17 Days Ago
Taylor pushed past Ryan, ignoring sweating, panting agent, focusing only on the threat across the rooftop. There was a gunshot, and for a moment, he was disappointed – there was no reason for it to be over so soon. No reason that the full punishment of the system shouldn’t be doled out. No reason it should be easy on either of them.
‘About time,’ he growled. ‘They’re always slow.’
The Enforcers held the ex-recruit still, one with her suicide weapon in his hand, the other simply restraining her right arm. Without speaking, they shifted away, he went to follow them, but felt his “commander” staring at him.
‘You did this?’ Ryan asked, a slight wheeze in his weak voice.
He thrust his head in the direction of the scholar. ‘You’re blaming the wrong agent, sir.’
Shift: current local Enforcer location.
The rooftop blurred, and he found himself in a small room with the two Enforcers and the girl. One thrust a clipboard at her, and she hurriedly signed her name without reading the document. He watched as the Enforcer to his left pulled her under a large lamp, which immediately cast a blue light on her. A pre-reclamation scan.
He wished he’d read through the document, so that he knew exactly what they were going to do to her, and to Ryan. And whether or not that meant-
The Enforcer to his right, one with the appearance of an older man, turned to him. ‘There’s no need for you to be here, Taylor. For the moment, you’re in charge, please go attend to your duties.’
‘For the moment?’ he questioned.
‘You’ll be informed of when conditions change.’
‘Yes sir.’
He looked past the Enforcer, at the girl with the light scanning over her body, she caught him staring at her, and quickly looked away, tears forming in her eyes. Satisfied, and knowing he could review the tapes later, he shifted away.
His office blurred into view, and he found Magnolia holding a large stack of reports and heading for the door. She moved the pile of folders to one hand and snapped a salute. ‘There’s a large one there on your desk sir,’ she said, dropping the salute and indicating to the red folder. ‘Eyes only.’
He lifted the file, made a simple requirement and handed it to her. ‘You can view it. It’s a victory a long time coming.’
She gave him a quick, respectful nod, placed her pile of folders onto the desk, opened the folder. He sat behind his desk, quickly signing off on the other reports above her security clearance and making them disappear as soon as possible.
His eyes snapped up when he heard his recruit make a small noise, a decidedly un-Magnolia noise, a weak noise. Without asking permission, she required a chair and sat heavily on it, the assuredly involuntary noise escaping her again. He concentrated on her, and heard her heart beating rapidly in his ears, her pulse far above that of his calm and collected recruit.
She licked her lips, then finally looked up at him. ‘Sir,’ she began, but then closed her mouth and looked away again.
‘Magnolia,’ he cautioned as he stood, ‘speak, or don’t, don’t-’
‘You signed the short form of this, correct sir?’ she said quickly.
The fact that she had interrupted him stunned him for a moment, but then he nodded. ‘Yes.’
Genuine horror, the kind he thought he’d beaten out of her a long time ago, slid across her face. ‘Sir,’ she said quietly, ‘did you read the short form in its entirety?’
‘I-’
‘Sir, you didn’t, did you?’ She licked her lips again, and looked away for a moment. A highlighter appeared in her hand and she quickly flicked it across several sections of the paper, but still, she didn’t look at him.
Trepidation was a brick in his gut. ‘Magnolia,’ he said, ‘what did I sign?’
With a trembling hand, she handed across the highlighted sheet. He read the highlighted sections, twice, then he raised his fist to his mouth and bit through his thumb. The digit fell to his desk with a tiny thud and not much blood at all.
From the stump, however, the blood flowed freely, and he did nothing to stop it. After a few seconds, emergency protocols kicked in, stemmed the flow of blood and began to regrow the thumb.
He looked across at his recruit, her favourite knife was already on the table, lying on top of its sheath, her body relaxed and awaiting punishment. He stared at her for a long moment, grateful of the offer, but without any desire to act on it. It wasn’t her he wanted to hurt, it wasn’t her he was going to-
His newly-grown thumb flexed of its own accord, checking the connections and making sure that it was functioning within parameters. It was, but it didn’t matter, he didn’t need both thumbs for what he was going to do.
‘I’m going to,’ he said, his voice far calmer than he could have predicted, ‘kill him.’
He stood, turned, and walked into his gym. The lights came on automatically as he strode across the polished wood floor, and the secret wall panel slid open to reveal one of his weapon caches. He slid his hand across a great axe, the one he’d used to behead a king, but dismissed using it, as much…as much fun as it was, this wasn’t a job for such brute force. There needed to be pain before the death, only a little, he wasn’t going to have much time before they came for him, especially with Enforcers in the building, but time enough to do what he wanted.
One hand still on the axe, his other shot out and grabbed his recruit by the neck, he didn’t turn to look at her, he didn’t try and choke her, he simply held her away from himself. He looked to a collection of three knives that resided beneath the axe.
The knives would have been perfect, they all worked together, each releasing a different poison into their victim’s body, each working against them in a different way, culminating in a very painful death. Unfortunately, they were too slow, they wouldn’t be able to finish off the scholar before he was taken down.
‘Sir,’ Magnolia said, not even struggling in his grip, ‘you can’t do this.’
‘Are you presuming to tell me what to do?’ he asked as his hand ran over a small switchblade, one he’d offered to her, but she’d declined, saying that it had been designed hands smaller than his own. He agreed, but kept it anyway, sometimes a small weapon was necessary.
‘Yes.’
He snapped his head to look at her. He stared at her, then released her. Her gaze didn’t move from him. ‘Know your place, Recruit.’
She took a step forward, her slight form close against his, the ruffles of her skirt brushing across his pants leg, the sound her heart still so loud in his ears. ‘If you take any weapon from that case, my place here will no longer exist.’
He set his jaw. ‘And that means what to me?’
Her heart was pounding, faster than he’d ever heard it beat before, faster than the first time he’d tried to kill her, faster than when she’d outrun a reaper.
‘You are better than this, sir,’ she said quietly. Quietly, but not weakly, the uncertainty had disappeared from her voice. ‘You are better than this.’ He reached for a small and unadorned serrated blade. In a quick movement, she was between his hand and the weapons cache, she was quick, his training had paid off.
‘Get out of my way, Magnolia.’
‘Of course, sir,’ she said, but didn’t move.
‘Recruit!’
‘What you are doing is tantamount to suicide, sir, is this your plan, then there is something you have to do first.’
‘Being?’
With a quick jerk, she extracted her knife from her boot – evidentially replacing it for even the quick walk from his desk – and handed it to him handle-first. ‘Keep your promise.’
He ripped the knife from her hand, a line of blood appearing across her palm, and pressed it to her neck. ‘One chance to take the easy way out.’
‘If you’re gone, sir, I’m useless here. I have no intention of being useless.’
‘Fine.’
He grabbed the front of her dress with one hand, pulled her away from the weapons cache, and slammed her against the nearest part of the wall. She expelled a short breath, then lifted her chin and turned her head away, affording him a good view of her throat. A good target.
He lifted the knife and pressed it to her skin.
The rest of his life would consist of six movement. All so simple, all so practiced. The first, to cut her throat. The second, to drop her body. The third, to drop the bloody knife. The fourth, to grab the serrated blade. The fifth to shift to the scholar. The six, to stab Jones. Then, all he would have to do is to await his execution.
It was better than what the future held otherwise.
He stared unblinkingly at Magnolia, and for a moment, she turned back to look at him, but she said nothing. She knew she’d overstepped her bounds, and was apparently satisfied with her current number of infarctions.
After a moment, a moment in which he could have cut her throat, a moment in which he could have started his last six actions, a moment in which he could have changed everything, her demeanour changed. Her eyes told him she’d accepted her fate, as well she should have, he had a knife at her throat, that meant-
‘Sir, I-’
He shifted away.