approx 1800 words, the first scene of a suspenseful thriller about a field agent blinded on her first mission, and her journey toward avenging the death of her training partner in the same event.
— This example may not be exactly the same as the final version (or the first version; amended 26Nov2019), so if you have comments or questions, I’m happy to hear them. Enjoy!
What Safi didn’t understand was breathing. The last year — and now — she broke breath every day, despite her best efforts. Why?
If the Agency knew anything of her post-exit strategy they’d lock her up. They didn’t, at least, nothing was noted in her files the last time she hacked into the psych IT compartment to see her assessments
Why couldn’t Safi have the dog for the exit debrief? ‘No support personnel to accompany’ — Bunny couldn’t count as personnel, could he? A blind-assistance dog, not fully accredited as a guide dog, but he couldn’t leak their secrets, couldn’t talk out of turn. Okay, he did a lot of talking for a dog, and his farts were about to be classified a secret weapon, but his presence created a sense of solidness to the world, a kinetic energy that helped her maintain the outer façade of calm.
“Your Case Officer will be …” Base One’s voice echoed from the flat white walls and low ceiling that confined the conference room. The table creaked when his knee against the underside of the table. Two pens scattered across the surface. The swish of boots on the hard surface, feet spread wide, and the rattle stopped.
The conference table in the assessment room was too low. Or he was too tall. It was hard to tell how tall a person was when they sat. It was too high for her and she’d set the chair to it’s lowest to ensure she wouldn’t swing her feet like a little kid. Yes, he hated it, and it might be fun, but it wouldn’t break his famous iron stare. To Safi’s limited vision, everyone had grey eyes. Iron grey, silver grey, ash grey. Or black. Coal black, night black, dead black.
The name he ground out wasn’t someone Safi knew. And didn’t care. The sooner she was processed out, the better. Maybe one day, she’d forget the last five years. The best years of her life, her dream job.
Until Thom was murdered.
Today was the first anniversary of that event. Would she forget it, learn to unsee it every time she tried to sleep?
“You’ll be escorted to the Test Scheduler …”
His voice droned against her skin like a monster mosquito.
Test Scheduler. What a stupid title. Eddie Hunter. Eddie the Lip. Eddie the nano-tech guru, second-in-charge to Dr Stanly Bender. A dick Doc, like many she’d known. The big-picture guy. Eddie, though. She’d miss Eddie. He treated her as a normal person, even when she ran into walls and doors and cupboards when testing the new high-tech glass eye. His crudeness and the jokes that came out when Bunny dropped his stinkers or answered back with little woofs when Eddie asked Safi questions.
The pain from the rubs above her ears burned. She pushed the heavy black glasses up her nose, blinked until the lenses adjusted to the lighting, clarified the shape of the room into lines and angles of blacks and greys. She’d miss the effect of her prototype eye and the e-link to the glasses. The tech that allowed her to see more than a smudge of muddied bubble shapes that was the left-over vision in her left eye.
The glasses were heavy. Kept slipping. Caused blisters on her ears. The headaches weren’t too bad. A small price to pay for some visual effect. As part of the exit, she’d sign it back into Eddie’s care, return to bouncing off walls with a cold bit of glass in her empty socket and glasses that hid the ugliness of her sightless visage.
Didn’t people understand that she heard every intake of shocked breath when they looked into her face? Not for much longer.
“Of course, you’ll also be allocated a handler to continue with the dog …”
Would Bunny be the difference between independence and … Safi clamped her teeth together. She hadn’t wanted the dog. Bunny couldn’t help her with so many things. Daylight and electronic light. Colour coordination. Blending with the crowd. Illusions, like the wall behind Base One. Looked like windows, gave an impression of a few treetops outside those windows. All fake. The fake windows, fake lighting, fake shapes, made it look like the room was above ground. Those representations had no feel, no sense of space. No emptiness between things. She didn’t need the dog for that.
The weight of being three levels underground left a bruise on her perceptions, and she wanted to get outside. Bunny by her side now would demonstrate their care for her well-being. She needed a physical connection with another living being to alleviate the sense of confinement. The dog understood. Only the dog.
Why was it taking so long? The previous Base One would have said to read the document, or had it read to her by his assistant, and given it to her to sign in his presence. He was a rapid-fire, action-oriented leader. The difference was as stark as the moment that broke her life into two parts.
Before the bomb.
The new Base One droned on, his voice a monotone of rules and regs and warnings about what she could and couldn’t do — mainly couldn’t do — once she was medically released from the Agency.
Just hand the form over, bud. Safi almost chuckled. That word was the reason Bunny wasn’t here. His alert word.
The drone continued. Safi couldn’t wait to get out of the place. All the gumph about the Secrets Act, rules, regulations and bullshit — she was useless and Thom was dead, so what did any of it matter? She’d sign it all, keep their stupid secrets. Until the end. Not long to wait for that.
She watched his hands as they stabbed at each point on the long, long list of conditions she had to sign against before being allowed to leave.
The Secrets Act — how many times did he need to mention it? Safi knew what it was. The day she’d signed her name on that line was the day her life felt complete. And now it held her locked into non-disclosure of so much of her experience — fifty years from today before she could apply for permission to even speak of her job with the Agency — meant she was a non-entity in terms of job prospects, even if she wasn’t blind. And scarred. Another reason she liked Eddie.
“… the guards will escort you to your previous work-station where you can ask them to box up your personal items,” which meant they’d pull apart every single thing she owned, “… and then take you to the public entrance, where you’ll be asked to hand over your access card …” yeah, yeah, get on with it. “… the signature on each section related to the Secrets Act to ensure …” blah, blah, blah. Was that thirteen mentions, now?
The cold room echoed with his dull tone, reflected back from the fake windows, the metal-based paint that stopped intrusion by eDevices, the rubberised floor that was supposed to act as a barrier against intrusive tools and techniques. Safi scratched her nose, pushed the glasses further up the bridge.
Had anyone considered the problems a small nose created for large, heavy glasses.
The glass eye itched. The connectivity to the glasses gave her some vision, pixellated geometrics where the normal view would be rounded. It would improve. If she was granted approval to continue to use them. Maybe she’d contact Eddie once she was disengaged, see if his interest in furthering the tech could be piqued. Unlikely.
Did he mention Eddie again? She ran through the sonorous drone of his previous words to find the bits that clicked into her memory. Yes. She had to hand the prototype back to the lab, wait for approval, go onto the waiting list for further assessment and privileges.
Just to be able to see.
Safi wanted it to be over.
The metal pen against her wrist startled her. She gasped.
“Ms Lomas.” He swooshed the open folio across the surface of the table and tapped the pen on her hand.
It was a lapse. Safi had to maintain some form of professionalism until she was signed out. Marched out. Dismissed. She slid her fingers around the pen, leaned over the pages and felt for the tags that marked the places she needed to sign.
The door whooshed open behind her. Safi jumped, dropped the pen, scattered pages across the surface of the desk.
“What is it?” Base One stood up and beckoned whoever it was.
“Priority One, Sir!” The SigInt courier saluted, marched up to the table and handed over a sealed signal.
Base One shooed the courier out, waited until the secure locks double-clicked, top and bottom; the bio-sec panel pinged twice to indicate secure status was reset. He cut the seal and spread the signal open with a wipe of his hand.
The air hummed with heavy breathing from the vent above Safi. Sweat slid down her back, raised the hackles on her neck. She shuffled the papers back into the folio, groped over the desk for the pens, snuck a look at the contents of the signal on the other side of the wide table.
Message: Rafe Bajana, insert code B723-0-1918-0-Sec-Class ####.
How was that rat still infesting this world?
“Is there something wrong, Ms Lomas?”
“It’s the air-conditioning, sir, or the lights. I’m not used to the bright whites.”
“You may leave, Ms Lomas, as soon as you sign the forms. Stay in touch with the Personnel Office, and remember your status. You are assigned to this agency until such time as cleared for other purposes. You must maintain proper security, not travel to places of risk, nor to any zone or region where your role or person could be used to any detriment. You must not leave the country, change address or phone number, or fail to advise of your movements and whereabouts — at all times. You signed the Official Secrets Act. One breach is jail-time, if you’re lucky. Understood?”
“Yes, sir.” Safi lowered her eyelids against the sudden flare of the desk-lamp. Blinked rapidly to align the eye to the right distance to focus on the characters on the signal. She ignored the smudged effect at the top, squinted until the substance of the message block clarified.
Two events confirmed. Location unknown. Req assist on Comms-Code: A723-0-1819-1A Sec-Class ####.
Why was the Sec-Class removed?
Why was Base One still the handler for Rafe after she’d given the witness report?
“Are you still here, Ms Lomas?”
“Do you have something to add?” He glanced at the folder. “Do you want me to rearrange the pages — have you signed them?” He grabbed the folder and spun it around. “You need to sign them.”
“Sir,” she pushed the pens back at him, “I wish to lodge an appeal against dismissal.”