Prose

An Uncertain Future- Chapter 13


by: CJ Fogarty

Rich 

Proceeding from the Grandmaster’s office, we arrive in a steel-clad rotunda with a great, chrome table in the center. There are about a dozen chairs all placed round the table, and the only one filled is occupied by a burly, black gentlemen with a great beard, sitting with his legs casually resting on the table in front of him.

Carson Morris, as he had been introduced, greeted us with a warm smile and, without moving, bade us to sit down. Looking at his face, I find many similarities between him and John, though, there is more bulk to his overall face and frame where John had been characteristically wiry. Nevertheless, the voice, whilst more booming and more monotonous than John’s, carries that same level of command and energy. Additionally, his eyes seem all around lighter and kinder, perhaps reflexive of his generally more amicable disposition. Whatever the case, I must stop my descriptions and allow Carson’s words to explain his character more thoroughly.

“I’m sure you boys have a lot of questions regarding my father, but right now, I think it’d be best to get down to what we have to do now.”, he begins.

“That’s fair”, I reply.

“But, might I just ask, first?”, Duke cuts in. And here’s the part where Duke goes off digressing form the topic, even when explicitly told not to.

“Well, okay”, Carson permits, hesitantly, “whaddya wanna know?”

“There’s somethin about Miri”, Duke begins, “and I don’t quite understand her. Don’t get me wrong, man, I respect her alright.”

I affirm to Duke’s approval of her as he continues, “but, what’s with the sudden mood swings?”

“What’re you referrin to?”, Carson asks.

“One moment, she’s all calm and calculating and at another, she’s stressed and aggravated outta her mind, and smokes like a fuckin chimney to boot. She appears overworked, overstressed and, frankly, thrust in a world she doesn’t really understand.”

“He does have a point, Mr. Morris.”, I add thoughtfully, “she’s unusually young to be throwing life life into the job of grandmaster, and I can tell that in many ways, her youth has not totally left her, for she, I think, has an enthusiasm to learn, but hasn’t done enough of it in order to be a teacher, as is her position.”

“Do you believe that she is not qualified?”, a familiar yet sterner European voice utters behind us.

We turn around to find Philippe Trenaux, whom I had assumed had turned in for the night, standing in the doorway, leaned against the frame. The look on his face is quite serious, almost offended at our remark, uncharacteristic of the sly ‘Casanova’ we had met earlier.

To answer his question, we, Duke and I, utter a resounding, “No”

“We aren’t implying anything like that”, Duke goes on, softly, “but, we know very little about her and, she’s just so young.”

“And just why is that the issue?”, Carson asks, matching Philippe’s sternness. Clearly, these men hold her in high esteem.

“Well, it isn’t”, Duke answers, stammering a little, “in regards to inexperience. If we had gotten that vibe from her, then we wouldn’t have wasted our time sobering up and coming here. No, it’s…just that…”, he struggles to finish his sentence.

But, I know where he’s going, so I finish it for him, “we never want to ask as much as is being asked of Miri at such a young age. At twenty-two, most people are on the cusp of true adulthood, and only start making decisions about what they want to do with themselves. But, as Grandmaster, that’s basically twenty years of her life, possibly more, dedicated to leadership of this Order which is a weighty burden. It breaks out hearts to see that happen to a young person. And it happens to far too many.”

Carson looks past us at Philippe. Philippe shrugs.

The former then relates, “well, you boys are right. She has had placed upon her many burdens, ones that, yes, someone older ought to have carried. But, you see, John picked her to succeed him.”

“But, why?”, I ask.

“Well, John believed that the Order needed to be taken in a new direction after the Mars Tragedy. He believed that our focus had changed from what is had been founded to do, which, as you boys know, was to combat evil of a supernatural nature.”

“And, with the Great Guardians not appearing again”, Philippe continues evenly, “my grandfather, John, and Carson believed that the Order and its allies ought to change their means of operations, focusing more on bringing about efforts of world peace and justice.”

Carson comes back in with, “Thus, we have evolved from demon-hunting and secret keeping to intelligence gathering and keeping an eye on governments and innovators, watching for some malicious intent. And my father knew that if this was to be the new face of the Order, we’d need a new face to lead us. Me, I’m too old-fashioned, but I obviously still function to keep Miri advised. But, beyond that, she’s done much of the hard work on her own, both in the office and in the field. In just a short time, she’s proven herself beyond expectations.”

“That’s all well and good…”, I approve, but leaving room for Duke to inquire,

“…but is it really what she wanted?”

Carson exhales thoughtfully, then, “Not at first, no”.

“What does that mean?”, I ask

“It’s complicated”, Philippe answers.

“Tell us, please”, Duke implores, “I know we don’t have time, but we’d really like to know.”

“Just give us the abridged version”, I continue.

Sorry for those of you who were looking for advancement of the plot, it’s proper time for a flashback.

Carson and Philippe glance at each other again, but this time, Carson shrugs.

Loosening up, and taking his feet down from the table, Carson leans over and begins, “Well, Miri wasn’t born into the Guardians like many of us, but, she’s had no other family since she was fourteen.”

So, she’s got a sad story then?, I state silently. Alright.

“Like I said, though, I’m sayin it short, but I ain’t keepin secrets from you. A girl named Miri Larkin was born in New York City, on the fourth level, in 2047. She lived there with just her two parents, and for them, Miri their entire world, and they’d go outta their way to protect her. They were good parents, or,  at least, that’s the testimony I heard from John. Anyway, her parents, Cillian and Deidre Larkin, had been members of the Order. They were Guardians as well, so they worked extensively in the field, but, they both quit in order to take care of their little girl and get married.”

“Don’t you mean, ‘get married and take care of their little girl?’ “, Duke asks unbiased.

“No”, Carson replies, “I mean in it that order.”

“Go on”, Duke replies, hand underneath chin.

“In 2061, when The Forgotten Incident occurred and everythin’ changed…“,

As Carson goes on, I hear Philipe mutter behind us, “El catastrophe est un melliur terme!” (Disaster is a better term!)

My ears shift back to Carson, “…and within days, major cities around the globe were bombed. Bombed as in like incendiaries going off in churches and homeless shelters, pulse rays killing hundreds inside government buildings, C5 buried in parks”, holding his hand to silence our queries, “C5 is an advanced form of plastic explosives involving a lighter synthetic material encasing a capsule filled with a pulse bomb on the inside. Basically, it’s an explosive with enough juice to level the foundations of an entire building. This was back when Cortasteel wasn’t around. That sure woulda saved a lotta homes.”

“So, where does Miri come in?”, Duke asks.

“Well, Miri’s parents were killed in those bombings. When her high school finally let her out, she got to walk home down her busted up street, only to find her home a heaping mess, and her parents dead.”

“Pauvre Miri. Pauvre fille. (Poor Miri. Poor girl)”, Philipe laments sincerely behind us in French.

“I see”, Duke and I say in unexpected unison and equal condolence.

“Now, the Order of Godeseye was certainly prepared for this to happen, but, we thought we had stopped him when we trashed all The Forgotten hideouts and armories weeks earlier, but what we didn’t predict was that the operation would be conducted from Mars itself.”

“Winthrop was a taskmaster, indeed, “Philippe chimes in, still leaning against the door with his arms folded, “if anything remotely good can be said about him. Just when we thought they’d all been captured or killed, The Forgotten suddenly started setting off bombs, many remotely detonated all the way from Mars, but some were old-fashioned martyr-killings.”

“All happening at the same time”, Carson states, “we still struggle to figure out how one man could coordinate so many people at the same time.”

“Maybe they were robots”, Duke suggests, a little incredulously.

Carson and Philippe glance at each other again, “well, we sho’

don’t wanna rule anything out, but, there’s not been an android made with the power to kill ever.”

“What about drones”, I suggest.

“They’ve been outlawed since the Rome Conference. And either way, these mass bombings were, observably, man-made.”

“So, what happened to Miri. How did she come under John’s tutelage”, Duke presses.

“Well, you can figure that John, my father, felt terrible after seeing the damage done. His efforts had saved so many, but, not everyone. Certainly, very few members of the Order went without losing somebody, let alone the entire world.”

“Oui”, Philippe adds weightily, “I lost my father and mother too.”

“Jeanne-Claude lost his wife and daughter. Sage lost most of his family, ‘cept his mom. And John, well, he lost all of his children.”

“All except for you”, I comfort.

But Carson slumps back into his seat, staring wide-eyed at the wall, the signs of tears beginning to appear in his fluttering eyes.

“I don’t think my father ever saw me the same way again. I don’t think it was spite, just…that…I think he saw himself as a failure to his family, because he couldn’t protect us. You know John was like that”, he says this looking to Duke and I, to which we both nod. Jesus Christ, why the fuck did we miss this?

Carson continues, mopping his eyes with his palms, “so, he figured he couldn’t do right by his own kids, he’d find somebody new. Someone who hadn’t known his failure. At least, that’s what I think happened, but, truth is, I don’t really know. Him and I had gone to New York in order to bury my older brothers and sister, and he suddenly came home with a quiet, grey-eyed little girl with short black hair.”

“So, she wasn’t born with the piercings and the ivory hair, then?”, Duke asks humorously.

“Oh hell, no”, Carson affirms.

“Oh, good”, Duke replies, then, “I thought maybe her parents were one of those weird families that pierces their kids’ ears at seven or something, you know?”

That comment spreads a touch of joy about the room, causing Carson, Philippe, and myself to chuckle lightly. Duke always does this. He has this affinity for others’ emotions, and always desires to lighten the mood.

Carson goes on, much brighter, “Actually, that’s a funny story all it’s own. Her whole cyberpunk getup thing didn’t begin ‘till she was about seventeen or eighteen. But, before that, she was a very studious, hard-working girl. She woke up bright and early for training every day on St. Helena, taking a particular interest in weapons technology and gadgetry. She became one of Jim Redfield’s favorites, even inventing a few useful gadgets herself. Added to it, she never missed a day of high school, often showing up to Jeanne-Claude’s classes before most of the Trenaux family was even outta bed.”

This is followed by a wry smile to Philippe, to which the young European answers in kind.

“She was so determined to make her way here”, Carson continues with admiration, “so driven to prove herself even though she’d do so time and time again. And, all that time, none of us realized that she was only doing that to forget her past.”

Carson reverts back to seriousness now, “she, well, she’d never really taken time to grieve for her parents. As soon as she joined, she kinda just bottled everything up, I think. She never really wanted to talk about it, nor about whatever else she was going through. Miri loved to insist that she could just figure everything out by herself, and didn’t need someone to carry her weight.”

“To that end”, Philippe adds, “she has taken so many burdens upon herself as Grandmaster, it’s small wonder why she smokes so much.”

“Just like John”, Duke and I whisper again.

“That’s true”, Carson affirms, “anyway, everything changed when she turned eighteen, and entered her senior year. Now, I may have painted a portrait of an anti-social bookworm, but Miri had plenty of friends, boyfriends, and had gotten around by that time. So, she was by no means innocent, but, the one thing that got to her, the one thing that seemed beyond herself to reason, was this boy she liked. You remember him, Philippe?”

“Oui”, Philippe replies with feigned rancor, “I’m still quite jealous of him. I mean, we were always friends in school, yet she obsessed over him! Frankly, I never thought much of him.”

“Neither did I”, Carson agrees, “but, to Miri, he was the world to her. The one thing that’d make her slip up or blush, the one factor she could never control about herself. Anyway, senior year rolled around and, to her surprise, this boy asked her to the Senior Ball, to which she, of course, said yes. Ooh, I’ll tell you, finding a dress for that girl was a nightmare. She needed everything to be perfect. Hell, I’d never seen her act so feminine in her life before that!”

“Ah, but she did look so beautiful in that electric blue dress”, Philippe reminiscences dreamily.

“Yeah that’s true”, Carson agrees, “and John thought so too. Everyone did. But, like I said, we shoulda guessed there might be something she was holding in.”

“Should’s a shitty word”, I add, fittingly.

Carson smiles, and continues, “Anyway, we invited the boy in, took all the pictures and all that cutesy bullshit. It was all kinda funny: an old black man for a brother and an even older, black man for her father, and then there was Jeanne-Claude, Philippe here, and, of course, the Sage, Kyle Lawson.”

Chuckling, Duke admits, “There is a bit of sarcasm in that, right?”

“Actually, that was a name John gave him. He always said that, ‘with enough Red Bull, Kyle Lawson becomes the sage, at least, behind a computer.’ So, he adopted it as a codename.

Then, just like that, I see Carson’s face tighten, and he adopts a more sombre quality once more, “anyway, it was a few hours into the night after we’d dropped her off at the dance. John had remained wide awake in his chair, ever-concerned for little Miri. Just then, however, the door opened and in came Philippe here in his satin tux, with Miri at his side. Her hair was soaking, and that sparkling blue dress tainted with mud. John seemed to know somethin’ was off right away, cuz he got up, droppin his cane, and the two almost collapsed into each other, and…it seemed strange to hear her cry.”

“I remember she’d look so breathtaking that night”, Philippe reminiscences, “but, then, when I saw her, the worst part was seeing her face uncontrollably contorted in a sobbing frown, black tears running down because her eye makeup smeared. Apparently, that boy and some other of our esteemed peers, hmph, imbéciles, hadn’t been kind to her at all. She didn’t tell us exactly what he’d done, but only insisted that Kyle and I don’t knock one straight into his gut. Kyle almost did so anyway.”

“After that”, Carson comes back in, “she was a kind of different girl. She became all introspective and quiet, like when she came to us, only this time, she said she needed some breathing room off this island and away from the Order. So, a few months later, she left. Said she’d been thinkin’ bout doing so for a long time. I don’t think she was still hung up on this boy. Maybe she was.”

“I doubt it”, Philippe says, at last coming away from the door and settling in a chair next to Carson, his feet on the table, “it was a lot of things that she had not reconciled as a child. I suppose the dance told her that she wouldn’t just settle down here. I suppose she wanted to go and see the rest of the world. And God knows, John made it possible.”

“That’s true”, says Carson, “John used the Order’s resources and connections to get her into Albert Einstein University. Aside from that, it was all her. And boy, did she deliver. I think it was biomechanics she studied in college, Philippe?”

“That was her second major”, Philippe corrects, “she initially studied criminology for two years.”

That makes me think, “So, it sounds as though she wanted to leave the Order for a change…”

“…but not give up being a Guardian altogether”, Duke completes.

“That’s right”, Carson affirms, “although, outside of school was a different story.”

“You kept tabs on her?”, Duke asks, with an air of slight protest.

“Yes, we did”, Carson replies, pointing his finger at Duke, “and what we found…she had dyed her hair all white and pink, gotten a few piercings, dressed in leather, and joined in with the cyberpunks.”

“There goes that term again, just who exactly are they”, I ask impatiently.

“They’re a movement that’s spread across the world”, Carson explains, “They like to dress in leather and spikes, dye their hair all bright and go to speed metal concerts. Some call ‘em protesters, only, the don’t exactly take to the streets against wars and government corruption and capitalist oppression. The Social Populists do plenty of that. Some say they’re a gang, only, they’re too decentralized and never hesitate to be interviewed. Some even say they’re artists, and often times in big cities, you’ll see gardens made out of little Cortasteel roses.”

“Real flowers, like real women, smell better”, Philippe says enigmatically.

“Real women as opposed to what?”, Duke puzzles.

Carson, rolling his eyes, “he’s referring to pleasure model androids.”

“You mean, robot prostitutes”, Duke exclaims.

“Oui”, Philippe replies, “I know what you are thinking, but I can tell you they feel and function the same way a real woman does. It’s just that, the smell it is…off? The synthskin is convincing, but, you can tell a real woman from an android by the smell.”

“Maybe because androids don’t sweat?”, Duke tries.

“Oui”, Philippe affirms, “yes, it is something like that.”

“Makes sense”, Duke answers.

He crosses his arms and grins at me in a manner which, I know, spells a trip to a whorehouse sometime soon. Cheeky bastard.

“Moving on”, Carson interjects, “Miri fell in with that group of people and stayed with ‘em for about four more years. We watched her the whole time of course, and she knew it. Hm, it was always a laugh when my dad, shocked to see pictures of her,  called Miri’s new getup, ‘a hick-town biker with a pretty-boy’s haircut’.”

This promptly brings a chuckle of reminiscence to both Carson and Philippe.

The latter continues narrating, “by the time John had asked her to return three years later, she seemed like such a grown up girl, though, no taller and bustier than when she left. At this point though, Monsieur Morris was beginning to slow down very much, and his health got bad. He was eighty-six, you know.”

It had just hit me that that was a very long time.

“That’s unheard of!”, I exclaim, “That was a sixty-six-year-long reign, when the maximum had always been forty or less.”

Carson promptly shrugs, then, proudly, “Black don’t crack, and certainly my father was testament to that. He’d dealt with so much that only got worse as years went on, all when he shoulda been settling down. That’s why I don’t envy Miri’s job at all. I somehow think she’ll been in the same boat.”

After a pause, he continues, “but, that brings us to now. John brought Miri back so that she could join Sage and us in finding you guys.”

“That’s another thing we’d like to now, then.”, Duke begins.

“why was it so important to find us relics…”, I continue

“…and go through all the trouble of sobering him up”, Duke gestures to me.

“…or why poor Miri had to put up with his stubborn rudeness”, I reply in kind.

“in short…”, Duke prepares

“why are we back”, we proclaim aloud.

“Because Graham Winthrop isn’t dead”.

That was another voice, one from behind us. A rich, feminine voice belonging to one I did not truly understand until now. One that I had underestimated when she didn’t deserve it, and one whom I had pitied when she did not need it. Miri Larkin stood in the doorway, legs apart and arms folded. The revelation had come as a minor shock to us, but Carson and Philippe appeared to be of sober acceptance. I’m not sure if they’re surprised or not.

“That’s why John needed you two here”, she goes on, “because whatever he’s got planned, it involves some very powerful people with the information and know-how to plunge us all into catastrophe again, unless we stop him”, going to the head of the table and leaning over it, stormy eyes fixed on each of us, “and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

She then presses a button on a panel on the table and, looking up, “Nick.”

No answer.

“Nick”, she says louder, pressing the button of few times more.

“Ugh”, she exclaims, and proceeds to activate her holowatch, which lowers a flatscreen T.V. behind her at the head of the room. Several panels open on the screen, and with a flip on her watch’s touchscreen, the panels shift to what appears to be different rooms of the base. It settles on one room, cluttered with cans on the floor and with a large computer with three screens. On the central screen is what appears to be a video game, something morbidly inaccurate involving guns, aliens, and spaceships.

In front of the screen, almost too small for the chair, sits that English boy from the main room, fixated on the screen, furiously working his controller, and shouting profanities. By his accent, and ire, he sounds Welsh.

“How the fuck do you have twenty kills already, Kyle!”

“I’m just that good!”, another, young American-sounding voice replies, “just wait, it’s gonna be twenty three…right…now.”

And with that, the soldier controlled by the player falls down, print underneath reading, ‘You have been killed by SAGE, -25.’

“Oh you fucker”, the boy in the chair exclaims angrily alongside his opponent’s digital laughter.

“NICK!”, Miri suddenly yells, causing him to jump suddenly.

“Ah, Miri. Well, um, I was just wonderin’ when you’d call.”

“Who’re you talking to?”, I hear Nick’s opponent call.

“It’s Miri, and I’m in big fucking trouble, Kyle”, Nick rasps.

“Well, sucks to be you then”, Kyle retorts sarcastically, then, humorously, “Hi Miri. What-uh, what’s going on my overworked vixen?”

Miri’s face goes to her palm, as Philippe, Carson, Duke, and myself join in harmonious laughter.

“Quit the game Nick”, Miri orders, “we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

“Aw, come on, mum”, he pleads, “I can’t leave whilst Kyle’s leading. It’s not fair. Can we just-“

“No”, Miri interrupts before a press to her watch shuts down power in that room entirely. That’s a fun little gadget, isn’t it.

“Aw”, Nick laments, grumbling as he restarts the massive computer, opening up a program, which then sends a holographic projection of the world map.

“Thank you Nick. That will be all. And you and Kyle need to quit mucking around, ‘cause we’re going to be very busy these next few days. Got it?”

“Yes, mum. Sorry, mum”, Nick soberly replies, then turns off the screen.

Miri turns around and starts to speak, but the grinning faces around cause her to break into a chuckle herself.

Controlling it, she continues, “you’ll notice that there are points marked on this map.”

Indeed, there were four points marked: one in the central United Kingdom, one in the northeastern United States and one a little further inland, and finally one in Italy, Rome I think.

“These four people all have one thing in common: ties to The Forgotten. Much of their membership, I’d say 90% of them, were wiped out or are marked in custody according to Interpol. We need to know where these remaining four are. By John’s account, these people in particular, weren’t necessarily members of The Forgotten, but had close enough ties to it and are now essential members of world society today.”

“And, just who are these four people?”, Duke inquires.

“Well, two of them are famous names.”

Tapping on the hologram itself, which wasn’t solid but still recognized her touch, a picture of an older, balding man with a handlebar mustache and workman’s attire appeared.

“Ezio Cortanza. Billionaire construction magnate and inventor of the ultra-strong metal alloy, Neo-bronze or Cortasteel. He began business in the oil industry, then switched to robotics and android manufacturing, and now works as a metallurgist and president of Cortanza Industries, which contracts to governments around the world and has been attributed with the restabilization of the American infrastructure and revolutionizing architecture and city planning as you two have witnessed.”

“So, he’s responsible for the multi-level cities, then? Wonder how many backs he broke on his way to the top.”

“Another time, Rich”, Duke warns, appropriately.

Miri continues, tapping on the point in Italy. The picture of the aged cardinal from the last room appears, somewhat to my surprise, “Cardinal Victor Arnim. Camarlengo of the Roman Catholic Church, became famous for a total rethinking of Catholicism, restructured around a love-based faith, shifting the Church’s focus from authoritative structuring to new ideas of moral and social justice, supposedly bringing thousands of converts and returners to the Church. He has been questioned extensively because of his largely unknown past, and has refused interviews several times on because of it.”

“I wonder why”, Duke inquires, with an air of lament.

“And who are the other two?”, Carson suddenly asks.

“Well, I don’t know”, Miri admits, “those were the only leads I was sure of. However, based on my work in New York, there’s a former mercenary who may have enough ties to Winthrop and The Forgotten, if I can locate him. Anyway, though, let’s investigate the leads we’re sure of. Remember, of each of these leads, we know that one of them can tell us what Winthrop is planning.”

“And how do we know that he’s even alive in the first place?”, Duke inquires.

“He is right, Miri”, Philippe adds,”it may be that someone is using him in order to cover for something else.”

“That’s possible”, Miri admits, “but John insisted just before he died that Winthrop was alive. And from the intelligence Nick and Kyle gathered, we have found that funds from the ecclesiastical properties of Victor Arnim as well as a significant supply of iron, copper, and Cortasteel, have all been funneling into several outside bank accounts, many of them tied to deceased people.”

“But, how do we know that these are tied specifically to The Forgotten?” Duke asks, skeptical.

“Yes”, I respond with sarcasm, “for all we they could be working together to build the Pope a summer castle in Tuscany.”

This bit of sarcasm is typical on my part, and I see Duke roll his eyes, for the five-hundred and thirty-fifth time.

“I admire your skepticism, Duke”, Miri states, “however, these transactions have been occurring over eight years since the cataclysm. Also, Cortanza and Arnim enlisted well-known smugglers and mercenaries to shift these supplies to, where else but, Mars.”

“Because they don’t want to be found out”, Carson replies.

“Exactly”, Miri continues, “the black market smuggles thousands of credits and ores to and from Mars each year, so aside from being illegal, it wouldn’t appear out of the ordinary.”

“So, regarding these two leads”, I begin, “you need to send Guardians to investigate them, find out the what, where, and why.”

“Well, in a manner of speaking, we know the ‘what and where’, but knowing ‘why’ would probably be good. Observation can guess everything apart from motivation. I think we require direct surveillance of their personal habits and relationships, in order to understand which one of them is the ringleader, and which ones are simply being manipulated.”

“Is that ourconclusion?”, Philippe asks with hesitation.

“Again, that’s what John seemed to think”, Miri answers, “if these people we involved directly with the terrorists, Interpol would’ve had them arrested or investigated to the point of scandalizing, which Interpol hasn’t been afraid to do, especially when dealing with members of The Forgotten. We believe that these men had far too much to risk and nothing to gain from membership. The tricky thing about Winthrop is that he didn’t like convincing people to join him, but most of those who did were manipulated leaders, not religious fanatics, social outcasts, or what we’d typically identify as a terrorist. It makes sense that he’s trying this again.”

“But we still don’t know that it is truly Winthrop himself”, Carson persists.

“And it’s possible that it isn’t”, Miri agrees, “you know I handle everything with the utmost amount of scrutiny. Still, even if there is the slightest chance, especially if John believed it, we must investigate, with extreme caution and pressure.”

“Right”, Duke decides, “so, Rich, you take Italian the business man with the hairlip, I’ll take Father Arnim.”

“Um, well”, Miri says, surprised, “I didn’t really expect to send you two, but..”

“Well then what the hell are we here for”, Duke responds, smiling cordially.

“Trust us, Miri”, I reassure knowingly, “this is what we do best.”

Miri looks to Carson, a dialogue of expressions between the two deciding our fates. Carson shrugs. Miri shrugs.

Then, the grandmaster states, “Okay then. While I’d much sooner send Guardians I’m used to working with, but since you’re both so essential to the Order, you have my permission.”

As she’s giving us her blessing, I detect the slightest hint of caution, and a stronger hint of doubt. She’s certainly a good grandmaster then. Trust no one fully, not even us, and, considering she’s a woman, don’t ever trust Duke.

“Hey, what about the other two leads”, Duke asks, at which point I realize that I had forgotten about that.

“Well, as for the New York lead, I think I’ll send a few other Guardians to investigate that. In fact, Carson, could we get Farris and Velazquez to New York? They’re veterans of this trade.”

“I’ll see to it”, Carson assures.

“Good, that’ll take care of that. As for the UK lead, I think I’ll take that one myself. Although, that isn’t one of the leads I personally found, so I’m not entirely sure who it may be. Let’s see.”

Miri’s finger touches the dot on the hologram centered over Mother England, and a picture appears, depicting a brunette with long-straight hair, deep-brown eyes set behind sharp, black glasses. The woman seems faintly familiar to me, but only faintly. Miri’s eyes, on the other hand, are lighting up.

“Well”, she muses, “isn’t this interesting”, then, standing up straight, she oddly proceeds to the door, “Duke, Richard, transportation to wherever you need to go will be arranged for tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ll be promptly leaving for London in-what time is it?”

“Almost one in the morning”, Philippe states with an appropriate yawn. Bullocks, where did the time go?

“Okay then”, Miri continues, determined, “I’ll leave for London in four hours.”

“Don’t you ever sleep, Miri?”, Philippe asks wryly.

Halfway out the door, she answers, with a proud grin, “sleep is for humans, Philippe.”

I smile in respect at this talented, complex leader of ours, and my eyes turn absent-mindedly back to the screen. And suddenly I realize Miri’s reaction. I may not recognize the face, but the name is one I recall. Gina St. Clair AKA Angeline Cromwell.

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