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         “I find your cooking skills to be quite frightening. I think the commands would find you
quite useful in the chemical warfare department.”
         Danielle slammed her tray of burnt cookies on the counter and turned to face her friend
with an indignant countenance. “If you‟re Martha Fucking Stewart then why don‟t you tell me
what the fuck I‟m doing wrong.”
         “Like I know.” Troy leaned against the same counter as the foul-smelling cookies with
an amused smile plastered upon his face. “Although I have a feeling you‟ve never received a
real cooking lesson in your life.”
         “I took shop, what can I say? Although in retrospect I guess I should‟ve taken home ec
just for the chicks.”
         “Too much thinking too late, Danny-Lynn. Now, what are you going to do with those
hideous food specimens? You better throw them out before they start ranking up your kitchen.”
Troy turned up his nose to emphasize his point.
         Danielle bowed her head and considered the darkened edges of her chocolate-chip
cookies with a slanted blonde brow. “Maybe I should give them to Hotler as a token of my
disappreciation of her always trying to get into my khakis.”
         “Be careful what you wish for – you might poison her and then they‟ll discover her
crazy-gay during the autopsy, and the game would be up for all of us.” Troy pushed himself
away from the counter and turned on the sink to wash some debris off his fingers. “Then the rest
of the department would have to kill you. And the rest of the military would have to be sterilized
in fear of the spreading gay.”
         “It‟ll be like Typhoid Mary, but with better fashion sense.”
         Troy made a dubious popping sound with his tongue before turning off the sink and
grabbing a paper towel to dry off with. “On a somewhat related but completely different topic,
whatever did you end up doing last night? You blew me off for some dinner date and were still
all by yourself when I called you later. Was the date really that bad that you couldn‟t even
         “It wasn‟t like that.” Danielle pushed her friend out of the way in order to fill the sink
with their bowls and other cooking utensils. She swerved the faucet to the left and let hot water
mix with the leftover dough before shutting it off again and staring into the odd combination of
white dough and murky city water. “It was more like…business.”
         “Sex is business – dirty business.”
         “Yes, Troy, that it is.”
         “But seriously, what were you up to last night? A little round-about with the plastic
        “Not that it‟s any of your fuckin‟ business, but no. I decided to waste my Saturday night
playing with my photo album instead.”
        Troy rolled his eyes and allowed a harried sigh to escape his lips. “Oh, God, not the
album from hell? Girl, I thought you promised me you were going to burn that thing? If you let
those stupid memories keep dragging you down, your immune system will get shot and Hottie
will just be able to swoop down on you that much easier. C‟mon, now, forget that stupid whore
and let‟s clean up this mess. If you‟re a good girl I‟ll take you downtown and to a matinee in
order to cheer you up.”
        “I don‟t need cheering up.” Danielle stole Troy‟s towel and wiped her hands on it as
well. “I feel just fine, thanks. By the way…” her voice trailed off to an almost uncertain
whisper. “You‟re going to hate me for asking this, but have you seen her lately?”
        “God damn, Danielle, are you still pining for that uncertain bint? She dumped your gay
ass a year ago and you expect me to play the nasty best friend and drill her for every little detail
of her life? Yeah, saw her at the post office the other day. She completely ignored me, like I
didn‟t even exist.”
        Danielle threw the towel in the garbage and sniffed up some air as opposed to releasing
the sneeze building up inside her. Some time ago Troy and Ally actually got along rather well,
the three of them not opposed to sharing a movie or meal together after work before Troy would
depart and leave the young lovers to their own devices. After the breakup Ally would still bump
into Troy every now and then since they lived in the same general area, but she either avoided
him or refused to talk to him altogether. “Did she look okay?” Danielle‟s voice was now
officially a whisper.
        “Like an angel – a demon‟s angel.”
        “What? Woman looked like she was the unhappiest specimen in the world. Not that it
takes much work for you women to look like that.”
        Danielle considered the tray of burnt cookies on the counter as Troy went on about the
bitter countenance of her ex-girlfriend. While she had no intention of ever trying to communicate
with Ally again – after all, she was the one left all alone on the curb – her sentimental feelings
were still trying to get over themselves before Danielle could truly move on from one of the most
influential relationships of her life. She figured that this was the main reason why she could
never get to a second date let alone second base with any of the people she dated in past year, as
doomed as most of the pairings were to begin with since Troy was the overzealous mastermind
behind most of them. “Sucks for her, then. Maybe she‟s failing school or something.”
        Troy opened his mouth to make a testy rebuttal, but was interrupted before he could even
begin by a rude knocking on the front door over to their right. After a quick, second round of
knocking, Danielle abandoned her post at the counter and rounded her way through the living
area and to the door. “Hang on a second!” she called, slamming her hand upon the handle and
swinging the door open to expose her caller.
        Out in the hallway stood Devon, his blue eyes the size of satellites at the suddenness of
Danielle‟s answering. “Uh, hi,” he mumbled, holding his hand up in a half-effort greeting.
        Danielle could hardly contain herself at the shock of seeing him standing on the other
side of her door. “What the hell are you doing here?” she hissed, closing the door behind her
until Troy could no longer see who was calling on his friend. “And how did you find out where I
live? Are you stalking me now?”
        “What? No!” Devon took a step back as Danielle loomed over him. He didn‟t realize
until now that she was at least a couple of inches taller than he was. “Your address is in the
phone book, you know. And the directory downstairs says who lives where!”
        “Oh, god damnit, get in here.” Danielle clasped him by the braceleted-wrist and pulled
him into her apartment, his body flopping around like a rag doll as he tried to withstand her
brutish strength.
        Troy was observing this correspondence from the kitchen. “Oh, what‟s this, now? Got
yourself a new friend there?”
        “More like an annoying acquaintance,” she mumbled, and Devon shirked her hold on him
        “Oh? New boyfriend? Have you abandoned the ladies already and decided to give men
another shot?” There was a hardened twinkle in Troy‟s eye that Danielle could see clear across
the room.
        “Huh? But I thought you were…”
        “Let‟s not talk about me, shall we? What is with you two being obsessed with who and
what I sleep with?”
        “We‟re men. I may be gay but for some reason I want to make your vagina‟s business
my business as well.”
        “Then become my gynecologist, for fuck‟s sake. You‟re both ridiculous.”
        “Who is this new friend of yours, anyway? He looks like he‟s about to keel over from
me mentioning your vagina.”
        Devon blinked his eyes and snapped his head slightly back into attention. “Uh, I‟m
Devon. I don‟t believe we‟ve met before.”
        “Quite true, I‟m thinking. Where the hell did you meet this guy?”
        Danielle sighed and abandoned Devon in the living area, making her way back to the
kitchen where Troy stood with his arms leaning against the counter. “Remember that meeting I
blew you off for last night? Yeah, he was there. That‟s all you really need to know.”
        From his standpoint Troy could only purse his lips and make a whistling sound at
Danielle‟s firm tone. “Is that so? Well, I see how it is, then. Hey, kid, want a cookie?” Troy
held up one of Danielle‟s burnt specials.
        “Uh, no thanks.” Devon wondered who could have possibly made such a hideous and
unappetizing looking cookie – it appeared as if the blackened edges were about to deteriorate at
any second. He then subsequently wondered why everyone was so intent on calling him „kid‟
lately. At twenty-two he sort of hoped that such a name could be put behind him, but even his
graduating status, let alone his age did not seem to deter his older peers from constantly
reminding him of their few-year age difference. “Danielle, can I talk to you…in private?”
        “Oh, my god, he‟s pregnant. Danielle, did you knock him up?”
        “Shut up, Troy,” and Danielle sent him a cursory glance to reiterate her point. “Could
you leave us alone for a couple of seconds?”
        “Yeah, sure, why not, I have to go to the bathroom anyway.”
        As they waited for Troy to leave them in private, Devon checked his watch and began
hopping up and down in his spot, causing Danielle to sigh and wonder what was with all his
fussing. “All right, he‟s gone, what the fuck do you want? I‟m trying to enjoy a nice Sunday
afternoon, you know.”
        “I know, I know, and you‟re going to think I‟m nuts, but…” and Devon bit his bottom lip
in anxiousness.
          “I already think you‟re nuts for tracking down where I live, you stalker.”
          “…But I think I found…I think I found one of those Points.”
          Danielle‟s next impending words were thrown back down her throat and into the pit of
her stomach once she heard what Devon whispered. It took her a few seconds before she could
lift a finger in confusion. “Wait…what? Are you…are you sure?”
          Both of their voices dropped to a whisper by this time, Devon‟s particularly and
sheepishly dim. “I think so. I was reading the paper this morning and I came across a picture of
that philanthropist woman who donates all her jewelry to various charities. Do you have a
          “Sunday paper? Yeah, it‟s on the coffee table there.” Danielle pointed to the low, glass
table between her couch and the television. Although the various sections of the paper were
strewn about as if it were thoroughly read, Danielle only got through the front page before Troy
showed up with a bag of chocolate chips in his hand. “What section? Living?”
          “Yeah. The C section.”
          Danielle shuffled through the papers before picking up the page with the colored picture
of an older woman with short, gray hair and a blue long-sleeved blouse. Her smile towards the
camera was blinded by the vast amounts of diamonds adorning her hands and neck. “This is it, I
take it. What makes you think this is relevant?”
          “Hold your wrist up to the picture.”
          After some maneuvering to get the paper folded and beneath her right arm, Danielle
placed her wrist upon the picture and waited. Within seconds she felt the skin beneath the
golden bracelet begin to heat up and expel a strange odor that could only be associated with a
certain organ on the verge of burning. “You have got to be shittin‟ me.”
          “Yeah, I‟m pretty sure the skin beneath this bracelet stuck on me is nice and black.”
Devon pulled the paper out of her hands and looked at it himself. “It says her name is Helen
Frederick, and she‟s showcasing some of her jewelry at a gallery downtown today only. Do you
think we should go?”
          At first Danielle‟s response was a harsh, “Are you out of your mind?” but reconsidered
once she thought of the pain resonating through her hand. “I…I don‟t know. I‟m still not quite
sure what the fuck to think about all of this.”
          “Well, it shouldn‟t hurt. According to this article the gallery is free until seven…I mean,
hell, even I can afford „free‟.”
          Danielle opened her mouth to respond but was interrupted when Troy emerged from the
back room, flipping his cell phone shut and grabbing his jacket from the back of the couch where
he left it earlier. “I‟m sorry to run out on you, Danny-Lynn, but I just got a call from my mother
and she says my sister‟s in the hospital again from a severe asthma attack. I‟ll call you later.”
He darted out of the apartment, a dark blur against the bright room behind him.
          “Wow, sounds serious. I hope his sister is all right.” Devon put the paper back on the
          “She‟ll be fine – it happens every couple of months or so.”
          Danielle abandoned the living area and shot up to the kitchen, pulling cooking trays onto
the counter that were on the verge of falling off and creating a horrid mess on the floor. “If you
want to go, we can take my car. Is that okay?”
          “It has to be – I don‟t even have a license.”
          From the kitchen Danielle stopped cleaning and shot him an uncertain look. “Seriously?
How the hell did you get here, then?”
         He shrugged. “Walked.”
         “Okay then.”
         Danielle reached over and grabbed her own jacket from a stool and wedged her body into
it, the black fabric covering her white tank top for a more appropriate look for public. She then
grabbed her car keys and lead Devon out into the main hallway. When she was sure the front
door was locked behind her, Danielle marched towards the elevator without regard for if Devon
was behind her or not.

        For a Sunday afternoon traffic was not as coarse as Devon would imagine it to be.
Somehow Danielle managed to weave her way between the other cars and advance down the
roadways without too much trouble or random, rude fingers from other drivers. “I hate driving
on Sundays,” she mumbled. “People act like asshats, especially after church gets out.”
        Devon glanced out the paneled window on the passenger side and sighed. Even though it
was still early May, the temperature outside was rising as typical for the time of year, forcing
Danielle to reach over and turn on the air vent before the humidity began to creep into her car.
Devon was impressed how quickly the cool air overpowered the old and stale warm air,
something he wouldn‟t expect less from in a newer, more sophisticated car like Danielle‟s little
black compact. It was oddly stylish for a woman of her disposition, and a type of car that Devon
was not all used to growing up. The only cars he knew were second-hand rip-offs that leaked oil
and rusted the more they traveled down the road – they didn‟t tend to have smooth leather seats
and a surround sound stereo system. Maybe joining the military and gaining their salary wasn‟t
such a bad idea after all.
        “Yeah, I don‟t have all that much experience driving, I guess, but Sunday is the worst.
Last time I took my driving test was on a Friday, and all the angry mobs were out buzzing
around. One cut me off at a red light, freaked out the instructor, and I got an automatic fail.”
His voice reiterated his driving frustrations by grating on the cool air inside the car.
        “Failed, huh? That‟s unfortunate.” Danielle did not relay her own experiences to him,
somewhat to his relief. Devon found through the years that most people seemed to pass their
driving tests on their first try, leaving him to feel rather glum about his misfortunes behind the
        As they fell into silence again Devon remembered that he had to call Alicia and let her
know that he probably would not be home for dinner that night. He reached into his back pocket
and pulled out his black cell phone, his fingers racing over the touch-pad to the melodic hum of
the digits leading to his girlfriend‟s cell phone, wherever she was. He had to wait five whole
rings before he received any response.
        From behind the wheel Danielle tried not to eavesdrop on his conversation, but could not
help but hear his side. “Hey…hey is it…? Okay. Yeah, I won‟t be home until later this
evening, go ahead and have dinner without me. If I get back earlier I‟ll just pick something up
for myself.” A pause. “Something came up that I have to go take care of…for school. Yes,
school. Do you want me to graduate or not? Yes, I‟m in a car. It‟s Clyde‟s car. Yes, I‟ll be
home tonight. Okay? Okay. See you later, then, love you, bye.”
        “School, huh?”
        “Well,” and Devon put the phone away, “I couldn‟t exactly tell her the truth, now could
        “I‟m somewhat surprised you haven‟t told her about all of this, actually.” Danielle put
her foot on the brake as they approached a red light. They were getting closer to the downtown
gallery that boasted the event they were looking to attend, but a whole stretch of road still
separated them from the intended destination . “If I had somebody I would‟ve probably told
        Devon turned his head and looked at Danielle squarely on the side of her blonde head.
“Are you insinuating that you believe all this now?”
        “Maybe. I‟m still a bit skeptical.”
        “Ah.” Devon turned his attention back to the window beside him. “Anyway, no, I
haven‟t told her. I figure she‟s got enough to worry about. And besides…I somewhat doubt that
she would believe me.”
        “Wow, that sucks. Your relationship that bad?”
        “What?” Danielle lurched them forward again as the light turned green. “Don‟t you
think she should be willing to believe you?”
        “Well, I guess.”
        Danielle withheld a laugh as she reflected on Devon‟s small dilemma. Had it been a year
before one of the first things she would have done was told Ally what was going on – to an
extent. At first she probably would have recalled something like a strange dream with the
gradual ascension into the realization that something truly great was going on. But, on second
thought, Marlow had said something about trying to keep the knowledge out of other people‟s
minds lest their unknown adversary discover their identities.
        “Fuck,” she sighed, and Devon turned his sight back on her, “I just realized I made a
wrong turn a few blocks back.” Her mumblings were nearly incoherent as she cursed to herself.
        The car swerved into an empty parking lot as Danielle tried to reorient herself as to where
she was at in the throes of downtown life. For a moment she thought about turning back entirely
until Devon said, “I think somebody‟s watching us.”
        On the other end of the parking lot sat another black car, although this one was slightly
longer and older than the one Danielle owned. Inside sat two dark figures, their clothing as black
as the car and their faces each shielded by a pair of sunglasses. When the figures realized that
Devon and Danielle were staring at them the car started up, and the two voyeurs pulled hastily
out of the otherwise empty parking lot.
        “What the fuck was that about,” Danielle thought out loud, although in the pit of her
stomach she figured she knew that whoever they were, those two people were anything but
innocent bystanders. “They creep me out.”
        “You and me both, then. C‟mon, let‟s get going.”
        Danielle pulled out in the same fashion that their watchers had, the car bouncing over the
small hill that spilled back out into the road. Now armed with an adequate idea of where she was
heading, Danielle lead the car onto a different road, her nerves shaking a bit uncontrollably as
she thought back to the two stoic figures sitting in a dark car in an empty parking lot.
        After a few more minutes of driving around aimlessly downtown, Devon spotted the
building hosting the gallery and motioned for Danielle to find a parking spot. She drove around
until she saw an empty spot in the parallel parking area next to a meter. Once it was established
that there was enough change between them, Danielle went ahead and parked between a white
compact and a red Ferrari – Devon decided to spend the whole time staring at the Ferrari.
        “Why don‟t you stay here while I stake out the entrance?” Devon then slipped out of his
seat belt and opened the passenger side door. “I‟ll be back in a few minutes.”
         Not one to argue with him at the present, Danielle watched as Devon stepped out and
shut the door behind him. He instantly became lost in the throng of pedestrians that flanked the
sidewalk, some stopping to stare at gallery advertisements while others wandered by without any
care for art at all.
         Before Danielle could think to join him, she heard the distinct, choral tune of a MIDI
blasting inside her car. She glanced at the seat beside her and saw that Devon‟s phone had fallen
out of his pocket and now sat on the seat. At first she tried to ignore it, but either Devon was daft
at setting up voice mail or the caller was that determined to get through, for the phone continued
to ring and ring even after a good, solid ten rings. Danielle yawned and picked up the phone,
more annoyed by the monotonous tune than anything else. Luckily his phone was a similar
model to hers so she could easily flip it open and turn on the talk button. “Hello?” Her voice
was as straight and normal as could be for answering somebody else‟s phone.
         There was a pregnant pause before a decisive click sang into Danielle‟s ear.
         “Oh you stupid bastard!” She pulled the phone away and stared at the number on the
screen. All it told was a number sequence headlined with “The Girlfriend”. “Oh, shit, she‟s not
going to like that.”
         At that moment Devon returned, his face contorting into confusion when he saw his cell
phone in Danielle‟s hand. After he opened the passenger side door he asked, “What are you
doing with my phone?”
         A cheesy, innocent smile bloomed on Danielle‟s round face. “ Uh…it…rang. It was your
         “And uh…what did she say?”
         “She hung up the moment she heard my darling, feminine voice.”
         Devon collapsed into the seat, his complexion whitening as scenarios, all rather serious
and resulting in him being verbally – and possibly physically – castrated racing through his
mind. “Oh…shit.”
         “Hey, that‟s what I said!”
         “God damnit, she‟s going to kill me. She probably thinks I‟m coming home late because
I‟m boning some other chick.”
         “Some hot, lesbian chick.”
         “That makes no sense!”
         “Calm down.” Danielle released her hands from the steering wheel and waved one in his
direction. “I‟ve been through something like this before.”
         Devon‟s eyes lit up in brief hope. “You have?”
         “Yes.” And Devon could sense her discomfort from the other side of the car as she
slightly squirmed in her seat. “In my last relationship my girlfriend gave me a cell phone for my
birthday, and…well a woman from work and I were working out during our lunch break which
entailed a lot of short breaths and general locker room frivolity, right? Naturally girlfriend calls
me, and me being a total electronic newbie my coworker ends up answering the phone for me.
She‟s extremely out of breath and it just so happens that her sneezes sound like orgasms. Guess
who was allergic to my deodorant.”
         “Wait…her sneezes sounded like orgasms?”
         “Anyway,” Danielle thrust her hand in his face again, “the point is that when I got home
that day expecting the inevitable, my girlfriend had let herself into my apartment unable to wait
to get her murderous hands on me. It took a while, but by the end of the night I was finally in
her good graces again.”
        Devon didn‟t doubt that she was expecting a rather immediate response, but he was too
busy imagining a sneeze that sounded like an orgasm to be bothered to even think straight.
“Well…I‟m…anyway, I‟ll just take that.” He reached over and plucked the cell phone out of
Danielle‟s hand.
        “What‟s going on inside?”
        “Oh, um, just a bunch of hobnobs prancing around a bunch of jewels.”
        “Did what‟s-it-called go off?”
        “You mean this?” He lifted up his right wrist. “No.”
        Danielle pursed her lips and withdrew the section of the paper advertising the display out
of the compartment between the two front seats. She unfolded it and stared at the picture of Mrs.
Frederick, the bracelet automatically activating when coming into close contact with the picture.
“Well, it‟s gotta be…shit!”
        “You know, what this woman‟s wearing in this picture doesn‟t necessarily mean all of it
is going to be on display. It‟s possible that one of the jewels we‟re looking for is still part of her
personal collection and not in that gallery!”
        “But which one?”
        Danielle sighed in resignation. “We‟re going to have to go in there and find out.”
        “Or not.”
        Devon snatched the paper out of Danielle‟s hands and placed it on his lap. From his back
pocket, the same one that housed his cell phone, he pulled out a pocketknife and began carving
out the individual pieces of jewelry from the picture. “Here, you do half, and I‟ll do half.
Woman has got a lot of shinies on her, so it‟s going to take both of us.”
        With a begrudging twist of the hand Danielle took her share of the jewelry and placed
them on the dashboard. In silence the two of them took each individual piece and held it against
their wrists, waiting for the one that would make their skin feel like it was about to start boiling
at any time.
        “Got it,” Danielle announced, and held up a tiny picture of the wedding ring on Mrs.
Frederick‟s hand. “Of course, it has to be the wedding ring, the one thing that she‟d probably
never let go of.”
        “In that case maybe we don‟t have to worry about it, then,” Devon figured. “I think she‟s
a widow, right? If she‟s still wearing her wedding ring then that insinuates that she‟s very
attached to it. T here‟s no way she‟ll give it up, to either us or…or whoever else is after it.”
        “Are you suggesting we just forget about it for now?”
        Devon shrugged his shoulders. “I think this one would be a bit out of our league. If
anything I think we should just come back to it la…”
        Danielle suddenly sat straight up in her seat, her hazel eyes staring out the front window
at a black shadow before the car. “It‟s them.”
        “Those creeps who were following us earlier.”
        Devon shot his sight out the window, where it landed upon the larger black car occupied
by the two, motionless zombie-like figures, with their shielded eyes and expressionless faces.
“Okay, I‟m starting to think they‟re stalking us.”
         “Who the fuck are they?”
         “We should go over and say hello.”
         “I…have a bad feeling about that.”
         The figures noticed that they were being watched and subsequently started up the car and
drove away. The last thing that either Devon or Danielle saw was brand new tags with no real
way of identifying them.
         “God damn. What if…what if they‟re working for that other guy that the old guy was
talking about? You know…what if they‟re mercenaries, like us?”
         “I can‟t take this shit right now.” Danielle leaned forward and started her car, the engine
as soft as a cat‟s purr that made Devon wonder if it really started at all. “We‟re going back. I
still need to think about this. I‟ll…I‟ll drop you off where you live.”
         “All right.” Devon found himself unable to make eye contact with her. “Thanks. I‟m…I
appreciate it.”
         “Yeah, well…” Danielle did not finish her thought. She merely pulled out of her parking
spot and entered the fray of the traffic, making a point to go in the opposite direction of the car
that had been following them.

        Inside an abandoned factory on the outskirts of the city dwelled not much more than rats
and lice. But beneath the heavy machinery and cobwebs that decorated them resided a small,
broken clock that appeared as if it once belonged inside the office of an executive: its mahogany
build once glistened in light, its ticks once graced the ears of those sitting around it, and the
numbers were hand carved. However, it did not belong in the factory at all, having been
deposited there a few months earlier by an unknown hand that broke into the factory under the
cover of darkness.
        There was another world inside the clock, as clocks did seem to contain so many strange
mysteries in them as of late. Upon touching the clock the body would be transported to a strange,
dark place reminiscent of a damp entrance to a haunted house. The only source of light came
from the face of the clock, where, unlike on the outside, a pendulum swung lazily back and forth
in a hypnotic fashion.
        “Are you sure you think it was them?” Dunsman shuffled across the hardwood floor of
the inside of the clock, his attention being paid towards the impatient, pacing figure of Icha along
the far side of the wall.
        The android flashed the edge of her sunglasses towards her master. “Are you saying we
are too stupid to recognize some feeble humans? We don‟t just follow any tail that crosses the
path.” Her voice chip was still heavily accented as if English was not her originally programmed
language. Dunsman made a mental note to beat the robot maker senseless at a later date for this
        “I‟m saying that I sent you out for one day and you come back to tell me such good
news…but without any proof. And now you want permission to go out and kill some random
people? If it‟s not them, then you‟re just creating senseless attention.”
        Icha laid her arms akimbo and approached Dunsman, the weight of her body passing
through her shoes and clunking as she walked. “Their movements and other actions have the
suggestion that they are of the mercenaries. If you want to wait for your intelligence to come
through, then don‟t let us halt you, but we‟re not responsible for them reaching a Point before
         From next to the pendulum Nia moved for the first time, her taller, thinner body shrouded
by the shadows cast by the face of the clock. She opened her mouth to say something, but closed
it again, much to Dunsman‟s chagrin. Nia was not mute, but for some reason she had been
programmed to not say much. Icha, on the other hand, had a problem with learning to shut up.
         “I will wait for my intelligence.” Dunsman pulled out his own cell phone, a brand new
model he picked up while in Japan – although it was not suited for working with American
towers, he managed to finagle it until it transferred receptions correctly. He mashed on the
buttons while Icha continued her impatient pacing.
         “This is Dunsman.”
         The other line fell silent for a moment. “Good evening.”
         “Have you learned anything yet for me?”
         “No, sir. I spent a greater part of the day doing research, but tomorrow I may not have as
much time. I apologize for the inconvenience.”
         “Don‟t worry about it. We think the mercenaries may have started moving. That means
Marlow is here and watching for me. We must maintain as much discrepancy as possible.”
         “Oh, I know all about discrepancy. Leave it to me.” The other line suddenly cut off.
         “Well?” Icha threw her arms down to her side. Her short, dark hair looked like a mound
of shadow upon her head.
         Dunsman shook his head. “We may still have to wait a couple more days.”
         Although she had no eyes, and sunglasses obscured her face anyway, Icha still managed
to expel a degree of non-tranquility around her that made even Dunsman nervous – normally he
would have no problems with his hired help on whatever planet he was targeting, but for some
reason Icha‟s insubordination made him feel like he had to pay attention to every move she
made. Nia, on the other hand, spent so much time idly standing next to the pendulum that
Dunsman often forgot she even existed. For only having the androids in his possession for so
little time, he certainly knew almost every one of their tics to the point that he knew exactly what
Icha was going to do down to the very last decibel.
         She screamed, her voice shrieking to such a high degree that Dunsman dropped his cane
and slapped his hands over his ears in fear of them popping under Icha‟s direction. “Stop that
hideous noise!” His voice could barely penetrate the air of the android‟s odd outburst.
         And just as quickly it started, Icha closed her mouth and pulled the sunglasses off her
face. The empty space where her eyes should have been did not deter Dunsman from shooting
his sight right onto the olive-colored skin blanks.
         “I should hope that our uses will be employed soon, Master.” Her voice grated from
overstraining her voice chip only seconds before. “It would be a shame for you to have spent so
much money on us only for us to sit here and rust.”
         “Surely Yamamoto‟s humor programs were put into good use on you.” Dunsman‟s voice
in turn was laced in sarcasm.
         Icha smiled and replaced the glasses on her face. “I‟m going to go shut down for a while,
Master. I‟m sure Nia will be coming with the me.”
         She turned and disappeared into the shadows, and like the noble clockwork Nia
abandoned her post next to the pendulum and followed her sister into the depths of the clock.
Although Dunsman had not ordered either one of them to shut down, there they went, on their
own, to go to sleep for the rest of the night. He wondered who was really controlling who, and
took a certain pleasure from it – he always did enjoy a challenge.
          Devon arrived home a little bit after four, his mind clouding as he tried to figure out how
he was going to get past Alicia‟s arsenal of accusing words and possible outburst of
uncontrolled, girlfriend-who-is-being-cheated-on violence. As Danielle pulled back out onto the
road and made her own way home, Devon withdrew his keys and shuffled towards the main
building door.
          In the five minutes it took him to ascend the staircases to his floor, all possible scenarios
had already filed past through his mind, and the more he thought about them, the more he knew
that it was helpless and that Alicia would probably have all of his belongings thrown out in the
hallway. However, the hall remained empty, and the door was not latched shut, allowing Devon
full entrance into the apartment.
          It almost appeared at first that there was nobody there. Devon scratched at his eyes and
closed the door behind him. Normally when Alicia was home the TV was on the news or some
other “intelligent” broadcasting, but that evening the whole living room was quiet, as well as the
lights being off in there and in the kitchen. He wondered if Alicia was even home. Maybe she
had already left with all of her things.
          In a twist of strangeness the back bedroom door was left ajar, and from the hallway
Devon knew he heard the sound of somebody flipping through pages of a book. His body froze.
Well, he mused, it was now or never.
          He entered the bedroom, revealing Alicia sitting on the bed, her back towards the wall
and her legs drawn up against her chest. In her lap she held a journal-sized book with thick pages
that snapped every time she turned a single page. At first she did not notice her partner, until he
pushed the door all the way open and left himself free to her oncoming words of fury.
          But Alicia did not react in the manner that he expected. Instead she gazed at him with
hallow eyes, her pupils the size of dimes, insinuating that she had not left the dark hovel of a
bedroom the whole afternoon. Devon was hesitant to address her but finally said, “Alicia? I can
explain about earlier…”
          “About what?” Her voice was a whisper.
          “About…the phone.”
          “Oh.” Even though it was dark inside their room, Devon could still see Alicia‟s fair face
turn even paler. She opened her mouth but discovered that it was too dry for speaking. “Don‟t
worry about it. I know it was probably just somebody you were with answering for you.”
          Devon was speechless as well, but for an entirely different reason. “Really? I
mean…thank God. I just knew you would assume the worst.”
          Alicia did not answer, not even giving Devon a lecture about trust and how much she
truly trusted him. Her eyes remained focused on the journal in her lap, causing Devon to
approach her with the heaviness of a doctor going to tell a patient that he was dying.
          “What are you looking at?” He feared that she would be offended at his prying, but he did
not recognize the journal and his curiosity was biting at him furiously inside his nerves.
          “This? It‟s…from a long time ago. Sort of from another life.” She closed the journal and
let it sit on her lap.
          By now Devon had reached the edge of the bed and sat next to her, his heart feeling
heavier with each passing second of secrecy. With a serene complexion falling upon his
girlfriend‟s face, he thought back to Danielle‟s suggestion of telling her all about Marlow, the
Points, and everything between that he knew of. She had a right, he figured, to know what he
was doing. But he loved her, and his love dictated that she would be better off not knowing, not
worrying, not trying to understand what he was saying and possibly believing that there was
something wrong with him. Instead he lifted his hand and placed it upon her smooth face, her
short, black hair falling across his fingers as he touched her.
        He hoped that it would be a moment of innocence and frivolity, but within moments
Alicia broke down into a sobbing mess, her tears streaming down her face, dampening her hair
and Devon‟s fingers as he stared at her in disbelief and fear. Her eyes contorting and her voice
moaning, Alicia cast aside her journal and thrust her head towards Devon‟s chest. Her fingers
pulled at his shirt and her tears stained it a darker shade. Devon felt like he was living in some
alternate universe. The last time he ever saw Alicia cry was when they first met, her body curled
up in the corner of a fraternity as she drank and sobbed away her last heartbreaking relationship.
        “Alicia! What‟s wrong?” Devon‟s voice frantically whispered into her ear through the
strands of her black hair.
        “I…I can‟t…” She withdrew from his embrace and held her hand up to her bruising face.
“I can‟t say. I don‟t really want to talk about it.” Her lips quivered with each passing word.
        “Please tell me, Alicia.”
        She was now no longer touching him, her body leaning on top of the bed away from him
and her hair enshrouding her entire head. “My…do you remember when we first met, Devon?”
        “I…of course I do.”
        “I know. I was drunk. I was crying. I was stuck in a bathroom and my friend had to stop
you, some stupid, innocent underclassman to help carry my sobbing ass downstairs so she could
take me home. But you offered, you know. I may have been totally out of it, but I remember
being amazed that some total stranger was willing to get me a ride home so my friend could
caudle me and keep me from being totally sick from how much I drank.” Alicia turned her face
back towards Devon. In the dark room only shadows managed to leave their mark upon her
visage. “I remember thinking that I wish I could have been with a guy like you, somebody so
patient and so…” she choked back another sob, unable to continue.
        “Alicia,” and Devon laid a gentle hand on her back. “What happened in your last
        She stopped moving for a moment as she considered whether or not to tell him. There
were a million words swarming through her mind, traveling through her head and waiting to be
spoken through salty lips. But Alicia could not bring herself to tell him – to tell him the truth that
she kept hidden inside her for so long, afraid to be reminded of it and humiliated by its contents.
“It…it was an ugly end to an otherwise Eden-esque romance.”
        Devon blinked his eyes as he tried to translate Alicia‟s metaphor in his head – she was
always the scholar compared to his mental laziness. “What happened? What made, and is still
making you, so sad?”
        “I was an idiot.” Alicia shook her head, causing her hair to flip around until she was
forced to push it back behind her ear. “Do you ever just wish you could be with somebody? I
know this sounds so horrible, Devon, but even though we‟ve been together for so long and there
would be absolutely no reconstructing my last relationship, I sometimes still wish that I could go
back and relive those happier moments. I miss the feeling of being held like I was the most
coveted jewel in the world, like everything began and ended with me for somebody else. I know
this must make me sound so horrible and selfish, but it‟s the truth. I‟m still in love with
somebody else. I always have been.”
        Devon refrained from touching her again. “I know, Alicia. I know. I‟m the rebound. You
feel too sorry for me to break up with me.”
         “No, it‟s not that!” There was an anxious quality in her voice that Devon did not
immediately recognize. “I do care for you very much, Devon. I know that you are the best man I
could be with at this time in my life. But…” She held her hand to her face, mumbling her words
as she continued. “But I feel like, everyday, I am only fooling myself. I am trying to be
something that I am really not.”
         “And what‟s that?”
         “I…I wish I could tell you so much.” Her voice became more hallowed with each
gasping breath. “I wish I could tell you everything, share every detail of my life, but I have been
holding it in for so long that I just couldn‟t tonight. Please understand, Devon. Please forgive me,
but I can‟t tell you everything right now.”
         “It‟s okay.” He reached out and embraced her again, her lithe body feeling even more
fragile in his arms than it had in the year since they‟d known each other. The last time he held
her like so was the night they first met, his arms wrapping around and supporting her as he
helped her friend guide Alicia‟s drunk self down a flight of stairs and outdoors into the fresh air.
         “Thank you, Devon. I know, in the end, if I ever do tell you it will sound so petty and
lame, but until then thank you for understanding my need to keep some things private.” She
glanced at the journal she left strewn on the floor. “Please promise me you will never go looking
for that.”
         “You should burn it if it causes you so much pain to reminisce.”
         Alicia smiled. “I can‟t do that yet, Devon. There is still too much in my heart holding on
to those memories.”
         Although it pained him to do so, Devon pried his eyes off the journal and back onto his
girlfriend‟s breaking face. “What about our memories, Alicia? Even though the odds are against
us in saying that we probably won‟t be together for much longer – you know it and I know it –
will the memories you have of being with me make you happy or indifferent?”
         Alicia wiped away the remaining tears from her face and took in a deep breath, one that
racked her rib cage and shook the dark blue blouse that she wore across her frame. “These have
not been bitter times. I‟m confident that if we should break up, it will not be as torturous as my
last one.”
         “That‟s good, I guess.”
         “Thank you, Devon.” Alicia kissed him on the cheek, a move more platonic than
anything else. But even though she had not intended for it to happen, Devon clutched her and
forced their lips together, his desire to make her feel happier overriding his conscience in all
matters relating to her other feelings. He waited for her to resist him, but was more than
pleasantly surprised when she hugged him back and threw all of her remaining energy into a
short-lived kiss between the two of them.

        “Holy shit, you‟re here already?”
        Danielle shoved the coffee pot back into its stand in the far corner of the break room.
After rubbing her bloodshot eyes she looked at Troy as he entered and grabbed his self-labeled
mug off the rack on the wall above the microwave. “I decided to get a jump on the week.” Her
voice was low and sleep-laden.
        “Annnnd you sound like shit. Didn‟t you get any sleep last night?”
        Sighing, Danielle lifted her mug of coffee to her lips and inhaled it as if it were nectar
and she were a bee. When she got home the evening before she had no idea that a sleepless night
was in store ahead of her – she finally woke up earlier that morning with her head feeling heavier
that a ton of bricks, almost as if she had a hangover. With a whole three hours of sleep under her
belt she felt like she was liable to collapse from exhaustion at any moment.
         Troy rolled his eyes and gently shoved Danielle out of his way to the coffee pot. It was
still a full ten minute before nine, so Danielle decided to sit down at the break table and hold her
head in her hands as the minutes ticked by until it was time to go start work.
         “What‟s wrong, Sweetheart?” Troy‟s voice was laced in its usual saccharin. “Get in a
fight with your lover?”
         “Troy,” and Danielle discovered that she didn‟t really have the strength to growl at him.
The thought of blurting out her predicament amused her, but she decided against it and instead
directed the conversation elsewhere. “I‟m thinking about getting a cat.”
         “A cat? If you want pussy you shouldn‟t bitch. It‟s not like I‟m not trying to help you out
         “You know exactly what I mean. I get lonely in that apartment by myself. I want a black
cat. And I‟ll name it Whitey.”
         Troy leaned back in his chair as they drank their bland coffee simultaneously. “Hmph, I
knew you had a thing for us of the darker persuasion.” And he waited for Danielle‟s groan before
continuing. “I know this girl…”
         “Troy, stop it. I‟m serious. Besides, you shouldn‟t be talking like that here. This room is
probably bugged to hell and back.”
         “They can do that?” But his eyes were sparkling in mischievousness.
         “Of course they fucking can. It‟s the fucking government.”
         The clicking of heels in the near distance caused Danielle to nearly gag on the last of her
coffee and Troy to curl his head over his shoulder. Before either one of them had the time to
collect their thoughts Miranda entered, her heels louder than a rolling luggage bag traveling over
concrete. “Oh, good, you‟re here,” she said, her brown eyes resting upon Danielle‟s figure.
However, her manner was for once more professional than anything else. “Danielle, be in my
office as soon as possible.” She turned and left.
         “Great,” Danielle mumbled, scooting back in her chair and getting up. She walked over
to the sink and began rinsing out her mug. “Troy, do tell me that I was on time today.”
         “A whole ten fucking minutes.”
         “Then what the fuck does she want me for?”
         “For your hot bod.”
         “Besides that, you oversexed asshole.”
         “How the fuck would I know?”
         Danielle shook out her mug and hung it back up on its rack before facing the single door
that led into the room. “Well might as well go before work starts. Then she can‟t bitch me out
about that.”
         “Have fun. Call for help if you two start having sex.”
         “And you‟d come running with the camera, right?”
         There was a foolish grin spreading across Troy‟s face. “It‟d be the talk of this year‟s
Christmas party!”
         Danielle waved her hand at him and left the break room. Her feet carried her past the
rows of cubicles and the other various personnel arriving and filling their chairs with tired,
aching bodies that chatted with neighbors about their lives and what they did that past weekend.
Danielle couldn‟t even imagine being asked that question at that point in time – how would she
ever explain Friday night let alone the entire weekend?
         The secretary was setting her things down next to her desk, her short, khaki skirt rising as
she bent down to pull out various notebooks and writing utensils from her bag. For a brief
moment Danielle took pleasure in the fact that she and her supervisor apparently shared the same
taste in women, for she was certain that the only reason why this young woman was working for
Miranda was because of the very body part sticking up in the air. Danielle cleared her throat.
         “Huh? Oh! Lieutenant!” The secretary stood and tugged at her skirt so it met her knees.
“Did Miranda tell you to come by? She walked out of her office a couple of minutes ago
mumbling about trying to find you.”
         “Yeah, she found me. She told me to stop by. Is it okay to go in?”
         The secretary cocked her head around and glanced at the tinted windows lining the
captain‟s office. “Should be all right.” She straightened out the notebooks into separate piles and
began pushing the clear button numerous times on the phone.
         “Thanks.” Danielle excused herself from the secretary‟s presence and approached the
office door. She knocked loudly upon the lettering spelling out the captain‟s name, the sticky
symbols scraping against her knuckles. Once she heard a disgruntled voice on the other side she
opened the door and admitted herself into the office with the hopes that this would not be another
embarrassing meeting for her. “You wanted to see me, Captain?”
         Miranda was in the process of opening and closing the doors on the file cabinets behind
her desk when Danielle addressed her. She glanced over her shoulder twice before turning her
body, her arms laden with manila folders packed to their full capacity with official, confidential
papers. Danielle recognized the file cabinet as the one that held the profiles for all the members
of the department. “Ah, yes, have a seat, Danielle. I need to discuss something with you.”
         The bland sincerity in Miranda‟s voice almost worried Danielle. She was so used to being
flirted with that a cold, distant captain made her wonder what she had done to suddenly fall out
of her favor. She almost desired to have the annoying captain back as opposed to the stoic one.
“What is it?” Danielle reached out for one of the chairs in front of the captain‟s chair and sat
down, her body sagging into the plush comfort of the chair usually reserved for those of a higher
rank than her.
         A few seconds later Miranda joined her on the other side of the desk with a single folder
in her hands. When Danielle slightly cocked her head she saw the name “CROMWELL,
DANIELLE S. LT.” plastered across the top. She didn‟t like where this was going.
         “I‟ve noticed that you put in for this Friday afternoon off a while ago, Danielle. Mind
telling me what‟s going on?”
         “I have an appointment at the clinic. It‟s the only time I can get in for my checkup.”
         Danielle sealed her lips shut after that. Although it was no secret to her close friends and
family – and yes, boss – that she was still in remission from breast cancer for nearly six months
now, she still felt that she was not required to talk about it on the whims of anyone else. It was
bad enough that she was diagnosed barely four weeks after she was dumped and spent the next
few months in and out of clinics and hospitals until she was declared to be in remission, Danielle
did not also need “well meaning” individuals constantly prying into the status of her health. She
considered herself lucky enough that she only had stage one Ductal Carcinoma In Situ and was
able to put a stop to it before it could spread and possibly kill her. Danielle crossed her arms to
silently further this point towards her boss.
         Miranda put the personnel folder on the bare desk and leaned in, her brown eyes slightly
accentuated by a thin line of black mascara on her already tanned, olive skin. “Danielle, I am
worried about you. You came back to work way too soon, and now you look like shit. I don‟t
want anybody in my department suddenly collapsing because they were too stubborn to take
their stipend pay from the government and stay home.”
         Danielle felt her shoulders tighten at her superior‟s taut words. “All of my doctor‟s said
that it was okay to come back to a desk job. Hell, the one even said I could have the kinkiest sex
imaginable and I‟d fare better physically than the president after the results of his last physical. I
feel fine. I look like shit today because I got a whopping three hours of sleep last night.”
         From the other side of the desk Miranda leaned back again and allowed a comforting
smile to cross her visage. In the light that snuck in from the window behind her, Miranda‟s hair
looked like it had been recently dyed another dark shade of red that contrasted nicely against her
skin. “I wouldn‟t doubt that for a moment with a woman of your caliber. Now, let‟s look at your
         Danielle rolled her eyes at the slight come-on that Miranda managed to slip into her
comment. Things were finally starting to be normal again. “What about my file?”
         Miranda opened the front of the folder and revealed a white, typed page filled with
various charts and a large pair of photos, one of Danielle in her usual khaki-uniform and the
other in her more formal garb reserved for opportune photographs. In both pictures her blonde
hair was slightly longer, a style that Danielle suddenly found herself pining for again. Her
current hairstyle was shorter than she normally liked it.
         “When you joined the department a couple of years ago your file was stamped with
„Disabled‟, and as the „on record‟ reason for you being here.” The last sentiment was nearly spat
out. “After the past few months you came up for review again in field work. Aren‟t you lucky
that we forced you to get a physical just to have your eyes tested again?”
         “I‟m still blind as ever.”
         “But not dead.”
         “No, not yet. Put me in the field though and I‟ll be dead faster than a convoy on the side
of the road.”
         Miranda laughed at Danielle‟s inappropriate joke. “Yes, well, obviously after your
physical you remained „Disabled‟. Hell, half the department is labeled that. Not the most
flattering of terms, but it beats death or a court martial.”
         “Keeps me from living in a barrack.”
         “And yet you still get to serve your country via a computer screen that‟s evaporating any
eyesight you might have left in your right eye.”
         “I still don‟t understand what you‟re trying to get at.”
         From her seat Miranda flipped through the pages in Danielle‟s file until she found the
section she was looking for. Although she did not wear glasses, Miranda still knelt her head in
further and wiped an annoying tear away from the corner of her eyes so she could see better. Her
finger ran underneath a certain sentence in the physical report. “Well, your name is up again for
review – don‟t ask me why – and I was going through your file to see if you stood any chance of
being kicked out of here. However, I noticed something odd about your mental history. It says
here that when you were a little girl your family claimed that you were having strange visions.
They were serious enough that they had you seeing a psychiatrist at age four?”
         Danielle did not flinch in her seat. “I was too young to remember any of that. But that‟s
what I‟m told. Why? It has nothing to do with who I am now. Lots of little kids go through stuff
like that.”
         “Well, the fact is that when the higher-ups who review this shit come to me for my
opinion, I might have a chance of swaying them either way you desire. Should I use this as a
reason to keep you here, or do you in your little heart desire to go get shot at in Baghdad?”
         Danielle stopped her mouth before it could drop open. Did her superior really want to
help her? She scoffed silently in her mind – of course she did. From the first day Danielle walked
into the department she was under the constant watch of her supervisor, a brash, dominant
woman that screamed of the lady-loving persuasion even before half the department could
confirm it. Once it became apparent that Captain Hotler was more than moderately attracted to
the young Lieutenant Cromwell, Danielle spent most of her time evading and wondering if it
would be worth the discharge to call her out on sexual harassment one day.
         So she found herself at a strange crossroads. It was odd that Miranda would be so willing
to overlook a discrepancy in Danielle‟s past that could very well be used to convince the higher-
ups not to let her in the field, but at the same time it would be a quick, easy reprieve from the
every-day harassment she put up with. But even after all that contemplation the choice was
painfully clear for Danielle.
         “Obviously I am not mentally fit for the field, either, Captain,” she began, her eyes
closing as she addressed her supervisor. “Obviously I was so traumatized by what happened to
me as a child that I‟ve completely blocked it out of my mind. It‟s like I have post-depression
even before I got to Iraq.”
         Under her reddish bangs Miranda‟s complexion turned a slight darker shade of brown.
“You don‟t want to go to Iraq anyway. It‟s dusty and it‟s…Lieutenant, is that a bracelet on your
         Danielle‟s eyes widened as she looked down at the golden bracelet stapled to her left
wrist. “Er, yes, about that…”
         “You know damn well that there‟s no jewelry besides a watch, earring studs, and a two
ring max. Take it off.”
         “I would love to, Captain, but you see…” Danielle turned her wrist over, displaying that
there was no latch and that the bracelet was too small to pull over her wrist. It clung to her skin
like elastic. “I‟ve tried everything to get it off before I came to work today, but I apparently fail
at that.”
         “Well then how the fuck did you get it on?”
         “Never mind. Here.” Miranda opened up one of her desk drawers and withdrew a set of
pliers she kept for quick mechanical fixes around the office. “Give me your hand.”
         Danielle placed the back of her hand on top of her supervisor‟s palm; she was surprised at
just how soft Miranda‟s skin was. After a few seconds of trying to get the pliers situated
correctly in her hands, Miranda placed the bottom tooth beneath the bracelet and squeezed the
two sides together. Danielle slammed her eyes shut in case the bracelet came flying off towards
her face.
         “God damnit, woman, what the hell is this thing made out of?” Miranda scooted back
from her seat and stood up for better leverage. She placed her other hand on top of the pliers and
used all of her torso strength to try and even leave a dent in the golden sheen of the bracelet.
“Whatever it is, sell it to the government, because you could make tanks out of this shit!” She
heaved out a deep breath as she dropped the pliers onto the desk and sat back down in her chair.
Her palm was a deep crimson color from all the pressure obtained from trying to help her charge.
         “Er, thanks for trying, I guess.”
         “Just keep it covered with your watch until you can get it off. Try going to a jeweler or
         “Yes, Ma‟am.”
         Danielle stayed solid in her seat as she waited to be dismissed by her captain. As she
glanced at the clock on the wall she realized that work should‟ve started almost ten minutes
         “Shelley,” Miranda leaned in and spoke into the little black intercom on her desk. “Could
you please come in here and bring your notebook with you?”
         “Coming, Ma‟am,” came an electronic voice from the desk before the office door.
Danielle turned her head and saw a feminine shadow stand and move around before the tinted
windows. On the other side of the desk sat an agitated captain – the file was still open and
Miranda was staring at it with slanted eyes.
         “If you don‟t mind me saying so, Captain,” and Danielle allowed herself to slightly
slouch in her seat and curve one leg over the other; she noticed her superior regard this posture
with curiousity, “but you seem to be a bit on edge this morning. The Man getting you down?”
         Before Miranda could respond the door opened and the secretary entered with a small
computer clenched between her fingers. In the olden days she would‟ve crossed the line with a
pad and pencil, but since the military was even more advanced in technology than the richest
conglomerate, the secretary was supplied with a sleek, metallic laptop used solely for note-taking
and formulating memos – and, as Danielle recalled, one of the Captain‟s favorite pastimes was
sending out memos. She watched as Shelly the secretary sat her notebook on top of the desk and
popped the lid open, a multitude of blue lights coming to life as she bent over and typed the
password into the appropriate box.
         “I am feeling a little…annoyed, today,” Miranda finally confirmed. “I just got a letter
saying we‟re getting reviewed this Wednesday. I‟m about to send a memo to the department
         “Reviewed?” Danielle uncrossed her legs.
         Miranda shot her a glance filled with confirmation. After a silent second she asked the
secretary, “Shelly, I left my cabinet keys over on the table by the door. Since you‟re up could
you grab them for me, please?”
         “Of course, Ma‟am.” As usual Shelley had a pleasant smile on her face, a structure
framed by short, bobbed brunette hair and a freckled complexion. Under usual circumstances
Danielle would not be incredibly attracted to her, but it had been so long since she was in any
sort of relationship that glancing at Shelly seemed to be a special treat. Sadly for Danielle,
Miranda did not intend for either of them to enjoy the gentle expression on the secretary‟s face,
for her back was turned towards them the instant she went to search for the keys. “Here?”
         “They might have fallen into the bottom drawer opened there.”
         Shelley bent over without bending her knees, inadvertently hiking up her khaki skirt and
revealing thighs as firm as running a desk job allowed her. Danielle had a feeling this was a
common occurrence in Miranda‟s office, and therefore was content with sitting in a cubicle on a
normal day on the other side of the floor, even if she always chose to wear the uniformed
trousers over the skirt.
         Miranda stood from her desk once she decided she was finished staring at her secretary‟s
assets, closing Danielle‟s personal file and turning towards the cabinet whose keys were in
question. “You are dismissed, Lieutenant. If you don‟t see a memo on your desk by the time your
lunch break is over today, stop by my office to make sure neither Shelley nor I have died or
         “Certainly, Captain.” Danielle stood, her hand fumbling at her side while she debated to
salute her oversexed superior or not. Once she decided Miranda was not worth it, especially
when her back was turned to her, she exited the office, passing Shelley as the secretary returned
to the desk to proclaim that she never found the keys.
         At a quarter after nine the entire office space was slightly hushed, with only the buzz of
computers, the flurry of fingers over plastic, and the soft voices of those on guarded calls filled
the void in the air. The first couple of hours were always the busiest, then lunches began and
people found the lazy inside of them and turned the afternoon into either a covert nap or a sweet
socialization time in the break room. Come Wednesday, however, they would all have to be in
their pressedest uniforms, their starchest of caps, their most silent of voices and straightest –
literally – that they could all possibly act. While not every person in the department was there
because of their orientation, a good three-fourths of them were, and if any of the higher-ups
suspected anything then a full investigation would commence, and come the next six months
those three-fourths could be replaced by Iraq-sent rejects – all of whom spent their entire sexual
lives preoccupied with only the opposite sex.
         Troy was not moving as quickly as his coworkers, but when Danielle passed it took him a
few moments to realize that she returned from the Captain‟s office. Although a partition
separated their sparse cubicles, he took off his headset and peered around the wall, watching as
Danielle sat and set up her workspace for the day.
         “Psst. Danielle!” he hissed, his teeth a shining white against his dark lips. “What did
Hottie want?”
         “My hot bod, just like you speculated.” Danielle secured the headset inside her ear and
turned on her phone. “But she somehow managed to restrain herself from throwing me on her
desk and ravaging said hot bod.”
         “Ha, the way you talk about it you almost sound like you‟d like that.”
         “I‟m starting to get to the point where even Hottie sounds good.”
         After some brief disentanglement from wires and pushing back his rolling chair, Troy
rounded the partition and stood before Danielle‟s clean desk. “Then you‟d better tap that before
her ass gets any older. She‟s got a good five years or so on you. It‟s the Asian genes that make
her still look young – she‟ll get old overnight pretty soon.”
         “Please, I‟m not stupid.” Danielle never removed her eyes from her monitor as she
logged into her desktop and opened her usual programs. A stack of manila folders sat in her wire
basket next to her containing information waiting to be input into a government operated
network. “Even if it was the most mind-blowing sex of my life it wouldn‟t make up for the fact
that she‟s my superior and that‟d be the end of everything if it got out.”
         “Speaking of out, I hear we‟ve got a new recruit coming in soon.”
         “And I just heard we‟re getting a department review this Wednesday.”
         “Ah, fuck,” Troy mumbled, and leaned against the flimsy partition. “You mean I have to
act like a macho vagina-penetrating man in two days?”
         “That would be it, my friend.”
         “James, back to work!” Even across the wide room they both could hear the captain‟s
order loud and clear.
         “Shit, sounds like somebody else could use a good lay as well. Just take one for the team
already and give her an early birthday present.” Troy wandered back around the partition, and
Danielle heard him slouch back into his chair and start typing on his keyboard. She stifled a
bitter laugh.
         Halfway through the morning and after half a cup of coffee and a short bathroom break,
Danielle was in the process of switching between networks when the alert on her phone began
blinking an obnoxious red shade. While receiving a call was not entirely unexpected, they were
rather so few and far between that she always panicked for a moment that she would be unable to
adequately process the call. She stopped and gathered her thoughts before allowing the call to go
through to her headset. “Department of Data, this is Lieutenant Danielle Cromwell speaking.”
Her voice was the most mechanized it ever was.
         Silence. She wondered if the caller had hung up or if she pushed the wrong button.
Finally she heard, “Ah, yes, Miss Danielle. This is Marlow. I hope it‟s not totally rude of me to
butt into your government‟s private line like this, but your cell phone is currently off and I must
speak with you.”
         Danielle‟s heart was in the process of doing somersaults and strangling her lungs as she
fought for words to shoot back into her headset. “Are you serious?” she whispered. “You can‟t
just barge into a line like this! These calls are all monitored by the US Military!”
         “Oh, I‟m not worried. My technology is far superior to yours. Short of you blabbing
about it I don‟t see why anybody would have to know about this conversation.” His voice, in a
general contrast to Danielle‟s trained robot voice, was quite wistful and optimistic. Danielle
imagined him sitting at his dark desk with Charlie rolling around at his feet. “I need you to stop
by my place tonight. Sort of an impromptu meeting. From what I understand you and Devon may
have found a you-know-what. I also have the intelligence to believe that Dunsman may be on to
         “Oh, really? Would that explain our little stalkers yesterday?”
         “Uh, sure. Look, we need to keep this brief before you get into trouble with that nice
lady-captain of yours. The way she acts around you I would hate to see what kind of creative
punishments she comes up to put you through.”
         “You and me both, Pal. All right, I‟ll be there. Don‟t wait up.” And she closed the
connection with a flick of her finger.
         She didn‟t have the greatest feeling about what was going on. Here she was, pretty much
acknowledging that everything going on was real and probable. Given another week or so, and
she‟d be willing to believe that her government was really keeping aliens locked up in a desert
one state away.

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