His system connection locked back into place, and his HUD was flooded with messages. He minimised them all, except for one that flashed red. He maximised the window whilst taking in his surroundings.
A half dozen chat messages from Jones requesting status updates. A video chat appeared and he opened the connection. [Jones?]
The relief on his tech’s face was obvious. [Just checking in on you, Director, we had a few hurt in that blast, and you’ve been in a blackout. Are you injured, sir?]
Ryan touched his head, and allow the gesture to be captured by the video chat. [Nothing irreparable. Did we lose anyone?]
[We’ve still got blackout pockets, so we haven’t gotten back in contact with everyone. I’ll have a full report when you get back.]
[I appreciate it,] Ryan said and cut the chat.
Ryan put a hand to his head, took a deep breath, and tried to concentrate on anything but the image of Stef’s corpse.
Duty. He had his duty.
He ran back up the stairs, and initiated a voice chat with Jones. [Clean-up crew to my location. Now. Mirror shards and blood.]
[Only if you spare three of your recruits to babysit, sir, my kids aren’t cleared for this kind of action.]
[Agreed, but we need this contained.]
[Call me when they’re in place, I’ll get the team prepped.]
Ryan stepped back into the stairwell – there was no need to make himself an obvious target for anyone opportunistic enough to try and make a wish. He stared into his HUD, and brought up a map of his recruits. Most he couldn’t pull from assigned tasks and routes, that left the floaters.
Curt, unfortunately was a perfect choice for this kind of quick task – the young man adapted quickly to new circumstances, a quality the Solstice would have prided themselves for instilling.[Curt?]
The reply was nearly immediate. [Sir?]
[I’m going to shift you, I need you for a task.]
[Ready when you are, sir.]
Ryan paused for a moment, wondering if he was making his third mistake of the night. Curt was smart, quick and the kind of recruit suited to protecting techs.
He was also the kind of recruit he didn’t need around shards of mirror.
He cursed under his breath, and shifted Curt in. He pointed to the recruit as soon as he reintegrated. ‘We’ve got techs about to shift in.’
Curt nodded, then turned, started to walk towards the far edge of the building, and stopped. ‘Sir? Where’s Stef?’
He ignored the question, and turned away to look at his other floater options. [Recruit Harper, I need you to assist with a clean-up crew protection detail.]
[Give me sixty seconds.]
[Recruit Webb, I need you to assist with a clean-up crew protection detail.]
Webb took a few seconds to respond. [Yeah, okay.]
Ryan shifted Webb in, waited, then shifted in Harper.
[Jones, you can send in your recruits.]
Four recruits in lab coats, holding heavy bags of equipment appeared in the middle of the roof. ‘Recruits,’ he said, stepping forward towards the techs. ‘You know what to do.’ He looked to Harper. ‘South wall.’ He looked to Webb. ‘I need you to coordinate with your tech to get drone surveillance around this building, we need to know where to go next. Curt-’
Curt stood motionless, staring down at the roof. At the puddle of blood on the roof. At Stef’s blood. Ryan carefully dialled down his emotional output by a few more percent. He couldn’t appear to care. Recruits were expendable. If a recruit died, it didn’t matter. If a recruit went missing, they didn’t form rescue parties.
Anyone who was gone at the end of an operation was presumed KIA, and treated as such. With this much blood, there’d be no issue accepting Stef as dead.
Curt looked up, his face blank, his eyes cold. ‘Do we know who this belongs to, sir?’
Ryan shook his head. ‘We’ll have it analysed. Low priority. We need to deal with the mirror.’
‘I’ll get it,’ one of the techs – the one who liked to be called Raz – said, running towards Curt with a small kit. ‘I’m quick!’
The techs were already running around, making pieces disappear. Jones would have sent people he trusted. None of them would try anything against the Agency. None of them would be so selfish as to make a wish. None of them would take a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Harper flew past him, and off the edge of the building. A thought processed a shift for Harper, even before automated protocols could catch him, and brought him back up onto the roof.
Ryan looked to what had thrown his recruit like a doll and saw a mass of vines coming up over the edge of the building.
Purple flowers looked ghostly under the moonlight as the oversized bougainvillea nymph came up onto the roof.
Curt grabbed Raz and pushed him back towards the door into the building. Webb was already firing on the nymph, most of his bullets missing the nymphs constantly-moving vines.
Ryan looked down at Harper, saw three large thorns that had sunk into his arm and quickly shifted him to the infirmary. He heard shouting and looked around, seeing other fae on the roofs around them – more opportunists looking for wishes. More problems. More people who would have no problem killing an agent or a recruit to get to a piece of mirror.
In three seconds, the situation had deteriorated from acceptable to dire.
All because of his indecision. All because he had wasted time saving a life. All because-
A vine whipped around and wrapped around his chest, squeezing him tight. He broke from his thoughts, and forced himself to focus. If he didn’t focus, they were all dead.
The nymph threw him, and he smashed against air. Ryan blinked as he slid to the ground, realising that it was glass that he had hit. He looked around, and saw a large glass dome over the roof. It was clever thinking, it would hopefully buy them a few seconds.
He could buy them a few more. He initiated a voice-only chat with Jones. [Someone just required a dome, can you rig it with anti-red measures?]
[Already on it, Director.]
A wave of heat hit him as Webb changed to a flame thrower.
[Get your techs moving. I need one of them on each side of the roof – monitor the dome’s integrity. If they see anyone make it through, have them call it out.]
The fire was having some effect against the nymph – sections of the vines were dropping off, through replaced almost as quickly. It was unusual to see a plant fae on such a…berserker rampage, as their usual modus operandi was for a more subtle attack.
He shifted behind the centre of mass of the nymph, and emptied his clip into it. They key with plants was always to go for the root – most of the younger ones were so used to spending time in a human-like state that they didn’t learn how to disseminate their mind through their whole form, to keep themselves safer from attack, to give themselves more of a chance to live.
The nymph slowed, then shot a thick, thorn-covered vine out to wrap around him.
Thorns punched into his skin.
A tiny voice against the roar of the flame thrower and the creaking, groaning sounds of the moving vines.
All noise dropped away and he wondered if he was dying.
The pressure on his chest disappeared, and he slammed into the concrete of the roof. He looked up, unsure if he was ready to go at the nymph again, or to shift away for medical attention.
It was gone.
There was one more burst of fire, then no more sound.
Ryan coughed blood, but pushed himself to his feet.
‘Agent, are you ok?’
‘I’m fi-’ he started, but noticed the question wasn’t being directed at him.
Raz was helping Curt back up onto his feet, not easy, as he kept slipping in the puddle of blood. ‘Was that you, Recruit?’ Curt asked, wincing as he examined his arm.
Raz let Curt go, and wrapped his arms around himself. ‘It was going to kill you.’
Curt looked across at Ryan. ‘Good thing it wished itself away, right, Recruit?’
Raz nodded fervently. ‘Yup, yes, it was lucky.’
Curt put a hand on Raz’s shoulder. ‘Thanks, Recruit. Get your people on the rest of the clean-up.’
Raz nodded, and started to call to the other tech recruits.
Curt approached Ryan. ‘Are you all right, sir?’
Ryan wiped his bloody mouth on the back of his hand. ‘We got lucky. When they’re done cleaning up, we’re going to retreat.’
‘Sir,’ Webb said as he ran up, ‘drones can see more pieces of mirror on the ground level.’
‘Coordinate through tech to get combat in,’ Ryan said.
‘Sir, where’s Stef?’ Curt asked as Webb walked away. ‘She went in with you, and that was a lot of blood-’
‘We got separated during the blackout,’ Ryan said, hating how uncaring he sounded, ‘I don’t know where she is.’
Curt took a step back. ‘Yes, sir,’ he said shortly. ‘If you’ll excuse me.’ Curt walked away, hand to his ear piece, then disappeared a moment later.
Ryan walked to the other recruits. ‘Webb. I’ll send you back to your former position.’
‘Recruits?’ he said, addressing the technical recruits as a team. ‘How long?’
One of them turned suddenly, the bright blue light of a scanner blinding him. ‘Almost done. All the mirror destroyed, Raz got blood samples, we just have to get the north corner scanned in, then we’re good.’
Seconds ticked by, then the tech nodded to him. ‘We’re all good, sir.’
Ryan shifted the techs to safety, dismissed the protective dome and took a breath of fresh night air.
The blood was tacky now, and far messier than it had been, splashed about from where Curt had slipped in it.
Ryan covered his face with his hands, and despite the limited emotion he was allowing himself to display, and choked back a sob. He wiped at his eyes, took his emotional display down to five percent, refreshed his uniform, his skin, and tried to focus again.
The injuries from the nymph would need treatment, but they could wait.
He pulled up a map of the area, and shifted to the closest observation post – working to avoid thinking delayed the inevitable, but it was a respite he needed before being able to process everything.
He pressed a hand to his pocket, and felt the oubliette key. ‘I’ll be back,’ he whispered. ‘I promise.’
[table id=15 /]