The motel was perfect – neither too sleazy nor too clean cut.
The collection of sturdy sheds - misleadingly named cabanas - lurking off Highway 193 near Holmehurst were a fitting place for a
secretive rendezvous. Admittedly, it was too scruffy to host the usual
congressional liaisons that the Washington DC area was traditionally
prone to, but that suited Jane Mallory just fine. The last thing she
wanted to encounter was some congressman and his intern of the moment.
Traffic along the Beltway had been the usual honk-and-crawl and her
nerves were stretched to the breaking point.
Security was as lax as could be desired. The thin greasy woman
behind the desk of the E-Z Rest Motel had glanced at Jane when she
walked past, but that was all. Clearly, she couldn’t be bothered to
move from behind her desk and the array of tabloids spread out in front
of her. That suited Jane just fine.
before the door of Cabana 6, Jane took a moment to rearrange her
features so that Mason would recognize her. Like her, his nerves were on
a knife’s edge. Surprising him – well, surprising him too early
– could prove fatal. Within moments, her flesh rippled and a pretty
blonde woman replaced the short, acne-scarred brunette that had breezed
through the parking lot. Physically, the features were quite similar to
Jane’s real face – the same oval shape, the same mouth and chin. She
was essentially herself, but blonde, blue-eyed and a little heavier.
Having to hide her talents from both parties in this particular conflict
limited Jane’s options, but she worked within the constraint as best
she could. The consequences of discovery were too high to contemplate.
You were Caitlin Ward for six months. Jane took a deep
breath. Another sixty minutes won’t be too hard.
twice, pause, knock twice again, then wait. The door opened slowly and,
to Jane’s relief, Mason Schreiber peered out. He looked like hell, his
young face aged by fatigue and short brown hair tangled by too much
anxiety. Being a fugitive takes it out of a guy. Looking around
quickly, Mason beckoned Jane inside the room, shutting the door behind
room lived up to every implied promise of the cabana’s exterior.
Although relatively large, the too-small windows guaranteed constant
dimness, which proved to be a slight mercy when one examined the room
closely. Decades-old wallpaper, darkened by cigarette smoke and just a
hint of mildew tentatively clung to the walls. The battered fixtures –
everything screwed to furniture that was, in turn, bolted to the floor
– perfectly matched the room. In turn, the oppressive setting matched
Jane’s mood – and Mason’s too, she suspected.
As Jane tentatively sat on the threadbare bed, Mason wedged a
chair under the doorhandle, barely able to take his eyes off his
companion. Suspicion and relief fought for dominance on his face.
Finally, he sat on the edge of a dresser and spoke quickly, as if he
feared losing his nerve.
the hell did you get away from them?”
Straight to business, is it? I’m not surprised. Time to pray
he doesn’t have a truth-sensing ability.
smiled nervously – the nerves, at least, were genuine. “It’s a
long story, Mason, but the short version would be this…” carefully,
she let her features change yet again – she was constantly thankful
the process was painless – from Caitlin’s familiar face, to that of
a famous movie star and then back again. “I’m a nova.” She
admitted, almost smiling at Mason’s slack-jawed surprise. “The whole
raid was a clusterfuck, so I grabbed the face of one of the cops and got
out of Dodge.” Always keep the lie simple.
sagged, relief having won over suspicion for now. “But how…why? Why
didn’t you tell us?” He sounded hurt.
suppressed a moment of guilt. She had no reason to feel like she owed
Mason anything. “For precisely the same reason you didn’t tell me
that you’re a nova until, what, last month? Security.”
scowled, his disappointment obvious. “Yeah, for all the good it did
us.” The constant, closed-mouth security of the CFF had been the bane
of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the reason why the
organization had lasted as long as it did. Mallory’s boss had to
resort to assigning her to six months of deep cover in order to learn
anything of value about the group. Six months of pretending to be a
covertly-radical law student, of carefully being at the right place, at
the right time and saying the right things. Finally, she had been
invited into the organization and able to examine it from the inside
that, things had moved quickly. The revelation of the groups’ ideals
and goals – to assassinate the majority of the Supreme Court – might
have been dismissed as hopeless pipe-dreaming if it hadn’t been for
Mallory’s inside-information. The approaching imminence of their
self-proclaimed “Day of Action” prompted a sudden raid by the FBI
– and then things got weird.
shrugged. “These things happen. But at least we got away.” She
forced a chuckle. “ I nearly fainted when you turned to smoke and
wafted out the window. If we can get the word out to the other cells,
maybe we can warn them before Michael…” her voice trailed off as she
named the group’s leader. I have to at least seem sorry for
him, even if I’m not. Youthful zeal or no, these people had
planned to commit multiple murders, and Jane couldn’t condone that
under any circumstance.
Michael breaks.” Mason gloomily completed the sentence. He sighed.
“He should have been a nova. Not me.”
sometimes feel the same way,” that lie was easy. She smiled nervously.
“So, uh, what else can you do? I mean, I’ll show you mine…” Why
haven’t they called?
provoked a dry laugh. “Sure.”
concentrated for a moment, then transformed into a cloud of misty vapor.
There was nothing gradual about it. From solid to gaseous in less than a
second. Another eyeblink later and the young man once again leaned
against the dresser. “But you knew about that, already.” He grinned
like a kid showing off his favorite party trick. Which I suppose he
is, Jane realized. “That’s really my biggest gun,” he
admitted. “I don’t get tired – well, hardly ever. I’m tough, but
not strong, you know?” Jane nodded. Extraordinary stamina seemed
almost common amongst novas. “And I can see and hear things really
well. I’m like a cat in the dark. It’s kind of strange. Sometimes I
forget to turn my lights on when I’m driving at night, and I can’t
figure out why everyone’s honking at me.”
nodded thoughtfully, then shook herself out of her reverie. Nice kid,
really. She thought sadly. A shame he’s joined the wrong team.
turn,” she admitted. “Show and tell?” Mason shrugged, curious but
stepped onto a nearby wall, ignoring the moment of vertigo that always
accompanied a change in her frame of reference. Stepping around the
tacky art on the wall, she walked to the ceiling and faced Mason.
“Next trick,” she announced, fading into the background. Her
research referred to it as chromatophoric ability. Jane preferred
her own nickname – the human chameleon. Noticing Mason’s surprise,
she smiled. “I’m sure ceiling tiles aren’t my best look.”
Caitlin’s visage once again, Jane returned to the floor. “And the
face-change thing you already know about. Oh yeah, and I can bench press
a Volkswagen. But doing that would blow my cover.” She concluded
lightly. There’s no need for him to know about the poison, or the
voice, or the tongue. Dear god, why did I have to get burdened with that?
It makes me feel like the punchline to a bad joke. Then again, why did I
get stuck with any of this?
Mason breathed. “This is going to come out wrong, I know but-“
interrupted, dryly. She wanted to distract him from any train of thought
that might lead him to thinking what a good spy Jane could be. “No, I
won’t pose as Claudia Schiffer next time your ex-girlfriend is in
did it. Mason laughed. “Damn.”
going, “I didn’t bring it up to anyone because I’m not exactly
within the law,” Strictly speaking, that’s true. “And I
didn’t know how you guys would react to having an aberrant nova in the
group.” And never mind the fact that she had thought about divulging
her secret to Mason before the raid. She liked him, she thought
they had a lot in common, in some ways. In hindsight, it was best that
she had held her tongue. Had Schreiber told Michael, then the lid would
have been blown off at the Bureau. Not good at all.
this time, we’ve had so much in common.” Mason said wistfully,
echoing Jane’s thoughts.
fiddled awkwardly with the cuff of her jacket. “Yeah, it’s a shame
that I didn’t confess earlier. Might have saved us a lot of
trouble.” Not really… The celphone in her pocket chirped
off Mason’s alarm, Jane held a finger to her lips in the classic
‘keep quiet’ gesture, as she pulled the small Nokia from inside her
this is Caitlin.” Stress added a squeak to her falsely cheerful
Katy, it’s mom.” Jennifer Graves, Jane’s field-boss, sounded
justifiably tense. “Where have you been? You didn’t answer when I
called earlier.” What’s the situation?
fine, mom. I just had some errands to run before I got home.” Situation
is as expected.
calling about dinner with your dad. I know you said you wouldn’t mind
the drive to get here by seven, but could you be here earlier?” Jane
had to guess at the meaning of that statement. Bureau double-talk
wasn’t as sophisticated as that of a full-blown espionage
organization. She understands where I am, but not when? Ahh, probably
a case of where, not when.
sure,” she reluctantly agreed. “How about six? That’s really the
earliest I could get there. Alright?”
that’s the best you can do, sweetie, then that’s fine.” All
clear. “Promise not to pick a fight with him, this time?” Action
imminent, keep Mason in that spot.
nodded. “Sure, mom, I’ll try. As long as he doesn’t give me any
grief.” I’m as ready as I’m going to get - as long as they
don’t kick in the wrong door.
theatrical sigh. “That’s the best I can hope for, I suppose. See you
tomorrow, Katy.” More like fifteen minutes.
thing, mom. Bye.” She breathed a silent sigh of relief for the
assumption that all novas could listen in to both ends of a phone
conversation. If Mason had gotten an earful of Bureau operations-talk…he
would be floating out of the window already.
smiled weakly. “Parents,” she apologized. “Mom keeps forgetting
that putting dad and me in the same room is a sure-fire recipe for
thrown gravy boats.”
relationship, huh?” Mason asked, clearly not too concerned about the
I think he resents the fact that I got a better score on the law boards
than he did. Anyways,” Jane changed the subject. “What now?” Ain’t
that the truth? “I mean, what about the CFF? What are we going to
do? Can you even tell me?” Jane pitched her voice carefully, subtly
persuading him to volunteer information, even if it went against his
sighed. “I’m not sure. Michael told me how to get in touch with the
other cells. Well,” he pulled a wry face, “he told me where to find
the file containing that information, I should say.” His tone became
brisk. “One of us needs to get it. Given your skills, I think you
shattered Mallory’s train of thought. For one panicked moment, Jane
thought she was suffering an aneurysm. In fact, she wondered if that
would hurt less than the blinding headache that had struck with
sudden force. As she helplessly crumpled to the floor – voluntary
motor control had departed along with comfort – she noticed that
Mason’s face bore signs of pain and surprise. A sliding thump
suggested that he had followed her to the floor. Jane couldn’t move
and, more worrying yet, she could feel her features changing, blurring
back to the face on her Bureau ID.
the hell? The Bureau favored old-fashioned busts and this clearly
wasn’t going by the book. Graves mentioned anti-nova measures, Jane
remembered, but I thought she was referring to manpower. Through
the pain, Mallory realized that she could soon be in as much trouble as
“Don’t try to push me off with some story about needing to
know!” Jennifer Graves was a fortunate woman - she could be absolutely
furious without becoming a hag or, worse yet, being ‘cute’. Her pale
skin was flushed, but not choleric and even mussed by rage, her short
honey blonde hair managed to look somehow purposeful. I wonder if
that knack could be learned…The thought occurred to Mallory as she
watched her future fall apart during a meeting between her field boss
– Jennifer – and her administrative superior, Sean Taylor. Jane
believed that she had very little control over what was about to happen,
so she felt safe in indulging some tangential thoughts.
arrest of Mason Schreiber had been routine, with two exceptions. First,
the Directive – the federal agency concerned with nova activities –
had unexpectedly butted in and demanded that they participated in the
arrest. That in itself wasn’t much a surprise - rude, yes, but not
entirely unexpected. The Directive had already established a history for
barging into any matter – state or federal – that involved nova,
particularly criminal ones.
Second, The Directive’s gracious loan of a nova-hobbling device
– synaptic disruptor, my ass, Jane thought bitterly, I feel
like my neurons were fried – managed to thoroughly blow the lid
off Mallory’s true nature. Jennifer had burst into the scene expecting
to find a well-padded blonde, and instead she found a wiry brunette –
Jane’s true form. Hissed explanations, curses and threats ensued. Now
it was coming to a head in Taylor’s over-furnished and
a middle-aged man who had never in Mallory’s five-year acquaintance
with him, had a straight tie past the first ten minutes of the day,
regarded Graves warily. He knew that he stood on thin ice, but he took
some consolation from the fact that she had not immediately blown
the whistle on Mallory’s state to the Directive. He hoped that, for
once, the long-standing rivalry between the two organizations would work
in his favor.
wasn’t a case of needing to know,” Jane interrupted quietly, just as
he was getting ready to tell Graves the truth and risk the consequences.
He had become tired of lying to his own people. “He didn’t
anger paled into shock. “What? How could he not…?” She glared
suspiciously at the pair, whilst Taylor successfully hid his own
decided that it was better if only one career went up in smoke, rather
than two, Jane continued. “Assistant Director Taylor did not know of
my…true state until this morning.” Jane spoke with the carefully
formal tone that was a hallmark of an FBI agent on possibly shaky ground
– a cheap trick to restore the semblance of order to the room.
“Please believe me. I’m telling the truth.” Jane knew she
could be extremely convincing when she wanted to be – it was
another one of her talents. “I know I lied to both of you, but I
believed I was acting in the Bureau’s best interests. Let you think
you had a master of quick-change on your hands, rather than a nova.”
along, Taylor asked. “Why?”
think Agent Graves can guess.” Mallory made a show of reluctance,
wanting to see if she had yet brought her field-boss under her sway.
But tell me anyway,” her tone was brittle.
yet. Jane felt a little guilty, doing this to a fellow agent, but
she continued. “Because the moment I admitted myself to be a nova, the
Directive would have pulled jurisdiction and Taylor would have lost one
of his best agents.” Jane allowed a hint of self-deprecation into her
tone. “That is, if I can believe his last review.”
nodded slowly, reluctantly agreeing with Jane’s words. But the
agreement quickly turned to confusion. “Wait a minute…if you’re a
nova, but Taylor didn’t know… You’re an Aberrant, aren’t you?”
Jennifer’s expression shifted from suspicious to shocked.
sighed mentally. She had hoped that Graves wouldn’t come to that
conclusion just yet. It would also be easier, she realized, if
so many agents weren’t such boy-scouts. Clearly, Jane’s criminal
omission horrified her fellow agent.
registered shortly after my eruption,” another easy lie. “But it
seems that something is holding up the official paperwork.”
Jane’s skills couldn’t pull that much wool over Graves’ eyes.
“Bull,” she said, succinctly.
go for broke - Jane decided - it might be the only chance I get
to hear the answer, anyways. “That’s as may be, but that’s my
story and I’m sticking to is. Why aren’t you already talking to the
deflated further, sinking into a nearby chair. “You already answered
that. They’ll come in, crying that they’ve got proper claim to your
time and off you’ll go. We’ll get the usual schpiel about if we want
to request the services of a nova, we can submit Form 19-A and fuck you
very much.” Jennifer turned pink momentarily. “Excuse me, sir.”
She apologized. Taylor waved it off. He was far too concerned about how
this scene was playing out to worry about the niceties of language.
assuming I’ll want to join them,” Jane disagreed. “That’s not
the case. My career is here. My friends are here. Why would I want to
join a pack of arrogant, high-handed, narcissistic holier-than-thous?”
The popular perception of Directive novas within the Bureau wasn’t
flattering. Jane tried to use that to her advantage.
don’t think you’re going to get much choice.” Taylor warned.
“They’ve got Schreiber. They’re going to find out that you’re
nova, sooner or later. And I’m afraid the lost-paperwork story won’t
go any farther with them than it did with Jennifer, here.”
nodded, her face glum. “Blackmail one-oh-one?”
would think it most likely, yes.” Taylor’s tone was equally dark. He
believed in the Bureau perception of The Directive, too.
The possibility had simply escaped Mallory’s notice. But now that it
had been mentioned, it seemed all-too-likely. She bit nervously at a
fingernail and simultaneously cursed at backsliding into a bad habit.
how long do you think I’ve got?” she asked.
sighed. “No idea.” His speakerphone buzzed into life.
“Director?” It was Lori, Taylor’s ever-unflappable assistant.
“I’ve got a Mr. Alan Rauch from The Directive here. He’s asking if
you can spare him a few minutes?”
on.” Taylor hit the ‘mute’ button on his speakerphone. “That’s
almost eerie,” he sighed. Jennifer looked uncomfortable – did she
tip him off, anyway? Jane realized she would probably never know the
game’s up,” she shrugged. “Let him in.”
scowled and reached for the speakerphone. “Give me a minute to finish
this e-mail and send him in, Lori.”
“Yes, sir.” Lori knew that meant to she should leave the
guest waiting for at least three minutes – and so did Taylor.
“You could just walk out of here with Jennifer,” he
suggested. “If you move quickly, he wouldn’t get a chance to tell if
your face matched your ID.”
shook her head. “That’s only putting off the inevitable. Let’s see
if he’s willing to have a shared meeting. I’ve got a feeling I’ll
be involved, sooner or later.”
Taylor nodded. “But I think you can head out,” Taylor told Graves.
“There’s no point in dragging you in any deeper.”
Graves didn’t argue. She hustled out of the office without a backwards
look. Jane suspected that Graves was just an ordinary person –
frightened by the novas, and glad to be shut of them. We’ll see…
later, Alan Rauch entered the room. Mallory was half-disappointed that
he didn’t wear spandex and a cape, despite the fact that hardly any
novas – not even the independent Elites – bought into the comic-book
look. Instead, he looked remarkably like any one of a thousand
bureaucratic drones: an unfashionable suit and a tangle of ID badges
arranged beneath a moon-shaped face with large hazel eyes and mud-brown
hair that should have been trimmed a week ago.
who knows what he can do? Jane’s thought halted, momentarily.
If anything. They aren’t all novas in The Directive, are they?
greeted them politely. “Director Taylor.” A moment’s pause.
“Agent Mallory,” and a hint of surprise betrayed by the tilt of his
fought off the sinking feeling in her gut. He knows me by sight
already? She nodded a curt acknowledgement of his greeting.
tried to cover the suddenly awkward atmosphere with an explanation. “I
was meeting with Agent Mallory when you dropped in,” he said smoothly.
“And we both thought it might save some time if perhaps she remained
during your visit.” His firm tone dared Rauch to dismiss her.
No-one could ever fault Taylor’s loyalty, Jane thought. I
just hope it doesn’t end his career.
thing,” Rauch assented easily, settling into the chair recently
vacated by Graves. Jane found his lax manner irritating – and then she
became angry at her irrational reaction. For the past three days she had
been caught in a cycle of jumpiness and self-irritation and she was
increasingly worried that this stress would provoke an irrevocable
launched into the purpose of his visit without preamble. As Mallory
listened to his Carolina drawl, her stomach continued to sink into her
shoes. It was the anticipated recruitment pitch. Of course the Directive
understood that the FBI might feel they have some prior claim to her
time, yadda yadda. Willing to overlook her Aberrant status, so on and so
all well and good, Mr. Rauch.” Jane interrupted. “Especially your
willingness to grant me the benefit of the doubt but, honestly, I want
to stay with the FBI.”
stared blankly at her. He hadn’t expected refusal, especially given
his offer to not prosecute her as an Aberrant. “Agent Mallory,” the
folksy easiness of his tone rapidly evaporated. “I don’t think you
understand. This isn’t exactly a choice we’re offering you.
The paperwork is already on the way to the big boss,” he meant the
Senior Director. “Unless you want me to call in the Marshals
instead?” he suggested.
Even Jane recognized that as pure bluster. If she was going to be
arrested, Rauch himself could probably do it. Think quick, woman.
“Ah, if that’s the case,” she made a show of relenting, sagged in
Rauch nodded, satisfied. “There’s an e-mail waiting for you,
Miss Mallory-“ the change in address grated on her ears. “All the
details you’ll need. Given that today’s Wednesday, I thought maybe
we could expect to see you on Monday. Give you a couple of days to tidy
things up.” He smiled coldly. “Come up with a story.”
“Yeah, sure.” Jane nodded wearily. “Monday.” Rauch got up
to leave. “Wait. One question?” she asked.
sat back down. “Certainly,” now that he had won, the charm had
returned. Smug bastard.
Schreiber. Are you going to prosecute him, or recruit him?” Rumors
persisted that The Directive had forced several felons to convert to
their cause, as an alternative to prison – or execution.
regarded Mallory carefully. He believed he had her, like he had snared
other Aberrants in the past. The offer of amnesty and a steady job was
usually too much to resist. Add on to that that she was a Fed, why
should she turn down the offer to continue acting in a law-enforcement
capability? He decided to tell her the truth – most of it..
Schreiber had been considered a possible recruit,” Rauch ignored
Taylor’s outraged glare. “But he has since proven…intractable.
guessed at his meaning. “Committed suicide, did he?” she asked
nodded without a hint of irony. “Just this morning, actually. A tragic
shame.” He said without a tinge of regret.
when were you planning to tell me this?” The Assistant Director
just did.” Rauch shrugged.
glared at him. “Be sure to let the papers know that he died in your
custody, not mine.” He growled. “I don’t want to deal with another
congressional hearing about perceived screw ups.”
course,” Rauch replied mildly, ignoring Taylor’s disquiet, and
Mallory’s too. “I’ll make a special note of it.” He stood once
again. “I’ll see you on Monday, Miss Mallory.” He said by way of
farewell. “I’ll see myself out.” Silence reigned in the stuffy
office for nearly a minute after Rauch’s exit.
that doesn’t cement their reputation around here, nothing will.”
Mallory muttered, finally. Taylor broke off his brooding reverie and
responded with a weak smile. “I guess you had better get a stack of
Form 19-A.” she added.
guess so.” He agreed, sounding bone-weary.
it’s one-thirty.” Jane’s voice was brittle, her eyes hard. “I
think I’ll go get some lunch.” Her tone was more suited to tackling
a hated enemy, or some other difficult task.
blinked, taken aback by her change in demeanor. “Sure Jane, I think
we’re done here.”
nodded. “I think we’re more than done.” She agreed. She took a
last look at her boss, and she could tell that he had realized her plan.
“See y’around, Sean.” She smiled with more bravado than she felt.
nodded. “Take care.”
all, she reassured herself. I can hide anywhere, imitate almost
anyone and I know more about investigation than most novas on the
planet. If I can’t make it on my own, then maybe I don’t deserve
a popular song, Jane Mallory walked out of Taylor’s office, out of the
building and out of her life.