Chapter Nine – Contemplations

2018, Post-Pulse Seattle, Washington – Long Term Mission From Manticore

X5-714 and X5-664 sat at the table and studied the men entering the room. They had been sent in undercover by Manticore under orders from Directors Renfro and Lydecker. It was strange; their mission parameters differed. 714 had been told to listen carefully to what was being discussed at the meeting, while 664 was told to study the people and later, follow an NSA agent home to continue spying on him. They’d been briefed separately which was also uncommon for two people on a mission together. They’d discussed it earlier.

“664, why did Lydecker give me different instructions from yours?”

“It’s weird. I got the feeling that Renfro’s interest in this NSA Agent, Ames White, goes beyond Manticore. There’s something really strange about this mission.”

714 closed her eyes tightly as sadness overcame her. “I wish 494 were with us.”

“Me too. He’d know what to do…he’d figure this out in nanoseconds.” 664 dropped his head warily and reached out to rub 714’s back soothingly. “He’ll be ok, I know he will.”

714 sniffled and wiped her nose on the back of her hand. “What if he isn’t? He’s been gone so long. What if being on the outside changed him?”

664 sighed and pulled her close. “We won’t know until he gets back. But he’s 494. He’ll be ok. He always is.”

Returning their attention to their mission, the two took note of everything and everyone at that meeting. Agency issues had been discussed, new plans for an additional building were in the works and as they were heatedly debating salaries and project details, hands flailing and mouths sputtering, Ames White slipped out the door.

664 rose and left the room unnoticed. He followed silently after Agent White, down a path of cobblestone and weeds, through narrow, twisting alleys that stunk of stale urine and smoke. White finally ducked into an old building next to a waste dump. 664 pressed his ear against the wall and heard a snatch of conversation.

“The Ones we are looking for, they’re transgenics. It’s the only possible answer! Otto, get Stephan on the phone. We need to change the plan. Someone’s going to infiltrate Manticore and get samples of all the transgenics’ blood. We need to determine the Salvation and the Champion. Deliverance must never come!”

Damn, these cult goons were whacked. Completely loony. Barking mad. How the hell could they determine salvation and the champion from someone’s blood? Salvation and Deliverance were biblical terms. How were they connected to blood? 664 would never understand humans. Humans, enhanced-cult freak-maniac humans, whichever. Humans were a mystery.

“My father said he’d hidden Salvation where no one would find her. I never thought he meant it was an actual person. Well, animal. Never mind. He coded Salvation into the DNA. One of these transgenics is this Salvation and we have to find her and crush her. She must NEVER be allowed to join the Champion for Deliverance would inevitably follow. Deliverance would destroy us!” Ames White babbled almost incoherently, he was so obsessed with finding this threat.

664 hurried back to the motel to find 714 writing her report for the day. He tapped her on the shoulder and she looked up in surprise.

“Back so soon? she smiled up at him.

“Got quite a bit of information. This Agent, White, he’s not who he says he is. I think he’s part of some cult. He was screaming on about Champions and Salvation and Deliverance. Like the apocalypse was coming or whatever. I mean it, he was loony tunes! Grade A ‘la-la-la’ material.” His face showed wonder at the memory. White’s entire body had to have been jerking, the words had come out shaky and his voice pitch uneven. A frightening sound indeed.

“What do you think his connection is to Renfro?” 714 flashed a confused look at 664.

664 shrugged his shoulders. “Who knows? I wouldn’t put it past her to be involved in this insane cult shit! She’s just crazy enough!”

Quickly changing the subject, 714 asked, “Where is 494 now?” She knew that 664 was aware of the mission details. 494 was in their unit, almost like…a brother, he thought with a wry smile.

“He’s here in Seattle.” he replied noncommittally.

714 stared, shocked. “He’s here in the city? Let’s go see him, please! I miss him so much…” her shoulders shook as she began to cry.

664 felt a stab of jealousy. He’s always known 714 had a thing for 494, but he’d always hoped he could change her mind. It was now painfully obvious that he hadn’t and, if he was honest with himself, probably never would. He stroked her arm and pulled her close.

“We can’t. I’m sorry. We can’t compromise our position or his,” 664 shushed her lightly. “He’ll be back soon.” he whispered softly as she cried against his chest.

“I hope he’s there when we get back to Manticore tomorrow,” 714 mumbled into his shirt as she drifted asleep.

After a thorough debriefing in command headquarters, 664 and 714 made their way to mess hall. They had a quick supper and then headed back to their barracks.

“His stuff’s here but the bed’s untouched.” 714 breathed into 664’s shoulder. “Is he back?”

664 shook his head. He didn’t want to have to be the one to break the news. 714 would worry herself sick. He closed his eyes tightly and pulled her into a hug. Gently, he lowered her onto the bed and kneeled to face her. Gripping her hands tightly in his, 664 stared into her eyes.

“494 is here but he won’t be back in our barracks for a while.” She looked at him in confusion. “494’s in Psy-Ops. His mission went sideways. I didn’t get many details. I’m sorry.”

X5-664 eyed the soldier before him. 494 was back. But he wasn’t the same. Gone was the spark of life, the air of fun, the glint of mischief in his CO’s eyes. 494 walked around like an empty shell. And as a result, 714 was detached, worried and unreachable. 664 had lost the two most important people in his lonely life. *Is there anything else out there?* he thought bitterly. *The whole world can’t be like this.*

494 signaled to 664 and 714 to fall behind, they needed to talk. 494 pulled them into a deserted classroom.

“What is it, 494?” 664 asked in a low voice.

“Do you trust me?” The question surprised the two transgenics.

“Of course we trust you!” they answered in unison.

“Do you really trust me? Trust me with your lives? You wouldn’t question what I tell you, you’d accept it as the truth?” 494 looked from one to the other, his face serious and his eyes wild.

“You know I do!!” 714 didn’t hesitate.

664 nodded. “Of course.”

“I’m going to escape. I want you to come with me.”

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