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The Prophet's Right Hand

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Sydney hated waiting.

Of course, it made sense; she wouldn't expect the CIA
to simply hand over the keys to Langley just because
an SD-6 agent had strolled in the door and proclaimed
that she was ready to do the right thing. But her
father had explained her situation to Director Devlin
a long time ago, and they ought to have all her
information on file, and she hadn't been on a mission
in a full month and, dammit, she was BORED.

Then again, patience was sometimes the best skill an
agent could bring to a mission. This was a mission,
first and foremost - probably the most important she
would ever be on. So Sydney forced herself to be calm
and use the time.

When you could do nothing else, you could note detail.
There was no telling what bit of minutiae might prove
important later on. This office, for instance. Clearly
it belonged to a junior operative; he didn't have
enough status for a window or enough discipline to
keep his desk straight. She thought he was
intelligent, though, somebody who had potential. The
reference books piled on the shelves indicated both
depth and breadth of interests, and the two newspapers
on the desk were in Italian and Polish. He didn't
smoke - no lighter at the edge of the desk, ready for
a quick trip to the parking lot - but the
bottle-opener affixed to his keychain said he didn't
mind having a beer now and then. Healthy, but not a
stiff. CDs by Soulstice and Lamb sat on top of his
hard drive, so he had better taste than she would've
guessed by the boring tie he'd had on. And on the far
edge of the desk was a picture of him with a pretty
blonde girl. So he was a guy who could make a
commitment, but not one who wanted to gaze at this
girlfriend's face all that often. Interesting.

Her cellphone chirped, and Sydney grabbed it. Probably
it was just Francie calling from the grocery store,
but any break from the dullness of waiting was
welcome. "Hello?"

"Sydney." Her father's voice sounded as clear as
though he were in the next room. "It's me. How are
you?"

"I'm good. Waiting for the CIA to come back and talk
to me, but good."

"Don't worry about the CIA. They know what they've got
in you." How had she ever convinced herself that her
father didn't believe in her? His approval was more
matter-of-fact, more quiet, than Sloane's had been -
but that only meant that it was real.

"I'm not worried," Sydney said, and it was mostly the
truth. "Did you - find what you were looking for?"

Her father couldn't give her any specifics, of course;
as long as her mother remained a fugitive from U.S.
justice, it was in Sydney's best interest to be able
to honestly say that she had no intel regarding her
mother's present location.

"I did," he said quietly. "I found it."

Which told her absolutely nothing. Syd considered
this, then asked, "Tell me about where you're staying.
Is it nice there?"

"Oh. Yes. It's -" He breathed out, a sound that wasn't
quite a sigh. "It's beautiful."

Just the sound of her father's voice told Sydney that,
at that instant, he was looking at her mother. She
imaged that her mother was probably smiling back.
Surprise, delight and even a soft flicker of jealousy
flashed through her, an aurora of emotions that that
lit her up within. Delight triumphed over the others,
and she felt a broad smile spreading across her face.
"Good to know. Do you, uh, know when you'll be coming
back?"

"The CIA owes me considerable vacation time. I expect
to be here for at least a week." There was a faint
rustling over the line, and then her father said,
"Maybe two."

Did she want to know exactly how her mother was
persuading him? No, Sydney decided, she really did
not. But she was laughing as she said, "Well, keep me
posted. And I'll let you know what happens with the
agency, okay?"

"Sounds good. I'll talk to you soon."

"Love you," Sydney replied.

She could hear the smile in her father's voice when he
said, "Love you too, sweetheart."

The line went dead, and Syd slowly folded up the phone
and slipped it back in her bag. Maybe she could make
her own trip to Russia before too long. Maybe she and
her father could go together, and they could have a
few days as a family. Even though the three of them
had spent a year working together at SD-6, Sydney knew
they'd spent almost none of that time as a family. She
hoped that would change soon, and change for good.

"Hey there." The operative she'd been interviewing
with walked back into the room, smiling
apologetically. "I know we've kept you waiting a
while. Can I get you - coffee, or a Danish, maybe -"

"I'm fine. Am I in, Mr. Vaughn?"

"You can call me Michael."

"I might call you Vaughn. Am I in?"

"They're still reviewing your statement." When she
tried - and failed - to restrain a frustrated sigh,
Vaughn added, "I'm sorry. It's just - you wrote a lot.
Your statement's long. Like, Tolstoy long."

Sydney found herself smiling. "Tolstoy long?"

"I thought it was funny." Vaughn was studying her
face, as though her reaction already mattered to him.
"But not that funny."

"Sorry. I'm getting my graduate degree in comparative
literature at UCLA, and I've written a lot about
Tolstoy."

He nodded, impressed. "I haven't written anything
about Tolstoy, as in ever. I did read Anna Karenina,
though. Do I get points for that?"

"Depends." Talking about literature was as good a way
to kill the time as any. "What do you think about the
role of destiny in Anna Karenina?"

Vaughn considered this as carefully as any freshman in
discussion group; it was both comical and oddly
endearing. "Well - it's undeniable that Tolstoy
believes in the power of destiny. The foreshadowing -"

"I don't need Tolstoy's opinion. I have too much of
that already. What I'm looking for is your opinion."
Sydney folded her arms.

"Okay, then. All this fate stuff? It's a crock." He
shook his head as he leaned back in his chair. "I
believe that we determine our own futures. Not fate or
destiny, or some author with a sense of the poetic."

"You're so right. Fate? No such thing, at least not
anymore. And if you've read my statement, you know -
I actually proved it." When Vaughn grinned at her,
Sydney felt a strange, pleasant swoop of uncertainty,
and decided to get back to the subject. "So, when do
I find out if the CIA's accepted me?"

"Tomorrow, probably. Then you'll come back here, start
debriefing."

"I'm not in yet - but you talk as though I am."

Vaughn shrugged. "I have an instinct about you."

************

THE END (for real)