"Agent Yuy," the man in the lead said. "Your presence is requested by Internal Affairs."
My eyes flicked to the man's nametag. Sherwood. I recognized him from the time I had spent in the department, but I had never worked with him before. Today would be no exception. "I'm already assigned to a high-level case."
Sherwood didn't blink an eye. I suppose he was used to dealing with uncooperative people. "You are not being asked to work on a case, Agent Yuy. You're wanted for questioning."
Behind me, Quatre shifted, but let me deal with the man myself. I stuck with the path of caution. "Questioning? Regarding what matter?"
"Regarding a case you worked on," Sherwood intoned, as if in accordance to some well-practiced formula.
Did the madness never end? "This can't wait? I'm sure you've heard of the terrorist threat currently hanging over the world government?"
"This won't take long." That, too, sounded like it was a part of the formula.
I'd heard it before, and knew it meant nothing. I also knew that an agent didn't get assigned to Internal Affairs by being easy to dissuade. I turned to Quatre and saw that same knowledge in his eyes. With an implied shrug, he let loose that perfectly neutral smile he had mastered. "I'm sure these gentlemen are aware of the situation right now. It would be foolish of them to detain you for long. Why don't you go on ahead with them? We'll manage without you for a little while. But you will hurry back, won't you?"
With my back to the others, I threw my own ironic tilt of the lips at him and shrugged. I'd do the best I could. I turned back to the trio of agents and reminded myself to be patient. I couldn't find anything particularly nice to say, so I just gestured at them to lead the way. If not for the two that fell into line behind me, I would have looked over my shoulder and given Quatre a... I don't know what kind of look. The terrorists weren't the only ones on my mind.
I wasn't taken to IA's department office, but at least I wasn't thrown into the interrogation rooms to be questioned like a common criminal. Instead, I was brought to a section of the building that didn't see much traffic. That was typically where they slotted the business that they didn't want out in the open among the riffraff, whether confidential or just high-profile.
My 'interview' room was designed not to look like one, but I knew there were probably surveillance devices somewhere, observing the proceedings. I sat on one side of the table, and Agent Sherwood sat on the other. Both of his cronies took positions around the perimeter, making me feel distinctly outnumbered.
Impatient at the interruption, I started things off as soon as I was settled. "What's this about?"
Sherwood took his time before answering, laying several thick file briefs on the table between us and aligning them neatly with the surface's edge. "We had some questions about a case you worked on."
"Which case?" It obviously wasn't so simple, given our location.
"A case you worked on five years ago. Director Une called you in on a special consult for this case, prior to your full-time employment by the agency. Do you remember this case?"
Of course I remembered the case. "What about it?" I asked, nodding impatiently to hide my faint unease at their asking about this at this time. When had IA gotten involved in this?
"The case involved the theft of some top-level Preventers technology. A sophisticated weapons system from the war. Can you tell us about what happened to it?"
I bit my tongue on telling them that Zero had never belonged to the Preventers. They had just taken care of it for a little while. I also stomped down on my annoyance at everyone's continual insistence that Zero was nothing more than a weapons system. I couldn't expect them to know any better, though. That was all they had known, and they had never expressed any interest in knowing any more. That they were asking vacuous questions was a bad sign.
I decided to go along with their games until I could divine their purpose. "After the system's theft, it came into the custody of Meridian Biotechnologies. The CEO of that company was interested in developing it for use in advanced scientific research, but before he could realize that goal, it was stolen by one of his scientists. Our team tracked the scientist down to Olin Base. He had made modifications to the system that were unstable, resulting in his eventual death during our confrontation."
I paused, not quite certain where to go from there, but Sherwood picked up the story at that point. "He died before revealing the hiding place of the system. You later returned to the base, to find that the system had been there all along. You reported that the system had been ill-programmed by the scientist, causing it to go berserk, hold you hostage, and attempt to integrate itself into your body. Several days later, you were rescued by your teammates. Is this an accurate representation of the facts in this case, Agent Yuy?"
"It is." I answered without hesitation. Hesitation was a weakness that they could exploit.
"Can you tell me what happened to the system after that?"
What did they know? And where did they hear it from? The existence of the system was presumably still a high-level fact. Certainly none of us would have spoken of it to outsiders, and Duo and I had kept our arguments to the conference room, where no one would overhear. But just a conversation in the hall as we passed by the wrong person, or maybe something from my visit to Sally's office, could have let the news out. Again, I decided to play it safe. "I believe I was in an unconscious state when my teammates brought me out. To wake me, the doctors here on base decided to apply an improvised electromagnetic pulse therapy to disable the nanocircuitry in my body."
"But it didn't work, did it?" Sherwood asked casually, as if prompting me for information already in the reports.
"I woke up, didn't I?" It was beyond me to make that sound as innocent as it should have.
"In fact, the system is still active and running in your body, is it not?"
Choosing to neither confirm nor deny, I skipped to the end of the bullshit. "What is this about?"
Sherwood obviously chose to take that as a sign of complicity. "Agent Yuy, after your treatment by the doctors, you reported the therapy was a success, implying that the system had been eradicated."
"I answered the doctor's questions openly and honestly," I responded levelly. It wasn't my fault they hadn't known to ask very pointed questions. They always wanted to know if I felt better one day than I had the last, or if I was suffering any ill side-effects of the treatments.
Sherwood wasn't going to buy any of that. "You deliberately left out relevant information in your debriefing, Agent Yuy. This has resulted in your unauthorized possession of Preventers property for the last five years."
And what, did they want it back now or something? It wouldn't be of any use to them, anyway. Or maybe there was some sort of overdue fee to be docked from my paycheck? I blinked at them a bit incredulously before shaking my head. "That's nice. I have to get back to protecting the world government now, if you don't mind."
"We're not done yet, Agent Yuy," he answered firmly, one of his minions inching closer to the room's only door.
I automatically did a threat assessment on them before settling back down in my seat. I could take them. No need for my hackles to be so riled up. It just wouldn't be worth the trouble, that was all. All the same, I made sure I had enough room between me and the table to maneuver freely. "What's your point?"
"Perjury, for starters." He carefully removed the second folder from his stack and flipped it open to display a list I didn't bother reading. "These are all of the cases you've worked on during your time with the Preventers." He shifted the sheets around to display a second set of data. "This is a listing of all of the affidavits you've signed, all the sworn testimony you've given, everything. All of this comes into question now."
Really feeling for those terrorists, right about now. I tried to be grimly amused as I ground my words out. "I have never lied under oath."
Agent Sherwood did not seem to be particularly receptive to my denial. "We need to be able to count on our agents to report accurately and honestly to us. We can't have people with badges simply going around, doing as they please. You've worked often enough with IAB to know that. The government can't work that way."
"It also can't work if some terrorists bomb the hell out of the capital."
"You have teammates capable of dealing with the situation. The director may have placed a great faith in your 'elite' team, but don't let that go to your head. You're just an agent, like any other agent, subject to the rules."
"Then put me on probation or something and let me go back to doing my damn job." I was getting close to just walking out of there, the hell with the consequences. This was absurd. "I have Zero, but I work for you, so you effectively have Zero working for you. I don't see what the problem is."
"That's the problem, Agent Yuy. You don't see what the problem is. That's the kind of person that's the most dangerous." He said it with a gleam in his eye, giving me a glimpse of what sort of passion he had for his job.
"Do you even know what the Zero system is?" I asked disdainfully. Maybe a little bit of a sneer snuck in there. "If you did, you wouldn't be sitting there so calmly, questioning me."
"Was that a threat, Agent Yuy?"
I hadn't intended for it to be. The words had just come out that way. I'd been trying to point out that they had no right to go making assumptions about things they didn't know anything about. If they had a clue -- if anyone in this whole damn building had a clue -- maybe they wouldn't be so quick to condemn me for being something I wasn't. Maybe they'd see the benefits instead of the risks. Suddenly I was wanting to say the angry sorts of things to them that I couldn't and wouldn't to Duo. The sad things had already been spilled to Quatre, but I knew that being mad at someone, anyone, wouldn't balance things out. I tried to throttle it down, but only managed to soften it into a rough simmer. "Do you see me as a threat, Agent Sherwood?"
He met my stare bravely, as only someone completely ignorant of the consequences could. "The Zero system's effects are well documented," he answered, patting his stack of file folders.
"What you have is a document of all the ways Zero can go wrong." The system wasn't faulty. It just wasn't very error tolerant, and how could it be? How could it know what was 'reasonable' and what was not by human standards?
"It seems to go wrong more often than not," Sherwood pointed out, claiming knowledge where he had none. He wasn't one of us, or even one of Zero's unfortunate victims. All he knew about it came from a file, and possibly a briefing from someone as equally uninformed. None of those reports had been written by anyone with any experience with the system, good or bad. "And when it goes wrong, it goes very wrong."
Zero's contempt combined with my own. Those people hadn't known what they were doing when it came to using the system. Nor were they the people for whom the system had been designed. "This isn't a game of chance for you to be playing the odds, Agent Sherwood." No, this was my life, and I was the one that dictated its course.
"No, of course we aren't just 'playing the odds'." He flipped his files closed, putting an end to my tiny opportunity to defend myself. It was clear he hadn't walked into this room with an open mind. "You're being removed from the terrorist task force, to be placed under observation. Our doctors will check you out to determine the effects the system has had on you."
"Your doctors have already checked me out," I growled, standing up. One of Sherwood's sidekicks shifted on his feet, but I made a note of him and then ignored him. "I am in good health, mentally and physically, and your own doctors have made that determination every damn year I've worked here."
"They didn't know what to look for."
"Oh? And what would you be looking for now? Signs of dementia? Instability? Psychotic breaks? The same sort of thing that the base psychiatrists look for all the time in their agents?" Especially us. They'd always kept a closer eye on us. Figured us to be more, not less, susceptible to such things. They understood what it was to be a Gundam pilot as poorly as they understood what it was to be plugged into the Zero system. We didn't get to be pilots by being fragile.
"They'll be doing a complete work-up, being quite thorough. It's for your own safety, Agent Yuy. No one has ever looked into the side effects of long-term exposure to the Zero system."
I stared at him again. He actually believed that. Maybe not as much as he believed that I could be a threat to others, but he did. He truly did. When I got out of this, I was never working with IAB again. For their own safety. "Have there ever been any complaints against me?" I tried, making one more stab at logic. "Do I have some sort of record with you? If not, then your investigation and caution are completely unwarranted."
"Maybe no one else knew what to look for, either." He spoke with the tranquility that came with self-righteousness. "We'll be conducting interviews as a part of our investigation, of course. If you don't trust the opinions of the doctors, then maybe you'll have more faith in the things your friends and co-workers will have to say about you. They're the ones that should know you best, after all." He shuffled through his papers a little for show. I'm sure he was already well-acquainted with all of the information contained within. "I'd be especially interested in the opinions of your teammates. They're both your friends and your co-workers, and they've had experience with the system themselves."
"They're a little busy right now. Actually, I should be, too." I turned to leave. Pulled from the case or not, I wasn't about to sit idly on my hands while the world went to hell. Stupid as the investigation was, they could do it on their own time, and I could deal with the results of it later.
"I also understand that you're in a relationship with one of your teammates, Agent Maxwell."
That stopped me in my tracks. I spun around and planted my hands on the table. "Leave him alone."
The tension in the room rose several notches, but Sherwood seemed calm in spite of it. Of course, he had two flunkies to save him. Or at least call the medics for him. "He should have the greatest insight into your state of mind."
"He doesn't know anything," I snapped, being both bitter and desperate.
"I find that difficult to believe. You've been together since he joined the agency three years ago. He should know you best of all. We'll also have to see what he knows about the Zero system. He may be found an accomplice to your possession of--"
"Leave him alone," I repeated. Yes, now I was getting close to threatening him. I decided to leave before I could really do something that would give them solid proof of my alleged madness. If their purpose had been to provoke me into proving their point, then they were coming dangerously close to success.
One of the other agents took up a defensive stance in front of the door. I pushed him out of the way. Obviously expecting the worst of me after this inquisition into my sanity, and maybe even before it, the other agent took a more aggressive approach and pulled his gun on me.
It wasn't very smart to pull a gun on an angry, defensive Gundam pilot.
I reacted without a second thought, knocking the gun aside before he had it at the ready. I struck him in the gut, wrenched the gun from his lax grip, and then elbowed him aside. I had the briefest moment of hesitation as I wrestled myself down from turning the gun on Sherwood, who was finally getting up from his seat.
In the space of that heartbeat, the other agent acted. A sharp burst of pain erupted from the point of contact on my lower back and I stumbled. Stun gun, I had time to identify, an errant thought reminding me of the non-lethal weaponry people in the interrogation and enforcement sector often carried in case their charges got out of hand. The current scrambled my higher thoughts, but I didn't need to think much about whipping around drunkenly and striking at him.
My other hand still held the gun. It was automatic that I begin to raise it in my self-defense. Maybe I didn't even do it deliberately. Maybe I was just swinging my arms to keep my balance. But then someone got me again with the stunner, and I was out.
last modified : 5/5/2007 02:55:49 PST