Killing Time OST – 22a – Numbers

<< 21c – Nerves

The muffins and pastries might have been of the utmost quality, I really could tell; everything tasted like ash today. Even coffee, which had long gone drunk. I hated working without a plan or a smidgen of control over a situation. I had neither in this room and felt like I was wandering around in my birthday suit.
“Your pacing’s making me sick,” Vexx snapped.
“Sorry,” Gabriel and I replied simultaneously.
Gabriel leaned against a wall. His jitters drove my instincts crazy. These were his people and his operation. In theory. I might have overestimated my ally’s yield – not that I intended to revise my approach if it proved to be the case. We had reached the point of the game where a player had to say ‘all in’ and hope for the best.
I stifled my own nerves, sat down and began pulling off my Alice face.
“Are you sure that’s smart?”
“Your face’s revealed and they’ll request mine soon enough. I’m not dragging this out.”
“I concur. It’s a show of good faith.”
I sighed. Discussion had gone this way for over two hours now: I said or did something, one of the guys reacted to it, then the other nabbed the final word. Fade to the awkward silence. Repeat. Practice didn’t improve this scene; it only annoyed the diva.
Three hours passed before a selection of suits walked in. They all wore a fake face, which, combined with the wait, insulted me to the point where I contemplated the idea of clawing their silicon off. I understood though; I wouldn’t trust anyone with my secret identity either, if I had any choice in the matter.
They choked on their surprise when they recognized Vexx. My presence didn’t seem to upset them nearly as much which told me they had put some thought into this and came up with a short list of possible ‘Nightshade’. They hadn’t pinned me as the most likely suspect though but the cat was officially out of the bag.
“Hello gentlemen,” I said, eager to break the silence and get down to the messy business of striking a deal. Gabriel and Vexx sat on each side of me while the suits lined up on the seats in front of us. Six of them. I mobilized half the brain trust of the secret task force. If not more. Anything bigger would have attracted attention.
“Agent Walker. Miss Beyer, Mister Swan,” the man sitting in the middle replied. Vexx cringed at the mention of his real last name. At least, they left the first name unsaid. “I’ll pay you the courtesy of being blunt.” I curved the corner of my mouth, despite my instinctive spike in worry. “Nightshade is a sadistic vigilante bound for the chair. Whether you deserve it or not has yet to be decided. You’re not an asset. You’re a thorn. Remember that.”
In front of me, notebooks flipped open and pen clicked. One of them clicked three times and my smile widened.
“Liar, liar, pants on fire,” I singsang.
Vexx squeezed my hand.
“Beg your pardon?”
“I’m calling your bluff. You’re here. I bet that’s all of you. And you’re fiddling your nervousness away.” Half my jury switched their weight. “I’m the break your underfunded black ops team dreamed about. I’d already be dead or far away if you wanted me out of your jurisdiction.”
“Lorelei,” Vexx murmured in my ear, “you really shouldn’t.”
“Yes, I should,” I shook his hand off. “I get it. Assets are usually controlled and making me believe I owe you would ensure that. Not working.”
Middle Man crossed an item off his list. “Congratulations Agent Walker. Your assessment is amazingly accurate.”
“Your what now?” I felt my poker face crackle. Had Gabriel played me?
“Everything but the singing bit was right on,” another man said.
“He did say allowing for a fifty percent chance of one to two unforeseeable elements to occur prompted his prediction to ninety percent accuracy,” a woman with a British accent added. “So I’d say his estimations were perfect.”
“You mathematic-ed her?” Vexx hovered somewhere between appalled and appealed.
“Wait. Who’s under evaluation here?” My mind raced to follow the events.
“All of us,” Gabriel said. “I’m sorry.”
“What did you do?” I could hear the nerves play arpeggios with my voice. I had done it. I had lost all my chips. I should have played solitaire.
“Nothing reprehensible,” Middle Man said. “We asked him to assess the effect of the nanobots’ retrieval on your persona.”
I looked at Gabriel, almost seeing the knife plunged in my chest. He shifted but remained otherwise unfazed by my glare. Not at peace with what he did but very close to. What exactly had he done?
“I oversaw a team of scientists and psychologists. We extrapolated how the programming of the nanobots, once dampened by the human balance of hormones, would affect your reactions.”
“You reverse engineered her brain.” The ‘I underestimated you guys’ part remained unsaid but I knew Vexx enough to predict his thought. My fist closed but Vexx caught it before it launched itself toward Gabriel’s jaw. “Not cool!”
“You staged this,” I accused. Damned be my pride! Super spies never telegraphed their emotions so boldly unless they had a death wish. I shouldn’t have assumed.
Middle Man nodded. “This is our show of good faith. We could have manipulated you into doing what we want. Your father probably can as well. The nanobots’ marks are permanent and make you easily predictable. You needed to know that.”
“I’m very sorry.” Gabriel shook his head. “You wouldn’t have believed us any other way.”
This was a hell of an opening argument.
I exhaled and rolled me shoulders back. Vexx released my arm.
“That being said,” Middle Man resumed, “my points stand. You’re a thorn and we want you out of our foot. And yes, you’re a break too but one we hoped wouldn’t exist. You’re also exactly what we need to resolve this issue.”
“We’re codependent.” That didn’t feel right at all.
Middle Man smiled. I hated it. “If you father can predict you, you’ll never kill him for us.”
“But now I know.”
“Now you know.”
“And all bets are off.” Gabriel winked.

22b – Numbers >>

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About Aheïla

Somewhere in Quebec City, Aheïla works as a Game Design Director by day and writes by night. Known for her blue hair, unyielding dynamism and tasty cooking (quails, anyone?), she’s convinced “prose is the new crack”. She satisfies her addiction daily on The Writeaholic’s Blog and weekly on Games' Bustles View all posts by Aheïla

5 responses to “Killing Time OST – 22a – Numbers

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