Number 14 waited patiently at her desk. It was getting late, and she was scheduled to meet Number 2 in 15 minutes.
A dark-haired man walked in, still talking on a wireless phone. "Oh c'mon, you're just upset I didn't build you a Christina Ricci... Yes, you are, too... Alright, I gotta go short-round... Talk to you soon."
He sat down. "Hello, Number 14. Shall we get started?"
The blonde put on her glasses. "Y-yes, let's. I have to meet Number 2 soon. Do you think you have the technology down? Can we do this?"
He nodded. "All specs are within parameter. All you have to do is use the recommended dosage and it's 'goodnight, sweet princess.' Here's a folder with all the information, including the fun-filled invasive options."
"Good. We need to be careful with this one. Boss says we can't afford to mishandle her psyche," the blonde reminded him. She snuck a glance at the contents of the folder, and asked "Have you built in a fail-safe, in case I get stuck?"
"Take it easy, there. You'll find all the information in the folder. I'll be back later to tweak the machine to work out the kinks."
Number 515 walked out the door, and blue eyes stared blankly at the wall.
"Good morning, good morning, good morning! Rise and shine, rise and shine! Citizens are advised to be careful while driving, as there will be foggy conditions for the next two days."
Number 6 woke in her bed. She grumbled at the cheerful radio broadcast that seemed to annoy her more with each passing morning. The Village seemed to really turn on the charm after thwarting two of her escape attempts. She decided that today, perhaps, she would get to know some of the locals and establish herself as more than that annoying witch with the attitude problem.
The redhead showered, ate, and dressed. She left her apartment and got a copy of the Tally Ho, the local "news" paper. After a leisurely cup of tea at the cafe, she walked to the Town Hall to find out what type of education classes they offered. She noticed life drawing, pottery, and wood carving had openings. Wood carving seemed like it might be the most useful in a place like the Village, so she signed up for the class to start next week.
She looked at her watch. It was only 10:17 in the morning. 'So, perhaps they integrate you into the Village so that they can bore you into submission,' she thought. She went the library to find a book to pass the time.
A round, bald man spoke into the large red phone. "Yes, sir... I understand, sir... Of course, we're doing our utmost, sir... Yes, I realize I am dispensable, but I know that if you let me have a little more- ... Of course, sir. I will give a full report tomorrow."
He pushed a button and the butler entered. "Hello, do you still have that bottle of 18-year Scotch? I'd like a glass. Thank you."
Number 2 sat down in the round chair and considered his options. His face was round and worn, and his eyes revealed an amount of experience that led to a premature aging process. He wore a goatee to compensate for the lost hair on the top of his head. The butler returned to the chamber, followed closely by Number 14. He greeted both with a slight smile and motioned for the folder in the blonde's hands.
"Sir, here is the full report on the process. As you can read, the patient's mind will be altered through an injection of a drug, and I will be able to insert characters and scenarios into the subconscious. After a little more testing, I believe we will be prepared to begin within the year."
The man put the folder down on his desk. He turned to the young lady and said, "I'm afraid time is not on our side, my girl. We will begin tonight. Meet at 11:00 tonight in the laboratory."
"But sir, we've only ever tested on animals, I am certain my colleague and I would concur that this may be too risky."
"For you, or for Number 6?"
The blonde paused and replied, "Perhaps both, but mostly m-myself."
Number 2 smiled and put his hand on her shoulder, "Don't worry. We are still masters of our fate. We will take every precaution to ensure a successful outcome. Now, go and prepare for tonight." The man sat down with his glass, then proceeded to locate and monitor Number 6 for the duration of the afternoon.
Number 6 did not understand why she was so sleepy all of a sudden. She should not not even tired. Despite the 10:30 p.m. curfew, she remained a night owl. She barely noticed that she was crashing to the floor before the world went dark.
A pair of men in white clothing entered the apartment with a stretcher. They secured the redhead and carried her out into the rainy night. As they walked down a hallway leading to a lab, they were stopped by Number 14.
"Thank you very much. I'd rather that you not get the space wet," the blonde informed them. They shrugged and let the good doctor push the patient into the laboratory. Number 14 tried to make her charge feel comfortable while she attached a headband that pressed sensors into her frontal lobes. Number 2 walked in wearing a tweed jacket, reading the contents of a folder through the bifocals on his nose.
"Good to see her here. I presume everything is in order?"
The blonde nodded and asked, "I hope, sir. I still believe more time is required to perfect the process. Even three doses of this could be too much. I'd like more time to analyze the situation."
"Yes, well. This is the way it has been done for centuries. Let's begin, we have much to accomplish. Here is the disk of the party," the older gentleman gave the disk to the blonde.
Number 14 accepted the disk, put it into a machine and asked, "Where was this taken?"
Number 2 glanced away from a box with the letter 'A' on it. "The last occasion was approximately a week before our charming girl resigned. She attended one of Rupert Giles many cocktail parties. We want her to feel at home."
Number 14 injected the contents of the first needle into the arm of the sleeping redhead, then connected two nodules onto her own frontal lobes.
The redhead wore a long black dress, with sheer sleeves. Her hair was pulled up into a top bun at the back of her head, and her eyes shone brighter than the emerald earrings she wore. She was walking through a garden, and arrived at the fountain before the back entrance of an ornate mansion. She joined her fellow guests and craned her neck to locate her old mentor. She noticed her host across the room and walked to greet him. Giles exclaimed, "How wonderful to see you! Glad you could make it."
The redhead bowed and replied, "So am I. You look good!"
"Well I should, considering what it costs me. Won't you have a drink? I hear you're going on holiday, and I should like to have your ear before the night is over. What's it going to be this time, the traditional English holiday? Fishing, perhaps?"
The shorter woman laughed and simply said "That's for me to know, and you to find out."
Giles noticed a group of new guests, and excused himself. The redhead, left alone with her glass of wine, wandered into the next room to admire the artwork along the wall.
Number 2 hovered over the blonde. "Well?! Are you going to introduce 'A?' We only have three shots at this, you know?!"
The blonde nodded, and injected the first dose into the arm of the sleeping Number 6. After a flinch and a sigh, her sleeping figure relaxed once more. The blonde inserted the disk that contained the information of subject 'A.'
Observing a particularly complex Renoir that hung against the far fall, the redhead sensed a new figure in the room. She recognized the light brown hair reflected in the window, and decided to greet the new person. "Hello, Amy. I'm surprised to see you here."
"Not unpleasantly, I trust? How have you been?"
The redhead paused before answering, "Not bad. You?"
"Peachy, after my hiatus. What about a toast? To old tricks?" Amy raised her glass, a mischievous glint in her eye.
"And new horizons. I will miss this when I'm gone." The redhead took a sip.
"Then the rumors are true. Are you really leaving? You've been at it for so long, I will missing working together," Amy responded.
"Just working for different sides," the redhead reminded her friend as she noticed her wine glass was empty.
Amy smiled. "Sides don't matter. Either way you look at it, we both want to conquer the world, whether it's for the good guys or the bad guys. Yin and yang, really. We make the world go round. Don't tell me you won't miss the power just a little bit?"
"I'll be too busy getting a tan. Or as much of a tan as a pale thing like me can possibly get."
"I still don't understand. Why resign, and leave your life behind?"
The redhead shrugged. "I need to work some things out. Personal things. Now if you'll excuse me, there are some stimulating brochures of the Caribbean that Giles is going to share with me." She headed for the door.
Number 2 panicked. "What, she can't go! Subject 'A' must find out why she resigned!"
"It's her dream, she's doing whatever she would have done in that situation. I can only influence the subjects and gently push them in a certain direction. More interference could strike Number 6 as odd, and then she'll put up her guard. You know how perceptive she is," Number 14 replied. "Wait and see what happens."
The redhead finished for the evening and grabbed her coat. On her way down the drive, Amy appeared once again.
"Was hoping we could chat some more. Come with me?" As she asked her question, a rather muscular man pushed the redhead into a waiting car.
While driving to an undisclosed location, the redhead inquired, "So, how is Paris this time of year? I do so love the spring."
"Small talk won't divert me. You won't distract me so easily," Amy said.
"I thought you wanted to chat? The weather seemed like as good a topic as any."
"Oh, snappy comeback. Were you on the debate team?"
The automobile came to a halt. Amy and her guard pulled the redhead out of the car. The redhead quickly set a binding spell on Amy as she fought the guard to the ground with a quick blow to the sinus. 'Guess that combat training came in good for something,' she thought as she made certain her captors were completely knocked out. She grabbed the keys to the car and said, "be seeing you" before she drove away.
Number 2 let his shoulders slump. He looked over to the blonde and instructed her. "Damn it, let's get on with the next subject."
Number 14 looked over to him and replied, "Sorry sir, but we'll have to wait until tomorrow evening."
"We haven't got all the time in the world, girl. Get on with it."
"It's a very dangerous drug, for both of us. Three doses is quite enough as it is, we need to give her mind and body time to recuperate or else we'll get nowhere," the blonde responded.
Her superior threw subject 'A's file to the floor as the large red phone started to ring.
Number 6 woke up in her bed. Her head was aching, and when she looked down at her wrist she noticed a pronounced needle mark. As she walked outside to get a copy of the daily paper, The Tally Ho, she noticed a woman buying flowers and looking at her with interest. The redhead caught sight of her pin, with the number 14. She glanced down to the headline on the paper and looked back up to find that the strangely familiar woman had left.
Number 6 showered and thought about why that woman was so familiar. 'Is it her face, her eyes, her hair? Why do I feel like she has been in my dreams?' She went to the Old Peoples Home for a game of chess, as she had decided she needed to improve her game. After 11 moves, she declared "checkmate" and departed for the café for lunch. It was there that she again noticed her familiar female friend.
The redhead sat down across from the blonde. "How does someone talk to someone one has met in a dream?"
The blonde looked at the ground and back to her newspaper as she responded, "I don't understand what you mean. Do I know you?"
"Well I should think so, considering you seem to be everywhere I go. Your aura feels very familiar."
Number 14 looked over at her new companion and replied, "Perhaps you're confusing me with someone else. I really must be going." She folded her paper and rose to depart.
Number 6 moved to intercept the nervous blonde. She wondered, "Have a pressing engagement?"
The blonde threw her blue eyes up to the redhead. "Most pressing. Be seeing you," she said as she walked away.
The redhead knew she had seen that woman somewhere before.
The blonde was keeping herself busy. She was preparing for the next experiment when Number 2 walked into the laboratory. She knew he felt his presence would encourage a speedy procedure, even though he certainly wished he had more time to extract results. The man questioned the woman, "Where is Number 6?"
"She should be delivered any minute. I'm just double checking the equipment."
A pair of doors opened and two men entered, pushing the redhead on a stretcher. "Excellent! Let's begin as soon as possible." Number 2 could hardly wait to see what subject 'B' had in store.
Number 14 set up the sleeping woman and injected contents of the syringe into her arm as she did the previous night. She began the disk, and the redhead returned to Rupert Giles' party.
"Oh dear friend, don't tell me you're headed to America! There are far more interesting countries with far more interesting people. Let me arrange for you to stay in my flat in Shanghai. I can put you in touch with some Shaolin Monks in the mountains, and you will feel like a new woman."
The redhead could barely tolerate her companion. This man had cornered her in Giles' absence and seemed incapable of discussing anything but himself. She gestured to the passing maid, and grabbed a glass of champagne off the tray. After a few sips of bubbly, she began to feel that she would certainly not miss these events.
The maid returned with a note. She scanned the page to learn that an old friend was waiting for her in the garden. The redhead excused herself and wandered out to the boundaries of the garden. She passed the tall hedges and immediately recognized her old friend.
"Hello, Daniel. What are you up to?"
The dark tuxedo contrasted the short man's bright red hair. He uncorked a bottle of wine and replied, "Passing through."
"Good to see you're as laconic as ever. What brings you to this region of the world? Still chasing those demons?"
"Only the inner demons. Heard about your decision to leave the Council. What are you planning to do with yourself?" He handed her a glass of wine.
She smiled. "Fishing, thinking, tanning. Perhaps not in that order."
"Huh," the man replied. He took a sip.
"I hear Tibet is nice, can you recommend any good spots?"
"Could," he replied. He glanced to the ground before coldly saying "Your enemy was here earlier. Don't want to see you get killed."
She took a sip of her wine. "Being killed is an occupational hazard," she said as the sound of a faint waltz drifted from the party.
Number 2 grabbed the blonde's arm. He demanded, "Do something? They're making small talk, we need him to be more aggressive."
Number 14's face was a mixture of fear and frustration. She responded, "If you'd read the file, you would see that subject 'B' is one of her most passive associates. She'll only share information if she's feeling totally open to the subject and he keeps his head on task. It could be dangerous to externally enhance her dream."
The man sneered as he said, "I know you can insert yourself, and it seems to be the only way to make progress."
"She might recognize my voice and wake up," the blonde answered.
"If we have the information, what difference will it make? Do it," the man ordered.
The blonde held back the look of fear as she walked over to a microphone. She picked it up and pressed a button to speak. "Are you still a good dancer?"
The woman sighed and responded, "I always knew you were sentimental beneath that shy exterior." She extended her arm up to her friend's neck and they started to dance.
He pressed his cheek to her face and asked, "Where are you going on your vacation?"
She replied, "India, the Caribbean, little islands in the South Pacific with beautiful beaches and beautiful women and tasty chocolate beverages."
"Shame we can't go together. We'd make quite a duo."
"Oh Daniel, you know that it could never work with your newly discovered wolfiness and my newly discovered homoness and fun stuff like that," the girl replied.
"Shame nonetheless. We used to be close. You still haven't told me why you resigned."
The redhead tensed in his arms. "It's not really something I want to talk about. Let's just say it's better for everyone."
"Still, it must have been important. Can't share important things with an old friend?" He looked at her eagerly.
The woman eyed her dance partner carefully. "How is Veruca, Daniel?"
Number 14's fingers searched through the papers in subject 'B's file trying to find the answer. She thought, 'I don't remember seeing a status on a Veruca, what is going on?'
"Who is Veruca?" Number 2 gave her an angry stare.
The man shook his head. "Excuse me?"
"I asked, 'how is Veruca?'"
He turned around and responded, "Fine."
The woman elevated one eyebrow. "Interesting. I'd thought she died six months ago. Where is your head today, Daniel?"
"I guess I'm a little stressed," the man said as he combed his hand through his red hair.
"Too stressed to remember those that are dead? Come now, Danny-Boy, why don't you tell me who you're really working for and we'll forget this ever happened. Even-Steven, even... er, in fact."
He threw his eyes to the sky and said, "I don't understand, I just wanted to learn what was really going on in your life."
"Which is very unlike you. You never were one for questions. Who's putting you up to this?" She eyed him and crossed her arms across her chest.
"I can't tell you, but you have to believe me: they'll kill me if you don't tell me!" A bead of sweat dripped down his forehead.
"Who will kill you? You still haven't told me, who sent you?" She took a step closer to the short man and put her hands on his shoulders.
He put his arms up to fend her off. His eye caught a pair of men with revolvers sneak out from behind the hedge. He shouted, "Look out! There they are!"
Shots fired. The pair ducked down. The woman rolled to trip one of the attackers while her mind floated the gun out of the hand of the other. She quickly dispatched both men and looked around to find her friend lying on the ground.
"Daniel! Are you hit?" She ran over to her wounded friend and pulled his face up to her.
"I've been better. I feel like I've lost my torso. Sorry about everything, I guess I didn't really know what I was getting myself into." He slumped back and breathed his last breath.
"Damn it all! We cannot risk failure again, girl! I know you're scared, but frankly you've clearly not proven your worth!" The ringing sound of the large red phone interrupted his tirade.
The blonde leaned against a table with tears in her eyes. She felt drained, but she could still understand one half of a conversation.
"Yes, of course. I know we can't risk her either... I just think we should consider the idea that-... yes, sir... I believe we will be successful, but you've got to allow more time... yes, sir."
Number 2 pressed the button to end his conversation. He turned to the blonde and said, "We will return tomorrow night and try again. You can go home now."
Number 14 turned off the equipment, put her cloak over her shoulders and walked home to her apartment.
Number 6 woke up in her bed. She knew she recognized the blonde from somewhere, and the voices in her head during her dream last night confirmed it. Now, if only she could explain how the events of the dreams in her silly head translated into a rational explanation for the instinct in her gut. 'Why do I always end up with more questions than answers?' She did suspect that the blonde woman could lead to a few answers.
The redhead watched as Number 14 left her apartment. She followed the blonde through the Village to the forest. From there, the blonde walked to the beach, where Number 14 went into one of the caves. Number 6 approached the opening of the cave and listened for the blonde's movements. She heard a match strike, then noticed a glow reflect off the cave walls. The next sound was the voice of Number 14 as she began to chant.
"Gaia, hear my prayer. I bow in supplication to you and your glorious benevolence. Give me strength to survive the coming struggles. Give me strength so that others may survive. To you, I pray. Mother, if you can hear me, forgive me for my actions. I do it only for you. For you, I pray."
Number 6 leaned in, but could hear nothing more for the next couple minutes. She crept into the cave to see Number 14 meditating on a beautiful carpet, eyes closed. The redhead took the opportunity to notice the tender lines across the forehead of the contemplative blonde. 'If she weren't, ya know, evil, she'd totally be my type,' the redhead thought. Blue eyes opened and met green.
Number 14 stood abruptly. "Oh! How long have you been there?"
"Long enough to catch your little ritual. Don't tell me - you're sacrificing a goat, without blemish, for the souls of your dearly departed colleagues who were unsuccessful in their attempts to crack me."
The blonde hesitated. "Of course not. I don't want to c-crack you. I don't even know you."
Number 6 looked Number 14 in the eye and said, "Why don't I believe you?"
"This place can change a person, but I don't know who you think I am."
The redhead answered, "You're the girl in my dreams. Controlling my dreams. Why?"
"I don't know. They don't tell me much." It killed the blonde to lie to the woman, but she did not see any alternative.
"So you're doing this for fun? Or is there something in it for you?" Number 6 pressed for information. She could not let this blonde control her fate.
Number 14 sighed and lowered her eyes. She softly replied, "Neither. I hate this place... and I hate my job, but I am certainly not d-doing it for my own b-benefit. I would sooner die than see you suffer." She felt the need to be honest without giving away too much information.
"You're stuttering. What's making you nervous? Do I make you nervous?"
"N-no," the blonde replied and turned her back to the redhead.
"Then perhaps I'm not trying hard enough. I can make your life very difficult, starting with the failure of your next experiment, if you don't start telling me what I need to know. What are you, an empath? I understand that they like to use women to manipulate me, but from where I'm standing you're no different from every other skirt they've thrown my way," Number 6 asserted.
Number 14 held back a tear, realizing she could at least explain her involvement without revealing too much information about the rest of the Village experiments. She turned around to face the redhead.
"That's where you're wrong," she said. "I am an empath, but they picked me for a specific reason. It had to be me. And I had to be with you."