Promotion

Kathleen stood in front of Bowe's desk, realizing just how old the man had gotten. She suppressed the urge to fidget as he spoke; that would only upset him.
"You see, Agent Moodie," he was saying, "we've never had a director this young. It's highly unorthodox. On the one hand, we'd love to have such a young person to bring in fresh ideas and new perspectives. But on the other, people at your age are generally still figuring themselves out. We can't risk having you get the promotion and then figure out you'd rather be with, say, the GOC."
"Sir, I've been with this establishment since I was eleven," she said. "I'm not about to turn on it now."
"Yes, well," Bowe said. "All the more reason some might say you'd get tired of us. But I think I've devised a way that we can prove them wrong."
"Sir?"
"I have here a file on an uncontained anomaly we wish to secure," Bowe said, opening a drawer and pulling out a file. "I believe you have certain … assets that make you uniquely qualified to undertake this particular mission."
"Sir?"
Bowe handed over the file. "Why don't you take a look?"
It took quite a bit of self control for Kathleen to keep her composure when she opened the file, but she managed it. "I have a condition."
"A condition?"
"Given the nature of this assignment, I feel a condition is reasonable, sir," Kathleen said.
"Very well," Bowe said. "What is it, then?"
"This needs to be contained at my site."

Kathleen drove the head jeep in the convoy to the location where the anomaly had been spotted. Her second offered to drive, but she needed to focus on something other than the mission. At the beginning of the drive, everyone was rather talkative, but sometime between then and now, Kathleen's stone cold silence wore her passengers' moods down to a terrified silence. Now, nearly there, all in the car simply looked at the woods they drove past.

"You do know you will not be allowed to come within contact of the anomaly," Bowe says, taking the file from her. "Directors are too important to put in harm's way so needlessly."
"I know."
"Were you to compromise yourself, you would be demoted, at the very least."
"I have no intentions of acting stupid, sir."
"Of course not," Bowe said. "I didn't mean to suggest you would."
Kathleen stands there, refraining from calling his shit. Once again, she had to restrain herself from fidgeting.

Kathleen stopped the vehicle a mile from the hut. The sapient inside had been running for quite some time, and it didn't manage to evade containment for this long by letting anyone drive right up to the house. There was grumbling, but Kathleen was too intent to care much. Instead, she pointed out the building. "I want you all to circle the building. Don't get much closer. There's enough of you to make a good perimeter at this distance. Also, don't let yourselves be seen. I hope I don't have to tell you that, though." It was hard to keep the irritation at having them around out of her voice, and once she saw the expressions on the team's faces, she wasn't entirely sure she'd succeeded. So she gave up. "Well? Get to it!" They began fanning out, and Katie walked up to the front door.

"You'll have your own team to command," Bowe said.
"I'd rather do it on my own, sir."
"Whatever pleases you. They'll do as you say. But I do suggest at least taking them along; it shows leadership." Kathleen translated that to mean it was a requirement. "But you could always leave them out of sight."
"I will," she said, silently hoping he would articulate his real reason for sending them along. Bowe just nodded. She wasn't surprised.

Kathleen was a little surprised when the door opened to her knock. She would have preferred the sapient run - it would have meant better planning and that Kathleen herself wouldn't have to sit down and have the conversation that was coming. But maybe it wasn't such poor planning. If Kathleen was here, the sapient would know there were bound to be others. Perhaps it thought that Kathleen was its best chance.
"Katie?" The sapient was an older woman, hair going grey. Its dress looked faded, old, and much repaired. It probably hadn't had much chance to buy replacements for torn dresses. "Katie, it's you."
"Mother."
"I wondered if it would be you that finally got me," it said. "Why don't you come in for a bit? I just made myself earl grey. I've been saving it for special occasions."
"You do know there are agents out in these woods prepared to contain you if you try anything, don't you?"
"Of course I do. I'm your mother, not stupid." Laura stepped back to let Kathleen into the hut. Kathleen entered easily. Laura bustled in after her towards a pot of tea. "I have a few other things you'll want. Things I've been using to keep myself out of Foundation hands."
"Why, mother? Why are you giving up now?"
Laura turned, setting the pot back down on the counter. "You're my daughter, darling. I will never run from you, no matter what you do."
"This is the last conversation we will have."
Laura nodded, pouring two mugs of tea. "I figured."
"You don't sound very upset."
"I never thought you'd come for any reason other than to contain me, dear. This was always going to be our last conversation." Laura sat, sliding a mug over to Kathleen. Kathleen turned hers around and back again on the table before her while Laura took a long drink. "Children grow up and leave."
"Where are the other artifacts?"
Laura gestured to a bookshelf. "Over there."
Kathleen walked over and looked. There were about half a dozen artifacts on the shelves. On the fourth sat a piece of black cloth, folded neatly. She picked it up, and where her hands were covered by it, they disappeared. "Momma, you could have escaped with this."
"I told you," it said, taking another sip of tea. "I will never run from you."

"And when I've retrieved it?" Kathleen asked.
"There's nothing right now," Bowe said, not looking at her as he put away the file, "but I wouldn't be surprised if a promotion came your way soon after you returned."
Kathleen nods. "So it's a trade. This anomaly for the next step up the ladder."
"A trade? No," Bowe said. "That would be very unprofessional. You'll simply be doing your job."
She nods. "Indeed."
"Your team will be ready to leave within the hour."
"So soon?"
"I knew you'd say yes."

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