Admiral Malm examined the young man standing before him. Slender, but well built, mocha-colored skin, and eyes that looked through to the core of a man. The picture in the boy's file didn't do him justice. Everything recorded in his permanent record indicated that he would be a perfect candidate, just the type of true believer that the Alliance needed for its dirtier jobs. Even so, papers never told the entire story of a man's heart. Or rather, they never confirmed a lack of one. All of which lead both of them to the back room of this Sino-Portuguese fusion restaurant. Their meeting - much like the work the boy was cleared for - was not for the light of day or government buildings.
Malm sat; he hated being planet-side. In truth, there wasn't much left for him in the central Core anymore. Most of his friends had been deemed security risks far earlier in his life. But his parents kept celebrating birthdays and expecting their dutiful son, the successful Alliance Admiral, to make time to come. Military duties permitting, of course. Still, he loathed full gravity almost as much as he loathed the mundane courtesies required by his family. He'd be glad to return to his ship in the morning.
But first the boy. Or rather, man - his jacket did say that he'd turned twenty-three the previous month. Impressively, the young agent hadn't moved so much as a muscle since entering the small, dingy break room and executing his salute. Malm's nose wrinkled. He'd have to think of a suitable lie to explain the smell of burnt fish that was sure to linger after he left restaurant.
"So, you've been briefed as to what will be expected of you. Obviously, you think that you are capable of this job. I wonder." The boy didn't so much as blink as Malm finished. He certainly had the rigidity to fit into an operative's life. "At ease, son. At ease. You make my bones ache just looking at you."
Malm pulled out a cigar and lit it as the boy adjusted his stance. Inhaling deeply, Malm sighed. Planet-side did have few perks after all. "I applaud your reserve, but this interview won't end well if you don't attempt to communicate. Or is that beneath your ape-like intelligence?" Unsaid was the outcome of a bad interview. Did the boy know the fate of those who failed these little chats? A good operative was as rare as a finding a planet that didn't require terraforming.
Rarely did an individual reach a useful age unencumbered by family, friends, conscience, and yet still possess a sense of…duty. Their recruitment was secret, knowledge of their existence a mere rumor. The agency found that an interview with people known to be good judges of character were critical to weeding out the bleeding hearts. That the judges own lives and reputations hung in the balance of their choices enhanced efficiency. Few operatives failed to fulfill their duties. At least, those that survived their assignments.
"No, sir," the boy answered.
"Good, it speaks. That will serve you on occasion." Malm puffed on his cigar as he let the boy size him up a bit. "Now, you know why you're here. So tell me, is this really what you want? To cut all ties to your past and be friendless for the rest of your days? Taking on loathsome identities with no idea as to the purpose?" Lone wolves were necessary. Family, possessions, all of these could weaken an operative. The duties these tools were assigned required that they sacrifice everything in the name of the Alliance. Malm was well aware of how much he was willing to give up for his government. Most were like him and had a limit. The question was, was this boy any different?
The boy looked him in the eyes when he responded. "Nothing that I have or am means anything compared to what the Alliance can give the system. I'm willing to give everything to help the Alliance bring about peace and a better future for mankind."
Utter belief radiated from the boy's eyes. His dedication and determination made Malm's own guilt weigh a little heavier on his soul. He'd given the order for many atrocities, and one day would be held accountable for them. Would God hold him accountable for the atrocities that this boy committed in the name of the Alliance? Or the countless other operatives he'd unleashed on the system?
"Very well then. This has the data about your first assignment and the access codes for your accounts. Change your account locations often. You'll be contacted when there is need for your services. Everything else is up to you," Malm said as he handed the boy the data chip. He had no clue what the new operative's assignment was. He didn't want to know. His own conscience carried enough weight as it was.
Malm exited the room and the restaurant without another word to the boy or bewildered host. The night-time smells of Capitol City greeted him and joined with the aroma of his cigar. Suddenly, he was eager to attend his mother's party and forget about the war and duty for a night.