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Prism

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In her little office on the outer wall of TF29’s Prague branch, Delara Auzenne could spend time alone with her thoughts and without much concern of being watched. Oh, certainly, every office had a camera tucked in the corner, the electronic eye staring unobtrusively from a tiny black dome, but as long as she kept her face impassive, no one could say she was anything beyond a mere psychologist. She had furnished the office with bits of home – warm colors, soft lighting, shades to help keep her privacy along with her patients’ – and had been more or less left alone here.

And... therein lay the problem. She had been specifically assigned by Joe Manderly over a month ago, having to wait until paperwork was shuffled and she was officially placed, and taken up residence in this office in mid-November, but to her dismay, her work as a mole had been stalled by the entire branch’s reluctance to go anywhere near her. All of them had gone in for their evaluations, but those had been required. Aria Argento and Daniel Fletcher – whom everyone called “Smiley” – had been the only ones more or less open with her.

Gathering information had looked easy enough when she examined her assignment. She had been on many different such assignments throughout her tenure with Majestic 12 and the Council, exploring everything from blue-collar offices to high-society functions, using her wit and wry humor to squeeze in wherever she needed to go. A place full of government agents had seemed comparatively easy, but all of them were guarded in their own ways. She had long given up on Jim Miller, the branch’s director, having barely been able to get two words out of him before he had slipped out. Peter Chang, the resident cybersecurity expert, had been even worse, talking a lot and saying nothing at all.

And Adam Jensen... well. He was the worst of the lot, most of his words brimming with barely-contained hostility as of late, and always with a touch of disdain. Their last conversation had left her with the impression that, just maybe, he suspected who she really was, but nothing had happened, and she couldn’t be sure. From the beginning, their relationship had been tense enough, and no amount of smiles and kind words had broken that shell.

Observing him only told her he kept everyone at arm’s length, really, though he seemed to make time to pass by Aria’s desk when she had been at the armory. Now that she was out of sight, Delara couldn’t be sure it was still happening, but she filed that information away, hoping it would still be useful one day.

It was early December, and she was wrapping up the post-London evaluations. Each one took at least an hour, and there was paperwork to file and notes to make. Mole though she was, she was still a psychologist, degree and all, and took great pride in her meticulous work. She had been recruited on those skills and made use of them to such an extent that Lucius DeBeers, the de facto head of the Council, had determined her to be irreplaceable.

There were only two left: Miller, whom she suspected would be as recalcitrant as ever, and Duncan MacReady, the team lead for the Counterterrorism section. She had been putting both of them off for as long as possible, dreading the sight of Miller’s grim face after his narrow survival of the Orchid. She couldn’t even bring herself to call him by his first name, so cool and distant had he made himself.

He was a man roiling with emotion, vulnerable yet guarded, who wasn’t nearly as good at hiding the turmoil of his personal life as he hoped to be.

And Duncan was a bit of a mystery. Their first and only meeting had been that initial evaluation, where he had shown himself to be no-nonsense and utterly taciturn. Every question had been met with the same cool, professional tone, which had slowly become annoyance as he seemed to grow aware of the amount of time he’d been in her office. When she had finally signed off and told him he was okay for active duty, he had merely told her that of course he was and left after a tense and polite goodbye. She hadn’t even really run into him afterward, passing him once or twice in the mornings when he went for coffee in the kitchen, but for the most part, he stayed in his office, high above the scurrying of the office workers, and she never had a reason to venture upstairs to begin with.

The question had become a game of trying to figure out who to tackle first. Miller would probably be the easiest, since he had only just returned to the office and was still under orders from his doctor to keep his activity level down – which Jennifer Phillips, the resident physician, had taken upon herself to ensure however she could – so determining how he felt would most likely end in a bit of grumbling and insistence he was perfectly fine, then trying to get her to okay him for more activity, which she would slap down without a thought.

A wry smile reached her lips. In the short time she had been here, she could tell she had developed enough concern for these people’s well-being that getting more information out of them should become easier.

But, it hadn’t. Adam was the only person she had been specifically instructed to keep an eye on, with Miller as a secondary target she had chosen independently, and he would never talk to her. Trying to figure out if he was truly still following their will or obfuscating all of it was an exercise in perpetual frustration. Miller, in turn, never opened up here, and she hadn’t had the chance yet to seek him out to try again.

She would need to either change tactics, or change targets. Adam was an automatic dismissal, and Miller would take patience to get to. He was the highest level agent, with the most knowledge, and was thus the most useful, but he would be a time sink, and she had to be prepared for that.

Reaching for her terminal, she scrolled through her personnel list. Most of the high-level agents were either people she barely knew or ones she had already dismissed out of hand. All of the team leaders had been more or less brushed aside as potential fonts of information, leaving her with a dilemma she couldn’t be rid of. Her weekly correspondence with DeBeers had been lacking in details lately, relegated to a line about how things were unchanged, and though he remained patient, she hated not being able to give him anything at all.

Rubbing a hand over her face, she decided to tackle Miller first. Duncan would just have to wait a little while longer.

It was midday, and the walk here had been brisk and rather chilly. Most of the leaves had fallen off the trees, leaving their branches bare and a familiar crunch underfoot. The threat of frost clung to shadows and early morning dew, banished by the sun but returning as soon as the shade came back. She had to be more careful picking her way along cobblestone roads, as a bit of ice sometimes crept in where the breeze blew coldest.

The season of change had come and gone, and now even Prague, caught in the middle of slow-brewing madness, had begun to settle in for the cold winter’s nap that came with the year’s end. Even she continually felt the tug of exhaustion and the desire to sleep for hours, lulled by the warmth offered by her quiet apartment. Everyone seemed slightly less stressed, their thoughts tossed along with the leaves on the walkways.

Turning her attention to her terminal, she opened the internal messaging system – a closed-loop system depending entirely on an onsite server, she had discovered, managed by Chang’s cybersecurity team and with no external connections of any kind – and selected Miller’s name from her contact list. Every single message was archived on the server, so she had quickly learned to screen all of her messages before sending them.

And with Chang’s eternal paranoia, she couldn’t be sure he wasn’t running a keylogger.

Hey Miller, when you’ve got a moment, let’s go ahead and get that evaluation done. She resisted her first instinct – that of attaching a smiling emoji – and pressed Enter before turning back to her notes. The message was read almost immediately, but she knew he would take his time replying.

Idly flipping through the notes and filing them away in a spreadsheet, she allowed the other half of her mind to wander off into thoughts of what she might want to do after work. She was a mole, but was free to live however during and between assignments, and this one left a great deal of free time, more than she knew what to do with most days. As a Natural, she could travel freely throughout the city and even leave if she chose. She had an unused Eurorail pass sitting on her counter at home, bought only a month ago, after all. She didn’t have to stay in the area all the time.

A few minutes into her reading, the chat on her terminal lit up, and she looked to find Miller acknowledging her in his usual curt, yet still somehow polite, way. She had just enough time to make a little space and move her monitor further to the right, along with her keyboard, before he walked in.

“There you are,” she said, giving him a warm smile. “Look at you, dapper as usual.” And he was, really, in a three-piece wool suit in varying shades of olive. “This won’t take long, Miller, I know you’re a busy man. And no, you don’t have to sit. I know how much you hate it.”

He looked at her a moment before surprising her by sitting in the chair in front of her desk. After a moment of confusion, she realized it had to be because he was still recovering. “So,” he said, “what’ll it be this time?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary. Just want to make sure you’re okay.”

“Is that part of it, Auzenne?”

“N... no, that’s... concern, Miller.” Lacing her fingers together, she rested them on the table. “Let’s... back up a moment, actually. Before I start quizzing you, how about you tell me how you feel right now?”

“Well enough, or do you want a pain scale?”

She shrugged one shoulder. “If it helps you feel better, sure, we can do that.”

“I feel like I was run over by a freight train and put back together by a medical student using me for a lab.” At this, he leveled her with a glare, as though daring her to laugh, so she hid her amusement. “Any chance of getting you to okay me for a normal workload again? Going home after only eight hours is...”

“Strange, I know, but doctor’s orders are doctor’s orders.” Her fingers loosened. “Alright, let’s get down to business. I’m just going to run a few basic questions past you. Just give me the answer that first comes to mind. There’s no judging here, Miller, so don’t worry about that part. Ready to begin?”

Shifting in his seat, he looked away for a moment, at some distant spot she couldn’t see, before turning back to her. In those cool gray-blue eyes, she could see a thousand useful threads on that could unravel him in an instant. Such a thing was not what they were after, of course, but they dangled there, tantalizingly just within reach. He was emotionally vulnerable, but such a quarry was never an easy one, not one with his personality.

“The sooner we get this done, the sooner I can go back to work,” was his response.

Her nails lightly tapped the desk. “Fair enough.”

As with all of the other evaluations, Delara took her time and let Miller’s responses direct her. His body language and tone communicated a complete unwillingness to open up, so she steered clear of personal questions for now and focused on the job. This subject got him to talk, though it made the time go faster than she might have liked, and his answers were just dry enough that she couldn’t pull much out of them. When it came to his job, he was completely professional, without a hint of the reluctance that plagued glimpses of his personal life.

“So,” she said eventually, “even after all this, how do you feel about continuing to engage in the world’s issues? What were your thoughts when you finally left the Apex Centre?”

“I felt...” A breath. A brief pause. “My life had flashed before my eyes, and one of my best agents might not still be here under slightly different circumstances. He wasted the Orchid cure on me.”

“Adam cares about everyone. It’s what he does. And besides, he saved the delegates, too, didn’t he?”

Miller looked displeased for a long moment, but eventually, that gave way to a reluctant nod. “True, and now Marchenko is behind bars, where he belongs.”

Delara momentarily pursed her lips at that thought. Marchenko had been a tremendously useful asset, dragged along with the carrot of freedom and the stick of his family, but they could afford to leave him in prison for a little while. When the time came, his killswitch would be activated, and that would be the end of it.

“Regardless, our main priorities still involve making sure what’s going on Golem City is quelled and doesn’t spill over to here. If we have to pull eighty-hour weeks to make sure the rioting and diseases don’t get beyond those walls, then so help me, all of us will do it.” The sternness of his military background had crept into those words, turning the consonants razor-sharp when they tumbled out. “Now, Dr. Auzenne, am I fit for duty?”

“You seem to have your ducks in a row,” she said quietly. “That covers all the things that matter for your work.”

“Good. Then maybe you can convince–”

But, I’m not pulling any strings to get back your normal shifts, Jim.” She smiled. “Doctor’s orders.”

He scowled, but it reminded her of an irritable old cat, which made her smile wider. Perhaps he was loosening up, or maybe she was just losing her mind a bit after so much of this. “Fine, I’ll just have to make do. Well, Mac is always looking for new things to do. Maybe I can foist some of this nonsense on him.”

“Speaking of which, he’s the last one on my list. Can you tell him to come down in about two hours, please?”

Miller nodded and pushed himself up. “I assume we’re done, then?”

“Sort of. All of that was strictly professional, and I appreciate you taking the time, Jim.” He hadn’t reacted to the first use of his name, so she decided to keep using it for now. “My... next questions are... more personal. If you w–”

“My personal life is no one’s business but my own, Dr. Auzenne.”

“Jim, please,” she said, softening her tone, “I’m here to be your support. I know it isn’t easy dealing with your personal life on top of carrying the weight of this branch on your back. The divorce, your daughter, and barely escaping death... it all takes a toll, I know. And,” she interjected when his expression soured, “all of it can come back and deeply affect your professional life. Talking can help. I’m a good listener, you know.”

For a long moment, she thought he might turn and walk out again, but as the seconds ticked by, he continued standing there in front of her desk, mouth working. She focused on taking slow breaths, watching his face. Based on his tightly-wound body language, he would be unconsciously open to the idea of needing someone to empty his personal worries out onto, the ones no one else was allowed to see even on the weakest days.

And with time came more talking, and with talking came more data she could use. There were things going on in this branch even Joe wasn’t aware of, and she was going to be the eyes and ears of the Council.

“I.... appreciate that, Auzenne,” he said at last. “I’ll consider it.”

“That’s good to hear. My door is always open.”

He nodded and left without another word, though not as quickly as he had the first time, and when the door clicked shut behind him, she immediately set to work on the profile of him. Having to screen her words before they were typed into the file on the server always made things go so more slowly, so she had recently taken to scribbling her rawest thoughts using a pen and simple notebook she kept tucked in a drawer.

The first thing she liked to put down were descriptors, so she began with volatile and reluctant, then crossed out the first one and wrote instead suppressed. More words followed, linking together to paint the picture she saw before her – a clean-cut professional, stuffing his private life into a box and kicking it in the corner, roiling under the surface in a way that caused his emotions to burst out more frequently than was good for a leader to allow. While she hadn’t seen many outbursts firsthand, she had heard plenty of talk. Some of the agents she had spoken to had admitted he had been much more irritable than usual during the last few months, constantly terse under even perfectly normal circumstances.

Eventually, she compiled all her thoughts into something perfectly sensible for a contracted psychologist and carefully arranged them in the document. Focused, serious, rarely calm and approachable as of late, dependable, hardworking, and probably one of the best people to have at one’s back, all told.

The strings left to tug on were few and far between for now. She didn’t need to seduce him, of course – he was in need of a friendly ear, and if she tugged on just the right thread...

As she finished transferring her notes into the document, her mind wandered off, unheeded. Orders from Joe usually came in turn from Page, who usually went along with what the rest of the Council wanted, though it had been his decision to take Talos Rucker out of the game, which DeBeers had been quite displeased about. While she hadn’t seen the altercation, she had seen the aftermath, with Page silent and scowling at the few meetings he attended. Joe tried to direct the Prague branch however he saw fit, but she knew from being in the trenches that Jim still did whatever he decided was best, far more often than any of them really preferred.

Pulling him in the right direction to keep control was important. To do that took patience and focus. She had both of those, and an eye for reading people, in spades.

That said, she wondered if, like Adam, Jim could also stonewall her to the point of giving up for a while.

Delara only left her desk to get a fresh cup of coffee, this one decaf, her second of the day, before returning to work. After finishing Jim’s profile, she went back and cleaned up the others, then read them several times over as thoroughly as possible as she sipped. She liked flavoring her coffee with cinnamon and a dash of cocoa, creating a concoction that smelled lovely, though a few who had seen her ingredients had playfully accused her of “desecrating” it.

Only when she looked at the time to find it coming up on two-thirty did she realize MacReady was overdo for his eval. Her chat had no new messages, and he showed as active at his desk, the green dot taunting her when she glared at it.

Sighing, she opened the chat to Jim again. Hey Jim, can you please send MacReady down for his eval?

Jim typed and paused several times before replying, He hasn’t been down?

Nope, no sign of him.

More typing, a pause, much longer this time, typing, then it stopped. Delara went back to nursing her coffee, which had cooled significantly, and inhaled the spicy scents as she stared at the monitor. Jim’s green dot turned yellow; she took a long sip, finding a tiny chunk of cocoa powder at the bottom. She crushed it against her palate, and it burst open in a puff of sweetness and the tang of cinnamon.

Eventually, the dot turned green again, there was a bit of typing, and then, He’ll be right down.

Delara choked a little on her coffee and focused on stuffing her amusement down into a corner where she could dig it up later. Once she was home, she could giggle about it, but for now, she had to be serious.

Three minutes passed before her door slid open and MacReady walked in. His brows were pulled so far down over his eyes that she barely saw them but for a glimmer of light on the surfaces, but his suit – a deep navy Italian cut with a black undershirt – was prim as ever. Despite the scowling, he looked fine enough.

“I hope this won’t take long, Doctor. You’ve pulled me off something very important, and I haven’t a lot of time, so let’s get this over with.”

Delara blinked at him, stifling her sigh. “It’s just about the London op, MacReady – or would you rather I called you Mac? Or Duncan, perhaps?”

“I really don’t care, Doctor, as long as you don’t end this by calling me something we shan’t repeat in polite company.”

Her lips twitched. “Okay, I’ll... keep that in mind. Have a seat, please.”

Duncan looked at the chair, then back at her. “Wait, just how long does this go for?”

“They usually take about an hour. Don’t worry, it’ll go pretty quick.” Waving her hand toward the chair, she smiled at him and leaned back slightly. “It’s better if you take a seat.”

“That’s what Zora usually tells me,” he muttered as he did as she asked.

“Ah... of course. And, ah, Zora?”

“Business acquaintance.” He settled back in the chair. “What do we start with?”

Delara shuffled her notebook to the side and turned her attention to the terminal. She asked all the agents a few questions no matter who they were, but tried to tailor the others to the individual. The questions would change further, or she could add new ones on the spot, depending on how the interview played out. “Did I really take you away from something, Duncan? I didn’t mean to if I did.”

He swore under his breath.. “Did you forget we nearly got ourselves shot up less than a month ago?”

“It’s hard to when a lot of agents bring it up.”

“Oh, of course, so everyone’s just mouthing off about it and you don’t want to hear it?” His expression hardened as he spoke, and their eyes met, neither of them wanting to back down. “What, too much to hear how we almost lost our director, one of our other agents, and almost saw hundreds of people go sky-high? Is that it?”

She blinked again, then chose her tone and words carefully. “No, of course not, Duncan. That’s not what–”

“Look, neither of us want to be here, so why don’t you stop dragging your feet and get on with it?”

Focusing on taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, she calmly looked back at the terminal. “From what I gathered, you and the others went in after Jim and Adam, but couldn’t actually show–”

“Jim? No one calls him ‘Jim’.”

“And no one calls you ‘Duncan’, either, but here we are. Now, please, stay with me, okay?” Offering him another smile, she continued, “Basically, you were kept out of the immediate loop and had to rely on them as your eyes. In the end, you didn’t get to play a hand in the final confrontation. How does that make you feel?”

“It was a job. We were there as backup, and if thing’s had–” He paused, took a breath, and met her eyes. “We did good, Auzenne. Maybe we didn’t get a cut of the action, but we got the job done.”

“It still must have been frustrating. After being put on the Gold Mask case, you weren't able to take many steps forward.”

Miller has Jensen as his personal hunting hound, and then he goes off and does what he wants anyway.”

One eyebrow twitched upward. “Why not work with him?”

“Because some of us do what we’re told and try not to make too much of a fuss, Doctor. Work hours are for doing what the big boss tells you to do. Outside those hours, you do what you want. Jensen’s just got a long leash, but that’s because he’s special-built for that.” He made a dismissive gesture. “I’m still better than him, anyway.”

“So, no fear of being replaced as second, or TL?”

Those dark eyes glowered at her for a long moment, and when he spoke again, his voice carried an edge she didn’t really like. “Please. Miller knows what he got with me, and he wouldn’t dare trade me for some hanzer knockoff. Jensen has his uses, and he’s not... unbearable. He’s just a massive pillock.”

The corners of her mouth turned downward to hide her flicker of amusement. “I see.”

“Yes, you do. Can we get on with it?”

“Of course.” As she examined her list of questions, she quietly filed away that information – doesn’t like Adam, a little uncertain about his place in the team – for later reference. “Near the end of the mission, you found out Marchenko had hundreds of innocent lives at stake while simultaneously having poisoned the delegates’ champagne. How did that make you feel, and if Adam hadn’t been there, what would you have done?”

“Both.”

Pause. “I’m sorry?”

“Both. We’d have done both. I’d have done both.”

“Ah...” Confident to the point of arrogance. “You were still in the maintenance–”

“I had several agents with me. Might’ve made a bit of a scene, but we’d have gotten it done. Just send half after Marchenko and the other after the delegates. Storm the castle. No sneaking around. Jensen didn’t make any fuss when he went after Brown – just went on through like some sort of ghost.” He snorted. “Not me. Every one of those Gold Masks would’ve been lying in their own blood by the end of it.”

Her fingers tapped the desk. “That... you don’t think that would’ve been excessive?”

“They’re linked to the same people that blew up the train station and turned GC into a living hell. You think I’d take mercy on any of them? Not a chance. If they hadn’t backed down, they’d all be dead, and there wouldn’t be any left to keep raising a fuss, now, would there? Just think, if Miller had put us on Golem City instead of Jensen, Rucker would still be alive and all the roaches would’ve been flushed out, dead or alive.”

She noted this. “And you’re certain it would’ve been proper, and not just as revenge?”

“Now, see here, Auzenne, I don’t need you psyching me out or playing guessing games to figure out what’s going on in my head, alright? I know how I felt about all this. You can’t read my mind. Take my word for it.”

“Straight talk only,” she sighed. “And Marchenko? Would you have brought him in?”

“If I could, yeah. Interrogations and all, though he should've been here.”

“Here instead of... in prison in the UK?”

“He was our target.”

“Ah... Duncan.” She leaned on her elbows. “No offense, but these cells would never hold him.”

“Shove him in a Palisade vault, then.”

At this, she smiled slightly. “I... don’t think that would be much better, but I see where you’re coming from. Now, this next question is about how you felt during the mission. Tell me, when there was that change in plans, all the way to the end when Adam contacted you, how did all of that make you feel?”

“Accomplished.”

Delara waited a few beats, but he just looked at her. “And... um, what else?”

“Oh. Oh, you want details, is that it? Well, let me just enlighten you for a bit.” Resting his elbows on the arms of the chair, he cocked his head. “First I felt fine, and then I wasn’t, and then when it all hit the fan and went sideways, we adapted, did our jobs, and finished without casualties. So, accomplished.”

Again, she stared at him. “Okay, ah, Duncan, I really need you to work with me here.”

“I’m in here. That’s plenty enough, isn’t it?”

It took great effort not to drop her face in one hand. “Duncan, details help. Skimming–”

“There’s plenty of detail. I gave you words. You should be thrilled.”

She gave in and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Okay... fine. We’ll just... we’ll just go with that.” She held the pose for a few more moments, then wrote quickly in sloppy sort-of-cursive in her notebook, obnoxious. “So, after this was all done, and Miller gave you the after-action report on the way back, you were given the chance to take a breath and refocus. With the chance to reflect, what would you have done differently?”

“I would’ve gotten to Marchenko first and either skinned him or dropped him. Then, we’d save the delegates and fly back in time for booze and blows jobs.”

Her fingers twitched. “Duncan, can you be serious with me?”

“Never been more so, Auzenne.”

“No, I mean–” Now it was her turn to focus on keeping her thoughts in line. Right now, Duncan reminded her of Adam, if a lot more abrasive. “This interview is intended to clarify the events and draw up a psychological profile. With that, I can help with anything that might come up, from leadership concerns to criminal profiling to assessing stress and risk. I can’t help you at all if you’re not willing to be open with me.”

“I don’t need a shrink, Auzenne. I need breathing room and an open Friday night.”

“Well, that’s too bad, because that’s why I’m here. It’s what I was hired for, and it’s what you’ll be coming to me for.”

His eyes pointedly traveled up and down her body, despite being half-hidden behind the desk. She wasn’t surprised – she knew she was beautiful, and had gotten used to both the leers and stares, and learning to turn the hopeful ones down in the most appropriate way. “No, I don’t think so. Fine enough assets you’ve got there – don’t think I haven’t noticed – but the mind games don’t make pursuing it worth it.”

Delara leveled him with an unamused stare for a long moment before saying, “If you don’t mind, Duncan...”

“Not really. Gives me something to look at.”

“If you don’t keep your eyes where they belong and your mind on business, there will be something I’ll need to discuss with Miller, and you won’t look good in it, okay?”

Eyes narrowing, he stared back at her, then laced his fingers together in his lap. “Fine.”

“It all goes back to my original statement. You need to trust me if I'm going to be able to help you. You might not need my help right now, but if you know you can come to me when you need me, then my purpose is served. In turn, we all need to help each other. It’s not every man for himself here.”

“I spent my whole life on a team of some sort, Auzenne. I know how the game works.”

“Good. My door is always open, so you can always come back whenever you need me. No, we’re not finished, sit back down, please.” Duncan glared at her, but obediently plunked himself back down. “Now, to the post-op debrief and winding down.”

“Auzenne, really, it didn’t affect me. I was a little stressed, yeah, but I don’t need a shrink telling me that. I'm fine, Miller is fine, everything is fine. Can we move on?”

Pursing her lips, she looked over the remaining questions, but dismissed most of them without a second glance. Duncan wasn’t going to open up, and he was closed off in a way different from almost everyone else. It didn’t really matter, as her ultimate target was Miller, but with him as team lead and reporting directly to Miller as both a fellow operative and, as far as she knew, a sort-of friend, he could be a thread to tug on. For that, a psychological profile was needed, and she had already collected enough professional information for now.

Mostly professional, anyway. Duncan was trying her patience already – yes, she had plenty to spare, but it could wear thin easily enough, leading to a tug of war between her duty and her growing annoyance. She was, after all, only human, and Duncan was pushing just the right buttons.

Not that she would give him the pleasure of admitting that in any way. Ever.

“Alright, let me ask you this,” she said. “More personal this time. What was it that brought you to TF29?”

This time, she caught a glimpse of visible hesitation, immediately snagging her interest. “A lot of things, really, but I was just that good, and they wanted me after the Incident. I also lost three good men to that entire mess. Some part of me wanted to get back at whoever started this, maybe, but it doesn’t matter. I’m here now, and I’m going to do the best job I can. No one is going to stop me or tell me otherwise.”

Joining TF29 – personal? “I see. There’s not much about that in your profile here. Family is career military?”

“To a point, yeah, going back a couple generations. I carry on a proud tradition.”

“No mention of extended, or immediate, family, here. Emergency contact is in... Ireland?”

“Close friend, pretty much like family.”

She studied him a moment. “No immediate family? Siblings, children–”

“Look, Auzenne, unless I’m blind drunk, you’re not getting any of that out of me. No one needs to know the gritty details of my past or present to know I can do a fine enough job. Take it or leave it.” He hesitated, then continued, in a slightly softer tone, “Alright, that might’ve been a bit excessive there. My point stands, though.”

No personal details. “That might come with time, or it might not.”

“Doubt it. Are we finished yet?”

“There’s just one more thing.” Facing him totally, she folded her hands on the desk. “What do you mean by ‘an open Friday night’? That one made me curious.”

The corner of his mouth quirked upward. “Means a night when me and a bunch of the guys go out for a night on the town in the red light district. Irish Stool is quite a hit, and the Red Queen makes for good a good place to unwind. In fact, we should be able to do one this Friday, provided nothing pops up between now and then.”

“Well, tomorrow is Thursday, and I understand they’re usually pretty quiet. I’m sure you’ll have plenty of time to... unwind by then.” A pause, then, “Does Miller go with you?”

He eyed her. “Why?”

“Because he looks like he could really use that time. If he hasn’t been going, maybe you should ask.”

“More shrinky advice?”

“Go with that if you must. I did just talk to him, after all.”

There was a long pause, then he muttered, “Might not be a terrible idea.” Rising from the chair, he stretched a little, then looked carefully at her. “You’re going to stay far away from our Friday nights, yeah?”

“As long as no one asks me along.”

“Won’t have to worry about that. So we’re done here?”

“We’re done. Thanks for coming by, Duncan...” She hesitated, then added, “Even if you didn’t have much choice.”

“Sure,” he muttered. “Let’s hope this is it, yeah?” And with that, a curt nod, and a pointed tug on the hem of his suit, he turned on his heel and left the room.

In his absence, she dropped her face in her hands. What a rollercoaster that had been. While she’d been able to pull out quite a lot of tidbits, none of it was anything that could really help immediately. About the only thing she could hope for was that Miller would be invited on some of these “open Friday nights”, that he would accept one or two at least, and somehow she would end up coming along. The pub atmosphere and enough alcohol could loosen lips and wreck inhibitions like little else, and with the Red Queen right across the street, she might get Miller to herself.

Miller. Jim. Whatever his name ended up being.

Turning back to her terminal, she began plugging her notes into the document, only to find that she really hadn’t pulled as much as she would have hoped out of him.

Then, with her hands still poised over the keyboard, she slowed to a stop.

Maybe Adam and Miller weren't her only options. Adam was her ward and Miller the director of the branch, but Duncan was the team leader for the Counterterrorism department. They were the nerve center of the entire branch. Everything went through them, information included, and ultimately through Duncan, where he filtered what was necessary and decided what Miller actually needed to know about.

Though the thought wasn’t one she enjoyed entertaining, owing to his unpleasant personality, if push came to shove and Miller stonewalled her too long, maybe Duncan was another thread to tug on to get Miller to open up.

She just had to find the right thread, and it would all come apart.

And if she could pit the three against one another somehow, what else could she find out?

Keeping her expression neutral, and trying not to dwell on the final two interviews, she half-focused on her notes and half on what she would be telling DeBeers that evening. Perhaps, at last, she finally had something worthwhile to say.