The Agency

by Leo David Orionis

I work for an Agency you've never heard of. If you had, you'd never suspect its actual purpose, because it has an innocent name and operates under a carefully maintained cover. We actually do quite a bit in the field of, well, never mind.

I think of the Agency as the Guardian Angel Agency, because of the way we do things. That's a private joke. The bosses don't like in-jokes, because they might lead to real secrets slipping out, in jest. Just between you and me, the bosses can be a bit humorless. But they mean well, no doubt about that.

Each of us has a Special Person to whom he, or she, is utterly devoted. The Special Person provides an unshakeable motivation, making sure we will never slack on a Mission, because of the harm that might come to the Person. Also. when it comes to building false identities, the Person is the rock that anchors them in reality.

In the current Mission, there was a credible threat that a rightwing terrorist group, white supremacists from eastern Oregon and Idaho, were planning to blow up a van full of explosives in Eugene, Corvallis, or Salem, where the "libruls" live. Salem is also the state capital.

Tina, my own Person, goes to college in Eugene, and her sister in Corvallis. Her best friend works in Salem. While the FBI was on the case, my bosses assigned it to me, as well. I approved; there was too much danger to Tina. No matter where the terrorists decided to plant their bomb, it was too likely she'd be caught in the blast. Statistically, that was nonsense, but it was Tina who mattered to me, not numbers.

But I couldn't be in three places at once, either. So the Agency called in three other Agents whose Persons weren't under threat at the moment, and built Illusions in their minds. The Illusion, based on my own memories, was that each of them was Tina's husband and lover, working for the Agency on the Mission, under cover of a "business trip". Of course, each of us "knew" that he was the Agent protecting Tina, and felt sorry for the other three; but needs must, right? Four guardian angels are better than one.

So two of us poked around Salem, one in Eugene, and one in Corvallis, being careful to stay off the FBI's radar. I was the Agent in charge of the team, since mine were the original memories; officially, simply because I was the most senior Agent of the four of us. We communicated constantly, monitored each other for mistakes, watched for the terrorists, and kept an eye on what the FBI were doing. I was as watchful as a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs, as my grandma used to say!

Well, long story short, one of us spotted one of the known members of the terrorist group in Salem, and passed it on to the FBI, anonymously. They acted on it promptly. amd arrested six of the crazies before they could blow up the state capitol building.

Then it fell to me, as team leader, to Disillusion the other Agents.

In the Salem motel we were using, I shook the other Agent's hand. "Good joob, Dave. It was a pleasure working with you."

"Likewise, Senior Agent. Maybe we'll work together again some time." He had a funny smile on his face. The same smile was on mine. He was thinking, Good luck to you, you poor bastard. Time for the dream to end.

"Mind if I ask you something?" he said, oh so casually.

Oh, oh, here it comes! I thought. "Shoot," I said out loud.

"What's your interest in Tina? Aren't you gay?"

"I'm not, actually," I said, watching him carefully. "But you are, aren't you?"

His face went blank with shock, as the false memories broke, and he swayed on his feet. I grabbed him, and helped him sit in one of the wooden motel chairs. "Yes," he said faintly. "Yes, I am. Jesus!"

"Sorry," I said. "But it was necessary."

It was equally necessary, if a bit tedious, to stay with him while he talked about Steve, his Person, and replaced all of my memories of my life with Tina with his own memories of his life with Steve. After half an hour, though, I felt I could say, "You going to be all right now?"

"Yeah," he said, standing up. I rose, too, and we shook hands again.

"I meant what I said," I told him. "You're a good Agent, and it was a pleasure working with you."

"Thanks," he said. He looked me in the eye, shook his head, turned, and left. I stayed in the room, and took a brief nap, to make the break clean.

On the way to Corvallis, I called the agent there and asked him to meet me at the Denny's near his motel. Tony readily agreed, no doubt thinking that it was time to Disillusion me, and let me get back to my real life. After a hamburger and fries for him, and eggs for me, we paid and left.

"Smoke?" he said, offering me a cigarette as we stood beside his car.

"Sorry, I don't smoke. Funny, I didn't think you did, either."

"Why, that's right! I can't even stand smokers. Wait, Tina smokes, doesn't she? Shit!"

And then Joe, in Eugene. "Gah! What's wrong with this drink? Is that bartender trying to poison me?"

"Well, Joe, if you wanted a non-alcoholic drink, you should've told him."

"Right, right." He put the drink down, pushed it away from himself, and looked miserable.

"Something wrong?" I said gently.

He looked at me with a faceful of woe. "I can't stand the taste of alcohol, because my father was an abusive drunk."

"And Tina's a heavy drinker, isn't she?"

"Goddammit!" he said.

After I'd Disillusioned the other Agents, and listened to them talk about their Persons, I drove to a motel is Springfield, on the other side of the river from Eugene, and checked in. Then I called my own Special Person.

"Hello, darling, it's me. … Nothing's wrong, I just miss you. … I hope you're not smoking and drinking too much while I'm gone. … I know you don't smoke or drink, that's just me making a lame joke, sweetheart. … I love you, too. I'll see you tomorrow, after my flight home." After some more sweet conversation, we hung up. I set the alarm for 3 a.m., so I could be at the Eugene airport when my plane back to her is supposed to arrive, and went to sleep.

It takes me a minute to realize that the strange noise in my bedroom is the alarm I set to take a pill on time. I turn off the noise and get up. I wish I could return to the sweet dream of Tina, who's as wonderful as I thought she was in the dream, but I'm really awake now, and I know it. I sit on the bed for ten minutes, wishing I were living with her in Oregon, instead of living by myself on the other side of the country. Then I go through the living room to the bathroom, and take the pill that keeps Tina safe.

After that, I sit in my office chair and miss her some more. The longing's always the most dreadful after a dream of her. I wish I could have a cigarette or take a drink, but thanks to my father, I've never done either, and never will. Really, Dad, thanks for the aversion therapy! It kept me from turning out like you.

Instead, I met the perfect woman. Too perfect, I realized just in time, and way too good for me. So I ran away, before I did something I'd go to prison for, and spent a few years in a hospital, talking to shrinks. Easy enough, after all that therapy, to recognize the programmed Agents of my dream as pieces of myself, the Mission as my imperative to protect my love, and the enemy as the parts of myself that would hurt her. But as long as I keep taking the pills, and stay away from her, she's safe from me.

I turn on my computer, and start another letter I'll never mail. Dearest Tina, O my darling, O my love … I pour out my heart to her, and save it in an encrypted folder with hundreds of others. It's 4:20 when I turn off the computer, turn out the lights, set the alarm for 9, and go back to sleep.

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