[So I was thinking: could I make Buck sympathetic?]
"Well, well, well." Verna looked Buck up and down twice. "I never thought I'd see the great Cameron Williams screw up like this."
Buck swallowed. When Bruce Barnes had talked about the terrible things the Antichrist would do to anyone who opposed him, Buck had thought he was talking about physical dangers. His new faith had brought new courage, and the prospect of physical danger didn't frighten him. He hadn't expected this battering to his professional pride.
Everyone thought he'd screwed up. Every attempt he'd made at an explanation just sounded like a particularly incoherent excuse, and in the end there was nothing he could do but bow his head and let them go on thinking that. The worst part was how many people seemed happy to see him in disgrace: his old attitudes had rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.
"Just show me where my desk is," he said. "The sooner I can get settled in..." He left the sentence hanging in the air. Getting started early had seemed like a good idea - it beat hanging around on his own, nursing his injured pride - but from the look on Verna's face, she didn't care what felt best for him.
"Not so fast, Cameron," she said. "First of all, we need to get a few things straight."
"Buck," he said. "Please call me Buck - no-one's called me Cameron since my mother died."
"I'll call you Cameron," she said. "It's the name on your driver's licence, isn't it?"
"Yes, but no-one calls me it. Seriously, Verna-"
"I expect my subordinates to call me Ms Zee."
Buck winced as he remembered the way he'd spoken to her last time he was in the Chicago office. He'd acted like a complete dick, throwing his weight around and telling her off for doing the best job she could. Now, she was the one in charge, and she was getting her own back. "I see."
"I hope you do see, Cameron. I don't want any of your stupid alpha-male antics disrupting things here. It's hard enough now Lucinda's gone, without you adding to it. And if that doesn't motivate you, remember I just have to tell Stanton Bailey you're not up to the job."
She didn't trust him, and probably for good reason. It wasn't just the supposed screw-up: for years, he'd put his ego before his work. He was trying to change, but Verna had no way of knowing that.
"I understand," he said. "I won't give you any problems."
"You'd better not."
"Would you show me where my desk is now?"
She smiled. "We don't have a desk to spare for you just at the moment. You'll have to share with Alice."
That couldn't be right - surely there would be at least a few spare desks that had belonged to disappeared staff? But the smile, and the look in her eyes, explained it. This was another way of putting him in his place. "OK. What's my first assignment?"
"Assignment? Oh, Cameron, you really don't understand, do you? You can't be trusted with assignments. You'll be helping Alice with the filing and coffee for a few weeks. If you do a satisfactory job of that, I might let you do some background reporting - without a by-line."
The worst of it was, he couldn't blame it all on Carpathia. If he hadn't antagonised Verna so badly, she would have found him a few hard-to-screw-up assignments and let him work off his disgrace naturally. This was just the consequences of his own actions, coming back to haunt him.
He sent up a silent prayer for humility as he followed Verna to his new desk.
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