Chapter 2, Part 1

In a dimly lit hallway in the Peripheral Branch of Public Safety’s headquarters, two figures could be seen having a conversation. At least, that would be the safe assumption, given that one could see from their outlines that they were facing each other. They spoke in hushed tones, so as to not wake those in the adjacent chambers who were so pivotal to the function of their organization.

“I appreciate you bringing this up with me, if only to get a better idea as to how far along she is.”

“You don’t mean to say… she’s going to end up like him.”

The smaller figure gestured at the various closed doors around them. “Most of them break in some other way. He’s the first that truly met, and exhausted his full potential. That’s why I have him monitoring her now.”

“I don’t know, director. Something about this doesn’t sit right with me. No, before you start, there’s no need to remind me of the number of people she’s protecting.”

“You’re not paid to make those judgements. You would do well to remember our arrangement. I put you back together because I needed the ‘God of War’ from the rebellion to look after my most promising asset. That is all.”

There was a moment of silence, filled with a particular variety of tension born of one man daring another to challenge him. Then the deeper voice echoed through the hallway again, tinged with resignation.

“Me being around her helps, right?”

The director offered a satisfied nod. “It will extend her effective service time, yes.”

Without exchanging parting words, the larger man walked purposefully away. He had no duties remaining that night, but his stride was simply purposeful in all situations. What the lighting could not reveal on the departing man’s face was a brow furrowed in consternation.

After watching his associate leave, the director rolled up his sleeve, and accessed a digital interface that seemed to be just under the skin. He pressed one command, then rolled his sleeve back down and folded both arms across his chest. Moments later, a door opened and a thin frame emerged into the faint hallway. Speaking to the new arrival, he said, “I know you got all of that.”

The new arrival spoke in a monotone that was as precise as it was without personality.

“Yes sir. My readings corroborate the field observations made.”

“I assume you are making the necessary adjustments?”

“The intensity of the inducer has been incrementally raised an appropriate amount.”

“Good. I’ll leave that to you then. How much longer does she have?”

“Hard to compute. No more than two years, but likely more than one.”

The director whistled lowly. “That’s good… yes. Good. It should be enough time. She’s worth all the rest of them combined, and my work would be at a standstill without her, like it was when you… I’m sorry.”

“You know I am incapable of taking offense to anything you say.”

“Hah. If it weren’t for the Vicarious Effect, I would have you out with her. Washington made a serious error today. I can’t say for certain, but I think he was distracted.”

“I have no data on the matter. Whether or not my capabilities would surpass agent Washinton’s is also unclear.”

“If only I could put your brain in his body.”

“Yes sir. The resulting composite would certainly exceed the sum of its parts.”

Chuckling, the man whose voice possessed more inflections typical of regular humans spoke in a tone that indicated the conversation was over.

“Heheh. Always a pleasure talking to you, Zed.”

“If I could feel pleasure, your speech patterns indicate that you are adept enough in conversation that I would be able to reciprocate your statement.”

Another chuckle vibrated through the air. Apparently the director found Zed to be amusing on this night. It was an odd thing, considering their relationship had been more strained a mere nine years in the past.

In a stark room composed of some reflective, gleaming alloy, a solitary pill-shaped pod hissed before a small slit bisected it. Vapor fanned out from the expanding fissure as one of its obsidian hemispheres opened like the printed books of the old civilizations. The wispy gas feathered out into the plain room like a gathering of ghostly fingers.

Tucked snugly into the memory-foam lining the pod was a young woman in a, white sleeping outfit made of a synthetic material that extended from her shoulders to her knees. Slowly, unsteadily, she opened her eyes. For the briefest of instances hints of vulnerability could be glimpsed through these windows to the woman’s soul. Then the instant passed, and the eyes hardened with the cold resolve that seemed so natural that it was as if she was born with the look.

Somewhat disoriented, Faye swung her legs over the side of her pod and attempted to stand. Her knees were weaker than usual, and she was ashamed when her handler had to step forward and assist her in finding her footing.

“Your physical response is to be expected,” the handler informed her expressionlessly. “The intensity settings of your pod were increased last night.”

Faye nodded, knowing that conversation with her handler wasn’t exactly the most fruitful of endeavors.

“You are expected in conference room 3 at 8:30. The director wishes to see you.”

“Uncle Derrick?!” she exclaimed, looking like a girl during this rare outburst. Knowing a response to a redundant question wasn’t to be expected from Zed, Faye hurriedly nodded and left her chamber for the changing room at the end of the hall.

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