Stef settled onto the couch, the file propped up on her knees, her coffee balanced precariously on the arm of the couch. Ryan looked over, and the coffee disappeared, reappearing on the floor in front of her.
‘It’s that or a sippy cup,’ he said.
There was a knock at the door, and she opened the file, trying to look sensible and important, trying to look like an agent. Trying, and she was sure, failing.
‘Come,’ Ryan called.
Very unsurprisingly, it was Curt who walked in.
‘What can I do for you, Recruit?’ Ryan asked, making a chair appear for him.
Curt walked over to the chair, but laid his hands on top of it, rather than sitting. ‘I’ve got a couple of questions, if I may sir.’
[Should I leave?] she sent to Ryan.
[No, stay, do your homework.]
‘Of course, please, sit.’
Curt sat, and looked as uncomfortable as she imagined she had the first time she’d sat in that chair. Agitated, uncertain…afraid. ‘Was it me, sir?’
‘Did you suspect me?’
Ryan’s expression relented a little. ‘No, recruit, I didn’t suspect you.’
‘So why was I her shadow?’
Good question.
‘Because that’s how it would have been if she’d been an ordinary recruit,’ Ryan answered smoothly. ‘A deviation from the norm would have just aroused suspicion.’
‘You’re sure it wasn’t me?’
‘No, Curt, it wasn’t.’
‘Thank you sir.’ He exhaled a breath. ‘I thought that may have been the reason you rejected my aide application.’
‘No, I just don’t need an aide.’
‘As you say, sir.’
Curt sat uncomfortably for a long moment, something apparently desperate to escape the tip of his tongue.
‘What is it, Recruit?’ Ryan asked. ‘If there’s something you need to ask of myself or Agent Mimosa-’
Curt stood suddenly, shoving the chair back. ‘Gods forgive me,’ he whispered as he raised an arm and pointed it at her.
His finger came to an accusatory point. ‘Agent, my ass, sir.’
She stared at the pointing finger for a moment, trying to figure out how to react. Luckily, an override came through, and she felt her face snap into shape.
[Don’t say anything,] Ryan ordered.
She looked across and saw that his face was just as emotionless, he wasn’t letting anything slip.
‘Say that again, Recruit,’ he said in his I’m-a-scary-narc voice.
Curt sat heavily in the chair. ‘Sir, you know exactly what I did for the Solstice, what they trained me to do, and that I’ve retained most of those skills. I can spot an agent a click away because I’ve had to. Picked agents out of a crowd just by watching for predictable pattens, ways you move, ways you speak, hand motions that you all seem to share. Unless I’ve slipped a lot further, in which case I’m kind of glad and I’m more recruit than Solstice shit than I used to be, or she isn’t a real agent.’
‘I’ve said what I’ve said, recruit, you’ve got no reason to-’
‘I’ve got every reason, sir. Sir, please don’t take this as insubordination, I’m just trying to understand what’s going on so I don’t act on false information, and at the same time, not to hide information away that I may or may not actually have the privilege to know.’
‘An infiltration agent who, when masquerading as a recruit, spent more time hiding with the techs and in the infirmary than actually tailing her target? Who did a pretty good job imitating a crazy scared little nerd who knew squat about the Agency or the world in general? Who didn’t even come into the field with us during the mirrorfall and was only sent in as a backup, or so I read?’
[…I think he might have eaten some of Sherlock Holmes’ brain…]
‘Sir, please, let me finish. You need to know what I know, or at least, what I suspect so you know what to clean from my brain if it comes to that.’
[You narc voice is kind of scary…]
[I can teach you how to imitate it.]
[Ok, fine, you’re back into the awesome category instead of the scary one.]
‘Also, if you might, please explain why an infiltration agent was out cold on that couch?’ he said, jerking his thumb toward her. ‘Agents don’t sleep that heavy, especially not heavy enough to sleep through a conversation and a tech brat snuggling up to her.’
‘Why were you in my office?’
‘Merlin opened the door, sir, I just was trying to see what he wanted down here. It wasn’t an intentional intrusion.’
‘Anything else?’
‘The blood I found at the mansion, the one I never got the results back on. I took a second sample to an empath acquaintance of mine, she ID’d Mimosa through a photo lineup.’
Ryan sat silent.
‘It was human blood. Found at the same location as the apparent Recruit Mimosa was first found. An agent would have no reason to bleed all over a tree, and if they did, it would have been ash days before I took the sample.’
He turned to look at her, then turned back to Ryan. ‘I’m just telling you what I know and suspect so that you can take the appropriate action. If she is Agent Mimosa, then I’ll apologise now, submit a formal apology in writing and willingly give up my privileges for a month. If she is, was, Recruit Mimosa, then I offer the same services I would have given the newbie if she hadn’t “died”.’ He drummed his fingers for a moment. ‘This kind of thing happens, everyone knows it, well, a lot of people know it. Humans get made into something more, or get a bit of an advantage, or get recycled, I mean, something like that is how we got the twins, right?’
Ryan still said nothing.
‘No one else knows. No one else cares. No one asked anything when she was reported dead, nor cared to look any further into it. No one other than Merlin knows she was here a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been around a newborn agent, and her speech patterns are too highly individualised if she’s as young as she would have to be if she was created to deal with Enid.’
He slumped in his chair, looking very much like a man about to get dragged to the gallows.
[You aren’t exactly the best-kept secret, Stef,] Ryan said, [at the same time, we aren’t exactly announcing it to the world.]
[Are you asking me what to do? You’re asking me for a judgment call?]
[It is your life.]
[I don’t know this guy. What do you think?]
[If nothing else, it would be a comfort to me knowing there’s someone else you could rely on if I’m not around.]
[Reliable is good. Ok, um, go ahead, I guess.]
[He can know you’re a human-into-agent experiment. Your heart, however-]
[Is still top secret, I know, I know, I don’t relish the idea of anyone tearing it out.]
‘Curt,’ he said, ‘I believe you know Stef.’
Curt exhaled a long breath. ‘I was right, sir?’
‘On pretty much all accounts.’
Your turn to say something.
He’s not even looking at me.
He came in here to talk about you. Feel special. Or like a victim of stalking, one or the other.
I still think he ate Sherlock Holmes.
Spyder, if you don’t stop focusing on that, I’m going to have to stop you from going off to find the corpse of John Watson, and you’re hard to stop when you go on crazy quests.
Oh shush…
She lifted her coffee from the ground, still unsure of what to say. Logically, it should be something witty so he would be less inclined to return to calling her “newbie” but no words came.
‘As I said,’ he said, sitting straighter in his chair, ‘my services are available. Most of the others won’t notice one or two slips, but more consistent errors could be an issue.’ He turned to her. ‘Still need practice shooting?’
She shook her head, still at a loss for words.
Curt turned back to Ryan. ‘So what do you want me to do, sir?’
‘Just the same as you would if she were still your recruit partner.’
‘Yes sir.’ He was silent for a moment. ‘Who else knows?’
‘Merlin, obviously,’ Ryan said, ‘Magnolia as well.’
‘That I expected,’ he said. ‘No other recruits?’
‘No. And it’s to stay that way.’
‘Of course sir. Just let me know when you need me.’
‘I will.’
He gave Ryan a nod, turned to her and smiled. ‘I’ll try and be of as much help as I can, ma’am.’
[…did he just “ma’am” me?]
[He did. You are his superior officer after all.]
[I think I can get used to this.]
‘Can I order you not to call me “newbie”?’
‘Of course ma’am.’
‘Then consider it an order.’
‘Yes ma’am,’ he said and left the room.
She grinned at Ryan. ‘I just gave my first order!’
‘Keep your guard up around him.’
Her grin faded at his tone. ‘What?’
He stood, and joined her on the couch. ‘He’s ex-Solstice, you know that much, but I presume you don’t know what he did for them.’
‘I’m going to guess the story that he was just some red shirt was somewhat of a fallacy?’
‘That is a lie we allow him for ease of interacting with the other recruits.’
She drew her knees up to her chest. ‘What did he do?’
‘He was one of their torturers, and he was quite good at his job. His conscience didn’t get the better of him until he was faced with a heavily pregnant woman, wife of an agent, carrying a child that the Solstice of course wanted dead.’
‘But he’s a recruit, he-’
‘He rescued the baby at the cost of the mother. He cut it out of her, Stef, and left her to die while he escaped with the child.’
She couldn’t suppress a shudder. ‘In the recruitment tests, you were ok with me killing a guy for a lot less than that. Shouldn’t he be lined up in front of a firing squad, or in a cell somewhere?’
‘He genuinely believed he was doing the right thing. That’s the thing about the Solstice, they’re very convincing. Not everyone can come face to face with a monster and just keep going, Stef. Look at your society, the popular opinion is that magic isn’t real, those who believe, even in inaccurate representations of it are ridiculed or marginalised. Think of the hob in your test, and tell me that honestly most people wouldn’t fear it, and run.’
‘There’s a difference between running away and tying it to a chair and beating it to death.’
‘Not to the Solstice. And if spun on with the angle of doing it to protect your family, it can easily drive people to doing things they never would have imagined.’
‘Yet you trust him enough to let him help me out?’
‘I don’t trust him, I just can’t. Deep-cover assignments for the Solstice have lasted longer than this, even if his record is exemplary. He is a very, very good recruit, but I can’t help worrying that if he had a chance to return to his former life that he would take it.’
‘Take his advice but don’t turn my back on him?’
‘Something to that nature.’
She stared at her knees for a moment. ‘Tell me we get to do something fun next.’
‘We get to do something fun next.’
‘Are you lying?’
He gave her a half-smile. ‘You didn’t ask me to be truthful.’ He required the schedule, flipped a few pages and nodded. ‘If I shift a few things around, you can get your office now, would that be fun enough?’
‘Do I get to decorate?’
‘Do you promise to be subtle?’
‘Black walls and streaming porn, gotcha.’