Back at the NSET headquarters, Claire Richards races against the clock to fill out an incident report. She has about an hour to go before the League gets there for briefing. Claire’s pale, piano-like fingers are no match for her colleague, Mitchell Anderson, whose busy fumbling at his own keyboard, crunching in sensitive data onto his screen.
“How is she Mitch?” Claire asks anxiously. Mitchell drags away from his computer station and rolls his chair over to the glass resting chamber, positioned in the middle of the room. Mitchell hits a switch to open the door on the chamber.
A faint layer of smoke quickly escapes, and inside is a woman who appears to be sleeping peacefully. The woman is breath-taking. Long, chestnut brown hair hide parts of her round face. Her skin, a deep cinnamon glaze, glistens under the bright room lights. She wears only a sheer, cloth like layer, that hints at her flawless, naked body.
Mitchell pushes his glasses further up on his nose and scribbles notes down on his writing pad. He pauses every few seconds. “She’s returning.” He answers Claire. “Skin color is normal. Heart rate, 88 BPM and steady.” He feels the sleeping woman’s forehead with the back of his hand. “Body temperature is also normal and no signs of trauma. Our girl is doing well.” Mitchell pulls his face closer to the sleeping woman’s face. “How do you do it?” He whispers. “I could never volunteer for something like this. You’re my hero.”
Claire lets out a laugh. “Mitch, focus please. The League will be here soon, and we need to get this data prepped and ready to present.” Claire gives a sly grin. “And you’re presenting this case. I don’t want to have to look into Jackson’s baby blues today while he rips both of us two fresh ones.” Claire slowly shakes her head. “Why is that man always so serious about everything?”
Ignoring Claire’s babble about their chief, Mitchell glances down at his watch. “You’re right. We don’t have much time. Let’s wrap it up!”
Mitchell hits the switch on the chamber again. He watches in admiration as the door closes shut on the beautiful, still woman inside. “She’ll be up in no time and remember nothing. She’s so courageous for doing this.”
About an hour has passed, and Claire’s phone abruptly rings at her desk. Startled, she clears her throat and adjusts her tone, as she peeks at Mitchell, who gives a wide-eyed, shrugged look. “Good morning Jackson. Yes. Scout number four, seven, zero is back and resting well. All vitals are normal, and we’ll be waking her up shortly.” Claire pauses briefly. “Yes, yes. We’re waiting on you, chief. Okay. See you then.”
Claire slowly hangs up the phone and drags her breath. “Why does he make me so nervous? I can almost feel his eyes fuming at me through the phone. He’s so creepy.”
Mitchell laughs lightly. “Maybe he’s just into you and doesn’t know how to show it.” He shrugs. “He’s never mentioned having a wife, or even girlfriend. Maybe he’s looking.”
Claire makes a disgusted face. “I highly doubt it. And besides, he’s old enough to be my grandfather. Ew.”
Mitchell stands up from his chair and takes an interminable stretch. His white lab coat sweeps the floor beneath him, almost drowning his small, boyish frame. He yawns exaggeratedly and takes his glasses off to rub his eyes. Feeling somewhat refreshed, Mitchell puts on his glasses and briskly heads for the glass chamber.
Claire walks over to stand by him. The two stare eagerly at the chamber.
“Ready?” Mitchell asks.
“Is raised bread ever?”
Mitchell gives a confused frown. “What?”
Claire shakes her head. “Never mind.”
Mitchell hits the button on the chamber. Smoke seeps out again, and the two await patiently, as the door slowly pulls open.
The woman from before, still sleeping peacefully, and unaware of her surroundings, remains unbothered.
Mitchell walks over and gives the woman a gentle Pat on the leg. “Kiera, Kiera, it's time to get up.”
Claire and Mitchell wait patiently for their team member to come to, as the woman has been in a controlled sleep for the past three days.
A bit of a lag before the woman wakes. Claire keys in a set of numbers onto a pad near the bottom of the chamber. “This should do the trick.” A fine mist of air releases as Claire carefully looks over the slumbered woman.
The woman slowly comes to, as she wrestles sleep away.
“Kiera? Kiera, it's Claire. You're back at NSET with Mitch and I.”
Kiera raises to a sitting position. Still a bit dazed, she tries to make out her surroundings. “W-what happened?” She asks, barely able to manage a whisper.
Claire grabs Kiera’s hand and gives a soothing smile. “We aborted our last assignment and you’ve encountered some, some...” Claire looks to Mitchell to finish her sentence.
“Some trouble! A situation with one of the botoids — Austen.” Mitchell carelessly blurts out.
Claire frowns. She didn’t want to alarm Kiera, however, Mitchell was already doing the complete opposite. She tries a warm approach. “But not to worry.” Immediately retracting her words. “Everything is under control now, and we’re so glad to have you back, safe and sound.”
Kiera’s eyes widens. Nothing that she’s being told is making any sense. Kiera isn’t sure she recognizes the two people that are huddled over her. They seem so caring, so concerned about her safety, but why? Kiera suddenly remembers being home, talking to her husband. Her husband, Austen! Kiera yanks away from Claire's hand and lets out a loud gasp. “Austen? Where is he? I have to find him!”
Kiera immediately leaps down from out of the chamber, but her teammates are much more swift. They grab at her arms and legs and seat her forcibly into a nearby chair.
“Kiera, you're at NSET headquarters.” Claire firmly announces. “You were on a separate assignment into planet Astica. You do not have a husband named Austen. The man you thought to be is a botiod. We're studying them and researching their lifestyle. We've stationed in Astica for about four years now!”
Mitch chimes in. “Austen, your little botoid buddy? He discovered our mission. There was no other workable option but to get rid of him.” Mitch pauses before continuing. “We're sorry you’ve become so confused over these past four years, but NSET is your authentic life Kiera. Whatever you had with Austen… it, it wasn’t real. None of it. Do you understand?”
Kiera stares into Claire's harsh eyes. She glances up at Mitchell, who was looking back apologetically. “Sorry Kiera, but you were on an assignment.” He continues softly. “We didn't think it would go past the two assigned years, but the League instructed us to carry on with the mission once we all realized how much dedication you put forth.” Mitch loosens his grip around Kiera’s arm. “You became so convincing, we almost forgot you were even human!”
“Claire follows Mitch and loosens her grip. “We were able to retrieve so much research. All the hard work you put in is paying off!”
Kiera cuts Claire a sharp look. “My life is on Astica. My husband, all of my friends… my job, all on Astica! I want my husband now! Where is he?” She roars.
Mitchell holds his head low. He didn't want to be the one to say what was next.
Claire avoids Kiera’s hurtful eyes. She forces herself to gaze at the painting positioned on the wall over Kiera’s head and silently accepts to be the deliverer of the awful news to follow.
“I really hate tell you this but…” Claire's voice trails off.
Kiera tightens her grip around the arms of her chair. Her eyes, fearful, as she braces to hear the worst. She studies Claire's face intensely. “But what? Tell me, where is my husband!”
Claire clears her throat. “Kiera, The Lead Force Team killed Austen two days before we brought you back to NSET.” She gazes back at the painting. “I'm so sorry.”
Claire steps away from Kiera and Mitchell. She sits at her station to gather her feelings. Claire feels horrible that Kiera is dealing with all of the news at once. Although she’s playing the role of bad cop, Claire couldn't bear it any longer to witness her friend go through so much confusion and pain. She hates that Kiera volunteered on this assignment, but Claire knows that Kiera is the only member of NSET that could handle this work.
Kiera is a true scout. Ready, able and willing to search for a new home for the remaining people on Earth. She made it her obligation years ago, back when Earth was at a minimum, normal.
Fear of a botoid ever revealing what NSET set in place was not worth the risk of the entire mission. Kiera’s husband Austen, accidentally stumbled on one of Kiera’s bags that contained sensitive details to NSET’s mission — to take over Astica and destroy every living creature breathing, making room for only humans to colonize and claim as their new home.
Kiera stared blankly at Claire as she rummaged through a draw under her desk. Claire carefully pulled out a small black box and placed it neatly on top of her desk. She could feel Kiera’s steaming eyes burn a hole at the back of her head. The room seemed to echo the tension of all three inside.
Kiera was seconds away from exploding. She couldn’t register what was happening to her. The last thing she remembers was being home with Austen. So why was she here now? How did she even get here in this lab room and who brought her in? Nausea begIns to raid Kiera’s stomach, forcing her to shake the thoughts away. “What’s in the box?” She asks bravely.
Claire looks back to where Kiera was sitting, and grabs the box on her desk. She cautiously paces over towards Kiera and Mitchell, calculating if Kiera would lunge at her and snatch the box away from her. The door was a few feet away. Claire could run safely towards it. Mitchell would know to sedate Kiera, although his small size sadly made Claire question if her emergency plan would work.
Claire accepts an attack from Kiera. She could give Kiera a hard one down, being much taller than Kiera, with long arms, and an impeccable reach. Claire could grab Kiera and hold her down long enough for Mitchell to connect the dots and inject Kiera with the sedatives.
Claire gently positions the box on Kiera’s lap. She slowly backs a few inches away from the chair. Mitchell studies the box intensely, as he holds his hands over his mouth, almost unable to keep himself from shouting out the contents inside.
Kiera looks down at her lap. She didn’t want to open it, as she knew whatever was inside held the answers to all her questions.
Before You Go!
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