Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/books/entry_id/1006541
by Zen
Rated: GC · Book · Sci-fi · #2217429
This is the first draft of a work-in-progress that will be updated chapter-by-chapter.
#1006541 added March 18, 2021 at 8:06am
Restrictions: None
Act I, Chapter 2: Genesis of the Other
~~ January 21, 2018, 1112 hours ~~

~~ Location: [undisclosed], somewhere in Ottawa, Ontario ~~


Sweat poured down the side of her face and glued her shirt to her back, but Erin paid her perspiration no mind. She ran through her head the areas of Sector HQ she’d already checked, trying not to let her mind wander to the realms of unlikely possibilities of what could have happened.

The trainee quarters. The men’s washrooms on sublevels four through eight. The mess hall on sublevel 6. The shooting range on sublevel five. The gym on sublevel seven. Where else did he have access to at the Clandestine Operations Sector?

Erin kept moving down the hallway, passing the R&D department labs on her way back to the elevators. On her way back, she nearly collided with someone who was exiting one of the workshops on the floor.

She had to stop quickly to avoid knocking the mousy man over, who quickly noticed that he’d inadvertently barred someone’s way in the otherwise quiet, empty hallway.

“Miss Kennedy, sorry about that,” the man - who looked no older than eighteen - said as he closed his workshop door behind him.

“No problem, Charlie,” Erin said briskly, moving around him to keep going before her head caught up with who she was talking to. She turned back around.

“Charlie, wait,” she said urgently.

Charlie Cole spun around on his heels a bit awkwardly and quickly, his steel-rimmed glasses sliding a little down his nose. Though it was typically frowned upon for professional reasons, he was sporting a red-and-white checkered plaid shirt and olive green pants that made him look like he was a high school student. Technically, he was at that age to be one, although if that were all he was, he’d have no business being at the CSIS.

“Yes, Miss Kennedy?” he said, clearing his throat and pushing his glasses up higher on his face.

Erin paused, quickly searching her memory for something her student had said in the past.

“You know an Ian, right? Ian Alcantara?” she asked.

“Ian? Oh, yeah,” the young man broke easily into a carefree smile. “Yeah, for sure. He takes me out for shoot--”

His mouth suddenly clapped shut and a look of discomfort crossed his face.

“I mean, uhh,” he said in a furtive, trying-not-to-panic manner that would have been comical under better circumstances, “Yeah, I know him. He and I talk occasionally. He’s a--”

Erin cut through his blabbering. “Have you seen him today?”

Charlie blinked, looking almost relieved and stopping from tugging at the collar of his shirt. “Ian? No, not today.”

“When did you last see him?” Erin pressed, taking a step toward him without thinking.

“W-Well, we haven't really talked since last… I dunno, Saturday? Last weekend? But I think I saw him heading into the dojo yesterday.”

That was hardly the correct term for the sparring hall, but Erin let his terminology slide.

“What time was this?” she asked instead.

“I’m not sure. Sometime between ten and eleven o’clock, I think. Morning.”

Erin looked away from the befuddled boy slightly, trying to establish a timeline of events. After a while, Charlie spoke up.

“Miss Kennedy?”

“What, Charlie?”

The boy visibly recoiled a little. Erin took half a step back from him. After she did, he squeaked a question.

“Is, uh, everything all right?”

“I don’t know.”

“Welllllll… Is Ian all right?” he said slowly and tentatively, like a child testing the waters after he had recently angered an adult.

Erin looked back at him, tightening her jaw on reflex.

“He’s fine.”

“Oh, then… that’s good.” Charlie nodded, though it was quite plain he didn’t buy that. “Well, uhh… Hope you find him soon, I guess. If you’ll excuse me.”

He tentatively turned his back on Erin and resumed heading down the direction she had just come, deeper into the R&D department.

Erin watched the youth go to the end of the hallway, then hang a right at the T-junction, but her mind was already elsewhere.

Where else?

She headed in the opposite direction, coming back to the elevator landing on sublevel eight. She pressed the down button before recalling that the last six or so sublevels further down were for records management, human resources, and low- and high-level officials’ meeting spaces and offices. Recruits’ access cards wouldn’t let their owners through those sublevels.

She pressed the up button.

As soon as the elevator doors opened to bring her to the sublevels above, her earpiece beeped softly in her left ear. She tapped on it as she got on the lift.

“Reaper,” she said curtly, gently pressing the ‘B4’ button on the elevator panel with the heel of her fist.

As the doors slid shut and the lift began to ascend, a male voice responded over her communications device.

“Erin? I’ve gone over the camera logs.”

“Give me something, Chase,” Erin said, her patience wearing thin and giving way to something else she wasn’t proud to be feeling.

“Last sighting was caught by the front lobby cam at 1712. He walked out without a bag or anything. Dressed casual.”

“Well, when did he walk back in?” Erin demanded, her eyes tracking the automated screen above the panel buttons showing that she was currently approaching sublevel six.

“He didn’t,” Chase said, and Erin practically felt him wincing through the line. “We’ve gone over all the footage of every camera monitoring areas he could access, all the way to footage of the now. The last we see of him was yesterday at 1712.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? That you misplaced him?”


“Where is he, Chase?”

“I don’t know.” Having known him for years, Erin could hear the genuine tone of apology in her former commanding officer’s voice. “I’m going to look over the footage again. Maybe there’s something I missed.”

Erin doubted that. Chase Coste was more casual and easygoing than most of her colleagues, but ‘halfhearted’ or ‘careless’ weren’t words she’d use to describe him if asked to.


“We’re an intelligence fucking service, and we can’t even keep track of one of our recruits?” she hissed into her earpiece.

“We aren’t keeping 24/7 tabs on trainees,” Chase said, “They’re initiates, not fugitives. And maybe we’re jumping the gun here. We’re probably assuming things are worse than they are. Ian’s not a child.”

“Now you’re just pulling things out of your ass, Chase.”

“Calm down, Erin. Jesus.”

Erin gnashed her teeth together behind her closed lips., and it wasn’t until this moment that she realized how out of character this was for her.

The chairman was the first to break the silence as the elevator’s automated announcer chimed in with a robotic “Sublevel Four, Recruit Quarters. Have a good day”.

“Look, at this point, you know him much better than I do,” Chase said patiently. “Has he ever pulled something like this before?”

Erin gave the question some thought. When the doors opened to deposit her onto Sublevel Four, where she began her search about half an hour ago, she stepped out.

“No,” she said finally as the elevator doors slid shut again behind her. “The kid wouldn’t do this. I know he wouldn’t.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.”

Erin heard Chase mutter something that sounded vaguely like an expletive under his breath. She stood still at the elevator landing of the sublevel, head hung slightly with her finger to her earpiece.

After another silence, Chase spoke first once more. “Listen, just… Leave this to me. You just got back from a mission yourself. Go home, get some rest. I’ll be on the lookout for Ian, and next to me you’ll be the first to know when I know something about where he is.”

“And what are you going to do, exactly? Organize a search party?”

“If it comes to that. I’ll get a couple of our men out in the city, be lookouts. And if Ian somehow magically waltzes back in here, I’ll know from the card access logs. I’ll let you know. Maybe… I don’t know, he went out drinking last night. It was a free day for the recruits, and… training gets hard sometimes. Maybe he passed out somewhere and he’s a bit ashamed he couldn’t make it today on time.”

“The kid doesn’t drink,” Erin said flatly.

Chase sighed heavily over the line.

“Go home, Erin. Seriously. I’ll handle this. If anything happens, I give you my word, you will know as soon as I do.”

“Fine… All right.”

Chase cut the link and Erin lowered her arm back to her side. She lifted her head, eyes shut against the glaring glow of the fluorescents above her.

~~ January 24, 2018, 0636 hours ~~

~~ Location: Kanata, western Ottawa ~~

The shrill ringing of a nearby phone sent sharp, shooting pains all across Erin’s head before she’d even gotten the chance to open her eyes. She instinctively stuck out the one arm she hadn’t pinned beneath her body and reached out toward where she knew her phone lay on the coffee table. Her hand knocked something over that made a distinctively tin-like clattering noise as it fell off the edge of the table and onto the floor, the sound doing little to soothe the ear splitting aching wreaking havoc on her head. Her fingers eventually recognized the rubbery borders of her phone’s case and she pulled the device off the table, across the gap between the table and the couch, and close to her chest.

When she opened her eyes groggily in the dimly lit living room, she squinted at the bright screen of her phone to read the name of the person calling her.

Chase Coste.

Erin pushed herself up to a sitting position quickly, the speed with which she did it causing another spike to drive itself through her skull. She managed to plant her feet to the floor, hunched over slightly in the couch, and placed her smartphone to her ear.

“Chase? Anything?” she asked, her voice sounding a little scratchy and dry.

“We’ve found him.” Chase sounded quiet, and although Erin couldn’t detect any unease in his tone, she could tell that he was trying not to show concern that was definitely there.


“We just got him to Ottawa General. He’s...”

Chase stopped for a full second.

Erin got to her feet, grabbing her coat that was slung over the back of the couch she’d fallen asleep in. “On my way.”

She hung up without another word, pulled on her jacket, and swept out of her condo.

It took Erin thirty-three minutes to navigate the rush hour traffic of downtown Ottawa, and another six to make her way through the winding and multiple levels of visitor parking of Ottawa General Hospital before she found a parking spot that wasn’t taken. She cut through the hospital’s cancer centre, which was closest to where she had parked her rented sedan, and made her way briskly north through the middle of the institution, squeezing her way past nurses and visitors and even colliding with one custodian whose dustpan emptied its trash and other contents when Erin nearly knocked the woman over in her haste.

“Hey--!” the lady in her fifties, dressed in a slightly wrinkled set of blue scrubs, yelped as she threw out her one free hand toward the nearby wall to steady herself.

Erin gave the custodian a quick glance, already past arm’s length of her. When she had ascertained that the other woman had managed to keep her balance by holding on to the wall next to her, Erin kept going.

Erin took another two minutes to make it to Ward 15, one of the general admission wards. Chase had sent her a text en route to the hospital, mentioning that he himself was at the hospital and waiting outside the young recruit’s door. He didn’t mention what had happened to the boy, or where he had been found; Erin didn’t care. She would find out soon enough.

When she got to her destination, which was one of the busier wards, she found a large, burly man sitting on a bench between Rooms 101 and 102. He seemed to sense Erin’s approach, turning his head her way as she walked briskly over to him from the direction of the ward exit. He stood up as Erin reached him, taking his hands out of the pockets of his business slacks.

“Where is he?” Erin demanded, giving the man an absent scowl.

Chase Coste, one of the chairmen of the board at the Clandestine Operations Sector, looked as though he hadn’t slept the previous night. There were dark shadows beneath his clear blue eyes, and his usually neat blond hair looked slightly unkempt, as if he had just rolled out of a bed that he had failed to fall asleep in. He gave a steadying sigh and gave Erin a forcibly patient look.

“Right in there,” he replied, jerking a thumb over to the door of Room 101 behind him.

Erin moved to walk past him and toward the door, but Chase held out an arm to bar her progress.

“You could go in there, but he’s not going to answer any questions,” he said in a cautioning tone.

“What do you mean?” Erin said, resisting the urge to push Chase’s arm away.

“He’s out cold. Hasn’t stirred since we found him.”

“And where did you find him?”

“Lying still and just as unconscious by the Rideau River near Claudette Caine Park in Barrhaven.”

Erin tightened her jaw again. “What the hell was he doing in a suburban neighbourhood to the southwest?”

Chase shook his head gently, scratching at his trimmed beard. “We don’t know. Just that a bystander called 911 when they found our guy lying face down on the bank. Christ, we’re lucky someone was out for a run that early and they saw him in the dark. One of the men I assigned to be on the lookout for Ian caught it on the emergency responders’ radio frequency and went to follow up on the lead. Recognized our missing trainee and let me know.”

“Is he--?”

“Okay?” Chase finished for her immediately. “He’s alive, that’s for sure. I saw him not long before I called you. Doctor told me our boy was mildly hypothermic when he arrived here.”

“Mildly?” Erin repeated, trying her hardest to sound flat.

“Yeah. Like… he couldn’t have been laying where he was found for long. Otherwise he’d have been much worse off.”

Given that it was January and near the peak of most Canadian cities’ winters, Erin couldn’t disagree.

“How is he?” she asked next.

“He’ll live. Folks along my chain of command are demanding reports as to why one recruit failed to show up for daily training, though. But that’s to be expected. Expect he’s going to have some headaches and explaining to do when he gets out of here.”

Chase stopped again, then looked away slightly from her longtime friend.

“I’m more concerned about what he did to wind up there in the first place.”

Erin inclined her head a little. “Nothing for it but to ask him when he wakes up.”

“I know I asked this before since you two have been together since September, but--” Chase said hesitantly, seeming to drag each word as he spoke.


“Well...” He appeared uncomfortable, as if he didn’t want to say something out loud. Erin squarely stared at him, waiting for him to finish. “You’ve read his history, right?”

“I didn’t read every word. Enough. The important bits. Why?” Though Erin asked, she had a feeling she knew where Chase was going with this.

“Well, you know… He’s had it rough, and… I was just wondering if he’s acted...”

For a former Special Ops officer, Chase Coste was certainly delicate for what Erin felt were troublesome reasons. Perhaps since his discharge from the military, the man had gotten soft.

“Spit it out, Chase,” she said with a sigh.

Chase didn’t look any less hesitant even as he lowered his voice so that passers-by in the hallway would be less likely to hear him.

“You don’t think he’s tried to… jump in the river, do you?”

Erin had an answer for this all ready to go, having expected Chase to pose the question eventually. Yet, hearing the question itself verbalized by someone else gave her pause.

She replied with something different than she intended to go with. “Chase, you met him before me at that shooting course you ran on the side. Did he come off that way to you?”

The chairman crossed his arms over his chest and gave it a thought for a few seconds. “I can’t be sure. If you wanted a yes or no, then I’d have to say… no. He certainly seemed like a young guy just looking to pick up a hobby. At first.”

“Uh-huh. And what do you think now?”

“I don’t want to think the worst. Besides, we don’t know if this is even the case. Sure, I didn’t know his history before I floated the idea of the C.O.S. to him. It wasn’t until the pre-evaluations that I knew.”

Erin narrowed her eyes at the burly man. “And you didn’t exactly withdraw your endorsement of the kid. Not even then.”

“This shouldn’t surprise you, but Ian’s not the only candidate we have who has… difficult circumstances,” Chase said discreetly, seeming to pick his words carefully. “There are others with similar backgrounds and more visible traumas. Some, not all. Some made it through the screening. Some didn’t. But he was one who did. Before I even brought him to meet you, he was already cleared for training.”

Erin sighed again, her eyes flitting to the door behind Chase, where her pupil was passed out. She became aware of a gnawing in her gut, like something wasn’t quite right about all this. Of course, nothing was ever right about something like this, but…

“I haven’t gone over his weekly reports in a bit,” Chase said in a murmur, meeting Erin’s eyes again. “But what’s your assessment of him so far?”

Erin paused a beat.

“He’s capable,” she said, a little less grudgingly that she felt she should. “I’ve seen worse performances from morons who clearly aren’t cut out for this work.”

Chase gave her a somewhat embarrassed little smile. “Really?”

“I’m not saying he’s perfect for the job,” she clarified, frowning. “He could do with being less timid and more assertive. Confident. A lot of times he’ll doubt himself when he shouldn’t. His performance in combat situations, infiltrations, tech manipulation, are all… average, if not above it. But if there’s something he’s not, it’s not ‘motivated’.”

Chase’s smile grew slightly. “Still think I should have picked someone with military experience?”

“That depends on what happens to the kid after today.”

The chairman’s smile slid off his face. “Yeah. Shit, the chain of command is going to want to know everything about this incident. An operative - no, a trainee - going AWOL is grounds for disciplinary action.”

Erin suppressed a sigh. “Nothing to be done but to find out why he walked out and didn’t come back for days.”

Chase nodded thoughtfully, then fell silent. Erin stared at the door of her student’s room a while, then turned around.

“Where are you going?” Chase asked.

“Pharmacy.” Erin began walking away in the direction of the ward exit. She only just then became actively aware that her headache was still lingering, albeit at a slightly lesser magnitude. “I need some aspirin. And a bite to eat.”

She slowed for a second.

“Keep an eye on him, Chase,” she said, glancing over her shoulder.

“Will do,” Chase said with a nod, then settled back down in the seat to stand vigil over the recruit he endorsed.

Erin’s head was throbbing, but as demanding as the pain was, her mind was largely elsewhere.

It wasn’t until half past eleven that a doctor stepped into Ian Alcantara’s hospital room and stepped out several minutes later. Erin, who’d willed herself to be patient for the boy’s waking, had been uninterestedly flipping through a stack of sports and lifestyle magazines from a nearby book rack the last few hours when the doctor who had gone in to presumably check on Ian stepped out and turned toward the man and woman sitting right outside the door.

“Hello, Mister Coste, was it?” the doctor, a woman who looked to be a few years Erin’s junior, “I’m Doctor Wiebe, the one assigned to look after Mister Alcantara.”

Chase got to his feet and shook the doctor’s hand with a smile. “A pleasure, Doctor Wiebe. Thank you for taking care of him. This is Erin Kennedy, Ian’s… guardian.”

Erin took the doctor’s hand and shook it briefly. “How is he?”

Wiebe gave a momentary glance down at the clipboard she had tucked between her arm and chest before looking back up at Chase and Erin.

“Ian’s going to be all right, physically. He’s suffered some moderate hypothermia, which is naturally concerning, but he’s fortunate that he was found when he was, or it could have been severe. Judging from how he was brought in, I doubt he was outdoors for too long, because he doesn’t have any occurrences of frostbite on him.”

“Was he injured? Cuts, bruises, broken bones?” Erin prompted.

“Well,” the doctor answered. “err--”

The doctor appeared to catch herself at the last moment, knitting her eyebrows together a bit.

“Doctor, if there’s something we need to know about him, we implore you to tell us,” Chase said gently.

“Are you immediate family to Ian, Mister Coste?”

“No,” Chase said, sounding slightly discouraged. “No, but… Miss Kennedy here is the closest thing Ian has to immediate family, Doctor.”

Erin snapped her neck sideways to glare at Chase, who merely gave her a split-second’s worth of a glance back. Doctor Wiebe directed her gaze toward Erin this time, silently prompting her for confirmation.

“I’m usually the one looking after the kid, yeah,” she said slowly.

The doctor seemed to gauge Erin’s lukewarm reply before speaking again. “Okay. I only ask because we can’t share patient results or diagnoses unless it’s with immediate family or guardians of the patient.”

“I’m all right with Mister Coste being here to listen to medical reports,” Erin said immediately.

This time, it was Chase who glanced openly at her while Erin only gave him a fleeting side-eye.

“All right.” Doctor Wiebe sighed. “When Ian was brought in, we did the usual procedures for patients who come into the ER. Naturally, that meant an electrocardiogram. At Mister Coste’s… insistence, we bumped up Ian’s diagnosis as a priority.”

Erin nodded, feeling Chase’s eyes on her.

“We analyzed Ian’s ECG, and we found some abnormalities in his heart’s electrical activity. With cases of hypothermia, he initially had the usual indicators of the condition: J Waves, shivering artefact… But we also found something abnormal for hypothermia patients.”

“What was it?” Erin asked.

The doctor looked down at the clipboard in her arms again. “Ian now has transient atrial fibrillation.”

Erin’s medical terminology was better than most, but it had been a while since she had to deal with cardiac disorders. “What does that mean, Doctor?”

“We have records of a recent stringent medical examination of Ian Alcantara from last August,” Doctor Wiebe explained, “And since we keep records of all patients’ medical information, we were able to ascertain that Ian had no instances of atrial fibrillation his entire life, if we’re going by ECGs alone, of course.”

“What does atrial fibrillation typically entail, Doctor Wiebe?” Chase asked.

“Well, to put it simply… atrial fibrillation means the upper two chambers of the heart, the atria, open and close irregularly. Most commonly, they may open and close more rapidly than normal, elevating a patient’s heart rate to as much as one hundred fifty beats per minute. For reference, normal sinus rhythm is sixty to 100 beats per minute. Anything above that range is sinus tachycardia.”

“So, then...” Chase said slowly, sounding a bit more worried now.

Doctor Wiebe paused to look from Erin to Chase, then back. “As I said, Ian now has a case of atrial fibrillation, which means his heart rate goes above one hundred beats per minute even at rest in a supine position, which is not normal. However, when we analyzed his blood sample two hours ago, there was no indication of what could have triggered the change in Ian’s previously normal heart rhythm.”

“Drugs, you mean?” Erin said, sucking in a breath without knowing.

“Yes,” the doctor replied. “Atrial fibrillation can be induced without influences of heredity or more direct damage to a part of the heart. Dobutamine, adenosine, milrinone… These are a few examples of drugs that can induce AF.”

Both Erin and Chase fell silent for a moment.

“If the patient had an extensive history of substance abuse--” Doctor Wiebe began.

“Absolutely not,” Chase said in a hardened voice, shaking his head. “We… Doctor, the place Ian works at screened him stringently for possible substance abuse, and him making it inside means he’s clean. There’s no way.”

The doctor raised her free hand. “I wasn’t implying Ian had a drug dependency, Mister Coste. I’m simply laying out possibilities, no matter how remote. The reason I mention this one is because we found noticeable bruises on the inside of Ian’s elbows when he was brought into the ER earlier this morning.”

“What?” Erin demanded. Bruises on the inside of the kid’s elbows? Then…

Doctor Wiebe nodded plainly. “Yes. I’m sure you’re aware that people with a substance history will procure needles and administer the drugs themselves, without prescription or medical direction otherwise. Most commonly, the inside of the elbow - where the veins are most accessible - is their first choice.”

Erin glanced at Chase, whose mouth was slightly open in disbelief. She shared some of his sentiments, but she could not afford to be as stunned as her friend. She turned back to the doctor.

“Is he awake now?” she said in a slightly hardened voice.

Doctor Wiebe gave a nod. “Yes, he came to not long ago, which prompted me to go see him. Before you go in to see him yourselves, however, I must inform you that I am not confirming that Ian used a drug that caused his atrial fibrillation - whether once or multiple times before. I am merely working with the results I receive from him, and listing possibilities for why he suddenly has the condition. As I said, lab work revealed no traces of substances in his blood, which doesn’t strengthen the theory that he used a substance to induce AF. That in itself is already odd, as the drugs I mentioned should leave traces that a blood analysis would detect, at least in the short-term.”

Erin clutched her hands into fists at her sides.

“Secondly,” Doctor Wiebe added, arching her voice a bit, “I must ask that you be patient with Ian. He is very confused at the moment. When we asked him what he could remember or how he ended up where he was found, he could give us no answer. He claims he has no memory of what happened to him.”

“Tch,” Erin said, shaking her head in frustration. “That’s just perfect. What else has the kid forgotten now? His job, his phone number? His name?

“Fortunately, he is well aware of who he is,” Doctor Wiebe said calmly to Erin. “We’ve confirmed that all he has no recollection of is the events of the past few days. Still, as I mentioned, please be patient with him.”

Erin gave a heavy sigh. She turned back to Chase, whose mouth had now shut and expression had composed slightly.

“Well, all right,” Chase said. “Thank you, Doctor. Can we, uh… Go in and see him right now?”

Doctor Wiebe gave another nod, then a small smile. “Yes. I’m sure he would welcome seeing some familiar faces, though he was trying to appear calm earlier. I’ll be back to check on him again in the afternoon.”

“Thanks,” Erin muttered, walking past the doctor without sparing her another look. She walked up Room 101, ignoring Chase’s pleas to wait up behind her, and turned the door handle.

Upon yanking the door open, Erin took a second at the threshold of the room to gaze at her student at a distance. She wasn’t altogether sure what to expect - was he going to be disheveled, covered in more cuts and bruises than the doctor had admitted? Was he going to be emaciated or traumatized to the point of being unresponsive?

She didn’t realize she’d been gripping the door handle in a vice grip until she released the one breath she’d been holding in her lungs, and until the occupant of the room turned his head in her direction.

Ian Alcantara’s eyes met Erin’s, lighting up a little like they had often done before. He was dressed in a light blue hospital gown. His hair was tousled, as if he’d rolled around in bed, but with how long it usually was, that wasn’t too strange. From a distance, Erin could tell he looked tired, as if he hadn’t slept peacefully in days, but otherwise he looked normal. He wasn’t covered in cuts and bruises, and he didn’t look like he’d lost any of the weight or lean muscle Erin had ‘trained’ into him the last several months.

The kid even had the audacity to attempt a smile, though he suppressed it at the last second. The mere beginnings of an expression ignited something hot in Erin’s chest.

“Ma’am--” Ian sat up and began to pick himself up off the bed, but Erin strode over to him swiftly, placed a hand on his chest, and shoved him back into bed roughly.

“Stay down, you stupid little--” she hissed angrily, glaring at him and gritting her teeth again behind her lips. “You... You--”

Her hand moved on its own to smack the boy on the head, causing her student to jerk sideways from the impact.

“Erin!” Chase rushed into the room after her, closing the door in his wake. “Don’t hit him! Jesus, we don’t even know if he’s got a head injury!”

“Well, the doc didn’t mention that, did she?” she snapped at Chase over her shoulder, who was now right behind her. “If this stupid kid had something like that, she would have mentioned it.”

“Well, yeah, but still… Be a bit more gentle, will you?”

“Chairman,” the boy said, giving Chase a tiny nod.

“Hey, Ian,” Chase said with a warm smile, nodding back. “How are you feeling?”

Ian paused for a couple of seconds, his eyes warily switching from him to Erin, then back to Chase.

“Never better, sir. When do I get back to training?” Ian replied, trying to sit up straight again.

Chase sighed. “No need to lie, son. Just… tell us how you’re really feeling right now. Training can wait a little bit until you’ve recovered.”

The boy’s face tightened a little bit, as if he found the notion of admitting weakness distasteful. After enduring both Erin’s and Chase’s silent stares, however, his shoulders fell and he lowered his head.

“Well, I… I don’t feel particularly sick or anything,” he said in more of a mumble. “My body feels heavy and a bit lethargic, but apart from that, I don’t feel anything too concerning.”

“Are you sure about that?” Chase pressed him.

“Yes, sir. I swear.”

“Are you aware of what happened to you?” Chase asked him next.

“Just what the doctor told me, which was that I was found by the river. Hypothermia, she said.”

“And… you don’t remember anything else?”

Ian shook his head woefully. “No, sir.”

“Bullshit,” Erin growled, leaning over his bed a little. “You’re lying. You told the doctor that because you couldn’t reveal something to her, but you can to us. To me. Out with it. The Sector’s going to demand all this from you anyway after you went AWOL.”

Something else slipped from her mouth:

“Do you have any idea how… We looked fucking everywhere for you, you stupid fucking kid.”

Erin felt a hand on her shoulder. Chase pulled her away from the bed a little and drew right beside her. Erin shook his hand off angrily and walked a couple of steps away from the bed, turning away from her pupil.

She glared at the wall, trying to compose herself. In the meantime, Chase kept talking to Ian.

“Ian,” Chase began again, using a far more soothing tone than Erin could ever manage. She sometimes couldn’t believe this man was a hardened military veteran. “It’s true, we did look everywhere for you. As you know, there’s going to be… some inquiries about where you went off to these past three days. The Service is going to ask questions. That’s what Erin here is sayi--”

“Chase, for Christ’s sake, the boy isn’t a dumbass - he knows damn well what I mean,” Erin said, still turned away from the two others in the room with her.

“Erin, not that this is the time for it, but you’re the one who keeps calling his intelligence into question,” Chase shot back at her.

“He’s stupid, but he’s not that stupid,” Erin hissed. She whipped back around, strode back to the side of the recruit’s bed, and shouldered Chase out of her way. She thrust her hand out again and grabbed the bottom of Ian’s face, squeezing his jaw and chin in her grasp.

“Where were you, huh?” she demanded, leaning her face closer to her student’s face. The boy’s eyes widened in surprise and trepidation in response to her rough grab. “If you’re getting cold feet about being an operative, all you had to do was tell me. I’d help you pack your fucking bags and drop you off at the airport within the next hour. You didn’t have to make a nuisance out of yourself, me, and the goddamn Sector. You’re wasting time and resources.”

Ian seemed unable to formulate a response to that. His eyes regarded his mentor with something akin to fear, but something told Erin it wasn’t her he was afraid of.

Erin let go of his face and pushed his head back onto the pillow, then straightened up. “Clearly, I’ve made some mistakes in your training. Didn’t I tell you before? If you’re going to bow out, you do it at the beginning. I don’t want to waste my time on anything, least of all you.”

Her eyes tracked down to the boy’s arms. The inside of one of his elbows had an IV line attached to it, so she reached for the farther of his two arms and lifted it up. There was some significant bruising on the inside of the boy’s left elbow, an indication of multiple or extended puncturing there.

“Now the doctor tells me you’re jabbing yourself with needles,” Erin spat, ignoring the sensation of something red hot building inside her throat at the sight of the bruises. “What, you thought I wouldn’t find out? Thought this would escape the Sector? What are you dosing yourself with, huh? OUT WITH IT, KID!”

“Erin, Jesus Christ, calm down!” Chase threw his arm in between Ian and his colleague, shoving the latter back. “Let him talk.”

Erin grudgingly took a step back, looking from Chase to Ian, then back. She wasn’t quite sure she was done, but this once, she held her tongue.

Ian gazed down at the arm his mentor had lifted, running a finger along the bruises on the inside of his left elbow. Eventually, he lifted his gaze to meet Chase’s.

“Chairman, I… I don’t know what else to say but that I really don’t know what happened,” he said in a meek voice.

Chase sighed lightly, placing his hand on the recruit’s shoulder. “Ian… I need you to tell me the truth. All of it. The people I work with, they… They’re not going to ignore your three-day disappearance. They’re going to ask you the questions Erin and I are asking, and repeatedly. They aren’t going to be as patient. You have to understand: desertion is a serious matter, even if you’re not an official recruit yet.”

“But I didn’t desert,” Ian’s voice rose noticeably at this, and Erin sensed the honest desperation in it. Was the boy acting? If so, he’d gotten good at it too quickly. “I didn’t desert, I swear. I don’t know what happened, sir. I don’t know how I ended up at the river or wherever it was!”

“Okay, okay,” Chase said softly, nodding twice, patting the insistent recruit on the shoulder gently. “Let’s try something else. Do you remember… leaving HQ late Saturday afternoon?”

“Yes, sir,” Ian said promptly, sounding relieved that he could answer something with more certainty. “I left during the afternoon, as it was the free day for trainees.”

“Where were you headed, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“I--” The recruit’s eyes flitted to Erin for a split-second. “I was...”

He looked as if he were trying to dislodge something stuck in his throat. Erin despised this hesitation in him.

“You were what?” she said impatiently from behind Chase.

“I wanted… to go to a mall and buy something,” Ian said reluctantly, lowering his voice further.

“Which mall, Ian? Did you make it there?” Chase pressed him with contrasting patience.

“The Bayshore Shopping Centre,” Ian replied, nodding. “Yes, sir. I made it there just before six in the evening.”

“Then what? Go on, Ian.”

“I...” Hesitation crossed his expression again, his voice stalling. “I got what I came for.”

“Which was? And where did you get whatever it was?” Chase asked.

Erin glared at the boy, her already thin patience wearing thinner. Ian’s eyes met hers for another split-second before they returned to Chase.

“A g-gift.” Ian said this with a modicum of shame. “I got a… a scarf. From Ardene.”

“For whom was the scarf, Ian?”

At first, Ian merely looked down at his lap, seemingly unable to admit a response to this. After Ian had gone silent for more than five seconds, Chase prodded him again gently.

“Ian? Can you tell us for whom the scarf was?”

“It was for Ma’am Kennedy.”

Erin froze. Chase took a second to process this, then he glanced back at her with a mildly stern expression.

“I… never asked for that,” she said, refusing to believe that. “I never asked for anything from you. Don’t you put that on me.”

“I know,” Ian said, still not looking up at her. “I just… thought it would be nice for your b… birthday, ma’am.”

This left Erin with no retort. She realized something she barely remembered each year: January twenty-seventh. Three days from today. She would be thirty-nine.

She’d never talked about her birthdays with the boy, but it certainly wasn’t a secret when her birthday was. A look at some non-classified personnel files, with even just a minute’s worth of research on the Service’s staff records would glean something as simple as a date of birth with an affiliated employee.


“Yeah, Ian? What is it?”

“When I was… found, there wasn’t a paper bag with me, was there?”

“I’m afraid not, son. All you had on you were the clothes you were wearing.”

“I see.” Ian’s shoulders slumped and his tone shifted to one of remorse. “I’m… sorry, ma’am. I’m sorry that--”

Erin had heard enough. She turned around and headed for the door, throwing it wide open. She strode briskly down the hallway, headed out of the ward to--

She didn’t know where she was going. She hadn’t thought that far ahead.

Her feet carried her as far as the row of vending machines right outside of the unit. She stopped in front of the cans of pop and the bottles of fruit juices peering out at her from within the machines.

She leaned her back against the nearest dispenser, bringing her hands up to press her eyes into her head as she took deep, calming breaths.

Erin stayed where she was, gazing at the walls and the ceiling for twenty minutes, at which point she heard someone call her name somewhere to her left.

“You good?”

She glanced sideways at Chase, who was looking at her seriously with his hands in the pockets of his business jacket.

“Yeah, I’m good.”

“You sure?”

“I said, I’m good, Chase.”

“All right.” He paused a moment. “He told me the rest.”

“And?” Erin pushed herself off the vending machine, crossing her arms over her chest.

“He says he remembers being on his way back from the mall. Last thing he claims to remember is getting off the bus at Rideau Station. That’s as far as he remembers.”

“Rideau… That’s a short walk from HQ,” Erin said, thankful for a more rational conversation.

“Right, about five, ten minutes away from Sector HQ. So then… he was on his way back. Said he thinks this was around seven-ten or seven-fifteen. When he tries to remember past that, he says his head hurts.”

“Isn’t that just convenient?”

“I get that it’s inconvenient. But given what he’s been through, we need to cut him some slack. It didn’t sound like he was trying to desert.”

“If you believe what he says.”

Chase sighed, sounding truly worn out. “Let me ask, Erin: what do you believe?”

Erin couldn’t respond right away. When she eventually did, she said: “I think he needs to pull his shit together and start remembering important things.”

“Ever occurred to you to give him the benefit of the doubt? He knows the hassle - that’s putting it lightly - that’s headed his way. Way I see it, he genuinely believes what he’s saying. If you made me decide, I’d believe what he’s saying.”

“On what grounds?” Erin challenged him.

“Gut feeling.”

“Gut feelings don’t count for anything in our line of work. We work with data. Evidence. Intelligence. We don’t move based on gut feelings.”

“You’re a pain in the ass sometimes, Erin, you know that?” Chase sighed a second time. “Do you want Ian to fail, or something? Want him out?”

Again, Erin took a moment before replying.

“Find him a different instructor. I’m done.”

Chase seemed to anticipate this. “Not that it’s impossible even at this stage of agent training, but there’s a process for that. You can’t just drop him like that.”

“Then process it, Chase.”

“That’s a lot of paperwork. Besides, the fact that Ian’s still here, four months into the program, means he’s acclimated to your style of instruction. From what little I hear, he’s not just barely ‘making’ it, either. He’s actually thriving, and that’s saying something, considering his background. Whatever you’ve been doing, it’s working. It’s not in my - or the Sector’s - best interests to disrupt his growth just because.”

“I don’t care. I’m out.”

Chase shook his head wearily. “Is this about Ian, or is this about Sam?”

The mention of that name made Erin’s lips curl into a deep frown.

“I told you before, I don’t want to talk about him. Drop it, Chase. I mean it. I won’t tell you a second time.”

Erin stared motionlessly at Chase, who did the same as well. After a while, Chase relented and took a small step back from his colleague.

“Fine. Sorry.” He scratched frustratedly at his blond hair. “Anyway, before you decide on anything rash, think on it. And before you do that, Ian said he wanted to talk to you. Alone.”

“I’ve got nothing to say to the kid.”

“I get that, all right, but it seems he has something to say to you. At least hear him out. Maybe with a more open mind this time.”

Erin glanced back in the direction of the unit she had left minutes ago, regarding it with a mixture of disdain and unease.

After a while, she released a heavy breath from her lips. “Fine. What about you? You’re going to wait out here?”

“I’ve spent enough time here. I’m going to… I don’t know. I’m going to report to HQ, tell them what I can about the situation. Damn sure they’re going to send more suits here later today, grill Ian for more information the poor guy won’t be able to give. I’ll do what I can to, I dunno, lessen the stress on him.”

“You’re getting involved that much?” Erin asked, narrowing her eyes slightly at him.

Chase lifted and dropped his shoulders. “Ian’s one of my sponsored candidates. I’m involved in this whether I like it or not. So are you. You and I are the best judges of his character. When it comes down to it, we’ll be answering some questions, too.”


“No point worrying about that now. What’s done is done. Now, go on. Ian wants to talk to you.”

Erin unfolded her arms from her chest and walked past Chase, headed in the direction of the unit again. “If there’s anything else, call me.”

“Will do.”

Erin left him there, fighting the urge to turn back around and go the opposite direction.

When she eventually reached the door to Ian’s room, she stopped when her hand wrapped around the door handle.


~~ March 6, 2018, 0552 hours ~~

~~ Location: Beaver Lake, approximately 12 kilometres north of Victoria, B.C. ~~


A persistent vibrating at his left wrist awakened Ian. He used his right thumb and forefinger to press the button on the left side of the FitBit around his arm, making the silent alarm stop. Through squinted eyes, he flicked his wrist once to get the screen of the device to come to life.

05:52 AM, March 6. 46 bpm.

He gave a yawn, rubbing his eyes and contemplating the wisdom of another hour’s worth of sleep. Ma’am Kennedy wouldn’t be up until seven, as was her custom outside of days when she was actively on a job.

Ah, what the hell, he grunted.

He steadily lifted himself up, swinging his legs over the side of his bed and taking a few seconds to pull on a T-shirt.

“Might as well go for a run, then make Ma’am some breakfast,” he muttered, smiling to himself in the semidarkness of the winter morning’s gloom.

He finally stood up and opened the blinds over the windows, gazing out at the velvet sky for a second, then heading for the private bathroom attached to his bedroom.

He flicked on the bathroom light, then turned on the tap. He scooped some water into his hands and lapped it onto his face a couple of times.

When he had dried his face with a towel, he replaced the cloth on the hanger built into the wall of the bathroom.

Ian turned to leave the bathroom, but before he could flick off the light, he heard something that was behind him, around him, and within the room all at once.

He couldn’t be sure, but it sounded like a voice, which was… impossible. There was no one else in the bathroom with him, or the bedroom right outside, for that matter.

A shiver ran down his back. He swallowed the saliva in his mouth, his eyes scanning the room for the source of the sound. There was nothing in the shower. It couldn’t possibly have come from the toilet, either; he felt absurd for even entertaining the thought of a voice coming from the drains.

Eventually, his eyes fell upon the mirror above the sink that doubled as a medicine cabinet.

Ready to go to work?

“Huh?” he mumbled in bewilderment.

He blinked twice.

When he opened his eyes again, he found his reflection staring back at him with a look of confusion amidst some slight early morning drowsiness.

He shook his head, squinting at it. His image did the same.

Ian looked around at the bathroom again, inspecting every corner for anything out of place. He looked in the medicine cabinet and under the sink. He even inspected the plain white ceiling, stopping only when he caught himself considering to tap it with the end of a broom to see if any strange sounds would come. This was a one-floor cottage. Only he and his mentor lived here.

“Pshh.” Ian shook his head again, then flicked off the light and returned to the bedroom. He shut the bathroom door behind him.

After pulling on a pair of jogging pants, a thermal hoodie, socks and his runners, he left the cottage for his morning run, taking care not to make too much noise on the wooden floor to avoid waking the woman in the bedroom adjacent to the one he was using.

A mere ten minutes into a run along the quiet roads winding through the forest, well after he’d started working a good sweat on his back and temples, Ian had forgotten all about his confusion in the bathroom.

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