“Sorry, girl. Wish I could tell you any different. I won’t lie.”
Constance stood stunned for a moment. As much as she had been expecting the answer, it was an entirely different story hearing it confirmed. Somewhere behind Carter’s head, the Entertainment stream came on. She thought she could hear the spatter of falling rain on Carter’s end.
“I figured that you all knew when the Principle ordered us to marry,” he continued, rubbing again at his broad nose. Constance noticed the blink of a private line opening up at her other peripheral. “I probably woulda gone through with it too, except I knew it woulda compromised my position.”
“How could you do it?” Constance thought to keep her voice steady, but expected her face was already showing the hard reality of her emotions. “No, how could you do it? With a handler and – hell, Toa, what about your kill switch?”
“Be surprised what we can get away with.” Carter let a little of a smug smile slip onto his features. “And I dealt to the kill switch last mission back. Those things ain’t too hard to turn off and on if you know how to.”
Constance tried to ignore the blinking, but the voice call broke through anyway. She tried not to let it show on her face as Manly spoke in her ear, “He’s making the hardline call from somewhere in South Sector, Skycity. We already have tech on eyes and ears.”
“Sorry to have to do this to you, girl. If it means anything, I really would have gone through with it this time. I guess I’ll be seeing you.”
Constance was about to say something, but she saw Carter dip in close, and then the image of him washed out. She sat down on the edge of the bed. A few moments later Manly blossomed into being beside the bed, still wearing his wedding attire. He gave her a few moments grace, but Constance cut it short.
“I’ll take the skycar up.”
* * *
“I don’t see how it’s even possible,” Constance continued. She’d had to ease up on the throttle a few times now. She could tell it in Manly’s pensive expression. “How can anyone go double in the Agency?”
“Like he said. You would be surprised.”
“Well surprise me,” she shot back. Outside, the night was inky black other than the onboard representations of the road guides. Traffic seemed light tonight. Manly was installed in hyper realism in the passengers seat. He looked uncharacteristically tired.
“The Agency has to afford it’s Agents a certain among of leeway to complete their missions. The killswitch takes care of everything else.”
Constance frowned. “The Principle had to have tried that before he gave me this mission.” She blew a huff of air when Manly’s expression implied that he had. “This stinks.”
“You did accept the mission, Lady. He gave you the choice.”
Constance nodded. Manly’s fatherly ‘I-told-you-so’ tone didn’t help in the least, but it was the truth. She was starting to wonder if she had what it took to go through with it, but hearing those word from Carter’s own lips had been betrayal enough.
“Hmmm,” Manly mused, appearing to stare off over the darkened landscape. In reality he was most likely reading something at his end. “Appears he’s been blindfolded and earplugged. Eyes and ears won’t be much help here then. It’s a professional operation. They knew what would be coming. He’s most likely being worked on as we speak.”
“Well whose the shortlist,” asked Constance. “Do we even have one?”
“Biodyne possibly. He has been assigned to a curiously large number of missions regarding that possible Corp. There is also the possibility of any number of Island Sympathy Groups.”
Constance glanced over at Manly, “I don’t remember him being particularly pro independence.”
“Obviously, Lady, there is a lot that you didn’t remember about him. Double agents do have a habit of running different lives.”
Constance felt her professionalism cutting in, treating it all just like another job. It was. “Was he turned? Or has he been in since the start?”
“Given how long Carter has been with us as an Agent,” Manly remarked, flicking over papers, or at least appearing to. “It seems unlikely. So he’s been turned. Or at least that is the impression I get from the Principle.”
Constance watched the road markers, an endless twin line of red dots, trailing into the night. This was going to be a long night, and she wondered if it would all be resolved before the end of it. Probably not. Carter was a capable Agent. A significant loss for the Agency. A significant loss as a friend.
“We have Steel Jennys on the ground in South Sector,” Manly reported. His image flickered a little, before reforming quickly. “You probably won’t fit in well looking like Little Miss Marketing Executive though.”
“I didn’t expect Carter to be slumming it.”
“I dare say if he’s going in for a chop job it will be anything but slumming,” Manly remarked, off handedly. “Chances are he had a team on standby to do the work. Retooling wouldn’t be an easy job to any of the local talent, given the conditions.”
“I’ve got a place I can stop. It won’t be too far out, and I can get a quick change and anything I need to track him down.” Constance almost dreaded asking the next question. “Have we got a fix on him at all?”
Manly shook his head, “He hasn’t pinged for a while yet, and techs haven’t been able to reestablish since ears and eyes. Don’t expect he will risk going back online. And in South Sector, there won’t exactly be a need for it.”
Constance nodded, feeling an urge to be alone again. She muttered a thanks to Manly, before cutting the line. Beside her, he burned out, leaving a lingering image in the darkness. She knew she would never really be free of him. No Agent ever was totally free of their handler. Except Carter, he was about to be free of everything of the Agency, if he really was going through with a retooling.
* * *
“But now aging gracefully is a right.” The face lingered in the darkness, the soft white glow of it casting across the dark apartment. “Now I can choose what face I want to leave the world with. And it doesn’t have to be the face I was born with.”
The soft melodies reminded Constance of sea breezes and oceans, calm and quiet. She looked about the cluttered apartment. If there was any place Carter truly called home, it had to be this one. It was filled with all the sorts of personal hard-objects that made a place home. A basketball, even though Constance knew he was never that serious about playing the sport. She looked at a hardcopy sitting on the couch. Family images. They had to be faked. None of them had families. She paged through a few flips, curious to see how many had Carter shopped in right next to the others.
“ReGen … because beauty is only skin deep.”
Constance thought the Vision projector off, and the room winked into blackness. The sounds of the city came in through the empty door. The sound of rain hissing against the hard concrete of the apartment block. She looked the place over again, trying to remember the last time she was out here. The bed was still folded down from the wall, but that meant little. Carter never was one to tidy up after himself. She wondered about the projector though.
Her bag was probably still under here somewhere then. Constance groped down under the bed, her nose wrinkling against the all too male smells of it, hints of sex. Would just be like him to play this place as a private sex pad. Constance felt the bag and dragged it out.
The place reminded Constance of how little life she had outside the Agency. It was common enough for Agents to try and play happily families on their off times. Hadn’t that been what Carter and her had tried with their attempts at marriage. At least that might have had a chance of success, Constance considered. At least that was with another Agent.
It was only light, but she had definitely heard it. Out on the balcony, which was barely big enough to hold more than two, a mere afterthought on feature the apartment. She glanced towards the sliding door. It had been open when she got here, along with the Vision. Neither were signs Carter had been here recently, given the front door was locked.
Constance stayed dead still, down beside the bed. She heard the suction sound of the front door unlocking. Whoever was coming was doing so on both exits, and was doing it all too quietly. Her wetware picked up the movement on the balcony even before she did, highlighting it with a subtle halo. She spotted the gun.