Miranda Pryce rose from her desk in the back of the lab as he walked up to her. She could feel her employees staring. "It's good to finally meet you, Mr. Cutter,” she said, trying to act as though she’d expected the visit.
They shook hands, and the skin of his new face stretched in a smile. "Likewise. The AI department is very important to Goddard Futuristics, and I'm excited to start working with someone like you."
He walked back into the lab. The other engineers and personnel of the AI department hurried to greet him, pushing up their goggles and hastily switching off whatever tools they had been using.
"So he's the new communications director. What do you think of him, Dr. Pryce?" asked Evans, one of her younger engineers, sidling up to her. He was smart—brilliant, really, seeing as he'd passed the tests to work with Miranda in the first place. That meant he could keep secrets. And that he knew not to get too attached to the AI units. He would be a perfect employee, if only he weren't so chatty. . . .
And if Miranda weren’t so certain that the government had tricked him into spying for them. She’d been watching him like a hawk since yesterday, and her suspicions were only growing.
"I'm sure he'll be as good as any of the others," Miranda said, trying to sound bored. She made her vision zoom in, a relatively new function of her eyes, and winced at the sharp pain in her sockets. It dulled, but wouldn't stop until she returned to normal vision. Evidently the technology still had some issues.
She tried to read his lips but he had his back turned to her. The people talking to him, meanwhile, all exuded politeness and charm, wanting to make a good impression on their new communications director. Miranda could only guess his amusement at the brown-nosing.
"I wonder how often we'll see him," Evans was saying, speaking a little faster than normal. "Dr. Neumann almost never left his office; I only saw him once or twice, ever . . . and always with a bag of trail mix. Maybe we'll see Mr. Cutter more often; that'd be cool. Do you think Mr. Cutter likes trail mix?"
"No," Miranda muttered, and then, after pulling her vision back to its normal perspective with another jolt of pain, she spoke up. "Excuse me, Mr. Cutter. I believe we all have work to which we should return."
All conversations stopped as he turned to face her. His face was still foreign; his build, his hair, even his mouth; but the glint in his eyes hadn’t changed. "Oh, of course you do," he said with a smile. "I completely understand. Well, thank you everyone, for taking a break from your hard work to talk to me! I'll see you busy beavers again soon, I’m sure." Miranda could have sworn his gaze lingered on Evans.
She nodded minutely and watched him go.
"He's an interesting person," said Evans nervously.
Miranda glanced at his lapel, where she had earlier detected a recording device, and suppressed the urge to throw him out right then and there.
Later that evening, as they played checkers in a private meeting room—Miranda rather reluctantly—she said, "Why didn’t you tell me you were going to visit the lab today?"
"Why, was there a problem?" He moved one of his pieces, then sipped at his coffee, some monstrosity covered in whipped cream. She’d never seen him drink something like that.
Miranda frowned. “Of course. We were in the middle of our work."
"Goddard employees should be kept on their toes at all times,” Marcus said. “After all, emergencies wait for no one.”
Miranda stared at him. He sipped his coffee and stared back. Finally she said, “God, this is all part of your new ‘character’, isn’t it.”
“Matthew Neumann,” Marcus said, “was a total stick-in-the-mud. Marcus Cutter has to be different.”
"Fine," Miranda said. "Have your fun. Just make sure you don't get distracted. That's the only way this could fail." She moved one of her red pieces forward
“You’re right, of course.” Marcus picked up one of his pieces but didn’t put it down, just held it in his hand as he contemplated the board. "By the way, that engineer of yours, Evans, is . . . interesting."
Miranda smiled a very small, humorless smile. "You noticed, did you."
"Yes," Marcus said, smiling back. "I doubt he understands what he's doing, but the government has clearly obtained his help, albeit through baseless claims and rumors, of course. I only hope the CIA is a bit more clever this time around. Remember how they tried telling our interns that they were from Goddard—and that the recording devices were to gauge 'employee satisfaction'?" He laughed.
"Hilarious," Miranda said.
Marcus looked up at her. "I am wondering why Evans is still here."
Miranda shook her head. "He was doing such great work. What a waste of a fine mind." She sighed. "I'll get rid of him, don’t worry. And I haven’t let him near an important project in days. But first I need to extract what information I can from him. Feel free to take a crack at him afterwards to see if I missed anything."
Marcus sighed, disappointed. "First come, first served, I suppose," he said gamely, then finally put down his piece. "Oh, wonderful! King me."
Miranda did so with mild irritation. She didn't care about the game, but she did care about winning. She didn't act on the irritation, though; that was his style, not hers. "I do have one favor to ask,” she said, as she advanced one of her pieces.
"Anything," Marcus said, as he advanced one of his.
"When you're interrogating him, don't do any damage to his brain," she said. In her hand she toyed with a red piece, deliberating. "I've got a new machine that I mean to develop, and I think I can use his brain to start developing a prototype."
"But anything else is fair game?" Marcus asked anxiously, like a child trying to find a way to make mischief despite a teacher's rules.
Miranda nodded and moved her piece. "Anything. King me."