Xavior Ericksson stood to attention as his commanding officer paced back and forth in front of him. The man did not look at all pleased, as evidenced by the frown that currently graced his lips, and the way his brows knit together above his dark blue eyes.
They were in his office, a place where no one in the Division wanted to be called when the boss was in a bad mood. Despite that, and his situation, he held his head high. He didn’t honestly believe he needed to be here but, even so, at the moment the space didn’t feel quite large enough with the way Domerin Lorcasf was moving. The man had somehow perfected the menacing loom down to an art. He could practically exuded authority when he wanted to.
“I still cannot believe you disobeyed my orders and moved in before we were ready.”
“Commander, I don’t understand. We were still able to complete our objective, and in addition were able to secure another target before they even realized we were there. We would not have captured him at all were it not for my actions. He would have gone away and hurt others before we could track him down again.”
“That doesn’t matter.” Domerin’s tone was dismissive, making him chafe under the implication.
“I give the orders I do for a reason, and capturing an extra scrumbag doesn’t give you license to forget that you disobeyed the chain of command. You could have gotten someone killed, pulling a stunt like that, and that is something you cannot ever take back. You acted only for yourself.”
“But I did not act only for myself! Think of all those who will avoid suffering because he is no longer free.”
“That isn’t the point. You did what you did because you were sure you knew best. That stubborn pride in your own skill blinds you. Whatever good might have come out of catching him is overshadowed by your actions. I cannot, and will not, have someone on my team who puts that ahead of the well being of their fellows and the integrity of the mission. If I didn’t think there was potential in you, I’d have had you off the team already.”
That certainly got his attention, and he deflated a little bit. He wanted to believe the other man wouldn’t be rid of him, but he wasn’t the sort who played around either.
“What are you going to do?”
“You will be disciplined. I will have a schedule for you and, for the moment, that starts with taking you off active duty.”
“But you need-”
“I don’t need you, Xavior. Haven’t you been listning?” Domerin’s gaze was like ice for a few moments, before it melted a bit. “Not like this, at any rate. If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it my way, understand?”
This time Xavior held his tongue, and just gave a slight nod.
Domerin considered him a few long moments before nodding.
“As I was saying, you’re off active duty for at least two weeks. You will perform whatever assignments I give you. Instead of missions you will be placed on a special detail, from which I expect not to hear a single complaint, is that clear?”
“Good, now let’s go over what you’re going to be doing.”
He’d been shown down into the basement, where he would be spending his special detail. Guard duty should have been exciting, but given how secure this place already was, he doubted he’d be seeing any action. He’d readied himself for boredom, considering this below him. He had no other choice, however. Domerin Lorcasf wasn’t a man to be trifled with, and he really didn’t want to lose his place on the team, knowing Domerin would follow through if he didn’t obey.
It was chilly down in the basement, enough so that he’d been forced to bring along a jacket. It was for the machines that ran the Faenet, he’d been told. The minute they arrived he already didn’t like it. The hum of the machinery drowned out natural sound, and everything felt fake to him; a temple of metal and glass.
He was a man who thrived in nature, under the sky. Down here, the outside world might as well not have existed.
How was he supposed to sit down here all night for weeks?
Despite his feelings he held his head high, not allowing him to show any hint of what was inside. Besides that, he had the distinct feeling he was being watched. He hadn’t appreciated his guide’s tone when she’d wished him good night, either. She might as well have said ‘good luck’.
His post, if it could be called that, was a room that might as well have been a closet. He wouldn’t even be properly patrolling the rooms down here, for fear of something being broken. Instead he’d be monitoring from the claustrophobic closet, sat in a hard metal chair, in front of a bank of monitors fed continual security camera feeds. He’d really only be needed if something went wrong.
Give it to his commander, he knew how to pick the worst punishment possible.
A cursory scan of the room turned up nothing particularly special, though there was a small control panel that let him manually switch between cameras, a small computer for taking logs, and a radio.
He rolled his eyes and pulled a pen and paper out of his jacket pocket, planning to log the old fashioned way. He was well known for being uncomfortable around technology, as he and computers did not get on well, but he’d be damned if he let it get the better of him. He could do this, surely. They were just a bunch of machines.
Experimentally, he flicked one of the buttons that controlled the camera monitors. A loud buzzing sound broke the quiet and he scrambled to shut it off, fumbling for a moment in a not very graceful way.
At least no one had seen-
A disembodied chuckle echoed in the air around him.
“Are you lost?” The voice of a woman spoke, carried over a speaker system set into the ceiling.
It sent a shiver down his spine, but his guide had warned him about this. It was no ghost haunting the halls, but the woman who ran the Faenet. Mainframe, as she called herself. His guide had avoided going past her, but had cautioned him that she was best ignored. He’d had no intentions of engaging her, but it seemed she had other ideas.
“I asked you a question.” The voice came again, when he didn’t immediately answer.
“I’m not lost, no. I am Xavior Ericksson, and I have been assigned as your security for the evening.” He felt a bit stupid, talking to the air, but she responded immediately.
“My custodian, you mean. What did you do?”
Xavior instantly bristled, the self-assured tone of the voice setting him off. He had no doubt what she was asking him and he didn’t appreciate her forwardness.
“I am a member of the Division, not some sort of janitor. And, for your information, I have done nothing wrong. It is unwise to make such assumptions.”
A laugh echoed over the system.
“They only give this job out as a punishment. No one wants to be down here with me.”
Oddly, he thought she sounded almost proud of that.
“I’m afraid you’re mistaken, Miss Mainframe, I have committed no such offense.”
There was silence, long enough for him to wonder if she’d iven up, but his hope was soon dashed.
“Xavior Ericksson, Division Private, personnel number 13612-A5. Currently on disciplinary probation for disobeying orders under the command of Dom-”
“Stop!” He drew to his feet, looking around wildly for a moment, but of course there was no face to glare at. It was hardly fair, sticking him in here with someone he couldn’t properly see. “My personal details are none of your business.”
“So touchy,” she tutted, without a hint of apology. “I hardly think someone on probation has any right to protest. I have a right to know who’s guarding me, don’t I?”
He was sure he heard mocking in his voice, and he narrowed his eyes at the monitor in front of him labeled ‘Main Tank’, even if it gave him no edge. He didn’t appreciate being made a fool of.
“Everything digital is my business.” Came the voice of Mainframe, matter-of-factly. “It all flows right through my head. I could read every email you’ve ever sent, if I wanted to.”
“So what? Is that supposed to impress me?” He hoped his tone carried his disdain. He cared little for the digital, really only using it when he had no other option. He would have filed paper reports if the Division allowed it. “Digital isn’t even that important. We could live without all that guff.”
“Not important!? Do you live under a rock? Nothing would get done.”
He took some pleasure in that she finally sounded something other than totally assured.
“Life got on for a long time without the digital. It’s not even tangible. Not like this desk, or you or I. You can’t touch it, tasted, it or smell it.” He lifted his chin, as if daring her to challenge him.
“I touch it every day, Xavior Ericksson. As surely as you touch a sword. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not real. Now I really am convinced you live under a rock.”
Xavior refused to answer, instead sitting back down in his chair, in the little room that was starting to feel more and more like a prison with each passing moment. He cared little about her words. Besides, it wasn’t as if she could-
“Judging by the horrendous typing in your reports I’m guessing you’re not very good with computers. Good thing they don’t let you lot mess with any of my systems. With my luck you’d end up crash the entire Faenet.”
He bristled again, but held his tongue against further retort. He wasn’t going to spend the next two weeks letting himself be goaded by the mysterious Mainframe. Domerin had said no complaints.
“If you really do run the entire Faenet, I’m sure you must have many more important things to be doing right now than going through my files.”
“Oh no doubt, but this is fun, isn’t it?”
No wonder his guide had told him to ignore her. He got the feeling she did this to everyone assigned down here, and he would not let his professional pride be shattered or made a mockery of. He was better than this. Instead of answering he leaned over his pad, and started to write.
“So, how long are you assigned to me?” Her voice broke into his thoughts, sounding from a speaker just to the left of the bank of monitors. She might as well have been sitting right in front of him, and he wasn’t sure he appreciated the unsettling intimacy.
“That is none of your business.” He got the feeling she didn’t care. It hadn’t stopped her from making it her business thus far.
Silence reigned long enough that Xavior thought, perhaps, he’d finally get some consideration, but then her voice returned, dripping with malevolent glee.
“Two weeks. Oh we’re going to have so much fun together, aren’t we Xavior? I can’t wait.”
Xavior grunted softly, and tried his best to focus. This might just end up being the longest two weeks in his entire life.
Check out what my writing partner did with this prompt: The Shadow Creature’s Mark; A Tale of Pride.