Phyllis Tanner stands in front of Jason, arms folded, her face completely, utterly blank. Simon Yin sits in front of his laptop set up at the long table running down the middle of the Situation Room, and Michelle Lawrence stands, fidgeting nervously by the door. Neither of them look at Jason or Phyllis. Simon pretends to be working, his eyes locked on his laptop screen without actually seeing anything. Michelle plays with the drawstring on her sweatshirt, pulling first one end and then the other down as far as it will go before the other end disappears entirely.
Jason sighs, and forces himself to meet her gaze. She looks uncomfortably like the other board members when they have their game faces on—no trace of emotion, not a single tell to be seen. Her eyes are hard and calculating as she scrutinizes him in return.
“I’m sorry, Phyllis. I don’t know the specifics. But an entire fifth of the company is gone, and Billy was caught up in it.”
“This is what she was doing the other day,” Phyllis says. “Ms. Ioannou. When she came in and had us line up, and did that…” she gestures with one hand, waving her fingers through the air. “I don’t know what it was. Magic.”
“Probably,” Jason agrees.
“Did you know it was going to happen?” Phyllis asks.
Everyone in the room is looking at him now.
“No,” Jason says, then deflates slightly under her gaze. “Not exactly.”
“I can’t talk about it,” Jason says.
Phyllis’ expressionless mask falters, her mouth firming into a thin, disapproving line.
“I really can’t,” Jason says. “Look, Phyllis, all I can say is I didn’t think it was going to happen to us. But we all signed the same contract, and we all read that clause. We knew there were risks.”
Phyllis has nothing to say to that. Her gaze drops to the floor.
“I guess I didn’t think it’d happen to us, either.” Michelle twirls the hoodie drawstring around her left index finger. Her voice is soft, her stance subdued. “I figured it was only invoked when employees got out of line, or screwed up really bad.”
“A lot of people thought that,” Jason says. “Even the board.”
“Which you are now on.” Phyllis doesn’t look up, but the edge to her voice is unmistakable.
“Yes.” Jason looks directly at her. “Phyllis. Yes. I was offered the spot and I took it. Can you honestly blame me for that?”
Phyllis sighs, slumping slightly. “No. No, Jason, I don’t believe this is your fault. It’s just that—damn it. Billy.”
“Yeah,” Jason says.
Setting aside the personal component, Billy’s loss was significant on a professional level. Billy and Phyllis had worked together for years—long before they’d joined Jason’s group—and together they were more effective than any five analysts Jason had ever met. There was no getting around it, their effectiveness was going to suffer from this.
The door to the situation room opens, and everyone turns to see Mara Ioannou step into the room. At the same time, one of the wall monitors comes to life, showing the silhouette of the Chairman.
“Mr. Kline,” the Chairman says. He shifts slightly, as if including the rest of his team. “I felt that, given today’s circumstances, it was best that I address you directly.”
Phyllis, Michelle, and Simon stare at him with a mixture of dread and anticipation.
“All of Haruspex is suffering from this ordeal, of course,” the Chairman says. “But I understand that the man you lost was partially responsible for coming up with the most recent search for our targets in the Atlantic. Phyllis Tanner? Billy Davison was, Jason tells me, your partner. You joined the team together.”
Phyllis stares at the Chairman’s image for a moment, unable to speak. When she finally does, her voice is slightly hoarse. “Yes sir. We’ve worked together for a long time.”
The Chairman nods. “Please believe me when I say I wish we had been able to avoid this. I do not rejoice in the choice we made last night. And from a purely tactical perspective, the knowledge that this has disrupted such an effective team pains me.”
“Thank you, sir.” Phyllis looks down at the floor again.
“The tragedy of it cuts all the deeper,” the Chairman continues, “because your search was successful.”
Everyone perks up at this—even Phyllis.
Work is the best way to deal with this, Jason thinks. Give us a problem to solve and we’ll manage.
“I was notified this morning,” Mara says. “A small island had been found on one of the satellite images. There is no known island listed on any current maps at that location.”
“So we know where they are,” Jason says.
Mara shakes her head. “Not quite. The island appears to be moving—a creation of Doctor Thorpe’s, I assume. We will need your team to find it quickly. Once it is found, it will be dealt with.”
Phyllis turns to Jason. “I want lead on this.”
Jason nods, then turns back to face Mara and the Chairman. “We’ll get you a location. We’ll do it quickly.”
Mara steps forward, smiling slightly. “I’m afraid you will have to leave that to your team.”
Jason frowns. “Why?”
“You have a new employee contract to sign,” Mara says. “After which there is an orientation program all board members must go through. And finally, of course, there is the matter of your office.”
Jason gestures to the room. “We’ve been set up here.”
“Board members and their subordinates get a dedicated office suite,” Mara says.
“Also,” the Chairman adds, “this is not negotiable, and must not be delayed. Get it done today.”
The finality in his voice stifles any thought of argument. “Yes sir,” Jason says. “Phyllis, you’re in charge. I’ll be back… whenever.”
“We’ll have their exact location by the time you’re done,” Phyllis says.
Michelle and Simon nod in agreement.