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Paperwork, Part II MAG
In the first installment of Paperwork last month and on TeenInk.com, we met Third Commander Perrin Lane, a photocopier wrestler and fast-track intelligence agent who has the trust and respect of her commanding officers. When a memo arrives at the Office of Information stating that a report is incoming from a Captain Major Westing, but with instructions not to use office channels for communicating this, Lane knows something big is going on. What could be in Westing’s report that warrants such secrecy?
The hands of the clock on the Office wall moved slowly, ticking away the minutes until lunch break. Perrin knew from countless late nights that the clock’s tick was loud in an empty room, but in the commotion of the main Office, it was inaudible. About ten minutes before 1200 hours, the air in the Office of Information started growing thick with anticipation from the lower-ranking Officers. Perrin tried to ignore the change by focusing on the beeping copy machine, but bits of conversation drifted to her attention.
A blond Captain Minor, whose black uniform shirt was cut much shorter than regulation, chatted about lunch plans with her brawny Captain Major boyfriend. A group of interns loudly complained about the quality of food in the mess. The only people in the Office who did not change their attitudes in the minutes before lunch were Perrin herself, Second Commander Morgan (who was giving the loitering interns a stern look), and Black, who had emerged from his office and was again yelling into his phone.
“Serves you right, trying to break in without security schematics! Have the head nurse send the proper -” The rest of his tirade became inaudible as Black threw open the main Office door and exited, slamming it behind him. The Captain Minor with the non-regulation shirt jumped at the noise.
When the two black hands met at the 12, every Officer ranking below Third Commander tried to exit the door simultaneously. Perrin pressed herself against the copy machine, trying not to knock over the piles of paperwork. She remembered being part of that rush not so long ago, eager to get to the mess before the long lines or to run to the Culinary District before the half-hour of freedom ended. Aside from the occasional tangle in red tape or the rare assignment, that was the most the lower ranks had to worry about. Perrin half-wished her life were still so simple.
At 1203 hours, the main Office was deserted save for Perrin and Morgan. The ticking of the clock echoed in the emptiness. Perrin straightened the nearest stack of reports, and one of the papers sliced her index finger, drawing blood. Perrin stuck the finger into her mouth before it could stain anything; it tasted like salt and copper.
Morgan was returning to his office. Perrin snatched up Black’s memo and touched the Second Commander’s shoulder as he passed.
“Second Commander, sir?”
He turned, and without a word, Perrin pressed the memo into his hand. Morgan scanned the contents and slipped it into the pocket in his jacket’s liner. His eyes never betrayed a hint of emotion.
“Thank you, Third Commander Lane, for bringing this to my attention,” he said quietly. “I would like you to look into this matter further.”
“Me, sir?” The paper cut was bleeding again. Perrin curled her fingers so that the blood would stay on her hand and not drip. The cleaning crew had left nasty notes the last time there had been bloodstains on the Office carpet. “Wouldn’t one of the more senior Officers be better suited?”
“I did not accelerate you through the Command ranks because you’re good with the copy machine, Lane. Meet with me and Third Commander Black after lunch in his office. Any discourse in regard to this subject is Type-F Confidential, understood?”
Perrin looked at him incredulously; Type-F Confidential cases weren’t the sort of thing a Third Commander with less than 20 years experience was assigned, let alone one who was not yet out of the Intermediate Academy.
“Understood, sir.” Her palm was getting sticky, and the cut stung. It was amazing how much pain one piece of paper could cause.
“Anything related to this will be reported directly to me or to Black. Don’t use Office channels. Dismissed.”
Perrin saluted with her uninjured hand and ducked into the Commanders’ bathroom, the door of which was unmarked and had an intimidating lock - which was never actually used - to discourage unauthorized use by lesser Officers. She turned on the faucet and cold water rushed over her stinging finger. Morgan’s last words echoed in her head: Don’t use Office channels. Black had said the same thing in his note. But there was no reason that the proper channels couldn’t be used for communication, even with a Type-F Confidential case.
“Or is there?” Perrin asked her concerned reflection.
The brass nameplate on Black’s desk read 3rd Comm. Alex C. Black, just in case anyone had missed his name printed on the frosted glass of his door. Black often complained about the nameplate because it kept falling off his desk and he hated being called Alex. Since no one had yet gotten around to changing the name, Black did his best to obscure it with the books and papers on his desk. Perrin pushed some of them out of the way so she could see him better.
Perrin had been in Black’s office before, but only to deliver files or get his signature, never for something this important, and never when Morgan was there. The Second Commander was sitting in the chair next to her, staring into space, looking as if he were there for a routine meeting rather than a matter of Type-F confidentiality.
Black shifted in his chair and looked at them. His face was calm, but there was tension lurking.
“I don’t like talking,” Black said, trying to keep his voice unemotional but failing, “so I’ll just come out and say it. Captain Major Westing is caught in a very sticky situation and may not make it out alive. She took a great risk sending her report to me, one that may have already cost her life. We have no way of knowing.”
“Where’s the report, Alexander?” Morgan asked quietly. “I’m quite sure I know what it says, but I want to hear it in her own words.”
Black pulled a piece of paper from his desk drawer. “Official Report,” he read, “from Captain Major I. Westing to Third Commander A. Black.
“I apologize for the lateness of this report, and regret that I could not send one sooner. As it is, I feel that to write this is a risk, but one I must take. I have discovered information that, if gone unnoticed, could spell disaster for the Offices and all they stand for.” Black paused to breathe before reading the next line:
“There is a traitor in the Office of Information.”
There was complete silence. Perrin looked into Black’s eyes, searching for some sign that he was lying, that this was some twisted joke, but all she found was the disorienting feeling that she was staring down two very dark holes. Surely he wasn’t serious. The last recorded traitor had been executed 50 years ago. One heard of things like this, but they didn’t happen now; they didn’t happen here. Perrin tried to say this, but all her voice could manage was a weak echo. “A traitor?”
Black nodded grimly. Out of the corner of her eye, Perrin could see Second Commander Morgan staring forward with a placid expression. Did anything unnerve that man?
“Captain Major Westing goes on to write that someone has been passing secrets to the rebels for a year,” Black continued. “She was able to give me information that someone with her security clearance would never have access to - information that, according to her, is common knowledge among the rebels. Only a Third Commander - or someone of higher rank - could have passed them this information, and it has to have been someone inside Delta Information.”
This, Perrin knew, had to be a joke. There were only six Third Commanders in the Office of Information, two of them being Perrin and Black, and Perrin had become friends with all of them (except perhaps Black) in the months since her promotion. None of them could possibly be a traitor.
“No. No, you’re wrong.” Black knew the other Third Commanders better than she did; he couldn’t believe this.
“I wish I were, but no one else could have leaked the information. It couldn’t be anyone of lower rank, and it certainly isn’t Commander Morgan. If we assume - and I believe we can - that you are not the traitor, nor am I, that leaves only four possibilities.”
“Why can you assume it’s not me?” It wasn’t that Perrin was upset that she wasn’t a suspect, but she was a bit insulted that she had been so casually dismissed as one.
“Because you weren’t a Third Commander a year ago,” said Morgan. “Not to mention you have no connections, no political ambitions -”
“- and no life,” Perrin finished, a bit sharper than she’d intended. “I get it. What can I do?”
Black handed her a piece of paper. In the plain, no-nonsense font favored by the Office of Evaluations, it read: “Request for Psychiatric Record on the Following Personnel.” Then, in Black’s handwriting, were the names of the suspected Third Commanders. Typical. Information is revealed that could threaten everything the Office stands for, and the Office of Information fills out a form.
“Get these files and report directly back. And don’t forget you were going to get me those analysis sheets.”
“See if you can hold onto the request after you’ve gotten the files,” Morgan added. “If the traitor suspects that we’re after him, we don’t want to leave a paper trail.”
Perrin saluted Morgan. Her hand was curled around the doorknob when a thought struck her, suddenly enough to make her gasp involuntarily. She whirled to face them again.
“There’s someone else it could be.”