The Adversary's Emissaries and a Costly Blunder

"What do you have in mind, Lieutenant?"

Everstine allowed a tiny smirk to flicker.  "You know the old base, near the border?"

"The one we were planning on razing?"

"Yes, that's the one."

Patterson's brow furrowed.  "I'm not quite sure what you..."  He drifted into thought for a moment.  "Are you suggesting we diverge from our usual methods?"

The Lieutenant's smirk widened a bit.  "That is exactly what I'm suggesting, sir.  Instead of internally blowing out the foundation and pulling the walls in, like we normally do, we blow it up as noisily and elaborately as possible.  Then we blame that pack of rogues.  You know they're keen on explosives, and from past Protagonist operations, it's clear they put a great deal of elaborate planning into them.  Everyone'll recognize it as Protag handiwork."

A brief silence followed; Patterson nodded in consideration.  "So, we blame the Protagonists, rile up the public, hope for response?  Will that be enough?"

"Collective intelligence might work in our favor, but I also wanted to try to get right to one of their strongholds."

"The Safe?"

"Bingo."

"But we don't know where it is, all that Rubachevskiy would tell us was that it was West of here.  Do you have any idea how much there is West of here?  It'd take years to find it, and even if we found it they'd probably be down in Argentina or something by the time we did!"

"Ah, that's where a few connections come in handy.  May I borrow your radio for a moment?"

The Commandant gestured to the small box on the desk. 

Everstine punched in a short code, waiting for the little red light to blink.

"Yes sir?" a voice questioned.

"Captain Grey, this is Lieutenant Everstine.  Do you know if Ms. Teuthis is still on the premises?"

"Yes sir, she's right here."

"Will you bring her up, please?"

"Yes sir."

Patterson looked to the lieutenant, clearly confused.  "Teuthis?  She's a Protagonist, isn't she?"

"She was, but we finally wore her down to see reason.  She was the one who turned in Rubachevskiy, and tipped us off about the break-in."

"Ah yes, the one who we gave the pencils?"

"Indeed, sir."

A soft knock sounded.  "Come in," Patterson called.

Captain Grey entered the office, gently steering a wide-eyed Archi in by the shoulder.

Everstine offered a friendly smile which she did not return.  "Hello again, Archi-"

"Don't call me Archi," she muttered, looking down at the floor.  "I thought we went through this."

"Sorry, my mistake."  He cleared his throat.  "We need your help again."

She visibly tensed.  "'Again' implies there was a time when I helped you previous to this."

"And you did help us," the Captain cut in tersely.  "You led us to Jack, you tipped us off about that break-in.  That's definitely helping."

"Captain, please," Everstine reproved.  He turned back to Archi.  "Do you know where the Safe is?" he asked gently.  She shook her head vehemently, still keeping firm eye contact with the floor.  "Don't worry, you don't have to tell us directly.  All you'd have to do is go to the general area, inform the nearest Branch that they're in the vicinity of the Safe, and that's it.  We'd take it from there."

He strode behind Patterson's desk, and crouched to open a drawer.  He straightened up, his hand clamped tightly around a large bundle of vibrant pencils.  Coming back around, he knelt beside Archi, holding the pencils in her line of sight.

"There's plenty more where this came from," he said to her quietly.  Archi bit her lip, eyeing the pencils.  Reaching out she gently touched the soft wood of the pencils.  She looked up at the expectant officers.

"Well?" Patterson asked.

She nodded slowly.

"Good, very good," said Everstine, clearly satisfied.  He slid five pencils from the bundle.  "Consider this a down payment of sorts.  You'll get the rest once we're notified of the location.  Alright?"  She nodded, her eyes considering the jewel-bright pencils.  "Well, with that out of the way, I'll walk you back down."  He opened the door for her, and she shuffled out.

Everstein returned minutes later.

"I was thinking Lieutenant," Patterson began, "she seemed rather reluctant.  Can we trust her?"

"Already ahead of you, sir.  I'm sending that one former Protagonist, Druid X, a bit after her.  She'll make sure the proper people are contacted should Archi decide to honor her former loyalties."

Captain Grey shook his head with a slight sneer. "Poor soul," he mused, nodding towards the door.  "Wonder how it feels to lead your own sheep to the slaughter?"

Both Patterson and Everstein froze.  "What did you say?" the lieutenant asked, struggling to control his voice.

"I said she was leading her own sheep to the slaughter..." replied Grey quizzically.  "Why?"

"That sounded like a metaphor to me," said Patterson.  "Unless I'm mistaken, Captain, a metaphor is a literary element."  Grey's eyes widened in fearful realization, wincing at the word "literary."

Everstine pulled a small device out of his pocket and glanced at it in surprise.  He slid it back in his pocket, fuming silently.

"And if my sources tell me correctly," he continued, "a rather prominent Protagonist penetrated your bunker, and now Private Addams has run off."

"What kind of regiment you running, Grey?" Patterson demanded, standing.

The captain stammered incoherently, stumbling backwards.  "I... I didn't mean anything by it... I... I swear!"

"It's not polite to swear, Grey." Everstine murmured.  "That little blunder will cost you most dearly."

"Y-y'don't mean... th-the F-fur...?" Grey squeaked, not able to finish the dreaded word.

"I believe he does mean it, Grey."

The End

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