A sack covered Daniel Navarro's head. Not exactly the most elaborate way to keep someone in the dark, but it certainly wasn't the first time his employer had utilized the tactic. At least, he was assuming it was the Foundation behind this. The chair was certainly uncomfortable enough to hint at that possibility.
He could recall sitting in the lounge of Site-19. That had definitely been happening. It had become a habit of his to remain in the lounge for so long that the graveyard shifters started to drift in. The room was empty, last he could recall. And then he was in a seat that was definitely not the armchair he had been previously occupying, with a bag over his head. His head felt slightly woozy, but as far as he could tell he was unharmed.
"The files weren't kidding," said a neutral, distant voice.
Navarro perked up. "Some of them were, they're just not particularly funny."
"It says here you were reassigned to Site-19 for unauthorized actions out on the field earlier this year. For… retrieval of a variety of items from the anomalous items department in 2011, also unauthorized. This, on top of practicing magic in front of unauthorized Foundation personnel some years prior— you just can't seem to keep your head down, can you?"
"Oh, boy, you're pretty high ranked if you know all of that." No response. "Still not everything, but hey, you do what you can. But I don't remember doing anything lately, so I have to ask. Why do I have a bag over my head?"
"You're also handcuffed to the chair."
Navarro lifted his hands and finally felt the tug of metal, heard the click of the chains. Perhaps he was getting too used to this.
"Right. Well. I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage…"
There was a slight pause. "Director Tilda Moose."
This meant he was probably still in Site-19. Hopefully. Did directors actually stay at the Site they held dominion over? "Heh. Really? They go to the trouble of giving someone the cover name 'Moose' and don't even give it to someone with a Canadian accent?"
There was a light thump at the other end of the table. "Moose is my actual surname."
"…Right, sure. Listen, could you get this bag off my head?"
A lighter tapping this time. Navarro listened to Moose drum her fingers for a few seconds before the room filled with the screech of wood on tile. A group of clicks signaled that his hands were free, and then footsteps retreated. Navarro struggled with the knot around his neck for a few seconds, barely getting the bag off as Moose sat down.
The director was tall and her moves were slow, methodical. Navarro had never been particularly good at judging ages, and it was made all the more difficult by the somewhat androgynous features, but she looked somewhere shy of 40.
Navarro eyed her another moment before smiling. "You know, it's pretty rare for me to speak to a director. Does that make this a very good meeting or a very bad meeting?"
"Inherently? Neither. I'm here to make you an offer."
"Oh. One of those meetings. Those are always fun. Okay, let's hear it. How are you going to ruin my life this time?"
"You've been a candidate for a mobile task—"
Her face was completely still, save her mouth when she said, "I didn't finish."
Navarro grabbed the bag and put it back over his head. "And yet I've heard enough. Thanks, but no thanks."
Her voice remained flat. "Which part of your situation implies that declining is an option?"
"The part where you called it an offer."
"And if I rescind that wording?"
"Eh, I've gotten out of worse situations."
"You're in a Foundation facility under who knows how many tons of earth, surrounded by some of its most highly trained personnel. With a bag on your head."
He wiggled his fingers. "But my hands aren't cuffed."
She only gave him a sort of half laugh— a quarter laugh, really, but he took it all the same. "You have no way out, Navarro. At least, not for today. You should at least listen to the rest of this pitch."
Navarro shrugged and took off the bag. "If it'll make you feel better."
"You've been selected to join Sigma-3. Your entire career has basically been a trial run for this."
"And… despite that big file in front of you… I… passed?"
Moose made an expression that was not quite a smile. "Why do you think you have such a long disciplinary record?"
"Is this some kind of trick question?" Navarro asked. When Moose didn't react he hazarded, "Because I sometimes work around the rules?"
"An interesting way to put it. But no, that is not why. If that was the only factor at play, your record would actually be quite short. And your employment terminated."
He propped his elbow up on the table. "With drugs or bullets?"
"Does it matter?" She kept going before he could reply. "The reason you have been allowed to continue working with the Foundation is that someone has been pulling strings."
Navarro leaned his cheek onto his palm. "And that would be you, I take it."
"No. They don't give me those strings to pull."
Navarro didn't believe her, but he let it slide. "Then who?"
"I'm not authorized to tell you that."
"Of course not. And now I'm supposed to ask why?"
"You have an obvious opposition to what have been traditionally considered the core tenants of the Foundation. However…" She paused. "Simply put, those core tenants aren't important anymore."
Navarro felt an eyebrow raise.
"Things are changing within the Foundation. We're learning all too quickly that the anomalous world is just too large for us to continue on the way we have. More and more secret projects are being approved despite the amount of failures. I don't like it, but I can't fight it. They're already holding my arm behind my back as it is. So I need people like you to grease the wheels and ease the transition."
Navarro closed one eye. "You want me to…"
"Continue what you're already doing. But in a more covert, yet more accepting environment. I need you to work with the anomalous communities, and I need you to teach our people how to do it too. This includes proficiency in occult and thaumatological practices previously considered off-limits by the Foundation, as well as—"
"You want me to make a bunch of Foundation guys into wizards."
A strange look crossed her face, something like momentary fright. "Yes, in a way."
"Am I going to be shooting anyone?"
"While we do have paramilitary members, it is not our focus."
Navarro stared at the wall for some time.
"I am not unsympathetic to your position," Moose said. "But you know your loyalties have been… called into question. On more than on occasion. Personally, I'm not going to assume you're disloyal if you refuse to cooperate. Even if we agree to put you back where you were, wipe your memory of this ever occurring — I'll understand. But I'm not the ones who brought you in here with a bag over your head. What do you think they'll think about this? What would you think, if you were them?"
"'Damn that handsome devil and his devil may care attitude! Let's put a bag on his head!'" When Moose didn't react, Navarro slouched into his chair. "Seriously, I am less than popular in certain circles. Vague threats don't mean much anymore."
"Let me contextualize these threats. You can enter the Wanderer's Library," Moose said.
Navarro had to pause at that. "Yeah, and?"
"Without being rerouted into the… into some hell-pit. Or being made into a Librarian. With no special effort. Did you really have no idea what a valuable commodity that makes you?"
"What, there's no one else in the Foundation who can do that?"
"Who aren't already members of Sigma-3? There are three, including you, who we have specifically identified."
"Three people in the entire Foundation, who are not members of Sigma-3."
"There's gotta be more than that," Navarro said.
"There probably are. We can't exactly test that safely. I believe we're missing the point, however. Have you really thought about what you're trying to turn down?"
Navarro sighed. "Last time I was part of a team, pretty much everything involved went very far south. I still get pissed off when I think about it. I can't not associate being in a task force with that. And now you seem to think threats are going to work."
"It worked last time."
"When the Foundation brought me in you actually had a life to take away," Navarro countered. "This ultimatum is cute, but you seem to be missing some key details here. Or you're hoping I am. I can 'agree' to this, go to the Library, and then just fuck off forever. You have two guys—"
"Two people outside of Sigma-3."
"— You are really oddly specific with that wording— that can follow me. And even if they can enter the Library after me, they can't touch me there. So you just lost a valuable commodity by being overbearing assholes."
"That's exactly my point."
Navarro closed his eyes. Stared at the table. Looked at Moose. "What?"
"You're free to think I'm shifting blame on who will fault you for declining this, but consider this. If you do decline this, the one thing whoever is pulling the strings has been aiming for, they have no reason to keep you on. This disciplinary record suddenly goes from necessary evils to irreconcilable differences. The fact that you would continue to do your current job is unimportant. At that point you're just another anomaly. And we both know how the Foundation treats those."
Navarro patted his pockets. He could really do with a cigarette right about now. "You'll understand if I still don't really believe that you're not the one behind this."
She shrugged. "You're free to think whatever you want. The point is that the Foundation just isn't equipped for dealing with these situations, they lack the knowledge and tools. So they strong-arm their way through it and hope for the best. Now they're trying their hand at magic, and we both know you cannot strong-arm that."
Navarro let out a small chuckle. "Yeah, that, uh. Heh. That'll go real well. Okay. Look. I'll work with you, fine."
"I'm not part of Sigma-3."
"Still dunno if I believe that, but sure, them. However! I am not shooting anyone. I am not going to be responsible for securing unwilling anomalies. I will act as a communicator to others through the Library but I am not going hunting for any information on the Library itself — no strengths, no weaknesses, no entry points, no Librarian fingernail clippings, no nothing. I'm not 'retrieving' even one Library book, and I am sure as fuck not trying to bring anyone else into the Library. Okay?"
"Suddenly you think you're able to negotiate."
Navarro grinned. "You strong-arm me, I strong-arm you. Upside of being a valuable commodity. Plus pissing you off is much more preferable to pissing the Library off."
"Regardless," Moose said. "While you don't get to negotiate any of these terms, and this should not be constituted as any form of acquiescence to demands, I can give you assurances that you will not be required to do … anything you just mentioned. Not even indirectly. If we were going to ask you any of that, you would not have been selected for Sigma-3. And no, you're not getting an explanation for that yet. Do you have anything else you need to ask, or do you have an answer for me?"
Navarro shrugged. "What's the worst that could happen?"
Moose started to speak, but Navarro hastily held up a hand. "I can't believe you actually have an answer ready for that. Yes, I'll join the bloody team."
"In that case," Moose said, "welcome aboard Mobile Task Force Sigma-3."
Continued in: Making a Scene »