“Would you care to explain this debacle?” the Gray Company representative asked. The rest of the council table was quiet enough to hear the air conditioning, representatives not daring to look at either man. The agent’s voice was as flat and nondescript as he was.
Travis T. West, Vision Prime and Sovereign Mandate councilor, forced himself to check his fury and hatred. Meeting at night? An amateur’s game to throw me off mine. In an instant, he mastered himself. “I’m not surprised you want to shift the blame for this to the Mandate,” he accused, keeping his tone icy. The Global Complex representatives along the table glanced at each other in almost random fashion. Much to West’s relief, the Broker Elite and Tranquility Sanction representatives were nodding. “I repeatedly warned this body that the Skeptic’s fanaticism would endanger this project, the other Company agents you’ve assigned me have been your most marginal, and the Quadrum presence you insisted on turned Ekaida against me.”
As ever, the Gray’s expression was fixed and robotic, but a single drop of sweat formed on his pale brow. When you make them sweat, the first round is yours. Travis ate a smile, difficult as that was. “Do you really expect this absurd reversal to save you, West? We ‘insisted’ on the Quadrum presence because of your personnel necessities.”
“Necessities I explained at length,” West sighed. “If Gray Company has provided the support I requested, we would not be having this conversation.” The Sovereign shook his head. Not that you had the will to act. With carefully measured reluctance, West continued. “For all your proclamations of competence and effectiveness, in the most important Majestic battle of our time, Gray Company’s fabled mastery was nowhere to be found.”
The Gray agent glared. “This ritual to undo the Schism had its roots in your plan to direct the Broken. You brokered the pact with the Quadrum, you brought the Dragon Queen into this, you went on that comic-opera kidnaping spree.”
West folded his hands and leaned forward. On the attack, always on the attack. “My ‘kidnaping spree’ has three powerful Weavers minimizing the damage to Complex control. My understanding with the Quadrum has prevented a war with a powerful alien regime. And my relationship with Ekaida was a personal one, the ruin of which I am trying not to hold against your Company, in spite of the Quadrum and Skeptic setting her off.”
“The Skeptic is dead,” the Council leader fumed, emotion leaking through the mask at last.
“Murdered by radicals, an unfortunate but inevitable end for so dedicated an operative,” West replied, “but that doesn’t change his role in this debacle, as you so aptly described it.”
“You evil, misogynist bastard,” an agent behind the Gray representative blurted. Travis blinked Martinez? Yes, that’s her name, he noted, Vision filling him in on her record. “The whole world saw the ‘Travesty King’ play the villain, making speeches right out of Privilege 101. Do you really think you can spin your way out of this?”
Travis turned his gaze on the woman, ice into fire. “Your repeated failures with these so-called ‘heroes’ make you the last person qualified to point fingers, Agent Martinez. I attempted to contain the situation in a way that would leave the Global Complex in control, an authority to overcome criminal activity where outlandish vigilantes could not.” He snorted. “And if I had not been sabotaged on almost every level by this body, I would have succeeded.”
He turned his attention back to the nameless Gray Company man, ignoring the reddening Martinez. “For all the problems this situation has caused, there are also great opportunities. The Schism is largely healed, thanks partly to my efforts. We have an understanding with the Quadrum that will allow us to open new fronts against the Alliance, Absolutists, and Vortex. Even my failure as a ‘villain’,” he added, careful to keep his grin small, “ensured that humanity’s first impression of the Majestic was that of many noble heroes against a single corrupt actor. If the Allies are wise, they might even seek peace with us.”
“After your actions,” the Company man said, “the Alliance of Wonder will likely want your head.”
West raised an eyebrow. “If you insist, we can return the captives. Now if you are so unbalanced that you want to endanger the truce with the Quadrum, well, betraying me would mean it wouldn’t be my problem any longer.” He leaned back, forcing his smile away. Check, and mate.
Even past the mirror shades, Travis could see the man’s eye twitch. “The Gray Company’s role is to hide the existence of the Majestic,” he whispered.
“Hm. And now you have no role,” West said, nodding with as much sympathy as he could fake. “Perhaps you should return to the Sovereign Mandate, where you served with distinction for centuries.” West waved in dismissal, smiling as he watched the Brokers and Tranqs rise eagerly. They weren’t any happier with Gray Company dominance than we were. In spite of the previous day’s humiliations, it was satisfying beyond description to watch the mighty Gray Company retreat, tails lodged firmly between legs. The others followed, chatting as they left. Once alone, Travis leaned back, hands clasped behind his head. Still, perhaps Martinez should end up a Quadrum network server. Object lessons will be necessary after that Alliance victory.
The door opened again, and West sprang to his feet. Dologur entered, escorting an elderly man in a white suit, Travis recognizing both instantly. “Father,” he whispered, brisk walk to the old man followed by a hug.
“Oh, stop it, Trav,” the elder West grunted, and Travis relented, chuckling. “Putting Gray Company in its place. Never thought I’d see the day. Thing of beauty, that was.”
“Ha.” Travis shrugged. “I would have loved that even if they hadn’t forced you off the council. Something that should be reversed soon, I think.” He sent a flicker of Vision command to his Anima expert three floors below. Life energy flowed back, and Travis’ father straightened, breath coming more easily, eyes brightening. “How’s the trophy wife working out?”
“Perfect.” The older West coughed, then grinned. “I was pretty good in my day, but the things you can do, well…” Dologur cleared his throat. Mr. West sighed and pointed a thumb at the alien. “You’ve got work, son. We’ll finish catching up later.” Travis nodded, watching his father sit in the chair vacated by the Gray Company representative.
“I did not think you would manage this, I admit,” Dologur said, thumb rubbing at his armor’s collar. Without a helmet, the Quadrum’s blocky, geometric features and slate-gray skin made it impossible for him to pass for human. “It would appear that your Global Complex is capable of serving our Regime’s needs after all.” He strode to the windows and stared out into New York, glittering in the night. “Nevertheless, we have both made powerful enemies. Weaving itself favors them. Your ritual not only failed to destroy the Alliance of Wonder, it has cemented their place among the Broken. The Mother of Monsters wants your head, and possibly mine. Several of the most powerful Majestic in the world intend to see you spend your remaining days in a prison cage. How do you intend to deal with them?”
Travis’ fingers drummed on the table. “It’ll be a challenge, I won’t deny that. We’ll probably have to kill the Weaver and Riftling, let their Prime Blessings go to others. The rest certainly need to die.” His smile returned at last. “Once the Sovereign Mandate’s in charge again, we won’t have to settle for Gray Company’s dregs and political officers. Let’s see how a pack of Halloween refugees deal with the deadliest agents of humanity’s greatest hegemony.” Another flicker of Vision to his Rift expert had her teleport glasses of brandy to both Wests. “To opportunity, profit, and retribution – all served with interest.”