“Thank you.” her son had said.
Mary didn’t speak to him often, once a week at most. For more than one reason, she didn’t want to intrude on the new life he was making for himself. But Jason was a dutiful son and called her, every week, on the same day and usually at the same time. They talked about their lives, what they were doing and how they felt about it.
She had the suspicion- no, she was certain that he did it because it was something he felt he should do rather than something he wanted to. Jason had relatively few wants. Mary understood, of course, and was happy to take what she could get. Just the fact that she could sometimes offer him a bit of advice made her happy. For a while.
Today, he had said that. “Thank you.” and “You should have told me, but I understand why you did not.”
He didn’t hate her.
Thank god, he didn’t hate her for it.
That still left her with her other problem. Jason was an adult now, didn’t need her anymore. There was no safe way to practice the only trade she really knew, not on any kind of regular basis. She hadn’t really spoken to Troy in years. Same reason she didn’t talk to the Johnsons next door. Cathy, Jason’s babysitter. She’d… disposed of the body with her power, no one else knew what he’d done to her but Mary knew. She couldn’t look any of them in the eye without remembering and that had left her relationships… strained.
After the Citadel, after her failure, she’d been left without a sense of purpose, something she desperately needed. At first, Troy and the family they’d planned had filled the void. After Jason’s Empowerment… well, after that, protecting her son had been her purpose. She’d breathed a sigh of relief when he’d left to become an Operative. Mary had been sure that he was as ready as he could be. Once she’d recruited Hector, once he’d agreed to help her son, she’d been sure that Jason was on the right path.
Now… Mary was left without a clear purpose once more. It could’ve been a coincidence that she’d received an e-mail from the Citadel this morning, one that didn’t say much but still managed to promise something. Mary knew, better than most, that the Citadel had two faces. One was bright, the determined protector, open and honest with the public they served. That was the one she’d wanted to work for, once.
She’d failed, disastrously. The bright face couldn’t or wouldn’t have a place for her anymore.
Despite that, she’d been contacted at a time in her life when she knew herself to be… more open than usual to offers that she would otherwise refuse. She was all but certain that it was the other face of the Citadel that she’d be talking to if she said yes and, given the nature of its resources, she was entirely certain that the timing was not a coincidence.
Still… she had wanted to serve. Wanted… wanted to do something good, something that mattered. Two out of three was probably more than she deserved.
Mary composed a response to the message, short and to the point, indicating her interest and requesting a time and place to meet with the Citadel’s representative. Within seconds of sending it, there was a knock on her door. With a rueful sigh, this wasn’t confirmation of her fears but it was close, she got up to answer it.
“Good morning, Ms. Vector.”
It was William Power. All in white, with the red armband that signaled he was on active duty with Intervention Prime, Mary was so surprised to see him that she was barely aware of the older woman with a cane that stood next to him or what her own mouth was saying, entirely without permission from the rest of her.
“It’s Reed now, please.”
He smiled and gave a polite nod. “Of course. I apologize for being a bit presumptuous but… it doesn’t have to be.”
There it was. Just like that, her brief fit of star struck surprise vanished.
“Come in, please, both of you.”
She opened the door wider and stood aside to let them both in. Power seemed to glide across her carpet with a grace that seemed utterly unfitting on a man with his… less than impressive appearance. The woman walked with obvious difficulty but gripped the cane tightly, holding it at an angle that made it clear the object was for ‘just in case’ rather than leaning on it.
Mary escorted them both to her dining table, only recognizing the Director of Training when the woman sat in the same seat she’d used to interview Jason months ago. She offered them both something to drink. Director Shift had looked so much more- more vital on that last visit. Power accepted a cup of coffee, black, while Shift politely declined.
While she set the drink to brew and got out the cream, well, half and half, Mary let loose the grip she usually held on her power. Her sensors, the little motes that she used to direct that power’s effect spread throughout her house. They vanished as soon as they touched William Power but Melody Shift’s body offered no resistance to them. Within seconds, Mary had enough insight and control over the substance of the director’s body close a simple wound or stop her heart.
She set out a small plate and mug, went looking for the clean silverware.
That was the sort of thing she’d signed up to do in the field. Healers that were combat capable were extremely rare, especially ones with the kind of versatility she’d been able to boast. Mary had been certain that it’d be enough to get her operative status and she’d been right. In retrospect, that might have been a mistake.
Mary set coffee in front of Sr. Operative Power and sat across from him and the Director of Training, Melody Shift. Her motes had multiplied within the woman’s body, infiltrated it on every level. Now, Mary was aware of every beat of her heart, the flow of blood and so much more. She could feel every rise or fall of hormones, every twitch of a muscle and the little flares of neural activity.
“Mary,” Power said, “Director Shift and I have come to ask you a few questions and make one request of you. I’ll be honest, this is something that’s… very important to us. To the world.”
Mary felt the inflammation in Melody’s joints, especially the ankles and knees. It was the work of moments to relieve it and minutes to correct the oxidation of the bones and ligaments throughout the woman’s body. No idea where that’d come from, she couldn’t think of any normal process or find any biological cause for something like that. This was the sort of thing she would’ve done if she’d taken the standard Healer’s route, gone into Support instead of Operations.
“Please, go ahead.” she said, noting the way Director Shift’s posture had changed. She’d sat upright before, but it was clearly possible only through what must have been an act of constant willpower. Once Mary was done, the woman sat in much the same way, but the tightness was gone. It was a natural position for the self possessed woman rather than an effort.
“The first thing we need to know is the current state of your abilities. We know from your record what you should be capable of, but your power is more dependent on your own understanding and expertise than most.”
Mary nodded in acknowledgement. She hadn’t been… active with her power’s use, not really, but she didn’t think she’d lost any skill. If anything, she’d developed a defter touch with time.
“How well can you rebuild someone’s body? To be clear, we need to know if you can restore youth and health to someone who’s suffering from age and systemic organ failure.”
Inwardly, Mary smiled and put the finishing touches on her work. Rather than answer, she turned her gaze to Melody Shift and raised her brows suggestively.
“She can.” the woman said, not explaining further. Power seemed to accept it.
“The next thing… Well, to be frank, we might need something like the disease you created.”
“The one that got me the nickname, Typhoid Mary.” He grimaced but nodded in acceptance. “It was just an enhanced variant on the common flu. Yes, if I wanted to, I could recreate it. Easily.”
This was the sort of thing she’d have been doing if she’d gone into Analysis. Despite the name, they did far more than that. Analysis was where the Citadel’s second face lived. Yes, information gathering, interpretation and tactics, they handled those, but also… less savory things. Necessary ones, of course, but not ones that the bright face could be associated with.
“High mortality, highly contagious, with a long dormancy period, could you do that? Preferably, one you yourself would be immune to.”
She thought about it for a moment. Not whether or not she could do it. Empowered didn’t usually advertise the fact but it was just human nature to occasionally plan out the worst that they could do. She knew what she was capable of. No, she was trying to decide if this was something she was willing to do.
“I could. But something like that could end human life, at least if everything went just right. Why? Why would you ask me that and why should I?”
Melody Shift answered. “How much do you know about the Tyrant?”