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Shadows of the Mind Collection
by Mandi Jourdan
“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” said Rachel. “No one else was supposed to die.” She stared down into her coffee cup and shook her head. Her shoulders were slumped, and she would not raise her eyes to meet Andrew’s.
He knew she blamed herself. She always did, when something went wrong. He had tried time and again to convince her that the Division had been unable to be controlled completely since its creation. When so many independent variables were at play, the events the Division had been created to forestall had been, unfortunately, unstoppable. This would’ve been true no matter how capable a leader was in charge, but on that point, Andrew had not yet managed to make Rachel see reason. He’d watched her put out fires since the day she’d taken over the organization that her mother had begun during Rachel’s childhood. Andrew could not begin to understand how difficult it must’ve been to grow up with the pressures of being watched by the nation as Rachel had been.
He couldn’t imagine it, but he tried.
He reached out and wrapped his hands around hers, and she looked at him at last. Her green eyes were pained, and the sight of them twisted his stomach.
“Rachel, it couldn’t be helped. We knew this was going to be dangerous. So many people are already dead because of her that adding one more to the list can’t be that surprising.”
Rachel’s long, red hair fell in waves around her face as she shook her head.
She looks so much like her mother. Down to the same guilt in her eyes. She doesn’t deserve it, but it’s there.
“But someone so well-known?” Rachel pressed. “It’s exactly what we can’t handle, right now. McNaire already wants my head on a spike.”
“He’ll have to go through me, first.”
The corner of her mouth twitched up in a half-smile, and she replaced the cup on the table without drinking form it. The sounds of early-morning coffeehouse chatter filled the air, and for a moment, that was all Andrew heard. Rachel watched him closely for several seconds and then slipped her hands from his, instead folding them in her lap.
“Not here,” she said.
Andrew frowned. “Rachel, I don’t understand why you won’t–”
“Because it’s not safe. We’re in enough danger as it is without the world finding out about this.”
“Is it wrong that I don’t care?”
Rachel closed her eyes. “Soon. I promise.”
“I know you!”
The voice drew the pair’s focus away from their hushed conversation. Beside their table stood a middle-aged woman with frizzy, greying hair. Her gaze was fixed on Rachel, whose expression was wary.
The woman’s head bobbed with her nod. “You’re President Hartley’s daughter! It’s great to see you in New York. How’s your mother?”
Rachel smiled thinly. “She’s well, thank you.”
Andrew’s mouth twitched. He knew that was a lie. Isabella was living at home under the constant supervision of a nurse after an attempt on her life shortly after the end of her second term in office. Some of her injuries had healed, but the attack had left her wheelchair-bound and traumatized. Andrew had accompanied Rachel on several occasions to visit her mother, and he knew she disliked discussing the matter.
“I hate to bother you, but could I have your autograph?”
Stiffly, Rachel nodded. “Sure. Do you have a pen?”
The woman began to dig through her purse. In her hurry, she dropped a pack of gum and a number of trinkets, which Andrew slid out of his chair and knelt to help her gather. She thanked him and set a pen and a napkin on the table. As Andrew retook his seat, Rachel signed the napkin and passed the pen back to the woman.
“Thank you very much. Take care.”
“You too.” Rachel stared off into the distance while the woman returned to her table.
She doesn’t need to think about Isabella right now. It’s only going to make her feel worse.
Andrew laid his hand on Rachel’s. She blinked and glanced down at the point of contact before returning her attention to his face.
“I need to get to Washington and start on damage control,” she said.
“Do you want me to come with you? I don’t want you to have to deal with McNaire alone. Charlie said he’s getting near the end of his rope with us.”
Rachel shook her head. “No, I need you to stay here. Stay focused on your mission, Andrew. We’ll get through this.”
Rachel stood and pushed in her hovering chair before turning for the door. Andrew glanced at her coffee, which she had left untouched, and followed her to the exit. They stepped out onto the crowded Manhattan street, where hovercars passed by in congested, stacked layers of traffic.
“I’ll keep you posted,” said Andrew.
He kissed her swiftly on the cheek and turned away before she could comment, and they parted. Andrew started down the sidewalk, which was packed with people in the process of their morning commute. Andrew slipped through the crowd, his button-down shirt and slacks suggesting he was simply a member of the masses.
He followed the typical Manhattan bustle for a few blocks until his destination came into view. The angle of his approach had obscured exactly how large the cluster of people in front of Lawrence-Dodson Enterprises was, and as he took in the immensity of the crowd, he sighed.
And so it begins.
Andrew maneuvered between reporters from rival news stations and craned his neck for a better view of the platform that had been assembled for the press conference. He had arrived just in time; a tall man with a black business suit and hair nearly as dark had stepped onto the platform, flanked by security guards. The anxious buzz of the crowd died immediately as his presence was recognized, and a tense silence fell. The man’s expression was troubled as he stepped behind the podium at the center of the platform.
Eddie Dodson. LDE co-president.
“As you are most likely aware…” Dodson said into the microphone adjoined to the podium, sparing a glance down at the place Andrew knew a screen would be projecting the speech. “Lawrence-Dodson enterprises has suffered a tragic loss. Last night, July 25, 2232, my dear friend Damian Lawrence was murdered.”
Dodson paused. Andrew pulled at the collar of his shirt, finding the tension surrounding him nearly as stifling as the summer heat.
“Damian’s brother, Derek, returned this morning from a business trip to discover that Damian had been shot twice and that his wounds were fatal.” Dodson closed his eyes, apparently collecting himself, and then opened them as he resumed speaking. “As of this moment, we do not have any leads as to who might be responsible, but I assure you that we are doing everything we can to find out. LDE’s Manhattan facility will be closed to the public for the time being, pending further investigation of the crime scene. The production of androids will also cease until the police have had more time to get to the bottom of this.”
A mass of hands shot into the air, but Dodson shook his head.
“I’m sorry, but that’s all we know. No further comment will be given on the matter at this time. Thank you all.”
The group of reporters exploded into shouts.
Why did she have to go after someone so well-known?
Andrew backed away into the crowd.
“The President will see you now.”
“Thank you.” Rachel inclined her head to the secretary who held open the door to the Oval Office.
Here goes nothing. She stepped inside, and the door whispered closed behind her.
Rachel knew this room far too well. For eight years, it had been her mother’s office. This building had been her home. Now, it belonged to the man who had been the U.S. Secretary of Defense in her mother’s cabinet.
The curtains were drawn save a sliver, where he stood, looking out the window onto the lawn. The sparse amount of light entering the room gave it a distinctly more eerie feeling than it had possessed in Rachel’s childhood.
“I trust the ‘situation’ has been taken care of?”
Rachel bit her lip. “Not yet, Mr. President. We’re working on it. We’ve been trying to find her for the last month, since her last trial at West Point.”
“‘Trying’ and ‘doing’ are two different things, Rachel.”
“I understand that, sir. We’re doing the best we can.”
“Well your best–” He slammed his palm against the wall just beside the window frame. Rachel flinched. “–isn’t good enough.”
He turned to face her, and she studied him apprehensively. Ethan McNaire had a commanding presence. He had silver hair that had once been dark, and cold, grey eyes that stared into Rachel’s penetratingly.
“You disappoint me, Rachel. I gave you one task, one, to perform before your little ‘Division’ is disbanded permanently. And you couldn’t even do that.”
“I’m sorry.” She tried to keep her voice even, devoid of emotion. Letting him see how much hearing the Division spoken of in such a way stung her would be a mistake.
McNaire had opposed the Division since its inception. ‘Wars are meant to be fought by humans,’ he had said, ‘not by machines.’ Though Rachel’s mother had tried to explain that what the Division was doing was for the good of humanity, he had wanted no part in it. He’d been trying to disband the organization ever since, and now that he held the nation’s highest office, he was on track to succeed.
After Mia was apprehended, the Division would be abolished for good. As the organization’s current leader, Rachel was the one designated to incur McNaire’s fury until their final mission succeeded.
“I’m not your mother, Rachel. I won’t stand by and idly watch as that organization makes a mockery of everything this nation stands for. I won’t allow such foolish practices to continue.”
“With all due respect, sir,” Rachel spat, “I’m not my mother, either. And I won’t be pushed around by you. We will find the android, be assured of that. If you’ll excuse me, I have business to attend to.”
Without another word, she turned away and pushed open the door. As soon as she’d entered the lobby outside and the door had closed behind her, she heard her cousin’s voice.
“How angry is he?”
“On what scale?”
Rachel knew Kat must’ve arrived just after she herself had. She doubted whatever McNaire had planned for the head of the Division’s most decorated special operations team was any kinder, but he’d always seemed to hate Kat slightly less than he did her cousin.
Rachel surveyed Kat. Her hair was close-cropped but of a similar red, and she looked out of place in a pencil skirt and a tan blazer. Kat had joined the Army after college and entered as an officer, but she’d requested a transfer to Rachel’s command upon realizing how dire the situation had become. Rachel trusted no one more to help her with the mission she’d been assigned.
“One to nuclear war,” said Kat.
Rachel gave a small, tight smile. “I don’t think he’s quite ready to push the red button, yet. If he does, it will be a concentrated strike on me. I’ll make sure he doesn’t bring the rest of you down, too.”
“Good luck with that one.”
Rachel raised her eyes first to the secretary seated at her desk ignoring them and then to the three people standing several paces behind her cousin. She’d come to know the members of Kat’s unit–Blue Team–well over the last few years. Casey O’Malley, a wiry, dark-skinned brunette with a sharp tongue and a wasp tattooed on the side of her neck, stood beside Charlie Vela, a young woman whose paleness was in stark contrast to her perpetually black wardrobe. Standing between the two was former Air Force pilot Lex Knight, who had spoken. He scratched at his burgeoning beard.
“I hope you don’t honestly think we’d let you take the fall by yourself, Rachel,” Lex continued. “That’s not what we do.”
Rachel gave a noncommittal shrug. She believed him, but she would deny that support, if given the choice. The Division was her burden to bear. Without her, the rest of these agents would still be living the lives they’d known before being recruited, and they would be much safer.
No, Rachel hadn’t created the Division, but she felt as responsible for it as though she had.
“Thanks, Lex.” She pulled in a deep breath and released it. “I explained to him that we have no proof she was actually involved in Damian Lawrence’s death. We have our suspicions, and that’s about it. She’s still flying under the radar, and I don’t think we’ll find her until she wants to be found. That said, your mission still stands. If you find her, bring her back to base. If that isn’t possible, destroy her.”
“Understood.” Kat nodded firmly
Rachel stared at the holographic image projected above her desk with pursed lips, her arms folded over her chest.
“This is current?” she prodded, looking to Abigail Knight, her second-in-command.
“To the best of our knowledge, yes,” said Abigail, raising a brow. She glanced from Rachel to the projection, taking a step closer to point to a spot on the miniaturized digital version of New York City. “We’ve managed to tap into the hardware we installed in them when they were created and use it to track them. That there? That’s where Anubis was, the last time our intel was updated.”
“When was that?”
“About an hour ago.”
“Do you think they’ll catch on?”
Abigail shrugged, her closely tailored suit-jacket rising and falling with her shoulders. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they do. They’ve managed to evade us this long. If I had to guess, it’s no accident that we’ve managed to find them right now. It isn’t like we haven’t tried to hack into their systems before–why would we suddenly succeed if something hadn’t changed? Maybe they already know.”
“And if they do and they want to be found,” said Rachel, “that can’t mean anything good for us.”
“No, it can’t.” Abigail sighed heavily, her dark ponytail swinging behind her head as she shook it. “We’ve lost our target somewhere in New York. If the others are there, too, I really don’t like what that could mean.”
“If she’s working with Osiris, then… I can’t even begin to anticipate what kind of damage they could inflict.” Rachel paused, her face falling as she realized how painful the repercussions would be for allowing something so horrible to come to pass. “Not a word of this to anyone connected with McNaire’s office. Understood?”
Abigail nodded. “Of course.” She turned and strode out the door, closing it behind her with a snap as she stepped into the hallway. As soon as she’d gone, Rachel sank into her chair, lowering her head into her hands.
See what you’ve done, Mom? I’m still cleaning up your mess.
Rachel recalled the day her mother had explained that the Division had tried again to create the perfect soldier after their first wave of androids had proven too deadly and unpredictable. She remembered how guilty her mother had looked when she’d explained that their second attempt–their last hope to save human lives by sending an android into combat instead–had failed so miserably that their new prototype had caused the deaths of a senator and his wife.
We never should have commissioned Mia. The others were enough of a problem. What do we do if they’ve found each other?
Rachel lifted her head to examine the projection once more. Six bright dots were spread throughout the city’s display, each labeled with the name of the android linked to that location.
Osiris. Isis. Hathor. Horus. Bastet. Anubis.
“What the hell are you planning?” she muttered.
Andrew had not, despite the urging of Eddie Dodson, abandoned his–albeit undercover–post at LDE to leave the police to their investigation. On the contrary, he’d immersed himself in his work, hoping that doing so would distract him from his worries for Rachel and for the Division as a whole. He’d been informed that Osiris and the other rogue androids had been located within New York City, and had he not already been perpetually armed, he would’ve begun carrying a weapon immediately. He glanced at his phone and the most recently updated projection of the androids’ locations and then shut off the device, telling himself it didn’t matter where they were.
If they wanted to find him, they would succeed, and his level of preparation would be irrelevant.
Movement caught his eye from one of the telesense screens to his left, and he froze.
It can’t be. She wouldn’t be that stupid.
Still, Andrew had to know. He leapt from his chair without a second’s pause to run for the elevator, hoping with the entirety of his being that his target would still be in place by the time he arrived. As the elevator ascended, Andrew slipped a metallic disc no larger than the head of a pin from his pocket and pressed it tightly between his index finger and thumb, determined not to let it slip from his grasp until the proper time.
As the metallic doors slid open, he rushed from the elevator and into the corridor. He knew the offices of executives were located on this floor, and the thought of his target’s presence here could not, he knew, be a good sign.
There. Almost too easy.
This thought seized him, stopping his foot from rising for the next step. His eyes flashed upward to find a woman with chin-length auburn hair striding toward him, her cold gaze fixed straight ahead as though he were thoroughly unworthy of her attention.
Was this too easy? She’d stepped into the open after weeks of such a successful disappearance that many Division agents had started to lose hope that she would ever resurface, and of all places, she’d come here. Yes, Andrew reasoned, it was almost certainly a setup. But it was also the only opportunity he would probably have to slip the tracker onto her, and he would not waste the chance.
He started forward again, his steps deliberate and his focus on the empty air before him as he monitored her in his periphery. She gave no indication that she had noticed his presence, and it wasn’t until his shoulder rammed hers that she cast her eyes in his direction.
“Sorry,” he muttered, brushing off the jostled arm of his shirt and using the opportunity to drop the tracker into the bag she carried while her cold brown gaze was fixed on his face. She said nothing, turning away from him and continuing down the hallway, and Andrew started forward slowly, the knot in his chest beginning to unclench until a clear alto voice reached his ears from the elevator.
“You really should learn to be careful, Andrew.”
He turned on his heel to face the elevator as the doors closed, sealing her within.
The wind brushed gently against Kat’s face as she looked out on the city over the edge of the building upon which she was stationed. Her vantage point on the roof combined with the streetlamps and the neon signs adjoined to shops allowed her to see the entirety of the street below, which meant her part of the plan was working flawlessly.
She touched the earpiece situated just inside her right ear.
“This is Seward,” she said. “Status report?”
“Knight. I’m in place on the roof across the street.”
Kat’s eyes flicked to the predetermined office building opposite hers, and she spotted Lex slipping into position, half-concealed by its ledge. He saluted her before returning to the task of positioning his weapon.
“Agent Vela. Target in sight, prepared to pursue.”
“O’Malley. Target has seen me. Ready to move on your mark.”
Kat inhaled deeply and nodded to herself. “Okay. Go.”
Her pulse raced as she withdrew her sidearm. She lacked the sniper rifle that Lex was using, but she always carried a weapon. In her line of work, it was imperative to be prepared. If everything went according to plan, Kat would have no need to fire.
But we’re the Division. Nothing ever goes according to plan. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
“This is Stark.”
Kat frowned. Andrew was not a member of Blue Team, but he was a Division operative stationed in Manhattan. As such, he was linked to the communication network Kat’s unit was using. He was not a part of their current plan, but he was aware of it. He’d been the one to slip the tracker onto their target.
“I’m signing off temporarily. I’m still at the office trying to dig up anything I can about her here, and I don’t want to invite suspicion. I don’t want to explain why the cameras would show me talking to myself.”
“Understood,” said Kat.
The line went dead. For several seconds, all was silent apart from the bustle of the street stories below where Kat stood.
Then Charlie’s voice cut over the earpiece.
“Target is pursuing Agent O’Malley. I’m tailing them.”
“Roger,” said Kat. “Lex, do you have a shot?”
Kat stepped onto the ledge at the building’s extremity and grasped the nearest of the immense letters that formed the company’s sign for support. One hand gripping the “O” in “Hover” and the other clinging to her gun, she looked down to at the world below, searching out her colleagues in the dark and crowded street stacked with layers of traffic. She narrowed her eyes and scanned the ground to her right, in the direction of Casey and Charlie’s last-known location.
Kat’s eyes alit on Charlie in the crowd below her. She followed Charlie’s gaze to woman walking purposefully several paces in front of her, and then Kat looked to Casey, who seemed to be performing well as bait. Casey gave no indication that she knew Mia was tailing her; she kept her focus forward and her hands away from the weapon Kat knew she’d concealed beneath her jacket.
“They’re two blocks south. Lex, be ready,” Kat ordered. “Casey’s bringing them in fast.”
“I told you your walk was unreasonably quick,” muttered Charlie over the comlink.
“And you really think now’s the time to point that out?”
“Ladies, enough.” Kat sighed. “The task at hand, please.”
“Sorry, Kat,” they said in grudging succession.
“I see them,” said Lex’s excited voice in Kat’s earpiece. “She’s almost in range.”
Kat’s fingernails dug into her palms as she watched the group converge on her and Lex’s location.
Maybe it’ll work, she thought. They’re doing well so far.
“Almost there… just a few more–damn it, Kat, she sees me!” hissed Lex.
Kat’s heart constricted, and her heart began to pound in her ears. “What?”
“I don’t know how, but she’s looking right at me–”
“You’re kidding, right?” demanded Charlie.
“That’s not possible,” Casey snapped.
“Casey, move! Get out of the–”
Lex’s warning died in his throat. Mia, who had kept an equidistant pace between Casey and Charlotte, had suddenly surged forward with preternatural speed and grabbed Casey by the back of the neck.
Kat’s mind spun at a thousand miles per hour, scrambling for a solution. “Lex, take the shot.”
“I don’t have a shot! Casey’s a human shield!”
“Charlie, get to them!”
“I’m trying, I–UMPH–” Charlie had shot toward the others the second Casey had been seized, but she wasn’t quick enough. Mia reached back with her free arm and grabbed Charlie, tossing her headlong into the street.
“No!” cried Kat and Lex in unison.
The blaring of horns and shouts burst over the comlink, and Kat cringed and ripped it from her ear. She watched as Charlie utilized her extensive training to control the momentum of her fall and use it in her favor. She flipped to her feet, dodging and weaving through the vehicles until she reached Kat’s side of the street.
Relief washed over Kat as she realized Charlie was safe. She replaced the comlink hastily in her ear.
“Kat, she didn’t even look at Charlie when she threw her! There is no shot!”
“Not for you.”
Kat fired. A resounding BANG filled the air, echoing through the connected devices to assault Kat’s ears in stereo. The shot fired from her gun hit Mia in the side, leading her to release Casey and clutch at the wound but not to fall.
“Casey, get out of there!” Kat shouted over the comlink.
Casey bolted forward at a dead run, turning at the nearby corner and disappearing into a crowd of people. Mia studied her newly acquired injury and the synthetic blood spilling from it, and by the time she looked up, Casey had vanished. Mia let out an enraged cry that echoed upward to where Kat stood.
“Abort,” Kat demanded. “Everyone out, now.”
“Charlie, not a word. Today is not the day.”
Kat’s eyes lingered on her target bitterly, on the deadly stare fixed on the spot where Casey had disappeared.
“You need to keep pressure on that,” said Lex.
“It’s not bleeding anymore. I’m fine.”
Kat lingered several paces behind Charlie and Lex as the group moved through the halls of West Point, casting occasional sidelong glances at Casey, who hadn’t said a word since the four agents had regrouped after the failure of their mission. Kat assumed Casey blamed herself for everything that had gone wrong, and Kat’s attempts to assert otherwise had been unsuccessful. The group hadn’t remained stationary long enough for Charlie to properly bandage the deep scrapes she’d received along her arm upon being thrown into the street, and the jacket she’d wadded into a makeshift bandage was soaked in scarlet.
Kat clenched her jaw at the question and at the sound of high heels clicking angrily toward her from down the corridor. She looked ahead to find Rachel approaching. Kat pulled in a long breath and rolled her shoulders backward, and in moments, Rachel was at her side.
“She must’ve either known we were coming or just picked up on the plan way too quickly. She used Casey as a shield to block Lex’s shot and almost got Charlie hit by a car.”
“She knows who you are,” said Rachel with a sigh. “All of you, I’d assume.”
Kat’s breath caught in her throat. “How is that possible?”
“I have no idea, but when Andrew planted the tracker on her, she addressed him by name. He wasn’t at either of her trials, and they’d never spoken, so she must’ve gotten into our database.”
“Didn’t Andrew tag her at LDE?” asked Lex.
Rachel nodded. “He knew it was too easy. She’s probably been playing us for quite a while. I just want to know what she’s planning, but I’d settle for someone shooting her, already.”
Kat sighed. “We’ll catch her. Or kill her, whichever comes first. She’s always been a problem, Rachel, and she always will be. The Division never should’ve commissioned her.”
Rachel’s lips pressed into a thin line, but she remained silent.
“Why don’t we just have Andrew break cover and approach Dodson?” Kat pressed. “Odds are she never told him what happened during her last trial, and he could be in just as much danger as we are anytime we try to go after her. Look at what happened to Damian Lawrence. I doubt she’d think twice about turning on her creator.”
“For now, the police investigation into Lawrence’s death has bought us more time,” said Rachel. “Go rest, all of you. Then we need a new plan.”
“You know, I think you may be trying too hard, Andrew. I doubt they’re paying you overtime.”
Andrew’s body tensed as thoroughly as it might have if he’d been suddenly turned to stone. His gaze slid slowly to the readout above his phone, which told him that all seven of the dots he should’ve been avoiding were far from the security room at LDE.
Apparently, technology could not be trusted.
“What do you want?” he asked, his hand moving reflexively for the gun at his belt. Before his fingers could close around the handle, a grip like iron enclosed his wrist and wrenched it backward until a sickening snap rang through the air. Andrew cried out as white-hot agony shot through his wrist, which was no longer within his power to bend. From his chair, he looked up into the sharp, cold face of Mia, the auburn-haired android his employers were responsible for unleashing and could not manage to destroy.
“I want you,” she began, her tone low and deadly, “to tell Rachel something is coming that you will be powerless to stop. The Division thought it could control my kind and use us as servants. No more.”
She dropped his wrist, which still throbbed in pain, and he let out a sharp breath, struggling to keep himself from reacting further.
“We are coming. You’ll try to prepare, to anticipate us, but there’s nothing you can do,” she said, and her eyes flicked to his phone’s display. All at once, the seven dots vanished. “Nothing but burn.”
Andrew glanced upward once again, his eyes wide and his chest starting to constrict with panic, but she was gone.
About the Author
Mandi Joudan studies Creative Writing at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Her prose has appeared in four anthologies by Sinister Saints Press, Coming Around Again by the Central Arkansas Speculative Fiction Writers Group, Quickfic, Beyond Science Fiction Digital Magazine, 9Tales from Elsewhere, Theme of Absence, the 2015 and 2016 editions of Grassroots Literary Magazine, and the Kaskaskia College Scroll. She has stories forthcoming in 9Tales, Digital Science Fiction, and the 2017 edition of Grassroots Literary Magazine. She can be found on Amazon and on Twitter (@MandiJourdan), or at Whatever Our Souls (whateveroursouls.com), the literary magazine she co-edits.