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Every Time, Everywhere #0007: Hal


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> Be Hal.

You are now Hal, the mysterious woman on the other end of Slinus Segall and Richard Devilish Jr.'s phones.

You're a member of the Mercenary Consortium, which is a sort of ... specialist agency. Someone wants a job done, it's the Consortium's job to find someone who'll do it and do it well. And the fact that this "someone" is asking for help from an agency called the Mercenary Consortium goes a long way towards explaining what kind of job it is. You personally are part of the business end of the Consortium — which is to say, the end that bullets come out of.

Looks? You don't got time for looks. "Unkempt" is practically the uniform here, setting aside weirdos like Segall who try to look good. Good suits and dresses would only get rumpled and bloodied. (You get a kick out of telling people, "Don't worry, it's not my own blood," because it's the least reassuring thing you could possibly say.) Ironing your clothes and wearing makeup would probably be a dress code violation. You guess you're this Caucasian woman with red hair, dressed in a men's business suit, and you're an inch or two shorter than Slinus Segall.

You were lucky enough to get hired during one of those fifteen-minute periods when the Consortium doesn't care if you're a man or a woman, instead of the vaguely misogynistic bullshit they have going on most of the rest of the time, and you've even gotten to be the leader of your own team — you can't fire anyone, but the rest of the team has to do what you tell them. Theoretically, at least. The team is called the Million Cents, for reasons which probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but it invariably leads to "ten thousand dollars" jokes whenever you drop the name. You respect the other three members of your team as coworkers, but damned if they don't get all up in your grill ninety percent of the time. Your name is Hallianna Bernstein, also known as Silent Singer, and you are having a bad day today.

A few days ago, someone came to the Consortium with a particular job. You don't know anything about them, just that they're designated as "Client #2014/12/08-1211" by the Consortium. You also didn't know about the job until twenty minutes ago, when they passive-aggressively foisted it upon the Million Cents after a supposed slip-up Segall made because he let someone go he shouldn't have. Your response, which fell on deaf ears, was: get real, there wasn't any way he could've known about this, we aren't supposed to know about any jobs that don't concern us.

Well, now it concerns you, and now Richard Devilish, Jr. is making things a lot harder for everyone, including presumably everyone in Fin Dining, by bellyaching about interruptions to his lunch instead of listening to a word you're saying. To be fair, Fin Dining is a damn fine di— uh, a damn good restaurant, but nothing warrants this bull hockey.

"Devilish, I'm serious," you say. "According to Segall —"

"You know what else is according to Segall? The food's GOOD here!" he says.

"We have been arguing for ten solid minutes, and it became a gigantic waste of time thirty seconds in," you say.

He replies, "What a coincidence, I feel the same way!"

A familiar feeling stirs. That feeling is overwhelming, soul-blackening rage. It's the sort of rage that'll make a woman feel totally justified in sporting an unnecessarily elaborate assortment of fancy blades, guns, explosives, and special moves, as well as ordering the fourth member of the Million Cents to bounce this clown like a basketball.

He continues, "Now listen here, Hal, I — hey!" There's a brief sound of a scuffle, and his voice becomes a lot quieter. "Gimme my phone back!"

"Hey there," says the voice of the girl Segall ran into on the rooftop.

You furrow your brow. Well, this was unexpected. "Who is this?" you ask, strictly for the record.

"Name's Jenny Everywhere, I ran into Slinus when I dropped into the city," she says smoothly. You can hear Richard Devilish, Jr. screaming and flailing with impotent fury in the background.

"Ah, yes," you say, as if you didn't recognize her voice from the recording Segall made; nothing fancy, he just turned his phone's recorder on and kept it in his pocket. He didn't get a chance to get her face, but ... "I'd say I'm kind of in the middle of trying to talk to Richard Devilish, Jr. here, but, well ... it sounds like you've gotten the gist of the situation very loudly."

"Yeah, really," Jenny says sympathetically. "I mean, there's never a good time to get into a screaming argument with your boss, but you think he'd've run out of steam after about, what, five minutes?" Richard Devilish, Jr. has gone quiet.

"Totally," you say drily.

"Yeah, so," she says, "It obviously has to be something important, so I'll just hand you back over to him, how's that sound?"

You grit your teeth. "Perfect," you say.

"All righty then, buh-bye!"

And then she fucking hangs up on you.

You mutter some choice expletives in English and German, then dial Richard Devilish, Jr. back up.

You hear everyone in the restaurant laughing as he picks up and says, "Uh, yeah?" in a small, plaintive voice.

"Well," you say, "I've got some good news, Dick ..."

> _

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Well, this is new.