September 24th


Curt opened his eyes, rolled over and looked to the phone on his bedside table, and grabbed it as the alarm went off. He silenced it, and the room went back to semi-darkness, lit only by the lights of the few electronics.
‘Computer, lights.’
Require: lights.
He closed his eyes as the lights came up. He lay back on his pillows for a moment, staring into his eyelids before braving the harsh brightness.
His arm still hurt – pain was a usual part of Agency life. Pain that lasted after a trip to the Parkers was a lot more unusual. He sat up and looked at the injury – it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Wasn’t as bad as it should have been.
A wish. Someone had made a wish for his sake.
He didn’t deserve it.
The bite had been deep, had stung, had felt…unnatural. It had taken both doctors to strip away the quickly-spreading plant gunk, and then Parker had cleaned the wound – stripping away large patches of infected skin, which he promised would grow back within a day.
He could have slept in, but there was no point – it would throw off his routine for the rest of the week, and he could always nap later if he felt the need – the day after a major operation was usually pretty dull, all non-essential activities were pushed back, and the usual events of the day, like training, didn’t occur at all.
He threw back the quilt, stood, made the bed with a thought – the other recruits had rooms that took care of themselves, but they’d only turned on the barest few basic subroutines for his room – another way of telling him he didn’t belong, that he didn’t deserve the usual comforts of the Agency, that he had to work for what he had. He went to the bathroom, relieved himself, then opened his shower door, and positioned his head under the shower and turned on the water for a few seconds.
It was enough to ensure he was awake, and to beat back any ideas of going to back to sleep. He wrapped a towel around his shoulders and let he water drip down his short hair as he took stock of himself in front of the mirror. All the scratches and bruising had disappeared, and all that remained was the well-wrapped wound on his arm. He pressed his fingertips to it, then quickly pulled them away – poking it made it hurt even more.
He grabbed the front of his T-shirt and required it away, hoping again that his tattoos had disappeared overnight. He looked down at himself, saw the black ink, then required a fresh uniform. He held his breath as the fabric slid over his skin, watching in the mirror to ensure that it was black and blue, not grey. He released his breath slowly, towelled his hair, and tidied it with a requirement.
He dismissed the towel, then stepped back out to main area of his quarters.
He pulled open his fridge and looked in at the leftovers. A small baggie of candy that the newbie had shared with him, half a dozen bottles of cheap gnomish beer, a wedge of cheese he’d required on his first day to test the theory that required food never rotted when stored, and a container of brikni, probably a little past its expiration date. He reached in, touched the container and dismissed it, then closed the fridge, and required a breakfast muffin with extra bacon.
He paused, then required a small, rich hot chocolate – a small treat for surviving, even if he hadn’t come away unscathed.
Curt sat at his desk, and tapped the mouse to bring the computer back to life. He clicked through a few standard emails – planned outages of various systems that didn’t affect him, except for the elevators, though he doubted he was going to need to use the lift at two in the morning for the next three nights. There was an invite to the tech recruit movie night of the week – he wasn’t on the standard mailing list, but Raz insisted on forwarding it to him anyway.
He finished off the muffin, wiped his mouth, then required the casualty list – which was still marked as being “in progress”. Confirmed deaths and confirmed injuries – KIAs and on-going treatments would be in the final list.
Only two deaths so far – both combat recruits, which was on the “acceptable” part of the spectrum, and minor injuries sustained by two dozen recruits, with only two requiring overnight observation. His arm twinged, so he set his computer to sleep again, then left his room and walked towards the infirmary.
The halls were empty, which wasn’t surprising, most of the other recruits would take every opportunity to get another hour to two in bed – whether it was sleeping, or revelling in being alive with another recruit.
Curt stopped in front of the newbie’s room. Something was wrong. He closed his eyes, then opened them again, trying to take in the image afresh. The door was the same colour as every other door, the numbers were the same.
The lock was missing. He stepped forward and ran his finger over it – the silver doorplate was there, the round handle was there, but the lock was missing. The locks meant little on their own – they were more a symbol for recruits to feel safe, no one actually used a physical key for their room. A lock on a doorplate simply meant there were user permissions set up for the room.
No lock meant no recruit was due back.
A cold feeling settled in his stomach. It was pointless, but he knocked anyway. If she was going to quit, she would have waited until the morning. If she was going to quit, she would have done it after the monster, or getting shot.
He knocked again.
They’d closed out the room overnight, when if, had she simply quit, it would have been very, very low on the list of priorities.
‘Dammit, newbie.’
Curt kept his face neutral, not wanting to think about Ryan’s reaction to his questions about Stef.
Couldn’t contemplate that the newbie had died and the man she was trying to impress didn’t give half a shit. Couldn’t think that Ryan was such an uncaring prick.
If she was dead.
Plenty of blood where there should have been a recruit, and a room closed out. Circumstantial evidence had pointed to death, but he needed confirmation.
His arm twinged, and he grabbed the wall for support.
Dead newbie or not, he needed painkillers first.
He turned towards the infirmary. It was possible she’d quit. Possible that one of the techs had done the job of closing out the room.
He pulled his Agency phone from his left coat pocket and booted up Vox, the casual menus displaying as he wasn’t tapped on any surveillance or mission duties. The front tab showed his empty friends list, the second tab showed public chats, the third showed an available list of recruits and agents to contact.
He scrolled quickly to the M section, and saw no sign of “Mimosa, Stef”. When someone quit, there was an icon, and a redirect to a civilian email address or phone number for the following week.
The cold feeling spread. ‘Fuck.’
He went through the door of the infirmary, saw the Parkers fucking against the glass window of their office, and sat on his usual bed and waited for them to finish and notice him.
After fifteen minutes, he reached over the side of the bed, and hit the nurse call button.
He heard a thud of bodies, then his Doctor skipped from the office, a new uniform over a sweaty body, his fair the perfect post-sex tousle. ‘You rang,’ Parker intoned deeply.
‘If you can spare five minutes.’
‘You are welcome to join in,’ Parker-2 said as he required away Curt’s sleeve. ‘We have included special guests on occasion, and you walk in so often it would seem to be almost deliberate.’
The words just rolled over him – his Parker’s greetings were always the same, a line about sex, or a line about death. Getting invited into a threesome was a better offer than offering up his kidneys or liver “for science”.
‘Hey, doc?’ Curt asked as Parker-2 discarded the old bandages.
‘Do you want to be distracting me while I have a scalpel in my hand?’
He looked down and saw the doctor levering away a gunky green scab. ‘I take your point.’
Parker-2 stripped the dressings from the wound and made approrpriately-doctory sounds of contemplation. ‘Looks good,’ Parker said. ‘It’s cleared up a lot quicker than I thought – you were really lucky, Curt.’
He twisted his head to get a better look at the wound – what had only been a long, bloody gash down his arm was now fetid and green. ‘This is easy?’
‘It’s surface only, and I’ve halted the growth, if it had kept going, it would have slowly covered you, and would have rotted from there. We would have had weeks to remedy it. The nasty version is roots growing straight to your heart, you choke and die in a few minutes.’ Parker pulled away the last of the scab, then sprayed the area with something, coated it with cream, then bandaged it again and shook a small bottle of these. ‘Two every hour, including at bedtime, they won’t interact with your sleeping pills, I checked, and come back this afternoon to get your dressing changed.’ Parker-2 paused. ‘It really could have been much worse.’
‘I know. A second more and- Less good. Let’s just say less good.’
‘Some nymphs do enjoy eating the occasional human, I’m sure you’re tasty enough.’
Curt forced a smirk. ‘Never had a complaint.’
‘Complaints usually cost extra, Recruit. Unless you’re my better half, then they’re par for the course.’ Parker’s face twitched into a smile, then let out a long breath. ‘You lived, you should go get laid, treat yourself. Get a nymph girl and, you know, take revenge, and eat her.’ Parker winked. ‘If she’s into that, of course.’
‘So I’m free, or what?’
‘Is patience really so impossible for you?’
‘Is not harvesting organs without permission so impossible for you?’
Parker grinned. ‘One can always find uses for an unloved kidney.’
Parker was a good first source of information. ‘Did we lose people last night?’
‘It was a mirrorfall, of course we did.’
‘Your first?’
‘No. Second. There’s been three here since this Agency was founded. Ryan’s the only one who saw them all.’
Curt gave his doctor a neutral look. ‘I’ll be back this afternoon.’
Parker-2 gave a shrug, then walked back towards his office, and his still-naked twin.
Curt pulled out his phone and scrolled through the Vox list of techs – it was no surprise that most of them were still up, those that had been part of the op would probably start dropping off mid-morning, if at all. Caffeine could do strange things to a person.
And strange people liked caffeine.
Strange people who were probably dead.
He punched the entry for Raz, and raised it to his ear.
‘Lord and master of all you- Shit- Hi, Agent C, what’s up?’
‘You in the lab, Raz?’
‘Yes sir.’
‘I’ll be up in a minute.’
‘Yes sir.’
Curt ended the call, slipped his phone back into his pocket and dismissed the cup. He sighed, ran his fingers through his hair, and headed for the elevator.
The labs were on a separate floor to the computers-and-surveillance part of the tech department – probably more due to the fact that there were not-infrequent explosions that came from the labs, rather than a lack of space.
He stepped out of the elevator and saw Raz’s head poking out of a door halfway up the hall. ‘Up here, sir.’
Curt took a breath, put his best agent face on, and walked purposely up the hall. Raz pushed open the door to the lab, and let him pass.
A wall of monitors held images of blood, geek-speak and cartoons. Situation normal for any given tech.
‘What have you got for me, Recruit?’
Raz gave him a small smile. ‘A lot, but I think you’re talking about the blood.’
Curt nodded.
‘We had fifty-three samples last night and early this morning. Fifteen we were able to ID straight away, thanks to tracking blue. Four belonged to Magnolia.’
‘Recruit, don’t make me drag it out of you.’
‘Yes sir. That blood was ID’d, sir. The blood belonged to Recruit Stef, sir.’
Curt let out the breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding. It wasn’t a shock, it was just confirmation. Logically, the blood had to have been newbie’s. Logically, the probability tables of taking an untrained recruit into a high-rated field operation.
‘There was a lot, wasn’t there? I mean, I know there was, I fucking slipped in it. But-‘
‘People are ugly bags of mostly water. Well, blood. But even then, there’s only so much. If she didn’t get pretty immediate medical attention, then- Then the KIA stands.’
‘The KIAs weren’t on the list I just saw.’
‘Jonesy released the final list ten minutes ago. He said everyone’s back who’s coming back, so it was time to tally it all up. Recruit Stef’s KIA.’
Ryan had gotten her killed, and it was unacceptable.
Stef was dead. There was anger, he expected that. He hadn’t known her well enough to grieve – but anger was okay. Anger that she’d been taken into a field situation an idiot could tell she couldn’t handle. Anger that someone had picked such a weak target and killed her. Anger that another chance for friendship was gone.
Raz’s voice came out small and scared. ‘Sir?’
‘What?’
‘You okies?’
‘I’m angry,’ he said. ‘But I’m ok.’ He scratched at his head. ‘I know I don’t want to ask this, but…footage? I hate KIAs, because we know damn well half the time the people are alive. If Solstice took her, then, okay she’s probably a corpse, but sometimes we have fae who will rescue somebody for a favour or…hells, did I hear there was a god running around last night?’
‘Mags kinda yelled at him.’
‘Raz-‘
‘I looked, sir, there was nothing. It happened in the middle of that big blackout we had. There were no drones in the area, which is our fault, she was with the Director, and we should have had some eyes on the Director-‘
‘Are you in charge of drone locations, Recruit?’
‘Wasn’t last night.’
‘Then stop feeling guilty. So there’s no footage? It’s pretty hard to disappear-’
‘Unless you’re Agency or fae-‘
‘So if we can at least see a body truck or something- A bit of closure, you know.’
‘Nothing.’
‘We can look-‘
‘I already did, sir. All the closest drones, some civvy cameras. Nothing. It was right in the middle of all those shards, so someone might have made a wish to kill any Agency personnel they could see.’
Or the shattering mirror had been what had killed her.
The thought came so naturally. It was a decent theory – the edges of the shards were sharp enough to cut skin, one flying at speed could have done enough damage to generate the blood he’d seen.
Blood that shouldn’t have been there from a newbie who should have been a tech.
‘Sir?’
‘Thanks for your work, Recruit,’ he said, clapping Raz on the shoulder. ‘I appreciate it.’
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