The Grey Edge: Chapter Nine

‘Which one?’ Taylor asked as he pulled into the small unit complex.
‘Unit seven, sir,’ Magnolia said. She looked around – it was a small, tidy complex, a few resilient plants hiding in the rock gardens, garbage bins all neatly in a row, no graffiti, no drunks sleeping in the doorways – nice, quiet, the kind her father had always-
Taylor parked in the spot reserved for unit eight, as there was a red sports car parked in the spot for unit seven.
‘This is the right place,’ the salmon Matriarch said. ‘That’s his car. It-’
She stepped out of the car, half-expecting it to disappear whilst the woman was still inside. The Matriarch grumbled about the lack of Agent Clarke, about no one opening her door, and about the lack of being treated as she deserved. She ignored her, tensed her leg to make sure her knife was still in place, but held back on requiring a gun – there was every chance that it was going to be half a dozen simple questions, and then another uncomfortable twenty minute drive back to the Agency.
She looked at the units, and walked over to the stairs leading up to unit seven. The Matriarch was close behind her, and Taylor brought up the rear, his expression unreadable, but he did seem relaxed now that he was out of the car.
She knocked on the door.
‘One occupant,’ Taylor said, staring at the door, ‘mobile.’
‘Running?’ she asked.
She knocked on the door, harder this time, and the door was pulled open, and a handful of notes was thrust at her. ‘That was quick, I wasn’t…expecting…you…’ Benjamin Thomas stopped, stared at her, then stuffed the money back in his pocket. ‘You aren’t pizza.’
‘No,’ said. ‘And we’re coming in,’ she said as she pushed past him, immediately taking stock of the room – eyes peeled for weapons, explosives, or anything to indicate that he was a part of the plan…whatever the plan was.
No weapons, no explosives, just a laptop surrounded by stacks of text books – some of which were probably heavy enough to be re-purposed as weapons.
‘Rosie?’ he said as the Matriarch walked through the door. ‘Wow, fuck, you’re-’ he said on seeing Taylor. ‘Hey, big fella, look I-’
Taylor simply picked the boy up by his neck, slammed the door, carried him across the room and dropped him on the couch.
‘A…Agency?’ Ben asked, looking from Taylor, to her, to the Matriarch and back again. ‘Right?’
‘Well, they are,’ the salmon said as she sat on the couch beside him. ‘I’m still just me.’
‘I didn’t think-’ he began as he looked at the Matriarch.
‘We’ve got some questions,’ she said, snapping her fingers before anything could happen.
‘Oh really, birdy,’ the woman said, ‘you could give us a minute.’ She placed a hand on Ben’s chest. ‘I don’t think he has anything to do with it.’
‘Think with your brain,’ she snapped, ‘get away from him and let us question him.’
‘Hey…’ Ben said. ‘Everyone chill please, what the hell is going on here?’
‘What do you know about the salmon disappearances?’ she asked.
‘The what?’
‘What’s your affiliation with your families?’
He shook his head. ‘Completely cut-off,’ he said, ‘I was raised human, well, mostly, this is my life,’ he said, ‘trying to finish my thesis without going crazy.’
‘How did you know about the function where you met her?’ she said, pointing a finger at the Matriarch.
‘A woman came by and invited me,’ he said, ‘gave me the invite, a tux, all that. I told her that I had nothing to do with it, but she shrugged it off and told me to go anyway, that it was just a night out, that I might meet someone, so I agreed.’
‘Do you know who she was?’
‘No, I’d never seen her before.’
‘What was she?’
He shrugged. ‘Some sort of personal assistant or something, I assume.’
‘Hey, bird-boy,’ she snapped, pointing to the feathers in her hair. ‘What was she?’
‘You’re magpie too?’ he asked. ‘I should probably stop thinking that you’re hot then.’
‘That would be best,’ she said. ‘The woman, what was she?’
‘I didn’t ask,’ he said, ‘I always thought that was kind of rude, yanno, reducing a person to-’
Taylor stepped forward and slapped a file down in front of him. ‘This her?’
Ben looked at the photo clipped to the file. ‘Yeah? Maybe?’ he said, ‘I’m not good with faces.’
Taylor suddenly looked up, then walked across to the other side of the room.
‘Think,’ she said, ‘is this her or isn’t it?’
‘Ben,’ the Matriarch said, ‘I know you didn’t have anything to do with all this, but if you can think of anything, it could be important, it could save a lot of my people.’
‘I’m glad I got to see you again,’ he said. ‘I didn’t think-’
‘It was one of my better one-night stands,’ she said, ‘And I wouldn’t mind-’
She turned away, wondering exactly how much violence she could use against a civilian and a fiefdom politician before it would result in a reprimand. She turned back, prepared to try harsh words one last time, only to see them embracing for a kiss.
There was a spark as they kissed.
A small, red spark.
A small, magic spark.
She felt her heart stop.
‘Sir!’ she screamed.
Her half-brother exploded.
A wall of flame hit her, throwing her back into the door.
She heard Taylor yell, the words indecipherable over the roar of flame, and crumbling walls. She forced her eyes open, and she looked out into an unknowable mess.
The world in front of her was half burning apartment in true-to-life colours, and half of the muted grey world that swam beneath her feet during a fade. She stared at her shaking hand, and knew immediately that she was doing it.
She blinked away blood, and clumsily stood, a hunk of metal in her leg, her conscious mind taking over the effort of rending half of the room one step out of reality.
Smoke began to billow as the fire expanded, rushing out the windows, burning the brick itself, searching out every form of fuel. It was a hungry fire, it was a magic fire, and it wasn’t going to stop until there was nothing left to consume.
Her lungs filled with smoke, and she coughed, staring across the half and half world, trying to seek out her commander.
Ben Thomas the Matriarch were nothing but charred skeletons, embracing even in death, on a couch that was slowly collapsing into the floor. She pushed on the world, expanding the grip of the fade world, blocking out more of the smoke.
She saw Taylor, standing against the wall, absolutely still, a huge piece of debris through his middle.
‘Oh gods.’
She stared at him, tears forming in her eyes, but were blinked away as she saw the colour of the debris – grey, just like the rest of the fade world.
‘Sir!’ she shouted again, and this time he stirred. ‘Sir!’
He opened his eyes, and looked at her, afraid.
Blood erupted from her nose, and gushed down her face.
‘Sir you have to move!’ she screamed, her hands shaking, ‘move!’
He looked down at the piece of debris.
‘It’s not there sir!’ she shouted. ‘Move! I can’t get us out till you get to me!’
He braced a hand on the wall, and pushed himself forward, over the piece of debris, and immediately fell to his knees.
The bricks behind her caught on fire, but she didn’t move. ‘Sir, move!’ she screamed again. ‘Move!’
She felt the back of her dress catch fire, her hair begin to burn and the skin on her legs begin to bubble.
He took a couple of steps forward, and she felt her heart leap for joy.
A section of the roof caved in, and fell straight through him, he moved past it.
She took in another lungful of smoke as he skirt burned.
The fade world shook as her concentration began to lapse.
‘Hurry!’ she screamed. ‘Hurry!’
A section of the floor fell away, and she jumped to the left to stop herself from falling into the unit below.
He took a couple of running steps, pushing through the ghostly shadows of fire, then another brought him to her. She wrapped her arms around him, collapsed the fade world, and dropped them down into the unit below, where the fire wasn’t as bad.
She saw the door, faded them through, and into relatively fresh air.
A couple of the other residents pulled them over to the side of the driveway, dowsing them with buckets of water, and asking concerned questions.
She rolled over and looked at Taylor, who was flat on his back, hands pressed to his middle – to where the debris nearly skewered him – where it would have, had she not-
‘Are you hurt sir?’ she asked, spitting blood.
He jerked his head, then rolled over, the slight incline rolling him nearly on top of her.
‘I can’t shift us out,’ he said. ‘I can in ninety seconds.’
‘I can-’ she said weakly.
He put a hand to her chest. ‘No,’ he said, ‘we’ll wait.’
‘Yes sir.’
She closed her eyes, and concentrated on breathing.
There was breath on her face. ‘Thank you, Magnolia,’ he whispered, before moving away and collapsing back onto the ground.
His hand, however, was still on her chest.
The familiar smell of the infirmary hit her nose, and then there was nothing.