CHAPTER 56: You're Hired

"So, you finally came around, huh?" said a middle-aged man in a gray suit, sitting in a desk across from Rouge, who had not gone out of her way to dress for the occasion. The man had black hair with flecks of gray throughout, a face that was beginning to wrinkle in places, and rather small brown eyes. He was slightly overweight and about five and a half feet tall.

"Why don't we just cut the crap and get down to business, Vargas?" the bat snapped. "I'm slightly on edge and you're the last person I want to deal with right now. One of my friends is missing along with an entire busload of kids, I think I may have something that can provide the answer to all our questions, and you want to talk about the weather and that sort of shit!"

"Same as ever," Terry Vargas said, lighting a cigar and puffing on it. "Okay. You want to talk business, we'll talk business. You know the rules. Nothing's changed from years ago. I hope you have. Just because of a little close call, you dropped out of the game, just like that."

"Shut up," Rouge snapped. "The day you come that close to death, you look me in the eye and say you weren't afraid. It's all fun and games until someone's onto you, then it starts being serious."

"That was your own fault," Vargas said, his voice a bit more firm this time. "You blew the job, you nearly paid for it. You failed the mission and you almost got yourself killed!"

"My ass I did!" Rouge retorted. "I nearly got killed, yeah, but I still got you the intel you wanted, didn't I?"

"We could have sent my secretary to get intel, for Christ's sake!" Vargas nearly yelled. "I sent you to be invisible! I sent you because you don't exist!"

"You are so full of shit," Rouge said quietly. "Look, I'm not here to fight with you, otherwise I'd have strung your entrails through the trees like Christmas decorations by now. You had a job no one else was available for and you came to me, so either get back on the right subject or I'm out of here!"

"Fine," Vargas said in a normal tone of voice. "I'm sure that, after corresponding with your friends, you're aware that people and military supply shipments, as well as weapon designs, have been stolen over the past few years, and especially in the past few months. We're pretty sure we're dealing with terrorists here. Now, something I'm sure you are NOT aware of happened just the other night." He handed Rouge a folder labeled "Confidential: Eyes Only" which contained a report of a computer hacker launching missles. Rouge scanned it for two minutes before her blood ran cold.

"You've got to be shitting me," she breathed as she read the section detailing what the missiles hit and the aftermath.

"I am not," Vargas said. "You and I are the only two people outside the military who know about this. It is to remain a need-to-know, classified fact. You can imagine why."

"Right," Rouge said vaguely, reading the report again, hoping that she'd misread it the first time.

"A breakdown of basic social services throughout the country," Vargas said. "Panic. Riots. Mass religious hysteria. And all because some kid in a basement somewhere has the means to access and launch nuclear warheads. We're lucky the missiles weren't nuclear or we'd have an even bigger mess on our hands."

"Least a big coverup wasn't necessary," Rouge mumbled, finally looking up from the file.

"I'm fairly sure a reason for this attack exists," Vargas said. "You might know, you might not. Frankly, I don't give a shit what the reason is. You said you know how to figure out who did it, so go do it."

"Consider it done," Rouge said, getting up to leave.

"Oh, and Rouge," Vargas said. Rouge stopped but didn't turn around. "Remember. Need-to-know basis."

Yeah, I know. Unbelievably short and it took me a while to get it out, but what can I say? Wasn't really a whole lot else to add here. I DID have a big, long fight planned out, but I kinda rolled over in my sleep one night and it fell out one ear. I'd have written it down, but that's what happens when you're brainstorming in the middle of your college-level programmingclass. Anyway, review away.