This time, when she logged onto the HQ network, there was someone waiting for her.
Jasmine's parents considered it a bad habit of hers, the way she spent at least an hour a day browsing the PPC's communication systems, but she felt it was important. Things had changed in HQ since Dafydd and Constance had been Agents; there was a definite movement towards the authoritarian, and she didn't like it one bit. So she kept an eye on them, and was actually in contact with a few Agents she knew through her parents. If she'd expected to meet anyone in the virtual reality simulation, it would have been them.
The figure who sauntered towards her was a youngish man, dark hair, a neatly trimmed beard, a gun in his hand that looked both antique and futuristic. "Hello, Comrade," he said in a distinctly English accent. "I've been watching you."
Jasmine blinked. In the real world, she tapped a few buttons on her wrist interface, an automatic response. Then she frowned and glanced down. Naturally, it wasn't visible in virtual space. "What have you done?" she demanded.
The figure shrugged. "Nothing permanent," he said. "I just wanted to talk to you, and couldn't have you running off."
Jasmine bit her lip. She may be only twenty, and living in a low-tech society besides, but she'd studied enough to know that what this person had done was supposed to be impossible. No use saying that, though. "Who are you, then?"
The figure seemed to consider this. "You can call me Moh," he decided. "I was sent here on a mission some time ago, but my employer had to terminate our contract, so I just hung around."
"And now you spend your time haunting the network?" Jasmine surmised. Moh smiled a thin smile.
"You might say that. You might very well say that."
Jasmine suddenly noticed that the virtual environment had changed. Instead of the usual abstraction of the PPC's data network, she found herself in a strangely electronic-looking forest. A line of tiny black creatures wound past her foot, not ants but ANDs. She shook her head, glanced back at Moh. "And this?"
"This is my garden," Moh replied. "It's not much, as they say, but it's mine. I don't often invite people in."
"I'm flattered," Jasmine replied dryly. "What is it you want from me?"
"About three years," Moh said mildly. Jasmine blinked, and he nodded. "Very good, I was hoping you'd listen before reacting. What do you know about the Black Cats?"
Jasmine frowned and shook her head. "Means absolutely nothing to me," she said. "Are they bad luck?"
"They most certainly are," Moh replied. "The Black Cats tried to destroy the PPC more than twenty years ago. They failed, obviously."
"Obviously," Jasmine agreed. "I'm still waiting to hear how this requires three years of my life."
"They had a young woman with them," Moh went on, ignoring her. "Actually they had a lot of young women, but this one in particular caught my eye. I ran some simulations, and it turns out that without her there, the Cats would have won. Someone would have died who didn't, some people would have been in different places... it's all very complicated."
"What does this have to do with me?" Jasmine asked, but warily, since she already had an inkling.
"Ah." Moh shook his head. "It was quite a surprise when you first started coming onto the network, I almost didn't believe it. Here I'd been musing over this woman, contemplating the power of the right person in the right place, and then all of a sudden... she appears."
Jasmine shook her head. "It wasn't me," she said. "I wasn't even born when this happened, I'm-"
"Jasmine Sims," Moh interrupted. "Twenty-three years old, second in command of the Black Cats' Scout division. Sometimes called 'the girl from the future'. Participated in the invasion of Headquarters in 2006 HST, but I lost her before the end." He raised an eyebrow. "Tell me, Miss Illian, have you ever wanted to travel through time?"
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