Robert Grave had spent the better part of an hour reading pair of personnel files. Normally, he could skim one in five or ten minutes and come away with a decent grasp of operative’s personality, skills, empowerment and experience.
The first file wasn’t thick, abut a quarter of an inch. That was a bit more than the usual for a recent graduate, but not by a lot. Most of that extra seemed to be in the psych eval. Too technical, Rob would have to speak with Analysis about it later, get a useful summary. The other file… that one was almost five times the size, thick even for a veteran operative.
“Sir, did you realize you have not taken a breath in the last two minutes?” one of his new subordinates asked, the blond one.
“No. Did you realize you’re wearing sunglasses indoors?” he replied, not truly irritated but closer than he’d prefer.
He finally got the extra personnel he’d been begging for and not only were they boots, fresh out of basic training, but one of them was a borderline psych case and the other… the other was just weird.
“Yes sir. I wear them for the comfort of others, not my own. I noticed the lack of breathing and thought you should be made aware, in case you wished to correct it.”
Getting a little closer to genuine irritation now, he was about to snap out a response when the other kid spoke up.
“Sir? Can I…” he trailed off, waiting for permission. Rob gave it with a nod. “Jason is very literal, a side effect of his empowerment.” He turned to face Jason instead of Rob. “Jason, Operative Grave’s own empowerment means that he doesn’t need to breathe. It’s only necessary when he wants to speak.”
Rob nodded in acknowledgement, a little fascinated by the byplay.
“I apologize, Operative Grave. I realized that breathing must be optional for you but I thought you might want to be reminded. Such aberrations in behavior can set one apart and even lead to hostility in others.” Jason explained, his tone polite, courteous.
In fact, it was the exact same vaguely polite and mildly distant tone of voice he’d had during both of his previous statements, no variance at all. The glasses made it a little hard to be certain, but Rob didn’t think Jason had been showing much in the way of facial expressions either.
“It’s not just being very literal is it?” he asked, thinking it through.
“No sir.” Jason answered. “I do not experience strong emotion of any kind. Additionally, I was homeschooled from a very early age and generally isolated from others until my mother believed I had reached sufficient maturity to control myself, and my power, in the presence of others. This has resulted in a functional lack of empathy as well as generally impaired social skills.”
Rob blinked. “That’s…” Wow. “Thank you. That was both helpful and astonishingly frank. I’ll try to keep it in mind from now on. Before I say anything else, Hector, why is it you seem so familiar with Jason’s… quirks?” Something else occurred to him. “For that matter, why did you seem so familiar with my own empowerment?”
Hector gave a sheepish grin. “Well, Jason and I were roommates during training, so we got to know each other fairly well. I”d like to think we’re friends. As for you… well, operatives don’t get assigned to Border posts unless they’re scary powerful or just plain scary.
“I’ve got access to most personnel files through my position in Analysis. When I found out me and Jason were assigned to Phoenix, it just made sense to read up on the local Citadel staff.”
“I suspect that didn’t take long.” Rob’s answering grin was wry, the polite term for bitter.
“Strong or scary, huh? Which category did you decide I fit in?”
“What about Jason?” Rob asked.
“The same.” Hector replied.
Hector chuckled before answering. “The third category: expendable.”
Rob’s eyebrows rose and he prepared to correct the young man. The Citadel could be… overly pragmatic, at times, but its operatives were not expendable.
“Just kidding sir.” Hector said, obviously aware of the agitation his comment had caused. If Jason had picked up on it, he gave no indication. “I just meant, well, the way my power works…” He gave a sigh before starting over.
“Being on the border with the Battlegrounds is dangerous, even by the Citadel’s standards. People like you and Jason, well, you’re tough enough to take on all comers and scary enough that most wouldn’t even want to mess with you.” Hector gave a self deprecating shrug.
“That’s not me. But I’ve read the reports, your biggest problem is the day to day stuff. You don’t have enough people to keep up with it.” He gestured towards himself.
“I’m an off the charts duplicator. I’m practically the definition of ‘enough people.’ And, as long as there’s one of me somewhere else, I can survive pretty much anything. So, expendable, but not really.”
Rob took a moment to flip through their files again, confirming a few things. “So, you finished second in your class’s combat rankings. Further, you reached that position by challenging, in order and on the same day, literally every other member of your class and beat all but one of them without even using your primary power.”
“Actually, I did use it against Kelly Protean. His ability allows him to survive the death of his body with little long term consequence.” Jason corrected.
“All but two then.” Rob acknowledged. “And you,” he turned his focus on Hector, “you were the one who devised the tactics he needed to accomplish that feat. Additionally, you fought Achalla Juggernaut to a stand still in a one-on-one confrontation.”
“More or less.” Hector grinned.
“In a, more or less, one-on-one confrontation.” Rob went on. “You were also instrumental in resolving an extinction level situation before you’d finished basic training.”
Hector just shrugged in vague agreement.
Robert Grave, who had spent the last six years stationed on the Border, who had killed more Lords than he could conveniently count and was called the Grave Lord throughout the adjacent regions of the Battlegrounds, smiled at them.
“Welcome to Phoenix boys. I think you’ll do just fine.”