Storm Surge

Part 11

Dar led the way towards the front doors to the office, better for a handful of croquettas and a large Styrofoam cup of café con leche inside her.  “Know what?” She said suddenly. “I forgot to tell them you were with me.”

Alastair chuckled deep in his throat.  “As though the world isn’t topsy turvy enough, I show up you mean.” He glanced up at the tall building. “Weren’t you going to move out of this place?”

“I still might.” Dar waved at the guard as the doors slid open, releasing a blast of cold air at them. “Afternoon, gentlemen.”

“Ms. Roberts!” The guard nearest the door came around the desk and approached her. “Boy are we glad to see you!” He said. “They said you were overseas! We had the building management here five times already today asking for plans, and emergency authorizations.”

“I bet.” Dar paused and clipped her badge to her tshirt. “Give me a half hour to get into my office upstairs then send them up to me.”  She spotted a few familiar faces crossing the floor, and with an effort, wrenched her brain back into place to deal with being back at the office.  “C’mon.”

“Right behind you.” Alastair had regained his cheerful good nature. “You know, that was some damn good coffee, Dar. You were right.”

Mariana had just exited the elevator. Dar put two fingers between her teeth and let out a loud whistle, making the HR VP stop in her tracks and look quickly around, scanning over them twice before she stopped and stared, then let out a yelp. “AH!”

Heads turned. Dar caught the looks of recognition and then the double takes as Alastair was spotted at her side.  She waited for Mariana to reach them, then was surprised almost beyond speech when the woman threw her arms around her and gave her a hug. “Uh.”

“Thank god you’re safe.” Mariana released her. “Alastair, you too.” She added hastily.  “Great to see you!”

Alastair burst into laughter.  “Oh hell.” He chuckled. “Nice to see you to, Mari.” He patted her on the shoulder.  “It ain’t home, but it’s damn nice to be on home soil again.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you were back?” Mariana turned on Dar. “Does Kerry.. no, of course she knows you’re here.”

“She knows I’m in Miami, sure.” Dar said. “But she didn’t know until I landed because we didn’t know until we landed. We were supposed to still be in the air heading to Mexico right now.” She looked up as a group of people surrounded them. “Hey o..”

Later on, she had time to reflect on the fact that her relationship with Kerry had slowly but surely gotten her used to physical contact and how lucky that was for her co workers.  

Jose grabbed her arm, and got a hand around her back. “Shit! You’re here! Jesus, thank you.” He wrung her neck a little, then grabbed Alastair’s hand. “Boss, good to see you.”

Eleanor gave her a quick hug. “No bull, Dar.” She said in a quieter tone. “Glad you’re safe.”

More hands. More voices. 

“Jefa!”

Dar turned and found herself enveloped by Maria.  This at least she welcomed. “Hey Maria.” She returned her admin’s hug. “Glad to be back.”

Maria released her. “But not for so long, no?” She said. “I think you will go find Kerrisita and help her. She is doing so much.”

“I think you’re right.” Dar smiled.

“Hey Dar!” Duks elbowed in and got an arm around her shoulders. “Now things are looking up.”  He announced, giving Alastair a pat on the shoulder. “Sir. Welcome to our banana republic.”

“Thanks.” Alastair patted him on the side. “Good to see you Louis.”  He glanced at the crowd. “I think we should move this upstairs, folks. We’re blocking the lobby.”

“Hey, Ms. Roberts. Welcome home.” One of the ops techs timidly clasped her hand. “Boy, we’re glad you’re here.”

Dar felt a little overwhelmed.

“All right, everyone to what our friends in England call the lifts.” Alastair took charge. He handed off his bag to a willing Jose. “Someone want to get Dar’s roller here? Let’s go, march people. We’ve got work to do.” He put his hand on Dar’s elbow and started herding people simply by the act of moving and presenting them with the choice of moving with him or being bowled over.

Mariana fell in next to Dar. “Did you get any rest at all since yesterday? Doesn’t look like it.”

“Not a lot.” Dar collected herself.  “Catnaps. I was covering for Kerry while she was traveling.”

“We know.” Mari gave her a sympathetic look. “And Mark was covering for you both while he was traveling.  You know, we recorded the entire global meeting place, Dar. One day, a long time from now you should sit down and listen to it.”

“That was something, wasn’t it?” Alastair had been listening with one ear, apparently, carrying on two other conversations with the other.

“I think it was the finest moment this company ever had.” Mari said, simply.

“Well.” Dar reached the elevator and got in, going to the back corner and turning to face those following her in. “Maybe we can look at it sometime. Right now, it’s a drop in the bucket.” She clasped her briefcase in both hands as the elevator filled, and they started up.

“Alastair, I’ll have an office set up for you.” Mari said. “Just give me a few minutes when we get upstairs.”

“Oh please.” Alastair said. “What in blazes do you think I’m going to do here? Just give me a damn phone and a chair so I can let people bitch at me.”  He glanced sideways at Dar. “Keep them off the back of the people who do the real stuff.”

“Well..”

“Shut up, Alastair. You do plenty.” Dar said, in a loud enough voice to cut through the chatter in the elevator.  “Cut the BS.”

Her boss looked over at her, both gray eyebrows hiking. 

Dar mirrored his expression right back at him.

The doors slid open, and everyone escaped out of the car into the hallway, pouring into the gray and maroon space as they cleared the way for Dar and Alastair to exist.    Dar turned and headed towards her office, and after a second, her boss followed her.

Maria also followed her. “Jefa, do you want something from the café?”

“More coffee.” Dar said. “And some of the cheese pastalitos. They make them better here than at Versailles.” She glanced back at Alastair. “Want coffee?”

“Sure.” Alastair agreed. “I’m just going to borrow your outside office to make a call until they finish setting up whatever poobah area they’ve come up with for me.”

Dar snorted. “You can go work in Kerry’s office if you want. She’s got a boxing dummy in there if you get bored.” She led the way into her office, pushing the door open and feeling a sense of relief as her eyes took in the familiar surroundings.

It was all a little too much, coming back like this.  It had been too long a day, too long a flight, too many strange happenings to end with this clamor of familiarity rubbing her nerves so raw.

She opened the door to her inner office and went through, slowing down a little as she took in the plate glass walls, and the view of the ocean.  Her desk was clean, as always, only the fighting fish and her monitor disturbing the sleek wooden surface.

“Well, you do have a couch in here. What do ya know.” Alastair poked his head in.

“Yes, I do.” Dar put her briefcase down and settled into her comfortable leather chair, it’s cool surface chilling her back a little through her thin tshirt.  She reached under her desk to boot her computer, giving the trackball a spin as it started up.  “Okay.”

“Okay.” Alastair came inside. “I’ll take you up on that office offer.  Just tell me where it is and I’ll get out of your hair.’

Dar gave him a wry look, and pointed at the back door.  “Go down that hall, door at the other end is Ker’s.”

Alastair looked at the door, then at her. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Dar lifted both hands up in sheepish acknowledgement. “You can go out in the hall, turn left, find the kitchen, and go in the front way if you want to. Don’t scare her admin though.”

“The two of you. I swear.” Alastair chuckled, making his way to the door and passing through it.

At last it was quiet. Dar sat back, then she turned her chair around to face the water. The surface was ruffled with white waves, a cavalcade of boats heading up into the bay and reminding her of yet another potential issue.  “First things first.”

She turned back around and tapped her speaker phone, dialing Gerry’s phone number.  Her desktop came up, and she typed her password in, watching as her backdrop came up, along with the global meetingplace login box.   She logged in, and changed her status.  

Login: Roberts, Dar

Location: Miami Operations Center

Role: Miami operations executive.

Status: Missing my wife.

She backspaced over the last, and typed in good instead, and sent the box on its way. 

The phone range twice, then it was answered. “General Easton’s office. Can I help you?” A woman’s voice answered, sounding harried and a touch out of breath.

“I’d like to speak to the General please.” Dar said. “It’s Dar Roberts. He’s expecting my call.”

“One moment.”

Dar scanned the screen as the status boards popped up, and there was a soft crackle that warned her the conference bridge was starting.  She lowered the volume, as the phone came off hold.

“Hello, Ms. Roberts?” The woman’s voice came back. “Hold on a moment, the General is getting to his desk.”

“Sure. Tell him to take his time. I bet he’s as tired as I am.” Dar remarked.

“You know it.” The woman said, her tone warming. “Hang on, I’m transferring.”

A click, and then Gerry’s voice boomed over the line. “Dar? That you?”

“It’s me.” Dar acknowledged.  “How’s it going there, Gerry? I’m in Miami.”

“Miami!” The general said. “What the hell? I thought you were heading for Houston!”

“Me too. Long story.”

There was a rustling noise and the sound of a door closing, then Gerry cleared his throat. “Well, I’m damn glad to hear you’re back and on the ground safe.” He said. “Things are a little better today. Had everyone on my backside this morning until I got a call from the fella’s down trying to make sense out of this place and found out your people are already moving on everything. Wonderful!”

Dar smiled. “I sent the best I have there, Gerry.” She said. “Mark Polenti, my chief techhead, and Kerry’s there, too.”

“Y’know, that’s what my fella said.” Easton agreed. “Said your people are the best. Bringing in cupcakes and fixing everything. I really appreciate that, Dar.”

“Anytime.” Dar said. “So does that mean you don’t need my ass up there? I’m sure Ker’s got it under control.”

“Ah.” Gerry sighed. “Well, no.”

Dar knew a moment of perfectly balanced conflict, as her desire to be where Kerry was battled against her knowledge that whatever Gerry was going to ask of her was by definition worse than what she was dealing with there already. “What’s up?”

“You someplace quiet?”

“I’m in my office.” Dar said. “The only thing listening is my fish.”

“Right.” Gerry said. “Listen, Dar.. I don’t’ usually get involved in the civilian side of things, I’ve got more than enough on my plate right now, you see?”

“Sure.”

“Just had the head of the White House financial office in here kicking me in the kiester.” Gerry said. “Thing is, they lost a lot of facility there in New York.”

“I know.” Dar said. “We have a lot of customers down.”

“Well, you’d know more about that than I would. Anyway, y’know they shut down the Stock exchanges, right?” Gerry said. “All the financial stuff down in the south tip of Manhattan?” He paused. “You knew about that right?”

“I didn’t.. well, I probably heard that in all the clamor yesterday but didn’t pay that much attention.” Dar admitted. “There was so much going on.”

“Well, don’t you know? Here too!” Gerry said. “Feller from the White House seemed to say I’d been derelict in my duty because I didn’t know a bull from a bear.” He sighed aggrievedly.  “So this guy comes over here and tells me it’s a national emergency about those stock houses. Have to get them back working. Government is counting on it. World stability is at stake.”

Dar’s brows contracted. “Granted.” She said. “Having the markets down sucks but didn’t they say yesterday they shut them down on purpose to stop a run on them? I thought I heard that in a sound bite.”

“Pish tosh.” Easton said. “I got an earful about keeping consumer confidence up and all that, but the fact is, all the blinking things and doodads in there can’t work because of all the damage. They don’t want to admit it, trying to make everything seem like it wasn’t that much. You see?”

“Ah.” Dar murmured. “I see.” She paused. “Why the hell are they after you for that, Gerry? Since when is the Joint Chief’s in charge of telecommunications repair?”

“We aren’t.”  Gerry stated, with a snort. “Which is what I told this feller and he told me he didn’t want to hear my problems, he wanted me to get his solved. “ The general cleared is throat. “Apparently because I.” He said. “Know you.”

“Me?”

“You.” Easton confirmed. “Someone told this guy that you’d be able to fix this thing.”

“Me?” Dar repeated. “Gerry, they’re not customers of ours. We have nothing to do with the Exchanges. That’s all private line work.” She protested. “I don’t even know anyone down there.”

“Well, Dar, I don’t know what to tell you, but this guy said I should get hold of you and make you fix this problem for the White House.” Gerry said. “Now, he said I wasn’t suppose to tell you it was for the White House, but I told him if he wanted me to ask you to do something you had to know why or you’d tell them to..ah..”

“Kiss my ass?” Dar exhaled. “To be honest, Gerry, I really wouldn’t tell the White House that, even though I think the current occupant has the mental capacity of a woodchuck and the personality of what it excretes.”

General Easton cleared his throat.

“I just don’t know what we can do about it.” She went on. “Honestly. None of that is ours, and they lost so much infras…”

She paused, thinking hard.

“Dar?”

“Yeah, sorry.” Dar said. “I was just considering something.  So what do they want me to do, Gerry?”

A soft buzzing sound came through the phone. “Damn thing.” Gerry sighed. “Dar, honest, I don’t know because all that whoo hah you do is just so much mumbo jumbo to me. I think you need to come up to talk to this guy. Tell him the straight facts. If you can’t do it, you can’t.”

“Okay.” Dar agreed. “Can you get me a lift? I’ll do him one better, I’ll bring my boss with me so we can dispense with the ‘let me talk to your boss’ routine right off.”

“Sure can.” Easton sounded pleased. “Let me get my girl on it, and she’ll call you with the scoop.”  He said. “Listen, Dar.. “He hesitated. “If you can do anything for this guy, you might want to think about it. He’s big. He can cause you a lot of trouble, if you catch my drift.”

“Yeah.” Dar murmured. “I catch your drift.”

“Good. See you tonight then.” Easton said. “Later, Dar.”

“Later.” Dar hung up the phone, leaning back in her chair with her hands laced behind her head.  “Well, shit.”

The door opened, and Maria poked her head in. “Ready for café, jefa?”

Dar looked at her. “Oh yeah.” She said. “I sure am.” She waited for Maria to enter. “Looks like I’ll be flying out to DC tonight, Maria.  Any chance of getting someone to run by my place and grab another overnight bag?”

“Of course.” Maria said. “Mayte has already mentioned she would be glad to do that if you needed her to, and also to bring anything Kerrisita might need. We want to do our part as well.”

Dar smiled at her. “This is a hell of a time, isn’t it, Maria?”

Her admin set her coffee and pastries down and came around to the back side of the desk, leaning against the edge of it as she studied Dar.  “I was crying so much, all day.” Maria said. “I was so scared, for everything.”

“Me too.” Dar replied.

“Listening to Kerrisita, she sounded so upset also.” Maria said. “But you know, when you came on to the big conference, and what Kerrista said? We all said the same thing, all of us. Everyone.”

Dar cocked her head in momentary puzzlement. “Oh, you mean about being glad to hear my voice.”

“Si.” Maria nodded.

Dar exhaled. “Now that yesterday is over though, it’s hard to know where we go from here.” She said. “It all just makes so little sense.”

“My Tomas says the same.” Maria said. “Let me leave you to get your things done. I will send Mayte over to your house right away.”

“I’ll call my folks and have them have a bag ready.” Dar said, leaning forward and reaching for the phone. “And I guess I better warn Alistair.”

“Como?”

“I think I got us into a hell of a situation.”

**

Kerry leaned on the steering wheel, waiting for the lights to change so she could continue her slow progress towards the Capital.  She glanced at her watch, then pulled through the intersection and continued along her way.

She checked her watch. Thirty minutes until the time she’d told her mother she’d be there, and she figured she would even have time to find her way without having to run through the hallowed halls.

“Talk to Congress.” She drummed her fingers on her steering wheel. “How completely freaky that I’m considering that taking a break from what I was doing all day.”

She picked up a bottle of juice from the cup holder and unscrewed the top, tossing a few tablets into her mouth and washing them down as she found the cross street she was looking for and turned down it.  On one side was a stately office complex, it’s limestone front the same sedate cream she remembered and she entertained a few old memories of the place as she turned into the parking area.

The first time she visited the Russell building to visit her father in his offices there, she’d been about eight. Kerry remembered, dimly, the feeling of wonder as she walked at her mother’s side between the trees and up into the solemnly colonnaded rotunda.

Now she took a moment as she got out of the SUV to collect herself, and tug her jacket sleeves straight before she shouldered her brief case and closed the door.   The cool air puffed against her hair as she crossed the road and walked down the sidewalk, giving the armed soldiers there a brief smile.

They glanced at her, but none of them made a motion to stop her. Apparently blond haired Midwestern looking chicks weren’t on the watch list.  Kerry reached the visitors entrance and went inside, not surprised to see more armed soldiers there.

She approached the visitor’s desk and stood quietly, waiting her turn as two men spoke to the receptionist ahead of her.   The room was quiet, several people sitting in chairs on one side, one or two people working at tables, and the soldiers, looking shockingly out of place in their field uniforms with guns slung over their shoulders.

What exactly, she wondered,  were the soldiers supposed to do in case someone wanted to blow themselves up in the room? Jump on them? Surely not. Shoot them? Would that stop whoever it was from pressing a button?

Technology moved faster than people. Kerry knew that better than most. If someone in the room had explosives strapped to their chests and pressed a button, there was nothing on earth that could stop that signal from reaching it’s target.

Security, men with guns, presupposed the threat they were guarding against could be reasoned with or intimidated. If your aim was killing yourself and everyone around you, like those pilots, how secure could you really make anything outside requiring people to go around naked and putting them through plastic explosive detectors every six feet?

Bad. Kerry exhaled. Violence never really was the answer, was it?  At best, it was a temporary roll of duct tape in a series of escalating contests of humanities drive to claw it’s way to the top of whatever anthill they occupied.  “As a species, we sure suck sometimes.”

“Ma’am?” The woman behind the desk was looking at her, one eyebrow lifted.

The men had left, and Kerry apologetically stepped forward to the edge of the table. “Sorry.” She murmured. “I have an appointment with Senator Stuart.”

The woman studied the book in front of her. “Your name, please?”

“Kerrison Stuart.”

The receptionist glanced up and studied her face for a moment. “Yes, she’s expecting you.” She said, after a pause. “Seargeant, can you please escort this lady to suite 356.”

The nearest soldier came over, and gave Kerry the once over, then nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”  He said. “Come with me please.”

Kerry obediently circled the table and followed the soldier through the back door and into the building.  The hallways too, were quiet. She could hear the far off sound of typing, something that had become an alien sound in the office buildings she now frequented.

It smelled of stone, and polish, and old wood.  The buildings were from the early 1900’s, and you could sense the history in the place as they walked along the wide corridor.

“Ma’am?” The soldier glanced sideways at her.

“Yes?”

“Do you know where you’re going?”

Kerry repressed a smile. “Yes, I do.” She said.

“That’s a good thing. We just got here this morning, and I don’t know even where the bathroom is yet. The soldier confessed. “There’s a lot of little rooms around here.”

“There are.” Kerry agreed. “It used to hold around ninety different senator’s offices, but now it’s only about thirty of them, since everyone needs more people, more computers, more conference tables… it’s a warren with all the interconnections now.”

“Yeah.” The soldier said. “You know the senator? I met her this morning. Seems like a nice lady.”

“She’s my mother.” Kerry replied.

“Oh, wow. That’s cool”  The man seemed to relax a little. “My mother would come in this place and want to right off paint it some other color. Put some plants around, you know?”

Kerry chuckled. “I know.” She said. “This is more or less the same color as the walls in the house I grew up in, unfortunately. I’d go for a nice teal myself.”

She led the way to the doors to her mother’s offices. “Well, here we are.”

“Okay. Thanks for showing me.” The soldier said. “You have a good day now, okay ma’am?”

“Thanks.” Kerry pushed the door open, giving the man a smile. “By the way, the bathrooms are down the next corridor, on the left.”  She winked at him, and ducked inside the office, closing the door behind her.

The soldier digested that information, and nodded. “That was a nice woman. Wish we had more people around like that.”

He turned and started back towards the reception area, whistling softly under his breath.

Kerry was spared the need to interrupt the harried looking staff when her mother came out of one of the side doors, and spotted her.

“Ah, Kerry.” Cynthia Stuart looked relieved. “I’m glad you could make it over here. Please, come inside and tell me how it is over at the Pentagon.”

Kerry followed her back into what she remembered had been her father’s office and knew a very strange moment of skewed déją vu as she crossed to a chair across from the desk and set her briefcase down.  “How are things going here today?”

Cynthia seated herself behind the desk. “Troubling.” She said. “I hardly know where to start in addressing all of these issues. I just am quite glad my home area was not one of the ones affected.”

Kerry sat down. “I’m sure you heard Florida was.”

Her mother blinked a little. “I had heard. Yes. That’s so very strange.” She said. “I remember your father saying so many times how he felt uneasy about Miami, and now to hear all this makes me wonder if he didn’t somehow know more than he realized.”

“I don’t think that’s what he had in mind.” Kerry said, after a brief pause. “I always got the sense he didn’t trust Miami because of all the immigrants there.  Hispanics are a majority. But I never got the idea that they were part of anything dangerous to the country.”

“Perhaps.” Her mother said.  “We will have to see what it is they found there. Maybe those men felt they could blend in more than in other places.”

Kerry half shrugged. “Like any other major city.” She said. “We’re working with the people at the Pentagon to get their systems back up. We should have some basic connectivity back in a few hours.”

“I see.” Her mother folded her hands. “Or, well, let me not lie about it. I assume that means something positive since I don’t really understand what it is you mean.”

Kerry relaxed a trifle in her seat.  “It is.” She paused. “They depend on computers to exchange information with everyone and everything. Right now, they have some dialup ability with a few servers, but it’s very limited. What we’ll do tonight is get their main computers to talk to the rest of the world using a portable satellite truck while my team is rebuilding the pieces that were destroyed in the attack.”

“I see.” Cynthia said, again. “Has Dar returned? I know you were concerned about her.”

Kerry’s face broke into a grin.  “Believe it or not, she’s home in Miami.” She said. “I heard from her around one thirty or so. She may be heading up here tonight. It’s a big load off my shoulders, that’s for sure.”

“How lovely!” Cynthia said, with sincere warmth. “I’m so glad she’s back safely. It’s impossible to believe how dangerous simple travel now is. I was talking to one of my colleagues today about it, and he’s terribly worried about tourism, and how that will affect the economy.”

Kerry blinked. “Because people will be afraid to fly?”

“Yes.” Her mother nodded. “You may not realize it, but many of our airlines are on the borderline in terms of being profitable. This sort of thing devastates them. It’s a domino also, as so many state economies depend on tourism, you know.”

“Like Florida’s.” Kerry nodded. “Maybe people will just start staying closer to home. Travel in a car.” Her brows twitched. “I always wondered what that was like. The longest car trip I’ve made is from Miami to Orlando.”

Her mother looked thoughtful. “We never did have time for that as a family.” She allowed. “I think I would have enjoyed driving through the Grand Canyon area. It’s so beautiful.”

“It’s on our list too.”

“Well, at any rate.” Cynthia sighed. “Several of the intelligence committee would like to meet up with us in the caucus room at four. Does that suite you?” She watched Kerry’s face carefully.  “It shouldn’t take more than perhaps an hour, and then I thought we could have some dinner.”

“Sure.” Kerry agreed readily. “That’s fine by me. I was actually grateful for a reason to get out from under my staff at the Pentagon and let them do their jobs. When I’m around they tend to hover.”  She smiled briefly. “And really, there wasn’t much for me to do there once I got the facilities straightened out and arranged for power and air conditioning.”

“Excellent.” Her mother said.

“Senator?” One of the aides stuck their head in the door, and paused as they spotted Kerry. “Oh, hello there.”

“Hi.” Kerry smiled at the aide, the older man who’d been with them the night before.  “How are you doing?”

“Much better for not having slept in the car, thanks.” The aide briefly smiled.  “Senator, they’ve confirmed it. It was the White House and Air Force One that was targeted.  No doubt at all.”

“Goodness.”  The senator frowned. “Then that last plane in Pennsylvania, it was headed there?”

“They think so, yes.” The aide nodded. “I’m not sure how they were going to target Air Force One, but it was flying all over the place yesterday so..” He shrugged, and ducked back out.

“Thank goodness that came to nothing.” Cynthia said. “What a horrible thing this is. So many people hurt. So many people killed.”  She looked up as her phone rang, then glanced at Kerry. “Excuse me, Kerry. I have to take this.”  She picked up the phone. “Hello?”

“Sure.” Kerry checked her PDA, gratified to find a note from Dar waiting for her like the fudge at the bottom of a sundae.   She leaned on one arm of the chair and opened the note, half listening to her mother’s end of the conversation.

Hey babe.

Kerry smiled, hearing Dar’s voice saying the salutation.  That was a recent development too.

I’m sitting here at my desk trying to get over being hugged by Eleanor.

Kerry stopped reading, her eyes going wide. She leaned closer to the PDA and reread the line, not quite able to believe what she was seeing. “Huh?”

“I’m sorry, did you say something, Kerry?” Her mother asked, putting her hand over the receiver.

“Uh?” Kerry looked up. “No, sorry. I was just reading something here.” She indicated the PDA. “Status report from Dar.”

“Ah, good.” Cynthia went back to the phone. “Edgar, I’m sure you’re concerned, and I know we have a somewhat large community of.. well, yes, I agree it’s possible. People are very upset.”

Kerry wrenched her eyes back to the PDA.

I definitely have to head up there. I talked to Gerry, and I need to fill you in, but I’d rather do it in person.

Me too. Kerry agreed readily. I don’t frankly care why he wants you up here, matter of fact. They could want us to light the White House with double redundant tin cans and strings and I wouldn’t care.

So I’m waiting to hear from Gerry’s secretary about flights.  I’ll drop you a note or call you when I find out anything. Alastair’s got everyone in a twitter – he’s working out of your office.

Kerry stopped again. My office?  She ran quickly over what she’d left on her desk, relaxing when she remembered cleaning it off before she’d traveled.  “They couldn’t find him an office in that mausoleum?” She muttered. “Sheesh.”

Mari wanted to get him space, but I told him he could work out of there and punch your dummy if he got frustrated.

Oh. Kerry scratched her nose. “Hope he likes having you looking back at him, sweetie. That’s a big picture of you on my desk.”

Anyway. I hope things are settling out there for you. I’d rather not spend the night configuring routers again.

Nope. Kerry could think of much better things to spend the night doing.

I’m going to go grab a sandwich. My body’s all screwed up from the damn time change. 

Later DD.

“Well, thanks for keeping me informed, Edgar.” Cynthia sighed. “Please tell the chief to keep his eyes out for anything.  I understand how people feel, but we have to uphold the law.” She listened and put the phone back in it’s cradle. “Well. That’s worrying.”

“What’s up?” Kerry gazed across the desk.

“You know, there are quite some number of Muslims that live in Michigan.” Her mother said. “Edgar Braces, one of the commissioners in Deerborn, is afraid there might be some repercussions against them.”

“Ah.” Kerry grunted. “I hope people don’t react like that.”

“I hope so too.” Cynthia said. “But you know, anger makes people so unreasonable sometimes.”

How true that was. Kerry felt a sting of possibly unintended reproach in the words.  She decided the retort that was in the back of her throat wasn’t appropriate and her mother didn’t deserve to hear it. She was being as gracious as Kerry had ever seen her, and she, herself had the inner grace to feel a little abashed at herself for her previous behavior.  “It kind of proves the theory though, that violence usually breeds nothing but more violence, doesn’t it?”

Cynthia nodded. “We learn from our lord Jesus that we must turn the other cheek, and love our neighbor, but sometimes I think that lesson stops when our neighbor does not share our values, or our faith, or our history.” She studied her hands. “At times, it doesn’t even extend to our families.”

“Sometimes it doesn’t.” Kerry gazed back at her evenly. “It doesn’t even take much of a difference.”

Her mother’s face wrinkled a little, then she nodded. “Very true.” She looked at her watch. “It’s time to go down to the caucus room. Are you ready?”

“As I will ever be.” Kerry closed her PDA and tucked it into her briefcase.  “Let’s go.” She stood up and locked the tab on the case. “Okay to leave this here?”

Cynthia paused in the act of standing up. “Of course.” She said. “We won’t be long.” She gestured towards the door, and followed Kerry towards it. “Did you have something in mind that you would like for dinner?”

“How do you feel about sushi?”

“Sushi.” Cynthia murmured. “I suppose I could try that.  It certainly can’t be any worse than the Samoan cultural dinner I attended last month.”

**

Alastair took a moment to stroll around his borrowed office space.  The room was neat, but he noticed at once that there were more personal items in it than there were in Dar’s.  Certificates on the walls, for one thing.  He examined them.

Dar most likely had the same, and probably more, but he decided his CIO was so secure in her technical reputation she found no use for the things as wall hangings.  Kerry hadn’t been at it as long, so she probably felt she had something to prove.

Both attitudes worked, he decided.  He moved along to the front of the office, pausing to study the full size boxing dummy complete with what were obviously used gloves.  Was it something he expected to find in a vice presidents office?

Probably not.  He turned and wandered back to the desk, pulling the chair out and taking a seat in it.  The first thing he noticed were the pictures near the monitor. One big one of Dar, another of her and Kerry together, and one of Dar’s parents with a small one next to it of the dog.

Not very different at all from his own desk. Alastair tapped his thumbs together.  Then he pressed the speakerphone’s button and dialed the extention to his office in Houston.

“Alastair McLean’s office.”

“Who the hell’s that?” Alastair inquired. “Some old crackpot?”

Bea chuckled. “Hello, boss.” She said. “Where are you now?”

“Caribbean Hell.” Alastair answered. “I just got introduced to a demon’s brew of coffee and sugar they suck down here by the gallon and my eyeballs are bouncing off the walls.”

“Well that explains a lot about Dar.” Bea said. “I just got off the phone with John Peter at travel, and he said he heard they’ll let planes start flying again tomorrow. You want me to book you home?”

Alastair exhaled. “See what you can arrange.” He said. “I’ve got a feeling I’m not going to make it back there before I have to go talk to some double breasted pair of wingtips in Washington, but it pays to be prepared.”

“Will do.” Bea said. “How’s Dar?”

“Typically Dar.” Her boss said. “Y’know though, I’m glad I got to travel with her for a few days. I’ve come to the conclusion I think I like her.” He added. “As a person, I mean, not as my top ass coverer.”

“You’re deciding this now?” His admin asked, in a puzzled tone. “I always thought you liked Dar.”

“I always liked Dar Roberts, my often pain in the ass but frequently brilliant beyond belief employee.” Alastair clarified. “I didn’t really know Dar the karate expert who does handstands on airplanes for fun.”

“Ahh.”

“She’s neat.”

Bea started laughing.  “Oh, Alastair.”

Alastair chuckled along with her. “What a stinking damned mess this all is.” He said, after a moment. “I have to say, though, Bea, I honestly couldn’t ask for a better response than we had from everyone in the company. Across the board.”

“Absolutely.” Bea agreed.  “Jacques was just here, and he was saying the same thing.  Horrific situation, absolutely, but we did the right things so far.”

“Yup.” Alastair glanced up as he heard someone coming down the back hallway. “Hang on, I think I’ll know in a minute if you can book those flights or not.” 

A moment later, the door opened and Dar’s tall form eased inside.  She had a look on her face that Alastair had come to characterize as here comes trouble.  “Hi there. Bea’s on the line.”

“Hi Bea.” Dar responded promptly. “How are you?”

“I’ve had better weeks, Paladar.” Bea said. “I’m sure you have too.”

“Ain’t that the truth.” Dar sighed. “Alastair, how do you feel about ending up in Washington tonight? Gerry’s offering a flight for us. I got hold of him.”

“Yeah?” Alastair’s brows twitched. “What’s the scoop?”

Dar sat down in one of Kerry’s visitors chairs. “It’s… at first I thought he needed to pressure me to get the systems back up there, but he said he’s been in touch with the folks on the ground and he’s very happy with our response.”

Alastair smiled. “That’s what I like to hear.” He watched Dar’s face, it’s sharp planes twitching into a wry acknowledgement. “But?”

“But.” Dar repeated. “The loss of facility down in the tip of Manhattan’s knocked out the financial sector.”

“Well, sure.”

“They seem to think we can fix that.” Dar said. “I explained to him that it’s not our piece of business. We don’t deal with Wall Street, that’s all private service.”

“Hm.” Alastair looked thoughtful. “No, it’s not our piece of business.” He agreed. “Yet.”

Dar tilted her head in acknowledgement of the unspoken words.  “The government people put pressure on Gerry to get me involved, because they’ve got some idea I can do a fast fix, and that’s their interest. They don’t’ much care, I got the sense, of who’s business that really is, they just need it taken care of because they need to open the markets.”

“Ahh.” Her boss nodded sagely. “I was wondering about that. I know they closed the indexes with some mention of market stability, but knowing where they are.. yes, I see their point. They can’t let the bastards know they hit us that hard in the monetary groin.” He nodded. “Get in there, Dar. That’s not only important to them, it’s also important to us. Our liquidity is tied up in those markets.”

Dar gave him a look. “Gee, thanks.” She groaned. “What in the hell do you expect me to do, go to New York and start running balls of twine and tin cans? Alastair, that’s a lot of destruction in someplace we usually have to unearth hundred year old conduit to run through and have thirty seven pissed off unions to deal with.”

“And?” Alastair inquired. “We lost a lot of facility there too, Dar. You were going to have to have people in there fixing things anyway. This is just one more tick on the task list. Call ATT and Verizon, find out what their plan is, you know the drill.”

“I know the drill.” Dar said. “So back to my question. You ready to fly up and talk to the White House about all this?”

Alastair leaned back and folded his arms across his chest. “Unlooked for, Dar, and I hate to sound so mercenary given the circumstances, but this a first class opportunity for us. Of course I’ll head up there with you. Are you kidding?”

Dar nodded. “Okay. I told Gerry you would.” She acknowledged.  “I’m waiting to hear back from his people on the pick up details.”

“Great.” Her boss seemed quite pleased. “Bea, can you write up something about this just to keep the board informed?”

“Absolutly,” Bea responded. “So I won’t bother trying to book you a flight then, I guess. You going to break the news to your wife or you want me to?”

“How big of a chicken do you think I am?” Alastair spluttered.  “Good grief!”

Dar started laughing.

“Stop that.” Alastair pointed at her. “You’d be a basket case if you had to tell Kerry you weren’t coming up there and you know it.”

Dar blushed visibly, but kept laughing. 

“Pah.” Her boss finally chuckled too. “I’ll call her, Bea. I think she suspected it would end this way, after I told her about the Pentagon.”  He said.  “I think I’ll have to end up holding the fort there while our dynamic duo here go take on the real work.”

“Dar, I have an ear in to the global conference.” Bea said.  “It’s getting a little hectic in there. You might need to drop in – they’re asking for Miami ops and I don’t think Mark’s on. His representative is getting squashed.”

Dar got up. “Will do.” She said. “I’ll leave you to beg your forgiveness in private.”  She sauntered over to the door and disappeared through it as her boss searched for something to throw at her. “Forget it.” She stuck her head back inside the office. “Kerry doesn’t leave trash around.. whoa!”

A rubber ball bounced off the wall, deflected by a rapid motion of Dar’s hand.  “Watch it. I have darts in my office.”  She warned, pulling her head back in and closing the door.

Alastair chuckled, then sighed. “Oh boy.” He said. “I wasn’t really ready to go up and duke it out with the White House this week. Bea, do me a favor and fill Ham in, will ya, while I call my wife”

“Sure.” Bea said. “You tell Dar to take care of you, okay?  No stabbing you with darts.”

“With the amount of coffee I’ve had so far here, I’d probably be better off with a pair of darts in my ass.” Her boss informed her. “Call you back, Bea.”

“Will do, boss. Talk to you soon.”

**

Dar dropped back into her seat, and gave her trackball a spin.  She barely had a moment to review the information on the screen when her phone buzzed. “Yes, Maria?”

“Jefa, I have your papa on the phone for you. Line uno.”

Dar pressed the key. “Hey dad.”

“Lo there, Dar.” Her father’s deep voice emerged from the speaker.  “That little girl helper of Kerry’s just done left here.”

“That was fast.” Dar said. “Thanks for pulling a bag together for me. I’m waiting to hear back from Gerry.”

“Don’t they need you two in this here office?” Andy Roberts asked. “Seems like you’d be more use here then messing with those crazy people up north.”

Dar leaned on her elbows, regarding the phone with some puzzled bemusement. “Well.” She said. “I’m sure Kerry would much rather be here than in Washington, and I’d rather not get on a military transport when I’ve been up for what feels like three days but we don’t really have a lot of choice.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s our job, Dad.”

“Silly ass company.”

Dar chuckled a little. “Hey, the White House is calling for me. “ She said. “What I am I supposed to day, no, I’d rather go lay in the sun with my partner?”

Andrew sighed. “World’s just gone nuts.” He said. “Ah just heard on the television that some of them people who took them planes down got trained to fly here.”

“Here?” Dar said. “In the states?”

“Here in this here town.” Her father corrected her.  “They arrested some folks, and rousted a bunch more and they ain’t finished yet.”

Dar scanned the news ticker, seeing the confirmation there. “Crap.” She muttered. “Like we aren’t called a banana republic already.”

“Anyhow.” Andy said. “You kids be careful with them govmint people. Worse than alligators sometimes. Don’t let Gerry get you into nothing, Dar.  He candied assed his way out of that last damned mess we did get into.”

Dar had to privately admit that was true.  “I know.” She said. “I don’t think this really involves Gerry though, Dad. He was just passing the message.  I’m taking my boss with me, so we should be okay.”

“That Alastair feller?

“Yeah.” She said. “And our corporate lawyer’s going to be up there too.”

“That coon ass?”

Dar snorted, and started laughing. She covered her mouth to stifle it.  “Ah.. yes.”  She cleared her throat. “Hamilton’s not that backwoods, dad.  He’s lived in Boston for years.”

“Coon ass.” Andrew grumbled. 

The speaker buzzed a little. “Miami exec, this is Newark Earth.”

“Hang on Dad.” Dar opened her mic. “Go ahead Newark. Did you get cell back?”

“For the moment, Miami – just wanted to let you know the trucks just got here from APC.  They’re setting up now to generate some power for us.  We just sent some of the ops staff out to get .. uh.. supplies.”

“Get them an entire barbeque with beer on me.” Dar replied. “We have a dependency on your birds coming live for the uplink at the Pentagon.” She said. “When that happens, that traffic takes priority. Tell everyone else to contact me if they have a problem with that.”

“Yes ma’am!” The voice sounded exhaustedly ecstatic. “I sure will tell them that.” 

Dar clicked off. “So anyway, Dad. “ She said. “ My plan is to get everything squared away, get the teams working, and then get my ass and Kerry’s ass back here and out of it. You get too close if you’re on the ground sometimes.”

“Good girl.” Andrew said. “Too damned easy to get sucked in. Had me a call from some old buddies before all hopped up and pissed all’em off telling them to just sit and wait for the arm waving to settle down some.”

Dar studied the phone somberly. “This isn’t going to end here.”

“Naw.” Her father grunted. “Aint’ going to end no where, long as folks got what other folks want and everybody hates everybody.”  He paused. “Politics fight.”

“True.” Dar murmured. “There aren’t any real winners anywhere in this.”

“Ain’t my fight.” Andrew stated. “Got my fill the last time. No body damned learned nothing out of that and a lot of good people ended up losing from it.” He sounded pissed off. “Jackasses.”

“You tell mom that?”

“Woman has been listening to me hollar about it since o dark.” Her father said.

“Yes.” Ceci’s voice broke in from the background. “It’s nice not to be the anti government radical in the family for twenty minutes. Novel experience. I’m enjoying it a lot.”

Dar laughed softly.  “I bet.” She laced her fingers together and studied them. “Hey Dad?”

“Yeap?”

“Want to come with me?”

There was a slight pause. “What in the hell do you think I am on this damn phone for?” Andrew said. “That button down feller and that coon ass ain’t going to do squat with them people.”

“Okay.” Dar smiled. “I’ll let them know, and call you when the arrangement are done.”

“Thank you, rugrat.”

“I love you too, dad.”  Dar replied.  “See you soon.”  She hung up the phone and considered her decision, then after a minute she nodded. “Yeah.” She said. “Another pair of strong hands never hurts.” She went back to the conference call, turning up the volume a little as she let herself absorb the flickering information.  “Never hurts.”

**

Kerry was conscious of the eyes on her as she entered the caucus room, a step or two behind her mother.  The last time she’d seen some of these men and women, she realized, was at her father’s hearing. A few, at her father’s funeral reception.

She resisted the urge to fuss with her hair and merely followed her mother across the floor to one of the desks, letting her hands rest on the back of the chair behind it as the room started to fill with harried looking, upset looking, tired looking people.

She sat down and rested her forearms on the table, having a vague memory of her father showing her this room, impressing on her the history behind it.  The investigation of the sinking of the Titanic had been held in this room, for instance, along with Watergate to put an alpha and an omega on the room’s dignity.

She tried to imagine what it would have been like to stand in a corner, and listen to men in handlebar moustaches and top hats argue about icebergs and lifeboats in a matter where the vessel was British and the seas international.

The senators were still gathering. Her mother wandered over to talk to one of the newcomers and she took a moment to lean back in her chair and stretch, easing her shoulders back and popping them into place to relieve the stress.

Long day. Kerry exhaled, wishing her sleep had been better.  Her eyes felt sore around the edges, and she blinked, rubbing them  as she straightened up and rested her elbows on the table again.   She checked her watch, wishing the session was already over so she could hurry the evening along, get past dinner, and then with any luck end her day in Dar’s arms.

Just the thought made her eyes sting just a bit more. She glanced down at the table, rubbing her thumb over the lightly scarred wooden surface that reminded her faintly of the old pews in the church she’d grown up going to.

“Ms. Stuart?”

Kerry looked up, to find an older woman standing in front of the table she was seated at. “Yes?” She responded politely.

“Alicia Woodsworth.” The woman extended a hand. “I’m Senator Marco’s security analyst. Can I have a word with you before we start?”

“Sure.” Kerry indicated a chair nearby. “I just hope I’m not going to have to say all this more than once. It’s been a long day.” She cautioned, in a mild tone.  “I’ll extend the courtesy to you though, since the Senator’s from my state.”

Alicia perched on the edge of the next table instead of taking a chair. She was a ginger haired woman with an athletic frame, a bit taller than Kerry was.  “Thanks.” She said. “I understand, and I’ll be brief.”  She paused. “That’s right, you do live in Florida, don’t you.”

“I do.” Kerry nodded. “Wish I was there right now, in fact.” She studied her unexpected inquisitor, deciding her often off kilter gaydar was possibly accurate this time and she was in good family company. “But I’m sure everyone feels that way.”

The woman nodded. “I’m sure the Senator does.” She commented. “He was scheduled to fly home to attend his daughter’s quinces this coming weekend.” She cleared her throat. “Anyway.” She folded her hands. “I’ll leave the why and how and when to my bosses esteemed colleagues. My question for you is this.”

Quinces.  Kerry felt her attention drift a little, the word bringing back the memory of her and Dar attending Maria’s daughter’s quinces, there in the heart of conservative Little Havana surrounded by the scent of saffron and mint and the buzz of passionate Latin speech.  “Boy I’d love a mojito right now.”

“So given that… excuse me?” Alicia paused and started at her. “Did you say something?”

“Just clearing my throat.” Kerry rested her chin on her fist. “Go on.”

“As I was saying, given that your company is so integral to national security, what security processes do you have in place to keep terrorists from getting a job with you?” She asked. “That’s my concern. Especially after what’s been going on down in Miami.”

“Well.” Kerry leaned back and propped her knee up against the table, her peripheral vision watching the room fill behind them. “I don’t think there’s really a way to prevent that, honestly.”  She admitted. “How do you filter for someone who did what those men did?”

“They didn’t come from Idaho.”

Kerry studied her face. “We’re an international company.” She stated. “Most of our employees don’t come from Idaho. I don’t come from Idaho.”  She considered. “We run a reasonable battery of background checks.  Our staff that works in secure facilities has to undergo security clearance processes.”

“Would you have hired one of those men who piloted those planes?”

Pointless question. “If they were a skilled IT worker with no criminal background, they filled a job need and could legally work wherever they were applying, we might.”  Kerry said. “I don’t think any company can say differently. Heck, I don’t think the military can say differently.”

“We have to do something.” Alicia said. “We have to protect ourselves from these people. That’s the trouble down in Miami. That’s why they hid down there. Too many people from other places.” She frowned, glancing around as the senators started to take seats. “I can’t say that to my boss. But you understand.”

Kerry’s pale green eyes narrowed a little.  She straightened up in her chair, her body coiling up a little as she brought her feet under her.

A man walked to the dias in the front and knocked a wooden gavel against it.  “Ladies and gentlemen, please sit.  This is an informal session, but given the circumstances we should keep it a short one.”

Alicia stood up, and nodded slightly at Kerry. “Later then. Thanks.” She walked over to where Alejandro Marcos was settling himself down, and bent over him, talking in a low voice.

“Good heavens, Kerry.” Her mother was back, taking the chair next to her. “I wasn’t expecting so many people to still be here. They must have gotten tied up in committee.”

“Mm.”  Her daughter grunted. “Just my luck.”

Cynthia gave her a half nervous look. “I’m sure it won’t be that bad.” She said. “Really, it’s just a few questions.”

“At father’s hearing, they just had a few questions.” Kerry pronounced the words carefully. “That ended up with me escaping in a cab from a mob.”

Her mother didn’t say anything.

Kerry laced her fingers together and rested her chin against them.  She didn’t really feel that intimidated, somewhat to her surprise, more annoyed to have to face questioning about a company she knew was performing as well as anyone had any reason to expect.

“All right.” A tall, distinguished looking man stepped to the dias. He had gray hair, and an impeccably cut suit, and he glanced over at Kerry for a long moment before he assumed a pair of reading glasses and studied the contents of a folder he opened.

Alan Markhaus.  Kerry drew in a little breath, remembering him from numerous visits in her younger years. An ally of her fathers, and always a welcome guest to her parents. Son of a Presbyterian minister, she also recalled, the senior senator from Minnesota and as conservative as they came.

Great. Kerry sighed silently, and waited, hoping her father’s old friend would keep his questions to the emergency at hand.

“Let me start off then.” The Senator removed his glasses. “Thank you all for attending. I know we’re all tired, and I hope this won’t take long.” He waited for the murmuring to die down.  “Based on the information we received from my esteemed colleague from Michigan..” He gave Cynthia a nod. “I thought it would be a good idea for us to get some clarification before things started running away from us again.”

Several of the group nodded.

Kerry stayed where she was, aware of the eyes watching her.  She was conscious of her own breathing, a little faster than normal, and the uneasy knot in her gut as she sensed the edginess in the room.  “Now I really wish I had that mojito.”

“Kerry?” Her mother leaned closer. “What was that?”

“Just clearing my throat.” Kerry lowered her hands and folded them.  “Wish I’d brought my briefcase.”

“Ms. Stuart.” Senator Markhaus half turned to face her. “It’s come to our attention that during the crisis yesterday, when attacks were being made in various places, that you had a good deal of information, immediate information, as things were happening.” He paused and waited.

“Yes, I did.” Kerry answered.

The Senator waited, but when it was obvious nothing more was coming, he glanced back at his notes. “It’s been suggested that you had more accurate information than we were provided.” He returned his eyes to her. “Is that true?”

“I have no idea.” Kerry replied. “I don’t know what you were being told.”

Markhaus nodded briefly. “Fair enough.” He commented. “Suppose you tell us, then, what your experience was, and how this information was provided to you.”

Kerry stood up, always more comfortable standing when she had to address others. Part of that, she suspected, was her relatively short stature, but she also found it easier to project her voice that way. “Certainly.” 

Chairs shifted and she waited for everyone to turn to face her.  She took a moment to collect her thoughts, then returned the gazes evenly. “It’s fairly simple.” She said. “Let me give you some background on what my company does, however, so you will all understand the context of the information we gathered.”

She stepped around the table and put her fingertips together in front of her, putting out of her mind her history with some of the people in the room not the least of which was her mother. “ILS has been contracted by a number of government agencies, including the military services, the general accounting office, the logistics office, among others to provide information technology services.”

“What does that actually mean?” An older woman asked. “Information technology services?”

“It depends.” Kerry backtracked. “We provide a wide range of services ranging from onsite help desks to programming, to network management.” She paused, but the woman didn’t speak up again. “We also manage a wide area network that carries most of the data between government agencies, and from the government and military to the public internet.”

“What kind of data?” Markhaus asked. “Confidential data?”

“Again, it depends.” Kerry said. “A large percentage of the data we carry, yes, is confidential at the least, and up to top top secret encrypted on the other end of the scale.  Accounting traffic. Payroll for the civil service. Command and control datastreams for the armed forces.”

She could see eyeballs starting to roll back in some heads. “In any case.” She said. “We do a lot of work for the country.  We have a presence in most military bases, in the Pentagon, at Cheyanne Mountain, and we maintain a good percentage of the computers all of our tax dollars pay for.”

“Incredible. One company?” The woman turned towards Markhaus.  “How was this allowed?”

Markhaus merely looked at Kerry, raising his eyebrows.

“It’s called the free market.” Kerry dryly informed her. “The government sends requests for pricing. We bid on them. So do a number of other companies.”

“Ms. Stuart.” Markhaus said. “Let’s get off the subject of contracts.  I am sure this is interesting to my colleagues, but frankly, I know all about your company’s portfolio so please move on to the information we asked.”

Kerry studied him for a moment. “I’m sure you are aware.” She said, with a faint smile. “In any case, during the attacks yesterday we instituted a process we have for crisis management that involves the widespread communication of all of our resources.”

She walked towards the dias. “One of the components of this process is the rapid collection of observations, information, and statistics between all parts of our company.”

“But how did you get the information.” The woman said. “That’s what I am interested in. I understand passing it among yourselves, though I have to question the security around that.”

“Boots on the ground.” Kerry replied, in a mild tone. “The information comes from the people who were there.  It doesn’t take  a rocket scientist to describe what you’re seeing with your own eyes. We had people in the Pentagon when that plane hit. We had people handling data centers who were affected by the buildings collapsing. We handle the telecommunications for the airlines.. of course we knew what was going on.”  She lifted her hands a little and let them drop. “We were in the middle of all of it. When the planes were rerouted to Canada, and they needed extra bandwidth to send reports and let people call home… we get that request.”

A soft buzz of conversation followed her statement.  Kerry watched the faces opposite her carefully, seeing surprise, doubt, suspicion, and boredom facing her.  “ I get that request.” She clarified. “We spent most of the day dog paddling like a Chihuahua on Cuban coffee trying to keep things going.”

“Who did you inform of all this?” A man asked.

“Inside our company? Everyone.” Kerry said.

“In the government.” The man said. “Who knew what you were doing?”

“No one.” Kerry replied. “That’s not what we’re paid for. We get paid to know what to do and do it.”

“What?” Another man stood up. “No wonder no one could tell us what was going on. How could you work in a vaccum like that?”

“There was no vaccum.” Kerry felt her body tense, as she reacted to the rising emotion in the room.  

“You were meddling in the government during a disaster!” The woman stood up, clearly outraged. “What do you mean, you didn’t tell anyone what was going on!”

Cynthia stood as well. “Now, please.” She said. “I did not ask..”

“Oh shut up!” The man  said. “We know where your part is..”

“HEY!” Kerry startled even herself, as a loud bark erupted from her chest. She took a step towards the man as he whirled to face her. “Keep a civil tongue in your head to my mother.” She glared at him. “Or you can take your questions and  shove them up your ass.”

There was a moment of utter, total silence after her yell’s echoes faded.

“Sit down.” Kerry followed that up with another bark. “Who in the hell do you people think you are to be questioning me?”  She felt the anger surging through her, making her vision lose a little color and bringing a flush to her skin.  “Of course we didn’t tell anyone. Why should we? What in the hell use would that have been? No one had any control over what was happening the least of all the people in this room.”

“Ms. Stuart.” Markhaus said. “Please recall where you are.”

“I know where I am.” Kerry retorted.

“Then please act like it.” The Senator said. “We’re due respect. I know you were raised knowing that.”

Kerry turned her head and looked at him. She put her hands on her hips. “Someone once told me.” She said. “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, become consultants. Those who have no clue at all run for Congress.”

Markhaus’ lips twitched, his eyes narrowing a little.

“I can, and I do.” Kerry said. “If you people did not have proper information from your regular channels, take that up with them.  Don’t stand here asking me why I didn’t stop what I was doing to send updates to anyone. “ She spoke slowly and forcefully. “That is what my customers who happen to include the government pay me for.”

Markhaus studied her, as the rest of the room shifted angrily. Uncomfortably.  “So let me understand.” He said. “All these people calling, all this chaos going on.  People needing information, needing whatever it is.. what did you call it, bandwidth?”

Kerry nodded.

“Who decides what takes priority?” The woman asked. “I know my offices were down.  Why weren’t they considered?”

 “I make those decisions.” Kerry stated.  “Based on a set of priorities we catalog and adjust to fit the circumstances.”

“You?” Markhaus asked.

“Me.” Kerry’s green eyes took on just a hint of wry amusement.  “Now, let’s not get too dramatic about it. We’re a very large company. We have a very large number of contracts and customers and worldwide resources.  We handle minor emergencies all the time We plan for this.” She paused. “We know what the priorities are.”

“I am very disturbed.” Cynthia Stuart came out from behind the table and joined Kerry. “Kerrison and her colleagues performed amazingly yesterday. I heard quite some parts of what they were doing. They deserve our thanks not this horrific inquisition.”

“Cynthia, we just..” Markhaus waved a hand. “Please.”

“Please nothing.” Kerry’s mother frowned at him. “I am sorry I asked Kerrison to appear here. I am even sorrier that I confided how competent her staff was yesterday. You make me very ashamed, as though you asked me to do this so you could take out your frustrations, our frustrations, on my daughter.”

“Maybe we did.” Markhaus agreed. “Welcome to the Hill.” He didn’t look apologetic at all. “You’re damn right I’m frustrated. Standing up in front of the rest of the world with my pants around my ankles makes me that way.”

“Then why not take that out on someone who deserves it?” Cynthia said. “It seems to me that we have spent the day in ridiculous debate about how terrible this was, and we have not even discussed the fact that someone allowed it to happen.”

Go mom. Kerry eyed her mother with wry surprise.

Markhaus grunted, and shook his head.

 “The question is.” The woman next to her spoke up, but in a quieter tone. “Why did they know so much, and no one else seemed to.” She eyed Kerry briefly. “I didn’t mean to be rude.”

Kerry altered her body posture, removing her hands from her hips and sticking them in her pockets instead. “Well.” She said. “It’s called Information Technology for a reason. Knowing what’s going on is what my business is.  We have a good communication plan, we all speak the same language, and we’re used to passing data to each other without the constraints of different agencies, different politics, or different chains of command.”

Markhaus grunted.  “Probably got a point there.” He admitted. “I just heard the police and firemen in Manhattan couldn’t even talk to each other because their radios were incompatible.”

Everyone got quiet again.

“Did you hear, on CNN earlier, those sounds?” The woman said. “All those chirps, from the firefighter’s pagers they said.”

Kerry let her eyes drop to the ground, as the silence lengthened after that. She jerked a little, then when her cell phone buzzed softly, and she looked up in apology before she removed it form her belt. “I’m sorry, excuse me.”

Mark’s cell phone. “Hey.” Kerry kept her voice low. “What’s up?” She moved away from the now whispering Senators, and turned her back to them.

“Hey.” Mark sounded subdubed. “Listen, I was just listening in on the bridge. They found our big guy in NY.”

“Bob? Where?” Kerry murmured.

Mark hesitated. “He’s um… he didn’t make it.”

Kerry’s heart sank.  “Damn.” She exhaled. “Does Dar know?”

“She was on the bridge.” Mark said. “She went to go tell the big cheese. The NY people are pretty slammed.”

“Damn it.” Kerry sighed. “He and Alastair were good friends.”

“Yeah.” Her MIS Chief murmured. “How’s it going there?”

“I’m about to kickbox a few senators and get my ass thrown in jail.” Kerry admitted. “Tell Dar to bring cash.”

That got a tiny laugh out of Mark. “Hey, listen. Good news is, they got the Newark E up. Birds are synced, and I’m doing some bandwidth hacking while I wait for  power here.”

“Good job, Mark.” Kerry sighed, and glanced over her shoulder. Some  of the people were moving towards the door, and she realized the session seemed to be over. “Let me wrap this up, and I’ll get back to you. The boss said she’d be heading out here tonight.”

“Woo fucking hoo I’ll be glad to see her.” Mark said.

“Me too.” Kerry agreed. “Me too.” She repeated, closing the cell phone. She turned and walked back to where her mother was standing, talking to Senator Markhaus. “Sorry.”

“Is everything all right, Kerry?” Her mother asked. “You look upset.”

Kerry gazed past them. “One of our people in New York was killed in the attack.” She said. “They just confirmed it.”

“Oh dear. I’m so sorry.” Cynthia put her hand on Kerry’s shoulder. “Was it someone you knew well?”

“No.” She shook her head. “But we’ve been trying to support our people there, and it’s very hard news for them.”  Her eyes flicked to the door. “Are we done here?”

“For now.” Senator Markhaus said. “Nice bit of fencing, by the way. Quoting your father back at me.” He studied her coolly. “Wonder what he’d say if he’d heard you do that.”

Kerry stared right back at him. “He’d tell you not to piss me off.”  She glanced at her mother. “Excuse me. I’ll wait outside.” She eased past them and made for the door, twitching her jacket across her shoulders as she cleared it and went out.

“Was that called for, Alan?” Cynthia asked.  “Please don’t’ expect me to ask Kerry to come in here again.”

Markhaus put his hands in his pockets, regarding the now empty doorframe. “Interesting kid.” He said. “Turned out more like him than he ever dreamed.” He said. “He’d have popped a button listening to her tell us off like that.”

“Kerry has quite a temper.” Her mother agreed. “But in this case, I agree with her. She did our country good service, and was rewarded with accusations and your mean tongue.  Why not turn that on your dear friends in the administration instead? Is it just so much easier to yell at a young woman?”

Markhause gave her a sour look.

“Perhaps Roger was right.” Cynthia straightened up. “We are ruled by fools and cowards. Fortunately for me, my daughter is neither.” She turned and marched out, slamming the door with a resounding bang behind her.

**

Continued in Part 12