Here and There

Part 1: Give and Take

Johns Hopkins Hospital: Main Campus
Baltimore, MD

Agent Rachel Karis sat on a gurney in the basement of the hospital waiting. The bandages on her torso were relatively clean compared to the bloody rags wrapped around her left temple. She had shoulder length brunette hair, an athletic build and green eyes. She stared at a low hanging halogen light, the only source in the frigid and dry room. It felt more like a morgue than any waiting room she'd been in. To her right was a man appearing to be in his late fifties with high and tight black hair, matching suit, and blue tie. Her boss, UIU Director Ken Grayson. He was looking at his phone reviewing a conversation but Rachel couldn't make out what it was. He held it at his waist while his other hand placed his glasses to the brim of his noise. It reminded her of every dad she'd ever met.

A few more minutes of the cold silence passed before both of their attention was drawn to the heavy door opening at the front of the room. Bright florescent lights from the hallways seeped into the room as the door merely cracked open just enough for the slender man to walk in. The door quickly slammed behind him, snuffing out the added brightness as he approached a desk that had been placed in the room before his arrival. He stood roughly 5'10" and appeared to be of Japanese decent. He held a small journal in his hands that he placed on the desk, opening to a blank page and pulling out a pen from his suit jacket pocket.

"Agent Karis, thank you for your willingness to speak with me this evening. I know you must be very tired." He said with the calmest of demeanors, surprising Agent Karis considering the event bringing the two parties together. She grunted as she sat upright in the bed, wincing in pain and placing her hand over the bandages on her torso. "Oh, I don’t think either of us are under the impression I have a choice here, but sure, I’ll play along." She said.

"Your candidness is appreciated, honestly. When you’re in the position I’m in, levity is…rare." He said with a small smile creeping from the corner of his mouth. "So, you’re another Skipper?" She asked. "Yes, I am one of these ‘Skippers’. as you call them One of the top Skippers in fact."

"So you're the one I’ve got by the balls huh?" Director Grayson said, shoving himself into the conversation with the grace of a bucking bull.

"You’re not fooling anyone, tomodachi. Since the moment your doc met her at the hospital, you guys have been moving mountains to get her into one of your facilities. Not happening. I think Agent Karis was more than amenable back at Bayview. I think it's time for a bit of giving, after all the taking."

"Your professionalism knows no bounds, Director Grayson." He said seemingly already exhausted having to engage with the brutish American. "I was made Director of this division to make us a useful tool rather than blind mice in the dark. Times are about to change."

The Japanese man turned toward Director Grayson. "What is that American saying? ‘Even a blind squirrel finds a nut, every now and again?’" He said with a sarcastic smile.

"If you’re done with your dick waving competition, can we get this over with? I’m fucking tired." The man returned his attention to Rachel. "Yes. Apologies Agent Karis. Simply put, I’d like for you to recall a timeline of events, starting before your… unusual incident."

Rachel looked over to Director Grayson, quickly giving her a nod to tell her story to the gentleman.

"We received a “Hey Skipper” call last week. Looking for a rogue agent of yours said to have joined up with The Can Collection, Leslie Carliel. Agent Lorenz and I worked together tracking her down to a shitty warehouse in Dundalk. We split to search the building when, she got the jump on me. The first few shots were blocked by my vest. Then I just felt…I don't know." Agent Karis' sunk into her bed at the thought of what happened. Shame overcame her face for the thought of what happened.

"From what Dr. Doran reported, you said she shot you in the temple?" The man asked. "I felt the barrel. I heard a bang. That’s all I remember." The words dribbled out of her mouth. "What do you remember after that? After the bang." Rachel's eyes stared beyond the man in front of her, looking into the dark corner of the room just beyond the small bulb's radius.

"Darkness. And the weight of a mountain standing on top of me. I went from the cold pain of blood running down my side to the feeling of a world standing atop of me, crushing me. It felt like every atom in my body was being flattened and squeezed out of a tube of toothpaste."

The man's face visibly looked confused. "I thought Dr. Doran said you were in a desert? Is this not true?"

"I wasn’t finished." She quickly retorted.

"That pain was worse than any I’d ever felt, and that's from someone who was just shot 5 times to the chest. But then I opened my eyes again. I saw her back to me. She was waiting by the door, probably waiting for Bryce. I don’t, I don't think she expected me to wake up. I didn’t even expect to wake up. So I raised my firearm, it felt like a thousand pound weight, and discharged 4 rounds. I don’t know if they all hit but I know she was down when Bryce ran in. I blacked out after that.

"And that’s when you saw the desert?" He asked. "Can you describe it for me? I know this may seem repetitive given your conversation with Dr. Doran, but, would you indulge me?"

"Um, it was strange. It, was like a dream, you know one of those dreams where you can move and, you know you’re in a dream but in control of it? Lucid dream. It was like a lucid dream. The sky was dark. Black but, not night either. The clouds were green and one of those things was near me. It didn't feel, hot, for a desert. It was comfortable even."

"Are these the, 'mountain sized bigfoots?' you mentioned?" He said looking up from his journal, flipping back through filled pages. "Dr. Doren mentioned you didn't feel tired, and claimed to have run for 4 hours strait without feeling thirst or hunger? Is this true?" Rachel nodded her head.

"Ms. Karis…"
"Agent." Rachel cut off the man from speaking.
"Excuse me?" he replied, a bit taken aback by her abruptness.
"I spent my life working to get into the FBI, into the UIU. I didn’t do that for you or anyone else to call me miss."

The man closed his journal, placing his pen back into his pocket. "My sincerest apologies Agent Karis. I find men in high places often need a strong woman to keep…perspective. Agent Karis, may I ask you one more question about this desert?" She nods again.

"How many moons did you see?"

"You all really give a shit about those moons huh? Doran wouldn't shut up asking about them. Three moons. Three massive crescent moons. A forgotten memory staring me back in the fucking face."

Both men in the room darted their eyes at the agent. "You saying you've seen these moons before Karis?" Director Grayson asked.

"Seen? What? No, I've never seen 3 moons in the sky before. I just meant, when I was a kid, I heard my favorite song on the radio one morning. It was a cover of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” but, but I swear the station said “Covered by Elvis Pressly, featuring Freddie Mercury.” Goddamn that song got stuck in my head for weeks. But, I could never find the station again, couldn’t find the song, or, well, anything. They called themselves the '3 Moons Broadcasting Center'. And when I looked up at the sky, and I saw those 3 crescent moons dangling above me, I knew. I knew this had to be some fucked up memory-fueled nightmare I found myself in from whatever damage that bullet did to my head."

The man writes in his journal as fast as Agent Karis speaks, maintaining eye contact throughout her story, giving his journal nary a glance. "You all are way too hung up on a dream. What? You have some Cart that makes nightmares into realities or something?"

"Are you a woman of faith, Agent Karis?" He asked. Rachel chuckled at the question. "Mom was Catholic, dad was Jewish. But I didn’t join this division because I was praying to god to get rid of these Carts for us."

"What's your angle Skip?" The director asked. The man turned to him, squinting his eyes. "You’re not as clever as you think Director Grayson. While our two organizations have a unique relationship, I know you’ve been poaching our agents for over a year now, hoping to find a morsel of anything to give you an upper hand. I’m not mad. Anger is an emotion reserved for when you’ve been wronged. You're simply another player on the other end of a chessboard. That’s why you hired Agent Lorenz isn’t it?"

Rachel adjusts herself in the bed again, looking at her boss and the mention of her partner. "What’s Bryce got to do with this?"

"Agent Lorenz was a trained agent of ours for years before he quit," the man explained. "Quite a hefty sum to pay for a mid-level agent. It wouldn’t be because Agent Lorenz’s brother had been part of MTF Omega-16 would it?

"What the hell is he talking about Ken?" she asked, finding herself out of the loop between the two high-ranking officials. Director Grayson sat back in his chair giving out a deep breath. "Agent Lorenz used to work for the Skippers. Just like Agent Cooper, Hanson, Burroughs, and Sanders. Our spies had learned about an MTF group we didn't have on our records. One the Skippers were covering up. Very lazily covering up if you ask me. It took us a few months to figure out which agents we had records of to match up with the redacted ones. Lorenz’s brother was part of that team."

"We're spying on the Skippers?" She asked. "Your agency spies on us no more than a child watches his parents argue from the top of the stairs." The man replied.

"Okay, but what the hell does this have to do with me? What does the desert, the moons, all of this shit, have to do with me? Why the hell do you all care so much?"

The man's voice changed, turning his attention back to her and away from the combative director. "I believe this conversation would be much more comfortable at one of our facilities. We can get those wounds healed up in a matter of minutes in much more comfortable conditions.

The Director slid his chair closer to the desk, slamming his fist on the table. "Not a fat chance in hell. Agent Karis is a UIU Agent, not another Can Man for the cages. You want to talk to her? You talk to us. Period. End of story."

The man's face sunk at the sound of the director's incessant demands. "They said you were an asshole." he muttered under his breath. "I will need to speak with The Council. Would you please excuse me Agent Karis, Director?" The man gave a short and quick bow to Agent Karis and left the room, reaching for a phone out of his pocket.

The door shut behind him and Director Grayson quickly turned to Rachel. " I don’t know what the hell you stumbled on Karis but they sure as shit want to know about it."

"Why do you fucking care about this Ken?" She asked keeping her frustrated voice from rising. "We’ve had agents go in for questioning with them plenty of times. Why are you so set on being here right now?" The Director stood up and leaned closer to Rachel, keeping his voice hopefully quiet enough to not be heard by the man outside.

"We’ve sent our men to debrief with them, sure. We’ll send ‘em to some site, they’ll hand over the Can, ask a few questions and get out. They’ll talk to some doc like you did, take notes, do their thing. That man? Let’s say there's 13 of 'em, and they don’t get out of their high tower for just anything. After that Doc got done talking to you at Bayview, we got word directly from those 13 people demanding your transport to Site 443. And that was their mistake. They played their hand too hard and let me know what we had."

"So that’s what I am? A bargaining chip?"

"I don’t know what you are anymore Karis." he said. "You took 5 shots to the chest and one to the head. As far as I know you’re some alien from 2 universes away that has acid for blood. I don’t know. But that man does. Those 12 other people he's on the phone with right now? They know."

Ten minutes pass as the two sit in silence waiting for the man to return. He walked back in placing the phone into his jacket pocket and sat back down at the table, tapping his fingertips together.

"Fine, Director Grayson. Given the situation, and to ensure our continued partnership, I have been given clearance by the O5 Council to discuss what it is we at the Foundation believe happened to Agent Karis."

Rachel's face turned pale as she processed what the man said. An entire worldview was shattered over the course of a single conversation. "So I, I died. I died. But how, how I am here, how am I not there? None of what you just said makes sense given what happened to me. Shouldn’t I be…there? I wasn't born over there, I was born at Mercy Hospital!"

The man looked at her with as much compassion as he could muster. More than any of his other council members could, certainly, but still less than any normal person would given the situation. "I do not have those answers Agent Karis. But, I believe our people can discover why this happened to you, and more importantly, I believe you can be of incredible value to our Foundation."

"Or a great value to the UIU." Grayson interrupted. "Again Skip, I’m not letting you walk out of here with my agent for you to poke and prod." The man gave out another noticeable sigh needing to once again deal with the blowhard director. "Your organization will be given full access to Agent Karis’ testing procedures, results, and we will disclose our information on Project Corbenic and related files with the UIU."

She looked at her boss. While he may have been as graceful as a butting ram, he had a masterful poker face. He looked at the man across the desk with an expressionless stare before opening his mouth once more. "That's a good start. Agent Lorenz is sticking with her. There’s not going to be a single time you all get her by herself. You want to ask her how her day was? A UIU representative is there. We clear?"

"The Foundation has no interest going to war with the Federal Bureau of Investigations. You wanted your leverage Director. It appears you’ve found it." The man turned his attention back to Agent Karis.

"So, when do I start?"