Faruq knit his brow, but not at Coronach or her question. He was still puzzling over the sight of his new intern-- or, more particularly, her sex. "What?"
"Y'panicked message t'her. Y'thought I'd..." the special investigator shrugged.
Georgie, whom had slouched positively shamefacedly into his office as though guilty by association with Specialist Ullien, was finally relieved of Faruq's penetrating gaze. "...thought you'd drag her straight into casework without anything in the way of training or induction? Yes. You have a lot of bad habits I don't want passed on. But then, I don't think you do, either."
Coronach nodded to the commander, inclining her neutral expression toward Georgie as though to signal that he had just said something to his own credit. What, the intern couldn't fathom. "Jus' so."
Faruq coughed, straightening his shoulders. Close-shaven, pressed into a crisp suit, he gave he impression that he didn't wear his status-- rather, he tried his best to stretch himself out into a suitable garment for it. Georgie didn't know why, but his unexpected gentleness made her stomach sink lower. It was so hard, in places like these where everyone on every side was just real enough to have surrendered the illusion of a crisp, clean bureaucracy-- at least where the institution was forced to swat down in a ramshackle inner city nest of frustrated hubris and detritus. It was hard to know how to comport oneself. Illusions cleaved to the canon. Easier to teach a child to be polite than frank.
Georgie realized her mind was wandering again, and that Faruq was talking. She cursed her introspective, poetic streak. She cursed the fact that this was the only internship she could get (no offense to these people, of course).
"--handbooks and guidelines are available somewhere on the network I gave you access for. But you'll learn best by doing, and learning to learn by doing is also a good skill, as far as being an intern goes. This latest job we have is a private one, so we won't have to follow any other departments' standard procedure on top of our own."
"Y'friends from real gov'ment, then?" Coronach broke in.
Faruq's lip twitched in spite of himself, but he ignored the remark. He seemed apprehensive rather than impatient now that he'd met his intern in the flesh. As though now that she was human he couldn't help wanting to extend her every possible aid. "So do you mind if I leave you with-- ah, here he is--."
Georgie turned, trying to swallow down the sickness she always got with suddenness as she was greeted by the upraised hand of a nondescript Philie, a local like her. You could always pick out the people with no loyalties outside Econphilos. They were an easy-going breed, herself seemingly excepted.
"Miss Grey, Yetz," the thick brown man blinked at her indifferently. "And vice versa. Er, as I was saying Miss Grey, you wouldn't mind standing back and watching how Yetz and Rona-- Specialist Ullien go at it this first day and then seeing about how we can involve you more?"
Georgie realized she was supposed to respond, squeaking: "S-- yes."
Faruq seemed genuinely pained by her nervousness, and he hesitated as though trying to search out better words of welcome. But Specialist Ullien waved at his desk as though to dismiss him back into the role of command, her many layers of black tittering at him as she breezed past Georgie.
"S'be fine and welcome, wha'wi Yetz always bitching 'bout wanting more help with recordswork, Commander."
"Only because you never help at all," Yetz muttered, but good naturedly. It was a jest such as he'd share with any of his colleagues, but he seemed to force it with Coronach; Faruq was the only person who, as Georgie and Specialist Ullien had entered the bureau, hadn't winced at the sight of the latter.
Faruq edged back toward his desk, directing not at Coronach, but Yetz. "Yes, well. Do set an example for her."
"Thank you." Georgie felt somehow compelled to whisper that, however weakly, as she followed her-- colleagues, or perhaps wardens-- out past Faruq's alternately relieved and encouraging smile. She wondered at the dartboard portrait of Councillor Spyridon Mavrok hanging on the door but tried not to look wondering.
The Missing Persons Bureau was a miserable place. Someone, early on in the construction of the first Martian colonies to harbor those diverse bands of immigrants who wanted nothing to do with the politico-psychological revolution taking place on Anthropeden, had started out furnishing all buildings in that modish, minimalist, sterile pastel style so in vogue at the turn at the twenty first century (no doubt with an eye to frugality and grafting funds). Later good taste had prevailed, but too late for many government buildings. Many had been renovated since. Someone had made an attempt to refashion the MPB in a contemporary style, with one or two tactile screens that could ape the texture and fullness of some of Mars' finest artists, whether their medium happened to be paint or ferrofluid and a warm brown coat of paint over some of the walls. But the finances had left the attempt aborted. The floors were dingy, grimy tile and the lights above cast stark illumination over the halls that white-washed them half to grey.
Coronach looked quite at home in the mess. Yetz looked indifferent. Georgie was trying not to let the ambiance sink her spirits even further. She was trying to figure out some way to convey to them, in spite of her wincing and shying and general timidity, her willingness to try and prove competent.
"What did-- you mean by 'real government' back there?" she tried at Coronach's back.
There was an agonizing period of silence, during which the Specialist appeared to be hoping her companion would spare her the trouble of answering. But, of course, he hadn't been there for that part of their briefing. At length, without turning, she mumbled:
"I meant 'conphilos's Social Venture Co'litions."
Unhelpfully, the Specialist didn't elaborate. Georgie feared asking more, feared looking stupid, and Yetz didn't appear interested in anything but walking quick as possible to his office to get work over with. Social Venture Coalitions and the rich philanthropists whose investments they competed for tended to be the primary source of all Mars' social welfare programmes, what with all the fervor to decentralize after Anthropeden had gained dominion over even its subjects' minds... It wasn't a bad practice, all told, forcing hopeful young idealists to put as much acumen an expertise in their designs as their ambitious corporate brothers and sisters must put in theirs. The threat of corruption loomed large over the enterprise-- but then, where didn't it?
Real government. They must be successful, Georgie thought. Made one wonder why the Police Commander was working in such abject circumstances. Or was Coronach only joking? Hard to tell, when the woman deadpanned everything.
"Has the bureau cooperated in one of their projects before?" She tried asking, indirectly. She cast her eyes anywhere but at Coronach as she did so, because she was a terrible liar. At the tiles glaring beneath all that hateful light, through a doorway in which some communication officers were trying to force compassion enough into their bored voices to console friends and family they really couldn't do anything for. They had sleek, glistening comm-wires looping from their ears and close to their mouths, and each was speaking softly so as to be heard solely by his or her own client. In Anthropeden, however, a telepathic link would have been set, and--.
Georgie stumbled back as she near-collided with Coronach. The special investigator had stopped to turn a lidded eye on her, ignoring Yetz's impatience. "...Nnn. We're t'much've a lost cause f'even them..."
Georgie began worrying that she'd struck the wrong chord, and swallowed. "O--oh..."
"Still," Coronach shrugged, turning away. "There's status n'gov'ment. N'right, Yetz?"
"If by status you mean stable pay," he answered boredly as they began to walk once more.
"Stable pay 'cause y'a symbol..." she returned, faintly, seemingly falling into step with his disinterest and dropping the subject.
As for Georgie, she was left recalling, rather too explicably, how surprised she'd been to find a Muslim in one of Econphilos's security offices, no matter how estrange.
Then, as they entered a room filled with plasmatics and ground lines snaking down into Econphilos's bureaucratic mainframe, she was stricken by a more insidious thought. It was hard to sustain whilst she watched Coronach and Yetz put in a dozen futile calls to try and put together intel on the missing person they were to find. Easier, once they took to the streets and Yetz began differing to Coronach's erratic, inspired weave through the city.In short, Georgie had started wondering just how prescient the seemingly broken woman might be.