Ryan gave his combat agent a neutral look. ‘I’ve told you – knock before entering.’
‘Were you monitoring?’
‘Of course I was.’
‘What are you going to do about it?’
He gestured to the forms. ‘I already have your opinion on the subject, I will make a careful judgment and act upon that, as I always do.’
‘Sometimes Taylor, I wonder if it should be you who is transferred.’
‘I am where I belong sir.’
‘No, you belong in the gym, training the recruits.’
Taylor crossed the room and slapped a freshly-required file onto the desk. ‘I know who she is.’
He flipped the folder open – it was the incident report from their first meeting. ‘What is your point?’
Taylor stabbed the report with an angry finger. ‘An event like this makes them more likely to become Solstice. You had no reason for not killing her during the raid, other than your own weakness.’
‘It is not our job to take innocent lives.’
‘Her actions in the training simulation point to her being psychotic. She does not belong in the field. I doubt even the scholars would take her in – don’t let your weakness compromise us again.’
He stood and rounded his desk. ‘What are you insinuating?’
‘Whenever you get too close to a recruit, it always has negative consequences. I am tired of paying for those consequences.’
‘Don’t bring Carol into this.’
‘Why not, sir?’ The word “sir” was spat, as it always was.
He tried to retain his composure. ‘Whitman was a…mistake.’ Mistake. It was a nice safe word. ‘A tragic mistake. It is not one that is going to be repeated.’
‘It was one that shouldn’t have happened in the first place. You acted-’
He held up a hand to silence Taylor. ‘That has nothing to do with my recruit’s outburst. Striking a senior recruit is a serious offense, but she was right to question his methods.’
‘She doesn’t have the right to question him, he has seniority.’
‘Using that logic, you do not have the right to question my choices.’
The combat agent went silent for a moment – as if the gravity of the thought was too much for his simple thought processes to comprehend. ‘Only in this incarnation,’ he said at last. ‘My archetype was created first. Worlds always need their warriors, they always need their warriors, the weaker archetypes were made to compliment and support them.’
‘You want to run this Agency, don’t you?’
‘I will not challenge you for control, but when one of your mistakes costs your life, I will gladly take it over and run it in the manner that was intended.’
He just stared at the larger agent.
‘You won’t be transferring her, will you?’ Taylor said after a moment.
The combat agent growled. ‘Can I request that she at least receive punishment for her actions?’
He nodded, that was one concession he could make. Taylor slammed the door on his way out.
‘One little girl…’ he mused and shifted away.
He found her inhaling what should have been a brain-damaging combination of caffeine and sugar.
‘So am I fired?’ she asked as she pulled her legs up onto the bench and sat cross-legged.
‘If Taylor had his way, you would be.’
‘So am I fired?’ she repeated.
‘You do understand what you did was wrong, right?’
She shook her head and put down the cup. ’No. No I don’t. I don’t understand that it probably broke some rule to repeatedly pummel the nuts of a moron.’
‘It is covered in the recruit handbook.’
Her eyes went wide. ’But…you didn’t give me one.’
‘It’s no longer issued. We found that the vast majority of recruits didn’t actually read it. It’s an interesting psychological phenomenon that revolves around people being less likely to read something because it is mandated, no matter how much they may have been interested in it beforehand.’
‘It’s human nature,’ she commented. ‘Stupid humans.’
‘You struck a senior recruit. It could have been disastrous if had been in the field.’
‘But it wasn’t the field.’
‘You only get to use that excuse once.’
‘How about, I was stabbed?’
He considered this for a moment, then shook his head. ‘No, that got out out of morning training yesterday, its viability as an excuse has been used up. Besides, this has nothing to with your injury. By striking your senior recruit, you accepted responsibility for whatever came of it.’
‘You’re like, really, really into personal responsibility aren’t you?’
He straightened himself. ‘Yes.’ She rolled her eyes and drank some more of the sweet-smelling liquid. ‘I believe that if everyone realised the impact of their actions that they would be a lot more careful, and that-’
‘You wouldn’t have to shoot so many hackers?’
‘It’s a sad fact that the IQ that generally goes along with being a hacker comes with a curiosity factor that leads you to seeking out these corners of the world.’
‘Guess I should be glad I’m not a cat, or did I just use up one of my nine lives?’
‘By my count you’ve used up at least four.’
She smirked at him. ‘So do I get a slap on the wrist?’
‘We are not that kind. And I have no wish to strike you.‘ He made a requirement. ‘There.’
She looked around. ‘Is my head going to explode in ten seconds?’
‘For the next week, unless on assignment, you will be unable to require.’
She rolled her eyes. ‘Oh, however will I survive? I’ll just have to buy cookies with the fifty grand in my bank account.’ She slid off the counter and opened a few cupboards. ‘I hate you,’ she said slowly. ‘Couldn’t you have given me a warning or something?’
He stared at the cup and ran an analyses. ‘That cup contains more than enough sugar.’
She pouted. ‘It’s not only about the sugar content…it’s the innate cookieness…’
He required a cookie and handed it to her. ‘You aren’t coming tonight, you know that, don’t you? The combat recruits know what they are in for, and the rest of my recruits have a lot more field experience. The Solstice always drop blackout bombs, which limits our movements, and the mirror’s path is erratic. And that’s not even taking the leech into account.’
‘He’s the big unknown isn’t he? And the fact that he’s supposedly doing this out of love makes it even more chaotic.’
‘How so?’
She shrugged. ‘Love is just another form of insanity, isn’t it?’
He stared at her for a long moment, then shook his head. ‘No, it’s really not.’
Another shrug.
‘The Solstice will not be looking to hurt us tonight, but if any recruits get in their path, they will kill them. They will not listen to reason, to lies or worry about torture first. They will take the quickest action in order to ensure them every chance to get the mirror.’
She gave a salute. ’Yeah, I hear what you’re saying.’
‘Do you realise this is an order?’
‘Still not very good at taking those.’
He stared at her. ‘And if you wish to have a lifespan long enough to learn the art, then you will listen to me.’
‘Like I said, I’m a problematic pet. I never get to see things through to the end – just this once, please?’
‘You will get to see it through, from the reports and on the screens, with the tech recruits that are on duty.’
She pouted. ‘If you insist.’
He nodded, he raised his head and looked into thin air for a moment. ‘Time to head back.’
He shifted them back to the Agency and they parted ways.