Jennifer Steel, Agent of the F.S.I.A. (raw)

“You have been recruited to join as highly classified organization. Our mission is twofold. Firstly, our job is to monitor and defend the United States from all enemies foreign and domestic. We watch everything, cell phone calls, landline calls, e-mails, web searches, you name it, we examine it. It’s all automated with the searchers looking for specific keywords. When it finds them, the communication gets flagged and sent to the next search program. This one searches for specific patterns, if they are located, it gets sent on to the next one, and so on. Eventually, the message, or whatever, comes before a human analysts and vetted. If necessary, it goes to a counter intelligence agent, and gets investigated. We employ about twenty-five hundred of these agents. Some info goes to other agencies. Are you still with me, Jennifer?”
She swallowed hard. ‘How dare these people!’ she thought, indignantly. ‘What gives them the right?’ Rob noticed she hadn’t said anything yet. He glanced over his shoulder at her. He gave her a small smile. “I know how you feel, Kirei-kun. I felt the same way initially.”
She glared at him. “What changed? Get to read some girl’s diary when you decided to stalk her?”
“Sarcasm. Good. There is hope for you yet.” Rob reached into his right front pocket and withdrew a battered and heavily creased leather wallet. Flipping it open, he flicked through the plastic sheets which held various photographs. The very last one held what he was looking for. “Ah. Here it is, what changed my mind.”
Suddenly, Jennifer didn’t want to know what had caused Rob – who she knew to be a good guy – to decide that privacy wasn’t important. She got a sour taste in her mouth as her stomach turned like a poked termite. Rob turned to hand her the photo, and she decided she really wanted to hide.
Rob noticed her pale complexion and the way she held her arms tucked close to her side as if trying to shield herself from a blow. He knew how much she dreaded seeing what he had without knowing what it was. She had to know. She had to understand. He handed her the picture. She looked and began to shake.
Oh dear god. It was so much worse than she had thought. Her jaw dropped and her hand fluttered up like a wounded bird to cover her mouth. Tears began to roll down her face, as she tried to release the picture. It stuck to her fingers as if Rob had put glue on it as a cruel prank. Her thoughts came to a crashing halt, as adrenaline shot through her system. The sudden shock of the image, combined with the dread from earlier, had her stomach roiling and trying to betray her. She swallowed hard several times, fighting against her gorge.
Rob plucked the offending picture from her unresisting, trembling fingers. He pulled her into his arms and held her close. This time, she didn’t push him away, wanting the comfort he offered. He held her closely as she clung to him, sobbing. He gently smoothed down her hair, and crooned wordlessly to her. The picture had obviously rocked her. Every time he looked at the picture, it pissed him off, and turned his stomach.
The picture was of two large skyscrapers standing close to one another. The top of one was engulfed in flames and smoke. The other one had a plane crashing into it. Flames from the crash had just begun to bloom when the picture had been taken. Every time he looked at this picture from another world, it stiffened his resolve that nothing like this happened here.
Finally, Jennifer moved back. Rob looked tenderly down at her blotchy cheeks, and puffy, red eyes. He cupped her face with his large hands and, using his thumbs, wiped her tears away. She sniffed, and tried to square her quivering shoulders. He reached into his left rear pocket and produced a packet of tissues. He handed them to her. As she looked into his eyes, he smiled. “What? It’s a habit from when I was a kid. My mom always had me carry them so I wouldn’t wipe my nose on my sleeve. I’ve done it ever since.”
As intended, the playful tone he took caused her to laugh. ‘Even after a crying jag, she’s still the most beautiful woman I have ever touched,’ he thought. ‘Whoa. Where’d that come from?!’ He shook his head, glad she couldn’t read his mind. She blew her nose and made as if to hand him the used tissue. “Ewww. No. You keep that one.” He dodged away, causing her to chase after him. “No! It’s yours. I don’t want it.” He shouted, running away. She chased him around the trees, holding out the used tissue, laughing. His nose wrinkled to comical effect and he pulled his shirt collar over his lower face.
All too soon, he came to a halt, signaling the play time was over. Jennifer tucked the tissue into her pocket to discard later. Rob started to pick out the tangles from her hair. “Rob, that picture. It’s not photo shopped is it? It really happened.”
He continued to slide his fingers through her upper back length, deep coppery orange-red hair. “It is real. It is also from another world. In that world, on September the eleventh, two thousand one, two planes were flown into the World Trade Center in New York city. This photo is of the second plane hitting the South tower at about 9:03am. The North tower was hit approximately seventeen minutes earlier.” He held the picture up, showing her only the back this time. “This is why we study everything. This is why no one really has any privacy. In that world, almost three thousand people died on that day.”
“I understand. You want to make sure nothing like that happens here,” she said.
“What about secondly? You said the mission was twofold.”
He turned and began walking through the dappled sunlight under the pine trees. He loved hiking in the woods. This one in particular. The breeze brought scents of pine, wild mint, and fresh water to his nostrils. Occasionally, the wind would shift, bringing the odors of decaying leaves and rotting fish to him. At those times, he would hold his breath for as long as he could. To his left, squirrels chattered at him for invading their territories, while chipmunks scurried under fallen twigs to hide. To his right, the river chuckled over boulders as it went through a rapids. Fish leaped, sunlight sparkling on their scales, before falling back into the water with a splash. In the distance, a fox yipped and a moose bellowed. He helped her climb over a rough barked fallen tree. Above them, bird squawked and screeched at one another. Suddenly, nuts and sticks flew down at them. They stopped and looked up. A tan and black furred Capuchin sat on a branch high above them. When it saw them looking up, the monkey screeched and flung more debris at them. Rob screeched back and jumped upwards. The little primate responded by scampering further down the tree. It chattered at Rob, who then tapped his own shoulder. To Jennifer’s surprise, the monkey leaped upon his shoulder. It reached into his front pocket.
“Hey, no pick pocketing, Abu,” Rob said.
She had to laugh when the monkey responded to that by sticking a finger into his ear. Rob hollered and hunched his shoulder. “No ear wigs, either!” The Capuchin stuck its finger into its mouth. “You give me a wet willie, and I’ll cut you off, understand?” She laughed again when the monkey laid its head against his and cooed. It sounded to her as if the monkey said, “Awww.”
“The secondary part of our mission, the most clandestine part of it, has to deal with supernatural characters like Lilith.” At the mention of the winged woman’s name, the monkey jumped up with a shrill scream, filched a cookie from Rob’s pocket and leaped into a nearby tree. It sat even higher and shook its paw at them. Rob glanced up and laughed. “You worry too much, Abu! I’ll be fine.” A pine cone flew through the air, which Rob caught. “Thanks, buddy. I’m sure it’ll be useful.”
A wet digit entered his ear and wiggled around. Rob ducked away from it, rubbing his ear. “Agh!” he hollered as he turned to her. “You’ll pay for that, Kirei.”
She simply smiled at him. Her hazel eyes danced above the laugh lines along her mouth. “You liked it.”
“What the hell makes you say that?!”
“Quitcher bitchin’ and tell me about the other side of the mission.”
“Okay,” he mock glared at her, eliciting another grin, “There’s all sorts of evil, creepy, and just plain uncomfortable bullshit out there. We exist in a multiverse, an entirety of universes. Each one is similar to the other, but with some differences between them. For example, in the universe Carter is from, magic doesn’t really exist. That is because the Walker of Worlds before him, killed the last deity in that universe. It is also the universe the picture is from. In Carter’s home world, they don’t have contact with spirits, ghosts, demons, or stuff of that nature. Prior to ten years ago, neither had we. It turns out that we didn’t because those things were sealed away from our world by powerful artifacts. However, it has come to our attention that almost all of those artifacts have been destroyed. There is one remaining.”
“The Fist of Ra,” Jennifer said.
“Indeed. We have to track it down before Lilith. If she gets it, nothing will stop her from waging war against the world. And, most likely winning.”
“How long do we have?”
“That’s the bitch of it. We just found out it was missing from Carter. I don’t know how long we have. Which is why we are here.”
He gestured to a nondescript door in the middle of a granite wall. What made it stand out was the fact the door was made from a dark wood while the wall was striped with various colors, light reds, fair pinks, deer hide tans and dove greys. He opened the door and stood to one side for her. She smiled at him. It was a habit of his that she liked.
She stepped into the long hallway and her feet immediately sank into a highly twisted cut pile carpet. She looked down and realized it was a frieze style wool carpet on the floor. She had had reason to become an expert on carpet when she’d redecorated her mother’s home. The frieze style was best for high traffic areas, and the wool was the most durable material. She turned her attention back to the hallway ahead of her. Lights were blinking on in sequence heading down the line. Doors lined the walls and after every two, a fire extinguisher hung from a clip. Other than their footsteps, the place was as silent as a library after hours. “Where is everyone, Worth?”
“Either on missions, or at lunch. The folks you will mainly be dealing with are in the Operations Center. It is above us by three levels and one universe.”
Jennifer stopped and stared at him. “Say that again.”
“Surely you didn’t think you were still in the same world, Kirei-kun,” he said with a grin. “Come on, what part of Baltimore, or Maryland, do you know of with a huge pine forest? Or when did the world get a second moon?”
“Okay. Good point. How and where did I cross over?”
His grin faded. He bit his lip and shook his head. “We don’t know yet.” He tossed his hangs upwards, then let them fall and slap against his legs. “Your leaving our world wasn’t part of the test. It was supposed to be part of your training, though. When we get back to Ops, we’ll review the tapes and see if anyone was following you.”
She grinned. He hadn’t forgotten what she’d said earlier. This was new: a male remembering her words. They were usually focused on one thing only. He stopped in front of a pair of steel doors. He flipped up a hidden panel and placed his hand on it, then leaned forward. After three seconds, he straightened and turned back to her. “Palm reader and iris scanner. They read my retinal pattern, finger prints, body temperature, and biometrics.”
“That seems a bit excessive.”
“This is beyond top secret, remember? It’s part of the security features.”
Moments later, a bell dinged and the metal doors parted. He bowed and swept an arm at the elevator. She snickered. Rob could be so silly sometimes! She entered, followed by Rob. A disembodied, masculine voice – reminiscent of James Earl Jones – seemingly came from the air. “Destination?” Rob ignored the voice and pulled a small card from his shirt pocket. He slid it into a slot next to the open doors which slid shut. An orange light shot across the elevator car, engulfing them. James Earl Jones’ voice came out of nowhere again. “Welcome Agent Worthington. Unknown person, identify yourself. You have ten seconds to comply.”
“Um, Jennifer Steel. Rob says I’m a new recruit?”
“Welcome to the Federal Security and Intelligence Agency.”
“Or as I like to call it, the Freakin’ Supernatural Intelligence Agency,” said a tenor voice behind her.
Jennifer turned to see a young man with curly light brown hair and gorgeous baby blue eyes. He had an open, yet lopsided, smile. The corners of his dancing eyes were crinkled. He seemed genuinely happy to see her. She continued to look him over. He was about her height and a little heavier. He wore brick red surfer shorts, sandals without socks and a white t-shirt with a logo of a man missing his head. She pointed at the shirt. “What does that mean?”
Rob took her by her arm and said, “Don’t answer that,” as he brushed passed the unknown man.
“I wasn’t, Mr. Worthington,” he nearly whined.
“Didn’t the Director tell you to not wear shirts like that?” As if knowing the answer, he continued. “Does she know you have it on?”
“No, sir. Please don’t tell her.”
Rob shook his head apologetically, “I’m sorry, Stevenson. It’s for your own good. You’ll thank me for it someday.”
Jennifer smirked. “How long have you guys employed kids?”
“I’ll have you know, that while I may only be 18, but I have already graduated from MIT and Johns-Hopkins. I was top of my class, too. What have you done?” Stevenson ground out. Rob chuckled at Stevenson’s bristling expression.
“She’s been recruited by us and Carter loaned her his sword.”
“Really?” Stevenson’s voice cracked. He hurried to catch up. Rob and Jennifer strode into an open elevator car. She looked over her shoulder to find him shadowing them like a puppy. She lifted the snowy blade about six inches from its dark sheathe, held it up for a couple of steps, then let it drop back. A big grin grew on his face. “I’m sorry about earlier. My name is Samuel Stevenson.”
The corners of her mouth quirked upward a bit. “Don’t worry about it. It is what it is. Jennifer Steel.”
“It’s all good in the hood, right Kirei?” Rob said.
The faint curve of her lips turned into a full smile. “Indeed.”
He chuckled while Stevenson looked confusedly at the two of them. A bell dinged and the door slid open. “Would you care to share the funny?” a familiar, cultured British voice said.
Jennifer looked out the open door, and gasped.