This is a place which doesn’t exist. It’s situated under a mountain in the Merinisrange, a certain number of miles from the global capital of Actura, the sprawling metropolis of Determination. No roads access it. It is not marked on any maps. It is not connected to any power grid or Infonet connections.
It has the facilities required to accomplish almost anything. It can house up to three hundred inhabitants, and sometimes it has.
Currently, there are just two, seated at simple desks of glass from which dance lights and colours carrying information in impossible amounts. Minute flickers of their fingers categorise, sort, decide, manipulate, and release this information at an incredible rate.
And now three.
The newcomer walks in, brushing his dirt away. He moves precisely and perfectly silently, not even seeming to intend stealth - it is simply automatic.
“You’re late,” says one of the seated pair. She does not look round.
The newcomer stops, and flexes his fingers on the air as well. Out of the dark, semi-lit depths of this silent complex, a blob of matter appears, hovering and skimming along the ground. By the time it reaches him it has formed a seat, and he sits in it, reclining lazily. “Affirmative.”
“Why do you ask exactly?” The newcomer settles himself. “You know perfectly well why I was gone.”
The other glass-dancer flickers his slender fingers. A picture appears before them, hanging in the air.
“Yes. We were coordinating you, after all.”
The newcomer is in it, captured in perfect crystal clear detail. The man himself, offscreen, taps his fingers. “Yes. So I’m unsure as to the nature of your complaint.”
He is hooded, dressed in baggy jeans. He carries a Turnweiser and Warden K85 assault rifle. He is firing it. He is shouting something, his muzzled face twisted in insane rage. His target appears onscreen: a fleeing group, various species. Some children. The bright bullets find their mark with exceptional skill, and the figures fall.
Then another shot, straight to the chest of the newcomer. His rifle clicks off another few shots, and then he falls, blood pouring. Uniformed riot officers armed with heavy assault weaponry are seen charging towards his broken body.
Not a single muscle moves on any of the three faces.
“I had to establish a valid background before I acted. You knew this, it was detailed in the briefing. Fifty seven days was the time it took for the persona to reach the required level of psychosis.”
“That is correct.” The male speaks again. “You performed with full distinctions. We have already filed the report.”
“But we also filed the report of your last assignment. Subject VT001 and Subject CR-VT001-D00948.”
New images come to life. An entire gallery of them. A slim, vulpine figure, all in pure white. And a monstrous black shape with dreadful golden eyes. They are depicted alone in several, often with accompanying bars of text. But most of all they appear together.
The newcomer seems to become even stiller. Then, for the first time, he smiles thinly. “And?”
“And you know,” the female stands up, looking coldly at him. “that it is standard procedure that after the end of an assignment and the destruction of a persona, all operatives are required to report to their co-ordinators for debriefing as soon as possible. And you did not.”
The newcomer sits back in his chair of frozen liquids and meets her gaze. “That assignment,” he says coolly, “ took approximately one day, and we all knew we would not ascertain it’s full effects for at least a month. How long before?”
She scowls. “Thirty two days.”
The male at the desk calls up a time-lapse video. The great dark beast is lying on his back, his pale plaything resting spread-eagled upon his chest. He does not even breathe, lying as the clock in the corner speeds past days. The newcomer watches it out of the corner of his eye as he continues.
“More than a month, then. You do realise that what I did there was to begin Phase 7 of the Sacrifice Procedure itself? We did not have thirty seven days for a fully capable operative to sit around waiting for a yes-no answer.”
“Yes.That’s right.” The other male is on his feet now. “But that was not our proposal. “Full effects”? You are deliberately misdirecting both of us. How long does it take some operations to reach their “full effects”? No, the problem is that you did not return at all. We would have required less than an hour to fully debrief you on the entire assignment and any follow-ups required by anyone. You could have outfitted properly for your next case. And you didn’t.”
The newcomer stands as well. They are all three of them tall and lean and muscular. “By the time I had placed the car in the right place to be found I was two thousand miles away. Why exactly should I have come back-”
“Any one of our coordination centres around the globe could have debriefed you!” the female snaps. “There is no reasoning behind this ignoring of procedure which will satisfy us! No, I believe it was for personal reasons.”
The word is pronounced with cold disgust, as if none of them would ever dream of being a person. The newcomer does not reply or react.
“You have been spending an inordinate amount of time during your monitoring schedule observing subject VT001 and his… partner. I checked the records. I also examined some of the data you wrote on them. And I don’t believe for a minute that you didn’t return becase you were busy with a new assignment I believe you didn’t return because you wanted to enjoy the memory of the last one.”
The male flicks his fingers again, and a more graphic shot appears. There is blood. The small white creature, subject CR-VT001-D00948, is trying to sob. “Do you think,” the male takes over, “that there is something romantic about this case? It is unusual, yes, and contains an extremely intelligent and potentially dangerous puzzle piece. It requires care and due consideration. It does not require… fanboys!”
The newcomer gives a small snort of derision. “Is that really the word being used these days?”
“You are not taking this seriously. You said it yourself: we have begun Phase Seven. Everything is vital now. Everything. And you think it’s okay to exhibit emotions towards a pawn?”
The newcomer looked at them both. Then he said, “As a matter of fact, I shall explain what I think. I think that I outrank you considerably. I think that when you discovered this apparent interest in the case on my case history, you immediately reported a request that I no longer participate with the VT001 case to your Overseer, who would in turn have referred it upwards until it reached the right level to make a decision. I think that if this request had been successful I would have been notified before you, the moment I deconstructed my persona, in fact. I have not received any notification. Therefore…” he clasped a hand on of their shoulders. “I think that you are assaulting me verbally for the reason that it is the only thing you can do.”
This time there were no replies.
The newcomer smiled again, and patted them both. “Good. Now, are you going to finally debrief me? Fifty seven days late? Most of all… VT-001. Did he go for it?”
The two breathed out slowly, returning to their gleaming crystal desks. The male flicked a finger over invisible keys, and a voice hummed through the room. It was low and deep and impossibly velvet-smooth, purring like a cat and soft like a bird. The sound replication systems conjured it up perfectly so that not even the three of them could notice the difference between a recording and a real thing.
“Therefore, we can assume for the purpose of this was genuinely to kill you. The only conceivable reason for such a blasphemy is, of course, your relationship with me. What would be the end result... of... such?”
“Therefore, we can assume for the purpose of this was genuinely to kill you.”
“...the purpose of this was genuinely to kill you.”
The newcomer smiled fully, curling his fingers as if remembering the sweet bucking of the steering wheel as he had slammed into the vulpine.