<== ==>

It took every ounce of self-control Jonquil had not to leap out of her chair. “What?! That’s not legal!”

“Afraid it is,” said Sepia with a sigh, a steaming cup of coffee in her hands. “UMBRA can take precedence in counterterror investigations. That’s written right there in the OPTICA charter- it was their job before we were around, and they didn’t want to give it up completely.” 

OPTICA was the newest branch of TORCH, less than twenty years old. Whenever a new branch was created, all the existing ones had to agree to what responsibilities and limitations it had. There had been law enforcement in TORCH before OPTICA, but it had been split up across numerous other entities, including UMBRA.

In other words, UMBRA could very well demand a concession like final say over counterterrorism. But Jonquil had never once heard of this clause before. 

“I’ve been with OPTICA since I got out of the Academy and I have never once heard of UMBRA doing this,” said Jonquil desperately. “Boss, this is some hoary old loophole.”

“I have to agree,” said Aliza, although she did so slowly. “We’ve already begun our investigation, too. Are you telling me we’ll be subordinated to UMBRA from now on?”

“No no dear!” The purple-haired girl’s smile was gentle and soothing, but Jonquil didn’t buy it. “We’re simply going to debrief you and get copies of your findings so far, and then we’ll proceed with our own investigation. I would never dream of ordering OPTICA agents around.”

Sepia buried her face in her coffee. Her eyes were dun when she looked back up. “Sorry girls.”

“On whose authority do you take control?” Jonquil asked the wight. “Who even are you?”

Purple Hair was the very picture of graciousness. “Whose authority? That’s classified, of course. As for me… it’s a pleasure to meet you in the flesh, Jonquil Diakon. My name is Pennyroyal. I am the Executive Secretary and mission leader of all UMBRA operations here on Porropelin.”

Jonquil met Pennyroyal’s eyes. There had to be tens or even hundreds of thousands of wights on this planet. Pennyroyal might have been the single most powerful person on Porropelin, and certainly somewhere in the top ten. She wasn’t Sepia’s equivalent in a different branch… she was like a great white shark while Sepia was a mid-sized fish.

And Jonquil was a minnow.

“It’s only been a day, so it can’t hurt that much for us to take control,” said Pennyroyal innocently. “Don’t worry, Miss Diakon, I’m sure your hard work will be crucial to our own investigation. UMBRA simply has the resources to handle this problem, moreso than OPTICA. neo_SMOKE is our responsibility, has been from day one, and if they’ve decided to play terrorists then we’ll be the ones to set them straight. That’s all there is to it.”
Jonquil stared at Pennyroyal, but she couldn’t get a read on her at all. The UMBRA girl’s posture was loose and straight, her expression genial but neutral. Her smile didn’t touch her eyes. This was a different breed than an attack dog like Scar… this woman was cool and professional, to the point that she could do absolutely anything with neither remorse nor joy.

It was scary, talking to someone so detached. There was something subtly wrong about Pennyroyal… something that crawled up Jonquil’s skin and churned her stomach.

“The Executive Secretary has the right of it,” said Sepia morosely. “This is her show now. You two and the other hounds will be debriefed. After that, OPTICA is finished with this case- and you two will take the rest of the day off. No arguments.”


“No arguments, Diakon.” Sepia’s voice gained a sharp edge.

<== ==>

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