Joey rested his head on the edge of the conference room table. He was about twenty minutes early, but he knew that if he went back to his bunk, he’d be asleep in a second, and no one would be able to wake him up for God only knows how long. The phone message he’d received from Brian, Agent Two, was rather cryptic, and Joey could only hope that he had misunderstood the message, or else life was about to get very, very dire.
Still, he had been told to get there for an eight o’clock meeting this morning, so he traveled through the night to do so. He heard the conference room door open and started to mumble complaints about the interruption of his nap, but then he heard. “Now, now, Joey, is that any way to speak to your partner after not seeing her for nearly half a cycle?” The voice was sweet, dripping with fake condescendence, and he smiled automatically at the first word. When he looked up, he was thrilled to see a smiling petite red-headed twenty something grinning up at him from the door way.
“Willow.” The name was like a breath of fresh air. He stood and circumvented the table in four steps. Willow met him half way between the table and the door, and he pulled her into a hug. “I’m both very glad and very disappointed to see you. You think that Laurel will let us reschedule our down time?”
“I sure hope so,” Willow sighed, pulling out of the hug. “We must have the worst luck. On call and on duty for what? A hundred continuous cycles—“
“Fifteen,” Joey corrected good-naturedly.
“—and our one downtime cycle,” Willow continued as if she didn’t hear Joey at all,” and the most powerful object in the agency’s collection get taken.” She ran her hand through her hair. “The worst luck.” She muttered again, this time almost to herself.
“So, it really is the marbles then?” Joey asked, “A full team recall?”
“I don’t know. What did Laurel say to you when she called you in?”
“She didn’t tell me anything. I got a coded call from Brian, and even after running it through the decryption it was still pretty cryptic. I thought I’d better come to the meeting and see what’s actually happening here.”
“You mean to say—“ Willow pointed a very dangerous finger in Joey’s face, “—That Laurel didn’t break into your house while you weren’t there, scare you almost to death, and drink your tea before demanding you come back to work?”
Joey raised an eyebrow. “No?” he replied cautiously.
“Oo. I am going to kill her.” Willow crossed her arms over her chest.
“That’s literally impossible,” Joey commented casually.
“A girl can dream, can’t she?” Their conversation cut off rather quickly after that. Other agents were starting to come into the room, and since there were a few that they barely knew, Joey decided that joking about killing should probably be kept to a minimum.
Joey returned to his seat at the table, the place with the ornate ‘IV’ carved into the wood. Willow was two seats over, beside the carved ‘VI.’
Other agents took their seats as well. Some, Joey recognized—Brian, Agent two, Hank, Agent Ten, and Maria, Agent Nine. But there were a couple that Joey barely knew, such as Agent Eleven and Agent Three, and some he had never met at all in his current memories, such as Agent Seven and Eight. They all sat in silence, and Joey started to feel the tension in the room. The table had never been this full, and that was starting to send home just how important this all was. By the time Laurel finally came into the room, Joey was almost starting to feel sick from the stress of it all.
“Good morning,” Laurel said curtly as she came into the room, and without any further ado, plunged directly into the briefing. “As all of you have heard, I am here to confirm that the Marbles have in fact been stolen.” A couple of people shifted uncomfortably in their seats, but no one dared make a sound. “Now, I know you are all very aware of just how dangerous this is, however, it has been a long time since any of you have had direct work with the Marbles, if any contact with them at all, so you will oblige me by being quiet and attentive through this refresher course.” She pressed a couple of buttons on a remote in her hand, and the lights dimmed and a projection shown on the wall behind the head of the table.
The image was of two orbs, both appeared to be made of colored glass, one red, and one blue, both with some sort of clouding in the center. A ruler in the image showed they measured at only about an inch in diameter. Joey looked at his palm and could just imagine that they would both fit into his hand with no difficulty at all. It was hard to imagine that something so small would have so much power. That something so small would—
“These are the Gralur Kugseer, or as they are more commonly known, The Marbles. They are one of the very, very few items in the collection that have a Class Eleven rating, meaning they are extraordinarily dangerous. Through the brief experiments that we were able to conduct, we have learned that their abilities, when paired with a properly trained and motivated user, are nearly infinite. We have witnessed them influence people’s perception of history, of nature, and of physics on a massive scale, on that could potentially become a global influence. Luckily for us, these Marbles are so strong in themselves that the average user has very little influence on them if any at all. Only top-tier users would even be able to approach the potential they contain.
“Also luckily for us, there are only six top-tier users on the planet right now. Fortunately, we have files on all six. Unfortunately for us, our updates on them would not occur until next year, so all our files are currently four years out dated. Since we were in control of all the most powerful items, we did not consider it a top priority to have real-time tracking on them. Our top priority at the moment is not necessarily recovering the Marbles, but finding and bringing in these six users until we are able to find a hot lead on the Marbles. We should act as if all of their lives are being threatened, because if the team that stole the Marbles was able to penetrate our facilities, then they would be able to easily take any one of these uses from their daily lives. Once we have all of the users in protective custody, then we will have the freedom of extra time and maneuvering room in the locating of the marbles.”
Laurel paused and leaned forward on the table, taking a second to look each of them in the eye. Even though Joey knew they were about evenly matched, and in actual practice, he was probably stronger and more powerful that Laurel, he still felt like he shrank a few inches under her glare. That is her superpower, he thought to himself, only half as a joke.
“I cannot stress enough just how important this is,” Laurel’s voice was grave. “You must realize that because in the thousands of years since this table was first built, not once have all even spots been filled at the same time. We cannot fail. It is not an option.” She rose again to her full height, her voice returning to that of a normal briefing as if they were just about to go on an everyday kind of mission. “I am hereby recalling all of you to active duty, and reinstating the responsibilities and privileges thereof.”
Laurel placed her hand on the ‘I’ insignia at the head of the table, and a drawer popped open in front of Joey. Inside, there was a simple leather cord, with a black circular charm, maybe an inch and half in diameter. On the charm was a silver ‘IV.’ He slipped the cord over his head and tucked the charm down the front of his shirt. Even though it had been nearly eleven years since he wore it last, the charm still felt warm against his skin.
All around the table, other people were putting on their own necklaces. There were a variety of chains and cords, but all of the charms were the same black circles, barring only different silver numbers painted on their fronts.
The only people who didn’t move were Agent Two (Brian), Agent Five (Darryl), Agent Seven (Frankie) and Agent Eleven (Natalie). Joey figured they must have been the agents on duty at the time. Joey felt his heart go out to them. He had things taken on his watch before, and he knew just how stressful it could be. He couldn’t even begin to imagine just how stressful having the Marbles gone felt to them.
“Due to their particular skill sets, Agents Four and Six will be spearheading this mission. I have not had the time to brief them individually on the matter yet, so you will all have to bear with us as we formulate a plan. Now there are our top-tier users with their last known locations.” With another click on Laurel’s remote, the image of the two marbles disappeared, and images of six faces, each with a number and location underneath them appeared on the screen instead. “These are—Yes, Agent Six?”
Joey turned to see Willow already on her feet. Her face revealed that sweet little Willow was turned off at the moment, and her ‘get shit done’ Agent Six mindset was taking over. “Agent Four and I will leave immediately in order to recover Top Tier Number Three. Agent Eleven can spearhead the process to locate the other Top Tier Users until our return.” She said quickly. Joey turned to look back at the picture labeled ‘No 3’. It looked like a photo from an identification card, shoulders up, face on. It was a girl, maybe 17 or 18, with bright blue eyes and black hair so long it fell out of frame. She appeared to not be smiling due to instruction because the corners of her lips were still slightly turned up, and her eyes seemed bright. Joey thought she looked like a nice girl but had no idea why she was causing such a reaction in Willow.
“Are you saying that you already know the location of Top Tier User Number three?” Laurel asked swiftly. “I’m sure that you can give Agent Nine or Ten her location sufficiently, and they can retrieve her. I think you are best used remaining here.”
“All due respect, Ma’am, but no. I will retrieve number three. Her name is Marcy Jenkins, and she has been my best friend for the past ten years. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Agent four and I will be leaving immediately.” Willow walked out of the room without another word, leaving a stunned group in her wake, and giving Joey no choice but to get up and follow her out.