"Sixty years ago, Bunou was a place no one wanted to be. Its streets were filthy with crime and the citizens avoided the dangerous outdoors. Criminals had festered for years but immorality was at new heights. Not all of them were crooks with guns, some were Powered like a quarter of the population and they caused unimaginable havoc. Bureaucrats, police, and the citizens were shocked when the role of the Powered came to light. We might be criticized for our lack of intuition that Powered individuals were likely to exert their gifts for 'irrefutable benefits'. To our defense being Powered was not considered a gift.
We knew that in the path of evolution, humankind would stray and alterations would occur to our DNA to create new beings in the making of us, yet slightly modified. The change was accelerated by human intervention when we rabidly dipped our hands to create tailor-made babies with better cognitive and athletic aptitude, premature of the infrastructure to cater to these individuals when they gained unintended abilities. Hence, the modifications were hard on the test subjects and their descendants. They rarely saw their forties and lived the latter lives in pain and self imposed solitude. Being Powered was an expensive affair: custom-built suits kept them safe, specially designed houses were their sanctuary; medicine and doctors for their many anomalies, and therapists for those who hated themselves for being a pain to their families. Money was vital for survival. If you were not rich, it would be difficult for you to provide for your Powered children. Destitute parents killed their Powered children out of desperation and mercy. Those who lived wished they were dead.
My mother had told me about her aunt: born with conductive abilities. She was forbidden to go near water. After two suicide attempts in the family's bathtub, Aunt Lila was convinced by the family that she was not a burden but her suicide attempts were killing them. Unfortunately, a little after that, the roof crumpled during torrential rains and that was the end of Aunt Lila. That was much before he sixty years ago I am talking here. Things had improved by then. There were better medical and care facilities, more research was underway and the Powered found themselves with jobs and support from the community. Despite this, relief was gradual pushing some of the frenzied Powered into the clutches of unholy syndicates. It was a a slap on the face of the Ordinary and Powered alike,disheartening and embittering.
The police who themselves had Powered individuals were handcuffed by the red tape of law which prevents them from using these officers as it would be the use of excessive force. This was true on some levels as the use of powers guarantees maximum damage and innocent citizens would be thrown in harm's way. I am a supporter for the use of Powered and sacrifice of a few for the greater good. But the people back then had a higher moral ground than me."
I stop my recorder and rise slowly to the call of my supervisor, Miss Tilda. She is a walking rule book and if you as much as steps on the line with or without the intention to cross it, you will incur the wrath of Tilda. I managed to be in her good books much to the charging of my colleagues.
"Mr. Swish, your paperwork is in order and clear as daylight, my appreciation to you. I want you to send the copies to the Office of Oversight and Supervision of Supervisors, the Human Resources, and the Office of Public Accountability. You have my go in the case of Mrs. Hegan and she will be here in an hour. Contact all necessary parties and do what you do. I want the completed report by tomorrow… and... that is all." Miss Tilda walks away at the end of her breathless recital.
"O-O-S-S! H-R. Why can't she talk like normal people—" My cubicle neighbor, Mirabel vents only to be quieten as Miss Tilda comes in.
"And happy new year to you, Antony."
"To you too, Miss Tilda," I say to her retreating form.
"I have been here longer than you. She has never wished me for anything and heck, she doesn't even call me by my first name." Mirabel with her extrovert personality is always at odds with Miss Tilda.
"Will you be appeased by the fact that she is ten days late to wishing a prosperous new year."
"No way... and she said nothing about prosperous. Some new year it is going to be." Mirabel smirks.
"Ah, the cynical you. Things are turning out unexpectedly great for me. Sweet results for my perseverance and persistence! You have both these qualities except for hope."
"You say that every year…"
"It's true this time. You know that"
"Maybe for you. I will be a low standing Level Four beaver as they call us."
Everyone of Level Four are called beavers because we are small, insignificant and weak. We can be pushed around to do the heavy lifting for the other Levels while they saved the word. We can be pushed to a corner office with low wages and long hours because we are dispensable. We are assured of no power yet we are not weak. We are industrious and tough. We are the Beavers.
The floor door opens to a cackle of Level Three loudmouths. We share the floor with them and are subjects of their ridicule.
"They have asked for our removal to the basement again. They are saying they need more space for their very important work. Like we are laying eggs here. Can you believe they would say that?" Mirabel asks.
"Yes, I can and I am going to enjoy my break in peace on the toilet."
The recorder is on once again.
"As I was saying Bunou was a mess and in those desperate times a new challenge arose. Vigilantes. Powered or not the people were frustrated and angry that they began to take the law into their hands. Although there was no shortage of Ordinary vigilantes, it was the Powered vigilantes who hit the newsstands. When a Powered vigilante met a Powered criminal, the outcome was a catastrophe with bystanders hurt or killed. These people who had good intentions at heart were unsuccessful most of the time due to a lack of Intel and training. We lost more Powered then than to poverty and illness. Yet more people took it upon themselves to fight off oppression and treachery.
The Concerned Citizens for Bunou (CCB) was the initiative by the government that put an end to crime and vigilantism. It was done by absorbing all vigilantes into the government to become CCB agents, providing them with the necessary Intel, facilities, and training to be of use. The precondition was that they have a GPS inserted into them at all times to prevent any of the agents from going rogue and that all their missions were to be assisted by CCB aide remotely. In later years, those who wished to be agents had to qualify rigorous tests in addition to the preconditions. It was not an ideal system with both sides feeling used and underappreciated. Those problems remain today but today Bunou is the center of the world.
When the agents get too worn out or wounded or when their lives are in danger, CCB chooses to retire them. They leave their past lives and begin new, dull lives, I imagine. There are aides in Level four who deal with the everyday lives of these agents. They are too involved with the agents that they find it difficult to say goodbye to them. I and a hundred other agents aid in this process: ensuring them a home, maybe jobs if they can still work, benefits, and even a new identity if they ask. We ascertain their quality of life by checking in occasionally. Most of them would be missing their past lives and we have to remind them of the reasons for their retirement and sometimes they were happy to have a listening ear to whom they don't have to lie or hide certain parts of their life. If the lives of Ordinary agents of CCB were as stirring as they make it sound then the lives of the Powered agents must be ecstatic. I would never find out because Level Four aides deal with only Ordinary agents and on rare occasions Powered who deal with lighter crimes below the pay grade of Level Three. Level three deals with the everyday matters and retirement of the Powered while Level one and two are involved in the coordination and conduction of missions which mostly involve Powered. The Ordinary agents function as the eyes and ears of CCB providing the Intel that took down numerous bad guys. They also deal with local drug dealers, thugs and other minor incidents. There is outcry for the removal of Ordinary people from becoming agents as their work overlaps with that of the police creating problems between the police and CCB."
I look at my watch. It is time for my meeting with Mrs. Hegan. She is one of the oldest agents of CCB and has aided the arrests of 456 perps and busted ten heist and numerous drug rings. I have met her thrice for the purpose of her smooth entry into retirement. Day after tomorrow I will take her to a new home closer to her family who she had neglected due to her work.
"Good morning Mrs. Hegan, I will try not to take too much of your time." I sit on my chair and smile at Mrs. Hegan. The seventy-one-year-old smiles back at me.
"You know I don't mind. I don't have much to do these days. Rosie tried to entertain me for long enough. The poor dear couldn't do it any longer. You met Rosie on my Commendation day. Right? Oh, you must have met her multiple times being on the same Level."
"I have seen her around." Rosie aids the lives of Ordinary agents and holds a much greater position than me on Level four and our paths rarely cross. The aides of the Retirement office are the lowest of the low of Level four. The first time I talked to Rosie was to inform her of the orders to retire Mrs. Hegan and terminate the contact with each other. She was not taken aback and simply stated that Hegan was a delight and urged me to treat her with respect.
"I wanted to thank you for the Commendation day party. It was lovely. That presentation you made was so touching. All the faces that I helped, thanking me. It was surreal. It is unfortunate that I can't meet them in person now or in the future." She looks at me hoping I would contradict her statement.
"I am sorry that was all that I could do. I had probed more of those who you had helped but the few in the presentation were of low risk to your post-agent life. I am sure the rest are as grateful. You had put away a lot of bad people and it is my responsibility that they stay away from you."
"I know. I know. It was wishful thinking. A part of me yearns for the adoration the ones in tight suits and masks get. All I got was credit to the anonymous tips. Let us talk about anything else," she throws her hands in the air, "As I was saying the Commendation party was fantastic. You must have organized a ton of those."
"I have done a few. It is the best part of my job." That is only half the truth. The latter portion is truer than a baby's soul. These parties are overwhelming with gratitude, courage and honor. All overshadowing the sadness of leaving one's familiar life. The lie is that I have done a few. I want to tell her that I had arranged more of those parties than she imagines. That is the part where the beavers do the grunt work. I had arranged flowers, caterers and presentations for many Powered only to not see the inside of the party I helped organize.
Mrs. Hegan continues "I noticed a very official looking letter on your table. I did not read it but I am very interested in knowing its contents if you would please me."
"Unlike the rest of the world, fourth time is the charm for me." I hand her the letter.
"You cleared the test. That is wonderful news. Being a former agent, I am delighted to welcome you to our order. Those tests were hard for a reason," she says while shaking my hand wildly. " I was nine years into the job when CCB brought in tests for agents and I am glad I did not have to go through it."
"I flunked the test three times, Mrs. Hegan. I had lost hope. Then, this letter came in saying I am to become an agent. I am honoured." I point at a blank space for her to sign, "Do you have any advice for me?" I could not bottle my curiosity.
"If I judge you by your party then I must say you have good instincts and always trust your instinct. That is important. May I ask you why you want to be an agent? It is not like you will ever get promoted like you will if you continue to be an aide. Some people don't want Ordinary agents anymore."
"At the Commendation day parties, I like to watch the faces of the people who attend. I have never been confronted with these many emotions but I have felt most of them at some point except for pride. I do not feel pride in my current job. Anyone else could do it as well as me. I want to make myself useful and I want to know that and be proud of it. Being an agent is the answer."
"That is impressive," she smiles at me, "You will leave for training in a month," she says reading the letter.
"You are my last client. I will be training my replacement. You will meet her the day after tomorrow, Shirin Abbot is her name. Lovely manners."
We delve into matters relating to her retirement. There are more papers to be signed, calls to be made and affairs to be settled. When we are finally done, Mrs. Hegan rises to take leave. She has to meet the Office of Confidential Information next to give them her contacts on the field.
"If you are not happy with the movers, give me a call," I said pleasantly.
I take my recorder. I have lost track of my last statement. I turn it on and speak: "I have admired the agents for their courage and tenacity. I badly wanted to be one of them but that always felt impossible. Now I have beaten the odds. I feel strange and unprepared. I hope I wouldn't feel so for long. I am excited about the training to commence and—"
"Antony…" I turn from my revolving chair hastily. It is Mrs. Hegan.
"Antony, you are at the inception of a new life and me at the end of mine. If you would give me a chance, I would like to mark a new beginning for myself. When I started as an agent, I wished I had someone to help me out a little. To assure me. Comfort me. Once you are done with the training, you will know where to find me. I could be a sort-of-mentor to you, not a hands-on one. That would be tiring for the both of us. I hope you will consider my offer."
"I will," I grin toothily.
The recorder is still on and it had recorded a pivotal moment of my life. I don't know how everything will turn out to be but I know for sure that this one is significant.