Vicki Fenner woke up.
She stared at the ceiling, trying to . . . remember.
Eventually she sat up in bed. She wore a white t-shirt and white boxer briefs. She could not recall putting them on, or going to sleep, or much of anything.
What had she been doing?
Oh, yes. Killing Republican Marines.
That thought brought a smile to her lips.
She would sit someplace like an outdoor café and watch them for hours. Guard duty got boring. Once the fighting stopped, soldiers always grew bored. The Republicans were no exception. Eventually one would walk away from the others. That’s when she would step in and take the unfortunate soul out.
There was not really much else she could do at that moment, except continue the fight through murder and sabotage.
The last thing she remembered was following that tall woman, the Sergeant, after she walked by the window where Vicki had been sitting all day waiting for an opportunity.
It was pretty easy, if you had a gun. You just walked up behind the victim, whipped out the weapon and squeezed off a round. Blasters were not that loud, and out in the street a single shot would not sound the alarm.
Fenner would keep walking, as if the person in front of her had merely stumbled and fell. She would step over or around the body and be on her way. By the time passersby discovered the fallen Marine, they would be dead and Fenner would be gone.
It had worked time and time again. She went home to the apartment she was using, fed Sheba the cat, and woke up to spend another day waiting for Marines to wander off alone.
And it could go on indefinitely. She loved killing Republicans. If they were going to take away StarCen and SSI and rip her planet out of the League, she would simply murder as many of them as she could. It seemed like a fair trade in her mind.
But the big Sergeant . . . she had been different.
Fenner walked up behind her on the street, whipped out her weapon and somebody yelled, “Gun!”
Someone or something pushed her hand down when she pulled the trigger. She did not see who, or what. But the shot went into the sidewalk, not the Sergeant’s back.
The Sergeant turned around and slugged her, knocking Fenner down. Then something invisible held her in place. She couldn’t move. Fenner quickly activated the suicide nanobots in her bloodstream. She never planned to be taken alive, if and when the day came she finally got caught.
The Sergeant said, “Oh no you don’t!”
And that was pretty much the last thing she remembered.
Fenner came back to the present.
Out loud she said, “So, where am I now, and what’s going on?”
She stood and looked around the room. The walls were white and it was mostly bare. The bed had white sheets on it. A white dresser stood against one wall with a mirror.
Fenner looked into it and saw the light streak down the middle of her otherwise dark hair. It was one of the reasons her nickname was “The Wicked Witch of Juventas.”
She heard a knock at the door and it opened.
“Director Munk! What’s going on? Where am I?”
“Heckuva thing, Vicki. We managed to get you back in a trade with the Republicans. You’ve been in cryosleep for months now, in the belly of one of their Condors.
“But the war’s over and we’re waking up the prisoners we swapped for. And now that you’re awake, we’ve got an assignment for you. Follow me, please.”
He turned, leaving the door open. She padded after him, suddenly uneasy about walking around in her underwear.
As if sensing her discomfort, SSI Epsilon Director Munk said, “We’ll get you some clothes soon. But this is too important, it can’t wait.”
She nodded and realized there seemed to be some sort of weight around her neck. But when she put a hand there to touch it, she could not feel anything.
Confused, she hurried after Munk.
He led her down a white hall, then opened a white door and stepped into another room.
She followed and inside the room she found herself staring at a globe, rotating from a magnetic platform on the floor.
The globe was large, a meter in diameter. Blue light pulsed and rippled from its surface.
“This is our offline backup, Vicki. We recovered it from Sporades, but we need a bio key to access it. That’s where you come in. We need you to unlock the encryption.”
She looked at the globe and . . . her brain struggled to make sense of everything.
“Why . . . why do you need me, Director Munk? You could unlock the encryption yourself.”
He smiled, and flickered, just for a second.
“I forgot to tell you, Vicki. I’m not really here. This is just a high-grade hologram of myself. But you . . . you’re actually here. Place your hand on the globe, Vicki.”
She blinked and said, “Oh.”
She turned and looked at the globe and again her brain seemed to rebel.
“If you’re just a holo . . . how did you open the door?”
“I told you, Vicki. I’m a high-grade holo. It’s the newest thing StarCen developed. I can pick up things, move them around. But I’m not physically present.”
She stared at the blue globe again and her eyebrows scrunched down.
She said, “If it’s that good a holo, why don’t you touch it? You can touch everything else.”
“Dang it, Vicki! Touch the globe already! Lives are at stake here!”
Vicki’s expression changed. She stepped back from the globe and crossed her arms.
She said, “No. I don’t think I will.”
Munk snarled in frustration, reached down and grabbed her hand, pulling it toward the floating blue ball. She twisted out of his grip and kicked him in the stomach.
Fenner’s eyes closed and the scene shifted. The globe disappeared, as did Munk.
A light came on, revealing her physical form. She was strapped to a hospital bed, her vitals displayed in a holo above it. A doc bot looked at her face, then glanced up at the holo.
A gunmetal gray color was strapped around her neck.
One room over, Gina Wilcox opened her eyes. She stared at Smithers and frowned.
She said, “That’s the fifth time. It doesn’t work. She does not trust any scenario we come up with.”
Smithers nodded, distractedly. He said, “We’ve combed her memory, and I think your version of Munk is spot on. What is it? You think it’s the clothes? Should we try to add some color to the rooms besides white? That’s more difficult but if you think it would help . . .”
“It doesn’t make sense to her, Mr. Smithers. None of the scenarios make sense. Yes, it’s a good cover story, the bit about waking her up after a prisoner swap, but she never can fully swallow the idea that she and only she has to unlock the encrypted backup globe right this minute.”
“I know, I know.”
Smithers tugged at the hair on his head in frustration.
He said, “What do you think we should do? A different scenario? Try to come up with something more believable?”
“Why don’t you just wake her up in the flesh right next to the globe and see what happens?”
Smithers shook his head. He said, “The data’s too valuable. If there’s a self-destruct sequence and she sets it off, we could lose everything. I can’t risk that. We can pipe down her physical interactions via the neural net over to the actual globe. If she tries to destroy it from here we can intercept the command.”
“She hasn’t tried to destroy it in the simulations so far.”
“We still can’t risk it. She can’t go anywhere near the real deal. I’ll wipe her memory and we’ll try another round. Let me dress her in something less revealing this time. Maybe she’ll be more comfortable around ‘Munk.’”
Smithers turned to make some adjustments on his holopanel.
Wilcox slumped in her chair.
She said, “There’s got to be a better way.”