Inessa stepped into the BPA control room with all the subtle grace of an anvil landing in a pile of babies. Operators shifted from their consoles and turned to watch her as she exploded through the doorway, a folder in one hand and a cellphone in the other.
"What the FUCK is going on?" she bellowed.
"Inessa. Pleasure to finally meet you," the red-headed man sitting in her chair said. He was hard-bodied and lean; his face was weathered like ancient leather. But before that, Inessa noticed his right eye--it was missing, replaced with what looked like featureless red glass.
"Who are you and why are none of my agents beating the shit out of you for sitting in my chair?" Inessa said.
"Probably because I outrank you," the man said.
"Bullshit," Inessa replied. She turned to the operatives at their consoles. "Where are my field agents? The teams assigned to Epoch have all dropped off the face of the earth--except one, who just called my office to tell me Rockstar showed up. I need strike-teams ready right now--and someone wake up Sovereign."
"None of that will be necessary," the man said.
Inessa turned to stare at him. "Excuse me?"
"I pulled your agents off of Epoch," he said. "The one who called you--the team assigned to Mulligan and Paladin, I assume? Rockstar showed up sooner than we expected. Wasn't able to contact your agents there soon enough."
Inessa's eyes narrowed. Her hands dropped down to her waist; several operatives made themselves as scarce as possible.
The man continued to smile. "By the way," he said. "I don't think I've introduced myself."
"You are three seconds away from losing the ability to eat solid foods," Inessa said. Her knuckles cracked. "So keep it short."
"Murdoch. Percival Murdoch. But you can call me Percy," he said, and then he held out his hand.
Inessa stared at it, then back at him. The frothing rage evaporated in an instant, replaced by a slow, dawning dread. She stepped back. "You're--"
"A mild-mannered government agent. Who, as I mentioned before, outranks you." Percy's smile deepened.
"Why have you been activated?" Inessa said. "Why are you throwing Epoch to the wolves? What the hell is going on?"
When she didn't take his hand, Percival lowered it. "Operation King-Slayer."
"You," she said, breathless with shock. "You're the one who--the mercenaries who brought back Scourge. The recent rash of prison breakouts. You've been--you've been working with--"
Percival drew the gun from the holster and fired it with a single, fluid motion. Inessa looked down, staring at the hole that had suddenly appeared in her chest. She looked back at Percival, bewildered.
"I wanted to have the chance to meet you before I killed you," Percival said. "And as to the why, it's simple--initial psych analysis places the likelihood of you running off and informing the involved parties of this operation at over 63 percent."
She crumpled to the ground. The operatives in the room stared at Percival--several of them were clearly unsure of what to do. He turned to them and smiled, reholstering his gun.
"Ladies and gentlemen. As of twenty four hours ago, I have Alpha Authorization. That means I could tear out the President's heart and eat it on live TV and there isn't a court in the US that could touch me." His smile twisted into a scowl; the red glass eye started to burn. "Now get back to your fucking posts."