The Exiled Prince — Chapter 9: Name Your Price
“That’s odd!” The young man mused, puzzled by this result. “Why can’t I?”
The AI butler concurred, stating the obvious. “Apparently, you do not have access to that information.”
“Do not bother with such nonsense, Armand!” An old man entered the cramped office space from another door behind the desk. “I, myself, do not have access to such confidential information, either.”
The young man stiffened, respectfully greeting the newcomer. “Headmaster!”
“How long have you been waiting?” The old man slightly waved his right hand, swiping all miniature projections away. His face looked serious as he pointed his left hand towards the guest chair behind the young man.
Armand simply nodded and sat down. “Not that long, Sir.”
“By the way, your one-sided rivalry with Dimitri is getting old to the point of being absurd!” The Headmaster grabbed his leather chair and sat down. “How about just focusing on completing your own missions rather than keeping score?”
“Besides, both of you are no longer kids!”
“You know us both really well, Sir.” The young man deliberately stared at the hologram, obviously annoyed at its presence. The AI butler still remained standing beside the old man. “I presume that you understand that there’s really nothing to it than just friendly banter.
“On the contrary!” The hologram interjected matter-of-factly. “I can absolutely recall quite accurately that you have been at each other’s throats for eight years now. I have complete video documentation!”
“Enough!” The Headmaster’s serious face turned into a frown, his voice stern, exuding authority. “Give me a quick update on Dimitri’s last mission that you had to finish, yourself.”
“Completed as planned,” Armand answered succinctly.
“And the mess in Central Square?” The old man started prying, his already knitted brows relaxing a bit, his face showing extreme interest.
The young man wondered why the Headmaster still bothered to ask him all these questions. All the answers could be found in the report that he had already submitted yesterday. He thought it uncharacteristic of the old man not to read his report real time.
He felt slightly annoyed, baffled at the Headmaster’s unnecessary interrogation. Yet, he still managed to respond politely. “Totally under control, Sir.”
“And the woman?” The old man waved his right hand. A tiny virtual projection of the Central Square incident appeared above his desk.
Armand glanced at the screen with indifference. “Rigged as a suicide. As expected, the police bought it and their report confirmed suicide as the cause of death.”
“And all the other police investigations?” The Headmaster meticulously skimmed through the detailed information displayed on the screen.
“All related cases are now closed.” The young man sighed. He knew that this impromptu debriefing would take a while.
The old man focused his attention on the miniature virtual projections. Still completely engrossed, he slowly asked, “Any remaining family members we need to know about?”
Armand shook his head. “The mission team’s comprehensive report indicated otherwise.”
“Any leads on the resistance?” The Headmaster looked up and stared straight into the young man’s eyes.
“We seem to have chased a dead end.” Armand sighed. “Those two were mere pawns for diversion purposes that actually worked.
“That was not quite the case! Dimitri was on to something.” The AI butler interjected. “You, on the other hand, are just too lazy to investigate further.”
The young man tried to keep his composure despite his growing annoyance at the hologram. “Headmaster, may I speak with you, alone?”
“Mikhail, activate private mode,” the old man commanded.
“As you wish, Headmaster.” The AI butler gave a courteous bow before disappearing. “Private mode activated.”
“You didn’t summon me here just to give you an update on the mission, right, Headmaster? My report already included all the necessary details.”
“You’re right!” The old man waved his right hand again to clear all the miniature projections above his desk. “I did not call you here for that.”
With a questioning look, Armand stared at the Headmaster. “Is there another covert operation that you need me for, Sir?”
“Yes and no!” The old man answered vaguely with a faraway look in his eyes. “Yes, I need your help. And no, it is not your usual covert operation.”
“How can I be of service?” The young man inquired eagerly.
“You have been Dimitri’s closest rival since you were both thirteen!” The Headmaster spoke with a subtle hint of worry in his tone. “You have been studying him as your most worthy opponent while trying to beat him all these years.”
“I need you to keep an eye on him from the moment he wakes up!” The old man firmly gave his direct order to Armand. “Find out if he really has amnesia.”
“But Sir, if I may, wouldn’t that be counterproductive?” the young man inquired tactfully. “Our outpost already has tests for that sort of thing. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to just allow him to undergo all those tests instead?”
“Before his coma, he underwent those tests for a whole month while you were out completing his last mission. Unfortunately, the initial test results were inconclusive.”
“I see.” Armand nodded as realization slowly dawned on him. “So his having amnesia has something to do with that secret program, doesn’t it? Otherwise, you wouldn’t bother summoning me here and briefing me about this job discreetly.
“Actually, I honestly do not know. We do not have conclusive proof yet. Headquarters have been keeping mum about their operations lately. Our sources smell something brewing but have practically no clue as to what’s going on at HQ right now.”
“Now, if you will agree, I will set the both of you up as partners on all missions moving forward to avoid any suspicion. You will both report only to me, directly, and to no one else.”
“As for compensation, you can name your price.”
“I’m good with that, Sir.” The young man agreed doubtfully. “However, Dimitri prefers to work alone all the time. Even with his amnesia, I doubt he would work well with anyone, more so with me.”
“Well, he really does not have a choice on this matter, does he?” The Headmaster’s flat tone sounded urgent. “There is a lot at stake here, Armand. Our future lies heavily on his success. The consequences of failure are too dire for us not to take action.”
“And if Dimitri turns out to be really unfit for the program?” The young man prodded, still unconvinced. “Would it be possible for you to assign someone else like me to replace him on the program instead?
“I would have already done that a long way back, if I could,” the old man replied truthfully. “Unfortunately, only our superiors at headquarters wield the authority to replace him.”
The Headmaster pulled up a virtual projection of Dimitri. “Besides, considering Dimitri’s peculiar situation right now, are you sure that is what you really want?”
Before Armand could reply, Mikhail suddenly appeared beside the old man.
“Headmaster!” The AI butler seemed ecstatic. “I apologize. I need to interrupt. This new information supersedes your prior instruction.”
Both men turned to the hologram.
“What is it, Mikhail?”
The AI butler simply smiled. “Dimitri is finally awake.”