The days passed agonizingly slowly, even for the DCC. For the first time in years, Ghenn had something to look forward to. It filled her with both excitement and irritation. The first thing she did upon waking up and upon ending her shift was rush to the terminal to check her messages, but there was never anything there. After the first day she told herself she had to be patient. After the second she told herself it would surely be the next day. On the third she was angry with the Agency.
On the fourth she’d convinced herself that the whole thing had been some kind of elaborate prank. There were probably cameras on the station filming her and the others as they got their hopes up over nothing and saw them fall apart all around them.
When she woke up on the fifth day, and went to the terminal, Robaire called out after her. “What is going on with you, woman? Did some desperate, pathetic soul back on terra firma find a new prison pen pal?”
She spent the entire fifth day imagining who the assignment would be, inventing reasons it would be Robaire, fantasizing about how she would take care of it. The airlock. Sabotage his MDCU. Have Daddy Dearest poison his dinner. A pillow over his face while he’s sleeping. A push in the shower. A clerical error during the next cycle. Maybe he had an allergy or a fear she could exploit. Maybe one of the others could be bribed into doing the deed for her. It helped pass the time.
After her shift on the fifth day, she logged into the terminal and found a message waiting for her entitled, “unlock the POWR of ur manh00d today1!”
Ghenn saw the subject and grinned. The moment of truth. Her one assignment, and then she’d be free. “Let it be Robaire,” she thought. “Come on, come on, come on, let it be Robaire.” She opened the message. For a moment, nothing happened, and then a BiOS window filled her vision, just like last time. The Agency’s iron eagle stared dispassionately at her, and then the message began. It was a man’s voice this time, although Ghenn didn’t know if that meant it was a different Agent or just a different distortion method.
Ghenn listened attentively, hoping against hope that Robaire’s name would be the one to come up.
Five other names did. Panna’s was one of them.
Ghenn barely spoke at dinner that night. The message played over and over in her head. The message was a jumbled mess in her mind, but even so the weight of individual phrases and words were enough to crush her. “Failure is not an option.” “A simple assignment.” “Whatever means necessary.” “We’ll be watching.”
“Hey. Hey, Ghenn.”
She jumped in her seat and looked around. Everyone who’d bothered to take their meal at the table was staring at her. Panna frowned, her concern writ plain on her face. “Are you okay?”
Ghenn forced a smile. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Are you getting sick or something? You’ve been… off… all week.”
Ghenn looked into the dark eyes of her friend, the one real friend she’d had in half a decade, and she looked down into her bowl of gruel. “Yeah,” she said, her voice barely a whisper. “Something.”