James' sentinel change had occurred three years before, at the moment when some hoodie intent on slicing him from ear to ear had kick started a remarkable process.
Since then James, a slender individual, 6 foot , 10 stone 3 and wirey often recalled his moment of metamorphosis. He had discovered an ability to 're-structure' his molecular level self according to need. He didn't know how but if he chose to be as hard as stone, or to concentate his core strength to key areas of his body he just could.
At first it had scared the the hell out of him but gradually, over the three years, he'd come to accept it and to explore what exactly he could do and control. He'd never told anyone of his strange abilities and didn't intend to.
This was potentially a problem as six months prior he'd passed entry selection into a publicly hidden division of MI6, Strategic Asset Control (SAC). Tomorrow, following the assembly of the rest of the team he was due to begin his first training package for covert observation and turn-management. Inevitably he knew this would mean close physical and mental assessment - just the kind of attention he hated. For him this route into an exciting and dangerous world represented a paradox of emotional need.
Esther Launden was shrewd. Watchful, acute and one of the few cold-war team surviviors; she kept her gaze pointedly on James. "An odd one" she thought, "dangerous, calm and utterly detesting the teams' constant observation and analysis". She'd initally voted against his inclusion in SAC Division, arguing her gut that he'd prove to be unmanageable and problematic. Eventually out-ranked she conceded but determined to examine her uneasy feelings by keeping a particular eye on him.
Esther was leading the AI lab tasks and it was James' turn to play the game. Through the viewing portal she watched James standing in the middle of a completely empty room. Calm. "How did he stay so calm? Everyone appeared clam, granted but the digital stats don't lie. Heart rate, remote brain telemetry and body measurement rythums all remained flat, constant. She's always noted some flicker of tension even in the room pre-testers who knew what was coming and yet nothing - a bloody robot". She spoke into her headset, "You set Mr Gregory?". "A huh" came the quiet reply. "Lights out, then the environment will fade in - remember where looking for observational response. You'll be de-briefed afterwards by Culloch."
In the room James' vision disappeared, lights out time. He waited, aware of every moment of his body and gradually the environment did 'come-up', revealing a library, people moving, some sitting. He thought carefully before taking a chair and sitting down - time for some fun.
"Cocky sod" Esther said out loud. "What's that?" asked Director Goddand. The Director had entered the observation suite unnoticed by Esther, which was unusual in itself as she rarelt missed anything. "I said he's a cocky sod, just sitting and waiting for the AI to 'come to him'. Most operatives start wandering the simulation as soon as it starts. He wants us to prod him."
The Director said nothing more and just watched.
Inside James was scanning, he knew they'd have to provoke him soon and he was buggered if he'd do the wandering. As if on cue Culloch drifted into his line of sight and began browsing the shelves of books in front of him. Of course James knew it wasn't the 'real' Culloch as everything was artificially generated in here aside from him. AI Culloch pulled a book from the shelf "Entreatment to Arms", flicking the front cover open he covertly extracted a thin syringe from the inside hollow.
James had watched AI Culloch's movements despite his back now turned from him. His body language had looked awkward, not that of a browsing page flicker, something was not quite right. At last his calm state had reason to become excited.