17 Days Ago
Ryan watched the swirling gas fill the chamber, the white tendrils rushing across skin, dissipating whatever it touched, destroying her right before his eyes. There was nothing he could do to stop it now, nothing he could say that would make it better, or change either of their fates. Failure, everything they’d tried for had all ended in failure.
He stepped past the nominated black stump, and suddenly felt the ground shift beneath him. The hazy horizon rushed at him, and a building grew up around him, it wasn’t like anything from human construction, a mishmash of styles and materials stared back at him, it was almost something Madchester-inspired.
A blank stood in front of him, its grey, featureless form staring back at him. It turned its head, staring at him without eyes, and a slit formed across his face so that it could speak.
‘We don’t get many angels,’ the blank said, its voice blander than that of a newborn agent.
It seemed to pick up on this thought, and with an exaggerated spasaming motion, its skin rippled and tore, revealing a suit and a human-seeming face beneath. Human-seeming but for the oversized green eyes that stared out from its freshly-formed face. It grinned at him with too-white teeth, then looked away for a moment, running its hands over its new body, across the fresh face, through the wildly-spiked hair, and into the pockets of the new suit.
‘Thanks,’ it said, its voice no longer bland but…his, it was speaking to him in his own voice, ‘this could be a fun form. Now, do you need a Finder, a Keeper, or are you here to check yourself in? Not sure we’ve got the room, sweetie, we don’t have Madchester’s revolving door.’
‘I may have someone,’ he said, ‘who needs your sanctuary.’
A little of the joy seemed to slip away from the blank. ‘I see, come on, let’s discuss this further.’
Her eyes disappeared, leaving her nothing to stare out with. He felt his hands ball into fists, and he slipped them into his pockets, knowing he had to stand strong until it was all over. She was being strong – she wasn’t fighting against the restraints, and she wasn’t screaming, and for that he was grateful. There was nothing worse than someone screaming in the chamber – to hear their muffled cries, their begs for mercy, and then the horrific silence as their vocal cords disappeared, to watch them railing against the enforced silence as they suffered through their last moments.
She was taking it quietly, she wasn’t fighting, and she wasn’t crying, showing the same restraint was the least he could do for her – or rather, it was the most he could do for her.
He handed across the photo of Stef, and the agent-appearing-blank scanned it into the computer, and entered the name.
‘You know,’ the blank said, ‘I actually enjoy when angels come to do this, or anyone who’s had contact with you guys.’
‘It gets very tiring being asked why we have computers, surely you’d get that as well?’
‘On occasion.’
‘You get all of these uninitiated people relying on the Hogwart’s interpretation of magic coming through and just expecting us to know everything, to be able to place every Finder, every Keeper, every member of Court that has ever provided a fantasy for one of ours. I really wouldn’t like that,’ the blank said, ‘be too much to fit in my head, relying on processing power is so much easier, save the magic for where it’s really needed.’ The computer in question finally stopped running its scan, and brought up an old file – old because it showed a much younger Stef.
‘She did have contact here?’
‘Yeah, looks like, but it was a bad assumption anyway.’
‘You said, what, she made one reference to having an imaginary friend?’ the blank rolled its huge green eyes at him. ‘They aren’t always us, kids can have imaginary friends that are…imaginary.’
‘But she’s one of yours.’
‘Was, the fact that you’re here means she probably still is.’
‘Can you give her sanctuary?’
The blank’s mood seem to drop a little. ‘Is the situation really that bad?’
‘Her life is danger.’
The blank scrolled through the file. ‘The guy who was looking after her is still around, that’s one thing.’ He ran a hand through his too-spiky hair. ‘Yeah, might be possible, I’ll be looking for some favours out of you though, and I presume this is an ASAP situation?’
‘My colleague has her sedated, but if we don’t-’
The blank fixed his huge green eyes on him. ‘What are you trying to send to us, angel?’
‘Just a little lost girl.’
‘Not good enough.’
He looked away for a moment. ‘She’s relying on a piece of mirror to live. You know what Agency law is like when it comes to mirror.’
This seemed to get the blank’s attention. ‘Shit…’ the blank whispered. ‘All right, fine, but I’m going to need three hundred seconds, all right?’
‘Of course.’
‘And you know she has to ask for it, we can’t just steal her away, not if she’s Found.’
‘You have to try, I don’ want anything to happen to her.’
The last ghostly vestiges of Stef disappeared, leaving only the heart, leaving only the piece of mirror that had ruined lives. It hung suspended for a moment, then dropped, clattering to the floor of the chamber.
He felt himself slump, and resigned himself to be thrown in the chamber next. He was too tired to argue, too tired to fight, and in any case, he deserved it. It had been leniency that had saved him after Carol, and that could pin no real blame on him, this time, however, he accepted full responsibility.
The Enforcers turned to him and he met their gaze, ready to do as they ordered. The one to his left stepped forward, lifted a hand and waited for the tag on his arm to reappear. Silently, the Enforcer removed the tag, handed him a folder, then moved to Jones, handing him a much larger file folder, then disappeared from the room.
One requirement later, he collapsed heavily into a chair, the folder in his hand slipping from his grip and spilling all over the floor. Jones got up from the control panel, walked over to him, knelt and began to pick up the felled papers.
‘What?’ he managed to ask his tech.
‘Which part?’ Jones asked as he handed the folder back to him.
‘I what?’ Jones interrupted as he handed him a tall glass of water. ‘I what, Ryan?’
‘You saved me,’ he said after a long moment. ‘But they still did that to her?’
‘There was no way she could have remained as she was, not unless you would have been happy to leave her in my care, never allowing her to leave the building. She couldn’t require, she couldn’t shift, and whatever healing factor the mirror gave her was more of a liability than anything. It would not have worked as it was. I’m sorry, sir, but it’s the truth.’
‘That would have been better than this, any life would have-’
Jones flipped open the folder for him, then stood back so that he could read it. Two words immediately jumped out at him: “Agent Mimosa”. He looked up at the tech, who smiled, took the folder back, took a pen from his pocket and wrote a something on the top sheet, when he handed it back, it said “Agent Stef”.
‘I simply told the enforcers that we’d had a battlefield accident – one that could not continue to be a traditional recruit, but would be a waste to destroy. I asked permission to convert her to an experiment – doing so affords more leeway than you hiding a legally-dead recruit.’
‘And me?’
‘You I have to get back into my lab so I can finish flushing out the poison, but otherwise…they can’t punish you for not following “duty first” when part of your duty is to protect the innocent, I argued your actions were the product of your programming.’ The tech looked away for a moment. ‘Level five punishment for an hour, I’m sorry, but it’s better than you being recycled, and you don’t have to do it until you’re strong enough.’
This made him shudder, but only for a moment, torture was better than execution. He looked away from the tech, and sipped at the cool water. ‘I didn’t deserve this.’
Jones smiled. ‘Stop being so hard on yourself.’
He slowly stood, still feeling woozy from the remnants of poison in his system. ‘Tell me one thing,’ he said. ‘Tell me you didn’t do this just so you can get two more guests for movie night.’
‘Of course not sir.’
Jones required a small padded case with a heart-shaped cut-out in the centre. ‘We’ll fix you first, then get to her.’
He gratefully took the case, shifted the heart inside, and locked it, then shifted it to his lock box. He stood uncomfortably, feeling as though something was missing. One moment, two passwords and three seconds later, half a dozen cookies joined the heart in the case.