What a deal with the devil.
To be fair to Nicole, she didn't have any idea what she was getting into, and if I'd been in her situation I probably would have had the same reaction.
“Minister Crozier. Minister Crozier. Minister Crozier!”
Nicole turned suddenly. She was still goggling over the rapid turn her career had taken, and not at all sure that she really wanted to be in her position. “Yes, Minister Dent?”
“I said, how can the Ministry of Intelligence help the Ministry of War?”
Nicole regarded him with grave suspicion. He was considerably older than her, at least two meters tall, thin, and had short, graying hair. He could have been her grandfather if her grandfather had lived past sixty. But then, the Minister of Intelligence was from the Dent family, one of the Four Families that ruled Artemis, and she was just the daughter and granddaughter of commoners. Working for the Ministry was a dream job for most, and she had certainly appreciated the stability it had brought into the life of her family. She’d hoped, someday, to rise high enough in the Ministry to have actual security. She’d never dreamed about becoming even so much as a Deputy Minister, let alone Minister, and especially in the manner in which she had been elevated to the post.
Still. She had been elevated to the post. She was the Minister of War, Gods help her. This was her office. She’d damn well say what she thought.
“Frankly, Minister Dent, I don’t trust you.”
To her surprise, Dent laughed.
“No reason you should; in fact, you’re absolutely right, you shouldn’t trust me. Nor any of the other Ministers, if it comes to it.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I told you, what can the Ministry of Intelligence do for the Ministry of War?”
She still regarded him with suspicion.
“Oh, please. May I sit down, Minister?” Without waiting for her permission, he did so.
“I am neither trying to trap you nor give you some impossible choice. Nor am I offering you something for nothing. However, as we both have the same problem, albeit different ends, there’s absolutely no reason we shouldn’t work together for our mutual benefit.”
She continued to regard him suspiciously. He sighed dramatically.
“I assure you, I have absolutely no interest in replacing you with someone of my own choosing. I spoke with Kim Pitt. She’s MinSec, you know.”
She hadn’t, but she nodded anyways.
“Ms. Pitt was kind enough to give me a copy of your dossier. You are the youngest of five children, and the only one not yet married. Two brothers and a sister serve the state in some capacity, while your other brother scratches out a living as a musician. Your parents are still alive, your father working as a teacher, your mother runs a restaurant. Oddly enough,” he said, smiling and breaking from his recitation. “The restaurant she manages is owned by one of my cousins. Not a threat, mind you; Charles and I don’t see eye to eye, and even if I were to ask him to do something I don’t think he’d consider it. Where was I? Oh, yes. You were fairly unremarkable in school, capable but not brilliant, attended University, where you graduated with a degree in Political Science and a minor in History. You were hired by the Ministry on graduation and have steadily, if unspectacularly, worked your way into a position of trust and responsibility. At least, until two days ago, when everything changed.”
She stared, speechless.
“I believe that’s all the most pertinent information. MinSec is most thorough; their dossier on you is rather thick. I can get a copy for you if you’d like to examine it. Check for errors, perhaps. One of the perqs of being a Minister, you see.”
He examined her carefully. “Minister – may I call you Nicole, as we are now colleagues? Thank you. Nicole, I have been working my way into my position for longer than you’ve been alive. What you do, here and now, matters not at all to my security, my future. I provide the information to you, and ones like you; what you do with it, how you interpret it, is up to you. However, I’m an old man. It distresses me to see my colleagues come and go in such a, hmm, shall we say rapid? Yes, I think rapid works. In such a rapid manner.”
His manner grew serious.
“I am offering you nothing more than what I offered, and provided, to Minister Whitmore. I would have offered it to Minister Gruber, had he survived. And I expect I’ll offer it to your successor.”
“What are you offering?” Nicole finally asked.
“Why, information, my young lady. Information, so you can better justify the actions the Primus will require you to take. When skillfully used, information of this sort can deflect the anger of the Primus to a harmless target or, better yet, one already dead.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” answered Nicole. “And what do you want in return, Minister?”
“Only the same, Nicole, only the same. Information should flow both ways, shouldn’t it? And please, call me Colin; we are colleagues now, aren’t we? No need to stand on ceremony when it’s just a friendly chat between two peers.”
She was a peer of his? Hardly. But not worth correcting him, pointing out the lie in his words, and besides, maybe he really meant it. At least for the moment.
“Of course, Colin. Thank you. If you wouldn’t mind, then, can you start by giving me some background? I’ve come to all this very late, and, honestly, don’t know where to begin.”
“Certainly! The roots of our current difficulties…”