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Kylie waited nervously in the gorgeously appointed room, wondering why she'd been summoned to his office. She was sure she hadn't done anything wrong - maybe someone had checked her OpNet habits, noticed that she had multiple accounts at GabeLover.op and someone had gotten concerned? It had happened before, and the young nova's lips set into an angry frown. She'd talk her way out of it if that was the case, and be more careful in the fut-

The large oak door opened, and Kylie's head snapped around. Pax stood framed in the entrance, his large body blocking most of the light. "Aura, come in," he said, moving to one side to give her room to slip in. "Have a seat."

Swallowing hard, Aura selected one of the two chairs in front of the massive desk. Sitting slowly, she watched Pax move to his seat behind the desk. She couldn't help but contrast this visit with her other visit, when he formally welcomed her. That time, he had taken a seat on this side of desk; the change was disconcerting.

"Aura, I don't like doing this," Pax said evenly. "In fact, it's my least favorite part of my job. But it has to be done. I'm going to ask you questions, and I need you to answer them truthfully."

"Of course," Kylie answered, adding quickly, "I've done nothing wrong."

Pax's head tilted, as if he were uncertain about her announcement. But he said nothing about it, merely picking up a piece of paper and asking, "On Friday, March 28th, did you attend a party at the Blackburn Hotel?"

"Yes," Kylie said without hesitation.

"Even though the Blackburn Hotel is rumored to be a Teragen hotspot?" Pax asked, his eyes drilling into hers.

Kylie blinked, her mind running through the clues until she came to a realization. "Cestus Pax, am I going to be punished because I give short-shrift to rumor-mongering?”

“Just because something is a rumor doesn’t make it invalid,” Pax said sternly. “Regardless, you’re not being punished for that; you’re being reprimanded for failing to use good judgment. Even if it was just a rumor, you should have done further research and realized that the Blackburn exists only because Project Utopia cannot prove that it’s tied to the Teragen. It is no rumor, Aura, but unproven truth.”

“I didn’t know, sir,” Kylie answered tightly, her heart thudding in her throat. “Surely it’s unfair to punish me when I didn’t realize the truth.”

“Unfair to expect that you think about what you do, and the ramifications it will have on you and others?” Pax asked sternly. “If you are to act as a member of Team Tomorrow – a prospect which is damaged by this… stunt – then you have to learn to think critically and use sound judgment. You did not display such by going to that party. Do you understand?”

There was nothing for Kylie to do but nod and say hoarsely, “Yes, sir.”

Pax slid the letter across the desk to her, turning it so that it was upright for her. The Project’s letterhead flared in the left corner of the page, while Team Tomorrow’s logo was in the right corner. “This letter states that you understand what you did that was wrong, and out lines the disciplines being taken. You have lost the right to leave the Addis Abba campus for leave for the period of one month, and your training period for Team Tomorrow has been extended by three months. During that extra time, you will be schooled in critical thinking skills and Teragen profiling, the better to learn to your enemy and how to make wise decisions regarding that enemy.

“You will sign here, to indicate that you understand the contents of this letter, and that you will willingly abide by the disciplines listed.”

With a shaking hand, Kylie signed the paper; part of her mind focused on the fine feel of the linen paper before Pax took it back. Pax signed below her, under another short statement that advised any readers that he had personally coached her and witnessed her agreement to the terms. The silence was thick as he called a secretary into the room. “Make three copies of this; put the original in Aura’s permanent file and give one copy to her when she leaves.”

Turning back to Kylie, he said, “Any questions, Aura?”

“No.” It was a strained whisper.

“Then you’re dismissed,” he said, and didn’t even watch her leave.

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