Many thanks to my invaluable Beta, LoyaulteMeLie, who has given me pointers on British phrasings and spellings, and who suggested the title. Any flaws remaining in this story are my doing, not hers.
This above all, to thine own self be true,
And it must follow as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
~ Hamlet, Act one, scene three
Sunset District, San Francisco, CA, 0400 hours, October 3, 2149
Malcolm Reed was roused from a deep slumber by the sound of an incoming vid-call. He rolled out of bed and blinked himself awake on the way over to the monitor at his desk, entering a few keystrokes into the keyboard before he sat down. The monitor flickered and a familiar face stared back at him. Harris, the head of Section 31 and his direct superior for the last year and a half, was somewhere in his forties or fifties, it was hard to tell, and he had gray hair, shrewd eyes and a smile which seemed kindly but was anything but.
"We have an assignment for you, Mr. Reed. The team is assembling at headquarters in one hour for a mission briefing."
Malcolm nodded, sitting up straight in the closest approximation of 'attention' that was possible while still remaining seated. "Understood, sir. I'm on my way."
Harris nodded slightly, neither his voice or face betraying any reaction when he replied, "Very good. We will expect to see you shortly." His jaw muscles tightened slightly and he closed the channel without another word, leaving Malcolm staring at a blank screen.
Even after working for the man for eighteen months, Malcolm still had trouble reading Harris' expressions. He supposed that was an asset for Harris in their career of spying, espionage and duplicity, but it made serving under him a bit unpredictable. Being able to tell if his superior was pleased or disappointed with his performance was a useful rudder, and without it, Malcolm often found himself at a disadvantage. How could he be expected to correct flaws which he didn't know existed?
He shook his head as he stood up. He shouldn't be thinking about trying to do damage control on damage which might not even exist. It was appropriate that Harris was a closed book, because a commander like that kept all of his subordinates on their toes. A spy who allowed themselves to become complacent had a very short life expectancy indeed; with a boss like Harris no one in the Section would ever became complacent.
Malcolm grabbed a quick shower, had a shave and put some water on for tea once he was done, then he toweled off and began to get dressed.
The calendar caught his eye as he started pulling on his clothes and he let out a heavy sigh. The next day, October 4th, was marked in red and had a notation 'lunch with Jean' written on it. Missions for Harris rarely took less than forty-eight hours, which meant that he would be God-only-knew-where when he was supposed to be having lunch with his friend. Malcolm shook his head resignedly and fastened the closure on his pants. He obviously had to cancel lunch. It wasn't the first time he had needed to cancel on her because of a 'business trip', but each time he felt a stronger twinge of guilt at doing it.
The whistling of the tea kettle sliced through his thoughts and he briskly walked over to the stove, opening the valve on the kettle's spout to quiet it before removing it from the heat. He poured boiling water over the tea bags, watching in a semi-hypnotized state as gentle curls of steam rose into the air above his mug. The smell of the tea woke him up and he shook his head at himself as he put the kettle aside, annoyed that he had allowed himself to become distracted. He finished getting dressed, ran a comb through his hair and set about fixing something to eat. By this time it wasn't even half past four, which meant that he had time enough to make a decent breakfast. It was the work of a few minutes to scramble a few eggs, toast some bread and heat up a couple links of pre-cooked sausage. Once breakfast was cooked it was barely gone 0430, so he was able to sit by the window and enjoy his food at a fairly leisurely pace. He drank his tea black with one sugar, and this morning he had made enough to fill not only his breakfast mug, but also a travel mug which he routinely brought to early morning mission briefings. Malcolm finished the last of his food and filled the travel mug with sweetened tea before depositing his dishes in the sink, shrugging on his coat and exiting the apartment.
When he had first joined Section 31, he had found it exciting. The subterfuge and tactical finesse of it, the firefights and explosions… especially the explosions. It had all been very romantic after a fashion, and he had enjoyed playing at being James Bond for a while, but things were different now. More and more frequently, the missions had become hard for him to stomach, and although he couldn't be certain, he had a feeling that Harris was irritated by his moral stance. He had no idea what this new mission would be about, but he hoped that it would have an honourable aim… and not one that only seemed honourable after Harris had spent quite some time explaining why it was the right thing to do. Still, despite the shades of grey which he had grown distasteful of, there was still something exciting, if inconvenient, about being woken in the wee hours of the morning and needing to rush off to a secret facility for a briefing.
He smiled to himself as he locked the door and headed downstairs. There was a lift in his building, but in the mornings he preferred to use the stairs because he found that doing so was an excellent way to wake himself up. It was still dark out by the time he reached the street, and despite light pollution from the city he could still see a few dozen stars. One star seemed brighter than the rest, but he knew that it wasn't actually a star. It was the underbelly of Starfleet's first ship, the NX-01 Enterprise, still under construction at an orbital launch platform. Her launch date was set for sometime in the spring of 2151, and he wondered what that ship would mean for the future of humanity.
His apartment was at the intersection of Noriega Street and 43rd Avenue in the Sunset District. He had been very specific about the sort of place he wanted to rent, to the point where he might have frustrated the real estate agent who had been assigned to him. He wanted to live somewhere on the east coast of the city, so as to take advantage of the breezes off of the Pacific, but he didn't want to be close enough to either see or hear the ocean. Malcolm had stressed that to the agent in no uncertain terms, and the man had been puzzled by the odd request but had come through. The south west winds off the ocean were blessedly pollen-free, and since he was situated both south and east of the cities' many parks, no annoying particulates were blown past his home at any point of the year. A number of good restaurants and clubs were within walking distance of his place, as well as a bar which he was quite fond of, so all in all he felt that he had chosen wisely. Malcolm sighed as he got into his flitter. There was one advantage to being roused at such a God-awful hour: he didn't have to worry about traffic.