It was interesting how the world’s roadways had evolved. Adrien stared upwards at the seemingly unending spacetowers, a colloquialism given to the mega-rise structures that penetrated far past the clouds and the historical “skyscrapers” that ceased to exist beyond the 22nd century. Times had changed. Attitudes had changed.
Despite the availability of magstreams and maglev cars, Adrien much preferred the roadways. He loved the feel of the automobile as it wound down the perfectly-paved, mostly-empty streets. He often imagined what it must have been like in the past, crowded with people. What public transportation must have been like, the bustling of a crowded station, the sensation of being a part of the teeming mass of humanity that comprised a city populous.
Everything is… darker.
A song popped into his mind.
“Darker,” He sang quietly, then smiled.
Thom Hoburg was sitting at the head of the conference room table, his back to the large bay windows that let in brilliant beams of sunlight, intently reading something on his personal tablet.
The clean-cut creases upon Hoburg’s face tightened somewhat as he heard rapid footsteps from outside.
“Good morning.” Adrien said casually as he flung the doors open and entered the room. Hoburg nodded vaguely in reply, still immersed in what he was reading and his own thoughts. Adrien quietly sat down in a chair across from him, kicking back on the legs of the table so he rolled away a bit while spinning.
When he came to a stop, Adrien was staring out the window. He put his hand up to his eyes to block some of the light and continued to stare, watching the clouds roll past the windows, the ground below hardly visible.
Some minutes passed.
Finally, Hoburg said without looking up: “Good work handling the Southwestern insurgents.”
Adrien shrugged noiselessly. “It was mostly Faulkner.”
“Not according to the Committee,” Hoburg looked up and quietly turned off his tablet’s display. The Committee was an oversight network of SIs that monitored all personal SI neural lace feeds 24/7. An automated inquisitorial board, if you would.
Suddenly, as if he could hold it in no more, Hoburg added: “Sullivan was killed by a high-pressure coolant explosion while he was investigating an aberrant SI at a Northwestern facility.”
Adrien raised an eyebrow and his expression became furled. Sullivan was a senior field agent at Msec and a good friend of Hoburg’s — he wouldn’t be killed so easily. Certainly not by something as unlikely as a coolant explosion: either Hoburg was lying about the cause of death, or someone had pre-meditated Sullivan’s murder.
Adrien guessed it was most likely the latter.
Hoburg continued. “His invitrion endoskeleton remained, but the coolant managed to pierce his skull-casing and obliterate his brain and his SI.”
Adrien looked quietly at the floor, trying to make sense of this. “I’m sorry for our loss, sir.”
Hoburg nodded, his eyes darting to the side, pupils directed towards the wall. No doubt all of this was much harder on Hoburg than he let on.
Hoburg continued gazing at the wall from the corners of his eye-sockets, for some reason avoiding looking at Adrien’s face. He added quietly: “In response, the Committee’s decided that they need a Master Investigator who’s…” Hoburg stopped there, the gravity of what he was about to say pressing upon his mind and chest.
“More daring,” Hoburg finally finished after a long moment’s pause.
“Who have they picked?” Adrien asked, contemplating that Hoburg had rephrased the Committee’s actual words, likely because the decision was something that didn’t sit so well with Hoburg himself.
Hoburg nodded, finally looking back at Adrien. “You.”
The monosyllable reply hung in the air.
Hoburg had never liked Adrien. He’d always seen Adrien as a wildcard: a beast that could not be tamed and therefore had to be kept caged. But he had to admit, the insurgents were animals, and it was only fitting to let a beast hunt other animals.
And Adrien… well, he was a thorough-bred predator if Hoburg had ever seen one; an animal whose entire genetics were founded upon the thrill of the hunt. Adrien didn’t even know it, but Hoburg could see it: Adrien was a murdering machine whose only redeeming factor was that he’d been raised in a time and age where he could not evoke his best traits.
Adrien looked up. Almost as if he could read Hoburg’s deepest thoughts, the furl upon his brow grew into a full-out frown.
“What about –”
“Don’t say ‘what about Vernier.’ Even Ella-Louise vouched for you, and she’s his wife,” Hoburg snapped back, a touch of his contempt towards Adrien seeping into his words. Don’t pretend like you care was what Hoburg truly thought. He closed his eyes to rid himself of the biased opinion which he knew to be untrue. Adrien was still human, and he was still empathetic.
Hoburg, briefly, recalled what Sullivan had been like before getting augmented and after getting augmented. It had been over 20 years ago that Hoburg and Sullivan had been heatedly debating whether or not the two of them should get augmentations.
Sullivan had decided to go for it. Hoburg had not, preferring to remain completely biological.
They’d had a falling out before the operation and Hoburg had quietly assumed that he and Sullivan would never be friends again. But after the operation, Sullivan changed. He became… more composed, more empathetic. He and Hoburg had made up their differences and become even greater friends in the process.
Perhaps, Hoburg reasoned, the augmentation process would have a similar effect on young Adrien. “This is about you, Adrien,” he added softly.
Adrien nodded grimly and turned his eyes to the floor, staring intently at as he disappeared into a bout of intense introspection.
Some part of Adrien was ecstatic, despite Sullivan’s death. Sullivan, who had been his mentor when he had first been accepted into Msec. A sense of disgust pervaded his self-consciousness as he realized he was more happy for the promotion than he was sad for the loss of Sullivan. But he put it aside. That he felt some disgust was a healthy enough sign that he was not himself a bad person. Any further caustic self-judgement was counter-productive, something he’d learned a long time ago.
“You have the opportunity to get augmented now,” Hoburg said after carefully examining Adrien for a few minutes. He turned to stare out the window with a deep breath, his back now facing Adrien. “I’ve booked you for an O.R. next week, you’re free to take it or leave it.”
A slight sigh escaped Adrien’s lips as he looked up. “I’m sorry for our loss, sir,” was all his flustered mind could muster to repeat.
Hoburg nodded silently, actually consoled by the words. “I received your message regarding the Beijing financial SI. I’m assigning Ryan Juris to the case in your stead so you can start taking care of your new tasks as Master Investigator — the first of which is to contact Alice Sterling and schedule a review for the new Kusanagi-series exoskeleton armor.
“In the meantime, make a decision about getting augmented. You’re assigned Sullivan’s case either way.”
“Yes, sir,” Adrien nodded, his mind a flurry. He remembered Ryan Juris and concluded Ryan was an excellent replacement choice. As for whether or not to get augmented… Adrien bit his lower lip slightly as he drew blank uncertainty.
Hoburg waved his hand, indicating Adrien was dismissed. Tight-lipped and intense, Adrien swiftly got up and left, leaving Hoburg to contemplate things by himself.