This was not the first meeting of its type, which was not unusual. Nothing of note had been accomplished so far, which was also not unusual. Gail was very much used to things happening at a snail's pace, setting up interminable meetings with opposing counsel to see if anyone had found somewhere they could give an inch, and what they wanted for it in return. It didn't bother her. If it bothered the man across the table from her, she considered that a benefit. She also wasn't the only one of L-9's representatives who had been drafted into meetings like these, she was only the one who happened to be here today. No doubt the lack of consistency also irritated him, but that was also standard legal practice: annoy your opponent into giving up more than they should.
Not that they were opponents, of course. Everyone here was on the same side.
She had been in a lot of legal situations like that, too. That was more of a corporate law sort of thing, where everyone pretended the mergers were friendly. This wasn't a merger, or at least, it probably shouldn't be. The table was littered with an assortment of electronic devices - mostly his, some hers; coffee - entirely his; tea - entirely hers; and paperwork - mostly hers, some his. There was a copy of a Certificate included, but one of the ones where she'd taken out all the fun parts. He couldn't even complain about it, because she could just cite security purposes.
Still, they weren't getting anywhere, and more importantly, neither was her Councilman. He was fine, of course, for whatever definition of the words the ACF had used when they'd promoted him in the first place. They just weren't letting him do anything interesting.
"I don't believe this is anything worse than anything else my councilman has done." She said my councilman in a way that managed to sound like it should have been my client. Gail wasn't exactly claiming to be a legal representative - mostly because the Foundation didn't work that way - but she wasn't exactly claiming she wasn't, either. "Do you really feel that holding him here is beneficial to anyone? It seems unduly punitive."
It took a lot for Councilman SV-4 “Hack” to admit to himself that he was tired. Then again, Agent Gail Weber had always been a lot.
Which was why he was the one who met with the L-9 personnel, even when it was not her. They were all like that, like their Councilman, as they should be. L-9 should be like that. Chaos and loopholes and bent rules. Just because he did not like that did not mean he disagreed with the sentiment that it should be that way. The very small amount of pleasure he might derive from intervening in that chaos as a temporary bringer of order was never enough to counterbalance the trouble of dealing with their personnel as a consequence.
He was too far from his location. He was busy, and not with anything of grave importance. Had it been his choice, Strings would already be back at L-9, even if it was his interference that had brought his fellow Councilman to this location instead. In terms of smaller complaints, the air was just barely too warm to try to maintain his health, and as a result he let his coffee grow cold as a countermeasure to maintain something like a regular temperature in the right area of his body. The paperwork Weber brought did nothing to alleviate concerns, and one of the devices he’d brought to occupy himself in between interrogation sessions was making a high whine that he was pretty sure only he could hear because he knew it wasn’t supposed to sound like that.
And none of that showed on his face as ice blue eyes met Weber’s face, maybe making eye contact, maybe not quite focused. It was difficult to tell, in conjunction with the unchanging expression and neutral tone.
“It is not intended to be punitive, Agent Weber,” he said, in the tone of a man who had not used the same phrase several times over the past month to answer the same or similar accusations. It was the same tone he had used each time. Neutrality came easily, once it was a habit. “He has come by no more harm than simple boredom.”
And separation from the L’Estrange child. That, he knew, was SV-5’s real issue with the ongoing captivity, even if he had not had the means to express that to his counsel. Or perhaps he had, but it would have to be occult and very subtle to be overlooked by most of the Council, and maybe not even then with the presence of SV-2 and ACF-707. Unless Butterfly would hide it, which was neither likely nor unlikely, depending on his current attitude toward SV-5. Their relationship was being monitored for that reason.
Hack would not be the first to mention the child. Weber would know that he knew it existed, as indicated by the documents between them, but Strings had yet to mention it directly, and therefore it was not relevant to the current negotiations. Additionally, the child had removed an anomaly from the Foundation, which he had had to learn through Jupiter, who oversaw the location where the anomaly had lived. Another L’Estrange child apparent.
“As for benefit, he is being held for observation upon Leviathan’s request.” Another repeated statement, as though saying it again would matter this time. He did move, barely, by nodding his head in a slow motion of not-quite-concession. “As you say, this is not the worst he has done. This is the worst since he has become Councilman, however. You know Leviathan frets.”
More than they should, he did not say. He also did not mention that he did not entirely know their motive for the concern. Thus far, he had kept that part hidden, and a month of wear and admitted exhaustion would not change that security surrounding Leviathan was a greater concern than whatever Weber was trying to accomplish.
"I think it could be argued that, in the case of Councilman Strings, boredom is unnecessarily punitive," Gail pointed out. She might not have been entirely serious about that, but it was generally assumed that Councilman Hack was not in possession of a sense of humor, and therefore her seriousness wouldn't matter.
Personally, she rather doubted the assumption, but it often made sense to go along with it rather than letting on what she suspected. She shifted in her chair, settling back a bit and fiddling with a fountain pen. In deference to the gravity of the situation, she was even sitting in the chair properly, facing forward, rather than turning it backwards and straddling it or any other number of the chair-abusive contortions she usually got herself into. Gail was rather good at acting professional, though, when she needed to - and at being professional, when she needed to do that, which was not exactly the same thing.
She raised the pen, in gentle objection. "Point of contention - the recent event was not actually that bad either. The origination event I will give you was somewhat over the top even for Strings, but that event happened before he was placed on the security council and is therefore not relevant to the current argument."
In the great scheme of things, was technically, he got a little Eldritch baby in his blood before he was promoted was very much a letter of the law sort of argument, but Gail was a lawyer. That was, essentially, what she was here for - or at the very least, it was how she'd gotten herself here in the first place, and she'd just never stopped.
"So, who is benefitting from this observation? Because I very much doubt that it is Councilman Strings."
Agent Weber said a joke. Contrary to popular belief, Councilman Hack was fully equipped with a sense of humor. He just didn’t find the joke funny, so he didn’t laugh. He did, in his own way, acknowledge it – by not acknowledging the statement.
Instead he acknowledged the second statement, sitting for all the world like a star student, two legs on the floor, hands resting on his knees, posture impeccable. This helped to support rumors that he was in fact inhuman, and would not draw attention to the itching in his lungs that told him he’d break into an unhealthy fit of coughing if he moved too much. Weakness like that in front of someone like Agent Weber was dangerous, because she was one of the Foundation’s finest.
“Counterpoint. The current argument relates to the outcome of that origination event, which has come into fruition during his tenure.”
Technically, he got l’étrange bébé out of his blood while he was Councilman, and has therefore made it the entire Foundation’s problem. Had it been known in any capacity that Councilman Strings had a baby of any kind, he would have been ruled out for Councilman before being elected. Familial ties – however strange – were a distraction from the Council’s primary dedication to the wellbeing of the Foundation. Strings knew that, and had ignored it.
Or had been ignorant of it, but that seemed unlikely, given his secrecy.
He took a slow breath, not especially deep, and it did not touch the bottom of his lungs. It steadied him, but he did give the impression of the slightest smile as Weber asked who it served to keep Strings here.
“I know that I am not benefitting.” It was not an answer, nor was it spoken with the distaste or even complaint usually associated with statements of its kind. That it was said at all would say quite a bit to Agent Weber, and perhaps serve to distract her from the pressing issue of Councilman Leviathan’s intentions in detaining Councilman Strings.
He did not want to be the first one to mention L’étrange, but upon consideration, and the current trajectory of the conversation, it might be best for security to continue to keep Weber’s attention away from Leviathan. The smile faded back to the deliberate nothing of his more common expression.
“If we knew more of the child, and his relationship with it, perhaps progress will be made. But he will not speak of it, and your paperwork, while admirably meticulous –” he maintained his neutrality with those words, not offending if possible, because he did not want another instance of an incensed Agent Weber “– holds no bearing on interpersonnel relations. If it can be proven that the relationship is not a threat or distraction, there will be less trouble.”
He very carefully did not promise that her Councilman could leave, because while Leviathan hadn’t spoken to him on the subject – maybe because he was the designated intermediary with a lawyer – he could guess their motives. Might as well make the attempt, behind the ever-present mask of security and protocol.
"Of course it's a distraction." Gail did not actually roll her eyes, because she was in her professional mode, but there was an implication of it somehow in her tone. "This is Strings. Everything is a distraction. That's how he works. And if it weren't a threat, it wouldn't be at L-9." This was probably not what most people would have wanted to hear, but Hack was not most people, and you didn't try to bullshit the world's most paranoid man with platitudes. It would only make the situation worse.
"Look. You and I both know that the situation is not optimal. Nothing about it is optimal or is going to be optimal. What we need to do is figure out the best solution. I'm aware that Strings is a problem; he is not the only problem. L-9 has been operating under his particular brand of chaos for a long time, and while Jupiter's location is used to having their Councilman in absentia for long stretches of time, we're not. We are a location full of people who expletive around and find out, and we're used to having Strings pop out of nowhere to offer suggestions - which may or may not make the situation worse, but we've gotten used to having to think about it. And now he's stuck over there, and people are getting careless. Strings is a lot of things, but careless is not one of them."
Gail punctuated this statement with a gesture in his direction with the pen she was holding, which was a cheap disposable ballpoint bearing a strange symbol and the words Anima Ex Noctis, which had been the name of a GoI a few years back. She found it amusing how many GoIs eventually decided that what they really needed to help bring along their anomalous goals was merchandising. She'd started a pen collection years ago, with all of the ones they'd encountered, and then people had started giving her more GoI pens, and now she had two cups of them on her desk.
I've rewritten seven contracts this week, and I'm seriously considering petitioning the Security Council for permission to start up a Spirit Trust for our L-9 personnel before we lose any more souls, like the one I have for my people - but I have no idea who to name as executor, other than Strings, and who knows what that madman would do with that kind of contract." Gail held stewardship for the Hocus Locusts, with each member having consigned 30% of their soul to the trust so that they couldn't accidentally bargain it away somehow. It had seemed prudent, after Agent Wedel.
That was neither here nor there. "I have most of my people running internal interference to get things under control, but that means not a lot of time to prep for when there's inevitably something outside we need to deal with. And I have a very bored occultist with attachment issues who is holding together by a thread only because L-14 is in the middle of a disaster and I've been able to shunt her off there to keep her busy, especially since Jupiter will be there to keep an eye on things, but if this all doesn't resolve she's going to turn L-14 into a pancake, and that is not a metaphor. She already has a spell to turn corpses into imitation maple syrup."
Gail was maybe a little more invested than usual in the question of whether he'd be more horrified by the pancake prospect or the imitation maple syrup - he was Canadian, after all. Under normal circumstances, she'd have asked. This wasn't normal circumstances.
"And, if we're going to be upfront about it, L-9 currently has two new major Entities that none of us are entirely sure how to deal with. We're doing what we can, but it would be going a lot more smoothly with Strings around. He's got an instinct for that sort of thing. So. Without dancing around the issue any more: what do you want, here?"
The last was a little more forceful, deliberately - she'd spliced just a little bit of her second soul in. Not enough to go full rip, tear, crush, but maybe enough to remind people that everyone at L-9 was a little bit crazy, and Strings was the one who kept it all in line.
Hack breathed, slowly. It was not a deep breath, necessarily, nor was it a sigh. She had been honest with him, which indicated the point the two of them were reaching. He could freeze her out again, he had it in him, and her second Self did not intimidate him as much as it may have pressured others. But with all her points, he came to the same conclusion she did: communication, even limited, was better than not.
“I want answers, agent. This situation would be expedited if we shared information.”
The terrible truth was that Agent Weber was correct. The place needed strong leadership that flowed with the chaos, rather than prevented it. Which was why Hack was not advocating – this time, anyway – for the complete removal of Councilman Strings from the Security Council. To retire him, he would have to be retired from the Foundation. This would have several complications:
First. Strings would be more dangerous outside the Foundation than he was inside it.
Second. Strings was likely resistant to amnestic procedures, which compounded the first point.
Third. He would have to be replaced, and the candidates for that were not better than the existing Councilman.
Fourth. The child was his child, and to remove it from the Foundation was more dangerous than removing Strings alone. It would be impossible to amnesticize the child, and therefore, it would remember him. Likely, it would seek him out, the same way it had sought out 1003, for whatever reason. This also compounded the first point.
Speaking of Jupiter’s personal project…
“Can I correctly assume that the second major entity is 1003-D?” He said the digits individually, like a screenreader that didn’t see the whole for its parts. The same could be said for his attitude for 1003 itself. Not being a researcher, the whole entity only mattered insofar as it could not be fully contained.
He tapped his leg twice, considering. The rhythm was too deliberate to be mere fidgeting.
“And there was a brief period where L’Etrange left L-9. Seeking out, I believe, ACF-1003. What is the relationship?”
She likely would not answer him honestly, or at all. She would probably say words in response, but he doubted they had meaning. Still. If there was a connection between the two anomalies, maybe someone who wasn’t Strings would be willing to give some indication.
He didn’t smile as he considered how he must be truly desperate to go to her for help. As far as she knew, he was not familiar with any modern Marvel movies – or even old ones. And it would remain that way for the foreseeable future.
"Hm." Gail lowered the pen again, tapping it on the table a few times before stopping out of deference to the idea of not annoying the person she was trying to get along with. Out of that same deference, she didn't point out that when he said sharing information it seemed rather clear that this was a one-way sort of sharing. She also didn't point out that maybe it was his turn to say something she didn't know. That didn't get you anywhere with the security council, least of all this member of it. At least if she'd said that to Strings, he'd have told her something she didn't know. It might not have been relevant, and it might not have been accurate, but at least it would have been interesting.
She nodded without comment at his assumption of 1003-D, as it wasn't worth interrupting all of the fascinating flow of information he was providing at the moment. Silence reigned, and she stared at him until he broke it. Not with anything useful, just with more questions, but she hadn't really expected him to give anything up. Security and all that.
What is the relationship? Gail spread her hands. "[Expletive] knows." Her hand moved, tapping a few keys on her own laptop, transferring an audio log over. He'd probably already seen it, but it was as good a way as any to breach the subject. "First mention I've found of it. If anyone's close to figuring that one out it's Redd at L-14, though he doesn't have the background on Our Little Darling as far as I'm aware. Corby's seeing if she can pick up any intel on it, but that's made more difficult by the fact that this is all classified at top level, so we're leaving the impression that she's just really curious about Strings and seeing what spills out." The duplicity was helped by the fact that Cait actually was really curious about Strings, and also by the fact that she was such a little chaos monster most of the time that people legitimately forgot that her primary function was as a left-hand agent, even though that was right there in the paperwork.
Hack wouldn't have forgotten, and Strings never did, but it was surprising how many people missed how much you could hide by being open.
"In any case, the Entities seem to be friends now, though it's up in the air which definition of themSelves they're using to be friendly with. We're monitoring it."
Weber went about reminding him – by action, rather than her usual long-winded argument – why she was the leader of a left-hand team. She did not have the information he wanted, but she had information that might lead to that information, and it was clear she was continuing to investigate. Her intent during their silence did not go unnoticed. He hadn’t not responded due to any contrariness. He simply didn’t have anything to add to the confirmation.
One of his devices, the one nearest him and in the best shape, made a small vibration as the audio file was sent. He reached over and picked it up – formerly, it was an Android cellular device, and still maintained the shell, but most of the interior hardware had been changed out to better suit Hack’s needs. The text on the screen was not in French, or English, or binary, but in a code that could be scanned in either French or computer binary at a glance if you knew it.
Only Hack, and maybe two of his assistants, knew it. There were more widespread codes at L-6 in the case that anyone present needed to access the system, but on his small, mobile, personal devices, Hack tended to keep a tight lock on the information shared with him. Even from the people sharing it. Old habits died hard, and he was making no attempt to kill this one.
He recognized the date and time of the recording in the message, but waited for Weber to finish before opening it. The device opened by facial recognition and passcode, but not thumbprint scan. The last was because he had had a time in his life when he had been somehow more diagnosably paranoid than he was now. He had burned them off as a precaution, which, in retrospect, was stupid and rash, but there was nothing (non-anomalous) to be done about that now.
There was a small pause in the conversation as he reviewed the audio file, not audibly but by use of a transcript pulled from the provided video. He did not frown at the little screen, exactly, but there was a small alteration to the cast of his face that might seem pensive, like a man trying to solve a puzzle. After a moment of this, he set the device aside and looked back to Agent Weber.
“I do not understand enough occult logic to follow what may have happened with 1003.” It was an admission in the first person, which was not an excuse, and was more personal information than he would have given some of his own people. As with most information, it was need to know. Gail Weber needed to know, and so he told her. “I understand the synergetic relationship with Dr. Redd as well as something as inexplicable as synergy can be parsed, but what exactly 1003 indicates by its interaction with Strings in its dream-state is unclear, and he is unhappy with me and therefore unlikely to attempt to explain.”
Unlike Hack who, even when unhappy, put the Foundation’s needs first. The fact was not self-celebratory, so much as an implied reprimand to Strings, who was not here and would respond badly to hearing it. He had a feeling Gail would respond badly as well. That was, he determined after a moment, acceptable.
It was also acceptable, because he was not a researcher, to request some explanation rather than parsing it himself. He seemed to be overthinking his phrasing for it, but when he spoke, it was almost colloquial in everything but tone.
The situation must be desperate indeed, if Hack had decided to enact the actually I am not a cold, abrasive [expletive] 100% of the time protocol. There were a number of people in the ACF who didn't even realize he was capable of it.
Which was why she was here and not them, she supposed.
And this was a familiar step as well: just an occult flair on the step of translate the complicated legalese into something your client can understand. In this case it meant explaining Strings, who was more or less unexplainable, but she would do what she could. She didn't answer right away, organizing her thoughts into something that might work.
"Understand most of what I am telling you is coming directly from him, so you can have as much faith in its veracity as you care to. Some of it is undoubtedly wrong, but it will be a starting point. And - while neither of you will thank me for this statement - You understand him a lot better than most people, at this point."
She leaned back in the chair, resisting the urge to tip it onto two legs. "Some time ago, Strings got himself killed, and then we-all-know-who decided to put him back together. And at that point, something else got added into the mix. Strings didn't have a whole lot of say over what happened there because he was dead at the time, which means the contract wasn't done right. Why he never mentioned this, I do not know, and I assure you I will be having a few Words with him about the subject later. What that means is that he both didn't and doesn't have as much control over this thing as he'd like. Time passes. He doesn't forget about it, but I'd guess he gets used to it. He tries to keep an Eye on it, but he mentioned that it's got a tendency to wander while he's asleep, so he was doing less of that recently - but enough, because he wanted to see what it did."
Stretch itself, he'd said, or something like that - a bit of development that needed to happen, much like letting a couple kids pretend that you didn't have an eye on them. Learning how to Be when someone else wasn't telling you How. That was the sort of explanation that was only going to confuse anyone who wasn't from L-9, though, so Gail left it out.
"Not too long ago, during one of these sleeping periods that it wandered off to explore new dimensions and wandered into ACF-1003's place, and ran into Her. Things happened, and our explorer split - so there's two parts now. One of them went back to Strings, the other stuck on that side. So we've got our Two and then Ira's at least a Three at this point on account of 1003-D, and after that it's just complicated math."
She studied the man across from her - not like a researcher would have, just as an observer, keeping track of things without trying to change them. "Are you following this?"
Councilman Hack did something few people thought he could – which was much more common than those people would ever be allowed to realize. He suspended the rational area of his mind, and listened quietly, without parsing out translation or explanation.
It was not quite a suspension of disbelief; he was a Councilman of the Foundation, after all. There was very little he would not believe. The human mind, which he had despite the rumors, simply had a habit of attempting to explain that which it could not fully grasp. No, not a habit, an instinct. The habit formed here was allowing that part to get quiet when something irrational or disorganized was being explained to him, so he could actually listen, and then go back and reason with himself later, once he’d been able to process it. Originally it was a tiring process, but necessary for someone like him to work in a place where things by nature did not make sense.
Are you following this was the sort of question asked of a man who was overly rational, and so it made sense that Agent Weber would ask it. It was also meant to open some space for questions, while – being in the present tense – it implied that there was more to come. Not having questions yet, Hack inclined his head.
“Yes,” he said, then waited for more to follow, or for Gail to fill in the empty air even if she was not prepared to do so already. Listen, then quantify, then predict the outcome.
Gail watched the man in front of her for a moment, coolly assessing whether or not that Yes actually meant he was following along or just that he felt he should be and wasn't going to admit otherwise. She had certainly run into plenty of people like that in her life, after all.
But that wasn't the case here. Whatever else she might have had to say about Hack, he wasn't going to pretend to understand something when he didn't, if only because he was paranoid that it might come back and bite him in the [expletive] later.
And she liked to think she'd broken it down well enough. He wasn't unused to the ACF, after all, even if Nine had always done things a little differently. He kept an eye on their dealings enough to have a decent enough baseline, or he wouldn't have gotten stuck on the Security Council in the first place.
So she nodded a little, keeping herself still, focused. Resisting the urge to tip the chair or fiddle with the pen or do any of those other little things that went along with the chaotic side, because that wasn't what was needed here. Chaos was all well and good in its proper place, but not so much for explaining situations to SV-4 in a way that got him to listen.
"All right. So. Two parts of a thing - the part we have, and the part that's gone. Strings knew about the split, so everything he's told me has to do with the bit we've got. He wanted her at Nine; said she needed our kind of chaos to come out right. He tends to have a feel for that sort of thing, and if he says it's important, then we're going to do whatever we can to make it happen. We've been mostly observing - showing her a few things, sure, she's got to have a Foundation - but letting her make her own choices where we can, and cleaning up after her as she goes. It's enough for now, but it's not going to be enough forever, and sooner or later she's going to go looking for Strings. I think it would be best for everyone if he's easy to get to when that happens."
Because if that wasn't the case and Nimsy had to break into something to get to him - well, Gail doubted they could keep her out without breaking her in turn, and that would have been a shame. Things like her didn't show up every day. She was special.
Not perfect, even if Strings thought she was. But interesting, and maybe that was better.
Gail shifted a little bit, debating whether to bring up the other part - but why not? It was going to come up eventually. "Other than needing Strings back for that eventuality, I think we're fine with her. But - there's that other fragment. The one that's missing. Something like that would be hard to kill, which means it's probably still somewhere." She leaned forward, against the table, a little half-quirk of a quickly hidden smile vanishing into the mask once more. "Now, I'd like to go after it. But given what that's likely to entail... well, let's just say that's not the sort of decision I'm going to make on my own."
Agent Weber’s stillness was an accommodation for his sake, he knew. Fidgeting was not so much a habit as a tool she used to keep people on alert, or distracted, or both. But they were being accommodating, and he was listening to her, so she sat as still as he did. She was also finally giving him a reason – several reasons, including the contracts – not to keep Strings here longer than he needed to.
Not that he needed additional reasons. This entire situation, though he had initiated it, was a distraction from his regular duties, and it was getting to him in a way very little could, these days.
“Such an expedition requires Council approval.” He did not chide her, because she did not intend to go without at least her Councilman’s say. He inclined his head a little again, and added for emphasis, “Je vois.”
That was all he needed, really. Any more than she chose to give would be extraneous, not to mention difficult. So there came the – not a deal, he did not deal with SV-5’s people. But the exchange. He had the information he needed, and he could give her a return, now that she had been as clear as Weber liked to be about what she wanted in exchange.
He took a deep breath, prepared to say something relevant, but his lungs hitched on the exhale and he could feel the quick itch that warned him to raise his elbow over his mouth.
He coughed twice into the arm, unfortunately very audibly damp. His face twisted to something hard and focused as he forced a shallow inhale and held his breath, despite the ache in his lungs. Loosening his attention on Weber was not an excuse to loosen his attention on himself.
After a moment, the exhale finished itself without interruption. His expression shifted into sour territory for the length of two more breaths, to ensure his body would not repeat the malfunction. Then he relaxed back into his usual expression, which may have not lent conviction to his apologetic, “Désolé,” had he been in the habit of offering apology at all. As it stood, he trusted that Weber knew him better than that.
“Your Councilman is unhappy,” a statement not necessary but a good test of his voice, which was thankfully fine, “because Leviathan and Butterfly are making the combined effort to convince him to use a focus. The proposed focus is a staff or cane, which Butterfly is capable of providing. Their concern, as they say, is not for physical trauma – as you say, he has suffered worse by his own hand – but energy conservation. Your Councilman does not perceive this as the act of companionable concern, on the part of Butterfly, or unnecessary but decisive care, on the part of Leviathan, but as an accusation of weakness. I proposed that they request assistance from you, but Butterfly is of the opinion he will react even more aggressively, as you are liable to make an attempt to contract him in his weakened state. I, not being familiar with your means and methods, am not in a position to disagree.”
This was, in part, the reason why Gail had not been told anything, because as much as everyone at L-9 accused Hack of meddling, their curiosity often outweighed better judgment. While he would not be opposed to some form of restriction being placed on SV-5, he also knew that it could be unwise to leave that contract in the hands of Agent Weber, who was too much like him to restrict him in a useful manner. Best to leave the chaos as it was. At least as it was, it had a degree of predictability that Hack could work with.
He didn't accuse her of having planned to circumvent the Security Council and go chasing dreams, so Gail supposed maybe he'd decided to accept at least a little bit of the blame on the actually I can do my job thank you situation they'd had earlier. He didn't bring it up, so she didn't either, especially when he started coughing. She waited it out, because he didn't want her help with it anyway.
Besides, it wasn't anything new. The apology was, but she decided she was going to politely ignore that as well and focus on the business aspect, because it was the only way that this conversation was going anywhere at all. The suggestion of a focus was an interesting one, and Gail could see exactly why Strings was resisting it. The accusations on her character earned him a folding of her arms and a raised eyebrow.
"I would never try to put one over him while he was weak," she retorted with a forceful indignance. It was entirely possible he would refuse to believe that, were it not for the followup: "That wouldn't be any fun."That was more like her, of course - and had the benefit of being entirely true. If she wanted to test herself against Strings, she wanted it to be when he was at his best. Anything less would just ruin it. He'd feel the same way about it if it were the other way around, she knew.
Indignation was not quite what he had expected on the subject, but he could accept it. He could sense the truth of her words through the high emotion. He had a feeling that Butterfly would as well, should he be exposed to it, but involving more people – and related anomalies – would complicate matters. Right now, they seemed to be smoothing themselves over. It was quite possible that a solution was presenting itself to wrap up the whole situation, assuming Strings believed it.
“If you could convince him, I would be grateful.”
There was no thank you in the gratitude, of course – demons weren’t fairies, but Hack did not bother to check the differences. Best to be safe and make no indication of a favor owed. Best to keep the situation mutually beneficial, rather than adding anything as messy and organic as real gratitude. It was true, however. If this could be resolved as easily as sending Weber in to chew on Strings for just long enough to get him to agree to a cane and sent on his way, everyone else would be able to go on their way as well.
What was his gratitude worth? Gail wouldn't have been herself if that weren't the first thing that popped into her mind. It didn't have to be an auspicious thing. It could be something as simple as achieving a level of mutual understanding and working better together in the future. That was something they needed, certainly. All of the L-6 / L-9 bits had started as a joke, of course, and there was still some levity there for most of them, except sometimes there wasn't. Cait was at least partially serious about it, and that was concerning.
Not that everything about Cait wasn't concerning, but it was one more thing to add to the list.
Gail shifted in her chair, bringing one heel up on the seat and resting her elbow on her knee, letting her thoughts wander for a while. They could go pretty far if she let them, sifting through different possibilities. Eventually, her gaze sharpened once more. They weren't exactly bargaining, here, but they were talking about things, and she could always ask.
"When Strings eventually kicks the bucket and Cait wants the council position, I'd like you to back her." This assumed that he'd still be around, that Cait would still be around, that the Foundation would still be around, that reality would still be around. A great number of assumptions, but it was one possibility out of many.
"We've got time to shape her. It doesn't have to go badly. You can have a hand in it - probably should, even, because she'll need to get over herself if it's going to work, and if she's going to work out. She'll never be L-6 material, but she'll at least need to understand and respect how you work over there."
A shrug, not as indifferent as it appeared to be. "That's not a bargain. That's just something to think about."
Back to the matter at hand, of course. "And don't tell Strings. The daft [expletive] wouldn't be able to keep his hands off the situation. Oh, he'll figure it out, but he'll be so thrilled we're doing it behind his back he won't know what to do with himself." The eye roll was there, but it was directed at nonpresent parties rather than present ones.
"I'm willing to do what I can about the current situation, but you know there's no convincing him of anything." Gail shrugged again, this time with a smile. "But I can see if I can get him to convince himself."