Chapter 04: Deals

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Allan stepped through the airlock as it finished cycling. A pair of armed guards in black-and-silver armor were waiting for him on the other side. He recognized the Spec Ops colors and wondered how they fit into all of this.

"Let's go," one of them said.

At least their faces were visible.

He was marched through a locker bay and down a lengthy corridor, feeling numb and dislocated from the world around him. One of the Spec Ops boys could have put a pistol to his face and painted the walls with his brains and he wouldn't have minded. He tried to collect his thoughts. Atonement, that's what he was focusing on.

They came to a door and one of the soldiers opened it up.

"Through there," he said, pointing.

Allan stepped through and the door snapped shut behind him. He'd been led to some kind of central lounge. A red-carpeted room, walls of gunmetal gray, windows showing the diamonds-on-obsidian of outer space. A collection of other people were spread loosely throughout the room, all of them kind of standing around among the couches, tables, and chairs that dotted the topography of the lounge. They all stared at him.

"Another one," one of them, a lean, pale man with an artificial arm who looked like he could seriously use some sleep, muttered.

"Where the fuck is Hawkins?" another man asked. He was an enormous monster of a man, standing something like six and a half feet tall, bulging with muscles, a buzzed mohawk and wide, wild eyes. He stood with a man of somewhat smaller stature who smoked a cigarette and looked significantly calmer.

"He'll be here, Trent. Relax," the second man said. "If he's not, we can start breaking things."

The first man, Trent, laughed.

"Who are you?" Allan looked over. A younger man with short, dark hair, haunted, bloodshot eyes, and a tired, awkward smile had asked the question.

"Allan Gray, Security-Investigations," Allan replied. Almost automatically, he stuck out his hand. The man took it and shook it.

"Hey, me too. Greg Bishop, this is Kyra. She's also SI," Greg replied.

He shook hands with a young, attractive, clearly exhausted brunette.

"Okay, okay," a new voice said as a door opened across the room. "Let's save introductions for the moment so that we don't have to go through it all again."

Allan, Greg, and Kyra looked over. Allan connected the voice to the man who had spoken to him over his radio on the way over. It turned out that this was Director Hawkins. The first thing to strike Allan was the fact that this was an old man. He wondered why that was so strange, then he had it. The average human life expectancy had risen over the past few centuries. It was something like one hundred and fifty now. That, combined with cheap and effective cosmetics meant that people didn't really look actually old until they got very close to that age. Some of them, depending on how much more money they put into it, hit that age and died still looking middle-aged. But this man, Hawkins, looked old.

He was bald, and a scrim of white stubble stained his face and neck. His flesh hung a little loosely on his frame and nests of wrinkles had collected around his eyes and the corners of his mouth. Despite this, he still stood with a firm and rigid stance. He had the air of a veteran military General or a seasoned politician.

"Bout time," Trent said. "Can we get to it?"

Hawkins smiled. "All in good time Mister Stone. My name is Director Hawkins. I've gathered you all here today because you have, each of you, encountered what you know as Dark Operations and lived to tell the tale. All of you have been forged in flames and you've come out the other end better and stronger because of it. To put it bluntly, you've all kicked ass and taken names. Now, I'm here to make you a deal. But before I do that, I want to give you a little bit of history. First, this fact: you have not been combating a sanctioned government agency. Dark Operations is a rogue agency."

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