The Grey Edge: Chapter Fifteen

Magnolia rolled over, opened one eyes and stared at Jones. ‘What?’
‘Are you awake?’
‘I wasn’t. What do you want?’

‘Remind me to ask you one day if you act this way around other agents, or if we’re just lucky. That aside, sit up, I need to speak with you for a minute.’
‘I doubt there’s anything of interest you could say to me.’
‘Magnolia, something has happened, and it isn’t pleasant.’
She sat up. ‘Is it Taylor?’
‘Then I’m not interested.’
‘It concerns you, actually.’
‘Am I dying?’
‘Not so far as the Parkers have informed me.’
‘Then I don’t care.’
‘Speak, or don’t, scholar.’
‘Someone has been distributing a video…of a sensitive nature.’
She stared at him. ‘How sensitive?’
‘Pornographically so.’
‘I assumed it was being distributed, it wasn’t being made for fun.’
‘It was sent to the entire Agency, and copies were forwarded off our servers before I caught it.’
‘I see.’
‘It’s a safe assumption to think that most of the Agency personnel have seen it by now.’
‘I extrapolated as much.’
‘Merlin wanted me to check on you. To ask how you are.’
‘Where’s Taylor?’
‘Off base and incommunicado. He hasn’t seen it unless he checked his email remotely, which i’ve never known him to o. But, he can’t-’
‘He can do whatever he wants,’ she said.
‘He can’t hold it against you,’ Jones said. ‘Just remember that.’
‘He can,’ she said again, ‘do whatever he wants.’
Jones sighed. ‘Is there anything I can do?’
‘Please let me the hell out of here. I’ve rested. I’ve got work to do. I have paperwork to do, it isn’t strenuous, just get them to release me.’
‘I can’t, you aren’t in any condition to be-’
She held up a shaking hand. ‘I just want to do the bloody paperwork, Jones. We don’t generate as much as your department, but we also have a lot less people working on it.’
‘He’d be in so much trouble without you.’
‘Is that a “yes”?’
‘Can you promise me that-?’ he started.
‘Yes, yes, whatever,’ she said, ‘just let me out.’
The tech stared. ‘Fine, it’s your funeral.’ A tablet computer appeared in his hands, and he played with it for a moment. ‘Barriers are down,’ he said, ‘so you can fade away, or walk out the door, your choice.’
She stared at the wall, and let herself fade through it, leaving the tech, and the doctors behind. Two minutes later, she was back in her room. She stood for a moment, assessing the damage, her weak spots, and her relative battle-readiness, and deemed herself a risk. This was no condition to be picking fights in, to be seeking them out, or even actively engaging them if there was a valid chance of a coward’s escape.
She was weak.
Her head pounded as she stood, and she stepped into her bathroom. One thought replaced the shower with a bathtub, another filled it with hot water, and stepped in, hissing in pain as the hot water touched her cool limbs. She lowered herself into the tub, letting the water cover her. A small requirement had a pillow for her neck, and she rested her head back, closing her eyes, and willing the pain to flee her body.
The voice was soft, low, barely loud enough to rouse her.
Recognition slipped in, and she opened her eyes, grasping for a weapon that wasn’t there. She tried to require her gun, but nothing appeared in her hands.
A magpie sat on the end of the bath.
‘Oh, really daughter,’ Magpie said. ‘Don’t try any of your tricks here, this isn’t even your dream.’
She lunged forward, trying to grab for Magpie, but the bath simply seemed to extend, putting her mother far out of her reach.
‘I just want to talk, Magnolia.’
She slumped, but didn’t let the confusion show on her face as the bath disappeared, replaced with a staircase. ‘No,’ she argued, staring down at her formal-uniform, then up at her mother. ‘You want to gloat.’
‘Well, of course I do,’ Magpie said. ‘But the past isn’t the only thing I want to discuss with you, daughter, it’s the future. The future is very important, and so are you.’
‘Of course I am,’ she said, ‘I need to-’
‘I’m not talking about your pretend-job in your dress-up world, I’m talking about the real world, something the Agency doesn’t qualify for.’
‘Leave me alone, mother,’ she demanded as her mother slipped from her bird form, into her human-seeming form, wrapped in a black and white gown.
‘I can’t do that, Magnolia, you’re my daughter.’
‘Your children mean nothing to you,’ she said. ‘You…exploded Ben Thomas.’
‘Yes,’ Magpie said, ‘I love my children.’
‘That isn’t love, mother!’
‘I really don’t understand you position, Magnolia,’ Magpie said, ‘you are acting blameless.’
‘You killed him.’
‘No, daughter, you did. You couldn’t keep your beak out of it. You acted as an agent, and in doing so, brought them together again. The only reason he died, is because of you.’
‘That isn’t an excuse that would hold up in court.’
‘Stop thinking like a human!’ he mother snapped. ‘It would hold up to the Kings, and that is the only Court, other than my own, that I care about.’
‘And his father? He has equal claim over his life.’
Magpie gave a one-shouldered shrug, and the stairs beneath them began to move. ‘That’s why I killed him,’ she said as she stepped up into air, her black gown crawling up her back and turning into wings. ‘I need for some of my children to just be mine. I need to be able to use them as I need.’
She stared up at her mother. ‘Let me out of this dream, mother, I have a life to get back to.’
‘A life where you nearly crippled yourself for an oafish pile of ash? I watched you, Magnolia, very impressive. For something nearly human anyway.’ Magpie laughed, and wrapped her wings around herself. ‘If you would just come home, you’d be able to do as much without thought, much less without chancing visiting the Lady’s realm.’
‘Never,’ she said.
‘You don’t have a choice, Magnolia,’ Magpie said. ‘I am your mother, you have no choice but to come with me.’
‘I have plenty of choice, you can’t steal me from within the Agency. And this dream-state, you can’t sustain it forever, it traps you here as well, not to mention there are a dozen easy ways for anyone in the waking world to bring me out of it. This is-’
‘I may not be able to steal you from their nest, child, but I can poison it against you, I can compell you to come to me, lest face…a worse fate.’
‘You sent the video,’ she said, ‘I’m not even surprised. You think-’
‘I know, and you think,’ Magpie said. ‘Tell me, do you really think they will let you stay? A whore in their midsts?’
‘It won’t make them fantasise about me anymore than they do already, if they do,’ she said.
‘You don’t believe that. The Agency are quick to expel unworthy chicks from their nest, and I think that-’
‘Even if that comes to pass,’ she said, ‘what makes you think I will come to you? You aren’t the only other choice in this world. You are the last choice.’
‘This is your second order, Magnolia, come with me.’
‘No. I’m not part of your Court, I’m not someone you get to control, mother.’
‘There are many fates worse than death. There are few fates worse than defying me.’
She laughed. ‘You really believe that, don’t you?’
‘And are you are going to tempt fate?’
‘Order me again,’ she said, ‘and we’ll see.’
‘I order you, Magnolia Hammond, my daughter, to renounce the Agency, and to attend to your warden immediately. This is an order made on your blood. Accept, or suffer the consequences.’
‘Then I guess I’m going to suffer,’ she said.
‘Yes,’ Magpie said, ‘it will start with-’
There was a sharp pain and she fell to her knees, the stairs disappearing out from under her, leaving her falling into darkness. There was pressure against her chest again, and she felt wet. There was pressure again and-
She opened her eyes and spat up water. A strong hand pressed against her back, pulling her up, and she coughed another lungful of water.
‘I didn’t give you permission to drown yourself,’ Taylor said, a hand still on her chest, over her heart.
‘Sir?’ she said, trying to focus on him.
He stood, lifting her as he did, his hand sliding from her chest to wrap around her legs. He carried her back to her bed for the second time in a day, and placed her face down. She coughed again, her throat feeling raw.
The bed moved as he climbed on, and on top of her. He straddled her, carefully putting almost no weight on her, slid his hands up her back, and began to pull at the bandages.
‘Why were you trying to drown yourself?’ he said as she heard a bandage hit the carpet with a wet sound.
‘Magpie pulled me into a dream-state sir,’ she said, ‘it wasn’t intentional.’
‘What did she have to say?’
‘She wanted to gloat, sir,’ she said, ‘about killing Ben Thomas, and try to shift blame to us.’
‘Expected,’ he said, as the second bandage was tossed away. ‘What else?’
She stared at her quilt, unwilling to speak.
‘What else?’ he asked again, thumbs moving over the skin he’d exposed.
‘She wanted to gloat, sir.’
‘You already said that, recruit.’
‘Not only about Ben Thomas, sir.’
‘Say it, Magnolia,’ he ordered.
She took a deep breath, prepared for whatever, prepared for- ‘She distributed a pornographic video of me, sir. It should be in your inbox now, unless the scholars recalled copies that hadn’t been viewed, but a copy wouldn’t be too hard to-’
He grabbed her shoulders and turned her over, so that she was on her back, leaving her in a position where it would be easy for him to-
‘Torgon Assail is dead.’