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A short story by

Matt Burns

It had started small at first, after Pandora had given Sage the forged dossiers and tinkered away at his apprehensive feelings about the mission. Then it grew until finally Sage agreed to let Pandora go through with her plan: neutralize Colton Miersma, a military liaison scheduled to visit the Simonson facility. Then eliminate and assume the identity of Rebecca Schafer, another liaison who per protocol would take Colton’s place in the event he couldn’t fulfill his duties.

On the outside Sage still looked normal. But when Pandora looked into his eyes, she could see a faint hollowness that she recognized from what was her strongest psionic trait: manipulating thoughts and decisions. Although the act left Sage slightly confused and scatterbrained, Pandora knew that the effects would pass soon after the mission.

Regardless, Pandora still avoided his unsettling eyes as she surveyed a 3-D map hovering between her and Sage, depicting the Simonson facility and surrounding area. A glowing red dot in the network of factories near the complex marked where the other three members of Pandora’s team would be positioned. Another dot, behind a steep hill close to the Simonson buildings, indicated Sage’s location.

“You don’t need to be this close,” Pandora said, gesturing to Sage’s dot.

“You’re my responsibility. I want to be as close as possible in case anything happens. Besides, from the security reports you’ve scrounged up, I don’t think it’ll be a problem.”

Pandora had previously tried to dissuade him from being so close, though part of Sage was still strong and decisive.

“If there’s any sign of trouble – any – just get out. I’ll be there,” Sage said.

“I know you will,” Pandora said, her eyes still locked on the map. She wondered if Sage suspected that one of his own, the one he trusted most, had deceived him.

“When I heard what happened on Anselm… I didn’t know if you were alive or dead. You don’t know how I felt when they told me that. It was my decision to let you go in. If you had died, I – ”

“I lived. And I’ll be alive tomorrow night when we’re on a ship out of here,” Pandora said, and she put her hand on Sage’s shoulder. No longer able to avert her gaze, she looked into his eyes, and guilt washed over her.

It’s all necessary, Pandora convinced herself.

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