AEGIS Field Office
New Hebron, California
“Should have figured,” Everett muttered upon stepping through the double doors and looking about.
There was nothing remarkable about the cafeteria, in fact, it wouldn’t have seemed out of place in a small school or a private business. Everett had expected something more. He’d eat almost anything, given how hungry he was, but he’d been envisioning a nice juicy steak at a private restaurant and it was doubtful he’d find anything so satisfying in a government-run commissary.
Close to a dozen AEGIS employees, all wearing identity badges around their necks and dressed in dull grays, whites and blacks you would expect occupied the room, either waiting in line for food or already seated around a table. Here or there there was a splash of color, but the woman in the sundress and the man in the blue button-down shirt were the exception rather than the rule.
“Close, but no cigar,” he mumbled under his breath glancing at the counter with a sigh and receiving an odd glance from the agent as he followed her through the room.
Amelia hadn’t lied when she’d suggested that AEGIS would flip the bill for the food, once they’d dished up and reached the register she produced a payment voucher from inside her jacket. Everett couldn’t help feel as if she’d misled him.
Old age had robbed him of the ability to taste, and he had hoped that his first meal in his new youthful body would be something, just a tad more appealing than the greasy Salisbury steak, instant mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables that now adorned his tray. There had to be perk to getting stuck in this new goddamned body, didn’t there?
He glared at Van den Broeke and took a seat across from her at a small two-person table, wedged into a back corner of the room. “You call this food?”
Amelia sighed, glanced up at the counter and shrugged. “Well, the term loosely applies. It’s not a good idea to eat out given the sensitive nature of the matters we’ll be discussing.”
Everett scowled at the lump of food like substance he would describe as eat in the broadest sense of the word and shook his head. “You have a point. I wanted my first meal I’ve had in decades where I could taste what I was eating to be something a little more appealing than this regurgitated crap.”
Amelia snorted and stared down at her salad and nodded in understanding. “It’s edible, but that’s about all I can say for it. How about I make a deal with you, if you cooperate now and later when I take you shopping, so long as we keep the price within reason, I’ll treat you to the meal of your choice.
“Deal!” Everett beamed back at her, but a frown creased his face as a sense of dread settled in at the prospect of shopping. He didn’t ask what the goal of such an excursion might be. There was a real and practical purpose that any idiot could reason out. At minimum, he needed clothing, not to mention all the feminine accessories and hygiene items the agent might throw into the mix.
There was another prospect he wasn’t too thrilled about, but one which he was sure as hell not going to voice around the agent. He would go out into the world as a black woman for the first time. No matter what they saw on the surface, he didn’t want people to see a black broad. He was white dammit and a man to boot.
“So, have you thought about a name, yet?” the Agent asked holding her fork over her plate.
“It’s only been, what, ten minutes? The prospect of food was just a little more pressing,” he replied still staring at his meal his nose crinkled up in disgust.
“Well, why don’t we eat and you can think about it, the sooner you pick a name, the sooner I can file the right paper work and you can get your new life on track.”
Everett nodded, but didn’t say a word, not thrilled by the prospect of a new life. As he got older the more appealing death seemed. He was a widower of over thirty years, he had no family left, save for a granddaughter you wouldn’t have been able to pick him out of a crowd, and the few friends who were still alive never talked to him or else were so far gone that they couldn’t even form a coherent sentence half of the damn time. He wasn’t a religious man, but he believed in an afterlife and the prospect of seeing his long departed wife and daughter once again was very appealing.
Now, he’d been throw into a new younger body and told he must adapt. Being a woman was bad enough, and he’d even given that much attention. The worst part was the change in skin color. He’d been thinking about suicide a lot in the hours since his change, but even if his increased healing abilities allowed it, he somehow knew he could never end his own existence. To Everett it was a coward’s act and say what you would about him, but he was no coward.
He looked at the agent watching her eat, taking dainty little bites and staring off into space with a look of disinterest. He found her striking, an attractive young woman who lacked much in the way of figure, but more than made up for it in other ways. As he watched her, he realized something that made him more than just a little uncomfortable. He was attracted to her, in a very big way.
Everett swallowed and forced himself to turn his attention back to his meal, wolfing down the almost flavorless animal byproduct. He forced himself to look elsewhere, the metallic side of a napkin holder that sat on the table between the two. For the first time, he gave his new brilliant blue eyes more than a cursory glance. If he allowed himself, he would have become lost in them. He studied them, piling food into his mouth without paying much mind to what he was doing.
They were brilliant, like sapphires, almost unnaturally blue, and as he stared into those eyes a name struck him, remembered so long ago, from his days of bible studies. He shook his head and glanced at his plate, realizing with a start, that other than a few kernels of corn, a couple chunks of carrots and some gravy, his plate was empty.
Amelia, who had finished her meal, stared at him smiling, her eyes studying him, her emotions an ocean of calm.
“I think I got a name,” he said looking up at the young woman with a smile of his own.
It felt so satisfying. He wasn’t even sure why, but the name resonated with him. It felt right, like a puzzle piece fitting into place. Deep down, it made a part of him uneasy that this new moniker would bring about such a reaction within him, but he squashed that part of himself.
The Agent leaned back in her chair and folded her arms across her chest waiting for Everett to tell her what moniker he had chosen. When he did, Van den Broeke’s eyebrows shot up and stared at him a moment without a word.
“Well, if you’re certain. I’ll get the paper work filed as soon as I can,” she said a smile stretching across her face.
As he looked back at her and nodded. A pit form at the bottom of his stomach at the prospect. Whatever satisfaction he’d gotten from choosing a new name had evaporated. What the hell had he been thinking?