Black and white were horrible for urban camouflage.
Grey was far better, but grey wasn’t her colour.
Magnolia straightened herself from her crouch, flexed, then quickly walked along the roof’s edge to her next monitoring point.
It was still quiet. The uneasy quiet of a night that was going to go to shit within a couple of hours. They needed backup, but as usual, it had been declined.
She’d known almost as soon as Jones had known – there was a definite advantage in having Merlin for a friend. It had allowed her to put certain plans into action, to guide several training sessions, to do a quick catch up on the skills of her recruits. All without bothering Taylor, of course, the information was of no use to him until it was time to act on it.
Once the information had become public knowledge, however, Ryan had immediately argued against getting in extra personnel, stating his tired-but-perfunctory faith in the Combat Division – a loud argument had resulted in being able to pull in back up personnel from their Outposts to run the perimeter, allowing properly-trained recruits to actually do the necessary work.
It was a trade-off, and one she would never agree with: they were a shit Agency, all the numbers reflected that, and the only way to avoid scrutiny that could have all of the Agents recycled was to stay under the radar and at least not have their competence on show.
A fresh slate was what the Agency needed. A new Director at least – Combat’s usefulness was beyond question, and the techs were well-managed, but they needed a Director who wasn’t pulling double-duty as Field Agent, to the detriment of both roles.
It was within her power as Aide to push the issue further, to call in an Enforcer, or to request a full investigation.
A full investigation might have all of the Agents recycled, and Taylor was an unacceptable loss.
She put a hand to her earpiece. ‘Recruits. Check in.’
Even during an operation of this size, there was only the need for three types of communication: an open channel with her recruits; a private channel with Merlin; and necessary updates to Taylor.
Merlin was breaking the quiet with incessant, random nonsense every few minutes, and Taylor wasn’t in the field yet.
All of the first team checked in, one after the other in alphabetical order. All of her snipers were still in place, and still in their primary positions, which was excellent.
The secondary team was a little slower to report in – but one by one, each voice came to her ear.
She took up a position on the edge of a roof, surrounded by bird drones. It was a tactically useless point, and one that left her without cover, but it was quiet, there was margin of error that allowed for a few reckless minutes.
One of the pigeons walked behind her, and brushed her skirt. She grabbed the bird without turning her head away from the view out over the dull roofs. She lifted it by its neck, and it struggled like a regular bird – they had to give the drones a certain amount of plausible deniability after all – then went still as whoever was driving it cut out the automated struggle routines.
She pressed a finger to the pigeon’s chest.
Require: Drone details.
Blue numbers appeared on the feathers, revealing a six digit ID number. She tapped her headset. ‘Magnolia to Jones.’
There was hold music in her ear for a moment – a touch unique to Jones, so far as she could tell. ‘What’s up?’ came his voice after the music cut.
‘Drone ID six-alpha-eight-alpha-two-one. Who?’
‘Ira.’
She ran through her mental list of tech recruits, and fixed the image of the recruit there. Two years of service. Unremarkable. Not on her list of people to fuck. No significant interaction from what she could remember. One of the background people. ‘Protocol twelve,’ she said, her voice clipped. ‘Fucker just tried to get an upskirt shot with the pigeon.’
‘You ok, Mags?’
She gently squeezed the pigeon’s neck for a moment, before dropping it over the side of the building. It dropped for a few feet, corrected, then flew off. ‘I’m fine, Jones. I’m fighting to know if I’m more pissed about the casual violation, or about the fact that he’s thinking with his dick when we know people are going to die tonight.’
‘His porn history will be up on the intranet within half an hour, I’ll pull someone onto shift to get it done. Sydney’s got a seminar next Tuesday, we can book him into that. Four weekends of cleaning at a crisis centre seem fair?’
‘That’s the standard,’ she said, hearing a rustle behind her, ‘so yeah. Don’t pull him off duty, we need his station manned.’
‘Mags, you’ve got-‘ Jones said, his voice sounding frantic.
‘Yeah, Scholar,’ she said, turning, and burying her knife into the chest of the man that had been attempting to sneak up on her. ‘Handling it. Give me some credit, Jones.’
‘Switching you back to Merlin.’
She could almost hear Merlin bouncing in his seat as he came onto channel. ‘You were slow, Magnooolia.’
‘Didn’t see the need to rush, Mer.’
There were three more lurking in the shadows. Breathing heavily. One was swearing, one was fumbling with a revolver, and one seemed calm – probably the only one of the group with any combat experience.
Calm first. Revolver second. Cursing idiot third.
‘Dodge left.’
Merlin’s voice was a dead monotone. Only idiots ignored the advice. She rolled to the left, pushing her back up against a thin tin shed. Bullets hit where she had been. Shots from the other roof. Someone with decent aim.
That brought the count up to at least four.
She imagined the map of the area, and what she knew of the roof she was on. The shed she was against would provide a little cover, and the shadow would obscure her from view for a moment, until their eyes adjusted further – or the moon came out from behind the gathering clouds.
She wiped her knife against her skirt, the small act of cleaning the blood away centring her.
The darkness would only help her for a moment, so it was time to bring everyone into the light – change up the field.
She closed her eyes, and required the lights to be covered in searchlights.
From the other side of the shed, she heard one of them let out a short yelp of surprise. It was a surprisingly young voice – young or not, a threat was a threat.
And threats were to be taken care of in the most efficient manner.
She stood, keeping her back against the shed, keeping the noise of her clothes to a minimum, smirked, then required the searchlights to strobe. It was a standard interval pattern – one she practiced with Taylor – one that she could adjust to without being disoriented by.
She heard one retreating, but flagged it in the back of her mind – there was always the chance he’d circle back around for another go.
Shots came, and one of the searchlights was taken out.
She slipped around the shed and off into the shadows behind the strobing lights.
She sheathed her knife, and required two small throwing knives. Throwing a weapon was dangerous – there was always the chance that it could be picked up and thrown back. It was embarrassing to be hurt by your own weapon.
The chance of being hurt by the throwing knives approached zero – both had ten second timers – whether they had touched an enemy or not, they’d be back in the dismissed void before they could be thrown back.
She stepped between two of the searchlights and threw both knives with no ceremony, both thunking into the chest of the man – one last “shit” identifying him as the man who had been swearing instead of attacking.
Another of the searchlights was taken out.
She fixed her gaze on a spot across the roof, and faded – the act was likely foolish, but it would give her the element of surprise – for a few seconds anyway.
She backed into the shadows again, looking for the coward’s escape path. A fire ladder showed his likely path out.
‘Mer,’ she said, her voice barely above a whisper. ‘Send a couple of bats.’
There was a gun against her back. ‘The thing I don’t understand about the Agency,’ the man holding it said. ‘You go to such lengths to hide yourselves-‘
Require: ping weapon.
A soft sound came through her earpiece – the weapon hadn’t been altered, wasn’t fae, and hadn’t been treated with enough Time or magic to block it out – requirements could effect it. She dismissed the bullets from the gun, and let him think he was controlling the situation.
‘-but your douchey little ear things have a light on them, not exactly subtle.’
She stomped her heel onto his foot, turned casually and pulled the gun from his hand, even as he pulled the trigger on the empty gun.
Taylor shifted in behind the Solstice and grabbed him by the neck.
‘Sir.’
Taylor gave her a neutral look. ‘Recruit.’
The Solstice struggled in Taylor’s grip – her commander squeezed his fingers a little tighter and he stopped. ‘Fine!’ he said. ‘Fine! I’ll tell you what you need to know.’
Taylor looked at her. ‘Magnolia. Schedule. Time for information retrieval?’
‘If we’re quick, sir.’
‘We’ll use what we have.’
Taylor dragged the man towards the strobing searchlights, which stopped strobing. All but one disappeared.
‘Sir, there was-‘
‘Taken care of,’ he snapped.
‘Yes sir.’
Taylor picked up the man, and slammed him face down onto the face of the searchlight.
The man screamed and wiggled, trying to write out of Taylor’s grip. Fighting was pointless. Taylor controlled life and death like a god, though the balance was forever tipped towards death.
‘How many?’ Taylor asked, his voice its usual growl.
He was taking the lead on the questions, as was the practice in the field – it gave her time to rifle through the subject’s pockets and learn what they could from his possessions.
The first thing that she learned was that he had pissed himself.
The second was that he was carrying his wallet, which made her groan. She heard Taylor turn towards her, and she passed the wallet towards his free hand. Carrying a wallet during an operation smacked of the piss-poor training that most of the Solstice were dealt. Licence, credit cards, pictures of family – all information that could be used against you.
She pulled back from checking his pockets to see how Taylor handled him. He went for his less-used tactic, flipped the wallet open and laying it beside the man’s face without another word. He slacked his grip to allow the subject to focus on it – the act was kind, given the circumstances, as it blocked a portion of the searchlight’s unbearable light.
The Solstice stopped trying to escape as he looked at his wallet, and the picture of his family. Two kids, and a woman who was mostly cropped out of the picture.
‘Don’t hurt them,’ he said. ‘Whatever you do to me, don’t hurt them.’
There had been the cursing idiot. The calm man. The man with the revolver. The cursing idiot was dead. One had run, and it wasn’t adding up.
She moved quickly around Taylor and grabbed at the wallet. Her commander gave a short growl, but gave no further rebuke as she grabbed the wallet from the light. She pulled the family picture from the wallet and flipped it – the backing held information for a photo frame company.
‘Sir-‘ she managed before the Solstice slipped free of his jacket.
It was a decent technique, she had to admit – at least for a Solstice, whose entire battle strategy seemed to take inspiration from suicidal lemmings. Far too many Solstice had attacked them head on, shouting their anti-fae rhetoric, or been under the impression that they would be able to take on an agent with their raging sense of righteousness and not much else.
The man slipped free of his jacket – which was a technique that worked against lesser agents. Taylor simply released his hand from the jacket and grabbed him with the other.
There was a crunch from the Solstice, and he spat in Taylor’s face. Magnolia watched as her commander grimaced, but didn’t release his grip.
It could be poison, it could be acid, it could be-
Taylor jerked, though his head remained in place. Magnolia moved forward, pushing his grip from the Solstice, securing the man to the spotlight with a few requirements.
He jerked again, his head not moving in time with his body, and it became clear – it was a small dose of time energy. There was a reason the Solstice generally used a grenade or some other method of dispersing the water – it was the easiest way to spread it over a large area, to pull a whole area out of system control.
So localised though, applied to one body part like this, it forced a body out of sync, could paralyse, if only temporarily.
Taylor turned to her, his hands going to her shoulders, then he reached down, and tore away a section of her skirt, and wiped his face with it, before throwing the scrap of fabric to the ground.
He jerked convulsively once more, then righted himself.
‘Sir.’
He grunted.
‘Permission to try something.’
He gave her an affirmative grunt.
She stooped, picked up the cloth, and quickly wiped it over the blade of her knife. She stood, and stabbed the Solstice man in the stomach, one quick jab, in and out before he saw what was coming. He let out a rush of air, and started a scream…then let out a rush of air and started to scream. He repeated the action twice more, and she smiled. Four stabs for the price of one.
Taylor raised a hand and she backed off. Her commander placed the heel of his hand against the stab wound and pushed in, making the man scream. Magnolia moved forward, crammed the fake wallet into his mouth, and secured it with duct tape.
‘Sir, we’ve got places to be.’
Taylor grunted, and pulled his hand away from the wound, his fingers slick with blood. He gripped the man’s face with his bloody fingers, and slammed his head against the searchlight’s glass – the glass shattered, and cut into the man’s flesh. Taylor gripped tighter, and slammed the man’s head again, impaling him against the inner workings of the light.
Magnolia cleaned her knife, sheathed it, and quickly went over the schedule in her mind.
‘The third team will be shifting in within ninety seconds,’ she said, reminding him of his next task. ‘Scholars will be naming search targets.’
‘And you?’ he said, his hands moving across his jacket in his usual check for the many weapons he carried.
‘Ad hoc for fifteen, then assessing if the snipers are to be repositioned.’
Taylor gave a grunt, and shifted away.
Magnolia gave the rooftop a critical look, then put a hand to hear earpiece. ‘Hey, Mer?’
‘Yusyus?’
‘Wait five, then send a cleanup crew here. Time contamination should be gone by then. Do an extra drone sweep, and there’ll be a dead sniper that had a line of sight to this spot.’
‘Sure thing.’
‘Field teams gone in yet?’
‘Not yet, they’re following the plan.’
She allowed herself a small sigh of relief at this. ‘Good. Let me know if Ryan decides to be an idiot and switch things up.’
‘You’re not supposed to call the boss an idiot, ma’amy ma’am.’
‘Sorry, Mer, the line’s getting fuzzy.’ She heard the spluttery sound of him blowing a raspberry, she smiled, then headed to her next location.