We were assigned our names in secret. Each of us got a little manilla envelope with the three-sided Freelancer symbol on it and our names inside, along with the name of the program, its objectives, and its security codes. From the beginning I didn't understand why we were called Freelancers. What were we supposed to be free from? There was an oversight committee for us just like there was for any UNSC project. The name separated us from the others. There were others: the simulation troopers, or the Freelancer corps. Usually, those people would be called the control group.
I always just thought that 'freelancer' sounded like it implied we couldn't get work anywhere else. Either that, or the army was a prison, and we'd escaped. Free. Yeah, right.
The thick paper with my name on it shuffled a bit as I pulled it out. There was a header with the symbol, some objectives and pass codes, and my name. Agent Connecticut. I slid the paper back into the envelope.
It was our first day. Everyone was together. We were learning our names. People milled around the room, just talking.
"I'm New York. Try that out. New Yo-o-ork." He stretched the word, playing with it like a musician. "Hey man. I'm New York."
"Ah, I'm Washington. Agent Washington." David sounded cornered, but then, he often did.
Connecticut. I tried it out under my breath. It was too long. They were all long, maybe good on paper but no good for people.
Somebody with a deep voice spoke behind me, and I jumped. The guy said, "Hmm, well, excuse me, miss. This is a state, is it?"
I turned around. "Me?"
"Yes, if it's all right. Are they all states?" This man blustered without trying. His white beard prevented any attitude except bluster. He looked too old to be a foot soldier. His accent was overwhelmingly, almost humorously British.
"Yeah," I muttered. "They're all states."
"Hmm." His mustache fluttered. "How quaint."
I looked around for someone else to talk to. The New York guy was telling his name to a red-haired woman who didn't look nearly as impressed with him as he was with himself.
The British man asked, "And where is Wyoming?"
I said, "I don't know."
There were two others in front of me, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, looking at one another. The woman was scowling and the man trying to shrug it off and console her at the same time. They both had really light features: blonde hair, very blue eyes. They could have been twins. Wyoming kept waiting.
I turned back to him. He was the only one there was to talk to. "Wyoming's somewhere in the middle. Near the Great Lakes or something, you know where that is?"
"I do believe so."
We drifted apart. I wanted somewhere else to go, somewhere quiet. When I headed back to the big, dormitory-style barracks where we had left our stuff in a hurry before going to the briefing, Wyoming followed me like a lonely dog. Another man nearly bumped into his shoulder as they both headed into the hallway. The new guy had blonde hair and a doughier face than either of the twins.
He held out a hand to Wyoming. "Hi. Utah."
"Hello." Wyoming shook with the last half of his fingers, as if he was too clean for human contact.
Utah did not seem to be bothered. "I think we're assigned to the same room."
Utah nodded enthusiastically.
At the common room they separated. I ducked into my room to move my backpack off the bed and smooth the navy blue sheets. Looking over, I could see that my roommate had already carefully stacked her bags by her locker. There wasn't space between the wall and the bed to store anything at the foot like we did in my last posting, but we also had enough room to fit four people between the beds, and that was nice.
When I came out, Wyoming and Utah were talking near the couch, and the actual American immediately turned toward me. "Where did you say Wyoming was?"
"It's almost on the west coast, next to Idaho and California."
So I was wrong. I bit my lip. "Now we know."
Wyoming was investigating the coffee maker, his broad back bent over the table. The coffeemaker looked unusually domestic and mundane inside this spaceship where we were going to be issued powered armor. Filters and a can of grinds sat next to the machine, and Wyoming seemed to be digging around behind them. I wondered if the Director had put this stuff here specifically to make us feel at home.
Utah was wearing a button-down blazer over a white shirt. He older over than me and David, I mean Washington, but not nearly as old as Wyoming.
Utah said, "What state did you get?"
I crossed my arms. "Connecticut. And I know where that is, Utah."
He nodded and backed off in an entirely noncommittal way. I was beginning to think that this blank-faced exterior hid someone who wasn't afraid to take risks. One of those risks just happened to be finding out exactly how much attitude he could give someone.
I wasn't going to let him have any victory. "Are you from your state?"
"No. I don't think we're supposed to be." His attention wavered. "What are you doing, Wyoming?"
"I could do with a cup of tea." The older Freelancer turned around empty-handed. Instead of, or perhaps along with, making the statement seem ridiculous, his accent almost made it sound more appropriate to him.
I said, "I don't think there is any."
"Nah, old chap." Utah moved around the side of the table. "It's lucky that they gave us the coffee. I'm going back to that other room. I'll tell someone to let you know if we get orders before you come back."
"The ship's computer will tell us," I said. Obviously. FLYSS had been dogging us all so far. It wasn't unusual for a ship to host a dumb AI, but some of us thought FLYSS was smart just from the way she bantered.
Utah left without a flourish, and there I was with Wyoming.
I said, "Sorry about the tea."
He arranged his hands into a complicated wring that ended up in something like a clasp for prayer. "It's no trouble, Miss Connecticut."
"So, are you new to the UNSC, or..." I thought maybe he had been in a British national army before this, although it would be strange to go straight from Earth to up here.
"I have been on the force for twenty years." His attitude was all cocky, and that didn't change when I looked at him with surprise. He just looked down at me. "The first thing you do in a new posting is find out exactly how they treat you. One can get a surprising amount of information about that from their tea."
"Can you." I folded my arms, not impressed. Or not in the mood to be impressed. After Utah, if this guy was going to try to pull some Sherlock Holmes crap to show how smart he was I was going to punch him. Or go back to the other room and take my chances with New York.
"If a superior officer provides good tea, it shows that he cares about the welfare of his agents. It also shows that he is wealthy and has enough clout to get good supplies. In short, he likes us. I find that important information."
"So the Director...doesn't like us." We'd only seen him one so far, standing in an accidental shadow and giving a clearly rehearsed speech.
"Unlikely, unlikely. He just did not think. I am simply used to...different comforts."
Wyoming was still stiff-upper-lip-ing about the lack of tea, but I thought about the Director. He was...odd. It just wasn't right to have one person having so much power but being so distant. That's not how the army usually worked. We didn't get bossed around by Directors who wouldn't tell us what they were directing. If this was a slicing op, of course, there'd be a computer scientist in charge. I'm far from unwilling to work for a scientist. But this guy? "What are his credentials?"
"I am not sure." Wyoming folded his arms and looked confused.
"And he wants to take away our names. Huh." I scowled.
And I thought about that. The Director was going to turn David into Washington and me into Connecticut. What long, clumsy names. I wanted to make mine easier, and I wanted to reclaim it. It was going to be my name, after all, and everyone would know me as that and nothing else.
Connecticut. How do you shorten that? Conn? C? Connie?
That would work. It was a cute name. It was a real name too, one thing that the Director had taken away that I could take back. It was better than Wyoming and whatever nickname was going to be attached to him.
I turned to head back into the other room, and looked over my shoulder. "Call me Connie."
"All right, Connie, my girl." Wyoming sounded confused, like he wasn't sure whether every American called Connecticut 'Connie' regularly.
I left him there.
A/N: This is part of my "CT talks to everyone" series. Including tea in Wyoming's installment was Sylvan-Sapphire's idea. In this fic I assume that CT and Wash knew each other before the program, but I'm not sure if that's permanent headcanon or not.