hurt. Speaking of laboratories and projects, shall we go get you acquainted with mine?”
Sam relaxed again, but tapped the younger officer on the shoulder. “Make a note, Lieutenant, for me to visit with the good doctor after he relinquishes Anna for the day. We are going to have a little chat.” The lieutenant nodded in reply and they all continued to watch the screens.
Anna and the doctor rose from their table and began to wend their way back to his laboratory and away from the cafeteria security cameras. Sam returned to his standing pose, scanning the wall of monitors from his position behind his two officers. The two lieutenants began to tap their controls, following the doctor and Anna with the appropriate camera angles.
The door several feet behind Sam suddenly buzzed and he turned in surprise to the security monitor to see who it was. He was met with the stern pixeled face of Terry Garnham staring back at him. With a roll of his eyes he stepped back and tapped the door lock button; the door unlocked with its characteristic thud and Terry swept into the room.
“Terry,” Sam acknowledged, nodding to her with little warmth. Terry nodded back with even less emotion and stopped beside him, clasping her hands behind her back and watching the screens with him. They stood together in silence for so long that the two lieutenants turned around to steal an awkward glance at the pair, a glance which was cut short by a glare from Terry.
Sam was the first to speak. “I wouldn't have expected you here.”
The woman remained expressionless. “And why is that? I'm giving them the perceived freedom of speaking freely. Where else would I be?”
Sam smirked and shook his head. “You have been such a smothering mother hen to Miss McLean that I thought you'd be down there making sure she didn't trip and scrape her knee.”
Terry didn't deign to look over at him. “Hardly. I just take my job seriously, unlike some of my colleagues.”
Sam smiled and sighed. “And I thought we divorced so I wouldn't have to listen to this sort of shit.” He leaned forward to the young officer again and mumbled a direction to him. The young man tapped his controls and the cameras angled in for a better look as Anna stopped in front of the mural. Sam, satisfied with the new camera view, leaned back again and folded his arms.
Terry turned and regarded him with a look of thinly disguised disdain. “You divorced me for far more trivial reasons than that.”
“Triviality is in the eye of the beholder,” Sam responded with sarcasm.
“Well, you are the beholder. And this spying is a little obsessive, don't you think?”
Sam pursed his lips and kept his eyes on the monitor. “If you say so. The Secretary was quite clear, he wanted keen observation of her for as long as she is in the building. Besides,” he added with increasing sarcasm, “why should you care? We treat all the new people this way.”
“That's not true and you know it,” Terry replied, irritated. “This woman has had her life picked apart like nobody else that we've ever brought in. And I've never seen you monitor someone new personally like this.”
“And I've never seen a man talk as freely and without restriction as Dr. Jarrod,” Sam replied, pointing to the figure of the doctor on the computer monitor. “He barely waited until you left the room before all manner of theories and opinions began to come out. Makes me wish we still had the infrastructure to monitor the citizenry like we used to. It's men like him that keep me awake at night.”
“Besides your own snoring, that is,” Terry ripped dryly. “He's been cooped up in that lab for too long, I think it's getting to his head. But oh wait! That's your doing as well, is it not?”
Sam smiled his wide smile at her. “You just keep getting more delightful with every passing month. And tell me, do you still have nightmares about the downtown shooting that keep you up until three in the morning? And can you find a man understanding enough anymore to pat you on the shoulder and tell you it'll be okay?”
For the first time since she came into the room Terry appeared visibly discomfited. Her usually poised and rigid figure flagged and she looked away. “My lovers and private life are my own business now, not yours.”
“Oh, but you're mistaken!” Sam shot back, still smiling although his eyes had turned cruel. “When you enter the Tower nothing is private anymore!” He gestured widely to the room at large; it was a huge round affair consisting of two levels of seating arrangements and computer desks. In front of almost every computer monitor sat an officer, dutifully scanning the glowing screens for signs of anything amiss in the Central Admin complex. The lighting glowed a dim moody blue and gave the Tower an almost theatrical feel.
“In here there are no secrets, in here . . . ” he said slowly as he pointed to himself, “I am God.” He turned back to the flickering images of Anna and the doctor, entering Laboratory A1A. “I am God, surrounded by my avenging angels and messengers. I thought you would have known that by now.”
Terry was silent. Sam chuckled at her discomfiture. “So yes, we will follow and listen and learn. We will track her and you will not interfere or question.
Terry, visibly eager to change tracks, gestured to the main screen. “Have you found anything out that I can make use of tomorrow during my training sessions with her?”
The cruel look faded away and Sam shrugged. “Not too much. Although,” he added, chuckling again as he watched the screen, “this man cannot stop talking.”
Terry frowned. “What do you mean? Has he broken protocol?”
“Technically, no, since Anna has the clearance. But he's skirting the line...” Sam's voice trailed away as he listened to Dr. Jarrod speak. The doctor was explaining Daniel Marcus's disappearance, and Sam paid close attention, hanging on every word. Finally he shook his head again. “I can't figure why the Secretary let a man like him into this project.”
Terry sighed. “He knows what he's doing.”
“Who, our Secretary or this buffoon of a doctor?” Sam fired back.
“You know who I'm talking about,” Terry replied, glaring at him. “And I get the distinct impression that he didn't authorize this level of scrutiny.”
“Ha! He authorized me to background-check the hell out of Miss McLean, as well as to glean what I could from her time here. I don't like being doubted in my own domain, Miss Garnham, it only serves to irritate me.”
“Are you still surveilling her house?” Terry asked, ignoring his outburst.
Sam paused petulantly. “No, we're not.”
“He won't let me anymore. He claims we got what we needed during the vetting process and he wants to leave her alone there. He's oddly touchy about that. So we pulled everyone out.”
“Why don't I believe you?” Terry queried, shaking her head.
“If you don't believe me, ask Lieutenant Farkas down there at console six to pull up the three-sixty degree traffic cam on her street. It doesn't work. We lost it during one of those outages we had last week.” Sam reddened as he spoke, whether it was with anger or embarrassment was unclear. “We've been losing cameras like that for a while. We've tried keeping up with replacing them but its become a bit of an epidemic. I don't know if it's Verité or just some screwball gang who's doing it.”
A hint of a smile crept over Terry's face. “If you can't play peeping tom on Anna in her own house you could perhaps find a way to spy on her next door neighbor instead. I've been told he's quite the character.”
Sam rolled his eyes. “Just a crazy old man. Our records say he's up for a geriatric home in a couple years, so we're letting him stay in his house.” He turned suddenly on Terry. “You may leave now, Miss Garnham. We have work to attend to. Go back to babysitting our new arrival.”
Terry's face darkened but she said nothing, opting instead for one last look at the monitor and the image of Anna sitting at the reactive computer. Terry sighed and strode quickly out of the Tower, letting the door shut behind her with a dramatic click.
Sam once again chuckled under his breath as he watched the screen. “That man just keeps talking...”
Terry stalked down the long hallway to her office, her fists clenched and her knuckles white. Her heels clicked even more quickly than usual, echoing hollowly off the marble slab-sided walls with a steady but urgent tempo. The usual grimness in her face had nearly vanished and was replaced by another stronger emotion, nearly inexplicable even to her. It could have been terror, had it not been so well-controlled. Or anger.
She pushed unceremoniously through the glass doors of her office and sat down at the spartan desk, a desk meticulously clear of any of the usual office clutter and containing only a commex charging station and her office computer. Her breath drew in and let out unevenly and she sat for a long moment with arms extended, her hands flat on the desktop, attempting to calm herself and soothe her nerves. The brushed aluminum slab felt cold to her palms.
She glanced quickly around; no one walked the hallway outside her office. When her hands were steady enough she reached up to her left ear and slipped the earring out. It was a large, dangling pendant earring in an entirely nondescript color. She took a long breath, then grasped the bottom of it firmly and pulled.
Out popped a small micro-data plug cleverly concealed inside.
She peered over the top of her computer monitor at the security camera outside her office. It only spied on her through the glass door of her office, affording her a small bit of privacy, the same as it was with all higher ranking officers of Central Admin. Rank equaled privacy, or a degree of it anyways. With a nervousness that was not her wont she slipped out her commex and, holding it near the desk where the cameras couldn't see, she slid the micro-data plug into the slot at the bottom.
The screen of her commex lit up briefly, flashed, then went dark again. Then the device began to reinitialize and long lines of text scrolled past as a new subroutine took over. Terry held the device with fraying patience waiting for the subroutine to complete, occasionally glancing up to make sure nobody was coming. Finally the text stopped scrolling and all that was left was a blinking bar, waiting ominously for input.
Terry hesitated, then began typing on the screen: “Anna's three-sixty degree street cam is confirmed still dead. Probably no fix for at least a week. Recommend you move now.” She tapped the Send button.
Not fifteen seconds later the screen flashed as a message appeared. Terry opened it, breathing slowly: “Is Anna's security clearance fully initialized? Will her ID badge work everywhere now?”
Terry hesitated again, biting the inside of her cheek. When she began to type again her fingers were not as steady: “ID badge is free and clear. Will work on everything.” She paused, then added, “You're not going to hurt her?”
The return message took much longer to come this time. When it did Terry opened it without enthusiasm: “That depends on her. You need plausible deniability. No more questions. Good work. Over and out.”
Terry gritted her teeth and pulled the data plug out of the bottom of her commex. The screen flashed again, then returned to normal. She grimly reinstalled the plug in her earring, then breathed another long breath and rubbed her hands together. Her palms were drenched with cold sweat.
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