Everything In Its Place

Full name and designation, please.
Former Civil Security Special Agent Benjamin Delaney Hardin, ID 90581.

How has civilian life been treating you, Benjamin?
I imagine it would be a lot nicer outside a cell, but beggars can’t be choosers, can they? Not when my other options are death or — ah, a rather forceful debriefing. I’ve had enough force since the incident. Thanks.

Have the guards been unkind?
Not all force is violent, darling. It’s nice seeing you again — is this our third visit, or our fourth? Are you still enjoying that shiny new promotion? Is there going to be version five in your future?

We’re not here to talk about me, Benjamin. We’re here to talk about you.
Of course we are. What does the government want to know now? Everything about my life is in those files — I’ve been nothing but forthcoming since I registered for IHA citizenship.

Do you regret the decision? I understand that it estranged you from your foster family.
It’d be easy to say I regret it now. But no, I don’t. I love my foster family, but I wasn’t born in Epiphany. The first time we had an extradition troupe into my father’s store, I knew I wanted to come back. The special agents moved with absolute power. They had no legal standing. My father could have stopped cooperating at any time and thrown them out, but they still acted like they owned the place. I wanted that.

It does say here that you were fostered in Epiphany — what was that like?
It was like any other childhood. My parents took in more then a dozen strays. No doubt they’ve got more now, there’s certainly no shortage of IHA children abandoned in Epiphany. We all worked the shop. I was dealing with broken circuits and routine mods before most BioTech apprentices were even eligible for technical training. My father was very no-nonsense with his children.

You kept their name.
It’s my name too. By the time I tracked down the family that lost me — at least, the story is that my mother lost track of me — it had already been mine for decades.

Your file doesn’t say anything about finding your birth family. Did you reconnect with your mother?
Oh for the love of — what is this, psych 101? Would you like me to look at some inkblots next?

That doesn’t answer my question.
My father is dead. My mother was last seen over fifteen years ago on Earth; she checked herself out of her wellness facility when her required sixty days were up. I have siblings too, you know. Three of them. I mean, I always knew about my big sister, but apparently my parents had her cleaned out when they couldn’t find me. Not that she’d remember me if they hadn’t; she overloaded. She’s a vegetable in a permanent care clinic. Fucked up, right?

I’m very sorry to hear that, Benjamin. It must have come as quite a shock.

You’re agitated. Would you like me to call in a sedative?
Don’t lord that over me. Does it feel good, Gwen? Well, you can get me a fucking cigarette, if you’re so concerned for my chemical well-being.

If I recall correctly, you did threaten to… what was it?
You’ll have to figure that one out on your own. There were so many threats in the final hours of that debacle that I could hardly pick one.

Right. I remember: to “rip my brain out and examine the pieces.”
I could have, too. I should have. Maybe they’d have you locked up in this hell-hole, and I would be moving up the ladder. Must be nice. 

I’ve been useful to the government. You put them in a bind. Your file could say you were overwhelmed and made a wrong call. That’s a recoverable incident.
Ha! Right. That’s manning a suburban civil security kiosk until they retire me.

It could say that your emigration from Epiphany to New Perth was a plan all along. That you were always on the side of the hackers. That’s quite damaging.
That’s a death sentence. I’m impressed. Did you come up with that by yourself? I must have really pissed you off.

You have no idea.
Careful careful, missy — you’re agitated. Would you like a sedative?

Clearly you’re not in the correct mental status to discuss this case yet. I’ll recommended that the project head schedule another evaluation in a month.
Another month? That’s cold. You want to do me a favor and recommend they send in another psychologist?

It would be rejected. I already have the security clearance to deal with your case. The government doesn’t want more people to know.
 I don’t see how it’s a fucking secret. Ah, well, at least when you come in I can remember what tits look like.

You know, on second thought, I can think of a place for you. Something that the government would find quite advantageous — I don’t know how I didn’t see it.
Is that so? And just what place could you recommend where the government wouldn’t see me as a security risk waiting to happen?

You wanted to know all about Version Five.
You wouldn’t.

Just try to stop me.

(Benjamin & Gwen are characters out of Dreaming of Eden, a sci-fi novel that is not yet published.)


Ashley M. Hill found her voice in science fiction when her curiosity about technology coupled with the lifelong urge to tell stories. Her interest in social and feminist issues shapes how she approaches the genre. She's pursuing computer and network repair for her day job.

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