Date: August The Ninth (Not actually a character)
Location: 14, The Boring One
Personnel: Cait and a guy who just showed up here
Purpose: Going through some guy's pockets
Jupiter had been here for an entire day and nothing had exploded on an astronomical scale, inverted its dimensional topography, or attempted to bind half of the location personnel into a cult of personality. Cait was extremely disappointed. Sure, she'd have expected that of SV-4, but Frosty the No-Man would have put them all in cryostasis if he could just so that nothing interesting ever happened. The rest of them were supposed to be better than that. She'd heard stories about Butterfly. And this guy, he was a field agent! Field agents were supposed to do all sorts of interesting things. Cait sure did.
Except he was mostly meeting with people and sitting in an office, which, to be fair, was also what Cait had been doing recently, but she hadn't been enjoying it nearly as much as she could have been. She was, in fact, contractually obligated not to enjoy it as much as she could have been, but that was another story. The office door was wide open in invitation, not even hexed. That was why she wasn't using it.
Cait stepped out of the wall on the side of the office with a somewhat triumphant [font color="33ccff"]"Ha! Got it. I knew I'd figure out how he did it eventually."[/font] Of course, this didn't mean that it was going to work at L-9, because L-9 was locked down against that sort of thing unless you were Strings. Or maybe it was locked down against that sort of thing, period, and Strings had just figured out how to get around it, which meant... she was going to have to keep working on this.
But L-14 wasn't at the same security level, which was why the eyeballs on the wall she'd just come out of winked themselves out of existence and Cait dusted her pants off, looked at the Councilperson behind the desk who wasn't being nearly as fun as he could have been, and said, conversationally:
Agent Caitlynn Corby was going to turn up sometime. That was something between a fact and an inevitability. As she had taken up an interest of some kind – possibly professional, probably not – hearing that SV-3 was going to be on location was likely to draw her attention back here.
And so Jupiter was, more or less, waiting for her. When his skin crawled from the feeling of eyes on him, he was already wrapping up a brief introductory report.
“He told me once that one of the necessary components for that trick was a mousehole rolled up and stored in the left sleeve.” Jupiter signed whatever it was he was filling out, and then set it aside to turn in his seat to look at one of Councilman Strings’s best students, a very slight smile on his face. “Next day I caught him in the act with mundane chalk, not a mousehole or sleeve to be seen.”
There was usually a lesson at the end of something like that, but he had a feeling Agent Corby already knew “don’t take a word he says at face value” from experience. Anyone who spent more than a day or two around the bastard did. Most people who spent their time at his location learned what many would consider the wrong lesson from it, as he was hardly a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ type. Neither was Jupiter, but he hardly did anything outside the ordinary for a high-level field agent.
He supposed that might be saying something about the lifestyle of field agents, into which category Cait Corby also fell.
[font color="#ff4500"]“Since you came all this way, Cait, would you like to make a seat, or would you prefer we take a walk? I have some questions for you.”[/font]
"No, a mousehole wouldn't really work," Cait said, as if this were a normal thing to say. She wasn't surprised that he wasn't surprised. He wouldn't have gotten where he was if he had been. "Too much emphasis on keeping mice out of places, yeah? Not the right mindset. Chalk might do, if it were the right sort of chalk." Cait had lots of chalk, of many different types, for some definition of the word 'chalk'.
"I used a toilet roll. Technically there's a place to pass through but people don't think about it that way. Plus they're everywhere and inconspicuous. And cushy on the outside!" Cushy on the outside wasn't a requirement, of course, but it made the trip a little nicer. Of course, Jupiter would think it was possible that Cait lied as much as Strings did, but most of the time she didn't need to. She could say whatever she wanted and people just wouldn't believe her. Also, there was the fact that a great deal of the time, Cait's spells didn't work for anyone but Cait. She said it was a mental thing.
The wallhop wasn't at all like her usual gloopening spell, but that one was for getting everywhere, not just getting around inside a location. Getting around everywhere required other specialized materials.
"A walk sounds good." She pointed a thumb towards the wall she'd come out of. "Need me to open the door for you?"
Cait was telling the truth. That didn’t surprise him – usually, people who dabbled in the occult didn’t bother lying, because what they said usually sounded like nonsense anyway. What could be parsed, at least. Jupiter wasn’t exactly in the habit of trusting people who dabbled in the occult, or anything else, for that matter. He was generally good at reading people, but most important, he was used to giving people the benefit of the doubt. That was necessary, in field work.
That also tended to require an escape route in the case that the benefit was wrongly given, which was not quite as often as training led younger agents to believe, but it was best to be careful until you had experience. Once Jupiter had the experience, he gave himself a little freedom by way of benefits.
Kept things interesting.
He looked at the wall Cait gestured to, then shook his head with a smile that would’ve been wry if it was a little more condescending.
“Yes, but I tend to take my own routes.” The yes did not match the head shake, but he said it in such a way that it fit anyway. He reached into the right elbow of his trench coat, rummaged for a moment, and produced a doorknob. He rose from his chair and set the knob into thin air, twisting it as if screwing it in. When he was done, the anomaly hung suspended in the air as though there had always been a door there, if you knew where to look for it.
He stepped back with a sweeping gesture, indicating Cait should open it. [colorcolor="#ff4500"]“After you, agent.”[/color]
She would likely expect it to open someplace within the location. It would not, although the other side wouldn’t be visible until they stepped through. It led outdoors, someplace warm and full of sunlight. ‘The Way Out’ was one of the anomaly’s nicknames. Jupiter had originally kept it as an emergency exit from situations involving enclosed spaces, but since he’d stopped being sent on field missions, he’d mostly just used it to take a walk in the park or at the beach or something from time to time. Usually its location was random, although people with a strongly preferred outdoor spot – a specific rock by a specific river, a beloved childhood park, a grassy hill with good memories. When used on the other side, it would bring him right back here, so he wasn’t too concerned with a pickup.
While for the sake of the general public, conversations with people related to Strings were best had within the safety of the Foundation, there was a good chance this would bring Cait someplace where she was more comfortable, more room to breathe. Being well-maintained, Fourteen was a quiet location, and it was best to keep it that way for now. If Cait started an incident in public, well, Jupiter would be there to pick up the pieces, or prevent it altogether. There had to be something on his person for ‘rowdy occult twenty-something’.
Jupiter made a door, which was a thing he could do. Cait needed a pocket doorknob. It was an anomaly, sure, but maybe she could recreate the effect with... She'd need a key, certainly, and probably some dust, there was always dust on top of doorways. The rest of it, she wasn't quite sure, but that was a problem to puzzle over later. Not that she really needed it, but sometimes it was more important to Have A Project than it mattered what the project actually was.
"Suit yourself. But I know you've got toilet roll in there." He had a coat with extradimensional pocket space, didn't he? Extra toilet paper was one of the first things you added as soon as you'd properly expanded your pocket size. He was a field agent, after all, and you never knew where you were going to be when you needed to be going.
Cait stepped through the hazy rectangle and out onto the beach. Not one she knew. The sand was pink, and there were no trees, just little scrubby grasses and dunes. Salt water. He'd followed her through, which meant that she was now the sole Foundation Agent here with SV-3, which was a horrible idea all around, which made it funny. There was undoubtedly someone having a heart attack about that. Cait glanced around, not noting any security cameras on this strip of deserted beach. There probably were some anyway. If nothing else, there were satellites. She stuck her tongue out at the sky, briefly and on principle, already etching a few glyphs into the sand with the toe of her boot, just in case this was one of those places where something came up from the Deep and tried to eat their faces.
The beach was empty when Jupiter stepped through, squinting slightly in the bright daylight. Similar time zone, then. Judging by the pink sand, palpable humidity, and lack of other visitors, his nearest guess was the Southeast US or somewhere in the Caribbean. What mattered was that there weren’t any prying eyes or ears. Although, he did check up the beach to make sure there wasn’t a grand house to judge them for trespassing. There was not, and he could then turn back to Cait.
“This spot does seem to be a favorite,” he said, in such a way that neither confirmed nor denied her question. If not this one, then something like it. Pink sand coral beaches seemed to be someplace the door preferred, or the people opening the door. It depended on the random factor, which researchers continued to disagree about.
He turned and took the doorknob, effectively closing the door behind them. Then he turned north to begin following the shoreline. He moved with the steady step of someone expecting Cait to follow, or catch up eventually, whenever she was done leaving her mark. It wouldn’t take long for Hack to find them, if he set his mind to it. Jupiter shared none of the antagonism for SV-4, any more than the antagonism toward SV-5. They each had a role to play in the greater good of the Foundation, and it was best to leave them to it, even if sometimes that role was simply balancing each other out.
“Your Councilman is sufficiently miserable, by the way,” he said, when Cait followed or caught up at her own pace. “Butterfly and Dr. Hobbes are nearly done babying him, although mostly they’re trying to convince him to use a cane. Not to walk. As a focus.”
Strings had been deeply insulted by the suggestion that he use a focus when, unlike Cait, he hardly ever even needed a component. His realm was word and tune and thought, not nearly so grounded. Butterfly was winning that fight by sheer force of stubbornness.
“If he refuses, Leviathan is going to make him bind himself to that specimen of 707 that SV-2 uses to babysit long-distance. Not even Hack thinks it’s a good idea, so there’s a chance they’ll get him to comply and sent home by the end of the week.”
Cait finished her etching in the sand before catching up. It was a fairly standard not-here-not-now spell that would keep some of the minor Entities at bay for a little while. Anything sufficiently big or determined, not so much, but it was a little bit of something. It also had the advantage of being more or less in the shape of a penis, which had taken way more effort for Cait to work out than the actual spell had, but if you were going to be leaving little doodles around places and didn't want them to be anything that drew attention... well, people had been doodling weiners on things for a really long time and probably weren't stopping any time soon.
She caught up with Jupiter, who was meandering in the unconcerned sort of way that Agents did when they were supremely aware of everything around them. Cait didn't mind; he could watch the world and she'd watch the otherworld. Good division of labor, pretty standard. She guessed she could work with him, even if he didn't have any extra eyeballs.
Plus, he'd brought up Strings. No one ever brought up Strings. Usually Cait was the one who had to do that. And the information was... she was really thankful for it, she had to admit. Not aloud, because Strings would have had a fit if she'd accidentally invoked a debt, but she still gave an appreciative nod that probably didn't hide her expression as much as she would have liked.
"Someone always thinks he's miserable. Usually someone else, but hey, I guess we're taking turns, yeah?" The casual easy tone and lighthearted comment also probably weren't going to do much to conceal the worry, either, but sometimes a pretense was important. She frowned a little at the specimen comment, evidently displeased. L-9 didn't need any more babysitters. It just wasn't the way they worked.
End of the week, though, that was good news. Things just hadn't been wrong with him gone.
"What have you people been doing with him, anyway? He wasn't that bad off." This was probably not a question that Cait had the clearance for, but she was asking it anyway. You could learn a surprising amount of things just by asking things you thought you weren't supposed to.
Cait was worried. She was too much like her Councilman not to be. Jupiter had joined the Foundation young, too, and he knew from experience the people around you had a great deal of influence on the person you became when the Foundation was your whole life. He’d also been younger than Strings as the bastard’s location manager, and that meant that he’d had a different perspective from most on the man’s behaviors. And when Strings had worried, he made light of situations to distract the people around him from that worry. He wondered if Cait knew it was an attempt to hide weakness, or if it was just a habit.
That wasn’t his department. Right now, his department was addressing the subject in such a way that it did not compromise any real Council information outside of what was relevant.
“I have not been doing anything. We need someone on the Council he can forgive when this is over.” That was almost a joke, and almost an excuse, but in reality Jupiter had not had any real attachment to the situation except where it affected ACF-1003. He was not a researcher. But he did know that this was the proof necessary to convince the Council that an eye needed to be kept on Ira, and a reason why he could get away from that crisis to visit his old location. “Butterfly, I think, partially blames himself, for whatever reasons he has to do so. As a result he’s fussing almost as much as Dr. Hobbes.”
The Council all knew his reasons, obviously. Cait might, too, depending on what Strings had told her, but he wouldn’t say more than that without a little extra pressure. He redirected to something he suspected she might find more interesting.
“And I think SV-1 is curious about the child.”Leviathan was not someone Cait had clearance for, so he kept that statement going at a steady pace. “Unlike most of his projects, your Councilman won’t even discuss it with SV-2, not since he realized he was not in trouble with the rest of the Council and that a few of us are guilty of a genuine concern for his health and safety.”
He used the plural us, although he was not personally on the list. But the Council needed to act as a unit when they could. He did not hold to SV-4’s position that he had done something dangerous to the Foundation, but that was not the reason why SV-5 had not returned to L-9. Hack was acting mostly as a buffer when it came to SV-5’s Class-E personnel. He was an easy person to blame, and he believed most of what he’d told them. It was better than letting them antagonize the other Councilmen while they worried about Strings.
Butterfly and Leviathan, through the person of Dr. Levi Hobbes, were the ones with genuine concerns. Butterfly because of old friendship, Hobbes because she worried about everyone. It was a terrible habit for a location director, to worry about everyone. But it was one with more benefits than pitfalls. Hack had no concern about Strings’s health – he was not the sort to worry, because he expected people to be competent. Even through his statements about SV-5’s carelessness, Hack had not said a word about his capability.
None of that was within Cait’s classification, however. So he turned back to the buffer that Hack had created.
“SV-4 does, of course, have concerns about your Councilman’s personal attachment to the girl, and in response SV-5 is pretending he doesn’t have any, not even as a project.” And for once, he wasn’t convincing a soul. That was part of it, the part that would cause Jupiter pause in a vote to send Strings home. It had not come to a vote, because everyone was still in silent agreement that this was for the best, whatever their reasons were. But Strings was hardly trying, and each Councilman had come to the same conclusion that he was hiding something important.
“That’s concerning, because we can tell he’s pretending. He’s either not telling us something important, or he’s hiding something genuine. Both are dangerous.”
Hack would not want him to tell the youngest of the Hocus Locusts that. But the Locusts were a unique team, because, technically, they answered to three members of the Council. Jupiter was responsible for approving STRH teams, and therefore he had as much sway as Hack in determining the information that was relevant to them.
And, possibly, learn a little relevant information in return.
Cait listened, but it was a closed sort of listening. Arms crossed over her chest, hands tucked in. It was the sort of posture that suggested she was listening because it was important, and because she thought she should know, but that she didn't like what she was hearing. Maybe she could appreciate him telling her, or at least could appreciate it later, when it wasn't now.
For a while she didn't respond at all, just walked along the beach, leaving prints in the sand along the line of the tide. The waves would wash them away, and then she'd be gone from here, like she'd never been here at all. The world made its own realities, she supposed.
"He was happy." When she broke the silence, it was with that. Her tone was as closed as her stance - compact, keeping the edges tucked in because if she didn't do that, someone was probably going to get hurt. Her eyes darted, following the waves, the winds, anything but the man beside her.
"He did something he was proud of, and he was happy. And then- then-" One of her arms loosened itself enough to lash about in evident frustration. "Then all y'all came in and told him everything he'd done was bad and wrong." Cait had been working with the man for a long time: she was allowed an occasional well-placed all y'all if she was particularly annoyed about something.
"Like, you're so obsessed with what you think is right that you can't take five minutes to say 'actually that was neat' or 'wow, can you tell me about your project' or even 'congratulations.' You spend all this time telling him he's awful but it's okay because you need someone awful so at least he can make himself useful. And you wonder why he's pretending? He's always pretending! Then he can pretend it's not really him who's getting hurt!"
Jupiter read Agent Corby’s body language, and kept his own open in reply. He invited the challenges she issued, and did not buckle under the weight of their implications. He invited the brief silence before, like a storm pulling together before it broke, and then the wave of emotion came as freely as an agent of the Foundation would allow it, and he invited that, too.
Cait had not talked to anyone about this, yet. This was not about her Councilman, not to Jupiter, at least. In his absence, she was either one of Hack’s people, or one of his. And Hack was not very good with people.
Jupiter was. And because he was, he arched his eyebrows, even as she wouldn’t look at his face. “Do you think he would have told us the truth, if we’d asked him?”
He was not gentle. He was not harsh, but treating Strings gently had never worked well in the end. If he didn’t turn it to his own advantage, he resented gentle care. He didn’t know Cait well enough to know if she’d inherited that trait by proximity to him.
“The Strings I knew would tell at his own pace when he was ready. Control over a situation is the most important thing to him, and to control a situation he would control the information. Agent Weber does the same thing, for different reasons.” A little smile, warm despite the subject. “He’ll probably be upset I’m telling you this much, if she hasn’t already. But it’s not classified that asking him would result in partial truths. We don’t need to tell him he’s awful, because he exerts the energy to convince us of such without prompting. Just like he wouldn’t need prompting if he wanted any of us to know a word about his project.”
Of course, he liked being asked, but when he created the opening and no sooner. Lord knew Leviathan had asked, and gotten all nonanswers. Butterfly had probably tried to ask, too, and got told off for his trouble. Hack had not asked, but Hack had also hardly said two words in English to Strings, so that wasn’t saying much.
Jupiter had wanted to ask about 1003, but was waiting for a better opportunity, because two could play the game of information control.
“I do know he’s not the person he wants people to believe him to be. He’s damn close, but not quite there. This is a different type of pretending, though, Cait.” The use of first names was important in most agency circles. The Locusts had a unique relationship, so she might not catch it. “He does not like to feel weak. Whether that’s the control issue, or the fact that he’s physically injured, isn’t important. He hates when people care about him. And it’s few and far between that he cares. Who’s worried about that wouldn’t bother him, if he wasn’t worried about it himself.”
And then he was quiet, giving her the time to process that. He didn’t know which face Strings put on for his own people. In part, he was hoping that he could find out without asking. It was best not to make someone working for Strings uncomfortable with the wrong sort of question.
Jupiter asked about truth, and Cait shook her head in response. No, Strings wouldn't tell the truth. It was way too late for that. Maybe if things had gone differently, maybe if he'd been different, maybe if they'd all been different. Too many maybes, not enough answers, and it wasn't a thing that they could just take apart to find out what the answers were.
Jupiter wasn't necessarily wrong about anything he'd said, but Cait didn't think it necessarily contradicted anything she'd said either. She didn't really know how to put any of that in words. Maybe Strings would act like he hated it. Maybe that was just another act. Maybe it was all an act. Maybe he'd forgotten how to be a person because no one treated him like one. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
"He was in control," Cait pointed out. The until the council stepped in wasn't said aloud, but it wasn't hard to intuit. They'd really had everything perfectly under control, until the Council had stepped in, and then... well, they'd taken that control away, and now was now. She shook her head. "So. What are you doing with him?" It was the same question she'd asked before. He hadn't answered. He'd done a whole lot of not answering, the sort of thing that sounded like it was an answer but wasn't actually. It might have slipped past someone else, someone from another location. Someone from L-9? Absolutely not. There was a whole list of things you didn't last long against at L-9 if you didn't recognize when they hadn't actually answered the question.
Cait wondered if councilmen was on it, and determined that she was adding it when she got back. In purple ink.
She was right, of course, but she wasn’t. That was a field-agent kind of thought, and while Jupiter usually harbored those, especially when they were as exposed as they were, now wasn’t the time. He wasn’t observing her the way he needed to observe the others who had interacted with 1003, or the latest anomaly to turn up at his feet. He was observing her the way he observed a member of a Right-Hand Surface Team. That meant he needed to redirect his thought patterns.
Cait was not thinking like a field agent at all. She had an emotional attachment to the Councilman – her Councilman, not this one. While that had its advantages, it was also a risk. She wasn’t considering risks, however. She was young, had been brought in young. Not young enough that she had to be handled like a child, the way many anomalies were. But not old enough to be handled the way he handled most of his own agents, either.
Jupiter was not a doctor of psychology. He wasn’t even a researcher. But he did know the practical applications of those studies from long experience.
“I told you. I haven’t done anything.” He intentionally invoked Strings’s cadence with that. Not his accent, or his tone, but with a slight bounce between syllables. Something in the coolness of his expression faded back, like a professional stage actor dropping a character played by a character, and the calm became an unhappy smile.
He also changed the stress of the phrase, intentionally. Because that was the problem. “To use an old turn of phrase, I’m the unlucky Councilman caught between the devil and the sea. The devil is competent, and intelligent, for how unlikable he is. He wouldn’t be on the one side if he was anything less than the rest of us. But the sea…” He turned his head out to the ocean, the ebb and flow and the impossible horizon. “The sea, however, only moves at its own pace. It’s wider, stronger, and more inscrutable than any thinking entity. Even the devil.”
The metaphor wasn’t complete, but that meant that it was good enough, for a metaphor. He took a deep breath of the salt air, and then focused back down at Cait, and asked the sort of question that seemed irrelevant, but hinted that it would circle back to the metaphor at hand.
“How do you think of the council, Cait?”
It wasn’t the ‘wrong-answer’ sort of question. It was the ‘I need to know this, so I can help you understand what I mean’ sort of question. Making assumptions out loud indicated what you didn’t know. Best to ask directly, with your own agents, because then even if they lied, he’d learn something that could help him make this more personalized.
"I know, I know." It wasn't his fault specifically, and Cait was aware of it. She was just lashing out because it needed to be someone's fault, and he was at least nearby. Tangential irritation. She scuffed the toe of her boot in the sand - not a glyph, just a line. She frowned a little bit, then shook her head. "But sometimes not doing anything is just as bad." Sometimes choosing not to take a side was the same as taking a side.
He asked her about the council. Cait shrugged. What did she think? "Honestly I don't, all that much." It wasn't really anything personal. "I mean, that's what we have Class E's for. They think about you people so people like me don't have to."
And that was true in a way, but there was more to it. Layers. That sort of thing. "I mean, I think about Strings. But not, like Councilman SV-5 Strings. The whole title thing. He's just... Strings. Always has been." She was, of course, aware that he was also on the security council and presumably did security council things when he needed to, but that wasn't really anything Cait was involved with, or needed to be involved with, or wanted to be involved with.
Now, it wasn’t quite the answer he was looking for, but it was a good answer all the same. She was right, about not choosing a side, but there was also a strategy to holding on until the last moment to speak up about loyalties.
That one, he’d learned from Leviathan. The last one.
But Cait didn’t think about the Council, and… given this was Agent Corby, that might be for the best. Jupiter did think about the Council, however. And there was a difference between whether he thought of the council, what he thought of it, and how he thought of it.
He’d asked her the third one, and it was important that, even in reflecting the question, she didn’t seem to notice the phrasing.
“It depends on the day. I may think of us as a body, or as five people. It’s a bit like a field team in that sense. There are times we act as we, and there are times when they act as him and him and him and them, and I act as I. Taking a vote is an action that delineates that – while the vote is taken, we’re individuals, but once the decision is made by majority, it reflects The Council, not the councilmen.”
He’d answered his own question, and then decided to change to the one she’d actually been trying to answer, without apparently realizing.
“Speaking of the councilmen, what do you think of them? I’d appreciate honest feedback – I can only get that out of my people, sometimes, but it’s nice to get an outside opinion.”
That might seem a little left-field, or maybe even above her nonexistent pay grade, but she’d already expressed her opinion about Council actions. He might as well see what she knew about the others, including her already-expressed opinions about Hack and Strings.
Cait nodded a little at his explanation. So, that was how, huh? Cait was aware she hadn't really answered that, but I think they're a bag of dicks hadn't really seemed conducive to the conversation - and also, what she'd said was true. Most of the time she just didn't think about the Council much at all. They existed. Lots of things existed, though, and plenty of them were more interesting than the security council.
As for the councilmen, though, well, if he was asking... Cait wasn't really one to hold onto negativity, and he'd presented her with an interesting question, so she might as well put her mind to it.
"Leviathan's an enigma. Not a mystery, like I haven't figured this one out. And not mysterious, either, because that's something different too. A cipher, maybe? Something hidden, something secret." It was probably supposed to be that way, security purposes and all. No one knew what Leviathan was thinking until one of those mandates got handed down through the paperwork like feeding lines through a codebreaker, and all of a sudden something became clear.
"Butterfly's a shadow. He used to be something else, but he isn't any more. 707's got all the color and he's washed out, monochrome, faded. But - he's always there." Whether that was in the sense of being there when he was needed or in the sense of always watching you, Wazowski remained to be seen.
"You, you hedge. I don't think you're indecisive, I just think you like to see what the options are before you commit. You're on the inside looking out and you try to be on the outside looking in, and so you stand on the line between the two."She didn't know how he'd take that, but he'd asked.
"Hack's that annoying kid in class who always does the right thing. And maybe he's not wrong, but it's not endearing him to anyone either. And he spends way too much time minding everyone else's business. And I wonder how much time he spends watching people pee, because you know he watches people pee for security purposes. And he'll say it's to make sure the anomaly contained in the toilet doesn't breach and eat them or something, but he's still watching them pee. And it's only the one toilet and most of the interns already know not to use it." That last was not the Councilman's fault, but Cait felt it was still relevant.
"What do you think of them, in terms of honest feedback?"
She answered 80% of the question, which was much more than others would be comfortable answering honestly. 40% to 60% was more common – Butterfly and Strings, possibly Hack. If Jupiter was asking, and he usually did, they didn’t like including him, because they worried it made him uncomfortable. And trying to address Leviathan usually made people nervous, in the sense that they might know something they shouldn’t.
“Leviathan is much stronger than I originally thought them. At first glance they seem soft – you’ve read the ethics code, I’m sure – but there’s a determined streak in there most people miss when you hear of or meet them. Still an enigma, but there are things to be learned by watching.” That was the field agent in him, and he knew that. Reading people was half of his job. The other half, picking up neat items, was much more of an instinct, anyway.
“Butterfly always knows more than he lets on, typically because it’s more than he’d like to know. A shadow? Maybe. Passive, at least, because the world comes to him, or 707 seems to think it should. He’s made his peace with her, and he found his fit when they moved him to L-2. He’s good where he is, and he’s a good researcher. Out of all of us I think he’s the least problematic, unless he becomes interested in something he shouldn’t be.”
Most people thought of Jupiter that way, he knew. But he knew himself better than that. Butterfly was a researcher, content within the context of the Foundation, and mostly untouchable. He listened to Leviathan, was good to his friends, and had no major enemies, not anymore.
“I admit, you’re right. I prefer an outside perspective to things. I also… I don’t think like the rest of the Council. That can be a good thing, but usually it makes me feel exposed. You’ve received training for the field – what’s one of the earliest things we learn? There’s nothing worse than being exposed.” He answered his own question, and sighed. “I’ll explain more about that after the rest. Hack –” he allowed himself a little laugh as he remembered her comment about the anomalous toilet, and always watching. “Hack is somewhat like that, a security agent all the way to the bones. But he feels…responsible. He has all the knowledge and security of the Foundation at his fingertips, and he feels responsible for everything because of that. It’s unhealthy. I’m not charmed into thinking he blames himself for every breach and problem, but he sets expectations for everyone else to be the same way, and when they don’t respond as he believes they should – even if he’s usually right – he can get… snappish. It’s why he and Strings have so many problems.”
She hadn’t touched on Strings, but he was going to wait to get to that until he’d fully answered her question.
“Strings has always been independent. He likes new perspectives, even when he knows the right answer, because he wants to see how it plays out. He’s a researcher, all the way down to wherever he’s currently storing his soul, if he ever had one in the first place. His tendency toward intentional abrasiveness doesn’t help matters, nor does his lack of communication because he believes the Foundation will intervene with his every project. He’s almost as paranoid as Hack, and he hates it when anyone points it out.”
That last part wasn’t completely true, but it was close. The Foundation would intervene if there was an issue, but the most interesting route for Strings was always the one that caused the most problems that he’d be able to contain if asked. Just look at the situation with the child. Jupiter didn’t sound frustrated, though. He did sound like he bought into most of the theories about Strings, but that was in part because Cait hadn’t actually responded with her own opinions, and there was a chance to bring them back around.
“My awkward position comes with the territory of being between two people who prioritize research and two people who prioritize security, and four people who don’t realize the others all are in the same library as them, even on the same page. Levithan and Hack see Butterfly and Strings as loose cannons. Strings and Butterfly see Hack and Leviathan as close-minded and stringent. Every single one of them puts the Foundation first and doesn’t recognize that the rest are doing the same, and to tell them such is to take sides when you’ve carefully constructed the face of a neutral party to keep an eye on things.”
He felt like he was saying a lot, and while none of it was empty, none of it was classified, either. He had a feeling Strings talked to his people a lot, if only to hear the sound of his own voice, or make it seem like he wanted to hear the sound of his own voice. Jupiter, however, was not droning. He said what he meant to. It was honestly freeing, on the empty stretch of beach alone with a Class-C staff member who was not part of his own staff. Like a confession, except there was no sin, only mild frustration. Then, before he got too seriously involved with self-reflection, he gave her a side-eye and a warmer smile.
“But tell me about your Councilman, Agent Corby. Do you agree, or do you think he’s up to some nefarious experiment that should be let to run its course to the apocalypse, as Hack implies he thinks and Strings implies he wants the rest of us to think?”
Did... not expect that. Strings wouldn't have answered. Or he would have answered but the answer would have been wrong. Or he would have hinted that there was an answer. Or he would have suggested that answers only existed if questions did and therefore they weren't actually answers at all, just prompts for questions. Or maybe Cait had just made that last one up, but it definitely felt like something he would say.
The insight was... interesting? Cait didn't know what to do with it. She wasn't a psychologist. Or a psychopath. If she'd been either of those two things, she probably could have done something with what he'd told her, but instead it was just... information. Given freely, which was weird. Although, she supposed the ACF always had its expectations, so maybe it wasn't free after all. She didn't know if she'd ever have cause to use the knowledge of what one of the councilmen thought of the others, which made it an exceptional kind of weird. Kind of like a fancy decorative vase someone gave you for a birthday. Too risky to use it for anything, but you couldn't just give it away, so you were kind of stuck with it.
Cait guessed she'd stick it in the attic of her mind with whatever else was in there these days. Probably spiders. With tentacles for legs and eyeballs for bodies. Eyes upon eyes upon eyes upon fucking eyes!
Not a good time for a giggle. But that report had been great. It was possible that Jupiter thought she was bonkers - actually, no, she was from L-9, so it was probable, so why worry? And he was still waiting for an answer, about Strings - the one she hadn't said anything about before.
"Well..." Cait spoke slowly, trying to decide how she wanted to answer. "The whole time I've known him, he always had a lot of Curiosity in him."
Cait barely answered, which should have been expected from one of Strings’s agents. Jupiter was used to agents who would be straightforward with him, at least. Even if most field agents, Right- or Left-Hand, lied to the police, the victims, the anomalies, and some of their own superiors, they usually felt comfortable talking to him. Maybe because he liked to make himself a comfortable person to talk to. A listener.
But then again, like her Councilman, Cait wasn’t lying, was she? She had shifted her words to say something true that might have confused someone farther from the depths of the Foundation, or made perfect sense to someone in her own location. Jupiter had to think a little harder than most 9ers, but he was in a sense used to nontruths. Not from his own people, but he was used to them.
He raised an eyebrow, because the way she said Curiosity indicated it was a Something, rather than just a thing. Inflections like that were important to recognize in the information exchange. Strings used to do things like that all the time, hiding words in sentences. It was something that happened with people who dealt with Capital-Letter Somethings a lot. Jupiter hadn’t really noticed when he’d started to recognize it, just knew that he recognized it now.
“And what is the shape of Curiosity, Agent Corby?” The tone was almost teasing, friendly and familiar, with a quieter smile. He had an idea of what the Curiosity looked like, but now he wanted to see what she told him, and how.
There was another of her quick smiles. Cait might have been quick to anger, but she didn't hold onto it for very long, and they were on to a different topic now. She wasn't at all surprised that he had picked up on the hint of emphasis: he knew Strings, after all. You didn't get far with Strings if you couldn't pick up on things like that.
He asked her about the shape, which was an interesting question. It was kind of a Strings question, really, one that could have meant a lot of things or could have meant one thing or could have meant nothing or could have done all of those things at the same time without contradiction.
"We~ell," She drew the word out, not really because she was thinking about it but just to catch attention. "I kinda think Curiosity can take a lot of forms. What do you think?"
His smile turned from teasing to slightly admonishing as she drew out the well. Had it not been for that, he may have let the evasiveness slide. As things were, while he tried to accommodate for people with curious quirks, there were Councilmen, even Leviathan, who would not.
“Your Councilman can get away with that tone because of his rank and experience.” He considered, then held up a finger. “And he is a researcher. And before you mention Agent Weber not being a researcher, she is a lawyer. As an occultist, I thought you’d be more concerned with the matter of things.”
And that was the extent of it. Lecturing, Jupiter had found, often had the opposite effect from what most people intended. He gave her the point, and only the point. Unless she wanted to argue with the point, that was that, and he picked the banter back up.
“Curiosity takes a new shape in every question it asks, in my experience. Even from the same person, it might look different each time, but it has definite shape at its core.” He looked down at her again, steadily – not an intimidation tactic, but an observer who wouldn’t miss anything in her reply. “What does the Fifth Councilman’s look like, in definition?”