Dude comes back to take our food order, but of course I don’t have to say anything because Val’s already got it covered with my favorite. Large thin crust. Bacon, bell pepper, mushrooms, and that oh so scrumptious pineapple. Pure pizza bliss.
“Sector… Zero?” I’m trying to comprehend what that has to do with society or history or really anything of the sorts. I understand the words, of course. Land is often divided into sectors forming a grid. So are areas of three-dimensional space. And they’re often numbered 1-100 based on a predetermined position and established area size. Meh, who knows, maybe the office just got together and voted on a cool name.
“And you’re saying that’s somehow less ominous than CHASR?” I quip.
I have never heard of Sector Zero, and I’ve memorized the names and purposes of all fifteen of the U.S. federal agencies and many of their subsidiaries. I inquire, and she mentions that they are an independent agency, established under Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, clauses 8 and 19.
“The elastic clause,” I mutter audibly. I recognize that last one immediately as the law which allows the federal government to do, well, basically whatever it wants. I remember having to memorize the preamble in high school, but it was such a short document that I went ahead and committed a lot of the rest of it to memory. I never got around to memorizing the amendments, though.
“You really know your stuff, Syd. Such a shame about what happened here.” Interesting. The only other person who called me Syd in my life was my dad. Val looked out the window over at the bell tower of New U, which could be seen above the roofs of the boutiques. Clouds were gathering, giving the village a significantly more somber look. Memories of my classmates and teachers treating me lower than dirt are flashing through my head, and I can’t help but feel a surge of anger. “Gosh, those people were the nastiest, weren’t they? With how smart you are, you could have been one of the foremost researchers of your time.”
I nod, regretfully. An irony: one of the only people to believe in me in years is my secret agent stalker.
I’m so far from home… 1,288 miles to be exact, according to the maps app on my laptop. And I counted each and every one of them when the car with all my stuff in it pulled out of 1228 Halcyon Drive. Coincidence? Yeah, probably. But it only serves to reinforce how far away I am. From my family, from my friends. Two years later, it takes all I am not to cry. I’d be back in a heartbeat if I could…
“Maybe you still can,” Val says.
“Huh?” I ask, shocked.
“Maybe you still can be an academic, if that’s what you really want.”
“Oh… what do you mean?”
“All in good time, Syd. What you need to know right now is that everything we discuss from this point on is top secret.” She looks deep into my eyes to ensure if I understand. I nod again. “I have my ways of finding out if you’ve talked to people, obviously,” she adds casually. Val said it in a manner, however, that made it seem less like a threat and more like genuine concern. Ugh, if she’s not careful, I’m going to start trusting her. I message my temples, trying to shake a slight headache.
“So, um, why does Sector Zero need a public relations person for an organization that has no public to relate with?”
Val thought for a second. “Hmm, you’ve got me there. I guess that makes me more of an anti-public relations person, now that I think about it.”
Dude brings us our pizza, arriving on a square pizza stone, and places it in the middle of the wood-grain table equidistant between us. He also places two plates in front of each of us. That’s normal, but in the two years I’ve been going to The Crust, the server has never once arrived with a square pizza. They have always been round, even when I order thin crust. Still, square is obviously the best way of serving a thin crust pizza, as cutting a circular pizza into sixteen squares causes those awkwardly small corner pieces. Yet there a perfectly square (particularly delicious looking) pizza tempted me.
Val discretely pushes the corner of the pizza stone with her pinky finger… I just noticed her nice, freshly manicured nails with deep red polish. Her actions rotated it a bit to bring the pizza straight on with my line of sight. Previously it had been ever so slightly cattycornered, more rhombus-shaped. She’s very obviously looking at me with something of a smirk, and studying human interaction over the past year both in and out of the classroom lets know she wants me to do something.
Looking back down at the pizza, I notice someone had taken extra care to slice it unusually. Typically, a pizza like this is sliced into sixteen pieces – four rows of four slices. But this one had four rows of five pieces each, resulting in a grid of twenty slices. Who cuts a square pizza into uneven rows of slices? I reestablish eye contact with Val. Like an opponent in chess, she’s still waiting on my next move.
I number the pizza grid in my head. I get the sense that I’m being tested, but I’ll bet I can do just about anything, as long as it proves I’m paying attention. What I can use…
The Constitution, of course.
“Well, Val, since there’s no zero…” I trail off as I reach down and grab pieces one, eight, and nineteen, corresponding to the article, section, and clause numbers Sector Zero is based on.
Val’s smirk turns to a full-on smile.
“Congratulations,” she said. “You passed your qualifiers.”
She pushes her chair back, stands up, grabs her stuff, and places a twenty on the table.
“Wait,” I say, sounding slightly more desperate than I mean to. “Where are you going?”
“You’ll see me again very soon,” she says. She reaches down and grabs piece number four on the pizza grid, then walks out.
I glare, half confused, half pissed off… still kind of hungry.
“Hey Dude!” I yell, despite the server taking the drink orders of an elderly couple out for lunch. “I’m going to need a carry-out box.”
A new section is released every Monday! Next week we’ll be starting Chapter 3: “Metal Conducts Electricity.” As always I welcome your feedback in the comments. 🙂