9 Days Ago
Limit Testing Day Four
‘You want,’ Jones repeated, ‘a shark?’
Taylor simply grunted in return and waited for the scholar to meet his demand. It was a simple enough demand, and the creation of a holo-form program was exactly the kind of thing that the scholars were designed to do. It was a simple request, yet Jones simply sat there, a dumbfounded and confused look on his face.
‘You want a shark?’
‘Don’t make me repeat myself.’
‘And don’t you treat me like Magnolia,’ Jones said, sipping from a green bottle. ‘You can’t intimidate me. What in seven hells do you need a shark for?’
He stared at the scholar. ‘Can you do it?’
The dumbfounded look remained. ‘Not without an explanation. What exactly-?’
‘What do you think?’ he snapped.
‘This is certainly one of the strangest requests I’ve gotten this year,’ Jones said as he scratched his head. ‘And considering my recruits, that’s saying something.You couldn’t use the tiger instead?’
‘Tigers aren’t as fun,’ Grigori said from across the room. ‘Plus, if she’s in a tank, we can get the drowning tests done at the same time.’
Jones looked past him, to Grigori. ‘You’re going to be in there as well?’
Grigori stood, patted Merlin on the head and joined them, his bare feet as loud on the floor as if he’d been wearing his combat boots. ‘No,’ he said as he joined them, spinning Jones toward his computer. ‘If you aren’t willing to make one, we’re going to go fishing.’
Jones looked across, eye-level with Grigori’s bare stomach. ‘You wou-’ He turned back to his computer. ‘Yeah, you would, wouldn’t you?’ You combat agents are frakking insane.’ With a resigned sigh, he brushed back his all-too-long hair and began to type.
‘Good, that settles that,’ Grigori said. ‘Now,’ he said as he stepped back, ‘the important question. How does my arse look in these?’
He stared at the other agent’s severely abbreviated swimming trunks and the posterior they contained. ‘Like,’ he said slowly, ‘I’m going to kick it later.’
Grigori simply laughed and slapped him on the shoulder. ‘I think I might spend the rest of the day like this, think your recruit will approve?’
He simply grunted. ‘Your…advertising of yourself may draw in more suitors, though that wouldn’t bother you, would it?’
‘Give me a break,’ Grigori said, ‘been so busy helping you I haven’t had time to chase anything other than the little bit of feather you hang around with. I only got four phone numbers this week, I think that’s the lowest in ten years. You are cramping my style, but at least I get to go out in style with your recruit. Booked a table at-’
‘You can spare me the details, so long as she’s ready for training on Saturday then I don’t care.’
‘You couldn’t give her a morning off? I do presume I’ll be putting her through a rather thorough set of paces the night before. Besides…you’re too hard on the girl, she knows what she’s doing-’
‘-because she keeps training.’
‘One night off won’t kill her.’
‘It might.’
‘I need to bend you over and dislodge something. Fine, I’ll try and not keep her up too late. Deal?’
He simply grunted.
Jones held a small card high. ‘There. Shark. Programmed to eat five foot tall hackers. Happy?’
He snatched the card away, and stared at the code: BTTF-2-J19. ‘That isn’t a standard training code. You-’
‘It works just fine,’ Jones said. ‘That’s the program you need to access, no trick, just shark. Anything else?’
‘Not for now, Jonesy,’ Grigori said.
He looked away from the scholar, and shifted back to his gym, pleased to see that Magnolia was doing as he’d expected: keeping the experiment in check, and in a pool of her own blood. A plain, required knife dangled from Magnolia’s hand, her usual one sheathed in her boot, unable to be used since it would render the experiment permanently non-functional.
Watching her lithe, well-trained form gut the experiment, slit its throat, and stand victorious over it as it bled out for the last time would be…almost as satisfying as doing it himself. He wouldn’t even regret not doing it himself, so long as it was Magnolia doing it.
That, and she’d offered to do so.
Magnolia entered his office, one arm heavy with the official forms regarding the experiment: the project parameters, his role to play, and the consequences of each possible outcome of the limit tests. From the few papers that hung loose, he could see that she’d continued her job of highlighting the relevant parts, showing him with fluorescent yellow what was relevant to him, allowing him to skip over that which was unimportant, or pretentious waffling, unnecessary use of language, or those sections that spoke of positive outcomes. He had no interest in any of this.
Knowing the conversation would take quite a while – not an ideal situation\, but one he knew he would have to live with – especially if he was to be armed with all of the knowledge necessary to make sure the experiment failed. It had to fail. It had to fail. It had to fail.
She sat, and placed both the heavy file containing the original papers, and a much slimmer folder, on the table in front of him. He immediately lifted the smaller volume, suspecting that it would be the one he would be far more interested. Past experience proved true when he flipped it open, and found a simplified and compiled document of the highlighted sections. It was exactly what he needed, and it was on time, so there was no need to admonish her, or to punish her, yet she sat uneasily.
He looked up at her, a quick scan revealing nothing medically wrong with her – other than a few healing bruises, but that was normal.
‘Speak,’ he demanded.
‘There is something I’d like to discuss, sir, that isn’t in either of those files.’
‘I said speak.’
She leaned forward, then brought her hand up to the desk and laid her knife there.
He stared at the knife. ‘If you want to die, you have to finish the duty rosters for the next month at least.’
‘It’s not that sir,’ she said. ‘I’m making an offer.’
There was no need to ask her to clarify. It was something he’d been considering since deciding against killing Jones. Someone needed to die, and it may as well be the cause and centre of the trouble. There were four weapons in his cache better suited than the knife laying on his desk, but Magnolia’s knife would do just fine. It was a good weapon for a good recruit, and it was more than capable of killing an agent. An agent, or whatever they were claiming that the experiment was. It wasn’t an agent, and he would never refer to it as such. It was an experiment, an abomination, another attempt on his life. It may have contained agent code, but-
‘By having this conversation,’ he said, ‘you’re implicating me, Magnolia.’
‘Impossible not to, sir,’ she said, ‘this isn’t the kind of action I could take without your go-ahead.’
‘You’d kill it?’
‘It would eliminate the threat, and restore the status quo. By all accounts, it would be a positive action.’
‘You would executed yourself.’
‘I make this offer in full knowledge of that, sir. Wouldn’t it be a small sacrifice?’
No, it wouldn’t. It would be almost too high of a cost. The gains weren’t…worth the sacrifice. He didn’t let any of his non-existent emotions show on his face. Her words didn’t mean anything, she was making an offer to do her job, she was simply doing what was expected of her. What he’d trained her to do. It was an offer any recruit should have been willing to make for their agent.
He narrowed his eyes. ‘Are you doubting my ability to prove this experiment inviable, recruit?’
‘No sir, of course not, I’m simply making an offer so that you don’t have to waste you time on this.’
He maintained his stare for a moment longer, than looked back down at the document. ‘Take me through this.’
Magnolia looked up at him as he approached, a well-placed kick to the experiment’s head effectively silencing her for a few moments. He stood in the puddle of blood, waited for the experiment to disappear and regenerate, then grabbed her as soon as she appeared in her fresh training uniform.
He held her aloft by her neck, and as had become the custom, she simply hung in his hand like a limp corpse, not bothering to kick, not bothering to fight, not bothering to try and pry his hand away. It seemed to be the one thing she’d learned over the past four days.
Grigori reached over his shoulder and extracted the code-card from his free hand and called up the new holo-form program. A ten-metre long tank appeared, populated one by large, fierce shark. He shook the girl to get her attention, and watched as she slowly opened her eyes to take in the sight of the take, and stared, seemingly trying to comprehend the information presented to her.
He smiled as she opened her mouth to scream in terror.