There was the urge to hit Mimosa, to shake her back awake, to ask for more detail, give her commander a longer message, anything.
Magnolia straightened herself, a thought tidying her hair. There was a time for frustration, for anger and…elation, but in public, among recruits with frayed nerves was not the place.
She looked to Screen. ‘Report the details to the teams. It’s not a lot but another waking Agent is another data point for that graph that seems to be following me everywhere.’
The purple-haired tech smiled. ‘Sure thing.’
Magnolia nodded at the team, then moved from the room. Ten hours. It had taken ten hours to confirm that he was ok.
She kept walking – most of the floor was clear, the techs had taken over the conference room, the Field recruits had been moved to other floor to facilitate various aspects, and the Combat recruits stood guard, or were in the process of enacting one of her emergency plans.
She was in charge. Everyone was looking to her. She was, at least for the moment, the Director of the Agency.
She turned a corner, and found a window seat – they were a frivolity that the Field and Technical floors had that had been cleared from the Combat floors – the windows remained, the wide, flat seats had not.
She sat, leaned back against the wall, and required her workbook, then spread it over her knees. A big lever arch folder that had foldout schedules, memos of note, team rosters, everything that let her run the Combat department. Macros and automated processes kept elements updated, the rest was manually managed.
Various fuckbuddy techs had tried to convince her to switch to a computer – they’d even pointed out how much she used tablets for various aspects of her job. She’d always laughed, smiled, and distracted them to orgasm as a way of winning the argument.
There was something real, and sensible about working on paper, of being able to rip up old schedules, to…Everything was possible with a tablet, but her workbook felt better.
Her father approached quietly, probably in an effort not to disturb her.
‘Haven’t answered to that in ten years, Don,’ she said coolly as she looked up, but accepted the paper cup he was proffering. Coffee. Not a stimulant she usually worked with. The smell of cinnamon was impossible to ignore.
He was a shit father, but he was good with the little things.
She sipped, and grunted an assent as he pointed to the bench. He sat, looked like he wanted to talk, then turned to look out at the city instead.
‘As Taylor says,’ she said as she set the cup on the window sill, ‘talk, or don’t. There’s rarely a point to hesitation.’
This seemed to shake him from his reverie. ‘I still can’t believe you’re with him- How does he not…hurt you-‘
A smile curled her lips. ‘In the gym, he hurts me because I’m not good enough. In the bedroom…well, I can jackhammer him until he’s almost ready to beg for mercy, I mean, you should see my favourite strap-on.’ An uncomfortable look crossed Don’s face, and she leant forward, leaning on her workbook. ‘Don’t fucking judge me. If you want to talk, Aide Hammond, talk, but don’t bring up my husband.’
‘You’re doing amazing work,’ he said, rolling his own cup of coffee between his hands. ‘I just thought you should know that.’
‘I always do amazing work, any less is less than my best, and that isn’t a standard I allow.’ She looked across at him. ‘I suppose that’s one thing I did inherit from you.’
‘You’ve done more than I ever will.’
‘You choose to stay at an Outpost, you could go lecture at the Academy.’
‘You’re Acting Director, Maggie, that’s huge.’
‘If Agency resumes counted for shit, it would be great, I’m just trying to keep everyone alive, and this side of panic.’ She shrugged, and drew a quick line on the schedule, switching two shifts, ‘Ryan can have his job back when this is over.’ She paused. ‘Well, unless the actual Director wakes up too, then we’ll probably have a pissing contest over who’s in charge.’
‘I don’t think so,’ Don said, ‘Ryan’s never wanted the job.’
‘He hasn’t minded abusing Directorial privilege though.’
‘Do we know anything new?’
‘Everything we know is being projected onto a hundred screens around the Agency.’
‘I’m asking you, Director.’
‘Mimosa woke up for about a minute, was completely useless, then nodded off again. She and Kelly are the only ones who’ve woken up for any appreciable amount of time. Sale’s had a few twitches, but no contact so we don’t know if they count.’ She flipped through a report. ‘Two idiots with a ute ram raided the Ipswich Agency, but the regular cops shows up and dealt with them.’ There was an expectant look on his face, and she sighed. ‘You’ve been three feet from him all day, you know there’s been no change with Darren. Go find Merlin if you want another read, I’m sure he’s just going to say the same thing.’
‘He thinks his family is dead, Magnolia, isn’t there anything you can do for him?’
‘They’re all living out their worst nightmares, Don. From what we know, he’s getting off pretty lightly. Half of these Agents are being tortured, or worse. Some have died, sure, but half of these Agents are going to need memory manipulation so they aren’t stuck with PTSD.’
‘I’m not trying to be callous-‘
‘No, you’re being kind, it’s worse. I love Person X, so I have to worry about their suffering more than everyone else. Being callous is at least being fair, you’re assigning the same level of worry to everyone.’
‘Welcome to the Agency, dad, you should be used to it by now.’
‘Is there any progress on retrieving them?’
‘Science, magic, and the power of a god, no one is really sure where to begin. The Lost are still trying to confirm that Sol is dead-‘
‘No one has been able to answer why they decided on Sol.’
‘I’m not sure anyone knows. Reigning theory is that it’s a reference to Sol Invictus, the unconquered sun, because he was loseless till he came here. And we didn’t conquer him, we offered up a feast.’
‘It saved the world.’
‘It crippled a major Court, and violated every agent. No one ever wanted to think about this. Agents can’t dream, end of story. It was as though he somehow just took the ability to dream. They’re programs, that’d just be ripping out a subroutine, they could write another one around it. That didn’t happen. Agents have been dreaming their dreams, they just haven’t had the capacity to remember them. It means there’s been a mad god with a backdoor into the programming of every agent on the whole damn planet.’
She scowled. ‘Of course the techs are investigating that angle, that’s their damn job. There’s signals, and there’s bits of blue working in funny ways, and they’re scrambling to unscramble them. They’re trying isolation tests and interference, and every other damn thing they do. Nothing is working.’
‘Can we breach the dreams? If the Lost gave Sol a place-‘
‘it’s one of those weird spaces, more than half is actually Lost territory, but there’s other measures in place, but it’s…gone a bit wild over the decades, at least that’s what the techs are saying. There was originally some measure of monitoring, like we do with training sims, but the area has become its own thing over the years, in no small part likely do to leaking god magic playing merry hell with how they set it up. They’re trying, all we have to do is be patient.’
‘Usually, I’m very good at patience. There are times that test my calm, you took a long time to hatch-‘
‘Bringing up old memories isn’t going to endear me to you, Don.’
‘I don’t understand why we can’t try to make a fresh start. You don’t have to forget, or even forgive, but you can let me try again. We’re peers, if nothing else.’
‘I don’t see the benefit,’ she said. ‘There’s nothing I would gain. Anything I need from you I can get by ordering you, Recruit.’
‘I know I hurt you.’
‘You called me a freak,’ she said quietly.
‘That’s “Director” to you, Recruit.’ She dismissed her workbook, stood, and left without another word.
Words became “fuck” and “you” as she rounded a corner, and walked into O’Connor.
‘Sorry Mags,’ he said, putting a hand to the new coffee stain on his shirt. The shirt became bright white again. ‘Two things,’ he said as he fell into step with her. ‘First is there’s rumours that the “war council”,’ he said, hooking his fingers into sarcastic air quotes, ‘might be looking for candidates for experimentation. Obviously, they’re going to pull from poorly performing Agencies first, so if there’s anything you can do to-‘
‘Yeah, I’ll think of something. Next?’
‘I think you’re going to order some of the techs to bed, we don’t know how long this is going to last, having everyone tired on the first day is stupid.’
‘I thought I put you in charge of them.’
‘Just do a memo in an email blast. We’re not getting much achieved, so tell people to stick to their usual roster for now.’
‘That isn’t going to make them sleep, they’ll hang out when they’re on break.’
‘It’s something,’ he said, ‘we’ve got to try and look after our people.’
She nodded. ‘Even if they don’t want to look after themselves.’