Part Three

    It only takes a couple days before Matthews presents Schwarz with the list of what he wants to accomplish while we are on contract with each other. He has had half a week to study us and form his own opinion of what we are capable of. He doesn’t go off of what Rosenkreuz alone has told him, wanting to see just how willing he is to trust us with such important matters. Judging from the file he sets on the table between us, I believe he is very satisfied with what he is getting for his money. I am alone with him today, as Schuldich is taking Nagi around to fill in the blanks with several branches. Nagi could have gone by himself, but Schuldich tagged along because it means less of a chance of the workers brushing Nagi off. Not many people want to ignore a flame haired foreigner with cold eyes and condescending words. Farfarello is where he belongs, restrained in his room.

    Matthews sets the blue folder on his desk before letting himself fall backwards into his chair. I remain standing and do not reach towards the paperwork until he gestures at it. He does so with a small flick of his fingers, lifting his hand to his forehead next to sweep his bangs out of his hair. He is restless today, irritated and jumpy. It took us just two days to notice his mood swings. He is not the man that he fools the public into believing he is, all smiles and humble words, but some days he is much better at pretending. Other days, he has serious trouble pulling off even a grin. Today is one of those days where the mask has fallen free and the cold man shines through.

    He drums his fingers on the table lightly, gazing off to one side towards the expansive window on his wall, and I lift the folder to study the contents. The projects have all been neatly organized, separated by tabs and listed in an index. I flip through the index slowly, scanning it. “Are these to be done in any particular order?” I want to know.

    “I arranged them by difficulty,” he answers off-handedly. He glances up at me, studying me as I study the papers, and finally stabs a finger towards the chair opposite him. “Sit.”

    I obediently lower myself, considering his excuse for the ordering of projects. I skim a few pages, trying to get an estimate at what he thinks our competency is. It doesn’t take me long to realize that he has got it all backwards. He thinks of Schwarz as a group rather than a unit. Going off of the past few days’ examples and what Rosenkreuz has to say about our group, he set up this syllabus of projects. But I am the Oracle of Schwarz, and I think of Schwarz by its members. I know what we are capable of individually, and that means we have different ideas of what can and can’t be done yet. Doing it his way would be messier, though he doesn’t realize it.

    “Is the order important?” I want to know.

    He sends a frown at me. “What does it matter?”

    I consider a tactful way to put it, still flipping idly from one project for the other. “You said that it was arranged by the estimated order of difficulty. I was wondering if priority was also taken into concern, or if we can work on these at will.”

    He gives a shake of his head, still frowning at me. “The most important are all highlighted within the sections. The rest don’t matter. Why?” he demands, tilting his head to one side to eye me. “If I told you that they were, what would you do?”

    “Schwarz would go by how you have arranged the projects,” I answer easily, lifting cool brown eyes from the pages to meet his stare. I am finished going through the folder and I close it, resting it in my lap and lacing my fingers loosely together on top of it. “We would start with priority projects and then complete the rest in the order given to us.”

    “And if not?”

    “I would fix it,” is my easy answer. I drop tact for simple truth.

    It irritates him to be told he’s made a mistake. He reaches out a hand for the folder and I obediently turn it over. He flips through it, crinkling some of the pages as he does so. “Fix it,” he echoes. “You’re saying you can do it in an order other than what I’ve put here, that I’ve underestimated your competence.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    He sends me a sneer, slamming the open folder down onto the desk. “Then prove your competency to me and do this one first.”

    I study the paper in silence for a few moments. “It is impossible,” I answer simply.

    “And how is that?” he wants to know.

    “Things are not ready for such a move now.”

    “And if I ordered you to do it?”

    “I would have to respectfully decline,” I answer, lifting my eyes from the folder to meet his gaze. Outraged eyes snap to my face and I explain before he can belt out some angry words. “We were assigned to you with the orders to do all that you asked, under the condition that I did not judge it to be detrimental to Schwarz. Schwarz as a unit is yours to control. Schwarz as people are my call, and I could not accept this order from you with their well-being in mind. If you chose that project to be top priority, we would immediately start doing the prerequisite work for it, but we would not do it without such preparations.”

    His jaw works as he considers that and I can tell he's visibly restraining his anger. I am not at all intimidated by his bad mood. Schwarz has worked with much worse clients before. I feel safe in my indifference towards his pissiness when I know that I'm within my rights to refuse him this. Considering how much control I'm going to lose in the upcoming weeks, I refuse to give any ground right here.

    "I see." Matthews says at last. He pushes the folder back towards me and I obediently pick it up and resettle it in my lap, waiting for his decision. It seems he isn't ready to give ground to me yet, however, for he tilts his head to one side and fixes me with a sharp look. "Who draws the line between what is and isn't going to happen?" he wants to know. "Who is the one who gets to justify it to Rosenkreuz if I am displeased by your failure to obey?"

    "Schwarz is my responsibility," I answer easily. "As its leader and its prescient, Rosenkreuz trusts my decision."

    "So I control you, and you control them."

    "As long as it will not put my team in danger, yes."

    He is silent. I don't think he likes being told that his ambitions and life work don't rank above our lives and blood. I don't care what he thinks. Rosenkreuz wants this man, yes, but they will not have him at our expense. "And where is the line drawn?" he demands to know. "What is too far?"

    A hand on my face; a voice at my ear. That is too far.

    "Only time will tell," I answer. "I will not judge anything you do this far in advance. These," and I tap my folder, "are not asking too much, as long as you will trust our judgment in them. We can begin work on the most important projects this very afternoon, and you will see clear results within a few days. Schwarz works on give and take of trust, Mr. Matthews."

    "I trust you to do the job and you trust me not to file a complaint with Rosenkreuz?"

    Note to self: have Schuldich find out why Matthews is in such a cranky mood today. He'll have to do it the roundabout way due to the man's shields, but there are plenty of indirect ways to get the job done. We need to be able to judge and predict Matthews' moods, and his anger could be stemmed from either something inconsequential or something that will come back and haunt us later. I'd rather it not be the latter. Better safe than sorry, so I'll talk to Schuldich as soon as I get home. In the meantime, I'm stuck dealing with him. It's nothing new. A lot of our clients have been moody and hard to work with. Case A, Takatori. Schuldich swore he'd make a yearly pilgrimage to that man's grave to deface it, but when we were moved out of Tokyo, he settled for completely destroying it instead. Six weeks after our arrival in the States, I was informed that Takatori's body was found in the sewer system. I have no clue what Schuldich gave Farfarello to dig it back up out of its grave, and I'm not really sure I want to know.

    "We trust you to hold true to your promise," I answer Matthews. "We will give you what you want. You want these corporations. You want results. You want power and money. We can give these to you, and we will. I know my team and I know what we are capable of."

    "And you'll protect them at all costs." It's said with a sneer.

    I think of the vision of his son getting run down in the street. When I told Schuldich, he laughed himself sick. Nagi didn't find it amusing at all, and shut the door in Schuldich's face when the German said it would be great publicity for our client. Nagi can be touchy when it comes to young kids and I know he's not happy about what's going to happen to Matthews' youngest, but I can trust him not to interfere when the time comes. Nagi is at best someone to be cautious around; one has to know how to handle him. Our clients represent everything Nagi hates about society and everything he wishes he could destroy. On a good day he is completely indifferent to their wishes; on a bad he dreams of their deaths. Schuldich has a big hand in keeping him steady on the line between the two extremes, and it is careful touch and go to keep the telekinetic moving with us. Nagi's loyalties were sealed to us long ago, and that is really the only thing that keeps him faithful to our work. Schuldich is the cause of most of that- he was in the right place at all the right times, and Nagi has decided that he can stomach our clients if it's what the team wants. Schuldich wasn't there for him out of compassion but because he knew that's what it would take. I think he's grown fond of the boy in his own twisted way over the years, but for the most part Nagi is just a longterm project to him. I think Nagi knows this, but the boy doesn't say anything, and we keep on how we are.

    "Schwarz is a business of its own, Mr. Matthews," I tell him. "Businesses don't do well when you cut out its major branches."

    "Business," he mutters with a snort. "Security, personnel, information resources, and management?"

    I am almost amused at the neat way he has divided Schwarz up into the slots. The roles he has chosen for us are appropriate. Almost amused, but he has that coldly calculating look in his eye that means nothing but trouble for me. "Astute," I murmur, because there is nothing else to say. Silence falls between us for a long moment and then he gives a sharp wave of his hand.

    "Get out," he says. "Start with priority projects. I want you to tell me what you're going to do to get me my businesses. How soon can you have that figured out?"

    I glance at my watch. It's half past eight in the morning right now. "We can have everything ready for you by two today, and start work directly after the consultation."

    That mollifies him somewhat; I can see some of the hostile tension ease from his shoulders. "Fine," he says. "Two today, my upper office. I want to see your whole team." We have yet to be to the office he is referring to, and he remembers that just a moment later. "Room 712 in the Carolinian building. Be there."

    I nod once and rise, adjusting my grip on his files, and dismiss myself with a simple "Mr. Matthews."

    He doesn't answer and I cross the room to the door, and I feel his eyes boring into my back the whole way there.


    Schuldich crunches loudly on some carrots, blue eyes moving over the files spread out before him. I spent an hour in my room upon arriving back at Matthews' estate to prepare a report and outline for my team. Our clients are never able to put their plans into a format that my team can follow; they think too differently from us. None of my teammates had been here when I arrived, as Schuldich had taken the younger two out to scope out Matthews' properties. I heard them arrive about fifteen minutes before I finished- Schuldich gave my door a single rap to let me know they'd made it back. Now that everything is rearranged and I have enough copies for all of my teammates, we have gathered in our den to examine the work. Nagi and Farfarello have remained silent so far, reading in silence. Schuldich asks questions now and then. Some of them seem reasonable, others off the wall, but I know that every one is important. I answer him if I know what to say and he and I take notes on finding answers to what I don't know.

    The telepath reaches for another baby carrot and eats it in one bite, chewing noisily as he flips the last page over. He considers the blank back for a while before pushing himself up where he was leaning over the table, and he flops back against the cushions of his chair. "Greedy little sucker, isn't he?" he observes, speaking around a mouthful of carrots. I'm given a nice view of orange mush.

    -Greedy and impatient,- I answer, using our mental link in case one of the servants is within hearing distance. -He is in an unstable mood today. When we go see him, I want you to find out why.-

    Schuldich just nods. Farfarello laughs quietly, closing his own file. Schuldich sends him a sidelong glance, blue eyes searching. He asked Farfarello yesterday about his sudden interest in Matthews, and the Sensitive had had nothing to offer him except a reassurance that the man would prove amusing. Schuldich knows the sorts of things Farfarello finds amusing, and he isn't sure what to make of it. For the most part he tends to agree with the Irishman, but he can't figure out how Matthews is in anyway entertaining. Farfarello usually saves his amusement for people that we're going to screw over and kill, not those we aid.

    I know exactly what he's thinking, and I don't appreciate being considered amusing.

    Nagi glances Farfarello's way as well but doesn't let his gaze linger, and he goes back to reading. I wait until he is finished before speaking again. Schuldich steadily makes his way through the bowl of carrots, and Farfarello leans over to steal a few for himself. He gnaws idly on one, yellow eye fixed on me, and I ignore him in favor of considering the files in my hand.

    At last Nagi closes his file and nods. I lean back in my chair and set my files down in my lap. I gave them the projects in order of completion, and the packets are neatly organized to show which jobs are interrelated. When I move, Schuldich and Nagi obediently flip back to the first one. Farfarello nibbles on another carrot instead. "First up, Southbell Enterprises," I say. "Schuldich, you're working the web for this one. Nagi, we'll want schedules. On the job," I glance at Nagi, then shift my gaze back to the telepath, "off the job. This is going to be a five day project and we start work tonight."

    "Salvation radius?" Schuldich wants to know, snitching the last two carrots from the bowl.


    That gets a low whistle from him, and his smirk is approving and eager. Southbell is one of Matthews' biggest worries, one of their major competitors, so of course Matthews wants it cleared out first. We're going to take it completely apart in five days. It's a company with tens of billions in trades and stocks, with a reach that spreads through seven countries. Seventeen thousand employees are about to lose their jobs.

    "He'd be smart to pull it back up again," Nagi remarks, skimming the company profile. "If he made it an offer right before it collapsed, we could salvage it. It could be his next shadow industry."

    "You kidding?" Schuldich asks, arching an eyebrow at the Japanese youth. "You should have heard the things going through his council's minds when he briefed us two days ago on the way things stand. Very bitter grudges and rivalry there- they'd rather see Southbell sink into the earth than get a hidden hold on it."

    Nagi just shakes his head at the stupidity of stubborn grudges in the face of great opportunity. Schuldich flips through the papers for Southbell again, considering the papers in silence. "Four hundred employees at this main office," he observes. "How large of a web?"

    "Top ten percent; eleven if you feel it necessary."

    "Ahhh~ Going to be a bitch of a day tomorrow." Schuldich reaches up to push his hair behind his shoulders and flops back in his chair, considering the ceiling. "When has his majesty called on us?"

    "He will see us at two," I say, looking towards the clock. "We are leaving in half an hour."

    They nod and accept my words as dismissal. Nagi gathers his papers up to carry them back to his room, and Schuldich and Farfarello remain where they are. The German is humming some random tune, eyes closed as he allows himself a few minutes to relax. I rise to my feet and leave the room, uninterested in being in the same place as Farfarello. As I have just touched the doorknob for my bedroom, however, a pale hand moves into my line of vision and fingers close over the doorframe. I turn a cool look on my European teammate, hazel and yellow meeting. Farfarello considers me in silence for a long moment, a serene look on his face. He cannot hold the expression for long before his lips twitch into a satisfied smirk, and he pushes himself away from me and heads down the hall.

    "Tick tock, tick tock," he says as he heads down the hall. "And the clock counts down."

    I ignore him and let myself into my room, all too happy to shut the door and block him out.


    The elevator stops on the seventh floor, and I lead my team out as the doors slide open. Four pairs of shoes thud softly against the carpet as we start down the hall. Matthews' secretary looks up as we approach and she offers us a small smile, lifting one hand from the keyboard of her computer to indicate the thick chairs in the waiting room. "I'm sorry," she says. "He has a guest with him now. Please be seated and he will call you in momentarily."

    "Of course," I say, and we find our seats. Schuldich sits down to one side of me. Farfarello, unsurprisingly, picks the chair directly opposite me across the room. He has one of his knives out and he sits slouched in his chair, running the blade gently over his fingertips. His attention is on the sharp metal for now but I know from experience that it will switch to me before long, and I content myself with staring at the wall a bit to his left. Schuldich rummages through the magazines on the side table and Nagi stands against the wall, hands curled around the file he opted to bring with him. For several minutes, the only sounds are those of Schuldich turning pages of the magazine and the fluttering of the keys at the secretary's computer.

    It doesn't take long before the door opens, and Schwarz rises as Matthews guest leaves. The man nods to us as he passes. His face is unfamiliar but I know Schuldich is identifying him and finding out the reasons for his visit, if he didn't do so during the wait. Farfarello is the last to his feet; he's in no rush to pay respect to our client. His knife vanishes with a small flash of metal and Matthews motions for us to enter his office. He stops by his secretary to set up phone calls and to give her instructions for faxing, so I start for his door.

    "And you," Matthews says before I can get there, glancing my way. I obediently stop, giving a small flick of my fingers to tell my team to keep going. "Here. This came in today." He offers me a fax printout, and I recognize the letter head as being from Dreyden and the rest of the American Rosenkreuz unit. I glance it over but don't take the time to read it now, and Matthews points to his office before turning back on his secretary. I turn away, tuning out his useless instructions, and start for his office. I am holding out the file, ready to turn it over to Nagi so he can keep it secure in his file until we leave, but come to a halt in the doorway of Matthews' upper office.

    Expensive paintings line the walls, a show of wealth. Potted plants line the room, decorating the shelves and adding a bit of color to the place. The carpet is a light blue, and a clock hangs on the wall, ticking away the seconds.

    I know this room all too well.

    ---"Did you see this coming, clairvoyant?"---

    "Nagi," I say, forcing my attention away from the wooden desk. My youngest teammate glances my way and takes the paper from me, tucking it into his folder obediently. Farfarello is already across the room, holding the blinds open with a few fingers to admire the view. Schuldich is muttering something on the mental lengths, some random observations about the room and his opinion of the potted plants. I don't listen to him. My attention is caught on Farfarello, who is turning away from the window to turn a cold smile on me. His single eye is glittering with an unhealthy excitement and he bares his teeth at me through the smile.

    "I like this place," he says. "Don't you, Crawford?"

    One of these days, I really will just give into temptation and shoot him.

Part 4
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