Do your work. Do it fast. Do it well. Don't mess up.
That's the mantra that every scientist here in COPAGO knows. Older operatives warn the new ones. Our leader is not a woman to be trifled with.
Her name is Dove Walker. Don't let the pretty-sounding name fool you; she's the complete opposite of the peace symbol she was named after. She's the scariest person I've ever met. I suppose I should say how ruthless she is, but that's just the point: she's ruthless half of the time, and merciful the other half. She's very unpredictable. If you get in trouble, you have NO idea whether she'll kill you, let you off, punish you, make you leave COPAGO, or do something you haven't even thought of yet. That's why she's scary. Well, that, and the fact that she always does her own dirty work. Killing, maiming, torturing. She does it all.
Have I mentioned that COPAGO stands for 'Company Of Powerful And Genius Outlaws'? No? Well, for good reason. The name sucks. But I guess we have enough of a reputation that people fear us even WITH the sucky name. Except…sometimes vastly different emotions are sent our way.
That's why, exactly sixty hours after the last peace meeting between the Big Four organisations, I'm still thinking about how we were reacted to at that meeting. Looks of disgust and fear are commonplace for us; looks of pity aren't. I received one myself when Dove was scolding me for speaking out of line. It was from an Archangel agent, and I don't know why he looked at me like that, but I'm not sure how I feel about it.
But I put it to the back of my mind and focus on my work. My speciality is hacking and computer science, though mostly the former. So I'm currently carrying out the task given to me by Dove Walker: building a supercomputer. And it's the hardest thing I've ever done. Luckily, Dove understands that; she's given me more time to complete it than I need. That's very unlike Dove, but I guess she's just giving me enough time to get it perfect. This supercomputer is going to be programmed to know everything in the world, even the things mankind itself doesn't know yet. Needless to say, this project is going to take a LOT of time and concentration.
For some reason, I feel like the first thing I'm going to ask it is if unicorns really exist.
As I fiddle with one of its circuits that isn't working properly, I hear a soft metallic grinding sound coming from nearby. I look sharply up and around my lab, though I'm not alarmed; I know exactly what that is.
"Aro," I breathe.
Sure enough, the robotic owl comes flying through the window, over my head, and lands on my workbench. I take off my work gloves and hurry over to my workbench, my eyes fixed on the owl that's about the size of both my hands put together. In its mouth is a rolled up piece of paper. I stroke Aro the robotic owl under his metal chin with my finger until he robotically opens his beak and drops the piece of paper.
I unfurl the scroll, and my heart skips a beat when I see the familiar looped handwriting.
I anxiously await the opportunity to see your beautiful face again. Meet me at the usual spot and bring Aro.
My heart skips another beat and I close my eyes as I lift the paper to my nose, taking in the scent of SG's sweet-smelling aftershave.
Then I fold it up and tuck it into my pocket, not wanting anyone else to find it. I turn to the owl, who seems to be watching me. Aro was created by "SG"; his name is actually an acronym for "Adorable Robotic Owl" but we both just shortened it to Aro and it stuck.
I give a short whistle, and he flies up and onto my shoulder like a real owl. I use my long white hair to cover him up, before leaving the lab and locking the door behind me.
I hurry down the corridors of COPAGO Tower, heading towards the stairs. I take them two at a time; I'm on floor 73 and the roof is floor 80.
Pushing open the door, I immediately spot the familiar figure standing by the railing, looking out at the view. I quietly close the door and slide the bolt across to make sure we're not disturbed. Then I free Aro, who takes off across the rooftop and lands on his shoulder, giving him a fright. He spins round and catches sight of me. Our faces both light up with smiles at the same time. I run across the rooftop and into his arms, breathing in the scent of aftershave that's his signature smell.
"Winter…" he whispers, kissing the top of my head.
I close my eyes and smile, feeling the warmth of his embrace and wishing we could do this more often. "Shaun…"
Shaun Garrick is a roboticist, responsible for building Aro and countless other robots that are used by COPAGO. We met on his first day; I took it upon myself to mentor him and make sure he didn't get himself killed within his first week.
The gaunt look in his eyes when I found him bleeding out in the bathroom still haunts me to this day. If I hadn't chased away the thugs attacking him, they would have killed him.
And I would never have fallen in love with him.
"Are you okay?" murmurs Shaun. "You're quieter than normal."
"I just want to soak up every moment I spend with you," I murmur back. "Since any meetup could be our last."
"Please don't think like that, Winter," Shaun urges, his arms—possibly unconsciously—tightening around me. "We will always find a way to be together, no matter what."
"Not if one of us is dead," I mutter.
Shaun gives a quiet chuckle. "Always the optimist."
The reason we go so well together is because we bring out the best in each other. Normally, I'm cold and I chase people away; Shaun melts my hard exterior and makes me more empathetic. Shaun on the other hand is shy and a drawn-in most of the time; I bring him out of his shell and allow him to be himself.
"I…I'm sorry, Shaun. You're right; we'll always be together." I smile again and pull back, looking into his beautiful brown eyes. "I just wish we didn't have to hide our relationship."
"I know." Shaun shakes his head, smiling sadly. "Don't worry; one day, we'll be free. I don't care how it happens. We'll be free to be together someday."
"Hopefully sooner rather than later," I chuckle weakly.
"Yes, preferably sooner," agrees Shaun, smiling.
I tilt my head up, my clear signal for Shaun to kiss me. So he does. Our hands caress each other's cheeks as we continue to kiss, wishing things could be like this all the time. We'd go out on dates, sleep in the same bed, hug and kiss whenever we want, and especially just take every opportunity to enjoy each other's company.
But right now, things are nowhere near as ideal as that. We both work most hours of the day, and when we're not sleeping, we only manage to meet up maybe twice a week, though our pattern of meetups has been pretty varied recently. Recently, we only meet up when we can, which isn't nearly as often as we want.
Young lovers should be able to meet whenever they want. After all, we're only young once. I'm currently twenty-four and Shaun is twenty-two. We're not going to be young forever.
"What do you want to do?" Shaun asks me softly, after we finally pull away.
I bite my lip regretfully. "I…I need to get back. Dove is coming in half an hour to see my progress on the supercomputer."
"Oh, of course."
My boyfriend looks and sounds just as disappointed as I feel, but there's nothing either of us can do; if I'm not there when Dove comes, there'll be big trouble.
I kiss him one more time, before reluctantly taking a step back. "I need to go. I'm so sorry."
Shaun looks like his puppy just died, but he still manages a weak smile. "Hey, wait. Take Aro and send me a message when you're next free." He takes the owl off his shoulder and hands it to me.
"What about you?" I ask. "You have a stricter schedule than me."
"If I need to send you a message, I'll call him back using his default switch back in my lab. So don't be worried if he just randomly leaves. But I'll work double time so that we can meet up again this week, maybe even tomorrow."
A real smile spreads over my face. "I love you so much, Shaun."
"I love you too," Shaun whispers, smiling bravely as he watches me walk away. "Stay safe."