The Grey Edge: Chapter Eight

Magnolia walked down the hall from the conference room, stopped, stared at the floor, and faded down the tech floor. She righted herself, and walked toward Jones’ office, preparing herself just in case she was shifted into the “care” of the Parkers again.
She knocked on the door, and it opened with an overly-dramatic horror-movie creak. She sighed – making a mental note to report the unnecessary macro, not that anything was ever done about them, the tech department seemed to have a blank check to do as they wished, so long as there was even a vaguely-justifiable reason for doing so. Horror-movie creaks had no justifiable reason to exist – they were just a bit of silliness.
Jones swung on his chair, folded his fingers and stared at her. ‘Yes, Recruit?’
‘I need Merlin.’
‘Are you ready to stop being a heinous bitch?’
‘It’s been nearly a month, she’s still alive, isn’t she?’
‘That isn’t a “yes”, Magnolia.’
‘If I’m ordered to kill her, I’ll kill her, until then she’s safe. And I need Merlin, Taylor asked for him.’
Jones faltered for a moment. ‘What could he possibly-’
‘We need a reader,’ she said. ‘And he’s the closest.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Jones said, ‘I didn’t realise you were illiterate.’
‘He knew,’ she said, ‘I didn’t tell him. Mer doesn’t exactly take the greatest lengths to conceal his gifts. I’m pretty sure everyone knows by now.’
‘Not everyone,’ Jones said, ‘and that’s the way it’s to stay.’
‘If I knew more,’ she said carefully, ‘I could tell him a lot more, but since I don’t know anymore, I couldn’t tell him more, even if he asked me, all right?’
‘What’s going on?’
‘Possible attempt on the life of-’
‘The fishy lady upstairs?’ Merlin asked, appearing from beneath the other end of Jones’ desk.
‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘So please, can Merlin come out and play?’
‘What do you need him to do?’
‘We need a-’
‘I did hear you the first time,’ Jones said as he stood, and walked across the room to a cupboard. ‘What information are you trying to get? He can’t just-’
‘We’re trying to find someone that the…fishy lady,’ she said as Merlin came and hugged her, ‘went “dancing” with the other night. All she’s got is a first name, so we need a face to trace, then the address that goes with it.’
‘That,’ Jones said, ‘that we can do.’ He pulled out a bag. ‘It’s not like he can conjure a file from the air, I mean, of course he can, but he needs to know which one to require first.’
‘Jump to the left,’ Merlin said.
She looked down at him. ‘What?’
He shrugged, and slurped from a bottle of juice. ‘I dunno.’
Jones handed her a heavy bag. ‘He knows what to do with it. Return it in the same condition or-’
‘Don’t threaten me,’ she said, swinging the bag over her shoulder.
Jones beat his fists against his chest. ‘Me agent, I can say what I want. Now bring that equipment back in perfect condition or I’ll have you scrubbing the floors.’
‘Gods,’ she muttered. ‘Come on Merlin.’
‘Magnoooolia,’ Merlin said as they walked towards the lift. ‘Why are you mad?’
‘Tell me something, Mer,’ she said as she hit the button for the lift. ‘Mimosa-’
‘Agent Squishy.’
‘Agent…Squishy. Yes. Her. With the…you know…how much damage could she do, if she decided to go nuts?’
‘She could raise a small continent, or a big island,’ he said. ‘Or make a really small moon, cause moons are hard to do, cause of gravity and stuff.’
‘Mer, come on, how much damage could she do?’
‘A lot,’ he said, adjusting his goggles, ‘but she won’t. She’s good.’
‘She’s why I’m mad, and stressed,’ she said as they stepped into the lift. ‘I feel like we’ve got an unstable nuke wandering the halls begging for treats, it makes me really uneasy.’
‘An’ Taylor’s mad too.’
‘What we did,’ she said, ‘it should have been enough to prove she’s not good enough to wear the uniform. I just don’t want to have to stand by and watch everything get blown to hell.’
Merlin reached up and brushed the side of her head, and suddenly, she felt a lot calmer. ‘She’s good,’ he said again, ‘I dun think she’s going to end the world.’
‘Yeah well,’ she said as they exited the lift, ‘we’ll see.’
She put a hand to her headset. ‘Magnolia to Clarke.’
‘Yeah?’ came the distracted reply.
‘Where exactly did you put this pool?’ she asked as Merlin ran into the conference room and stared out the window.
‘You know the big storeroom down from the conference room?’
‘We’ll be there in a minute,’ she said, tapping her headset again to sever the connection.
‘Come on Mer,’ she said. ‘You can play later.’
He kept staring.
‘Merlin?’ She hefted the heavy bag and walked across to him. ‘Hey, you ok?’
He turned to her, a wide grin on his face. ‘Yup, why?’
‘No reason,’ she said, ‘come on, the fishy lady’s waiting.’
‘No she’s not,’ he said, ‘she’s getting distracted by Agent NSFW.’
‘Oh gods, if Clarke’s…’ she grabbed his lab coat. ‘Come on, else there’s going to be violence.’ She pulled him from the conference room and towards what had, not twenty minutes ago, been labeled as a miscellaneous storage room.
She pushed open the door, and stared at the how-to guide of opulence and decadence. Marble columns had grown up from the floor covered in polished marble tiles. A long pool sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by a multitude of chairs and towel racks.
Off to the left, the formerly stoic guards sat in a hot tub, quietly joking amongst themselves, and drinking drinks from the nearby liquor cabinet.
There was a splash as the Matriarch arced up out of water and dove back under.
‘That was quick,’ Clarke said as he walked past, a towel wrapped around his lower half. ‘A little too quick,’ he said, ‘don’t suppose I can get you to come back in-’
‘You have no concept of fun.’
‘Merlin, cover your ears.’ She watched the boy follow her order, then looked back up at Clarke. ‘Would you prefer to score now, or do you job and ensure that your newest fuck-buddy-to-be is actually alive tomorrow?’
‘When you put it that way-’
She stared at the pool. ‘And can you ask her to put a top on, he’s only fourteen for gods’ sake.’
‘When I was fourteen-’ Clarke started.
‘You aren’t human,’ she said, ‘you don’t count.’ She tapped Merlin, and he lowered his hands. ‘Shall we?’ She took another look around the room. ‘Where’s Taylor?’
‘He’s getting a car ready. And I made sure to specify car,’ he said, ‘just to make sure he didn’t pull a tank around to the front of the building.’
‘Sorry,’ she said curtly, ‘I didn’t realise we were in the middle of a city-wide black-out.’
‘I refuse to be shifted,’ the Matriarch said as she stepped up out of the pool, scales covering her nudity as surely as a swimsuit would. ‘It literally makes me sick, so if I am to be doing business with you people, little bird, I ask that at the least you do me the favour of not making me throw up on myself.’
‘This,’ she muttered, ‘is going to end well.’
‘This is your reader,’ the woman asked as she lifted a towel, and wrapped it around herself, ‘he’s a little young, how old was he when you recruited him? Are you even allowed to recruit child, seems rather cruel if you ask me.’
She bit back from telling the woman that no such opinion had been asked, but simply let Clarke guide Merlin across to the pool’s edge. ‘He’s a ward of the Agency,’ Clarke said, ‘Matriarch, meet Merlin.’
The woman laughed. ‘That’s adorable. Come on, young sir, help me find my prince charming.’
She crossed to the nearest table. ‘Mer, I’m going to set up your stuff here, ok?’
‘What’s all that for?’ the Matriarch asked.
‘I’ll show you!’ Merlin said with standard-issue tech department glee. He unpacked a fat laptop, and a tablet. The computer booted up with no fuss, and a program loaded automatically. ‘Okies,’ he said, ‘now just think about him, hard, if you can.’
‘I have no problem,’ the woman said, ‘thinking about him hard,’ she said with a wink in Agent Clarke’s direction.
Merlin shook his head, placed his goggles up onto his forehead, then grabbed the stylus and drew a rough circle onto the tablet. On the screen, the shape of a face appeared, and the search programs down the side of the screen immediately began to run.
He pulled two crayons out of his pocket, an scribbled over the pad, the two colours mixing into a mess, staining the delicate piece of equipment. She sighed, wondering if his actions meant that the equipment wasn’t being brought back in perfect condition.
The colour seemed to soak into the pad, and appeared on the screen, as a perfectly mixed skin tone, colouring the empty face-shape.
He then grabbed the stylus again, and began to scratch at the tablet, eyes slowly appearing on the screen.
‘How long?’ Taylor asked from behind her.
She turned, and crossed to him. ‘It shouldn’t be long, the search is already running, and each-’
‘How long?’
‘Not long, sir,’ she said, standing at-ease beside him. ‘Sir?’
‘There’s every chance that the Matriarch isn’t the next victim,’ she said. ‘I think-’
‘Clarke got her to issue a warning to the rest,’ he said. ‘We’ve done more than enough.’
‘Do you think she’s trying to start another war?’
‘Hopefully not even your mother is that stupid,’ he said, staring at Merlin. ‘We’d be forced to partake. Not that I’d mind.’
‘It would be nearly impossible to cover up a war now,’ she said. ‘Even with every scholar working overtime, there would be still be leaks. Information would still get out.’
‘Stop worrying,’ he ordered. ‘You are missing the obvious solution.’
He looked down at her. ‘We execute your mother.’
‘I would agree with that plan, sir.’
Merlin turned and grinned. ‘Got it.’ A file appeared in the air above him, and fell into his waiting hands. ‘Here’s who you’re looking for.’
The Matriarch clapped. ‘Oh, he’s very good,’ she said. ‘Would you consider selling him?’
‘What are you offering?’ Clarke asked.
Taylor stepped forward, and took the file, flipping it open to reveal the address, before throwing it to her. ‘Read,’ he ordered.
Clarke looked up. ‘Can I trust you not to get into an accident?’ he asked Taylor. ‘I mean, when was the last time you drove?’
‘It’s our intel,’ he growled.
‘Gods, down boy,’ Clarke said, the towel disappearing, his suit reappearing. ‘I’ll keep her staff happy until you get back. Try not to-’
Taylor turned and headed for the door.
‘Matriarch, this way,’ Clarke said, ‘I’ll show you down to the front door.’
The world blurred as she was shifted outside. She blinked, adjusting to the light, then flipped open the file to read.
‘In,’ Taylor ordered as he walked around the car. She slipped into the passenger seat. ‘Talk.’
‘This isn’t one of our files,’ she said, trying to absorb the information as quickly as possible. ‘He’s got no criminal record with us. As she suspected, he’s a crow/magpie mix, but he seems to be living an an unaffected civilian – there’s nothing here but school records, university transcripts, and a couple of juvenile shoplifting charges.’ She looked up. ‘It’s possible that this situation is nothing more than it appears, sir.’
‘We still need to investigate,’ he said. ‘If it is nothing, have you got a patrol site picked?’
‘Yes sir.’
The back door of the car was opened. ‘I was expecting a limousine,’ the Matriarch said. ‘I mean, this is-’
Taylor turned the key, and the car roared to life.
‘I mean,’ the woman continued, ‘it’s just a town car. I’m used to style.’
‘Be grateful we aren’t shifting you,’ she heard herself say, before busying herself with the file again.
Taylor grunted, and pulled out into the street.
‘How far do we have to go?’ the Matriarch asked. ‘And what is his name, I should at least get to know that after all of this.’
She flipped to the front of the file again. ‘Benjamin Thomas,’ she said.
‘Oh, Thomas,’ the woman said, ‘so simple, I would have remembered that, had he told me. But you know how it is. What’s his-’
‘Would you just like the file?’
‘Oh, that would seem like cheating.’
She stole a glance to Taylor, who kept his eyes on the road, but gave her a slight nod. She turned in her seat, and handed the file to the Matriarch, who immediately went quiet as she got to know her “prince charming”.