Bethany ensured her eyes never strayed from those of the man in front her, fully aware of the fact that this meeting was nothing more than a test, of worth, of capability. In what way she chose to show him what she was capable of was still undecided, seeing as he might find amusement in the barrel of her gun pointed at his forehead. The dark creature that pumped through her blood stream wanted nothing more than his dead body splayed across the desk in front of her, however; if she was even able to move an inch without being shot down, the kill would have to be quick. In order for her to feel the rush of adrenaline that came with the power of taking a life in her hands and crushing it, time was required. Bethany liked to draw out the death of her prey in whatever way she could, and this man was no exception.
It was easy enough to make her own calculations from what she could see of the room in her peripheral vision. The area was undoubtedly monitored. Closely. Her boss would have a secured weapon—if not several—within arms length, and the two men that stood parallel to one another gave her no room for even imagining a method of attack. However, Beth found pleasure in knowing that she held a certain advantage over the man of whom had shattered her reality. He would be in arms length of her, although not an unsuspected enemy, as anyone other than themselves was an enemy in their world, one more fierce and with more passion than he could have ever hoped. Bethany simply raised her shoulders slightly at the mention of the paperwork. “I’m sure we’re all capable of handling a little paperwork.” It wasn’t required as often in lower ranks of the field, however, it proved a decent distraction during the rather frequent sleepless nights. “Besides, I don’t think the agents even see the half of it,” she started, her eyebrow raising to portray her slight amusement, “from the perspective of the one in charge. Of course.”
"From the perspective of the one in charge," Jack replied, head tilted and an eyebrow barely twitching upwards, "The agents haven’t seen the half of anything." He liked the way she looked at him. Not overly boldly, but hardly shyly. He would have expected no less from someone this high up in the ranks, and yet he could not identify the quality she possessed that made her seem more confronting than most. He wondered if it was partly because she was a woman. She was obviously strong, but not overbearing in her display of it, as if she were trying to overcompensate for her gender. It didn’t appear as if she were raring to prove herself, rather looking at him with the cool gaze of someone who was aware they were competent and expected him to know it. There weren’t as many women that proceeded to her level and higher. It was hardly matter of sexism; it was fact. It had nothing to do with ability either; if someone had the skills and the will, they were promoted. She obviously had the two, and here she was. The smarter agents knew that gender was irrelevant, and the idea that they could wield an additional skill set was ludicrous, unless of course the situation called for particular parts of anatomy that a man did not possess. He could charm and seduce his way into anything on a job should he need to.
He was, of course, also a man who appreciated a beautiful woman. Sometimes, those women were his employees. There was something freeing about knowing that neither party expected anything to come of it, because neither were programmed to think that way. There was no company policy about relationships between agents; better between them than with an outsider. Most agents, the better ones, realised that being emotionally compromised was a negative fallout of a relationship, and avoided them as such. His employees could fuck whomever they wanted to fuck; it was love that was the problem. In any case, that hardly mattered now. He was hardly looking at the woman across from him as an object to satisfy himself with; she was a tool, but she was a gun. That’s all she was. Additionally, she was nothing particularly special as of yet. She was talented, beautiful and interesting, but he’d seen men and women like her. She hadn’t truly impressed him yet, but she had the chance to, if she could manage it. They would be training together quite frequently, and joint missions would follow. He stood momentarily, and if he had been inclined, he would have shaken her hand. As it were, he did not, although the dismissal was clear. “Is there anything else you wish to discuss? You will be assigned your training schedule as you leave, and your first upgraded assignment will follow acceptable performance at those sessions.”
Beth had always been interested in the mechanics of the network, even before she realized how addictive the power that came with the job could truly be. Six years of training had taught her the fundamentals, but she had also picked up on plenty of details in addition. She had come to cherish details on an excessive level, as her new life as Bethany Lewis was full of patterns, traces, clues that had successfully lead her to the one thing she desired most in the world. Planning had become like a second nature to her, and she had discovered that the talent would not only aid her revenge, but her survival. Beth didn’t know if they realized a member of the family had slipped away, she didn’t know if they were looking for her, trying to tie up any loose ends to ensure there wouldn’t be an outside threat. Little did they know, rather, little did he know, the threat was staring him right in the face. Green eyes sharp and hungry to feast on the sight of his limp body at her feet, blood pooling from the wounds that she had placed on his body. The method of which Beth killed was divine to her, in her mind, she was a painter. Her victims were nothing more than an empty canvas, and the only color she would ever use was red. Although she wasn’t able to notice the curve of his muscles due to the jacket that he wore, it wasn’t very difficult for the female to visualize the sight of his body beneath her blade. In her mind, he was sculpted perfectly, each and every muscle a place for her to carve intricate patterns, as she knew this would be her best piece of art yet.
Although Beth found the act of killing the most sensual act in the world, interrogation was where the real fun began. There was nothing that pleased the female more than seeing the resistance in her victims eyes at the start, and slowly watching that light fade until there was nothing left but lucid fear. Their pupils would dilate, beads of sweat would begin to form as their subconscious slowly realized the situation they were in. They would attempt to appeal to her humanity, beg for their lives, use a wife and children as what they thought to be leverage over her. However, what truly amused Beth to no end were the words “you are better than this.” As if they knew who she was, what she was capable of, what she had gone through. The human mind was so fragile, so meek and easily broken. It was only after their feeble techniques did they realize the bittersweet truth to their situation, they would tell her what she wanted to know, and they would die. “Yes, it is something I intend on pursuing. Along with interrogation, although there are very few fields of which I don’t enjoy.” Rather, Beth held a certain amount of interest in every field available to the agents, the female couldn’t deny that she was impulsive. Negotiation was something Beth had difficulty adapting to in her years of training, she much preferred taking information by force and simply removing the obstacle afterwards. However, despite her aversion toward the field, it was necessary.
There was a minute widening of her eyes as they both mentioned interrogation, and he wondered if that reflected her enjoyment for the skill. The zeal with which Bethany killed had been noted, a particular kind of enjoyment that was observable even if one carefully sculpted their body language to conceal most of it. It was most obvious in interrogation, because those without a taste for the act were rarely successful at a rate above average. Personally, he found more enjoyment in it than killing. He tended not to consider his targets worthy of exultant emotions, and for the most part considered them cadavers even before he’d taken aim. The act of actually killing was almost mechanical by now, a denouement to the real thrill; planning and executing the job itself. That was his forte, and he took great pride in his tactical accomplishments. There was little else so satisfying as making all the right decisions, or making the wrong ones but being brilliant enough to correct them in time for him to be successful. He was the best they had, and all knew it. Interrogation was a different matter, because the act of killing wasn’t the point. It was when the mind itself was a maze to crack, where the body was a jumbled collection of nerves for him to map out and plan a route of attack in the same way he would look at a map and trace his routes or create his strategy. He was an effectual orchestrator through and through. The pain he could inflict, well, that was just cathargenic, regardless of the fact it shouldn’t strictly ought to be.
Her reply was amusing, though likely true. Some areas weren’t enjoyable because that was not where your strengths lie, but those who could see the value in all aspects of the business could at least appreciate the necessity of it. “Even the paperwork?” He could feel the corners of his eyes crinkling in his amusement, and he allowed them to stay as such. It was a necessary part of the job, unfortunately, although Bethany would not have encountered copious amounts of it. As the jobs became more high-stake and she was training others, documentation and debriefs became common. There were moments when Jack felt as if he were drowning in sheets of paper and scrawled handwriting, but it was necessary, and he was mostly diligent in his responsibilities.
Judging by his reaction, Beth knew she had chosen her answer well. Games were favored among individuals like themselves, tricks and traps were one of many things that could pass the time that seemed to tick away so slowly. However, the trick was accepting the fact that beating the person who made the game was not the point and the attempt would be futile, playing it as well as they did, was. It was a test of patience, of worth. Although they had all the time in the word to develop character profiles, guilt by association was not always taken lightly. People that were deemed unnecessary or incapable were either killed or discarded, it was as simple as that. Glancing down at the thin sheets of paper held in the folder, Beth felt no curiosity as to what the file contained. If he had known who she was and could suspect her intentions, no sheet of paper would be of any aid now.
She had noticed the alteration in difficulty immediately, although she had expected it, the change was refreshing. The job was never different, to kill or to be killed, however; it required more effort, more thought, and there was nothing Beth enjoyed more than precision. “I enjoy detail,” she replied immediately and with no change in tone, “and I prefer that things to work in my favor.” Uncrossing her left leg from her right only to cross right to left a few seconds later, she studied him intently, knowing that he didn’t need any further explanation. The question was unusual. Of course, Beth knew that what was learned in training was automatically applied in the field, she didn’t think that a man of his status would take much care in anything other than whether or not she was successful.
"Hm," he replied, the noise barely an acknowledgement of her reply, his expression even, noticing her change in sitting position. Did that betray nerves? Her expression was still sharp, and she kept her eyes firmly planted on his face, except for the glance towards her file. In time, he would come to understand her body language almost as well as his own, once she’d started working for him, but there was open and closed body language. If she was good enough, he’d only see what she wanted him to see. He had to say that he agreed with her about liking detail. He was a man who cherished them, in fact. He was involved more in tactics than any other field; not that he denied the importance of other skills. Collectively, they meant success or failure. Agents usually had several specialties. The higher in status you climbed, the more decisions you had to make about whether you’d broaden your skill set, or become experts in a few. The better you were, the more you were likely to develop expertise in. It all depended on motivation, talent, and necessity. Obviously, he needed to be excellent at tactics. That was his primary role in most of the jobs he undertook. He also favoured weapons management, because the feel of cold metal or steel in his hand felt as natural to him as breathing. It felt like home. Interrogation too, was something he enjoyed, and although his methods were often vastly different than those they taught, his personal feelings about the task made creativity a blessing. Interrogating was only a game, really, and he loved games.
There were plenty of other fields. Marksmanship in relation to various types of weapons, undercover operations, field-specific tactics (a lot of thinking on your feet) language mastery and negotiations were only a few of them. He had people for everything. The reason he had asked was to get a better idea of which direction she would go, and whether it meant she had a disliking for other areas. A basic level in all of them was required, no matter your own preferences. He nodded at her, pursing his lips as he mentally reviewed her recommendations and assessments. His tone was more casual now, as if they were discussing lunch. She’d already passed his test on scores alone, and he’d seen no reason to dislike her based on her poise and answers. “Is that a specialty you intend to pursue? Depending on your strengths and interests, much of your allotted training appointments will be in areas of your choosing, or ones required. The rest will be advanced basic skills. Some agents settle on several focus areas, but you would do well to consider that as a senior agent you will also be required to take part in the training of rookie agents, as well as jobs.” It wasn’t exactly a matter of free time becoming scarce now; agents had to complete a minimum number of training days a month (they could schedule more if they chose) on top of jobs, but also had to have a certain amount of down time. Training the rookies was the only addition to her schedule, and that was only a day a week. It was more of a matter of her training and jobs becoming more intense.
How does that feel?
The word felt foreign to Beth. It was peculiar that individuals of their talents would use the term in any other sense but to mock. To feel anything but the rush of adrenaline when watching the light fade from her victims eyes at the simple pull of a trigger was absurd. Raising an eyebrow slightly, the female studied her superior carefully. Beth knew that she was being analyzed, as this rank was composed of only the most capable and talented agents. However, she chose to ignore her curiosity, for the time being. She had gotten this far, and if she failed now, all would be lost. If Beth did in fact manage to impress the man in the dark suit that studied her as if he suspected her desire to put a bullet between his eyes, she was one step closer to ending his life. She was one step closer to the revenge that she deserved.
"It’s enough of an indicator that I’m doing my job right." She purposefully bent the question to her will, ensuring that the answer would work to her benefit. Beth knew what she was capable of, and although it was of no surprise that her talents were being rewarded, she found no use in acting as if the promotion contributed to her self-worth or was of any great honor. Although she wouldn’t attempt to deny that she had held a certain curiosity toward the person of whom she worked for before this meeting, it wasn’t nearly as satisfying to meet him than one would think. Despite that, Beth was grateful, and although her head felt light from the anger that had suddenly bubbled up within her, a sense of calm fell over the female, as she knew that her years of waiting were over.
He was expecting her to feel honoured or blessed, and hoping that she would say that she didn’t feel anything at all. Technically she did neither, and he leaned forwards, the corner of his lip twitching upwards. She was studying him too, he could tell, which was likely a habit more than a decision. He expected all agents to be the same in that regard. Curious, observant, detailed. She would be making her own assessments. He wondered if he measured up. “Well enough.” He flipped open her file, taking a quick glance at her training assessments. “You were recommended six months ago. You would have noticed an alteration in the difficulty of your assignments in recent months. You’re not dead, so we can safely assume you succeeded.”
The process of promotion wasn’t a click of fingers and a nice badge. It meant tests, training and difficult missions. Some excelled under pressure, and some died on those jobs. The ones that did well stepped into this office. There was no immediate second chance for the ones that failed; they would stay on their level until they were deemed ready again, which could take years. Some might find it unfair, but every one of them knew that one mistake could ruin everything. It was one mistake they couldn’t afford. “Your training results are admirable, particularly your interrogation skills,” he relayed to her. “Your extra training for the last three months has been in tactics. Why?”
Her blood boiled beneath her skin. Although Beth felt as if her temperature rose with each passing moment he dared to hold her gaze, she knew how to hold her tongue and her temper when it was necessary. However, she couldn’t help but wonder what exactly was making her hesitant. Why should she not kill him? The female knew that her life was to end eventually, the female had learned to accept the constant company of death, whether it found rest in the barrel of her own gun, or the one being pointed to her temple. This was what she lived for, revenge was the only fuel to her never ending fire. However, Beth knew to trust her instincts, as even the smallest relic of doubt or hesitation could be the only thing between herself and failure. Death was inevitable, however, failure was a different subject entirely. As a woman who prided herself on her talents, mistakes were not taken lightly. Killing him was not an option, not tonight.
He’s more handsome then she remembers. Although as a child she didn’t often refer to the man of which set her life to flames as anything less than a murderer, she could no longer place herself above him. Morality was one of the first things the little orphan girl had cleansed herself of when she realized the true bittersweet nature of the world. Although the years had done him well, naturally, the job took its toll. Both individuals were tense, and the air surrounding them was thick with tension, as each knew—very well—what the other was capable of. She broke away from their eye contact only long enough to step forward and sit on the chair, her legs immediately crossing and her back straightening against the seat. “Thank you for your time.” Beth stated, her tone grateful, even through the anger that threatened to make her burst at the seams. However, her eyes remained stoic, even as she tilted her head slightly for emphasis.
There were many ways of playing this game, although to some it didn’t register as one. Some walked in her as if it were a compliment. Other took the steps from the door to the chair with fear, some with pride, others with gratitude or a desperation to please. All knew, somewhere, deep down, that the were only here because he allowed it, and that made it a game of polite greetings and formalities. When it boiled down to it, they were a gun, and he was the gunman. That’s all they were, and sometimes he found himself smiling at those who clung to their humanity like a lifeline. It would kill them one day.
"Thank you for yours." There was the smile, the one that said he really wasn’t saying thank you at all. The game had begun. "Miss Lewis," he began, retaining eye contact again. "I trust that know who I am. I also trust that you understand the implications of this meeting.” He had to, of course, run through all of the particulars. This was a job interview, in a sense. They told him she was ready, but it was his final assessment that sealed the deal. He pulled the file over to him from the corner of the desk, although he knew the basics by memory. “You would have been told that you are eligible for promotion to a senior agent. How does that feel?” How does it feel to meet me? He could ask her directly. The mystery man of the company, hidden behind a name; a brand. Three years ago he wasn’t Jack, and strictly speaking he was the seventh Jack to have sat in this office. He knew that when he had met his Jack that he’d been one of the cocky guys who had waltzed in thinking senior agency would be a breeze. At least the late Jack had had a sense of humour about it; somehow, he was a man whose laugh was unaffected by his status. This Jack had a sense of humour, but it wasn’t a pleasant one. He preferred to make people squirm. It was a trick question anyway.
Bethany had become rather inclined to the meaning of the word throughout the years. It held no deeper meaning. No ultimatum, and better yet, no weakness. Every action served a purpose, and each purpose was directly involved with a single process: survival. At least, that’s what she tells herself when the scale tips and the weight of her decisions threaten to suffocate her. However, regret is not the cause of that weight. She had cauterized that—and almost every other—emotion out of herself far too long ago. It was her duty to carry on, and although the method of which she chose to do so was not one many associate the terms happiness and safety to, her epitaph was simple. To kill or to be killed.
Now, however, the line between business and pleasure was growing thin. Beth was being promoted, in a sense. Either way, the job was the same, but despite that, the danger always grew. With this promotion came certain perks, one of which would be to meet her boss. Jack. Patience was a virtue that Beth had seemingly always possessed, and in a profession such as her own, patience could be the only thing between an agent and death. If need be, she was willing to wait for hours. Beth had no shortage of respect for her authorities, given that if she did she would most likely be shot dead within a few minutes, seeing as the amount of security just on the floor of the building she was on was enough to make it seem as if lock down were due any minute. However, she knew it was simply protocol, and didn’t bother glancing around to meet the eyes of the dozen security guards she knew were watching her.
“He is ready.” Nodding her head and standing up, Beth straightened out her leather jacket, narrowing her eyes at the security guard when he positioned his hand on her lower back as if she needed guidance through the door. Returning her gaze forward when the contact was broken, Beth pushed the large doors open slowly. Instinctively, her attention was immediately caught by the number of security in the room. However, it takes a moment for her eyes to be caught by the black of a tie. As her eyes pull upward, realization sinks deep into her chest, and Beth clenches her jaw so tightly she’s sure the pressure could break teeth.
Whether she knew it or not- and he hoped that it was the former, given her rank- she was on show the moment she stepped into the room. Appearances were almost everything. He sees her before she sees him, occupied as she is by the men flanking the walls. Her shoulders are back, spine straight, chin up, walking both as if she knows that she is better than most people she meets and as if she’s self-conscious. He likes that. He catches her eye a moment later and holds them, not looking away. This is another test, the first of an infinite number of them she will be subject to for the rest of her career. Though he is focused on her eyes, he takes in the clenching of her jaw in his peripheral vision, and wonders what hidden emotion it accompanies.
He gives himself another moment to look at her before raising his chin from his hands. “Leave,” he tells them, and his security team don’t need to know who he means. They leave silently, leaving only the two of them in the room. “Please, have a seat.” The chair in front of his desk is not made to be comfortable, but that’s entirely the point. For his part, he lifts his elbows off the desk and leans back in his chair. His posture may look casual, but any agent worth their salt would be able to identify the tension in it. True relaxation was unattainable for people like them.
This particular evening, he would be meeting a newly advanced senior agent. It would be the first time the two had met, given the restrictions on access to his person for lower-level agents. His security and safety were paramount, a contradiction to the nature of his business, perhaps. This encounter would mark the beginning of a professional relationship that would terminate with the death of one or both of them. There was no retirement plan in his line of work, least of all for him. As a senior agent, she would be well aware that life only became more precarious the higher you climbed, unless, of course, you were Jack. She is outside waiting for him, he knows, but he stands and opens his balcony door. There is no wind. Instead of empty air, glass walls enclose him, caging him in, and keeping others out.
He has a routine he likes to indulge before meetings. He likes to be well informed, and he likes to be comfortable when people enter. As ‘Jack’, he is entitled to such behavior. As Jack, it is expected that he will take whatever liberties he sees fit for his own enjoyment. The particulars are his individual neurosis. He knows that the Jack before him had his own routine to follow. It was everyone else’s job to deal with it.
He loosens his tie. Lights a cigarette. Watches the people below crawl home as the sun sets over a cold, concrete jungle. Redoes his tie, his tobacco-stained fingertips pressing the scent onto expensive black fabric. Sits at his office desk. Checks all seventeen weapons contained within this piece of furniture are in place and functioning. Opens the file on his desk. Reads the name, observes the passport-sized picture, notes the training records, the mission transcripts, the mental and physical evaluations. Closes the file, pushes it to the right corner, sets his elbows on the desk, clasps his hands, sets his chin on his fingers. “Send her in.”