Unlikely Singularities – Chapter 81


Budget Week: Research Division

February 13, 2017

You can’t be serious, is what Darcy wanted to say. Followed closely by, why? She said neither of those things, instead taking a deep breath and meeting the serene gaze of the Black Widow.

She wasn’t in uniform, but Darcy was under no illusions that this wasn’t an arena for battle.

This is not an insignificant sum,” she managed calmly.

It is not an insignificant line item,” the Black Widow countered.

Darcy straightened her new navy blouse – a present to herself to psych her up for what she was confident would, at best, be a long and arduous week. Starting the budget meetings with Natasha was supposed to ease her into it. Natasha was the sane one, the reasonable one. Or so Darcy had thought. She glanced down at the tablet in front of her again.

Soft Resource Intelligence Management

And off to the right, under the column for estimated 2017-2018 annual expenses…Darcy couldn’t look at the number without feeling sweat collect under her arms. She knew from the beginning that running the Avengers as an independent agency would be expensive – hell, Tony alone was a walking advertisement for ‘Act of God’ and ‘Natural Disaster’ insurance – she just hadn’t thought it would be this expensive. She could run an entire state on what Natasha had proposed for just her department.

A smaller state. New Hampshire. Or fiscally conservative. Maybe North Dakota.

Fiscally conservative. That had been her goal. Her first year with the Avengers and Darcy had been holding onto the hope that she would be able to point out how much better – more efficiently and with less all around fucking up – they could manage things on their own under the new structure. Based on the numbers, she could maybe do one of those.

I feel it is probably unnecessary, but I am still going to reiterate – so I can say that I did, you do know that Tony is only bankrolling us through July 1, right? After that, Yinsen is going to be fending for itself.”

I was under the impression Tony still intended to donate a large sum annually.”

Well, yeah,” Darcy squirmed in her seat. “Not just him, though. There are other donors, our board members, some governments – under strict guidelines, of course. There’s the merchandising revenue, and we’ve already received some small contributions from people that you guys saved at one time or another.”

And my internal revenue stream.” Natasha highlighted a new row on their shared document and Darcy cursed. That is a fuckload of money. Where was Natasha going to get – no, no, don’t ask. Not essential to the process. Plausible deniability. Being able to sleep at night without the aid of narcotics – priceless.

The point is,” Darcy stomped on her internal debate to force the conversation back on track, “you may have to answer some questions. Or at least be willing to hear questions. Not everyone is Tony.”

And for that, we are all grateful.” Natasha quirked an eyebrow.

Darcy smiled in acknowledgment. “I’m not saying you wouldn’t put it to good use or anything, but…” Darcy didn’t have any polite words to express herself in this situation. “ Just – goddamn Nat! Can’t you just use the same blow torch and pliers on each guy? Or, I don’t know, buy used?”

Darcy,” Nat paused, her lips twitching, “what do you think Soft Resource Intelligent Management is?”

Um, interrogations?”

Natasha laughed. She threw back her head and closed her eyes, the sound sweet and full and filling the conference room with mirth. Darcy couldn’t help but grin in response, even if it was at her expense. Literally at her expense. “Bribes, Darcy. It’s mostly bribes. Some regular informant pay. Some data purchase.”

Darcy breathed a sigh of relief too soon.

And the occasional blow torch,” Natasha continued. Her face was still smiling, but Darcy couldn’t tell if she was teasing or not. “I prefer pre-owned equipment. Less easy to trace any stray fluid or tissue samples back to me.”

Let’s table this and move on for now,” she sounded remarkably calm. Darcy wasn’t sure how she managed it. She scanned down the page for office supplies, hoping to at least be able to approve something simple. “Let’s take a look at- fuck all, Nat! Are you seriously-? Photostatic veils are not an office supply!”

Should I have listed them under Personal Safety Equipment?”