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Breaking Protocol

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Molly Caffrey sat on the bench, the breeze ruffling her dark hair and whipping a lock into her face. The view over the Mall was beautiful this time of the year, but she wasn't really paying much attention to it. Her mind was a million miles away, trying to reconcile just what she was about to do with her precious Protocols.

Sometimes she half-believed Fenway was right: that the Protocols were way too restrictive. Molly should have been free to do what was needed to prevent the Infected from growing out of control. Well, it was her fault, and now she was stuck with the consequences of her actions. Everything she'd done she thought was for the best, and she'd keep thinking that until the day she died. And yet, here she was…breaking the thing she'd created and still believed in. Was that true belief? Or was she just rationalizing?

But she'd seen…oh, she'd seen. She knew what sort of panic could ensue if the truth got out. Every time she argued with Fenway about it, she had the strength of her convictions on her side. The scientist didn't know what had gone on before, the times before she'd created the Threshold Protocols…the reason she's created them in the first place. Molly had known all along that this might happen, but if anyone had asked they would've thought she was crazy.

After all, who creates a protocol against alien invasion?

Unless, of course, you had first-hand knowledge…

Molly blinked, the fall sunlight dazzling her. It was so peaceful. These people, going about their business and enjoying the day, didn't have a clue what was going on behind the scenes. Some of them could be Infected and not even know it. She shivered at the thought.

"Dr. Caffrey?"

She looked up, drawn up from the depths of her thoughts by that voice. It hadn't changed, not since she'd first heard it ten years ago.

He hadn't changed that much, either. Still handsome, with the same dark penetrating eyes. His hair had gone a little grayer, and was a little shorter than she remembered, though. But then, we all get older, don't we?

He looked as if he'd been taking a walk on the Mall, in leather jacket and jeans. Molly recognized the belt instantly; they all wore them. He seemed normal…but he wasn't really. He wasn't even truly human, at least in an evolutionary sense. Women might give him a second look, but not for that one, unseen reason. If Molly had to be honest, it'd been her second look that had dragged her into what had caused her to change her mind about so many things…

She scooted over to make room for him on the bench. Molly had made absolutely sure she'd dumped her tail – which had been nearly impossible – but the tracking chip was still signaling her whereabouts. She needed to get this done quickly. "Thank you for coming."

"You got my attention when you went through the Prime Minister." His voice hadn't changed either; still that smooth, refined British accent. "It must be important for you to make the attempt to contact me."

"It is." Molly didn't want to do this. If there'd been a way to recruit him into Threshold, she would've done it in a heartbeat. There was possibly no one anywhere on Earth with his experience. But no one could keep him in a place he didn't want to be, and all the security in the world wouldn't matter.

The man noticed her hesitation. "If it matters, Tim says we're not under any form of surveillance."

Molly recalled that was the name of his supercomputer. "John, this isn't easy for me." That was the only name she'd known him by, and she wasn't even sure if it was his real one.

"I can tell." He sighed. "If you've changed your mind – "

"No." Molly brought out the computer disc. "This is…I know you can keep a secret, probably better than anyone." She handed it to him.

He took it, sliding it into an inside pocket of his jacket. "You know I won't betray anything you tell me."

That was the point, wasn't it? Molly did know that. The man was perhaps keeping the biggest secret on the face of the planet…it almost put Threshold to shame. "I need to know if you've ever come across anything like that in your…travels."

"I'll do what I can. I'll contact you when I have something." He stood.

Molly had no doubt that he'd be able to reach her, no matter where she was and no matter what security surrounded her. "I appreciate it."

"Not a problem. It's the least I can do." With that, he turned and walked away.

Leaving Molly with her conflicted thoughts.

 


 

The text message came to her three days later.

It led her to ditch her tails once more – Cavennaugh was going to start getting suspicious, or think she had something going on the side – to meet John once more on that bench at the Mall. This time, though, it was after midnight, and the breeze had become a wind that cut through the light jacket she'd put on.

All she could hope was that it'd been worth it to betray Threshold like this.

"Dr. Caffrey."

She glanced up. He stood there, wearing the same leather jacket as before. "What can you tell me?"

He sat next to her. "It's not good, I'm afraid. We've checked, and this threat is something completely new. No one I've talked to has seen anything like it."

Her heart sank. So he was telling her that her actions hadn't been good ones. She'd broken the protocols and it hadn't done a damned bit of good. "Thanks for trying."

"I wish the news were better."

"It was worth a shot." Did she mean that, or was she just trying to convince herself?

"But at least you're not alone. We can help, in our own way. We have doctors, specialists…the entire knowledge of hundreds of worlds. Anything you need – "

"I'll call you." She stood, feeling as low as she could ever get. Molly knew John and his people would do what they could, but in the end it would all rely on Threshold. She headed back, not glancing behind her or acknowledging his presence.

"Molly."

There was something in his voice that made her turn. John still sat on the bench, looking sad… and human. "What?"

"Please call me."

She didn't say anything. Instead, Molly set out across the Mall once more, toward home. Once, though, she did turn…and he was gone. She wondered if he'd walked away or left by other means.

And, as she left, her thoughts went toward that secret file she had, the one protocol she'd come up with first, as a result of her first meeting with John…the one dealing with an outbreak of Tomorrow People.

Molly hoped she'd never have to use it.