Clarisse scaled the wall in the dead of night. Quietly up the side, claws in her gloves digging into the concrete of the apartment-skyskraper, same with her boots. Twenty-two stories up and another one to her goal. She was a collector, old things. They fascinated her, she thought of the collection of hundred year old movie posters at her destination. The wind whipped across her face, blowing her short black hair into her eyes, she brushed it out of the way with her forearm and reached up to put another claw mark in the pocked concrete, enhanced muscles barely strained to bring her small frame up into the sky.
Balcony door, she had a whole set of tools at her disposal to remove the locks and slide it open. Ten seconds and first footfall onto soft carpet. The resident was out of town - she'd been marking this place for two weeks now. Some old guy who had more body mods than an army platoon in the African War Zone. He had a lot of really old things in here as her deep blue eyes scanned the room. But she wasn't interested in the hundred and fifty year old authentic wood dining room set. She moved quietly into the den and found her prize. Five movie posters from the age before Sense-Vids. two dimensional projector run movies from nearly a hundred year ago. Vintage stuff, things she'd watched over and over in her small two bedroom hole of a place projected into her eyes via goggles. To have been alive in the days of the Big Screen she thought as she removed each poster from it's frame, rolled it up and placed it into a protective tube. Five little gems then out and down the side again, what a great way to spend a Saturday night.
Monday morning - the alarm goes off with its usual blaring noise. Clarisse wakes and wipes the sleep from her eyes, she readies herself for another day at work, answering more phone calls than one could imagine can be taken in any given day. At least she didn't work in sales - taking complaints was easier than selling product as far as she could tell.
Office, bland, boring and full of potted plants. She sat down in her cubicle, shared with one other person - some corporate research team figured out people were the most productive if placed in pairs instead of singularly in cubicles. The idea was they interacted with one person for most of the day instead of a whole host of readily available coworkers thereby cutting down on the gossip between people. They figured you'd run out of things to say to each other and just work all day - it almost worked.
Clarisse's cube-mate was an older woman, somewhere in her early thirties she'd guess. A woman named Jesse, Clarisse wondered why she didn't get any age-mods sometimes, except on paydays where she was reminded how much she didn't make. Jesse was an interesting woman, always indulging Clarisse by listening to her talk about how great things must have been in the past - she always smiled this uncomfortable knowing smile. Like she'd been there or something.
Clarisse turns twenty-five in four days, and Jesse has offered to take her out for dinner. Having nothing better to do she accepts. It's not like either of them have boyfriends. At least Clarisse is pretty sure Jesse doesn't. Clarisse realizes she doesn't know much about Jesse. If someone were to press Clarisse for information all she'd be able to come up with is that Jesse had a warm knowing smile that reminded her of her grandmother for some odd reason.
Thurday night, Clarisse is in her best suit, Jesse has merely wished her a happy birthday during work. Afterwards Clarisse is ushered outside to Jesse's car - which is just a little more expensive than Clarisse would have imagined it to be. She's taken to a rather expensive restaurant.
It's over dinner before Clarisse decides to kill the small talk - she just has to know more about Jesse. "How long have you been with the company?"
"About six years now." Jesse answers after a seconds pause. That's just a little less time than Clarisse.
They talk, Clarisse finds out Jesse started in sales but moved to Customer Service about a year ago - they'd been cube-mates since that day. Clarisse finds it unsettling that Jesse seems to know a lot about her work history.
After dinner Jesse invites Clarisse up to her place for coffee, she feels a little uneasy but Jesse has that warm welcome tone that reminds you of older people - the kind of tone that sounds like it has a lot of year behind it and you really can't help but want to follow that tone.
Upstairs Jesse's place is as full of old things as the old man's apartment from the past weekend, Clarisse stands rigid for a moment. "How, where did you get all this?" She says.
Jesse suddenly has the movements of a cat, smooth and secure - not a wasted gesture in her body. "I've purchased it over the years." She leans forward on the counter, placing a coffee cup there, "Drink, we have a lot to talk about tonight."
"Yes, like about Mr. Alkans apartment and five vintage movie posters." Jesse watches Clarisse's throat as she swallows hard, for a second it looks like she might panic and run. Jesse smiles warmly, "Oh Jerry won't mind the missing posters I assure you. They were mine to begin with." She sipped her own mug of black coffee.
"How did I know? I know a lot of things." Jesse's warm smile caves Clarisse in as she steps into the kitchen area and seat herself on a stool across from Jesse. "when you get to my age knowing things becomes easy. Knowing when to act is always as hard as it was however."
"What do you want?" Clarisse's stares into Jesse's eyes and suddenly realizes they both have the exact same shade of deep blue.
"I want to give you a choice." Jesse is leaning on one hand, chin resting on her palm.
"First, a history lesson. I have a lot to share with you." Jesse continues, "Would you believe I'm your great-grandmother?" Clarisse's eyes go wide with shock, Jesse zooms in on them, taking in the deep blue that she shares with the younger woman. "I'm one hundred and thirty two years old."
"That's not possible.. I mean, even with age-mods it's not possible.."
"Ah, evidence. I suppose telling you about the fourteen hours of labour I had before giving birth to your Grandmother would be useless.. Ok, let's try something much closer to home. I was the doctor who delivered you twenty-five years ago, you weighed a healthy seven pounds and four ounces."
Clarisse suddenly remembered to breathe after her lungs nearly screamed at her for more air. "You... but.. Anyone could find that information!" She nearly screamed.
"True." Jesse shrugged, "How about this - you lost your virginty to a boy name Marcus when you were seventeen on the couch in his parents den while they were out at the movies and you were helping him babysit his little brother." Clarisse sat in absolute silent shock. "Ever wonder why we have the exact same shade of eye colour? Ever get the slightest hint of looking in a mirror when you saw me?" Jesse stood up and looked Clarisse strait in the eye.
Clarisse looked at the woman before her, her mind a total blank. Taking in the words she was speaking and just barely making sense of them. She began to see it, her eye colour, the same colour her grandmother has in all those pictures, strait black hair, she saw her mothers jawline in there. Only the mixing of her father's, and grandfather's and great-grandfather's genes prevented them from being exact mirrors of each other. "What are you?" She whispered.
"We call ourselves Sentinels. We watch, and protect if needed. Sometimes we help now and then."
"Why me?" her voice was now a hoarse whisper, she was forgetting to breathe again.
"Because your brother is, to be frank, almost inept and a born loser. He must have a lot of your father in him. I never did approve of that man," Jesse frowned, "But I make in policy not to interfere unless it's absolutely needed. You also show a willingness to take chances, you're not afraid of failure."
"then, why tell me now?" Clarisse had sipped the coffee to wet her dry throat and began to breathe mor regularly again.
"Because there is a problem. Well, many problems actually. But this new issue is rather, how to put it, severe."
"umm..?" Clarisse noticed that Jesse's voice had taken the same tone her mothers did when she was unhappy.
"It seems some of your generation don't appreciate what we do." Jesse poured herself another cup of coffee, "Which I can understand, sometimes we get a little over zealous and do a little more than just protect our families from the big problems."
Clarisse was much more comfortable now, that kind of comfortable you get around family where you can really be just yourself.
"If you don't let people take their own chances they fail be default."
"I don't understand."
"A short while ago one us was killed by another one of us. The second was about your age and had made it into our ranks, the next generation of protector. But she didn't appreciate the efforts of her predecessor. He was overprotective, even the slightest injunction or threat was dealt with in a swift deadly manner."
"She killed her own great-grandfather in cold blood. We can't have that. It goes against everyinthg we, everything I, lived to protect. Before we schism and fracture and lose sight of our goal I want your help to adjust our methods."
"You're part of the next generation, you're my choice from this family to become a Sentinal."
"If I refuse."
"I quit the company and go back into the shadows to find another, I can wait. I have time. There are others doing this very thing right now. Others who wish to protect our many years of work as well as each other."
"Many others, I want to prevent a war. I want to prevent catastrophe."
"But, I mean, me?"
"You're skills as a burglar could be put to some very good uses, consider it a form of training. You'd have access to all my funds as well, get you some real body-mods."
Clarisse had made up her mind, she loved her family - even her older brother - and would do anything to help them. She didn't expect this, she was still trying to wrap her mind around the fact that the woman she spent the last year working next to was not only her grear-grandmother but had delivered her as a baby. That was the real kicker, to care so much to make sure she made it into the world - the stepping far enough back to let her walk around on her own, and fall on her own. She suddenly admired Jesse more than any person she'd ever known - real or fictional. The woman exuded pure determination.
Jesse walked over to the balcony and opened the door, letting in the cool night air. "Do you believe in Angels?
"Angels? like the winged biblical angels?"
"Not quite." Jesse stepped back out of the way to reveal a person who had skin like polished metal, great white wings folded on his back, standing on her balcony, "This is Andrew. He and I go very far back." Andrew smiled.
"He isn't my..." Clarisse started.
"No, but I knew him." Andrew said, his voice like silk.
"Andrew is going to help me introduce you to a whole new world." Jesse said, that same warm smile on her lips.
This story is Copyright © 2001 Gordon Feiner.