Automatically, the most formidable safety officer in the Peripheral Branch had begun advancing once more. It was as if his body had sensed the indecision that his brain was experiencing and initiated some sort of autopilot. In that moment, James did not have the presence of mind to appreciate the irony of such a comparison, still troubled by a dilemma he was unequipped to handle.
A foot planted itself swiftly in his path. In the next instant, a smartly aimed chop from what turned out to be Faye’s hand sent the HFP tumbling out of James’ grip and across the hall. Stunned, he abruptly returned to the figurative state of full manual control over his body.
“Do you intend to ignore me? I asked you a question.” The voice was cold and disciplined, not betraying the mental tribulation its owner was suspected of experiencing.
The safety officer had entirely missed this question – something that caused him much consternation. Was his attentiveness really slipping?
“Were you aware that Derrick had a custom emitter installed?”
James hesitated. This was not the question he had been expecting, and he struggled to connect it to their current situation.
“Yes. I thought that you knew of it.”
It wasn’t an unreasonable belief. After all, she worked besides him every day, and was well aware that he had an emitter implanted in his cranium that masked his nuanced thoughts with a layer of white noise. Of course, it was tuned to allow the vague, supportive emotions that sustained the Vicarious Effect through.
“How was I to know the technology was so developed? Every emitter I’ve ever encountered has been for protective purposes, like yours.”
This gave James pause. Seeing the hardened warrior hesitate, Faye pushed her point. She was aware that her partner most likely was dismissing her as compromised by Josh’s machinations. She only had seconds to convince him that the concerns brought on by the revelation she had experienced were valid. Her next couple sentences contained little margin for error.
“James, are you comfortable leaving someone of Josh’s potential in the control of the director?”
“The director? You’ve always been loyal to him. What happened to calling him uncle?”
“Would you believe me if I told you that loyalty was one rooted in an addiction to a complex emotion produced by his emitter implant?”
That sounded very much like director Derrick Jones. The man was not one to earn loyalty fairly. James thought of the his own debt to the director. In truth, he was not comfortable handing over a potent metacognite to such a cunning an manipulative individual. His misgivings about his superior had always been quashed by his partners fierce loyalty. With that now in question, James realized just how few solid truths he had in his life to stay rooted to.
As he attempted to piece together an answer, all the while mentally kicking himself for letting even more time pass by with an unsecured Joshua Brooke, his thoughts were interrupted by a message only he could hear.
“This is Zed. I will arrive at your location in five minutes. Continue guarding the target until then.”
It didn’t matter what he thought; James realized this. He felt like a beast in a zoo, free to roam around within the confines of its micro-environment, but ultimately unable to make decisions of any real meaning.
Zed would be upon them shortly, and he would have no patience for such a deviation from protocol. However, the way he had phrased his message suggested that he and Zed were not aware of Faye’s aberrant behavior. James had not been looking forward to the repercussions, as he had known that his internal hardware provided a feed back to headquarters unbeknownst to Faye. Perhaps Zed had been dispatched and the feed cut before the director and his most trusted agent had witnessed her first divergent words.
Granting Faye’s request and containing her alongside Josh in the HFP was definitely out of the question. While James could not predict how Zed would react, he did not imagine it would be anything good. Obviously leaving the metacognite unconfined was dangerous, as he could still recover in short order.
Fulfilling their duties as field agents of the Peripheral Branch meant handing Josh over to the Zed, and the director. Perhaps it was due to recently reliving the memory of his helplessness and failure, but James had a renewed sense of just how disagreeable director Jones was as a person.
The same tools that made the safety officer a capable countermeasure against Faye if she were to go rogue also prevented him from directly assisting her in doing so, for reasons at the moment known only to him, as well as the director and Zed. To his own surprise, James was seriously considering the merits of his partner disobeying orders and potentially becoming a fugitive.
This radical change in attitude was brought about by the hard questions he had struggled with for the last couple minutes. He was truly loyal to Faye, and considered her intelligent enough to work through whatever it was that made her hesitant to complete this mission. At the end of the day, James would feel safer in leaving Josh in the hands of a rogue agent – if that agent was Faye – than he would in handing him over to director Jones.
With that firmly settled in his mind, he steeled himself for what would come next, trusting his partner to have the competence to make it through what he was about to do.