Approx. twelve years ago:
Damien straightened his cadet uniform as he took a deep breath. It didn’t help his nerves, but it at least felt soothing for a moment.
He closed his eyes, trying hard to push back the chilling shiver clawing up his spine. It had to just be an evaluation; it was around that time again… Wasn’t it?
The door handle clicked under his hand; too late to turn back now. He pushed his weight against the door, it felt oddly heavier. The cold metal at least felt nice for once.
The light inside seemed brighter, though he could make out a single figure sitting at the table in the room.
Damien let out a nervous laugh. “You’d think I’d-”
The words caught in his throat as he focused on the small gold clip on the man’s black tie. A bird caught on fire. He wasn’t a consultant, then.
The man tilted his head somehow not causing a single of his dark hairs to fall out of place. A flat expression was across his otherwise perfect face. “You what?”
Damien quickly dropped his gaze. He shook his head blinking in a try to stop tears, the cold realization hitting harder than he thought it would. “It’s nothing,” he managed in more of a horse whisper.
The Board member let out a scoff as he straightened. “Right.”
Damien tried glancing up. It was long enough to recognize the man; his cold blue eyes and well kept hair over his perfect fair skin were hard not to. “You’re Dalton.”
This got a confused hum in reply.
“Dalton Othellen?” Damien gulped, rubbing at his own wrist. “I-I’ve seen your image on newscasts… occasionally.”
“I’m surprised you have the time to pay attention to that.” Dalton rotated his neck, an audible pop sounding from the motion. “From what I’ve heard you pretty much run this place, among other… pursuits.”
Damien laughed. “That’s not true. The dean…” He stopped, fully thinking over the rest of the sentence. “What do you mean ‘other pursuits’?”
Dalton gestured to the chair across from himself. “Sit.”
Crossing his arms, Damien scowled. “I’m fine.”
The man clearly wasn’t used to this reaction. Dalton pulled back into himself as his mouth dropped open aghast. “It wasn’t an offer!”
“And I said I’m fine.”
Dalton slammed his hands on the table as he stood, and Damien half expected him to shout. Instead, he snapped his fingers.
Damien smiled, a relaxing calm settling over as nothing happened. So much for the power of the Board.
At least till hands wrapped around his throat cutting off his air.
After his breathing steadied, Damien found he’d been forced to sit. A construct standing behind him kept a vice-like grip on both his shoulders.
Dalton sighed, casually fixing the sleeve of his suit. “Insubordinate ass…”
“You could’ve killed me!” Damien struggled, but the construct’s grip was stronger than even a usual protector spec would have been built to.
The Board Member gave him barely a glance, pretending to focus on his own fingernails instead. “That would’ve been quite an improvement, I’m sure.” He huffed, sitting down again. “Do you like my construct? I had it specially made for my son.”
“Right… I heard about that.” Damien shifted around trying to relive the throbbing pain building in his shoulders. “He... he fell ill, didn’t he?” Damien let out a groan, leaning forward since he couldn’t rub at the growing migraine behind his forehead. “I thought the Board’s selection process was supposed to stop that…”
Dalton scoffed. “We’re not here to talk about me.” He flicked his hand over the table pulling up the built-in holographic prompt. Rotating his hand, he quickly scrolled through the pages until he settled on one; a single page profile with Damien’s old cadet picture attached. One with his dark hair cut in the short cadet style and golden gray eyes sparked over a sly smirk.
“You have quite the record, Mister Holden.”
Damien shivered as he tried to lock his eyes down at the table. “No more than anyone else.”
“Top of your class, best grade on the Exam.” Dalton let out a low hum as he glanced through the hologram. “But you’re not set to graduate with Honors.”
Damien flinched at the last words. “That’s not my fault.”
Dalton slid a picture across the table; a female cadet Damien hadn’t seen in years. Her blond hair wasn’t suited for the short cadet style and blue eyes cold with hidden pain. “There was a… Terra Carenda, it seems.”
Damien dug his fingers into his leg to keep from shaking. He focused his eyes down, away. Anywhere but the picture. “Don’t talk about her like that…”
Another snap and the construct changed positions. This time it wrapped a hand behind Damien’s neck forcing his head up.
Smirking, Dalton shifted to cross his legs. “You two were very…” He flicked his eyes over the cadet shifting forward. “Close, weren’t you?”
Damien shut his eyes. “It wasn’t…”
“It must have been nice to have an older—”
“I was her only friend!” The words just spilled out. “Does it even say that?” Damien let out a frantic laugh. “I told her I’d be there, and s-she… she still…” He choked, covering his face with his hand as the tears he’d been holding back finally burst forth. “S-she…”
“Blew her own brains out?” Dalton suggested, back to studying his own nails. He frowned, glancing at the young man. “You’re sure you weren’t a cause of that? After all, there’s a lot of covered up assaul—”
“It wasn’t like that!” Damien slammed his fists on the table.
Dalton straightened as his eyes flicked over the younger man. He coughed, folding his hands into his lap as a smile twitched a corner of his mouth. “Now, there’s no need for that.”
A lump settled in Damien’s chest as he glared back. “That was years ago! What is this actually about?”
The picture disappeared as Dalton shifted his hand over the hologram. He stopped with a sigh. The hologram had changed to a much more complicated genetics report.
Damien straightened. His mouth dried.
Dalton glanced over the report. A bored glaze settled over his eyes as he let out a heavy sigh. He glanced over the prompt. “You took a genetics course?”
Damien glanced down with a cough. He rubbed at his wrist. “I... ah... I had an interest.”
“You’re...” Dalton furrowed his brow as he muttered something.
“Sixteen,” Damien offered.
“You’re really sixteen?” The Board member tilted his head, a curious light in his icy blue eyes. He cleared his throat, glancing down a moment. “I thought...” Dalton rubbed at his forehead. He muttered to himself. “You took the Exam, already?”
Damien shrugged or tried under the grip of the construct. “Any Fourth Tier is allowed to take it. Seemed better to just get it out of the way.”
“You’re planning to be a tech, then?”
A blush crossed Damien’s face as he slumped. “I… haven’t decided yet, actually.”
“So you just took a high level tech class on a whim?”
Damien nervously rubbed at his wrist. “There’s nothing against it.” He crossed his arms tight. “I was hoping to have it figured out by the time I started getting placement offers.”
Dalton’s eyes flicked over the young man, studying him much more carefully. “Your final project in that genetics class, where did you get the sample for it from?”
“It was mine.”
A swift sigh between Dalton’s teeth. He glared. “I know how high-level projects work! Where did you get it?”
Damien let out a frantic huff. He held a hand to his chest. “It was my genetics.“
Dalton chuckled as he shook his head. “You?” Another short chortle. “That can’t—” He cleared his throat as he rubbed at his forehead. “Can it?” Dalton’s cold eyes connected with Damien. “What do you know of your father?”
Damien blinked. “Camden?” He sighed. “He has a business exemption, I think. We don’t really talk.” Damien slumped again as he shook his head. “I haven’t even seen much of him…”
“And your mother?”
He nearly repeated the word. “I don’t have a mother.”
Dalton scoffed. “You never saw the full report?”
“Full…” Damien frowned. “There was an error in processing. I was fairly sure I set it up right, but the report never came through.” He sighed as he shook his head. “The most I saw was that I’m about a quarter Sendrian.” Damien rolled his eyes. “I could’ve guessed that.”
Dalton let out a huff. He stood as a smirk crossed his face that didn’t reach his cold eyes. “Perhaps I’ve been going about this the wrong way...” He reached into his suit jacket, pulling out a slim device. Dalton tapped at the small screen, then marched over and set it down in front of the cadet. “I assume you’ve seen one of these before.”
Damien tried to shrug again. “Everyone has an Identification Device, don’t they?”
“Not the—” Dalton forced a breath as his hand curled to a fist. “The contract on the screen!”
The text was so tiny to fit the screen it was hard to make anything out. Damien shook his head. “I thought contracts were between employees and Bases.”
“Then you understand how rare of an offer this is.” Dalton gestured out with his hand. A strange twitch at the corner of his otherwise flat frown. “I want you to work directly for me.”
Damien shivered. He rubbed at his wrist. “If I say no?”
A scowl twisted Dalton’s face as he let out a frantic chuckle. He stuttered, barely able to form a word. “W-why would—”
“To weigh my options?” Damien crossed his arms. “I mean, yeah, I have good grades, but I’m hardly on track for Honors. I wouldn’t call myself anywhere near one of the best the Division has to offer.” He rubbed his arms. “Certainly nothing a Board member would want...”
Dalton scoffed. A snap of his fingers.
The construct stepped back, away from Damien. His muscles were sore from the force and lack of movement.
“You know the Division Credos?” Dalton stepped over to place a hand on the cadet’s shoulder.
Damien raised an eyebrow as he tried to glance at the man. “Every cadet learns that.”
“Recite it for me.”
Another shiver. Damien sat, focusing on his breathing. It seemed such an odd request.
“Please.” Dalton gave a soft rub to the young man’s shoulder.
A gulp. Damien put his hands on his legs as he took a deep breath. “I give my life to the Division...”
Another rub to the cadet’s shoulder, before Dalton detached to pace behind him. He repeated the words as well.
“... And all that entails.
It is my duty and honor to serve to the best of my abilities.
To give everything I can...”
Dalton stopped behind the cadet’s seat. His hand snuck across. Down.
Damien lashed out. A complete impulse. He jumped up. Away. His eyes darted to the door.
It didn’t matter. The construct wrapped a tight grip around him before he could move.
The construct’s owner stood barely a foot away. His hand lingered over his nose. There was a strange puffiness to it. That and a slow crimson stream of blood.
The man focused on his breathing, slow steady through gritted teeth. At least, it started out as breathing. It slowly switched to sounding like laughing, instead. He connected a glare that made his icy blue eyes all the more chilling. “One would think you’d know your place!”
An equally chilling shiver rushed through Damien as his mouth quivered with awkward sounds, though no words formed. Finally he managed, “S-sorry...”
The Board member huffed, rolling his eyes. “Get that abomination out of my sight!”
Merci pour la lecture!
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