Shadow Unit

FBI Headquarters, J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D.C. January 2008

Daphne Worth watched from the corner of her eye as Todd stood up from his desk behind Chaz's, lunchtime Tupperware and a pair of lacquered chopsticks balanced on his maimed left hand. He had the knack of holding it so it looked like the missing fingers were just folded under, part of the self-invisibilizing that formed such a complex interaction with his bibliography of tall tales. He walked toward the kitchenette, and as he passed, she caught a strong aroma of garlic, fish oil, chili pepper, vinegar, fermentation, and chlorophyll.

Sotto voce, she murmured to Chaz, "What was it this time?"

He shook his head, eyes on the monitor, too-long fingers moving awkwardly over the keys. "Dunno. Looked like an embryo."

He didn't seem to be kidding. "Gah," Daphne said. "Another year of his lunches and I may go vegetarian."

"Any creature whose back faces heaven," Chaz muttered.

"He said that?"

"Claimed it was a quote from the Cantonese."

Worth considered the implications. "How many creatures does that leave off the menu?"

This time Chaz glanced over at her, and the eyebrow went up. "You could ask him. But he might tell you."

"Or I might get an entirely unrelated story about how he spent his sixteenth birthday under Russian occupation." She shot a quick, guilty glance at the kitchenette. The water was running, and Falkner's and Reyes' doors were both shut. Brady was on the phone across the aisle, Lau nowhere to be seen. "You ever wonder?"

"All the time. About what in particular?"

"The It. Todd. Frost."

"Oh, if there's a subclinical stage? Which has developed in Todd as the ability to claim to have been in three places at once?" Chaz stopped typing and snagged a peanut butter cracker out of its wrapper. "He doesn't manifest any of the symptomatology."

"Yeah." She sighed and pushed her bangs behind her ear. "I'd like to see a brain scan."

"Good luck getting one." This time, it was Chaz craning his neck guiltily. "I wonder if Frost--"

"Duke would tell you he was immune to magnetic resonance imaging, due to a steel plate in his skull, resulting in male pattern baldness." She almost timed it right, but through a heroic effort, Chaz kept the majority of the cracker in his mouth.

He washed it down with a slurp of one of his orange-carrot-ginger juice cocktails and shot her a look dense with reproach. "It's hard enough keeping crumbs out of my keyboard without your help. Still, if we could get him to submit--I dunno. If there is a third stage, either preliminary or something new, do you think it would show up?"

"Jammers do."

"Duke's not a jammer."

"No," Daphne said. "He's just... weirdly lucky. Weirdly unlucky. I was just wondering if it would tell us something about how the Anomaly is evolving."

"If it were evolving."

"Right," Daphne said, and swiveled her chair to her desk as Todd came out of the kitchenette, drying his hands. "Which it ain't."