Soft music was the first thing that Stef heard. She opened her eyes and found the lab empty, though by the drool running down the side of her face, she assumed it was because she had fallen asleep after the glitch. She didn’t remember falling asleep in the corner though, but it was more comfortable than the chair, and at least she had a blanket this time, albeit Jones’ lab coat. Agents handing off the shirt from their back, it was a pleasant normalcy, rather than always, always, always requiring a new blanket. Not that she had anything against required goods, but somehow this grounded things in reality a little more.
And as much as reality sucked, sometimes it was good to have at least one foot there. One foot tying you to the real world. If you didn’t have at least that, then there was no reason not to call on the Lost and go live in a fantasy.
The music slowly began to grow louder, and she stood, curious to find the source of it. Not that she’d been at the Agency long, but it didn’t seem the kind of place to pipe out music during the middle of the day – especially not when there wasn’t even elevator music. However, given that this was the tech floor, it just as well could have been the games room door left open and some game being turned up to eleven.
She let Jones’ lab coat fall to the ground, and only then noticed that he’d dropped a pair of his glasses there. She bent, picked them up and placed them on the edge of the bench, easily visible for when he returned later.
She took a step toward the door, nearly slipping in some spilled water, but made it out of the room without too much of an incident.
The hall beyond the lab was empty – a not-too-common occurrence for the tech floor, usually there were at least a couple of geeks visible – from what she’d seen, it seemed to be the most social floor; it wasn’t the “us or them” exclusionary mentality of the field floor, nor was it the impersonal hell of the combat floor.
A doll lay on the floor of the hall ahead of her. Intrigued, and feeling it her duty to rescue a lost toy, she walked over to it and lifted it easily, despite its size – a little bigger than Alexandria – and the bulk of its lacy clothes, it weighed almost nothing, though that could have been her agenty strength coming into play. ‘Yay,’ she muttered, ‘I’m strong enough to lift a doll without assistance, I’m a great agent.’
The doll, of course, said nothing.
She flipped it over, exposing its cracked china face – the delicate spider-web cracks covered one half of the doll’s face, though it still remained intact. She brushed the white hair back from the doll’s face and smoothed out the black clothes.
‘Wait…’ She shook her head, trying to wake up properly, and looked at the doll again. The familiar elements fell into place, and the doll finally made sense, well at least a kind of sense – it was a Magnolia doll. As to why anyone would want a psychotic magpie girl doll was beyond her, but doll it was all the same, so it belonged to someone. Probably Merlin – he’d mentioned her a few times, and seemed to like her. It must have been some of his magic that allowed him to like the unlikeable.
Doll of someone she disliked or not, it was still her duty to find the owner, so she tucked the doll under her arm and walked down the hall. The music was even louder now – so she was at least going in the right direction. Mosquitoes buzzed near her head, and she gently shooed them away – just in case they were some sort of experiment, or other Agency inhabitant that she hadn’t met, that or if they belonged to the Agency hobs – survive it as she probably could, being buried alive under concrete was probably very unpleasant.
Holding the doll tighter, she realised that there was something wrong with the hall. Something very odd, even for the tech department. All of the doorhandles were missing. The doors were still there – well, she wasn’t sure if they were all there, as the ones that remained seemed to be spaced out much further than normal. She walked over to one of the doors and gave it an experimental push – it didn’t give, staying as firmly closed as a background-only door requiring a clipping hack to pass.
She stared down the long white hall, wondering why she’d been left alone after such a terrible glitch. It had been- She searched her mind for the memory of it, it hadn’t stayed with her like the other two had, this one nothing but nightmare flashes of pain, being pinned down and murdered by Solstice, the feeling of her head exploding, horrible, terrible, painful.
But not as bad as she had expected. Not as bad as they had said it would be. Somewhat of a relief after the last one. Life was crazy enough without even more reasons to question her grip on reality.
Someone pulled on the doll.
She turned and screamed at the assailant. A…ninja, by the looks of him. A tall man dressed in all black, including an impenetrable black ski mask. He was probably a ninja, that, or a black mannequin come to life to seek vengeance on those that forced it to stand in shop windows parading the latest fashions for disinterested shoppers.
The ninja pulled harder on the doll, but she kept her grip on it, not wanting to let it go. Ninjas didn’t play with dolls, not even crazy violent gothic lolitas dolls.
‘NO CAN HAS!’ she screamed as the ninja and pulled back on the doll. The ninja shoved her, and she fell backward, losing her grip on the Magnolia doll. ‘NOT YOURS!’ she lunged at the ninja and grabbed the doll back, managing to grab a few dangling strands of hair.
She wrapped her hands around the doll’s neck and pulled, trying to keep her grip on it. The doll shook, then broke in two. She landed heavily on her rear, the doll’s head in her lap. She pushed herself up from the wet ground, holding the doll’s head by the long strands of hair and glared at the ninja.
‘Look what you did!’ she chided him.
The ninja took a step forward, then appeared to flicker for a moment, morphing into Taylor. He wrapped a thick hand around her neck and shook her. ‘Look what you did!’ he screamed.
She blinked a few times, then her attention was caught by the huge bloodstain on his chest. Nothing unusual for this week – most of the time, it had been her blood, but there was something-
There was a headless body in his arms.
A headless, masochistic body.
He let her go, and she slowly looked down to her hand, tears already falling from her eyes as she saw the all-too-real white hair peeking through her fingers, the all-too-pale skin on the face, and the all-too-drippy blood from the severed head in her hand.
She shrieked and flung it away, collapsing to the ground, pushing herself up against the wall. Her head fell to the side, and she saw that the doors weren’t missing, they were simply covered in blood, or had dead recruits lying across their entrances.
Far down the hall, a lab-coat-less Jones lay against the wall, his side ripped open.
‘Who-’
He kicked her in the head. ‘You.’
‘I didn’t-’
‘Stef.’
Ryan’s voice.
She turned to look down the hall, past Taylor, past Magnolia’s severed head at him. ‘Ry-’
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘I’m so sorry.’
‘Did I really-?’
‘Something went…wrong,’ he said. ‘We have to-’
‘Kill you,’ Taylor supplied.
‘If I-’
Another kick to the head. ‘You did.’
She ignored the pain and looked to Ryan, who was keeping his distance. ‘Do it.’
There was a wet sound as Magnolia’s body was dropped to the ground. Rough hands grabbed her and dragged her to her feet. From the corner of her eye, she saw Taylor draw back his arm, and then the impact as it hit her chest.
She felt cold fingers digging about in her chest, worming their way toward her heart, around her heart, there was a tug and-