Jack stabs the intercom button with his left index finger.
“Meg? You still there?” She’d better be. She said she was gonna stay till he was done. He told her he had no idea when or if that was gonna happen, told her she could go home. But she insisted on staying. So now she’d better freaking be there.
“Yes, Jack. You want another espresso?”
“No, can you– Scratch that, yeah, ‘course I do. But also, get me the files on everyone who’d set foot in the moonshot loading dock in the past month. Along with their mothers, brothers, and 80-year-old great-auntie Enid.”
“Just to be clear: do you actually want intel on the families?” Meg doesn’t miss a beat. He was joking, but her level voice makes him consider it.
“Not… yet. But tell you what, send what inquiries you need to.” If last week’s ‘minor matter, not worth your time, sir’ of three (three!) ‘absolutely unforeseen’, ‘entirely coincidental’ explosions on launch turns out to be sabotage… yeah, he’ll be wanting intel on the families.
“Copy that. Will that be all, Jack?”
“Yeah.” He disconnects the intercom, then pokes it again. “Coffee first. No, coffee second. Files first, ‘mkay?”
Jack sinks into the investigation reports of each of the three explosions.
“One of these things is not like the others,” he mutters under his breath. ‘Cause it literally isn’t. And that’s the freaking problem, ain’t it. ‘Cause one’s an accident, two’s a coincidence, three’s a pattern, but if only two out of three match, that’s not a pattern yet.
Except Jack knows it is a pattern. He’s missing something, something that’s right in front of his face, and it’s driving him nuts because Jack doesn’t miss things.
He growls and leans his head on his elbows, hands in hair, face inches away from the desk. Maybe banging his head on the reports would help.
The door to his office opens before he gets to test that theory. Wow, that was fast. While waiting for Meg to reach his desk and drop off the files, he keeps his eyes on the reports, but is actually wracking his mind for something witty and vaguely complimentary. The smell of coffee (holy shit, when did she have the time?) kicks his cramping brain into gear just enough.
“Okay, Meg, be honest now, you got yourself a body double while I wasn’t looking, didn’t ya?” Jack says, reaching for the espresso. “There’s no other way you could’ve gotten the files and the beans that quick.”
“You got me, Jack.” Meg chuckles as she arranges the files in three neat stacks on his desk. “Just don’t make her work nights, please, she’s in a rock band.”
“Get me tickets, then we’ll talk.” Jack leans back in his chair, swigs half of the espresso in one go. “VIP and all that crap.”
“I’ll get right–” Meg looks up from the files. Her smiles freezes for a split second. “–on it.”
“What? Do I have something on my– ” Jack cuts himself off. No. He doesn’t. That’s the fucking problem.
The mask is on his desk. He vaguely remembers taking it off, not too long ago. For all the bleeding-edge tech that went into making it, for all the promise of ‘like second skin, you wouldn’t know it was even there, blah blah blah’, its maximum use time for optimal performance is still twelve hours tops. Sixteen hours in, the second skin in question starts getting snippy with the first. By twenty, it’s a straight-up bitch fight.
So yeah, the mask is on the desk. Way out of hand’s reach, ‘cause his desk is huge. Not that it matters now, ‘cause what’s he gonna do, exactly? Scream ‘don’t look at me’ like a girl whose prom date showed up early and found her with cucumber peels all over her face?
He barks out a laugh at the thought. That gets the tiniest jump out of Meg: just a tightening in her shoulders, really, but good enough. Jack grins out of one side of his mouth.
“Sorry, Megs, didn’t mean that as a trick question. But since we’re on the subject...” He gestures at his face, turning his head this way and that to give her the full view of the Vault brand. “Whaddaya think?”
What does he want her to think? Screw that, he doesn’t give a shit what she thinks (that’s not true). What does he want her to say, though? Even with the entirety of Hyperion on the line, Jack wouldn’t know how to answer that.
Well, he may not know what she wants her to say, but he’s got a pretty good idea of what she’s gonna say. Meg’s not stupid. So she’s gonna go with something obvious. Like that it doesn’t ruin his good looks, or something. Or deflect with some ‘3 am Meg’ classic about how she thinks he needs to get some sleep.
“I… I have a question, actually,” says Meg, and in that moment, Jack could shoot her, or himself, or both of them because SHIT, she just went with the worst possible option and now there’s no coming back from this and FUCK, he’ll never have as good a PA again, and SHIT, what the fuck, Meg, he JUST thought to himself she wasn’t stupid.
He crosses his arms. “Hit me.”
Just don’t ask how I got it, ‘cause I’m gonna have to airlock your ass. Another lie. He’d sooner airlock the whole board of directors. Would make less of a difference in his day, too. But she’d better not ask what it feels like, or if it hurts, or any of that crap that will result in her pulling a sympathetic face. That’s the biggest bullshit about this whole thing: if that’s the kind of question she asks, then no matter what he answers, he’ll get a sympathetic face in return. And that’s how he’s gonna remember her, ‘cause the way this is going, he’ll never look at her again after tonight.
“Is your left eye actually green?”
Jack stares at her. With his right blue eye, and with what little vision his left, once-green one has to offer. So, apparently, the Vault brand also fucked up his hearing, somehow, because did she just really ask him about his eye color? What the…
“I’m sorry. Was that too personal?” Meg’s own grey eyes move from his face to around shoulder level.
“No, I– I mean, yeah. It was.”
“Apologies.” She turns to leave. “I… overstepped. I’ll be at reception.”
“No. I meant like… Yeah, it was green. Why’d you ask?”
“I was just curious.” Meg half-turns to look at him. For some reason, Jack thinks she’s gonna freeze or jump again, like she’s been expecting him to put the mask back on while her back was turned. She doesn’t. “I’ve always wondered if the lenses were a style choice.”
“Well, yeah, they are. The style choice being to show off my natural assets, duh.”
“Of course. Can I get you anything else?”
“Another coffee an hour from now.”
Meg walks down the steps away from his desk, then across his office, then through the double doors that close behind her with a quiet whoosh of the silent closer. Jack watches her leave, and not even to stare at her ass or anything.
What the fuck just happened? He gets up, walks to the liquor cabinet, splashes some bourbon into the lukewarm remains of the espresso and downs the lot. Back at his desk, he looks at the three incident reports of the explosions again, and the answer he’s been looking for is staring him right in the face.
The first explosion was an accident, and the second two were made to look like the first, but whoever did that didn’t go as good a job as they thought: the chemical signature is off. Not by much, but more than enough for Jack to notice. So it was sabotage after all.
Jack grins and reaches for the first stack of personnel files. Someone’s gonna burn for this, and it ain’t gonna be a figure of speech.