Disclaimer: I'm a messy-haired male writer from the vicinity of the British Isles, but that's as far as any connection to Neil Gaiman goes. Hence, I don't own Coraline in book, film, or any other form.
This follows on and concludes other stories I've published on this site; "Wells Street Station", "Promenade", and "The Ellipse", in chronological order. If you haven't read those, then this will certainly be terribly confusing.
As always, any constructive criticism will be gratefully accepted and considered.
'Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire...'
The stormy season was setting in.
Thunder broiled in a sky the colour of pitch, threaded through with rippling lightning. Winds howled, lashing across trees and buildings and sending sheets of slashing rain flying almost parallel to the ground, overflowing gutters and sending rivers spilling down narrow streets. Smaller, sharper gusts struck like assassins, rocking trees and sending the few pedestrians swaying.
Luckily, from Coraline's perspective, it was all taking place outwith a solid set of walls, where the wind came as only a dulled whistle and the rain as a persistent rattling on the windows of her office. And considering the nature of her office, it was only really for the best that the storms admitted inside stayed metaphorical.
"The city's emergency services'll be run off their feet tonight," she said, pushing aside a heavy green curtain to pore out at the rushing blackness. She was seated in a dark leather rotating chair, behind a heavy wooden desk plastered with papers and odds and ends, the desk's semi-organised chaos at a contrast with the rest of the room's ordered symmetry.
"They've been anticipating it for a while after the dry spell. They've taken precautions. Sent out warnings," said a young man, Coraline's secretary, leaning against the whitewashed wall at the room's other side, shifting through several papers. "TV broadcasts and fliers and ethernet sendings, just to be sure people get the message."
"I can tell it's paid off," said Coraline, regarding distant and nigh-indiscernable lines of vehicle headlights, some running along the ground, others stitching across the sky. "You are driving in a storm, you idiots."
"Just talking to people more than half a mile away. As you do." Coraline closed the curtain and swivelled back round to the front, clasping her hands together on the desk. "What exciting things are going to give me fresh grey hairs tonight, Mr Moloney?"
"A couple of reports," said the secretary, moving forwards to spread the papers in front of Coraline. "There's one here from – ah, Mr Lovat..."
Coraline smiled briefly, absently rubbing her left ring finger, where she wore an unadorned ring of grey iron.
"It's regarding developments in the chemo-structural study section of the Centre for Sur-real Research." Moloney scrutinised the bound papers. "I won't pretend I understand half the words he uses, or that I can even pronounce them, but he seems excited. When he's not using terrifying equations, he's using underlining. And exclamation marks."
"Keep it on the desk and I'll go over it later," said Coraline. "I'll decipher it. Somehow. What else?"
Moloney went through more papers, in exacting detail for several when Coraline pressed him. She kept up the same pose all the while, arms folded in front of her and elbows resting on the desk, her sharply-pointing nose resting on the top of her linked hands.
She wore a sober, dark suit of a clasped jacket and a long skirt, which was the only thing sober or normal about her appearance. Her hair, which fell to her upper back, was a deep shade of blue. Her right eye was covered by a eyepatch, below which an angled, discoloured scar ran, ending at the corner of her mouth. The rest of her heart-shaped face was similarly worn, with premature lines grooved in her eye corners and forehead and small notches and scars running here and there along her jawline and cheeks. Two older, longer ones ran parallel across her left cheek.
Considering her occupations and lifestyle, Coraline, who was in her mid-forties, felt she wasn't doing too badly.
"And the last?"
"This is the more unusual of them," said Moloney. "It got passed along from Defence, who didn't know what to make of it. They thought it deserved your … unique insight."
Coraline picked it and read through, her brow creasing and her remaining eye narrowing as she did.
"An entire military warehouse in Massachusetts cleaned out?" she said in disbelieving tones. Moloney nodded.
"Just last night, and they spent all of that time trying to puzzle it out. I can't blame them," said Coraline, her frown turning quizzical. "No disturbances, no footage picked up of anyone accessing the warehouse from the outside, no signs of the gear – including, amongst the staples, rocketry, armoured vehicles, and loaned experimental items, joy – being taken out." She read on, putting her arduously acquired speed-reading to best use and noting every detail she could. "All security equipment and recorders in the building inexplicably shorted out at the same time. No possibility of the disappeared gear being stored elsewhere in the base, and less than zero possibility of it being taken outside the base without someone noticing. And not a single eyewitness to whatever actually happened inside the warehouse. Which, for the record, had been kitted out with all the best security and safeguards the military has to offer." She held the paper before her and leaned back in the chair, fixing a thousand-yard stare on the ceiling.
"And they send to me, specifically, with all possible emphasis – because they think that Sur-real involvement could be the only other explanation for something like this happening."
"It could well fit," said Moloney. "That's one of the few areas in which they concede that security may have been deficient. Mostly because, well, it had never really been regarded as an area in which something like this might happen."
Coraline kept up the thousand-yard stare.
"And of course," she said, in a voice as cold and smooth as sunken glass. "It had better not turn out to be the result of Sur-real involvement. Because I'm reasonably sure that an act like this, if a psychephage bore responsibility or was involved, would be a severe breach of the Concord."
Moloney shifted from foot to foot. Coraline let the chair fall and turned back to business.
"Immediate response is being handled by...?"
"The usual agencies are tackling the media fallout. And I imagine that army command's going to try and find a few heads to let roll for this. Depending on how panicky they get, it probably won't be the right heads."
"All the more reason for me to get involved then," said Coraline, a tone of anticipation entering her voice as she stood upright suddenly, adjusting her jacket. "This is the sort of exciting I prefer. Tell any anxious callers regarding this that I'm taking a personal interest. And I want you to make a few phonecalls."
"I want you to call my husband and fill him in. He'll be in the Residence. Don't worry about security, he's got special clearance for matters like this. Call Secretary Ortega and just make sure the Department of the Supernatural's fully appraised as well. They'll both want to tackle this, whatever it proves to be."
"Righto," said Moloney, moving towards the phone on the desk as Coraline walked away from the desk, swinging her arms back and forth. She stopped briefly to take a brimmed cap from where it lay next to a few photographs of her wedding, placing it squarely on her head.
"Gods," she breathed. "It's great to get away from that thing for just once in a while. National security breaches should happen more often if I get to do this. And make one more phone call before the others, a short one."
"To the Eroder team here in the building," said Coraline, moving to the door. "I'm going to pay the Ambassador a visit about this, and I want to be sure it's all ready to go."
Moloney dialed a short number, spoke lowly and briefly, and then looked up and nodded. "It's good to go. Have fun, Madam President."
"I intend to," said Coraline, moving out the room as two dark-suited agents fell into step behind her.