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The Grey Edge: Chapter Thirty-One


There was the sound of a body hitting the floor. A familiar sound. A sound she had trained herself to notice, to hear above everything else. The sound of Taylor hitting the floor. It wasn’t the sound made by a good landing, or a dodge to duck a low blow, it wasn’t anything associated with a fight going well.
She drove her thumb into her opponent’s eye, and spun to assess her commander’s situation.
Mordred stood over him, a short sword spinning in his hand. Taylor lay on the ground, blood spilling from his back, over his jacket, over the carpeted floor, his face determined, but going pale. His legs twitched, the pain was obvious on his face. He stared at her for another moment, then his eyes closed.
Her brother lifted the sword and brought it down again.
No.
The sword drove into her chest an inch below her collarbone. She saw the shock on Mordred’s face, and was sure that her expression was much the same. Blood gushed from her nose, and her hands were numb, almost without sensation. The short, broad sword did not plunge any deeper into her chest, but he made no move to remove it.
Feeling returned to the rest of her body, and she could feel Taylor beneath her, feel the blood soaking through her clothes, feel the unnatural twitches in his body. He was hurt, badly, and he was going to die if he did not leave the Court, and get back to a system area.
Taylor shuddered beneath her and some of the tension left his body – unconsciousness. Probably only unconsciousness. She could still feel his heart beat, despite the uneven beat, he was still alive.
‘Get out of the way, sister.’
‘No.’
He twisted the blade just a little, more as punctuation than to tear the whole open further and shook his head. ‘Move, Magnolia.’
Taylor was going to die. He was going to die, because of her. He was going to die, weak, and unconscious, his life bleeding out without a fight.
It was an unacceptable fate.
She wrapped a hand around the blade and forced it from her flesh. ‘I’ll stay, Mordred.’
‘You were escaping,’ he said, flicking the blood from the blade.
‘Let him go,’ she said, ‘and I’ll stay.’
Black eyes stared down at her, and somehow they contained less of a soul than the holoform shark they had used against Mimosa. ‘Get on your knees,’ Mordred said, ‘and I’ll think about it.’
Without thinking, she pushed a hand down to steady herself, and felt something shift, felt blood and exposed tissue, and felt her heart stop for a moment. She fell forward, wiping the blood on her face away with the back of her hand, savouring the coppery taste for a moment, knowing it was going to be the best taste in her mouth for a while.
‘I’m not a patient man, Magnolia.’
‘Do you want blood all over your cock?’ she said as she righted herself.
‘It’s never bothered me before.’
She reached for his pants and went on auto-pilot. Simple actions were simple enough, nothing about this required a lot of thought. She pulled on his pants and they fell to the floor, his boxers joining them a moment later.
He was already shamelessly erect – and he stood proud, half-naked for the remaining siblings and guards to see. He set one hand on his hip and let the sword hand beside her face, a threat for what would happen if she refused, or if she did not do a good enough job.
She licked her lips, then let her auto-pilot take over.
Thirty seconds later, Mordred dropped the sword, drove both hands into her hair, and pushed himself deeper inside. She coughed, pushing on his belly a little as he threw off her rhythm, steeled herself and adjusted herself.
She could feel the blood on the carpet under her knees. So much blood. Too much blood. He was injured, and she was sure that he would not have bothered to bring any emergency supplies on his unplanned trip into madness. This unplanned trip to save her life.
Mordred began to grunt – most of which she was sure was for show – he was used to being an exhibitionist, that much was clear. It was pathetic, and made the cheapest of Johns look like high-class customers in comparison.
He clamped her head in place with strong hands, and finished at his own pace, the taste of blood well and truly replaced.
‘Swallow.’
One more auto-pilot action.
‘Swallow it all,’ he said, his fingers scraping against her skull. ‘I told you I could be generous.’
One more action.
He pushed her away, and she pushed on the ground, unwilling to land on Taylor again, to injure him further, to kill him faster.
‘Now let him go, no tricks.’
‘No.’
‘Mordred-’
‘Shut your mouth.’
She stood, careful to keep her eyes from Taylor and took a step toward her brother. ‘He goes, I stay.’
Mordred wiped his sword with a cloth, his pants still pooled around his ankles. ‘If I let him leave, you’ve got no cause to be reasonable.’
‘Then what?’ she demanded.
‘You both stay. You want him alive so badly, you can nursemaid him while I sleep.’
She let her glance slide down onto Taylor. ‘Give me two hours to stabilize him, then I’ll fuck your brains out.’
He slammed her against the wall. ‘Don’t push your luck, sis. One hour.’
‘I need-’
He wrapped a hand around her throat. ‘You’ll take what I give you.’ A knee pushed between her legs. ‘And you’ll thank me. One hour.’
‘If that’s all you’ll give me.’
‘Say thank you, sister.’
‘Thank you,’ she spat.
He pulled back from her and she slumped against the wall.
‘What do you need?’
‘Surgical supplies, bandages, and a blender.’
‘Planning on making drinks while you watch it die?’ Mordred said, but he waved a hand at a few of their siblings, and the most of the rest of the magpies dispersed after a minute.
She went to her knees beside Taylor, trying to assess the damage without touching him too much – his breathing was worse, his pulse was worse, he was still bleeding, and field medic skills were not enough to deal with damage like this.
‘On my status as a recruit,’ she said, wiping her bloody hand on her skirt. ‘Let him back into a system area, and I’ll stay long enough to conceive two heirs for you, that way you can pit them against each other and pick your favourite.’
He crouched behind her, and it was more than obvious that he was hard again. ‘The only guarantee I have of you behaving is if we keep him here.’
‘On my-’
He hit her in the back of the head, grabbed a handful of hair and forced her head back. ‘Promises against the Agency mean nothing to me, and neither does your agent. This is the way it’s going to be, Mags, take it or leave it.’
‘If he dies-’
He shook her. ‘If he dies, nothing. This is a courtesy I don’t need to extend to you.’
Three of their siblings returned with a stretcher.
‘Careful,’ she ordered.
‘We know,’ the tallest said. The tallest put his hands under Taylor’s head, the others put their hands under the bloody agent’s feet and middle. As one they rose, Taylor floating between them. He was placed face down onto the stretcher with all the care of a mother with a newborn.
‘Do you love him?’ Mordred asked as she rose to follow the stretcher.
She turned to face him, denial ready.
‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I guess you do. Don’t bother denying it, it’s all over your face. I won’t treat him any differently,’ he said with a casual wave, but I might enjoy fucking you just a little bit more. Let me ask you this, what’s there to love? He’s not a real thing, after all.’
‘He’s a good fuck,’ she said, ‘and he pays me well.’
‘One hour.’
She turned and hurried after the stretcher.
The room was smaller than the guest room they’d given him, an empty storage room most probably – the walls painted dull brown, shelves sat empty and dusty, and there was a wide tub at the far end of the room, slowly dripping water. It was clean, it was bright, it would do.
She ushered the stretcher bearers out, closed the door, choked on an aborted attempt to cry, then went to his side. She tore the sterile covers from the trays, pulled forth a bone saw and set it to one side, slipped the safety glasses over her eyes, lifted the scissors, then cut away his clothes.
Every piece of bloody rag went into a bucket, then she propped up both of his feet, and went to work.
Sawing through bone was never fun.
Blood splattered her safety glasses, her cheek and her shirt, but after an exceedingly long thirty seconds, it fell loose on the stretcher, and she turned to her next target. Another very long rather short period of time passed and both feet lay loose on the stretcher.
She laid a strip of gauze over each bleeding stump, letting the blood flow into the trays, and moved the feet over onto a larger tray and she set to her next task.
Monday, Monday was the next round of intermediate and advanced training.
The scalpel moved as she stripped away each piece of skin and flesh, dropping each into the blender in turn.
Tuesday – revision of schedules due to illness, injury or death.
Her hands were red, but at least they were stable.
Wednesday, observation on six potential new recruits.
The blender reached half-full, and she hit puree.
Anger roiled as she felt her body betray her, felt the urge to puke rising, felt disgust even beyond what she felt for Mordred, for her mother, for her blood.
She hit the stop button and poured the mess into a beaker, and turned, and slowly poured it down the length of his wound, pausing to scrape the loose chunks back towards the slash. It oozed and spilt down his sides, tearing away the rest of his dignity, removing any chance that anyone could view him as threatening.
She slammed the beaker onto the bench, continued to mutilate the foot and half-filled the blender again. This time, she rounded him, pushed him onto his back, grabbed hold of his short red hair and forced his head up, and the beaker to his lips.
He swallowed then began to choke.
‘Sir,’ she said through gritted teeth as consciousness ran through his body like a spasm. ‘Swallow.’
Terrified eyes opened and stared at her, and he choked again.
‘Swallow!’ she demanded, and he chugged down the contents of the beaker.
She pulled the beaker away from his mouth when it was nearly empty, wiped his mouth with her fingers, then drove them into his mouth, forcing him to suck the pureed flesh from them. She released his head, gently putting it back down on the stretcher.
Another half-filled beaker. Another half beaker forced down his throat.
He grabbed her wrist as she pulled away, and she felt her heart leap – glad that he had some movement below his neck.
‘I died alone last time,’ he slurred.
She slapped him away. ‘Let me work,’ she said sharply. He let his hand drop to the stretcher, and closed his eyes. She slapped him again, ordered him to stay awake, filled the blender again, and set it to puree as she went to his feet.
The stumps had stopped bleeding, mostly, and were a lot better than they would have been if he were human.
She pulled the trays of blood, tipped them into a spare bucket, then placed it into the sink, and the bucket full of rags beside it, then half-filled both with water.
‘Roll onto your side,’ she said as she poured the last portion into the beaker, then the contents over his healing back and feet.
Contents distributed, and the beaker dropped into the bucket of bloody water, she went to his side, and pulled up the small stool.
‘That’s all I can do right now,’ she said. ‘Condition?’
‘I died alone last time. I don’t know.’
‘Flex your fingers sir.’
He flexed his fingers.
‘Move your arms.’
He did, but the movement was stiff, unnatural, pained.
‘Move your feet.’
‘I can’t feel my feet.’
‘Move your legs.’
‘I can’t feel anything,’ he said, voice distant. ‘I think I’m paralysed.
‘How long will your blue last in a blackout zone, sir?’
He looked at the ceiling for a moment. ‘Should have…twenty-six, twenty-seven hours left.’
‘But less than two for the blood you’ve lost. I’ll need you to drink as much as you can, I’ll soak the rest into bandages, for whatever good that will do.’
‘Magnolia?’
‘Yes sir?’
He focused on her. ‘You’re my constant.’
They were three words, and the meaning behind them were three other, very important words. Words he didn’t have to say, words he was only saying because he felt pressured, felt like he was dying.
‘Yes sir,’ she said, and grasped his hand. ‘And you aren’t dying if I can help it. And when we get home, I get to go to the advanced medic courses.’
‘You do the schedules,’ he said with a grunt.
In her mind, she kissed him, in reality, she stood, and began soaking bandages in his blood and preparing pointless escape plans.