“Aiyana Clarke, Codename Mirror.”
The man sitting in the police meeting room chair stands, unfolding himself from his seat. He strides toward Aiyana, a smile in his eyes, and holds out one hand.
“Agent Smith, Director of Parahuman Law Enforcement.”
Aiyana sizes him up, not bothering to hide what she’s doing.
Agent Smith stands taller than just about anyone she’s met, though not as wide as his deep voice would suggest. He wears what she assumes is the standard PLE uniform, the same whites Smoke wore when they first met. She knows it shouldn’t, but it reassures her that the Director of the PLE is dark-skinned, and that the first Agent she met is Asian. Chicago is pretty good about racial equality, but she’s well-aware that not everywhere else is.
She takes his hand warily, not responding. He knows who she is.
“I’ve heard a bit about you,” Smith says after a few seconds, not seeming bothered by her silence. “Enough to offer you a place in the PLE.”
“What’s the alternative?” Aiyana asks, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Incarceration,” Smith says calmly, folding himself back into the seat and gesturing for her and Smoke to sit down across from him, “but I’m hopeful that you’ll choose the PLE.”
“I’m not sure why you think I’d want to work for you, after the way you’ve treated me.” Aiyana considers standing out of some petty defiance, but decides to sit. Standing through their entire conversation might make her feel better, like she’s got something up on him, but sitting is both more practical and less combative. They’ll get into the combative part later, she’s sure.
“It may feel excessive, but the procedure is necessary for dealing with parahumans we know very little of,” Smith’s voice is smooth as silk, reasonable, and Aiyana wonders if it’s part of his Name, or something he’s trained into himself. “I do regret the necessity.”
He doesn’t say he’s sorry, or that he’d do any of it different, Aiyana notes, just that he doesn’t like that they had to do what he says is necessary.
“I don’t see how voiding my Miranda rights is necessary,” Aiyana counters, raising an eyebrow. “Or refusing to tell any of my relatives where I am.”
“If you knew the kind of parahumans we have dealt with in the past, you would understand why we take the precautions we do,” Smith replies, unruffled. “If you accept our offer, you’ll see why what we do is so important.”
“What kind of parahuman could possibly warrant keeping me for a week without telling my brother I’m safe?” Aiyana asks, leaning forward over the table. She holds up a hand to stall any potential protests about confidentiality. “I’m going to either be working for you, or locked up where I can’t tell anyone. You can humor me by telling me why I was treated so badly.”
“About a year ago, we had a parahuman who had ‘programmed’ his girlfriend into taking measures if word ever reached her that he was being held by the police,” Smith tells her, “though I will admit it is unlikely you have that same power, ‘Mirror’ doesn’t give us a solid idea of what you’re capable of.”
A smirk curled Aiyana’s lips, one she would have recognized as Anna’s, had she seen it on her own face. “It doesn’t, does it?” She pauses, then says, “so, you want me to come help you kidnap innocent people off the street, hold them in a cell for a week, and then possibly incarcerate them?”
“What happened in your case was unusual,” Smith assures her, his dark eyes steady on hers. “We needed information on Predator and her employers. We still need it, but by now you’ve made it quite clear we won’t be getting it from you.”
“You keep telling me why you need me, or why you’ve done what you’ve done,” Aiyana leans back in her seat, folding her arms across her chest. “What you haven’t told me is why I should help you screw up more people’s lives.”
“We do what is necessary to protect the American people,” Smith says, spreading his hands, “but I understand your skepticism.” He pauses for a few seconds. “How about this: you join us on a trial basis for a year. We were already looking into expanding to Chicago, but this will give us a good excuse. You finish your degree, train with the Agents I’ll station here, go on a few low-danger runs with them.”
“And what if I still don’t agree with you at the end of the year?” Aiyana challenges him, chin up and eyes hard.
“Then we revisit the issue,” Smith says calmly. “You have nothing to lose, and an entire year to gain.”
There’s a few seconds of silence between them. Aiyana looks to Smoke, who hasn’t said a word. He returns her gaze levelly, something she can’t read in his eyes. She files it away for later (assuming there is a later for her in which he matters).
“On these low-danger runs,” Aiyana returns her gaze to Smith, searching his face, “would I be expected to participate? Are you going to ask me to help you destroy people’s rights, or just watch as you do it?”
Smith’s voice cools a few degrees. “You don’t have a choice, Miss Clarke. You’ll either help us uphold the law and protect the people, or know we’re doing it as you sit in jail.”
‘So the lion finally shows his teeth,’ Aiyana thinks to herself, turning the problem over in her mind.
“What makes you think I won’t run for it sometime during the year, or after that?”
The chill in his voice remains, and he smiles coldly. “If you did run, we would have to question those close to you to make sure they weren’t a part of your evasion of justice. Professors, relatives, friends. It could take quite a while to make sure your powers weren’t having any lingering effects on them. It would be a shame if your brother’s reputation in the local circus community suffered because he was unable to make good on his commitments for some months.”
“That’s extortion,” Aiyana balks, feeling anger rise in her.
“No, Miss Clarke, that’s an explanation of due process.” Smith leans back in his chair. “You’ll find that the Parahuman Law Enforcement Agency has quite an expansion of legal powers when it comes to parahumans, compared to the normal police.”
The silence weighs heavy between them, and for one wild moment Aiyana considers making a run for it. She can grab Franz on the way, and they can get their parents somehow– but she knows it for an impossible fantasy. Even if she could collect everyone she cares for and get them all to leave, they would have nowhere to go. In a world where anyone on the street could be capable of reading your mind and turning you in, they would never be safe.
“Fine,” Aiyana says finally, defeat registering in her mind, though she refuses to let it show in her face. “One year, and we have this talk again.”
“I thought you might feel that way.” The chill drops out of Smith’s voice, and he smiles as he did when she first entered. “Welcome to the PLE, Agent Mirror.”