When Grant had first heard that tiny robots were everywhere, influencing our bodies and minds, he had nearly freaked out. He had been Sergeant Grant Dittersdorf then – Ditz to his friends – on his second peacekeeping tour in the rain forests of eastern Nicaragua. While trying to flush out some guerrillas, his squad of marines had been ambushed by a sniper who refused to go down until Grant had flanked his position and had taken him out with an RPG. There had been nothing left of the man but body parts and the torn bits of his uniform. The real shock had come when those pieces had started to stitch themselves together again. A hand sliding toward the stump of a severed arm. Part of an ear creeping toward a shattered skull. Taking no chances, Grant had dropped three incendiary grenades and made a run for it.
When he’d told the story to his superiors, he’d been branded a liar and a lunatic. His wild tale had eventually attracted the attention of the Farm, however, and he’d received a visit from an Army Colonel along with the man who would become his partner, Michael Carstairs. Unlike his peers, they had believed him, and they were impressed that he had actually managed to kill one of the freaks on his own. They had recruited him on the spot.
In contrast, the Farm’s newest member was taking the news surprisingly well. Granted, Dregg had already had his freak out. He’d tried to kidnap a girl and kill a civilian, losing his job, his freedom, and a thumb in the process. The idea of tiny bugs crawling around everywhere still gave Grant the creeps, but Dregg seemed to take it in stride, nodding as he heard the details and asking the occasional question like he was buying a new car. When the lectures were done and the facility had been toured, they stopped by the mess to get lunch and let Dregg process all the new information in his head.
Dregg wiped the corners of his mouth with a paper napkin and dropped it on the plate with his half-eaten sandwich. “So what happens now?”
“As you were a cop, I don’t have to bring you up to speed on small arms, so we’ll skip the qualifications and go right out for your first assignment, the girl, Hope Maybury.”
“So she’s a freak?” asked Dregg. “That’s why everything went wrong for me?”
“She definitely fits the profile,” answered Grant, “and I’ve only ever seen the Watcher get it wrong once before.”
“Grigori is a hyper-sapient that we’ve conscripted to profile new freaks and identify possible recruits, like you,” said Grant. “He’s…well, that’s a story for another day. You’ve got enough to deal with already. The point is the girl is your first assignment.” He stood up to leave and Dregg followed.
“What was his mistake?” asked Dregg.
“Cops and reporters,” Grant answered, “always with the questions.” He stopped in front of the elevator and swiped his card. While they waited, Grant looked around the room and then pointed at a Latino woman with long, curly hair. “That one. Turns out she was just a norm like you and me. An authentic human mechanical genius and not a bug-augmented one. Of course we snatched her up as soon as we figured that out.”
The elevator arrived and they stepped inside. “It’s strange that you actually use freaks to help you.”
“Waste not, want not,” said Grant. “We don’t lock them all away when we find them. Some of the more cooperative or useful ones we keep around to stay ahead of the really bad ones. You’ve already met the doctor, and my partner can heal himself.” He held up his wrist to show his bracelet. “The dampers prevent them from using their powers unsupervised as well as blocking the bugs’ influence. Until we figure out the cause, we need all the help we can get.”
Dregg rubbed his own bracelet. “I still find it hard to believe that this oversized wristwatch will keep me safe from those freaks.”
“Yeah, they’ll keep the bugs away, but it won’t stop a knife or a gun…or a big rock thrown at your head, so keep sharp.”
Dregg was quiet as they headed back toward the car. He seemed to be mulling something over in his mind. Finally he asked, “What about Cutter? Did you ever run a profile on him?”
“We did after the incident with you and the girl. He came back clean. As far as we can tell, he’s just some average Joe. Just keep your mind on the girl for now. Where would she be now?”
“I’ve been out of circulation for a while,” said Dregg, “but if she still works at the bookstore, I would try there first.”
“Then that’s where we’ll go.”
“I’ve seen what she can do firsthand,” said Dregg. “We should go in shooting.”
They had reached the car, but Grant stopped at the trunk and fumbled for his keys. “The objective is always to capture first, and kill only if there’s no other choice. They’re still human beings after all. But you remember that woman I pointed out in the mess? She been working on something that needs a field test.” Grant opened the trunk and took out a briefcase from inside. When he popped open the clasps and showed Dregg the contents, the man smiled.
To be continued…