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Signal to Noise

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A week after the Battle of Greenwich, a battered letter in a S.H.I.E.L.D. watermarked envelope, addressed to Ms Darcy Lewis, flopped through the letterbox of the house she and Jane ‘rented’ from Jane’s mum. Inside, a letter dated some months earlier invited her to a speculative interview - her owning of the hapless agents in Tromso had filtered back, and combined with her thesis on the rise of Right-wing domestic terrorism through the internet, someone had been impressed. Darcy had burst into tears when she read it; it was a perfect career opportunity and she had lost it to constantly moving house. Call them Jane had said, explain, the door might still be open. So, a day later when time-zones lined up, and with shaking fingers, Darcy had made the call.

 

Three days later, there had been tearful goodbyes at Heathrow airport, embraces and I’ll miss yous and call me’s and be careful’s. I’ll be back in a week, Darcy had told Jane, when they change their minds. There were awkward goodbyes with Ian; she was fond of him, sure, but after the immediate gratitude had worn off she’d known there was no future in it. Make sure Jane eats, she told him, and then made Thor promise to look after her Janey or else.

 

And so one grey, damp capital was swapped for another, and began seemingly interminable rounds of interviews, skills tests, psychometric tests, physical tests, then jubilant phone calls that made her grandmother weep with joy, and then more inductions, introductions, lectures about security and endless paperwork, before finally…

 

Finally, she was being shown to a suite of offices marked “Surveillance & Counter-Terrorist Intel” by a short, bald-headed, bespectacled man whose name she’d already forgotten and for all the world reminded her of Penfold from the Dangermouse cartoons Jane had shown her on those Saturday mornings in London.

“So, Ms Lewis, you’ve got your security pass?” asked Penfold (Darcy nodded), “and your passwords, and your floorplan so you can find the bathrooms and the canteen?”

Darcy nodded again, wondering where her words had gone.

“In that case,” said Penfold, swiping his card to open the office door, “I’ll leave you in the capable hands of your new line manager, Wentworth, and wish you luck.”

He all but shoved her through the door into the bustling office, and disappeared back down the corridor. ‘Wentworth’ was nowhere to be seen. Clutching her bag for dear life, Darcy stood dumbly by the door for a minute, unsure of how to proceed.

“Um… Hi!” she ventured to no one in particular, “I’m Darcy, I’m new.”

A few people looked up at her from their desks. She gave them a cheery wave; then returned to their work, unmoved.

“So… any of you Wentworth?” (she wasn’t even sure what gender ‘Wentworth’ was), “‘cus apparently that’s my line manager?”

A tall young woman with a pretty, heart shaped face, long brown hair pulled back into a high ponytail, and a natty peter-pan collar necklace stood up with a dramatic sigh and roll of her eyes, and marched over to Darcy. Oh god thought Darcy, I’m out on my ear already. Seeing the look of terror on Darcy’s face, the woman’s expression softened as she approached, and she offered a handshake.

“Hey, I’m Jemma,” she smiled, “Chill, I’m not mad at you, I just can’t believe that fuck-knuckle Jeff would disappear when we’ve got new team arriving, ‘cus I’m pretty sure Sitwell would have told him to expect you.” She frowned. “Actually, I can entirely believe that of Jeff, because he fucks off with tedious regularity, so never mind. I’m sorry about Jeff.”

“He’s not gonna win boss of  the year then, huh?” winced Darcy, as Jemma ushered her to an empty desk.

“Well, when he’s done a vanishing act at least it means he’s not giving us shit,” said Jemma, conspiratorially, “so here’s the desk you’ve been assigned… I’m, um, sorry about that too… so you get yourself settled in… Darcy? It is Darcy, right?.... good, I’m kinda in the middle of something but a bunch of us go for coffee at fifteen hundred, so I’ll come grab you in an a couple of hours.”

With an encouraging pat on the shoulder, Jemma bustled off. Feeling slightly dazed, Darcy plopped down at her desk, and rummaged in her bag for the folder that had her start-up passwords in it. On the top sheet of the legal pad in front of her, someone had written We’re sorry about this idiot, with a large arrow pointing towards the vacant desk opposite her. This seemed to be an office full of idiots; she would either fit right in, or be on homicide charges by the end of the month, she decided.

 

Time passed, and Darcy was bored. There was only so much tinkering one could do to set up a work station. She’d even changed her desktop picture to one of her and Jane doing velociraptor impressions next to a skeleton in the Natural History Museum. She pushed up her glasses and rubbed her eyes with the balls of her palms, suppressing a yawn. There was a soft thump on the desk that made Darcy look up.

“Sleeping on the job already, Miss Lewis?” asked the thin, middle-aged man in a somewhat shiny blue suit, who was perched on her desk and blatantly looking down her top. Darcy presumed him to be the elusive Wentworth.

“In the absence of any assignment or orientation from my line manager, a strategic catnap seemed an efficient use of time. Sir.” Darcy stood up, hoping that bringing herself to eye-level might put him off ogling, but nope, his eyes remained transfixed on her cleavage. Presumably-Wentworth gave a humourless bark of a laugh.

“Assertive. I like that.” he offered what Darcy thought was the limpest handshake she’d ever encountered, “Jefferson Wentworth, as I imagine you’ve already gathered.”

“Ms Darcy Lewis, as I believe Sitwell has told you.”

“Ok, mizzzz Darcy Lewis, given your background in neo-fascists and Norse deities, I want you to start digging on the Norse Paganists, see if they’ve got any splinter cells or collaborators Stateside, any funding backchannels, the usual.” he hands her a dossier, “this should get you started, ‘m sure a bright girl like you will have them in no time. Any questions?”

“Yeah, a couple,” said Darcy sardonically, “do you have an issue with eye-contact, and have you read the company Equality and Diversity policy?”

Now Wentworth looked her in the eye, his head snapping up and his mouth open in flustered surprise. There was a mock-polite cough from behind him.

“You done harassing the new girl, Jeff?” asked an annoyed looking Jemma. Wentworth said nothing, and Jemma shoo’d him away from the desk. “Coffee?” she said brightly to Darcy.

Out in the hallway, a small cluster of people waited for them.

“Thanks for the cavalry,” said Darcy to Jemma, “much more of that and I’d have given him both barrels, and I’d rather not be fired on my first day.”

Jemma snorted “Wentworth is a dick and a coward. Stand up to him and he’ll pretty much leave you alone. The only person who gets any real grief is poor Jensen, but that’s ‘cus he runs his mouth and leaves himself open to it. Anyway, this is Yoko,” (Jemma gestured to a tiny Japanese woman with severe bangs), “Neeks,” (a plump, cheerful looking Asian woman), “and Mitch.” (a gangly Goth guy with designer stubble) “Everyone, this is Darcy. Darcy, everyone.”

Yoko handed Darcy a card with her grinning and throwing a peace sign over an alternating pink and green radiating background, “It’s my 40th at the weekend, I’m throwing a costume party. Please come.”

Darcy turned the card over. There was the address of a downtown bar, 8pm 30th November, and the theme. She laughed, “Internet memes? That’s either pure genius or pure evil! I’ll totally be there, thank you.”

Yoko gave a mischievous little smirk “The correct answer, I think you’ll find, is pure evil.”

 

When Darcy returned to her office half an hour later, ‘this idiot’ was still absent. Curiosity got the better of her, and before she sat down she went to have a little nose at the opposite desk. It was pretty chaotic, covered in piles of notes and dossiers, the legal pad a mass of doodles and cartoons. A device made of Lego that appeared to fire Nerf-darts sat next to the monitor, a Bluetooth receiver blinking steadily on the base. Stuck to the monitor frame were three photographs: a little blonde girl with pigtails in a pink soccer uniform; a strip of photo-booth images of two men, one with blond, spiky hair, a goatee, and Lennon-specs, the other a dark long-haired Latino with a beard and a black cowboy hat, doing Calvin and Hobbes impressions; and a group shot with Calvin (in a pink t-shirt with Go Petunias! on it), Hobbes, a woman who looked like a young Eartha Kitt, a baby-faced Black dude, and an older, White guy in a black suit, stood across the street from a square, redbrick building, squinting into the sun, and “The Losers Do Dallas” written in Sharpie across the bottom.

“Looking for something, mizzz Lewis?” oozed Wentworth, behind her.

Darcy jumped a little guiltily, “Just curious about my absent desk-mate, is all.” she said, trying to sound casual. Wentworth waved a hand dismissively.

“Oh, he’ll be back on Monday. Giving evidence at an enquiry, bit of a fuckup with one of our units almost blowing up a wedding near the Turkish border. They say they got bad intel, we say we have no idea what they’re talking about, he’s taken it a bit personally because his boyfriend’s unit got involved and prevented it turning into a diplomatic incident. Enjoy the quiet, he never shuts up.”

As Wentworth wandered off, Darcy returned to her seat. She cracked her knuckles, mentally girded her loins, and took stock: two and a half hours left of today to start poking fascists, 48 hours to find a party costume, and a couple of work-days before the return of her chatty, and apparently gay, desk mate. She was going to take a punt on it being Calvin. He looked like a nerd. At least he wouldn’t try and look down her shirt.