Getting Work Done


wf_faulkner_icon.gif wf_zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title Getting Work Done
Synopsis Agent Faulkner assesses the assets at his disposal.
Date August 16, 2016

The Outer District

Some journeys are rewarded with darkness.

This particular journey involves a big, boxy building without windows, a front desk tended by a very curt receptionist, and a far bigger number of winding corridors than one might expect to be beyond. Each and every single one of them brightly lit with fluorescent lamps that buzz in the quiet nothing, and lined with doors unmarked and unremarkable both. "Just keep going," was the only instruction given, "you'll see when you get there."

That time, it seems, has come. At the very end of this journey, in what must be the very center of the building, a sign hangs over two partially open doors.

It reads, simply,


As the heavy doors are opened, they spill light out onto a cold metal floor like water hitting dry land, but the stream struggles to find edges to touch — the room is massive and continues pitch black beyond, with walls only just hinted at through the spark of reflections on edges and outlines of drawers, square and flat against both the left and right side of the entrance.

As eyes adjust, silhouettes of other things become only just noticeable in the near black, almost-familiar shapes gathered in corners, too far removed from the light to be identified as any particular thing.

What is considerably easier to make out is the exact middle of the room. This, because there is something of a spotlight shining down on shiny chrome and black and white. The shiny chrome and black makes a table, the shape of a sheet-covered person lying on its surface pale and still. The white — Dr. Zachery Miller, rounding the table in his long lab coat, laying a black-gloved hand flat and firmly on one leg of the body in front of him. He grabs something near the skin, and with a squelching noise he pulls it upward, out, and taut until it detaches entirely, like a vein pulled free from the source.

It's discarded on the floor behind him, the light hitting it for what it is - a bundle of frayed wires, still glistening and wet.

The doctor is busy, and means to make this very clear in his voice when he asks, grimly and without looking up, "What is it."

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.

Agent Isaac Faulkner winds through the corridors of the building at a steady, unhurried pace, shoes tapping against tile with each step.

When at last he reaches his destination, Faulkner pauses only for a moment to assess it — eyes sweeping through the darkness, marking features at the border of darkness and light before finally coming to rest on the man at the center of the room.

"Dr. Miller," Faulkner calls pleasantly. "Agent Faulkner. I was hoping to speak with you with regards to Operation Kentarchos," he says… then, abruptly, he pauses, head tilting slightly to the side. "Have I come at a bad time?"

Whatever Zachery was expecting to hear, he was not expecting it to be said in the voice he hears. He lifts his head, one hand still pressed down on the project ahead of him, shoulders relaxing as he studies the face ahead of him.

He holds still, at first, until a silence returns to the room. Only then does he smile, and broadly, in the bright light. "Agent Faulkner…" The echoed name is spoken with all the cheerful friendliness one might expect from someone talking to a close friend. "Goodness. What a pleasure. This is what I get for ignoring my messages in favour of finishing up."

He tugs at the sheet to ensure it covers the exposed skin and working area of his ongoing project, providing the body below with at least a semblance of anonymity. In doing so, his gloves leave red fingerprints over creased fabric. "Do come in."

Below the sheet, a breath is drawn. A steady rise and fall.

"Appreciated," Faulkner says, picking his way forward into the gloom with the same unhurried pace that had carried him through the halls outside. His eyes roam as he walks, gaze flickering from Miller's broad smile, to the bundle of frayed wires the doctor had discarded, to the very red gloveprints left on the sheets by Miller's touch. That, and the subtle rise and fall of the sheet suggest that what Miller is working on isn't actually a corpse.

He comes to a halt at the edge of the circle of light around Miller's work, looking uneasy. "I, ah… hope I haven't interrupted anything time critical?" he asks, eyes focused on the sheet.

"Interrupted, yes," Zachery replies easily, face lifting as he levels a patient and unwavering stare into that uneasiness. Every word that leaves him is deliberate and sharp. "But not to any detriment just yet. We've got some time. But while we talk - a drink. What would you like?"

He does not wait for an answer, instead tearing his gaze away and aiming it at some of the dark silhouettes in the nothingness behind him, and immediately calling a name into the emptiness around. "Haider!"

Something clunks loudly in one of the big drawers off to the side, causing Zachery to hiss a breath out through his teeth - if only to keep from laughing. "Ohhh, he's in a — mh, that's awkward. Not Haider, then, let's do…" He pauses, but only for a beat.

"Nicole." Snapping his fingers, he looks to Faulkner again. "A drink for our guest. Go on."


From Isaac’s periphery, a head lifts in the darkness. Where dark, glossy hair obscured her from view before, the pale skin of a woman is harder to miss. “Yes, Doctor,” Nicole replies without hesitation. She rises to her feet and makes her way toward a bar cart of all things, with purpose. She does not scurry — she has enough dignity left to refuse to do that — but her strides are long and she lets them carry her there in short order. “What’ll you take, Agent Faulkner?”

The emergence of Nicole is noted and filed away, as is the fact that Miller has a bar cart in here, of all places… but the majority of his attention is focused on the call to Haider. And the reaction to it.

"Water, please," he says distractedly; his expression now is a distant look of… consideration, almost. When his focus shifts back to Miller, there's no trace of the earlier unease; it's as though it's been discarded, a cheap mask that's no longer necessary. "And thank you. I'll cut to the chase, Doctor Miller. I've been trying to figure out what roles everyone was selected for on Operation Kentarchos, and you're a bit of an enigma to me. I've come here to speak to you, to ask what role you see yourself playing in the operation."

Crow's feet deepen on Zachery's face, smile relaxing into something ever so slightly more sincere at the choice of refreshment. Or maybe - considering something the shade of intrigue creeps into his expression - at Faulkner's inner workings.

"An enigma," he repeats, holding a gloved hand calm out toward the bar cart, without taking his eyes off of the other man's face. "I like that. If we're aiming for transparency, then let me first ask you this — are you concerned about my involvement, or interested in facilitating cooperation?"

“Of course,” Nicole murmurs to the order. There’s a moment where her unnaturally bright blue eyes dart between the two men. In her head, she’s doing calculus. Does she serve the doctor first, or his guest? Which is he expecting?

She stares down into the glass of water she’s poured and makes a decision.

After she’s fixed both drinks, she passes the first to Isaac and the second to Zachery. The former is offered a fleeting twitch of a smile. The latter a nod that’s nothing if not subservient.

Nicole stands near her employer’s elbow, waiting for further instruction. Every so often, she glances up as though she might try to catch Faulkner’s eye. Timid isn’t quite the right word for the look in her eyes. Subdued perhaps.

"The latter," is Faulkner's answer. He accepts the offered drink with a pleasant smile of his own, his own eyes meeting Nicole's for a moment before her gaze slips away.

His gaze does not immediately return to Miller's; instead, his eyes roam a bit, searching for further details around this… laboratory… as he speaks. One thing that does not escape his notice is Nicole's occasional flicker of eyes towards him; perhaps a suggestion of a warning for him to tread carefully, there? Interesting. A later interview with Ms. Nichols may also be in order; he makes a mental note of it.

"As much as I'd like to believe that the people we're up against are stupid — as much as it might make my job easier if they were," he says, with that pleasant smile of his making a momentary return, "—the facts simply don't bear that out. Terrorists don't last long if they're dumb, or bad at what they do; it follows that any opposition we face at this point — much less operating so close to the Outer District! — will be well-hardened. Therefore," he says, his gaze coming back to meet Miller's now. "If we want to get results… we have to be better," he says.

"That is why I'm here, Doctor Miller; as I've said, you're something of an enigma to me. It is my hope to find out what particular relevant skills you're bringing to the table, so that I know what I can do to maximize returns on them," he says earnestly.

The environment is unyielding in its proffering of new information. The outlines of drawers stretch further than can be seen, morgue-like in their storage capability. The bright light in the center of the room proves an effective deterrent for identifying outlines of much more than sharp edges of machinery and medical equipment stowed away in corners.

Maybe blissfully, more organic shapes are nowhere they can be readily spotted.

"What I'm bringing to the table is…" Zachery begins to answer, but lifts his retrieved drink to his lips in the middle of his sentence. After drinking some of the water down, he sets it directly onto his patient's chest, leaving red smears on the outside of the glass. "Let's call it a mixed bag. I am by no means unfamiliar with retrieving unwilling participants, often by force, but not often ones quite so prepared to find the opposition lurking. And furthermore, to fire back."

He pauses, but only just to round the table and to take a position closer to his guest, and to beam at him. His assistant follows at a respectable distance. "But isn't that exciting?" He certainly seems to think so, if his voice is any indication. "An opportunity to stretch my legs, find new ways in which to contribute. I suspect I won't be part of any frontline, but one should not neglect the back of the beast in favour of its teeth. Tails and hooves have spilled blood just as easily."

Nicole carries past the table, making her way slowly and deliberately toward the shadows. In the direction from which Agent Faulkner entered, rather than back the way she had come.

As if any of his answer should help explain anything, Zachery lifts his brow and shoots Faulkner an expectant look before saying, offhandedly, "Thank you—”

Her steps falter. “No,” Nicole begs. “Pleas—”

“— Nicole."

Doctor Miller’s laboratory girl goes crumpling to the ground as though she had been a marionette and someone just cut her strings. There’s no sound of alarm or pain. She simply lays there in an awkward heap of limbs. Only the quiet sound of her breathing and the whirring of servomechanisms in her arm offer proof of continued life.

Let a man talk, and he'll tell you who he is; that's a truth that Agent Isaac Faulkner learned very early on. Oh, the answers may not be what anyone would expect, but even the very act of participating in conversation gives away far more than most people realize. Even silence does not guarantee safety — the way someone turns their head, the strain at the corner of their eyes when they fake a smile; a pace, a glance, a turn of their head, the way they stand still at rest — all of these things are spies, ready to serve any who'll pay them attention. The only way to completely guard against that is to be 100 percent artificial, all the time.

Even Faulkner can't quite manage that.

Doctor Miller is certainly giving him some good fodder for analysis, though; not many would boast abduction as a primary skill, even using sanitized bywords — the frankness is refreshing. But what really catches Faulkner's attention is the sense of anticipation in Miller's voice when he talks of stretching his legs and finding new ways to contribute. There's a hint of something there, a suggestion of what makes Doctor Zachery Miller tick; he can't quite make the connection now, but that's fine; it'll come to him in time. It usually does.

Faulkner nods politely at Miller's explanation, shifting just a bit to the side as Nicole starts to pad towards the exit, just enough to keep both Miller and Nicole in his field of vision. That's why he doesn't miss the way Nicole's steps falter, doesn't miss the way she just collapses to the ground on the spot, as if her strings had been cut.

His eyes widen in shock, suddenly going very still, his heartbeat accelerating as his mind flies into motion.

She isn't dead — that much is clear from the faint noise of her breathing; clear, as well, from Doctor Miller's nonreaction to his lab assistant collapsing into a heap on the floor. Her pre-emptive reaction, though, indicates that she'd known that something was about to happen to her — and she'd started reacting the moment she'd heard Doctor Miller start to speak. Between that and Miller's complete lack of concern, it seems all but certain that Miller was the one who caused her shutdown.

His mind flashes again to that snarl of frayed and bloody wires that Miller had thrown aside, glistening in the dark. At the time he'd taken it for implant modifications, but it seems that Miller's work is quite a bit more… ambitious.

How utterly fascinating.

That provides probable answers for the what and the how, which would be enough if he were trying to close a case… ah, but Faulkner, too, is ambitious in his own field. What and how serve as excellent tools when it comes to answering whodunit… but why is a tool that is much more effective when it comes to predicting the future — such as, for instance, modeling likely future behavior by one Doctor Zachery Miller, Ph.D. in abduction studies and mad sciences.

So then. Why?

Three possible motives present themselves: as a demonstration of frankness, as a show of power, and, last but not least, as a probe of Faulkner himself. Quite possibly, it's all three. Hm. Still, the fact that Miller was willing to make such a demonstration is a good sign; he's fairly sure that Miller's lab assistant hadn't enjoyed that, and he's equally sure that Miller has counted that cost and deemed it one he's willing to pay.

Hm. A followup interview with Ms. Nichols is now definitely something he'll have to arrange — clandestinely, of course.

But that's for later. For now, Faulkner frowns, his gaze studying Nicole for a second… then flicking back to Miller. "A killswitch…?" he murmurs, frowning. "Is she unconscious? Or just paralyzed?"

"Unconscious." Zachery's answer comes without pause, too clean and crisp and final, his eyes still locked on Faulkner's face. When he continues, eyebrows lifting in a twitch, most of the bite is gone from his voice. "That's an interesting story, actually - it wouldn't work quite right back when it was first implemented, occasionally leaving her in a twilight state of sorts."

His jaw sets beyond a thin smile, fingers curling inward at his sides. "My particular knack has always been for working with living tissue rather than the inorganic, but these days I'm much more closely involved with incorporating the two. If you want something done right, after all…"

… You'll rip the artificial arteries out of your own damn project as you please, apparently.

"But enough about me. Agent Faulkner," Zachery addresses him like the name might as well be the beginning of a song he can't quite recall the lyrics to, smile widening. "Tell me about what I can expect from you."

It's at that last sentence that Faulkner's gaze fully returns to Zachery, that pleasant smile returning to his face. Miller may or may not be telling the truth as to Nicole's condition; there's no way to know without closer examination, and doing that would be… well. A bad foundation for a working relationship, for a number of reasons.

Besides that: Miller's asked a question, hasn't he? It's a fair one. The doctor has been forthcoming on his end. That deserves… reciprocity, at least.

Masks off, then. Faulkner's perfect posture slips, just a bit; his polished pleasant smile seems to slacken, metamorphosing into a cynical smirk, while his eyes seem to lose something, becoming almost dead. "Results, Doctor Miller," he says, his voice eerily serene. "That's what you can expect from me."

He holds Miller's gaze for a second, then turns and takes a step away, raising his glass of water; Miller is visible enough in the reflection. Time to see where the man stands when Faulkner's back is to him; that'll come about sooner or later, anyway, and better to see if he's going to pull a knife now. "The fact that you have to ask," he begins, his voice sharpening into a harsh rasp as he speaks that word, before melting back into eerie serenity, "is proof that I'm not quite where I need to be, just yet. But that's fine. I have time."

He spins on his heel, his grin widening into an almost manic rictus. "Results. That's what I bring to the table; it really is as simple as that. I get results. Cases closed… problems solved. And if I'm not in the right position to get results, then I change that," he says. "I study. I network. I attack the problem before me, by whatever means necessary. And I get. Results," he says, his lips curling up into a rictus of a grin.

"That's the currency the world recognizes," he says, straightening; as quickly as it had come, the sudden change in Faulkner's bearing reverts, that pleasant grin creeping back over his face like some sort of insidious living plastic. Masks on.

"I trust that was a suitable answer for you, Doctor Miller?" Faulkner says earnestly. "I don't like to talk too much about myself, but I'm generally very good at my job."

For all the talking he did earlier, Zachery looks content to step back now, standing by the operating table and granting Faulkner the rest of the room to do with as he pleases. Behind him, the glass of water rises gently along with a near noiseless shudder of an inhale that fills the ribcage under the sheet.

If the doctor has any masks left to lose, they're holding. Though the way in which his chin lifts and crow's feet deepen as he watches his guest - as though it were entertainment he summoned for his amusement - looks remarkably sincere. Sincere, and alert. Every movement watched, every word weighed. Every heartbeat counted.

When it's his turn to speak, he lets the lull go on a little longer than it needs to — opening his mouth to indicate he's about to speak but waiting just a few extra seconds. "It's a little cryptic," he answers, finally, "but science does love a mystery, doesn't it. Not to mention results."

Probably a rhetorical question, considering it's immediately followed up with another pair of queries, spoken unconcerned. "Why did you come here? What problem was it that you anticipated?"

"Generally? Terrorism," Faulkner says blandly. He lets that one sit for a half moment before he elaborates. "Anyone engaging in serious terrorist activity at this point is, by necessity, good at it — otherwise we'd have weeded them out already. If they catch wind of this facility we're building — which is likely because, as I've said, they're not stupid if they're still alive at this point — they are almost certainly going to act to try to destroy it, or, failing that, make it as costly as possible for us."

Faulkner hesitates for a moment, then shrugs and gives a sigh. "If you're looking for more specific predictions, that's more of an analyst type thing, but… off the cuff, I'd speculate we'll face a steadily mounting resistance, emphasizing attacks on supply lines, materiel, and personnel in an effort to bleed and distract us as much as possible, culminating in an all-out attack within a month of the facility's projected operational date." Faulkner lets that sit for a moment. "I don't have enough data to predict more accurately than that, just yet."

"That, in fact, is why I came here. To learn what I had to work with, so that I can keep an eye out for situations in which your specific skills might be effectively utilized. Normally I'm able to gain some insight into that through browsing the Department's files, but yours was… rather opaque," he admits; his tone is still polite and pleasant, but for a moment there's an edge of frustration in there.

By the time he speaks again, though, that edge is gone, leaving behind only polite professionalism. "In any case. This has gone a long way towards clearing things up, Doctor Miller; I greatly appreciate that you've made time for me in your busy schedule," he says. "Do you have any further questions for me, or would you rather I let you get back to your work?"

Zachery stands and waits, eyes narrowing as he observes. The admission is met with a gladness of sorts, breaking his stillness with a sudden exhale that would have been a laugh if only he'd have let it.

"Maybe later." His answer comes with matched professionalism and a patient consideration rather than outright dismissal. A quality that's quickly replaced by something more quietly excited, which gradually widens his smile again just as the shape under the brightly lit sheet next to him begins to stir. "This is going to go well for us, Agent Faulkner," Zachery decides with confidence steadying his voice - if he's noticed the movement, he's choosing not to address it at this moment. "And even in the event that it does not, it will be interesting."

An arm rises in starts and stops under crisp white fabric, and the glass falls, cracking into pieces with a splash of water across the floor. "Leave your number at the front desk," the doctor continues, eyes still on Faulkner. "We'll be in touch."

"I'll look forward to it," Faulkner replies, with a smile; he most certainly notices the twitching of the figure under the sheet, but opts to pay it the exact same measure of attention that Dr. Miller does — none whatsoever.

Instead, he turns and takes his leave. He doesn't pause as he sets down the glass of water on a sheet-covered piece of equipment near Nicole's still prone form, doesn't hesitate as he strides towards the exit, doesn't look back as the darkness swallows him.

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