The Charles Building was situated on the corner of Buford Highway and 14th street, across the road from a strip mall and a liquor store. It was a nice building, with a modern, pentagonal shape and brick and concrete facade. Wrap-around windows demarcated each floor, of which there were seven. The lawn outside was well landscaped and manicured: short, perfectly conical evergreen trees in terracotta pots lined the walkways, and small flower bushes bloomed by the first-floor windows. A small koi pond surrounded by smooth river rocks trickled quietly. The first floor consisted of a cafe and convenience store, with a bank of four elevators in the room's center. The walls were wood-paneled, the floors smooth beige tile. Behind a granite-topped desk, a security guard slumped in an office chair, looking up as each person passed, showing their ID for clearance, and then back down at her phone.
On the fifth floor of this seven-story building, in a glass-front office labeled "Gouche Informatics", the heart of REAPER operations in Charity Beach beated nondescriptly. Behind the glass and a small lobby with a white marble receptionist desk could be found a series of offices lining narrow corridors. In one room, locked from the outside with a key card, hundreds of black computer towers hummed in unison, making the whole room vibrate. The rooms were labeled with gold plaques, reading things like "Director of Quality Control", "Accounting Office", and "Programming Department". At the back of the office, at the dead end of a twisting hallway, sat an office completely different from the others. It was all black glass, tinted dark to the point of opacity, with a glass sliding door locked from the inside. The gold plaque next to the door read:
"Rachel Cantor, Director of Operations"
Inside, the office was trapezoidal, occurring at one of the points of the pentagon. Banks of windows flanked a large dark-wood desk with an enormous computer monitor atop it. The office was idiosyncratically neat. It was lit by fluorescent lights and a tall silver lamp behind the desk and a comfortable black office chair. A black rug sat beneath the desk at a perfect 90 degree angle to the corners of the room. By the windows, low shelves held books on programming and a series of manilla folders. One such self, the one closest to the silver lamp, instead held books of poetry and literature. A large fern sat in a white pot near the right window. On the back wall, behind the desk, another large computer screen showed an image of a tropical landscape, and below that three silver filing cabinets stood resolute.
Rachel Cantor sat in her comfy chair in front of the enormous computer screen and drummed her manicured nails on the edge of the desk. Calming electronic music played from a speaker under the desk somewhere. On the screen, several Word documents were opened in sequence, progress reports from agents around the city. The one pulled up currently was particularly grisly.
”Encounter with special target AMCC in the Industrial District. Casualties: 0. Fatalities: 3. AMCC last spotted east of the initial encounter. Agents have been deployed to identify the AMCC and track it.”
Rachel sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. There was a lot of paperwork to read today. Rachel had been working here for two months now, and with each day her patience wore thinner. This office job felt stifling compared to the work she had done before. The power and the trust the job came with— those suited her. The tedium of paperwork, not so much.
Suddenly, a ring came from the door. Rachel looked up (it was one-way glass, so she could see through) to see the doors swing open… by itself. Before the doors closed, Makoto appeared in a cloud of smoke on Rachel’s desk. With her legs swinging like a child, and she looked back at Rachel.
“Hey there, sweetie,” Makoto said with a warming smile, “Look at you, with your own office… in your own city! You’re making big moves, babe.”
“That’s not usually how people enter my office,” Rachel replied, jumping at the unusual sight of a woman appearing on her desk. Quickly, she reached for a coffee mug which, displaced by the woman’s appearance, had tipped and spilled over the side of the desk.
“Oh, I think the Foundation Woman briefed you on me, right?” She gave her a forced, toothy, smile that displayed all the woman’s teeth. “Agent Onryo, master spy, at your service!”
“I assumed a master spy wouldn’t announce themselves as such,” Rachel replied.
“Well, kid, it’s about time you threw those assumptions out the window,” Makoto also shot right back with a cheeky grin. “Y’know what they say about assumptions?”
“Yes, I have been to grade school before,” Rachel responded. She reached into one of the cabinets to the right of her desk and pulled out a roll of paper towels, then began to clean the spilled coffee. “Nonetheless, you are welcome here. I have set up an office for you just outside of this one, across from our President of Marketing.”
“Oh, I don’t need all that, sweetie,” Onryo replied with a wave of her hand. “I won’t be sticking ‘round that long, all that office is going to end up being is a storage for my equipment.”
And that was true, given how “mobile” Makoto was; she may end up staying here for like a few days before being sent to Australia or something to seduce a politician! “Thanks anyway.” She, nonetheless, had to thank her. However, she had to get to business.
“So our prestigious Director of Operations,” Makoto started off, “I am, contractually obligated, to inform you that I already completed one of my assignments! And I haven’t even stepped foot in this place for a few hours. We have a lead on the crystal that Warmonger snagged, and I intend on following it.”
Makoto started off before the bad news came in.
“However, we may have to deal with an annoying redneck sheriff getting in our way.”
“FAMA is an unfortunate hurdle in all our dealings,” Rachel replied. “I’m certain he won’t be a problem. What have you learned so far about the crystal?”
“For starters it’s white,” Makoto said before breaking out into laughter, “No, no, just kidding; it’s sealed in a case they can’t open without breaking it - as reported - and it’s currently in the possession of the police department… for now. If they found out there was a crystal inside, FAMA would take it and ship it to one of their vaults! And the Foundation Woman wouldn’t want that, especially when getting it would be easy.”
“Standard police should be a cakewalk,” Rachel replied, shrugging. “I can have an agent scope out the station’s security within a week and we can take it back. Considering your impromptu entrance just now, I’m assuming you won’t have any problem entering the vault?”
“Until I hit a wall and go like splat!” Makoto chuckled before she stopped. “But, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it… now I got a question for you; do you have anything to report to me?” Rachel thought for a moment, then nodded. She clicked through a few of the files on her cluttered computer screen until she came to a video recording. Then she turned the computer screen towards Makoto. The timestamp in the corner read “12:03 pm, 6/11/2019.”
The video began. It was security footage from the inside of a warehouse in the Industrial District, played at 2.0x speed. As it played, a silver blur entered the picture, pursued by three people in all black. A fight ensued, leaving all three of the black-clad people on the ground in horrendous, mangled form. Rachel paused the video, then zoomed in on the silver being in the video.
“I presume that you recognize this as the missing AMCC android,” Rachel said. “Just this morning, after several weeks of espionage, I sent a small team of agents to extract it from its hiding place. Things quickly decayed.”
“Oooooh, good thing I wasn’t in that team!” Makoto said with a raised eyebrow. She heard of the AMCC project and REAPER had made a robot - a freakin’ robot! - but yet the idiots in charge of the project never thought to once consider not making it intelligent enough to rebel. And now all of REAPER has to drop everything to find it because it was “one of a kind” or they’d “never be able to make another one”.
Bullshit, all of it.
“‘Course, if I was in the team, things would’a gone a lot better,” Makoto answered with a chuckle.
“I agree,” Rachel said. “Unfortunately, you have your own list of obligations and this chapter of our agency is particularly understaffed when it comes to powerful supernatural abilities. I have... considered hiring some outside assistance to deal with this machine. Our true nature would, of course, be shrouded in ample ambiguity.”
“... And that outside assistance is?” Makoto asked with a raised eyebrow. She didn’t like the whole “ambiguous” tone this gal was using. “You could always ask the Foundation Woman for more assistance.” She shrugged
“Too much REAPER blood has been spilled to clean up this vanity project,” Rachel replied. “I happen to know of a highly-capable crew of metahumans who, for a completely attainable price, can dismantle this machine without having to put anymore of our people in danger.”
“Ooooh, naughty,” Makoto said with a cheeky grin as she finally got up off the desk and stood straight up to face her “superior”. “The Foundation Woman would flip if she found out but… it’s a win-win for us, even if they all die horribly at the hands at a robot...”
“Then I guess we’ll have to make sure the Foundation Woman doesn’t get wind of this, then,” Rachel replied.
Then the question popped up in her head.
“... Who are they?”
“They are a particularly well-off family of metahumans I befriended many years ago. You know them, of course,” Rachel paused and clicked to a different window, revealing a Google Maps search of The Lucky Scale Hotel and Casino.
“..the Valos family.”
Makoto has definitely heard of the Valos family… they’re a big name in Black Fall and during her time there she definitely paid a visit or two to one of their casinos. On the job and off the job, of course. Out of curiosity, she dug up some information on them and that got her even more curious! But, she didn’t see them as the mercenary types except for one of them…
“Hmmm… sure they’ll bite?” Makoto asked, “They practically own Black Fall - what more could we give them other than a spot in our little… family.”
“Jonathan Valos has a hard-on for action and money. Last I heard his father had cut him off to curb his litany of unsavory habits. The others will, at least, come along to make sure he doesn’t get himself killed, even if money isn’t much their style.” Rachel looked down at the clock in the bottom right corner of her screen.
“Aye, aye, captain,” Makoto flagged off Rachel before she walked towards the door. “In the meantime I’m going down to the festival to… scope out some of our targets. I’ll get back to you.” Makoto opened the door before she disappeared in a puff of black smoke. Of course that was kinda bullshit because she wanted to have some fun if nothing else, but Makoto knew that a few of their targets would pop up at the festival… and she could definitely make use of that.
Rachel sighed and rested her head in her hands. That woman was going to be a pain in her ass. After massaging her temples for a few moments, Rachel looked back up at the search for the Lucky Scale. It was close, only about a mile away down where the tourists traveled in mindless herds. She reclined in her chair. Later, she’d have to give them a little visit, but she didn’t have the heart for it now. It was midday and she was tired and her coffee had been spilled all over her desk.