Winds of Change
Kerry found herself in a rectangular office, with desks against the walls and old fashioned drapes over the windows above them. There were two men behind one of the desks with big ledgers open in front of them, and her new friend Steve on the phone next to her.
“We can’t.” She answered Steve’s question. “We don’t have anything close to the space, people, systems, all that, to be able to actually manage the contracts.”
“But Ms. Roberts said…”
“Yes, I know what Dar said.” Kerry sighed. “I’m totally with her on getting that board out of there and getting people into position not to mess everything up again but there is just no way for us to take over the service like that.” She snapped her fingers.
“So what do we do?”
Well, that was a good question. Kerry leaned against the desk behind her. “’What are the … wait, why am I asking you that? I wrote the damn contract.” She rubbed the bridge of her nose. “It’s a three year, and it was renewed about eighteen months ago, wasn’t it?”
“Got a penalty clause.” One of the accountants said.
“Yes, it would. But it also has SLA’s in it. Can you pull them?” Kerry said. “And the monitors that prove they were broken?”
Steve scratched his head. “Do we do that?”
“I think they depended on ILS to tell us.” He responded with a grimace. “But really all that doesn’t matter. Bridges said to just make it happen so that’s what we need to do, you know?”
“I know but it’s not that easy. The stuff that’s running your stuff is on pieces of gear that other people’s stuff is running on.”
“That’s not right.” Steve said. “You can’t mix top secret stuff like that.”
“I can if the other stuff is just as top secret.” Kerry said. “There’s an awful lot of government stuff on the ..” She paused and pondered the options. “Okay wait. The government nodes in the area are segregated… “
“We should take over everything. It wasn’t right to have some company doing it.” Steve said. “I told everyone that.”
“That’s it.” Kerry straightened up . “We can’t do it because we don’t have the people.”
“Well, we sure don’t have the people. That’s why we hired ILS.” The accountant said, in a practical tone.
“But you could.” Kerry said. “You could put your own people into all the places where the connections are, and you monitor them.”
Steve’s eyes literally lit up. “Yeah!”
“We don’t have those people.” The accountant repeated. “Where do we get them?”
“You hire the people that are already there.” Kerry’s pale green eyes twinkled, just a little. “The ones that work for ILS. That would be out of a job if you took away the contracts.”
“Ahhhh.” The accountant smiled, thinly. “I see.”
“That way they’re not cutting the contracts to another company you’re insourcing.” Kerry said. “You just terminate the contracts for non performance and conscript the equipment due to national security reasons.”
“You bet..” He paused. “Can we do that?”
“Sure why not?” Kerry smiled. “They all have government security clearances.” She said. “And they know what to do with your stuff.”
One of the other accountants looked up at the words. “Wait, we’re hiring people?”
“That’s a super idea.” Steve said. “Kerry, you are the bomb.”
“Don’t say that.” The other accountant said. “You know they don’t like it.”
The first accountant started shuffling through papers. “We better get someone to rubber stamp a budget then.. let me get the forms.” He shook his head a little and went over to a filing cabinet. “Bridges will sign this, right?”
“Right.” Steve said. “He said whatever it takes.”
The accountant rolled his eyes. “Yeah, that’s what they all say when it involves taxpayer dollars.”
“So now what?” Steve turned to Kerry. “Should we go over to the place where all our stuff is?”
Kerry drew in a breath then released it. “Let’s get all the paperwork in line, then yeah. I’ll go over there with you. I know the people there.” She was hard pressed to know whether to be relieved or apprehensive about it. She knew there were a lot of long timers in the Herndon office.
Loyal people. Competent people who had welcomed her leadership with open arms in very tense times. How would they feel about this?
Would it be a betrayal?
“Should we tell them we’re coming, or just go over there?” Steve asked. “They could screw things up worse if they get pissed off, right?”
Kerry was briefly silent. “We’ll just go.” She said. “I don’t think they’d do anything but there’s no saying ILS won’t.”
Steve clapped her on the shoulder. “Right on.” He said. “Let’s get some coffee. I’m thinking it’s gonna be a long day.”
Dar opened the message on her Handspring, ignoring Jacques’s staring eyes. “Well, crap.” She sighed. “There is not one single solitary person left in IT in the Miami office.” She looked up and across the table. “Mark is there. He said there’s not one person he can give a new set of configs to, to maybe, maybe solve this.”
Bridges was spinning around in his chair and now he stopped. “Tell him to go fix it himself.” He said. “Can he?”
Dar dialed Mark’s number. “Let me talk to him.”
“You’ll get him inside whatever that is, right?” Bridges looked pointedly at Jacques.
“Yes, of course.” Jacques answered instantly. “Dar, is that Mark Polenti?”
Dar nodded. “I spent last night revising your fucking router configs because your brainless idiot called him and begged him for help.”
Bridges chuckled under his breath. “You should have gone into the service, Roberts. You’ve got the mindset for it.”
“I would have ended up court martialed for insubordination before I left basic.” Dar responded crisply. ‘Mark?”
“Yea boss.” Mark said, somewhat indistinctly. “They just brought me a tray of pastalitos. Hang on.” He swallowed. “Okay, so, here’s the deal – ain’t no one for me to give this stuff to. Like, no one.”
“I know. They want you to go in and put them in yourself. You up for that?”
Long silence. “Are you shitting me?”
Dar sighed. “I’m sitting in the briefing room at the white house with White Fang here crouched over me and Jacques with a gun to his head. No. I’m not shitting you. “
Bridges chuckled dryly. “That was my favorite book as a kid.” He said. “That and some Zane Gray Indian stories.”
“They won’t let me in there, boss.” Mark said. “They pulled my creds as fast as I pulled yours.”
“They will if Jacques tells them to.” Dar said. “You willing to do it? It’s up to you.”
There was a long silence, and Dar endured it, keeping her eyes on the table and refusing to meet either men’s.
“I don’t think I should, Dar.” Mark finally said. “I think they’re just looking for a scapegoat, and I’ll end up being sued. I don’t have the bankroll you do to stand up to that.”
Dar nodded. “Okay. I get it.” She said. “Leave the files in an envelope with security.”
“Hey!” Bridges sat up. “What?”’
“Wait.. I said I would get them to let him do this!” Jacques said, at the same time.
“Shh.” Dar held up a hand. “Hear that Mark? Make sure you write on it what the contents are.”
“Will do.” Mark sounded profoundly relieved. “I’m gonna head back to the office. Call me if you need me for anything but this.”
“You got it.” Dar hung up and looked at Jacques. “He won’t do it, and I won’t make him.” She said. “He’s afraid, with good reason, that you’ll turn around and sue him.”
“Dar!” Jacques threw up his hands. “Please!”
“You have no trust.” Dar said. “I am not going to stand proxy for you and tell him you won’t do that because you know what, Jacques? I don’t know you won’t.”
“Jackassses.” Bridges rolled his eyes. “You people make me nuts.”
“Yes, sometimes I am and do.” Dar agreed. “But that man on the phone trusts me. That means more to me than your contracts, or threats, or your little padded green room.” She exhaled, and rested her elbows on the table. “So if he won’t do it then I guess I’ll have to.”
“What?” Jacques put his hands on the table. “Now this???”
Dar pushed herself to her feet, just as Kerry pushed the door open and stuck her head inside. “Hey.” She greeted her partner.
“Hey.” Kerry said. “I need to go to Herndon. I’m going to have the government hire all those people and take over the systems.”
Even Bridges blinked. “Hey what?”
“You said to solve it.” Kerry eyed him. “Careful what you ask for.”
“Good, because I have to go there too, so I can fix the damn thing so when the government takes it over it works” Dar said. “Did you say there was a Wendy’s around here?”
“Great. I need a cheeseburger.”
“Wait.” Jacques stood up. “You cannot just do this.”
“Sure they can.” Bridges apparently decided to roll with it. “I like that, Stuart. So we’re buying out the contracts and bringing it in house? Security group’ll be very very pleased. Intelligence jackass committee will too.”
“Taxpayer’s won’t.” Kerry said, in a droll tone.
Bridges smiled. “Oh, they will.” He said. “When George finishes telling them how much safer they’ll be. Good press for him.” He got up. “Get going, people. I’ll tell him you’ll be back later to show him your new whoo hah.”
“I think I should…” Jacques stood up.
“No you shouldn’t.” Bridges turned serious. “Sit your ass down and don’t move. In fact, give me that cell phone.” He held out his hand. “I don’t trust you either.”
Kerry had it in her to feel sorry for Jacques, in that moment. She could read desperation, and fear and an overwhelming anxiety in his face, and she knew here was a man in a very bad spot who hadn’t either expected or prepared for that.
But then in the next moment, she remembered that he, and his henchman had been here trying to throw them under the federal bus, and she didn’t feel sorry for him at all. “C’mon Dar.” She held a hand out to her partner. “Let’s go make things right. “
Dar handed a piece of cardboard to Bridges. “Call this guy.” She said. “Tell him to take over ILS. Tell him what we’re doing. If anyone can pull their corporate head out of their corporate ass, it’s him. And tell him to call Hamilton the lawyer, who’s got a whole crapload of investors ready to back him.”
Bridges took it. “Will do, Roberts. Now go get this crap done. I’ve got a headache from all the bitching and I don’t want to hear it anymore.” He waved them out. “Take Steve with you, he’s got credentials and shiny badges and things that’ll keep you out of trouble.”
Dar was glad enough to escape the room and she willingly followed Kerry to where Steve and two Federal Marshals were waiting. “Okay.. oh crap I need my laptop.” She turned and started back down towards the briefing room. “Be right back.”
“I could have..” Steve started after her.
“Bssspp.” Kerry pulled him to a halt. “Let her go.” She said. “She’s going with us to try and fix what’s wrong.”
“Oh.. really? Will we have to do all this then?” Steve said. “I really want to do it anyway. No offense to you, since you used to be in charge of all that, but I don’t trust private companies when it comes to this stuff.”
Kerry folded her arms. “I understand what you mean, but honestly? Before this last truly Technicolor clusterfuck ILS was very good at what it did and kept the government on the top list of it’s priorities.”
“Mm… if you say so.” Steve said, in a dubious tone.
“I say so, since it was my job to make it that way.” Kerry responded with more than a slight edge to her tone. “And I don’t appreciate being accused of incompetence while I’m on my way to save your ass.”
He lifted his hands and took a step back. “Okay okay! Sorry!”
“And don’t bring that attitude with you to Herndon.” Kerry warned. “What happened here, wasn’t their fault. The idiot you had in that room did it.. or at least was responsible for it.”
“Okay, I get it. I’ll shut up.” Steve relented. “Let’s go meet her coming back. The car’s outside that middle door anyway.” He pointed. “C’mon, guys.”
They walked down the hall and had almost reached the door when Dar came around the corner of the hallway and headed back towards them, her messenger bag slung over her shoulder. She had her Handspring in one hand typing on it and was dodging people in the hall by some sort of nerdic radar.
Kerry pulled out her own as she felt it buzz and glanced at it, then hit the answer button. “Hey Maria.” She took a step back and half turned away from Steve and his goons. “What’s up?”
“Have you finished the demonstration to the government ? I was just hoping it went so well, and also, that you and Dar have enjoyed the hotel.”
“Where do I start?” Kerry sighed. “Let me get back to you Maria. I think the demo went fine but everything else just went to Hell.”
“Ay yi yi.”
It was a long ride, and traffic was atrocious. “Last time we went here, no one was on the road.” Kerry commented as she studied the buildings going past.
“Yeah, people got back to normal. Whatever that is.” Steve agreed.
Dar remained silent, as she was wedged against the other window, her sunglasses on and her eyes closed behind them.
Kerry suspected her partner was asleep, and she spared a moment of affectionate envy for her ability to shut out the world that way. Her own eyes felt tired and sore, and she was looking forward to the day being over in the worst way.
Maybe this, maybe now, they’d get some closure.
“So, we’re going to hire everyone, and all that, and then she’s going to fix stuff, right?” Steve asked, after being quiet for a long time.
“We’ll probably have to play that a little by ear.” Kerry admitted. “I don’t really know how they’re all going to react to us showing up like this. Everythings been pretty chaotic.. matter of fact, I hope they let us in.”
“They’ll let us in.” Steve said, confidently. “Nobody says no to the GAO and Federal marshals. Really.”
No, that probably was true, and as they drove down the long, tree lined street that would end at the Herndon facility, Kerry suddenly wondered if this mixture of anticipation and dread was what Dar had felt when she’d been the one to go in and give the news of never wanted change.
She remembered suddenly, vividly, being that person in that place and looking up and facing that change, all unaware of how much more personal it would be for her than she’d ever anticipated.
They slowed to turn in at the gate, and Kerry reached over to gently touch Dar’s leg, watching her profile as Dar’s eyes opened and turned her way. “We’re here.”
“So I see.” Dar flexed her hands and straightened up, leaning against the armrest and looking out the window. “Wonder how this is going to go?”
Steve had rolled down his window and was talking to the guard, handing out his business card and indicating the back of the stretch sedan they were riding in. The two federal marshals were in the back of the car, and they were hanging their credentials around their necks and checking their side arms.
The guard at the gate bent down and looked in the window and his eyes met Dar’s and the look of relief on his face made her feel sad. She lifted a hand and waved and he backed away and gestured the way forward, pulling the gate aside rapidly.
“Think he recognized you, hon.” Kerry said, quietly.
“Yeah.” Dar pushed her sunglasses up on her nose and folded her arms.
“That was easy” Steve said, glancing behind him. “Just mentioned your name.”
Dar exhaled, and got her messenger bag strap over her shoulder as they pulled up in front of the building and she opened the door and got out, stepping back to let Kerry slide out after her.
They walked to the door and pushed it open, coming into the public entrance where two people were at the desk, already straightening up as they entered.
The receptionist let out a gasp of recognition and her eyes widened. “Oh my gosh!”
After a hesitant moment, Kerry took charge. “Hi Stacy.” She walked forward and held her hand out. “Wish this was under better circumstances.” She took a breath. “Can you ask Paul to come out here please? We need to speak with him.”
“Yes ma’am, right away.” Stacy turned to the other woman standing there. “Go get Paul – he’s in the break room. Hurry!”
The girl looked confused, but left, badging through the door and disappearing.
“I know he’ll be glad to see you.” Stacy said. “It’s been horrific here this week. A dozen people walked out… it was just too much. All those screaming phone calls.”
“Yeah, I know it’s been tough.” Kerry said, quietly. “Shouldn’t have fallen on you all though. Nothing of this was your fault.”
“That’s just it. “ The woman said. “It wasn’t the customers yelling.. .you know, that’s part of the job. It was those people who took over from you. They were so nasty.”
Dar removed her sunglasses and tucked them into her bag. “So I heard.”
Stacy looked from one of them to the other. “So did you come back?” She asked, hopefully. “We heard they fired that one guy, and we haven’t heard from that man that replaced you, Ms. Roberts, now for a while.”
Dar was spared from answering by the door abruptly opening to reveal a harassed looking man in chinos and a long sleeved buttoned shirt. “Hello Paul.”
He stared at them “Oh lord it is you.” He looked about to collapse. “Whats happening?”
Kerry moved towards him. “Let’s go into the conference room, Paul. We’ll explain what’s going on.” She saw the apprehension come into his face and internally winced, remembering what that felt like.
He came around the desk though, and preceeded them into the public conference room, taking a seat at the table as the rest of them entered, and Dar closed the door behind them.
Kerry went over and sat down next to him. “So, okay, I know things are rough right now.”
Steve sat down across from them, and the two accountants they had brought also took a seat to either side. The two marshals went to opposite corners of the room and stood there, not quite at attention.
Dar dropped into the seat at the head of the table, content to let Kerry handle the meeting.
“Rough.” Paul sighed. “Yeah.” He rested his hands on the table. “So what’s going to happen now? We all getting fired?” He looked at her. “Are you guys back with us or what?”
“No.” Kerry said. “Here’s the deal. We know something got horribly screwed up. That affected a lot of customers.”
Paul nodded. “All of them have been chewing my ass for days.” He said. “I ran out of things to say to them and when I called exec ops, all they told me was to shut up.”
Dar made a low, grunting sound.
Paul glanced her way. “They told me it was my job to handle the customers.” He said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Kerry exhaled. “Well, one of the customers was the government as you well know.” She said. “To make a long story short and get this on the table, the government ordered the general accounting office, which these gentlemen represent.. “She indicated Steve and the others. “To terminate the contracts and take control of the systems.”
Paul thought about that for a minute. “I guess I can’t blame them for that reaction.” He said, glumly. “They bringing in a team? I’m too tired to even feel bad about it. I guess I’ll get my deferred vacation now anyway.”
Kerry rested her head on her hand. “I’ve got some bad news, and some good news. Which do you want first?” She didn’t wait for him to answer. “They have no team to take over, Paul. What they do here is very specialized, and it would take months to replace the people.”
He eyed her warily, but remained silent.
“So what I told the government was, they should just hire all of you, and let you keep doing what you’re doing.”
“But what we’re doing isn’t the screwed up part!” Paul burst out. “Ms. Stuart, it doesn’t mean anything who ‘s in here, it’s the whole system!”
Kerry was nodded. “We know. That’s why Dar’s here.”
Paul swung around to face the figure at the head of the table. “They’re going to let you make this right?” He asked. “Because we were told under no circumstances to even talk to you.”
“ They have no choice.” Kerry said. “The government stepped in. They asked us to help get this straightened out.”
Dar cleared her throat. “It’s not a matter of them letting me do anything, it’s a matter of you letting me. “
“Pohsh.” Paul made a spluttering noise and stood up. “Let’s go.” He said. “We can talk about becoming civil servants later. If you can make this right we’re wasting time here.”
He headed for the door as Dar stood up and followed him, and a moment later the rest of them did as well. They crossed the lobby and Paul slid his badge into the reader, hauling the door open as it clicked and standing back. “After you, ma’am’s.”
“Paul..” The receptionist had stood up. “Don’t they need to sign in?”
“No.” Paul waited and followed the last of the marshals. “Fuck it. There are no rules today.”
It was strange and somewhat uncomfortable to enter the ops room, where tired frustrated people were clustered around one of the consoles, arguing.
“Just do it, Bill! What the hell are they going to do, fire you?” Someone was urging the man at the keyboard, only belatedly looking up as the door opened then closed. “Oh shit..”
Everyone swung around to see what he was looking at and then everything went still and quiet for a long minute.
“Hi.” Kerry broke the silence, with wry irony. “Everyone want to sit down and chill out for a minute?”
Slowly, the group dispersed and went back to their stations. “Someone clear space on the government side please.” Paul said. “Our clients took matters into their own hands it seems and sent some help.”
Bill stood up and stepped back “My station here’s on net.” He said. “Boy they sure knew who to call, huh?”
Dar walked around the marshals and went to the console, setting her bag down and regarding both the console and it’s operator. ‘Hi Bill.”
“Hello, ma’am.” He answered quietly. “I’m really sorry about everything.”
“Me too.” Dar responded. “So here’s the thing. You have two choices. If you’re a level 15 and above, you can create me a login to make some changes, or I can use yours. Pick.”
Bill smiled briefly. “You can use mine, ma’am. No problem.” He hesitated. “Is it okay if I watch you?”
Dar sat down. “Sure. Pull a chair over.” She regarded the green and black screen. “What were you about to do that they were yelling about?”
He cleared his throat nervously and pulled another chair over. “Well…”
Kerry went over to the supervisor’s desk and motioned Paul over. “Steve, why not have your folks sit down. This will probably take a while.”
The two marshals found convenient corners to stand in, and the rest of them sat down at the round conference table in one corner. Kerry waited for them to get settled then she turned back to Paul. “So.”
He had sat down behind the desk and let his elbows rest on his knees. “How did this happen?” He asked softly. “How did it get so bad so fast?”
Kerry leaned against the desk, her back to the room, and her arms folded over her chest. “Good question. I hope you know this wasn’t anything Dar and I wanted.”
He shook his head. “They told us she did something.” He glanced up at the console, where Dar and Bill had their heads together in low conversation. “We didn’t believe it. No one here did, anyhow and then we heard about all those people leaving… it was like 9/11 all over again but this time we failed.”
“Yeah, I know.” Kerry said. “It was hard for us to believe, with everything going on. But I think maybe things will turn around now. I hope so. We want to move on.”
“I guess we all will end up doing that too.” Paul said, after a pause. “I thought I was going to retire with them. You know?”
Kerry sighed. “I think Dar did too, at one point.” She glanced around. “Any chance of some coffee? I’d like a chance to go over the options with you without an audience.”
Paul managed a smile. “Sure.” He pushed himself to his feet with an obvious effort. “Let me get our ops team in there too. Might as well save your voice and not say it more than once.” He motioned her to follow and went to an inside door she remembered leading to the ops center breakroom.
Might as well get it over with.
“Okay.” Dar studied the screen. “That wouldn’t have done anything but it wouldn’t have hurt anything either. “ She opened up her laptop and waited for the screen to come on, then clicked on the folder she’d put the files she’d worked on in. “So let me show you what they did.”
Instantly, she felt motion at her back and she glanced around to find most of the operators out of their chairs and leaning over their workspaces to watch. “C’mon over here. Maybe if I let you all in on what happened it won’t happen again.”
Thus invited the entire team came trotting over, making a solid circle at her back. “We knew they did something.” One of them said. “They said it was you, Ms. Roberts, but I’ve been working here for ten years and I know what your stuff looks like.” He was shaking his head. “Your changes are scary sometimes but they work.”
Dar suppressed a smile. “Thanks.” She said. “I think.”
“So what did they do?” Bill asked. “We were going along like normal that one day then all of a sudden it all just gummed up.”
Dar brought up the configuration of their local router, and the file on the screen that mirrored it. “This.” She touched one line with her index finger and drew it down the screen. “The idiot who did this didn’t have any understanding of situational routing.”
“Is that … what is that?” Bill asked. “Is that how all the traffic knows how to go?”
“Yes.” Dar indicated the file on her screen. “You see all this? That’s the configuration that used to be in this router that would tell it how to know where to send things, and would flexibly reroute if it saw congestion or an issue.”
“That’s custom scripting.” One of the other operators said, folding his arms.
“Yes.” Dar repeated. “I wrote it.”
“But.. that’s actually calling the firmware.” The man said.
Dar nodded. “We worked in conjunction with the firmware vendor to make it work that way.” She glanced past him. “It’s in the architecture workbook.”
“They took that offline.” Bill said. “Same time as the repository. They said it was for security.”
“So, all we have to do is put that all back in and it’ll start working again?” The first tech said. “It’s just typing? Holy crap Ms. Roberts, we can type. Give each of us one of those and we’ll get this knocked out and we can go get a damn beer with a clean conscience and I’m buying your first one.”
Dar smiled, just a little. “That’s all. I rewrote these last night.” She rubbed the bridge of her nose. “We tried to give them back to the stupid bastard who did this but they fired him before we could give them over.”
“Someone grab some thumb drives! “ Bill turned around and yelled out. “Hurry!”
Kerry had sat at many tables like this one, facing many faces like these and she understood the heavy sense of fear and dismay in the room. “I know it’s crazy.”
“No, well..” Charlese Harrington lifted one hand up. “Look, Kerry, I know you got dragged into this. But it IS crazy. Someone somewhere else make a huge screw up, and we have to pay the price?”
Kerry sighed. “That does happen.” She said. “None of this was anyone here’s fault, but the fact is, it impacted some people who aren’t very forgiving – what was worse, they weren’t being given good information.”
“That’s not our fault.” Paul said. “We weren’t getting ANY information from exec ops. Just bullshit. All they kept doing was either blaming you, or telling us to suck it up.”
“And, like don’t’ even mention Ms. Robert’s name.” Charlese added. “They sent an email out that said they were fixing years of screw-ups and we’d just have to sit tight until they were done. Figure out something to tell the customers.”
“And what’s happening now? I know they let you all in here.” Paul said. “But I know that broke security regs, and we should be getting a call from the PTB any minute screaming.”
“You won’t.” Kerry said. “Jacques is under guard at the white house, and they put Dar’s replacement into a holding cell.”
Silence. “Whhhwhat?” Paul stuttered. “Are you kidding me?”
“I’m telling you they screwed around with the wrong customers.” Kerry said. “The president’s advisor is the one who sent us over here. Dar and I were there demonstrating a new project for them. We didn’t intend on any of this. I just.. “ She glanced around. “They wanted us to take over this contract.”
The reaction surprised her. Everyone sat up and their eyes brightened. “That means we’d work for you?” Paul asked. “Hot damn.”
“Guys.” Kerry sighed. “Thank you, that’s a big compliment, but the company Dar and I started can’t handle this.” She said. “At least, not yet. We’re fifty.. no.. wait. Seventy people in Coconut Grove doing database design.”
“Who are at the White House demonstrating programs for the president.” Charlese eyed her. “I saw that picture of Ms. Roberts and Dubya.”
“But still, we’re small.” Kerry said. “ILS is a quarter of a million people. It’s not our scale for this. So when they started talking like that, like maybe they’d bring in a squad of marines in here, I thought a better route would be to get them to hire you all, and let you keep doing what you do.”
“Weren’t you the one fending them off from us the last time? The government, I mean?” Charlese asked. “I don’t mean to be rude.”
“Situations change.” Kerry said, evenly. “If you’d rather not accept the offer, that’s okay too. My aim was to get a working solution in place for as many people as I could.”
“If Ms. Roberts fixes that stuff, can’t we just go back to being normal?” Paul asked, plaintively. “I mean, it’ll work again and everyone will stop yelling at us.”
“I don’t think they’ll let that happen.” Kerry said, then paused as the receptionist opened the door and stuck her head in. “But hell. You never know. I’ve seen stranger things.”
“Oh, good. Ms. Stuart, there’s a phone call for you. They say it’s urgent.”
Everyone looked at Kerry, who stood up and sighed. “And I’m not supposed to be here, and I don’t work here anymore. What the hell.” She went to the door and followed the woman out, shaking her head as she heard voices raise up in agitation behind her.
“Okay go ahead.” Dar folded her arms and watched as the techs got to work, eyes flicking from the notepad files to their consoles as they confidently typed in commands.
It was insane, really. The level of change control they were violating would have dropped internal audit at two paces, and there was no doubt that all the concurrent changes would be skewing already faltering services across the wide network.
Couldn’t be helped. Dar flexed her hands, resisting the urge to take over one of the consoles to make the work go faster. It was right, she acknowledged that the techs be the ones to do this, and not her. She had no business touching a keyboard.
“Wow.” One of the supervisors was watching the big board that showed mostly reds and yellowed flashing luridly overhead. “I don’t think that’s making things better.”
“No, it won’t. Until they’re finished.” Dar agreed. “Classic case of busting eggs to make pancakes.”
“Isn’t that omelettes?” The man glanced at her.
“I like pancakes better.”
“Well, I’d call ops but there’s no one there but this one guy that’s just answering the phone and taking messages.” The man said. “I heard they got some temp company to send some people in but that won’t happen until tomorrow I think.”
Dar just folded her arms and leaned against one of the consoles.
“There goes my phone.” The supervisor said, mournfully.
“Want me to answer it?” Dar asked, with a wry smile. “That’ll confuse everyone.” She pushed off from the console and went to the desk, settling behind it and picking up the receiver. “ILS Mid Atlantic ops. How can I help you?”
She listened for a moment. “Yes, matter of fact I do know. There’s a recovery operation going on to try and restore performance to the network. Your service will be down until that’s finished.”
She listened again. “I understand. But when it’s done, you’ll have the same service level as you did several weeks ago before the problem started. “ She glanced up to find everyone not typing watching her in fascination. “About twenty minutes.”
“Can you tell them that?” The supervisor mouthed. “Holy cow they’d fire me for saying that!”
“Who’d fire you?” Dar mouthed back. “Me? No I wouldn’t. There’s no one left to fire you and the government’s going to hire you anyway. Chill out.”
She went back to the phone. “Absolutely I’m sure the service is going to get a lot better. I promise you that.” She paused. “Roberts. First name’s Paladar. Yep, with a P. Thanks. Goodbye.” She put the receiver down, then punched the button and picked it up again. “ILS Mid Atlantic ops, how can I help you?”
“Someone should record this.” The supervisor said, with a sigh. “No one’s gonna believe it.”
Kerry was standing at the receptionists counter, leaning against it with the phone pressed to her ear. “Alastair you’re not making any sense.” She repeated. “Listen, I realize that was probably a shock getting the phone call but…”
She paused to listen. “What were we supposed to do?” Her eyes lifted and met the receptionists, and she shook her head. “Okay, put yourself in my place. You’re in the white house, you have the senate intelligence committee breathing down your neck, Bridges hauling you into a room with Jacques and that jacktard and telling you to fix it. What do you do?”
She paused. “No, I’ll tell you what you would do, god damn it, you would have picked up the phone and called Dar.”
“Don’t listen Kerry me. That’s exactly what you would have done and so we just shortened the process. So now Dar’s in there doing what we all agreed was the last thing on earth she should do because we ran out of god damned options.”
She heard the sound of tires outside and looked up and through the door. “Oh great. Here’s CNN.” She sighed. “Well, I can’t help it that those jerks you just tossed on their ass decided to go public.” She rubbed her temple. “So now we have the press here rabid about some story that is just bullshit.”
“Should I let them in, ma’am?” The receptionist eyed the gathering crowd outside the door.
“Not yet.” Kerry said. “Alastair, what is it you would like me to tell the national press? You want me to refer them to you?” She listened. “That’s not my place to tell them. In fact, you can’t even tell me to tell them that because I don’t work for you anymore.”
“There’s another news truck out there, ma’am?”
“Jesus.” Kerry covered her eyes. “Alastair, you need to put out a press release. Is Hamilton there? He’s on his way. Okay, well I’m sure the PR people didn’t quit so you should have plenty of them there to write a press release explaining you’ve replaced the board.”
“Is that Alastair McLean?” The receptionist whispered. “Is he back in charge of things?”
Kerry nodded. “Against his will.” She whispered back. “He’s not really happy about it. I volunteered him.”
She listened again. “Well.” She exhaled “I can’t do that. I know things are moving too fast, and I kno… what?” She paused. “Okay so they’ll file lawsuits, big news there but..” She paused again. “Oh hell, Alastair. It’s too late. We’ re here. Dar’s changes are already going in.”
Kerry shot a quick glance at the door. “Alastair, we’re out of time. You need to deal with the press. I need to get Dar out of here before they make an honest to god Federal case out of this. Get off your ass and call CNN. I”ll try to get things normalized here.” She hung the phone up and circled the desk. “Holy crap.”
“Ma’am, you have brass ones.” The receptionist said, in an awed tone.
Kerry stopped at the door and turned. “They already fired me. What exactly do you think he’s going to do? Stall the press as long as you can.” She yanked the door open, resetting the bolt so it would shut after her and headed down the corridor.
“Yes. Ma’am.” The woman turned and put her hands on her desk as the door opened and a cavalcade of press and cameras and overcoated handsome men and women stumbled inside. “Hi.” She said. “Welcome to ILS Mid Atlantic. What can I do for you?”
Kerry got to the door to the operations room and peered through it, seeing techs very busy at their desks, and her partner seated at the supervisor’s raised platform on the phone. One of the supervisors was perched on the edge of the desk listening, the other was on the far side of the room, watching the monitor board.
She could see the board, and it was looking ugly. “Ugh.” Kerry knocked on the glass, attracting the attention of the supervisor near the desk. He hopped up to come open the door, and Dar looked up as well, meeting her eyes.
Kerry smiled briefly as those blue orbs rolled expressively. She pushed the door open as the lock clicked from the other side and ducked past the supervisor on her way to the raised platform. “Hon?”
Dar held up one hand. “Yes, that’s right. Just give it another fifteen minutes. Thanks.” She hung up the phone and then ignored it’s insistent ringing as Kerry came up next to her. “Hey.”
“What are.. nevermind.” Kerry refused to let herself be distracted. “That was Alastair out there. He called here because we’re not answering our phones.”
Dar glanced at hers. “Not getting signal in here. Not surprising with these metal walls and EMF.” She said. “So what does he want?”
“What doesn’t he want?” Kerry lowered her voice. “They kicked the board members out and they went public.”
“Morons.” Dar didn’t look perturbed.
“Yes, who are intending on filing suit against him, against us, and against the Pope for deliberately disrupting operations.”
“Can’t prove any of that.” Dar responded.
“No, except here we are.” Kerry said. “They told the press we did this just so we could disgrace them.”
Dar rested her hands on the desk and drummed her fingers against it’s surface. “Hm. You know, that’s the one single reason I might actually have done it.” She admitted. “Unfortunately for them, we didn’t.”
“But we’re fixing it.”
“They’re fixing it.” Dar pointed at the consoles. “I just provided copies of the previous configuration to them.”
“You didn’t go in there?” Kerry’s voice sounded surprised.
“Nope. Haven’t touched a keyboard.” Dar confirmed.
Kerry sighed. “There are about a hundred press people outside. They told them we were here, and that we also deliberately did this so we could swing the contract away from ILS and make points with the government.”
“Except for the deliberately, that’s what we’re here doing.” Dar mused. “You know, Ker, I don’t know what else they could have done to preserve their reputations.”
“Tank ours?” Kerry said, sharply.
Her partner lifted both hands up and let them drop again.
“So what are we supposed to do?” Kerry half whispered. “Dar, we could get into some serious political and financial crap here.”
Dar put her hand on Kerry’s knee. “We might.” She said quietly. “But right now, we’re in flight here. We can’t just turn off the engines.”
Kerry looked around, at the absorbed faces of the techs, and their quick shifting of attention from the scribbled on pages to their screens. “Yeah, well that’s what I told Alistair.” She admitted. “I told him to get off his ass and have someone in PR call the press.”
“Did you really tell him to get off his ass?”
“Good girl.” Dar took hold of Kerry’s hand and brought it closer, giving the knuckles a quick kiss. “That’s exactly what he needs to do. It’s not our place to solve this press problem.”
“Hmph.” Kerry grunted softly. “But that doesn’t help the fact they’re all out there.” She said. “Or what the bastards told them.”
Dar leaned back in her chair and lifted her shoulders in a mild shrug. “First things first. Let’s get this fixed.” She glanced up at the monitor. “Type faster, folks. “ She raised her voice. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel there, I see some greens.”
The supervisors turned and looked. “Holy crap there are.”
Everyone looked up at the board, and fell silent. The only sound in the room was the rattle of computer keyboards. It was odd and discordant, the heavy clicks echoing softly.
“Good old IBM keyboards.” Dar commented, after a long moment. “Noisiest input devices on the planet. I think the sound’s patented.”
Kerry kept watching the board, listening to the noise of the typing and as that slowly started to wind down, and become less a solid continuous sound and more of a more erratic clicking the map started to change. “Ah.”
“What’s going on?” The supervisor leaned towards her. “Is it… oh.”
Reds and yellows were morphing into yellows and greens, and then, as they watched, the yellows faded, and as silence completely fell, and the keyboards went quiet, a flow of blue swept across the big status monitor, and started a gentle pulse.
“Son of a bitch.” The supervisor standing at the desk said, into all that quiet.
The techs all turned around at their desks and looked up first at him, then at Dar, who stood up and put her hands on her hips.
It seemed anticlimactic. All those problems, and all that trouble, and now…. “Nice.” Dar said. “Very nice.”
“And that, people.” Kerry exhaled. “Is why they pay her the big bucks.”
“I haven’t seen the board look like that in weeks.” One of the techs said. “Did we really do that?”
“You did.” Dar said, walking down from the desk and moving in front of the consoles. “And really, what you did was put things back the way they were before they got cocked up.” She rested her hands on the steel edges of the old fashioned workspaces. “Good job, guys. Make sure you save the configs, and put these someplace safe.”
“Ms. Roberts, is it true those guys who made the change deleted everything?” One of the techs asked. “For real?”
“For real.” Dar said. “To be fair to them, because I want to be fair, I do believe they did think the changes would make things.. not necessarily better, but different, and their own.” Dar said. “We architects are arrogant bastards, and we are totally invested in our way of doing things.”
Kerry blew a raspberry at her.
“It’s true.” Dar smiled anyway at the sound. “I completely believe with all my heart that’s it’s my way or the highway. Anyone here think that’s not true?” She looked around at the techs, who smiled back. “Well, so did they.”
“Yes ma’am.” Paul had re-entered. “But you were right, and they weren’t.” He exhaled as he watched the board, and saw the slow relaxation of bodies into chairs around the room. “What was worse though, at least from our side, was that.. “ He paused. “When something would go wrong before, you all over in ops would own it.”
Dar nodded. “Yes.” She said. “I don’t believe in shifting blame, just from a personal standpoint. That is why they paid me, and Kerry, in fact, the big bucks because those bucks stopped at our desks. If something got screwed up, if I rooted through it enough I could get it to come back to some decision I’d made that just hadn’t been right.”
“Even if that actually hadn’t happened. “Kerry interjected dryly. “Dar tends to the chivalric sometimes.”
Dar blushed slightly. “I wouldn’t say that.” She demurred. “But I understood where my responsibility was.” She looked up at Paul. “And that was to take the hit for things that happened in my organization. It’s what management is for.”
Paul shook his head. “It’s what leadership is, ma’am. There’s a difference.”
“Yeah.” One of the techs said. “That’s it.”
They all stood up, a spontaneous reaction that surprised Dar and made her take a step back, her brows lifting a little as they all started applauding. “Ah c’mon.”
“That really was pretty ace.” Steve had been sitting in a corner, and now he approached Dar. “So it should all be working now? Can I call back to the office and tell em?”
“Sure.” Dar smiled, as the techs all surrounded her, offering handshakes and soft congratulations. Some brought up the notes they’d worked off and started asking questions.
Kerry smiled at the reaction, folding her arms across her chest and waiting, as she watched her partner sheepishly accept the accolade. “Might as well enjoy the moment.” She commented to the supervisor standing next to her. “I’m sure CNN’s not going to be clapping.”
“Do you have to talk to them, ma’am?” The supervisor said. “We could sneak you out the back door, couldn’t we? And then pretend we don’t know what theyre talking about when they ask us stuff?”
Kerry looked at him. “I”ve got six people from the government here and their limo’s parked outside. It’s a little hard to miss.” She said. “But thanks for the offer. I do appreciate it. Steve?” She motioned the man over. “We’ve got a problem outside.”
He reached for the phone and started to dial. “Let me just call back there… what kind of problem?”
“When you’re done there, let’s get Bridges on the line and find out what he wants us to tell the press outside.”
“Oh.” Steve grimaced. “That kind of problem”
They were in the small office that once upon a time, Kerry had borrowed in her last visit to the office. Just a desk, and a phone, and a TV mounted on a wall that had never been changed since she’d left.
“Standby please, for Mr. Bridges.” A quiet, female voice emerged from the speakerphone.
“Sure.” Dar was sitting behind the desk, her chin resting on her fists.
Kerry was seated on the surface, a cup of water in her hands. If she stood up and looked out the small window, she knew she would see a parking lot full of television trucks, and the feeling of being under siege was undeniable. “Should I call Richard?”
“Not yet.” Dar said. “Let’s wait to see what he says.”
“Regardless of what he says, Dar, the board’s going to sue us.” Kerry said. “Shit. We’ll be lucky if they don’t end up making us shut the company down.”
“Mmph.” Dar made a low noise in her throat. “Eh. Maybe it won’t be so bad, now that everything’s fixed.”
“Dar.” Kerry heard the exasperation in her voice.
“Yes?” Her partner looked up at her, with more than a hint of annoyance.
“Roberts?” The line opened abruptly. “You there?”
“We’re here.” Dar answered. “In the middle of a shit storm unfortunately.” She focused on the phone instead of the woman at her side.
Briggs grunted. “Just heard from the computer people. They are whoop de doing all over the place here because crap’s working again. So congratudamnlations.”
“Yeah, thanks.” Dar said. “The jacktard former board members of ILS went to the press and blew their story out. So now half the planet’s in the front parking lot wanting the rest of the story.”
They waited in silence for a bit. “So what would you like us to do, since whatever we say will involve your organization.” Kerry said, after the quiet had gone on too long. “And we are due back there for a demonstration.”
“Hold your shorts, kid.” Brigg growled. “I’m writing a memo. You’ll go with the goons I sent there and don’t say a damn thing. Just ‘no comment’ your asses out the door.”
Dar and Kerry regarded each other somberly. “Just leave?” Dar said.
“What, did I start speaking Russian? Yes.” The presidents advisor said. “Go get the rest of those chimps and head back here. I’m including all of you in a national security memorandum. Move it, people.” He said. “Goodbye!”
The line went dead. Dar leaned back and folded her arms, her face twisting into a disturbed expression. “Well.” She sighed. “I guess that would get us out of this for now.”
“It would.” Kerry got up off the edge of the desk and went to the window, peering outside. “We don’t say anything, and we can go back there and let the government cover it all up. They seem pretty good at that sort of thing.”
“After all, it’s just going to be a we said, they said anyway, Dar. They can’t prove we touched anything, but we can’t prove we didn’t get someone else still there to do it.”
Kerry heard the tone and grimaced a little. From the corner of her eye she could see the tv trucks, antennas angled up and it reminded her of the time when they’d been dependent on the technology.
Working in desperate times in service to what they considered the greater good. She turned and leaned against the wall, watching Dar shift and steeple her long fingers, tapping the ends of them against her chin.
She remembered Dar working for hours, testing cables, providing leadership to their team and refusing to stop until they’d found the right ones, putting them in the right place. The only credit they’d gotten for it was the heartfelt thanks of the men they were helping – but it had been the right thing to do.
Just like today, fixing the screwup had been the right thing to do. Kerry had known it the moment the moment they’d headed to Herndon, the moment she’d seen the security guard’s relief, the moment she’d seen that board clear, and calm and seen the faces of the techs who’d done it.
It was right. It felt good. She watched the motion as Dar drew in a breath, and her shoulders straightened up. It wouldn’t have made sense to do anything else, no matter what the consequences eventually were.
Dar, instinctively, understood that. Kerry could see the contention coming, in the tension in Dar’s back as she prepared herself to stand up, and turn around and argue about something Kerry knew she wasn’t going to win at.
Shouldn’t win at. Sometimes consequences really didn’t matter. If they ended up out of business, ran out of town, living on the boat…
Shoot. How bad really would that be?
She smiled, and felt a sense of odd acceptance flow through her. “So are you going to give the interview, or you want me to?” She broke the silence and savored every word as she watched Dar’s whole body relax, and her shoulders jerk in a faint, silent laugh.
Dar turned around in the chair, meeting Kerry’s eyes with a smile in return.
“We’ve been trying to walk away from this from the start, hon. That was wrong.” Kerry admitted. “I was wrong in wanting you to stay clear. This was ours and we need to own it until it’s done.”
“No matter what happens.”
“No matter what happens.” Kerry echoed, feeling a sense of relief that almost made her sleepy.
Dar extended one hand. “”C’mere, and lets go to hell together.” She got up and as Kerry came over she wrapped her arms around her. “I could no more walk away from this.” She let her head rest against Kerry’s. “Than I could walk away from you.”
Kerry leaned against her and let it go. “Wherever we go from this, I’m right there with ya,” She said. “So let’s go get on camera.”
Dar shouldered her messenger bag and took Kerry’s hand in hers, heading for the door and what waited beyond.
“So what are we doing?” Steve asked, as a pod of reporters filed into the ops center, glancing around curiously. “My office said we were supposed to be going back to the White House.”
“We will.” Kerry said. “We just need to do this short interview, to wrap things up then we can head back. “
“Okay.” The government IT manager agreed amiably. “I called back there, and sure enough, everything’s running great. That sure was something to watch.” He leaned back against the console. “Have to say, those guys are kinda okay. I’m glad now we’re gonna hire them.”
“They are okay.” Kerry said. “Be right back.” She left Steve by the wall and headed across the room to where Dar was standing with a reporter from CNN and one from the Washington Post. Two photographers were a few steps back, taking pictures and the camera crew was setting up to shoot the supervisor’s desk, where Dar had taken up residence.
The techs were watching covertly. Paul, and the two supervisors were around the far raised desk, content to just watch the action as they stood under the big monitor board with it’s newly placid twilight shades.
There was a faint scent of garlic and cheese in the room, and Kerry felt her stomach rumble as she recognized the smell of fresh pizza nearby. She detoured over to the far desk and climbed up the tiers, returning the smiles as she approached. “Hi there.”
“Ms. Stuart.” Paul had a cup of coffee clasped between his hands. “Can I tell you this is the first time I haven’t had my guts in knots for weeks?”
“What he said.” One of the supervisors said. “Look. My phone’s quiet.” He pointed at it. “No calls, no calls waiting, no notepad full of names and numbers for me to call back with excuses. God bless you guys.”
“It was a team effort.” Kerry smiled. “And speaking of team efforts, do I smell a team pizza somewhere?”
Paul chuckled. “Yup.. in the break room, c’mon.” He motioned her towards a side door. “I had it brought in.. wasn’t sure what we were going to end up with this afternoon. Thought I’d have to have the guys on the desk without a break.”
Kerry followed him into a back room where a refrigerator and coffee machine held pride of place, along with several tables, one of which was covered with pizza boxes. “Ah. Score.”
Paul handed her a plate and took one for himself. “Feels like twenty pounds off my shoulders.” He said. “It’s been so bad.”
“I know it must have been.” Kerry said, pleased to have a whole veggie pizza to herself. She bit into a piece and chewed it. “I wish the whole thing hadn’t happened.”
“Yeah, me too. “ He answered. “I don’t know if I want to work for the government.” He added. “My parents met at Woodstock. I don’t’ think they’d forgive me for working for the Repugs.”
Kerry swallowed reflectively. “I’m a Republican” She commented. “I’m not sure it matters when you do what we do, and Im not sure there’s much of a difference between working for the government or working for ILS.”
“You’re a Republican?”
Kerry nodded. “Dar’s agnostic. She doesn’t much like either party.” She picked up another plate and plunked a piece of meat covered pizza on it. “And Paul, nothing says you have to work for the government. I’m sure there’s a spot for you in ILS if you want to stay with them. They’ve lost enough staff over the last month.”
“Yeah I know.”
Kerry saluted him with her snack, then picked up the plate and headed out the door with it. She dodged a few cameramen as she made her way over to where Dar was getting settled behind the desk.
“So, Ms. Roberts, we do appreciate you sitting down and talking to us, especially after that press release from the former board of ILS.” The reporter was saying. “I know you understand that I have to address the allegations they made.”
“Sure.” Dar glanced up as Kerry approached, her eyes lighting up a little at the sight of the plate she was carrying. “Whatcha got?”
“Pizza.” Kerry put it down. “Take five minutes and scarf it. You know what that tastes like cold.”
The door opened and two more journalists came in, joining them up on the dias. They were carrying microphones and had backpacks secured to their backs with gear inside. “Okay, we ready?” One of them asked, his microphone flag declaring him from USA Today. His companion had a local television station patch on his jacket.
Dar had wolfed down several bites and she now set her plate aside and wiped her lips with the napkin Kerry handed her. “Ready.” She said. “You’ve got fifteen minutes. Start talking.”
“Start rolling.” The CNN reporter said. “Ready?”
“All right. Dan Gartersberg here at the ILS facility in Herndon, Virginia. “ The man said, facing the camera. “Earlier today, ousted board members of ILS issued a press release accusing former employees of engineering a malicious attack on their systems, causing widespread outages across the US, and internationally, even affecting our armed services.”
Dar waited for the camera to turn to her, folding her hands on the desk and taking a deep breath.
“We were tipped off that those ex employees were, in fact, here in this facility and we’ve come here to ask them what their response is to these allegations, and an explanation of what, actually, is going on. “ The reporter turned smoothly and stepped back, and the camera focused on Dar. “This is Dar Roberts, one of the accused. Ms. Roberts, what do you have to say about these allegations?”
Dar smiled at the camera. “A lot.” She said. “But we don’t have all day, so I’ll just say they’re untrue, and we can move on to your next question.”
The reporter nodded. “Very well then. Tell us about this supposed attack then.” He looked around, and the camera panned with him. “Here at this headquarters, it seems very quiet.”
The camera swung back. “Sure.” Dar said. “Let me lay out the data points for you. I’ll start with who I am, then move into why ILS got itself into this situation, who was responsible for it, and why I stepped in here today to make things right.”
The reporter smiled, off camera, and gave Dar a thumbs up. The print reporters were scribbling furiously, one whispering into a voice recorder.
“So lets get started.”
The ride back to the White House was very quiet. The two marshals were playing cards in the back section, and Steve was riding with them in the front, the two accountants busy studying papers spread out on their laps.
Both Kerry and Dar were sitting next to each other, lost in their own thoughts. The interview had lasted a half hour, and at the end of it they’d found it hard to tell if the reporters bought the story or not.
They’d ruined the story, Kerry realized, by having fixed it before the press arrived. It would have been so much more satisfying to them to have found things in chaos. Sweating men and red alerts going off were much better television than calm monitors and relaxed techs munching pizza.
They both had their phones turned off. Kerry had quickly sent a message to Richard Edgerton though, and one to Maria. Now she wondered if they would even be let inside the Executive building, much less get to demonstrate anything. “Hey Dar?”
“Anything you want to see here? As in tourist stuff?”
Dar pondered that as they pulled into the White House parking lot. “The Air and Space Museum?”
Kerry smiled. “Just won ten bucks off myself.”
They got out of the car and filed through the gate, the guards giving them respectful nods as they went past, and into the building. Steve led them to the presentation room, then ducked out and left them without further word.
Kerry put her hands on the back of a chair. “Should I turn my phone back on?” She asked. “I’m pretty sure that low thrumming sound you hear is shit hitting the fan.”
“Sure.” Dar pulled her own out and switched it on. It had just synched up when the door slammed open and Bridges stormed in. “That didn’t take long.”
“You stupid son of a bitch.” Bridges said. “What in the hell did you think you were doing? I told you to come straight back here! Do you have any idea what kind of chaos you caused by opening your yap to the press? When I told you not to!”
‘I decided otherwise.” Dar responded, flatly.
“Oh you did, did you? Well take your decisions and get the hell out of here. Contract’s scratched.” Bridges said, visibly fuming. “Forget it. With that publicity there’s no way you’re going to do anything at all for this government.”
“Okay.” Dar picked up her bag. “Cmon, Ker. Glad we could fix everything and then get fucked up the ass as usual from some two bit moron with no sense.” She indicated the door. “Let’s go have dinner and go home.”
He was between her and the door and she walked right at him, expecting him to move to one side. When he didn’t she stopped, looking him right in the eye, her head level with his. “You said to get out. Mind moving your ass so I can?”
One of his gray eyebrows cocked upward. “Did you really just call me a two bit moron, Roberts?”
“Yes. Move.” Dar said. “I’ve got things to do.”
Kerry had come around the other side of the table, and now she stood watching them. “Yeah, no win scenario.” She said. “We weren’t going to walk out of there and not defend our reputations.”
Bridges swung around on her. “Reputations?” He looked from her to Dar. “You two are idiots. You have no idea what business you’re into.”
“No, we do.” Dar said. “I completely understand why you wanted us to just come back here. I’m just telling you I wasn’t going to let that go unchallenged. That’s my ego. My problem. Now get out of my way so I can get started on hiring lawyers for the crap that got shot my way for solving YOUR problem.”
“So you decided your reputation was more important than a bunch of major contracts your new business is based on?”
Dar looked him right in the eye. “Yes.”
“You’re an idiot.” Bridges stepped aside. “Get the hell out.”
Dar brushed past him and reached for the door, hauling up short as it swung inward, and revealed the highly inconvenient and slightly rumpled form of the president. “Ah.” She took a step back. “Hi there.”
“Well, hello there, ladies.” The president came inside and shut the door. “Second time today I heard yelling coming from this room. What’s the scoop?” He looked at Bridges. “Thought we were supposed to see that new computer thing today.”
“Not today, sir.” Bridges said. “I’ve decided to change companies. Didn’t like what I saw from these here people.”
“Yes, excuse us.” Dar went to step around the president, stopping when he held a hand up.
“Now hold on.” Bush said. “All I’ve been hearing this morning is how nifty this new thing is. Sounds like it was a success to me. So why make a change? What’s the deal here?”
“Sir, we can discuss it later.” Bridges said.
“Or we can discuss it now.” The president countered.
Bridges looked frustrated and annoyed. Kerry got the sense he was used to getting his own way, and was also used to having his suggestions accepted without question. She felt her Handspring buzz in her pocket, but she left it where it was, waiting for Bridges to answer.
She didn’t really feel apprehensive either way, which was a little strange.
“Ladies, why don’t you sit down here, and let’s just hear this out.” Bush said. “Mike? I’m sure we’ve just got some kind of misunderstanding. Right?”
He pulled out a chair and waved Dar into it, then repeated the process for Kerry, seating himself between them as Bridges very grumpily took a seat across from them. “Now.” He put his folded hands on the table. “What’s the scoop?”
Bridges just stared moodily at him.
“You want the short version or the long one?” Dar finally said. “The short version is we were instructed to do something and we chose to do otherwise and Mr. Bridges did not appreciate that.”
“How come?” The president asked, in a mild tone. “I mean, how come you didn’t follow the instructions?”
“Because she’s an idiot.” Bridges said.
“Now Mike, I don’t really think that’s true.” Bush said. “I know all about idiots, after all. I get called one often enough.” He smiled at both Dar and Kerry. “So how come?”
Dar cleared her throat gently. “Because it went against my honor to do so.”
Kerry felt the silence drop over the room, and watching the faces of the two men at the table, she sensed that her partner had selected just the right words. She saw the president’s expression shift, and Bridges move in his chair, settling more square on to them and folding his hands on the table.
“Well then.” The president said, after a long moment. “I know a little about that too.” He eyed Bridges. “So Mike, did this cause us a real hassle, or you just ticked off because you didn’t get listened to?”
Bridges frowned. “It’s a publicity thing.” He admitted. “Could be a problem with Congress.”
Bush shrugged. “Full moon rising could do that. Tell you what. Let me let these ladies show me their new computer thing, and we let things lie quiet for a little while, see what shakes out.” He said. “Something’ll come along to distract em, and if it doesn’t, we’ll make something up.”
“Ladies?” Bush stood up and stepped back. “Don’t you all worry. Mike’s just got his nose out of joint. He gets that way some times. They don’t give him enough bran in the staff mess.” He opened the door and lifted his hand to wave. “Talk to you later, Mike.”
“Sir.” Bridges rested his head against his fist, letting out a grunt of irritation as the door closed behind them.