Gatekeepers #2

A story by Aaron Daniels.

Dr. Ahmadi gave Evey a quick, short tour that didn’t come close to covering all of campus. He apologized more than once about not having the time to give her a proper tour, but Evey definitely understood.

“Most of your duties will be external to campus, however, as I’m sure you’re aware,” Dr. Ahmadi said as they walked the last branch of the route.

“Right.” Evey looked up and saw the main security station, which was about twice the size of the branch station that they had stopped by earlier. The few officers that she had seen nodded politely at her but didn’t do much more than that. It was was what she had expected but not what she had hoped for. Turning her thoughts away from her experiences that day and back to the building, she noted that it was a medium-sized, simply-made building that matched the brick-and-mortar architecture of the rest of campus but seemed somehow more spartan in a way that Evey couldn’t precisely explain. Less decoration, maybe.

“I’ve asked Chief Carson to meet with us. She should be waiting.” Evey had read up on her, too. She had formerly been a police chief in a large precinct in Chicago, back before she had come out and started transitioning. Evey wasn’t sure that she had found the right Officer Carson until she compared photos a few times. The transformation was remarkable: a reserved, stony-faced man (who Evey knew probably had never really felt like a man) to a warm, nearly glowing strong-featured woman. Speaking of whom, that certain strong-featured woman was closing the distance to them as they came up on the headquarters.

“The illustrious Agent Bloom joins us at last,” Chief Carson said, shaking Evey’s hand. Evey smiled and shook back.

“A pleasure to meet you, ma’am,” she said.

“You, too. I think I can take it from here, Fariad.”

Dr. Ahmadi nodded. “Good to have you with us, Agent Bloom. I know that you’ll perform with kindness and wisdom.”

“I will, Dr. Ahmadi.”

He smiled his small smile and gave a small wave. Then he was off to another part of campus.

“Come on, I’ll show you to the Athena offices,” Chief Carson said, leading the way. Evey fell into step behind her. “How was your trip here?”

“Oh, it was fine,” Evey said as they slipped through the front doors. The main floor was just a desk where an efficient-looking woman was working away.

“Did you fly or come in on the bullet?” Chief Carson asked. “Hey, Jeanine. Busy day already?”

Jeanine, the woman behind the desk, gave her a weathered smile and started to say something before she answered the phone. Chief Carson laughed and pressed on to the right of the desk, and there was a door waiting for them that said, simply, “Athena Division Offices.” The chief opened it to reveal a surprisingly spacious conference room that connected to four offices. Agent Vincent was sprawled out on the conference table, and she had already engaged its holographic projector. She paused her work and slid off of the table and onto her feet, looking a little annoyed.

“Good morning, Chief,” she said to Chief Carson.

“Good morning,” Evey said, and the Chief waved her hand to Agent Vincent.

“This is Sienna Vincent. Sienna, Evey Bloom,” the Chief said.

“You can just call me Evey, if you like,” Evey said, extending her hand.

Agent Vincent took her hand. “That will work, Evey. Welcome.”

“Thanks.”

With that, Agent Vincent went back to work, and Evey realized that she was looking a three-dimensional map of Akron and that she had already highlighted the place on Vernon Odom where Evey had saved the little girl earlier that morning.

Chief Carson moved away from the table, and Evey followed.

“Cade? Do you have a minute?” Chief Carson asked, knocking on the frame of the open door. The office beyond it was spare and tightly organized, confirming Evey’s suspicions of him being a former serviceman.

The man behind the desk jumped a little and immediately shot to his feet and saluted.

“Ma’am!” he said.

Chief Carson smiled a little. “I’ve said before, Cade, that’s not necessary.”

“Of course, ma’am. Sorry, ma’am.” Then he relaxed, but only a little.

“Cade, this is Evey Bloom. She’ll be the new head of the Athena office after she gets acclimated.”

“Hi, there,” Evey said, offering her hand. Cade looked at it for a moment. “Call me Evey.”

“All right,” he said, shaking her hand. “Evey.” It didn’t sound quite right coming out of his mouth, but she would take it for now. “You can call me whatever you need to, ma’am.”

Evey wasn’t quite sure how to take that, but she said, “I’ll just go with Cade for now?”

“Fine,” he says, and then they both let go.

“All right, we just have Antonio left,” Chief Carson said as they left Cade’s office. She leaned into the remaining office and leaned back out. “He’s not here. Has anyone –”

“Buenos dias!” Antonio said as he came in through the door, a carton of coffee cups in one hand and a huge pastry bag under the opposite arm.

“Good morning, Antonio,” Chief Carson said, deadpan.

“Lovely as always to see you, Chief,” he said, proffering the carton of coffee cups. “Coffee? Three sugars and no cream, yes?”

The Chief raised an eyebrow and took the coffee. “I hope you got one for Agent Bloom?”

“Evey is fine,” Evey said, wanting to shake his hand but a little frustrated that she couldn’t.

“Sure did! And I left it black so you can make it how you like,” he said, rotating the carton toward her. She smiled and took it, then he put the carton down and gave her a handful of creamer containers and sugar packets.

“So, yeah. Antonio.” He finally offered her his hand. “Good to have you.”

“I’ll let you get situated at your desk, Evey.” The Chief sipped her coffee. “If you need me, I’m just down the hall, or you can call extension 101.”

“Thanks,” Evey said, and Antonio busied himself with distributing coffee and donuts to Cade and Sienna. It actually earned an appreciative smile — however brief — from Sienna, and then Cade grunted his thanks. Evey took a few donuts and her coffee into the final office, which could only be hers. Inside, the furniture was in good repair, and it was a surprisingly spacious office. Bigger than the one at Crosswind, as a matter of fact. The sterility of it was a little off-putting, but she knew that it was going to take time to make the space hers. She sat down at her computer and busied herself with getting logged in. Before she could get down to wrapping the first day’s odds and ends, though, Antonio poked his head into her office.

“Hey, boss. You got a second?” he asked.

“Oh. Sure. What can I do for you?”

He smiled. “I was thinking that you could stand to get out on the town a little bit. Nothing serious, just some drinks and darts.”

Sienna groaned from the conference room, and Evey started to ask a question but stopped herself. She would take whatever hospitality she could find.

“Sure, that sounds like fun. When and where?”

“How about 7:00? And there’s this great place called Eight Ball. You should be able to find it on RandNet, but if you need more directions, my phone number’s in the directory online.”

“Okay, that’ll work.” She smiled.

“Awesome! I’ll let you get to the boring stuff, now,” he said, waving as he slipped back out the door.

Evey finally got logged in and started into the unexciting but necessary work wrapping up the final round of paperwork, questions, and other administrivia. She wondered, though: what could be groan-worthy about darts?

* * * * *

The day had been boring and a little uncomfortable. For better or worse, nothing had really come up, and neither Sienna nor Cade had much to say. Antonio wasn’t much help, either, as he was out of the office most of the day. Evey wondered what sort of duties might have taken him away so consistently, but she didn’t feel comfortable asking just yet.

When the day wrapped, she went straight home, had a simple meal, and then got ready to hit Eight Ball. A name like that could be either a dive or something nicer, and looking it up online didn’t tell her much more, either. So she chose to go with a light jacket, a t-shirt, and a nice pair of jeans and set out for the bar. As she came up on Eight Ball, she felt more comfortable with her choice. The clientelle seemed like mostly the people who had come there not long after work, and some of them even had on their work outfits (which Evey had to stop herself from calling uniforms). The rest, though, had on more casualwear arrangements that nonetheless clearly identified themselves as working professionals due to the clean colors and neatly-pressed materials.

Evey got out and locked the car behind her as she walked to the door of the bar. Inside, people were doing what people did at bars: talking and socializing and drinking. She looked around and finally found Antonio in the corner, and he gave her a wide smile and waved at her. His smile was infectious; she found herself smiling wider than she had meant as she crossed the bar to join him.

“Evening,” she said. “Have you been here long?”

Antonio shook his head. “Nope. Maybe five minutes.”

“Good.” She hadn’t wanted to keep him waiting.

“First round’s on me. What’ll you have?”

His tone was friendly but firm; she could tell that refusing his generosity could very well offend him. “I’ll just take a beer, actually. Any good local brews?”

“Burkhardt’s is a staple,” Antonio said. “How about that?”

“Sure, why not?”

“Burkhardt’s it is,” Antonio said, then walked up to the bar. Evey wasn’t sure what to make of Antonio was fairly friendly, but there was something hard underneath all that. That could mean that he wouldn’t crack under pressure, or it could mean that he had a mean streak. Evey had seen it go both ways.

He came back to her with two bottles in-hand, and she took one.

“To new friendships,” he said, holding up his bottle.

Evey smiled. “To new friendships.” She clinked the neck of her bottle to his, and they both took a deep drink. It was mild in some ways but complex anyway, with a layered flavor that she couldn’t quite dissect and a smooth finish. “Oh. Man. I like it.”

“Awesome. Burkhardt’s has been around in Akron for fricking ever.” He took another drink. “They had some troubles here and there but came out the other side and stuck around.”

“Hm.” Evey wasn’t sure what to say, so she just wanted to make sure to let him know that she was listening.

“But you’ll have plenty of time to absorb local history.” With one more deep gulp, he finished his beer and gave Evey another wide smile. “How about some darts?”

A man nearby groaned and got up and moved, and a woman rolled her eyes and moved, too. Evey shifted a little. Antonio’s tone and posture hadn’t changed to anything resembling threatening, but this was clearly a sore spot for the locals.

“. . . sure,” she said, then took the rest of her drink in one gulp, too.

“Awesome.” He went to the board and plucked the darts out of the board then returned to Evey and gave her three.

“Do you know what my power is?” Antonio asked, rolling a dart between his fingers.

Evey was starting to get an idea of what all of this was about. “Your file said that you had some sort of luck power, but it didn’t get more specific than that.”

“Yep. Basically, I can make myself really lucky for a little bit. Like this.” Evey felt a sense of . . . something that reminded her of deja vu or the moment before opening an important letter, and then Antonio threw his dart. It ricocheted off of an empty beer mug with a loud ding and hit the inner ring of the dart board.

“Wow.” Evey laughed a little. She hadn’t been sure what to expect, but it definitely hadn’t been that.

“If I really want to do something crazy, I can make it go full tilt, but I can’t do that for very long.” He waggled his eyebrows, and that feeling of deja vu or impending importance was even thicker in the air; Evey couldn’t help but be reminded of running into the collapsing building the day prior. Antonio turned his back to the dartboard, and Evey started to say something before she realized what he was doing. He threw the dart backward over his shoulder. The dart careened off a ceiling light, whizzed no more than an inch over a server’s head, clanged off of a metal wall-hanging, and then hit the dartboard in the bullseye.

“Unreal.” Evey found that even more unbelievable than the instance before it and leaned forward to confirm what she was seeing. The dart didn’t spontaneously disappear or relocate and remained firmly in the bullseye.

“I can turn up how lucky I get or don’t get,” Antonio said, turning back to her. “That was maybe half.”

“And the catch?” Evey asked.

Antonio’s smile turned rueful. “Most people don’t think of that.”

Evey just gave him a sly smile and raised an eyebrow at him.

“Basically, my luck runs out. If I push too hard, I can’t use my power for a while.”

“That doesn’t sound all that bad?” Evey said.

Antonio shrugged, and the feeling of sudden significance came over Evey for a second before he threw the final dart with a flick of his wrist — and it went straight in the bullseye without theatrics.

“It’s only happened a couple of times,” Antonio said as he collected his darts. “And I guess that it isn’t really that bad . . .”

“But it feels weird,” she said. “Like putting weight on a screwed-up ankle.”

“Yeah, something like that.” Antonio smiled at her. “Not too much gets past you, huh?”

“If it did, then I wouldn’t be a good fit for this job, mmm?” Evey fixed her feet in position and took aim.

“I guess so,” he said.

As Evey threw her darts, doing only okay, she thought through the day. It hadn’t gone as well as she had wanted, but it could have gone much worse. Maybe the second day would be better.

Antonio looked over her spread. “Not bad. Another round?”

“Only if you buy me another beer,” Evey said, smiling a little.

“Deal.”

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