‘Ma’am?’
Magnolia looked up. The movement was sharp. Bird-like. She was far beyond her normal limits. It didn’t matter. She swallowed, and focussed on Hewitt. ‘What is it, Recruit?’
Hewitt sat in the uncomfortable chair she’d placed across from her temporary desk – a way to discourage visitors from staying too long. ‘I’m…not exactly sure, ma’am.’
Magnolia pinched the bridge of her nose – a slight sign of tiredness and irritation, but one that Hewitt wouldn’t use against her. ‘Then tell me what you do know.’
Hewitt opened his mouth for a moment, shook his head, closed it. ‘I think we’ve got an agent, ma’am.’
She lifted a dead arm and gestured to the row of bed. ‘I’ve got a few dozen, you want to be more specific?’
‘Yeah. Not here. Agent Reynolds. Director Reynolds.’
She was on her feet, her hands sliding over her body to check for her knife, her gun, her emergency tools. ‘Where?’ She pulled Hewitt from his chair. ‘Where?’
Hewitt stumbled, then caught his balance. ‘He approached one of the techs upstairs. Sacha. Wanted to know where Agent Samuels was. Had a few questions. Sacha alerted me-‘
That wasn’t procedure. ‘Why’d he go to you first?’
‘Ma’am, we’ve all got our interdepartmental favourites. He trusts me. And it’s not a usual situation. By the time I got upstairs, they had established his identity and the fact that he’s an active agent – or at least appears to be. Blue concentration is consistent with an agent of his era, his software hasn’t been upgraded in a chunk of forever, but he seems to be who he says he is.’
‘And where did you put him?’
‘A detention room, of course, I’m not an idiot.’
‘Do a sweep?’
‘His pockets are full of lint and not much else.’
They rode walked down the stairs to the holding cells.
‘There,’ Hewitt said, ‘fourteen.’
‘Hold.’ Magnolia searched her hidden pockets and found her last vial of stimulant. She’d exceeded recommended dosages and periods of wakefulness. The crash was going to be seven kinds of shit, but it was necessary.
‘Gorgon juice?’ Hewitt asked, noticing the label. ‘Caipe uses that when he has double-shifts, it’s kinda shit, but he likes the taste.’ He patted his pockets and handed her a strip of pills. ‘This helps with the after effects.’
She popped two of the pills, then downed the juice. ‘Thanks.’ She checked the security feed, then swiped her access pass as they reached fourteen. She programmed it for a five-minute conversation, with sub-lethal measures to be taken if she didn’t cancel it in time.
‘Want back up, ma’am? I’m not Taylor, but-‘
‘Yeah, I’d appreciate it,’ she said, the stimulant burning in her chest for a moment.
She pushed open the door, and found Reynolds sitting at the small table. She flicked her gaze to all corners of the room – nothing was out of place, nothing to indicate that he’d jerry-rigged a weapon.
She looked at his face – he certainly had the appearance of the Agency’s actual director, but appearances could be so easily deceiving. She sat at the table, and let Hewitt settle into the corner behind him.
She sucked in a breath. Control was the only move to make. Whether or not he was who he appeared to be, he was a man well of out of his time, who didn’t know the personnel. Director or not, he was nothing but a resource, not someone to relinquish authority to. She let a little smirk play out on her lips – Ryan would have never had a thought like that.
‘I’m Director Magnolia, and I’d like you to identify yourself.’
‘I’m Director Reynolds, ma’am.’
‘You understand we’ll need to confirm that.’
‘I relinquished blue samples to recruits I’m sure were techs. Times change, but there’s a certain enthusiasm scholars never lose. I’ve done nothing to indicate myself as a threat, and I’m cooperating, despite being in the third smallest holding room we have.’
‘Comfort isn’t our priority at the moment, Agent.’ She sat back in the chair. ‘Give Recruit Hewitt your ID.’
Reynolds patted down every one of his pockets before finally producing an ID wallet – tooled brown leather, rather than the standard requirement, then handed it up over his shoulder. Hewitt flipped it open. ‘Current year, ma’am.’
She made a small affirmative noise. It was a detail that most imposters would have overlooked. Agency IDs, whether the agent was active, inactive, or under a rarer status, were always kept current. Photos updated as the agent changed their appearance, details updated as they changed jurisdictions, and year of issue always matched the calendar year.
An imposter – depending on how well they knew the Agency – would likely make the gamble that Reynolds would have an ID from thirty-five years ago. It was an assumption, but the extremities of the situation demanded the benefit of the doubt.
Rulebook. Section seven. Rule Seventeen. There was a protocol for this. There was a procedure for this.
‘Agent, you’ve been asleep for longer than I’ve been alive. Can you tell us anything about what’s going on?’
The professional, neutral, agent look finally dropped from Reynolds’ face. ‘I’m…free. I’m finally free. Sol – can I presume you know-‘
‘Yes,’ she said.
‘He is dead. Our bargain held. He gorged on our minds. Our dreams are safe. Myself and my peers can be in the world again. I cannot- I have too much to catch up on.’ He licked his lips. ‘I haven’t had a drink in, as you said, longer than you’ve been alive.’
‘Hewitt,’ she said, without taking her eyes of the agent.
‘Yes ma’am,’ he said, placing a paper cup on the table. A pitcher of water – the stripe of blue running through the handle indicating it was interrogation safety glass – any substantial amount of pressure would dismiss it, making it impossible to use as a weapon – and poured water for Reynolds.
‘Director,’ Reynolds said, ‘unless there’s been a substantial change in the way Agencies are run, I’m guessing you’re in the middle of an emergency situation, and I’m guessing it has something to do with Sol.’
‘You woke up,’ she said, ‘everyone else went to sleep. Some appear to be dead, but we’ve got it from a higher authority that only the ones the Agencies have killed are actually dead.’
‘And what authority-‘
‘One of my recruits spoke with Death.’
This shocked him into silence. ‘That…isn’t something we did on a regular basis.’
‘Yeah, well, his girlfriend is an agent and everything about them is a bit weird.’
Reynolds sighed. ‘It’s going to take me a while to catch up, isn’t it?’
‘I would appreciate your assistance,’ Magnolia said. ‘Though I have to insist on a tracer, a kill code, a shatter sequence, and for Hewitt to be your…entourage for the duration.’
Hewitt stared at the floor. ‘Shouldn’t you ask if he minds being escorted around by the gay guy first?’
Reynolds turned to Hewitt. ‘I prefer happy recruits, actually.’
Hewitt sighed. ‘No, I mean- Thirty years out of touch. Right. What do you call a guy who fucks another guy?’
Reynolds was quiet for a minute. ‘Depending on my relationship with them…their first name, their rank, or for dinner.’
‘You’re-‘
‘I don’t mind female companionship, but I much prefer the company of men. I might be a few decades out of touch, but Agent culture has never truly mimicked the human norm, and Faerie has always been far more sensible about these things. Shall we get me outfitted with the ways to murder me, so we can bring the others home?’
Magnolia smirked. ‘If I was a scholar, I’d probably high-five you, for now, I’ll just send you to them. Hewitt get him set up, kill code on a snap card for myself only. Shatter sequence permissions for myself, yourself and O’Connor. Level five tracer,’ she spared a somewhat apologetic look. ‘Sorry, but it’s procedure.’
‘I’d insist on no less myself, Director.’
‘You understand I’m in charge until the emergency situation is over. After that, if Ryan is still alive, your quarrel is with him. I’ll be relinquishing my authority back to him. If Ryan’s dead, then it goes to Agent Taylor.’
A look of relief crossed Reynolds’s face. ‘Both my boys are still alive. That’s…that’s good. Tell me, how are they?’
She looked back to Hewitt, and he left the room. Magnolia leaned forward, her elbows on the table. ‘Ryan’s been an inadequate Director who has let his own department suffer because he’s been too busy pulling double-duty. Taylor was killed, and brought back against his own wishes.’
‘Gods. So- So they’re miserable-‘
She shrugged. ‘Sometimes. You have to understand, I’ve only got an outsider’s perspective on Ryan, but he seems happier since he got himself a new pet. And I’m not even going to try and explain Agent Mimosa until we catch you up on everything else.’
‘And…Taylor?’ Reynolds asked as she stood, and indicated to the door.
‘Taylor was fucked by the system. You’re…you’re probably not going to know the man wearing the face that you remember. They only salvaged about ten percent of who he was, of his memories. He’s…isolated, monosyllabic and people are rightfully afraid of him.’
‘I shouldn’t have left them,’ Reynolds said. ‘I should have been here.’
‘I don’t think you really had a choice, did you?’
‘No, I didn’t.’
‘Don’t expect things of Taylor. Don’t push for memories that he may not have. Meet him as a new person, and accept him, or you’ll piss off his wife, and trust me, her shitlist is an unenviable place to be.’
‘So that’s why you’re wearing his dog tags.’
She nodded, and allowed herself a slight smile. ‘He remembers you, he has some sentiment for you, but…be careful. Or I’ll fucking cut you and claim directorial right.’
‘Yes ma’am.’
‘Just help me bring them all home, agent.’ She pushed open the door. ‘Bring him back to the conference room when you’re done, and bring a scholar team with you.’