"So?" "So?" "You know what so." "Oh, sooooooo." "Shut the fuck up and report." "That's a bit contradictory, don't you --" "Agent." "Sorry, sir. She sort of rubs off on you after a while." "Oh, good. You're falling under the spell of our own international science terrorist. That makes me feel much better." "I wouldn't say under a spell, sir. But she does have a sort of ... contagious charisma." "Report." "Yes, she'll cooperate." "Shit." "Sir?" "If she's cooperating, it's because she thinks she has the advantage." "Not that she's against the wall?" A rueful smile. "She's a hyper-genius. Her father is the greatest science terrorist of the age." A snoft snort. "She's seventeen years old. Do any of those things lend themselves to someone feeling like they are against the wall, even if they are?" "She did come to us, sir." "I am painfully aware of that. And that worries me even more. I would rather have nailed her in some renegade lab or robbing Fort Knox or something like that. Where we controlled the circumstances of her capture." A shake of the head. "How is the intel so far?" "Good. Two caches confirmed. The location of the guy behind the Macau bombing last year. A lot of other sourced material confirmed; some stuff we already knew that she's verified. Nothing we've been able to invalidate as false." "Hmph." "That's good, right?" "Or more worrisome." "I don't understand." "It's too easy. Too pat. Alycia Chin walks in, surrenders, offers to give up a massive amount of data about her and her father's operations, promises to go straight, asks only for a few 'minor' concessions, accepts all our conditions. And if we just get her placed in the Menagerie, all this can be ours for a very low, low price, plus shipping and handling." A wry chuckle. "The last time someone got taken up to the top of the mountain and offered a deal like that, he had the smarts to turn it down." "She -- could be legit." A raised eyebrow. "All the intel checks out." "Which means the goal is worth more than the offering." "Her safety?" "From whom?" "Her father?" Silence, for a long moment. "Perhaps. It's still a hell of a gift horse. Troy might have some advice about that. Oh, right, they're all dead and buried." "So we look it in the mouth. We give her rope, and wait to --' A hand held up. "Okay, enough metaphors. You propose we give her what she wants, then wait for her to prove her sincerity." Snorts. "The Chins are always sincere. But sincere to what end?" "We have all the cards here, sir. If the intel doesn't pan out, if she shows any sign of disloyalty, then we yank her in, lock the door, and throw away the key." Snorts again. "Assuming we move faster than she does." "We already have another monitored asset on the team." "Oh, yeah, there's a fine pedigree to rely on." Sighs. "Which raises the question: why the Menagerie?" "Analysis Division says, um ..." "Yes? What do those high-paid genius wannabes say?" "Teenage infatuation." "They been reading those tabloids again?" "We know that the Quill boy and the Chin girl have had multiple encounters in the past, with hints of --" "Yes, and she's spent the last two years publically blaming him for her father's death, vowing revenge, and blowing shit of his up." Silence. "So, maybe -- this is a way to get close to him and take him out?" "Aside from contradicting what the Analysis Division just said, it's not the most subtle of plans." "We've never actually had confirmation of Dr. Chin's death." "Have you seen the video?" "With all due respect, sir -- no body means no confirmation. That maxim's been proved a dozen times over when it comes to metas." "Well," and a pause, "you're not wrong there. So, what, Chin's still alive, has been under wraps for two years, letting his operation fall apart, and now is inserting his kid into this Menagerie team to -- what?" "Get access to the Quill boy. Get access to the stuff in the Quill warehouses." "Or access to the Snow kid, or his tech, or the Gale kid, or the ghost, or the cosmic whosis." "It is a -- fraught set of individuals, sir." "Did you just say 'fraught'?" "Um. Yes, sir." "Stop it." A long silence. "But that team is an issue." "Sir, we have hooks in her. We can bury her so deep, if she steps out of line, they'll have to drill for her like oil to get her out. But someone we have that kind of hold over, serving on that team -- well, there are possibilities there." "Huh." A pause, then a chuckle. "Heh. Maybe so." Another sigh. "Well, it's not like we have much choice. The governors made it clear they like this whole thing, so without more reason to reject it, we'll have to go along with it." A stabbing finger. "But we milk her dry . And we watch her like a hawk. And if she even blinks funny, I want God's own wrath dropping on her like a precision guided munition. And if I can't have God's wrath, I'll settle for actual precision guided munition. This is not going to blow back on me, understood, agent?" "Understood, sir." "She'll need a good handler, too." "Well, we already have Agent Winters working with --" "Not the kind of 'good' I meant. Snow needs coddling. Chin needs a short leash -- with a choke chain. I've got some ideas." "Very good, sir." "Better get back to the interrogation room and make sure she hasn't bought her freedom with a handful of beads and trinkets while you were gone." "Yes, sir." Alone again, a tapped key brings up a monitor showing Alycia Chin, talking in an animated fashion to a pair of AEGIS agents, her words being simultaneously recorded, translated to text, and fed to a variety of teams working on FILE ROBESPIERRE for verification and cross-analysis. "So which is it, little girl? Are you playing us? Or are you playing yourself, thinking you're playing us?" Tense shoulders flex, with a grunt. "Well, I guess we'll just have to see, won't we?" Alycia Chin, as she seems wont to do at the most uncanny times, looks up at the camera and smiles.