This is version two of the story Secrets; I forgot a few things in the first version, including the ever-important disclaimer. Can I just add, thank you so much to willwrite4fics. The advice was really appreciated.
Disclaimer: I do not own G. I. Joe, nor any trademark names in this story. I do own Megan Catrenski and any OCs that may appear, unless stated otherwise.
The leader of a top secret military unit thought I was a head-case.
Whatever. He wasn't the first.
He wasn't the last, either, as a matter of fact: the moment I stepped into that conference room, eyes boggled, jaws dropped. I ignored them.
"This is Megan Catrenski," the blonde guy – Hauser – announced. "She's agreed to analyse the footage of the interviews for us."
"Hi." I made myself smile, and reconsidered the wisdom of wearing jeans. Though it probably wasn't the jeans, really. It was probably the nose stud. Or the two rings nestled together in my left eyebrow. Maybe it was the hair: electric blue, short as any of these peoples' on the sides, with a long fringe dropping over my right eye. Could be the combat boots or the death metal T-shirt I was wearing.
I shrugged these thoughts away easily. I didn't care what these people thought. No matter what I wore, my skills are rare enough that people will always hire me for them. This wasn't the first top secret outfit that had gotten in touch.
I read faces. Any idiot off the street could guess what someone was feeling, but only this idiot could tell you with certainty what someone was thinking. A lot of requests for my services came from the military and government. Like I said, this wasn't the first top secret outfit that had gotten in touch.
"So you have video footage?" I raised an eyebrow at the guy seated before a laptop, who had clearly forgotten why I was here. He jumped and opened the computer, spent a few moments doing clever wireless things, and finally brandished a remote.
A screen rolled down, a projector on the roof flickered to life, and the footage began playing. A man, sitting at a table, in what could only be an interrogation room. The camera had been trained onto his face; the interviewer couldn't be seen.
The man was sweating heavily, his eyes were darting from side to side, and he couldn't stop fidgeting. My own eyes narrowed.
"Look," he said, running his hands over his hair. "If I talk to you people, I'm a target, alright? Bleeeeeeeeeeeeep will send Bleeeeeep after me, right?"
"Pause," I called, irritated, to the guy with the remote. As the image onscreen froze, I turned to give Hauser my best why-did-you-think-this-was-a-good-idea look. "You censored it?"
"This is sensitive information," he said, not looking even a little bit sorry.
I stared at him for a moment. Doubt, condescension, impatience. He didn't think I could do it. I gave him a sudden, sweet smile. "That's fine. I read lips. I know what they're saying anyway. You can play it again now." I turned my back on the smug jerk and folded my arms, watching the interrogation play out.
It only lasted for forty-five minutes. I didn't say another word the whole way through, and nor did anyone else. The instant the lights flicked back on, an older African-American man seated next to Hauser leaned back and looked at me expectantly. "So is he reliable? Can we trust his information?"
I shook my head. "The guy's a junkie. You can't trust anything he says as far as you could throw him."
"Please explain." Hauser's tone was marginally more polite that time.
"He's in withdrawal," I said patiently. "He believes everything he says, but everything he says is just what he remembers from when he was high. So he could have real information, or he could be parroting what he was fed along with the heroin. You can't use any of his information unless it's independently verified."
I watched them trade glances, wondering if I ought to mention what was on my mind. "The guy who conducted the interview," I began slowly. They immediately switched their attention back to me. "How well do you know him?"
"Why do you ask?" Hauser asked evasively.
Not well, then. "Because he was very careful to lead your defector away from certain lines of conversation. Sometimes the defector had something else to say and your guy cut him off." I shrugged. "Just a thought."
"So in your opinion –" Hauser pushed.
"In my opinion your defector is worthless and your interviewer is dangerous. You want a report?" My tone was bordering on sarcastic.
"No thank you," Hauser said icily, getting to his feet. I jumped up as well, didn't shake the hand he offered me, and followed him out the door. They had given me a driver to ferry me to the airport, and paid for a business-class ticket. Kind of them, especially when they could have just emailed me that video and saved us all the time and expense.
The driver opened the door for me, and drove to the airport very slowly at first. Finally I rolled my eyes, leaned forwards and said impatiently, "This is really the fastest we can go?"
He was startled. Then a big grin spread over his face and he said, "No ma'am!" and pressed the accelerator down.
The ride became a lot more interesting very, very quickly.
When I climbed out of the car, I was smiling. My driver had jumped out to open my door again, and I threw him a lazy salute. He smiled at me and saluted back.
I was early for my flight, but I had brought reading material. A few bored business men waiting for flights of their own had had a good look when I sat down, but the moment I pulled out the complete works of William Shakespeare, their eyes glazed over and they stopped ogling me and went back to their financial papers.
The chair opposite me creaked as someone settled into it. I glanced up, registered the suit, the belly, the male pattern baldness, and went back to Shakespeare.
"Excuse me," he said, politely enough, "but do you know the time?"
"No watch, sorry," I said, not looking up.
"I'm going to L.A. What about you?"
I turned the page and didn't answer. I was going to Los Angeles, and I just knew, the way my luck was liable to go, that I would be seated next to the one guy in the world who wasn't put off by blue hair, facial piercings and a T-shirt with the word 'horror' on it no fewer than seven times.
Maybe he got the message, for he leaned back and fell silent.
"I like your shirt. What band is that?"
Maybe not. I closed my book, picked up my bag and moved down the row of seats. The man looked hurt. I gave him a hard-eyed stared and picked my book up again.
There was movement and the chair next to me protested. It wasn't my pain-in-the-rear; he was still sitting there looking wounded. This was a whole new contender for the title of Most Likely Justified-Homicide-Victim. I lowered my head and tried to pretend I was invisible.
"Alice!" the new guy exclaimed, grabbing my arm. "How long has it been?"
I can't stand people touching me. I never have and I doubt I ever will. So, I dropped my book, clenched my fists and prepared to rip into this guy.
Those plans were all aborted when I saw the gun pointed at my side.
It was hidden behind a briefcase propped up in Jerk B's lap. I couldn't be sure, but from the way Jerk A was holding his coat, there was probably another one in play as well.
Guy B let go of my arm. "Stand," he said, still smiling at me. "Look happy. I'm an old friend you just ran into. We're going to get coffee."
"I don't do happy," I snarled quietly.
"Fake it. If you don't my friend will shoot a civilian."
Damn it, he wasn't kidding. I fixed a huge grin onto my face and stood up.
"Good girl. Head over towards the shop on my left. You know what happens if you don't..." His friend's overcoat twitched meaningfully.
I did as I was told, going as slowly as I dared, still smiling. Jerk B walked next to me the whole time, one hand on my back to guide me.
The shop on the left was tucked in a corner, away from the crowds, and didn't have a single customer in it. The woman at the counter didn't blink an eyelid as we walked to the back and passed through a grey door into a maintenance corridor.
The instant we were out of sight, I dropped my bag and threw myself at Jerk B, going straight for the eyes. There were two of them, though, and they – like a lot of people over the age of sixteen – were a lot bigger, so it wasn't long before a thick arm wrapped itself around my throat and lifted me off. I didn't make it easy: I was kicking and thrashing and yelling like a banshee. The guy holding me used his free hand to grab my right wrist and straighten my arm out. His friend, who, I was happy to note, was bleeding from long scratches on his face, pulled out a syringe. Once I saw that I began struggling even harder.
There was a prick in my arm, just as the door leading to the shop burst open. The guy half-throttling me took one look, dropped me and ran. His friend was right behind him.
I landed on my hands and knees, and sat back, but my head was spinning and suddenly the corridor looked very odd. It took me a moment to realise I was now laying on my side, watching as my driver, a pretty redhead, a guy built like a tank and some idiot wearing a ski mask appeared on the scene.
Tank-guy and Mr. Mask took off after my would-be abductors. The redhead knelt next to me. I couldn't see my driver. She was saying something, but my eyes wouldn't stay open.
The last thing I saw before I passed out was a crossbow holstered on the woman's hip. My last thought was What the hell?