It seemed like time dragged on forever, as Overseer Rachel read my report. Utilising the holographic display propped on her desk, she ‘flicked’ through the ‘pages’ as though they were tangible. It was a fascinating piece of hardware, but there were other things on my mind. Other places I’d rather be. Yet there I was. Waiting.
I glanced over a Overseer Rachel Verne. Her frame was thin, but toned. It made it hard to tell whether she was some frail and senile old woman meant to be looked after in the Infirmary. Even though she wasn’t. She was very much still an intelligent and calculating woman. A hard woman with long straight grey hair, cold blue eyes, ironed-out wrinkles, and a pressed red uniform like all the elders in the Council wore. And like all the elders— the Overseers— she allowed her subordinates to use her first name, rather than her surname. A strange practice, I felt.
My eyes had drifted elsewhere by then. Bored. I half-suspected that Overseer Rachel was not so much interested in the contests of the file as she was with my grammar or my spelling. Which she needn’t concern herself with. I knew it was flawless.
“I must be going blind, Walsh. The gist, from what I’ve gleaned, is that you have nothing new to report. Is that correct? There’s nothing you’d like to add?”
I tilted back my head and stared at the ceiling, ignoring her.
I cringed at the way Overseer Rachel said my name, which drew me back to the conversation.
“Yeah. Correct,” I said. I chewed on my tongue.
“Nothing at all? Even though you had been gone for two weeks.”
“Like I said, nothing… I think you might be going deaf too.”
Overseer Rachel leered, but did little else in response to my rudeness.
She typed something into a keyboard, and then continued, “Then I suppose I can contact Overseer Dante and inform him he can begin destruction of the old Pimlico Station.”
Right away she tapped the bud in her ear. Her communicator. To activate it.
“Stockton?” she said casually, waiting for a reply from her secretary in the adjoining room. “Would you connect me to the Public Bureau, please?”
Stockton replied quickly, “Which ministry, Overseer?”
“Wait!” I protested.
“Cancel that, Stockton.”
Overseer Rachel tapped her ear again and looked up at me with a brow raised. Waiting.
“It’s possible I may have…”
“Left something out of the file?”
“Not deliberately, of course.”
“Of course. Human error, I’m sure.”
I shifted in my seat, looking for the courage to tell her in the light of the morning sun. A sun I was able to see every day thanks in part to Overseer Rachel.
“I made contact with Noah again.”
“Oh please! You know exactly which Noah I’m talking about.”
“Refresh my memory.”
I groaned, “The Derelict.”
“Thank you. Go ahead, Walsh.”
I bit my tongue and clenched my fists before I continued. But continue I did. “I don’t think he’s going to leave Pimlico. Not easily. There’s at least thirty sick families in that station, and another two hundred in the tube itself up to Victoria.”
“Then convince them to move.”
“Sure you can.”
“No, really. I can’t. And even if I could, they’re too sick to move. They have no food, no medicine—”
“If they have the will to live, then it shouldn’t matter whether or not they have clothes on their backs. Construction at Vauxhall is nearly complete. The whole of the south bank of the Thames is nearly complete. And I can’t prevent Overseer Dante from crossing that bridge for long.”
“Can’t or won’t?” I snapped, glancing back to Overseer Rachel. Looking away from my perfect view of Vauxhall.
Overseer Rachel leaned forward in her chair and smiled, but I don’t think she was pleased with what I said.
“Careful, Walsh.” the old woman warned. Leaning back she explained, “Listen. Vauxhall is already two weeks behind schedule. Though I might be able to delay it for another two.”
“That’s not enough time. I’d need at least a month—”
“Three more. That’s the best I can do. However—”
I crossed my arms and rolled my eyes—
“Are you still listening, Walsh?”
Overseer Rachel sighed. She sighed as if to do any acts of kindness hurt her. “However, I can give you some rations and basic medicines to take back with you.”
“How quickly?” I asked, finally interested in the conversation.
“I can have the supplies made ready for tomorrow afternoon. But it will only be basic medicine, do you understand?”
“Yeah, yes. That’s all they need.” I said happily.
“Good. In the meantime, you can get some sleep, and bathe properly.”
“No, I can’t yet. They might be suspicious of that.”
I still wore rags like a Derelict and smelled like dirt and sweat and blood. Even if I wanted to wash up, and I did, I couldn’t yet. My hair was gross and greasy, my hands and face were black and sooty, and my clothes smelled like death. But it was necessary for my cover.
“Fine. Be ready tomorrow at fifteen hundred hours.”
I almost wanted to hug the woman, I was so pleased, not expecting the meeting to go so well. That woman in red almost had a real smile on her face as well. But it wouldn’t have fit the décor in the room. The sleek brushed metal. The cool oval windows. The bright xenon wall lights. A smile would have been out of place in the head office of Special Operations.
I curtseyed instead. As I’d been trained to do in the presence of elders. On arrival, and departure.
Then I went for the door, wanting to get as far away from Overseer Rachel’s office as I possibly could. But I had only passed through the threshold, when to my disgust I remembered where my sleeping quarters were. Ten floors up.