Much thanks to my editor gwoman for her work on this chapter!
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Running. She could feel the muscles tensing in her legs as she launched herself over the small step that represented the divider between the living and family rooms, her gaze fixed on the back door. She felt herself frown as the foot flung in front of her caught her eye, shod in those stupid sneakers – pink with flowers – her mom had picked out for her. She’d managed to cover them with enough mud and grass stains by now so that you couldn’t see what they used to look like, though.
Running for her life. She could taste the harsh metallic tang in the air that had set her to running, but she hadn’t looked behind her yet, not even when the shouting had started. She knew what was back there. He was always hounding her. Her heart thumped painfully, as if trying to escape her ribcage, and she could feel her arms vibrating with adrenaline as she pumped them, trying to propel herself forward faster. Faster, faster! Couldn’t she go any faster?
Running for her life. Again. Her foot slipped a little on the carpet, and she knew she wasn’t going to make it this time. She looked sadly at the back door, just a few feet away, but realized why she’d stumbled as her shirt slid up under her chin and closed off her throat. She only had a chance to turn her head part of the way towards him – slowly, so slowly! – until it snapped back around as a huge hand slapped her hard enough to rattle teeth. She could taste iron and copper now and her eyes had closed by themselves, but she considered the furious face that had burned into her mind before that – dad.
She sat up quickly on the couch, breathing heavily, but otherwise silent and listening. She could still taste that familiar tang of blood in her mouth but decided after checking that it had just been in the dream. The feeling that her father still lurked nearby bothered her, though, so she got off the couch a little stiffly and moved cautiously around the condo until satisfied that she was the only person home.
A look at the clock told her it was one thirty in the afternoon, and she sighed. Another currently fruitless morning of job hunting out of months of such mornings, and she had lain down at eleven to rest her eyes for a minute. Heading for the bathroom, she turned on the light over the mirror and looked at herself for a moment. She didn’t really see the shoulder-length auburn hair or dark green eyes; her gaze lingered instead on the tiny, half-moon bite mark under her lower lip that she had gotten as a toddler. She wore a blue tank top and grey biker shorts that day, since it was hot even inside, and they showed off her five-foot-four, lean, muscled frame, but her eyes only saw the faint scar lines found mostly on her upper arms and the sides of her thighs from where her father had cut her during beatings.
He was mostly a blunt-force guy, so there weren’t too many marks, but there was one near the middle of her right forearm that seemed more spectacular than the rest. It looked old and faded in the way scars get, but this one, somewhere between a nickel and a quarter in size, had uneven waves around the edge, and the center was still a bit redder than the surrounding area. It looked as if it had been caused by something sharp poking through the skin, and for a moment she remembered how it had happened, not really seeing herself in the mirror at all. Finally, she shook her head as she rubbed the scar carefully and then looked her reflection in the eye.
“I should stop thinking about this shit,” she growled, the sounds echoing in the too-quiet room. Looking into the mirror with new determination, she turned on the tap and then threw some cold water on her face to help herself wake up before going to the kitchen to make some more tea.
She stood by the window, staring distractedly out at the street below until the kettle sang. When she’d refilled her tea cup she inhaled the berry scent before she sipped it, settling back in front of the computer to resume her job search. Finding an e-mail she’d been waiting about a week for, she anxiously opened it.
“Ms. Alexandra McKilliam,” it read, “thank you for your interest in the position, but it has already been filled.”
A sigh escaped Lex’s lips as she put her head on her folded arms on the desk next to the keyboard. Not enough experience, not enough schooling: there was always some excuse made about why they didn’t want her. After a few moments, she breathed in a steadying breath, sat back up in the chair, and continued looking. She checked the job boards, sent out résumés to the few new entries she qualified for (all short-term contract positions, she noted resignedly), and followed up on some résumés she’d sent out over the past few days. After finishing that, she looked at the clock – two fifteen. Her eyes traveled to the suit that, in a burst of hopefulness, she’d just had dry-cleaned with her quickly dwindling savings but that she hadn’t had any use for recently. Suddenly, another wave of weariness passed over her, and she looked at the couch again. Just relaxing for a little while should be fine, she found herself thinking…
Running. She could feel the forward movement as her right leg reached out. She could sense her lungs opening wide and sucking in as much air as they could handle, full of the scent of desperation and sweat, and her panicked eyes located the back door, only a few feet away.
Running for her life. Could she ever get away from the monster following her? Her thumping heartbeat crowded out all other sounds, and every inch of her vibrated from the massive burst of adrenaline that had been dumped into her system. Need to go faster…
Running for her life. Again. She glanced quickly behind her and then forward once more, sorry that she’d looked. Her six-foot-six dad was pursuing her, face red and howling wordlessly in rage. But this time she had her hand on the doorknob. She slammed the back door open, and the screen door swung to without a hitch as she pushed against it. She could see the two dogs in the yard, and they immediately focused on the mismatched pair: the short, skinny girl and the tall,massive, shouting man. The black shepherd and white husky began running over, barking furiously. She could feel her father slowing behind her, and she took that moment to put on an extra burst of speed she didn’t know she’d had. She fled down the long backyard toward the chain link fence, scrambled quickly up it and over, and ran away into the dappled afternoon sunlight of the woods behind her house…
Sitting up, Lex caught the end of her cell phone’s ring. Shocked momentarily, she sat a bit dazed on the couch and then lunged for it. As she answered, it occurred to her that in all of the many times she’d dreamed that dream, she’d never escaped before. “Hello,” she said into the receiver, trying to sound like someone who hadn’t just been napping on the couch in the afternoon.
“Ms. McKilliam?” asked a crisp, cool, businesslike female voice.
“Yes, this is she,” Lex answered, trying to identify the voice and realizing that she couldn't.
“My name is Clara Pingham and I work for Mr. Sauer, who is the main sponsor for the M Agency. We received your résumé and are interested in interviewing you for a position with the team.”
Lex sighed and rubbed the space between her eyebrows. One of the reasons she’d been having a hard time finding work was that a while ago she'd decided not to take Defense Department or intelligence work. In Washington, DC, during a time when the US had armed conflicts going on in a number of different places, this made the jobs Lex would accept a small subset of the available work. She’d struggled with the decision at first, but Lex had had lots of time to read the news and think about the situation in the country. She'd tried to examine every angle carefully and had come to the uncomfortable conclusion that there seemed to be a few distinct purposes behind these wars: to use the poor in the US as cannon-fodder, to take the natural resources of poorer or weaker nations, and to suck the country's treasury money into the pockets of private corporations for something that was of no benefit to the citizens. Once that realization had settled in her mind, Lex knew it would be impossible for her to honestly do any defense work. Since she’d never heard of this agency and hadn’t applied to it, she found herself assuming she knew why they were contacting her.
“Thank you for calling, Ms. Pingham. I don’t remember putting in an application to your agency, but I am interested in finding out what kind of work would be involved. Could you please describe it to me?” Lex asked, figuring she probably already knew the answer.
“Actually, Ms. McKilliam, we culled your résumé from another government agency that you applied to. M Agency doesn’t accept applications; we recruit. Unfortunately, I can’t fully describe the position to you unless you fill out a confidentiality agreement. Does this impact your willingness to come for an interview?”
Lex sighed. “Unfortunately, it does. I’m not looking to do any intelligence or Defense Department work, so if that’s the nature of the job, I’m going to have to turn the interview down since I wouldn’t want to waste everyone’s time.”
There was a sound on the other end of the line, so faint that Lex couldn’t be sure she’d actually heard it. A smothered laugh, maybe? She didn’t have time to think about it, however, since Clara quickly began speaking again. “Ms. McKilliam, I can assure you that the position you would be applying for will not require you to do work of that kind. If you are interested, we would like to interview you today. Would 4:00 p.m. suit you?”
Lex stood up to look at the clock on the computer, which read 2:35. Internally she swore at herself for being so lazy today, but she responded, “Four would be fine. What’s the address?”
Writing it down, along with a number that Clara told her to call in case she got lost, Lex raised an eyebrow at the last statement and asked her final question, “Should I ask for you or Mr. Sauer once I arrive?”
“You can ask for either of us. Anyone who answers the door should know where to bring you,” Clara replied.
Answers the door? Lex wondered, but shook the thought off. “Thank you, Ms. Pingham; I look forward to meeting you this afternoon.”
Shoving all thoughts out of her mind except getting ready, Lex quickly looked the address up on the internet; it was in a dicey neighborhood along the waterfront, but the nearest metro stop was only about two blocks away. Cheering her luck on, she ran into the bathroom, started the shower up while undressing, and then stepped into the water, shivering gratefully at the lukewarm spray cooling her down.
Fifteen minutes later, with her freshly cleaned suit and her favorite shoes on, Lex ran out the door and down the stairs. She slowed a bit after the first flight, thinking about the heat and not spoiling the effect of the shower, and pulled her cell phone out of her purse. Before she’d finished walking down the remaining four flights, Lex had left a voice mail for her fiancé to let him know about the interview when he checked his phone after work. That done, she put the phone away and pushed open the door leading outside.
As the sun shone harshly down on her, Lex let out a little sigh that quickly became a cough as the hot, moist DC summer air hit her lungs. She squinted against the blazing light in order to navigate the sidewalk – crowded with people in suits talking self-importantly on their cell phones and mothers pushing immense strollers – ducking in and out of the high-end shops that lined the street. Lex gazed upwards, seeing only tall, new buildings with a lot of glass and polished stone reflecting the sunlight back down at the street. She sighed again, telling herself that she should be grateful, that she’d never be able to afford to live in such a nice area on her own, but inside she remained unconvinced, thinking especially of the shooting that she could hear most weekends in the neighborhood just a few blocks away. Oh well, she thought as she got on the down escalator, at least the metro’s close.
When Lex reached the station level, she could see that the train she needed had just arrived, so she rushed through the entry gate and down another escalator to get it. She slid in through the train doors a moment before they began to close, speakers sounding the familiar “Please stand clear of the doors” warning. Three p.m., she noted, looking at the clock on her cell phone. I should get there in plenty of time, she thought as the train pulled out of the station.
Fifty minutes later, sweating and worried, Lex began to doubt it. The train had been delayed along its route, so when she’d finally arrived at her stop, she’d hurried along the two blocks to the address. They weren’t very nice blocks, either; consisting of a few burnt-out looking warehouses and some worn homes with children in frayed clothes in the front yards, watching her suspiciously as she walked by. Lex could tell she was getting closer to her destination by the Potomac River when she began to smell something like stale water and dead fish.
Standing about where she thought she should be, Lex now surveyed a number of different warehouses, none of which had numbers. Unsure whether the building she wanted was the red brick one with a boarded-over window or the grey concrete one with only two small windows in front, Lex called the number she’d been given.
“Hello,” a voice answered after one ring. Cool, collected – it was Clara again.
“Ms. Pingham, this is Alexandra McKilliam. I’m here, but I’m not sure which building it is. I can’t see any building numbers.”
“Ah, yes, I should have mentioned. It’s the grey building. Please just come to the front door and ring. Someone will be with you momentarily.”
“Thanks, Ms. Pingham.”
Lex hung up and went to the front of the grey building. She saw a large door that looked like it slid open and, to the left, a box with a large button in the middle of it. Lex pressed it and thought she could hear something buzzing faintly inside the building, and then silence. She waited a few minutes in the suddenly quiet afternoon and then started to hear voices on the roof, two stories up, coming in her direction.
“…you jerk! Get the hell out of here before you regret it!”
Lex looked up to see if she could spot the people arguing, and instead saw something falling in her direction. She leapt backwards as fast as she could and heard a tearing sound. Lex cursed inwardly as she realized that she’d probably ripped the back of her suit skirt. The uneven movement caused by her restrictive clothing made her land somewhat awkwardly, so that she had to prevent herself from falling by catching herself on the pavement with her palm. As she stood back up she realized she now had a bleeding left hand, a ripped skirt, and a thin stripe of white paint across the tops of her favorite shoes. Lex was happy she’d made the right call, however, as the five-gallon bucket of paint hit the ground several feet away. It had been almost full and hit hard right about where she’d been standing. White paint fountained against the door just as it began to open and the bucket jumped and spun, spraying paint everywhere until it finally fell over and gushed the rest onto the pavement.
When that finished, Lex looked back up to the roof to see if she could tell what had started all of this. She saw two heads peering over the edge, a woman and a man. The woman’s hand flew to her mouth as she looked down at the paint bucket and at Lex.
“Are you all right?” Lex heard faintly from up above.
Lex then looked through the front door, now fully open. A woman stood in the doorway, looking at the paint and bucket disapprovingly over her silver-rimmed glasses. She looked to be about thirty and had dressed very professionally that day in a navy suit jacket and skirt with a simple white blouse, her long brown hair caught up neatly in a twist on the back of her head. Lex thought the woman must be Clara, since the way she looked matched what Lex had expected after hearing Clara’s voice on the phone.
After a moment, she glanced up at Lex and smiled, although it looked a little strained. “You must be Ms. McKilliam. I’ll have to ask you to excuse the mess.”
Lex looked down at her hand, which had started to bleed freely around the grit stuck in it, and her shoes. “Ms. Pingham. Nice to meet you. I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to do the same.”
Clara looked at her a little more closely, probably noticing the flash of red and the uneven white stripe across Lex’s black shoes, and then looked at the location of the bucket, right in front of the door. “Ms. McKilliam, please accept my apologies for this situation,” Clara said, then turned to her right. Lex watched as Clara’s professional façade fell away and she began barking at another woman who was nearing the door.
“Casey, Ms. McKilliam is here for an interview. You are one of the ones who have been complaining that we need new people on this team, and this is how you welcome them? She could have been killed!”
Casey gazed at Lex for a moment, as if considering what Clara had said. “No,” Casey eventually answered, “She moved too fast for me to catch her with something like that. I didn’t even do it on purpose. Relax, would you?”
Lex now had a moment to look at Casey as she stepped the rest of the way up to the door. She held a man in the air by the back of his shirt, and as Lex watched, Casey put him out the door, landing him on his feet but roughly enough that he stumbled. He turned and looked at her as if he wanted to yell, or at least say something sarcastic, but Casey gave the man a hard stare and he just shouldered his tools and left instead.
Probably one of the reasons he had done so was Casey’s stature. Lex estimated the woman to be around seven feet tall with the physical build and obvious strength of bodybuilder. It hadn't escaped Lex that Casey had carried the man to the door with little effort, as if she’d been holding a newspaper, not even breathing heavily. The next thing that Lex noticed, after getting over some of her surprise about the incident with the workman, was that Casey was dressed in workout gear – bike shorts with a long t-shirt and a pair of sneakers. Her blonde hair was back in a simple braid that ran halfway down her back, and her dark blue eyes appeared frank and direct.
Casey sighed as she looked back at Lex. “Look, I really am sorry. I had no idea you were down there because we don’t get many visitors here. Anyway, Clara,” Casey said, turning back to the other woman, “this is actually all my fault. Be sure to blame it on me when you talk to Sauer.” Rolling her eyes, Casey added, “It’s not like you wouldn’t anyway.” She began to turn to go back inside, but then glanced back at Lex. “Oh, and good luck, I guess.”
Lex was unsure of what to make of that last comment and so just replied, “Uh, thanks.” Stepping around the paint as well as she could, she made her way to the front door.
“There’s a first aid kit in the kitchen,” Casey’s disembodied voice said from somewhere inside. Clara glared in the general direction it had come from and then turned to Lex.
“Let’s get you cleaned up a bit before we go in to Mr. Sauer,” she said.
Lex nodded and followed her in and to the left, the door automatically creaking shut behind them along its track. Turning her head to briefly scan her surroundings, Lex noted an open area to the right with couches and tables, just past two sets of staircases. It had wide picture windows with a view past some tired-looking docking to the water, then of the river beyond and the tall buildings across it, probably Crystal City, she thought. Not exactly a downtown vista, but very nice compared to what Lex had expected after the neighborhood she’d traveled through to get here.
Everything smelled faintly of cinnamon and coffee, Lex noted as they moved through the kitchen door. Looking over Clara’s shoulder, Lex saw large stainless steel appliances and an island in the middle with stools pulled up around it. She stepped up to the big sink, took some soap from a nearby pump bottle, and drew some water to wash her cut, working the wound a little to push the grit out. While she dried the abrasion, Lex watched Clara poke through a white metal cabinet attached to the wall, eventually handing over a gauze pad, some bandages, and some disinfectant packets. “Is this what you need?” Clara asked.
Lex nodded, reached for the articles, and quickly patched her hand up. “Thanks for your help, Ms. Pingham,” she replied, throwing the trash into a large wastebasket near the door. She wished there was something she could do about her shoes and skirt, but sighed as she realized that there was no help for them now. “I think I’m ready.”
“Good. Mr. Sauer doesn’t like to be kept waiting. Please come this way.”
Clara led Lex out of the kitchen and then back towards the open room she’d spotted earlier. Before entering the room, however, they turned and went up a set of stairs to the left. At the top Lex saw a corridor with doors on either side and noted that the window at the end of the hall showed a blank wall at the bottom and part of a cloudless, intensely sunny sky at the top. Mentally thanking whoever invented air conditioning, Lex turned left to follow Clara and trailed her through the last door on the right.
“Mr. Sauer,” Clara said as she went into the room, “I apologize for the delay. There was an incident at the front door, and Ms. McKilliam was slightly injured. We had to stop by the first aid kit on the way up.”
The man Lex spotted turning towards them was much older than Clara or herself and had the look of someone used to getting what he wanted and for whom cost was never an issue. He sat in a sleek, motorized wheelchair and wore a suit that probably cost more than Lex had ever earned in a year. She smelled good cologne and could tell that the cut of his grey-silver hair had probably been done by someone whose phone number she couldn’t even afford. Lex swallowed, her ripped skirt and paint-spattered shoes looming so large in her imagination it seemed they had their own neon signs. Even if it hadn’t been ripped, her suit, a simple design in black linen with a fitted, short-sleeved jacket and a knee-length skirt suddenly seemed pathetically cheap in comparison. She forced a smile on her face as she thought, Oh well, I’ve probably lost the chance at this job! The idea made her feel a bit less anxious, however, and she sensed her shoulders dropping a fraction as she stood taller and moved forward to meet her interviewer.
Clara introduced them as they crossed to the side of the conference table where he sat and Lex leaned forward to shake hands with the man. Momentarily surprised by the strength of his grip, she increased her own fractionally and then they both pulled away. As Lex stepped back, she took a better look at the room she’d walked into and found it the nicest she’d seen in the building so far, furnished with a large, polished, black conference table surrounded with comfortable-looking leather chairs.
“Clara, what was the incident you just referred to?” Sauer asked. “I didn’t think the neighborhood was that bad.”
Clara’s lips thinned a little before she answered. “Casey seemed to be in some sort of argument with one of the workmen on the roof, and during their…discussion, a five gallon bucket of paint was pushed off the roof, nearly onto Ms. McKilliam.”
Mr. Sauer looked at Lex with a raised eyebrow. “Really? I’d like to see what happened. Could you bring it up on the monitor, Clara?”
Clara pushed a button Lex hadn’t noticed, which flipped a screen up on the table in front of Sauer, then typed a few things into the keyboard in front of it. Finally, Clara swiveled the screen so that all three of them could watch it. Lex saw herself waiting at the front door and then watched her face turn upwards. Her expression changed, and then it looked as if the camera had suddenly moved away from her. After that, Lex stumbled a little and caught herself from falling with her left hand.
Oddly, Lex heard Sauer chuckle, almost as if to himself. “Could we see that again, Clara, from the side?”
After Clara typed a bit more on the keyboard, Lex and the others watched as the scene replayed itself from a different angle. She darted sidelong glances at her companions’ faces and watched as they stared in surprise, blinking and seeming unable to track exactly what had happened. Lex finally looked squarely over to see Sauer nodding to himself, a look of satisfaction on his face. She tried not to let her own expression show how bizarre she found the situation, however, because for the life of her, Lex couldn’t figure out why they’d care.
“Ms. McKilliam, please have a seat,” he said, and Lex chose a nearby chair at the conference table. As she slid into the chair, she found it difficult to stop herself from petting the buttery-soft leather on the armrests, but tried hard to focus on the interview instead. Clara sat opposite them and opened a laptop that she’d pulled out of a nearby bag. Sauer then went on in a thoughtful way, “You’re Bill McKilliam’s daughter, aren’t you? Do you know I knew your dad?”
Lex could feel her throat constrict and her stomach clench, but responded quickly. “Mr. Sauer, please feel free to call me Lex.” She paused a moment, trying to think of something else to say. “I don’t remember your name from when I was a child. Are you someone he met in the service?”
Mentally cursing her father, Lex wondered if she would ever get out from under the man’s shadow. After being out of his house for almost a decade now, she still felt like she couldn’t escape him.
“Well done, Lex,” Sauer complimented her. “Yes, your father and I met up in the service. We weren’t close pals or anything, but we did work together on several occasions. He seemed a very reliable man.”
“Yes, I’m sure. He always spoke highly of his military service.” Where they taught the rat bastard to torture people. I’m sure he was very good at his job, even then, Lex thought.
“Did you train under your father in martial arts?”
Lex sighed internally. Just about everyone who heard her last name wanted to know about that because of the stupid radio commercials. Anyone who'd lived in the DC area for even a short amount of time had heard the man’s voice on the radio, talking up his string of martial arts studios. She’d considered changing her name, but it had seemed like too much trouble. Instead, Lex avoided listening to the radio.
“Yes, I trained under him from the time I was 2 until I turned 16. During that time, I earned black belts in tae kwon do and hapkido, and a brown belt in judo.” Which I paid for in bruises, a few broken bones, and a number of scars, Lex thought, her stomach now churning. Which is why I only wear tights and never stockings. Which is why I feel so uncomfortable in these short sleeves and try not to turn my right arm so the hand is up and you can see my compound fracture scar.
“Why only your brown belt in judo?” Sauer asked, looking at her curiously.
“That was the highest I could go, since I was under 16 at the time.”
“May I ask why you stopped training when you were 16?”
Lex was ready with her stock, semi-truthful answer to the intrusive question that she’d heard too many times. “High school studies just got too busy, so I thought it was more important to focus on them.”
Her mind was screaming the real answer, that everything had gotten much worse until finally her father had told her to leave the house or he would kill her. The highlights of her move to a friend’s parent’s spare room, working a fast food job and cleaning the house she stayed at for rent, and somehow graduating high school under these circumstances flashed quickly through her mind. “Mr. Sauer, do you mind if I ask how this is related to the interview? I have some copies of my résumé, in case we need to reference them –”
Lex had started to open her portfolio and take some résumés out to hand to Clara and Sauer, but Sauer put a hand up.
“No need; we received all the information we needed to know from the government application you filed.” Sauer pressed a button on the keyboard in front of him, and Lex saw a document appear on the screen with her picture on the top right-hand side. “I see here that you graduated last year from Northern Virginia Community College, cum laude. What did your major in?”
“Science. Mostly biology and chemistry courses. I’m interested in eventually finishing my four-year degree in biochemistry, so I focused on what was available in that field. As you probably saw in my application, I’ve done some consulting work with the National Institutes of Health, and I’d like to continue working in that field and that direction.”
“Very…interesting.” Sauer replied distractedly, frowning about something in Lex’s last statement. Lex almost shook her head but stopped herself. Even when she’d begun college she’d never been eligible for grants for school because she’d been too afraid to approach her father and ask him to sign paperwork to emancipate her as a minor when she left home. As a result, she’d only ever been able to take loans out for college, since the powers that be considered her parents’ income as well as her own until a few years back, but by then they told her she made too much money to be given a grant. Lex had never felt comfortable enough to borrow money to go to school, however, fearing she could never pay it back. She’d been able to afford to attend college part time during the last five years, since she’d been making decent money doing consulting, and had been able to finish her two-year degree last year, but most employers in the area frowned on her lack of a four-year education. She mentally sighed, assuming that was the source of Sauer’s displeasure.
“I don’t know if it’s included on my government application, but NIH ranked our team very highly on the last project I worked on for them. I’d be glad to give you contact information for some of my former managers so that you could talk to them for references.”
Sauer looked up at her. “If you like, please give that to Clara before you leave; I can have her call them and ask about your character. Because, really, I’m not interested in your previous work experience, since it’s not applicable to this job.”
Lex looked at him directly for a moment and then dropped her eyes, trying not to stare in confusion. “Mr. Sauer, I was told that you couldn’t explain to me the exact nature of the position over the phone, but I’ll need to know more about it in order to make any kind of decision. I would be glad to sign a non-disclosure agreement if it would mean you could tell me more about the job.”
Sauer chuckled softly, again. “Clara, an agreement for Lex, please. Lex,” Sauer said, turning back to her, “this isn’t just a job.”
Lex took the paper Clara offered her from across the table and scanned it. It was one page, with a logo at the top that read “MSI” from top to bottom, entwined in what looked like a strand of DNA. The beginning language was pretty standard, but as she got near the end of the document, a sentence stood out to her suddenly as if it had been highlighted. She looked up at Sauer with disbelief. “What is this passage about, that if I reveal any specifics of our conversation today to unauthorized personnel that I could be killed, at the agency’s discretion? Are you serious?”
Sauer chuckled again. Lex was getting tired of the sound.
“Really, Lex, it’s just there for effect,” he said, but his eyes hardened a bit as he looked at her again. “Since I know you have no intention of letting anyone know what we talk about today, however, why don’t you just sign the paper so we can get on with the interview?”
Lex thought about it for a moment, weighing her gut feeling to run against her months of joblessness, and then signed the agreement. Really, he’s right, Lex thought. No one will ever believe me even if I do talk about it. Anyone would think she was joking about the content of the agreement, at the very least. Wondering for a moment if this was how Central Intelligence Agency or National Security Agency candidates felt, she handed the paper back to Clara, who filed it quickly away.
“Good,” purred Sauer. “Now, let me tell you more about our organization. We are based around a team concept. Casey, for example, would be one of your team members, were you to be chosen. We recruit individuals with exceptional talents and train them so they’re able to excel further. We also do special team training so that all of us are able to work more effectively as a unit. Our team then uses this training to back up and provide extraordinary help to law enforcement, the National Guard – really, any agency that requires assistance and could use our unique skills.”
Chosen, not hired. Lex had noted the odd word selection. She thought a moment about what she’d heard, but it didn’t really match up with any positions she’d taken before, and the whole setup had started to make her feel nervous. “That sounds very interesting, Mr. Sauer, but I’m still uncertain how I’d fit into what you described,” Lex said tentatively.
“Really?” He arched a silver-grey eyebrow at her. “You don’t see how you could fit in with us, with almost a decade and a half of various types of martial arts training?”
Now she was beginning to understand, but didn’t like it. “Mr. Sauer, although I’ve tried to keep practicing over the time I left organized training, as an adult I don’t have as much time to train as I did when I was a kid. I still do my forms when I can and hit the heavy bag and lift weights, but I am not as practiced with my martial arts as I was then. I can’t say I’d consider it something I would put on my résumé.”
“I know!” Sauer exclaimed. “That’s why no one else has approached you about this before, I’d assume. I was lucky I recognized your name and figured out you were Bill’s little girl.”
Lex felt her scalp starting to sweat. She could taste an odd, metallic flavor as she clenched her teeth. Her hands felt cold, and she could almost swear she heard her father’s voice in the distance: “Harder, Alex, you piece of crap! Can’t you fucking do anything right?”
“Mr. Sauer, what sorts of things does the team do, or assist with?” Lex finally settled on asking as her mind reeled about wildly, not sure at all what these people were trying to get her into.
“Well, we can help with natural disasters, for example, since we have some members with greater strength or speed than the average person. Sometimes we assist with large incidents in cities where the National Guard might normally be called in; we can help get things back to normal. Sometimes we can help law enforcement capture criminals that have unique talents or abilities. That sort of thing.”
Lex nodded, trying to appear thoughtful, figuring that looked better than confused. “So, what do you see as my potential role in the team?”
“Well, as I’ve already been able to see, you’re fast and flexible. Judging how far you were able to jump, I bet you’re a lot stronger than you look, too. We’d be able to give you further martial arts training with some of the finest teachers to capitalize on what you already know, allowing you to become the martial arts expert on the team. How does that sound to you?”
“It all sounds very interesting, but I’d have to think it over, Mr. Sauer, since it’s so far from anything I’ve done professionally before.”
What the hell have I stumbled into? she thought. Lex was wondering how long the rest of the interview would last because she now felt that leaving as soon as possible would probably be the best thing to do. It was all just too unbelievably weird.
“Well, I’m convinced. I think you would be a good addition to the team, but you still have to meet with the other girls,” Sauer concluded.
“Mr. Sauer,” Clara asked, “what about scheduling the trial? We usually have one before – ”
“You’re forgetting,” he interrupted, wagging a finger at her, “Lex already had an unscheduled one. We can submit the video evidence as part of her package.”
“But, sir,” Clara went on, “are you sure…”
Lex’s attention began to wander. She wondered if she was even necessary at this point. Maybe they wouldn’t notice if I just backed out of the room slowly, she thought. The sound of her name being called brought Lex’s attention back to the conversation.
“Lex, if you’d follow me, I’ll try to call up a meeting with the other team members. It may be difficult to get a quorum today, since I’m not sure everyone is in, but I’ll see what I can do,” Clara told her.
“Three would be enough if they all vote for Lex. If there’s any need for more votes, we can look up the other two later,” Sauer called to them as they left the conference room.
Continue to Chapter 2
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