Systems Theory

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Systems Theory
by templemarker

Notes: Written for Yuletide 2010 for Sami714, who wanted some backstory on Amanda (who is one of my favorite characters on the show). Originally posted here.


A slight, pretty girl stood in the middle of the room. She was very still, light thrown across her face, highlighting the subtle makeup that she had applied. It made her look older. She stood in heels, next to a rack of beautiful dresses, and stared straight at the wall behind her as if nothing else was there.

“Have you chosen one?” the woman’s pleasant voice said from the doorway. The girl stiffened, almost imperceptibly, but the woman was looking for the motion. When she smiled, she showed her teeth.

“Perhaps the black,” she continued, as if the girl had replied, “or perhaps the white. Something to offset your coloring.”

The girl turned then, the red pony tail swinging into her face for a moment. “Is this my final?” she asked bluntly, precision without grace. She had been trained well.

“Oh, no, I think the green,” the woman said, lifting a dress from the rack and holding it against Amanda’s pale skin. “It will match your eyes.

: : :

Amanda stood in her salon, surveying the scene. She kept any number of different pieces in a storage room built into the left-side wall, and the salon changed at her will. Different settings worked for different operatives, and Amanda had always found flexibility to be conducive to her function.

Jaden was a particularly difficult operative; she had taken very quickly to the psychology the young operatives were programmed with, but she did have an unfortunate tendency to take that psychology to the extreme. While competition was appropriate to a degree–independence and self-sufficiency were traits endemic to successful operatives–infighting such as the kind Jaden instigated with Alex was unacceptable. There was no conch-holder here except, perhaps, Amanda herself. And to some degree, Percy.

Amanda chose the settee and a coffee table, directing two of the security techs to place them. They were skilled at it now; a rotating complement of techs was assigned to her at all times, to attend to her needs and act as the obvious, blunt arm of protection. Amanda hardly needed it; she was as capable as any successful killer in this Ender’s warren, but the appearance of nonviolence suited her purposes much better. Amanda was always pleased when one of her former pupils became a security tech and began to see the mechanisms behind the curtain; the surprise and inevitable suspicion it led to coursed powerfully through Amanda. She had lived long enough–longer than most, certainly longer than all of her class–to enjoy the loss of what naivete and innocence remained in her talented young children.

Adding in a standing lamp, a subdued rug, and dimming certain quadrants of the ceiling’s lights made the otherwise cavernous salon seem far more intimate than it had moments ago. Amanda switched out her Manolo Blahniks for a pair of Louboutins that brought her closer to Jaden’s height. The feeling would be openess, accessibility, confidence–things in short supply in Division, and subtle tools to accomplish Amanda’s goals.

Amanda lit one candle, and tucked it into a holder on the coffee table; a slight stream of air from a hidden fan would make the flame flicker, promoting the closeness of the set. She took the chair from the make-up table, and set it opposite the settee. She sat down, crossed her legs, and allowed a small smile to sweep her face when the door chimed just then.

: : :

“Amanda,” said Caleb, Percy trailing behind him like a shadow. “So good of you to join us.”

She wore black-on-black, the only touch of color on her frame the natural hue of her hair and a slight sheen to her lips from the chapstick she applied. Amanda had just returned from an insertion in Myanmar, and the chill had chapped her lips.

“I trust your exfiltration went smoothly?” asked Caleb, pouring himself a class of whiskey, offering her a tumbler. She declined.

“The mission was completed,” Amanda said succinctly. She did not mince words.

Caleb smiled; it was an unsettling look for him. He motioned for her to sit, and took the leather-backed chair opposite her. Amanda sat upright, hands resting on her knees. She had already counting the objects nearest at hand that could be used as weapons; she had already identified the exit points. Amanda didn’t think the Director of Division himself invited operatives into his office to inform them of their termination, but there was a first for everything.

“Amanda, you are one of our most successful contemporary operatives,” Caleb said, sipping from his glass. “Your track record in Southeast Asia has been very impressive, and your work closer to home did not go unnoticed either. I have received many compliments on your behalf.”

Amanda nodded, once. Her eyes darted to Percy, who was standing in the corner like a statue; he didn’t acknowledge her glance.

Caleb set down his drink and leaned forward, drawing Amanda’s gaze back to him. He tapped the table between them once, the sharp sound ringing through the office, and said, “I’d like to offer you the opportunity to…change career tracks, shall we say.” He smiled again. “We have a more internal role for you to play.”

: : :

“Come in,” she said, her voice sibilant and welcoming. Jaden entered, looking as though her hoodie and sweatpants were armor for all the offensive hostility she was throwing off. Amanda gestured to the settee, watched as Jaden sat and planted her feet in what would have been a mannish stance mere decades ago.

“Am I being terminated?” Jaden said bluntly, eyes circling the room looking for exfil points or ways to put hands on a weapon before landing squarely on Amanda.

Amanda smiled. “Don’t be silly,” she said, resting her clasped hands on her knee. “You have nothing to worry about, at the moment. In fact, this is more of a…positive intervention.”

Jaden snorted quietly; when she had first arrived at Division she made noise in everything she did, eating, breathing, sleeping, walking. Now she could almost remain unseen in a shadowed corner; almost, but for Amanda’s eyes, and Michael’s.

“You have a great deal of potential, Jaden,” Amanda said, making her voice hard and implacable. “You could become a very talented, very sought after operative. Do you understand what that means?”

Jaden clearly bit back her first response, which pleased Amanda; that had taken six months of constant effort to reinforce.

“It means I’d have more control,” Jaden said, just as hard. “And I’d probably live longer.”

Amanda did not answer that understood query; but she didn’t deny its truth, either. Division operatives, for all the training they were given and investments made in them, were short-term projects. They had a shelf life of ten years, at best, if they weren’t moved into other, less independent, roles.

“Everyone you have ever met while in Division has undergone operative training,” she said instead. “Even Birkhoff was trained, despite being utilized in a different capacity from, say, Thom.” She watched Jaden’s eyes flicker at that; the girl would really need to undergo the emotional detachment rota once more. Amanda made a mental note. “But as Birkhoff exemplifies, there are ways to serve Division that do not rely solely on that training.” She swept her hands out, as if encompassing the whole of her salon, Division, and the world they worked in at once.

“I’ve brought you in to check your progress,” she continued, “and to offer a suggestion. If you truly wish to commit yourself to Division, as you have show willingness and capability to do, you might begin to take notice of your surroundings, of the workings of Division that you have access to, and consider how the choices you make now will affect the future you have been working towards.”

Amanda stood, letting her vantage speak for her. Jaden was unusually silent, staring at the flickering candle. Amanda took a step around her chair, letting her her heels click loudly. Jaden’s head shot up, and she almost stumbled getting to her feet.

“You may leave now,” Amanda said, and watched Jaden nod her head one too many times and scurry out the door.

: : :

Amanda stepped into her suite within Division; it was tasteful, if not to her taste (she was allowed to have taste now) and would require some redesign to truly suit her needs. She walked over to the closet and opened the door to find row after row of suits and dresses and skirts, a long line of shoes, a collection of accessories. She worked the clasps on her boots and stepped out of them, setting them aside to slide into a beautiful pair of green pointed Jimmy Choos.

When she stood in them, she looked at herself in the mirror and swiped her bangs from her face. The shoes matched her eyes.

Amanda reached for a dress and let her t-shirt fall to the floor.

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