"Hi, Jon," Kirsten Woods greeted him.
He smiled, wondering if there was any point in attempting to flirt with the pretty young CIA agent....and found himself astonished that the thought had even crossed his mind. For a moment....just a split second....he had forgotten about what he looked like....and how people reacted to him.
It was something of a revelation....the fact that he *could* forget.
He swallowed, shelved that line of thought for another time, another day. " 'lo, Kirsten, you wanted to see me?"
"Thanks for coming to talk to me," she answered. "You've been really helpful recently, and I've got a bad one. I need your help, if you can handle it."
"Sure, shoot," he responded.
The CIA is forbidden from operating on American soil, but they can and do keep an eye on things. International threats, like the Sky Raiders, arouse their greatest concerns. Kirsten Woods was an intelligence officer who had the rather complicated job of trying to figure out how to best use CIA resources to combat such threats without stepping on the FBI's toes. Luckily for her, there were heroes, like Jon: powerful, freelance operatives who are free to work in the United States. Kirsten worked closely with many heroes, offering them intelligence on criminal activities and sometimes even asking them to carry out operations. She walked a tightrope of legal technicalities, but she also got the job done.
"I've got some inside information from someone in deep cover in the Sky Raider organization", she told him. "For some reason the Sky Raiders have started targetting Crey Industries. I don't know the details yet.....but I need someone standing by who can handle the Raiders, and I think you may be the person I need. If my informant is right, there is going to be an attack on a Crey office, and I'm afraid it's going to be soon, very soon....I'm just waiting for confirmation and to get an address."
"....Crey...." he said in a strangled voice, his eyes opening wide, his earlier thoughts now forgotten.
She blinked. "Jon? Is something wrong?"
"It's just that..." He stopped, struggling with rising panic, trying to figure out what to say next. Rachel Torres' voice drifted through his mind. It had been a while since he had talked to her last...his most recent phone calls had resulted merely in "no information yet" replies. She had been so adamant that he had to stay as far away from Crey as possible...she had even threatened to drop his missing person's case if he didn't.
"I....I've been told that I have to stay away from Crey. By the police department." He couldn't explain the sensation of panic, even to himself, so he didn't try. His shoulders drooped, he glanced up at her face, a mixture of emotions struggling to express themselves. "Kirsten, I want to, I really do, but..."
She sighed. "Okay, Jon, I understand. I'm disappointed, but you gotta do what you gotta do. I don't want to get you into trouble." She frowned, her eyes unfocused, her mind already moving on to other possibilities. "I'll just have to find someone else." He stood mutely and watched her punching buttons, speaking into her cell, already forgotten, a pallid ghost of himself, transparent, intangible.
He walked back to his apartment in Steel Canyon, feeling helpless and trapped....and useless.
He stared at his cell phone.
He'd been sitting on the edge of the bed in his efficiency, staring at the phone, for nearly an hour.
He'd visited his other contacts, called around the city, but no one had any pending cases, at least, nothing he could handle. "A little later" came from one contact, "after you've picked up a few more skills."
It wasn't like he couldn't do a little freelance work. Hero Corps would always pay him for doing some unscheduled street cleaning.
It wasn't the money.
He couldn't get that image out of his head; Kirsten Woods, busily tapping keys, her face turned away from him, an instant after that look of....disappointment. The look which, for some reason he didn't understand, had cut right through his heart like a knife. Even through the rising panic.
Call her, he told himself. Call Rachel Torres. Explain. She'll understand.
She won't understand. It makes no difference. She's busy. She has other cases she's working on....
She will understand. Just call her.
And if she says no? What then?
Call Lin. She'll know what to do.
He started to press buttons....and stopped.
And hung his head.
Do what Linuial says. He closed his eyes, shuddered. Turn the decision.....the choice.....the responsibility....over to someone else. Anyone else. Anyone at all.
"I can't...." he mouthed, silently. "I can't....what if...."
What if. What if Lin told him to do the job, and Rachel Torres dropped his case. What if he couldn't handle the job, what if his panic couldn't be controlled. What if Rachel's fears were well-founded.....she had a reason for wanting him to stay away from Crey, and he trusted her, trusted her judgement.
Don't do it. You've already told Kirsten that you couldn't. She understood. She was okay with it.
And how long was that going to work? How many times would the name of Crey come up? How many contacts would he have to say "no" to? How much work would dry up....because he developed a reputation as being unreliable?
He knew next to nothing about Crey Industries. All he knew was that a lot of people that he had learned to trust seemed to have a very bad impression of the conglomerate. That....and the unexplainable feelings of.....he could only label it "dread"....that arose every time that name came up in conversation.
Unexplainable. Unjustifiable. Undeniable.
He stared at the phone in his metal hand.....and watched it tremble.
And finally understood that there was no running away any more.
He couldn't turn this one over to someone else. He couldn't hand the responsibility over...for the decision *or* for the job.
He'd known all along that sooner or later he would be faced with this choice.
To back down....again....or to take charge of his own life.
He'd ducked and dodged every time someone had brought up the subject of Crey, refused to even think about it.
You may lose Rachel's help, he told himself.
So be it, was the only reply possible. If she won't continue the search....then I'll have to do it....alone.
He lifted the phone and dialed Kirsten's number. "Kirsten? Jon Smith, here. Have you found anyone yet?" He took a deep breath. "Well, I've changed my mind...."
Copyright terraforming.com, November 26, 2012