Curt opened his eyes, a scream still locked in his throat.
‘Lights,’ he choked, ‘fuck, lights, require: lights.’
The room was immediately illuminated – his bed with the tangled sheets, the disused kitchenette, the in-built wardrobe. His, all his. His room. His things. No agent to be seen. No cage. No blood.
He dismissed his sweaty sheets and leaned back against the headboard, sitting ramrod straight, eyes sweeping to ensure that there wasn’t an intruder, that none of the shadows were deeper than they should be.
Everything was normal.
His body refused to relax.
He lifted stiff arms and slowly patted down his body, feeling the places where there should have been scars, where there should be chunks missing, where instead there were only phantom pains and memories.
There was only one more test. He closed his eyes and required his uniform. For a moment, he kept his eyes closed and simply pressed his hands against fabric, trying for force his fingers to discover the colour.
He hung his head, opened his eyes, and let out a half-cry, half-sob of relief.
He was safe. For another day, he was safe.
He dismissed all of his clothes, stood, and walked to the bathroom. He stepped into the shower, spinning the taps on autopilot, and let himself drown in the warm water.
Even the Parkers’ pills couldn’t keep the nightmares away. They didn’t come every night anymore, but they were far too easy to trigger.
He shook his head and rubbed shampoo through his hair.
Stef was going to become an agent. A full augment. A life tied to the Agency.
He trusted Ryan. He had to trust Ryan. Ryan wasn’t Petersen. Ryan wouldn’t-
The situations were entirely different. He couldn’t compare his circumstances to hers.
He dunked his head to wash away the shampoo.
She would live, and where there was life-
Where there was life there were nightmares and regulations and the fear of putting one step out of line. Of not meeting goals and someone deciding that they were better off without-
Curt dunked his head again, then turned the water off.
He stepped out of the shower and grabbed a towel.
The entire mood of the Agency had changed – even if only a few people knew why. The agents were in on the loop, Mags knew and he doubted that Jones could keep anything from Merlin, who always seemed to know everything that was going on.
There was good reason to believe the kid was a reader but he hadn’t had any definitive proof, so it remained a theory.
Taylor being dangerous and unreasonable was the baseline for a day ending in “y”, but the “situation” – he took a moment to wipe moisture from the bathroom mirror – was making things worse. Combat recruits had been visible on Field and Tech floors – far more than was usual, in likely attempts to keep out of Taylor’s line of fire.
Curt dried himself and required his training uniform. He looked at himself in the mirror and took a moment to require his hair into place, the last beads of moisture disappearing from the brown strands.
He left the room and jogged to the gym – it was still far too early for training, but shooting a few targets and imagining Petersen’s face would improve his mood a little.
Magnolia was there, a tablet in her hand. A smattering of X’s had been taped to the floor – that usually meant a whole-group exercise.
‘Morning, Mags,’ he said as he walked towards the firing range.
She looked up, gave him a blank look, and went back to tapping out instructions on the tablet.
He required a target halfway down the range, the basic outline of a man – and it was far too easy to imagine it was Petersen. He required a gun, did a basic check, flicked off the safety and fired three shots into it.
‘Your form is shit, O’Connor.’
He fired off another three shots. ‘I’ve been awake fifteen minutes and I’m hitting the centre of mass, I’m doing fine.’
She gave him a sharp look and he straightened himself, adjusted the grip on his gun and fired again – this time the shots were a lot more accurate.
‘See? Giving a fuck gets results.’
‘It’s too early to give a shit.’ He fired again and again, destroying the paper target’s head.
‘You should have been Combat,’ she said, ‘you’re better than the rest of these fucks.’ She held up the tablet and he saw a form displayed. ‘That’s your signature, correct?’
He flicked the safety back on, laid the gun down, and took a closer look. ‘Yeah.’
‘Why are you doing Ryan’s work for him?’
He turned away from the target and leaned against the range. ‘He needs help, so I’m helping.’
‘He needs a real aide-’
‘He’s already told me not to bother finishing my new application.’ He stared at a point past her. ‘It’s fair,’ he said, trying to convince himself, ‘I’m happy to temp, it’ll earn me a few Brownie points.’
‘You’re a decent recruit, don’t let Ryan use you. If you’re putting in the aide work, you should get the perks that go along with it.’
Curt let out a long sigh. ‘Another six months, another year, and I probably would have had a shot. Stef in the picture, come on, it’s obvious. She’ll be his aide as soon as she’s got active status. It would give her a defined role as a secondary agent, which is excellent for integration purposes.’
Magnolia shrugged. ‘So why do the work for him then? Are you really so desperate for a pat on the head?’
He scratched at his chest and tried not to think of his tattoo. It wasn’t desperation, it was just the need for acknowledgement, tiny sparks of goodwill that meant he was more likely to live to see the end of each day.
‘Got to think about the future, right?’ he said, forcing a wide grin onto his face. ‘Even the brownie points add up to something.’
Magnolia shrugged. ‘Whatever it is, keep it up, it’s nice to actually get a response.’
With this, she turned away.
Magnolia spun back to look at him. ‘O’Connor, stop trying to ask, I’m not going to say anything, even if you manage to actually form a question.’ She narrowed her eyes. ‘What the fuck do you want me to say?’
A dozen questions danced on his tongue. ‘Just tell me you think it’s as fucked up as I think it is.’
Magnolia’s black eyes glittered. ‘Of course it is, this is the Agency we’re dealing with.’ She turned away again, tapping on the tablet computer.
He picked up his gun, reloaded it with a thought, and went back to executing Petersen on paper.