Agents Mercury, Othello and Prada looked up guiltily as the door opened. They had been going through the few drawers and cupboards in the conference room, looking for a plug-in telephone after Othello had spotted a socket for one on the wall.
Agent Moon walked in.
“Moon! Tell your goons to let us go!” Prada was on her feet and shouting before the door was even closed behind him.
“Agent Prada,” warned Mercury, “let’s just stay calm and see what Moon has to say for himself.” He looked enquiringly at the latter. “Well?”
Prada slumped grumpily into a seat and began to worry at a hangnail with her teeth. Moon perched himself on the corner of the long conference table and surveyed the three of them. He looked different somehow, more confident, more mature and self-assured.
“Look,” he began, “I realise that this looks really bad –“
“Ya think?” muttered Prada, which earned her a frown from Mercury.
“- but, please believe me when I say that what’s going on here, what I’m involved in, is one of the most important projects this world has ever seen.”
“That’s a bold statement,” said Othello, “Care to elucidate?”
Moon took a moment to scratch at his temple as he composed his thoughts.
“I’d be more than happy to, believe me, but first I need some information from you guys.”
“Oh?” said Mercury, guardedly.
“Yeah, it’s just a small thing really, but I really need to know where Agent India and your pet demon are right now.”
Mercury, Prada and Othello looked at each other briefly, then Mercury spoke.
“And why would you need to know that, Agent?”
“We’re at a very sensitive stage in our work here,” Moon replied, “We really can’t afford to have unpredictable elements running about the place, disturbing things. It’s just too important.’
”You don’t seriously expect us to tell you, just like that, surely.” Said Prada.
Moon sighed. “I suppose not, but I thought it was worth while to ask, anyway.”
“So what now?” said Prada, “You going to start threatening us? Get one of your goons to shoot one of us like you did to Emerald? Like you did to Box?”
Moon’s face reddened.
“Those things were never meant to happen like that, I swear.” He said fervently. “A few people misunderstood what they were supposed to be doing and …” he trailed off, and suddenly, for a moment, he was the Moon they recognised - young, uncertain.
“Did whoever it was who planted the bomb in the warehouse misunderstand as well?” asked Othello, “Only, it seems to me that setting up something like that would take a certain amount of premeditation. Firing a gun can be a spur of the moment thing, but not planting explosives, that takes planning. You’re going to have to do better than that, Moon.”
Moon showed his palms in a conciliatory gesture. “You’re right, of course. In retrospect, it was a stupid thing to have done and, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry, I really am. It’s just that what we’re doing here is so very important.”
“Look, Fallen and Loyal alike have disappeared completely,” said Mercury, “Gone. Vanished. Not dismissed – which was always sufficient before now, but vanished. Are you destroying them somehow? And why target the Loyal when they’re on our side, for pity’s sake! Don’t you realise that you’re upsetting an ancient arrangement that has stood the test of time for centuries?”
“I understand that there are serious implications to what we’re doing here, believe me,” said Moon, “We appreciate that neither the Basement nor the Penthouse is going to be happy with what we’re doing here, but – “ he stood up and began pacing, as if about to deliver a speech.
“Humans have always been stuck in the middle between the two of them, at the mercy of either temptation from the Basement or whatever crumbs of bounty the Penthouse sees fit to bestow.”
“But that’s how it’s meant to be,” interrupted Prada. “If it – “
“Let me finish, please,” said Moon, cutting her off. “The Fallen and the Loyal have abilities that none of us humans can match and yet they hardly ever use them. There’s so much good they could do in the world but they don’t. Why? Because of some ancient agreement – to which we were not even party!”
“Moon, you know perfectly well why they can’t get involved in human affairs,” said Mercury, a not of irritation creeping into his voice. “Any one of them could rule this world without hardly lifting a finger if it so chose. The arrangement is for our protection, so that we are free to conduct our affairs as we see fit. They can try to influence us – that’s all. Our free will is what’s at stake here.”
“I know that!” Moon was beginning to sound angry himself now, “But is it an infringement of anybody’s free will if they get cured of cancer, or if a drought-stricken region suddenly get some rain for once? If a starving kid gets a bowl of rice? They see all this misery and they stand by and do nothing! If somebody saw an old lady fall down in the street and hurt herself, and yet just walked on by, we would be outraged at their lack of compassion. If we mortals can act altruistically, then why can’t they? It would be nothing to them.” He stopped, a little out of breath.
“I’m sure the Loyal at any rate would agree with you,” said Othello, “And I’m sure they very much want to help, but where do you draw the line? You can feed a single starving mouth easily enough, you might even feed a village or a town. Then you might just say to yourself, well, I can end starvation in this whole land altogether by getting the government to stop fighting internecine civil wars with their neighbours. Oh, and while I’m at it, I should get the neighbour governments to improve their human rights records. Pretty soon, if you go down that road, you’d be running the whole place. So it’s best not to even start down that road – hence the arrangement.”
“Well, I think it’s time things changed.” Declared Moon. “If they can’t – or won’t - help then –“
“- you’ll wipe then out.” Prada finished for him, flatly.
“No. That is not what’s happening here – the last thing we want is for any of them to be wiped out.”
“Then what?” asked Mercury.
For a moment, it looked as though Moon were actually going to tell them, but he obviously thought better of it. He shook his head.
“Sorry,” he said, “As I said, I’ll tell you gladly, but only when India and the demon are secured.”
He moved to the door. “Have a think about it and if you change your mind, just tell the guard. In the meantime, I’ll have some drinks and sandwiches sent in.”
The door closed. Mercury, Prada and Othello looked at one another.
“So,” said Mercury, “Do we give him what he wants?”