Damaged Goods

Chapter 2 Epilogue

by Dr. Seth

CHAPTER 2 EPILOGUE:
THE COMMISSIONíS DECISION

Duane could not let them see the sweat on his forehead, nor the fear in his eyes, nor the knot in his gut. He couldnít let them know how disappointed he would be, in fact, how crushed, if they decided that Dr. Slate was to be silenced. He had taken it as a good sign that they had patiently waited for the two months it had taken her to straighten out the Neugog mess, but he could never be sure.

As soon as General Thornton ordered him in, he marched formally into the hall where the Commission was gathered, saluting them in the most official manner. He couldnít directly eyeball anyone, but he managed to catch a glimpse of his psychologist, who seemed to wear a pleasant expression. That was usually an excellent sign. He rather liked his new psychologist, and she always appeared honest, as if with one look she could express the otherís thoughts. Usually, the rest of the Commission was so tight-lipped and reserved he had a hard time reading their faces.

The psychologist before this one was just like the other Commission members -- rather secretive and brusque, treating him like property -- but also strangely obsessed with gender roles in a way that confused Duane. He kept ranting about how Duane was living out a huge, macho fantasy, and didnít seem to grasp the fact that Duane had no choice in the matter and was simply following orders. He also liked to discuss sex in a most inappropriate matter and was consumed by the small details of his private life, which only served to infuriate and alienate Duane. He considered it one of the main factors he had had his little nervous breakdown a few years ago.

He didnít exactly relish it, but he wasnít all that disappointed when the Commission voted him off of the planet. His replacement, and older and dignified woman, was a pleasure to be around, and she actually listened to him and whatever concerned him, and also seemed to care about him and his mental well-being.

"At ease, son." General Thornton waved a hand at him nonchalantly. Duane assumed the position, keeping his eyes locked on the farthest wall. "As you know, weíve called you here to discuss the latest security breach -- Dr. Erika Slate. Weíve located the source by which she gained the unauthorized information, and have remedied the situation." With a cough, Gen. Thornton pivoted to face him. He slapped a file brimming with papers onto the end of the long black table they stood at the head of. "Itís been our decision that she must be integrated into the BGY panel. We came to this conclusion from her outstanding record, and her recent demonstrations of ability, loyalty, and most importantly, silence. You are to deliver this package," he indicated a small black box on the tabletop, "to Dr. Erika Slate. You are to explain the contents, which you will recognize upon delivery. She is the only one to open this package. You are to destroy the sensitive documents contained herein. Is this clear?"

Gen. Thornton waited for Duaneís "Sir, yes, sir", which he gave without hesitation.

"If it is not her decision to join, you must proceed with her termination. Is that clear?" Duane once again responded affirmatively.

Duane managed to steal a glance at his psychologist; she had a calm expression tinged by the slightest curious smile, and her elegant hands decorated sparsely by silver bands were steepled before her on the black, glossy table. He searched his mind for the last conversation they had had about Erika...Dr. Slate.

Sheís bitchy, crabby, rude, annoying...sheís just dripping with potential. Smartest cookie around. A real fighter. She hates me. It went something like that, didnít it? Did it aid in the Commissionís decision? As he was reaching around in his brain for this conversation, he almost missed Gen. Thornton dismissing him, which was his cue to grab the black box and march away, which he did with precise, clean movements and a gut full of concealed elation.

As soon as the heavy door swung shut, Gen. Thornton turned back to address the Commission. "It was a good thing this decision was mostly unanimous, seeing as how we have little choice in the matter," he said through grinding teeth. "To eliminate Dr. Erika Slate would be to eliminate the RS3, the experimental nucleo-protonic robot."

"Weíve made too much of an investment in both to just throw them away," the financier clucked, shuffling papers in front of him.

"Well, now we can consider this new development killing two birds with one stone; after all, weíve been itching to move a scientific professional to the team to work with them directly." The head scientific advisor shifted her narrow glasses in a prim way that was her habit.

"This will be a good development," the psychologist assured them. "This is a woman who has invented a robotic emotion system, and who can deny that, at times, Lt. Hunter can function like a robot with emotions? The Three Laws bind him, as well. Also, it wouldnít hurt to have another female around aside from Ms. Werth. Lt. Hunter seems to respond well to female presences, positive or negative."

"Maybe itíll keep his hooker bills down!" the military strategist felt the need to crudely add, eliciting a round of chuckles from all except the psychologist. The boorish oaf always made such jokes about Lt. Hunter, and she shouldnít be surprised; the man was her predecessorís twin brother. From what she read in his file, they seemed to have the same personalities as well. It may not have been the military strategistís job to be nice and understanding with Lt. Hunter, but it was his brotherís job, before he botched it. Staring at the military strategistís greasy, dangling chops, she had a hard time imagining the sensitive lieutenant being able to really open up to such a person. She could easily imagine why Lt. Hunter had suffered such a mental lapse, and she hoped that she would be able to do better by him.

She was quite pleased that the rest of the Commission had spared Erika Slate, and she felt her addition to Lt. Hunterís life would be beneficial in the long run. He seemed to be taken by her abilities and skill, though not necessarily by her actions towards him. It was a good sign he could easily ignore what seemed like her immense disapproval of him and appreciate her talents, even those she used against him. The poor boy....

Fingering the turquoise stone set in the silver ring around her index finger, she thought of how easily he threw his heart away, like the few years he pined in aching silence for Ms. Werth. It had been her predecessorís idea to bring a woman to Lt. Hunter, who was practically stranded on the U.S.S. Dark Horse, the largest boyís club around, and without benefit of regular shore leave. Evidently, he had installed Ms. Werth for more vulgar reasons, but of course, the lieutenant was too shy and self-conscious to ever fulfil his previous psychologistís foolish desires. When she had taken his role as Lt. Hunterís psychologist, and Ms. Werth had been installed for a good amount of time, she could easily surmise from brief observation that Lt. Hunterís painful pining was in truth advantageous; it kept him alive. For the years that he had this crush, he was focused, energetic, and happy, at least on some levels. Now, his cheerfulness was once again waning, since he had given up on Ms. Werth, and perhaps even the thought of companionship, for some time. Though it would be cruel to see him in such agonizing, unspoken sorrow, if he could develop this bond with Dr. Slate, conceivably she could become his reason to live....

************************************************

Duane couldnít separate the mildly queasy feeling Quarkís super-fast elevators gave him from the giddy joy that Dr. Slate had been spared. He was happily whistling They Might Be Giantís "Famous Polka" in the serenely empty elevator, tapping out the rhythm with his polished black dress shoes as he zipped to the twenty-third floor. With a vibrant ping, the ornate doors slid open. The halls were deserted because of the late hour, so he felt no shame in singing a little louder.

"The Famous Person wears the same size water skis as me,
sheís got three cars, as many years Iíve lived in this ci-ty!
Her hair is blonde and mine is brown, they both start with a b!
But when the phone inside her rib cage rings, itís not for me;
But when the phone inside her rib cage rings itís not for me!"

As he rounded a corner, he gave a little tip of his hat to the janitor waxing the floors (who returned his gesture with a perplexed expression) and continued whistling on his way. Dr. Slateís door was slightly ajar, and he could see her staring fixatedly into a microscope as she burned some sort of microchip.

"Knock, knock!" he announced his presence, rapping on the doorframe at the same time.

"Ah, Lt. Hunter, I was expecting you." She didnít raise her eyes from her work but motioned him in with her hand. As he approached her, she seemed startled by the musical jingle the multiple medals on the breast of his dress uniform produced (he always wore his dress uniform to confront the Commission) and she abandoned her microscope. After she lowered her glasses down from their perch on her head, she looked him straight up and down, most likely taken aback at seeing him so formally dressed. As her eyes dragged over the length of his body, he started to feel a little unsettled. After her examination, she seemed a little unnerved as well.

"Youíre lucky I have no other life outside of work," she grumbled, more or less to herself. "So what is it you need to see me about at such a late hour?" She tossed her hair over her shoulder in an irate way that Duane read as a signal that she was irritated with his request.

"Iíve been given orders to give you this package, which contains information regarding your new status." He presented her with the black box.

"What new status?" she took it and examined it half-heartedly.

"Youíre now a functioning member of the BGY 11 project; you were cleared for active duty." He watched as she extracted two thin slices of identically square paper with incoherent marks decorating them, one design in red, the other in blue.

"Oh, really? What if I donít want to be Ďcleared for active dutyí? And what the hell are these?" She held up the papers, which Duane easily recognized. Without answering her questions, he took the papers from her and held them up to her desk lamp, locating two watermarks embedded in the corners of each paper. As he lined them up perfectly, he pressed the papers together, forming one paper. The marks blended as well, and purple words appeared in the mix of colors. It was the official establishing document of the BGY Commission, which would explain all of the terms to her. He handed it back and patiently waited for her to read it.

"Oh." She wiggled her glasses on her nose nervously. " I... guess I donít really have a choice whether or not I want to join, according to this Ďtermination of contractí clause." Duane smirked.

"So, you all right with this?" he asked.

"I have to be!" She went to put the paper in her desk drawer.

"Iím going to have to destroy that." He held out his hand for the paper.

"What if I need to review it later?" She pressed the thin sheet into his hand. He promptly whisked the paper through his lips, and pressed his tongue to the roof of his mouth.

Dr. Slate stared at him with mixed disgust and curiosity. It looked to her as if he were eating it, but it was only half-true; the paper dissolved instantaneously in his mouth.

"What have I gotten myself into?" she said awkwardly to Lt. Hunter, who was still mouthing at the last bits of paste.

"Well, if you need to review the contract again, you have to put in a formal application with the military. I can help you with all that," he answered.

"I see." She turned her attentions back to the box. One last object was resting at the bottom; it was a strange, round piece of technology, the size of a silver dollar and three times as thick. It was glimmering solid black, with a small red light at the center. "Pretty," she said mordantly, holding it up for him to see.

"Ah. Thatís the human version of the Big Guy signal. It has a tracer and a link to five different satellites, plus the ability to transmit a signal from just about anywhere. Space, underground, underwater...Call me anytime." He instantly realized that he must sound like some kind of lecher coming on to her, and embarrassedly scrambled to recover. "I mean, in the case of a planet-threatening crisis!" He scratched at the missing piece of his eyebrow nervously.

Despite his blunder, she gave him a little smile, which somewhat put him at ease. Then the little corners flipped up, and he recognized it as her trademark sarcastic-smirk. "Well. Iím just thrilled about my new government-issued pervert hotline! 1-900-HotBots?" she leered.

He returned her little sneer half-heartedly. Well, I asked for it! Lt. Hunter reprimanded himself glumly. If he were going to be happy that she had lived to see another day, he would appreciate every single one of her endearing little smart-ass comments.

On to Chapter 3's prologue!

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