|Pinch hit for alibi-factory
||[Apr. 1st, 2012|11:10 am]
Less Running, More Politics: A Gallifrey ficathon
Title: The Tangled Web of Time|
Characters: Narvin, Torvald, original character, and a couple surprises
Prompt(s): Prompt by alibi-factory: Pretend the CIA is a functional organization that’s as manipulative, mysterious, and scary as the writers tell us it is. History is re-written, criminals are Oublietted, bribes are accepted, wires are tapped, Free Time activists suppressed. Can be as gen or sexy as you like.
Notes: Unbeta-ed and horrifically late. I hope it's acceptable.
The changes to the Celestial Intervention Agency, as they always did on Gallifrey, had come gradually, so gradually that most Time Lords hadn’t noticed— but Narvin wasn’t most Time Lords. There was a reason the CIA had recruited him and not the other way round. When its resemblance to the organization he’d joined began to fade, he noticed. He stayed quiet at first, watching, gathering intelligence. He would have loved to be wrong, just this once. But no, corners— and departments— really were being cut. Missions grew less frequent, less risky. Narvin had never thought he’d see the day, but the agency was inexorably falling prey to the very disease it had been created to combat: apathy.
So the seeds had already been sown when he received a mysterious message on his data pad. It said only “the vaults, thirty microspans.” Ever the cautious one (some might call it paranoid) at first Narvin was going to ignore it but his young assistant Torvald happened to be present. Typical of the boy, he read it over his superior’s shoulder, then plucked it from his hands. “Just a moment, we can find out who sent this.”
“I don’t care who sent it, I’m not responding to anyone who can’t be bothered to sign their name.”
Torvald, his fingers flying over the small keyboard, read the screen and paled. “I think you’ll want to answer this one, sir.”
“Why, who—” Narvin said, irritatedly snatching back his data pad, but as he scanned the codes Torvald had come up with, he too frowned.
Like every organization, the CIA had its own legends, and the Moderatrix was their biggest and paradoxically their most mysterious. Most of the time they forgot she even existed, but then an order would come down the pike and they would just know— it had her fingerprints (metaphorical if not literal) all over it. This, though, was unusual enough to really get Narvin’s attention. Sounded as though she wanted to meet him directly, except for the fact that she never did that.
He shook his head and pocketed the data pad. He still had twenty-eight microspans with which to get something done.
* * *
It was a vicious cycle that bred ignorance and fear. No one ever went down to the vaults because no one knew what was down there; no one knew because no one ever went. The shadows of those unlit rocky corridors could have been concealing anything at all— the ghosts of the Pythia, a cache of discarded weapons tech, even a mythological beast. Say, a chimera, or a dragon.
Pity it wasn’t anything so exciting, thought the Moderatrix as she brushed yet another spider from her robes.
The stage had been set for the agent’s arrival, which should be soon. Punctuality was one of Narvin’s many virtues and it was one she appreciated. Tardiness was a close kin to a broken promise and there was no place for such things in the circus she was assembling. She needed efficiency and even more than that, constancy. Admittedly that was asking rather a lot from an organization like the CIA, but she had chosen her marks with the exquisite care of a museum curator.
The vaults were vast but empty, so the slightest disruption to the stillness was immediately apparent. She remained where she was, waiting in the shadows of a side cavern. Even if they’d never been down this far, every agent knew exactly where “the vaults” meant coming from her.
Narvin’s hurried footsteps drew nearer until at last his face, seemingly unaccompanied by a body, faded into view at the cave entrance. He waited for her to say something; he didn’t trust himself to speak without letting slip a sliver of his irritation because that was just not done.
A waxy smile greeted him. “Hello, agent… Narvin, isn’t it?”
“You know that it is, madam,” he answered, boldly refusing to look away. She stared back, and in the dim phosphorescence oozing from the walls her eyes were indistinct silver moons. “Now, if we can hurry this along…”
“Of course. You’re a very busy man. Though I imagine not as busy as you’d like, of late.”
Narvin’s eyes narrowed very slightly, almost invisible in this light, but she noticed. The Moderatrix noticed everything. “What are you saying?”
Her chin tilted downward like an accusatory finger. “Come now, agent Narvin, I shouldn’t have to spell it out for you. The CIA isn’t what it once was. The halcyon days are over. The thing is, I’d like to bring them back.” She as watching him, a sphinx, her face an impassive bust of chiseled wrinkles and elegant, not quite sharp features. He took his time replying, knowing he must select his words with care. Was this a trap? a test? or genuine? Thalia’s bones, how he wanted it to be the latter, but it was for exactly that reason he had to look before he leapt.
“I’ve noticed a certain decrease in activity,” he ventured, and her smile spread, giving her face an impression of elasticity missing from its static default.
“Yes, you will do quite nicely. Seat?” she asked, with a vague gesture drawing into the conversation a pair of chairs behind her.
“I’ll stand, thank you,” he said, his frown conveying his dismay at the thought that this meeting might take so long. She shrugged and took one of them herself, staring up at him with the fierce indifference of a guard dog.
“As you like, but this won’t take long, I only offered it as a courtesy. Now in short, things meed doing and the CIA is no longer attending to them. Would you be interested in fixing this deplorable state of affairs?”
“Spies among spies,” Narvin murmured.
“Hardly a novelty though, is it? But I know you cannot be happy with things as they are… any intelligence you happen to stumble on is pearls before swine. We could put it to better use.” The statement was not framed as a question, but her expression was. She knew she had his interest; her proposed alliance was less of a surety.
Meanwhile, Narvin with his naturally suspicious nature was turning over the facts, the odds, the possibilities. This was precisely the way his own thoughts had been straying. However, his mind was like a fortress and he doubted even the Moderatrix could have penetrated it without his knowledge; and he did know he was right. More likely then this was a genuine offer. She had access to all kinds of information and among all that must be the fact that Narvin would see through such a blatant trap.
Finally he said calmly, “All right. I won’t work at cross-purposes to the coordinator.” That was safe enough territory. “But Gallifrey must be protected.”
“Agreed,” said the Moderatrix, rising from her chair. “I would never ask you to go against your superiors. We’ll just be going… sideways.”
It was only later, long after he was tangled up in the web, that Narvin understood how white a lie this new lateralism was.
* * *
"The mind probe, sir?" Torvald's sharp features were barely contorted by the notion; he was merely inquiring as to the specifications of his orders. The device wasn't outlawed, officially speaking, but Coordinator Vansell had made it clear that (partly due to the influence of a rising young political star) its use would no longer be encouraged. So what Narvin was asking was not impossible, but it did present some logistical problems. "Didn't ours die last time we dug too deeply on that rebellious shobogan?"
Narvin frowned at the memory. That reactionary hadn't been worth half the trouble he'd given them. Still, he had an eternity to consider what he'd done... tried to do. The Time Lord had ensured that even the Matrix couldn’t remember the exact location of his cell. "Yes. We'll just have to seek one out through different channels."
"And by different you mean..."
"Arkadian, yes," Navrin acknowledged with disdain. Mephistopheles Arkadian was despicable and annoying to boot, but he certainly got results even if he did drive a hard bargain. Reluctantly he moved towards the sub-space communicator set into the wall and punched in the codes the criminal had given him on their last meeting, being careful to keep his actions encrypted. They could not afford to have this intercepted by anyone, least of all Presenter Bond, who as head of Public Access Video was perfectly placed to keep an eye on his fellow Gallifreyans. It was why he'd been recruited to the CIA in the first place. However, he was Vansell's man through and through, and a stickler for every rule and regulation. What someone like that thought he might do in the agency was still a mystery to Narvin, but he'd done well for himself... better than Narvin in practical terms, so there was that.
"The mind probe is, as I'm sure you can guess, a painful process," he commented almost casually, to the prisoner who was still perched uncomfortably in a chair in the middle of the room. She sat like a figure constructed of dowels, carefully arranged in straight lines, all angles, a fortress of secrets. Narvin had to admit that she had a certain nobility of bearing, for a human.
She was a fine example of the gradual hybridization of the species that had occurred over the centuries, once they had gotten over their xenophobic tendencies. Her skin was dark, a hue that wasn't often seen on Gallifrey, but not from lack of trying. The looms just didn't seem capable of producing large amounts of melanin consistently even though generations of scientists, the best that the Arcalian chapter had to offer, had been working on it for centuries. Anyway, this rebel leader had come by her skin tone naturally and she wore it well. There was a hint of rust to it as though she'd been left in the rain too long, except that the lustre suggested highly burnished copper. Her eyes were narrow, shapely, and a shade of grey that, while not remarkable in itself, was striking against the backdrop of her face. High cheekbones, a large forehead, and long features rounded out the impression of space; in terms of pioneer, she could have been a personification, worthy of adverts.
However, she had been captured wearing clothes that were less than flattering. Even a shobogan might have thought twice about them. And she hadn't accepted the offers of replacements either, which suggested a fanatic, not simply a mercenary— apparently the budding movement used plenty of those as well, but this woman was not one of them. This had been borne out by her lack of response to interrogation. Ordinary interrogation, anyway. Not many could resist the mind probe, and as often as not, those who tried wound up... broken. Fit for nothing but the wastelands.
A sudden flurry of beeps indicated an incoming message, so Narvin turned back to the screen; the rebel hadn't even seemed to hear him anyway. Arkadian's devious face coalesced onto the screen, greeting the Time Lord with a smile as genuine as a forged painting (of which he knew plenty). "Ah, agent Narvin, my delightful co-conspirator in that little incident—"
"I'd prefer it if we didn't discuss that, actually," Narvin said through gritted teeth.
"Oh, of course. I see you're not alone... in more than one sense. I say, have your tastes changed in mere months, or is that not a rather fetching specimen of wom—"
"This is not a social call," Narvin cut in shortly.
"It's to be all business?" Arkadian asked, sounding disappointed.
"I hope you weren't expecting anything else. Look, Mr Arkadian, we need a mind probe."
"Wore the last one out, did you?" The criminal's eyebrows waggled suggestively. "Naughty, naughty."
"Something like that. How quickly can you arrange for one to be sent here? We need this to be discreet... but then, I think that will suit you as much as it does us."
“You think correctly, agent Narvin. Right, I’ll have to ask around, but I’m sure we can come to some agreement… speaking of, there’s a quid to this quid pro quo.”
“Really? And here I thought you’d do it out of the kindness of your heart,” Narvin drawled.
Without missing a beat Arkadian said, “I have just the thing in mind. Nothing quite so vulgar as mere credits, that’s beneath both of us, I think.”
“Well?” Narvin pressed. Keeping their actions concealed from Vansell was easier the less time they took about it.
“If you can spare him, your man Torvald could be very useful to me.” To his skeptical glance Arkadian responded, “I mostly need a face that’s not known in… certain circles.”
“Ah. Well. If that’s what you want, all right. Just send us a note as soon as you know where and when you want him.”
The object of their deliberations stood just outside the frame, looking less than pleased, but he said nothing until the screen had gone blank. “I don’t like this. Sir,” he added hastily, but it was clear he wasn’t feeling it.
“You don’t have to like it. I’m sorry, but we need a mind probe, and we cannot simply send in a request form given the nature of this particular operation.”
“That’s just it. I don’t like hiding things from the Coordinator.”
The urge to roll his eyes was too much for Narvin to resist. “If you don’t approve of secrets, than what in the name of Rassilon are you doing in the CIA?”
Torvald refused to rise to his superior’s bait. “I’d just rather we brought everyone round to our way of thinking. Surely it would be more productive.”
“It would. And so we are. But this being the agency, it’s anything but straightforward.”
“Damned Prydonians,” muttered the Arcalian into his data pad as he pretended to read its screen.
“I heard that,” said Narvin, but his tone was indulgent, even halfway amused rather than full of fire and brimstone. The statement was superfluous anyway; Torvald had spoken to be heard and they both knew it.
“What about the woman?” he asked without looking up from his device.
“Oh, I’m sure we can find a spare cell for her. Unless she decides to start talking and save us the trouble, we can’t do a thing until Arkadian comes through with his side of the bargain.”
Even when Torvald seized her roughly by the arm and hauled her upright, she remained as silent as a sphinx, carved from stone.
* * *
On general principle Mephistopheles Arkadian could not be relied on for anything, unless it was to be unreliable. However, when he wanted something, he would usually pull through, so with a set of temporary codes to sidle past the transduction barrier and the cover of night (moons notwithstanding) they were soon in possession of a working mind probe.
Narvin oversaw its use on the dissident himself. She might be a mere renegade, and so her loss would neither compromise their operations in any way nor create an unpleasant intergalactic incident; but she would be no use to them if her mind was completely burned away. However, he claimed he was not well-versed in its operation, so he employed the services of a promising young fellow. Johan was an Arcalian like Torvald and would make an acceptable replacement until the agent returned from whatever sordid mission Arkadian had in mind for him.
"The readings?" Narvin asked, glancing at the woman who sat in the machine's seat in exactly the same way she'd occupied the earlier more comfortable chairs. If she was at all disturbed by the mind probe's appearance, its cold clinicality, the octopus of red wires growing from a dome clearly meant to engulf the head, she didn't show a sign of it; and Narvin had been watching.
"Everything is in position, sir," said Johan, his spidery fingers gliding along the settings one final time, his eyes scanning the screens for problems. Given the source, it wouldn't have been surprising if there had been one, or ten; but necessity made the strangest bedfellows.
"Then fire it up." Again he scrutinized her face, but she was just as inscrutable as ever. She knew what the machine meant though. They had taken great pains to explain it to her. Sometimes, when they were lucky, this was enough to convince someone to start talking. They preferred it that way, because when they described excruciating pain, the fact was, they were not exaggerating. However, the woman had been given her chance, and she'd refused to take it, so Narvin felt no compunction about this. Gallifrey's security was compromised by the efforts of this rebel group; although they were still a tiny fragment on a faraway planet that was virtually insignificant in the larger scheme, they were destined to become a problem. Better for everyone if they simply cut the cancerous cells out before they grew into anything dangerous. They could hardly do that without knowledge, though.
Johan's beady rat's eyes also watched the woman. He was barely out of the academy, so this was all new and exciting to him, a sweet whiff of misadventure. Trying not to smile— he had some standards of decorum, after all— he switched the dial to the lowest setting. They would start with the low-hanging fruit, the thoughts floating closest to the surface, and despite the disappointing results so far, perhaps with the actual application she would be convinced to speak.
The screen burned into life, a bright, almost reassuring blue glow illuminating the data. The woman finally stirred, but only to shut her eyes. The observant eye could see that she was tensing against the uncomfortable prickling sensation crawling along the surface of her brain, the epitome of an itch she couldn't hope to scratch. The thoughts scrolling across the screen were disjointed, but Narvin, trained in the art of reading the mind probe's results, could see already that this first round would get them nowhere. There was nothing but inconsequential shrapnel, mostly references to physical needs.
But then, that was exactly the outcome they’d expected. Level one always produced chaff no matter who was under the probe. Anything that was top of mind, just skimming the surface, could almost inevitably be scrapped, even when the subject was being cooperative.
Johan, it seemed, was just as aware of this. "Shall I go up a notch, sir?" When Narvin nodded in reply, he twiddled a dial, then depressed a switch. The hum of machinery grew louder, more strident, and text again began to march onto the screen. There was a subtle change in the woman's facial muscles, but otherwise she was holding up remarkably well considering the pulses of athenium waves digging ever deeper into the crevasses of her mind. Thoughts seemed unsubstantial creatures until their flow was impeded. The probe didn't prevent the subject from thinking— it couldn't, not if you didn't want to do away with their vital signs— but in these lower levels it was a bit like a mental traffic jam. Mostly a nuisance, except that it did hurt.
Painful or not, it still wasn’t giving them what they wanted. Oh, so she was going to play that game? Narvin thought as the screen swarmed with lines of poetry and scraps of multiplication tables. Rote memorization was the first refuge for the person experienced in having his thoughts invaded. Thing was, it worked well enough up to a point, but that point was easily breached with a mind probe.
“Let’s try level five,” Narvin said, his expression stoic. He didn’t like this particularly, but done with caution there was hardly any risk of permanent damage. A fact not so reassuring when he thought back on the exceptions, but still.
Johan’s eyebrows rose in surprise; usually they used a more gradual approach.
“We don’t have time for this,” Narvin snapped. “The whole fabric of time could be endangered and we still don’t even know her name.”
“Oh, that’s easy—” ah, the overconfidence of youth, Narvin noted not without some amusement— “we can just input the proper neural codes and—”
“No, we can’t.”
“No. It would be nice to think it was that simple, but you may have noticed we have a less than cooperative rebel on our hands. She's likely to have at least one if not several worknames, and those will just be the ones with paperwork attached. She'll probably have even more unofficial ones."
Narvin grimaced. "It's a term I picked up from studying files on a conflict that has several similarities with our current situation. It does have a touch of vulgarity, but it is apt."
"But what does it mean?"
"An alias," he explained, reining in his initial urge to snap the boy's head off. It wasn't his fault he was fresh out of the academy. He'd learn or he wouldn't, but only time would tell for sure. "Especially necessary on the more primitive of planets if you're going to do any amount of local interaction. Earth and humans are particularly guilty of it, at least until they start going off-world. Until then they're terribly xenophobic among their own kind; Rassilon forbid you bring up the idea of actual aliens from other planets. You can't imagine the uproar it would cause. So it's always good to have an alternate name close to hand." He was speaking much more than he did usually, but it was for Johan's benefit. He clearly needed the advice, and while Narvin with his limited cache of patience would not have made a good teacher, it also passed the time. The woman remained perfectly still, her features screwed up against the pain, but her lips stayed pressed together. Her breath came in heavy snorts, sounding almost like an engine.
Sighing, Narvin did some mental calculations. Higher than level eight would start injecting an unpleasant element of risk into things, but it was necessary. He was convinced of it. "Level ten, Johan," he said, allowing no room in his tone for argument. Not that the young Arcalian was inclined to offer any. He desperately wanted to join the CIA someday and though he knew that this clandestine action might seem counterproductive, he was a man of vision. He could see where the future of the agency lay and he wanted to be a part of that, not the old guard, on their way out even if they didn't realize it yet. Without hesitation, Johan readjusted the settings and pushed the button.
For the first time, the woman let a sound escape her. Not a loud sound, but a whimper redolent of pain and defeat. She finally spoke, but her voice was so muted, broken, that it took several nanospans for them to realize what they'd heard.
"Sorry, what was that?" asked Narvin with all the sangfroid of a friend asking after a missed snippet of conversation.
"Zorion. I'm from Zorion."
"We already know that," Narvin said, hiding none of his disappointment even as he kept one eye on the screen which was still spitting out data. That was certainly coming up with more than before.
"Sh-shut off the probe..."
"Sorry, can't do that," and he had the grace to actually sound sorry for it. They were finally getting results though, and they couldn't stop merely on the possibility of information that might or might not be true. And since truth serums were a thing out of fiction, lazy fiction at that, this would be far more reliable. As long as they were careful. A thought had occurred to Narvin, and it was predicated on the human still having a mind after all this was done. "Almost finished, I promise." What on Gallifrey was he doing anyway, literally providing comfort to the enemy? Still, he really wouldn't wish the mind probe on his worst enemy, so there was that.
Instead he read from the screen. As soon as they had enough intelligence to act from, the very nanosecond, he would switch off the machine. It was of course a gamble, but his luck would be based on scientific principles, so it might just work out the way he wanted it to.
Now that her composure was broken, she seemed to feel freer to react. In some ways this was a relief, because it showed she wasn't impervious, a superhuman if you will; but mostly it was just disturbing, the mewling animal-like but a brutal reminder of what they were doing. Not only was it illegal— there was a reason it was restricted to special cases. It was an unfortunate side effect, but a necessary one.
"Well," he murmured, the sentence fragments already falling into place in his mind as he read. It all fit with what they already knew, which admittedly wasn't much— just enough to be worrisome. "So this planet has a species capable of time travel." If he was interpreting these thoughts correctly, that was putting it mildly. The dominant species on Zorion (until the humans arrived) had been a peaceful lagomorphine race that somehow possessed the secret of time travel naturally; they required no technology to effect their journeys into past or future. Unsurprisingly, once word got out about these creatures, everyone wanted to get their hands, claws, tentacles, etc., etc., on them. They were relatively safe now; the entire planet had been engineered into some kind of zoo, run by the cutthroat capitalist Ka'narans who were more interested in tourism than the species' incredible talents. As long as they remained the Ka'narans' dancing bears (or rather, rabbits) then that was all right. Oh, not for the Zorians, who were little more than slaves; but the web of Time remained intact, and at least they weren't being kidnapped, which even in the name of freedom would surely have been uncomfortable.
But of course it wasn't going to stay that way. The universe was no place for peaceful peoples, not when they possessed such extraordinary abilities. Through some judicious tinkering the engineers of the CIA had peered into the future of this planet. It did not look good. Still, the Coordinator seemed unwilling to take action, so the job fell squarely in the lap of this covert... whatever it was. Even after nearly half a year of operation, its nature remained as nebulous as that day in the vaults. Narvin occasionally heard rumblings, rumors of the Moderatrix's influence, shades of who else might be involved. His experienced eye could usually spot them unless they were very good, which of course many were, by design. They kept to the shadows and pulled the strings from there.
And they’d just found the end of another one. Time to yank it and see if it gave.
The woman was reeling in her seat, discombobulated by the probe’s assault on her mind. In this state, it was worth trying out a few questions. “Your group, what is your mission?”
“How cliche,” Narvin said, knowing full well that the woman’s reticence now was due to the machine. “Freedom from what, exactly?”
“The aliens… offworlders.”
“And how are you planning to achieve this?”
After a long pause, during which the woman’s head lolled onto her chest: “Time travel.”
There they were. “You are going to use the native species to change your own history? How terribly stupid… and very human.”
She was either too offended or too tired to respond. Narvin glanced once more at the screen, then shot at Johan, “Switch it off. Switch it off now.”
The young Time Lord seemed surprised, presumably at the fact that he would care about a mere human, but he obeyed. With a sigh, the machine powered down, echoed by the woman.
Narvin strode closer, arms folded across his chest. “What is your name?”
“We can check that against this data here,” he said, waving a hand in the direction of the mind probe.
“I don’t lie.”
“Well, isn’t that a novelty. An honest spy.”
“Not… a spy,” she said through gritted teeth, though it was difficult to tell whether this was against the pain or the sarcasm.
“Ah yes, you’d prefer the term ‘freedom fighter,’ wouldn’t you?”
Then ignoring her response, he tacked towards Johan and said, “Get me the most precise mind wipe you can find.”
* * *
Scene: The vaults. The Moderatrix is speaking with someone.
“Do you really think this is wise?”
“It’s easier to write history than to rewrite it. Besides, it’s a clever idea, and if he can pull it off, you know what that means.”
“But if not…”
“Then the more conventional, blunter methods will have to be brought in. However, the odds may be long, but you of all people should know that he’s up to the task.”
“I don’t doubt it. There’s just too much that could go wrong.” A pause. “Though I hear you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs.”
“Oh, never mind.”
* * *
In retrospect, they should have been more cautious. Hypnosis, like its close cousin brainwashing, is never foolproof. And from the moment the TARDIS materialized in the wilds of Zorion, Mosholu Lehman was on her own territory with all the advantages that entailed. It was the kind of situation that might have been called a honey trap. Certainly Narvin wound up with sticky fingers, but the term wasn’t entirely accurate. The woman’s pretty grey eyes had nothing to do with it, just Narvin’s overestimation of his own abilities, or his underestimation of hers.
But if Narvin was displeased by the turn of events, that was nothing to how Torvald reacted. Within microspans of his return, he marched straight to Narvin’s office, his eyes infected with a cold fury that nevertheless did nothing to break the surface tension of his face.
“Calm down, Torvald. Pull up a chair, even. You look a bit put out.”
“I am. How could you let this happen?” Torvald’s voice was controlled, but barely, thrumming with danger.
“By ‘this’ I assume you mean the business on Zorion.”
Torvald, meanwhile, was wearing an expression completely at odds with Narvin’s tone. “Assume away, sir.”
“Of course you are. But before you get your robes in a twist—”
“With all due respect—” while showing none at all— “it was the worst piece of incompetence I’ve seen since we lost Borellan to that black hole. Honestly, sir, I expected better of you.”
“I was going to say,” Narvin continued with sangfroid, “before I was so rudely interrupted, that this isn’t quite the obstacle you think it is. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, young Torvald, but we are fortunate enough to have passed all our exams— with varying degrees of success, but for now the important thing is we passed— and so we are Time Lords. And as Time Lords, we are in possession of a lovely conveyance that will take us anywhere in time as well as space.”
“But… we can’t cross timelines.”
“True, I can’t. Or rather, shouldn’t. It would be enormously risky and it’s not high on my list of things to try before I regenerate. But you can.”
“I don’t like this. It’s still risky.”
“Would you prefer to explain to Coordinator Vansell the whole sordid affair, up to and including your role as Arkadian’s errand boy?”
Torvald took a long time answering, but he finally said, “All right. What’s the plan?”
“Listen closely, because as you noted, it will still carry elements of risk. You will have to time your mission precisely, after we split up but before she’s had a chance to do any damage.”
“So I’m to capture her, obviously… but then what?”
Narvin sighed. “How naive are you? It’s a shame and a waste, but we’ll have to oubliette her, of course. Otherwise the whole timeline of this planet would be compromised. Admittedly it wouldn’t have been if not for our own intervention… but there’s no use crying about it now, just so long as we clear it up. And we will clear it up.”
His sharp-bladed tone cut through any residue of doubt. When Gallifrey was at stake, Narvin’s game was both close to the chest and cutthroat.
* * *
Back in the vaults. Like before, but this time, neither of them are alone. Another cryptic message had summoned them to the depths, and because of its origin, they had obeyed without argument. However, when Narvin and Torvald reached the small side-cavern, they found the Moderatrix too had a companion, and to say his identity came as a surprise would be an understatement of planetary proportions.
Coordinator Vansell greeted them with an awkward smile. His inability to quite meet their eyes immediately screamed conspiracy, and Narvin’s first instinct was to just turn around and walk away. But the combined presence of two incredibly powerful Time Lords who were his direct superiors kept him, however reluctantly, rooted to the spot.
“You wanted to see us?” he asked warily. The situation was too vague to offer up his words with a sarcastic bite. It might prove to be unnecessary. (The pessimist in him said this was unlikely and he was inclined to believe it, but you never knew.)
“Yes.” Vansell kept his hands carefully clasped in front of him, as though they might wander off otherwise. “We wanted to commend you for a job well done on Zorion.” When the Moderatrix cleared her throat, he glanced toward her and nodded. “Of course, not with the initial mission, I’m sure we all agree that was botched, but you handled the cleanup beautifully. You both have great promise.”
Narvin felt his patience ebbing quickly, and it reflected in his tone. “And? You didn’t have to invite us down here to tell us that.”
“You never know who might be listening in the Capitol; the walls have ears. Quite literally.”
“Yes, but surely those ears are working for you.”
“Narvin, Narvin… You’ve been in the CIA long enough to know that’s not necessarily true,” Vansell said, rubbing his chin distractedly. “Look, I don’t quite know how to say this—”
“Then just get on with it. Whatever it is, it’s not going to get any easier by delaying the pain.”
The Moderatrix drew something from a pocket of her robes, and Narvin’s hearts sank. Still, he wasn’t going to let them off without a fight. “A mind wipe? Really, coordinator, you disappoint me.”
Vansell began wringing his hands. “It’s not that we don’t trust you— either of you— but the less people who know, the better, and hardly anyone can resist the mind probe, even with extensive training.”
That got their attention. “You think someone might use a mind probe on us?” asked Torvald.
“It is a possibility,” Vansell admitted grimly. “Furthermore, you’ll be well-rewarded for your troubles. Torvald, you’ll be promoted to commander. Narvin, you’ll be put in charge of a section. Say, vortex ops? You’ve clearly demonstrated your competence throughout all this, even despite that unfortunate mishap, and I would be kicking myself from now until next year if I didn’t give you your due.”
“Isn’t that reassuring,” Narvin muttered.
“I’m sorry, but we’re walking a spider-thin thread here. You must have noticed the tectonic plates of politics shifting lately. Things are changing, and the CIA must do its best to change with them—”
“But Gallifrey must also be protected.” So. They were to be sacrificed on the altar of the coordinator’s ambition. Just what he’d always wanted… though the idea of section head did sound rather nice.
“Good, I’m so glad you understand.” Vansell sounded both relieved and proud. “Now, this will hurt, but mercifully you won’t remember that part either.”
As the mind wipe tore through his synapses, in between his screams, Narvin tried to make a mental note to devise a less painful process; but it too was erased. He and Torvald were left with no memory of the affair at all, only a slightly baffling pair of promotions.
That was the neat thing about the mind wipe, like so many of the CIA’s pet gadgets: even mistakes weren’t permanent.