“Dar, did you say all the transatlantic phone lines were down?” Alastair pulled his seat a little closer to his hurriedly typing CIO.
“Alastair, don’t talk to me for a minute.” Dar said. “I’m rerouting traffic and you don’t want me sending financial datastreams to Tibet.”
“Oh.” Her boss said. “Well, no, I sure don’t.”
Dar kept her eyes on the screen and her fingers on her keyboard, going through the somewhat delicate task of rerouting traffic across alternate paths they were never intended to travel. At stake were a lot of American tourists in Europe who needed to get to their ATM accounts, or use their credit cards.
Including herself and Alastair of course.
There were four links across the Atlantic from New York, from four different providers, going to four different headends in Europe. Absolutely rock solid redundancy unless you happened to lose the major landing point offices for all four providers on the same day.
What were the odds of that? Well. Dar exhaled, blinking a little as she peered at the screen. It was too bad she hadn’t taken a bet on those odds, wasn’t it. Probably could have paid off ILS’s outstanding debt with the winnings.
She finished typing and reviewed the results, switching over to her network monitor to watch the lines out of Miami branching to South America, across to the Bahamas, and out to Africa. The traffic would have to take a back route across Africa to Europe, and the access would be hundreds of milliseconds slower.
A thousand milliseconds was a second though – and the end result would be an extra tap of someones fingernails on the top of an ATM before it barfed out the local currency.
“Damn.” Dar sighed. “The world’s getting smaller every damn day.”
“What’s that, Dar?” Alastair turned around in his chair. “Can I talk to you now?”
His CIO sat back and let her hands rest on her thighs. “I’m done.” She said. “For now anyway, until the next damn thing happens.” She flexed her fingers a little, reviewing in her head the details she knew she had to send over to the operations group soon.
Twenty changes that in normal times would have gone through four levels of approval, been scheduled weeks in advance, with carefully coordinated validation from the individual banks and networks involved. No one except for Dar would have even considered doing it on the fly, but that was her role in this type of situation.
Anyone could have made the changes, one by one. Only Dar had the comprehensive understanding of the intricate spiderweb that was their network to do it without documentation and trusting her instincts and so could get the moves done at the speed at which events were actually transpiring.
Had she not been there, or had net access, it still would have happened. Dar wasn’t nearly so arrogant as to write a single point of failure into either her network design or their corporate processes. No one was indispensable.
Sir Melthon entered. He crossed over to Dar’s borrowed desk and stuck his hands in his pockets. “My people are telling me it’s no good trying to call over to the States.” He said. “We’ve got resources in New York we can’t contact, and it’s a bit worrisome.”
“The main trunks from overseas come into New York City.” Dar said. “The termination point was underneath the World Trade Center.”
“Ah.” The magnate grunted. “Putting a kink in your work, I’m guessing.”
“Not really.” Alastair said. “We’ve got a pretty comprehensive plan for this sort of thing.”
Sir Melthon’s head dropped forward a little, as he peered at Alastair. “For this sort of thing?”
“Well, disasters.” Dar’s boss explained.
“Dar?” Kerry’s voice echoed softly in her ear. “Can you cover for me for ten minutes?”
“Sure.” Dar put her other earbud back in. Then she removed it, and reached over to trigger the speakers in her laptop and half turned the machine so that their newest client could see the screen. “This is a system we developed to direct and coordinate a response to any kind of widespread disaster.”
“We?” Alastair moved back so give Sir Melthon a better view. He folded his hands over his stomach and twiddled his thumbs. “Charmingly modest as always, Dar, but didn’t you design this?”
Dar gave him a look from the corner of her eye. “Someone had to.” She went on. “The system alerts everyone corporatewide where there is an event, either by sending them a network message..”
“Not much good if they’re not in the building.” Sir Melthon commented.
“Or via a PDA alert, SMS text message, or automated cell phone voice mail. Sometimes all four.” Dar continued. “They’re asked to respond in any of those methods, and the system logs their location, response and status.”
Sir Melthon leaned closer. “Huh.” He said. “How many people?”
“A quarter of a million.” Alastair supplied. “It’s a lot of people to keep track of.”
“Those that can get on net connect to this global desktop.” Dar said, taking advantage of the slight lull in the chaos. “There’s a chat area, a status tab for all the locations showing who’s accounted for and who isn’t, and the global conferencing system, which is a voice over IP bridge that lets us all talk to each other.”
“Some folks call into that with their cell phones if they can, or a landline.” Alastair supplied. “Keeps everyone informed, and let’s us react to whatever we need to react to in real time.”
“Miami exec? This is LA Earth station.” A voice erupted suddenly. “Do we have a go to bring up the reserve transponders? We are not at capacity yet but I bet we will be and we’d like to grab them before someone else does.”
“LA Earth, this is Miami.” Dar conceded to protocol, mostly for Sir Melthon’s sake. “Go ahead and bring up whatever you have and hold it ready.”
“LA, this is Seattle Netops, we’re getting a request for additional uplink from Vancouver, can you take it? Four channels.”
“Miami exec, this is Charlotte. Can you advise the status of interbank? We have a text from London asking.”
Dar cleared her throat a bit. “Charlotte, interbank is routing via the southern links, approximately an extra seven hops, plus two hundred milliseconds, but stable.” She reported.
“Uh, thank you ma’am.”
“Miami exec, this is Miami ops, we’re publishing the new routes on the big map.” Mark said. “Be advised, we’re assembling technical teams and checking inventory.”
“What’s that about?” Sir Melthon inquired. “Checking inventory?”
Dar checked the news ticker, then looked up at the television screen .”Any word on how long the flights are grounded?” She asked. “They’re getting teams ready to go and help all our customers get back onto service.”
“Tomorrow noon, at the earliest I heard.” Alastair said. “I’ve been exchanging mail with Bea. She’s trying to see if she can get us international flights into Mexico and arrange a pickup if you don’t mind going to Houston first.”
“Huh.” Sir Melthon got up and moved out of the way, strolling back across the room towards the door. “Not bloody bad, for Americans.” He disappeared, leaving them to listen to the new voices coming from Dar’s speakers.
“This is Tom Stanton from the New York office.”
Dar recognized one of the senior salesman’s voice. “This is Miami, go ahead Tom.” She said. “Good to hear you.”
“I just made it up to our office on the Rock.” The man said. “We were up in the South Tower.”
Dar felt a chill run up and down her back, and Alastair leaned forward, his experession altering to one of grim seriousness. “Go on.” She said, as the rest of the background chatter faded.
“What a nightmare.” Tom said. “We were up on the ninetieth floor when the North Tower got hit. I saw the damn plane plow right into the side of the building and saw whatever was in it’s way come flying out the back side.”
“Good lord.” Alastair muttered.
“A lot of people stayed to watch.” Tom said. “We started to head out of the place because seemed to us the tower might lean over into the South. We couldn’t get an elevator, so we started walking down and we were just past the sky lobby when that second bastard hit.”
Dar caught a pop up box from the corner of her eye. She opened it.
I’m back, thanks sweetheart. Needed a bio break.
Dar flexed her fingers and typed back.
Anytime. I reported the interbank reroute and told Seattle they could take four more sat channels from LA for Vancouver, and told LA they could bring up the cold reserve transponder space. She paused, glancing at Alastiar who was typing on his PDA. Wish we were home on our couch.
“So we kept going.” Tom said. “The stairs were full of dust and hot as hell. You could hardly breath, and there were these firemen trying to go the other direction. What a mess. Pieces of concrete kept falling on everyone.”
I wish we were too. My mother’s here listening. I want my dog, and my PJ’s and you and all I have is my father’s desk and my family not understanding what the hell I’m doing.
“Tom, this is Sherren.” Sherren interrupted. “Are you all back? Are you at the office? We’re up at Central Park, about a dozen of us.”
There was a silence. “Just me and Nancy are here right now.” Tom answered. “I don’t know where everyone else is. We lost them. Bob stopped to help this lady, and two of the other guys did too, and then part of the stairwell caved in.”
“Jesus.” Alastair whispered.
“Oh no.” Sherren said. “Maybe we should go back to the office and wait there, maybe they’ll show up next.”
“Anyway.” Tom continued, tiredly. “We got down to the bottom floor and out into plaza. There were bodies all over the place. People jumping, I guess. The firemen were trying to move them but they kept getting called to go this way, then the other way. They were going crazy.”
Dar closed her eyes. She was aware that someone had muted the television, and the room they were in was totally silent.
Alastiar clicked his mic on. “Tom, this is Alastair. I’m glad you made it out. I know it was rough.”
“Thank you sir.” Tom answered. “We were just past the plaza when everyone started screaming, and I heard this rumbling in back of me.. it sounded like a big plane, you know, a seven forty seven? That rumbling when they’re going to take off? And these huge bangs – I never heard anything like it. “ He took a breath. “There were cops in front of us and they just started yelling for us to run, run, run – they shoved us down the street and I looked behind me and saw it coming down.”
“Oh no.” Sherren murmured.
“We started running, but there were these firemen..” Tom stopped, then went on again. “They started yelling and running the other way, towards the building and the cops were trying to catch hold of them and stop them and then the cloud was on top of us and all we could do was get behind some trucks and lay down and pray we didn’t die from it.”
At the end of the sentence his voice broke, and they could hear him crying. Dar bit her own lip and looked down at her keyboard. She folded her hands and rubbed the tips of her thumbs together, unable to truly fathom what it must have been like to have been there.
Alastair keyed his mic again. “Tom. Is there anything you need done? What can we do to help out.”
Tom drew a shaky breath. “We’re okay.” He said. “We both live down in Greenwich. We can’t go home.” He added. “Is Dar there?”
Startled, Dar looked up. “I’m here.” She said, after a brief pause.
“God bless you.” Tom said. “God bless you for not listening to us.”
“Tom, we’re all heading back to the office.” Sherren said. “We’ll stay together and help each other out. Okay? We’ll see you soon.”
Alastair put his hand on Dar’s arm. “Do they have any kind of facilities there, at the office? Food?”
Dar nodded. “Showers, gym, kitchen, vending, yeah.” She said. “They were so pissed at me for not putting them in the Trade Center I decided to throw in the works for them there.”
“Hindsight.” Alastair said, grimly.
“Yeah.” Dar typed a response into the waiting message box. On the flip side, at least we’re both away from the trouble and safe instead of in the middle of it. One building collapsing on me in my lifetime was more than enough.
Kerry’s response was almost immediate. You are so right. I’ll stop my whining and get back to work now – talk about getting a new perspective.
Definitely. Dar leaned back and looked around, finding the room full of both their team, and Sir Melthon’s people, all quietly listening. “Damn.” She shook her head. “Not a good day.”
Not a good day at all.
“Scotch all round, I think.” Sir Melthon turned to practical matters. “Think it’s going to be a rather long night.”
Kerry stood up and stretched, twisting her body right and left. “Pentagon, Danny, this is Miami exec. Are you still out there?”
A soft crackle. “This is Roger, Miami exec. Danny is getting his arm taken care of finally.” The voice that answered was hoarse. “Part of the wall, the outside, just fell down. Fires are still burning here, but a lot of the paramedics are around and taking care of people.”
“Miami exec, this is Herndon. We believe the outage in Somerset is due to the United 93 crash near there. One of our techs reported it’s in a large field about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.”
Kerry rubbed her neck. “Okay.” She said. “Thanks Herndon. How many people are we looking at for the outage?”
“Ten major customers, Miami exec.” The voice on the other end sounded apologetic. “And our backhaul to Houston.”
“Ah.” Kerry sighed. “Okay. How many transponder channels are we looking at? I want to send as many of the sat rigs to New York as we can, since they’ve got so much infrastructure down.”
“We can probably do it with three megs., Miami exec”
Kerry considered. “Hang on.” She glanced across the room, uncomfortably aware of her mother watching her like some match at Wimbledon. She keyed her mic again. “Tell you what, Herndon. If the lines aren’t repaired by the time the trucks get to your area, I’ll send two your way. Can you pressure the vendor?”
There was a moment of silence. “Uh.. I don’t think we’ve even called them.” Herndon answered meekly. “Everyone’s still freaking here.”
Understandable. “No problem, Herndon.” Kerry said. “Let’s revisit the question in about ten hours. It’ll take that long for the trucks to get out of Texas anyway.”
“Will do, ma’am.” The tech replied. “That sounds like forever. It feels like today is already twenty four hours gone.”
Kerry looked at her watch. “And it’s not even noon.” She murmured. “You’re right.” So much had happened in so short a time it was hard to process it. Had it really been less than three hours? So short a time for the world to have changed so profoundly.
It seemed incredible. But at least they hadn’t had any catastrophic news in the last fifteen minutes. Kerry wondered if there were more planes out there, heading to places further away. Could they have gotten them all?
What if there were other things planned? What if it was just the start?
“Miami exec, this is Miami HR.” Mari’s voice caught her attention. “I’ve just gotten off the phone with the community support team. We’re working on sending assistance to Washington and New York, but we need some input on what the requirements are.”
“Miami HR, this is Roger at the Pentagon. We sure could use a chuck wagon and a hot spot here.”
“Roger, we already have the big bus headed your way.” Mari said. “I’ll tell them to stop and pick up food.”
“I remember that big bus.” Kerry commented to Angie. “It’s what showed up outside the hospital the last time. I was so glad to see it I almost cried.”
“I remember you told me about it.” Angie said. “I think you mentioned leather couches and a beer tap.”
“Oh, thanks ma’am.” Roger did, truly sound grateful. “We’ll tell the guys with guns to let us know when it gets here. They’re really tight right now.”
“I can well imagine.” Mari said. “Which reminds me, Miami exec? Do we know when we can get relief teams into Manhattan? I heard the bridges and tunnels are all closed inbound.”
Kerry’s brow creased, then she keyed her mic. “Hang on, let me see what I can do.” She turned to her mother. “Mother? Can you find that out for me?”
Caught utterly by surprise, Cynthia Stuart stared at her for a long moment. “I beg your pardon, Kerrison?’ She finally spluttered. “What are you asking me?”
The irony was almost too much. Kerry felt uncannily like she wanted to sneeze. “We want to send community support trailers into New York to help our people, and anyone else.” She explained. “I need to know when they’ll let people into the city. Can you find that out for me?”
Her mother looked honestly perplexed. “Me?” She asked.
“You’re a Senator, mom.” Angie supplied helpfully. “I think Kerry figures the government would probably tell you sooner than they’d tell her if she called.” She ignored Mike, who had covered his mouth with one hand. “Right Ker?”
Kerry nodded. “I think our nearest ones are in Boston and Albany.”
“Senator.” One of Cythia’s aides poked his head in the door. “I think they are ready to start the conference call again, apparently the lines are working better now.”
Cynthia regarded him. “Albert.” She said. “I need you to find something out for me, urgently.”
The aide blinked in surprise and entered all the way in the room, glancing at Kerry and her brother and sister briefly. “Yes, ma’am? Do you want to discuss it in your office?”
“No.” Cynthia said. “Please find out at once when the roads into Manhattan will be reopened to allow assistance in the city.”
“Was I not clear?” Senator Stuart asked. “I realize there is much confusion in this situation, but there are resources ready and willing to help some of those poor people and we must assist. So please go at once.”
“Ah, sure.” The aide said. “We have resources?”
“Yes.” The senator confirmed.
“Okay.” The aide turned and headed for the door. “I’ll start working on that right away. Do you want to come to your office for the conference call?”
Cynthia sniffed. “Based on the last one, I think my time is more valuably spent sitting here. I certainly have learned far more.”
The aide looked puzzled, then he merely nodded and left.
There was a brief, awkward silence. “Hey Ker.” Angie got up. “Want some ice tea? My throat’s dry listening to you yak this whole time.”
“Sure.” Kerry said.
“I’ll help.” Mike followed his sister out the door, leaving Cynthia and Kerry alone in the room.
Kerry made a mental note to properly thank her siblings at a later time. She sat down and rested her elbows on the desk, half hoping for an interruption from the conference line. “Thanks.” She said belatedly. “I know there’s a lot going on but we want to help where we can.”
Her mother folded her hands together. “I had no idea how involved you were with this sort of thing.” She said. “Your company seems quite organized.”
“We try to be.” Kerry said. “I don’t think you can ever prepare for something like what we’re living through today but we do have plans for different types of problems.”
Her mother digested this. “You seem very competent.” She looked up to see Kerry’s expression. “I’m sorry. That must sound very patronizing.” Cynthia said. “But to be truthful, I really had no idea until today what it is you actually did, Kerrison.”
“And, actually, I still don’t’ really grasp what it is you were discussing on that machine.” Her mother went on. “Except that it seems to be very involved with different parts of the government, which surprises me.”
“It shouldn’t.” Kerry said. “Don’t you remember father saying he wanted our company out of all the government contracts we hold?” She said.
Cynthia studied her. “Extraordinary.” She murmured. “I do remember him saying that. I just had no understanding of what he meant until now.”
It almost made Kerry smile. But not quite. “Don’t worry.” She said. “You’re in good hands.” She turned hers over and exposed the palms of them. “We know what we’re doing.”
“It certainly sounds like you do.” Her mother said.
“Does that surprise you?” Kerry asked.
Her mother frowned. “Of course not.” She said. “You’ve always been quite clever, Kerrison.”
“Senator? The call’s starting.” Another one of the aides popped his head in. “They think they’ve gotten ahold of someone at the Pentagon to give an update, and they’re asking for all of Congress to go to Washington to be in session tomorrow.”
Cynthia Stuart glanced at him. “Please put the call in here, to this phone.” She indicated the console phone on the desk Kerry was sitting at. “I’ll take it here.”
“Ma’am?” The aide looked pointedly at Kerry. “It’s a secure line.”
“Yes, thank you for clarifying that for me.” The senator said. “Now please just do as I asked, and while you are at it, tell the staff to bring coffee service in as well.” She added. “I will need to evaluate if can leave my family here before travel is arranged to Washington.”
“All right, Senator. If you say so.” The man still looked dubious, but he nodded and escaped out the door, shaking his head a little.
Cynthia waited a moment, then she turned to Kerry. “I would rather we have all of the information in one place. I trust you understand how confidential it is.”
“It’s okay.” Kerry rested her chin on her hand. “I’ve got a top secret clearance.”
Her mother paused in mid breath, tilting her head to one side as she regarded her daughter. “You do?”
“Miami exec? This is the Air Hub.”
Kerry turned to her screen. “Go ahead, Air Hub, this is Miami exec.”
“We’ve been alerted to possible power disruptions.” The Air Hub tech sounded exhausted. “We’ve only got a four hour generator at the moment since the big one’s on service.”
“I’ll take this one.” Dar’s voice broke in. “I’m just in the mood to scream at someone.”
Now, Kerry couldn’t help but smile. “Thanks boss.” She keyed her mic. “My throat’s giving out.”
“Miami exec, this is LA Earth station. Any word on Newark Earth station? We’re running out of transponder space here.”
Kerry checked her text messages. “Miami ops, anything from Newark?”
“Nada.” Mark answered. “I’ll text them. See what I can find out They probably lost the backhaul. It went through the 140 West station into the Niagara 3 hub.”
“Everything’s down on that hub.” Dar said. “We lost a ton of facility.”
“Miami, this is Sherren in New York.” Sherren broke in. “We’re all back in the office at Rockefeller.” She paused. “No one else has showed up from the Tower yet.”
“Okay, thanks Sherren.” Kerry said. “Are you sure you all don’t want to leave and go home?”
“No.” The woman sounded tired, but definite. “We want to stay together here and wait for the others.” She said. “Anne’s making some soup for us in the kitchen.”
The aide returned, and went to the phone, picking up the receiver and punching some buttons on it. “They’re a little late Senator.”
“Mm.” Cynthia said. “More than you possibly know.”
“Allright, thanks Bea.” Alastair closed his PDA, and sighed. “Well, damn it all. Bea said it’s hard to even get the travel agents to talk to anyone.” He said. “Everyone’s packed to the gills busy with people stuck all over the place trying to get from point a to b.”
“Mm?” Dar was chewing on a rib.
“Right now, there are zero planes flying.” Her boss said. “So everyone’s trying to get around that, and Canada’s not letting anything take off so a lot of people are looking to Mexico.” He rubbed the back of his neck, looking more than a little stressed. “Mexico City and Guadalajara are booked solid. Cabo’s open, but that’s a hell of a trip.”
Dar put her rib bone down and selected another from the plate in front of her. “Fly us into Cancun and I’ll have my parents pick us up in the boat.” She suggested. “They can drop you at Galveston and take me home.”
Alastair pursed his lips. “Are you serious?” He asked. “That’s an awful lot of trouble to go to.”
Dar shrugged. “It’ll take days, but it’s going to take days to get home anyway.” She said. “Dad’s boat’ll go thirty five knots and he’s got a small satellite onboard.” She said. “Worth a try, anyway.”
Her boss pondered a moment. “Well, let me let Bea look at that possibility.” He opened his PDA gain, half turning away as he typed. “Beats driving up from Cabo I guess.”
The idea was on the crazy side. Dar had one ear cocked int the direction of the laptop, and she was listening to the stream of chatter from the conference bridge while she worked her way through some unbelievably excellent barbeque. Everything today had been on the crazy side though, and she saw little advantage in not thinking as outside the box as she could.
The pictures on the large screen flat panel television were bleak. She’d watched the crashing of the planes and the falling of the buildings dozens and dozens of times and she found she was starting to get a little shell shocked from it.
The pictures of the men and women covered in gray dust were almost surreal, and she had to keep reminding herself that this wasn’t a made for television disaster movie every time they showed the huge, billowing cloud chasing people down the street.
Hard to believe it was real, until she heard the counterpoint of Kerry’s voice behind her acknowledging this outage and that, and taking reports from people who were really there, really experiencing the horror and trying to stay professional and work their way through it.
High point for the company. Bottom of a crater point for humanity.
Sir Melthon entered. “Well, things seem to have settled a bit.”
“Planes are out of the sky.” Dar agreed. “Who knows if that’s the end of it though?”
The magnate sat down in the seat across the desk from her. “Hell of a thing.” He said. “We’ve still got some missing people in New York. Could I pass you along the names, and see if your fellows there have seen or heard of them?”
“Sure.” Dar said. “We’re missing some of our own.”
“So I heard.” He replied. “Dinner turn out all right for you? My second chef’s from Dallas, and he insisted on making some of this stuff for you lot. Been cooking since last night.”
“It’s very good.” Dar said. “I don’t get to eat barbeque very often. Takes too long, and the local joints are all chains.” She admitted. “Miami’s not really a part of the south.”
Sir Melthon snorted. “The wife’s been after me to visit there. Worth it?”
Dar shrugged one shoulder. “My hometown, so I think so. If you want to enjoy it, come in winter. If you want your wife to ask you to go somewhere else stop by in the summer.”
“LA Earth Station, this is Miami exec.” Kerry’s voice emerged from the speaker, sounding more than a bit hoarse. “We have Newark on text, they not only lost their backhaul, they have a total power outage and their plumbing backed up.”
Dar turned all the way around and stared at the laptop in bemusement.
“Uh. Miami exec, this is LA Earth. We copy that.” The Earth station replied. “Sorry to hear it. We’ll keep squeezing everything we can up to the birds.”
“Thanks.” Kerry answered. “Okay, what’s next?”
“That one of your people?” Sir Melthon asked. “That gal? Sounds like a sharp one. Been listening to her go on for a while now.”
Dar put her rib bone down. “That’s our vice president of operations.” She replied. “Kerry Stuart.” She picked up her napkin and wiped her lips. “She’s very sharp.” She caught sight of Alastair watching her out of the corner of her eye. “And yes, she’s mine.”
“Another one of those smart mouthed women?” But Sir Melthon smiled when he said it.
“I wouldn’t have any other kind.” Dar replied mildly. “Especially not in Kerry’s position.” She picked up a french fry and bit into it, aware of the faint shaking of Alastair’s shoulders nearby.
“Well, to each their own.” The magnate pronounced.
“Hey, Dar?” Alastair turned around and faced her. “Can you think of a reason why the government’s looking for me?”
Dar stared at him in momentary bewilderment. “What?”
Her boss held up his PDA. “Bea just messaged me that she got a call from Washington asking where I was, and could they talk to me.”
Sir Melthon held his silence, looking between his two guests with a look of absorbed interest.
Dar folded her hands together. “Well.” She considered. “We do have a lot of accounts with them.” Her brow creased. “But this is hardly the time for them to be asking about contracts and we’re already doing everything possible and some things not possible to keep things rolling.”
“Exactly.” Alastair said. “Ah, maybe it was a mistake. Someone following up on something that doesn’t really matter today, probably.”
Dar nodded. “Happens sometimes. People focus on small stuff when they can’t handle the big.” She agreed. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, though. Those six sat trucks aren’t even going to be a drop in the bucket with all the lines we lost.”
Alastair exhaled, forking up a piece of brisket. “Should we even be worrying about that, Dar? Lot of people lost a lot of things, including their lives there today. What the hell do our circuits matter, really? Everyone’s going to understand if things aren’t back to normal by tomorrow.” He looked uncharacteristically grim. “I feel like a bit of an ass listening to us go crazy there on the link when people are lying under tons of debris on the south end of Manhattan.”
There was a small silence. Dar picked up a rib and bit into the side of it. “Alastair.” She said, after she finished chewing. “What are our options? Do nothing and just watch CNN all day? We can’t help those people.”
“Well, yes but..”
“We can, however, work our asses off keeping people communicating with each other.” Dar cut him off. “That’s what our people are doing. That’s what Kerry’s doing, making space for people stuck in Canada trying to send mail home and make arrangements, or keeping the cell centers connected, or people’s ATM cards working.” Shes aid. “We do what we do. We’re doing more to help the damn country then ninety percent of the planet.”
“Woman speaks the truth.” Sir Melthon broke in. “It’s been damned impressive to watch. Wasn’t looking for a practical demonstration of your abilities, McLean, but I’m no idiot not to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Alastair sighed. “Of course, and thanks.” He said. “It’s just such a rotten excuse for it.”
Dar finished her rib and wiped her fingers, then picked up her glass of tea and took a swallow. She understood Alastair’s frustration. At least she had something she could do, instead of just listen. “I’m going to give Kerry’s throat a break.” She said. “Last thing she needs is laryngitis.”
Her boss managed a smile at that. “Bet she wishes you were there.” He said.
“We both wish we were home.” Dar answered, sliding her chair back to face the screen and keying her mic. “Ker?”
There was a scuffing noise. “Here.”
“Go take a break.” Dar said. “Drink some hot tea. You’re starting to sound like a frog. I’ve got this for a little while.”
Kerry cleared her throat. “Ah. Yeah.” She sounded grateful. “Thanks boss. Any word on flights?”
Dar had to smile. “Not so far.” She said. “They’re still working on it.”
Her partner sighed. “Okay. I’ll be back in a few.” She clicked off and Dar settled down to watch the screen, consciously aware of how far she was from home. “One problem, Alastair.” She glanced over at him. “We’ll be in the air a hell of a long time.”
“I know.” Alastair said, rubbing his eyes. “I know.”
Too much happening, too fast. Dar rested her chin on her hands Now that the immediate threat seemed to be on hold for the moment and she had time to reflect, her mind was starting to churn over with all the problems she now had to worry about.
Getting home. Getting Kerry home. Finding out about their people. Finding out about Gerry.
Figuring out how this was going to change their world.
Kerry retreated to the solar with her big mug of tea and honey, curling up on the bench as she let the silence and the rich, green smell sooth her nerves. Her ears still felt like they were ringing with all the voices and the sounds from the television and it took her a few minutes before her mind wound down and she could relax.
She hitched the knee of her jeans up and rested one socked foot on the opposite knee, comfortable in her t=shirt in the relatively warm air.
She sipped her tea, grateful for the warm sweetness as it slid down her throat, and more than grateful to her partner for taking over the reins for a while so she could have a chance to chill out and collect her scattered thoughts.
Thank goodness for Dar. What would she do without her? Kerry thought about some of the things that had gone on and how if just a few things had been different how they could have so easily been affected more dangerously.
It felt good to just sit quietly, out of the limelight, and away from the watching eyes of her family and her mother’s aides. She thought she’d done a very creditable job so far but she felt exhausted from all the emotional and intellectual turmoil of the past few hours.
The television had just been showing shots of people being recovered from the Pentagon. Kerry had sat there watching with a sense of odd disconnection, knowing some of the people on the screen were surely known to her by name, but not by sight.
Then they’d shown a press conference from New York. How many were dead? No one knew. Or else, no one wanted to say, all the mayor would admit to is more than they could bear. People were shell shocked, literally.
Terrorism. Kerry remembered, vaguely, her father once talking about the country’s tendency to serve it’s own best interests being good for business, but bad for politics and she wondered if that notion was finally coming home and proving him right.
Odd. Roger Stuart had never been a friend of the rest of the world. He’d been an America first supporter for as long as Kerry could remember but now, she had a sense that despite his views, he’d understood more of the truth of the world than he’d preached to his constituents.
She thought about how he’d have reacted to what had happened. She suspected he’d have been at the head of the line urging retaliation immediately. Eye for an eye. He’d been that kind of man, something that had always made her very uncomfortable and had led to him doing his best to interfere in her life.
It was internally very surprising then to her to find she had more of an understanding of that viewpoint than she’d imagined. She could think about these people, who had destroyed so much and hurt so many and knew in her heart what she felt for them wasn’t anything close to compassion.
A little shocking.
“Hey Ker.” Angie entered the solar, and took a seat on the other swinging bench.
“Mm.” Kerry lifted her mug in her sister’s direction.
“I was just listening to Dar talk on the computer. She’s got a little Southern accent, doesn’t she? I never noticed it before.”
Kerry was quite happy to focus her thoughts on her partner for a minute. “Hm.” She considered the question. “A little, yeah.” She agreed. “Not all the time. It comes and goes.”
“I like it.” Angie said.
“Me too.” Kerry smiled. “When she’s around her father a lot, it gets more pronounced because he has one, and sometimes when we spend time down in the keys, too.” She spent a moment thinking about Dar’s voice, hearing the faint drawl echoing in her imagination. “Wish she was here.”
“I bet you do.” Angie said. “Is mom being in there freaking you out?”
Kerry swung back and forth a few times. “Not really.” She finally said. “I mean, there’s a lot of other people on there listening to me, you know?”
“Not in the same room.”
“No.” Kerry admitted. “I think it’s freaking her out a little.”
“It was freaking me out.” Angie said. “It was all happening so fast. But you just handled everything like it was an everyday thing.” She added. “It was such a weird contrast to that conference mom was on. No one knew anything.”
“Mm.” Her sister grunted agreement, as she slowly sipped her tea. “Or didn’t want to admit anything.” She said. “After all, we have whole chunks of the government we pay a lot of money for that are supposed to keep this kind of thing from happening.”
“Well, I’m sure they tried. I mean, who’d ever have thought someone would fly a plane into a building?” Angie asked. “I mean, you think about bombs and stuff, not things like that.”
Maybe that was true. Kerry leaned back and let her head rest against the chain support of the swing. The sun was pouring in the windows of the solar and it warmed her skin, providing her with some quiet peace as the silence lengthened between them.
“Richard’s dropping Sally off here.” Angie finally said, after about five minutes. “He thinks he might have to go to Washington for his firm.”
Kerry started back to alertness from the light haze she’d fallen into. “Oh.” She said. “Well, it’ll be nice to see her anyway.” She said. “How long has he had her?”
“Only a week. He picked her up a few days before you got here.” Angie said. “I’m glad. Not that he has to go to Washington but I’d feel better with her here. Things are so weird.” She gazed at her sister with a smile. “And she can’t wait to see her Aunt Kerry.”
Kerry returned the smile. “Ah well.” She finished her tea. “I’m going to go back in there and see what Dar’s up to. She’s the one who’s under pressure, really. Alastair’s right there next to her and they’re in front of our new clients.”
She got up, a little surprised at how tired she felt. She waited for Angie to precede her and then followed her sister out of the solar and through the hallway, checking her watch as they emerged into the big entranceway where several of the Senator’s aides were gathered talking.
The voices cut off as soon as they were recognized. Kerry and Angie exchanged wry looks. “Some things never change.” Angie commented, as they walked past and pushed open the door to their father’s former office.
“Isn’t that the truth.” Kerry glanced around, spotting her mother talking with another aide near the far wall, while her laptop sat quietly in the desk, a soft murmur of voices coming from it. She went over and sat down behind the desk, reaching down to pull her socks up a little as she glanced at the screen to see if anything had radically changed.
“Kerrison?” Cynthia left the aide standing near the other door and came over to the desk. “It seems that it’s felt we all, that is, the Congress, should all go immediately to Washington to show our support in this horrible time.”
Kerry rested her elbows on the desk. “Well, I guess that does make sense.” She said. “But.. is it safe?” She asked. “Weren’t they evacuating Washington?”
Her mother perched on the edge of the desk. “Well, that did come up.” She said. “But the general thought was, for that reason especially we should all go and show we aren’t afraid.” She explained. “Ah, I think the term was, show the flag.”
Kerry stared at her for a long moment. “Mother.’ She said. “That’s idiotic.”
“I’m sorry, but it is. If you have people who are willing to fly airplanes into buildings, what’s to say they’re not also willing to drive trucks into the front of the Capitol?” Kerry said. “They’re not even sure who did it yet.”
Her mother sighed. “That actually did occur to me, as well as to several others.” She said. “However, as I say, the consensus is that we need to come together and show support and I am not entirely sure that’s wrong either. We must set an example for the country, after all.”
Kerry caught a motion out of the corner of her eye and she focused on the screen, surprised to see a familiar figure sitting in the corner of her desktop, holding up a sign. “Will work for hugs.” She murmured. “Oh sweetie.”
“Excuse me?” Her mother said.
“Sorry.” Kerry tore her eyes from the forlorn looking Gopher Dar. “Mother, I understand what they mean. I just hope it turns out that everyone stays safe, and they’re not part of another catastrophe.”
Her mother looked more than a bit discomfited. “Yes, well..” She looked around, then looked back at her daughter. “You know it was so curious to me that really, you had so much more information than we did during this morning’s horrible events.”
A little surprised at the subject change, Kerry resisted the urge to return to her desktop and concentrated on paying attention to her mother instead. “Information is what we do.” She said. “We have to know what’s going on.”
“Exactly.” Cynthia Stuart said. “That’s what I told some of my colleagues and they were also very surprised at how much better organized it all seemed for your company.”
Kerry frowned. “Well, they do pay a good amount of money for our services, mother. I’d like to think we give the American taxpayers their dollar’s worth.”
“They were very interested to hear about that.” Her mother said. “They would like you to accompany me to Washington.” She added. “I was sure you’d be more than glad to go.”
For a moment, Kerry sat very still, aware of a flush of cold anger that made her hands tingle and left her slightly lightheaded. “Number one.” She said, after waiting long enough to make sure she wasn’t going to stand up and yell. “You had no right to tell them that, and number two, no I would not be.”
“Kerrison, I don’t think that’s called for.”
Now, Kerry did stand up, aware her body was tensing and her hands were curling into fists. “I don’t give damn what you think.” She said. “And I certainly don’t care what your friends in Congress think. I don’t owe them any explanations.”
Her mother got up off the edge of the desk. “I told them you’d come talk to them.” She said.
“Kerrison!” Her mother’s voice now lifted in anger.
“No, mother.” Kerry managed, just barely, to keep her own temper from getting completely out of control. “I’m not going with you, and I’m not discussing our business with anyone.” She folded her arms across her chest.
Cynthia Stuart stared at her, but Kerry’s grim expression and trucelent posture didn’t alter and she finally looked away. “Well, if that’s your decision.” She said, after a pause. “But I think you should consider carefully, and then we will talk again.” She motioned the aide out, and followed him to the door, going through it with as much dignity as she could muster.
No slammed doors, no yelling.
After a brief silence, Angie made a face, biting her lip as she approached the desk. “Sorry, Ker.”
“Blech.” Kerry finally relaxed, leaning her hands on the desk and letting her muscles unlock. “My own god damned fault. I should have kept the earbuds in and not shown off.” She looked down at the screen when she heard an odd sound, to find Gopher Dar knocking on the inside, peering at her. “Wait until Dar finds out. Just what we didn’t need.”
“Maybe she’ll drop it. I think she knows you were pissed.” Angie suggested. “That look you were giving her could have frozen hot coffee.”
“Hmph.” Kerry grunted, and sat down. “Got any Advil?” She sighed. “I’m gonna need a case of it.”
“Well, hello to you too, Ham.” Alastair had answered his cellphone in some surprise when it rang for the first time in hours. “I’m in London. Oh, what? Sure, of course you knew that.”
Dar was half sprawled across the desk, her legs wrapped around the chair base and her head propped up on one hand. The other hand was wrapped around the mouse, but now it released the creature and rattled over a few keys instead.
“Dar? She’s right here.”
Dar looked up over her screen, one eyebrow lifting.
“No, she’s fine.” Alastair went on. “Bea’s been keeping my wife and the board filled in on what’s going on. Have to say, this digital assistant thing Dar made me start using sure paid for itself today.”
Dar’s screen beeped softly. She looked back at it.
Hey. Need to talk to you.
Dar’s brows knit. She unhooked her cell phone from her belt. “If you can get a call in, I’m going to try a call out.”
“Hm?” Alastair put his hand over the phone. “Ham says he had to call over and over again for an hour to get through.” He said. “Seems there’s a lot of hullabaloo around his area.”
Their corporate lawyer, who lived, Dar recalled, in Boston. “Tell him I say hello.” She opened the phone and started to dial, then looked back at the screen when the speaker crackled.
“Miami exec, this is Miami ops.” Mark’s voice emerged.
“Go ahead.” Dar listened to her phone with her other ear, hearing a fast busy signal. She hit redial.
“Boss, we can’t get a good handle on how many pipes we need to replace.” Mark said. “We need to eyeball.”
Dar released the button, and dialed again. Having someone onsite in both Washington and New York was probably a good idea, especially in Manhattan where most of their presence there was business services. “You think we can wait for the planes to start flying again?”
“Hard to say.” Mark said, honestly. “I’d rather jump on my bike and start up there.”
Dar triggered the dial again, considering the request. “Tell you what.” She heard the line start to ring. “Rent a van and take three or four people with you. Don’t make me sweat you ending up wrapped around a tree on that Harley.”
The phone was picked up. “Hello?”
“Hey.” Dar said, only barely remembering to click off her mic. “What’s up?”
“Hey.” Kerry exhaled. “I love you.”
Mark cleared his throat. “Okay, I can do that. I’ve got a bunch of guys here who just held up their hands to volunteer to go with.”
“I love you too.” Dar replied, with a relieved smile. “Damn, it’s good to hear your voice.”
Kerry chuckled a tiny bit. “Honey, you’ve been hearing my voice all morning, “
“Not the same thing.”
“Thanks for sending Gopher Dar to keep me company.”
“That okay, boss?” Mark asked. “We can leave tonight.”
“Hang on.” Dar said.
“Nah, I’ll answer.” Kerry replied. “Miami ops, this is Miami exec, that’s fine. Make sure you pack a case of Jolt. “
“Uh. Okay.” Mark seemed caught offguard with this sudden change. “We’ll get moving.”
“Why don’t you take as much spare gear as you can pack in the back while you’re at it? I’m not sure when we’ll be able to ship anything in there.” Kerry suggested.
“Good call.” Dar complimented her. “Alastair thinks you’re the bomb, by the way.”
“Will do.” Mark said.
“Miami exec, this is the Air Hub.”
Kerry sighed. “Air hub, hold on a minute, would you please? I need to take a call.”
“Air hub, will do.”
“Hey.” Kerry’s voice returned to the phone. “Where was I?”
“Saying you loved me.” Dar was aware of the tiny, startled reactions from Alastair every time she mentioned the word. “What’s up? You said you needed to talk.”
Kerry sighed again. “ My effing mother.” She said. “Dar, she told someone else in.. I guess another senator or something, about all the stuff we were talking about on the bridge and told them I’d come to Washington and talk to them.”
“Dar, Ham says he needs the list of down customers as soon as we can get them, so he can head off any legal action.” Alastair said.
Dar glanced over at Alastair, and nodded. “Well.” She said. “How bad is that, Ker? You’re doing a first class job, maybe she’s just proud of her kid.”
Dead, absolute silence.
“Ker?” Dar said, tentatively. “Granted the last thing we need to get distracted by is government bullshit but.. I assume you said no, right?”
“I said no.”
Dar could hear the tone. “Didn’t mean to piss you off, sweetheart.” She said., waiting until she heard the slight exhale. “I’d rather you go find a canoe and start paddling in this direction.”
“Sorry.” Kerry said, after a pause. “You just made my brain go somewhere I wasn’t expecting.” She admitted. “Dar, she has no right to go and tell people in the government the stuff we’re doing. She was all freaked out about how we knew stuff she didn’t, I think that’s what she wants them to talk to me about. How did we know what we knew.”
“Hon.” Dar almost chuckled, but thought better of it. “We get paid to know what we know.”
“Yes, I know that.” Her partner said. “But I told her off. I was so pissed.”
Dar felt a bit out of her league. She understood how Kerry felt about her family, and for sure she understood what it was like to be at odds with a mother. But she had always felt the evil in the family had rested with Kerry’s father.
Maybe she’d been wrong. “Well.” She said. “You don’t need me to be the bad guy for you, but if you want to tell her Alastair and I said absolutely no way is anyone from our company going to go and chat with Congress, feel free.”
“Huh?” Alastair craned his neck around and peered at her. “What was that?”
“Any luck on you heading this way?” Kerry asked, in a quiet voice.
“Miami exec, this is LA Earth Station.” A voice interrupted. “We have the local FBI office demanding bandwidth we don’t have. Need some help here.”
Both Kerry and Dar keyed their mics at the same time. “Hold on a second.” They said together. Then Dar released hers and cleared her throat. “Bea’s trying, hon.” She said. “Soon as I know anything I’ll text you on it.”
“Okay.” Kerry said. “Is it okay if I go expense a hotel room?”
“Buy the hotel if you want.” Her boss said. “Put it on Alastair’s credit card. I think I left the number on a sticky yellow pad by Maria’s desk.”
“What?” Alastair covered his phone again. “Dar, what trouble are you getting me into?”
Finally, Kerry chuckled. “Okay.” She said. “It may not get that bad, but this is already so stressful I don’t really need my family adding to it.”
“No problem. Totally understand.” Dar said. “Hang in there, okay?”
“Okay. Talk to you later. Let me go put a hose on this fire.” Kerry said. “Bye Dardar.”
“Bye.” Dar closed her phone. “Sorry, Alastair. Kerry’s mother’s caused a problem and she’s thinking of staying elsewhere.”
“Ah hah.” Her boss nodded. “My wife doesn’t get along with her folks either. Wants to serve them the dog’s kibble every time they stop by.” He went back to the phone. “Ham? Yeah, I’m back. What’s that? Well, sure, I understand the board’s probably upset, Ham, but you know everyone’s pitching in like gangbusters to keep things moving along.”
“All right, LA Earth Station. “ Kerry came back on the bridge. “Give me a second to clear up the Air Hub’s issue then we’ll discuss the FBI request.”
“Will do, Miami exec.” The west coast facility said. “We told them we’re carrying the East Coast right now so they backed off for a few minutes.”
“Nice of them.” Kerry said. “Air Hub, go ahead.”
“Miami, we have some spare capacity if you need.” The Air Hub said. “We aren’t carrying any air traffic other than management layer. Everything’s landed.”
There was a moment of silence. “Well.” Kerry finally said. “I’m sure we can use it somewhere, no matter how rotten the reason is. Thanks Air Hub.”
“You’re welcome, Miami exec.”
“Okay. LA, who contacted you? Get me a name.”
“Will do, Miami exec.”
Dar rested her hands on the desk, her phone clasped lightly between her fingers. She looked across the room at the big screen television, her thoughts almost completely focused on her partner. “Alastair?”
“Bea having any luck with flights?”
Her boss peered at her. “Haven’t heard back yet.”
Dar juggled her phone. “I’m going to call my folks. See what they think about taking a run to Cancun.” She said. “Sooner we get back in the States the better.”
“Funny.” Alastair said. “That’s exactly what Hamilton just said.” He related. “He heard from a buddy of his things are damned bad in New York. Worse than they’re letting on the television.”
“Yeah. Well.” Dar opened her phone and started dialing again. “Tell Ham the FBI’s trying to grab signal over on the west coast. See what he can do about that.”
Kerry scribbled down the number, one hand holding her head up as she studied the computer screen. She was aware of her sister and brother entering, and she heard the door shut quietly, but she focused on what was being carried over their stressed infrastructure and what she was going to say to the person on the other end of the phone when it answered.
Dar had a way of turning her viewpoint at different angles. Kerry tried to recapture her former indignation, but that calm voice kept intruding into it, forcing her to reassess what she was feeling and examine whether or not there wasn’t a different way to look at it.
Ironic, since that’s what she’d hoped to do for Dar when they’d first started working together, wasn’t it? Change her perspective? Sometimes, Kerry admitted, she had, but more often she’d found herself pulling up short when faced with her new partner’s internal logic and having to really think about where the right and the wrong was sometimes.
Dar didn’t do or not do things because they were ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – she did them because they made sense, or they didn’t. It was a far more profound difference in their mental working than Kerry had ever suspected when they’d met and it had taken both time and effort to get used to it.
Instinctive intellectualism. That odd, sometimes disjointed instinct that Dar used to make business decisions, write her programs, solve her problems. It was what led her to hire Kerry, or so she often claimed.
Kerry had enough ego to suspect that was only ninety percent true, the other ten percent being something a little more primal. Certainly it had been on her side of the question. “Okay.” She opened her cell. “Let’s call the FBI.”
“Huh?” Mike said. “What did you do? Or what did we do? You calling the FBI on mom? Holy crap!”
“No, I’m not.” Kerry punched in the number, and waited. “They’re just another customer of ours.”
“Hello?” A man’s voice answered.
“Hello, I’m looking for Robert Ervans. This is Kerry Stuart, from ILS.” Kerry said. “Our West coast facility advised some help was requested.”
“Huh? Oh.” The man said. “Yeah, okay, Sorry. This is Agent Ervans.” He added. “You’re the computer people?”
“Yes.” Kerry agreed. “What can I do for you?’
“Listen, we need to send a lot of pictures over our Washington office. It’s taking too long. We need more space so it can happen faster.” The man said. “I know your guy there said you already had a lot of other things happening, but this needs to take over. It’s important.”
Kerry’s nose wrinkled. “Mr. Ervans, I can review what traffic’s on the line there, and certainly we can prioritize yours because I understand you must be working on critical items..”
“That’s right. Exactly right.” The man sounded approving. “It’s really important that we get these files to Washington.”
“But the fact is, you’re on our satellite link and the slowness there is due to the latency, the time it takes for the packets to get to the other side of the continent, rather than a lack of bandwidth.” Kerry explained. “I can see if we can find more space, but I don’t think the speed will get much better.”
“Oh.” Ervans said. “Well, what can we do about that, then? My boss said whatever it takes, just get it done.”
Kerry sighed. “My boss usually says the same thing.” She said. “In terms of the latency, there’s not much we can do, since that’s caused by the traffic having to go up to the satellite and back down. Other than shrinking the circumference of the planet we’re stuck with it.”
“So you can’t do anything?”
“Not with the satellite.” Kerry said. “But let me see what other options we might have and I’ll get back to you.”
The line abruptly cut off, and Kerry gazed at her cell phone in bemusement for moment. “You’re welcome.” She closed the phone, and looked up at her siblings. “So.” She said. “Am I in trouble?”
Mike snorted, throwing himself down on the couch and slinging one leg over the side of it. “Bunch of jerks.”
Angie came over and sat down in the chair across the desk from her sister. “Mom’s upset.” She said. “But I think she’s upset because you’re upset more than she’s upset about the whole going to Washington thing.” She made a face at her sister. “Anyway, I think she’s going to go with those aides to Washington tonight so once she’s gone it should relax around here.”
“Like they’re all going to do anything there except yak.” Mike said. “What are they going to say, oh, this is terrible. We have to get the people who did this and make sure it never happens again.” He lifted his hand and let it drop. “Bunch of self important little prickheads.”
Angie looked at Kerry, and they both half turned to look at their younger brother.
“When, exactly, did you become a radical?” Kerry asked, in a quizzical tone. “We’ve lived as part of the government in this house as long as any of us has been alive.”
“Yeah, well.” Mike said. “Now I can say how I feel and not worry I’ll get thrown in the cellar.”
“Miami exec, this is Herndon.”
Kerry turned back to her computer. “Go ahead, Herndon.” There wasn’t much she could really say to Mike anyway and not sound completely hypocritical and she suspected he knew that. She’d kept her own silence in the house for how long? “Miami exec here.”
Until life had handed her something more important to her than herself. That was exactly how long.
“Miami exec, we just had a visit from some people from the government. They want access to the center, ma’am. They want to put taps in place and I don’t think they want to hear no from me.”
“Taps?” Kerry’s voice went sharp. “What kind of taps? On their own stuff?”
“Ma’am, I’m not sure.” The tech said. “They weren’t specific.”
Kerry put her fingers on the keyboard and rattled a sentence into the open messenger application.
Did you hear that?
Dar’s voice broke in . “Herndon, this is Dar Roberts.” She said. “I have just locked all our infrastructure out with my personal passcode. You tell those people from the government they need to contact Alastair McLean if they want to discuss tapping into anything.”
“Oh boy, she sounds pissed.” Angie said. “Can she do that?”
“I think she just did it.” Mike said. “Good for her! Government jerks!”
“I hear you, Ms. Roberts.” The Herndon tech sounded relieved. “I don’t know what it was they were looking for ma’am, and to be honest I don’t think they knew either, based on how they were asking.”
Kerry glanced down at a soft beep.
I don’t think they’re going to take that from the local folks. They’ll be back and that’s a major commercial link not just a government one.
“She can do it.” Kerry said, quietly. “Dar isn’t someone who does something just because someone in authority tells her too. Believe me.”
“Understood, Herndon.” Dar said.
“I back that up completely.” Alastair broke in. “I’ll call our contacts in the government, and see if I can determine what’s going on.
“Is that your big boss?” Angie asked. “The one who’s with Dar?”
Kerry nodded. What do you think they’re after? Could this be related to the terrorists, Dar? We don’t want to be accused of obstructing anything.
I don’t know. Dar typed back. We could be in a bad spot here.
Kerry studied the string of text, starting with the first message. “Shit.”
“What?” Mike sat up.
Kerry exhaled, and typed. I should go there. All we have is an infrastructure manager. Not fair to put them on the front lines.
Maybe flights will be allowed out tomorrow sometime.
Kerry had to smile, no matter how wryly. Dar knew perfectly well what her options were, and what was best for the company but Dar also made no bones over whose priorities were more important to her. Maybe I could go apologize and suck up to my mother and go out tonight.
In no way am I asking or expecting you to do that. Let them wait. Let them call me. If they want it that bad, I’ll make em send a damn bomber to pick our asses up here.
“God, I love her.” Kerry said. This could seriously be a matter of national security, Dar. We shouldn’t screw around with this.
“What’s she saying?” Mike asked. “Did you just tell your whole company you loved Dar? That mic was on. I heard the reverb.”
Kerry blinked, and looked at the mic in her hand, and felt the blood rush to her head. “Oh, crap.”
Thanks hon. Love you too. Dar rattled back. At least, I assume you were talking about me.
“I’m pretty sure they already know.” Angie watched her sister’s face. “Whoops.”
Of course I was talking about you. Kerry put the mic down to be safe. “Jesus.” She muttered. “Too much crap happening at once.”
Anyway, I know it’s serious. Dar responded. It might be a matter of national security but you know what? Bottom line is, we’re the experts, and that’s our facility. We handle that data. If they need something from it, we and I mean Alastair too, we have no problem doing whatever we have to in order to help but I’m not giving the people who let this happen carte blanche access into my network.
“Wow.” Kerry murmured, as she read. “I’m not sure we’re going to get away with that.”
“What?” Angie got up and went around the desk. “What’s going on?”
“Dar’s being Dar.” Kerry said, picking up the mic again. “Okay, Herndon – if you get another request, let us know as soon as it happens, and you can tell them our senior management is contacting the government to find out what their requirements are so we can do our best to fufill them.”
“That sounds cheesy.” Mike said.
“Are you really going to go suck up to mom?” Angie whispered. “Wow!”
Kerry sighed. “We learned political compromise early, didn’t we?” She tasted the smarminess on her tongue like a coating of stale fry oil. “Oh, lord I don’t want to do that but the bottom line is someone should be there and I’m closer than Dar is. “
“Isn’t there someone else they can send? Surely you two can’t be the only responsible people in that whole ginormous company.” Angie pointed out. “For Pete’s sake, Kerry.”
“There’s lots of people. “ Kerry typed back. Can you see if Hamilton Baird can get someone over there from his department? “The problem is, this is all operations and that’s our division. Mine and Dar’s. We don’t have anyone else in the company that does that at an executive level.”
“She and Dar are the only ones with balls, she means.” Mike said, from his perch on the couch. “Gorgeous women with bad attitudes scare the crap out of guys. Everyone knows that.”
Angie turned around and stared at him. “How in the hell would you know?” She asked. “Your girlfriends are all empty headed bimbos.”
“That’s how I know.”
Alastair’s on the line with him now. Dar responded. This is getting crazy.
Crazier. Kerry responded. Okay, I’m going to bite the bullet and go find my mother. Cover for me?
“I’m sure I’m going to be sick to my stomach.” Kerry muttered. “Where’s that bucket of Advil?”
Kerry decided a glass of tea was in order, to get her handful of pain killers down before she went in search of her mother. She crossed the dining room and pushed open the door to the kitchen, surprising the woman standing just inside. “Hey Mary.”
“Ms Kerry.” The cook greeted her. “Terrible things are going on.”
“They are.” Kerry agreed, going over to the cabinet and taking down a glass. “It’s been a really tough day.”
“What can I get you?” Mary asked. “I have to say it’s going to be nice having your sister back in the house with the little ones. It’s been too quiet around here.”
“Some tea, if you don’t mind.” Kerry offered up the glass without protest. Mary had worked for her parents since at least as long as she’d been alive, and this kitchen was her territory, no doubt about it. “How have you been, Mary?”
“Well thanks.” The cook returned with the glass full, and handed it to her. “And yourself? How’s your sweetheart Dar?”
My sweetheart. Kerry had to smile at that. She swallowed her pills and washed them down with a mouthful of tea. “Dar’s fine, thanks, she’s in England right now. I think we’d both be better if we were home in Miami though.”
“Just a good thing you were out of harms way.” Mary said. “And I was thanking the Lord that your mother was here too, and not in the way of those crazy people.”
Kerry sipped her tea, leaning back against the counter. “I’m glad too.” She said. “I tried to talk her out of going to Washington tonight.”
“Crazy people.” Mary repeated. “No sense to it at all. I wish she was staying here and not going out to be with the rest of those government people. It was fine for your papa, he was a strong man.”
“He would have been very upset.” Kerry said, quietly. “This would have made him very angry.”
“Oh yes, ma’am. That’s very true.” Mary nodded. “Now, I know you didn’t get on with him, Ms. Kerry, but he was a good man to have around when things were terrible like this.”
And that, Kerry had to acknowledge, was true. “As long as he was mad at something other than you, yes.” She said. “And he would have been furious at the people who did this. He’d have been trying to find out how it happened.”
Mary nodded. “Would you like more tea, Ms. Kerry? I have to say I do like that haircut you have. It looks very nice on you.”
“Sure.” Kerry handed back her glass. “And thanks. I like it too.” She ran her fingers through her hair, pausing to rub the back of her neck a little as she willed the Advil to start working. “I ddin’t think I’d like it at first, but it ended up being nicer than I thought.”
Mary poured the glass full again. “Well, don’t get upset at me for saying this , Ms. Kerry, but short like that, you do remind me a just a bit of your papa.”
Well. Kerry took the glass back. “How could I be upset at you, Mary?” She said. “He was my father. No matter how much we disagreed, that’s not going to change.”
Mary smiled at her. “Glad to hear you say that.” She said, then fell silent as the door to the hall opened.
“Mary, I will need for you to..” Cynthia Stuart entered, then stopped as she saw who was visiting with her cook. “Ah. Kerrison.”
Ah. Yikes. Kerry exhaled silently. “Mother.” She returned the greeting in a mild tone.
Her mother’s expression brightened just a trifle at that. “Mary, could you please see what we can arrange for a luncheon in perhaps an hour? I know it’s late for it, but everything’s so out of sorts today.”
“Of course, ma’am.” Mary gave Kerry a knowingly sympathetic look. “Nice talking to you, Ms. Kerry. Let me know if you need anything else.” She ducked out the door into the pantry.
Kerry quickly considered her options. “Want some tea?” She finally asked. “I just had to take a handful of aspirin.” She eased over a few feet and sat down at one of the chairs at the worktable.
Her mother relaxed a trifle. “Yes. It’s been that kind of day, hasn’t it?” She went to the refrigerator and opened the door, removing a small bottle and taking it over to the table in the corner along with a glass. “I’ve had to take some myself.” She took a seat. “This was the kind of thing your father would say was a full bottle of whiskey day I believe.”
“Yes.” Kerry agreed. “I could use a beer.”
Cynthia glanced furtively at her. “That does sound so odd.” She said. “I don’t think either of us was ever partial to beer.”
“Probably why I am.” Her daughter admitted. “All part of that complete rebellion thing.” She looked up and found her mother looking back at her in wary surprise. “I was rude before. I’m sorry.” She said.
Cynthia looked momentarily overwhelmed, as though Kerry had gone in a direction she hadn’t anticipated.
Which she had, Kerry realized. Straightforward apology was something she’d learned from Dar, not something she’d picked up growing up where admitting fault was never easy. “I’ve got a lot on my shoulders. I wasn’t expecting complications from the government.”
Her mother nodded at once. “It is I who should have apologized, Kerr..y.” She bit off the last part of her daughter’s name with visible difficulty. “It completely did not occur to me that I was speaking so far out of turn.” She went gamely on. “I didn’t meant to cause you difficulty. I just saw an opportunity to help and thought your involvement would be a good thing. I should, in fact, have asked you before proceeding.”
Kerry pondered her glass. “I probably would have reacted the same way, if you had asked.” She replied honestly. “Being here is very uncomfortable for me. I don’t trust you.” She looked up again, to see her mother’s eyes wide as saucers. “And given what happened, you probably shouldn’t trust me either.”
Way too much truth in one sentence, she realized. Her mother had no idea how to react, and merely sat there blinking at her. It was hard, and it was making her headache worse. “I’m not trying to be a jerk.” Kerry said. “I just can’t help how I feel.”
“Well.” Cynthia finally said. “I have no idea what to say to that.”
“I know.” Her daughter said. “It’s probably going to be easier for both of us if you try not to think of me as the little kid who used to run through this kitchen, and more like an adult you don’t know that well.”
Her mother set her glass down. “Do you have any idea whatsoever how impossible that is? I am your mother.”
“I know.” Kerry said, again. “And no, I have no idea at all how impossible that is. I just don’t want to make this so hard on both of us.”
Cynthia sat back and regarded her. “How can you still be so angry?” She asked, in a quiet voice. “I don’t understand it.”
Reasonable question, Kerry felt. From her mother’s point of view at any rate. “I don’t know.” She said. “I guess maybe along with the eyes and the high blood pressure, I inherited father’s long grudges.” Her eyes lifted again and met Cynthias, watching several emotions cross her mother’s face; first shock, then a touch of anger, and what might have been a flicker of grudging understanding.
Might have been.
“Well.” Her mother said. “Perhaps in time we can adjust.” She concluded. “But at this time, I fear we cannot, since I do have an eight PM flight and I am sure you will be on your way home before I get back.” She poured the rest of her bottle of juice into her glass and placed the bottle down with a slightly more than necessary force.
Kerry felt her headache start to ebb a little. “Actually.” She said. “I do have to go to Washington tonight.” She watched her mother’s eyes start to blink again, this time in confusion.
“You… changed your mind?” Cynthia said, doubtfully. “I’m not sure…”
“No.” Kerry decided honesty was the best route. “The government wants to take over some of our facilities in the area. I have to find out why, and give them a face to yell at with some authority.” She said. “If you don’t want me to ride with you, I understand. I’ll drive.”
Her mothers lips started twitching. “Well.” She spluttered. “K.. surely you aren’t.. you can’t drive by yourself there. It’s dangerous!”
Kerry propped her head up on one hand, a faint smile appearing on her face. “Wasn’t I saying that to you earlier?”
Cynthia’s mouth opened, then closed. Then opened again, then closed. Then she sat back and took a sip of her juice. “This is all very confusing.” She said. “You said the government was trying to take over your things? Why would they do that?”
“I don’t know, mother. Why would they?” Kerry asked. “You are the government, remember? So maybe if you’re going to talk to your committee… if you still want me to talk to them, we can ask them that first?”
Her mother frowned. “Are you going to be rude to them, and embarrass me?” She asked, directly.
“Possibly.” Her daughter answered just as honestly. “But that could have happened anyway.” She sat back and regarded her mother. “Didn’t you realize that when you told them about me in the first place?”
Cynthia met her eyes, a thoughtful expression on her face. “I should have.” She conceded. “I think you’re right, you know. I don’t think you’re the child I raised at all.”
It was almost a relief. Kerry merely nodded.
“In fact, I’m not really sure who you are at all.” Her mother said. “I don’t know that I want to find out.”
“Fair enough.’ Kerry said. “We all make choices we have to live with. I know. I’ve had to make a few.” She said. “Losing my family was one of the consequences of that.”
Cynthia eyed her in somber silence for a minute. “Well.” She got up and put her glass in the sink. “We do all have to make choices.” She went to the door. “I will see about adding you to the flight.”
She left, and Kerry tipped her head back and regarded the ceiling, unsure if the situation had just gotten marginally better or a lot worse.
Time would have to tell.