Henley was awake, but she felt like she couldn't move. Each of her limbs felt as if they had two-ton weights strapped to them and her eyelids seemed permanently glued together. She had no idea how long she had been asleep and had no idea what time it was, or even what day it was. She could almost convince herself that the events following the graduation party were just a dream and that she was waking up, hung over, in her apartment. Almost.
With tremendous effort, Henley slowly cracked her eyes open and pushed herself up into a sitting position on the cot. The light was still on in the windowless room, and while the analog clock on the wall read 9:00, she had no idea if that was A.M. or P.M.
Looking around the room, Henley noticed it was a bit more furnished than she had noticed when she had collapsed onto the cot. At that moment, all that mattered was the bed. But now, Henley saw there was a mirror on the wall and a small desk with a lamp that had been emitting light for the past however many hours she had been asleep, a telephone, and a small tray.
The tray had a small, plastic water bottle, two granola bars, and a package of baby carrots on it. Henley went for a granola bar first, but soon found it to have the consistency of sand in her dry mouth, so she opened the water. Upon picking up the bottle, she noticed for the first time a piece of paper on the tray. On inspecting it further, Henley saw that it was a handwritten note.
At your earliest convenience, please dial *814*
Henley eyed the telephone. She was not quite prepared to talk or see anyone just yet, so she finished the food and then got up to inspect herself in the mirror. Her brief conclusion made before she went to sleep was correct: she looked awful. She was also desperate for a change of clothes, still in her graduation party dress.
Wresting with her hair for just a moment and managing to wrap it into a low bun, Henley had relatively thick hair and was able to get it into a bun for a short amount of time without a hair tie, Henley then looked back in the mirror and shrugged. She wasn't particularly concerned with how the people in the building, these C.O.D.E. Agents, would think of how she looked; she simply wanted a little bit of normalcy. However, Henley also conceded to herself that she wasn't going to get anymore normal looking without at least a hairbrush, so she picked up the phone and dialed.
The line rang once and then a cool, female voice spoke. "Thank you for your request." Henley thought it sounded rather robotic. "Please hold and someone will come to assist you in just a moment." The line went dead.
Henley put the phone down and, unsure of what to do, sat back down on the cot. Just a moment later she got back to her feet, shifted from side to side in nervousness, steeled herself, and headed toward the door, hand stretched out for the handle.
Before she could touch it, it swung open. A young woman stood there. She was shorter than Henley and had short, spikey hair that had bright blue highlights throughout it. "You're awake!" the woman exclaimed. "I hope you're feeling better?"
"Er, yeah, I guess," Henley said. She was feeling better, the sleep had done her a lot of good and she was beginning to shake of the grogginess that she had woken up with. "I could use a shower, though," she added. "Oh, and what time is it exactly?"
"Just past nine in the morning," the woman said. "You were asleep for close to 20 hours, I believe. I'm here to prepare you for going on the run, and, of course, a shower can definitely be part of that. Follow me, please."
With no desire to remain in the small room any longer, Henley did as the woman asked. The woman continued to chatter as they walked.
"My name is Agent Lela Harris," the woman said, "but please, just call me Lela. I hate the whole 'Agent Harris' thing, especially when it comes to clients."
"Well, obviously you're not paying me." Lela took a turn down another, identical hallway. "But I prefer the word to subject or case or anything clinical like that. It humanizes the whole thing, don't you think?"
"What exactly is 'the whole thing?'" Henley asked.
"Oh, right," Lela said. The pair got into an elevator and Lela hit a button. They started going down. "I'm an undercover preparation specialist," she explained. "In a lot of ways, it's a glorified term for stylist. I'll be changing your appearance slightly and going over with you the basics of how to go unnoticed. It's pretty simple, really, if not a bit time consuming."
"How will you be changing my appearance?"
"Hair, mostly," Lela said as they got out of the elevator. "Sorry." She gave Henley a sympathetic look. "I know a lot of people are particular about their hair, I change mine all the time but I'd hate to have someone else make the decision for me, but hair color is one of the biggest identifying factors that someone might be looking for. On the bright side, you have naturally light hair so we won't have to go through a bleaching process."
"It's fine, really," Henley said. It was true. She had always thought about changing her hair color, she just never could convince herself it was the right time. Apparently, now was the right time.
"Welcome to my studio," Lela said. The pair had entered a rather large room that looked like it had several different stations in it, including hair cutting, washing, and coloring, a photo station, and what looked like, to Henley's great relief, a shower room.
"I went to your apartment in Berkeley to get some of your things," Lela said. She gestured to a corner of the room and Henley saw one of her suitcases and her school backpack. "I went through your clothes and pulled out the stuff that would be safe for you to wear. You know, obviously no stuff that has California things on it, and definitely no Berkeley. You'd stick out way too much. But all of the basics are in there, and I grabbed a few books and toiletries and things. You'll of course be able to buy anything else you need, but it's a start."
Henley was torn between being grateful that she had some stuff she was familiar with, a small comfort in the current time of so much uncertainty, and feeling violated that C.O.D.E. felt entitled to go through her things. "I'll pull some shampoo and conditioner out, then." She settled for a neutral statement.
The shower room was larger than Henley thought it would be and was stocked with its own supply of shampoos, conditioners, and soap bars. There were fluffy, white towels and white, waffled bathrobes hanging from the wall, and the shower itself was quite large. Picking out a bar of soap to place in the shower with her shampoo and conditioner, Henley stripped down and stepped in the warm water.
It took her quite a while to work out the tangled mess of her hair. Lela had given her plastic coverings for the bandages on her wrists and ankles, and while the ones on her wrists got in the way of Henley's deep cleaning, she found herself not caring. It only gave her an excuse to stay longer in the hot water, cleaning away the grime of the past hours.
Eventually, Henley couldn't justify taking up anymore time in the shower, so she turned off the water, dried herself off and put on one of the bathrobes, wrapping her hair up in a dry towel. It was steamy in the room, but Henley was much relieved as she wiped the condensation off the mirror and saw a much cleaner version of herself than the last few times that she had seen her own reflection.
"Perfect," Lela said as Henley stepped out of the shower room. "You look much better."
Henley certainly felt much better. Lela guided her over to the barber chair and sat her down, throwing a cover over her.
"Alright," Lela said. "I can't promise to give exactly what you want, but if you have any input for style, now's the time to speak up."
"Um," Henley said, thrown slightly off guard. She had never really considered majorly cutting her hair, so she had never thought of style. "I guess if possible, I don't want it any shorter than this." Henley held her hand level with the top of her shoulder. "And if we could preserve the natural wave, that would be great. But other than that, I don't really know."
"Sounds good to me," Lela said happily, and she set to work. "This is always the part that impresses people," Lela said. She handed a long, damp ponytail to Henley, a ponytail of Henley's own hair. Henley was impressed by the weight of it.
"That is actually kind of cool," Henley admitted. She could already notice the change in weight pulling her head back.
Lela continued working, styling the hair a bit, then drying it, and then styling it some more. "Tell me what you think," Lela said, turning Henley's chair around to face the mirror.
The new hair was soft and layered and fell to just below the top of Henley's shoulders. When she moved her hair, in bounced softly. "I actually really like it," Henley said, truthfully.
Lela clapped her hands together. "Wonderful," she said. "Now, coloring." She pulled out a chart of hair dye colors. "I think you'd look great with a fun color," Lela said, "but unfortunately, that would draw attention to you, so we don't want that. So we have to stick with one of these." She gestured to the different shades of brown on the chart.
"How about 'light golden brown?'" Henley read the name off the chart. She couldn't really see what made it golden, but the name sounded nice, and it wasn't too dark of a shade that it would be completely jarring.
Lela responded by pulling out a box of hair dye. "I'll show you how to touch up roots and give you a few boxes of this stuff so you can do maintenance on the road," Lela said as she worked.
Lela clearly was a professional and finished applying the dye in a timely manner. As the two women waited for it to be time to wash out the coloring, Henley decided to try and pick Lela's brain about the organization a little bit more.
"How did you get into all of this?" she asked causally.
"Well, I went to beauty school," Lela said. "I am licensed. But I know that's not what you meant. My dad was in the military, so I grew up taking every martial arts class that existed. One of my dad's military contacts told him about C.O.D.E. and how they were looking for people who could serve as appearance specialists, and my dad told me about it. I was pretty bored just working in a salon," Lela explained. "I guess he figured I would have more interesting things to do here. So, I applied, went through training, and here I am?"
"What sort of training?"
"Well, it differs for everyone depending on what you're coming in to do," Lela explained. "But to start we all go through initiation. It's kind of like basic training in the military. They want to make sure that if we get into a dangerous situation, we can handle ourselves. After that, we go on to train in more specialized fields."
"How long have you been here?"
"Oh, just a few years," she said. "Actually, I was recruited at the same time as Agent Rowland, we went through initiation together. He's who's assigned to protect you, right?"
Henley thought of the emotionless agent who had sat in front of her during her questioning. "Yeah," she replied.
Sensing Henley's lack of enthusiasm, Lela laughed. "Yeah, he's not very good at first impressions," she acknowledged. "But he's the best there is, and he's a good guy once you get to know him."
For the sake of Henley's personal sanity, she hoped Lela was right.
It wasn't long before Henley was staring at her new reflection, her hair soft, short, wavy, and brown. She didn't entirely hate it.
"Right," Lela said, clearly proud with her work. "Go pull some clothes on and we'll do pictures."
Henley had no idea why they needed pictures of her, but she went over to her suitcase anyway and pulled on underwear, jeans, a soft, white t-shirt, and socks. She didn't bother with shoes just yet as they weren't leaving the room. The photo studio was already there.
It looked like a high-quality DMV set up. There was a white backdrop and a stool for Henley to sit on. "What exactly are these for?" she asked as she sat down.
"Documents," Lela said. "Passport and I.D." At the look on Henley's face, Lela rushed to continue. "It's merely a precaution," Lela said. "It's unlikely that you'll need to show them at all, and you'll be able to keep going by your real name and stuff when you're with Agent Rowland, which will be most of the time. It's only for if someone asks to see I.D. and they decide to run it through the system. We don't want your name popping up on any sort of database."
"Right," Henley muttered. Although, it wasn't entirely different from when she had a fake I.D. at the beginning of college. These would just be much more believable. And government sanctioned.
They took several photos, some smiling, some not, before Lela was satisfied. "Right," she said. "Now I send them to the Documents department and they'll be ready in an hour or so."
"What do we do until then?"
"Put on some shoes and follow me."
Henley followed Lela's instructions, slipping on her sneakers she had been previously wearing, and followed her out of the room and back to the elevator. This time, they went up. Henley guessed they were going above the floor that she had slept on. When the doors finally opened, Henley was surprised to see that it was mostly just open space. Looking around more, she figured out why. It was an indoor gun range.
"Is there anything this building doesn't have?" Henley asked in disbelief.
Lela chuckled. "So far, I haven't been in want for anything. This way." Lela led Henley into an office type room where another agent was waiting for them, weapons laid out on the table in front of her.
"This is Agent Ariadne Sessions," Lela introduced the pair. "She'll be teaching you the basics of how to handle a firearm."
"Have you ever shot a gun before, Ms. Johnson?" Agent Sessions asked.
Henley shook her head.
"I'll leave you guys to it," Lela excused herself. "I'll be back in a couple hours."
Henley watched Lela go back to the elevator before turning to face Agent Sessions.
"This is what we'll be training with," the agent said, laying her hand lightly on one of the pistols.
"Um, I'm not going to be carrying one of these on me, am I?" Henley asked apprehensively.
"Don't worry," Agent Sessions said kindly. "Agent Rowland will have his weapons on him, but you won't have to carry one. However, Agent Rowland will also be taking a lock box with him that will have one of these in them." She gestured to the pistol once more. "We want you to be able to use it, just in case of emergencies."
Henley nodded. Her mouth was dry and she was doing her best to keep her hands from shaking. Having grown up in Massachusetts and gone to school in California, at Berkeley of all places, gun ownership was not common. She had never really even considered going to a shooting range to try it out.
Before they left the office to the target area, Agent Sessions went over the ear and eye protection they would be using and the hand signals she would use to communicate with Henley when they wouldn't be able to hear each other. Then, she told her about the theory behind shooting a gun and a couple pointers on how to aim. Finishing by going over each part of the gun and a step by step process of how to fire, Agent Session finally led Henley to the targets.
"Alright, so first what do you do?" Agent Sessions asked patiently. Henley was not yet holding the gun, and Agent Sessions clearly wanted to make sure Henley knew the steps by heart before allowing her to.
"If you're not being attacked then and there, check to make sure it was loaded," Henley recited. Agent Sessions stressed that if she forgot to do this in face of an imminent attack, it was not the end of the world. "Take out the magazine and pull back the slide chamber to see if it's loaded."
"Very good. And then?"
"Grip the handle, mostly using your middle and ring fingers," Henley tried to remember what she had said about the grip. "The pointer finger shouldn't be on the trigger until you're actually ready to fire. And the pinky…"
"Also around the handle, just not gripping very tightly," Agent Sessions prompted. "But good, you have the important parts down. Keep going."
"Make sure the safety is off," Harley said. She indicated to where it was and how to do so to the agent, "and steady the weapon with your other hand, if you can."
Agent Sessions nodded.
"And then aim and squeeze the trigger. Gently," Henley added. She had seen enough movies to know that much.
"And make sure to follow through with the kick back," Agent Sessions added. "If not, and you're too stiff, you might hurt yourself."
"Alright, now show me, using the gun, the steps you just told me, but stop just before turning the safety off."
Henley nodded and gingerly picked up the gun, moving slowly and making sure to keep the end pointed toward the targets.
"Alright," Agent Sessions said when Henley had finished and carefully placed the gun back down. "That was good. If it seems like this is moving fast, it is. We're moving a lot faster than most beginner sessions, but they want to get you out of here later this afternoon. So, are you ready to practice?"
Henley really wasn't, but she didn't have much choice.
"You'll be aiming at that that target," Agent Sessions said, pointing. "You'll fire seven rounds, in your own time, don't feel the need to rush, and once you're done, I'll see how I can best help you improve."
Henley nodded in agreement. She and Agent Sessions put on their safety glasses and headphones; all the sound was immediately cut from Henley's ears. She looked at the agent, waiting for the signal that she was clear to begin shooting.
Upon getting that signal, Henley picked up the gun, stealing herself slightly. She went through the motions once again, except this time she pointed it straight at the target and flicked the safety off. Curling her finger around the trigger, she hesitated for a fraction of a second. Then, she squeezed.
She couldn't hear it, but she could feel it, and distantly saw a gash appear on the target. The gun jerked back in her hands but she had been doing her best to relax, so it didn't hurt. While the mark on the target didn't seem to be anywhere near where she was wanting to hit, Henley was encouraged by the fact that she had hit the target at all.
Feeling emboldened, Henley fired off six more rounds, paying more attention to where she was aiming with each shot. At her seventh and final shot, Henley laid the gun back down and Agent Sessions signaled for them to take off their headphones.
"That was really good for a first attempt," Agent Sessions praised. The agent brought the target toward them to examine where Henley had hit. "You managed to hit the outline four times," Agent Sessions said, "and you're last two were close to the center."
Agent Sessions spent the next few minutes giving Henley details of what she could improve on and how she could improve her aim. Then, they got a new target, snapped on their headphones, and Henley went again. This time, when Agent Sessions brought the target forward for examination, Henley had hit the outline all seven times, once in the very center.
"That's excellent," Agent Sessions said happily. "It's about as good as we can hope for given how little time you have."
Agent Sessions took the gun and she and Henley headed back to the office where Agent Sessions put the firearm away.
"Um, Agent Sessions?" Henley asked. The agent looked up. "I mean, I can sort of hit a target," Henley started, and Agent Sessions seemed to know where she was headed.
"But you can imagine that it will be rather different if its an actual person?" Agent Sessions finished Henley's worries.
Agent Sessions sighed. "Well, it is," she said. "Pulling the trigger in the field while aiming at an actual, human target is hard. And it should be hard. And I really do hope that you never have to know what that feels like. But, being able to aim and fire at something might buy you time, maybe injuring someone instead of killing them, and most importantly, keep you from getting killed."
"I guess I'm glad that I know what I'm doing," Henley said, thoughtfully.
"But, like I said, I hope you never have to use it, and honestly, I don't think you will," Agent Sessions told her. "Agent Rowland is one of our best."
"Yeah, I keep getting told that," Henley grumbled.
Agent Sessions laughed. "So, you've met him?"
"How could you tell?"
"Something about your expression," Agent Sessions chuckled. "Look, I'm sure you've also been told that he's not that bad. And he's not. But don't be afraid to give him a little crap once and a while."
Henley looked at her, eyebrows raised in surprise.
"It'll be good for him. Trust me."
At that moment, the elevator doors opened and Lela came back into the room.
"Oh good, you're all done," Lela said as she entered the office. "I'll take it from here, Ariadne."
"She's all yours," Agent Sessions said. "Good luck with everything, Ms. Johnson."
Henley gave the weapons trainer a nod of thanks before following Lela back to the elevator.
"This is for you," Lela said as the elevator began to go down, handing Henley an envelope.
Henley peered inside of it and pulled out a passport and Texas I.D. card, both with the pictures of her with her new short, brown hair. Her personal details were unchanged except for her hair color, of course, and her first name: Hailey. "I guess Hailey will be easy enough to remember," Henley commented.
"We figured it would be best to have a name close to your own," Lela explained. "It'll be easier for you to remember under pressure. And Johnson is safe enough, so you can keep that." Lela paused for a moment. "And I think your photos look good," she continued encouragingly.
Henley simply nodded and put the items back in the envelope. "So, what now?"
"I imagine you're hungry."
Henley hadn't barely even thought about food, but when Lela mentioned it, her stomach grumbled. Lela brought her to a cafeteria where a few other agents lingered, eating late lunches and giving Henley brief, curious stares. Henley ate more than she expected to; the food was surprisingly good. Lela mostly just watched her.
After lunch, they went back to Lela's studio. Henley's stuff had been moved and was waiting for her by the door.
"It's almost time for you to go," Lela said.
Henley nodded, unsure of how to react.
"I noticed all of the jackets at your apartment had Cal logos on them," Lela said, "so I got you this." Lela handed Henley a dark red, zip up hoodie. "Agent Rowland likes to blast the air conditioner; I figured you could use one."
Henley was touched by the thoughtfulness. "Thank you," she said, "I really appreciate it." She threw the hoodie on over her t-shirt.
"And with that, we should go," Lela said.
Not giving herself anytime to think about what she was walking into, Henley picked up her backpack and slung it over her shoulder and grabbed the handle of her suitcase. She almost felt like she was going on vacation.
Lela brought her down to the building's parking garage where Agent Rowland was waiting next to a small, SUV sized car. Henley thought he looked rather odd, dressed in a plain t-shirt and jeans, as opposed to the dark suit he had been wearing the previous day.
He didn't say anything as they approached, but opened up the trunk where a small suitcase was already there. Lela helped Henley load her suitcase in next to Agent Rowland's. He proceeded to immediately close the trunk.
"We should go," he said, curtly.
Henley nodded at him and watched him walk around to the driver's side of the car.
Lela winked at her. "You'll be fine, girl," she said. "You'll be out of this in no time."
"Thanks, Lela," Henley said.
Lela gave Henley's arm an encouraging squeeze and then turned around to walk back to the elevator. Taking a deep breath, Henley walked over to the passenger's door and got into the car alongside the stoic Agent Rowland.