Oh god, this conference call. The prospect of writing this scene picked at me for months. I’m still not sure if I should leave it in.
“Why weren’t we notified?” Cowen demanded from DC. He sat in the middle of a row of DC Office reps, all of them glaring sternly. They sat in a block on the monitor, right above the blocks of only slightly less people in LA and Vacouver.
There were only two people in the room with Bryan. Connors stood to the side, looking like Bryan felt. Harper sat beside Bryan, in a fresh change of clothes and only a light scent of blood and flesh about her.
“There was no time,” growled Bryan. He had opened with Hussein’s and the others’ deaths, and went on to say that the Eternal was interrogated, when Cowen had interrupted. “Which you’ll understand if I continue.”
“I think not,” Cowen said. “We will – ”
“We can’t classify this information,” Bryan spoke over him.
“Agent Ivers has the floor,” someone said from Vancouver.
“Let him speak,” said another from LA.
Cowen was about to go on, but a woman behind him leaned over and whispered in his ear and he grunted and quieted.
Bryan didn’t speak right away. All the interruptions had reminded him of all the people he was speaking to, not just the people on the monitors but people off-screen as well, watching from the sides like Connors was. Bryan could count twenty-one people on the monitor altogether, but he had managed to put them out of focus while he had been talking, before he had been interrupted.
Harper kicked Bryan’s leg under the table to bring him out of his stupor.
“Ah, yes,” he spouted. “So we questioned the Eternal, which was the same being that had…attacked me previously. We learned the following things from it.”
He and Harper had made a list Bryan read from.
“One: these Eternals do indeed come through the gates from the previous world. According to this Eternal, an estimate of fifteen have already passed through and are on our Earth.
“Two: these Eternals cannot be killed. They cannot be destroyed in any way on any level. Like this Eternal, they will regenerate no matter what happens to them. There is no stopping them.
“Three: there are innumerable Eternals on the Earth lying beyond the gates. They have eaten and demolished everything on that Earth and wish to pass through the gates in order to eat here on our own Earth.
“Four: these Eternals can all pass through the gates at once when the gates have fully stabilized.
“We have a date for when that will happen.”
He took a deep breath and looked up at the faces on the screen.
“Coordinated Universal Time: 1 PM, November 21st.”
There was silence.
“Um… That’s all.” He set the papers down flat on the table.
All the people on the screen put their heads together and started murmuring so that Bryan couldn’t hear. It made him as itchy as the containment in the break room had.
“What reason,” Cowen said aloud “did this Eternal have to tell the truth?”
“She…had no reason to lie,” Bryan said weakly.
“That we know of. That she would allow herself to be captured five days from the date of the gates…stabilizing.”
“She didn’t ‘allow’ anything. I had to…” Bryan cut off.
“You had to what?”
Harper spoke up. “Agent Ivers had great difficulty in capturing the Eternal. As has been stated, she killed several people before Ivers was able to apprehend her.”
“Why did she attack the Office in Chicago?” Cowen asked.
“We’ve gained a lot of information due to Agent Ivers,” Harper went on. “The Eternals may see Chicago as a center of resistance.”
Cowen raised his eyebrows. “Resistance is a strong word.”
“This is a strong foe.”
There was silence all around. Bryan gripped the edge of the table. Harper had covered for him. Center of resistance indeed.
“You want everyone to know,” Cowen said, “or you wouldn’t have broadcast this in front of three different cities.”
Bryan grinned. “I can’t deny that. We need more minds trying to think up ways to solve this problem.”
“If we announce this to all Offices and the world and five days pass with nothing happening, we’ll look like fools.”
The grin slipped from Bryan’s face. “I would welcome it.”
Not everyone returned to the synagogue that evening. Some of the missing had written their notice letters and handed them to Bryan or Connors, letters stating that they needed time with their families or to themselves if they had no families. In his past life, Bryan would have raved at them for leaving just when the going got tough, but today he only nodded at each new letter, until he couldn’t even muster up a goodbye or good luck. Eventually he only took the notes without recognition, tossing them onto Hussein’s desk and turning back to the computer, where there were more letters in the form of email.
But even more didn’t even give notice. They simply didn’t show up for containment, disappearing without a word.
Connors was livid, and he took it out on those that did show up. When Bryan told him to calm down, he shouted at Bryan that he shouldn’t be here either.
“I told you, you need to be in the office.”
“How would that look with everyone else missing?” Bryan said flatly, taking Connors aside. “If you want me to take charge, I need to be here to show I’m taking charge and still around.”
“I know that,” Connors yelled, and took a deep breath. More quietly, he continued “I know that, but damn it our crew’s been cut in half in one day.”
“I don’t like it either, but that’s no excuse to panic. We need to keep the others around.”
Connors laughed in that loud round way of his. “You’re telling people not to panic?”
Bryan couldn’t laugh with him. Because he wished he was panicking. He was someone else now. He looked at the agents mingling in the synagogue, among the pews and under the broken windows. Besides Connors’s outburst, there were few fights, little actual panic. But there was an electricity in the air – an undercurrent of panic beneath the tense surfaces of the people. All voices were low and choked and worried. Bryan saw Cam, who tried to catch his eye. But he avoided him and looked past him to see the professors from the university, setting up their instruments to the side of the room. And past them, Mouse, which was surprising. Everyone might have to stop calling him by that name.
There were half the Possesseds left, and even fewer Spotters. Perhaps ten Spotters. Bryan had gotten their notices too, for the lack of a Lead Spotter. Their reasons for leaving had been a little different. They felt they served no purpose, with the capturing having happened at the synagogue instead of throughout the city. They no longer had to track, only observed, and they didn’t want to spend their final days observing a doomed operation. They didn’t state such in such words, but Bryan knew what they were thinking and why they left.
He looked over the Spotters. There was Hix, and Krotki, and… Andrade.
“Connors,” he said. “Go give some pep talks, okay? Tell them what we’re doing.”
“Like business is usual, sure.” He left Bryan with an expression like sour milk, but that was his usual expression, so it was hard to tell just how hopeless he really felt.
He hadn’t left, at least.