Does anyone ever know when a major change is coming, one that will literally alter the course of your life? Are there clues or signals sent out by the universe that, to discerning eyes, will indicate that we should brace ourselves for the new shape of the future? Sometimes people later will recall that they “just had a feeling” but, of course, such recollections are suspect. It was Piaget who first introduced the idea that later knowledge is integrated into existing schemas in ways that sometimes make memories reflect something other than what actually happened. And if our memories are ever changing, then what does that mean for who we believe ourselves to be?
These were the thoughts occupying Agent Katerina Sevda as she began her second month of working at the FBI. While the job was new to her, the work itself was not. So, she amused herself by wondering if this was the start of something truly fresh or if it would end up being the same old thing. She certainly hoped not. The same old thing had practically killed her the last time. Of course, her boss waxed philosophic about how she was born to do this work, that Kat would make a difference in the world. Kat had heard it all before. She had once believed in something as idealistic as ‘destiny’ but now the word felt meaningless after the loss of life and the bits of darkness that seemed to swirl chaotically around her these days. As a result, she began her work at the FBI with just a hint of apathy, of wondering if she was correct in her assumptions.
Kat’s work at the FBI was fairly routine, just as she knew it would be for a while. Although her superiors in the agency mentioned that they may occasionally need for her to do some criminal profiling, Kat’s work mainly focused on psychological autopsies. Her task was to examine the circumstances of the death, retrospectively look at the person’s life and figure out what took place in this incident and what circumstances led to them. She would then extrapolate whether the offender acted alone and if he – and they almost always were men – left behind more victims. If the offender was still alive (a relatively rare circumstance thus far since most tended to kill themselves when it looked like they could no longer continue their murder spree), it was Kat’s job to try and determine where they were and how they could be caught. It was interesting work for the most part but, unlike in her previous position, the FBI didn’t seem to be in urgent need of her conclusions. As a result, there was a lot of down time.
In the past, Kat welcomed the times when she could catch up on her reading, take a leisurely lunch or even work out in the middle of the day but now too much time left her restless and in a precarious position. The dark thoughts, the ones that almost destroyed her, were still too much in evidence for her to give them the opportunity to crowd back into her mind. She had to keep her mind active in order to keep them at bay, so Kat started thinking. And, if they had still been alive to issue a warning, her parents would have said that the prospect of Kat thinking was always a dangerous one. Dangerous for who, only time would tell. The last time she had started thinking, it had gotten her drummed out of SHIELD.
It all started with the Battle of New York. You would think that an alien attack would have caused the human race to band together in order to become stronger but such an idea was hopelessly naïve, as Kat knew only too well. That thought didn’t take into account government bureaucracies, the illogical nature of fear, and the short-sightedness of the power-hungry who saw an opportunity. Thus, rather than uniting everyone, the Battle of New York had served mostly to keep people hopelessly divided. Of course, the usual petty criminal enterprises that tended to follow chaos were around but something was different this time.
Kat herself hadn’t truly noticed the change immediately. She was too involved in her own life until it all came crashing down around her in what she called The Incident eight months after the Avengers saved the world. Kat’s mind slipped over The Incident as quickly as she could. She didn’t need to relive that horror but suffice it to say that she was a different person after that weekend in January when she was attacked by armed terrorists. After she healed physically from her gunshot wound, SHIELD welcomed her back with open arms.
Kat appreciated the way her coworkers had helped her during her initial week back on the job. They’d been solicitous about her health, made sure she wasn’t doing too much, and frequently came by her office to lift her spirits. However, that lasted only a week as her coworkers got busier and expected that she would be fine. Kat wasn’t too fazed by this as she knew that grief tends to get short shrift in the workplace. That was why Kat was especially grateful for the subtle nurturing she got from Raya Martinez, her coworker who had morphed into a good friend. It was Raya who thoughtfully provided Kat with the Percy Jackson series to keep her occupied during her recovery.
The books served a dual purpose because they provided a carefree topic the two friends could discuss during their lunch hour. Or, at least, their conversations were usually carefree. Once Kat and Raya had a heated conversation about the appropriate way for Percy to kill a Hydra, given that the only way you thought the mythical creature could be killed – by chopping off one of its many heads – only served to make it stronger. Unfortunately, the two women had been in the cafeteria at the time and their intense debate attracted other colleagues to their table, many of whom had joined in. Finally, when the topic had been exhausted and everyone started drifting away, one of the younger agents at a neighboring table asked, “Hydra? Isn’t that supposed to be SHIELD’s worst enemy?” Both Kat and Raya had burst out laughing and walked away smiling.
Unfortunately, soon after this conversation, Raya was transferred to a remote location and Kat lost what she later realized was her touchstone to the living. Without Raya to nudge her out of her office, Kat’s mental health took a nosedive. She became lonely, morose and irritable. Left to her own devices, Kat’s thoughts turned dark. To keep herself from going crazy, she threw herself into her SHIELD work and barely even came up for food or sleep, not to mention fun. And that is when she started noticing the anomalies.
Because of her high ranking position in SHIELD’s PsyOps division and her personal history, Kat was given permission to investigate the organization that was behind The Incident. Her work on psychological autopsies served her well with this but what she found was baffling. There were hardly any clues to the identity of the group that had barged into the compound. The group seemingly left nothing and no one behind. Even the money trail had gone cold. Despite spending her every waking moment on the investigation, she still had no answers to her questions. How had a relatively unheard of group gotten the intel they needed to stage such a high-level attack? What were their goals? Why had no one taken credit? She kept running into brick walls as the mystery refused to unravel. One fateful day (had she seen the signs before?), Kat decided to share her frustrations with her immediate superior, Agent Jim Smith, to see if he had any fresh ideas.
Kat had known Jim for close to a decade, almost from the time she graduated from the Academy. Jim was so incredibly smart and friendly that she felt really lucky to have the opportunity to work with him. He’d hired her into his division immediately following her graduation. Kat had no doubt that it was partly due to his mentorship that she’d risen so far in the organization. Jim never failed to offer her a helping hand whenever he could and often pushed her to develop new skills. In moments of self-doubt, she wondered just why it was that he was so generous with her.
“So Kat, it’s kind of unusual for you to ask for a formal meeting. What’s up?” Jim asked on a Friday afternoon when she sat down in the chair across from his desk.
She smiled briefly, somewhat shocked to realize that a smile was something that rarely graced her face these days. “It’s just this damn organization!” Jim nodded understandingly. It was well known that Kat was interested in practically nothing else these days. “I can’t find anything on it. Every time I think I get a lead, I run into a brick wall. It’s like they’re ghosts!” she said angrily. “I don’t know what else to do.” As she spoke, a peculiar expression passed over Jim’s face.
Had this conversation occurred just a few weeks earlier, Kat would have missed it. For a full three months following The Incident, she had just been numb. She’d felt nothing and cared about little beyond finding those who were responsible for the nightmares from which she awoke screaming. However, after taking long walks in the parks that spring (the ones her colleagues and friends insisted she take) and spending hours in the company of Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff, Kat’s emotions began to return.
Instead of being angry that other people were happy or just contentedly living their lives, she started pretending she could feel their emotions. She began trying to figure out what they were feeling and then eavesdrop on conversations to see if she was right. Given Kat’s behavioral science background and her natural empathy, she found that she had gotten pretty good at reading people. Thus, while her days were spent in furious revenge for the dead, her nights were spent slowly rejoining the living. So when Jim’s face took on an expression she wasn’t expecting – was that satisfaction on his face? – Kat was taken aback.
“Kat,” Jim said gently. “Maybe you should consider letting this one go and start working on something new. No one could have looked harder or done a better job than you have but this group is clearly just too well hidden.” He stopped to see if she was listening or was going to argue with him. When Kat remained silent, he continued. “I wouldn’t worry though. Any group this well organized is one we will see again. I feel certain that you’ll get your chance to meet whoever is responsible.”
Kat just sat there feeling overwhelmed. All of a sudden, she remembered the many times that Jim had asked her to work on something else, all the projects that miraculously needed the assistance only she could provide. Surely, analyzing the personality profiles of Rising Tide hackers wasn’t something that needed the skills of a top level PsyOps agent! It was never blatant but, now that she was looking for it, she could clearly detect a pattern of Jim steering her away from this investigation. It was on the tip of Kat’s tongue to ask why he wanted her to fail but then she thought better of it because another thing that Kat learned during her time of grief was patience.