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  1. #1

    subterranean homesick alien.

    Stellar's Avatar
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    e x o d u s . [CLOSED]


    //Exodus Scrapbook



    22:34 | Aelpon District, East End | Meropis
    Zakkery Fox [+]




    It’s a bone crushing force when he lands. The impact would have turned any other Meropian into soup – but Tracers, they were different. They were built to withstand the concussive force of moving at the speed of light and abruptly stopping as if they hit a cement wall. But that it didn’t mean that the collision didn’t hurt. That his muscles and bones weren’t screaming in agony or that the contents of his stomach hadn’t moved to form one coagulated mass in his throat every time he leaped between localities. He felt it. He felt it every time he made the jump. And it hurt. It hurt like hell.

    Straightening slowly with gritted teeth, he cast a glance across the rooftop letting the handgun hang limply at his side. It would take a few seconds for his muscles to get back up to speed, for the atoms in his body to adjust to laws of time and space that Tracers otherwise ignored. He took that second to take in the new scenery – the rusted derelict maze of scaffolding that collapsed in on itself like a destabilized spider web and the fractured teeth of Meropis’ skyline. It was never quiet. Not with the endless roar of traffic between the concrete giants and the entangled stratums of highway overpasses. Not with the millions of people that crowded the city streets at any time of day. The people of Meropis couldn’t conceptualized the definition of silence. They had never heard it.

    “What’s his position now?”

    Fox swung his head under a low-hanging bar, squinting at the abandoned rooftop illuminated only by the pale incandescence of Meropis’ light polluted sky. Winding through the abandoned piles of scrap metal and garbage, he pushed towards the edge of the rooftop and the thirty-floor drop between the timeworn pillars of the Aelpon District. There wasn’t any sign of their fugitive, only the poorly constructed dust heap. Fifteen days ago there were three towers like this in the commercial district of Heimstown until a five kiloton of TNT bomb turned them all into ash and rubble. Now, the city was on lockdown. Curfew was put in place. People were only allowed to leave their home for work and basic necessities unless they wanted to fall under the scrutiny of the SSP. But you couldn’t confine fifty million people to a box. It wasn’t feasible. And as a result, terrorists walked freely among them – a needle in the haystack.

    “One second.” Came the reply in his ear. A soft-spoken voice with the slight hint of a speech-impediment.

    Patiently, Fox glanced at the display of his watch and dropped his arm at his side. He chewed on the inside of his cheek as he pushed a pebble with the toe of his boot. The earlier onset of nausea began to settle to a dull ache, but it would be short lived. When a known sympathizer crawled out from his hole it was typically the opposite of a slow night.

    “We’re losing time.”

    “Just one second.”

    The diver went quiet again leaving him alone with the constant buzz of static.

    “Daedalus.”

    A hiss of air crackled in his earpiece, before abruptly: “West! Head Northwest towards the fire escape.”

    The blue tinged HUD flooded his field of view as he twisted on heel and followed the directions back at a run. He followed it across rooftops, vaulting between buildings and crawling across vents, rubble, and HVAC pipelines. He fired the handgun three times when crossing a gap or surviving a drop between buildings was ‘humanly’ impossible – i.e. for everyone but a tracer. Each time he closed his eyes, exhaled, and opened them just in time to see the ground rushing up to meet him at an incomprehensible speed.

    For a half-a-second Fox glimpsed his target again before he dematerialized once more.

    He was quick for a civilian Tracer, most weren’t nearly so adept. But Morgan Thames had dodged the SSP for nearly twelve days since the terrorist attack in Heimstown. Most fugitives didn’t last more than thirty-six hours before they were fitted with a NumbCollar and shipped off to the Frontline. This new rebel resurgence was a thorn in Meropis’s side. Persistent. Unrelenting. Running the SSP’s resources dry and their numbers thin.

    Another jump and the stomach acid reached the back of his throat. He swallowed spit just to settle the churning in his gut. When he regained momentum, he reacted just in time to the flash of movement flickered at corner of his eye. He fired one single round. It tore through the Morgan’s calf like slug of molten lead, shredded skin, muscle, and bone. Morgan dropped onto the asphalt-covered roof with a ricocheting force, rebounding back into a steam pipe, air expunged through his teeth. But Fox wasn’t nearly close enough to take him down and Morgan proved himself once again resilient as he fired back at him.

    Diving for cover behind a vent shaft, the metal lit up like a firecracker. Fox crouched lower as Morgan’s exchange punched holes through the aluminum sheet. “I need a hoverdrone here.”

    The wind was biting this high up. Despite the beads of sweat dripping down the collar of his coat he was beginning to lose feeling in his toes.

    “There isn’t one available. They’re all tied up for another op.”

    Fox slammed another cartridge in place and pulled back the slide to load the first round. “He is fitted with a R9. Find me one if you want us to take him in alive.”

    There was a break in the gunfire. Fox flinched a glanced around the corner, the barrel of his gun leading first.

    Somehow the other Tracer was attempting to jump again.

    “Shit.” Fox was back on his feet.

    Morgan fired the gun just as the SSP agent pulled the trigger of his.

    There was a crack of thunder, a blur of color, and a static hot buzz.

    The world returned six hundred thousandths of a second later that felt like a decade.

    Stumbling with disorientation, Fox tried to right his vision. The HUD display flickered with an electronic static that obscured his vision. He didn’t bother trying to fix it, instead he stumbled a few steps forward as he brushed a palm across his face.

    “Daedalus, where is he?”

    “I don’t know.”

    Fox coughed into his fist and whirled around on the heel of his boot.

    Nothing.

    In Morgan’s state he couldn’t have gotten far. He shouldn’t have been able to jump at all. Not with a two-inch hole through his calf as he bled out on the asphalt. It had been suicide to even try.

    “Daedalus?”

    “I don’t know.” The diver was panicked.

    Fox scanned the skyline, the surrounding rooftops, the windows, the doors, the scaffolding.

    Everything was still.

    Not a single movement.

    Nothing.

    Daedalus began to stammer on the other end. “I don’t know what happened… I was on him… he was right there… every security camera I could pull from. There’s no way I could have missed him. He has to be there.” Sharply he exhaled. “Not even a tracer could jump that fast. Not without me catching a glimpse. But he is gone.”

    Fox reached the edge of the roof and watched as a pebble fell the thirty stores to the ground.

    He swallowed a breath and let his head roll back against his neck muscles.

    He stared up at the cloud-filled sky

    “Daedalus, call the medical examiner.”

    The diver didn’t have to question why.

    Morgan shouldn’t have been able to jump. But he tried. And then he fell. Thirty stories.

    He was dead.

    And so was their only lead.
    Last edited by Stellar; 10-23-2016 at 11:26 AM.

  2. Thanks Aetherium, Mage thanked for this post
  3. #2
    Aetherium Aetherium's Avatar
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    RIDLEY


    There was no better way to define assignment to the frontline than bleak. It was the kind of work that made her want to abandon humanity; give in to despair. Nothing they did there was justifiable. Right. But more and more it was beginning to feel like the only solution. There was a saying for that kind of psychological evolution…

    When all you have is a hammer, every problem starts looking like a nail.

    She watched out the domelike window of her helipod as she approached the glimmering City of Meropis, hiding far beyond the desolate horizon she was intimately familiar with. This model was equipped with a pilot up front in a completely separate compartment. The passenger alcove was made to fit only two bodies comfortably. They were fast and completely silent in the cabins.

    Across from her was the Commander in Chief, his knee almost touching hers. The proximity was unusual; discomfiting. She knew she was being watched. She could feel the intensity of his stare on her, calculating what he saw. Did she flinch? Did she emote? Amir was always and evermore keyed into the minutiae. Perhaps that skill was the reason he was who he was?

    “You’re thinking of her.” His voice cuts through the silence, the words unexpected.

    “No.” She lies. “Sir.” Of course she was thinking of her. She was also thinking of the one other person she left behind. Someone she’d be seeing for the first time in twelve months, in very short order.

    Meropis reared up ahead of them. Once they passed the wall, the helipod descended to the main gateway access, Sigrid’s eyes scanning the ground, summing up the number of CDF men and women they stationed here to guard and protect. More like keep people in. It was a zoo of bodies, munitions and armored vehicles, keeping the wave of impoverished from getting anywhere near that access point. What did they think? That they’d be capable of carving out a better life outside the walls than they did in here? That idea was spreading like a pandemic through the City. It would get them all killed. One way or another.

    Landing only briefly, the floor to ceiling window on one side of their cabin slid back with a release of pressure and air. Stooping to get out, Amir’s knee brushed Sigrid’s in passing. She sucked in a breath, held it, then released slowly. Their relationship crossed the personal and professional boundary once. She didn’t want to go there again. She didn’t want to consider the rude possibility that she only achieved this rank due to the fact she slept with the boss. Once he dropped to the ground, a CDF militant hopped in to take his place. An escort. Support. Someone she’d already been in contact with.

    “You have your orders Ridley. Follow them. Don’t waste precious time on fruitless endeavors.” He called from the ground before the door slid back into place and the cabin repressurized. It was a warning. He knew the work she’d been doing in the background, trying to locate her sister, using resources that would have otherwise been focused on the problem at hand.

    They weren’t in the air long before Sigrid was watching the young man much like Amir had watched her. Almost like a tool rather than a human being.

    “So?”

    He shakes his head, considering the words he was privy to from the Commander in Chief before their pod took to the air. They weren’t specifically for him but he was smart enough to understand that he was complicit in activities that the man in charge frowned upon.

    “I don’t have much. She really digs in. Great tracer. Even better at keeping herself hidden. Off the grid.”

    “Don’t tell me what I already know.”

    He looks startled. It was enough to get him talking quickly.

    “Last known sighting was with that group called Liber-8. The ones pushing for access beyond the wall. They’ve been actively recruiting in the Aelpon District. I’m still not sure what Maya’s-”

    “Don’t…” She cuts him off, raising her voice beyond the usual steady apathetic cadence. “...speak her name.”

    “Yes ma’am.”

    “And don’t call me Ma’am. I’m Proxy to you. And to everyone else out there.” The title Proxy was revered and hated at the same time. It was something she rightly used to her advantage.

    Silence hung between them as they encroached the SSP headquarters, the helipod catching an updraft as they ascended to the rooftop landing pads.

    “So?” She encouraged. “You were saying?”

    “Yes. Proxy.” There was an edge to the way he said it. “I’m not quite sure in what capacity she’s working with Liber-8 yet.”

    “Well find out.”

    The landing was smooth as the door hissed open and she hopped out, the wind at this altitude sending her hair askew, cutting across her face. The militant followed close at her heels as she entered the elevator shaft with an access code that was provided to her along with the rest of the priming material that prepared her for this new assignment.

    It was a relief to be off the frontline. She wasn’t sure how much longer her psyche could handle it out there. But in this particular case she was sacrificing one shit-fight for another.

    She knew her way around the SSP from a past life. A life that afforded her some small happiness that she ended up wrecking beyond repair. Absentmindedly her thumb brushed her barren left ring finger as she landed on the appropriate floor and breezed through the hallway, past the scrutinizers and the glances of recognition. They knew who she was but were sincerely surprised to see her. None of them, save the Chief of Police, were granted the same kind of clearance as the Proxy and even then only on a need-to-know basis. The news, however, would spread like wildfire in a place like this. One where even the walls had eyes and ears. The trouble was, it just wouldn’t spread quickly enough for one particular individual to get ahead of it. She would be an unwanted surprise. And she knew how much he hated surprises.

    Ridley and her support staff entered a specific door, into a gallery that was nearly empty save one Police Officer that was observing through one-sided glass.

    “You guys weren’t supposed to start without me.” She came to stand next to the man. Bosa, people called him. He’d been one of the few that actually came to her impromptu wedding.

    Bosa wheeled around, startled by her voice.

    “Sig...shit. I, uh...didn’t think I’d see you again.”

    “It’s Proxy, now.” She corrected.

    He nodded. In this light she couldn’t quite tell if he was surprised to hear that she’d ascended rank to COO.

    “They just sat down.” He paused, almost thinking twice about asking. “Does Fox know you’re here?” He was beginning to understand the situation. There’d be no other reason for her to be present in this room if she wasn’t somehow involved in the death of their one and only lead. On her ex-husband’s watch, no less.

    “He’s about to find out.” Walking to the door that led to the room, she used her clearance passcode, the lock releasing and the door swinging open to let her through. She came from behind him, the room feeling small...too small.

    “I’ll take it from here, thank you.” The two investigators balked in her direction, gathering their files as they hesitantly stood up. “Leave those with me. I’ll need them for my review.” They dropped the documents back on the table, seemingly displeased with having to abandon their inquiry halfway through.

    Once they left the room and shut the door behind them, Sigrid rounded the table and sat across from him, the sound of the chair legs screeching on the floor as she pulled it out sounding louder and harsher than it really was. At first, she didn’t say a thing, matching his stare. He was surprised. She knew he was. But he wasn’t allowing for the sentiment to manifest in the physical realm.

    “What are you doing here, Sig?”

    “Proxy.”

    If Fox was surprised by her new status, he didn’t show that either.

    “What are you doing here, Proxy?” He repeated without a hint of emotion.

    “It appears as though the SSP is getting sloppy. I’m here to find out if that’s true and remedy the situation if it is.”

    “So, what...you’ve come to babysit us?”

    Sigrid didn’t bend to his insubordination.

    “In a manner of speaking, yes. I’ll be reviewing operations, starting with Morgan.”

    There was the tell-tale sign of irritation - ever slight - as that pad of his thumb brushed against the side of his index finger. She hadn’t felt that coldness in his stare since the day she walked out.

    He exalted, casting his eyes to the top of table. Did it bother him to look at her? To see her face after twelve months apart?

    “What about him?”

    He wanted this over quickly. Easier for both them. Except it wasn't at all.

    “He’s dead for starters. I need to know how that happened?” Translation? Was Fox negligent? Externally she had no problem meeting that cold stare. Internally, she battled with admitting to herself that it hurt he could be so stoic.

    Fox didn't miss a beat, “PULSE was activated at twenty-two-hours and alerted SSP dispatch of fugitive Morgan Thames’s location in the Aelopon District. Officer nine-seven-seven-three, Daedalus Kenner, as support and I responded to the call. The suspect was alerted to the presence of the SSP by local law enforcement who attempted to contain the suspect until the SSP arrived and fled on foot before we were on scene. Officer nine-seven-seven-three localized the suspect’s location to the rooftop of the Aelopon District towers. During pursuit, I shot the suspect in the calf to destabilize him. The suspect however was armed with a R9 impeding my ability to apprehend him. Despite his injury, the suspect attempted to jump to escape. However due to the injury he has sustained, his Mystokinesis was compromised and the suspect fell to his death at twenty-two-hours-and-fifty-two-minutes.”

    Well-rehearsed, how many times had he told this story? How many ‘reports’ had he given since he arrived back at headquarters? Things really were a mess in the city when even their own agents couldn't be trusted. The seed of doubt was planted and it festered.

    When that amber stare finally lifted from the table to meet her, it was if he didn't even recognize the person across from. She was watching him the entire time, dark brown, almost black, eyes fixated on his every move, every emotional nuance.

    “So.” She looked down upon the files strewn haphazardly on the table before her, picking through the mess until she reached the plexi tablet beneath. “You made the executive decision to take down our first and only lead on your own? I reviewed the feeds 7-4-2-4. PULSE recommended backup at three different junctures. You know how poorly this reflects on you? On Daedelus?”

    “How familiar are you with the current state of affairs in Meropis, Proxy?” He may have used her title formally, but there was no measure of respect in the way he used it. “Following the attack on Heimstown security and surveillance went up nine-fold. The mandatory serving hours increased from fifty-five to eighty-five hours. Single-man operations were issued in order to meet with the current demand.” He leaned back in his chair letting the impact of his defence dissipate in the air like a flammable gas. “PULSE recommended backup. There is no backup. A request for a hoverdrone to aid in the capture was made however this request was denied as not even a hoverdrone was available at the time of pursuit.”

    Sigrid hit a nerve. If he wasn't presently being monitored, if this conversation wasn't being recorded, what would he have said differently? She didn't have to guess. She could see it in the deepening black pools of his eyes. Always the obedience agent. But she saw through that SSP shield.

    “We all have jobs to do, 7-4-2-4. I have mine. You have yours. This disorganized police force has their’s. You’re understaffed and overutilized. That’s a fact. So is the CDF. But we still understand the necessity of prioritization.” She knew he was good at his job. Exceptional even. He likely made the right decision for all intents and purposes. But right now she had one singular job to do and that was to ruffle a few feathers and get to the bottom of why the SSP has had such difficulty nailing Machimos to a cross, not coddle the male ego. Standing up slowly, gathering the files and the tablet in one hand, she tucked them between hip and arm. “You need to figure out how to do that or we’ll find a CDF militant to replace you that can.” She walked around the table, pausing briefly at his shoulder. “If you conveyed the necessity of someone, anyone, rerouting resources for the sake of a critical lead, Morgan may still be alive and Amir Kane wouldn’t have had to take over this fucking circus act.” With that said, she entered her passcode and walked out, leaving it to the Chief of Police to explain to Fox that he now reported to his ex-wife.

  4. #3
    Mighty Morphin' Power Writer LexiZone's Avatar
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    And, as always, Readers: if you don’t hear from me after today…
    I was right.

    It took a few minutes before she realized that her heavy eyelids had closed; her head drooped forward so her chin almost rested on her chest. Torrence woke with a start, the jump leaving a mismatch of letters from where her hands had been peacefully resting on her keyboard.

    She had barely been sleeping for the last two weeks. Things were beginning to get weird--and that was above the normal weirdness of her (supposedly) controlled life. It all seemed to change two weeks ago, on her 28th birthday--or as she would refer to it as the “10th anniversary of her chip implantation and release from government-run foster care”.

    But… There were no chips implanted in the people of Meropis. The people were free--free to live their lives. To be normal.

    Torrence begged to differ. They watched her every move. Knew when she slept; when she ate; where she was; who she was with. They monitored her words; her thoughts; her feelings.

    They were watching her.

    Before she erased the discombobulated mess of letters from the end of her most recent blog post, she sat back in her desk chair, arms stretched above her head, back arching until she felt a relieving ‘pop’ in her spine. Dark circles were prominent under her dulled brown eyes which stared listlessly at the computer screen while she re-read her latest post during the stretch. As her arms came back down, her right hand stopped briefly to rub the back of her neck after moving her long brown hair--which was currently a mess of knots--out of the way.

    Finally she pressed “POST”.

    A social worker had once suggested that she write her fears down on paper in order “to keep her reality in check”. Unfortunately, the notebooks Torrence kept always ended up confiscated for some reason or another. There needed to be a safe place to store her thoughts. A place where there would be accountability if someone tried to take it away from her.

    So she started a blog.

    BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP

    Another startled flinch. She had dozed off in front of the computer again. This time it was her alarm clock beeping incessantly. Torrence groaned irritably, dragging her feet from the desk in the main room of her basement apartment to the small bedroom in the back.

    Time to get ready for work, she thought haphazardly as she turned the alarm off with fumbling fingers. For the job that doesn’t exist.

    The generic data entry job she had managed to maintain for the last six years of her paranoid life had finally let her go, firing her over “creating a hostile work environment”. The day after the “10th anniversary of her chip implantation and release from government-foster care”.

    All she had done was bumped into someone and spilt his coffee on his shirt. She didn’t apologize; just kept her head down and kept walking back to her back corner desk.

    Her life has been a giant countdown timer since that day.

    She hoped to evade being caught, and so far (knock on wood) it had been going fine.

    Torrence changed into a new t-shirt that hung loose on her thin frame; a semi-clean light grey sweatshirt over top. As she brushed a few knots out of her hair, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Someone had turned off her water five days ago (“the landlord will fix it--eventually”); someone had emptied her bank accounts three days ago (“did you forget your account number? Your passcode? Misspell your name?”).

    And on top of that... Her right eye wouldn’t stop twitching. She stared in the mirror, trying to will the muscles to stop twitching. It only made them twitch more in irritation. She let out a huff of exasperation and slipped on her black boots, grabbed her dark grey jacket and walked out the door.

    The sky was a lighter-dark-grey indicating the twilight between night and sunrise. She wrapped the front of the jacket around her frail frame, keeping her eyes on the ground in front of her as she walked with a purpose towards the core business district: where her job used to be. She had always begun the routine of starting work before 6 AM so that she would have minimal distractions and be one of the first to be out of the office just after lunchtime. Her supervisor didn’t mind--whatever “kept the weird one from stirring up drama”. She was often the only one on the street so early in the morning--somewhere between the night shift workers and the day-dwellers.

    But there was more foot traffic today.

    No...

    She couldn’t see them.

    She could feel them.

    Nonononono...

    Watching her. Following her. Waiting for the right moment. The moment they could pull her from the Meropis existence.

    Right now.
    Run!

    Panic overcame her and Torrence’s fast walking pace turned into a sprint. She had no idea where she was running--who she was running from--but she had to. Had to get away. Had to…

    As she turned a corner, it felt like her shoulder ran into a brick wall. Before she could stumble, she felt hands grabbing her.

    She felt something slip over her head, her face, draping down around her neck before pulling taught around the base, choking her. The sudden impenetrable dark brought on by whatever covered her eyes, nose, and mouth caused her to blink, and the muscles in her right eye twitched furiously.

    A bag! Torrence thought. Panic completely overrode reason, and her brain glitched as the thought repeated itself in a blur of incoherency. It’s a bag! A bag! NonononoNONONONO!!!

    She drew a breath to scream, and an odor assaulted her olfactory sense. It was powerful, acrid. It drove itself into her cognitive process and flipped a switch somewhere inside her mind. She felt herself go limp, supported by something, or someone, very strong. Her ears picked up the distinctive sound of a speeding car approaching, and then...

    She was gone.

    ...as always, Readers: if you don’t hear from me after today…
    I was right.

  5. Thanks Aetherium, Stellar thanked for this post
  6. #4
    e x o d u s . [CLOSED]
    Wheeler and Dealer
    Mage's Avatar
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    Just down the block, Ethan smoked a cigarette against the corner of an office building, and watched his team load the unconscious “dissident” woman into the back of a waiting SUV as if it were the most boring thing in the world. He was wearing casual business attire, cream and tan, though only the bottoms of his slacks could be seen beneath his long brown syntha-wool coat. He looked like an office manager, or a lawyer, wasting a few minutes before opening his practice. He looked normal.

    As the SUV sped away down the street and out of sight, a jogger crossed the road to Ethan’s side and came trotting over to his corner. She was a woman of eastern descent, tall and slim, with browned skin and expressive almond shaped eyes. Her hair bounced along behind her in a long black braid. As she came to rest in front of him, and knelt to tighten laces of her shoes, it draped over her shoulder and swung against her cheek.

    “That was unusual.” She commented, pushing the braid aggravatedly back over her shoulder. Samantha Collier was a Handler, an Encante agent and a natural born Mute. The government had very little use for powerless people, but for the few who managed to stand out, the Encante had a ready position to fill. Working with a Nell made other Mystokinetics uncomfortable, and crippled their most valuable asset. Mutes, on the other hand, had none of these drawbacks and were therefore infinitely more effective once properly and thoroughly trained.

    Ethan took a hard drag from his cigarette, and flicked the spent filter into the street, still smoldering. Smoke mixed with the steam of his breath when he spoke, forming a ghostly cloud that caught the wind and sailed away down the sidewalk. “Anxiety is a common symptom of being inside a deadzone.”

    “But full blown panic?” She asked.

    Ethan shrugged. “Her file indicates that she has acute paranoia. If she was already afraid, that could contribute.”

    “Is it paranoia if you’re right?” Agent Collier came to her feet, and took the short couple of steps needed to come lean against the building alongside him. “That’s about four thousand credits you just sent spiralling into the gutter, by the way.”

    She made a slight inclination of her head, indicating the general direction in which he’d tossed his litter. There was a general statute in effect against littering throughout Meropis, but it was rarely enforced in most neighborhoods. The MMPD had a tendency to pay more attention in the business districts, however.

    “Bill me.” Ethan reached into the breast pocket of his long coat and dredged up the rest of his crumpled pack. Samantha’s hand darted out, snatching it from his fingers and tossing into a nearby disposal before Ethan could fully process what she’d done.

    “What the fuck is wrong with you?!” He exclaimed, his eyes going wide. “Do you know how much those things cost?”

    “I don’t care.” She said, crossing her arms over her chest and glaring at him. “You’re a government asset, it’s my job to look after your wellbeing.”

    Ethan’s mouth moved, like a fish gasping in the open air, but no sound came out. He finally gave up, shoving his hands into his coat pockets.

    “Ok.” He said, his eyes rolling. “Fine. Where’s your car? I’m freezing. How can you even stand to wear that?”

    Agent Collier was wearing a thin blue jogging jacket, and a pair of knee length leggings. All in all, it probably gave about as much protection from the weather as a butter vest against a hot knife.

    “Aww.” She smirked, leaning away from the wall and starting at a brisk pace down the sidewalk. “You’d get used to it if, you know, you were a little more active.”

    “Whatever.” Ethan grumbled, and he fell into step behind her. Agent Collier had parked her car about a mile away from the Op location. The walk to their ride was largely quiet. Ethan didn’t feel like talking, which wasn’t in itself overly strange. This morning, though , he was plagued with an odd uncertainty. An ominous sensation, like waiting for the first stroke of lightning from a looming storm. Typically, Ethan would push such feelings to the back of his thoughts until they faded away on their own. This time, however, it was persistent. Almost urgent.

    Ethan slid into the passenger seat once Agent Collier unlocked her vehicle doors, and activated the car’s onboard computer. The holographic interface bloomed orange and blue across the passenger side dashboard. As Samantha started the car and pulled away from the curb, Ethan accessed the Encante’s official records, searching “Torrence Reid”.

    The display was suddenly filled with documents: phone records, work evaluations, web searches, and medical histories. Someone at headquarters had just created a file for known criminal activity, and Ethan could see them filling in the blanks in real time minimized at the corner of the display.

    “They never include a picture.” He griped.

    “They don’t want you going soft over a pretty face.” Agent Collier chuckled.

    Much like their walk, the rest of the drive was spent in silence. Ethan skimmed through the “dissident’s” file, looking for details me might have missed on a previous read through. He closed down the display as he felt the car’s momentum decrease, and looked up to see Agent Collier pulling in behind the SUV. The SSP’s monolithic headquarters building towered above them, blocking out the morning sun.

    “I feel you should know,” Ethan said, pausing as he opened the door to exit Agent Collier’s car, “Your comments on this case have not been overlooked.”

    Samantha stared at him a moment, uncertain. “My...comments?”

    “Is it paranoia if you’re right?” Ethan quoted her. “Isn’t that what you said? I won’t file an official report, but a note will be made in your record. You need to be more careful, Sam.”

    The color had drained her her face a little. She swallowed, and managed a weak “yes sir” before Ethan closed the door and she pulled away from the building. Agent Collier had almost thought of Ethan as a normal person. She should have known better.

    “I want her taken to processing.” Ethan barked, approaching the other members of his team, who were unloading the still unconscious woman onto a waiting gurney.

    “Have her revived and prepped for questioning.” He continued as they tightened restraints across her chest, arms, and legs. Ethan stepped up to the gurney, gripped the bag covering her face, and pulled it free. “Tell the interrogation specialists that I’ll join them in a half--”

    The storm broke, and that first stroke of lightning left him speechless, staring down at a vaguely familiar face. He knew her. Ethan couldn’t say how, or why, but he knew her, and that meant something. For a second he thought he heard a sound, a squealing high pitched laughter, the foggiest impression of children at play. He felt as if he were close to latching onto something, but the moment passed too quickly.

    “Sir?” One of the agents inquired. The were looking at him, at his stricken expression. “Is something wrong?”

    Ethan became aware that he had instinctively taken a step back, as if he were afraid she’d suddenly spring to life and attack him. He quickly recovered himself, and cleared his throat. “On second thought, let her sleep it off. I want to see Interrogator Fornel immediately.”

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  8. #5
    Cake & Ativan
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    08:45 | SMIR, South Quarter | Meropis
    Misha Tippen



    The tea kettle shrilled, pulling Misha’s attention from the text he’d been perusing. Shifting Oolong from his lap, he laid both cat and tablet aside to switch the appliance off and pour water over tea leaves, then cast about for a clean teaspoon. When he came up empty-handed, a moment’s thought changed a discarded stylus from the kitchen island into a fresh silver spoon.

    “Lazy. I felt that.”

    He smiled at his cousin’s voice in his ear, the white noise of fans behind her flat tone indicating that she was doing something in one of the server rooms. “Nosy,” he shot back, “You're just jealous you have to actually wash a teaspoon when you need one.”

    “I wouldn't, if you’d do the dishes instead of making more. Literally. That better not have been my blue stylus.”

    He clanked the spoon intentionally against the mug as he stirred in cream, knowing it would carry over the line to annoy her. Stony silence was the only response he received to his obnoxiousness. “Don’t worry, I’ll--”

    “Director.” VADAM’s voice cut into the channel suddenly, “There’s a visitor asking for access to the special collection on floor one.”

    “Someone with clearance?”


    A moment’s hesitation as VADAM ran their credentials. “No, Director.”

    “Rory?”


    “I’m not expecting anyone.”

    “Well,” Misha shrugged into a soft cardigan, grabbed up his mug of tea, and started down the stairs to the lower levels, “Guess I’d better see who’s here then.”

    Never a place that could be categorized as a hub of activity, the library lay deserted in the early morning, tiles and concrete echoing with his steps, rows of glass display panels blank and empty. The library was one of the few places in the city that held a sense of tradition. The Government had always funded the library, so they continued to grant it a yearly budget. The Director had always worked to acquire new materials to be hoarded away, so Misha continued to do so. To what end was left unsaid, as if to admit ignorance of the library’s purpose was some dire social faux-pas. The library was boring, outdated, a staid institution to be humored but ignored like a senile relative.

    It worked to their advantage.

    The man on the first floor was scruffy and young, perhaps eighteen, and seemed incapable of not fidgeting as he eyed VADAM’s projection, standing still and patient beside him, with extreme suspicion. It wasn’t an uncommon reaction - such assistants were relatively rare, and the modernity of the public floors took most visitors by surprise. When VADAM flickered from existence without comment or warning as Misha descended the last few steps, the boy jumped, looking around quickly before spotting the librarian and assuming an arrogant posture.

    Misha hid his grin behind a sip of tea.

    “No games,” Rory breathed in his ear, “I’m tracing him now.”

    The sharp snap of setting his mug on the circulation desk echoed like a gunshot in the vacant space as he smiled, warm and innocuous, at their visitor. “I’ve been informed that you need some assistance finding something today. How can I be of use?”

    “I want to see the ‘special collection’,” their visitor announced, chin tilting up challengingly, his inflection so clearly adding air-quotes to the words that Misha struggled against the instinct to cringe.

    “He’s one of those little drug pushers,” his cousin’s voice in his ear again, cold and dismissive, “With the stupid name.”

    Instead, he forced his expression into something blandly regretful. “I’m afraid that’s impossible, Sir. The special collections aren’t open to public, due to their fragility and rarity,” even as he spoke, the boy was crowding into his space, puffing his chest out and trying to look intimidating, posturing even though Misha had several inches on him. “Here at the library we do make every effort to digitize antique--”

    And then there was the cold press of a blade into his side, small and hidden between their bodies, digging into the thin skin just above his hip.

    “Don’t play games with me. Do you know who I am? I am not someone you want to fuck with.” The young man licked his lips, gaze twitching around the room. “I’ve heard what’s here. Show me.”

    “Al-alright,” he made himself stutter and flinch as Rory snorted into the comm channel, unimpressed, no doubt already writing over the morning’s security records with boring footage of empty rooms. “I’ll show you. It’s down below. The - the basement.”

    The boy followed close behind as he descended the stairs, nearly stepping on him, knife digging into his back to urge him along. The locks on the heavy steel door at the bottom disengaged with a loud clank as he approached, and Misha heaved it open. Turning on silent, well-oiled hinges, it slammed shut behind them on its own, the noise muffled strangely in the oppressive silence that haunted the lower levels. Behind him, Misha heard the boy’s breathing speed up, and he smiled. The stacks were innately unsettling to the few people that got to see them. The citizens of Meropis were unaccustomed to silence, surrounded as they were by the constant crush of humanity and omnipresent digital noise, and the crushing sense of being muffled down here was like a physical force, pressing at the edges of a person relentlessly.

    The long, narrow walk between rows of dark and mouldering books stretched before them, the air thick with dust, decay, and the primitive scent of real leather. Misha could feel the young man’s confidence wavering as he lead him through the room, the boy still crowding him but now out of apprehension rather than threat. He ushered them into an elevator unlike anything seen elsewhere in the city - a metal, clanking thing that shuddered to movement on gears and cables as Misha leaned on its control lever.

    It started down at a slow pace, the light from the room above disappearing into twilight as they descended. “Someone in your little gang told you not to come here, right? Someone with better instincts, they warned you off.”

    “What?”

    The elevator ground to a stop, and Misha stepped off without answering, into the vastly cavernous space of the lowest floor, easily as large as the entire library above and absolutely packed, floor to ceiling, with shelving and drawers. He waited for the sorting trolley to hiss by and into one of the long rows, then stepped carefully onto its track. “Better follow close, that thing isn’t programmed to detect obstacles.” Behind him, the boy jolted into movement, struggling to follow, cursing as he tripped over the track ties.

    At the end of the line stood an unremarkable door, cream powder-coated metal with a simple latch. He swung it open, gestured his guest in ahead of him, and turned on the single light, revealing a bare concrete floor and metal filing drawers built into the walls.

    The boy turned in the small room, wide-eyed but trying to suppress his growing unease.

    Misha smirked, nasty and full of teeth, “Go on then. This is what you wanted, right? Take your pick.”

    He swallowed, resettled his grip on the knife, then opened the nearest drawer. His brow furrowed as he looked inside, “What the fuck is this? Do you think this is a joke?” Angered, he turned on the librarian, blade flashing forward.

    Facade of harmlessness abandoned, Misha easily stepped out of its path, grabbing the boy’s wrist as he tried to pull back for another swing. “You should have listened to your friend, you know?” he said amicably, twisting until there was a crack, a scream, and the knife clattered to the floor to be kicked aside.

    A vicious boot to the side of one knee collapsed the boy to the ground, sobbing and clutching his useless arm. Misha loomed over him, not at all resembling the man he’d been upstairs.

    “You’re stupid, you know that right? You and your pathetic little gang get wind of us, the operation we run, and you decide it’s a good idea to come here and threaten us?” He tsked, kicked the boy onto his back and reached into the open drawer. “You’re confused, I can see that. Most people don’t know how to optimize the skill of Transmutation, even those with the ability.” In his hand was a heavy steel bar. “Turns out that research is an invaluable tool.” The air bent, shimmering like a heat mirage, and suddenly he’s holding a gun, blocky, black, and brutish.

    Kneeling down, he leaned over the prone boy, and pressed the muzzle of the gun to a kneecap.

    “I want to know who told you about us.”

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  10. #6
    That one guy. Crimson Gekitou's Avatar
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    When he dances for the piper, it’s the piper who pays him.

    “Old things. When you’re younger-- in your teens, round-a-bout-- you don’t really think of the consequences and how it’ll affect you later in life. Old-timers will tell you to be careful, not to take your health for granted. That you’ll feel it later. But you keep going on because you’re invincible. Don’t have much experience to tell you otherwise, really. Scars make you cautious. These old things, though. I use to remember a time when they were dexterous. Could steal the watch from a man without him knowing, all while I stared into his eyes. I’d be smiling, too. Cheerfully. And he’d walk away, and would probably be happy if he found out that I had his watch because, if he’d known, I was the sort of chap who deserved it.”

    Varrick cracked his knuckles, took a sip of whiskey-- an awful synthesized leather-brown stuff that burned just right going down-- and continued on, “Then I joined the military. Bright-eyed and snot-nosed. Learned to fight and was damn good at it. Turned these adroit things into clumsy weapons. With every punch, every shot of the gun, every life I took, I knocked the cleverness right out of them. Hands do many things. Weapons do only one. Might be a fair trade, I suppose. Might be the cost of selling yourself to the devil. You never come out of it quite the same, good intent or not.”

    He stretched his hands out on the bartop, fingers splayed wide, and looked at them thoughtfully. They were strong and sinewy, and his knuckles were forged by age and tempered with blood. Beneath them, the bartop shone and winked back at him. It was cured cement, stained and polished a soft black, with specks of twinkling silicon crystals and fibers interwoven throughout. When he looked at it, he felt like he was looking at the night sky that the old novels painted. Deft hands had made this counter. Hands unsullied.

    Beside Varrick sat a man who looked as if he were dangling from the edge of an obsidian cliff by his elbows. He was short and stocky, but wore a long coat to try and hide his height. The man had once read that wearing long, flowing clothes, you could appear taller yourself. It didn’t quite work with him, as the fabric piled in undignified lumps here and there. In that gray coat, he looked like a puppet-- all loose cloth with a bobbing head at the top. The four or five hard drinks that he had been bought only made him more of a marionette, dangling woefully from less strings than he needed. Only one thing broke the monotonous gray that drowned his clothes: a small, glimmering police patch, tucked away beneath the folds of his coat, that shyly peeked out every so often. It, like the glass specks of stardust on the bar, was winking under the flickering half-dead lights.

    The gray coat muttered something.

    “Oh. I’ve only been back for a week or so. But you can hardly trust me. It’s only on the best days that I remember what day of the week it is.”

    Another noise whispered from beneath the gray coat. There was a metal click that was as quiet as a pin-drop, as powerful as thunder.

    In the corner of the bar, a round man polished glasses dutifully. There was a moustache upon his lip the weighed as much as his thick single brow, and mirrored it, too. His small, dark eyes were hidden beneath long, thick lashes, and they saw everything. He wore a permanent frown that, somehow, seemed kind. A sigh heaved his chest. He shook his head and disappeared through a door behind the bar, and would not be seen for the rest of the night.

    When you’re in the business of bartering beers and spirits, you tend to have a sixth sense about things.

    Varrick smiled something that was not unfriendly. His fingers stroked the recently groomed beard that spilled from his cheeks and chin in a cascade of silvers and blacks. Then, he adjusted his moustache, twisting the tips to clean, hellward points. “There’s no need for that, old friend. Too nice of a place to ruin with holes and blood.” After a small, thoughtful pause, he added, “and it wouldn’t be my blood, Scout.”

    “Don’t fucken call me that,” the gray man growled. “We’re going back to the precinct.”

    “Sorry, Lars. You’re right. Old times. The past is a dead thing that we keep trying to bring back to life.”

    “What?”

    “Oh. Nothing. I’ve had a lot of time to read. I won’t be going back to the precinct with you, old friend.”

    Lars bit his tongue. There was a silence in the room, the kind of quiet that settles on the back of your neck when someone steps on your grave. The kind of innocent calm before a bomb goes off.

    He drew his gun, but Varrick was, somehow, faster. The grip was as tight as a vice and his hand felt suddenly hot. There was a brief tingling, and then roaring pain. Lars collapsed against the bar and writhed, his mangled hand held, suspended, above his head. It still clutched his gun and Varrick clutched it.

    Through the pain, Lars wondered at how glad he was that Varrick had the decency to get him drunk before breaking his hand.

    Varrick rested his other hand on top of Lars’ head and took a breath. He focused quietly, shook his head a moment later, and sighed a bit ruefully. “You’re lucky. Can’t do shit as a kinetic anymore. Thanks for the information on Reid, thanks for the gun, and the drinks are on me. When you go home, give my wife and kid a kiss goodnight.”

    “Fuck you.” Lars groaned as Varrick reluctantly released him, crumbling to the bartop and cradling his hand to his chest. His nose was bleeding and his head ached, but it wasn’t from the alcohol. “They’ll find you. They’ll kill you.”

    “Shh shh. No. They won’t.” Varrick grinned coldly, wrinkling the corners of his eyes, pocketed the pistol, and finished the last of his whiskey in one gulp. As he turned and left, he let his words hang in the air behind him, “I’m already dead.”

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  12. #7
    Sage of Thyme The Smog Witch's Avatar
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    6:30 | Meropis
    Cleaning - done

    Clothes - packed

    Documents - burned

    Breakfast...

    The toaster oven rang just as Gregory finished pouring the coffee. He hated that he was getting better at this.

    A full thirty seconds ahead of schedule, he gave the main room a last once over before he finished plating the food. It looked almost presentable, a big improvement from when he’d found it last night. As a rule, he didn’t like to think about the people who used to own these apartments. It helped to keep things professional. Still, Meropis wasn’t exactly a creative city. Once you’d seen enough it became glaringly obvious where the differences were, and what that said about the tenant.

    The kitchen area, although carefully laid out and well furnished, was currently covered with various bits of litter. Garbage bags were collecting by the front door since before they’d shown up A pile of mail spread on the counter that he’d kept only to be replaced under the door before he left. A sink full of good quality china, rosy floral prints barely visible beneath the caked on grime. He’d actually used the last clean utensils to make the breakfast he was balancing on a tea tray past a large wooden buffet dividing the kitchen from the rest of the main room.

    Beyond that, a few large bookcases and an imposing desk blocked in a comfortably sized work space. However, he could only make out a couple of titles through the dim morning light and the thick dust on the shelves; “Teaching to transgress”, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, “the Conditions of learning”, none of which meant anything to him. The desk was also covered in a pile of bags and boxes that had spilled over from the couch set against it. Gregory set the tea tray down on the coffee table in the center of the third section, the only clean space in the whole room.

    “Reclaimers should be on duty in half an hour.” He said, moving a pile of loose yarn off of an armchair. “Everything’s ready to go.”

    Across from him, surrounded by notebooks and papers, a man was sunken deep into a love seat. He nodded slowly without moving his eyes from the french doors that lead out to a tiny concrete balcony. He looked great, for a man who’d had maybe three hours of sleep in the past two weeks.

    “You know, in some ways it’s kind of funny.” Peter said. “I used to get so angry about them ignoring documents and memos.” He leaned over and picked up a slice of toast. “If only I’d known then that I can’t even get their attention with a fucking bomb.” Chuckling, he wiped his hands against each other before reaching for one of the mugs of coffee, the pink one.

    Gregory grabbed the second coffee mug and followed Peter’s gaze out the window. Meropian sunrises weren’t exactly scenic. Dull, grey and cloud covered, they played out the same way every morning, with almost mechanical consistency. Despite that, for the past few weeks he’d found it increasingly difficult to look away from the sunburst. Too weak to hurt the eye at all, it only served to emphasize the three missing pieces in the skyline. He took a deep pull from his mug, trying to suppress a shudder as the sound resurfaced in his memory.

    “They locked down the city,” He said, taking a piece of toast. “Doesn’t that count for something?”

    “The S.S.P. ordered the lock down.” Peter said, taking another piece of toast. “It’s their job to watch the city. If we want to make real progress, we need the direct attention of the L.L.P.”

    “You’re barely holding ground as it is.” Gregory said, reaching for another piece of toast. The plate was empty. He picked the tray up to cover. “Do you think it’s smart to be looking that far ahead?” He asked, looming over Peter. He pointed to his coffee mug with the tray.

    “It’s the only way.” Peter said before taking a sip from his mug. “Unless we escalate faster than they can account for, it’s only a matter of time before we’re picked off. We might not have the resources to fight the entire military, but if we can strike before they have a chance to mobilize then we won’t need to.” He placed the mug on the tray.

    “Then why are you trying to give them an early warning?” Gregory asked, making his way back to the kitchen.

    “We need our enemy on the battlefield before we can swarm them.” Peter called back. “Besides, there are more than just two sides to this fight.”

    Gregory dumped the whole tray into the sink. He’d spent some time last night cleaning the place, more out of boredom than necessity, but at this point he didn’t care anymore. It’s not like the mess looked out of place anyway. Behind him, Peter muttered to himself, barely audible above the sound of shuffling papers.

    “How many have agreed to talk?” Gregory asked.

    “Enough.” Peter said. “I--”

    A high pitched whine interrupted whatever he was about to say. Gregory recognized it as an urgent message on Peter’s encrypted cell, but from the other side of the room he couldn’t hear what the problem was. He heard Peter mutter a few stilted things to someone. It must have been over quickly, because the shuffling noise returned and Peter rose head and torso over the office desk.

    “We’re leaving now.” He said, rushing through the office to the pile of bags on the kitchen table.

    “Is there an emergency?” Gregory asked, already slinging a bag over his shoulder.

    “Not an emergency, no.” Peter shook his head. He was stuffing the mess of papers into a smallish messenger bag. “But very inconvenient.”

    It was only a few seconds before they were halfway down the hallway, a slightly warm toaster the only evidence of their overnight stay.
    As soon as he reached the elevator, Peter fished out a piece of paper from one of his bags and began writing something down.

    “Here.” He shoved the paper into Gregory’s hand and reached over to press two buttons on the panel. The elevator doors slid shut. “Like you said, I’m a bit understaffed. So, now you get to deal with this. I’ve written tonight’s room too. We’ll meet back there.”

    “I-” The elevator door slid open again, revealing the building’s lobby. “Okay.”

    Gregory stepped onto the tiled floor and made straight for the front doors. Behind him, he could hear the elevator close again. He stuffed the paper into his coat pocket. Whatever it said could wait a few minutes, but right now he was just enjoying being free from Peter for the first time in two months.
    or something like that...

  13. #8

    subterranean homesick alien.

    Stellar's Avatar
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    e x o d u s . [CLOSED]

    09:34 | Falla District, North End | Meropis
    Izobel Fox & Gregory White [+]
    A Stellar and The Smog Witch Collaboration



    The gaping maw of a mechanical beast leered manically across the horizon. There was no façade of grandeur. No rose-colored glass painting the city with the illusion of paradise. Just a tangled jungle of concrete and metal where the people only served as cogs in the great design of Meropis. They were complacent against all evidence that their only purpose in life was serving the continuity of the city. But a new dawn was on the horizon. She had to believe that, if not only for her own morsel of sanity as she preserved the pretense that she was one of the herd, but also for the future generation to come.

    The illusion, however, held true behind closed doors.

    The mid-morning light stretched its brassy limbs across the parquet floors of the two-bedroom apartment. Izzy wiped the fatigue from the corner of her eye with a knuckle as she swung on the steel fridge door with a phone pressed against her ear. Despite the frigid temperature beyond the two-paned glass windows of the fourteenth-floor apartment, she wore polyester shorts and an oversized grey t-shirt. Her black hair was gathered in puffy bun, misshapen and only partially secured at the top of her head. Her bed, which also conveniently served as the family couch, was currently in the process of being occupied by two beady-eyed kids making engine noises and running toy cars across the coffee table.

    “I can find someone else to take care of the kids today.”

    Izzy hissed out a breath of exasperation as she closed the fridge door with her foot, balancing the phone against her shoulder and juggling a loaf of bread and jam in each hand, “It’s a cold, Jas. I think I’ll survive for the next six hours.”

    Admittedly, Izzy was a little nasally, but she sounded far worse than she really felt; a little hazy and groggy, but hardly requiring a house call from a doctor. Over-analyzing the common cold was an unfortunate outcome of having a nurse for a sister.

    Jasmine sighed on the other end of the receiver, “It’s just, the kids, they can be pretty wild during the day.”

    “They are five and three, what sort of mischief can they really get up to – Ames”, she called out over her shoulder, “are you going to give your Auntie Izzy any trouble?” The five-year-old shook her head, although it was clear as she drove the toy car off the table that it had been merely an instinctual response. It was enough of a confirmation for Izzy. “See, we will be fine. You worry about work. In the meantime, I’ll stop them from burning the house down while you are out.”

    “How comforting.” Jasmine said in reply.

    Izzy set the bread and jam down onto the counter. As she contemplated finding the plates and some cutlery, the intercom to the apartment pinged with a blue fluorescence.

    “Look, I have to go, there’s someone at the door. We’ll be fine, Jas. We will see you when you get home.”

    Before her sister could protest any further, Izzy hung up the phone.

    Izzy tossed a quick look at her niece, “What did I tell you about inviting boys to the house when your mom is out.”

    The five-year-old giggled and stuck her tongue out at her in reply.

    Izzy smiled and running a hand through her hair, she tapped the touchscreen of the intercom. Nothing. The lobby was clear. Strange, but not entirely out of the ordinary. Half of the calls they received were for the wrong unit number. But then she heard a knock on the front door. On the other side was a face she didn’t recognize. She kept her hand poised on the door handle and waited for him to speak first.

    After a few minutes of silence, Gregory fished a paper from his pocket and compared it to the number mounted on the door. His sense of direction had never failed him before, but there was a first time for everything.

    “Ms. Fox?” He knocked again. “I’m conducting a survey of regional supply distribution. If you have the time, I would appreciate it if you could fill out a short questionnaire.”

    He’d give it another two minutes before moving on.

    It was early. Too early. Something was wrong. Slowly, Izzy released the deadbolt and opened the door.

    “You guys were already here three-weeks ago.” She said a matter-of-factly meeting his stare. She didn’t know him. She had never seen him ever before in her entire life. But there was something about the way he returned her stare – a knowingness – that kept her from closing the door back on him.

    He was one of them.

    House calls were rare. Not just rare, extremely rare. Something hadn’t just gone wrong. Something had gone horribly astray.

    “Alright, come inside, but make this quick. I’m watching my niece and nephew.” She directed him inside, tiptoeing between scattered toys and mismatched pairs of shoes.

    When she closed the door behind him, her voice dropped to a harsh whisper, “What happened to Pryce?”

    “Don’t know, don’t care.” Gregory eyed the floor as he whispered back. “Lucky him, his schedule hasn’t changed… yet.”

    He took a few steps into the foyer. Doorless openings separated the tiny entrance from the rest of the apartment. More than one room. It would have been refreshing if Peter’s voice hadn’t immediately started playing in his head; must be a newer complex. The lobby used slate instead of linoleum tile, a bit more expensive but lasts longer and saves on cooling. I remember approving the blueprints in 327. Not my best work, but...

    “Is there somewhere we can talk freely?” He asked, a bit stronger than he meant to.

    There was something about his presence that felt unsettling. It wasn’t just the way he talk nor the way he looked at her when he spoke.

    No, it was something… else.

    She chewed on the side of her cheek diverting her eyes to floor. After a prolonged pause, she nodded her head and inclined her chin in the direction behind him, “Back bedroom.”

    Izzy took the lead, cutting passed the common area where her niece and nephew still sat perched on the balls of their feet leaning over the table edge. Reassuringly, she smiled at the two of them. The youngest resumed interest in his toy, but Ames watched the two of them curiously as they crossed behind the couch to her sister’s bedroom.

    Izzy wouldn’t exactly be able to hide this house-call from her sister. It was bad enough that Jasmine was wildly overprotective, add a stranger to the mix and there would no doubt be a discussion later that evening.

    Quietly, Izzy shut the door behind them.

    “What did you mean when you said 'lucky for Pryce his schedule hasn’t changed yet'?” She crossed her arms protectively against her chest, “What exactly happened?”

    “What exactly has happened, is that you’ve been promoted.” He pulled a file folder out from under his coat and tossed it on the bed. “On the highest authority too, you should be proud.”

    Recovering those files had been more difficult than Gregory would care to admit. The reclaimers were already processing Morgan’s apartment by the time he got there. Come to think of it, they should be waking up right about now. With any luck, his brief visit will be the only thing they’ve forgotten.

    “You’ll be filling in for the late Morgan Thames.” He explained. “The details are in there, but his duties pertained mainly to supplies and recruitment.” He glanced at his watch. “I’ve also been assigned to train you. Our first rendezvous is in forty five minutes, can you be ready by then?”

    He nodded towards the door. Muffled giggles and engine noises still clearly audible through the flimsy wood. Not my best work… Peter’s voice echoed in his head.

    Training?” She parroted. “You can’t be serious?” Shaking her head, she became acutely aware that she hadn't even gotten dressed yet this morning. She’d process the fact that someone had just died in order to promote her later when the impact of that statement finally hit her. “I don’t even know who you are.”

    That was one of the complications with the game they played – none of them knew each other. They were strangers in perfect concert. It kept them safe. But a dangerous consequence was never quite knowing who you could trust.

    “I don’t see how that affects anything.” Gregory shrugged. “It’s a job, not a date.”

    He took a few steps towards the bedroom door before adding, “But it’s up to you. Accept the position or don’t. Either way, I have appointments to keep.”

    Izzy bit her tongue and tasted metal.

    When she finally opened her mouth to reply, it took a concentrated effort to keep the agitation from her voice.

    “Look, make no mistake, I am one-hundred-percent committed to this initiative. I’ll do whatever it takes to see this through to the end. But I made a commitment today and my word is only as good as my action. I’ll take the position, but the training will have to wait until this evening. I don't make promises I have no intention of keeping.”

    Gregory nodded, pressing his thumb and fore finger to the bridge of his nose. “Alright… Fine. I’ll take care of things until then. Just be sure to show up to the SMIR pick up.”

    Grabbing the handle of the door, he hesitated before opening it, “If you do not show up, you’re not only refusing the promotion, you’re resigning.”

    She nodded.

    It wasn't necessary answering with anything more.

    Resigning herself to the quietude, she waited for him to resume exiting the bedroom, before, rethinking, she stopped him a second time, “Wait, you never told me your name.”

    “You never asked.” Gregory sighed. “It was one of your more promising qualities.” He pushed himself torso first through the door and marched past the two infants staring at him from the sitting room. Checking the note in his pocket one more time, he let himself out the front entrance.

  14. Thanks Sets, The Smog Witch thanked for this post
  15. #9
    Mighty Morphin' Power Writer LexiZone's Avatar
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    The unconscious state was anything but restful. The difference between dream and reality was blurred; she could not tell the difference between the restraints holding her in place and the twenty-foot-tall monsters looking over her. There was no sound except for an whispered echo in the back of her mind: I was right… I was right… I was right…

    Torrence was forced out of her unconsciousness with a splash of ice water on her face. She gasped for a breath, chocolate brown eyes opening wide with panic. She wasn’t drowning. She tried to move her hands to wipe at her face, but her arms were immobile, wrists trapped by metal cuffs that were attached to the arms of the chair she was sitting in.

    A bright light was switched on; so bright that Torrence cringed, squinting her eyes and squirming uncomfortably in the chair. She couldn’t see anyone or anything around her when the bright light came on. Her breathing became laboured, her chest constricting with panic. This is where she was going to die.

    “Ms. Reid.”

    The voice was heavy, but dull. Like the woman or man was trying to sound tough, but instead it was forced.

    “Wh… What?” Torrence’s own voice sounded unfamiliar in her own ears. It cracked, like she hadn’t spoken in days; raw like she had just screamed until her lungs had given out.

    “Are you ready to cooperate?”

    She took another laboured breath, hearing her own speeding pulse in her ears. “I… I… What…?”

    “We need your cooperation, Ms. Reid.”

    The shadows behind the strong light began to grow.

    “I… No…” Realization dawned on her, panic settling in. “No! Nonono! No!”

    Torrence closed her eyes tightly in her panicked state, the constriction in her chest just feeling tighter and tighter… Suffocating her… “I… can’t…”

    The dark unconsciousness took over her once more.

    [-][-][-][-][-]

    When she awoke again, the process was sudden. Torrence was trapped in a chair again, this time aware of the cool metal clasps on each wrist that rested on the armrests, as well as another metal clasp across her shoulders, and one that acted as a neck brace, preventing her from moving her head. Her body trembled as her eyes focused on an approaching being: a man’s head and torso, and robotic limbs replacing the rest of him.

    “No… No! Please…!” Her voice cracked as she tried to struggle, but she was immobile. “I don’t know why I’m here! I have nothing to tell you!”

    No one was listening. The man walked behind her, where a dulled buzzing noise was suddenly activated. Tears welled up in her eyes as she attempted her futile struggle on the chair, the buzzing getting closer to her right ear. “No! Let me go!” she shrieked, barely able to breathe in her state of panic as the head of an electric shaver pressed against her temple.

    The chair didn’t even move as her struggles became desperate, her cries for help drowning in tears as the half-man-half-robot shaved her head in painfully slow movements. Clumps of frizzy hair fell around her whenever the shaver was pulled off of her scalp. Her body trembled helplessly from the internal cold she felt, the unnerving, nauseous feeling of her freedom slipping away settling in her stomach.

    “I didn’t do anything…” Her voice was a distant whimper.

    [-][-][-][-][-]

    Electricity charged through her, the shock of her own surge finally waking her up. Torrence took a heaving breath, eyes opening wide as her body went rigid in panic. Her first reaction--hands reached up to her head, anticipating no hair… Ignoring the strands that had fallen in front of her face during her sleep. Both hands grasped at her hair, tugging at it--making sure that it wasn’t falling out.

    Her long, frizzy brown hair was still there.

    As she caught her breath, trying to put the dreams behind her, Torrence looked around to get a feel of her actual surroundings. The room was plain; she was surrounded by four dark grey cement walls. The door to her left looked heavy, probably a reinforced steel. There were obvious singed marks on the door, and a chill ran down her spine as she ignored the wandering thought of who had been in this room last.

    A table and chair were placed in front of her; brown eyes wandered down to the floor to see that the metal table was reinforced into the ground--though markings all over the legs indicated that people in the past had definitely tried to pick it up.

    She relaxed against the uncomfortable plastic chair they had placed her in, focusing on her deep breathing to calm her nerves. They had taken off her coat and sweatshirt before leaving her here, leaving her only in her t-shirt, jeans, and boots. Her body began to tremble from the imagined chill in the room. Her wrists were actually handcuffed--explaining why she dreamt of it--with strong rubber cuffs which almost made her burst out laughing.

    For an advanced department, it just seemed so funny to her to take such basic, simple measures when dealing with a civilian Electrum.

    A defeated smile crossed her lips as she shook her head, letting her hands drop into her lap. A stray tear rolled listlessly down her cheek but she ignored it as she looked around the empty room. “No way out,” she whispered under her breath. There was no way to tell where she was or if anyone was even outside looking in. No indication of surveillance cameras--probably hidden in the top corners of the room either way. No sounds from outside of the cement walls.

    She was all alone in this silent, contained room.

    The silence was deafening.

  16. #10
    Cake & Ativan
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    18:45 | SMIR, South Quarter | Meropis
    Rory Kane & Izobel Fox
    Stellar and Sets


    “Archivist.”

    Rory slid the slim, sharp knife she was using to disbind a tome from its disintegrating cover between another signature of pages, snapping brittle threads and releasing a shower of crumbling, desiccated glue.

    “There’s a visitor asking for access to the special collection on floor one.”

    She looked up from her work sharply, eyes narrowed, “Clearance?”

    “No, Archivist.”

    She tapped twice on the small screen on her wrist, sending a notification to Misha. Moments later, the comm in her ear made a soft click and the dull drone of the government event he was attending filtered in.

    “Someone’s here again,” Rory said quietly, “You might need to make your excuses. I’ll update within five minutes.” Leaving the channel open, she set her tools aside and slid the partly disassembled book into a protective bag. The clang of the steel door slamming shut echoed loudly through the lobby as she ascended the steps, the glass display shelves flickering to life and light as she wove through them towards the circulation desk.

    “What can I help you with?” she called to the person standing near the doorway as she rounded the last row of shelving.

    At the sound of the other woman’s voice, Izzy jumped.

    She hated to admit it, but she still hadn’t managed to shake off the nervous flutter that had taken root at the pit of her stomach since Machimos’s visit to her home earlier that morning. There was just something about him; something innately threatening that left her feeling ill at ease. Even now, surrounded by shelves upon shelves of holographic displays flickering like hundreds of lightning bugs from every fixture and corner of the ground floor of the S.M.I.R., she couldn't shake it. His presence was still imprinted on her like the ink of a tattoo.

    Finding composure in a placid smile, Izzy turned to face the Archivist and fumbled a piece of paper back into her pocket. “Hi, yes, I’m looking for a historical piece, ‘A Treatise of Human Nature’?”

    It was hard to imagine that the event that took place nearly two weeks ago all started here, at the South Meropis Information Repository. She was still coming to terms with this new insight– and the death of the man that brought her here.

    Gesturing towards the console, she held one hand in the air. “VADAM has informed me this novella is located in ‘Special Collect–”

    Abruptly, she stopped, tongue recoiling to the back of her throat as she met the eyes of the woman across from her.

    It had been seven years, but Izzy couldn’t have forgotten her face.

    “Rory.” A statement rather than a question, as if she was confirming to herself verbally the name of the woman standing in front of her.

    The archivist stopped short as the visitor spoke, “Iz-Izobel? What are you doing here?” Shock colored her voice at the sight of her friend from primary school, whom she hadn’t seen since differing career paths had put them in separate preparatory schools. Now she was here, reciting the keywords used between the library and the Machimos. Gathering herself, she brushed flakes of glue from her hands and said, “Well, we can catch up over tea. Follow me.” Rory turned and started towards the stairs leading up, towards the living area.

    The path was winding, disorientating, mostly due to the sudden reintroduction of long lost friend rather than the actual trajectory itself. Rory hadn’t changed much; same dark eyes, fine-frame, and a tangled mess of black hair – albeit taller with a more feminine shape. Same sharp bite to her tone, a little colder though and more aloof than Izzy remembered. This couldn't be who she was waiting for, could it? What if Rory was just an unfortunate coincidence and her real contact was still waiting for her downstairs? Izzy swallowed the thought and followed Rory up a second flight of stairs, then a third, whereupon the Archivist stopped to proficiently disengage a security door, and waved Izzy through.

    The room was spacious, but hardly lavish, glowing with a dim fluorescent blue. A glass square coffee table and an L-shaped couch was situated at the center of the room. It smelt sterile and metallic, which was odd given the age of the building; a pre-Theurian artefact built another two or more forgotten centuries before. Despite the desk and a wall of monitors positioned at the corner of the room, it was evident from the layout that the third floor of the S.M.I.R. wasn’t renovated with the intention to serve as an office.

    “You live above the repository?” A confirmation rather than a question.

    “Yes, of course. Misha, he's the director now, he had it renovated a few years ago when the basement was expanded. It's for efficiency, lets us stay open all day and all night,” she crossed to the adjacent kitchen and filled the kettle before clicking it on. Almost an afterthought, she touched her ear and said, “Misha, it's under control.”

    “Misha?” That was another name she hadn't heard in awhile.

    When they were kids, being almost ten years older than the two of them, Misha would sometimes have the unfortunate responsibility of looking after Izzy and Rory. Back then, he was quiet, tall, and gawky. Still, that never stopped nine-year-old Izzy from imagining that one day the two of them would get married. It was strange picturing him as an adult now, let alone a Director of the Repository.

    “So you were assigned to the S.M.I.R. as well?” She asked.[color="pink] “Just the two of you?”[/color]


    “He isn't here,” Rory said, “But we keep in contact, always. It's just the two of us, and VADAM.” She poured the tea and slid a cup across the countertop separating the kitchen from the livingroom. “It's safe to talk here, or in the basement levels. No surveillance anywhere except the public floors. And that paper? Destroy it. Don't write down anything pertaining to what we do.”

    “So, you are my contact.” Izzy confirmed, somewhat sadly. After almost ten years, she hadn't imagined that their reunion would involve arranging a weapon trade over a cup of tea.

    She lifted the cup from the counter and took a sip to settle her nerves. It tasted sweet and bitter. “The previous runner is dead. I’m his replacement. The timeline is being moved up to the end of this week. I was tasked to ensure that the supplies would be ready before then.”

    Rory tapped the fingers of her right hand against the rim of her cup, making a soft ringing noise of steel on ceramic. “Thames was reckless, so I can’t say I’m surprised. Still, it’s a shame. He was dedicated to the cause,” she sipped her tea, meeting the other woman’s gaze, “Maybe more than was wise. I’m hoping you’ll be more careful.” She allowed that statement to hang in the air for a few moments, the quiet broken only by the patter of Oolong’s paws as he emerged from another room to see what was going on. “As long as the drop off location hasn't changed, the earlier date will be no problem. But there is one issue - you have a leak.”

    “I’m sure that issue is currently being addressed.” Izzy agreed, thinking back to her encounter earlier that morning.

    “No.” The archivist sat her cup down with a decisive click. “You don’t seem to understand. Peter Knoll is permitted to send us one emissary, and one only. This person must fit the guidelines we gave him. This person is, apparently, now you. You are our only point of contact with the Machimos, which means that when I tell you that we have a leak, I expect that information to be forwarded to the top.” She leaned across the countertop, subtly crowding the other woman, “A man came here this morning. He knew to ask for the special collection. He knew what we do. The only possible way this could happen is if your organization has a mole. Furthermore, nobody except our contact and a few select people at the top are aware of where the Machismos get their weapons. So unless it’s you, and you ratted us to this little gang this morning as soon as you got the assignment, someone big is dirty.”

    Izzy leaned back, if only to regain some of her personal space that the Archivist had infringed upon, leaving her tea on the counter between them; lukewarm.

    “Don’t you think you could be overreacting a little, Rory? The SSP has been breaking down doors and breathing down necks since the Heimstown bombing. Subterfuge at that level seems pretty unlikely. If you were that close why not sell the whole insurgency out, especially now that the Liberal Labour Party is so completely invested in the collapse of the insurrection? If Morgan Thames was your only contact, it is much more probable that the leak was him. Occam’s razor – the simplest answer is most often the right one. Regardless, he is dead and now I am here. And while I understand the reason for your concern, know that I take my new role as a liaison quite seriously – so you can curb the hostility a little, we are on the same side.” She laughed then, realizing the irony of that statement. “At least, I think we are.”

    Rory opened her mouth to answer, but the beep of the apartment door being unlocked interrupted the harsh words on the tip of her tongue.

    “It’s just business, you see,” Misha sauntered in with a soft smile, suit jacket hanging from two fingers where it draped over his shoulder, tie hanging loose and top shirt button unfastened, “We have something Knoll wants, but we have to protect our own interests as well. Think of it more as a constant set of negotiations, than a relationship between comrades.” He draped his jacket carelessly over the back of the couch, catching Oolong in his arms when the cat meowed and jumped up. “It’s nice to see you, Izobel. It’s been a long time.”

    Twisting on the heel of her boot to face the new addition to the room, Izzy felt suddenly disoriented.

    It started out as a strange morning, it might have been too much to expect that it would all make sense by the end of the day.

    Her tongue became cotton in her mouth. First Rory, and now, who she could only guess from the sharp jaw, clean-face, and dark-eyes that could see through a person even with a solid wall of concrete between them, was Misha. Suddenly Izzy was six-years-old again and both Rory and her were clinging off of each one of Misha’s arms begging him to play one more game before he headed out the door. It felt as though she had somehow entered a time-capsule, but the only familiar thing within it was the setting. They all had aged and grown taller; grown harder, it seemed. These people, they were a memory. They were supposed to stay a memory. But here they all were contradicting that statement.

    “I respect that.” Izzy finally said, somehow regaining composure. When she met Misha’s eyes she felt a familiar flutter inside her chest. Only Misha could have said her name that way. Even after all these years. “It’s good to see you, Misha.”

    He smiled, eyes crinkling at the edges, “I'm glad we understand each other. You'll have to excuse Rory; She always was rather serious, I'm sure you remember. She's worried for our safety, and yours, now that you'll be working with us.”

    “She doesn't need to worry about me.” Politely, she returned his smile and turned her head to wince a similar one at Rory. “I should go. I have some other business take care of. I'm sure we will see more of each other in the coming week.” She ran her tongue across her bottom lip and then tugged at it with her front teeth thoughtfully.

    The silence permeated through the air.

    “It was good seeing you.” She finally said, cutting the quiet stillness. “Both of you.”

    Pressing a final smile on her lips, she slipped out the door, out beyond what had suddenly become the suffocating air of their impromptu reunion.

    Inside, Misha raised a skeptical eyebrow at his cousin. “So she’s our new contact?”

    Scowling, Rory snapped, “Apparently. It's suspicious. I don't like Knoll throwing his weight around like this.”

    Stroking Oolong, who purred luxuriously, Misha answered her with a serene smile. “I think he's miscalculated, if it's not a bizarre coincidence. She's known us since she was a kid. Knoll has probably never even met her in person. You remember how gentle of a soul Izobel always was, I doubt that's changed a bit. Be nicer to her, and you'll be friends again in no time.” He sat Oolong down and refilled the tea kettle. “She always was very loyal to her friends.”

    “Maybe you're right,” she bit her lip, staring unseeingly at the counter, caught between regret and uncertainty for a few moments before suddenly dumping her mug into the sink and snatching a tablet off the table. Quickly, she typed a short message, and sent it over an encrypted channel that bounced it through a few random net addresses before it reached its final destination.

    ‘Sorry I was an asshole. -R’
    Last edited by Sets; 12-26-2016 at 09:01 PM.

  17. #11
    e x o d u s . [CLOSED]
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    “Deputy Director,” Interrogations specialist Fornel hissed, “This is completely unacceptable.”

    “It’s bullshit.” Ethan remarked, offering his unwanted two cents. “The phrase you’re looking for is ‘bullshit’.”

    He pressed his back to the wall just right of the closed door to the office of SSP’s Deputy Director Adam Reagan. His arms were crossed, his stance casual, but his eyes were intense. Currently, they were fixated on the face of the interrogations specialist, as if he could bore a hole through Fornel with sheer force of will. IS officers typically came in two varieties. There were those who looked like they could be your best friend, and would make you believe it too, before tricking you into signing your life away. Then there were the stone faced gargoyles; the men and women who came into a room with the express purpose of browbeating a confession into existence using any and every means they could think of. The epitome of what a schoolyard bully could hope to achieve, they were tasteless, humorless, and vicious. Specialist Fornel fell neatly into the latter category.

    The man stood around an even six feet tall, with a square topped head and solid jaw that gave his clean shaven face a very brick-like quality. He reeked of professionalism, from his evenly trimmed salt and pepper hair, to the pressed light grey suit he wore. He and Ethan were familiar with one another. Familiar enough, that Ethan had expected Fornel to take his orders very poorly. He honestly hadn’t expected to be dragged into the DD’s office, though. It was enough to convince Ethan that he was well within his right to hate the man. There had to be at least twelve feet of open space between them, but given the oppressive air of tension that radiated off both men, it clearly wasn’t enough.

    The office that they occupied was a relatively spacious box, with the walls decorated in the usual assortment of accommodations and certifications. Much of the wall which Ethan set his back against was made up of large glass panes, allowing Deputy Director Reagan a good view of the workplace beyond his office, though he kept his blinds drawn at least ninety percent of the time. A mirroring set of windows made up the bulk of the opposite wall behind Reagan’s desk, offering an expansive view of the Meropis city scape. The walls to either side were lined with book shelves, populated with volumes on law enforcement, and the history of the police within the city. Given that only the most dedicated of readers bothered to handle physical additions, and that most of the books in this office looked completely untouched, it was a safe bet that everything here was for show and decoration.

    Reagan sat behind the six foot girth of a dark mahogany desk. He’d offered the two chairs in front of his station to both men as they had entered his office, but it had become rapidly apparent that they’d rather square off while standing.

    “Agent Branch.” Reagan said calmly. “Would you mind to offer an explanation as to your request?”

    A middle aged man with a physique that clearly marked him as ex military, Reagan was currently pinching the bridge of his aquiline nose between a thick forefinger and thumb.

    “I do mind, actually.” Ethan's glare never wavered from Fornel, who seemed to finally notice and return it with a stony expression. “Honestly, I’m not even sure why I’m standing here.”

    “Well,” Reagan started, “While it is not unheard of to have the Encante sit in on an interrogation, it’s a bit unorthodox to have one take over the process entirely.”

    “Don’t forget that I need all video and audio within the room disabled.” Ethan added helpfully.

    “Yes.” Reagan said. “Then there’s that.”

    “And the observation room closed to all personnel.”

    “If you could just offer a small explanation--” Reagan started, only to be cut off by Fornel.

    “This is ridiculous!” He raged. “His own team isn’t even clued in.”

    “My team understands that much of our work is done purely on a need to know basis.” Ethan said. “It’s my operation, I’m in charge, and so I get to determine who needs to know. Currently, that list doesn’t involve anyone except myself. The difference is, my men will continue to carry out their orders despite the lack of information.”

    “Deputy Director,” Ethan sighed, raising a hand to still the biting reply on the tip of Fornel’s tongue, “there are a couple of things that you should be aware of. Firstly, so you and I are both at a full understanding, you have every right, and I do not doubt every intention, to contact my superiors and report my actions. You should understand, however, that by doing so, you could very well bring your entire operation into question. The Encante answers only to Meropis, and Meropis trusts the Encante implicitly. So, even though an inquiry could be raised about my operation, it will most certainly reflect poorly on yourself, and Officer Fornel here, who have no official grounds to second guess my judgment or purpose. It just seems...dissident.”

    Ethan paused, waiting for some form of rebuttal. The Deputy Director had brought his elbows up to rest on top of his desk, and was staring over the knuckles of his folded fingers at Ethan with a strange look in his eye, like a trapped animal considering whether or not to chew off a limb, and just how quickly it could manage to do it. Fornel, likewise, stood quietly by.

    “Second.” Ethan continued. “This entire conversation has been a courtesy. One that has now run it’s course.” He turned a pointed look in Fornel’s direction, and asked. “Where has Ms. Ried been detained?”

    “A Quiet Room,” Fornel replied stiffly, “waiting for her interview.”

    “I want it prepped to my specifications in fifteen minutes.” Ethan said, pushing off from the wall. “Then vacate the area. My team will oversee the process, and I’ll be down in twenty.”

    ******

    Twenty five minutes after leaving the Deputy Director’s office, Ethan opened the doorway into the darkened observation room. Two Encante agents stood guard outside. Agent Collier, his handler, waited just within in front of the wall sized window. She had changed out of her jogging clothes and was now wearing a black suite, standard business attire within the agency, though typically only worn when the agent was required to do desk work. She was staring at the woman on the other side of the window with her arms crossed over her chest when Ethan entered the room. She glanced at him as he shut the door behind him, and then looked quickly away again.

    “Do you care to explain yourself?” She asked. Her voice was curt, angry.

    “No.” Ethan replied.

    “I’ve already sent a report to headquarters.” She said.

    He nodded. “I understand.”

    “And the Deputy Director has requested that I come speak with him when this is done.”

    “Well,” Ethan chuckled, “I hope your meeting goes better than mine did.”

    “This is serious, Ethan.” She snapped, turning to face him. “You’re way off base, here. Some of the other agents told me that you looked startled when you first saw her face; startled. Why, Ethan? What about her bothers you so much?”

    “That’s what I’m going to find out.” He sighed, then added. “I would request that you vacate the room--”

    Denied She barked.

    “But I don’t think you will.” He finished, smiling slightly. He waited half a beat, then said. “I’m sorry about earlier.”

    That caused her to hesitate, cracking the stern expression she’d spent the last half hour carefully shaping.

    “Just…” She paused, seemingly stuck. “Shut up and get this over with.”

    “Way ahead of you.” He said, doubling back to the door.

    Leaving Observation, Ethan gave a pointed look to each of the Encante agents watching the hallway. The didn’t understand, but they were unwavering, confidant in the security that they were following their orders. In other words, they were secure in the knowledge that it would be his ass over theirs, should the shit hit the fan. Ethan pushed the thought out of his mind, and turned the knob on the next door down. It opened into the Quiet Room, and Ethan stepped inside, face to face with a ghost.

  18. Thanks Stellar thanked for this post
  19. #12
    That one guy. Crimson Gekitou's Avatar
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    It was the crunch that he missed the most. Food on the Front Line, assuming there would be food, was always and ever soft. Beyond all of the physical toils and atrocities, the food was the worst of it. It was a mush that had at one point in time been something that resembled, well, anything edible. No taste, somehow, and a slimy, wet, gruel-like texture that inexplicably managed to cling to your mouth and throat for dear life, fostering a deathly thirst. Yet, when you drank water, it congealed even more before finally giving way, thick as sludge in an old lead pipe. Perhaps it was the synthetic proteins and amino acids that attributed to this-- the breakfast of champions-- or maybe, rather, it was some semblance of leftover mechanical oil that they found worked just as well as food stuff. It was about the same consistancy. Varrick had known a few people who had committed suicide just to avoid the death march that was the food line.


    This meal, compared to all of those dreadful feedings, was just as religious of an experience. Where there every nibble was a porridge hell, here he touched the edge of heaven. The crisp crackle, the pure savory tingle, and the salty finish. It was the book of life opened up to him for just a moment and, in that moment, his soul was filled. A bite of toast with jam followed, savory from the butter and sweetened with succulent berries, and was washed down with a healthy gulp of hot, black coffee. Varrick smacked his lips happily between sips, letting the nutty smell with a hint of cocoa fill his nostrils. Bold, deep, scintillating. He was lost to the world, lost in the first decent meal he was allowed to enjoy in what felt like a lifetime, and he loved it.


    He was simply happy to experience himself in this almost unreal freedom.


    On each side of him, tethered by plastic zips to the chairs that circled the small breakfast table, were an older couple that coasted through life with their government success into their mid-forties. Directly across sat their daughter, hired fresh from the academy, also gagged, with brave tears dried and flaking at the sides of her cheeks. From time to time, new tears would come and carve new streamlets down her innocent face. This morning she would be late for her job-- though, that was the least of her worries. The man, balding but in denial, whose hair was styled with painstaking precision across an ever growing barren parcel of his scalp in an attempt to maintain his youth, stared, defeated, at the full plate that sat untouched before him (for Varrick had enough decorum left to not prepare a meal for only himself). His hands were soft and untested, with fingers fit only for the tasks of a man who contentedly weathered the toils of bureaucratic clashes and the parry and riposte of paper pushing. The wife had high cheekbones and brown hair, decorated with streaks of dark silver which she wore with pride and dignity. Her eyes were sharp, her face narrow and statue-esque-- a thing of classical beauty, and her jaw was clenched. Well-read, well-spoken, and well-informed, her intelligence was wasted in secretarial work for government officials. She glared daggers at their captor, and though she trembled, it was less out of fear than hatred.


    Varrick wiped his plate clean with the last piece of his toast and ate it happily. He picked up his coffee and, after another long draw from his mug, it was as if he finally remembered that he was not alone. “Oh. My apologies. If I may say so, the meal was absolutely perfect. Simply wonderful.” He dabbed the corners of his lips with a napkin and took a moment to look his hosts over. His fingers combed the last of the crumbs out of his beard, which he politely swept off of the table into his hand, and sprinkled it back upon his plate. The fork rested on the dish, posed with its prongs to the left, neatly tucked against the butter knife. “Cleanliness and godliness, as they say. Or perhaps old habits that don’t die. I suppose you all are curious about my impromptu visit. I apologize for the zip ties… I’ve always had a knack for grandiosity.”


    He leaned forward onto his forearms, his fingers woven together, and rested his bristled chin onto his thumbs. His gray-blue eyes narrowed sharply at the daughter that squirmed uncomfortably across the table. The husband closed his eyes, and the wife growled through her muzzle. Varrick smiled warmly, a thing that caused the hairs on the girl’s neck to stand on end, and she could feel a fresh batch of tears welling at the corners of her eyes. “Young miss, do you know what your parents do for work? It’s something that they’ve unfairly coerced you into, you should know. A life of duty, of blind faith to an exhaustive government. After a few years, you might even develop a sort of Stockholm’s for it, ‘loving’ the cause and order. Your father advances laws, turning field operatives into game pieces. Your mother subdues herself to the whim of people like your father, taking messages, shuffling papers--” He paused and shifted his gaze to the mother who glowered back, unblinking. “You know… I wonder what secrets would come spilling out if we split her head. Regardless, a pity of a waste.”


    The girl stared between her mother and Varrick with a terrified curiosity. She wringed her wrists painfully against the plastic zip ties futily, even when he looked at her. She had her mother’s nerve.


    Heaving his chest with a theatrical sigh, Varrick pushed himself up from the table, which creaked defiantly against his weight. He disappeared into the kitchen for a brief moment before returning, twirling a sharp kitchen knife in his hand. The edge sparkled silver when it caught the light from the dining room and Varrick marveled at how balanced the blade was. How nice, he thought, to be able to afford luxuries such as this. Finally, he stood behind the father, resting the blade of the knife carefully against his carotid. The man whimpered and shriveled in his chair, with sweat leaking from the shiny part of his head and snot soaking the cloth gag in his mouth.


    Varrick grinned, his breath caught in his chest in brief exhilaration. There was always a bit of a euphoric, intoxicating high when he performed interrogations. A bittersweet anticipation before inflicting one’s will on another human being. It was the same excitement as a child who toiled away at a puzzlebox, trying to solve it to pry away the prize within. The key to open such a thing was patience, and this was no different. It only took a bit more finesse.


    There were times, though, where finesse was an option unafforded. Varrick tapped the knife against the man’s neck three times, each time marking a more irritated red line on his skin than the last.


    “I’m going to cut away all of your gags. If any of you make a sound, I’ll make this a bad day for all of us.” He frowned and added, “I’ll have to clean more than the dishes.”


    With that, he circled the table and cut away the cloth muzzles from each of his hosts, then returned casually to his seat. The knife dangled indolently in his grip as he rested his chin once more against his buttressed thumbs. “Mr. Teylingen,” Varrick addressed the man with a sidelong glance, “You’ve got a reputation for being the consummate bureaucrat. Very cut throat,” he chewed the words. “Word is, you’re a man with whom not to be trifled. People fear you… or, at least, your potential.” He had also learned, from the mouths of others, that Robert Teylingen would be lucky if he could master a belt buckle, but was so gifted with chicanery that he soared in both the marketplace and politics. People either hated or tolerated him, and they mostly ignored him otherwise. Unless, however, it came time for him to speak about the political climate, market strategies, or propaganda. When he stood behind a podium, he was a warrior that struck down philosophical progression, eradicated artistic diversity, and bolstered social uniformity. The podium was his shield and the microphone was his sword.


    Robert Teylingen was a man who gleefully stifled people, who gleaned his confidence from the oppression of opposing thought. A consummate bureaucrat, a consummate politician. It was his hand that had sentenced many loyal soldiers and officers to their death, and he didn’t lose a wink of sleep.


    But here and now, Varrick noted smugly to himself, was the real Robert Teylingen. Sweaty, snivelling, and at the edge of sobbing, he was nothing without his sword and shield. He was a small, sad man who, when confronted with true adversity and fear, could not even muster the courage to look his harasser in the face. Even with his wife and daughter on the line, he attempted nothing. When this was all over, Mr. Teylingen would barely be able to describe what Varrick looked like, but would recount to his confidants about the heroism that he displayed in the face of danger.


    Varrick spoke softly, “But I learned something. You’re not who you appear to be.”


    Robert and Mrs. Teylingen both stared hard at Varrick.


    He continued, “I know that you, Mr. Teylingen, are more.” The next words Varrick spoke were uttered slowly and methodically, “You have ties to the Machimos. Please, when you see them, let them know of what I’m capable, and please tell them that I will be waiting for their call. If not, I’ll be by someday for a nice afternoon brunch-- I enjoy scones, in particular.”


    Varrick stood slowly from the table and left the family to their stunned silence. Robert and his daughter exchanged confused glances, while Mrs. Teylingen watched Varrick with a masked expression. To her, he winked.


    With that, Varrick gathered the knife and all of the dishes into a neat pile and whistled as he walked to the kitchen. The family sat silently as the sound of the faucet sprung to muted life, and the dishes clanged in melody to Varricks soft tune. When he finished cleaning, drying, and putting up the tableware, he went to the front door and put his shoes back on.


    They listened as he whistled his way out and closed the door with a subtle click, and they listened to the melancholic silence in his wake.








    Later, when they had finally freed themselves, they paced about the house in silent confusion, not even offering each other a sympathetic glance. The kitchen had never been cleaner.
    Last edited by Crimson Gekitou; 11-15-2016 at 09:14 AM.

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  21. #13
    Mighty Morphin' Power Writer LexiZone's Avatar
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    Torrence Reid / Ethan Branch
    [LEXIZONE / MAGE]


    The door opening startled her to attention from her daydreams… Her imagination wandering and getting the best of her in the worst of ways. Torrence sat up, her lower back noisily cracking from the discomfort of the chair. “Look--” her voice sounded dry and raspy, her eyes just staring at the table, “I don’t know what the fuck is going on here. I d-didn’t do anything!”

    Ethan hesitated upon hearing her voice. It wasn’t the same as he remembered, and yet it was. She wasn’t the same, and yet he knew her. It’s me, he wanted to say, to blurt out everything that was churning around inside his head. It’s Ethan. Do you remember me? Instead he recovered his composure, glancing briefly toward the mirror dominating the wall to his left. He could feel his handler’s eyes on him, and he knew that he couldn’t afford to be too open here.

    “I work for people who beg to differ, Ms. Reid.” He said, walking over to the chair opposite of her at the table and taking a seat. He placed his hands against the tabletop in front of him, and the seemingly mundane stainless steel surface sprung to life beneath his fingertips. Several quick taps of his fingers brought up a string of digital documents, several of which had her name clearly labeled in the header.

    “If anything,” Ethan added, resting his elbows on the table and folding his hands beneath his chin, “It seems we’ve been exceedingly lenient until now.”

    Lenient?” Torrence’s voice gathered a bit of bitter strength, the small amount of courage she felt in the pit of her stomach helping her look up from the table. Dark eyes stared through the semi-translucent documents at the man across the table.

    “Yes.” He said. “Lenient.”

    “You t-turned me into a bum in the last two weeks! Wh-what, were you trying to smoke me out of my own home or-or-or something?!” Her right hand unconsciously raised and she flinched as the cuffs made her left arm follow, but she still reached up and rubbed the back of her neck.

    Ethan felt himself flinch internally at the word bum. Outwardly, however, his expression remained deadpan. “If this experience should have taught you anything, Ms. Reid, it’s that we don’t need to smoke you out of anywhere. If we want you, we’ll just come get you.”

    “So you’ve read the fears from my blog--so have hundreds of other people.”

    “Blog?” He chuckled, and tapped the tabletop. Her home page appeared, followed by page after page of posts. “I think you mean propaganda. Harmful anti-state propaganda--”

    Her jaw slowly dropped, eyebrows raising in realization of what he was getting at.

    “-- that you have willfully been spreading to, and I quote, ‘hundreds of other people’. Honestly, we should have picked you up months ago.”

    Torrence took slow, calculated breaths as she stared at him, speechless.

    “But that isn’t why you’re here.” Ethan closed the open windows down with a wave of his palm, then tapped the table, bringing up several new files. “You’re here because we now have reason to believe your indiscretions have escalated.”

    “Wait…” her voice was small now, scared.

    “To terrorism.” He cut her off. “Specifically.”

    No.

    “No,” her voice echoed her thoughts. “No, no, no no-no-no--I didn’t--what? That… That thing? No.” Torrence shifted uncomfortably in the chair, a tendril of brown hair falling in front of her face as she sat forward, her hands resting on the table. “I didn’t--no--What are you talking about?”

    Her mind was racing, though. She knew he was full of crap--he had to be--but the realization that she would have no one to help her out of this situation was making it harder to breathe… To stay calm…

    “I… I didn’t… Do anything. T-terrorist activity? I’m a diag-diagnosed paranoid… thing…”

    “A diagnosed,” Ethan repeated, “paranoid...thing.” He was rolling the words around slowly, as if tasting a bite of food that was particularly pleasant.

    Torrence’s heart sank as he repeated her words, the panic in her turning into somber defeat.

    This time when he touched the table, several images appeared: a girl at school on picture day, a girl and her family in front of a house, and a girl beside a young boy, with their families in the background at some sort of party. Ethan was quiet as he brought each one up, and he sighed before speaking.

    “Is this you?” he asked, highlighting the school photo. Then he moved to the next in line. “Is this your family?”

    Torrence flinched and looked away when she saw the picture of her family. Before she had lost them.

    The next thing to appear was an arrest record, followed by several official looking documents. The words “foster care” flashed across the top of one page.

    “You say you don't know anything, but there already appears to be a history behind this sort of activity, Ms. Reid.” Ethan said, and his voice had grown quiet. “So you can see, we have very little reason to believe you.”

    “That’s because you won’t listen!” Angry tears absently rolled down her pale cheeks, eyes having shot back up from the table once the pictures disappeared as she glared at him. “You track me for years and then you make it out like I’ve been on the run! I. Didn’t. Do. Anything!”

    To accent the last word, she smacked her hands down on the steel table. Her entire body flinched at the hollow sound and she stood up, leaning on the table to keep her upright. “You turned me into this. You made me--”

    Every syllable was a slap in the face, and it was a tremendous effort for Ethan to maintain his composure. Samantha was still watching him, and he was already under suspicion because of his actions since this morning. He couldn't afford to slip, to show compassion or leniency. He was supposed to be a robot, and he had to act the part. But in his mind, he admitted to everything. Yes, he thought. Yes, it's my fault you're like this. It's my fault.

    The mental image of his mother swam suddenly to the forefront of his thoughts, the look she had on her face the day they came to collect her. The day she realized what they had turned her son into. Ethan swallowed reflexively before continuing his part in this whole farce. “I think you're letting yourself get carried away, Ms. Reid. We haven't been tracking you. We don't need to. Everything we need to make a case against you, you've been putting on the net of your own free will. You've knowingly spit in the face of the system. What did you think was going to happen?”

    “Why am I being interrogated then?” Torrence’s voice was cold; her eyes looked right through him; her fingers dug into the steel table. His statement was too calm for her liking. He should be yelling back. Or at least telling her to sit down. But she stayed standing--even though her legs felt like jelly.

    Her voice went low; quiet. “If you already have everything you need to justify making me disappear… Why am I here?”

    “Interrogated?” Ethan chuckled. His right hand came up off the table slightly in a mild placatory gesture that to her probably looked like hesitation, or perhaps a nervous fidget. In actuality the motion wasn't meant for her. “This isn't an interrogation. I haven't even asked you a question.”

    Readjusting his weight in the chair, Ethan waved away the digital display between them, and the table returned to looking like a blank stainless steel surface. “I was going to. I mean, I had hoped you could be more cooperative. Maybe confirm some of our suspicions. Maybe give up a few details about your compatriots, or your sources. You know, save your own skin.”

    “But,” he continued, sighing, “your staunch position is that you know nothing. And I believe you Ms. Reid, I really do. You're hardly innocent, though. You are still very guilty of spreading anti-government propaganda. Slander in an official capacity is still very bad. Particularly when people start to pay attention.”

    He stood suddenly, slow and laborious, as though he expected the ensuing separation was going to be painful. Looking her evenly in the eye, he said. “So you're right. An interrogation is pointless. You're here so I can tell you what happens next. There will be no trial, and no hearing. You’ll be held at this location until tomorrow, then transferred to our headquarters, and from there to a processing center. What happens after that, I cannot say.”

    Ethan turned away from her and made for the door. He half expected that she might lose her mind and attack him while his back was turned, but he crossed the distance and laid his hand on the knob unmolested. Ethan's agents were looming just outside of the opening into the hallway, evidently thinking something along similar lines. Ethan turned as he began to step out, casting one last look back at her. “You should have been more careful, Ms. Reid. Goodnight, I’ll see you in the morning.”

    As the door closed behind him, her legs finally gave out. Torrence fell to the ground, shifting so she was under the table. She leaned against the table leg, hugging her knees to her chest; taking short, shallow breaths as she closed her eyes. “I didn’t do anything…”
    Last edited by LexiZone; 02-12-2017 at 07:47 PM.

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  23. #14
    Sage of Thyme The Smog Witch's Avatar
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    10:00, Economic District, Meropis
    Gregory White [+]

    The world is a strange place. Despite the days filled with constant threats and inflammatory rhetoric, the planning and the propaganda, it was here in a tiny waiting room of the central bank that most reminded him of his old employer.

    Encante had been many things, he’d come to find out, to many people, but to Gregory, it was not so unlike the job of the secretary in front of him now who, despite her size, dominated the rounded desk as she flew from computer to file folder to intercom and back again. Whatever else the government was, he had always known it to be a well built machine. Sitting there in a small office chair, he almost felt jealous of the woman. At least she was doing what she’d been trained to do.

    How he’d ended up in the offices of the central bank, waiting in a line that was at least fifty people long, according to his ticket anyway, was a question he himself couldn’t answer. All he knew at this point, all he cared to know, was that he was exactly where he needed to be for at least the half hour. Although it wasn’t enough time to actually sleep, he’d gotten used to taking what he could get.

    Settling as far back into the plastic cast chair as he could, he closed his eyes and let himself drift into a hazy half sleep. When the secretary finally did call his number, it was well past noon. He told her as much on his way past. She just shrugged and buzzes him in.

    The room inside was somehow much bigger and much smaller than the waiting room. Thick shelves, bloated with reference books leered at him from all sides. The only open space was a small square in front of the desk, occupied by just one chair, placed at just the right height, he noticed as he sat down, to frame the banker across the desk as taller than the skyscrapers through the full wall window behind him.

    “Running a little late today?” Gregory asked, “You’re lucky I didn’t have anything better to do.” He chuckled as he searched his coat for the note, pausing a second before adding, “And if this is a regular thing for you, might I suggest some padded chairs?”

    The man flinched, as if noticing him for the first time.

    “Who are you?” he asked, picking up the intercom receiver.

    “I’m a temporary replacement.” Gregory said, reaching over to push down the receiver hook, “Nothing to be worried about.”

    The banker stared at him, brows furrowed. There was a long pause as his face drifted from a look of concentration, to curiosity, to shock and finally to panic. He dropped the receiver with a tiny squeak.

    “You’re a...” He stammered, pushing back in his chair, “I didn’t think you were real! I haven’t done anything wrong, I swear! I was going to turn in the receipts next quarter, I figured it was better to give them the money than to give them a reason to take it from somewhere else.”

    “I said...” Gregory spoke slowly, “there’s nothing to worry about. I’m here on behalf of… the charity fund.”

    “The...” Confusion pulsed across the man’s face, “They have people like you now too?” There was a moment of silence as he readjusted his suit and rolled back closer to the desk. “It’s just one thing after another today, isn’t it…” he met Gregory’s eyes again and froze again, “I do hope you’ll understand, I didn’t mean what I said just then, about the receipts? I have to keep myself available to continue overseeing funding you know, It’s just business.” He smiled.

    “Oh, yes. I’m sure your opportunism reflects much better on you than your loyalty.” The man frowned at that, “I may check up on you later, but for now your secret’s safe with me.”

    “Right, well...” The man pulled out a file folder from under the desk, “Replacement, you say? I hope the switch up hasn’t affected your goals at all...”

    “I’m afraid so.” Gregory spoke, reading from the note now, “Our calendar has been pushed forward by three weeks.” Looking over the paper now, to the banker, “That shouldn’t be a problem, should it?”

    “Yes, as a matter of fact!” The man sputtered, “Three weeks is a lot of time to make up for, especially at this scale!”

    “Lucky us you’re so good at your job, then.” Gregory started,

    “Now look here,” the man pounded the desk, “What you’re asking for is basically impossible. I might be able to get you a minimum sum on that schedule, but I’m going to need some assurances first.”

    “Oh, really?” Gregory rolled his eyes, “and what would that be?”

    The man took a quick glance out the window before diving back down behind the desk. When he reappeared, he slammed another pile of papers onto the desk.
    Gregory leafed through it, a personnel file on an ex-military man called Varrick, Maybe it wasn’t the most professional looking dossier, but it certainly had enough information to get the idea across.

    “And?” he tossed the papers back to the desk.

    “I want him dead.” the man said, “If you want work of this quality, I need to focus. Not having to worry about this… well let’s just say it’ll give me piece of mind.”

    “We’re not your personal hit squad!” Gregory shouted, “Still...” He’d have to run it by the recruiters, but what he saw of the profile looked like good recruit material. “If that’s all you need, I can handle this myself.” He gathered the papers again and pocketed them. If he was wrong, he would have to deal with it himself, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It might even be fun.

    “See that you do.” The man relaxed back into his chair. “Now, if that’s everything, can I expect to see you again next week?”

    “Not me, no We’ll have a replacement ready by then.” Gregory stood.

    “Perfect. I’ll have them make an appointment then.”

    Gregory left the bank with mixed feelings. On the one hand, maybe he’d gotten what he’d asked for, but it was hard to feel grateful about it when either way he’d have to detour halfway across the city. He’d have to run this by the recruiters, and all the decision makers were meeting with Peter in the industrial district by now. Or at least, they should be, but when he’d finally made it across town, found the warehouse and gotten through the security check, he found a nearly empty room.

    “Oh, Gregory, glad to see you!” One of the few remaining people waved out to him. “Saves me the trouble of looking for ya.”

    The man stood up to greet him. The crate he'd been using as a make shift desk was covered in small scraps of papers. Richard Bryggs was the chief staffer for Machimos, which meant he spent most of his time screening new recruits or else micromanaging the ones we already had. Gregory had heard that the man was ex-military, but between his weight and his strange cheeriness, he had his doubts.

    “What happened here?” Gregory asked, “Wasn’t the meeting supposed to last all day?”

    “Yeah, well… that was the plan.” Richard looked away, “but the negotiations didn’t go so well, so we canceled early… which also means you’ve got some new orders! I was supposed to find you later, but this saves me some time.” He handed Gregory a piece of paper.

    “That’s great, thanks, but let’s deal with one thing at a time shall we.” Gregory said.

    “What do you mean?” Richard asked.

    “I have something to show you.” He held out the dossier.

    “What’s this?” he leafed through the files, “Where did you get this?”

    “Long story,” Gregory shrugged, “Suffice it to say I had a recruit suggested to me.”

    Richard burst out laughing, “So, he’s still alive is he? I figured he was a goner for sure after he was assigned past the wall.”

    “He’s been past the wall?” Gregory asked.

    “Yep, and he was as good a soldier as I’d ever seen even before that.” he rubbed his chin. “Which is why I’d never considered him before. But, I’ve never met a soldier from past the wall who looked kindly on the government. Sure, go ahead and pick him up, should be fun. If I know him, he’ll probably be hanging out around… here.” He scribbled an address on the back of the new orders before handing them back. “and don’t forget this either.”
    or something like that...

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  25. #15

    subterranean homesick alien.

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    10:30 | APOPHIS, SSP Headquarters| Meropis
    CAST - Zakkery Fox & Sigrid Ridley [+]
    SSP, NPCs - Daedalus Hathor and Morgan Bosa [+]



    “First the CDF is on our asses and now The Encante are pissing all over the place.”

    Daedulus leaned back, balancing the computer chair up on the wheel base as he flipped a black stylus in his left hand. His face was bathed in blue glow of the holographic monitors that encased him in a televised cubicle, skin made all the paler by the security footage replaying discontinuously from ten screens; how he focused on any of them at one time was beyond the comprehension of anyone that wasn't a diver. A similar glass pane was positioned over his right eye. But despite the flickering display, the diver’s pale blue weren’t trained on any of the eleven screens within view. Instead they were fixated on the quiet aloof agent at the side of his desk. Quietly propped against the diver’s station, Fox – like the rest of the SSP agents within view of the Deputy Director’s office – watched the spectacle unfold in their superior’s office from a comfortable ten-foot distance away.

    The diver scowled, tossing the stylus across the table where it bounced with a resonating ring before finally coming to a rolling stop against a cold unattended cup of coffee.

    Bosa sat in a chair across from them, his thick hands wrapped together to form one complete fist between his knees.

    “Did you expect things were going to get easy after the bombing in Heimstown?” Bosa’s voice was calm and resolute, but beneath his cool and composed facade, there was a storm brewing. The infectious tension had spread through the S.S.P. like the bubonic plague.

    Daedulus ground his teeth together, the tendons in his wiry neck protruding out of his skin.

    “They are here now. Might as well play nice if you want to keep your job.” Bosa said sourly.

    “Play nice? You honestly think anyone is playing nice here–”

    “–who are they arguing about?” Fox interrupted as if he hadn’t heard the other two agents arguing.

    The diver scowled dropping the desk chair back down onto all five wheels.

    “An underground blogger. Torrence Reid. They suspect she has ties to Machimos.” The older agent answered, unfolding his hands and smoothing his palms across the grey polyester covering his knees.

    The diver choked on a laugh, “She’s not a terrorist – just another foilhead yahoo spewing misinformation to the masses. She’s no more capable of amassing an uprising than she is assembling a bomb from a piece of pipe cleaner and nicotine gum. We’ve been watching her for years; all she seems to attract are a bunch of keyboard warriors and conspiracy nutjobs.”

    Bosa’s ensuing reply was suddenly cut short. Catching movement at the end of the hall, the older agent suddenly straightened from his casual posture and turned back toward the front of his desk. Daedalus followed cue, reemerging with the walls of monitors, punctuated only by the muted taping of the pad of his fingers against a touch screen.

    Fox remained where he was, gaze fixated on the office at the end of the hall instead of on the woman who had abruptly appeared and was presently standing stiff and tall in front of him.

    He’d ignore her as long as she’d allowed it.

    Sigrid let him. For a time. There was something else gnawing at the back of her mind, distracting her, like it always did, from the task at hand. Thoughts long-harboured, never satisfied. She also just came from a meeting with Amir. They were few and far between but she dreaded every single one of them for a reason. It would be a spectacle of how poorly she’d managed to accomplish the present objective.

    To be honest, there was very little she accomplished in the way of her job. With Maya, however, she’d finally pinpointed her location thanks to the health authority’s regular check-in to see if she’d finally settled down with someone and if they were trying for their firstborn. It was only a matter of time before she had to pay her dues to society and if it didn’t happen organically, they had protocols in place to ensure 100% compliance. Sigrid managed to avoid that fate, on account of Kane being her superior. He put in the word that she was too valuable an asset to give up for any period of time and the Health Authority conceded. She hated that this would be an eventuality for her sibling, not that Maya believed the sentiment, so far gone was their relationship.

    When she finally refocused on Fox, her expression was troubled, her tone abrupt.

    “Time to go.” Daedalus was the first to stand, Sigrid’s gaze remaining fixed on her ex-husband despite the message being clear. “Just Fox.”

    He looked at her then not with question but with contempt.

    Bosa found further interest in a Manila folder on his desk before coughing into his fist and feigning an excuse to leave his desk.

    Daedalus did as he was told, resuming his seat.

    Fox simply inclined his head, taking the lead with what little authority he had on this matter.

    He waited until they were out of earshot before he opened his mouth, “I wasn’t made aware of any lead.”

    “If you had your finger on the pulse and your ear to the ground, maybe this wouldn’t come as such a surprise to you.” She didn’t wait for a rebuttal. She just gestured passed him towards Daedelus and Bosa as she drove her point home relentlessly. “Instead, you boys are too busy bitching about the new state of affairs.”

    “It would be easier for us to do our job without all the bureaucracy and red tape and if your team hadn’t tampered with our security clearance. Can’t hear much with your ear against a lead box.”

    The elevator dinged and lit up like a Christmas tree. He stepped inside, patiently waiting for her to follow. When she finally stepped forward, into the tin can and the doors closed behind her, she remained totally silent for the entire duration of the ride down. He had a point but she wasn’t about to let him feel like he did.

    Once they were in the sanctity of a black unmarked CDF transport with tinted windows, the likes of which the Police never had the luxury of being equipped with, Sigrid sat purposefully across from Fox and started into him again.

    “Is this how you address all your superiors? Or just the ones that you used to fuck?” Her expression remained completely apathetic...the words, scorching.

    His spine remained rigidly affixed to the wall of the transport van.

    “No, just the ones that walked out.” He said scathingly.

    Then he snorted a caustic laugh, shaking his head as his cold eyes reared away from her. “You’re fucking unbelievable, you know that? When you left, I actually believed it was because you wanted to make a difference and I was holding you back, but now here you are, just another dick-swinging bureaucrat too focused on meeting a quota and padding your ego to see the larger picture.”

    “You have no fucking clue what the bigger picture is.” She cracked. It was momentary, but palpable as she jolted forward and stabbed a finger in his direction, composing herself and leaning back almost as quickly as the incident had occurred. The frontline activity and reports were getting to her.

    Changing tact, she used the momentary silence as an opportunity to change the subject. No point in letting it get too personal. That was territory she didn’t want to get marooned on, unsure of her ability to navigate such mercurial water. What with so much left unsaid.

    “There was a reported sighting of possible Machimos activity in the Blackhill district.” She didn’t mention that this was also being used as an excuse to further investigate Maya’s whereabouts. “Apparently some suspect materials were abandoned at an old shipping yard. We need to search the shipping yard for further clarity on what the materials’ original purpose was, why they were abandoned, and if the Machimos were truly involved.”

    Did she seriously think she could play him for a fool?

    Her attempt at a lie would have been laughable if it hadn't been so sad.

    He knew Sig. Fox knew her better than anyone, even more than she knew herself.

    “I’ve been brought in to investigate Machimos, but you’re not here for them. It's been a year, Sig, but I still know you. You are not here about a lead. This is about Maya.”

    There was a tick in her jaw as all but the quiet rumble of their CDF transport kept completely still and quiet. She couldn’t speak. She wouldn’t dare. For fear of Fox obtaining ammunition that could be used against her. Maya was her weakest link and the people that supported her Ascension in rank, the only ones that mattered, were becoming increasingly more aware of the problem. The vehicle slowing before their drop off point was a welcomed distraction. A relief to Sigrid when the tension of everything left unsaid between them was mounting and he kept pushing her most sensitive buttons.

    “Why are we stopping?”

    “I’m not sure ma’am. The electronics in the vehicle are malfunctioning.”

    “Say again?”

    “I’m not doing thi-”

    Fox was on his feet then and glanced out the front windshield of the transport vehicle, already coming to a conclusion before the words left his lips, “It’s an ambush.”

    Then their world erupted.

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  27. #16
    e x o d u s . [CLOSED]
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    “Do you want to explain to me,” Agent Collier came storming out of the observation room and into the hallway, “what the hell I just watched?”

    “Isn't it obvious?” Ethan asked. His attention seemed absorbed by the wall across from him for a moment before he turned and locked eyes with her.

    “No, Ethan. No it isn’t.” Samantha sounded dismayed. “Because to me it looked like a gigantic waste of time. You didn’t even interrogate her. Refused, from the looks of it.”

    Ethan tilted his head slightly, acknowledging her point. “I didn’t have to. My assessment was to ascertain any possible connections to known terrorist or extremist groups. My conclusion is that she doesn’t have any. Her only crime is in pissing off the wrong people.”

    “So we have nothing.” Agent Collier stated bluntly.

    “We have slander.” he corrected. “And the willingness to spread potentially harmful propaganda. But beyond that...nothing.”

    “Then what do we do now?”

    Ethan’s expression grew slightly puzzled, as though he thought the answer should be obvious. ”Load her up in the morning, take her home, and process her. What else?”

    “Based on what?”

    “Crimes against the State not a good enough reason for you?” Ethan asked, brushing past her and making his way down the corridor. “You’re really pushing buttons today, Sam. I’ve warned you once already.”

    “Agent Branch!” Samantha barked at his back. Ethan ignored her, and instead focused intently on the end of the hallway. Suddenly her hand was on his right shoulder, and she pushed her way around to stand in front.

    “Ethan!” Her tone changed, losing it’s authoritative edge. “Stop.”

    He didn’t try to brush past her again. He locked eyes with her, his expression impassive as he studied her. Concern left its mark across her features, in her wrinkled brow and slightly parted lips. There was fear as well, in the way she glanced briefly back over his shoulder at the agents behind him.

    “What is going on with you?” She asked, lowering her voice.

    “I’m not sure what you mean.” Ethan at first thought about keeping his own tone conversational, but decided to lower his voice to match her own.

    “This isn’t like you.” She insisted. “Forcing your authority onto SSP. Performing a vague interrogation--”

    “Assessment.” He interrupted.

    “It doesn’t matter, Ethan.” Agent Collier hissed. “Nothing beyond that woman’s apprehension has been standard procedure. You’ve acted strange ever since pulling the bag off her face.”

    “Please.” She continued, when her words were answered with stony silence, “Tell me what’s going on.”

    “I’m doing my job.” Ethan assured her. “If you haven’t been briefed on my assignment, then you know you shouldn’t ask. And, if you feel I am in error, then you know who you have to contact. That’s your job.”

    “Don’t make me do that, Ethan. Don't...”

    “Do you think anyone is still serving breakfast?” He asked, casually glancing at his watch. His voice had resumed a normal conversational volume, effectively ending their talk. “We should see about getting a bite after this. I’m starving.”


    **********


    A few moments later, Ethan parked himself down at an empty table, cradling a steaming cup of black police grade coffee in one of the break rooms scattered around the SSP. Not all of the tables were equipped with digital displays, and the few that were, were more geared toward recreation. Ethan quickly bypassed the standard programming, however, and set up a secured connection to the Encante’s network. Agent Collier had not followed him, and neither had his other agents. Away from further inquiry, Ethan once again accessed Torrence Reid’s file. A parade of photographs swam beneath his fingertips across the table surface, and he eventually came to rest on one of the images he’d shown her.

    Torrence was only a little girl in the photo, standing in a grassy patch in front of her parents. Her father’s hand was resting on her shoulder. To her left was a little boy of a similar age, positioned in much the same way with his parents. Ethan stared at the two adults behind the image of his younger self, then set his cup of coffee down in such a way as to cover their faces simultaneously. Torrence couldn’t remember him, but she had confirmed his suspicions. He knew her, had played with her. Had been happy with her. And now...what? He’d apprehended her. She'd made herself an enemy to the status quo, however minor and inconsequential.

    There were people who had been taken for less. Dozens of them. Hundreds, even; not to mention his own parents. But...they had been dissident. He’d known in his bones, each time he had taken a person in, or turned one over, that he was doing the right thing. This was different. Ethan didn’t feel right, he felt sick. Not that it mattered. The whole ordeal was done. Over and done, just like it had been with his parents.

    But what if it wasn’t? Against his better judgment, Ethan wasn’t entirely certain he could accept this outcome. Which just left one question.

    “What am I going to do?” He muttered quietly.

    The door to the break room clicked suddenly, and swung inward as one of his agents entered. Ethan quickly and calmly closed down Torrence’s file, and cut his connection to the network.

    “The SSP have been debriefed regarding Ms. Reid, sir.” The agent said, unphased. “We need to move on.”

    “Right behind you.” Ethan rose from the table, and turned to dump the rest of his undrunk coffee down a nearby sink.

    What am I going to do, he thought again, falling into step behind the other agent out into the main building. By the time he made it out the front of SSP headquarters, and prepared to enter Agent Collier’s waiting car, Ethan realized that he was already well into the process of making up his mind.

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  29. #17
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    SSP Specialist Trish Velasquez
    ++
    Agent Sam Collier
    ++
    Agent Ethan Branch

    He. Wouldn’t. Stop. Talking.

    “Ohhh, yeah… Right there…”

    “Mhm, yeah… Quiet…”

    She knew they weren’t alone in the change rooms of the SSP building, but Trish Velasquez’s focus was elsewhere than her current post-workout… workout... in a shower stall with Ben Lark: her spontaneous post-workout workout partner. There seemed to be a tense conversation being muttered just outside of the stalls, and she wanted to hear what was going on when she thought she had heard the term “Encante”.

    “Oh god--”

    “Shh!” Trish was abrupt, her hand moving from the wall of the stall and clamping over the man’s mouth, her body tensing so that their movements stopped. The hot water continued to fall like heavy rain drops between them.

    A grunt of discomfort came from Ben but he went silent when met with an icy glare from dark chocolate brown eyes. When she was sure he would remain silent, Trish turned her head slightly so she could attempt to hear more clearly through the walls, but she could only just make out the quiet conversation between two employees who had just entered the change room…

    “What are Encante doing here?” she whispered to Ben, not expecting an answer. He shrugged. She could tell he was getting uncomfortable, but she didn’t really care.

    That’s when she heard it. Heard who the Encante had taken into custody. Fuck!”

    Her hand unclamped from Ben’s mouth and smacked the wall, effectively turning off the hot water in the shower. She pushed Ben to the side, not even apologizing for stopping in the middle of their ‘workout’. She stepped out of the shower stall, grabbing a towel from the other side of the shower area, wrapping the white towel around her slightly tan, slim figure; her eyes locked on the two gossiping at the lockers. They had quieted when they heard her shout of dismay.

    “Who’s running the circus?” she stated as she walked passed the two to her own locker.

    “I thought they had you involved the entire time, Velasquez,” the one officer stated, completely surprised. “There has been enough yelling going on--”

    Trish turned to face them, still wearing the towel, her hands focused on twirling her long, damp, black hair back and up into a clip. “Give me useful information, Carr, or you’re useless to me.”

    “C-Collier,” the second officer piped in. “Collier and… Shit… What’s-his-name!”

    “Reagan’s been pissed.”

    “Not as pissed as I am.” Trish slammed her locker door, now half dressed in black fitted jeans and a dark red blouse she was struggling to button up. Strands of black hair fell in front of her face, but she still could see Carr staring at her. She just rolled her eyes, finishing with the buttons on her blouse and pulling her hair out of the clip, running her fingers through the loose locks quickly.

    “Where are they?”

    “Um, they were finishing up the interrogation.” Carr didn’t even seem embarrassed for staring at her. “They’re probably already gone, Trish.”

    “Not if I have anything to say about it,” she grumbled under her breath, brushing past the officers and walking out of the locker room.

    - - - - -

    “Hey! Encante!” Trish had eyed the unfamiliar back of a woman walking down the hallway; since her brisque gait probably wouldn’t catch her, she wasn’t inclined to run after the head of the circus that was about to create havoc in the streets. “Collier!”

    Sam hesitated, and turned back to searched for the person calling her name down the corridor. If she’d brushed past someone by mistake, she hadn’t noticed. Ethan was rooting around through her brain, as he often did. Agent Branch had vanished after their exchange outside the Quiet Room, and she was still waiting to hear back from the agent who had been sent to collect him. She just never knew what to expect from him. He was her friend, or so she wanted to believe. There were few people she could consider herself closer to. Yet he had a way of reminding her, sometimes with nothing more than a glance, that he wasn’t like other people. There were days where Sam felt that she literally had the tiger by the tail, and was just waiting for him to eat her.

    Sam’s eyes came to rest on the figure of a woman, a vaguely familiar face that tickled at her recognition, but couldn’t quite trigger it.
    Agent Collier.” Sam corrected her, and then smiled mildly. “Is there something I can help you with, Ms.-”

    “Specialist Trish Velasquez,” Trish replied, keeping cool despite the fire in her eyes. She stopped a few feet away from the agent. “Cyber Crimes unit. I’ve always wondered: do they teach Encante how to read?”

    Sam froze, her eyes narrowing. The agents now at her back stopped, and the void left in the wake of their footsteps quickly filled with a terse silence. They were watching her, their focused attention crawling over her neck, shoulders, and the back of her head like fire ants.

    “I beg your pardon?” Sam broke the ice quickly before it had a chance to thicken. She was using a tone of voice typically reserved for Ethan, a voice trained to reign in an agent stepping out of line. It was good for calling out most people, though despite her best efforts, it had little effect on Nells. It's hard to intimidate someone who knows they're a prized stallion in the king's stall.

    “Would you like to clarify, specialist?”

    “Gladly.” Trish wasn’t backing down, not even phased by the tone of choice by Collier. “I heard you brought in a potential threat; a threat that we’ve had a file on for a very, very long time. A threat whose file specifically states that if there is to be any interaction with her, that I be notified. So I ask: can you read, Agent?”

    “I read very well.” Sam replied stiffly. “I read the dossier handed to me on Ms. Torrance Ried front to back several times, in fact. It's funny, though, I don't recall any mention of your involvement.”

    Mock pity decorated itself across her face. “I'm sorry to say, it seems that someone must have deemed your work on this matter irrelevant. Or maybe...they just didn't feel you were getting the job done.”

    “What’s your plan, huh?” Trish took a step forward, daggers in her eyes. “You ‘read the dossier’, what… Once? Twice? Enough to know where she was… But how about who she is? Her routine, her quirks? Do you know how mentally unstable she is? Do you know who she talks to? Who interacts with her?”

    She didn’t even give Collier a chance to respond. Everyone in the hallway had stopped to stare at this point. “I can tell already, agent, that you’ve grossly underestimated her influence. Do you have the next blog entry ready? Written like her, sounding like her? With her OCD, she posts like clockwork. There was one time she had knocked herself out with too much drowsy cold medication and a government building was set on fire. You know what--you deserve shit to hit the fan--but it would be my ass that gets hit with it.”

    “Wow.” A man’s voice said suddenly. “That was a mouth full.”

    Sam glanced over the SSP Specialist’s shoulder, only to see Ethan standing there, as nonchalant as though he’d just sprung up from the floor. He locked eyes briefly with Sam, and left her bristling. The contact couldn’t have been more than an instant, but she knew he’d heard enough of this conversation to understand what was going on. And judging by the twinkle that winked back at her before he broke eye contact, he was enjoying this immensely.

    “Specialist...Velasquez, was it?” He continued. “I think you have some misunderstanding about what we, as the Encante, do in our line of work.”

    As Trish whipped about to face him, Ethan flashed a smile, but pushed forward. “We do not work with the SSP. We are not a rival branch that you can have a tit for tat with in the hallway because you feel like we have overstepped our bounds. I saw the advisement to notify you in the subject’s file. But my orders come from the Powers That Be. Rest assured that someone much higher up the chain has already reviewed the possible repercussions, and proper steps are being taken. I will, however, notify my superiors that you may have further information that could prove useful in wrapping up this whole situation. Unfortunately, I’m also going to have to make note of this little incident. You’ll probably be getting a phone call sometime this afternoon. It will be in your best interest, Specialist, that you answer it.”

    Trish tried to listen, but she never had a soft spot for Encante. If looks could kill, the agent who interrupted her one-on-one with Collier would at least be burning from the flames. But she took her time to make sure to keep her cool. She knew she was treading on thin ice, and if she got into it with two Encante agents, she’d be stuck archiving for the foreseeable future.

    She really wanted to slap the smug smile off his face, though. Instead, a just-as-smug smile crossed her lips and she tilted her head. “Mhm, oh I expect that call,” she replied coolly, not breaking her eye contact with him. “I actually expect it in about three… Two… One…”

    “Velasquez!”

    “Yes Director,” she didn’t turn in the direction of the call of her name.

    “You have an hour before a post needs to be up.”

    Her smug smile turned into a victorious grin briefly before she gave Ethan one more glance, this time looking him up and down. “Right away, Sir,” she replied lightly, turning on her heel almost a little too slowly before she turned her head away, walking with a bit of a sway in her hip to the elevator.

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