Welcome To The Harem

Pawns by M. Edison
Summary: Deslea's rec: "A cool and sassy Harsh Realm crossover. There's just too much testosterone in this fic for two ordinary women. Fortunately, neither Marita nor Inga Fossa are ordinary women. Fun with canon and conspiracy with a side of smart girl style."

Title: Pawns
Author- M. Edison
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: None XF-wise. Vague reference to Sophie/Hobbes in HR
Feedback: Yes please, medison@thezone.net
Spoilers: General ones for the Harsh Realm series and Inga Fossa
Archive: Ephemeral, Gossamer, anywhere else. Ask first.
Disclaimer- They are not mine. If they were, both series would be
continuing on for a while. XF characters would be behaving like XF
characters and to hell with what anybody else thinks. *G*
Category: Crossover with Harsh Realm
Website: www.angelfire.com/tn/taycon/xf.html
Summary: A confrontation between two enigmatic women.

Author's note: Thank you Azar for the beta and the wonderful
encouragement!!!!!!!


Pawns
by M.
--------

Government House
Santiago City

Inga was sitting in the War room - as Santiago called it - reviewing
a progress report. Not that she needed it - her informants within the
Republican Guard ensured she never lacked for accurate information -
but she thought it prudent to be familiar with Santiago's version of
events. It would be a bad idea if he questioned her on it and she had
no answer. Quite possibly deadly.

That was one lesson her employers had ensured she learn intimately.
The Consortium was not known for its forgiving nature. Step out of
line within their sphere of influence and you very quickly - and
quietly - disappeared.

And there wasn't anywhere the Consortium's influence didn't reach,
her presence in Harsh Realm proved that. But by placing her in the
game her superiors had inadvertently given her something she'd only
been able to observe before. A taste of the power normally reserved
for their inner circle.

At Santiago's side, she might as well be a god. She had his ear, he
turned to her for information and counsel. She influenced his
decisions and, in some ways, controlled him.

It was intoxicating.

-*-*-*-*-*-*-

The Real World
En Route To the Harsh Realm Storage Facility

The black Lexus drifted out of traffic with absolutely no sign that
there was anything particularly important about it. Nothing that
would distinguish it from any other car, yet it was like no other car
it had passed. The difference was not found in the vehicle itself but
in the driver. That difference was not due to her stunning beauty or
the almost unearthly composure which emanated from her, though both
definitely added to her mysterious aura.

The true difference lay in the knowledge she held and the mission
she'd long ago taken upon herself.

Presenting her security pass to the guard at the gate, the blonde
waited with what seemed to be unending patience for him to verify and
return it.

Though she was not the first beautiful woman he'd seen, the young
guard flushed slightly when their hands brushed as he handed her pass
back. She paid it no heed, returning the plastic pass to her
briefcase before resting her hands on the steering wheel to wait for
the gate to open - driving through when it did.


-*-*-*-*-*-*-

The drive to the parking area was brief. With an almost serene
unhurriedness, she got out of the car then leaned back in to pick up
her soft-leather briefcase.

No one seemed to be watching as she advanced on the `storage
facility' and ran her pass through the electronic lock. She knew
differently of course. This building housed a top secret project of
great importance and it was watched very closely. More closely, in
some ways, than the White House. Security was of the utmost
importance. No one could be allowed to know what was really behind
the benign walls.

-*-*-*-*-*-*-
The procedures that followed were familiar to her, she'd visited the
facility before. Although, then her reasons for doing so had been
more routine, far less pressing than they now were. Nevertheless, she
forced herself to be patient as she was led to the room where she lay
down in the chair.

Closing her eyes, Marita Covarrubias waited to be scanned into Harsh
Realm.


-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-

Government House
Santiago City

It was imperative Santiago not see her, he would question her
identity, yet Marita strode through Government House as if she
herself were the one who owned it.

The Consortium was fully aware of the situation with Santiago, they
had assigned a liaison to ally herself to both the General and those
in the real world trying to stop him, but ordinarily The Cause
required more attention. Recent events now demanded Marita's presence
and the lovely blonde could not help feel a twinge of annoyance at
the thought. The Work was at a delicate and precarious stage - she
could not afford to be regularly faced with situations like these.

Frankly, it was an inconvenience and she *hated* to be
inconvenienced. A fact well known amongst those who dealt with her.
To be an inconvenience to Marita Covarrubias meant you were
dangerously close to being expendable. Those in the Consortium who
were considered expendable rarely received an opportunity to reverse
that status. They just didn't live long enough.

"You." Her voice was brisk and authoritative, bringing the young
Republican Guard officer to a quick stop.

"Yes ma'am?" he questioned, her manner leading him to believe she was
a person of importance.

"The room where General Santiago conducts his briefings...where is
it?"

Looking around to get his bearings, the young man paused before
speaking. "Down that corridor to your right. It's a large set of
double doors."

With a nod of thanks, she turned and walked in that direction.

-*-*-*-*-*-*-

The last thing Inga Fossa expected was to hear Marita Covarrubias's
voice. After all, Marita was in the Real World - right hand to CGB
Spender - hard at work on the Project. Helping the Colonists on one
hand while working to find the vaccine to the virus they'd soon set
loose upon the world, on the other.

So, when the other woman's cultured and cool voice briskly cut
through the silence with a "Hello, Inga," the brunette's head snapped
up swiftly, her expression one of shock.

Turning, she felt the aura of power she'd surrounded herself with
vanish as if it had never been in the face of the reminder that she
was only a cog in a very large wheel. One that would crush her if
felt so inclined. "Marita...what brings you here? You know it's a
risk to come into the Game, let alone to come to Government House. If
Santiago sees you..."

"He didn't." The tall blonde cut her off dismissively, walking around
her and over to the large map of the United States - with Santiago's
conquered territory marked - that dominated one end of the
room. "How much progress have you made in curtailing the General's
activities?"

Still standing at the table near the door, Inga brushed her
fingertips lightly across the polished surface. "It's delicate work.
General Santiago is a very shrewd man; if I move too quickly he'll
become suspicious and no doubt discover the fact my loyalties lie
elsewhere."

"Do they?" Marita prompted with a raised eyebrow. "Suspicions have
begun to circulate...rumours that you've betrayed the Work. They
believe you're no longer acting for our interests but your own. Your
apparent lack of progress is only serving to solidify those
suspicions."

"Those suspicions are false," the other woman argued, moving around
the half-moon table to stand next to her superior. "As I said,
Santiago is..."

"No fool. We are all aware of that but the fact remains, Colonization
is still getting closer daily and we soon will be unable to split our
attention. He cannot be allowed to inconvenience us for much longer."
Her gaze was unforgiving and offered no support. "I don't need to
tell you the consequences if we delay too long."

She was right. Inga didn't have to be told the consequences. If the
Consortium failed in defeating the colonists then Santiago wouldn't
have to worry about destroying the Real World. Colonization would do
it for him but the Colonists weren't likely to maintain the computers
that generated Harsh Realm, or tend the bodies of those who lived
within it. Harsh Realm would cease to exist.


"I am moving as quickly as I can," she repeated with a determined
tone.

"I'm sure you are," the other woman patronized. "But whose moves are
you playing out? Ours? Or your own?"

Inga, a woman who rarely allowed herself to even admit she had
emotions much less feel them, was beginning to become afraid.
Convincing Marita she was loyal to The Work was the only way to stay
alive. No doubt the Consortium had someone else situated within
Santiago's ranks, someone fully prepared to take over from her should
she be `removed' from her position. It was a chilling realization and
she knew she'd allowed herself to become too comfortable within her
assignment. Too sure that she was indispensable to the task.

Looking into Marita Covarrubias's face, she knew far differently. To
*Them* she was merely a pawn on a chessboard and an insignificant
pawn at that. One that could be sacrificed at any time.

She knew how it would happen: the other one, whoever had been chosen
to replace her should needs be, would approach Santiago with `proof'
that someone in his inner circle had betrayed him. Someone he trusted
more than anyone else. That news would send the General into a rage
and he would be all too happy to view this proof which, no doubt,
would be completely undeniable and easily verified. There would be no
trial, no chance to explain what was going on, she would be executed
swiftly and without mercy.

A similar scenario would play out with the generals and Project Heads
in the real world. The same person would approach with proof and
then, when it was discovered that Inga had `mysteriously' suffered a
brain haemorrhage, that person would take her place.

It was all too easy to manipulate both worlds. The Consortium had
seen to that. Seen to it she would be able to manipulate them
whenever she required it. But it could also be used against her and
she knew it.

Choosing her words carefully, Inga took a few steps away from her
superior before turning to face her again. "I have been forced to
deviate several times from the original strategy. There was no other
option."

"Explain."

"You are aware of the so-called `Prophecy' of Harsh Realm?"

Marita was: she had read a report on it written by the very woman she
now questioned. "I am."

"Well, a young soldier, a man named Thomas Hobbes, has entered the
Game and there are many people who believe he is the man of the
Prophecy."

"And why would they believe that?" the cool blonde questioned, taking
a seat at the table and brushing imaginary wrinkles from her
impeccable suit.

"He has done things within the Game that no one else has ever been
able to do: he has, with only minimal help, managed to elude Santiago
at every turn and he has a way about him. It leads people to believe
in him; to believe what he is capable of." Inga thought of her own
encounter with the young man and the strength she'd seen in his eyes.
Others might have doubted it, but she didn't. Hobbes was a threat to
Santiago's continued dominance of the Game and she suspected he was
one that couldn't be stopped.

"Can this soldier be used to our advantage?"

"Yes. He has all but declared war on Santiago and is actively looking
for ways to get close enough to kill him. He travels with two others:
a mute and a soldier who once served with the Republican Guard." Inga
returned to her paperwork and shuffled through her briefcase, finding
the files on Florence, Hobbes and Pinnochio. "A ragtag group but they
continually thwart any attempts by the Guard to capture or kill them."

Marita flipped languidly through the files, absorbing the information
that she was concerned with and ignoring any other extraneous
detail. "Have you attempted to make any contact with them?"

"Pinnochio doesn't trust me; we were involved here." Inga wasn't sure
what was more unnerving about the other woman. The sharp looks she
gave or the cool indifference with which she ignored. "But I have
spoken to Hobbes. He nearly left the Game once but I convinced him to
stay."

"How? Did he reach the Chair?" At the brunette's confirming nod,
Marita frowned. "Don't let security lapse that badly again."

"It was an attempt to trap him," the other woman justified. "I helped
him escape the building."

"Nevertheless, if this man is to be any use to us, there must be no
chance of his capture by Santiago. I will not invest resources into a
plan that will be easily defeated." Pushing to her feet, she walked
to the map again. It was best, in her opinion, if Inga didn't know
that the Consortium was gone. She, with Krycek's help, had managed to
pull together some of the network under her control. It wasn't as big
or as grand as the Consortium had been, but it served her purposes
and allowed her a fair degree of information and power. Some of it
had been maintained simply because none of those within the
organization believed that their leaders could possibly be taken away
so easily and she played upon that disbelief. It was a strategy that
wouldn't work on Inga, however. She knew the other woman was
ambitious for as much power as she could possess.

The one thing that truly held her in check was the belief that the
Consortium would have her killed if she even considered making a move
against them. Were she to know they were gone?

It would simply not be allowed to occur. Her resources did allow her
to control how much access Inga would have with her Consortium
contacts and, with some careful planning, it should not prove
difficult to deceive her.

"So, you wish me to move forward in the attempt to use Hobbes?" She
prompted after a long pause.

"Yes; but be careful how you move. He must not know of your
connections in the outside world. If he is the `innocent' you claim
him to be, discovery of The Work or even of the Consortium would
render him useless to us. He would behave like others we have dealt
with and that is unacceptable. The blame would lie on your shoulders
so I would advise you take great caution in your work."

The ice in her tone seemed to have thickened and Inga took the
message as it was intended to be received. Fail us and your worst
fears will be realized. She would be killed, or worse, used in the
testing process. With the Consortium there were worse things than
death. Much worse.

"I will keep you apprised of my progress," she promised, twining her
fingers together loosely before her, thumbs brushing against the
expensive material of her skirt.

"Good." The tall blonde began to make her way around the horseshoe
table once more. "And I trust you are aware that personal agendas are
not tolerated in The Work?" Another warning and another threat.

Inga nodded slowly, working hard to maintain the composure that
seemed effortless for the other woman. "I am aware."

"I will expect a report on your progress very soon." Marita
cautioned, the true statement coming across loud and clear.

Get to work, any delays will not be received well, our patience is
waning.

"You'll receive it."

I won't fail.

Opening the door, Marita strode out, letting it swing shut behind her.

Exhaling heavily, Inga dropped into the nearest chair and held her
forehead in one hand.

It was then she noticed that her hands were shaking.

-*-*-*-*-*-*-

Real World
Harsh Realm Facility

Marita's eyes opened without fanfare or a flurry of reaction and she
waited patiently as the doctors and technicians moved about,
disconnecting her from the Game's hardware. When they had completed
their work, she sat up and stood on shaky legs. It would take a
moment to adjust, the sensation almost like when one disembarks from
an airplane or a boat onto dry land, and she took that moment to pull
on the robe they offered while looking at the bodies that lay on
tables around her.

"Thomas Hobbes?" she questioned bluntly of the doctor next to her.

The young man seemed almost surprised by her question but propelled
her down an aisle between the tables until reaching one a few feet
away from hers. "This is Lieutenant Hobbes," he told her formally.

"Thank you." Her tone was dismissive and he left her with the soldier.

Looking down at him, she was struck by the odd thought that with the
similarities in coloring and age, they could have been siblings. Some
small corner of her heart that still felt twinged with sympathy and
guilt at seeing him like this. The file had said he had a fiancee and
a small child waiting for him at home, a family that he might never
see again. Particularly since they had chosen him to be used in their
plans.

She squashed the emotions ruthlessly. There was little room for
sentimentality in The Work. She had learned that lesson many times
over and, as wrong as it was, Thomas Hobbes was useful to their
plans. His sacrifice was merely the latest in a line of many others
and, in light of what lay ahead of them, it was small if it meant
stopping Colonization. Granted, stopping General Santiago might not
have appeared important to The Work but it was. It was a minor part
at first glance but The Work was like setting up a line of dominoes.
If one didn't fall then none would. If Santiago wasn't removed, if
his plans went ahead, then their resources would be drained and
split. That could not be allowed. He would be removed, there was no
other option.

It was regrettable that Hobbes would be used in the plan but it was a
regret she could live with. Just as she lived with many others.

Turning, Marita walked away into the undispellable darkness that
seemed to hover over the facility, leaving him as he was. His body
lying on a table in a military facility while his mind, like so many
more, was used in their plans.

Just another pawn.


Finis