Hollowed Memories, chapter 9, part 5

June 28, 2015

She met with a succession of minor functionaries.  Most of them were from the military wing of the FAF, but one young woman was from the organization’s quasi-governmental division, which mostly dealt with taxes and business regulation in the territory they controlled.  The woman, whose emerald green eyes contrasted remarkably with her deep umber skin, confided in Mrissa that even she was only filling in for one of the military payroll officers, who was suffering from an unpleasant bout of neo-typhus.

There was plenty of repetition, as they gave Mrissa her assignment and explained the terms of her service contract.  They had a lot more information for her to look over later, and they reminded her that the company she would be going up against would not be an easy target.  Intelligence gathering and careful planning would undoubtedly be necessary.  However, nobody told her how to prepare.  If Yarec took the job, he was going to be in charge.  For now, her job was just to convince him to sign on, and when he did, she was to keep an eye on him.  Of course, the Field Army Faction did not really trust Mrissa any better than Yarec, and they would both be informing on each other.

Yarec did not seem, from the demeanor described in his dossier, like the type to backstab his employer.  There were a few odd incidents in his record, but over the course of a lengthy career in espionage in assassination, some unfortunate incidents were basically inevitable,  Six years earlier, Yarec had ended up drowning his employer in a tank full of decorative coral.  Yarec said that the man had pulled a pistol out of his coat, and there had been a tussle.  From clues in the text, Mrissa inferred that the next part of Yarec’s report as missing; there was more to the story, although there was no overt indication of a redaction.  It was a little thing—probably not even really Yarec’s fault—but it did raise uncomfortable doubts in Mrissa’s mind.

“It’s funny that I’ve been waiting so long for you to coming back,” Mrissa told Yarec, “since at first, I didn’t even want to have to work with you.”  She trailed off there, then caught herself and began to explain.  “That wasn’t personal.  I decided I didn’t want to work with you before we even met.  You had too much of a reputation for getting people killed.  People working alongside you did not fare very well.  They tended to get shot, or blown to smithereens, or captured and executed.  Obviously, those were not things I was looking forward to.”

“Now though, I think the real reason that so many people working with you have died is that you’re too damn good.  I mean, they bring you in for the  toughest jobs, and you end up in some really, really nasty situations.  You always manage to make it out, but somebody else might not have your skill or your luck; and so they end up bleeding to death while you escape.”

“But I didn’t know that before we met up in Sankirk.  I just wanted to make sure I did not end up bleeding to death on the germ factory floor, and so I was not looking forward to working with you, especially not as your subordinate.”

Most of what what she had found recorded in Yarec’s dossier pointed to a highly reliable agent.  Of course, his missions were not always successful.  There were notes on a couple of encounters that must have gone spectacularly wrong.  However, there was no indication that he had ever accepted an inducement to trade sides.  Even so, Mrissa knew she would need to keep a very keen eye on his behavior.  He was also a neuro-job, a head jumper, his consciousness copied on from brain to brain.  There was no way to know when his character might change abruptly—with a new body, a new persona.

“Were you worried about that?” Yarec asked.

“Of course,” Mrissa said.  She got up off the bed and paced across the room.  There were no windows in her room, but there was a large industrially-produced landscape print bracketed to the opposite wall.  It showed a bucolic grassland, with scattered trees and an old brown house in the distance.  She gazed out at the scene for a little while, then said, “They may not say anything to your face, but a lot of people don’t really like you.  They’re afraid you’re going to go nuts.  They don’t trust the consciousness transfers—and  frankly, neither should you.”

She turned around and looked at him.  He was sitting up with his eyes open, watching her with a look she did not recognize.  Maybe nobody had ever opened up to him about this kind of thing before.  She returned to the pallet, and he scooted over to give her more room as she laid back down beside him.

It was simpler, in Mrissa’s view, to evaluate a person’s character from a dossier than it was in person.  She was not someone who thought she could read a man’s true intentions by looking straight into his eyes.  Human beings—especially those trained in subterfuge—were cyphers.  Body language and tone of voice could be powerful indicators, but they could also be faked.  Back in Sankirk, Ris had almost wished that she could work with Yarec without ever meeting him face-to-face—with all their negotiations and planning conducted via digital messaging.  But of course, that was obviously impossible.  He probably would not even take the job without a real personal contact; and even then he might refuse, although Mrissa did not think so.  As an emissary, she was quite skilled, and her arguments were seductively convincing.

“He’s arriving on the Forces nail ferry,” one of the FAF officers had told her.  The man’s uniform was stylized, with an indigo pattern like an old-fashioned set of famer’s overalls embroidered on top of the one-piece military bodysuit.  “According to his history, ban Silfien has never worked around here.  He doesn’t have anything lined up and probably doesn’t know the city.  So go easy on him when you find him.”  The man snickered, but Mrissa rolled her eyes.

“Do you have a picture of him?” Mrissa pressed.

“No, not yet,” the man confessed.  “His appearance might not be finalized yet.”  Mrissa rolled her eyes again, but she smothered her dissatisfied grunt by swallowing the whole mug of whatever it was they had given her to drink in one gulp.

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