Seven walked with a purposeful stride down the halls of SIA headquarters which made all other three-letter intelligence agencies seem like child’s play. The sound of his footfalls as his heavy boots struck the tile floors reverberated in his ears like the base of a stereo. He heard it echo off the solid steel walls. As he walked deeper into the labyrinth, he looked up at the writing over the door that led to the inner sanctum.
We are called upon when others fail
He placed his hand on the black glass panel next to the steel door. Like all others in HQ, it worked by palmer recognition. A faint red line slid under his hand. The door’s air lock disengaged. He repeated this maneuver multiple times as he descended further into the maze, finally arriving at his destination, the security office. Joan’s lair.
Joan, an eclectic blend of bohemian and punk was Maddie Smith’s personal assistant and a self-taught computer genius. Her office was nestled in the midst of SIA’s security hub. A sea of computers and flat screen monitors filled every bit of desk and wall space. As he entered, she sat transfixed and stared at a video feed. The monitor she was glued to took up one entire wall and was embedded in three feet of concrete and steel.
“How long has he been there?” Seven asked.
Joan turned just long enough to acknowledge his arrival. “I arrived at o-eight hundred hours. The security clock shows he’s been there since…”
“O-five hundred.” Seven finished her sentence.
It had been the same pattern for the past ten days.
He stood behind her and watched Brent in the armory. Seven, like all of those close to Brent, was showing the signs of stress. In the past weeks, wrinkles from age crept into his face, like dried fissures on barren land.
He blinked the sleeplessness from his eyes. “Can you roll the tape back to when he arrived?”
“I can, but nothing has changed. Brent is still anal—a man of pattern.”
Seven reached into the back pocket of his jeans and took out his tobacco tin. Watching the screen, he tapped the lid, shook loose the tobacco, and placed it between his lower lip and gums.
Joan looked at him, rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Much like yourself.”
Seven smirked and spit in his empty coffee cup. “Oblige an old man,” he drawled, “and run the tape.”
“Yes, sir.” Joan reached over with her left hand, nimbly fingered the keyboard, and brought up the tape.
“Finally, a woman who will listen to me.”
“I hope that wasn’t meant for me.”
They both turned and saw Maddie standing in the doorway. Maddie Smith was the director of the SIA and Seven’s wife. As always, everyone’s eyes were glued to her—she was stunning. A voluptuous redhead who knew how to draw attention from both sexes. She embodied a 1950’s movie starlet.
“Good morning, Darlin,” Seven smiled.
“Good morning, Madam Director,” Joan said.
Her piecing emerald green eyes focused on Joan. “Why so formal this morning?”
Joan shrugged. “Everything seems so formal since . . .” her eyes moistened, “you know.”
Maddie’s voice took on a saddened tone. She stood behind Joan, lightly rubbed her shoulders, and kissed the top of her head. “Yeah, I know, but I would feel better if you went back to calling me Maddie, or Mom, or the ‘B’ word that you mumble under your breath from time to time.”
Joan wiped her tears and sniffed. “And what word would that be?”
“Beautiful,” Maddie joked.
A partial smile surfaced on Joan’s lips. “Oh, that ‘B’ word. Right.”
“That’s the first time I’ve seen you smile in weeks. It feels good.” She looked at Seven expecting a sarcastic comeback, but he was glued to the screen. The look in her husband’s eyes made her shiver. “What is it?”
“It’s Brent’s eyes. They’re blank. Emotionless. It’s as if he were on a squad mission.”
“Is that so bad?” Joan said. “Isn’t that the way you all look when you’re engaged in training?”
Pointing to the monitor, Seven said, “This is different. Look at his jugular veins. His eyes may be expressionless, but the rest of him is about to snap.”
Maddie drew in a deep breath as she watched the monitor. Blowing it out, she knew what she had to do. “We can’t put the inevitable off any longer. Call the directorate and the Phantom Squad to a meeting at thirteen hundred hours and Seven,” she waited for him to acknowledge her. “Get him there.”