"He's tired of the rat race, and he has a plan for a fantastic exit."
"We feel you can manage it. Alone. More than one is too many."
I was suspicious, as always. I reread the specs of the operation. The details were few and vague. "Too many for what?"
She shrugged. She smiled. She shuffled her notes.
I grunted, and read the specs a third time. At the last word of it, I figured she had meant to say 'too many to waste stupidly'. One was an acceptable cost, given the prospects of the mission and the likelihood of its lethality. One could be justified on the ledgers as a mistake or an encounter with the unknown. Two would be... too many to avoid questions. And questions were a scurrilous plague to avoid in our business.
"You sure you want to send me on this errand? Wouldn't someone else serve better?"
"We think you are first choice."
I grunted again. It was a game we played. She pretended I believed, and I pretended to really care. In the end, we both knew I would go. And that was why I was first choice. Not because I was best, even though I was, not because I was convenient, but because I would say yes. Nobody else, I was certain, would agree to the assignment as it was offered. And it couldn't be done in any other way, if it could ever be done even then.
It was too loosely configured, as its parameters were almost void of restraint or condition or instruction. It's directive was simple, and could be interpreted to be simply 'go there and do this regardless of means or cost'. The 'there' and the 'this' of it were the only hard data that they had provided. The rest of it was a blank check. And it was scary.
Not because a blank check wasn't a good thing, everyone loves to spend money and go places. No, it was scary because it instructed its assignee to act with all possible intention of success regardless of cost or penalty, while it did not grant immunity or pardon for the despicable acts that must necessarily be committed to obtain that success. It was, in effect, instruction to become a monster and, at the same time, condemnation for becoming that monster.
I read the words a fourth time, but it was more for the distraction to think than to gather any further information from its meager contents. "This part here, about the fiduciary support the project will receive. Is this a reality, or empty jargon?"
"In most cases, you would be correct to assume it's all bullshit contractual stuff. With this gig, however, I can only tell you to try it and see."
Her answer was no answer at all, but it said everything at the same time. The truth lay in her body language and the inference of her eyes. It was solid. This thing had deep pockets.
"You know, whatever asshole you convince to do this is going to need every credit and then some. I mean, this thing is impossible."
She smiled, and it was the smile of a pimp for her whore. She knew I enjoyed it, and was not deceived by my rote objections.
"He'll have a free hand in every regard. If it's impossible, then it will be only because we erred and selected the wrong candidate."
"But you know that I have never failed."
"We know you are incapable of failing." With a curt toss of her head and direct gaze into my eyes, she added, "Outside of death, I suppose." We had worked together many times. She knew what she was saying.
It was my turn to smile. "Who's death are we talking about here?"
"Theirs, I hope."
"Do you, really?"
She pursed her lips into a pressed smile that was as tightly gripped as her emotions. "So... can I say it's a deal? Can I open a case and start the timer?"
I folded the paper of the writ carefully, then zipped off its kill string. Its tenuous pages dissolved into a gaseous cloud instantly.
"You can say that I have promoted myself."
Her eyebrows arched reflexively, and I was happy to see I had scored a hit. "Oh?"
"Yeah, I believe to colonel. Isn't that correct?"
She snapped open her notebook and ran her fingers over its optical controls. "Ah, well, actually, no. It's an alpha zed priority assignment..."
My grin broadened immensely. "Then make it brigadier general. How's that sound to you?"
"Just fine... sir."
"That's right," I gloated playfully, "Salute me, god damn it."
"I suppose I should." And she did so, smartly. A courts martial is a courts martial, after all, and she knew I was a prick. "It's official then, I'll get the timer started right away."
"No, you won't."
Her fingers stopped in mid-flutter. "Excuse me?"
"I said you will not start the timer on this case. You will not, in fact, ever open a case. Not on this one."
"I think I'll manage the project, thank you."
"Yes, you will manage the project. But you will do so at my direction. And my direction only. Is that clear?" She blinked owlishly. It was obviously not clear. "This will be a field-directed implementation. Your role will be one of support and coordination. And you will not, under any circumstances, let's say under penalty of capital punishment, communicate the details of this operation to any humanoid or system without my express permission, and you will not effect any change or influence to its progress without same. Do you understand?"