A large Plexiglas enclosure took Stef’s attention. There were large shapes moving inside – multiple freaks in the one cage, this was something different. She came to within five feet of the enclosure and stopped, frozen to the spot by the inability to comprehend what she saw.
Her mind reeled. Her stomach turned. She vomited.
The regurgitated remains of her snacks splashed on the floor in an inelegant puddle on the floor in front of her. She went to her knees, falling forward onto her hands, dry-heaving until she began to hyperventilate.
She slowly fell back into a seated position, trying to focus her mind on being disgusted with herself, rather than the unholy vista within the Plexiglas enclosure.
Ryan replaced the view, and she felt the vomit disappear from her hands and knees. He required a wet wash cloth and wiped the corners of her mouth. He handed her a bottle of water. ‘Here, get the taste out.’
‘How do I get the bad taste out of my brain?’
‘That…that is a lot harder,’ he said as he pushed the wash cloth into her hand. ‘Spit.’
She gargled the water and spat into the wash cloth.
She peeked past him. ‘I’m probably being a horrible bigot, and it’s based on some fae form or something, right? But…they’re just wrong. They feel wrong.’
Eight. There were eight of them. Each of them a moving mass of hyper-developed muscles, an uneven form, like a gorilla, and they moved like apes too – a knuckled walk, weight centred low in the body.
The bodies – fetish fuel for freaks – were enough, but the faces were even worse. It was a human-enough face, but flat, as if it had been smacked with a shovel too many times. The features were…somehow stretched – like a picture cropped and extended until it pixelated at the edges.
They sort of looked like Taylor, if his face had been squashed flat with an Acme steamroller, had string looped through the ears, then been tied onto an ape as a mask.
‘There’s been several occasions,’ Ryan said as he gently pulled her to her feet, ‘where we have come far too close to an all-out war, these have been in development as-’
‘Infantry,’ he said, ‘they’re able to withstand a far greater deal of damage than any of us.’
‘They’re tanks, I get that, but-’
‘They’re works in progress.’
‘Is that why they all have the same face?’ she asked, hearing the manic tone slipping in. She shook her head. ‘Ok, but not in production cause we’re not about to head to war?’
‘Technology is making it less and less likely that we will find ourselves in the kind of war that they were designed for. We can’t erase everything that gets on the net, but we get enough. Technology, secrecy and a little self-control from all sides may mean that by and large humans don’t know about magic-’
‘Or believe completely the wrong things about it.’
‘Or that, but that has made us a lot safer. The Solstice, as they stand, are a threat on an individual basis. They kill single fae, or small groups. They aren’t a large-scale threat, but they so easily could be. More soldiers, more resources, entire cities going black. We wouldn’t be able to function.’
‘…are there any other war machines?’
‘Don’t eat anything whilst we’re here.’
Beyond the gorilla enclosure was another large cage, but this one…even taller. A tall, elongated shadow fell across the floor. A chill ran up her legs and stayed – a physical sensation rather than plain, simple fear.
She stared at the shadow, and let her eyes slips out of focus.
The chill disappeared, as did the shadow.
She took a deliberate step behind him, careful not to look at the cage. ‘Is that Slender Man? I don’t want to look at Slender Man.’
‘It is rather slender, but you’re referencing something, aren’t you?’
‘Fake internet urban legend that based on my luck and that shadow is probably true.’
‘It’s called an Observer,’ he said, ‘or a Scanner. There’s some debate, and people tend to pick one and stick with it.’
‘But it’s not designed to kidnap kids?’
‘Why are you under the impression that the Agency has sinister intentions towards children?’
She looked up at the Slender-Man-freak-agent, and was glad that she had already emptied her stomach. He stood at somewhere over eight feet, though some of his compatriots in the enclosure stood at well over nine feet.
‘So- So what-‘
He put his hand into the shadow the Observer cast on the floor. ‘It can scan everything that falls within its shadow with a hyper-sensitivity that we wouldn’t be able to process. From there, their observations are rendered into tactical decisions and troop movements.’
‘So why is it cold?’
‘It’s a primitive attempt at psychic warfare.’
She turned to him. ‘Did you really just say that?’
‘It’s never progressed like we wanted it to, though. The most we could do is get it to affect other agents. It’s still a work in progress.’
‘Though useless unless we have a civil war.’
He gave her a nod.
She stood and stared at the Scanners again. Just like the gorillas, the faces were wrong – but these were a different kind of wrong. The head-shape was closer to that of a Roswell grey than a human, and just like the-
‘Is Area 51 one of ours?’
‘Area 51, Agency cover-up?’
He gave her a smile. ‘I’m not privy to all Agency secrets.’
‘Are you saying that to make me feel better?’
‘What if I was?’
‘Stef, not everything is an Agency conspiracy.’
‘Just some things.’
‘Even then, not as many as you would think.’
‘Roswell? Atlantis? Number stations?’
He smiled. ‘The Behemoth is next.’
‘You didn’t answer me-’
He gave her his perfect narc look. ‘I’m aware of that, Miss Mimosa.’
She smirked, then finally turned to look properly at the Observer’s face, afraid that it would be nothing more than the blankness of a store mannequin. ‘Jesus H kitten fucking raptor Christ!’
She stumbled back, dragging Ryan with her, keeping the agenty shield between her and the enclosure.
‘It’s all right,’ Ryan said calmly as he turned. He pulled his arm free of her grip, then gently laid his hands on her shoulders. ‘It’s all right.’
She swallowed and looked past him. ‘There’s no excuse for that mouth,’ she said as she stared at the butterfly-like proboscis.
‘There is, actually,’ Ryan said. ‘Their only food source is liquid blue, to that end, this is what was devised.’
‘So they’re fucked if they get stuck in a blackout zone.’
‘It will likely be revised before it ever goes into the field.’
She turned her attention to the huge green eyes. ‘Green eyes really are a thing down here. The apes had them as well.’
‘It’s a quirk of the generation process,’ he said as they started to walk towards the end of the room, ‘green eyes are the second-most commonly generated colour. Likely it’s a leftover from the days when they wanted agents to be distinct, when they wanted us to have a readily identifiable form, rather than just relying on a uniform.’
‘I thought we were supposed to blend.’
‘Think about it, Stef, it’s hard to blend with a fourteen-foot wingspan.’
She looked away. ‘Don’t remind me about angels, okay? I need a while to dissociate from that memory.’
He wrapped an arm around her shoulders. ‘I apologise. Come on, the Behemoth is quite a sight to behold.’