“Dammit Jill, this isn’t right!” Rob could feel his heart pounding in his chest, even as he slammed his fist down on his desk. “The kid doesn’t just need therapy, he needs to be recalled. Maybe even charged. Operative’s Privilege carries a lot of weight but what he did is just flat out not acceptable.”
“Robert. Calm down.” The Director’s voice was as controlled as ever.
He’d set the com to voice only, no point in a picture when the other person never changed. Angry or overjoyed, a silver ball was a silver ball. Rob had also taken the time, the deliberate effort, to let his body fix itself before this conversation. The sense of calm he felt when he was ‘dead’ was usually convenient, but this was important, it was right that he be angry over this.
“Fine, fine. Just… tell me why?” He knew his voice was plaintive, that it was unprofessional, but he didn’t care. “I trust you, ma’am. I understood when you withdrew the other operatives. I’m not safe to fight beside and I can handle the job well enough on my own. I knew there had to be a good reason when you pulled out my Support.
“I was… happy, at first, when you gave me two subordinates with such obvious potential. That Hector was his own Analyst, not to mention mine and Jason’s… that made me nervous but I trusted that there was a good explanation. But there’s just something… off about those two. Too much initiative in the wrong ways or… I don’t know. It’s like, half the time they’re thinking like rookie operatives and the rest… I don’t know.” he repeated.
“Their conduct is fully within expectations. Even Operative Jason’s… recent difficulties were expected.”
“You knew?” Rob felt his eyes go wide. “You knew that he was emotionally unstable, not just detached? That he’d murder a man, torture him, in cold blood without a valid reason?”
From anyone else, that noise would’ve indicated a pause for thought. Jill didn’t make noise, didn’t speak, by accident. Her Empowerment had left her body as a near indestructible floating steel ball as well as the strongest Jorden type on record. To communicate at all, she’d had to learn to generate and vibrate a thin film of forcefields across her surface. If she made a noise, any noise at all, it was because she’d intended to.
“The specifics… no. That was the effect of Bruce’s plan colliding with Melody’s. Nevertheless, the boy did have reason to act and, as I said, he responded as he was trained to do.”
“I don’t… I don’t understand. Cuthbert… he didn’t even kill anyone. I’ve watched the tapes. He just broke into his boss’s office and trashed the place, practically terrified the old guy into a heart attack, but he didn’t kill…”
“Jason didn’t know that.” Jill replied. “All he saw was a man dressed as Monster, with blood on his knife.”
“Blood from the building security that jumped him on the way out. It wasn’t even a deep cut, just a slash to his forearm. If the guy hadn’t pissed himself and run at that point, I’d say he deserved a medal. Or maybe a Darwin Award.”
“From his perspective,” Jill insisted, “the imposter was a standard Monster copycat. A killer, and one he had good reason to believe was… involved with a great harm done to the person Jason cares most about.”
“If he’d just killed the guy I wouldn’t be so concerned, hell, I probably wouldn’t care. Someone dresses up as Monster in a Citadel protected city, they damn well deserve to die even if all they do is walk down the street. It’s the torture and the damage he did to the surrounding area that worries me. Jill, he lost control and threw a tantrum. Whether it was a crime or not, someone that powerful who isn’t in control of himself… Operatives are supposed to be better than that.”
“Operative Robert Grave, listen and obey me. Do not speak. Turn on the video function of your communicator.”
He did as he was told. The familiar sight of the Citadel’s Director of Stationary Operatives greeted him, as did the image of a stranger in Support’s black and gray. Moments later, Jill appeared in front of him, hovering over his desk. The walls of his office were replaced by the perfect mirror of the fields she could create, as were the floor and ceiling.
His comm made a plaintive beep as it registered the loss of connection. Jill Smith’s shields were perfect, nothing passed through them. A sufficient force could break them, though she usually made them in layers, but it was impossible to do so without notice.
“Robert, what I’m about to tell you goes no further, understand?”
“Neither Hector Hive nor Jason Grim were trained to be Citadel Operatives. Most of their class weren’t. We assigned them to you for a very specific reason.”
She didn’t continue. Rob thought about it, about the implications and the possible reasoning behind them.
“You’re getting ready for a push in the Battlegrounds, aren’t you.” It wasn’t a question.
Jill bobbed up and down, her equivalent of a nod. “If this works correctly, we won’t need to. But yes, we’re preparing to take them back.”
“The reason you assigned them to me…?”
“Yes. It’s the same reason we’ve kept you so isolated. You’re being- have been- retrained as well.”
He sat quietly, seeing his reflection in her surface.
“You know, a lot of the Battlegrounders, the ones in the cities nearby and the ones that end up here as refugees, they call me Lord Grave.”
She bobbed again.
“I guess this means they weren’t as wrong as I thought.”