Rachel shifted the bag of pads in her hand, lips dropping into a slight frown as she stared at both men.
Playing dumb won’t help my case; he expects me to know everything he’s talked about since arriving. He thinks I’ll make a perfect soldier, or he could be using that tactic to try throwing me off before negotiations. If I mentioned anything about his discussion with Ruth, then he’ll know for sure, but at the same time should I play into that? He holds some of the highest power in the U.S. at the moment; I need to be careful.
General Tom Dallas was an aged man; his bald head and clean-shaven face gave him a serious expression; he put off the hard vibe of a military man, and Rachel knew from his movements that he was well trained. She could tell he had gone through several surgeries, and his body was worn, but his balance and footing were sure. His blue eyes were sharp, sizing her up the moment she came into view, and for his advanced years, his body was toned.
“Lead the way,” she said, setting the pads down by the door. “I assume someone else will be by to pick these up?”
The General took a deep breath, rising to his feet. His fitted dark green jacket was peppered with colors and medals, showing his rank and achievements; he filled out the suit well and stood at least four inches taller than her at the head, but her ears far outstripped him. “Don’t worry about it,” he held out his hand, smile still in place. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Rachel.”
She took his hand, her features pacifying; she met his hard grip. “Let’s save the pleasantries until after you’ve delivered your proposal.” She spoke without bite, but the words cut past the cordial pretense and struck at the matter underneath.
Johnson’s smile dropped, but Tom’s increased, interest alive in his tone. “Strong grip and words; a power play,” he was silent for a moment as he stared into her large light red irises, faint pink petals inside surrounding radiant white halos around the inner deep-red pupil. “You’ve got unique eyes; pretty, but there’s an edge under there that I’ve seen in many trained men.”
Releasing her hand, he turned to the other man. “Johnson, I think that’s everything I need.”
His brown eyes shot a glare in her direction before he saluted, turned, and walked off, disappearing around the left corner. She noticed the faint glow of the sun shining off the opposite building’s reflected glass.
I don’t know if that was the proper play; yes, it was more of a power move, but was it worth Johnson’s first impression? He obviously respects Tom to the highest degree and saw my statement as disrespectful. I can’t worry about his feelings though; my first impression to Tom is what’s important. He already has an image of me from his report, but he’s looking to match it to the actual person.
Turning the opposite way, Tom motioned in the direction. “If you could follow me.”
She fell into step beside him, feeling a slight pressure her black shorts made against the bottom of her tail and how her shirt tickled the furry tip as the mild breeze she generated flared the back. Maybe I should have picked something I could cut a hole in and a shorter shirt…
Her attention was diverted as Tom hummed next to her; walking with Tom was causing a lot of rumors. The apprehension they were generating was picking up as agents whispered among their co-workers.
Tom’s tone was neutral on the surface, but she could sense the slight disdain underneath. “What’s your opinion on the FBI right now?”
Rachel kept pace with the man as he moved toward the staircase instead of an elevator to their left; the wide hallways gave plenty of room to walk, and many of the office blinds were closed, voices heard in most as groups of teams worked to address different issues.
The information itself isn’t likely his main objective; he’s trying to figure out how my mind works and where I’ve been putting my focus. It’s obvious that they aren’t happy with Mythickin or Tom.
“Naturally, the climate here at the FBI is unfavorable toward us; however, we’ve been able to have a decent discussion with some agents.”
“Oh? I assume it was with those two special agents sent to guide you around; what were their names? I believe it was Special Agents Hughes and Bailey.”
She nodded. “Those are their names.”
“Yes,” he mused, rubbing his hairless chin. “I’ve looked at a lot of the Special Agents that were possible candidates for the new department. What do you think about David?”
He’s trying to trip me up; leading the discussion into David could bring up the new department … is he trying to get what information I’ve been able to discover about him? He told Ruth that he didn’t know or trust David, but that entire conversation could have been fabricated for all I know. The files he showed her could have been a script since he already knew about my hearing.
She resisted a frown as her vision caught the files held against Tom’s left side; he opened the door to the staircase, waiting for her to walk through. She paused for him to retake the lead, keeping her passive posture. “I don’t know much about him. He has the respect of many agents within the building, and so far seems fairly neutral. He is cautious of us, but no more than you.”
A smirk lit his left cheek as they moved up to the third level. “I see. Good to know.”
Rachel kept her eyes forward, but she was studying the sound his muscles made as they ascended the stairs; the pain of working her thighs and calves broke some of her concentration every time she lifted her legs.
He discovered something from my answer, but what did I give him? He’s cautious of us, but no more than you … ah, crap; I told him my perception equates their levels of caution, which isn’t wrong. Both of their reactions have been similar, which means he might not be as negative toward Mythickin and Legendkin as Tom initially thought.
Reaching the third floor, Rachel followed Tom quietly as they moved through the halls; he seemed to be lost in thought because he didn’t ask any other questions. Agents were starting to talk about how Tom and her were connected. She listened to several of the conversations, her exasperation building.
The first conversation she listened to was two men that saw them pass through one of the glass office doors.
“Did you see that Mythickin with the soldier in uniform?”
“Yeah, Erin said that a helicopter landed on the roof transporting someone from the army. Did you see the stars on his shoulder and all those medals? I think I saw three or four stars.”
“Why the heck would a four-star General be here? Isn’t there a border crisis right now, and what about the problems happening overseas?”
“Well, he’s with a Mythickin … wait, do you think he knows her?”
“Like what, his family or something? I mean, I guess it’s possible.”
“Seriously, though; what other purpose would a four-star general be here for? She could have been his daughter.”
Could have been? Like I’m not someone’s daughter anymore since I changed?
“Maybe … that would make a lot of sense, though; I mean, she killed all those people and is being protected. She’s not locked up; so, someone’s protecting her.”
Killed rapists, murderers, drug dealers, and sex traffickers, saving thousands, but sure, murdered all those victims…
A group of two male agents and a female office worker caught sight of them as they were walking down the hall; they paused as they passed, watching them turn the corner down a hallway.
“Hey, Ben, did you see that?”
“Yeah, a four-star general; so, what Orlin said was true. Wait, Joy, didn’t you say you saw someone in a military outfit meet with the Assistant Director?”
“That was him,” Joy mumbled. “I remember some of those medals. He went into the office with Johnson.”
Ben seemed stunned. “Wait, Security Specialist Johnson; the Johnson that’s in charge of the Security Division in this branch Johnson?”
The first man scratched the back of his neck as the woman nodded, muttering a curse. “But I guess he would be involved if a four-star general just pops into the facility.”
Her voice began to quiver. “Why this branch? Is he taking the Mythickin with him?”
“I don’t think so,” Ben muttered. “They didn’t have any security with him; heck, Johnson wasn’t even with him. What the heck is going on?”
Joy shifted her weight nervously. “What if the Mythickin really are controlling the administration? The Seattle Vampire could control people; we have that Succubus and Incubus downstairs too … I’m scared this is just a plan to…”
“Woah,” the first man whispered. “Hey, you can’t just jump to conclusions like that; I mean, David’s running the show, right? I trust David, and Assistant Director Kelley’s tough as nails.”
Ben hummed darkly. “I don’t know … Shelly told me she saw a Vampire with the new Mythickin group; a pale skinned girl with fangs and black hair.”
“Crap,” Joy’s muscles tensed; Rachel could barely hear it as they turned another corner. “How the heck are we supposed to know if people are being controlled or not?”
The first man groaned. “Maybe we should look more into it; I’ll go ask around, just in case.”
Tom opened a door, gesturing for her to enter; she filtered out the host of conspiracies and fearful conversations spiraling out of control. This is madness. I can understand why these people are freaking out, but how am I going to handle this? Just this short walk with Tom has made things ten times worse.
Scarlet’s presence is starting to spread pretty fast too; Bree’s dispelling a few conversations she hears and telling them to mind their stations, but it’s not working. With this new wave of people thinking their leaders are being controlled … how the heck do I fix this?
She walked through the door, examining the small interrogation room. She instantly noticed the wire attached to the camera was disconnected in the top right corner. The room had gray concrete walls and no glass separator like she’d seen in the movies. It was just a plain room with a thick metal table and two chairs. There were a few selections of drinks on both sides of the table; there were two water bottles, some vitamin water, and energy drinks.
She took the seat facing the door and waited; it was becoming easier to deal with her pain; the longer she concentrated on the possible threats. The door was thick and dampened her overall hearing slightly when Tom shut it.
“Well,” he breathed out a heavy sigh, “finally alone.” Taking the seat opposite her, he tossed the small stack of folders on the table and rested his arm atop them. “I noticed your ears were twitching every-so-often; is something happening that’s got you agitated?”
Rachel keep the annoyance out of her voice and features. “Why would you assume that is connected to agitation? I have to filter through a lot of conversations; I’m sure you’re aware that I can hear for miles, and there are many reasons why they twitch. Sometimes certain noises are louder than others, something can catch my interest, so I have to refocus my hearing, and there are multitudes of other reasons.”
He huffed with amusement. “I’ll be honest, Rachel; you fascinate me.” Rubbing his bald head, he groaned a tired chuckle. “I’ve met a few Legendkin and Mythickin in the last two days and been briefed on so many incidents and potential threats that I even started to hallucinate from the stress at one point. Luckily, I was able to sleep on the jet ride over here and rest my brain. You’re different than the others, though—more of a maverick.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Rachel smiled, but it soon fell into a tired sigh. “Honestly, it must be hard being the person so many look to.” She shifted positions to pull her glowing white, slightly pink-hued hair over her shoulder, drawing Tom’s eyes to it. She added her own fatigued smile while playing with a lock, vision low as she looked at the soft glow. “I’m rather tired myself; it’s been a hard and long night.
“Being in this position … I’ve had to put on a mask for most people. When I realized the monsters we were dealing with—to rescue Felix, we had to do things that we weren’t proud of, and I know how it must look. To plan for all those dangerous scenarios—trying to save as many people as possible was rough. There were so many obstacles. I can’t help but think—who has lost and who has won? It took some of us all we had to keep composed … some of us broke down into tears, but there were children that needed our help.”
Her eyes widened as she looked into Tom’s eyes. “Crap—it must sound like I’m just complaining, sorry.” She shifted in her chair, rubbing her arm. “We just saved a few thousand people,” her lips fell into a concerned frown. “Our circumstances don’t compare to the pressure you’ve been under with hundreds of millions of people crying for help—the hard decisions you had to make; the citizens that have been changed and those that haven’t are all looking to you for answers and aid. The stress must be overwhelming.”
Tom sat back, fingers rubbing the folder. He kept his poker face, but Rachel could hear his heart rate increase, and his scent turned from nervous to interested. “That was the most I’ve heard you talk since meeting you; good,” he licked his dry lips. “Connecting our circumstances, pulling on being the hero and victim, but painting me in the higher position to try drawing some comradery and feeding into my ego while in the process trying to draw sympathy. Using my stress isn’t a bad play given the obvious position I’m in.
He cursed softly. “The way your body reacted just now was genuine, too; that’s pretty amazing, actually. You’re using real stress and circumstances; instantly adapting to utilize it to manipulate the situation. I bet even Maria wouldn’t be able to detect any sort of lie in that.”
Rachel’s brow furrowed as her ears pulled back a little. “I’m—not lying? I’m telling you the truth; honestly, I think you’re in a very stressful situation.”
Tom nodded, picking up a vitamin water, he unscrewed the lip and took a sip. “Exactly,” he set the bottle beside the folders, tapping the side with his index finger. “You could pass a lie detection test, and any number of interrogatories would be fooled with that kind of skill; heck, even I might have if I didn’t do my research. That level of manipulation isn’t easily taught in a stressful situation, and don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying it’s bad or uncalled for.
“I’m starting to get a better picture of the profile I’ve had working on, but I have to disagree with a few points; you really are a maverick. I don’t quite know what you’re thinking, but there is a method to it; I could see myself doing something similar in your position if I had your sensory abilities. It’s smart, but not the best play if you had more information, but—I trust you’ll adapt as I move forward like any good maverick.”
Rachel resisted swallowing as she felt this man’s presence increase; she was beginning to focus more on him than her surroundings. He’s not calling me out to drop my mask, but to let me know that he’s expecting even more from me. There’s already a profile he has of me, but he’s not set with that information, but using it as a foundation and altering it with our interaction. Manipulating him won’t be nearly as easy as Bree and Serah; he’s looking for information to add to an already present issue, though.
He’s only here to see if I can be a possible solution to those problems; he doesn’t care about my circumstances, but they can be used for his own manipulations. He really does have most the cards; he’s brilliant … I don’t know how this is going to end. I need to find more leverage.
He’s still nervous by his scent, but he’s in complete control, and it doesn’t seem like he’s insecure in the least … he’s looking forward to how this plays out. This man is in a position to end not just my life, but the others as well. What do I do if he uses them as leverage or even my parents? I don’t fully understand what he even wants from me … everything with Ruth was so vague. It could be for whatever was in that first file, but he said that wasn’t the main issue, and that could have been a ploy in itself. I don’t know what angle to take with him…
“Okay,” Rachel closed her eyes while holding her hands against her stomach; her tail twitched as she took a deep breath and let it out in a slow stream. Something started to burn in her chest; the pulse in her veins increased as she felt an odd sense of anticipation shoot down her arms, and a bizarre pressure compressed her throat.
Does danger get me high now? I have secrets I know I can’t tell him, but—for some reason, my blood’s getting hot as he talks, and the possibility of those secrets getting out … c’mon! Keep your grip—but why can I taste it … how much do I invest? It’s different than the thrilling sensation with Conner; this is a slow burn that makes my skin tingle and tail twitch with electricity. Do I love playing with fire now? If I take this route, then I’ll be riding an edge I can’t come back from, but there’s nowhere I can run … and my legs are tensing at that prospect.
Her relaxed posture returned as she opened her eyes and smiled. “Where do we begin?”
He folded his legs, sitting more comfortably. “Tell me, what are people saying? I noticed the looks and tense posture of the people we passed.”
She hummed darkly, but her smile was still in place. “Rumors are flying around, naturally. However, I didn’t expect walking with you to make our image even worse than the documented scenes that are flooding in. I did expect people to draw a few negative connections, but nothing like what’s being spread.
“I can guess that you’ve already concluded that I’m doing my best to survive; there’s a storm of opinions flying around, and most of it is against Mythickin—the race I was forced to become. There are a few voices of reason inside the chaos; however, fear is powerful, and since I’ve changed, it’s become more and more apparent that it’s a wildfire.
“There are a few poisonous trains of thought running through FBI gossip, but public opinion is mostly positive with the testimonials of those we rescued. The one I’m most concerned about is the rumor that Mythickin and Legendkin have already compromised the government.
“More specifically, the rumor that Scarlet is manipulating Assistant Director Kelley, Special Agent David, and you; however, there is talk about Maëlle the Succubus and Kyle the Incubus doing the manipulations. They’re conflating the abilities of Jael, the Seattle Vampire, with Scarlet. There are a few agents and office workers that are secretly trying to do their own investigation into the matter—even one group that’s currently moving closer to Carter’s mindset in the building across from us.”
Tom scratched his black, graying eyebrows, looking at the table as he muttered a soft curse. “I expected that, but I didn’t think it would catch on this soon. If I remember correctly, Carter is the man that wanted to kill Scarlet because he thought she was a threat to humanity; it could also be rooted deeper with her involvement in killing his brother. It was us being seen together that sparked this discussion about the government being compromised, wasn’t it?”
Rachel shrugged. “It didn’t help, most of the conversations leading that way start with us being seen together and fear of the Seattle Massacre.”
Tom’s vision moved to the corner of the room, sucking on his lower lip; they sat in silence for a minute. Rachel opened one of the vitamin waters and took a sip before setting it back down. Raspberry? It tastes different, though … more artificial?
Her attention shot back to Tom as he reached into his jacket; he produced a phone and pen. Taking out a folder from the bottom of the stack, he opened it, revealing blank pieces of paper. “Could you write down the names, locations, and general conversation topic that’s concerning?”
Interesting direction. This is mutually beneficial to both of us; he needs the military and government to be trusted; if people in power or even a large enough group start fearing they’re compromised, then we’ll devolve into chaos again. I can see some backlash from this, though.
“I could, but if you started systematically dismantling the groups that are spreading the rumors, wouldn’t that play into the theory that you’re compromised and someone is organizing a strategic assault against that train of thought? It could just make everything escalate, pushing people to follow Carter’s actions.”
A smile lit Tom’s cheeks. “That’s a good observation, but I’m not that short-sighted. It will be handled appropriately and won’t be so flashy.”
“I don’t think you are short-sighted,” Rachel hummed softly, “but you can understand my hesitation. Our reputation is already bad in this FBI branch, and I don’t want to contribute to it getting worse.”
Tom nodded. “Yes, but you should be able to see why this is important to be buttoned-up quickly. Think about how people’s minds react; people aren’t prone to logic when they fear something, especially when they fear something they can disconnect from being human.
“The moment they don’t agree with a superior’s orders, they’ll construct some excuse that they’re being controlled and justify making further moves outside their jurisdiction. The dominoes falling in this scenario are very dangerous.”
Rachel nibbled on the inside of her lip for a moment, ears twitching slightly as she heard one of the groups talking about the military being compromised after the Seattle Incident; they’d just brought in a new person, trying to convince them that this could be a real threat. “I can see your point … alright, I’ll write down what I know.”
Taking the paper, she increased her speed to hasten the process, unable to resist a wince as her muscles cried out; however, Tom’s focus was centered on her blurred hand, missing the short break in her composure.
After a minute of compiling the list, Rachel dropped the pencil and pushed the papers across to him; she pulled her hands under the table, hiding them. She rubbed the back as her nerves burned, flexing her fingers.
“Efficient,” Tom muttered, examining the list. “It’s bigger than I expected.” He took a picture of the pages with his phone, fingers skidding across the screen as he sent the text.
Finished, he turned the phone upside down and smiled at her. “Consider me impressed; the details your mind retained and the speed you were able to express them is a nice surprise. You exceeded my expectations.”
“I’m not trying to please you like a trained puppy,” Rachel said, tone neutral. “Everybody’s got their problems, and this happens to fall in line with mine. I’ve learned how fast life can be compromised and the endless consequences that can spark. It was mutually beneficial to both of us.” She heard Ruth’s phone vibrate; she pulled it out and after a few seconds muttered a tired curse.
“Of course,” Tom chuckled, leaning back, he rested his left hand on the chair’s armrest. “No, you’re not a puppy; your mind alone is a hidden dragon that’s adapting to survive. These rumors are mild compared to the potential threat I can see in you.”
He swallowed nervously, but his smile didn’t falter. “You can be an incredible friend or deadly enemy … mark my words, Rachel, given time and experience, your mind will develop into your most powerful weapon, not those fists.”
Rachel stayed silent and pleasantly composed through his declaration, but she was close to using Emotional Detachment to repress the burning excitement inside from overflowing; her pain was all but forgotten. That statement paints me as a monster, yet why do I feel such a rush from it? I want this to continue … what does he have on me? Will he try to force me? How can I maneuver around it? Am I insane inside because this feels too good to be healthy?
Do I have a skill or passive that’s making this so exciting … Lunar Pride, again. Why didn’t it tell me about this function of Lunar Pride before? I was only asking about why I was having a hard time manipulating Fiona, Scarlet, and Maria; I probably need to ask more specific questions to get more specific answers.
This shows that each skill is a lot more complicated than I thought. That’s so interesting, though; Lunar Hare are drawn to challenges. All the rumors were just annoying because it wasn’t a challenge issued by an individual, but only circumstances unfolding, but this conversation is a direct challenge to me. This system is very minimalistic on information, but that just makes me eager to sit down and figure it all out with the others … I’ve changed so much.
He paused for a moment before letting go of a low groan, massaging his neck with a broad smile. “Now that the appetizer is done, why don’t we move to the main course?”
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