Brisbane
1905
‘It seems we’re not alone, Agent.’
Ryan pulled himself out of his HUD, focused on Reynolds, then immediately began to look for signs of danger. There were no alarms – either within or without his HUD, automatic Agency defences had kicked in, everything was normal, so far as he could tell.
‘Sir?’ he asked as he stood. He pinged his weapon to ensure that it was there, and that he had spare ammunition, and quickly transferred all emergency protocols to his local storage, in case they were cut off from system access.
Reynolds smiled – a strange reaction to an emergency situation. ‘My office, it looks like.’ Reynolds beckoned him, and Ryan immediately followed his Director out of the common room.
Ryan considered questioning Reynolds further, but stopped himself, and considered the possibility that it was a test. He gave the smallest of nods – more for Reynolds’ sake than his own, as his Director had been insisting that he gesticulate more, even when a situation didn’t call for high emotion.
It seemed to be a waste of motion, of time to consider the motion, and gave no real gain, but it wasn’t his place to argue.
He pinged Reynolds’ office as a primary target, then set secondary processing to search through the rest of the Agency, just to ensure that the situation was normal everywhere, and that the only unknown factor was located in Reynolds’ office.
[Result: Agent 147.]
A profile loaded, but there was something wrong with it – where the individualised profile picture of the agent should be, there was only a picture of Agent Roberts: the default appearance for agents where the majority of the agent population was – or would be – a white male.
Reynolds pushed open the door to his office, and smiled widely at the Agent sitting at his desk. ‘Changeling, you didn’t tell me you were going to be in town!’ Reynolds quickly crossed the office as the woman stood, and embraced her.
‘You’re always going on about your Dusker, I wanted to have a look myself.’
Ryan felt himself stiffen – and even as he did, he was sure Reynolds would be proud of the involuntary movement – and he looked away.
He was a templated Agent – that was something he would have been able to tell, even if it wasn’t stated in his OS – a lot of his fighting skills came far more naturally than the comparative early experiences for non-templated agents; he had an instinctual familiarity with the city, though he had counted eight separate occasions where that had led him to inefficient behaviour – due to changes of layouts in streets or buildings since Rhys’ time.
Independent observation and subjective experience were hardly necessary though – as Reynolds continually told him stories and facts about his former, Rhys.
Rhys, the Dusker.
The history of their kind wasn’t something that was easily accessible – it was felt that it was an unnecessary thing for Agents to understand the different varieties of blue-manifested-constructs that had come before.
Very little information existed in the system regarding former types, though there were several collections of unofficial history that circulated around non-official channels. Several aspects of their history were unavoidable – angels, especially, as fae seemed to default to referring to any blue-construct by a name for a form they hadn’t held in centuries.
And then there were Duskers.
It wasn’t unusual – so far as it was understood – for two or more construct types to exist simultaneously, as Agents and Duskers had done in the previous century.
Duskers were, as he understood it, the worst kind of monsters, worthy of penny-dreadfuls and the most sensationalist news articles.
They operated from the shadows, dealing with issues from the sidelines, and avoiding being in a public-facing position in all but the most dire of situations. Their modus operandi appeared to have been to identify a threat, deal with it in the most violent and unpleasant manner as possible, then disappear, barely bothering to do the required clean up.
And one had been used to create him.
Rhys, who was to be lauded for being particularly violent, and repulsive.
It…seemed to add an intangible dirtiness to his very existence. An unclean feeling that was impossible to shake. It tainted his actions, as they weren’t just his actions, they were also to be compared to a dead man.
‘Ryan, come here, don’t be antisocial.’
Asocial, he corrected in his mind, but stepped forward, and offered his hand to the visiting agent. ‘Agent Ryan,’ he said, ‘and your profile doesn’t list a name, ma’am.’
‘That’s because she doesn’t have one,’ Reynolds said. ‘Well, they change depending on who she is. Who are you today? I don’t recognise this one.’
The Agent raised her eyebrows, and Ryan translated the expression as trepidation. ‘Jane,’ she said after a long pause. ‘But it’s not just today.’
Reynolds stopped in the middle of requiring guest furniture – the longue had appeared, but no table or refreshments. ‘You found your face?’
Jane gave him a nervous smile, then nodded.
‘Permission to twirl you, ma’am?’
‘I expected as much, Renny.’
Ryan closed his mouth as he went to correct the agent on his Director’s name. It was being as a nickname, rather than as an accurate recitation of Reynolds’ name.
His Director lifted Jane and skilfully spun her. They embraced, and when they broke apart, Jane was smiling wide. ‘Now if you ever do that again-’ she started.
‘You’ll ensure my body is never found, I’d expect no less. How’s your Director feel about it?’
‘He needs someone to head up combat and external operations more than he needs a changeling, so he’s got no problem with it.’
Ryan stepped forward. ‘Sir?’
Reynolds bobbled his head in a series of short nods. ‘Of course, of course, introductions and explanations. You two sit, I’ll be back in a moment.’
Ryan sat stiffly in the single chair across from the lounge. ‘Ma’am,’ he said slowly, ‘I haven’t encountered a changeling before-’
She raised her eyebrows a little. ‘I’m not a real changeling, newborn. Renny just takes issue with my actual classification: infiltration agent.’
‘It seems to ascribe a malice that isn’t there,’ Reynolds said, walking back into the office, a large bottle of wine in his hand.
‘Renny, you can’t-’ Jane said as she got a closer look at the bottle in his hand. ‘You need to save that.’
‘Nonsense,’ Reynolds said as he opened the bottle and allowed it to breathe. ‘This is a special moment. I’ll drink your share if you won’t.’ Reynolds sat beside Jane and offered her an empty glass. ‘Yes or no?’
‘Fine, but we’re drinking my bottle at your wedding,’ Jane said, taking the empty glass and holding it steady as Reynolds poured the deep, rich wine.
Jane held the glass to her chest for a moment, then raised it, took the tiniest sip, and placed it on the table. ‘Infiltration agent,’ she said, seeming to pick up her train of thought. ‘In fairness, it’s a bit of a misnomer. There are some of us whose job is long-term deep-cover. There wasn’t just that kind of work for me, so I was assigned to what really amounts to a Field role,’ she said with a small nod at Ryan. ‘Not everyone, frankly, is comfortable talking to someone who looks like you two, so I was assigned a lot of follow-up interviews.’
‘With very few exceptions, there’s two paths changelings have,’ Reynolds said, ‘they find their face, or they go mad.’
‘All agents are a little mad, darling,’ Jane said as she took another sip of wine.
‘How-’ Ryan started. ‘How do you know-’
Jane put her glass down. ‘You just know,’ she said. ‘Some things just click with you. I’ve known I’m a woman for years now, but none of the forms I’ve taken have ever- When you find your face, it’s so natural, it feels as though you’ve been staring at it in the mirror the whole time and it’s finally become clear.’
Ryan nodded, though he didn’t really understand.
‘Mirrors,’ Reynolds said lightly as he poured glasses of wine for himself and Ryan. ‘Jane, it’s no coincidence you’re in town, is it?’
‘Wine first,’ she said, and this seemed to satisfy Reynolds.
Reynolds handed a glass to Ryan. ‘It’s unicorn, a gift from…I’ll tell you that story another time. The crown on the label is no coincidence. Drink up, young one, but slowly, it’s to be enjoyed.’
Ryan accepted the glass. ‘Yes sir.’
Jane looked over her glass at Reynolds. ‘Are you sure he’s five years old? Not five months?’
‘Leave him alone,’ Reynolds said, ‘he’s just quiet.’
Ryan stared at the glass, and tried to ignore the comments.
There was little he could do – if he attempted to show interest, or passion, or break out of his normal habits, it was attributed to Rhys each and every time, as if he was nothing more than the extension of the dead man.
It was difficult to discover your own patterns of behaviour when each idiosyncrasy was immediately labelled as belonging to someone else.
He sipped at the wine, and nearly dropped it as he saw stars.
He felt Reynolds hand steadying his own. ‘Careful, it packs a bit of a punch.’
‘I am…impaired,’ he managed, fighting to put the glass down safely.
‘No, Ryan, you’re just seeing magic. It’s just the wine. How does it look?’
He stared at the small bursts of colour, the fuzzy blue outlines around his Director and Agent Jane, and at the trails outside the windows. He took another sip, stood and walked to the windows.
There were the faintest traces of the so-called “ghosts” they had witnessed over the last week. Last faint impressions of the world about to die.
He wished that the not-so-faint impression of Rhys would finally die.
An alarm went off in his HUD – a reminder to walks his evening patrol route, and he turned back. ‘If you’ll excuse me,’ he said to Reynolds and Jane.
‘Ryan, you can leave it go for one night,’ Reynolds said.
Rhys could.
Rhys would have sat down, enjoyed the wine, and spoken gaily with the visiting agent. He would have been the interesting host with the amazing stories, a complete compliment to Reynolds, and by the end of the night he would have had a new friend for life.
Ryan, on the other hand, was going to do his patrol, because that’s what Duty demanded of him.
‘No sir,’ he said, ‘I can’t.’
He bowed his head as a sign of respect, then shifted away.
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