San Diego Citadel Office
“Is that everything?” asked Carl West.
In most of his timelines, he was in the office, sitting in the same chair. A few had taken the chair to his left, some were having a slightly different conversation. Three were walking around the room, examining art on the wall, awards or placards, basically just wasting time. One was still outside, staring at the door in hesitation rather than completing his Citadel application.
“Just two more things.” Melody Shift answered. “The simplest is your name.”
“Oh,” Carl squirmed. Well, most of the hims did, “is that actually necessary? I never really saw the point.”
“I’m afraid so. There’s a long explanation but it basically boils down to tradition and public perception. ”
“It just seems so… silly, I guess.”
Melody smiled, wryly, before answering. “If you ever get the opportunity, ask William Power about it. He thinks the whole thing’s pretty much his fault.”
She shrugged. “He makes a good argument but I think he might be oversimplifying. Of course, I wasn’t around when it started so I don’t actually know.”
Carl collapsed most of himself back into the main line, just leaving the one where he was still outside.
In the primary line, he sighed.
“Does that mean you haven’t decided on one? You can always go with something generic for now and wait until you graduate to field status before you pick a final name.”
“No, if I have to I have to. It’s just… well, the only one I’ve thought of seems a bit too on the nose. Does that make sense?”
“Trust me young man, I understand.”
“Fractal. Carl Fractal.”
A few of the lesser lines gave different answers, or insisted on a better explanation, but only a few. He’d known this one was coming.
Director Shift made one last notation on the forms before her. “Welcome to the Citadel, Carl.”
“So, uh, what was the other thing?”
She took a deep breath, steeling herself. “You’ve read over the materials you were given but I don’t know how much research you’ve done on your own. Do you know what a Nemesis team is?”
“No, I don’t think so. Wasn’t that the Greek god of vengeance?”
“Goddess, actually, and there was a bit more to it than that but…” She looked away for a moment, then back to his face. “But that’s beside the point. What matters in your case is that Nemesis teams are like Intervention but, instead of reacting to crises within a territory, they’re put together with a specific goal.”
“I think I can guess.”
She nodded. “That’s right. Each one is assembled to deal with a particular Empowered criminal.”
“You mean kill, don’t you.”
“Yes Carl. Anyone who has a Nemesis team sent after him is too dangerous to try and take alive.”
“So once I’m an operative, you want me on one of those teams instead of Stationary or Intervention.”
She shook her head. “No Carl, no one works Nemesis full time.” The Director’s face was still pinched with worry. “And, frankly, I argued against this. There’s a faction within Citadel command, and the civilian government, that wants to put together a Nemesis team for Monster.” She turned her head and muttered, “Idiots.”
He didn’t think he’d been supposed to hear that last part. “Do I have to decide now?”
“No Carl, not until you complete field training. Even then, well, deliberately attacking Monster is against current Citadel policy. Anyone involved in this, they’d have to be volunteers.”
“Director Shift, can I ask… well, why me?”
“Carl, do you know how many precogs the Citadel gets? Much less ones capable of fieldwork?”
“I know it’s a pretty rare power, but I’m not a precog. Not really.”
“No Carl, but you’re close. For this purpose, you might even be better.”
Carl’s primary split again before he gave his answer.
“I’ll do it. Anything’s worth it if it helps to stop him.”
There was a crack of splintered wood, followed almost immediately by a crashing noise. Carl looked over his shoulder to see a man standing in the office doorway. He wore a heavy, metal helmet. It was black and featureless, except for a narrow eye slit. His clothes were black leather, tight fitting, with metal plates crudely attached at seemingly random intervals. The intruder held a heavy hunting knife.
Carl closed the line.
“I’ll think about. I know it has to be done, but Monster…”
There was a crack of splintered wood, followed almost immediately by a crashing noise. Carl turned to look and, between the black clad intruder and the shattered wood frame of the door, he saw the director’s assistant. He was sprawled over his own desk, surrounded by a spreading pool of blood and scattered papers.
Carl closed the line.
“No. I’m sorry, but it’s just too dangerous.”
There was a crack of splintered wood, followed almost immediately by a crashing noise.
“Shit.” he said to himself. It didn’t depend on his answer.
Monster moved into the room, stumbling as his head disappeared, and Melody Shift appeared between him and her newest recruit.
Carl sat, outwardly frozen, as he searched the nearest lines. Desperate to find one that didn’t include the attack.
Monster recovered almost instantly, returning from headless to normal, complete with helmet. There was no visible transition. His right leg disappeared at the knee just as he stepped onto his left.
At the same time, Melody shifted a foot to her left and shouted over her shoulder. “Run!”
If she hadn’t been looking at Carl, she might have seen Monster snatch a placard from the wall and hurl it at her. He advanced, both legs fine, as she staggered from the impact.
Carl watched, horrified, as she looked up just in time to let Monster’s knife sink into her eye socket. Amazingly, she still had enough presence to shift back a foot, leaving the knife behind but taking a piece of Monster’s chest with her. A moment later, he stood unharmed and she collapsed to the ground.
Carl closed the line.
“Run!” Director Shift shouted.
Carl split, it’d make finding the safe line harder but he had to buy time. He stood and threw his chair. In one line, it intersected the placard before it could strike the director. While he searched for another weapon, she disappeared and reappeared behind Monster, already facing him.
Monster fell, momentarily missing pieces from both legs.
Carl picked up the other chair and turned to face him, just in time to see the director firing a pistol into Monster’s back. Carl heard her shots ricochet off metal.
Monster had twisted as he fell, moving just right to bring one of the scattered metal plates into the perfect position. He kicked out behind himself, blindly, and Carl heard Melody scream as her knee shattered.
Carl closed the line.
Ignoring the sound of gunfire, Carl charged forward with the chair raised above his head. Director Shift vanished from his line of sight, as did the back of Monster’s head.
Monster went limp but his head had recovered before it touched the ground.
Carl swung the chair as hard as he could. He felt it impact but was too busy screaming in pain to notice the effect. Monster had kicked him in the groin.
Carl closed the line.
He ran towards Monster, the chair held low and in front of him.
Monster threw his knife just before collapsing, missing the rear of his skull.
Carl watched it spin through the air. It struck him in the throat and Carl fell to his knees as blood sprayed. The room went dark while he searched the nearest lines. No matter what he did, dodged left or right, raised the chair, it didn’t matter. In each line, Monster threw the knife so that his reaction, or lack of it, allowed it to strike him.
He couldn’t win.
Carl closed the line.
Carl couldn’t see the future, but he could fake it. He’d once predicted the lottery numbers by guessing each number, right before it was pulled, and collapsing every line where he was wrong.
This was harder.
No matter what he tried, Monster was winning.
Carl stopped hesitating.
“Damn. I really thought I could make a difference, do something that mattered.”
He turned away from the Citadel office and began the walk home.
Some time later, Director Shift buzzed her assistant. “Any word from the West boy?”
“No ma’am. It looks like he’s a no show.”
Melody couldn’t suppress a disgusted sigh.
“Sorry ma’am. I know you had high hopes for him.”
The Director cut the intercom without answering.
For the second time in his life, Jason was certain he felt fear. The first had been during Duncan Nightmare’s fight against Coach Achala. On that occasion, his reaction had been irrational, an effect of Duncan’s power. That was part of the reason he had not recognized it sooner. Now… now his fear made perfect sense.
The door opened to reveal Jenny Awesome, wearing a pair of black shorts and a hot pink tank top. Her face lit up with that strange, familiar mixture of pleasure and need that she had displayed after their training session on Friday.
“Hey Jason, c’mon in.” She said, opening the door wider as she stepped back.
“Good morning, Jennifer.” he greeted her. Jason followed her into her home and stopped, looking around himself. The layout was similar to the one he shared with his roommates, though it did not appear as well kept.
“No… I, well, I…” He was unsure what to say.
“What is it?” Jennifer asked, her brow furrowed. Despite his uncertainty, Jason took a moment to congratulate himself for recognizing ‘concern.’ Jenny’s expressions were usually easy to read. He liked that.
“I have never been on a date before.” Her brow relaxed and her eyes widened, slightly. She smiled, though it was slight. “I do not know what to do next. Hector said…” The smile grew larger. He felt anger, began to clench his fists. He had extended more trust to her than anyone save his parents or Hector, if she mocked him he’d-
“Oh.” she interrupted his thoughts. “I didn’t know you wanted to… You don’t really seem the type.” No, not mockery. Was she nervous too? “Jason,” she took a deep breath, “I said we could do anything you wanted. I meant it, honestly. Anything.” He could not read her expression but Jason did not think he was meant to.
“I… I did not think you wanted a romantic encounter, not initially. But I have little social experience, so I explained to Hector what you had proposed. The date… he suggested that that was what you were likely expecting.”
Her gaze moved up and down, over his body. “Is that why you’re dressed like that?” He was wearing a charcoal grey, button-down shirt with black slacks and his normal sunglasses.
“No. This is what I prefer to wear, outside of training.”
“Okay…” she looked around the room, took a seat on the couch and gestured for him to do the same. “Is that what you want? A date?”
Jason hesitated before sitting. “I do not know.” He licked his lips. “I… Jenny, this is outside of my experience.” He found himself looking away from her. “I do not understand why you wanted me to come or what you want to do.” It was not deliberate. Why had he done those things? “Jenny, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Please help.”
She moved a little closer, there was no more than a foot between them. “Jason, it’s okay.” She reached out, touching the top of his hand with her fingertips. “Calm down.” He tore his hand free, looked to a group of flies hovering above the discarded pizza boxes next to her couch and ripped the life from them. He’d been carrying nothing more than a few plants. Feeling his strength increase, Jason removed his glasses with one hand and prepared to strike out with the other.
She met his gaze.
She met his gaze and… she smiled? No, that was not a smile. It was… ‘joy.’
“Why did you ask me here?”
The joy remained, just a little faded. “I can’t bear to be alone.” She spoke slowly. “But, I can’t stand being around other people, either.” There were tears in her eyes. “I just, the pressure, it’s just too much.” There was pain, and misery, in her voice. He was familiar with those. Jason had heard them every time his mother spoke of her time in the Citadel. But, there was still joy. It made no sense.
“Do you mean social pressure? The desire to fit in or be accepted? I know how difficult that is.” She shook her head. “Then… you must mean your power.” She nodded.
“I… I wasn’t very popular in high school. I mean, no one stuffed me into a locker or threw orange juice at me, nothing like that.” she said. “But, it was like, no one ever seemed to notice me, either. No real friends, nothing I was good at, nowhere that I could stand out. It was so frustrating. I hated it.” She looked up, meeting his gaze again, and that sense of joy returned to her face. “It all changed, overnight. It was like, I don’t know. Like I just knew what to do, how to make anyone I met like me. All of a sudden, I was the most popular girl in school. I always knew the answer in class. I was good at sports, even though I’d never practiced or anything.” She sighed.
“I didn’t know what was happening, but I liked it. My parents were worried, though. They knew I’d been unhappy but not what to do about it. When it changed so quickly, when my personality changed, they thought it was drugs or something. Searched my room, gave me all the lectures, you name it. I’d have been upset, but I was still at that stage where I thought it was cool to have a reputation as a ‘bad girl,’ just a little. Them thinking I was up to something, without me having to actually do anything dangerous? That was perfect.” She moved a little closer, just a few inches.
“A few months after they gave up on the drug thing, they saw one of those public service announcements. They had me tested and, obviously, it turned out I was Empowered. I don’t really fit any of the classic types, closest thing is a probability manipulator.”
“A rare ability.” he said.
“Fucking unique, in my case. It was great, when I didn’t know what was happening. After… My power wants people to like me, to be excited, impressed. It twists things around to make sure that happens. I get lucky, sometimes. Mostly, situations just sort of come up where I can shine. And, of course, the easiest thing for it to affect is me. What I do or say, what I feel and sometimes even what I think, it twists everything so that anyone watching will think I’m awesome.”
“I am not sure I see the downside. Did you not say that that was exactly what you wanted?” Jason asked.
She almost snarled her answer. “Yes. It’s exactly what I wanted.” The snarl twisted to disgust. “I was an idiot. They don’t like me, Jason. They just like this image of me, the one in their heads that does whatever they think someone cool would do, all the time. I used to just go along with it, when I didn’t know. Now it feels more like… like I’m being pushed. My power, it could make me do anything. I’m always on stage and I don’t even get to decide whether or not to speak my lines. They just come out, whether I want them to or not.”
“Ah. I suppose that could be unpleasant.” he acknowledged.
“Jason, I hate Kerry.”
“What? I do not see what that has to do with-”
“She’s smug, entitled and she’s a fucking slob. But she’s also the strongest girl in our class and that means a lot to everyone else. So I’m nice to her. She thinks of me as some kind of a mix between friendly rival and best friend and I wouldn’t even be in the same room as her. Not if I had a choice.”
“Oh. I believe I understand.”
“So yeah, that’s why I hate being around people.”
“So why do you not just spend your time alone?”
She laughed but did not seem pleased, or amused, by his suggestion. “I can’t. That wouldn’t be cool enough. Awesome girls don’t spend time hiding in their rooms.”
“But if you are alone, whose perception is pushing you into that mindset?”
“Mine.” she said, quietly.
They sat there, neither saying anything, for a short time.
“You said you did not feel anything from me.”
“Yeah.” He could barely hear her.
“You fear being alone, you fear being around others, but not me. Because I do not find anything exciting.”
“Yes.” she answered. “Please, like I said, I’ll do anything you want. Just… just let me spend some time feeling like myself.”
Jason smiled. It was rare for him to show emotional reactions so honestly but, in this case, it did not matter. Jenny was no threat to him and never could be. She might become his best friend of all.
“I have never done this before. Is this the right way?”
“You’re doing fine, Jason. There’s not really a right way or a wrong way.”
“I must admit, I am enjoying it more than I thought I would.”
Jenny smiled. “Well, it’s not exactly what I thought we’d end up doing, but I guess it works. Of course, I didn’t really have a firm plan or anything, so…”
“What does this mean?” Jason asked.
“Oh, you finished the origin part. Now that you have your starting powers, you have to pick your faction.”
“Hero, villain or Citadel operative? Is that correct?”
“Right. Just move your guy to whichever banner you want, then you can enter your name and design your costume.” she explained.
“What are the ramifications of each? Is there some advantage to one over the other?”
“Well,” Jenny paused before continuing, “Citadel unlocks a bunch of training style quests. You end up with better skills and stuff. Oh, and most of the vendors give you a discount so you’ll have better gear than otherwise. Heroes get a popularity boost in the front end. NPCs are more cooperative. That can open up a lot of different options but if you fail a quest you get a huge penalty to your approval. I think villains have some extra power options but you shouldn’t take that one.”
“Anyone from the other two groups can attack you on sight. It means you’ll end up dying all the time, makes the front end of the game really tough. I think some of the best players go that route but since you’re just starting out…”
“Very well, hero, I suppose. I will likely find out what the operative path is like soon enough.” he said, using the game’s controller to move his avatar to the correct location. He entered the name he had chosen as soon as the prompt appeared.
“Paragon?” Jason was able to recognize the gentle amusement in Jenny’s voice. They had spent only a few hours together, so far, but he could tell he was already getting better. Her public expressions had always been easy for him to decipher but he had found that, when they were alone, that was not always the case. Initially, this had concerned him but he was beginning to see it as an opportunity.
“Is that not an appropriate name? I realize that most vigilantes are no different than regular people, aside from the obvious, but do they not often see themselves as such?”
Jenny laughed and he found himself smiling in response. “I can’t believe you put so much thought into something like that and still came up with something so cliché.” Strange, he hadn’t meant to display his happiness. Such unintended actions were very rare for him.
“I do not understand. Why would I prefer Paragon three two seven?”
She laughed again.
“It’s cause the name’s already in use. If you want one without the extra stuff, you’ll need to come up with something more original.”
“I… my choice… it was the same as many others’?”
She nodded, slowly. “Uh huh.”
“That is… uncommon for me.” He felt the smile but, again, it was involuntary.
Jenny did not reply but she did move a little closer on the couch. At this point, they each had a leg and an arm pressing lightly against each other.
“What did you say the name of this game was?” he asked, accepting the game’s suggested changes to his name.
“A Hero’s Craft.”
“Is it popular?”
“Oh, well, kinda? I used to play it a lot, back before I… you know. It was a way to interact with people that felt safe. No big deal if they didn’t like me because they weren’t really interacting with me, I guess? There’s a whole bunch of people that play it but it’s not really cool. Except for the people that think being nerdy is cool. Geek culture, I guess. That’s been getting more popular lately.”
“I do not know what that means.”
“Oh, well, it means lots of people play it but it’s not like football or something where you can brag about how good you are. Not unless you’re talking to other people that play it too. Most people wouldn’t know what you mean and some people would think it’s something that you should be ashamed of, or at least a little embarrassed about.”
“Ah,” he said, “so it is like most niche activities. Very important for those who care about it but of little interest to others?”
She shrugged. “Pretty much. Why’d you pick the power set you did? Healing and debuff is great in a group but that takes a long time to develop.”
On the screen, he saw a woman dangling from the side of a building and moved his character to assist. “It was similar to my mother’s ability. She has often spoken of the regret she felt that some early mistakes cost her a promising career with the Citadel. I thought it might be interesting to see what would happen in this game if I picked something reminiscent of her power but made different choices.”
“Your mom was an operative? That’s kinda cool, Jason. I know it’s pretty common for Empowered people to have at least one close relation with similar abilities, but I’m the first in my family. Probably part of the reason it took me and my parents so long to figure out what happened. Guess it didn’t go that way for you.”
He climbed a nearby fire escape and pulled the woman to safety. He read the hovering text, which explained that her boyfriend had gone mad after gaining powers and thrown her off the roof.
“No. I first used my powers in a way that was quite evident to my parents. Also, my mother was never a full operative. She completed the same training that we are undergoing, though her description leads me to believe that there have been significant changes in the curriculum. She made a mistake during field training which led to her removal from the program.”
A red glowing man approached Paragon237, presumably the boyfriend. He began shouting nonsense symbols and attacked with energy blasts the same color as his aura.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up a sore point.” Jason smiled at the worry in Jenny’s voice. He took no pleasure in her distress. He was just happy that it made sense to him.
The red man was dealing more damage than Jason’s character, but he found that he could easily heal himself faster than he was being harmed.
“Please, do not be concerned. If my mother was present, she would likely be quite unhappy. However, the event was a matter of public record and holds little meaning for me.”
“Okay. If you don’t mind me asking then…”
The attacker fell and Jason watched, momentarily confused, as his character posed over the defeated foe.
“Is that normal?” he asked Jenny, ignoring the question she had clearly been about to ask.
“Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. Hero characters always do that after they beat a villain or finish a quest.”
“That is… odd.” he said. “Do the others have a similar behavior?”
“Not the operatives, but I think villains have a chance to gloat or monologue in the middle of a fight.”
He set the controller down. “You were asking about my mother?”
“Oh, yeah. Just wondering what her power is. You don’t see many Healer types that are eligible for operative status, much less interested.”
“As I understand it, she is able to speed or slow biological processes in those around her. She could do some healing by accelerating the body’s natural processes but it was less effective than most Healer types. If she used it selectively, she could impair the function of her opponents’ bodies, so it made her quite desirable as an operative.”
“So she could make someone clumsy or weaker by messing up their muscles? Sounds really useful” Jenny said.
“It is my understanding that she more commonly targeted the heart or brain.”
“Oh. I guess that fits your power better.” she said quietly.
Rather than answer verbally, Jason tilted his head and raised his eyebrows. He had seen others do something like it but had never been completely certain of when it was appropriate to use.
“Well, it’s just that… your eyes… and Anna forfeited to you. It’s pretty obvious that she can tell what other people’s powers are. She challenged Greg when everyone else thought he was some kind of powerhouse and beat him pretty easy. Even though she gave up rather than fight Kerry.”
“What does that have to do with my mother?” he asked.
“Most kids with powers are similar to their parents.” she said. “I know you haven’t done real well in the rankings, but I figured that was because you didn’t care or you had something too dangerous to use casually.”
“You are not wrong. I was challenged yesterday, but simply notified Coach Achala that I would not contest it.”
“That could be a bad idea. I mean, with the way my and Kerry’s challenges worked, you could end up with a chain of people challenging you at the same time. What if you get dropped really low?”
He looked at her for a moment, before answering. Jason had to decide whether or not he should include her. “I expect that I will be the lowest ranked in our class before long.” he said. “Hector has actually begun to suggest something similar to many of the people that I currently outrank.”
They were interrupted by a loud thump from the front of the house.
“What-?” he began, before being cut off by the look of disgust on Jenny’s face.
“Kerry’s back. You should go. I… I’m sorry but you’re not very well liked by a bunch of the others and I’m afraid…”
“I understand. You do not wish to lose your popularity.”
“No! It’s not that. Remember, I literally don’t get a choice in what I’ll do if I’m around the wrong people. What if they think it’d be cool for me to make fun of you or something?”
Jason considered that. “You… wish to protect me?” She nodded. “Then I will go.”
He left the couch and headed for the back door. If Kerry and him being in the same room might cause Jenny distress, it would be better if he left from a different route than she would take to enter the house.
The Sparring Field
Melody Shift appeared, only to find Bruce Richards and more than forty identical trainees waiting for her in the combat dome. No, not quite identical. The majority of them were wearing a mixture of Citadel issue combat gear, but a dozen or so were in civilian clothes.
“Bruce, was it really necessary to meet here, of all places?”
“Sorry ma’am. Needed a spot big enough to hold all of him, one that was private and, preferably, one that you knew well enough to jump to.”
She sighed. “I wish Juggernaut would stop using that video. Maybe Sasha Strong would get over it if half the interns I send didn’t freak out when they met her.”
Bruce just shrugged. “Find him a better demonstration and he will.”
Melody’s hand hurt. She’d been gripping her cane a little too hard. “Fine. Now tell me what this is all about.”
Her deputy’s posture changed dramatically, feet spread to shoulder width, hands clasped behind his back and standing straight. “Hector Hive. First phase operative trainee, scheduled to switch to second phase tomorrow. Duplicator, obviously, power scale is practically off the chart. Basically a one man army, and smart, too.”
“I recognize the boy, Bruce. Now quit singing his praises and tell me what he’s done.”
Bruce answered with a grimace, “He shot Nightmare.”
“Tell me I’m here because he gota shaky hands during a training match.”
“No ma’am, it was right after one.”
“Ma’am, the boy beat Juggernaut-”
“What!? Achala’s one of the best we’ve ever had! How did that child…?”
Bruce dropped his gaze. “Was, ma’am. I don’t like it any more than you, but you know what he’s gone through. He’s not what he was.”
Melody fought back a snarl.
“Hector managed a win against Achala. Duncan acted… incensed. The others likely believed it was because Achala beat him, rather casually, during his own challenge.”
“Duncan, he scared off two of our candidates during the ranking matches?”
“Yes ma’am. Achala spread the word that he had him interviewed by one of our Reader types, that it was an unintentional side effect of his power. The class believes that he should be able to reign in the fear effect, but he’s never bothered to learn how. It’ll play into one of the points I’m planning to address during phase two.” Bruce shook his head, disgust evident on his face. He never could understand why most Empowered didn’t bother training themselves, not without Citadel direction.
“Anyway, Duncan made an unprofessional comment and Hector took exception. Two in the chest and one in the face, it was as smooth a draw as I’ve ever seen, pure reflex action. Beautiful.”
“I’m getting the impression that this young man was going to be one of your protégés, Bruce.”
“I think he’s got promise, ma’am.”
“If not for Duncan’s… status, he’d be looking at attempted murder charges, Bruce. He’d be lucky to avoid jail time. Continuing at the Citadel would be out of the question.”
“Attempted murder? Director, Nightmare has been harassing him and the rest of that class since day one. They’re under a lot of pressure by now.”
“Doesn’t matter. We can’t have an operative who lashes out because of a few harsh words.”
He looked right at her. “He said that Achala threw the match, implied Hector had a… relationship, with him. I’d just shown him my video of the Carson City incident. He hadn’t known about the connection, not before that.”
She thought about it for a moment. “You think, if it had just been him, that he would’ve been fine. It was the insult to Senior Operative Juggernaut that did it.”
“Hm. Not enough on its own. You’ll need some sort of justification.”
“What about Operative’s Privilege, ma’am?”
“That’s a discretionary power, Bruce. Not a license to commit murder. Besides, neither one of them is officially an operative, not yet.”
“Not him, ma’am, me.”
Melody’s eyebrows raised. “Go on.”
“If we’re treating this as a criminal act, then I was the operative on site. In my judgment, it was a class five. Maybe not even that. Duncan’s tough enough that he wasn’t in any real danger from a pistol and I’m certain Hector knew that.”
She considered it. Operative’s Privilege granted a lot of leeway when it came to determining whether or not to make an arrest, provided the subject didn’t pose a future threat. “It works on paper, but I don’t like the message it sends to the other trainees. He can’t be seen getting off scot free.”
Bruce smiled. There was nothing cheerful about it. “No ma’am. Let me have him as a training assistant. I guarantee, none of the others will think he’s getting off lightly. By the end of their training course, I promise you, it’ll be obvious Duncan got the better end of the deal.”
She just looked at him for a moment. She had a very good idea how creative the Richards type could be, when given free reign. She looked over the assembled Hectors before answering. “Fine. Don’t let me regret this, Bruce.” Then she vanished.
Bruce made an adjustment to the device on his belt, canceling the privacy field, then turned to face his new assistant. “Good news, Hector.”
Forty three faces shot up, desperate eagerness showed on all of them.
“You’re still in the Citadel, and I’ve been given leave to make your life more interesting.”
“What… what does that mean, sir?” the nearest asked.
Bruce’s smile was predatory.