Curt stood uncomfortably for a moment watching Ryan trying to process this. ‘Anyway sir, I just-’
Ryan wiped at his bloody eyes again. ‘They did what to you?’
‘It doesn’t matter, sir. I’ll leave you to recover.’ He turned to leave, but heard the door lock click. For a moment, his pulse increased – he was trapped in a room with an agent again. An agent with the right to kill him for even speaking out of line. An agent that could-
He forced himself under control and turned back to his commander. ‘If you insist sir. Let me put it this way, what would you have done with me?’
Ryan leaned back in his chair. ‘If I’d been in Agent Petersen’s place?’
‘I would have shot you.’
‘Petersen went for the crueler option. He wanted to punish me. Level five is what he decided on.’
‘But you’re human,’ Ryan argued, ‘how could they do it?
He sat on the couch, and rubbed the back of his neck. ‘Two shots of blue straight to my central nervous system, a bunch of smaller shots to my brain…just so I could process the audio-visual stuff. So I could glitch properly.’ He scratched the arm of the couch. ‘The pain is one thing, I’ve been taught to handle pain, the glitches though…they’re something else entirely.’
Ryan stared incredulously at him.
‘I’ve got no reason to be lying about this, sir.’
‘What did you see?’ Ryan asked him after a long moment.
‘Most of it was disjointed nightmare imagery. Terrifying stuff, but nothing that made sense. Pain, torture, getting trapped in a burning coffin, random nightmares. There was only one semi-coherent one, they kept tearing my daughter apart and I couldn’t help her, I just had to watch, I couldn’t turn away.’
Ryan’s hand twitched for a moment. ‘Glitches like that…are difficult.’
He stared at Ryan for a moment, there was something about the way he’d said that. ‘You have a child sir?’
‘Glitches can prey on certain fears, a situation like this…it represents the fear of not being able to protect what’s important to you. It would be the same thing for someone to glitch about their city being carpet bombed or their Agency breached and decimated.’
He stared at his commander for a moment, the unanswered question hanging heavy in the air. ‘I didn’t mean to push, sir.’
Ryan’s intense expression relented a little. ‘There is someone I feel very protective of, if that answers your question.’
‘Yes sir,’ he said. Is she five-foot-nothing and a crap shot with a handgun?
‘How long did they keep in that state?’
‘Only twenty minutes, apparently I was gonna flat line so they pulled the plug. Stopped me from glitching, but didn’t do anything about the fact that I was hemorrhaging from strange places, they just left me to bleed out. I don’t blame them, I deserved it, still it’s a very strange thing to watch yourself bleeding to death because you’ve lost so much blood from your eyes.’
‘They mentioned none of this. I didn’t know.’
‘It’s all in the past. Just like the Solstice. There’s who I was, and who I am now, sir, they’re two different people.’
‘Unless they also recycled you,’ Ryan said as he dabbed the blood handkerchief to his face, ‘that isn’t true.’
He sat back, trying not to take offense at the statement. Trying to ignore the fact that is boss still saw him as Solstice-scum, as on permanently probation. That there wasn’t anything that he could do to prove himself. That he was the outsider, and would always be that. Familiar thoughts. Another day in the suit.
‘Not that I recall,’ he said, trying to sound light, ‘but then again, I wouldn’t would I?’
Ryan simply stared at him. ‘Sorry sir,’ he said, feeling that he’d said something wrong. ‘If there’s nothing else, I’ve got a report to write so you can know all the details about the mission. There’ll probably be a follow-up, I’ve got the techs analyzing a blood sample I found.’
‘No,’ he clarified, ‘a couple of days old.’
This stilled Ryan for a moment. He looked away for a moment, then smiled.
‘Sir does,’ he said uncertainly, ‘does that mean something to you?’
‘Of course not,’ Ryan said, all the indicators of a lie clearly on his face.
‘If you’ll excuse me.’
‘Of course,’ Ryan said, and a moment later, there was the sound of the door unlocking. He stood, nodded to his boss and quick-marched through the door, and back toward the relative safety of his room.
His room that was likely still bugged. Where they could watch him every moment he was in there. Where they could see him at his worst. Where they could- He forced the thoughts away, he’d been told that it wasn’t bugged, that despite the fact that he was on probation, he did have certain rights. “Certain rights” was the phrasing though. Agents were the kings of word-smithing. Not so much as the Liars, but they had time to dedicate their entire lives to lying whilst telling the truth, to whatever end.
Agent just made you feel safe by turning one carefully crafted phrase after another. There was also the fact that any of those “certain rights” could be revoked at any time. He was sure that, at any time he felt like it, Petersen could shift into his room, tear off his head and flush it before returning to his ordinary routine.
He stripped himself of his jacket, his vest and his shirt, dropping each onto his unmade bed. He was sure that the other recruits’ beds actually made themselves once they left the room, but his stayed obstinately messy unless he required it back to perfection. It was a single thought, but it was also something that demonstrated exactly how singled-out he was. It was petty.
A thought changed his pants from his dress uniform to his training uniform, and a unintentional sigh of relief left him as he saw the familiar blue colour. A thought told him that one day they would be grey, that one day, without warning, they were just going to turn their collective suited backs on him, revoke his right to live and wait for justice to take its course.
He dropped to the floor and began his set of one hundred push-ups. It wasn’t a full workout, no-where near it, but it was one less thing he had to do in the public gym, one less opportunity for his colleagues to kick him while he was down.
Someone hit his cage, sending it spinning. He woke immediately, feeling even worse than when he’d managed to go to sleep. His body was cramped from fitting into the tiny enclosure, and his head hurt from it being pushed up against the bars. There was the sound of a creaking chain, and a rush of air against his face as the cage fell.
It hit the ground, hard, and knocked all the air from his lungs. Bruises bumped against metal, but he held back from saying anything, from swearing, from crying, from begging, he’d done enough already. Any sound he made either set the beasts on him more, or was ignored. Then again, that was the nature of torture.
The cage disappeared from around him, but he stayed in his curled up position, not wanting to take the liberty of stretching, of making himself more comfortable. Not wanting to make his naked body more of a target. At least this way they knew they were getting to him.
A strong and grabbed a handful of his hair and yanked. This time, he couldn’t hold back a scream as the hair was torn free from his head. The suit attached to the arm grunted and grabbed him again, this time by the neck, and dragged him from the dark room.
The bright light of the hall outside burned his eyes, making him realise exactly how long he’d been away from the light. He was glad of it though, it was better than the darkness, and anything was better than the nightmares.
He kept his eyes trained on the floor, unsure if he wanted to know what was coming next, be it another torture or his execution – neither was pleasant, though he was unsure as to which he would prefer. There was at least a quick release after the sharp crack of a bullet.
He was thrown into a chair, and he felt cold restraints clamp around his arms, his legs, one across his empty belly, another across his abused chest, and finally, one around his neck.
‘Tell me,’ the agent said, ‘what happened to Charlotte.’
He was tired. He was dehydrated. He was exhausted. ‘You already know,’ he said in a voice that barely resembled his own anymore.
‘You brought me the child. What happened to her?’
He tried to focus on the agent. ‘Is the kid ok?’
The agent stopped pacing and stared at him. ‘Will be. What happened to Charlotte?’
The agent punched him in the face. ‘You don’t get to ask for anything.’
‘I brought her baby here, what do you think happened to her?’
The agent hit him again, then aimed a gun at his head. ‘I won’t ask you again.’
He looked away for a moment. ‘I cut the baby out of her.’
The agent hit him again, and this time, he couldn’t hold onto consciousness.
He finished counting out the last few push-ups, then jumped up and walked into the shower. His breathing was still steady, he could keep a handle on that, no matter what fears or what memories were dredged up. External calm, internal storm – the former being why he’d been so good at his former job.
The instantly warm water did a lot to was off the sweat, to wash off the day. Twenty minutes later, he stepped out, required himself into a fresh training outfit and headed for the infirmary.
The shorter of the two Parkers was sitting in the office, his lab coat hanging on the door and his shirt rumpled, working on a stack of paperwork. The taller was walking through the infirmary from the door at the back. The morgue.
‘You need something, Recruit?’ the shorter one asked.
The taller twin’s face lit up and he jogged across the room to clap him on the shoulder. ‘You’re here to donate your organs, right? I need more practice with that!’
‘Sorry doc,’ he said as he slipped out from under the doctor’s hand. ‘I just wanted to check on-’
‘The corpse?’ the taller asked. ‘Well, it’s a corpse. In the freezer. But he’s got family, so I don’t get to play with him. You on the other hand, just one of your kidneys, please, I’ll even buy you a drink.’
‘You gave him options?’
The doctor nodded. ‘Memory wipe, cab fare to Madchester, the usual stuff. He wouldn’t hear any of it. He just wanted to-’ He looked away for a moment. ‘Escape,’ the doctor finally said. ‘Couldn’t have a criminal running loose, so took him down with one shot. He didn’t feel a thing.’
How can you know that?
‘Was there anything else?’ the shorter of the twins asked as he walked from the small office.
‘No,’ he said, ‘just needed to know how to finish of my report.’
‘Same way it always does,’ the taller said as he lifted a form from a nearby trolley. ‘Solstice die, it’s how they always end. You can’t save some people.’ The doctor smiled again, though he was sure it was the smile of a man looking at a potential organ donor. ‘But you seem to have turned out all right, but if you ever need a shot, call me, ok?’
‘Sure doc.’
With on last look at the door, he turned away and walked back toward the gym.