The Ministry was an immense structure, almost a city unto itself. It ran for miles and had its own shuttle service, to ferry VIP's or technicians from one end to another. You could work there for years and not see all of it, and of course there were the restricted areas few did see. It was easy to get lost, and even easier perhaps to lose perspective, surrounded as you were by like- minded souls and never seeing the practical effects of your work. All of this ran through Eric's mind as he sat at a conference room table waiting.
Across from him Anna was looking at her datapad absently, but he could see she was distracted. Nervous, too. They had made it as far as the reception area before they were scooped up by security and whisked into a conference room over looking the courtyard. That felt like it had been hours ago. A carafe of water, some coffee, and lots of waiting. At one point McKittrick had appeared, breezing in with an armful of files, all business. Eric knew him vaguely, a mid-level functionary who was no doubt trying to round up whoever could really talk to them.
"Look, is there a reason we can't report to our area? Why are we being held?" Eric had asked.
"You're not being held. You're waiting," McKittrick had replied in that harried tone of voice he had.
"Waiting for who, exactly?" Eric kept his voice calm.
"Waiting. As in someone will see you when they can. You're not supposed to be here, you know," he lowered his voice conspiratorially. "You caused quite a stir coming in the front door like that. Weren't you supposed to sit tight?"
"Yes, we were," Eric replied. "And I'm afraid that's not acceptable. We come in, shot all to hell, missing three people, and we're told to sit tight? Seriously? What's going on?"
"Eric..." Anna started.
"No, I get it.This takes time to sort out. It's been a couple days. I want answers." Eric couldn't keep his voice from rising.
"Yes, yes, we all want answers. This doesn't just affect you, you know," McKittrick pointed out. "You were off visibility for a while, I'm told. Several days?" Raised eyebrows.
"You could say that, yes. We were on Tantalus IV and it all went south. Anna and I..."
"Yes, wherever," McKittrick waved that away dismissively. "I'm more interested in where you were after that."
Eric just sat there. "Yes, wherever" is where he had lost three people. He'd had enough.
"You know what? Shove it up your ass, McKittrick. Get someone in here or I'm walking. And quickly." To be honest he didn't know where he'd go, he wasn't exactly playing from a position of strength, but he didn't care. Enough was enough. McKittrick sputtered on a bit more and then left in a huff. Anna was standing by the window, looking down over the courtyard, and just shook her head when he came over.
"Well that's an auspicious beginning."
"Wasn't it though?"
"It's not really funny. We should have waited, like we were told to."
"Wait how long? Until some security shows up at the apartment and we're... disappeared? No thanks. If they're going to hang us out to dry I want to be here and get some answers at least, beforehand."
"Yeah, me too," she sighed.
The courtyard was the largest of several in the Ministry complex. It was immense, with parkland and trails, several ponds and even a landing pad for emergency traffic. Eric watched people coming and going, saw several air transports flit by, without really seeing them. He'd worked here now for nine years, he believed in the mission, had even met Anna here. And he wondered if he'd done the right thing, coming here unannounced, upsetting the apple cart. They were obviously mixed up in something that went beyond surveying Gates, but what ? And why now, after several years of routine work?
The door hissed open behind them and they both turned to see three people enter. Summers and Dana walked in, and their faces lit up when they saw Eric and Anna. Summers told the security guard with them that he could wait outside, it was okay, and he nodded curtly and left. Then there were hugs all around and lots of excited talking as everyone tried speaking at once. Finally Summers waved his hands, laughing, and said "Alright, alright, let's sit down and get right to it. We don't have long," he added, glancing at the door.
"What does that mean?" Eric asked as they sat down.
"It means we only have a few minutes before we have company. Why did you come in? We wanted you to sit tight, out of sight, until we could work some things out."
Anna looked at Eric with her eyebrows raised. Eric just sighed, holding up his hands. A smile toyed at the corner of Dana's mouth. Nothing more need be said.
"Are you guys okay?" Dana asked. "We saw your debriefs but a lot of it was redacted."
"We're fine," Anna replied. "But what is going on?"
"First of all, we're sorry about your team. About... everything." Dana was clenching and unclenching her hands, looked at Summers, who nodded. "We didn't know, until too late."
"The word was that the entire team was lost," Summers added. "We were devastated. That's part of the reason they didn't want you here. Revising their story and all that," he said, rubbing his eyes. "As you know, surveying Gates hasn't exactly been controversial. In fact it was considered a legitimate use of resources. But things have changed. There's been a new find." He looked at Dana.
"Right," she said. "A survey team came in a few weeks ago, their report went to the highest levels. Apparently... they found another Gate. There's speculation that it's a master Gate." She paused, to let that sink in. "And things changed after that. Your mission was already a go, already approved. But we heard things. And you were already gone."
Eric and Anna exchanged a glance.
"And now they're... erasing the survey teams, or what? And why would they do that?" Eric asked.
"We don't know yet. We only know this much thanks to Moira. Who wants to see you by the way. She's going to reach out, I'm told."
"So she's not a part of this?"
"She is a part of it. She knows everything that happens, you know that."
"Nobody knows everything," Anna muttered to herself.
"They're watching all of us now," Summers added. "As you can see from our guest," he inclined his head toward the door. "Supposedly he's with us for security reasons, but I'm sure he listens very closely as well."
"So who is they?" Anna wanted to know. "Who are we talking...?
At that moment the door hissed open.