Taylor turned and looked back at the fog. The Parkers came through within the expected time frame, and the fog solidified into glass.
The tech with purple hair ran up to him, and immediately asked about Mimosa, then enquired if he was in an acceptable state of battle-readiness – if that was how one was to interpret “Are you okies?”.
He ignored the tech, and stared at the glass.
It would not be unreasonable to see Mimosa. Or Ryan. Or both. In the glass, or making their way through the glass. It was a dream, there were no rules, no precedents.
A hand grabbed his shoulder, and he processed six kill options before recognising the slender fingers of the Scholar. He turned, and stared at Jones – the tech’s long hair was far from tidy, his lab coat had stains of several colours on it, and he looked tired – definite signs that Jones’ battle-readiness was not at an acceptable level.
‘Where’s Stef?’
Taylor stared at the glass. ‘You’re not stupid, Jones.’
The Scholar’s fingers tightened on his shoulder. ‘I need you to actually use your words, Agent, because it’s looking like your just murdered one of your colleagues.’
He pushed the hand away. ‘I didn’t.’
‘Then what the fuck happened?’
‘Found Ryan. He would not sober up. Mimosa dictated drastic action.’ He turned and stared into the Scholar’s green eyes. ‘She believed your theory. Is it still your theory?’
Jones grabbed him and they shifted back to the Agency, to Jones’ lab. ‘Sit. From the top. Explain.’
‘I explained.’
‘Eleven words is not an explanation I will accept!’
Taylor leaned against the wall. ‘Found Ryan. Initial assessment indicated a nightmare mimicking normalcy.’
‘Our Director isn’t the kind to dream up a Mad Max scenario, I agree.’
He glared at Jones. ‘Your Director. My Director is Reynolds.’
‘Semantics aside. What happened next?’
‘Found the Agency. Sent Mimosa in. She’s more expendable. It was the best course of action.’ He paused, ordering the events. ‘I could require. I had a system connection. It recognised me as existing. It recognised me, but not as a duplicate. Therefore the imposter was in a blackout zone. The area was limited. None of the standard blackout zones were close enough. Except Wintergarden, but it seemed unlikely. Made an assumption.’
‘And you assumed?’
‘The pub.’
‘You don’t got to the pub.’
‘Used to.’ He glared again. ‘Before. You didn’t save those parts.’
There were scattered memories of going there. Spending time with recruits. They were disjointed. Disconnected. Lacking any emotional impact. It was a fact. A line in a report. It didn’t mean anything.
Whoever it had meant something to, had died, bleeding out to save a tech.
He growled to shut the Scholar up. ‘Found the imposter. He was-’ Words were necessary to explain. Words were connected to emotions. Magnolia found ways to understand when he couldn’t speak. Everyone else was deficient.
He needed Magnolia.
‘His appearance indicated a pre-Whitman divergence of the nightmare’s reality. I rendered him unconscious, changed my hair and clothes to exactly match, then walked into the Agency.’
This seemed to amuse Jones. ‘Of course you did.’
‘Mimosa had killed her imposter. Ryan was reading her mind. Executed him to facilitate sobering up. It failed. He fatally wounded Mimosa. Administered Gerry’s Glue. On her suggestion, lured him to the Parkers, and collapsed the zone.’
‘You could have brought here here, she would have lived! We could have dealt with Ryan!’
Taylor hesitated. ‘I suspect Ryan’s template was significantly more Dusker than in reality. Actions. Dress. A Dusker would be disruptive. Dangerous. I don’t want to deal with a Dusker. You couldn’t.’
‘You killed them both, you realise that.’
‘She believed your theory.’
‘Since when the fuck have you ever listened to what Stef wanted to do?’
‘I owed her. This clears a debt.’
‘Was this really the best option you had?’ Jones said. ‘We have methods of restraint-‘
Taylor drew Magnolia’s knife, and had it against the tech’s throat in a second. He drew Jones up off his chair and pushed him onto the desk, pressed the flat of the blade against the Scholar’s skin. ‘If you die,’ he growled, ‘everything hear disappears. Your recruits. Your tech. Your capacity to investigate this disaster from the inside. There is no guarantee any other agent could replicate these circumstances. You’re…necessary,’ he said, pinning the tech harder as Jones tried to move. ‘Ryan and Mimosa are not.’ He slipped the knife back into its sheath. ‘It was tactical. I did my job. You do yours.’
He straightened himself, and Jones sat up, then required a new uniform, and sat quietly on the desk for a moment. ‘The ends justify the means, the ends always justify the means, but I want to avoid losing people where I can…it hit five thousand while you gone.’
He didn’t bother to hold back surprise. ‘Why the casualty jump?’
‘No one knows for sure. Likely theory is that there was another zone like this, but already far more advanced, a hub of agents, and it collapsed for whatever reason.’ Jones paused. ‘Extinction is not something I give a great deal of thought to. There’s a lot more things that will wipe out the human race first, hell, we had a fifty-fifty chance of surviving the phoenixes. This is just us, just Agents, and it’s killing us faster than anything ever before.’ The tech lifted a hand and required a green bottle. ‘I don’t want to be part of endangered species.’
Taylor considered the Scholar. ‘You don’t believe your theory.’
‘I can’t believe that so many of us have died. It doesn’t make sense for people to die.’ He emptied the bottle. ‘I meant what I said. I deal with facts. I have no proof they’re dead.’ He rolled the bottle between his hands. ‘But I’ve got no proof that they’re alive, either.’
‘You were sure,’ Taylor said with a growl. ‘Actions were taken from your information.’
Jones sighed. ‘It’s different when you lose your own.’
Taylor grabbed Jones’ lab coat. ‘You’re not stupid, Jones.’ He said, shoved the tech back against the wall, then walked from the lab.
‘That was almost sweet,’ a voice said.
There was pressure against his shoulders as Grigori grabbed him and pushed him against the wall. There was gentle warmth against his mouth as the other agent kissed him deeply.
A part of him was suddenly glad that Jones had tasked all of his recruits elsewhere.
‘I’m not surprised to see you,’ Grigori said, his hands slipping into Taylor’s hair, ‘but I am glad.’
Taylor let out a breath, and relaxed his body against Grigori. ‘It makes no sense for you to be here.’
‘Locational theory…except I have no other agents who share my country, so I didn’t have to run as far as you would think. There’s few people I’d rather be in a disaster with, and the others aren’t agents.’
Taylor smirked. ‘It took you long enough.’
Grigori gave him a quick kiss. ‘Shut up.’
Grigori grabbed his hand and led him down the hall. ‘I’m going to take you into the first free room and fuck your brain out, are you fine with that?’
The empty tech recruit common room was to their left – he turned his hand in Grigori’s, and pulled him towards the room.
Half of Grigori’s clothes were already off by the time they made it to the nonsensically large couch.
Grigori sat, and began to pull at Taylor’s pants. It was inefficient. The teasing touch through fabric was-
He groaned as Grigori took his half-erect penis into his mouth.
[Come down here,] Grigori said, his hands reaching up to pull him down onto the couch. He required away his clothes as he lay flat on the wide couch – which was more of a plush island than anything that looked like standard-
Grigori applied the smallest pressure with his teeth, and Taylor’s back arched. He propped himself up on his elbows, and growled. ‘Careful,’ he warned.
There was a hint of teeth again. [You love this.]
Grigori began to suck, and Taylor allowed himself to lie flat again. The softness of the couch and the slowly building pleasure gave him the first hints of peace since looking down at his wife’s body.
Even the imposter he’d demanded of Jones – there’d been something too unreal about her. He’s let himself hold her, touch her, feel her beating heart, and her breath against him, but he’d ordered her away.
She had at least followed orders like the real Magnolia.
Grigori began to fondle him, applying pressure that was the knife edge between pleasure and pain.
[You ok?] Grigori asked, the speed and intensity of his actions slowing. [Taylor?]
‘Allow- I would-‘
Words were still hard. There were things he enjoyed doing, and enjoyed having done to him, but wrapping words around them still felt unnatural. They felt…borrowed.
Grigori pulled his head away, moved up his body and kissed him. ‘Who’s on top?’
‘Side,’ he said slowly.
Grigori raised his eyebrows, the nodded. ‘Assume the position then.’ Grigori turned away from him as Taylor pulled his legs up onto the couch. It only took a moment to manoeuvrer in position – lying side by side, but opposite to each other – where they could pleasure each other.
He could name the act. He could name the position. It felt natural to do, even if not to name.
Kindness was a weakness. Often a weakness. Often unnecessary. A replacement for harsher emotions by weaker people.
Sometimes he was glad of it.
Magnolia. Grigori. Lovers that accepted a disease with words, and a lack of practice with the acts.
He was inferior to both of them. It would take years to adapt the skills necessary. He would never be-
Grigori’s tongue was rounding him, teasing him, coaxing him towards climax. [You can start any time, you know.]
He took the other agent in his mouth, and ran through the options in his head. To tease. To go fast. To go slow. To experiment. To stick to what he knew.
There had been enough disruption. It was time for a safe option.
He changed the angle of his head, and took all of Grigori into his mouth – a significantly more difficult than the Russian’s task. He licked the base, and then made small encouraging motions, slight pressure to encourage movement, and on instinct, Grigori began to move.
After a few more moments, Grigori simply began to fuck his mouth.
Pressure built, and he climaxed in the other Agent’s mouth. Grigori sucked until he became flaccid, then released him, his former erection growing cold in the air conditioning.
Grigori put pressure on his side, and they rolled, Grigori straddling his head. This gave the Russian a better angle, one where he could move faster, move with more force. Grigori moved for another two minutes, seventeen seconds, then also climaxed.
The etiquette issue arose.
Neither Magnolia nor Grigori had instructed him on what to do. Magnolia always took a moment to spit out the residue and clean her mouth, Grigori tended to swallow.
He didn’t find the taste to be offensive, nor enjoyable. It was neutral. He swallowed what was in his mouth, then required his face clean as Grigori removed himself.
Grigori turned, and laid down beside Taylor. The Russian kissed his cheek. ‘So, what was your nightmare?’
‘Magnolia. She died. Yours?’
‘The war. Solstice war. Magnolia dying, there’s more to it than that.’
‘Same could be said to you.’
Taylor stared into his best friend’s eyes. ‘It was my fault.’
Grigori nodded. ‘As it was in mine.’
‘At least yours was nonsense,’ Taylor said, ‘I could kill Magnolia. It happened- It was quick. I didn’t have a chance-’
‘We do what we were programmed to do,’ Grigori said, ‘our best. That’s all anyone can ask.’
‘That’s a platitude,’ Taylor said with a growl.
‘It is, and I happen to like it. Now, I’ve been here an hour, catch me up on everything.’