Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Maywitch Chapter 30: Coup D'etat

Previous Chapter: Cueste lo que Cueste
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Tierra's arms still hurt from being placed in restraints for over four hours. She didn't blame Wojtec and the others for acting out of an abundance of caution. After all, she - or her body, at least - had killed two men.
And though the horror of being possessed still lingered in the back of her mind, she now had much bigger problems.
George's office was perfectly silent; even the usual soft noise from upstairs or the hallway had faded. He leaned back in his chair with his arms behind his head, looking almost indifferent to the situation they faced, but she knew he was more worried than he let on. He was a tall, formidable man who rarely showed emotion to his superiors, let alone his subordinates. The act had served him well, up until now, but she had to wonder if this crisis would turn out to be too much for even him to manage.

"So if Bailey, Letty and the baby are at risk, and we can't afford to turn over the Grimoire, what's the game plan? Or do we even have one yet?" she said as she twirled a pen between her fingers.
"I'm pitching something to the Board in about an hour, but I'll go ahead and explain, if you're game for keeping a secret." He raised an eyebrow, causing wrinkled lines to appear on his weathered forehead.
Tierra raised an eyebrow back. "Why trust me with it?"
"Because I value your input, believe it or not."
"Ha!" It was a hollow laugh, but somehow, George's sarcasm always worked wonders for Tierra's mood. "Thanks. Alright, explain."
"I just got a call from Nina again, through Nadia's phone. She wants Nadia to be the one to bring the Grimoire to her."
"Of course," Tierra murmured. "Family reunion. But we're not about to take that risk, right?"
"What's the risk, really?"
Tierra tilted her head. That was not the response she had expected. "It's clear that with Nina involved, Nadia's either at risk of being targeted, or basically becoming a liability."
"You mean she might betray us?"
"Yes. Do you disagree with that?"
"Not really," he said, closing his eyes. "But we are too short-staffed for that kind of thinking, Tierra. Based on that logic, you're a liability, too."
She gritted her teeth and forced a smile. "Fair enough," she murmured as she set the pen back on his desk. "So we send Nadia in with a fake Grimoire and spring a trap, or what?"
"We use the real one. We can't risk using a fake and having Nina detect it. We don't know how much she knows about it, so we have to err on the side of caution."
Tierra let out a long breath. George's face was perfectly, eerily calm, and she didn't like it one bit. "Isn't that risky? What if it backfires?"
"It won't." He stood and crossed to the wall to her left, turned on his heel, and crossed back to his desk. It was the first sign of nervousness he had shown all morning, she thought as she suppressed a smirk.
"Keep this to yourself for now, since the Board has to sign off on it," he said as he continued pacing. "I don't need Gardner trying to undermine me. If she has time to prepare her bullshit counter-arguments and pleas for caution, that'll make my job that much harder. Do you have any questions or other ideas?"
She sighed and stared at the floor for a moment. His plan was reckless, but she didn't have any better ideas. Time was of the essence, and if someone did come up with something better, it wouldn't be that hard to hit the brakes on a plan that was already in motion.
Or would it?
She bit her lip, hesitant to offer her endorsement, but his gaze made it clear that he really didn't want her to argue any further. "I will let you know if I think of anything," she said. "I guess this is an option worth exploring, for now."
"Then you're dismissed," he said, quickly sitting back down at his desk. "Please let me know if you hear any chatter about this around the base."
"Of course." She nodded and left, taking care to listen for the click of the door behind her before letting out an exasperated sigh.
There was clearly something he wasn't telling her, but she pushed that to the back of her mind. The digital clock in the hallway read 3:05 a.m.; the Board would hold its emergency meeting in an hour, and likely reach a decision by 4:30. There was little time for anyone to find out what was really happening and run interference on his plans.
She sighed and swept her hair into a stubby ponytail before reaching for the barrettes she had stuffed in her pockets. She would follow his orders. If things went south, she would just have to clean it up - and if anyone could do that, it was her.
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Kay's phone buzzed violently six inches from her ear. She jerked awake and heard Nadia do the same several feet away.
After a few seconds of fumbling, she answered the call: "This is Kay."
"I need you and Nadia in my office immediately, and keep it quiet."
It was Gardner's voice. Kay could feel Nadia's gaze on her in the darkness, and she took a deep breath before answering: "Okay. Be there in a minute."
She ended the call and swung her legs out of bed. "Gardner's office. She wants us to keep it quiet."
She crossed the room and hit the light switch, and once her vision returned to normal, she could see Nadia staring at the wall next to her bed. "I have the feeling shit's about to get a little weird," Nadia murmured as she climbed out of bed. "Throw me those pants, will ya?"
Barely five minutes later, they had made themselves presentable and rushed to Gardner's office. The hallways were empty except for two maintenance people near the cafeteria. Kay looked at her phone again; it was barely 5:15 a.m. The vast majority of the base had to be asleep.
Their Director buzzed them into her office with no fanfare, and once the door had closed behind them, she announced: "I'll get to the point, since we don't have much time. Did anyone see you come here?"
Kay and Nadia glanced at each other before Nadia replied: "Two maintenance guys upstairs, possibly. That was it."
Gardner sighed. "Good enough. George got the Board's approval to try a dangerous bluff, basically. Instead of exchanging a fake Grimoire for the hostages, he's arranging a meeting under the guise of exchanging the Grimoire, and then having our forces ambush Nina and free the hostages. The problem is that he's bringing the real Grimoire, because there's a slim chance that Nina's crew would be able to sense a fake even from a distance. If his plan goes wrong, though, then Nina could end up with the Grimoire in hand."
Nadia sucked in a breath. Kay still didn't have a solid grasp on how important the Grimoire was, but if Nadia was visibly concerned about it, then it had to be important.
"It's true that we don't even know if Nina has the key for the Grimoire. She's keeping that card close to her chest for a reason. George is making a move with an unacceptable risk involved because he wants to earn points with the Board, it seems. Take the Grimoire and hide," Gardner continued, her voice just above a whisper. "My grandmother's old house. I'll give you the keys and access codes, as well as written directions. Phones off ten minutes after you leave base. Batteries out. I'll disable the GPS on one of the cars in the garage shortly."
Kay and Nadia were silent for several seconds. As she stared at the floor, mind reeling, Kay felt one recurring thought float to the surface: Why her and Nadia? The recklessness of Gardner's proposal was one thing, but how on earth did she even think that they, of all people, were ready for such a responsibility?
Especially considering that less than six hours ago, Gardner had expressed mistrust of Nadia, Kay thought as she glanced at her roommate. "Are you... sure about this?" Nadia said. "Isn't there a better way? This sounds reckless."
"Not as reckless as George," Gardner said. "He's in over his head on this. A reckless action with this much on the line would be catastrophic."
"How come you trust me to not run off with it and exchange it for my mother?" Kay said.
Gardner smiled, but her expression was hollow. "Because that could be giving Nina the power to kill you both before you even have a chance to run. I'd love to give you a longer primer on the Grimoire, but I'll have to leave that up to Nadia. It's strictly need-to-know and confidential information, but obviously, we're about to throw those chains of command out the window."
Kay and Nadia exchanged glances. "And you trust me with the Grimoire?" Nadia said.
"I do. At least, I trust that Kay can kill you if you try anything funny."
Kay grimaced. She didn't like that thought. "Fair enough," Nadia said, sighing. "But why us? Why wouldn't you send someone else?"
"Tierra is too close to George for me to trust her, and Holly... well, we need her here in case things go south. She's too valuable as a possessor for us to be sending her away from the potential battlefield. Same with almost everyone else."
Nadia opened her mouth and closed it again. Her eyes shone with fear, and Kay could sense borderline insubordination simmering within. It was almost as if she was insulted - or was there something else going on?
"You'll go in forty-five minutes," Gardner said as she opened one of her desk drawers. "I'll escort you out myself to handle any questions from others. Go pack a backpack apiece and make sure to include herbs and supplies. Kay, meet me at the Sanctum in thirty minutes to get the Grimoire."
Nadia frowned, her brow furrowing deeply, and shook her head. "Is this worth it? What'll happen to you if—"
"It may be excessive, but the worst-case scenario in this situation is far too grave for us to do anything else," Gardner snapped. "So if you have a better idea, Abendroth, I'm all ears."
Kay shuddered and hoped the others didn't notice. Gardner's voice had taken on an icy, desperate tone - something she had never heard before.
Without looking at Gardner, Nadia nodded. "We can do this, Nadia," Kay said quietly. "Let's go."  
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