Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The man sitting in the waiting room looks like a typical, middle-aged office worker. His suit might be his best rather than his daily wardrobe, but from freshly-shined shoes to carefully slicked-back hair, he’s a shining example of average as portrayed by media outlets for decades.
Cleon, the new recruit, turns from the one-way panel.
“Why on earth did the powers that be call this Joe in?”
Taram, the one tasked with mentoring Cleon, sighs.
“If you’d read the briefing pack delivered to your preferred device this morning – another of the ones I said should be read before you arrive at your first designated location each day – you wouldn’t need to ask.”
Cleon waits. Taram offers nothing more. With a start, Cleon pulls out his phone and scans through the briefing pack.
Taram smiles. At least the new dork is a quick reader.
“Correct. Mister average is Bernard Royus.”
Cleon looks back at Bernard, then down at his phone, trying to reconcile the two extremes.
“He’s so, so…”
Cleon nods.
“We think it’s deliberate. He doesn’t stand out, except for being an early adopter of synthetic prostitutes. Which, when you factor in his unique nature, is no surprise.”
“Is he aware?”
“We’re sure not. We’re also convinced he’s subconsciously guided in some things, for example: intimacy partners. Anything that could conceivably betray what he carries is behaviourally managed to mitigate even a slight risk.”
“Yet we’ve left him free to wander about?”
“You wouldn’t believe the number of people he interacts with who are members of this department. From those who collect the bins he throws anything away in to those who intervene to ensure any bodily soil is contained. This man is the single biggest mission we’ve ever had.”
“Agent Cleon Daniel, think it through, and do it openly. Consider this a mission exam.”
Cleon swallows. Exams are unarguable. You pass or you get transferred somewhere you can’t be a risk. Sometimes that’s a graveyard.
“Bernard came to our attention after a road accident in Devon. His car was found blown to pieces about him, but he was apparently unharmed, apart from having no memory of the previous week. That gave us the excuse to call him in for irregular ‘check-ups’.
“His body is permeated with microscopic machines. The term ‘picotech’ has been coined to describe them. Nothing like them have ever been encountered anywhere else. Some of the materials they are made from do not appear in the periodic table. The postulation initially made as a joke has been reluctantly accepted as fact: what’s in him came from an extra-terrestrial source.”
Cleon snaps his fingers.
“That fact changes how we handle this. Such advanced technology and stealth, but we have no visible opponent. We’re in the dark. All we can do is limit the exposure to what he carries and disseminates. Everything that comes from him has to be securely contained to limit the spread of the picotech into the environment.”
He puts his phone away.
“We’re waiting. Something modified Bernard Royus. Was he intended to be a Typhoid Mary, a hub, some other form of infiltrator, or is he an experiment in his own right? We simply don’t know. We have to make sure Bernard lives a contained life. On top of all that, there’s the possibility he was meant to be discovered.”
Taram nods.
“Well done. That last possibility is the scariest thing. Many fail to pick up on it.”
Cleon sighs.
“Justified fear of the unknown. Terrifying.” He grins: “Exhilarating.”
Taram smiles. Cleon is going to fit right in.