‘Roll over,’ the man with the gun to Curt’s head, said, ‘slowly. At this range, I don’t need to be a particularly good shot.’
He complied, knowing that there was no way he could disarm the man from such an angle. Even with Agency training, even with Solstice training. There were very few things you could do from this position. Fortunately, he also had magic in addition to his training.
One quick requirement later, a radio screamed loud static on the ground behind the man, who stumbled back in shock. It was enough of an opening to let him swing his leg out, bear the man to the ground, and aim for another kick.
At least, that had been the plan. Reality however, offered an alternative interpretation. The man stepped back at the sound of the static, yes, but avoided the kick, and then introduced a new factor – a sharp blade at his throat.
‘Don’t move, Agency,’ the man said as he gripped a handful of his hair. ‘Explain to me what you’re doing here, and I might let you go.’
‘DOYOUWANTASHIFTOUT?’ Screen screeched in his ear.
‘And good afternoon,’ the knife-wielding man said, ‘to whomever is in your ear.’ With a not-so-gentle yank on his hair, he felt himself being hauled to his feet, it was a human strength though, so that killed a few possibilities though, at least it meant he likely wasn’t about to face a pissed-off demon or half-breed. The man gave him a shove and he spun to look at his attacker.
‘DORIANGRAY!’ the tech screamed in his ear. ‘That’s Dorian Gray!’
The man, apparently Dorian Gray, took a step back, slipped the switchblade back into his expensive suit and again aimed the gun at him. ‘Why are you trespassing?’
‘It was just a routine check, following the events of-’
‘I’m well aware of the events that went on in this house,’ the older – much older – man snapped. ‘We have a front gate, and a doorbell. You’re lucky I recognised your suit, I don’t take kindly to strangers.’
‘There was a leech here, we tend to ignore the doorbell when following up something like that,’ he growled.
‘Your laws, Recruit, not mine.’
‘He’s got you there,’ Screen said, ‘there’s no actual crime if someone external to an Agency aides-slash-abets a starchild, he’s right to be pissed at you.’
‘May I please,’ he said sarcastically as he straightened his jacket, the image of the perfect little recruit somewhat rumped and grass-stained now, ‘inspect the property.’
‘There aren’t any Solstice here, I would have dumped the bodies somewhere easy for your garbage men to collect. Aside from that, aside from me, there’s nothing that would interest the Agency here. And being who I am, with my immunity, I think it’s time for you to leave.’
He stared at the gun for a moment, then decided to push his luck. He, after all, had a paranoid waiting for the go-ahead to shift him out, so even if he did get shot, he’d be back and getting stitched up in seconds. Another clue to the mystery was worth that.
‘If it’s all over and done with, all washed away with the mirrorfall, then why oh why is there a bloodstain on that tree?’ he asked as he pointed an angry finger at the accused tree.
Dorian was silent for a moment, then gave a casual shrug. ‘When you are as old as I am, you tend to develop some…kinks,’ he said as he lowered his gun, ‘it keeps things interesting.’
‘You’re lying,’ he said. ‘And you weren’t even trying very hard.’
The older man shrugged. ‘I honestly don’t know whose blood it is, I have a fair idea, but their story isn’t mine to tell. Would you please leave now?’
‘Why?’ he asked, ‘you’ve got something better to do?’
‘As boring as it is,’ Dorian said, ‘I’m waiting on an electrician. We had a rough house guest the other night and we need some fixtures replaced.’
‘Maybe,’ Screen said in his ear, ‘you should leave, you aren’t exactly gonna get a lot out of him. And I don’t think there’s anything else to see. Cigar is just a cigar, and all that.’
Dorian’s phone rang and he turned away to answer it. ‘Fine, buzz them in,’ he said as he turned toward the driveway and watched a van drive slowly up it. He sighed. ‘They’re two hours late. Now please, Agency, get off the lawn.’
‘I want to take a sample of the blood. Just to make sure everything is above-board.’
‘Will that make you leave?’ Dorian asked impatiently.
‘Yes.’
‘Then at least do it quickly,’ the Englishman said as he jogged across the lawn toward the electrical contractor.
‘That could have gone better,’ the tech.
‘Oh, you think?’he asked before setting off toward the tree.
‘It’s just a bloodstain,’ Screen said, ‘plenty of people bleed. Why do you think it’s special? Or are you the one with the creepy blood kink?’
‘I guess it’s algebra,’ he said as he required an evidence bag and a knife. ‘Just need one more value for the whole thing to make sense.’
‘That’s another point in the column to get you a lab coat.’
‘I couldn’t do your job,’ he said as he scrapped some of the bark away, ‘I’m not cut out for desk work.’
‘So why do you keep applying to be Agent Ryan’s aide?’
‘Keep out of my file, techie,’ he said as he slipped the bag into his pocket. ‘That’s no-one’s business but my own.’
‘But if you don’t like desk work-’
‘Drop it,’ he said as he rounded the house, back toward the driveway, back toward the front gate and his nearby car. ‘We’re done here, you can go off-channel.’
‘Nopenope,’ she said, ‘you yelled at me for being late, I’m staying on channel till at least you’re back to your car, you’re still in Risk Factor Three territory while on the premises.’
‘I don’t think a pissed-off Brit is much of a threat.’
‘Dude. Dorian fucking Gray. Haven’t you hear the stories about him?’
‘He’s some old British dude, same name as a book character, immortal.’
‘They say he-’
‘Hey mate,’ a voice said as he passed the van, ‘got the time?’
He paused, required a watch and turned to give the answer.
‘DUCK!’
Without thinking, he hit the ground, just in time to avoid a bullet. He rolled to his feet, and a thought had his gun in his hand. The old man stood there, aiming the gun at him, shaking. ‘Die,’ he said without much conviction, but still didn’t pull the trigger.
He appraised the old man, immediately recognising the type. The part-timer type. The type recruited when they were at their weakest, after some great tragedy, pulled away before any Agency staff could arrive on the scene and organise for proper treatment, or explanation.
The type just given a gun and a long list of things to shoot at.
The old man aimed the gun at him again, gripping the mistreated weapon with both of his sweaty hands. ‘You’re nothing but filth, I’m going to-’
‘You’re going to put the gun down,’ he said, ‘I’ve had a lot more practice with my gun, I’ve got a kill shot, and I can pull the trigger faster than you can.’
‘We can save you,’ the old man stammered, ‘you’re still young, you can join the right side, you can-’
‘I’d shoot myself in the head before I went back to the Solstice.’
‘You’re a bloody traitor?’
‘To a cause you couldn’t give two shits about, so don’t pretend to act offended.’ He released the safety on his gun, making sure that the old man heard the click. ‘Here is how this is going to work, you’re going to put the gun down, I’m going to take you into custody, you’re going to tell the nice Q&A guys everything they want to know, then you get to back to your real life, free and clear of any of this Solstice shit.’
‘Never.’
‘The other choice is I kill you right here and right now, I’d prefer not to do that.’
‘Jake Linden,’ Screen said in his ear, ‘we’ve got a report on his wife, killed six months ago, looks…geez, looks like she was caught in the crossfire, died on the scene.’
‘Mister Linden,’ he said, ‘one last warning.’
‘You didn’t even give me a blood first one.’
‘Do you really want to shoot me?’
The old man wrapped a finger around the trigger, most of the shake disappearing from his hands.
He watched the old man for a split second longer. ‘Fine,’ he said, then squeezed off a round. The bullet hit the old man in the shoulder, causing him to firstly howl in pain, then drop his gun.
‘Techie,’ he said to the girl in his ear, ‘two to shift out.’
After a moment, the world blurred and he found himself in the tech department. He looked across to Jones. ‘Infirmary?’
The agent nodded. ‘Of course.’
‘Do me a favour, please,’ he said as he removed his headset and dropped it into his pocket. ‘Don’t tell me how it turns out. The euthanasia statistics are something I like to avoid.’
Jones nodded and he turned to the bouncy girl with the purple hair – undoubtedly his operator. ‘Can you get that analysed for me?’ he asked as he tossed her the bag full of bark. ‘Just email me the results.’
‘Sure thing, Agent C,’ the girl said before tossing the packet onto her messy desk and going back to the myriad of browser windows on her screen.
With a respectful nod at Jones, he left the crazy-shiny world of the techs behind, and headed for the elevator and the relative sanity and comfort of his own floor. After the usual few seconds – which he was convinced only existed to maintain a sense of normalcy – he stepped in, punched the button for the floor below.
He rounded a corner, then knocked on Ryan’s office door. He heard a drawer slam. ‘Come in,’ Ryan called, and there was the sound of the door being unlocked.
He walked into the darkened office, saw the condition of his commander, closed the door, crossed the room and stood at attention.
‘What is it, Curt?’ Ryan asked as he busied himself with the papers on his desk.
‘Brought a part-timer in, sir,’ he said as he watched the agent fumble with his pen, and scrawl messy signatures. ‘You might be able to question him later-’
‘Might?’ Ryan asked, looking up at him.
‘Sir, let’s just say that a man in his condition, with his trauma, he’s probably going to be killed while “trying to escape the custody of the Parkers”’ he said, barely holding himself back from making air quotes. It wasn’t exactly a secret, but it was still one that had to be shrouded in officious bureaucracy.
‘I see,’ Ryan said flatly, ‘well, we’ll see if his escape plan works. Was there anything else?’
He required a handkerchief and handed it across. ‘Your eyes are bleeding, sir.’ He watched Ryan lift a hand to his face, and pull back a wet hand. ‘That’s level five excess, right? The fact that you’re too numb to feel it…sir, why aren’t you in Recovery right now?’
Ryan used the handkerchief to wipe away the blood before tossing it down to his desk. ‘Because I have work to do, Recruit. And,’ the agent said slowly, ‘why is it that you know the excess signs? I didn’t think that was standard Solstice training.’
‘It isn’t. The Solstice don’t give two proverbial shits what proxies do to each other. I presumed level five punishment because that’s what I saw in the mirror when it happened to me.’
Ryan pinched the bridge of his nose. ‘You aren’t making any sense.’
‘I guess,’ he said, ‘there were a few things they left off my transfer report.’