Succession

The irony of the fact that I was running late for work wasn’t lost on me. My mother, Cheeta, a Super who had once been clocked at 88 miles per hour, would have found me to be moving terribly slowly. Had she not been hit by a bus when I was young, that is. My father, Dr. Zeno, yes the Dr. Zeno, on the other hand, still had trouble getting his staggering 481 IQ brain around why it was that I even worked at the Department of Super Persons (the DoSP, although everyone pronounces it like ‘wasp’). Every time we talked about it he just ended up saying things like “can’t you just write a script to do it?”. All of that was immaterial, though. The bus had never come this morning, and here I was, running full tilt through downtown to get to work so that my boss wouldn’t have to get his own coffee.

Most of the time, I can’t figure out why I even work there. I was raised along with all of the other super children, my parents constantly watching over my shoulder to see what ability I would develop. I had been the special one, though, you see, I had never developed an ability, no super strength, no invulnerability, a measly 132 IQ, no invisibility, nothing. So I got a job at DoSP, as the assistant to the Director of Public Relations. I thought that the job would mean media, contacts, the whole works. Mostly, though, it involves coffee and bagels.

Although it seemed implausible while I was running, I eventually arrived at work. I managed to make myself presentable in the elevator, fixing my hair and switching my sneakers for heels. Looking at myself in the mirrors that cover the walls of the elevator, I began to suspect that whoever designed this place was a woman. The ubiquitous elevator ding sounds and the door opens.

“Ashley,” my boss, Mr. Higgins, says. “So good of you to show up.” Mr. Higgins is a Typical Government Official, Type A. Soft from the easy life, his position has more to do with politics than actually accomplishing anything. He was standing in front of the coffee machine, holding the pitcher of cream over his coffee like a movie villain preparing to off the protagonist in some ridiculously complicated plot (“Ha! Mr. Bond, you think you are so smart, miniaturizing yourself and hiding in my coffee. Let’s see how your miniscule zodiac can handle . . . THIS!”). I don’t need this job.

“You know what, screw you.” It took a beat for what I said to sink in, but by then the cream had already started to overflow the cup.

“Wha–” he managed to sputter out, but I was back in the elevator before the door closed. I hit the button for the ground floor. Whoever decided to put HR by the entrance was an idiot, it shouldn’t be this easy to quit your job.


“So you just quit? Just like that?” Steve asked me. Steve is a superhero, sort of. Like most supers, his ability didn’t manifest until he was in his early teens, when he discovered that he could hail a taxi, anywhere. Steve could be standing in the middle of the Mojave desert, raise his left hand, index and middle fingers extended, and a cab would appear on the horizon, trailing a massive cloud of dust as it hauled ass towards him. When we tried it, it worked, although no one has ever been able to come up with a plausible explanation as to where it had come from.

“Yep. Just like that.”

“Damn, I wish I could do that.” What sort of job, do you think, would someone like Steve get? I mean, clearly his power is next to useless in combat, so what does he do? He ferries around ambassadors and businessmen, thats what. In short, he hates his job, but you had probably already figured that part out. I was about to reply with a pithy witticism, but was denied the chance due to our having to reshuffle on the couch due to Ray’s arrival. Cassidy’s is a nice place to hang out, but sometimes I wonder why our meeting place was a bar, quite possibly the worst imaginable environment for holding a conversation.

“Heard you quit,” he says, and I nod. “Congratulations. What are you going to do next?” Of the four of us, Ray is the closest to actually being a full fledged Super. His ability is to bullshit. I know what you’re thinking, ‘I can bullshit with the best of them’. You can’t, not like Ray you can’t. You see, he can bullshit supernaturally well. He has convinced me- convinced us all -of things that I really don’t want to mention. Never anything bad, though, that I can remember at least. I wonder if he could convince me that something never happened. I cut the thought off, I really don’t want to know.

“Don’t know yet. My dad was pissed, though.”

“Where does a supervillain get off on complaining about what you do for a living?” Ray asks. We only met Ray a few years ago, and there are still some things that he just doesn’t get, like my dad.

“Dude, don’t call him that.” Steve always defended my dad, but they agreed on most things, so it wasn’t surprising. Steve had a point, though. I mean, really, you get someone that smart, and what do you do with him? You make him work on drugs to fix Male Pattern Baldness and Erectile Dysfunction. And you’re surprised when he gets fed up and tries to take over the world. Give me a fucking break.

“Could someone get me another rum and Coke?” Rash asks from his seat between Steve and me. Rash is short for Rashoman. I’m not sure which of his parents the name came from, his mother is Indian and and his father is Japanese, I had never figured out a way to ask that wasn’t totally insensitive. Then again, it was difficult to tell anything about Rash. His power was like invisibility, but worse. No one notices him, ever. If Steve and I hadn’t grown up with him, we wouldn’t have even noticed him sitting there with us, and I still don’t get why his ability doesn’t seem to work with Ray, who knows, maybe he’s just pretending, like we would ever know. Rash could order a beer, but as soon as the bartender would turn around to get it, he would have forgotten about Rash altogether. The downside was that he couldn’t get a job, I’m sure you can imagine the difficulties. The CIA offered him a job once, but he didn’t want to be a spy or assassin. Fortunately, they forgot about him, too. Most of what he did consisted of hanging out in people’s apartments playing their video games. I can imagine that there must be quite a bit of confusion about who the RKI was at the top of people’s high score lists.

“I’ll get it,” Steve says, jostling the table as he stands up. “Anyone else?” No takers. A moment later he’s back, carrying a beer in one hand and a rum and Coke in the other.

“It was weird having the day off, you know. Sort of like being a kid again.”

“What’d you do?” Ray asks.

“I read the paper. How weird is that?” Before this morning, I hadn’t read an actual printed paper in years. Now I know why, it was filled with the same old sensationalist crap, lightly peppered with actual content.

“Yeah, that’s pretty odd,” Steve says, not quite rolling his eyes. Of course, everyone he deals with at work probably has a paper with them.

“There was an interesting article in there, though. It was an Op-Ed piece that was saying that our society has stagnated since 2000, when the Supers first started showing up. It sort of makes sense, things are pretty much the same as they were when we were kids, same cell phones, same computers, no space travel, you get the point.”

“Come on, I’ve been saying that for years,” Steve says. “It’s the Director, all of these Supers are being directed by the DoSP, and what do they all do? They maintain the status quo. Thats it. The second we stop striving for improvement is the second that we start sliding backwards.”

“But what can we do about it? Have a revolution?” Ray asks.

“We should get rid of the Director. Even one week without him would shake things up,” Rash says, before turning towards me. “You’re always talking about what a bureaucratic moron he is.” Everyone is silent for a beat.

“No way, man,” Ray says. “Not even Steve would sign on to that.”

“He’s right,” Steve says. “We have to do something. But if you remove something, you have to replace it with something better. Otherwise everything just goes all Middle East.”

“Are you saying we should take over the DOSP?” Ray looks incredulous, but I can see it on his face that he’s warming up to the idea.

“Yeah.” Steve, who had been leaning forward over the table as he spoke, relaxes back into his seat.

“I’m in, then,” Ray says. The rest of the table is silent. Ray and Steve never agree on anything, so when they do it’s only a matter of time before the rest of us go along with it.


“What about the Supers? Won’t they just take us out?” Steve asks. We’re once again gathered in Cassidy’s, me with my Guinness (this is an Irish pub after all, it’s just disrespectful to order something without a harp on it), Steve holding a Corona with a lime wedge floating inside the bottle, Ray drinking whatever the special is, and Rash with his rum and Coke. There are a couple of drunk college kids doing an unintentional parody of actual pool players in the corner. All in all, just another night at the bar. Except that Ray is in the process of convincing us that we need to take over DoSP.

“They work for DoSP, sure, but most of them are busy fighting the Chinese in the Arctic, and the rest never go near the place if they can avoid it,” I say. “Too much of a pain in the ass.” It was true, usually some new super person would come in once, twice maybe, before they realized what a sinkhole the whole damn place was.

“Thats what I’m saying, we have a chance to change things for the better here. How can we not take that up?” Ray says. Well, there goes our last chance of getting out of this. Ray came into the bar today incredibly pissed off, his company had started taking jobs from political clients, and now they wanted him to try and convince people that the labor laws were too strong and were impeding progress. He isn’t as far to the left as Steve, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to go out there and start campaigning against his own self interest. So they fired him. You can figure out the rest from there.

That’s the thing that gets me about Ray’s ability. I’ve been subject to mind control, anyone who has ever worked for DoSP has. When someone is using mind control on you, you can feel it happening, and although you may not agree with what you are forced to do or say, you do it anyway. With Ray, you agree with him, even though you know you shouldn’t, and you don’t even know it’s happening, but just can’t get free of it.

“So how do we do it?” Rash asks, and by the tone of his voice, he’s onboard, but then again, we all are.

“Simple, you go in, swipe some keys or cards or whatever, and come back and get us in too. After that, we just have to find the Director, and I’ll convince him to make me the boss.” Ray smiles, and deep down inside, I know, just flat out know, that his plan will work.

“How about me? What do you want me to do?” Steve asks.

“I don’t know, but I’m sure we’ll think of something,” Ray replies, not missing a beat. Here it comes, his catch phrase, I’d cringe, but it’s too late. “It’ll all work out.”

I volunteer to get another round.


The four of us are sitting in the Starbucks just around the block from the DoSP headquarters looking at the ID cards that Rash had obtained for us. For some reason the DoSP hadn’t taken into account the possibility of an attack by Supers. He had done a good job, each of our cards looked remarkably like us, except for Rash, who had snagged the card of a woman with pale skin and blond hair.

“Sweet! I’ve always wanted to be an . . . Accounts Payable Clerk, hey!” Steve says, pausing to read his card. “Why couldn’t you get me something cool, like an analyst or something?”

“Because all of the analysts looked cooler than you.”

“So are we ready?” I ask after I had finished my espresso in its almost comically tiny paper cup, complete with little fold-out handles.

“Yeah. No time like the present,” Ray says.

Here’s the the plan. The four of us are going to enter the building separately, so as not to arouse suspicion. After we were all inside and have met up, we’re going to head up to the Director’s office, and Ray is going to convince him to leave. Sure, the law said that what Ray’s going to do is considered coercion, so it wouldn’t be legally binding, but once we get the Supers behind us, the legal issues will be rendered moot.

I will be the last one in, to minimize any risk of me being recognized. I watch as Rash, Steve, and Ray leave, one by one. The caffeine has given me a slight buzz, and I can see the veins on the back of my hands standing out. I watch the large green clock above the door count off seconds, and when a suitable number have passed, I leave the cafe.

The new ID card works, and the turnstile lets me pass. No alarms, no flashing lights, nothing. Across the lobby to the elevator that will take me to Conference Room E on the 42nd floor. For once there’s an elevator waiting for me, all it took was for me to quit. I press the button for my floor and it lights up.

The elevator only makes it eight floors before it stops, but I’m OK with that, Security is on floor seven. Then Josh Reitman steps in, he and I dated for a few months last year, I would rather deal with security. He presses the button for floor 35, not good. This is going to be a long ride.

“Ash.” I wish he wouldn’t call me that, like we were still close. “I heard that you quit, what happened?” he asks. Even though we weren’t together long, it still hurt when we broke up, and it shows on his face.

“Just had a rough day, walked out. Managed to save it though.”

“That’s good. I’m . . . glad to hear it,” he says. Cue Uncomfortable Elevator Silence. As bad as UAS’s are with strangers, they are even worse with former lovers. I keep on meaning to find someone who can time shift so that I can bribe them to push Josh down a flight of stairs a few years ago. It would be worth screwing up the timeline, if only to avoid situations like these.

Ding! Floor 35. The elevator announcing that the doors are about to open may be the happiest sound I have ever heard. Josh steps out of the elevator and I resume my ascent, uninterrupted. A few minutes later the four of us are outside of the Director’s office.

“What do you want?” Director Hammond says as the four of us walk into his office. Ray convinced Hammond’s assistant, Petra, that we had an appointment, she hit a little buzzer, telling him that his ten o’clock was here, and here we are.

The Director is another Typical Government Official, but Type B. Instead of being pudgy, he’s rail thin, his cheeks concave and his eyes sunken as though he hasn’t enjoyed a single meal since he stopped eating applesauce three meals a day as an infant. Green eyes stare at us from behind a massive oak desk, stacked with innumerable piles of paper.

“You’re going to make me Director,” Ray says, walking up to the desk and putting his hands down on either side of Hammond’s nameplate. If he were bigger, the action would seem aggressive, but with him it just seems friendly. Hammond may be an annoying, bureaucratic asshole, but he’s not stupid. His left hand quietly slips under the desk and then reappears. Silent alarm. Shit. We all freeze for a moment as we simultaneously imagine the sound of a thousand sirens winding up.

“Come on, I’m the director of the D-O-S-P,” he says, spelling out the acronym. “Do you think this sort of thing hasn’t happened before?”

“I’ll take care of it,” Steve says before anyone has a chance to panic. We all look at him, and his face breaks into this massive grin as he heads back out to the waiting area.

“Com on man, you look terrible,” Ray says. Here comes the bullshit. “I wouldn’t give you five years before your heart gives out.” He looks down at Hammond’s ring. “Do you think your wife-”

“My husband, I think you mean,” Hammond interjects. It’s sad, he looks apologetic for interrupting someone who is stealing his job.

“Oh, sorry. Doesn’t make much of a difference, though,” Ray says. “My point is that if you’re not careful, your loved ones will be looking down at you, weeping and holding flowers, and we don’t want that. There is a way out, however . . .”

Ten minutes later, Hammond is locked in his closet, asleep, and Ray is outside, explaining to the sectretary how the Director has left him in charge. Rash and I are looking at a sea of yellow filling the streets outside of the building. It looks as if every taxi in San Francisco is parked as close as they can get to the building, bumper to bumper.

“Is that a bus?” Rash asks, incredulous.

“Yeah, and there’s another one.” I point to a bus that has driven up onto the sidewalk and is teetering dangerously over a cab.

I feel my phone vibrating in my pocket and I pull it out. My screen indicates that I have a new text message from Steve. What would happen if I hailed a taxi but didn’t get in?

“Holy shit, he’s called every taxi in The City!”

“That’s awesome!” Rash says, and we go back to watching the streets below us turn into a parking lot. It will be hours before anyone is able to get anywhere near the building in anything larger than a scooter.


For the first hour or so, things went well. Steve had prepared a press release the night before, and as soon as things were under control, we sent it out. After that, Ray had called a meeting of all of the department heads, who he repurposed in short order. With all the taxis clustered in front of the building, the rest of the city was in a state of bedlam. Taxis had been converging on the city ever since Steve had put out the call, and the news said that getting into or out of the city for the next few hours was basically a lost cause.

“Hey Ash, can you field a call for me?” Ray shouts from the office as I dig through Hammond’s office fridge in an attempt to find something that actually qualifies as food, but all I’m finding is refrigerated leftovers of what were once uninspiring meals.

“Sure, who’s it from?” I yell back.

“The News, line five,” he replies, meaning Fox News. The upside of media consolidation is that when you take over a government agency, you no longer have to go through the hassle of calling a dozed different news companies.

Unfortunately, Ray’s talent doesn’t work over the phone, you have to be there in person to be bullshitted, but thats OK, this is the sort of thing that I wanted to do in the first place. Now that I think about it, if they had let me do it in the first place, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I pick up the phone.

“Hello?”

“Yes, this is Arnold Deagan, with Fox News. You don’t mind if I record this, do you?” I recognize his voice, he’s the guy who covers sports and politics. I’m just glad it isn’t the guy who yells at everyone.

“No, that’s fine,” I say. “My name is Ashley Zeno. Where do you want me to start?”

“Thanks, Ashley. I’ve got your press release here, and I was curious why you and your . . . Comrades have taken over the DoSP.” Comrades. Jesus, I knew we shouldn’t have let Steve write up the press release.

“My friends and I believe that the DoSP actually does more harm than good in its present incarnation,” I begin, basically just going off of the press release. “Instead of using Supers to free up resources so that we can progress as a society, we use them to fight wars over the few remaining oil reservoirs. It’s not like most of the Supers are for that sort of thing, they don’t want to go off to fight wars, they just want to be left alone for the most part. What we’re trying to do is to create a more democratic organization that will better represent both the interests of the Supers and the general populace.”

“I see . . .”


“I’m not sure if this is going to work,” Ray says. The four of us had ordered pizza when we had first gotten here and now we are huddled around Hammond’s desk, trying not to drip red pizza grease on it. It had been comical, watching the delivery kid zip through the parking lot that the streets below us had become on his ancient scooter, a pizza strapped precariously to the back.

“Not sure if what’s going to work?” Steve says. He is holding a big slice that’s folded in half, which is now stopped halfway between the table and his mouth. A good idea, but it creates a sort of funnel for the grease and he has to stack napkins under his hands to avoid making a mess.

“This whole thing. Do you guys have any idea how fucking huge this place is? I still don’t know what all of the departments do. It’s crazy.”

“What are you saying?” Rash asks, cutting a precise triangle off of the end of his slice and lifting it to his mouth. It’s probably the sanest way to go, but really, who eats pizza with a fork and knife? The British? If pizza weren’t meant to be eaten with your hands, it wouldn’t have a crust.

“I don’t– I just don’t know,” Ray says and for the first time that I can remember I hear desperation in his voice. He picks a sliver of pepperoni off of his onion-and-garlic slice, dropping it unceremoniously into the trash can at the end of the desk.

“Well we need to make up our minds, and quick,” I say. I snag the Root Beer from the crowd of sodas on the desk. Steve looks disappointed, it was the last one. I give it to him and grab a Coke. “Who knows how long before the police get here, or the military. We either move forward or we go home, and whichever it is, we need to do it now.”

“We have to stay,” Rash says, and he’s holding a slice of pizza that I never saw him take, even though he would have had to reach right past me to get it. You always have to be careful eating with Rash, he has quit an appetite for such a small guy. “They have to know who we are, or they will as soon as they get here. We’ve got to stick to the plan.” It’s some powerful stuff, coming from him, he could leave right now and no one would ever know he was here.

“It’s agreed, then?” Ray says. “We staying?” I nod, and the other two do as well. “Good.”

The combination of the coffee that I drank at Starbucks and the sodas that I’ve been drinking ever since have started to work their way through my system, and I have to excuse myself. When I get back to the office, Rash and Steve are freaking out.

“How long do we have?” Steve asks, panic in his voice.

“I don’t know. Two hours? Four at most,” Rash says. “We need to deal with this now.”

“Just wait until Ray and Ash get back,” Steve says.

“Where’s Ray?” I ask, walking into the office.

“He just left. Said he had to go to the bathroom,” Steve says, looking at me. “Didn’t you see him?”

“No.” With only one bathroom up here, there’s no way I could have missed him. “What’s up?”

“The military is on their way,” Rash says. “They’ll probably be here in two hours, four at the most.”

“Are you sure you didn’t see him?” Steve asks.

“Yeah, I’m sure.” This is not good, we can’t deal with the military until we get the Supers on our side.

“He’s in the lobby,” Rash says from his seat in front of the Director’s computer, where he was patched in to the security cameras. “The bastard’s leaving!”

“Can you lock the doors?” Steve asks, practically vaulting to Rash’s side.

“Let him go,” I say, sitting down. “If he wants to go . . .” Not like he wouldn’t be able to convince us to let him go, in any case.

We all just sit there for a moment, and though I’m not a mind-reader, I know that the same thought is going through all of our heads: What the fuck do we do now? Ray was the key to the entire plan, he was the only one whose powers meant a damn thing. This will probably mean a real job for him, now that the government has been alerted to his potential, but where does that leave us?

I move over to Ray’s empty chair. I want to see, at least, what he’s been working on. There are piles of paper, and although some of it has clearly been shuffled recently, there isn’t any evidence that Ray actually did anything.

“It doesn’t look like he did a damn thing. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. If you guys want to leave now, I’ll understand,” I say, looking at both of them. The truth is that I wouldn’t understand, actually, but if they were going to ditch, they already would have done so.

“I’m in,” Steve says. “What’s the plan?”

“Yeah,” Rash says, and there’s another one of those moments, as we all sit and look at each other, watch as the realization comes to us all at once. There is no plan. Ray had convinced us that there was, that we should come in with him and do this, but there never was a plan. Thinking back to the interview that I did with the journalist, it was all just rhetoric, pure bullshit. To say that the situation sucks would be the understatement of the year, but yeah, it sucks.

“Well we need to figure this out,” I say. “Where do we start?”

“Goals,” Rash says. “We all know that DoSP is worthless. If we could change a few basic things, which ones would have the highest chance of making things better?” When I think about Rash, I think of a kid who spends all of his time racking up ridiculously high scores on peoples Playstations, but I forget that he has probably spent enough time in school to get a couple of degrees, if he could get a counselor to even look at him.

“DoSP was created as a lever that would allow the government to use Supers,” Steve says. “Take your dad, would he be sitting in a hollowed out volcano if he had any say on what he was allowed to research? I don’t think so.” I’m not so sure, dad’s always had that fascination with volcanoes, but Steve had a point, at least he wouldn’t be trying to take over the world from one, probably.

“I see what you’re getting at, Steve. We need to pull out of the Arctic, or at least get a ceasefire. We’ll make that Agenda Item One.” Agenda Item One, man, that sounds cheesy, but here I am writing the damned words down.

“The DoSP needs to look out for all Supers, not just the useful ones,” Rash says, and I can hear the pain in his voice. I hadn’t really thought about what it would be like to be him, but I was starting to get a sense of just how alone he felt.

“That’s number two, I guess I’ll add one. The DoSP needs to do a better job of integrating the Supers with everyone else. It’s not like they- you guys -aren’t humans first and Supers second. We need to recognize that.” I clear off a space on the desk and set the paper in the center. We all just look at it for a long moment. Simply defining the problem seemed to make our task that much easier, and I can see the tension in Rash and Steve’s faces ebbing a little.

“Where do we start?” Steve asks.

“First, we need to let people know what’s going on. Ray only talked to the managers, and I’d bet that they don’t really know what’s happening. Hopefully some of his bullshit stuck. Steve, how about if you go see about convincing the military attache to get a cease-fire in the arctic. Rash and I will send out the memo and get started on the other items.”

“Got it,” Steve says, standing up and heading towards the door with purposeful strides.


“It is you. I thought you had quit.” I recognized the voice, not too many british accents around here, and looked up to see Dan from accounting leaning through the open doorway. It’s good to hear a friendly voice, the last hour and a half have been hell. I feel like the military is going to swoop in here any minute and black bag the lot of us.

“I had, but you know how this place is.” We had both known people who had tried to quit only to return, like the living dead, several months later. “What’s up?”

“I wanted to see if it really was you, and also to let you know that my department figures that everything is fucked today, what with the slash-and-burn reorg that you’re doing and all, so we’re helping the SR department to get going.”

“SR? What the hell are you talking about.”

“Oh, sorry we’ve only been going for an hour and we already have our own jargon. Super Resources- to address point number two,” he says.

“Is this happening all over the building?” I ask, incredulous.

“Yeah, after the managers came back from the meeting, we were all expecting something to change, and when we got the memo, people just started to organize things.”

“Cool–” I start to say before being cut off by a very red, very angry Mr. Higgins, my former boss.

“What the hell is going on here?” he yells at me as he shoves his way past Dan. “Do you know what I’ve been doing for the last hour? I’ve–”

“Been trying to figure out how to work the fucking coffee machine? I know. Now get the hell out!” Both Higgins and Dan take a step back at my outburst. I had figured that everything was settled with Higgins when I quit last week, but apparently I had been wrong. “When I started here, I thought I’d be able to make things better, but all I did, day after day, was pour coffee for you while you made them worse.” As I talked, I could see the realization start to dawn on his face that he wasn’t going to win this one.

“Ashley . . .” he says, and the words trailed off as he tried to come up with something to say.

“This is the part where you leave. Take your retirement, and leave.” To my surprise, the fight just went out of him, his shoulders slumped, and he left. For the first time since Ray left, heck, for the first time in my life, I get the feeling that things might just turn out alright.


The military arrived several hours later, and they were pissed. Unfortunately for them, the Supers got here first. It turned out that they liked what we had done, they were tired of fighting, of dying in that pointless war. Now General Osterman, Omega, and myself were sitting in Hammond’s office, discussing where to go from here.

“How can you take her side? Do you know how much we lost because you pulled out of the Arctic?” Osterman says, his angular features emphasized by the long rays of the fading sunlight.

“We’ve been fighting over that god forsaken chunk of ice for eight years now, and I speak for all the men and women up there when I say this. We’re done,” Omega says. He was one of the first Supers, and even though his ability is supernatural toughness, he radiates command. “We’ll just have to figure something else out.”

Osterman is enough of a soldier to know when he’s lost, so he moves on to the other subject, the one that I care about. “We can’t just leave her in power,” he says.

“I don’t see why not. I’m sure the PR people in Washington can handle this, they’ve spun worse,” Omega says. “Do you really think anyone cares who is running the DoSP, so long as things are going well? I certainly don’t. No offense.”

“None taken,” I respond. “You know, at this point I don’t even care who is in charge, so long as it isn’t the way it was before.” I’m opening my mouth to say more, but a knocking comes from the closet door. “Oh shit. Hammond.” I can picture him stepping out, unkempt, looking like a POW, not the sort of thing you want to have happen in the middle of the negotiation that will determine whether you will go to jail or not.

“You kept him in the closet?” Omega says, and Rash runs to open the door.

Hammond steps out. The man actually looks better. His shoulders look like they’ve lost a lifetime worth of tension, and they probably have. He looks like he just got back from a vacation. I wish I looked that relaxed.

“It looks like everyone is here,” he says. “Sorry I didn’t come out sooner, but I fell asleep a couple of hours ago. Haven’t been getting enough sleep these days.”

“We were just discussing what we were going to do with Miss Zeno here,” Osterman begins, “we weren’t sure what had happened to you.”

Hammond shrugs. “Being stuck in there got me to thinking. You’re still treating the world as though nothing changed when Omega and the others started showing up, but things are different now, and you need to realize that. If you don’t mind, I need to go home, I’m sure my family is worried about me.”

“I know you’ve had a long day, sir,” Osterman says, “but we need to start fixing things, and we need to do it now.”

“From the sounds of it, she’s already started fixing things,” Hammond says, and looks at me. “I think it’s about time I stepped down. I’m getting too old for this, and we need someone with the balls to do this right.”

I don’t know what to do. Is there any protocol for dealing with a man who you shoved in a closet against his will but who comes out wanting to shake your hand? Omega makes the first move. He stands up and walks over to Hammond, who only reaches his chin, and shakes the former director’s hand. I guess that answers it, you just shake the guy’s hand.

“Thank you, sir. Give my regards to Paul,” Omega says.

“I will. Maybe we can get together for a round of golf sometime.”

“It’d be my pleasure.”

“It sounds like you have a successor in mind,” Osterman says. “What’s his name? We need to get ahold of him right away.”

“She’s sitting right there,” Hammond says, smiling at me.