"You, what?" Seven stared, aghast. She was the first of them to speak, but not the only one.
"You can't do that!" Eight blustered, accusingly. He slammed his fist down on the table, and then shook it off, having hit harder then he had planned. "This is a job for life! Tell him Six!"
Six steepled his fingers, and studied Twelve over them. For anyone who cared to look, there was a remarkable similarity between the two men. While Twelve was clearly the elder of the two, Six didn't look that far behind. The angle of their noses, the tilt of their head, even the shape of the face, they could have been brothers. One would expect Six to even have the same bald spot that Twelve proudly bore, if anyone could get Six to take off that damned cowboy hat.
"I'm not so sure," Six replied to the worked-up Eight. "To be sure, it's never been done before."
"No, it's never been done before," Twelve agreed. "Since the council began, every overseer has left feet first. Shot, stabbed, blown up, turned inside out, reduced to a memetic concept that can never die—" He nodded slightly to Nine, who nodded back in recognition. "—and variously reduced to their component atoms. But this whole thing with Site 19 has me thinking. I am an old man. If I die, I will die on my own terms, in my own bed, looking at a picture of my dear wife." He paused, and glanced at his hands.
Two reached over and set her hand on top of his. "It's okay Adam. We all miss her."
"I don't care for your excuses," Five snapped. His finger prodded the table, like he was trying to point at a clause in a contract that didn't exist. "The rules are very clear. Once you have taken the oath, once you have joined the Council, you are in it for the long haul. If you wish to leave, then we will be glad to have someone remove you… permanently."
Five missed the glance that was shared around the table at that, from Six, to Two, to Nine, to Three. Clearly, the glance said, someone is overreacting. He wouldn't have cared if he had noticed. Of course he was overreacting. Someone had to.
"Except I didn't take the oath," Twelve replied, very softly. "I helped create the oath. But I never took it myself. The records will bear me out."
Five stared, open mouthed. He slumped back in his chair, and shook his head.
Seven took up the slack, and stood from her seat. "Be that as it may. You do not get to quit. As one of the few remaining founders—"
"I'm not—" Twelve began.
"You were here when it all began. Original council or not, you're the closest thing we have, and we need you here. We need the knowledge you hold, and we cannot risk you being out on your own, where some other group might try and take you."
"Oh don't worry," Twelve interjected. "I'm not stupid. I'll still have bodyguards. Like an ex-president, I'll still be protected. I've actually spent the last decade or so building myself a small town, up in the mountains where I raised my boys." He carefully did not look at Six. "It's filled with retired agents, and not a few blissfully ignorant scientists. I'm being careful. I can't be anything but."
He took a deep breath, and let it out, eyes rising to find Six. "I had children. I never saw them, because of this job. Some of them grew up to be good people, not because of me. I have grandchildren, I've only seen through pictures. I want to reconnect with my great grandchildren. I want to bounce a baby on my knee in my dotage. I want to be able to see the new millennium on my own terms, not… "
Tears welled in his eyes, and his voice caught in his throat. "I… I want to be able to sleep, not thinking about whether the decision I made that day…" His voice trailed off, and he returned his gaze to his hands.
A voice normally silent spoke. "It's simple enough. We vote. As is proper, yes?" The gathered council nodded silently to the One in charge. "All opposed to Twelve retiring?"
Hands went up. Seven. Five. Eight. Nine. Four. Eight looked expectantly at the others, his glare intensified when they clearly did not move.
"All in favor?"
Six and Two shot up like they were fired out of a cannon, both eager to support their… friend? Nine's hand raised at a more sedate pace.
Eleven wobbled… then shook her head. She wouldn't support, but she wouldn't negate.
Twelve moved to raise his hand, but lowered it again at a glare from One. Clearly, his own vote would not count.
Three shook his head in negation. He had no dog in this fight. Ten was clearly deep in thought, but her hand rose as well. To the shock of all, One's hand rose.
"Five to five," Eight said. "Ties go to the opposing side. You stay."
Twelve sat there, his gaze locked on the table, as if all his broken dream were laid open there.
Until someone coughed behind him. Twelve didn't move, just watched as the eyes around the table both lit up, in the case of his supporters, and squinted almost shut, in the case of his detractors. He didn't need to turn around to know who would be there, with his hand raised.
Adam, Twelve no more, jumped from his chair. He spun around to grasp the hand of the tall lanky man behind him, and pumped it vigorously. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
"You're welcome." Thirteen pried his hand away, and held out a small box to the first ever retired Overseer. "I hope you don't mind, but I got you a watch."