The extraction is successful until it isn’t. Which is not a remark to put in any report, official or not. Roberts has retrieved the item; I have disabled the beacons and am considering promotional possibilities as we exit the operating theatre. Roberts stops dead outside the containment field. Swears.
The human male who stands as if he was waiting for us sighs. “Even for a secret government agency, stealing cell phones from a motel must be a new low. It is not as though you are with the FBI or NSA. You’re not Black Chamber because they don’t deal with such things and the Border Patrol would have used explosives and a lot of guns.” He looks ordinary, but worrying power thrums through his voice. “Talk.”
Roberts has been trained, at least as well as one can train a human. He has shields and protections for his mind, a dozen sigils and items that might protect him from harm. They do nothing at all. “We are from Project Containment,” he says.
“Ah. Of course. Something new. Explain.”
“The Border Patrol’s successes in stopping incursions from Outside the universe have been deemed too costly in terms of both human life and equipment. Project Containment contains Outsiders and releases them against threats, it being our hope that they will exterminate each other in battle.”
The human blinks. “This actually works?”
“Field testing is due to begin any year now.” Even under a compulsion, Roberts manages to sound defensive.
“I’d be amazed if that works at all. However, none of it explains why you’ve broken into a motel to steal the cell phone of an eleven year old boy.”
“According to our scanners, it contains more Outsiders than any other item on the planet by a factor of at least ten. We seek to reverse engineer it to aid us. This is in accordance with the Apple Accords.”
“Well, Jay’s cell phone is at least one generation ahead of the market, but I imagine that isn’t the kind of Apple you mean. Sleep.”
Roberts collapses to the ground as the man – the magician – turns to me. “I don’t see many Greys interacting with human agencies of their own free will?”
“I am part of an outreach program.”
“Hmm. And one that is drastically low on hard data. I suspect that every government agency worth note must have a file on Jay by now even if they don’t believe most of it.”
“You are a magician. This matter concerns your kind as well,” I snap. “Even my people could not make a containment field that can hold this many Outsiders at once: we need to learn more about it.”
He raises an eyebrow; the we is more than just humans, after all, and he catches that. “You could have considered asking. Not that his explanation would have helped. As far as Jay is concerned, he has been playing Pokemon Go on his phone and capturing Pokemon. I haven’t had the heart to break it to him that he hasn’t actually caught a single Pokemon but instead a great deal of Outsiders by mistake.”
“What?” I have been trained to make my telepathic sendings mimic human voices. I fail entirely this time.
The magician grins. “The Outsiders are mostly safe in stasis fields though I believe there is one chronovore that is still utterly confused as to how it could even be trapped in any form of stasis given that its nature is to devour time.”
“Such things are not possible.”
“Oh, ordinarily I would agree. But Jay is from far Outside the universe for all that he is eleven. And he is far more concerned with making friends, having adventures and being jaysome than whether something is remotely possible or not. The phone, please?”
He told as out a hand. I give him the phone. There will be consequences for this. Reprimands. But I think they will be nothing compared to what might happen if Jay were to come looking for his phone.
The magician walks back inside. Roberts wakes, confused. I spin an easy lie as we head back to our vehicle and prepare for transit back to the Project. I am wondering if this is a test. I am wondering if I failed it.
I am wondering if there is any way to succeed at all.