'Of course, you won't be seeing Irina again, Ricki.'
George Smiley lives up to his name and lets the corners of his mouth lift, gently and kindly. Understandingly. Ricki Tarr just clenches his fingers. They're sitting across a desk from each other. Smiley's on the powerful end.
'You got your wish, my boy; she's free and safe. But that's as far as it goes, you must know that. You're my man, the Circus's man.' Smiley leans back a little, from concernedly-forward to formally-upright. 'We paid your price, now you have to pay ours.'
The price of service is more service. For a split second, Ricki thinks I should have fucking defected.
'The Yanks have some new gadget or other. Our armed forces are playing nice with each other at the moment and they're cooking up some kind of joint training; hence, the CIA are claiming they have no need to give us the gen on it.'
'And the armed forces are saying the same thing, I suppose?'
'Precisely. Which is why I want you to get a man in there, Smiley. Someone who can pass for military long enough to figure out what they're doing and report back to us. One of your front-line boys. Someone you can trust, George.'
'I have someone in mind. Leave it to me, Minister.'
'Where am I going this time?'
Smiley always seems like he's mildly amused by Ricki, and Ricki doesn't know what to make of it, which is irritating. He's used to knowing what to make of people. It makes an annoying kind of sense then that Smiley would be his boss.
'America.' Smiley watches Ricki for a reaction Ricki doesn't let himself have.
They are supposed to be friends with America, in that special intelligence way. Ricki should ask why he's being sent over there into someone else's back garden, but he won't. He doesn't actually care. These days (now), now that piggish Percy's gone and Jim Prideaux's officially dead and Bill Haydon's really dead (and Ricki's a spy, he knows the difference between the stories, they all do - he doesn't know why anyone bothers trying to keep things hushed up around this place), and now that Ricki really knows in the marrow of his bones that the Circus doesn't care for him, he doesn't care for it, or what he has to do for it. So he doesn't ask why.
'What's my cover?' is what he asks instead.
'A lieutenant in the Royal Marines,' says Smiley. He pushes a manila folder across the desk. 'Tell me, have you heard of this 'Project Somnacin'?'
Ricki hasn't. But it doesn't matter. He can be whoever Smiley wants him to be.
Passing as Lieutenant Eames, Ricki has the same story as pretty much everyone else in the Project, really, American or British. Blah blah, abilities, blah blah, special qualities, blah blah. They're all hand-picked, they're all good men, except for Eames, the mole. Peter Guillam once smacked him in the face because he thought Ricki Tarr was the reason he'd had to spy on his own people. Eames finds that he doesn't care any more about spying on his own people than spying on anyone else. That makes him not a good man, surely.
The first day there, men in white coats ask if Lt Eames has any allergies. They ask him if he has an aversion to needles. They ask him, in question number twenty-three on page five of an 'aptitude test' that involves Rorschach blots, the drawings of M. C. Escher, and paragraphs on childhood experiences (which Eames, obviously, lies through his teeth about), what he dreams of.
And eventually they lie him down on an uncomfortable sort of a chaise longue in a room with a strange suitcase and another man, and show him why.
Eames stretches, and nearly falls out of the hammock he's in, strung between the poles of a washing line in a tiny suburban garden. There's a brown shed at the other end against the chainlink fence, and somewhere close by, a dog is barking. Eames feels like he's woken up from an impromptu nap, but he doesn't know where he is or remember how he got here.
'This place should be familiar to you,' says a voice behind Eames.
Eames disentangles himself from the hammock and turns to face whoever it is that's speaking.
Lieutenant (loo-tenant, because he's American, not leff-tenant, the way Eames is used to saying it) Smith is dressed neatly in civilian clothes, but the chain for his dog-tags peeks out from his collar. Lieutenant Smith had been the other man in the room when the Project white-coat men had started Eames on their procedures. Strange, how Eames can't quite remember what those procedures had been, or how they ended, even when he can remember the rest of it with clarity - that Smith had been there, the way he rolled his sleeves up but made it look so neat you barely noticed it wasn't according to uniform regulations, that one of the men in white coats had had a startling comb-over that was at eye-level a lot of the time as he readied the … the IV ...
'Don't panic, Lieutenant, but please try to remember how you got here,' says Smith, coming towards Eames. He's younger than Eames, slightly taller, a lot slimmer. Pretty, in an overly-polished, American sort of a way. Dimples, visible when he smiles, which he's only half-doing now, brown eyes, long fingers and a particular way of gesturing. His clothes are expensive for civvies, and carefully worn.
The dog keeps barking, and the sunshine starts to dull around them, but Eames is too busy noticing what's in front of him.
Lieutenant Smith is confident, he's done this before; Eames reads it in him. Smith knows what to expect when introducing someone to … whatever this is. But slowly, Eames can see his expression change, see him peer at Eames in inquiry, then in some kind of controlled shock, like he's been taken by surprise but won't let that take him at a disadvantage.
Eames feels similar bewilderment slide over him as his clothes start to feel tighter than they were. He holds up his hand, and it's smooth, olive-brown, the nails are pared back, not bitten. The little finger, the one he broke as a child that never healed right, is straight and will flex like all the others. There's cold metal, a chain around his neck. Slowly, he pulls out the tags, and reads SMITH, A. S., O-, a string of numbers and dashes, USMC …
'I'm dreaming, aren't I,' he says, and wakes up.
Smith, whose first name turns out to be Arthur, tells the white coats what he saw, and then he tells the brass, and then they all ask Eames the same questions over again.
They've never seen anyone like him.
(And later on, Eames worked out that that's because with the raw material they had - army recruits - they were never likely to. The army programme turned out brilliant … well, soldiers. Good architects, good hit-men, and that's all they were looking for, anyway. A new way to invade.)
They send him under again, and now he knows where he's going, what he's doing. He becomes Smith again, becomes the General's orderly, the General himself, a barmaid from the nearest pub, the one the men all go to when they've got the weekend off - becomes anyone they can name for him, anyone he can think of. The ones he gets best are the ones he knows best.
They talk about his aptitudes as if he's not in the room.
Aptitude. Hah. All it gets him is more training.
He sends Smiley a message that evening, disguised as a letter to his imaginary sister, the one who owned the dog in the story he wrote on the aptitude test. He doesn't mention the … shape-shifting, or whatever it is. He just tells Smiley that the Yanks know a way to invade a man's dreams.
Once they've all gone under, one at a time, they start to go under in groups and run military exercises, stupid wargames, like historical reenactments but with real weaponry and real deaths that you can wake up from and play all over again.
Eames is sick of fucking dying every hour. This simulation is straight out of the D-Day histories, and Eames knows how the Yanks pulled it off, and yet for some reason their commanding officer is not following history, or even just logic or intuition. It's like he wants them to sit here and get mown down by German infantry.
Trying to point that out, Eames gets out of this particular scenario with a bullet between his eyes for insubordination.
Captain Seward barely waits until they're all awake before rounding on him.
'I don't give a flying fuck what you think is going to work, Lieutenant Eames - I expect you to do as you're told for once in your goddamn Limey life,' spits the captain, yanking the IV from his arm as he does it and letting it fall to the ground. Easy for him, some lackey will clean that up, most likely whoever's manning the PASIV, and never mind that it's delicate equipment, that it's unsanitary - captains can do what they like.
Eames takes a bit more care easing the needle from the crook of his elbow, because he sees no need to bleed more than he has to, and he and the other men are doing this multiple times a day. Captain Seward has the luxury of only having to go under for demonstrations or simulated ops. Captain Seward is brass, and apparently brass doesn't need the training. Captain Seward, in Eames's opinion, doesn't know his arse from his elbow in terms of dreamshare tactics.
However, Eames knows damn well he can't say that to the man's face. And he still has to obey his godawful orders. 'Yessir,' he says, standing up and coming to attention once his line is coiled and the needle disposed of. 'Sorry, sir.'
'Don't get cocky, Eames. You're not here because we like you.'
Which implies he's here because they need him, doesn't it.
Out the back of the compound, on a smoke break, Eames hears a footstep behind him as he's dragging on a dog-end. 'Want one?' he asks, fumbling the pack out of his pocket before he turns. It's better than 'What?', keeps him in control.
He knows who it's going to be just as he starts to spin on his heel. Or rather, he guesses.
'Yeah,' Smith says, and takes the offered cigarette, produces his own lighter.
They smoke in silence for five minutes. Eames's dog-end burns down to the filter and he drops it before it can burn his fingers.
'That's a neat trick you've got,' says Smith, just as Eames is thinking of walking off.
'Thanks,' says Eames, shrugging.
'Thought of any applications for it?' Smith shoots him a sidelong glance. 'Besides being used as Captain Seward's Trojan Horse?'
Oho, what are you angling for? Eames wonders. That's a leading line if ever he heard one. 'Maybe a couple,' he says, waving his hand vaguely. 'Why, have you?'
Smith shrugs as well. 'This technology's gonna go public sooner or later,' he says. And it's all he says, stubbing the cigarette out before it's finished, shaking out his neck and shoulders from leaning against the wall.
'Is that a fact,' Eames drawls.
Smith grins, dimples at him. 'Better believe it. And I don't plan on being in the military all my life.'
Eames entertains some thoughts that would get him court-martialled if he aired them as Smith walks away - thoughts about the way Smith walks and the way he smiles - and then he shakes himself, mentally and physically. Because he's been down that road before, hasn't he. Irina, remember? That's a losing game if ever there was one.
Then again, losing games are the only ones he ever plays, aren't they?
Eames fucks Lieutenant Arthur Smith in the ops room, on one of the nasty couches, at one in the morning when everyone else has gone home or to the barracks or out on the razzle, and enjoys every second of it.
'Will you just - '
'Hold still,' Arthur orders him, and shoves Eames down with both hands to his shoulders, and adjusts how he's angled. 'Jesus, what are you, a goddamned virgin? Take it down a notch.'
Eames likes the edge of unconsciously-used authority he gets off Arthur, and he wouldn't say anything normally but something tells him he'll be rewarded for the truth here so he makes himself calm down (when really he's panting for it, he's never imagined anything so hot, so tight), and says 'Actually, yeah. Never done this with a bloke before.'
Arthur's expression doesn't soften, but it goes thoughtful instead, and he takes his weight off Eames' shoulders, bracing himself on the wall behind them instead. 'Should have told me that,' he mutters. He lifts himself and settles again, locks his knees on the stained beige upholstery of the couch and lets Eames take things at his own pace.
'Good, yeah?' Arthur breathes in his ear when he starts getting into his stride.
Yeah. Good. Eames clutches at Arthur's hips and lets the way he moves talk for him, because he doesn't want to lie, for once.