05 – The Self and the Certainty
Vincent looked through the sliding doors of the infirmary. He could just see that Honeycutt was talking to someone without seeing who the other party was. Not unusual, over the past few days, there had been a lot of conversations about him that hadn’t included him.
With Honeycutt in conversation outside and the guard recruit in the bathroom, it was the first time he’d been alone since he’d awoken and throttled the doctor.
He suspected – with good reason – that there was likely someone watching the security feeds of the infirmary, just in case his fight-or-well-actually-just-fight instincts kicked in again.
With no further incidents, everyone was relaxing more and more and assured him that if the next couple of days went well, he’d no longer need a guard.
It lined up well with the fact that if things continued to go as they had, he’d likely be released from living in the infirmary and allowed to return to a regular recruit room.
Not his room, but a new one, Honeycutt had explained. The extent of the damage and changes to his mind hadn’t been discovered yet, so they wanted to avoid him seeing any of his old possessions in case there were trigger objects hidden amongst them.
Even something as innocent as a teddy or a dildo could flip some unknown switch and activate something hidden beneath the amnesia.
It wasn’t especially likely, but it was a sensible precaution.
He hadn’t been the only one to suffer during what Honeycutt and Williams had taken to calling “the hacking incident”, and each of the other affected recruits had only had one curse inflicted on them.
Blindness. Organs that noped out and stopped working. And him with total amnesia.
The blind girl hadn’t also suddenly turned into a ninja every time she heard the word “penguin”, nor had the other hacking victims had any secondary effects.
So security was finally starting to relax around him.
Honeycutt walked back in, and Vincent looked to the door again, expecting to see nothing but an empty hall, as there usually was after the doctor stepped out for one of his mysterious chats.
Instead, a brown-haired twink stood between the sliding doors with an expression that might have been confusion on his slim face.
He didn’t have any memories, but sometimes he could concentrate on an aspect, personality trait, or concept and see if he vibed with it. Learning about himself by feeling his way through the dark.
One thing he was pretty sure about was that he’d been an observant recruit, and that skill was doing far more than its share now that he had nothing else to rely on.
So he dug deep and tried to learn what he could before the agent spoke.
Agent. He’d known that instinctively. It wasn’t any one thing that gave agents away. After all, they looked like humans unless you went over them with a fine-tooth comb. It wasn’t necessarily behaviors either – they could be just as imperfect as anyone else. He’d seen Honeycutt get food in his mustache and observed Williams getting antsy and unable to concentrate on whatever he was reading.
Whatever it was, the man in front of him blared “agent” in neon, and with nothing else to trust, he trusted his gut.
‘This is Agent Jonathan,’ Honeycutt said, following his eyeline. ‘He’d like to talk to you for a while.’
He gave some imaginary points to his gut and tried to figure out what else he could tell about the man before he spoke.
He was a local, relatively speaking, anyway. His red tie indicated a US agent, and the name had been on Honeycutt’s big “do you know any of these people?” list, so he likely belonged to this network.
Unfortunately, the rest of the clues could lead in several directions. Black blazer, one of the standard uniform options available to anyone who wanted to rep the Agency in formal wear. No cufflinks or a tie clip with a department insignia.
However, he’d met the Phoenix Medical, Combat, and Tech agents, so that left the very strong possibility that the newcomer was the Field agent.
He wished he’d had a moment to tidy his space – his overbed table was full of pudding cups, which he’d been requiring and dismissing for the last couple of hours, to kill some of the boredom between Hunnicut’s tests.
‘Hi. I’m told I’m Vincent. It’s nice to meet you.’
‘Jonathan. Do you mind if I sit?’
Vincent gestured to the empty chair that had previously been occupied by Williams. As he did, he saw that Recruit Miller, back from the bathroom, was watching with an intensity that hadn’t come from any of his guards since Williams on his first, non-throat-grabby day.
‘I’m not going to attack an agent,’ he said, giving his best, broad, innocent smile. Honeycutt coughed, and he deflated a little. ‘Not on purpose,’ he clarified.
Jonathan sat, though Miller remained on guard.
Is it me or Jonathan generating threat right now?
‘I- I’m not sure how much you’ve- How are you, Vincent?’
The question came from somewhere genuine, different from the perfunctory check-in Honeycutt seemed to do eighteen times a day. This was “are you okay?” not “scale of one to ten for your chart”.
‘So you know me,’ he ventured.
‘You don’t remember?’
‘I remember Jack and Shit. Honestly, I would prefer remembering taking a shit at any point in my life to what I have now. One time I blocked the toilet would be a hundred percent more than I have now.’
Jonathan seemed to process this, then, surprisingly, smiled a little. ‘Well, your personality is still there. That might not bring you much comfort, but-’
He leaned forward and grabbed the agent’s tie. ‘So I’ve always been a smartass?’
‘Irreverent,’ Jonathan said, slowly extracting his tie from Vincent’s grip. ‘Is a more polite word. This is not the first conversation involving bowel movements that we’ve had.’
‘Well, shit,’ Vincent replied, maintaining the child-level topic of conversation.
It was a relief that he hadn’t known he was looking for, to know that even missing memories, something of his self remained and that he wasn’t entering the world as an entirely new person.
‘You’ve probably been kept in the dark longer than you prefer, and while I don’t promise I can answer everything, maybe there are some small things I can clear up.’
‘Who are you? Who am I? Why is a raven like a writing desk? What’s the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow? Why do I actually know the answer to that last one? Who shot J.R.? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop? If Jimmy cracks corn, and nobody cares, why does he keep doing it? Whose line is it anyway? Did I leave the oven on?’
‘Okay, just answer the first one. Who are you to me?’
‘I was your lead agent. You’re a Field recruit.’
One word stuck out in Jonathan’s response. ‘“Was”?’ he repeated.
Jonathan looked a little surprised, then recovered. ‘Uh- Both of our futures are a little uncertain. This incident has,’ he paused, ‘disrupted things, and there are decisions to be made well above my head as to what will happen to all of us. A lot of transfers are likely.’
He looked at Jonathan. There was probably a list of sensible questions to ask upon realizing you know literally shit all about your own life, but following through on that was probably harder in practice for both the mind-wipee and the mind-wipee’s friends.
‘Do I have a-’ This was a really weird sensation. Figuring out what was “knowledge” versus “memory” versus “instinct”. What he could understand about himself from vibes alone. The question had been formed as “do I have a girlfriend?” and before the word had come out of his mouth, some instinct had held it back.
He tried to focus on the concept of a hot girl and was rewarded with…memories? Pseudo-memories? Knowledge? Bikinis and watermelon-crushing thighs. Actors and famous people. And he felt himself nod.
Next, he switched the mental track to “hot guys”. Sleek men in suits – some not too dissimilar to Jonathan. Himbos with smiles made of sunshine and shoulder muscles in direct counter-balance with intellect. Another nod.
Right now, Jonathan was- Watching as he mentally scrolled through his spank bank. Though that probably wouldn’t be the strangest thing that happened this week.
Well, I know the word “himbo”, so that’s something, I guess?
Another set of thoughts. Fashionistas kicking the gender box with thousand-dollar boots. People with eyes of steel and aesthetics of “void”. More nods.
‘Well, I’m definitely bi,’ he said, then met Jonathan’s gaze. ‘So, do I have a partner?’ Pause. ‘Well, I guess that’s two questions, in either in the romantic or work senses?’
Jonathan slowly raised an eyebrow. It seemed he was processing a response.
‘More than one partner? A ménage-a-trois? A harem?’
Jonathan’s eyebrow returned to normal as his entire face slowly lowered into his palm.
‘No romantic entanglements,’ Jonathan said after taking a moment to reset. ‘No recruit partner either, mostly you worked with me.’
Vincent looked at the agent for a moment, then shuffled a little closer. ‘If you knew me, know me, whatever. If you’re my friend. Tell me the things I’m not thinking to ask. Tell me the obvious shit that I’m missing.’
‘I don’t have a manual for this situation either,’ Jonathan said. ‘For everything that has happened this week, I’m glad you’re alive. Even missing your memories, I’m glad you’re alive.’
Jonathan leaned back in the chair, but there was a certain resignation to the movement. ‘When an Agency director goes bad, it’s very rare that their Agency stays intact afterward. And this isn’t falling, or simple corruption, or anything…normal, for that given value of normal. Right now, we don’t even know how many people he infected with smaller hacks. You and the others that were activated were clearly just for the spectacle, for the distraction. If I were to speculate, I would assume that a new team will take over this Agency, and it will be initially staffed with unattached agents, Academy students, and spare personnel. You’ll likely have the option to become inactive, though quitting entirely won’t be on the books, which is good, as both Medical and Tech will continue to work on trying to restore some of what you’ve lost.’ He paused. ‘It may also help us detect others that have been hacked, so your cooperation will be appreciated.’
Vincent nodded. It was a reasonable enough request. ‘So where will I end up?’
‘It’s not up to me,’ Jonathan said. ‘Would you like to stretch your legs for a while?’
He looked over to Miller, then back at Jonathan. ‘Am I allowed?’
‘I’m happy to take responsibility for a few minutes. You must be sick of looking at these four walls.’
‘More than you can believe.’
Jonathan stood and picked up one of the pudding cups. ‘I can see what you’re doing to pass the time, so I have little trouble believing it.’
He looked down at the cannula. ‘Can someone disconnect this, then? And would you mind if I put on pants?’
‘Please. Please put on pants, Vincent.’