Words. So many words.
Condolences. Apologies. Jokes. Shared sympathies.
He had done nothing wrong. No blame. Accident. He was innocent.
She was too good to die in an accident.
Taylor crushed the neck of the next bottle, brought the sharp edges to his lips and drank.
No bargain. No chance. Nothing.
She had died.
She hadn’t come back.
There was nothing that could bring her back.
He stared at the wall.
They were watching him. Monitoring him. There was a scholar in his head, watching for unacceptable actions.
Ryan kept visiting.
Jones had tried to talk to him.
Merlin had visited. The reader had hugged him, despite his best efforts.
O’Connor had brought him more drink.
Mimosa had sat awkwardly in front of him, babbled intermittently, then opened all of his bottles, treated each with blue, and then in a rush.
He’d lost less blood after that.
Grigori had respected his wishes to stay away.
He held Magnolia’s knife.
He stared at the wall.
He refused to see anything but his HUD. Anything but memories of Magnolia.
There was a knife in his hand. Magnolia’s knife. Good knife.
He made a swift movement.
There was a knife in his heart. Magnolia’s knife. Good knife.
He twisted the knife.
He felt himself die.
Things didn’t end.
His mind floated.
He was standing.
He looked down at his own corpse.
All noises had ceased.
With rare exceptions, the Agency was never truly quiet – there were the sounds of recruits, of machines, of the processes of life. Nothing remained, except the white noise of electricity.
Taylor stared, thoughts coalescing in a way they hadn’t done for days.
He wiped the blood from the knife on the uniform of his corpse, slipped it into its sheath, and walked through the Agency.
It took time to do a floor-by-floor search, but each floor was as empty as the last. There were no agents. There were no recruits. Most of the…things on each floor had disappeared along with their owners.
Rooms that had been offices were empty except for their four walls. Equipment faded before his eyes, or vanished as he turned his back.
There were no answers as he tried to contact other agents through his HUD, despite the lie that the system was operating within normal parameters, and the list of agents he deigned to keep on his quick-access list of allies showed them as online and available.
Something was wrong, and it was far beyond a normal emergency.
As wrong as everything was, there was also indescribable relief.
Everything was wrong, therefore Magnolia wasn’t dead.
It had been an anomaly. It had been unacceptable that she’d died due to an accident.
Reality finally aligned with what he he knew was correct.
He gripped the sheath around the knife.
He reached the door to the roof, kicked the door out, and walked across to the edge of the building – a view from a height would give him the reconnaissance he needed.
The view looked to be normal.
The view wasn’t normal.
He looked at the skyline again, and saw some buildings had doubles in the distance. Unusual. Wrong. A clue.
There were no cars. No people. He was alone.
He touched Magnolia’s knife again.
The world was wrong. She wasn’t dead. He’d been tricked.
Getting back through the Agency was a lot quicker than the initial check. He went back to his corpse. It, unlike everything else in the slowly-disappearing world, had remained. It was the only place to gather any supplies, so it needed to be used.
Weapons from the pockets. Small rations. Spare magazines. He rolled the body, removed the jacket, and tied it around his waist – if temperatures dropped, he would need the extra warmth. He also stripped away the purposely-long belt – it could be used as a restraint, a climbing aid or a makeshift weapon. It was useful.
He lifted his corpse’s hands and used them to cover his eyes. A strange gesture. A useless gesture. A point of respect for a dead agent, even if that dead agent was himself.
Leaving the Agency was easy. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t where his wife had died. It wasn’t where everything had been lost.
He jogged across the CBD – an easy pace that allowed him to keep an eye for any clues, but there were none to be seen. Store fronts held empty shops. Restaurants held no food or employees.
He increased the pace of his jog.
There was a light fog in the air ahead of him. Beyond the shimmering boarder were buildings that did not belong in their current positions.
There was a chance it was a kill barrier.
Taylor allowed himself a short, sick laugh. He’d condemned himself once already, a second time was much easier.
He stepped slowly through the mist – there was no pain, just a slight, static feeling.
The city behind him disappeared.
It hurt to look at – he was looking at nothing, at absolute nothing. Nothing where something had been. Nothing where a lot had been.
The blackness seemed to suck on his eyes, and he had to turn away.
A few steps into the new city area, everything seemed normal again. There were people, there was traffic. Trade and commerce were taking place, the buildings – relative to each other – were positioned as they should be.
He double-checked his position, and walked quickly – jogging in uniform would be suspicious – towards the Agency.
An Agency that did not exist.
The area was correct. Exact. All of the surrounding buildings were as they should be. The street had compressed slightly on one side, cutting out the area where the Agency should have been.
He made a quick study of the surrounding blocks. Creek Street had all of its buildings, Eagle Street was fine. All the buildings. All the stores. No Agency. No agents. No recruits.
There was not enough intel. Assumptions had to be made.
It had to be assumed that the area he was in was like the area he had come from – appearing to be real, but not. It also had to be assumed that there was another real person – someone who would remain after the…background players disappeared.
It would be ideal if the other person was an agent.
The afternoon was nearly gone – dying light bathed the area. The flow of people remained steady though. It was like a training sim – the automated programs going on about their business without interference.
There was no way to leave a message for anyone else who might pass by the Agency.
Rally points were the other logical place to check – if it was only one person, then they could blend in at a rally point without issue – the same remained true if it was a small group. More allies were better than fewer. Even techs would be acceptable at this point.
The closest rally point was the square where some recruits took lunch breaks. Close to the Agency, close enough to get back on foot in short order during an emergency.
It was full of civilians who could leave work before five – flows of civilian foot traffic splitting to take the topside route around the green area, or the underground route through the stores.
It would be someone stationery – moving about like this would be less efficient, would have a greater degree of chance that they would be overlooked.
He was jostled by a running civilian, and he moved to a more out of the way position.
He looked at each face in turn – most were business people in non-Agency suits, on phones, or eating hurriedly. There were a few relaxing teens, several people who had to be students, no one that he recognised. No one that backed up his theories.
He moved to the left of the square, and started for the pedestrian overpass that went towards Central station – it would be possible to check a few more rally points before having to consider bunking down for the night – as the agent or recruits in control of this area would.
Background players or not, there was always the chance of fae, Solstice, or worse. Everything was unknown, and given the lack of system connection, there was no harm in tactical caution.
He gave the square one more look.
There was a figure half-obscured by garbage bins, one of the few he hadn’t done a check on.
They were moving now, making the small motions of someone gathering up their things – they stood, fighting with a bag and a too-large shirt.
It was Mimosa.