Admiral Chrono Harlaown, Director of the Naval Special Intelligence Service, looked up as his office door swished open and a man stepped inside.
"Damn it, Harlaown, what the hell do you mean by countermanding my personnel assignment?" Admiral Thomas Hayes, the NSIS's Deputy Director, was nearly thirty years his superior's elder, which was merely one reason why he took such a confrontational tone with Chrono. The fact that he'd always resented the upstart from the Enforcers transferring in to run the TSAB's secret covert operations agency over career intelligence officers like Hayes himself was another. Yes, Chrono had been mentored by a previous NSIS Director, Gil Graham, with an eye towards grooming him for intelligence work, but that cut very little ice with Hayes. To him, Chrono hadn't paid his dues as a Shadow; the young man's experience in the field was solely within the ranks of the Bureau's "legitimate," open operations, ironically including the one that had led to Graham's forced retirement.
Still, it was unusual to see Hayes so furious. Usually the older man's demeanor was as cold and controlled as his pale blue eyes.
Chrono rubbed the back of his neck.
"One personnel assignment I ought to make is putting your Agent Stele at my reception desk. It won't do our field operations any good, but at least he ought to be able to keep people in the outer office until I admit them." He skewered his admin with a gaze through the open door; she flinched and retreated to her desk while the door closed.
It was actually more of a complaint about his old friend Hayate than Hayes, but the Deputy Director's nostrils flared.
"I apologize for the intrusion. Nonetheless, your refusal to let me use Alphine for the Volkov operations team—"
Chrono cut him off.
"You can have Alphine for the team, if you want. You just can't run her as the bait in a honey trap."
"This operation has been over two months in the making. I don't need to tell you how important it is given that I'm acting as my own operator without an SSA to supervise. A Council member potentially involved in the unauthorized export of Midchildan magical technology to a Non-Administered World—"
Chrono held up a hand.
"I understand the ramifications."
"Then you know that Jetta Volkov's taste in women may be the one way to get close enough to her to gather damning evidence to expose her and more importantly reveal her partners—particularly, what it is they're getting back in this transaction."
"Of course I do. I do keep myself briefed on these matters."
"Then why won't you let me use Alphine?" Hayes barked. "She's precisely what Volkov likes: tall, slender, early twenties, quiet, thoughtful, highly intelligent. Volkov is an aficionado of Ancient Belkan history and Alphine is a genuine scholar in that field. You can't give someone a crash course in the language and history of a dead civilization in a week and have it take. Alphine could engage Volkov's mind and her body both; she could be in the target's bed in one evening and stay there for months if we needed the ongoing intelligence."
Chrono pushed his chair back from his desk and stood up. Remaining seated while someone else stood subtly allowed them more power in the conversation, and he didn't want to surrender that to Hayes. It would just prompt the Deputy Director to push his point further.
"I'm aware of those factors. They just don't have any relationship to my decision. You shouldn't have even gotten that far. Lutecia Alphine's personnel file is flagged that she isn't available for that kind of op. She isn't willing to have sex with people as part of a mission. There's a master list of the ones that are, as you well know."
"None of whom are near as suitable for this operation as Alphine would be," Hayes stated flatly.
"Possibly not, but that isn't your concern."
"I'm the mission supervisor for a high-sensitivity operation. It damn well is my concern, particularly when the Director is undermining the success of that mision because he feels protective of his niece's girlfriend!"
Chrono had wondered how long it would take Hayes to come around to that.
The fact that it had been inevitable didn't make him feel any better-disposed towards the insult.
"You have it backwards, Thomas," he said, deliberately using the man's first name even though they really weren't on a first-name basis. "I only was lucky enough to find out about your creative redefinition of my standing agency directives because she's my niece's girlfriend, and I'm starting to wonder how many other times administrators and mission supervisors have ignored those directives because they thought their particular operation objectives gave them the freedom to do so?"
Hayes didn't flinch or openly react, a sign that the man had gotten the message that he was no longer on the offensive. The Deputy Director only let his emotions loose when he felt he had the clear upper hand; otherwise his field agent's instincts were still in place.
"Just because we Shadows routinely ignore the lines he Bureau sets doesn't mean that we go around crossing our own," Chrono added.
"If the policy is one that needs to be evaded so often, then perhaps it's a sign that the policy is fundamentally flawed and needs to be amended or removed entirely," Hayes responded crisply and immediately.
Oh, yes, he's feeling defensive, Chrono thought. That was almost polite.
Chrono strolled out slowly from behind his desk.
"I don't really think that the people a directive is designed to restrain are in a good position to determine whether or not the directive is a good one. I'm quite certain that every pickpocket in Cranagan would support the repeal of Mid's laws against petty theft."
He, on the other hand, was definitely not being polite.
"It is ludicrous to allow agents to pick and choose their assignments!"
"Allowing them to opt out of assassination and sexual missions is hardly allowing them to pick and choose assignments. I don't feel that murder and sex are things we should be ordering people to do."
"They are soldiers. Taking orders is their duty."
"No, you see, that's just the point. They aren't soldiers. They're volunteer recruits. Every single one of them, from the rawest recruit to front-rank veterans like Stele or Alphine is here because they believe in something—the same thing that you and I do. What makes us Shadows is that we recognize that the universe doesn't have ideals. It's made up of people, and people can be venal, corrupt, self-indulgent, or just plain evil. We recognize that sometimes the greatest good can be accomplished outside the law, and that if we wait for a problem to reach the point where legal force can be authorized it may well be too late for any number of victims. And we do it in an environment where our fellow Bureau employees are inculturated with a belief that a mage-warrior isn't even a soldier in an army, but a hero of justice. Every agent we have has to stand up and say to themselves, 'I reject what my society's beliefs and the founding principles of the Time-Space Administrative Bureau claim I should do. I'm willing to risk my life for the sake of innocent people who, because of that innocence I'm trying to protect would hate me and call me a criminal if they knew what I was doing for them.' You were one yourself, once. I'd have thought you'd show a little respect for the courage our people show every day instead of making things worse for them."
It was a passionate speech, one Chrono had been keeping inside himself for a while and definitely not just on Hayes' behalf. Unfortunately, passionate speeches, no matter how heartfelt, rarely settled things until someone could be shown that their own beliefs did not work. His sister-in-law kept running into that problem. Looking at Hayes's countenance, Chrono wished he could try her usual response.
Hayes merely drew his brows together and looked down at the younger man.
"If I didn't know that you were serious, I'd be tempted to laugh. In one breath you tell me I should respect our agents for crossing lines the short-sighted innocents of the main Bureau branches refuse to, and in the next tell me they should be allowed to redraw those lines where they personally feel like? I do respect our agents, Harlaown—the ones who genuinely are willing to do what's necessary to preserve the safety and security of the dimensional sea, not people who feel they can halfheartedly dip their toes in the darkness without stepping in."
Chrono had no doubt that Hayes included him in the category of half-hearted Shadows. For that matter, the older man even had something approaching a point. More relevantly, he knew that he wasn't going to convince Hayes otherwise, and he didn't want to just order the Deputy Director to comply with his directive. That just built resentment—and more importantly, a policy that had to be forced on people wasn't one that was likely to be adopted without a messy fight. That was just a waste of resources, and it wasn't like the Shadows had the resources to...
He smiled all of a sudden. Hayes arched an eyebrow at him.
"Something amusing, Harlaown?"
"The small ironies of life, that's all."
He scented a trap, Chrono was sure.
"It's just something I've never really understood. I suppose you're right after all, at least that Alphine isn't the perfect Shadow. I mean, it would be nice if all our agents were like, say, Iris-Lynnfield, capable of doing what is necessary on the one hand and not breaking down in sociopathic madness or amoral greed on the other. That combination of willingness to cross 'ordinary' lines and to remain loyal to the NSIS and its ultimate ethos does not come easily. We have to make do where we can, otherwise. But..."
He let it hang, and Hayes arched an eyebrow at him.
"Why should we deliberately try to make our agents fail?"
"I don't understand."
"My wife's been reading a book about ninja—those were clans of spies and assassins in one of the cultures on Non-Administered World 97; they were organized along family lines and acted as mercenaries in support of various political factions, but otherwise were much like us. Loyalty to the clan was the most important thing for a ninja, since their activities were technically illegal. Anyway, the book's hero was such a ninja, and the leaders of his clan felt that he might well have feelings for his lover stronger than his clan loyalty. So they put him to the test. They had her 'kidnapped' by their henchmen and left clues pointing to a rival ninja clan, then ordered him not to pursue the matter. Well, they were right—he disobeyed them and hunted down the kidnappers and killed them. Then he found out that it had been a plot and that his lover, as a loyal clan ninja, had been in on it. So he abandoned the clan and became a rogue ninja. Eventually he was hunted down and killed, but in the end he'd killed over a dozen clan ninja and his own mentor who'd thought the whole thing up."
"And?" Hayes didn't seem like the kind of guy to enjoy ninja fiction.
"And yes, the clan leaders had been right about the hero all along. He was flawed; his priorities not what they should be. But because they were so obsessed with the fact they cost their own clan tremendously—they lost not only the hero but also all the time and resources it took them to hunt the man down for his rebellion—a rebellion that only happened because they instigated it."
Hayes' face was sour. He folded his arms across his chest.
"You think Alphine will go rogue if we order her to seduce Volkov?" His sneering tone made it clear he didn't believe it for an instant.
"Of course not. I do think that first, because she's not inclined for that kind of work she'll do a bad job of it." He decided not to point out to Hayes that to the best of anyone's knowledge Lutecia was still a virgin, much as it supported his point. "Second, the psychological trauma of basically being raped—and I mean it, Hayes; what would you call being coerced into having sex against your will?—would have inevitable fallout that would hurt her, impair her ability to function, and probably require therapy that would take her out of the field, costing us access to her services. Third, if the trauma is sufficient, it might cause her to blow the mission, or she might up and quit after it's done. And fourth, or I guess fifth, there's the worst-case scenario of her actually going rogue and seeking revenge. She learned all about vengeance on a superior officer who betrayed her from Zest, you might recall." He let that sink in, even though Chrono himself agreed with Hayes's initial assessment that Lutecia would never do that. She was much more likely to turn whatever emotions she felt inward, against herself. But that wasn't the point.
"What I'm getting at is, why get to any of that in the first place? It's a waste of resources, and given that a good half of the Council members who set this agency's funding don't think we should even exist, we don't have enough of them to waste. Don't pound in a nail with a screwdriver because you're mad it's not a hammer; keep it around for when you need to take out a screw."
Hayes met the shorter man's gaze for a long minute before he let out his breath and nodded.
"You may have a point."
"Sex and death are the areas which cause the most psychological stress for agents; that's why the directive covers those areas. I don't want to expand it beyond there, because you have a point, too—we have to be able to rely on our agents or we might as well not have them." Chrono figured it was politic to concede Hayes a point or two for the sake of ego. "But in this matter, the decision stands. We don't need to become our own worst enemy just to prove that we maintain control over our personnel."
Hayes nodded once, sharply.
"I understand. I'll use Accela for the Volkov operation. She will not be as suitable as Alphine, but she should be able to make it work."
"Good. If that's all, then?"
Chrono returned to his seat as the Deputy Director left the office; he dropped into his chair with a heavy sigh after the door closed behind Hayes. Then he called the flower shop and reserved a bouquet for him to pick up on the way home that night. Given that Amy's taste in literature had just made his most influential subordinate admit, however grudgingly, the value of one of his key policies, he figured that he owed her a proper thank-you.
~X X X~
A/N: And I owe fellow Shadowverse author synaesthetic/syn010110 for allowing me to use her OC, Admiral Hayes, for Chrono to soapbox at in this fic!
You probably all figured this out from the context, but I figured I'd mention it anyway: in spy parlance, a "honey trap" is an operation where an agent or cut-out is assigned to seduce a target, whether to lure them into a long-term scheme (intelligence-gathering, to lure into defection, etc.) or something more immediate and direct (such as generating blackmail).