Stef shivered as she was shifted out of the tank, soaked skin and the relative cool of the air-conditioned building were not a good mix. That, or it could have been fear.
Yeah, Spyder, it’s probably the fear.
She looked up from the stump that refused to heal, yet was fine with pumping out copious amounts of blood, to the three people that had made her life hell. The trinity. The cerebus. The three-pronged attack, whatever they were.
And now she was bleeding to death, and her life was really in their hands.
She stayed seated as they stared down at her. The volcano: dismissive and bored. The blond: joyous and…wearing only a Speedo. The girl: angry and twitchy. Not a shred of care among them. Not one iota of compassion. She doubted that even a jiffy had been spent contemplating getting her medical assistance, or even a damn band aid.
She leaned back against the tank, resting her bleeding stump on her leg, and felt the vibrations of the shark headbutting the glass behind her.
The volcano moved. Pompeii – and one hacker – held their breath, but she felt herself relax just a little as his focus was shifted from her to the magpie girl.
No, Magnolia, you idiot. Don’t tell me you’re developing memory problems now, I have enough trouble managing you as it is.
Don’t yell at me, I need one person in this room to be on my side.
Misremembering one of your enemies’ names doesn’t serve any purpose. Besides, you never know, that true name trope might hold water in the real world.
Not that you’re suggesting I try that.
No, I’m not, for one, you don’t even know her middle or last names, it’s kind of a useless weapon right now.
Just like me.
Just like you. But that’s ok, you’ll learn.
‘Magnolia,’ the volcano said, addressing the magpie, ‘go get some lunch.’
Magnolia stared at the volcano for a moment, her expression that of someone able to be knocked over with a feather – even a regular one – before she quickly snapped a salute, mumbled her compliance and made a hasty exit from the room.
The volcano turned to the blond – Grigori for his part seemed to be very disappointed at the departure of the magpie-girl, likely upset that his attempted courting-for-coitus had been courting-interruptus.
‘And you haven’t had a drink for more than an hour-’ the volcano began, but was interrupted as a blond laid a had on his shoulder.
‘Taylor,’ the Russian said slowly, ‘you can come for a break as well. You don’t-’
‘I don’t need to rest.’
‘I’m not leaving you alone with her,’ Grigori said. ‘Friends don’t let friends commit murders in the presence of security cameras.’
She suppressed a shudder, trying not to be disturbed about how lightly they were talking about her life, and the oft-realised conclusion that there were in fact very few things stopping them from just making her…stop. Despite the cars dropping on her head, despite her head being removed, despite organs being punched out, and turning to ash in a furnace, she always respawned, on time, and without issue.
There had been issues. An issue. A stump. He was sending his friends – cronies, minions, mooks, whatever – away. Completely psychotic murder was a lot easier to accomplish alone. Alone, where there was only you and a helpless victim, and no accented voice of reason to bring up such trivialities as security cameras, or the fact that it was simply a bad idea.
It would be so much easier to act on impulse.
Don’t use that phrase, just in case your cold, cold heart starts responding.
I really, really, wouldn’t be opposed to that right now. I think he’s-
Panic when he starts killing you, for the moment: relax. Or, at the least, please remember to breathe, Spyder.
But he might have poisoned the air.
Now you’re just being paranoid.
I’m a hacker, I’m allowed.
No, you’re a narc-in-training, you’re supposed to be resisting urges like that.
So I should stop listening to the voice in my head as well?
Don’t be an idiot, you wouldn’t function without me.
‘You need a break,’ the blond informed the volcano. ‘Leave her here to bleed, what happens, happens, but let me take you to-’
The volcano looked in the direction that the magpie-girl had taken. ‘You’d prefer to continue making a spectacle of yourself with Magnolia.’
Grigori lightly punched him. ‘Don’t presume to tell me tell me what I’d prefer. You. Me. Drinks. No girls, fun or otherwise, unless you want one dancing on the table. We can have men talk. Alone. No distractions.’ He put a hand behind his back and brought it back around, a long, silk covered package in his hand. ‘And I’ll let you see this.’
She stared at the blond combat agent. The practically-naked combat agent. She blinked a few times, removing her mental editing of the man to her left and confirmed for herself exactly how little he was wearing. ‘Who the fsck are you, Captain Jack?’
Without even turning to look at her, Grigori kicked her, wedging his bare, wet foot between her chin and her chest, cutting off her air supply – and waved the package in front of Taylor. ‘Fairy craftsmanship. Special order. Six little men lost their sex drive so they could make weapons as fine as this. I’ll let you touch it, just come with me, leave the little cunt alone for an hour, and shelve any thoughts off offing her, at least for today.’
Taylor lifted a hand and ran his fingertips over the silk, looked back at her, then up to the Russain again. ‘Fine,’ he growled, slapping Grigori’s leg away from her neck, before stooping to lift her. She rose high off the ground, and watched as both the shark, and the water disappeared from the tank.
With nothing more than a grunt, he tossed her up, over and into the tank. She smacked into the dry, glass bottom of the tank, and felt her nose break. She stared through the glass at them, expecting the tank to fill with acid, air-breathing piranhas or…something else that dined on hacker flesh.
Instead, both agents simply shifted her away, leaving her alone, in a tank that didn’t immediately appear to have intentions on her life.
Looks like you get a coffee break.
I could really use some coffee.
That isn’t going to happen. Be happy for the “break” part.
You can has coffee later. And probably a cookie. And maybe hugs.
…I never thought I would look forward to physical contact. It’s…comforting.
Hey, that’s a start. Maybe in another twenty years, you’ll be a real person.
She rolled over as her nose finished mending, away from the puddle of blood she’d been lying in, gently laid her stump across her belly, and stared up at the ceiling. The room, for the most part, seemed to be self-cleaning and self-healing – every day when she came back, her bloodstains were gone, and any various Spyder-shaped holes in the wall that they’d made with her limp body had disappeared.
The ceiling, however, still had a bloody impression in it from earlier. At least it was dry and not dripping on her.
She closed her eyes, hiding from the world in darkness for a moment, and wished she could sleep. The pain in her arm – in her stump – was…present, but not overwhelming. It hurt more than most of the wounds they’d inflicted on her over the past few days, but it still didn’t hurt anywhere near as much as a bloody-stump-that-used-to-be-a-hand should have. Blood continued to flow freely, as apparently the boom-boom feather had scared all of her platelets away, or had simply made them apathetic about the idea of trying to clot such a large wound. Either way, they were going to get fired. If one could fire platelets. If she even had platelets. If she didn’t, then their imaginary, fictional doubles definitely were getting fired.
Sleep refused to come – it usually did whilst she was in the gym-from-hell. Unconsciousness came freely, and lasted as long as it needed to, or until she was shot up with adrenaline or shot in the head, but sleep never did. Despite her wish not to be among the conscious, despite wishing for dreams…if dreams would ever come, she stayed steadfastly awake.
She opened her eyes, though didn’t bother to focus on the ceiling, or the sides of the tank, or anything, there really was nothing worth seeing. Counting invisible agent sheep, however, that was a task worthy of her time.
She sat up, let her eyes fall on the far end of the tank, and let her eyes stay out of focus. Counting sheep wasn’t a technique that worked. It had never worked. She had tried to count sheep, but had always imagined a thousand or more, all penned together, simply waiting for a child’s counting game to set them free, and had then imagined her self counting to infinity all at once, so that all the sheep could go free. Where they went didn’t matter, what they did didn’t matter, why they had been penned in the first place didn’t matter, she had done her part to free them, and that was the end of it.
It didn’t stop her from enjoying roast lamb, though. Some were undoubtedly going to be captured again. It was the starfish story in reverse – if they were all released, and a few were captured and cooked, then it was only to those few that the situation was unfair, it only mattered to those few.
And those few were delicious. Especially when served, cooked to perfection by a well-paid house staff, covered in gravy poured by a man in a tidy suit needing nothing more than a little cough to indicate that the food needed condiment-ising, and another little cough to indicate that it was sufficiently condiment-ised.
Money had its advantages, good food was among them.
She imagined the agent sheep in their pen, fluffy wool in perfect soft cartoon curls, small blue ties hanging from their necks – though not low enough to get tripped on by their shined hooves; sunglasses adorned each sheep, adding their anonymity, and they all wandered the paddock in orderly pattens, like bots in an MMO, only the occasional one breaking formation to go alphabetise their sheepish DVD collection.
I think…there might be something wrong with you.
You’re one to talk.
She stared at the agent sheep, preparing to call them each by number. She adjusted her stump, leaving it freely bleeding off the edge of her knee, opened her mouth, and began to call each agent sheep, binary digit by binary digit.
Some of the sheep seemed dissatisfied by this, sunglasses-wearing expressions telling her that there were far more efficient ways of freeing them from their paddocks, other than calling out long, lovely strings of ones and zeros.
She sent the dissenting sheep to the back of the line, silently telling them that they would be the first to be cooked and served to little rich girls who would let the meal go cold if she was too enthralled with whatever game she was playing on a muted Gameboy beneath the table.
By the time she had called the fiftieth sheep, the paddock was a lot more open, leaving the remainig agent sheep with far more room to romp and play, or to hide in the back corner and get…familiar with each other. She blinked a few times, then quickly called those two sheep, wishing them luck with their strange, sheepy agenty love in a world of people with carving knives and mint peas.
After seventy-five sheep had been set free, it was becoming painfully obvious that the dissenting sheep were gathering more supporters, what had been a few iconoclasts were now a force of at least a dozen. A dozen angry, agenty sheep could be a formidable force. More than a match for her at least.
She eyed the remaining sheep, trying to assert her superior being status, and a few relented, bowing their fluffy heads and lining up so that she could release them.
The dissenters came next, these she released as a group, but instead of skipping off to do whatever it was that counting-sheep did when they were released, they all turned toward her, angry, blaming her for their imprisonment.
‘Baa, ram, ewe,’ she muttered, ‘that’s enough of you.’
The dissenting agent sheep disappeared, the paddock disappeared, and mundane, tank-y reality seeped back into her world.
Still alone, still bleeding, and no closer to sleep than she had been a hundred sheep ago, she stood, her footing unsure in the pool of her own blood. She stepped out of the pool, rubbing her shoes dry on her pants legs and began to circle the tank, her stump held low, and out to the side so that she didn’t create one big slipping hazard.
I don’t think I’m bleeding to death.
I concur, you’d be a lot more light-headed than you are now. You’d probably be unconscious. And don’t you dare start arguing that you could be unconscious and simply imagining consciousness, that argument gets really tired.
…are you mad at me?
I’m feeling the same pain you are, sorry if I’m a little out of sorts.
There’s…Um. Wait. Never mind.
Ask it, Spyder, for your own piece of mind.
With all this magic stuff that’s real. All the things we’ve seen, all the, yanno, stuff. The thought has occurred to me that maybe you aren’t…me, that you’re, I dunno, someone else?
Would you like that?
Oh, fsck no, it’d be creepy as hell, but I had to ask.
Spyder, I’m just you, you’re just naturally this way. It shouldn’t actually be reassuring that you’re insane, but whatever makes you feel better.
…do you think we’re going to be stuck in here until this tank fills with blood.
I think that would take more than six hours, which is about how long is left for the day, so, no. He’s just being a jerkass.
She circled the tank twice more, then slid down into a corner, cramming herself against the safety of two thick glass walls and shut her eyes. Even if dreams didn’t come, or sleep, then at least the relative boredom of the backs of her eyelids would be relaxing. More so, at least, than watching herself continue to bleed out.
Keep an ear out for evil sheep, would you?
Sure, Spyder, whatever.