Chapter 1, Part 2

Already looking a little less tired than she had seemed just moments ago, the female agent strode purposefully in front of her partner towards the door of the cookie-cutter house they had parked in front of. James didn’t mind letting Faye take the lead. He trusted in her ability to sense hostility as well as her willingness to dive behind him and use him as the shield he was meant to be if it came to that.

Inside the house, a middle-aged man sitting at the table he preferred to both work and dine at looked up in sudden apprehension. Standing up even before his home communication system alerted him to a pending request for entry, he strode over with a mock calmness that was plastered on rather poorly over a very real nervousness.

“He’s scared.”

“Sometimes I’m scared of you too.”

“Alright agent Washington, that’s enough of that. Game faces on.”

The door opened automatically when the inhabitant of the home, registered citizen of 2nd degree privileges Mr. Fred Gibbs, reached a point from which he could politely greet his guests. He, like many of the freelancers occupying North 31st street, subscribed to a commercial home communication system provider: XI Networks. Unlike government providers, commercial companies usually bundled many gimmicks into their products. Registering intent to admit a visitor and automatically doing so was one such gimmick. Decidedly less useful than the system that double-checked for the wearing of pants, but still somewhat neat.

Not missing a beat, the young woman – whose unisex business clothes fit her like an extension of her body – walked crisply over Mr. Gibbs’ threshold and appraised him with cold, predatory eyes. The doorway quickly filled up behind her with the sheer bulk of the second government agent.

Faye let her eyes linger on her target for a moment. Her fatigue from earlier was now completely gone, washed away in the jetstream of her trained focus. To her, Mr. Fred Gibbs was utterly unremarkable in every way. He had no distinguishable features whatsoever. It was a good thing assignments brought her directly to people’s doors, because this particular man would have been lost in a crowd almost immediately.

Behind her, James was ever vigilant. His eyes flitted in every direction at a frequency sitting comfortably just below that which would be mistaken for panic or paranoia. After a brief evaluation, he too judged Mr. Gibbs as a small threat, and allowed himself the small pleasure of observing Faye’s efficient and well-honed demeanor.

To the mild surprise of the two visitors, Mr. Gibbs was the first to speak up. He fumbled slightly in his speech, succeeding only barely in sticking to the officially recommended syntax guidelines for citizen-government spoken communication.

“Ah… Good day. Fred Gibbs, 2nd degree citizen, at your service. Um. If you don’t mind I would like to exercise my right to inquire as to your…”

“Our department Mr. Gibbs? Of course, since we represent the Central Government with our every action it would be a grave insult to the sanctity of our nation if we denied you the privileges the degree of your citizenship mandates. James?” Faye’s speech was confident in every way the homeowner’s was hesitant.

Clearing his deep baritone voice in preparation to deliver the introduction delegated to his station by convention, James took a step further into the house.

“Agents of the Peripheral Branch of Public Safety, safety officer James Washington and investigator Faye Waller, at your service. We are here to investigate the possibility that you have, perhaps unintentionally, become an inherent danger to yourself and those around you. If so, we have the means to safely transport you to our headquarters, where you will be processed into a treatment group where you will be assisted in mastering the protection of yourself and others from your condition.”

It was a mouthful, but James was well-practiced. Besides, he couldn’t let a young one like Faye become more of a streamlined professional than him in half a decade, even if she was a prodigy like he considered her to be.

Mr. Gibbs paled. So the rumors beginning to circulate in his social feeds had some truth to them. There was an agency visiting those like him. However, the rumors never specified what happened to those taken in by the so called Peripheral Branch. Swallowing visibly, he decided it was best to cooperate for the time being.

“Erm, I think I understand. How can I help?”

At this, a few of Faye’s teeth emerged in a smile that did not make her look any warmer. “I just need to ask you a few questions, Mr. Gibbs. Why don’t you lead us some place we can sit. This won’t take long, I assure you.”

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