“I think there were a lot of factors tied up in that,” he told her. “Part of it was that she seems a lot more in accord with the Board’s quality-of-life arguments. That’s the way he sees her attitude, at any rate. So at least a part of him blamed her for ‘abandoning’ the girl — and him, in a sense — when she wouldn’t support his appeals for a reversal. At the same time, though, my impression is that she wasn’t really anywhere near as reconciled to the decision as she seemed. I think that deep down inside she was trying to deny how badly the Board’s decision was hurting her. But there was nothing she could do about that decision. I think she admitted that to herself a lot sooner than he was prepared to, so she focused her anger on him, instead of the Board. The way she saw it, he was stretching out everyone’s pain — and whatever the girl was enduring — in what he ought to have known as well as she did was obviously an ultimately useless crusade.” He shook his head. “There’s room for an awful lot of pain in that sort of situation, Ma’am.”

“I suppose I understand that,” Bardasano said. “I know emotions frequently do things, cause us to do things, when our intellects know better all along. This was obviously one of those times.”

“Yes, Ma’am. It was.”

“Is the wife’s work suffering out of all this?”

“Apparently not. According to her project leader, she actually seems to be attacking her work with greater energy. He says he thinks it’s her form of escape.”

“Unhappiness as a motivator.” Bardasano smiled ever so slightly. “Somehow, I don’t see it being generally applicable.”

“No, Ma’am.”

“All right, Jack — bottom line. Do you think Simões’ . . . attitude is likely to have an adverse impact on his work?”

“I think it’s already had an adverse impact,” McBryde replied. “The man’s good enough at his job that, despite everything, he’s still probably outperforming just about anyone else we could slide into the same position, though — especially given the fact that anyone we might replace him with would be starting cold. The replacement would have to be brought fully up to speed, even assuming we could find someone with Simões’ inherent capability.”

“That’s a short-term analysis,” Bardasano pointed out. “What do you think about the long-term prospects?”

“Long-term, Ma’am, I think we’d better start looking for that replacement.” McBryde couldn’t quite keep the sadness out of his tone. “I don’t think anyone can go through everything Simões is going through — and putting himself through — without crashing and burning in the end. I suppose it’s possible, even likely, that he’ll eventually learn to cope, but I very much doubt it’s going to happen until he falls all the way down that hole inside him.”

“That’s . . . unfortunate,” Bardasano said after a moment. McBryde’s eyebrow quirked, and she let her chair come back upright as she continued. “Your analysis of his basic ability dovetails nicely with the Director of Research’s analysis. At the moment, we genuinely don’t have anyone we could put into his spot who could match the work he’s still managing to turn out. So I guess the next question is whether or not you think his attitude — his emotional state — constitutes any sort of security risk?”

“At the moment, no,” McBryde said firmly. Even as he spoke, he felt the tiniest quiver of uncertainty, but he suppressed it firmly. Herlander Simões was a man trapped in a living hell, and despite his own professionalism, McBryde wasn’t prepared to simply cut him adrift without good, solid reasons.

“In the longer term,” he continued, “I think it’s much too early to predict where he might finally end up.”

Willingness to extend Simões the benefit of the doubt was one thing; failing to throw out a sheet anchor in an evaluation like this one was quite another.

“Is he in a position to damage anything that’s already been accomplished?”

Bardasano leaned forward over her desk, folding her forearms on her blotter and leaning her weight on them while she watched McBryde intently.

“No, Ma’am.” This time McBryde spoke without even a shadow of a reservation. “There are too many backups, and too many other members of his team are fully hands-on. He couldn’t delete any of the project notes or data even if he were so far gone that he tried — not that I think he’s anywhere near that state, at this point at least, you understand. If I did, I’d have already yanked him. And as far as hardware is concerned, he’s completely out of the loop. His team’s working entirely on the research and basic theory end of things.”

Bardasano cocked her head, obviously considering everything he’d said, for several seconds. Then she nodded.

“All right, Jack. What you’ve said coincides with my own sense from all the other reports. At the same time, I think we need to be aware of the potential downsides for the Gamma Center’s operations in general, as well as his specific projects. I want you to take personal charge in his case.”

“Ma’am –” McBryde began, but she interrupted him.

“I know you’re not a therapist, and I’m not asking you to be one. And I know that, usually, a degree of separation between the security chief and the people he’s responsible for keeping an eye on is a good thing. This case is outside the normal rules, though, and I think we have to approach it the same way. If you decide you need help, you need an additional viewpoint, you need to call in a therapist, feel free to do so. But if I’m right about how imminent Prometheus is, we need to keep him where he is, doing what he’s doing, as long — and as expeditiously — as we can. Understood?”

“Yes, Ma’am.” McBryde couldn’t keep his lack of enthusiasm completely out of his voice, but he nodded. “Understood.”