FREELANCER HQ, ARCHAVEN
NAMI MEDA’S OFFICE
The girl sitting in the comfortable chair was refusing to make eye contact – she played with her phone instead, curled up in the chair like a cat. She would look comfortable if she wasn’t so stiff.
“Good afternoon, Vera.” Dr. Meda’s voice was even. Dr. Meda’s voice was always even, her posture always perfect. The Freelancers called her ‘Medahuman’, because she was human but seemed to have an impossibly iron will. She was the longest-lived mental health counselor in the history of the organization, even after losing an eye to a violent client.
Dr. Meda sat in her deluxe, ergonomic office chair, ankles crossed, hands folded. She didn’t have a notebook; she’d put it away after Vera’s third session and hadn’t taken it out again.
“…Afternoon.” Vera drawled, finally putting the phone away. She made eye contact for a moment before turning her head to read the spines of books. “You think you’d get bored of this, eventually. You’ve spent, what, one hundred and eighty minutes looking at my dumb face and making zero progress?”
Dr. Meda tilted her head slightly. “I’m here to be a resource for you. How I feel about our time spent together isn’t important.”
“Yeah, yeah, a resource, I know. Social rehabilitation. Making me a productive member of – oh wait, no, that’s all a lie, it’s slave labour, that’s right.”
“I’m noticing that you’re being more open about your resentment toward the organization than usual,” Dr. Meda noted, “and want to remind you that my office contains no recording devices, I don’t take notes, and I am bound by confidentiality. If something has happened and you want to talk about it, I’m here to help you work through it.”
There was a moment where Vera drummed her fingers against the arm of the chair, and then she finally spat: “How come Omnibolt and Swift and everyone else beat the shit out of people, and they’re heroes for doin’ that – but I fuck a guy on tape with someone else’s face and I’m a criminal?”
Dr. Meda took off her glasses for a moment, and rubbed the edge of her cybernetic eye with a free hand. She blinked several times and replaced her glasses. “I think you know why, Vera. You don’t need me to tell you that the system is lopsided.”
“Right, it’s bullshit, I know it’s bullshit, you know it’s bullshit, and you expect me to like, talk about it and feel better? It’s shitty, it’s always gonna be shitty. That’s just how it is. There’s no feeling better or working through it. I’m fine, anyways.”
“I expect you to work in your own interests, Vera,” Dr. Meda said, quiet, “which means taking advantage of any resource that might improve your well-being. Like you said, it’s shitty. It may always be shitty. But if you decide that you have no agency at all, well, that’s a copout and you know it.”
Vera continued to stare at Dr. Meda’s vast collection of books. “Why’d you pick the Freelancers? Why not the Legion?”
Meda leaned back against the chair, letting her own eyes drift over to the bookshelves. “It’s not particularly professional of me to divulge details about my own life to a client. But then, I was told to ‘rehabilitate’ you by any means necessary, no matter how unconventional, so…” Her eyes swiveled back, fixing on Vera’s face. One ice-blue, one earth-brown. “Do you actually want to know?”
“It matters, because I need to know if I can trust you to actually have my best interests.” Vera finally made eye contact, her face defiant, lips twisted into a stubborn pout. “If it was for the money, you can fuck off right. But if it was for an ideal…”
Meda folded her arms. “Actually, it was for the money. And the prestige, and benefits. The Freelancers recruited me aggressively as soon as I earned my doctorate. Evidently I had everything they wanted for their wellness department, and they made an offer that I found it absurd to refuse. So no. Nothing noble. No ideals. I was mercenary and selfish.”
Then, after a pause, “at first.”
“Did working with us poor lil’ Paranormals melt your icy heart?” Vera sneered.
Meda shrugged. “It might have, in time, had I not been delivered an object lesson. You’ve heard the story about my eye, yes?”
“Yeah, it got ripped out.” Vera looked away again. “Uh, sorry. It’s just kind of hot gossip, or was, back in the day.”
“That’s why assumed you knew. That incident came near the end of some… difficult client interactions I’d had, all of which saddled me with unasked questions about my employer. After my eye was lost, I resolved to leave the Freelancers.” After a pause, “that didn’t work out.”
“…You’re under the social rehabilitation program too?” Vera went white.
Dr. Meda tapped her robotic eye with a fingernail, a rueful smirk on her face. “My eye isn’t all I lost. Experimental brain surgery and cybernetic integration were required to preserve my… mental faculties. I owed the Freelancers not just my vision, but my life. So I was told, at least. Emphatically.”
“Well, shit.” Vera blurted, still pale with the significance of the realization. “Christ, that’s how they get you, isn’t it? They either buy you out or blackmail you, and they own you forever. So what’s the point?”
“Of them blackmailing me? Or of me telling you this story?” The doctor’s voice remained chillingly even.
“Of trying to do good in such a shit, shit situation. I mean, I got seven houses. I even have a friend. Why not just coast forever? Do the bare minimum?”
Meda let out a slow breath. “Several reasons, I suppose. One is that I am a professional, and I am better at this job than anyone else. Everything they say about me is true: I am impossible to break and I never give up. I take pride in my work, no matter where or for whom I do it. Another reason is… that if there’s anything I can do to make this prison more bearable for my fellow inmates…” she trailed off.
“Alright, well…” Vera shifted in her seat, leaning forward. “Look, I don’t – I don’t really know what, like, my future holds, okay? But, look, as long as you’re here and I’m here – I can’t believe I’m sayin’ this – I think the best thing I can do to flip a middle finger at the Freelancers is… to give a shit.”
Dr. Meda’s mouth quirked up in a tiny smile, one more genuine than Vera had ever seen on the doctor’s face. “I couldn’t agree more. So. You said you have a friend?”
Vera reached up and rubbed the back of her head awkwardly. “Yeah, she’s doing the vigilante thing to build up a portfolio, and well, I mean, she’s cool… I saved her. She had Emerged and was fucked up and I gave her a place to crash. I never do that for anyone, but like… I don’t know. One fuckin’ leech from the Underground had already shown up. It just seemed right.”
“Have you ever reached out like that before? To a ‘hatchling’?”
“No, never. I don’t know, it’s just…” She shrugs. “It’s one thing to seek out people and help ‘em, I don’t do that. But I couldn’t walk past someone I had encountered.”
“You didn’t seek her out?”
Vera scratched her head. “Well, maybe a little. Kind of.”
“What made her different, then? You’ve seen news of plenty of Emergences.”
“…She fucked a lot of people up. And a lot of shit around her. And it wasn’t her fault, and it wasn’t fair, and I just… thought I could even the scales.”
“Have you done any vigilantism with her yet?”
“I will.” Vera said, defiant again. “We’re going to be actual, right fuckin’ proper heroes.”
Nami smiled again. “Well! I have to say, we’ve made tremendous progress this session. You’ve discovered purpose through shared hardship and discussed meaningful extracurricular activities that should take dramatic strides toward your… social rehabilitation.”
“I guess.” Vera muttered, retreating back into a sulk once the therapist talk began once again. “We’ll see if Cheney ever signs off on me being” – finger quotes – “rehabilitated.” Another sigh. “Next Monday, same time?”
“Maybe he won’t, but maybe…” Dr. Meda stood, “…that won’t matter. Next Monday.”