This is when the wheels started to come off.
I know what you’re thinking: didn’t they come off when Farrell tried to kill Cass? Or if not there, then when Derek freaked out and you two killed your stalkers? Or maybe on the road in New York?
All of those were, I hate to say it, run-of-the-mill happenings for a courier slash assassin.
But OutLook was always the place I knew I could go for help, even if I rarely actually showed my face there. I knew they had my back, though, no matter what.
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Chapter 4: Come into My Parlor…
Once the door closed, the mask came off.
‘You are one stupid bitch! I ought to have the two of you tossed back out onto the streets and let the local vermin take care of you!’
‘I got her here, didn’t I?’ retorted Kendra.
‘Barely. Got your ass jumped by a pack of crackers in the park, nearly got another agent killed. If what that pretty little physicist worked on wasn’t a game-changer, I wouldn’t think twice about canning your ass!’
Then her tone changed.
‘But, she is, so for now you’re still on the payroll.’
‘Whoop-te-do. Don’t do me no favors, Director.’
‘Don’t you worry, I won’t. Starting with, as of now, you’re off this mission.’
Kendra bounced out of her seat. ‘You can’t do that!’
‘Yes, I can. Director, remember?’
‘No, you can’t! I was never ON this mission, remember? She’s my wife, for gossake! Nobody knew about Aiyana’s breakthrough, nobody was assigned to protect her! The only reason I brought her here is because you asked me to!’
‘That’s it exactly, Agent Foster-Briggs. She’s your wife.’ The voice was cold again.
‘What do you mean by that?’ asked Kendra in a dangerous tone.
‘You’re too emotionally involved to be effective. End of discussion.’ Talbott turned to search for some papers on the desk, finding the correct one quickly. She handed it to Kendra.
‘What’s that?’ said Kendra, not reaching for the paper.
‘Your new assignment. Rather time-sensitive, I’m afraid; you’ll have to leave within forty-eight hours to make the rendezvous. Doesn’t give you much opportunity to prepare, but -’
‘I won’t do it.’ Kendra’s refusal was flat.
‘You don’t have a choice,’ responded Talbott.
‘I work for you; I’m not your slave. I can quit, and leave, any time I want.’
Talbott leaned back in her chair. ‘Go ahead.’
Kendra stood. ‘I should – I will!’
Talbott nodded. ‘The door is right behind you.’ Kendra turned, got as far as putting her hand on the door, before Talbott spoke again. ‘You walk out now, though, and you won’t ever see your wife again.’
She froze. ‘You’re bluffing.’
‘Am I? Where is she, do you know?’
‘I’ll find her if I have to tear the building apart.’
‘Impractical, that. Oh, you might take out eight, ten agents, but there’s over a hundred here right now. You wouldn’t stand a chance.’
Kendra’s hand fell away from the door.
‘It’s a simple assignment, really,’ purred Talbott. ‘And, once it’s complete, we can discuss the possibility of you leaving.’
‘Certainty, you mean. If I do this job, it’s the last one I’ll ever do for you,’ growled Kendra. ‘What about Cass?’
‘Aiyana? Oh, we’ll take care of her here. I’ll put Agent McAllister in charge of her comfort and care.’
‘We’re working with someone on the inside, trying to figure out who did this to her. She’ll need access to computers and the net.’
‘Naturally. It will be secure, I assure you, from any outside attacks or trackbacks.’
Kendra reached for the paper. ‘How long is this assignment?’
‘Oh, just a few days. A simple matter, really, a delivery and exchange. But it’s back into the San Fernando; you do still have your contacts, yes?’
‘You know I do.’
‘Splendid. Then let’s discuss the details…’
Chapter 5: Loose Lips Sink Ships
The quarters were a few levels below ground.
‘Nothing with a view?’ joked Cass, trying to make the best of it. After all, if she could be happy with the idea of living in a railroad tunnel, a few days in a basement couldn’t be too bad, right?
‘Oh, no views down here, Ms. Foster-Briggs, we’re a little ways under the building, not too far, did you know that it used to be a Mint and there are all sorts of secret tunnels leading all over the old city? Pretty cool, actually, and we haven’t even begun to map all of them yet which stinks because we’ve lost people down there before but we got them back.’
‘Okay, before we go any further, two things. One, you can call me Aiyana, or Cass, but not ‘Ms. Foster-Briggs.’ Got that?’
‘Yes, Ms. – Cass.’
Cass smiled at the younger woman’s correction but didn’t otherwise acknowledge it. ‘And second – breathe, once in a while!’
‘Ma’ – Cass?’
‘Forget it. Quarters, eh? Sounds grim.’
‘Oh, no, Miss – Cass, not grim at all, even the regular quarters are very nice, they don’t skimp at all, but these are the VIP suites, I’m sure you’ll be comfortable here, and if there’s anything I can do just let me know because I guess I am going to be your hostess and guide while you’re here.’
‘That’s nice, Mac – wait. What about Kendra?’
‘Oops. I don’t think I was supposed to tell you anything.’
‘You hadn’t – until then. What’s going on, Mac?’
Mac ignored the question. ‘This is your room, your ID can get you in, and then you can program the door to respond to your voice if you want. Let me show you.’ She took the card from Cass’s hand and passed in in front of a sensor.
A cool contralto voice said, ‘Welcome, Aiyana,’ as the door silently retracted into the wall.
‘Pretty neat, huh, Cass? The computer selects a voice appropriate for the person assigned to the room.’
‘Very, but I’m more interested in -’
Mac still ignored her. ‘Ooh, this is nice! Wow!’
Cass had to admit, it was a tastefully done and comfortable-looking room. A small couch, a table, a desk and chair with a full-service terminal were to the left of the entry; to the right was a compact kitchen and another doorway, closed at the moment. Dominating the far wall was a monitor that had to stretch eight feet.
‘Watch this!’ Mac walked over to the monitor’s control panel, touched a key. ‘Display – what do you want to see?’
Cass was struck by a sudden feeling of homesickness. But, she realized, where was home now? Certainly not Minnesota – that hadn’t been home for fifteen years. MIT was never home either, though she held many happy memories of her days studying there. Los Alamos? It had been a house, yes, but never a home, not until Kendra came back into her life. So now where?
Pushing the thoughts aside, she took two strides over to Mac and, surprising them both, lifted the smaller woman off the ground.
‘You listen to me, Mac, and then you answer me. Where is Kendra, and what do you mean you’ll be watching over me?’
‘The Director gave me my orders!’ squeaked Mac. ‘She said that Kendra had an assignment she had to complete and that it would be a few days and I should make sure you stayed out of trouble and maybe helped you find out what was going on because I’m a really good hacker all the instructors said so and can you put me down now please?!’
Cass dropped her with a thud. ‘An assignment? But we’re on our honeymoon!’
‘I know it doesn’t seem fair but a business is a business and I guess this needed Kendra’s expertise and there’s nothing we can do about it so can you maybe let me just be your friend while you’re here?’
Cass took pity on the suddenly vulnerable-looking agent. ‘I suppose so. Come on. Finish the tour.’