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Elizabeth Cranford

0 · 411 views · located in Government Center Second Floor

a character in “The Multiverse”, as played by Ylanne

Groups

Originally formed after the Tripartite Occupation of Terra, the TNG once controlled all of Terra. Currently, the TNG's jurisdiction includes most of Terra's territory, but not the entire world.
Registered citizen of the Terran National Government

Description

Image Credit: Piro 3 by niqe. If this is your image and you would like it removed, kindly inform me and I will remove it promptly.
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History

The Scottish-born wife of Terra's Prime Minister, Elizabeth Cranford was the only child born to a Scottish Duke who had no brothers, inheriting his title as Duchess. She was born in 1947. Elizabeth earned her degree in English literature at Oxford, and continued her studies at Cambridge. She married Edward in 1968.

So begins...

Elizabeth Cranford's Story

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Arianne Drulovic Character Portrait: Sheila Nagala Character Portrait: Whisper (Jacquelyn Rose) Character Portrait: SOLCOM Character Portrait: Aschen 3rd Armored Company Character Portrait: Ed Cranford Character Portrait: The Divine Shadow Character Portrait: George Hendricks Character Portrait: The Aschen Marines Character Portrait: Elizabeth Cranford
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It was about two in the afternoon, and most of the employees working in Government Center who had bothered to leave for lunch had returned by now. The entire West Wing was uninhabitable for the moment, and most found themselves cautiously avoiding the dusty yellow tape roping off the area on each floor. The building smelled much like mildew had set in sometime over the last several years. Air conditioning only worked in some parts of the building, which did little to fight the growing humidity outside.

All in all, there were relatively few people in Government Center, and Ed Cranford would prefer it stayed that way for a while. Voices echoed throughout the hallways even from soft, muted conversations, and uniformed military personnel were a regular presence in the building. He suspected that it would be awhile before civilians would outnumber the military here.

Cranford was sitting at his desk, occasionally sipping steaming coffee from a ceramic mug with a heart printed on the side as he pored over the haphazardly arranged reports that had been sent over during the lunch hour. The desk itself was nicked all along the sides and surface, bearing testament to the severe lack of resources throughout much of town. The office was empty but for the few scattered chairs and the hulking metal desk, with two enormous windows cracked open to the street below without curtains, blinds, or shades to protect him from the sun. Cranford, too, looked as though he could have been better. His dark blue suit was faded and worn, and his maroon tie loosened about his neck. His shoulders were almost slumped where he sat, his eyes half-lidded.

There were two women sitting in the office with him. The taller, thinner woman wore her white hair into a sculpted updo without a single strand missing from her immaculate coiffure, her fingers grasping a tuna sandwich from which she took a few bites every so often. "I should probably ask Lena to go shopping again sometime soon," she said, glancing momentarily in the direction of the other, younger woman. A few crumbs from the bread fell onto her satin skirt, and she brushed them away with a vengeance that seemed unfitting for the situation before reaching with her free hand to adjust the collar of her shirt.

"I thought we already had the week's shopping done on Saturday," Cranford replied without looking up from his desk, one of his hands resting against the papers there as he read, pressing his lips tightly together.

"We're almost out," the older woman said, her tone almost sharp were it not for the fatigue etched into her voice. She arched her eyebrows, lowering her sandwich a bit to her lap, revealing perfectly painted nails.

"There's a whole tub of tuna, Elizabeth," Cranford said, nodding idly in the direction of the sandwich in her hand without removing his eyes from a report bearing the TIB's seal at the header.

The other woman was dressed in a styled purple pantsuit with a ruffle-collar shirt and carefully draped headscarf. She flicked through a thick set of papers held together by a straining binder clip, resisting the urge to tap her foot against the floor. "Have you had a chance to review my reports yet, Ed?" she asked.

Cranford made a sound of acknowledgement before finally looking away from his desk to meet the younger woman's eyes. "I started to this morning. I see you've moved refugees into the former UCON base?"

"It's a convenient location," she replied, shrugging. "Where do you want me to put people? Sprawling camps?" She shook her head, sighing as she spoke. "I'd rather not inflict disease epidemics on people who've already lost everything. I'll house refugees wherever I can, and preferably under roofs instead of tents."

"I thought there were already refugee camps," said Elizabeth, giving the younger woman a questioning look. "Aren't you already putting people in camps?"

"We're trying not to. I'm trying not to." She exhaled loudly, bringing her fingers to her mouth and tugging at her lower lip. "I'm avoiding it wherever I can. But I won't be able to avoid it forever. The best I can do is keep as many people as possible out of the camps, and then, when there are people in the camps, moving them out as soon as I can. And that's what I'm doing."

Elizabeth nodded absently. "I suppose I could at least give you credit for trying. I know enough politicians who wouldn't bother."

The younger woman laughed. "Ha. Politician. I wouldn't go quite that far..."

"It's not as bad as it sounds," Cranford said, making a few marks on the report with a pen he'd grabbed from the edge of the desk. "The way you're talking now, you sound like Arianne. And everyone knows how much she hates the idea. Politics. Politicians." He shook his head, a small smile tugging at the corners of his lips. "All of it."

"Well, we've got no fancy trappings here," said the younger woman, gesturing with a circular motion to the room around them. "I'm living in a basement right now, and I'm working in a construction zone slash bombing site."

"Wars do tend to do that," Elizabeth said, leaning back in her seat as she took another bite of her sandwich, chewing slowly as she watched Cranford.

Cranford tilted his head to the side, his tongue poking behind his teeth. "I can't quite tell if she wrote this herself or had someone else do it. You'd think I'd know after all these years, but..." He bit the inside of his cheeks, his eyes squinting toward the report in front of him. "Once it's typed, it's impossible to tell. Have you been getting copies of the TIB reports, Sumayyah?"

The younger woman shrugged. "Not usually, just on occasion." Her gaze flickered toward Cranford's face. "Why do you ask?"

"Curiosity. I'm surprised Ranida pulled Arianne back into service, you know," Cranford remarked in a casual tone that suggested some deeper feeling behind the words. "He never seemed to like having her around all the time."

"Who else would have been competent enough to lead the TIB?" Sumayyah asked, rolling her eyes. "You think Ahmad Fazari could do it?"

"Arianne chose him," Cranford pointed out, turning the page in the report he was reading. He repositioned it upright and ran his hands along the sides to align the pages before laying it flat on the desk's service again. "I'm sure he's competent. Certainly seemed that way while we were offworld, anyway."

"Well, you always liked having her around," Elizabeth said, a twinge of distaste coloring her voice as she brought the last of her sandwich to her lips.

Cranford shrugged, adjusting his position in his seat. "I respect her a lot. She knows what she's doing. There were even rumors, years ago, back when George Montgomery was still at LDA, that he saw her as a rival to him. Possibly even usurping him."

"So that's why he tried to have her killed so many times," Sumayyah said, her voice dripping with disgust. "I'll never understand that. How people can just... have no qualms about killing people. Other living beings. One at a time, or all at once. Murder, war, whatever. It's all the same to me."

"And that, Sumayyah," said Cranford with a faint smile, his eyebrows arched and furrowed closely together as he tapped his pen against the paper, "is why you're not Defense Minister." He chuckled at his own deadpan, and Sumayyah shook her head again. "Elizabeth? The tuna in that sandwich was okay?"

"Seemed fine," Elizabeth replied, reaching into her purse for a napkin and wiping her hands with marked precision before tossing it into the receptacle beside the desk. "We're almost out of everything else, though. We really should do another round of shopping."

Cranford rubbed his hand along his jaw. "Yeah, sure, with what money, dear?"

"Whatever we have budgeted for the week," Elizabeth replied, glancing at Sumayyah. "You need to eat, Ed. You're barely sleeping at night -- and don't act as though I don't notice every night when you climb out of bed and go to your desk or chair in the corner. You can't refuse to eat, too. You'll kill yourself that way. It's not healthy. It's not good for you."

"We've been over this," Cranford said, his hand partially covering his mouth as he stared down at the reports covering the surface of his desk. "I'm fine. I'll be fine."

"I hardly even see you anymore. You're always here or at Veritas or traveling off to some other godforsaken place." The corners of Elizabeth's eyes twitched as she spoke. Cranford took another swig of the now lukewarm coffee. "When will these goddamned elections happen?"

Cranford sighed. "As soon as we can. I've got Luis trying to sort out all the potential legal problems we could run into, with Justice or with overly zealous citizens. Prevention's better than a cure, my father always said." He paused for a moment, setting his pen across the papers to rub his eyes with his hand. "It's nice not to be surrounded by sycophants. On the other hand, it's also nice to be able to delegate."

"Shit." Sumayyah's face colored slightly as she stared at her phone's screen. At Cranford's questioning glance, she continued. "Looks like an outbreak of Typhus in one of the camps."

Elizabeth shook her head. "What can you do about it?"

"Increase the number of medical personnel and availability of supplies, impose an emergency quarantine," Sumayyah tapped rapidly on the phone's screen as she spoke, "examine conditions allowing the spread of the disease, start tracking the fucking epidemic before it spreads any more than it already has."

"Mortalities?" Cranford asked, turning the page in the report he was reading again.

"A kid, twelve years old, died this morning. Word just got in," Sumayyah replied. She finally stopped typing on the screen and set it back on top of the thick sheaf of paper she'd brought with her.

Cranford's shoulders slumped a bit farther. He reached for another set of paper, and then uncapped the pen again, starting to scrawl a note. Several long seconds of silence passed, broken only by the occasional, muted shouts of construction workers passing through the opened windows, before Elizabeth spoke. "Who's that for?"

"The family," Cranford replied. Elizabeth opened her mouth to speak again, but then thought better of it, and closed her mouth without saying anything. The white-haired man looked toward Sumayyah. "What was his name?"

"Ndindam," she said, and then spelled the boy's name for the prime minister. "I don't know what good it'll do, though."

"Better to try than not," Cranford remarked, not looking up from his writing.

Elizabeth attempted to smile, but the best she could manage was a strained expression that barely came close to approximating a smile. "They'll appreciate your writing it, Ed," she said quietly, staring at her fingers. "And if you're lucky, maybe he'll be the last one."

"But we won't be lucky," Sumayyah said, her voice darkening along with her expression. "There are at least fourteen confirmed cases. I really shouldn't stay much longer. I'm going to have to see what I can do to stop it from spreading further. So," she swallowed, crossing her legs in the other direction, "after you've finished -- finished with that, if we could go through these, I'd appreciate that." She bit down onto her lower lip, looking at her phone in front of her with increased dismay.

"We can hope," Elizabeth said.

There was a knock on the door. Cranford raised his eyebrows as he continued to write. "Elizabeth? Would you do me a favor and answer that?"

Elizabeth rose and headed for the door, smoothing her skirt of wrinkles. She pulled on the brass doorknob, catching sight of a much shorter woman with dark brown hair slowly graying. She suspected that the brown color was dye, having seen Arianne Drulović on many prior occasions. Elizabeth offered a small smile, taking the older woman in an embrace and kissing her on each cheek. "It's good to see you, Arianne," she said.

"Oh, Arianne, come in," Cranford said from his desk, his pen pausing for a moment.

"I believe you have a copy of the report I sent this morning, yes?" Drulović asked, taking a few steps across the threshold as she leaned on a long, thin cane.

"I was reading it a few minutes ago. Almost finished," Cranford replied.

Drulović nodded, pushing some of her hair behind her ears. "It's fine, Mr. Cranford," she said. "I believe I'll see you this evening for dinner, if I recall?"

Cranford looked up for a moment, surprised. "I thought your plans had changed. Your daughter isn't joining you anymore?"

Drulović's lips turned downward in a small frown. "I'm afraid not. It's been a long time, really, since I've had an opportunity to dine with Jelisa." She nodded toward the other woman in the office. "Good afternoon, Ms. al-Baroudi."

"Good afternoon, Director," Sumayyah said with a nod of acknowledgement.

Elizabeth reached for her purse from the chair where she'd been sitting. "Ed?" Cranford turned his gaze toward her. "I'm going to step outside for a bit. I'll be down the hall, all right?"

Cranford set his pen down on the desk and rose from his seat, crossing the office relatively quickly. He pulled Elizabeth toward him and gave her a quick peck on the lips. "I'll see you later," he said with a half-smile. "Love you."

She slipped from his embrace and wiggled her fingers toward him before heading for the door. "Love you, too," she said, and then closed the door behind her.

Cranford turned toward the others, hands on his hips for a moment as he considered. "All right. I'm almost done with this letter."

"Oh, I'm sure you have many things to do, Mr. Cranford," Drulović said, inclining her head. "I'm only here for a bit, in any case. I trust we'll speak again soon." She turned to leave, her trembling hand reaching for the doorknob, and pulled the door open.

Cranford brought a hand to his forehead. "All right. Yes. I'll call later today and see about setting up a time. Don't forget to talk to Ranida before Wednesday. He's been calling and asking after you quite a bit."

"I'll see to it," Drulović replied, and then she departed, closing the door behind her. Cranford sighed loudly, returning to his seat. He lifted the pen and spun it around his finger before resuming writing.

Sumayyah scrolled through messages on her phone, occasionally watching Cranford. When it seemed he was about done writing, she straightened her posture, adjusting her hijab scarf. "Do you want me to deliver that to Ndindam's family?" she asked.

Cranford returned the cap to the pen, setting it on the edge of his desk. He folded the letter and slid it into an envelope with the TNG's seal embossed on it. "Are you visiting the camps?"

"Today and tomorrow," she said. "I'll be able to give it to the chief medic, who can give it to Ndindam's family. They're in quarantine, so I can't go directly." Cranford seemed to hesitate. "I can make sure it gets to them, Ed."

Cranford nodded. "All right." He scrawled something onto the envelope itself, and then handed it to Sumayyah. She noticed that his hands seemed wizened in a way they hadn't when she'd last worked with him before the war, but made no comment. "I appreciate that. I hope they will, too."

"One can hope," Sumayyah echoed herself from earlier with a nod of affirmation. She slipped the envelope along with her phone into her suit jacket pocket. "Do you still have a few minutes to go over my reports?"

"What do you have for me?" Cranford leaned against the edge of the desk, facing Sumayyah, and clasped his hands in front of him.

"We've been working at identifying refugees and determining the safest locations where people can be transported, while attempting to return people as close to their pre-war homes as possible," Sumayyah said, leafing through the pages of the enormous report she'd brought with her. "Currently, we've identified close to six million refugees, and we're almost ready to release a database that will allow people to search for missing loved ones whom we've already identified."

Cranford pursed his lips. "All right. That's all good. What about security?"

"The tent camps have the highest crime rates, as might be expected," Sumayyah replied. "I've asked Director Lebrun to reallocate some of the NPA's personnel to the camps, since the military is already spread about as thin as it probably can be."

"And?"

"He said he'd get a plan to me before the end of the week," she said. "In the more permanent facilities, things seem to be better, more like you'd expect in any city or urban area. So far, we've returned about two million people to their hometowns or close by. Our efforts are going to depend in large part on reconstruction of buildings and roads. For people whose homes and towns are still standing and have people in them, it's much easier to return them. For those whose homes are destroyed, never mind entire towns, they're going to be living in refugee housing for a while longer."

Cranford tapped his fingers against the side of the desk. "Are you working with Alessandra at all?"

"We have a meeting scheduled in about an hour from now, but it might have to be postponed, depending on what I need to do about this typhus outbreak," Sumayyah said. "I believe she's in the building, somewhere."

"Upstairs, down the hall," Cranford said with a nod. "She mentioned wanting to speak to you."

"We've met a few times over the last few weeks, but not substantially yet. It's been insane, as I'm sure you can imagine." Sumayyah shook her head.

"All right. I'll send any questions I have later today, or maybe tomorrow morning, when you're not as stressed about things," Cranford said. When she didn't move, he leaned forward and laid a hand on her shoulder. "You're doing good work, Sumayyah. Keep it up."

She nodded then. "Thank you." She paused. "I guess I needed to hear that." Sumayyah tucked the report she was holding under her arm and extended a hand for Cranford.

He grasped her hand in his much larger one, and then pulled her forward, giving her a hug and a squeeze. "We've known each other too long for handshakes," he said with a hint of amusement. "I'll talk to you soon, okay?"

"Sounds good." She offered a brief smile. "Thanks again." And then Sumayyah was gone, the door clicking shut behind her.

Cranford waited for several moments before walking around his desk again, slumping into the seat, the fingers of one hand steepled against his forehead while the fingers of the other flipped through the report Drulović had left. He reached after a second for the coffee mug, but by this time, the beverage was cold enough where he didn't bother, instead sliding the mug toward the corner of the desk, revealing a darkened circular stain where it had been sitting before.

As Cranford perused the report at hand, a faint swirl of mist filled the room before his desk, slowly pulling together into the form of a young woman. As far as assassins went, Whisper scarcely look the part, standing at only five feet tall, frail and blind. White bandages were bound about her eyes, but the click of the safety as she raised her hand to level a gun upon Cranford left the extent of her seeming disability in question. Her finger danced along the trigger, but she hesitated, frozen and motionless.

Cranford's gaze flicked upward toward the intruder, his pen pausing in his hand as he looked at her. Something buzzed harshly in the hallway, and the lights flickered for several seconds, followed by someone's muted voice in the hallway shouting something unintelligible with the door closed. "I -- " He started to speak, but then stopped, the words catching in his throat before he could continue. He glanced toward the door, and then strained to see the windows behind him from the corner of his eye, and seeing no obvious way in which she had sudden materialized in his office, returned his attention to Whisper. "How did you -- "

He remembered that he had no weapons in the office. And she was standing between him and the door.

The woman turned her head away as if to shield her face from him, her grip tightened upon the gun until her knuckles turned white. Cranford began to rise from his desk.

"Don't," Whisper warned.

The older man hesitated, and then lowered himself back into his seat, resting his lower arms along the desk and folding his hands. "Who are you?" he asked, his gaze resting steadily on her face. "Why are you doing this?"

Whisper shook her head. "Forgive me," she uttered. Swallowing back the bile that rose in her throat she squeezed the trigger.



The room filled with the smell of gunpowder as Cranford slumped forward onto the desk. Moments later, blood began to pour from his body onto the papers that had been left there. The pen he'd been holding clattered to the floor.

Turning away, something in the woman broke as she strode for the door, simply passing through it as she went. Her form wavered briefly before solidifying on the far side. Turning her head, her senses swept up and down the halls, singling out the men and women that were standing about in shock. She could feel them, the fear that quickened their hearts, the confusion that swept through the building.

"Quick!" one of the men shouted. "Someone call security!"

As soon as they caught sight of the gun in her hands, they scattered, already out of a range that might have been effective in attempting to disarm her. At least three people were already reaching for their phones. The lights flickered again.

It wasn't enough. A flex of Whisper's psionics left her mind drawn taut like a band before it snapped loose, sending men and women alike slamming against the walls by an unseen force, battered and broken. The elevator doors at the end of the hallway opened, and a pair of uniformed soldiers who'd been chatting amiably stopped short at the sudden sight of chaos in the hallway. They instantly dropped into defensive positions, aiming assault weapons toward the assailant, and opened fire.

The bullets sped through the hall, never seeming to reach their target as they ricocheted off in various directions, one striking the very man who had fired his weapon. As the soldier slumped against the wall and slid to the floor, Whisper outstretched her hand and the second soldier's gun was jerked from his grasp and into her own. Rather than fall back, the remaining soldier clutched at his chest before slumping to the floor beside his wounded partner.

Turning her head away from the spectacle, Whisper moved on with a single minded precision and ruthless efficiency. Doors were splintered open with a simple thought, locks doing little to disuade the woman from her path. Numerous bodies were left in her wake, bloodied and broken as she proceeded through the floor, room by room.

Not even death could silence her victims though, and their cries carried with her, accumulating as she went. The weight of it all bore down on her psyche with all the force of a torrential storm, each death serving to harden her heart all the further.

The members of the battalion assigned to Government Center had already heard the more than troubling sounds of assault rifle fire from the second floor. Sirens wailed in the building as the emergency generator hummed to life, and blast doors began to slide across the hallways separating the east and west wings on each floor. Boots pounded over the stairs as the elevators were disabled, and the designated TAF battalion began to ascend the stairs to each of the floors of the building, uncertain where the assailant was located.

On the third floor, the few people who were eating alone in the State Hall did not have time to react as the assassin materialized before them. A glass of orange juice spilled over, falling from the table and shattering on the floor, where the liquid mixed with blood, staining the carpet.



Re-entering the hall, Whisper cocked her head to one side as soldiers spilled up the stairwell. Weapons were trained on her but she simply turned away. Gun fire opened up behind her but it did little against her dematerializing form which stepped through a sealed blast door to continue on her way. The doors that were meant to confine her would only serve to slow the soldiers down.

"Where's the assailant?"

The voices crackled over the radio in rapid succession.

"Don't know, last I saw, second floor."

"Scratch that, third floor."

"Fuck."

"Cameras are out."

"Signals jammed outside the building."

"Fourth floor?"

"Fuck. The fucking blast doors are -- fuck!"

"Someone open the goddamned blast doors!"

"We can't get through."

"Gunshots up here, third floor."

"I've got several wounded, several dead, second floor. Get medical team stat."

There was a small, puny-sounding series of pounds on the other side of one of the doors.

A pair of young women in uncomfortable business attire, startled as they heard Whisper approach. One screamed. "Oh my god, oh my god, oh my FUCKING god." The other started to run down the hallway as fast as she could manage in what might have been new heels.

Two more gun shots echoed before the smoking gun hit the floor, devoid of rounds as the woman strode past the crumpled bodies, continuing deeper into the building.



Outside Government Center, despite the chaos that was going on within. The Aschen CPF had arrived on scene, with the blue and white schemes of their vehicles, and the deployment of officers and other personnel in all directions aiming to surround the building. The Aschen were swooping in to save the day.

CPF Officers moved into the Government Center, Disruptors drawn with their Psionic inhibitors primed and ready to discharge.

The Soldiers stormed through the upper floors until they finally came across Whisper. "You! Hands on your head!" An officer barked, raising his weapon and he prepped his psionic inhibitors. "Surrender now or your life will be terminated!"

In the distance more TAF soldiers were clambering up the stairwells, flooding into the hall from the opposite direction, leaving Whisper caught squarely between them and the Aschen CPF. She stood motionless, her head turned slightly to one side as if assessing the situation, a gun in either hand.

Weapons were leveling on her from all directions, and more than a few of the TAF soldiers were adjusting their assault rifles as they trained their sights on the woman within the hall.

After what seemed like an eternity, Whisper dropped her weapons to the floor and partially raised her hands in a show of surrender. More than a few TAF soldiers exchanged uncertain glances, but with the psionic inhibitors in place it seemed that the threat was for the moment neutralized.

The CPF Forces waited, eying the TAF forces and suggesting that Whisper surrendered to them. Of course the decision was quickly made for them, as the Aschen men lunged for the girl, and quickly moved to whisk her out of the Government Center for her inevitable arrest at Aschen hands.

The Divine Shadow would be pleased.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Arianne Drulovic Character Portrait: Ed Cranford Character Portrait: Elizabeth Cranford
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#, as written by Ylanne
It was about two in the afternoon, and most of the employees working in Government Center who had bothered to leave for lunch had returned by now. The entire West Wing was uninhabitable for the moment, and most found themselves cautiously avoiding the dusty yellow tape roping off the area on each floor. The building smelled much like mildew had set in sometime over the last several years. Air conditioning only worked in some parts of the building, which did little to fight the growing humidity outside.

All in all, there were relatively few people in Government Center, and Ed Cranford would prefer it stayed that way for a while. Voices echoed throughout the hallways even from soft, muted conversations, and uniformed military personnel were a regular presence in the building. He suspected that it would be awhile before civilians would outnumber the military here.

Cranford was sitting at his desk, occasionally sipping steaming coffee from a ceramic mug with a heart printed on the side as he pored over the haphazardly arranged reports that had been sent over during the lunch hour. The desk itself was nicked all along the sides and surface, bearing testament to the severe lack of resources throughout much of town. The office was empty but for the few scattered chairs and the hulking metal desk, with two enormous windows cracked open to the street below without curtains, blinds, or shades to protect him from the sun. Cranford, too, looked as though he could have been better. His dark blue suit was faded and worn, and his maroon tie loosened about his neck. His shoulders were almost slumped where he sat, his eyes half-lidded.

There were two women sitting in the office with him. The taller, thinner woman wore her white hair into a sculpted updo without a single strand missing from her immaculate coiffure, her fingers grasping a tuna sandwich from which she took a few bites every so often. "I should probably ask Lena to go shopping again sometime soon," she said, glancing momentarily in the direction of the other, younger woman. A few crumbs from the bread fell onto her satin skirt, and she brushed them away with a vengeance that seemed unfitting for the situation before reaching with her free hand to adjust the collar of her shirt.

"I thought we already had the week's shopping done on Saturday," Cranford replied without looking up from his desk, one of his hands resting against the papers there as he read, pressing his lips tightly together.

"We're almost out," the older woman said, her tone almost sharp were it not for the fatigue etched into her voice. She arched her eyebrows, lowering her sandwich a bit to her lap, revealing perfectly painted nails.

"There's a whole tub of tuna, Elizabeth," Cranford said, nodding idly in the direction of the sandwich in her hand without removing his eyes from a report bearing the TIB's seal at the header.

The other woman was dressed in a styled purple pantsuit with a ruffle-collar shirt and carefully draped headscarf. She flicked through a thick set of papers held together by a straining binder clip, resisting the urge to tap her foot against the floor. "Have you had a chance to review my reports yet, Ed?" she asked.

Cranford made a sound of acknowledgement before finally looking away from his desk to meet the younger woman's eyes. "I started to this morning. I see you've moved refugees into the former UCON base?"

"It's a convenient location," she replied, shrugging. "Where do you want me to put people? Sprawling camps?" She shook her head, sighing as she spoke. "I'd rather not inflict disease epidemics on people who've already lost everything. I'll house refugees wherever I can, and preferably under roofs instead of tents."

"I thought there were already refugee camps," said Elizabeth, giving the younger woman a questioning look. "Aren't you already putting people in camps?"

"We're trying not to. I'm trying not to." She exhaled loudly, bringing her fingers to her mouth and tugging at her lower lip. "I'm avoiding it wherever I can. But I won't be able to avoid it forever. The best I can do is keep as many people as possible out of the camps, and then, when there are people in the camps, moving them out as soon as I can. And that's what I'm doing."

Elizabeth nodded absently. "I suppose I could at least give you credit for trying. I know enough politicians who wouldn't bother."

The younger woman laughed. "Ha. Politician. I wouldn't go quite that far..."

"It's not as bad as it sounds," Cranford said, making a few marks on the report with a pen he'd grabbed from the edge of the desk. "The way you're talking now, you sound like Arianne. And everyone knows how much she hates the idea. Politics. Politicians." He shook his head, a small smile tugging at the corners of his lips. "All of it."

"Well, we've got no fancy trappings here," said the younger woman, gesturing with a circular motion to the room around them. "I'm living in a basement right now, and I'm working in a construction zone slash bombing site."

"Wars do tend to do that," Elizabeth said, leaning back in her seat as she took another bite of her sandwich, chewing slowly as she watched Cranford.

Cranford tilted his head to the side, his tongue poking behind his teeth. "I can't quite tell if she wrote this herself or had someone else do it. You'd think I'd know after all these years, but..." He bit the inside of his cheeks, his eyes squinting toward the report in front of him. "Once it's typed, it's impossible to tell. Have you been getting copies of the TIB reports, Sumayyah?"

The younger woman shrugged. "Not usually, just on occasion." Her gaze flickered toward Cranford's face. "Why do you ask?"

"Curiosity. I'm surprised Ranida pulled Arianne back into service, you know," Cranford remarked in a casual tone that suggested some deeper feeling behind the words. "He never seemed to like having her around all the time."

"Who else would have been competent enough to lead the TIB?" Sumayyah asked, rolling her eyes. "You think Ahmad Fazari could do it?"

"Arianne chose him," Cranford pointed out, turning the page in the report he was reading. He repositioned it upright and ran his hands along the sides to align the pages before laying it flat on the desk's service again. "I'm sure he's competent. Certainly seemed that way while we were offworld, anyway."

"Well, you always liked having her around," Elizabeth said, a twinge of distaste coloring her voice as she brought the last of her sandwich to her lips.

Cranford shrugged, adjusting his position in his seat. "I respect her a lot. She knows what she's doing. There were even rumors, years ago, back when George Montgomery was still at LDA, that he saw her as a rival to him. Possibly even usurping him."

"So that's why he tried to have her killed so many times," Sumayyah said, her voice dripping with disgust. "I'll never understand that. How people can just... have no qualms about killing people. Other living beings. One at a time, or all at once. Murder, war, whatever. It's all the same to me."

"And that, Sumayyah," said Cranford with a faint smile, his eyebrows arched and furrowed closely together as he tapped his pen against the paper, "is why you're not Defense Minister." He chuckled at his own deadpan, and Sumayyah shook her head again. "Elizabeth? The tuna in that sandwich was okay?"

"Seemed fine," Elizabeth replied, reaching into her purse for a napkin and wiping her hands with marked precision before tossing it into the receptacle beside the desk. "We're almost out of everything else, though. We really should do another round of shopping."

Cranford rubbed his hand along his jaw. "Yeah, sure, with what money, dear?"

"Whatever we have budgeted for the week," Elizabeth replied, glancing at Sumayyah. "You need to eat, Ed. You're barely sleeping at night -- and don't act as though I don't notice every night when you climb out of bed and go to your desk or chair in the corner. You can't refuse to eat, too. You'll kill yourself that way. It's not healthy. It's not good for you."

"We've been over this," Cranford said, his hand partially covering his mouth as he stared down at the reports covering the surface of his desk. "I'm fine. I'll be fine."

"I hardly even see you anymore. You're always here or at Veritas or traveling off to some other godforsaken place." The corners of Elizabeth's eyes twitched as she spoke. Cranford took another swig of the now lukewarm coffee. "When will these goddamned elections happen?"

Cranford sighed. "As soon as we can. I've got Luis trying to sort out all the potential legal problems we could run into, with Justice or with overly zealous citizens. Prevention's better than a cure, my father always said." He paused for a moment, setting his pen across the papers to rub his eyes with his hand. "It's nice not to be surrounded by sycophants. On the other hand, it's also nice to be able to delegate."

"Shit." Sumayyah's face colored slightly as she stared at her phone's screen. At Cranford's questioning glance, she continued. "Looks like an outbreak of Typhus in one of the camps."

Elizabeth shook her head. "What can you do about it?"

"Increase the number of medical personnel and availability of supplies, impose an emergency quarantine," Sumayyah tapped rapidly on the phone's screen as she spoke, "examine conditions allowing the spread of the disease, start tracking the fucking epidemic before it spreads any more than it already has."

"Mortalities?" Cranford asked, turning the page in the report he was reading again.

"A kid, twelve years old, died this morning. Word just got in," Sumayyah replied. She finally stopped typing on the screen and set it back on top of the thick sheaf of paper she'd brought with her.

Cranford's shoulders slumped a bit farther. He reached for another set of paper, and then uncapped the pen again, starting to scrawl a note. Several long seconds of silence passed, broken only by the occasional, muted shouts of construction workers passing through the opened windows, before Elizabeth spoke. "Who's that for?"

"The family," Cranford replied. Elizabeth opened her mouth to speak again, but then thought better of it, and closed her mouth without saying anything. The white-haired man looked toward Sumayyah. "What was his name?"

"Ndindam," she said, and then spelled the boy's name for the prime minister. "I don't know what good it'll do, though."

"Better to try than not," Cranford remarked, not looking up from his writing.

Elizabeth attempted to smile, but the best she could manage was a strained expression that barely came close to approximating a smile. "They'll appreciate your writing it, Ed," she said quietly, staring at her fingers. "And if you're lucky, maybe he'll be the last one."

"But we won't be lucky," Sumayyah said, her voice darkening along with her expression. "There are at least fourteen confirmed cases. I really shouldn't stay much longer. I'm going to have to see what I can do to stop it from spreading further. So," she swallowed, crossing her legs in the other direction, "after you've finished -- finished with that, if we could go through these, I'd appreciate that." She bit down onto her lower lip, looking at her phone in front of her with increased dismay.

"We can hope," Elizabeth said.

There was a knock on the door. Cranford raised his eyebrows as he continued to write. "Elizabeth? Would you do me a favor and answer that?"

Elizabeth rose and headed for the door, smoothing her skirt of wrinkles. She pulled on the brass doorknob, catching sight of a much shorter woman with dark brown hair slowly graying. She suspected that the brown color was dye, having seen Arianne Drulović on many prior occasions. Elizabeth offered a small smile, taking the older woman in an embrace and kissing her on each cheek. "It's good to see you, Arianne," she said.

"Oh, Arianne, come in," Cranford said from his desk, his pen pausing for a moment.

"I believe you have a copy of the report I sent this morning, yes?" Drulović asked, taking a few steps across the threshold as she leaned on a long, thin cane.

"I was reading it a few minutes ago. Almost finished," Cranford replied.

Drulović nodded, pushing some of her hair behind her ears. "It's fine, Mr. Cranford," she said. "I believe I'll see you this evening for dinner, if I recall?"

Cranford looked up for a moment, surprised. "I thought your plans had changed. Your daughter isn't joining you anymore?"

Drulović's lips turned downward in a small frown. "I'm afraid not. It's been a long time, really, since I've had an opportunity to dine with Jelisa." She nodded toward the other woman in the office. "Good afternoon, Ms. al-Baroudi."

"Good afternoon, Director," Sumayyah said with a nod of acknowledgement.

Elizabeth reached for her purse from the chair where she'd been sitting. "Ed?" Cranford turned his gaze toward her. "I'm going to step outside for a bit. I'll be down the hall, all right?"

Cranford set his pen down on the desk and rose from his seat, crossing the office relatively quickly. He pulled Elizabeth toward him and gave her a quick peck on the lips. "I'll see you later," he said with a half-smile. "Love you."

She slipped from his embrace and wiggled her fingers toward him before heading for the door. "Love you, too," she said, and then closed the door behind her.

Cranford turned toward the others, hands on his hips for a moment as he considered. "All right. I'm almost done with this letter."

"Oh, I'm sure you have many things to do, Mr. Cranford," Drulović said, inclining her head. "I'm only here for a bit, in any case. I trust we'll speak again soon." She turned to leave, her trembling hand reaching for the doorknob, and pulled the door open.

Cranford brought a hand to his forehead. "All right. Yes. I'll call later today and see about setting up a time. Don't forget to talk to Ranida before Wednesday. He's been calling and asking after you quite a bit."

"I'll see to it," Drulović replied, and then she departed, closing the door behind her. Cranford sighed loudly, returning to his seat. He lifted the pen and spun it around his finger before resuming writing.

Sumayyah scrolled through messages on her phone, occasionally watching Cranford. When it seemed he was about done writing, she straightened her posture, adjusting her hijab scarf. "Do you want me to deliver that to Ndindam's family?" she asked.

Cranford returned the cap to the pen, setting it on the edge of his desk. He folded the letter and slid it into an envelope with the TNG's seal embossed on it. "Are you visiting the camps?"

"Today and tomorrow," she said. "I'll be able to give it to the chief medic, who can give it to Ndindam's family. They're in quarantine, so I can't go directly." Cranford seemed to hesitate. "I can make sure it gets to them, Ed."

Cranford nodded. "All right." He scrawled something onto the envelope itself, and then handed it to Sumayyah. She noticed that his hands seemed wizened in a way they hadn't when she'd last worked with him before the war, but made no comment. "I appreciate that. I hope they will, too."

"One can hope," Sumayyah echoed herself from earlier with a nod of affirmation. She slipped the envelope along with her phone into her suit jacket pocket. "Do you still have a few minutes to go over my reports?"

"What do you have for me?" Cranford leaned against the edge of the desk, facing Sumayyah, and clasped his hands in front of him.

"We've been working at identifying refugees and determining the safest locations where people can be transported, while attempting to return people as close to their pre-war homes as possible," Sumayyah said, leafing through the pages of the enormous report she'd brought with her. "Currently, we've identified close to six million refugees, and we're almost ready to release a database that will allow people to search for missing loved ones whom we've already identified."

Cranford pursed his lips. "All right. That's all good. What about security?"

"The tent camps have the highest crime rates, as might be expected," Sumayyah replied. "I've asked Director Lebrun to reallocate some of the NPA's personnel to the camps, since the military is already spread about as thin as it probably can be."

"And?"

"He said he'd get a plan to me before the end of the week," she said. "In the more permanent facilities, things seem to be better, more like you'd expect in any city or urban area. So far, we've returned about two million people to their hometowns or close by. Our efforts are going to depend in large part on reconstruction of buildings and roads. For people whose homes and towns are still standing and have people in them, it's much easier to return them. For those whose homes are destroyed, never mind entire towns, they're going to be living in refugee housing for a while longer."

Cranford tapped his fingers against the side of the desk. "Are you working with Alessandra at all?"

"We have a meeting scheduled in about an hour from now, but it might have to be postponed, depending on what I need to do about this typhus outbreak," Sumayyah said. "I believe she's in the building, somewhere."

"Upstairs, down the hall," Cranford said with a nod. "She mentioned wanting to speak to you."

"We've met a few times over the last few weeks, but not substantially yet. It's been insane, as I'm sure you can imagine." Sumayyah shook her head.

"All right. I'll send any questions I have later today, or maybe tomorrow morning, when you're not as stressed about things," Cranford said. When she didn't move, he leaned forward and laid a hand on her shoulder. "You're doing good work, Sumayyah. Keep it up."

She nodded then. "Thank you." She paused. "I guess I needed to hear that." Sumayyah tucked the report she was holding under her arm and extended a hand for Cranford.

He grasped her hand in his much larger one, and then pulled her forward, giving her a hug and a squeeze. "We've known each other too long for handshakes," he said with a hint of amusement. "I'll talk to you soon, okay?"

"Sounds good." She offered a brief smile. "Thanks again." And then Sumayyah was gone, the door clicking shut behind her.

Cranford waited for several moments before walking around his desk again, slumping into the seat, the fingers of one hand steepled against his forehead while the fingers of the other flipped through the report Drulović had left. He reached after a second for the coffee mug, but by this time, the beverage was cold enough where he didn't bother, instead sliding the mug toward the corner of the desk, revealing a darkened circular stain where it had been sitting before.

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