Sinking in the Deep Waters

Minister Guo and Zhao Xinci try to deal with some of the things revealed about Zhao Xinci’s past, and decide what it will mean for the future. Drama, I-3

Character(s): Guo Ying, Zhao Xinci

When Guo Ying knocked on the door of Zhao Xinci’s office, his Director of Supervision looked wary. Guo Ying wasn’t surprised. He’d taken time to prepare himself for this meeting, and that had included some necessarily vague discussion with both the psychologists the Ministry kept on retainer. While he hadn’t been comfortable giving them any details, they’d both been firm that someone who’d suffered any breach of personal integrity—body or mind—would resist any interference in his coping methods. Guo Ying wished it wasn’t necessary to interfere at all. Unfortunately, Zhao Xinci’s resurgence of hostility toward Dixing was having a serious impact on attitudes among Guo Ying’s other Directors and upper administrators. It wasn’t that he didn’t think Zhao Xinci had a right to his anger; he just couldn’t afford to let it shape Ministry actions.

“Do you have a moment for a word?”

Zhao Xinci eyed him for a long moment, but finally sat back with a sigh. “Come in, Minister.” He pushed up to his feet and came around to the set of chairs in front of the desk. The action was promising, even if Zhao Xinci’s apparent resignation wasn’t very.

Ying closed the door and joined him. “Have you had a chance to think about what Zhao Yunlan said in our meeting last week?” Because he was watching for it, he saw Zhao Xinci’s momentary grimace, and added dryly, “I know the two of you approach things very differently, but it seemed he had a point.”

That pulled a half smile out of Zhao Xinci. “We do. And I continue to think that Yunlan relies far too much on intuition.” The smile tilted. “Sometimes he does get results, with it, I admit.”

Guo Ying sighed and leaned his elbows on his knees, looking down at his laced fingers. “Lao-Zhao, you have a right to be angry. More than angry. I would never deny that.”

Zhao Xinci leaned into the opening immediately. “And Zhang Shi is an example of one of their least harmful.”

“I would actually call him one of the more insidious.” That made Zhao Xinci still, watchful, and Guo Ying nodded to himself. The Director was still trying to deflect attention from that personal cost. “I asked about his past. The Envoy cautioned that memory has been an unreliable thing in most of his kind, but from what they can tell Zhang Shi really did sneak out among humans thousands of years ago and was recruited by Ma Gui.”

Zhao Xinci’s eyes sharpened. “Recruited? As an agent to oversee Dixing Affairs?”

“That’s what it sounds like, yes.” More quietly, Guo Ying added, “I don’t think either of our peoples has a monopoly on questionable ethics.” Which he was hoping to steer his Director of Supervision away from. Zhao Xinci’s eyes flickered aside for a split second, which was encouraging. At least the man did still know that what he’d done wasn’t always righteous. Zhao Xinci huffed a faint breath.

“Perhaps, but it’s Dixingren powers that increase the impact.”

“Any power increases the impact,” something Guo Ying had become sharply aware of when he took over as Minister. “Weapons. Political power. You’ve seen a great deal of that, in your career, haven’t you?”

“And we control access to those things, don’t we?” Zhao Xinci returned.

“So tell me about what we should be doing to screen visitors from Dixing.” Zhao Xinci’s mouth tightened, and Guo Ying shook his head. “Lao-Zhao, they exist. We can’t pretend they don’t. But we can put policies in place to reduce the risk, just like we screen people who want to join the Armed Police.” Quieter, he added, “Help me think about how to keep the things you’re worried about from happening again.”

Zhao Xinci’s hands tightened on each other where they were laced on his knee, and he was silent for a long minute. “We need to be able to see their Register,” he said, at last.

Guo Ying restrained an urge to do a small, undignified dance of victory in his chair. “I will bring that up with them immediately.”

Zhao Xinci scrubbed his hands over his face. “I’ll write up a report for you, on measures that might help. How likely do you think it is that we’ll be able to institute them?”

Guo Ying smiled and reached into his jacket for the letter that had come that morning. “Read this.”

Zhao Xinci unfolded the letter, and his eyes slowly widened as he read. He glanced back up at Guo Ying, brows raised. “Did you request this?”

“No.” Guo Ying sat back, increasingly sure that this would, as he’d hoped, be the thing that started dragging Zhao Xinci’s response to Dixing back toward rationality. “I don’t know whether the idea came from your son or from the Envoy himself, but it was a surprise to me, too.”

The letter was a copy of an official sentence. Zhang Shi would never take another host; when her current body could no longer sustain life, she was sentenced to die. The order was witnessed and accepted by Zhang Shi herself.

After a long moment staring at the paper and not looking like he was seeing much of it, Zhao Xinci asked, “Can I keep a copy of this?”

“There was an extra copy included. I brought that one to leave here.”

Zhao Xinci closed his eyes with a faint snort. “Black-robed bastard always was too sharp for anyone else’s good.”

“A good quality in an ally,” Guo Ying pointed out as he stood. “I’ll look for your report within a week, Director Zhao.” As he stepped out into the hall, he reflected on the fact that Zhao Xinci was apparently still more willing to think well of the leader of a race he hated than to think well of his son. That was going to continue to be a headache. On the other hand, it confirmed Guo Ying’s own decision to use Zhao Yunlan as his lever, rather than Zhao Xinci. He needed compassion for the policies he hoped to put in place.

On the other hand, Zhao Xinci’s sharp political acumen was still a useful tool also. Perhaps it was time for Zhao Xinci to rotate to a different Directorship—one a little less likely to make other administrators bow to his views. Public Relations, perhaps; he certainly managed those well enough within the Ministry. But only, Guo Ying thought firmly, after the revelation of a couple of gods in the city had already been managed. That was going to be the biggest headache he had, for a while, he was sure.

Or maybe he should just put Zhao Yunlan on the air and let him talk; it had worked last time.

Guo Ying chuckled as he headed back to his own office, turning over plans for the future that seemed to have a better chance, now, of combing out some more of the tangles that the Ministry had lately fallen into.