The Grey Edge: Chapter Twenty-Seven

‘Your recruit is dead.’
Taylor turned, stopped his calculation of the security system, resistance of the walls, and lack of scenery through the fake windows to see Magpie. He stared at the warden. ‘You’re lying.’
‘I had stressed her too much, it’s unfortunate, but I suppose I can wait another twenty years.’
Information was power. ‘For what?’
‘It’s no concern of yours, agent, it’s my business.’
‘You’re lying,’ he said, his face still neutral, ‘now bring me my recruit.’
‘You are a guest in my court and you see it fit to give me orders?’

‘I want to see my recruit, Magpie.’
‘If that is your wish, agent, but it isn’t pretty…then again, I’m sure you’re used to that kind of thing.’
He took a step forward. ‘Now.’
She turned to the door, and it opened as if on queue. Two attendants – obviously her children, but without the trappings of the guards who had escorted him to the guest room – stood silent in their grey uniforms. There was a body on the trolley they had wheeled in, hidden just beneath a thin sheet.
Body on a trolley. A common sight. A sight that didn’t bother him. She wasn’t dead, therefore the body wasn’t Magnolia, therefore there was no need to worry. She wasn’t dead. It wasn’t her. She’d been cured as he’d been pulled away, trapped in her mother’s Court, but cured.
Magpie tore the sheet away, revealing what looked a lot like Magnolia. A lot like, but not her. The same height. The same build. The same face.
It wasn’t her.
He stared at the body, then up to Magpie, wondering if he was supposed to take the fake seriously. If he was perceived as so simple that he’d be duped this easily. An assumption he could use to his advantages.
It was a very poor simulacrum.
‘Where is my recruit?’
‘She’s in front of you, Agent.’
He felt pity for the corpse – it was of Magpie’s blood sure enough, another of her children, another pawn destroyed for her plans. There was the obvious argument that children were a renewable resource, but a needless death was a needless death.
It was, however, dead, and barring a change in the universe’s rule – of the interference of someone like Ryan – there was nothing he could do for her, she was nothing but the Exhibit A for Magpie’s point.
He, however, could make a point of his own.
It was easy enough to flip the body – it was as light as his recruit, and bore all of the same scars – the glamour was perfect, and it was recently dead – by touch it was easy enough to tell that it had only been dead a short while – tactile proof in favour of what Magpie was saying. Tactile proof, had he believed her, of course.
He brushed aside the white hair – white hair that smelt like neither her usual scent or the infirmary, more proof that he was right – to reveal the nap of her neck.
He dug his fingers into the cooling skin, and pulled away a section, exposing the flesh inside. ‘There is no tracking chip,’ he said in a calm voice, ‘this is not my recruit.’ He looked to Magpie again, his point made.
‘Leave well enough alone, agent,’ she said, her usual tone taking over.
‘Magpie…’ he said, itching to attack her, but knowing it was useless to do so in her own Court – he was weak, and he was helpless.
The warden sighed and shooed the attendants and their trolley outside.
‘Your recruit lives, though her title does not. She is here, and she is staying here.’
‘You have no-’
‘Think, if it is within your capacity to do so, before you speak. I am her mother, by law, I own her. I am her warden, by law, I own her. Trust me when I say that I am well within my rights to do as I please.’ She smiled. ‘I even consulted a lawyer, just to be sure that I am in the clear. Whatever claim you think you have is superseded by my rights.’
‘She is my recruit.’
‘Is it frustrating, agent, to be so limited in your reasoning, in your speech, in your capacity as a sentient being?’ She gave him a slow smile. ‘Or am I giving you far too much credit in assuming that you are sentient?’
‘She is an aide, and as such-’
Magpie raised a hand. ‘Do you really think you have anything to bargain with that I could want?’
He didn’t. The Agency did.
They had the mirror, and the mirror could be whatever she wanted, so unless she wanted nothing, he – by proxy – had something she wanted.
‘I thought not.’
‘I do.’
Give up the mirror. Get rid of both problems. Two…two birds with one stone.
It was a bad idea.
Magpie was already too powerful, with the mirror, even with the admittedly small piece that resided in the abomination’s chest, it was too much of a risk to take. Mimosa at least was incompetent. A weapon, a danger, without question, but one with a decent chance of remaining a dud.
‘And what do you have?’
‘Your life,’ he said, ‘release us, and for today at least, you live. You keep us here and I make no such promise.’
She moved – almost faster than he could track, and slapped him across the face, clawed nails cutting deep grooves across his cheek and nose, barely missing his right eye.
‘You dare,’ she said, slapping him again, ‘speak to me that way in my own Court?’
‘I do.’
‘Try my patience more, agent, and it will be only ashes that will be leaving my Court.’ She retreated to the chaise lounge across from him. ‘I want you out, now.’
‘Not without my recruit.’
‘You will leave.’
He stared at her. ‘Then kill me, Magpie.’
‘Do not tell me what I already want to do. I think though, it would make my daughter even more difficult. If you choose to leave-’
‘I will not.’
She clapped her hands, and the door opened again. Two young women walked into the room – another two of her children, another two of Magnolia’s half-siblings obviously enough. As much skin as Magnolia exposed with her choice of clothes, they were modest in comparison to the young women in front of him.
Both wore skirts that may as well have been belts, their lack of underwear obvious as they walked across the room. Their shirts were thinner than the gauze that the scholar placed over healing wounds – he saw their pale skin as readily as if they were topless.
Magpie gave them a sharp look, and they nodded. The girl to his left went to her knees, and the other turned, knelt, and went down on her hands and knees, presenting herself to him.
He looked back to the warden, not dignifying the situation with one word.
‘You fuck my daughter, agent, but for you that’s no longer an option – I’m being generous and providing an alternate, two, if you want both.’
The magpie on her knees reached for her his pants. On instinct, he gripped her wrist and squeezed – a quick second thought stopped him from breaking it: she was nothing more than another of Magpie’s pawns. Another innocent.
The warden shrugged. ‘Break it if you want, agent, she’s yours to do with as you please. They both are. For a year anyway. Though, I would like them back in a reasonable condition.’
‘I am not a reasonable man.’
She laughed at him. ‘You aren’t a man at all. And if you can’t return them in a reasonable condition, at least return them breathing. Breathing, I can always find a use for them.’ Her eyes narrowed. ‘Even if it’s selling them by the pound.’
‘Please,’ the girl whose wrist he held, said, ‘let me suck your cock. Mordred says my technique is adequate at least. Hit me after, but give me a chance first.’
He squeezed her wrist tighter, shook his head, then pushed her away.
‘What do you want with Magnolia?’
‘I don’t want Magnolia, I want an heir.’
‘And you’re barren, Magpie?’
‘Every warden,’ she said, ‘can choose the method of the next warden’s ascension. I did not want my children fighting for the position, it would leave too many corpses on the ground that I could use for my own designs. There is only one mechanic by which I can be replaced: one of my chosen sons impregnating one of my chosen daughters. Come on, tell me why you haven’t been curious about why she is so…fast and loose with who she fucks. Sex is hard-wired into her genes.’
‘And you think she’ll agree?’
‘I think,’ Magpie said with a smile, ‘that handcuffs and sedatives have been invented. Her consent isn’t required.’
‘I will kill you,’ he said, perfectly calmly, ‘if you hurt my recruit.’
Magpie stood. ‘Enjoy my daughters, agent, name them as you want, they have none.’
She left the room without turning to look at him again.