ina ducked through the bustling Division 1 command area, ignoring a handful of patronizing comments from her squad. The din continued through the central hub of the police complex, but ended once she reached the Division 0 wing. The clear, sliding doors closed behind her, and the onset of an eerie silence distracted her from her worries.
At the end of the hall, a pleasant looking red-haired woman in a neat black uniform sat behind a desk. Nina approached, feeling as if she had strayed into the wrong part of the building and braced for a scolding. Before she could open her mouth, the woman spoke.
“Good morning, Officer Duchenne. Lieutenant Oliver is down the hall to the left, fifth door.”
Nina’s eyes widened with fright as she wondered if her mind had just been read. She tried to say something but managed only a weak gasp.
The redhead lifted her gaze to look Nina in the eye.
“There is only one appointment today with a patrol officer, and your name is on your armor. We don’t always have to read minds.” She flashed a wry smile glancing once more at her terminal.
Nina composed herself and soon arrived in front of one of many jet-black doors set into a featureless grey hallway. Great start; offend their front-desk person. A series of clear triangular panels extended from the walls every fifteen feet, their edges glowing with intense light that sprayed onto the ceiling. A little further down, a few plain black chairs stood silent guard over a fake plant nestled among them.
Tall, silver letters on a black tile next to the door spelled out ‘Lieutenant N. Oliver’. She knocked with two soft taps.
She closed her eyes after she spoke, hoping she had not sounded too squeaky.
The door slid open, revealing a room smaller than she expected. A gloss black desk dominated the area in the center, flanked by shelves on both sides that held an array of data pads, small faux plants, and other decorative objects. Lieutenant Oliver appeared to be in his late thirties with short close-cropped black hair and tanned skin. Thick eyebrows hung above his dark brown eyes, and his entire presence conveyed calm encouragement.
“Officer Nina Duchenne reporting, Sir.”
“Lieutenant Nathaniel Oliver. Pleased to meet you.” He stood, extending a hand. Her arm moved out of numb reflex, offering a limp version of a shake. He gestured at a chair. “Please, have a seat.”
Nina settled into the chair and stared at the little bonsai tree on the edge of the desk. She could not help but feel like a schoolgirl sent to the principal’s office. Oliver looked at her for a moment with an expression that radiated a peculiar combination of calm and intensity.
“First, please relax. I want you to know that this meeting is not any form of disciplinary action.” Lt. Oliver smiled his most reassuring smile, speaking in a relaxing tone Nina had not expected.
“What? I mean, why did you…” Her nervousness peaked one last time, stealing her voice.
He shifted and leaned forward.
“Your commanding officer, Captain Farris, had some concerns regarding your well-being. He asked me to meet with you―unofficially―as a favor.”
“Okay…” Nina’s anxiety took flight on a strong exhale as she settled in to the cushions.
“It seems you are under an unusual amount of stress. Captain Farris and I are concerned about it. These past few weeks, you’ve been increasingly terse and confrontational. I have done some poking around, and it seems that there are issues within your squad. Yet I find no record of disciplinary action or complaints from you. Is there anything you would like to get off your chest?”
Nina picked at the helmet in her lap. “It was only supposed to be two years…”
“What was?” Oliver sat back and propped his chin up on his fingertips.
She sighed. “Div 1. The whole unit knows that I’m only over there because of the man-two.”
“I see.” Oliver nodded. “You feel the policy requiring all rookies to pull a two-year tour in Division 1 is unfair?”
“Yes.” Nina nodded. “Look at me…I’m five-four, maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet… I have a BS in forensic science… second in my class!” Her face flushed. “It’s a waste of resources to put someone like me out in a patrol craft.”
Oliver opened his mind, sensing her emotion. “You feel it’s beneath you?”
“No… I don’t, I’m not like my father. I’m…”
“…not built for this kind of work, my education is not being used, and…” She looked off to the side at the floor.
“Go on. What is frightening you?”
“It’s bad enough that I could get killed at any time by some ganger or criminal, but I’m just as worried the other cops are going to let me die or lock me in some cabinet again.”
“I feel isolated out there, like I have no backup. They’d leave me to die. Everyone but Vincent.”
Nina paused. “Wait… scared? I’m not…” Nina’s eyes locked onto his rank insignia―a matte black strip with a thick 0 next to a lieutenant’s bar.
They’re all psionic. Is he in my brain?
Oliver held up his hands. “Ms. Duchenne, please relax. You have nothing to fear from me. Please, tell me about… Officer Montoya is it?”
Nina relaxed, thinking about him. “He doesn’t treat me like an unwanted kid hanging out at her father’s job.” She hung her head. “Even other female officers have it in for me. In the locker room…”
“I have a feeling I know what is going on, Ms. Duchenne. Their attitudes are driven primarily by fear.”
One did not have to be an empath like Lt. Oliver to read the emotion from Nina’s face at that comment. “Fear? Of me? Are you serious?”
He chuckled. “Not fear of you, Nina. Is it okay if I call you Nina?”
She frowned at the wall. “Sure… umm, sir.”
“It’s fear of how you will react in a dangerous situation. With all due respect, your goal is to be reassigned to Division 2, forensics specifically. That is a rear echelon position that does not encounter hostile situations. I believe that the other officers have not come to trust you in the field.”
Nina glanced at the rug. She did not trust herself in the field, and she knew full well how the other cops felt. “Yeah…” was all she could muster.
The rear wall glowed with different colors as he flipped through her file on his holo-terminal. “Your aptitude tests were astounding. Your physical was okay… agility and coordination scores were impressive, strength and endurance well…”
“Yeah, I know. I was meant to be a decoration on the arm of a wealthy idiot.”
“Your family is quite comfortable.”
Nina glared. “That has nothing to do with…” Her mouth outran her brain. “My father did not pay anyone off. If he did, I would have gone right to Div 2 without this bullshit.”
He made a fanning motion. “Whoa, whoa, slow down.”
The sudden spike of anger caused him to make a note in her file. “We can talk about your father later if you would like to.”
“It’s a month and a week past two years. My application for Division 2 is just sitting in cyberspace. Does it usually take this long? Does the brass think I’m a joke too?” She hissed air in through her teeth, trying not to cry in front of him. Tears worked on Daddy; here, they would mark her as weak.
Oliver rubbed his chin with a lone finger as his eyes fixed upon the little woman who sat across from him. She seemed eager to get out of Division 1 and was quite miserable there, but not miserable enough to quit. At the thought of passing the two-year mark, she broke out in a cold sweat. He sensed more to it than a desire to climb the career ladder; she was terrified of getting hurt. Fear seeped from her like fog from dry ice.
“Well, I am not personally involved in that process. Zero does things a little differently than the rest of the force.” He flashed an offbeat smile, which seemed to unsettle her more. “Nina, no one is going to mess with your mind. I am an empath, not a telepath.”
“An empath?” She clung to the helmet in her lap.
“Most people don’t care to understand the subtle differences in psionic talents. Those who specialize in reading the minds of others are telepaths. My gift is based on emotion rather than thought. I can feel what other people feel and understand what their emotional state is. Like most of us, I have a degree of telepathic talent, but it is not my strongest ability.”
Nina shifted in her seat. Many citizens, herself included, feared psionics regardless of what they could do.
“I can tell you are frightened right now.” He tried his most relaxing voice. “I could make you feel calm and at ease if I wanted to, but that would be unethical.” He paused to smile. “Division 0 was formed to deal with psionic criminals. Fight fire with fire, you know. We are the good guys.”
Nina tried to relax. In a way, Lieutenant Nathaniel Oliver was a fellow officer, just in a unit that everyone spoke about in whispers and avoided whenever possible.
“I heard that Div 0 only got acknowledged after they got exposed, that they’d been around for a long time before that, but no one knew.”
She cringed inside for daring to say that, but his unexpected laughter stunned her.
“I wasn’t around back then, so I cannot say for sure. Anything is possible I suppose, considering we still try to keep a low profile to avoid creating panic. There really isn’t a need for the entire citizenry to become experts on psionic matters.” He leaned forward, smiling. “Tell me, what do you think about the other officers’ opinion of you?”
“I don’t hold it against them. I know I’m not soldier material. I want to use my education, not run around the city with a gun.” She felt a lump climbing her throat. “It’s just so hard to go out there when you wonder if that backup you call for will actually show up.” She paused before her emotion showed in her voice, but after a minute let out a defeated whisper. “I just want to move on before I get someone hurt.”
Is he doing something to me? I never even admitted that to Mom.
He listened, typing and nodding.
“If it’s true that they don’t like me because they think I’m just here for the paycheck and I don’t care about being a cop, they’re wrong. I do care about being a cop, just not this kind of cop.”
Awkward silence lingered for a moment while he finished entering a thought.
“The two-year policy was put in place years ago when the roster was very thin. They had everyone rushing for spots with 5 and 6. It may be time to reconsider that policy, but a decision like that would have to come from way above my pay grade.” He laughed. “I do think that there is an issue of trust here on both sides… and you are correct in that it could get someone hurt. My opinion, and it’s one that I will share with Captain Farris, is that you should fly a desk for a while until your transition goes through.”
She nodded. “That’s okay. I can deal with a desk. I’m no glory hound. Wait, did you say there were too many volunteers for Division 5?”
“Yes, if you can believe it.” He whistled. “Most were high-testosterone adrenaline junkies looking to get their hands on large weapons.”
“But they send D5 after cyborgs.” She shivered.
He stood up and extended a hand to her. “I think we’re about done for now. You may have to deal with another day or two of patrol detail until Farris can get the proverbial paperwork in motion. Can you handle that?”
Nina grinned. The thought of an imminent move to Division 2 turned on a light at the end of a lengthy, exhausting tunnel. She all but bounced out of her chair to shake hands with the man whom, moments ago, she feared would melt her mind.
“No problem, sir.” She did not know whether to shake hands or salute him.
Oliver laughed. “You are the first person I have ever seen happy about being put on desk duty.”