Chapter 7, Part 1

“We need to secure him for transport. Though the hemispherical force projector relies on electronic circuits, he shouldn’t be able to…”

Director Jones cut the feed, satisfaction creeping onto his features, making his eyes glint with something other than their usual cleverness. He regarded the other person in the room calmly, before issuing a somewhat cryptic command. “You know what needs to be done.”

Zed nodded, but did not leave the room like the director expected him to. “Agent Waller’s behavior was anomalous,” he noted plainly.

“Everything about this mission was ‘anomalous’ Zed. Don’t worry about her.”

“I do not worry. Only analyze.”

With those words, the enigmatically stoic agent who was the handler of the Peripheral Branch’s most talented agent left the room. Alone, director Jones cast a cursory glance at his exposed forearm, causing a reactionary flare from the embedded digital interface. Before its brightness peaked however, his gaze had already left it. The backlight dimmed and faded, briefly revealing the synthetic texture of what otherwise looked like regular flesh from a distance.

Derrick Jones had a home away from headquarters, but unbeknownst to those working under him, he had also fashioned a room within the rarely visited storage section of the facility as a personal area for himself. It was to this room he ambulated towards in brisk yet smooth strides, to have his regular 5:30 dinner alone.

On his way to his sanctum of sorts, Derrick passed through a room full of pill-shaped pods similar to those the empath investigators of the Peripheral Branch slept in. These ones were upright, and neatly ordered in ranks and files. Their slight angling gave them a macabre appearance like that of regularly spaced, jutting tombstones found in the burial grounds of earlier human civilizations.

Each pod had a small information pad at around chest height. Derrick paused when he was almost through the room to tap one of these pads a couple times. Raw data displayed itself in light red text against a black background. Clearly, no one had thought to make a presentable interface for this, as only certain technicians worked with these readings.

There was a indistinct murmur of disappointment from the director. This mood lasted only for a second though, because as if remembering something, Derrick straightened and continued on his way with a positive bounce barely detectable in his steps.

The sanctum was cold, something which would have surprised the average citizen if they knew that a government worker of such high esteem slept there almost every night. The reason for the mildly uncomfortable temperature was stationed solemnly at the very end of the room, opposite from the entryway.

It was yet another pod, but fully rectangular instead of pill shaped. Like its companions in the adjacent room, it was tilted at an angle, though a less severe one. In fact, it was almost horizontal, but still raised just enough so that Derrick could see the obscured outline of its occupant under the partly opaque surface.

Mist from evaporating coolant poured off of the pod in a continuous flow. The cost of maintaining such a sharp heat gradient at all times was nothing to be scoffed at, even for a citizen of first degree privileges.

A cheerful female voice broke the reverent atmosphere that had built up in the room. “Welcome back, Derrick! Shall I start the meal preparation sequence?”

The man waved his arms noncommittally. “I’ll take care of it manually today. Also Victoria, please power down for the time being. I would like some privacy.”

“Powering down now. Have a good evening Derrick.”

It may have been an old-fashioned notion in the eyes of the general populace, but Derrick did not feel secure while his AI was active. After cautiously waiting a few seconds after Victoria’s farewell statement, he relaxed visibly. This change in posture came with the suddenness of a lake freezing over, but instead of coldness, the normally cryptic director now exuded a vague warmth.

With measured yet hurried steps, Derrick traversed the length of his room to stand before the coolant pod. Up close, a slender female figure who looked to be in her teens could be seen within. Everything down to the smallest hair follicle was frozen in place by a light blue solid gel, as if lost to time itself. This was the intended purpose of the pod, although in a less poetic sense.

Wiping some of the condensation off from surface of the pod so that he could see its inhabitant more clearly, Derrick gathered his emotions before speaking with some unsteady wavers in his voice he would never be caught with in public.

“I’ve finally found what I need. A cornerstone mind. It’s everything we need to accelerate development on the hypernetwork. I’ll have you back soon…”

Derrick swallowed back a surge of emotions. He tasted the words he had been about to say, hardly daring to consider that they might once again refer to a living, breathing human. He remembered how he had hurled those words as a curse against the universe. For a time they had felt like bitter poison, but now they contained hope.

“…my Teresa.”

“Daddy misses you so much.”

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