You Are Now Entering Freelancer City
Murphy’s Fifth Law: If anything just cannot go wrong, it will anyway.
Louisiana kept her back straight, her hands clasped behind her back, and completely silent, like the rest of her team, as the Director reviewed the information on the data-stick. Her ribs were screaming at her to relax her position, and maybe even (albeit grudgingly) seek medical help, but she and the others had yet to be dismissed. They had been in the same position on the bridge for several minutes and that didn’t seem as if it’d be changing any time soon.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Washington ease his legs further apart in an effort to distribute his weight more evenly and get semi-comfortable.
After another minute or two, the Director cleared his throat and turned toward their line of five. “You have done well,” he began. “This information will be invaluable in the coming war effort.”
“However,” he continued, his voice turning cold. “While the manner in which this information was recovered is questionable, it is not the problem—the results of the rather unorthodox methods used in retrieving it are.”
Oh, fuck, the diminutive Freelancer thought. She definitely knew where this was going. Sure enough--
“Agent Louisiana!” The Director barked, and the agent in question took one cautious (read: hesitant) step forward. “Please explain to me”--Eyes straight ahead like a good little soldier, she thought to herself—“how an agent of your caliber”--Back straight, don’t slouch, Louisiana scolded as she felt her posture begin to slump—“managed not only to not retrieve the objective within the required guidelines”--Normal breaths, keep your breathing even. Don’t look intimidated—“but to alert almost every soldier within three city blocks to your presence!”
The silver Freelancer had to take a deep, calming breath as a myriad of none-too-friendly replies leapt to the tip of her tongue. Now wasn’t any time to get into a pissing contest, though. Now was the time to sit down, shut the fuck up, and pay attention. Now was the time to actually act like the soldier she was and not like a whiny, contrary child who refused to treat her superior with respect. I am not going to let Cisco win, Louisiana resolved.
Her eyes darted over her teammates—Maine looked as unaffected as ever; Wyoming’s body language gave away his interest in the proceedings; Washington was subtly edging away from her and the Director, as he if thought a bomb might go off near them; but it was York who caught her attention. His posture was stiff and his shoulders were slowly climbing toward his ears the longer she refrained from answering, as if he were bracing himself for a scolding by proxy since, as experience had taught him, she wasn’t going to take it seriously.
It took Louisiana a microsecond to figure out why: He thought she was going to mouth off to Director Church. He thought that she was going to say or do something to (best case scenario) get herself into deep shit and (worst case scenario) drag the rest of them down with her. Well, fuck.
That decided it then, didn’t it?
Louisiana cleared her throat before she spoke, her voice appropriately respectful. “I take full responsibility for my actions, sir.”
She saw York, who had apparently been searching for the answers to the universe in the stainless steel of the floor, jerk his head up at that statement and stare. However, Louisiana ignored his obvious reaction to her words and continued.
“Our original plan was rendered inadequate and I resorted to a… less conventional method of procuring the objective, believing that I would be able to complete the mission that way.”
“It appears you were mistaken,” Director Church interjected, frostily.
“Yessir,” she answered, falling back into her obedient-soldier role with little resistance, hanging her head and looking suitably bashful. “There were several variables that I simple didn’t account for before entering the building. I believe that, after retrieving the data, I inadvertently tripped some kind of sensor, alerting security to my intrusion.”
Bullshit, Louisiana thought. Whoever was pretending to be me to Selene triggered the alarms on purpose. For whatever reason…
Though he showed no outward sign of surprise, Louisiana knew that the Director was… intrigued by her sudden attitude shift toward him, if nothing else. He scrutinized her for ten long seconds before giving a short nod and angling his body to include the rest of the team.
Louisiana stepped back into line as he began to speak again.
“As I said, despite the unfortunate repercussions, the mission was completed to my satisfaction and I am sure that all of your performances will be reflected in your ranking.”
The young Freelancer winced at his pointed tone and ignored the Counselor, who was fiddling with a handheld computer behind Director Church, as well as numbers on the leader-board changing.
“Very well,” he continued. “You are all dismissed.”
Everyone in the line saluted the Director and began filing out of the room—all except for Louisiana. She didn’t move from her position and waited for her superior to finish speaking in low tones with the Counselor.
Louisiana saw movement out of the corner of her eye and turned her head to see York, who had been lingering at the doors and seemed to want to speak with her, and Carolina approaching him. The silver-clad agent tore her gaze away from the two lovebirds when she saw the Counselor heading out that way and heard a pointed, “Yes, Agent Louisiana?”
The soldier in her was quickly reasserting itself and Louisiana found her posture straightened once again (internal bleeding be damned, evidently) and gave the Director a salute—a proper one, not the mocking two-fingered salutes she was prone to—as well as a “Permission to speak, sir” for good measure.
Again, she felt like an amoeba under a microscope as he surveyed her, and had to force herself not to squirm. He gave a sharp nod after a few seconds.
Louisiana opened her mouth to speak, then closed it and cleared her throat. She hurriedly glanced around and, satisfied that it was empty, opened it again.
“Cisco—Kronos—was there, sir,” she said, her mouth dry as her brain finally sat still long enough to really consider the implications. She saw Director Church, who had not been looking at her but had been looking over the data-stick’s contents again, freeze.
“Agent Kronos was there? You’re certain?” The Director asked, still not looking up at her.
“Yes,” Louisiana said, firmly. “He was Beauregard; if he was just impersonating him or if Beauregard is completely fictional, I don’t know. But I spoke to him—we even exchanged a few honest blows.”
He straightened his back, placed the tablet on a nearby surface, and faced her. “I see. And what was his purpose in contacting you… after all this time?”
Louisiana could hear the Tone in his voice and responded before thinking (read: sneered). “He wanted to chat. Catch up on lost time,” her voice, which had been downright saccharine, turned nasty. “What the hell do you think he wanted?!”
She took a deep, calming breath and turned away from him, hands on hips. I really need to work on this impulse control issue. There’s no point in getting worked up; he needs to know what happened. You’re a soldier—he’s your CO. You’re a soldier—he’s your CO.
Turning back around, she saw Director Church watching her, waiting, with a stormy expression. Louisiana cleared her throat and rubbed the back of her neck, sheepishly.
“So, he inquired about the Project,” he said, his face smoothing and his voice as steady as if nothing had happened.
“Yessir,” she answered with an affirmative nod, before adding, “He said that somebody—anonymous, mind you—tipped him off to watch for me there, in Chicago.”
Louisiana saw his brows furrow at that, then continued cautiously. “Director Church… I believe we may have a leak.”
The Director turned away from her to face the leader-board and heaved a deep sigh. He didn’t say anything for several minutes and, in the end, the Freelancer was the one to break the silence, venturing a hesitant “… Did you hear me, sir?”
“For some time now,” the Texan began, “I have suspected something of the like…”
He suddenly turned to face her again, seeming much more agitated than she’d ever seen him before. And she’d seen him pretty pissed, mostly at her. “Too many times have agents been injured in the field because our element of surprise was negated! Too many times has the enemy somehow predicted our movements, not to mention evaded our most highly trained operatives—”
Louisiana’s eyes widened at that. She’d heard rumors that Carolina’s latest mission had been designated a failure, but she had never paid them any heed. Carolina was The Best; no doubt, no discussion, no competition. If she had been thwarted (What is this, she thought to herself. A royal court in medieval times? Robin Hood?) then how the hell was she supposed to do anything against Cisco and his band of Merry Men? (Gotta stop using that analogy otherwise I won’t be able to watch that movie anymore without the horrible association.)
The Director took a deep breath before continuing, much more calmly, “As I said, I’ve been suspicious for some time.”
She couldn’t help but ask and hope that she wasn’t crossing the line. “… Do you have any suspects, sir?”
He didn’t answer Louisiana immediately, studying her before eventually responding. “I have no solid leads at this time. I’ve ordered the Counselor to look over the psychological profiles of all the crew and bring me the files of all candidates most likely to help the enemy.”
Everything inside silver-clad Freelancer was screaming Don’t you dare! but she opened her mouth, regardless, and the words poured out without her able to stop them.
“And if it’s one of the agents?” Her voice was so soft that it was almost inaudible.
She heard Director Church sigh, “Then we are in a far more dire situation than any of us thought…”
Louisiana didn’t know how to appropriately broach the subject, but the conversation seemed to be over and the silence was killing her. Now was as good a time as any, she supposed.
“Director…” She took a deep breath before plowing on. “I’d like to talk to you about the possibility of implantation.”
The sardonic glint in his eye as he answered her statement was enough to make the agent wince inside her helmet and pray that her body language didn’t portray her discomfort with the subject. Good God, did she absolutely hate the smirk in his voice!
“The last time we spoke of implantation you had quite a few choice words about it that would have any other… soldier court-martialed for insubordination.”
As she spoke, there was a seemingly disproportionate amount of desperation coloring Louisiana’s voice. “That’s because I didn’t honestly think there was anything to your claims! Not really!”
“Then why did you reenlist?” Director Church fired back. “As I recall, you were rather adamant about your distaste for the military.”
She looked down and shuffled her feet.
“When we first met, back in New Alexandria… What you said about me not fitting into civilian life… You were right.”
Louisiana’s eyes, which had been fixed on her boots up until then, darted up at the Director and then back down, not wanting to see smugness… or anything else.
“Listen, I’m a soldier—as much as I dislike that fact, that’s all that I am; all that I’m capable of… And, if I put my mind to it, I am a good soldier.”
Louisiana took a deep breath before continuing.
“I’m good, but they’re better: Cisco, Trix, all of them that stayed with the Doc, with Crichton. They. Are. Better. Than me… They’re better than most of your Freelancers, too.”
She looked him square in the eye. “If you want them gone, really and truly gone, then you’re gonna have to either involve your top agents—Carolina, York, Maine, the Dakotas—or you’re gonna have to trust me with a lot more than second-rate missions. Not to mention a lot more firepower.”
He hadn’t interrupted, but he raised an eyebrow at that, and Louisiana plowed on before he might.
“I’m talking anything you can spare, and maybe a few things you can’t. When you came to me, you said that you wanted to keep your agents out of this conflict and focused on their enemy. If that’s truly how you want to do it then I’m going to need some help—I’m talking equipment and AI who can run it.”
The Director of Project Freelancer frowned, turned away from Louisiana, and began looking through files on a nearby computer. “What do you need?” He asked when she had finished speaking.
She had put a lot of thought into that question during the Pelican-ride over and was confident in her answer, if not her abilities. “When you approached me last month about implantation, you rattled off a list of programs that I didn’t really pay much attention to…”
Louisiana’s voice trailed off and when her superior glanced up from whatever it was the he was doing, she raised her eyebrows as if prompting him.
“Tau, Xi, and Upsilon,” he replied as he turned his attention back to his data-pad.
The in-the-soldier-zone agent nodded. “Upsilon, it’s the most compatible one, right? Those three both performed well with my personality in the simulations but Upsilon did the best.”
“I want him.”
Her tone of finality made the Director glance up at her sharply and narrow his eyes, before giving a single nod. “You’ll have to be reexamined,” he warned. “The psychological profile being used to run compatibility simulations is from your first week of active duty and is likely out of date now that you’ve encountered Dr. Crichton’s men in the field again.”
“Right, right…” Louisiana said, absently. She hated those shrinks analyzing (read: judging) her but if that meant that she’d be “suitable” for implantation sooner then, by all means… It was still annoying, though, the chin-rubbers thinking that she was crazy; that she might go off the deep end at any moment. They’d even tried to get her to share quarters with another agent; probably hoping that, being around someone they considered to be a picture of sanity, or maybe just extremely calm, she’d sub-consciously model herself after that agent (whoever it may have been). Deep in thought, Louisiana began gnawing on her lip behind her helmet as a new plan took shape in her mind.
“You gave me the files of others, though,” the Freelancer suddenly blurted out, as the memory of the data-pad sitting—relatively undisturbed—on her nightstand hit her. “Background information and such about AI theory, as well as profiles of other fragments—programs that aren’t suitable for implantation in any of the other Freelancers.”
The Director’s voice was cautious as he answered, slowly. “… Yes, but I’m surprised you examined them. I was under the impression, from your look of disdain when the Counselor handed them to you, that you wouldn’t so much as glance at them.”
Again, Louisiana felt sheepish, but when she recalled every instance in which she acted similarly—blowing off an assignment, regardless of how informal; talking back to Director Church or the Counselor and, even worse, doing it when other agents were in the vicinity; even just the times when she rolled her eyes in response to an order or comment from one of them—Louisiana felt shame wash over her whole body, sinking into every fiber of her being, until she wanted to scrub herself with a wire brush to get the icky-ness off.
Instead of expressing these awkward sentiments, she pushed them to the back of her mind and responded the only way she could without going into… uncomfortable waters, and still being truthful.
“I like AI theory, though—it’s interesting, and I’m at least a little familiar with the material. When I was given the files, I wasn’t even considering implantation.”
Louisiana knew that something had leaked into her voice when the Director looked at her sharply. She looked away.
Clearing her throat, the silver Freelancer got back on topic.
“There were a couple fragments that caught my attention: Psi and Phi.”
At the mention of the AI programs, the Texan picked up a data-pad and began scrolling through files. After a moment, he found what he was looking for and looked back up at the Freelancer, eyebrows raised.
“They’re certainly very interesting choices. What do you want with them?”
Louisiana smiled wickedly. “Oh, I want both of them, too.”
Director Church straightened and looked her square in the eye (how he managed to do that in the first place had her perplexed all on its own).
“Absolutely not,” he said firmly. “There is no possible way for a human being to handle more than one artificial intelligence sharing their mind.”
The armored soldier quirked an eyebrow, not caring in the slightest that he couldn’t see it, because it showed in her voice. “Yeah, you’re right. It can’t,” she said simply. “But that’s only with full AI programs. These little fragments are just that: fragments.”
Louisiana grinned as she continued.
“So, if one of these fragments were to be completely stable, then, theoretically, the other two should mimic that one.
Animals, as well as humans, do it all the time when put in groups. If one individual asserts itself as dominant, as a”—Louisiana couldn’t help but smirk—“as an alpha, then the rest of the group tries to model itself after the perceived leader.”
Of course, she had no idea if what she said was true, but it at least sounded legit, right?
The Director took his time answering, mulling over what Louisiana had said. In an attempt to speed things along—she still had something else she wanted to do today, thank you very much—she added, “C’mon, I’ll be your guinea pig for whether or not your agents can handle another couple of programs in their noggin!”
Louisiana grinned impishly at the look that her phrasing had garnered from her superior, but quickly suppressed it. After several minutes of silent contemplation, Director Church nodded his assent.
The silver Freelancer felt, for lack of a better word, excited at the prospect of finally having free reign to go after the Doc and, better yet, Cisco. She quickly gave a “Thank you, sir” and snapped another salute before turning and heading towards the door.
When she opened the door, Louisiana saw something flicker in the corner of her vision, but didn’t acknowledge its presence. She had a decent idea of what it was, anyway.
Turning her head toward the Director, she called back to him. “I’ll send Missouri up here when I see him, shall I?”
Louisiana couldn’t contain a snicker as her superior’s head snapped up and he shot back, in a clipped voice, “And why, exactly, would you do that?”
Feeling much more like herself than she had in a very long time, the young Freelancer grinned gleefully. The tension between Agent Missouri and the Director was legend on the Mother of Invention.
“He still hasn’t finished with the pyrotechnics armor enhancement I’ve been waiting for, sir,” Louisiana answered, smirking and trying not to sound too delighted at the prospect of the inevitable future carnage. “I assumed you’d want to talk to him about it yourself, sir.”
With that, Louisiana gave a two-fingered salute that she was more known for and beat a hasty retreat down the corridor in the direction of Hangar Bay G, her laughter echoing the halls in her wake.