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Inside Line

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Most of Section Eight's business took place in their own separate office, but they maintained a substantial outpost in Police Plaza in the Council building, disguised as part of Vinyáya's personal offices, to monitor general LEP operations (particularly Retrieval). As Wing Commander, Vinyáya had a very obvious reason to take a direct and personal interest in Recon and Retrieval, the other two-thirds of Surface Operations, and Section Eight took advantage of that. They could have hacked into the Ops booth, but Vinyáya had a perfectly legitimate access code that worked just as well and had the further advantage of not sending Foaly into nervous fits.

Generally, Vinyáya was happy to leave Recon and Retrieval to Root. That was what he was paid for, after all, and Vinyáya had quite enough on her plate already. Wing managed its public business (a gripping mix of flight rosters, shuttleport administration, coordination with Customs, and equipment maintenance) mostly by itself, but that couldn't be said for Wing's other responsibilities as a front for Intelligence, or her Council business, or Section Eight. She didn't need to do Root's job for him too, despite what her agents at Eight thought. Though it would certainly make things simpler.

Vinyáya had never really formalized the working relationship between Root's departments and Section Eight, the idea being that overfamiliarity bred dependence. Eight occasionally swooped in after the fact to take things out of Root's hands when fixing Retrieval's messes, but Vinyáya had never set up any protocol for intervention during a crisis. Missions that required Root's involvement were always coordinated ahead of time through Wing and Intelligence, never Eight itself.

That precedent had seemed well enough when the main concern had been preserving Section Eight's secrecy and making sure Retrieval didn't come to depend on having someone else around to do their job for them. Now they were in a real crisis, and Section Eight had no way of doing anything, even though its expertise was sorely needed now. Wing had no jurisdiction over what was technically still only an internal Recon crisis, either. They'd have to wait until the Council was officially notified, and given Root, who knew when that would be?

It was just as well Section Eight kept such a close eye on what exactly was going on in the Ops Booth, fumed Vinyáya, even if Root and Foaly didn't realize just how far it went. How typical of him to try and handle this one all by himself. If he thought he could handle this kidnapping the same way he handled all the rest of his surface runners, then he was a fool. When was he planning on informing the Council?

"Commander Root has just confirmed Foaly's alert," said Periwinkle Lomers, Section Eight's Head of Operations and Vinyáya's second-in-command there. "And – yes, he's called up Retrieval, with a full tactical and technical complement. And Foaly himself."

They would be taking Wing's shuttles up to the surface. Vinyáya toyed with the idea of commandeering one – no one would deny her jurisdiction if she simply showed up on the scene – before discarding it. For now, at least, she would be better placed to monitor the situation underground, and she should probably save the dramatic entrance for later in case things got worse.

For some reason, Vinyáya was absolutely certain things would get worse.

"Make sure one of our people is piloting Retrieval's shuttle," she ordered briskly. She still wanted eyes on the surface, even if they weren't her own. This was the next best thing.

"Already done, ma'am," said Periwinkle. "Major Feldspar is suited up now, and I've rearranged Wing's duty roster so we can keep an eye on anything else going aboveground."

It was public knowledge that Wing dabbled in Intelligence work on the side, but Vinyáya wasn't sure if anyone – even Root - actually understood what that meant. All of Wing's field staff were capable of performing basic Recon and Retrieval procedures in a pinch (having an extra field-qualified fairy on scene had proven helpful on multiple occasions in the past, even if Root didn't like admitting it), but that wasn't the only type of assistance even the most junior Wing pilot could offer. And Section Eight went far beyond that.

Most of Recon and Retrieval's missions went off successfully, of course, and Wing's pilots were generally able to provide sufficient backup on the rare occasion that it was needed. They knew when to listen to orders, when to ignore them, and when to call home for help, which covered the vast majority of potential situations. Section Eight's agents embedded in Wing were there for the very few instances where the situation was sensitive enough that Vinyáya's involvement was necessary. In this case, things were looking bad enough that sending Feldspar up was justified. (Not that she actually needed to justify her actions to anyone. There were perks to running the Council's top-secret all-powerful spy agency, after all.)

"Keep a line open to him," said Vinyáya. "Whatever's going on up there, we need to know."

"Of course," said Periwinkle, giving no sign as to how difficult running an undetectable, untraceable, jam-resistant open line underground from the field without any fixed equipment actually was. It was effectively impossible when Foaly was right there in the field and it all had to be done right behind the centaur's back. But then again, that was the entire point of sending Feldspar up; Section Eight's trademark was pulling off the effectively impossible. Vinyáya had every confidence that he would do his job and keep them informed underground, as she had every confidence that Eight would successfully contain and resolve the situation if standard procedure failed to. Ideally, Retrieval would do their job, mind-wipes all around, and that would be the end of it, and when they declassified the mission files later (ha! as if), they could all laugh over the redundant paranoia-induced overkill that Feldspar's presence ended up being.

That prospect was sadly looking less and less likely the more Vinyáya thought about it, given what they already knew about Captain Short's kidnappers. Mud Men who knew about the Ritual and were able to resist the mesmer? Things weren't looking good, no matter what angle you took.

"We will bring her home," said Vinyáya half to herself, as if saying it would make it true. "Even if I have to go up there and drag her out of that Mud Man's house myself." And she would; Eight's warlocks had a few things they'd been saving –

"I'll prep your shuttle," said Periwinkle.