Ah, pardon me, gentlemen, for interrupting your weekly briefing. Do you mind if I avail myself of the coffee? Thank you indeed. I've had a long night of it. As will all of you, tonight and for the foreseeable future, I'm afraid, for we have just been handed a bit of a coup. You see, the asset we have long known only as the Homunculus walked into our Basque field office yesterday morning, identified himself, and demanded asylum.

Yes, Claude, exactly: He identified himself as the Homunculus. He was aware of our designation for him—an H-level coding that has, to my knowledge, never been written down or spoken aloud in the presence or more than three others until today. That is the magnitude of the mind we are dealing with here: a man capable of inferring an entire conversation from the twitch of a cheek muscle, of deducing a national mindset from the way a society's middle class wears its collars, of sensing imminent shifts in global power from a typo in a Russian business journal. He could not have known his code name, gentlemen, but he certainly knows us—and from that, he must have guessed.

And his talents work in the converse, as well. He can communicate volumes through gesture and tone of voice, and has refined the art of persuasion to the point where his mere posture, or the manner in which he holds a cigarette, serves to bend those around him to his will. This aided him in becoming one of the most formidable recruiters and intelligence gatherers in† the world, as well as a world-class seducer.

Don't look so sheepish, Lord Montcrief. World-class, as I said. And you were quite young.

Naturally, the Homunculus has been sedated and was held at gunpoint during his initial debriefing. He is being guarded by a man we've had on retainer for years in case of this eventuality, a trained deaf-mute with the observa≠tional and personal sensitivity of a boulder. And in the…my word, what time is it? In the 18 hours we've had him, he has divulged so much raw data that we will be months just assembling the basics. Indeed, the framework of what he has said is staggering.

For example, we now know why the Kansas City office, of all places, has generated so much useful material over the years. We now know the motivation behind a certain young saxophone-playing physicist's decision to encode the secrets of stable transuranics in the countermelody of a rather mediocre piece of jazz fusion in 1976. At long last, we even know the true identities of the Second and Fifth Window Washers in the Barcelona debacle. And, outside of all expectations, we have solved a mystery involving our own Mei-Ling—a mystery concerning the source of her unique competence, the unusual amethyst color of her eyes, and even her violin-shaped birthmark.

Mei-Ling, I believe you have roughly 19 months of accumulated family leave coming? Yes, of course. Well. How may I put this delicately? You may, ah, have a use for that sort of leave time now, if you grasp my implication. I know it's a lot to absorb, so if you would like to take some time off….

No? Very well, then. Carry on.

As for the rest of you, I will need your first-approximation recommendations regarding lines of questioning within the hour. Be creative. And no one is to attempt to talk to the Homunculus, or to speak to anyone who will be speaking to him, until we are certain of his loyalties.

Thank you, gentlemen. Your aircraft will be leaving at their scheduled times. Oh, and speaking of which: If you happen to notice that your pilot is an ageless little man with a stooped back, a club foot, and no hair except for his eyebrows, do not board the plane.