>> Datastream interlude commences
>> Header: Section 17 is a shadowy government organization who answers to only the Minister of Homeland Security. But with the appointment of a new Minister, Section Head Janet Faye must front up to justify the existence of a group who doesn’t exist. One whose sole purpose is to break the law on a daily basis, in the name of the Republic.
“So let me get this straight,” Hank Alister remarked. Raxworthy stood before him with Janet, feeling embarrassment for himself and the organization. “You both work for a top secret organization that not even the Secret Intelligence Service knows about. You infiltrate corporate groups and goad them into committing crimes.”
“That’s about the size of it, Mr Alister,” Janet Faye remarked. Her expression was as firm and fixed as always. “We have a mandate to protect the Republic and its interests.”
“Frankly, Miss Faye, I’m not sure how this protects it.”
Raxworthy felt the strain of standing up, relying as usual on his ornate black walking stick. The new Minister of Homeland Security wasn’t exactly taking this piece of news all that well, he thought. The man was young, a lot younger than he figured a person of his post would be. He was tall, rackish almost. His blond hair was styled in an almost foppish style, but he bought a comfortable confidence to his appearance and his suit.
Alister looked disbelieving. Like someone would pull up the hyper real curtains and expose this as a departmental hazing. Something that all the new Ministers went through. They’d all laugh and get down to the real work of protecting Oceania.
“If you just let me link you the information on our department,” Faye remarked, same cool and calm tone. “I’m sure you will see how Section 17 plays a crucial role in our modern society.”
Alister sat back down in his chair, behind the expansive desk of his position. His expression was searching, trying to read Faye no doubt. ‘You might as well give that up now,’ Raxworthy thought. ‘You won’t work anything out that way, my friend.’
“I’d prefer to take this information on board the old way, Miss Faye. I’ve had to realize enough information in the last few days of office. This sort of information requires something a little more discerning than just dumping it on the brain and letting it soak.”
“Your predecessor had a fairly positive outlook on the department,” Raxworthy explained, hoping to be helpful. “You might remember last year that Taxern Enterprises was bought into the courts for undersea dumping.”
“Yes, but they were actually doing that,” Alister said, still trying to take on board this new information. “Right? You guy’s exposed it?”
Raxworthy gave Faye a glance, not sure he wanted to speak to it. Maybe he just didn’t have the courage to. Faye spoke up, thankfully, “No. We encouraged them into it. Look. Minister. With all due respect, if you’re worried about the moral ramifications of this, don’t. Taxern might have been pushed into that particular crime, but it doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have done it in time. None of the corporations are clean. You see what sort of power they weild in our society, Minister. Section 17 was put in place to ensure that power didn’t overrun that of the Powers That Be.”
“What you’re doing, it’s entrapment. Entrapment’s illegal, Miss Faye. The corporations are citizens of our society as much as you or I. How can we hold our society up in any light if we are prepared to commit illegal acts against our own citizens?”
“The corporations do pose a real and significant threat to the rulership of our own society,” Raxworthy said. He stroked the grayed length of his short beard. Alister shot him a look from behind his desk. Around them, the office had a sterile appearance of a place not yet moved into properly.
“What about due process? It completely overrides the idea of innocent until proven guilt.”
Faye shook her head, her calm exterior broken by a harder, more brittle look. “Don’t play as if you think this world is perfect, Minister. Without Section 17, the corporations would have a stronger hold in our society than they even do.
“The corporations are not the elected officials of this country. You are. The Powers That Be are. People don’t decide or vote on the corporates involvement in Oceania. And don’t be naive enough to tell me that you don’t think the corporations aren’t doing the same to us. We’re the front line, Minister. I’m not here to defend our actions or justify them. We have a mandate, and we work to it. I’m here to tell you we exist.”
Alister sunk back in his heavy, plush chair, staring blindly across the office. Raxworthy didn’t envy the guys position. Even with the Secret Intelligence Service, he wasn’t getting the full picture. If only he knew half the things that the Agency knew.
“Give me an open link to a slicksheet,” Faye pressed. “I’ll give you the briefs and the full list of current operations.” Alister briefly waved towards one of the thin, clear sheets on his desk. A few moments later it began to bleed with information, coded eyes only. Alister regrouped, rallied himself.
“Which Head of State is this the pet section of?”
“We’re been around for a long time,” Raxworthy remarked, trying to beat the feeling that his presence at the meeting was pointless. He couldn’t help feel that he was lending a more diplomatic air to this exposing. “The degree of oversight changes from administration to administration, but our mandate has always stayed the same.”
“There are enough threats to the Republic as it is,” continued Faye. She was all hard, drawn angles. Lines highlighted with the hint of makeup. Strict business attire in charcoal, hard tones. What you saw was what you got with Faye. “You’ll no doubt be realizing a lot of those with your SIS briefings. Only a handful of those can be dealt with through conventional channels.”
Alister looked over the slicksheet, the information flooding and washing across its clean surface. Here was a man of action and moral authority, Raxworthy thought. Someone who had come to office through clear ability rather than a want for power. He thought briefly about Edward Skye, a man much like this Hank Alister. Were they on opposite sides?
“Code Black?” Alister asked. He didn’t look up from the slicksheet, reading quickly.
“A number of corporations suspect our involvement,” explained Raxworthy. “Nothing stays buried forever. A Code Black is a blackout period where we check for leaks and double agents. We have recently come out of one.”
“What’s the operational capacity of your Section?”
This time it was Faye who answered, “We have nine agents, then again and a little more in handlers. A sizable support team. It’s all listed there, the figures. I won’t lie and say that we haven’t seen healthier numbers. Recent operations have been hard on our ranks.”
“What’s the point of secrecy from the SIS?” asked Alister. He finally looked up from his sheet, over it at Raxworthy. “I’m not as naive as Miss Faye might suggest. I’m aware of what our Intelligence Service gets up to, and I know a lot of it isn’t entirely above board. Wouldn’t it make sense if the two of you were working alongside each other?”
“The Agency predates Big Sister – sorry, the SIS,” said Raxworthy. He leaned heavy on his walking stick, the length of the meeting starting to pull its toll on him. “By a good degree. Officially at least. We have links back as far as World War II. Earlier, actually.”
“What, in your words, Lord Raxworthy, would you consider to be the biggest threat to the Republic. One that your Agency exists to fight.”
Raxworthy felt himself sweat a little under that question. He didn’t look to Faye on this one, but could almost feel her presence there beside him, perhaps regretting bringing along his moderate voice into the proceedings. Raxworthy forced himself to stay his hand, rather than pull out the handkerchief from his waistcoat pocket.
“That’s a good question,” he stalled, pondering on the most pertinent answer. “The most obvious answer to that would be Edward Skye. Running for Lord Mayor of Skycity and such. Outwardly he looks like he will take control of Oceania’s largest metropolitan area by a landslide vote. How transparent is the process? Has he really cut links with his own corporate holdings?”
“The Lord Mayor of Skycity,” Faye cut in sharply. “Holds a level of power that some might say equals the Powers That Be there in the Capitol. To have that in the hands of someone with strong corporate links …”
“That’s if he is less than the altruistic leader that he makes himself out to be.” Alister looked to Raxworthy. Raxworthy kept his eyes forward. Faye could cut him from the conversation in a very real way if she wanted. He still had to watch his every step around her.
“He’s popular with the people,” he said, noncommittal.
“No one’s that open and generous,” remarked Faye when Alister looked to her. “No one’s that clean. SIS just haven’t looked deep enough.”
“Two of your agents are already very close to him. Were you planning on making some sort of move against him?”
“Just being prudent,” Faye replied, sharp. Raxworthy remembered that Alister’s predecessor had left fairly much alone, but nothing this large had ever been at stake then.
“I’m going to need time to read over all this new information. I’ll be contacting you again, Miss Faye. Until then, I don’t want any of your agents making any further moves against corporate influences. You understand?”
Raxworthy risked a glance. He could tell she wasn’t liking that order by the crisp tone in her voice. He pulled his handkerchief free and mopped at his brow.
“Thanks for bringing this to my attention. A good day of it.”
The office in which they had been standing vanished almost immediately, but Raxworthy wasn’t entirely sure who had cut the link. They stood in an empty room, its stark interior a shock after the immersion of hyper reality. Raxworthy leaned heavy on his stick for a moment, blinking, letting reality bleed back into his senses.
“Operation Icarus is on hold then, I presume,” Raxworthy managed. He took a slow, deep breath. “At least until the Minister has had time to digest everything. I guess that went well. As well as could be expected.”
“Day to day running of the Agency continues, Mr Raxworthy. Nothing will ever change that.”
Raxworthy didn’t risk countermanding that particular remark. Faye was already heading towards the door. Too much was at stake now, perhaps now more than ever. They stood on a knife edge with the election of a corporate figure to the head of a major metropolitan area. Depending on where Skye’s real goals rested they were moving either towards a new golden age of utopia, or something darker indeed.
There was a brief sucking sound, and the door surrendered itself open. Raxworthy started to hobble towards the door, as Faye disappeared into the corridor.
‘What would Alister think if he knew that we had killed his predecessor,’ Raxworthy thought. ‘Who are we really answerable to when things like that can happen?’
Faye was already gone.