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[personal profile] strannik01
Budgeting Heroism

Watchtower II, Long Island, NY
June 21, 1962


Captain Jonathan Battle is a brilliant man. He is a gifted inventor, a skillful strategist and a masterful tactician. He is brilliant enough to lead Sentinels of Justice and use each member the way he sees fit without hurting anyone's egos. I trust the man with my life.

But I would never, ever, trust him with my checkbook. Or anyone else's checkbook, really. For some bizarre reason, Captain Battle is absolutely helpless when it comes to managing money. But unlike certain brilliant white-haired wonder-team leaders I won't mention, he is sensible enough to leave the Sentinels' accounting to professionals. And ever since our last account turned out to be a Soviet spy, that professional was me.

Most of the team would never trust me with their money. They think I am just some silly woman who's there for their viewing pleasure. Not I mind their looks - so long as they behave like gentlemen, I really don't mind at all - but I know that they'll never take me seriously. But, like I said, Captain Battle is a sensible man. So long as I don't mention it in public, he is perfectly happy to keep me on.

I just wish the job wasn't so damn frustrating.

"Jonathan," I said, placing a folder of reports on his desk. "We can't keep spending like this."

He looked at the paper at the top of the folder and furrowed his brows:

"What am I looking at, Diana?"

"Expenses. Monthly Expenses. Annual expenses. We are spending more money that we have. I am trying to keep us afloat by borrowing money from Stockbridge National and Lake Industries, but sooner or later, they are going to want their money back."

"So you want to make cuts cuts," Captain Battle signed.

"Yes. I think there are plenty of things we can cut without effecting the essentials. The extra staff, for starters."

"Excuse me? Extra?" Captain Battle looked at me like I as a child. "The Watchtowers don't run themselves, Diana. We need all the manpower we can get."

"No, Jonathan. We don't." I squeezed my left first for extra reassurance. "Look... We obviously need the security personal and the maintenance staff. We need people who mann the monitor rooms and run the machine shops and other equipment. We need the doctors and nurses, and we need couriers, but there are plenty of things we could reduce. Cleaning staff, for example."

"Cleaning staff?"

"If most of the men didn't treat the common areas like their personal beer gardens, we wouldn't need half of our cleaning staff, and we'll save on our cleaning supply expenses. And, while we're on the subject, we don't need a stand-by cleaning crew that the Sentinels can summon whenever they feel like it. Especially since they rarely summon them for any real emergencies. Jon Juan has been going through our cleaners like they're his personal harem, and Father Richter..."

"Wait, hold that! Jon Juan did what?"

"He picks out attractive cleaning ladies and seduces them. Check the security footage if you don't believe me."

"No need," Captain Battle winced. "Damn it, we talked about this... Alright, I'll cut the cleaning staff and restrict access to the stand-by cleaning service. What else?"

"I want to talk to you about Watchtower I and III."

"Oh, here we go," he rolled his eye.

"I'm only repeating this because you don't listen to me. We don't need to keep all three Watchtowers fully staffed all the time. "

"Of course we do. I want all towers to be fully ready to receive the entire team 24 hours a day."

"I understand that with Watchtower III,"I said, " but we've barely been to Watchtower I since... I can't even remember when. We are paying one hundred and twenty people to sit around all day and do nothing just because there might be some chance we might have a long-range mission in Michigan."

"Watchtower I is positioned near the US-Canada border, within viewing range of several major international shipping and freight rail corridors. Sooner or later, Soviets will try to attack through here, and we need to be ready."

"I understand that," I said. "But we can still reduce it's staff without impacting readiness. If we cut by at least five percent..."

"No. Absolutely not. What else?"

I sighed. When Captain Battle sets his mind to something, there aren't a lot of things that can dissuade him, so I moved on:

"We need to cut down on fuel costs. Right now, we have to ship all our oil from Louisiana, and even with the discount you get from Peter Stockbridge, it's still costing us hundreds of dollars. If we convert our land and see vehicles to electric power, we can reduce that by almost two thirds. The initial conversion will cost us, but since we generate electricity in-house, we can save thousands on the long run. Plus, you are good friends with Richard Dean - I am sure we can get a discount."

"That might not be a bad idea. The fuel shipments are vulnerable to attack. What else?"

"Well... I know that you like to keep up of the news, but you don't have to order every single newspaper and magazine in every major metropolitan area in North America. And because you want them promptly, we have to ship them by air, which is costing us hundreds of..."

"No," Captain Battle glared. "This is not up for discussion."

"Hundreds of dollars, Jonathan. We are spending hundreds of dollars on newspapers."

"And it's worth every penny."

"But you don't even read most of them!" I tried to point out, hoping to appeal to his sense of efficiency.

"True," he acknowledged. "But I keep them in the library for archival purposes. What else?"

I ran through my mental checklist. There are a few other, smaller cuts I could talk about, but they were nothing compared to the big elephant in the room.

I took a deep breath. This wasn't going to be easy. "Jonathan. There is something I've been trying to talk to you about for the past three months. It's a big one, so please, hear me out."

"I'm listening."

Another deep breath.

"It's about your informants."

Captain Battle made an exasperated sigh, but he didn't say a word, so I continued: "I know how important they are to our team. I know that they provide us with many valuable tips. And I know that they usually want to be paid. But that doesn't mean you can spend tens of thousands of dollars on informants at the expense of everything else. In April, you spent forty percent of our budget on them. Last month, it was forty four percent. Now, it's fifty two. We are talking about two percent exponential growth, Jonathan. Unless you reign it in, it's going to swallow up more and more of our budget until we have nothing left to spend."

"What are you suggesting?

"I don't know how many informants you have," because you don't tell me, "but it's obvious that you've recruited more in the past few months than you have in past eight years. You can't keep doing that, Jonathan."

"Make it work," he scowled." I don't care what you have to do - just make it work. "

"I can't," I wanted to scream in frustaration. "Jonathan, you can't just keep taking money from our treasury and expect it to grow back."

"I don't think you understand what's at stake here," he said, his voice hollow.

"Of course I do! I've been a Sentinel since I was twenty years old. I know you are under a lot of pressure..."

"No. You don't. You can't even begin to understand." he clenched his fists. "I got Communists trying to infiltrate every facet of American life. I got thousands of SPED-enhanced Soviet soldiers sitting within flying distance of South Korea, Japan and Alaska. We got KGB super-soldiers walking through shadows into secured rooms and killing our allies. And, I don't know if you've noticed, but Soviets can put their men in orbit for several days while we can barely keep our astronauts in space without killing them. What if they decide to send one of their Atomic-Class super-soldiers into orbit and drop him on New York City? What would we do then?"

I didn't reply. There really wasn't anything I could say to that, was there.

"And as if that wasn't bad enough,"Captain Battle was on a roll now, "we got a bunch of arrogant paranormal punks stirring up trouble all over the South. Bad enough they got the Negroes riled up - now, their got all those white kids following their every move. They have no respect for the law or anything our country stands for, but they stay within the letter of the law, so Loover doesn't do a damn thing to stop them. Liberal pansy."

"You are talking about the Amazing Five?" I interjected, hoping to avoid yet another round of complaints about DPA's executive director.

"I am talking about all of them," he replied, his voice dripping with bile. "The Amazing Five, Hip Force Four, the Fantastics, Groovy Man, Futurist, that Negro girl... What does she call herself?"

"Firecracker?"

"Yeah. That's the one. They are Commie-loving, promiscuous dope fiends, each and every damn one of them, and they got the kids eating out of their hands. If this keeps up, we'll have an all-out rebellion. That's just what we need - a rebellion the home front. Like I didn't have enough crap to worry about." Captain Battle sighed. "I need someone in their camp, someone who can resist Scatterbrain's telepathy or Horoscope Girl's lie detectors. It's not the kind of person you just find on the street. I need money, Diana, and I need as much money as I can get."

Captain Battle leaned back into his chair, his shoulders slumped. He looked past me, at the one of the maps of America on the wall behind me. His gaze shifted along the state lines, along all the dots and markers.

"You don't have to do it alone, Jonathan," I suggested gently, "You got FBI, CIA, DPA... They got hundreds of paranormal agents, I am sure they would love to help you."

Captain Battle suddenly lurched forward, his eye fixed squarely on me.

"Those incompetents?" Captain Battle spat. "They couldn't find their way out of a potato sack. They couldn't prevent Pearl Harbor, they couldn't stop Yankee Boy ad they sure as hell couldn't stop the Soviets from using Atomic-class super-soldiers in Seoul. They fail and we have to go to war, and thousands of good young men have to die because they couldn't do their damn jobs. No. I can't trust them with the security of this country, Diana. I can't. I won't."

What was I supposed to say to that? What in God's name was I supposed to say to that?

"I think we are done here," I said.

"Yes. I think we are."

I left Captain Battle's office without another word.

He probably already forgot what I was going to say. Or, at least, filed away for another day, whenever that might be. I will implement the few cuts he agreed to. And then, in a week or so, I will try to ask for a few more. Maybe I can work up to the informant budget gradually. I have to explain it to him one way or another before he leads this team into bankruptcy.

The truth is, he doesn't need as many informants. Captain Battle tries to anticipate every threat, no matter how far-fetched it was, and nobody could do that. Not even a man as brilliant as Captain Battle can possibly predict everything. And those young wonder-heroes... Sure, lots of them were more liberal than I am comfortable with, but they got so much potential, so much raw, pure enthusiasm. We can use that. We haven't had anything like that since Captain Right joined, and that was four years ago.

But Captain Battle wouldn't listen, he would never listen, because he convinced himself that they are either traitors or potential traitors, and he would never let any potential traitor near Sentinels of Justice. And if I tried to argue with him, he might think I am a traitor, too, and that would be the end of me. He might spare Diana Adams, but Miss Masque would never be able to show her face in public again.

Just ask the original Yankee Girl.

All I know is I have to do something. I don't know what it is, and I don't know how I can pull it off, but I have to do something. I've been a Sentinel for thirteen years. I bled too much, suffered too much and sacrificed too much to see Sentinels of Justice go down in flames.

That's a promise.

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