Director Shirley Gillespie was doing her daily rounds, when she noticed something curious.
In a clear, plastic tank, where there was usually an old-fashioned janitor's mop floating in the gentle current, there was instead a hot slice of nothing. This was a problem, since Director Gillespie was not aware of any reason for this mystical mop to be absent.
She pursed her lips slightly. Her entourage knew what that meant.
Security Director Anderson was the first to speak up. "Uhm, I apologise for not informing you sooner, Director. That object has been requisitioned for observation."
Gillespie didn't look at him. "Oh, really? I wasn't aware that I had authorized any such testing."
"You haven't… the orders came from higher-up- need-to-know basis and all."
Gillespie shot him a glare. "Anderson, I expect a better explanation than that. These… whoever they are, come into my site like they own it, and you don't tell me a thing?"
"Well…" interjected her grandson, Ralph Roget, to the relief of everybody else in the room. "Perhaps it's not so bad, Director. Perhaps somebody from Overwatch is taking notice of our work. After all, how else could, uh, our great Security Director not have time to inform you before our rounds?"
Gillespie nodded, and took off down the hall at a brisk pace. "Anderson. Where are the observations being held?"
SITE-77 EUCLID TESTING WING
Director Gillespie made her way to the back row of the observation booth, as quietly and inconspicuously as she and fifteen other people could. They needn't have worried about the interlopers being alerted to their presence. The men up front were completely focused on the testing chamber below.
Director Karlyle was the centerpiece of the group, observing the testing while the others took notes. He was a lanky man, with dark glasses that accentuated his shiny chrome dome. His hands were the only ones in the group that weren't busy. Instead, they were folded behind his back.
For another half-hour, men scribbled down on clipboards, and continued videotaping, and other assorted things you do when documenting anomalous activity. When the lights came on, Karlyle was the first to turn around, and was just as surprised as everybody else to see that they were not alone anymore. He was the only one to know who he was surprised to see, though.
Gillespie matched the dossier description he'd been given. A small, older woman, permed and dressed in a simple white shirt and shorts. Innocuous at first and second glance, she hardly struck the impression of a woman who could control an entire Site. But here she was, surrounded by titanic stone-faced men, and one young man by her side.
"Director Gillespie, I presume?"
Gillespie stood up, holding her purse in both of her hands. "Yes." She moved to the stairs, descending towards the gathering of observers. "You seem to know my name, sir. But I don't think we've had the pleasure of being formally introduced."
Karlyle stuck his hand out at a stiff eighty degree angle. "Director Karlyle Aktus. I apologize for the intrusion, Director, and for the… unannounced arrival. We have had to come on a need-to-know basis, you see, and—"
"I don't need to know?" Gillespie smiled at him. "I see. Whatever you and your boys are doing here must be terribly important."
"Yes, very important. I have heard a lot about your work here, Director." Karlyle tried to do a passable impression of a casual smile.
Gillespie imitated it. "I'm so glad my work is known outside our little domain." She turned around, and motioned towards Dr. Roget. "Ralph, come meet the man from Overwatch!"
"I never sa—" started Karlyle, but he was interrupted by a bounding young man coming within a few inches of him.
Dr. Roget grinned, and stuck out his hand. "Hi. I'm Ralph."
"Charmed…" Karlyle shook his hand, his eyes still on Director Gillespie. "You are… the esteemed Director's grandson, are you not?"
"Yup!" He grinned like a wicked child. "I've heard a lot about you, Doctor!"
Karlyle frowned quietly. "What?"
"Oh, uhm… well, maybe if you met the Director for tea, she can tell you all about it!"
Karlyle broke off the handshake, and folded his hands behind his back. "That would be desirable, if your Director would have me."
Gillespie grinned. Despite the difference in the way the two presented themselves, Aktus saw the family resemblance. "Of course. We can seat you in the tea room as soon as you're ready."
Ralph retreated to her side, and she whispered in his ear. They ascended up the stairs, and their entourage followed. Karlyle watched them both as they went.
Director Gillespie sipped her tea. "It's going to get cold if you just leave it there, Mister Aktus."
"I am well aware," Karlyle said, shifting in his seat. "I am just not fond of burning my tongue."
"An odd aversion to risk, for someone in your line of work," Gillespie said, closing her eyes as she set down her teacup. "Which, is…?"
"That is not something I am at liberty to discuss."
"I see." Gillespie began absentmindedly stirring sugar into her tea. "Now, do you do this mysterious work as part of a larger scheme for our commanders, or do you do it out of the kindness of your heart?"
"We are reactivating old projects. That's all I can say."
"Ones that involve acid? Are you using them for containment, control, or… something else?"
"I did not say any of that." Karlyle frowned, as he picked up his teacup. "I would appreciate it if you did not make assumptions about my work."
"But you won't tell me anything. Conversation is a two-way street. That's something I learned from Ralph. Whenever he was mad, or pouting, I'd talk at him, until he was ready to talk back."
"I would hope you would not be so prying into a young man's life." Karlyle sipped his tea, and found it bitter.
Gillespie smiled at him. "Of course. Enjoying your tea?"
"Yes. Thank you."
Gillespie sipped her tea. "So, since you've come all the way around the world to meet us, I assume you know something about our fair Site-77."
"Sadly, I am ignorant." Karlyle peered into his tea. "Are you going to elaborate for me?"
"Well, perhaps you'd like to return to our former avenue of discussion…"
Before Gillespie could respond, Anderson came in the room, and placed biscuits on the table. Gillespie waited until she heard the door shut before she continued.
"Site-77 has been here, in this lovely Italian country, since before the second World War. I wasn't even aware of the Foundation then. My family and I lived in West Virginia, in Huntington, where my father ran a grocery store."
Karlyle muttered something that sounded like "Fascinating."
"During the war, the Site was bombed, which caused a major containment breach. A lot of people died. Isn't it terrible, how things can cascade like that?"
"What do you mean?" Karlyle asked, as he reached for a biscuit.
"Bombs fall, and because of what we kept here, there was so much terrible bloodshed. An awful thing, when anomalies can run rampant like that."
"Well—" Karlyle started, crumbs popping out of his mouth like shrapnel.
Before he could continue, Gillespie cut him off. "Don't talk with your mouth full."
Annoyed, Karlyle swallowed. "Well, that is only because we lost control. That is the real tragedy. If we had any anomalous countermeasures, to stop the bombers from even getting that close, it would have been another story."
"Does that count as defending the weaponization of anomalous objects?"
"I did not say that."
"But you're not denying it."
Karlyle huffed. "I do not appreciate being badgered like this. You are not being very hospitable, Miss. Gillespie."
"Director, please." Gillespie took a biscuit, and leaned back in her chair. "Don't worry, I'm not here to lecture you about how we learned about that in the good old days. I'm going to tell you that I want to help."
"Beg your pardon?"
"This is my field of interest. Pushing my objects to places nobody would expect. Why do you think I hoard them?"
"Them? Please, take a step back, Director. I am in no position to—"
"Offer me a job? I know. But you must have a lot of pull, to be able to just drop in wherever you please. Maybe you can let the powers that be know that Shirley is ready for another job."
Site-77 Administrative Apartments
As Dr. Roget helped his grandmother pack, he couldn't help himself but to worry about her. "Are you sure you want to leave me in charge? Anderson would be more than happy to take over, I'm sure."
Gillespie smiled at him as she packed her toiletries. "You'll do fine. Anderson isn't half as qualified as you are. Besides, I can't trust him to stand up for everybody like you would."
Ralph smiled. "How long do you think you'll be gone for?"
"I don't know. But you'll be able to keep things together for me while I'm gone, I'm sure."
"Don't worry about things. Are you ready to go?"
Gillespie snapped her suitcase shut. "I am."