Parker-2 lifted the scalpel, and cut into the body again.
There was no movement, as expected. Any movement now would mean having to start again, and doing this once was enough for him, and more than enough for her.
He stared into his HUD, ensuring that his medical overlay was updating multiple times per second – this was delicate work, and it needed all of his attention.
In the bottom left corner of his HUD, his communications window sat grey and dead – so far as everyone was concerned, he was off the grid, incommunicado and disinclined to talk to anyone.
^Things like this, they are supposed to stay the purview of intellectual discussion.^
^You agreed,^ his twin murmured.
He wasn’t against cruelty that served a purpose. He wasn’t against medical experimentation that would have human scientists pissing their pants – so long as it served a purpose.
There was nothing they could learn from this.
He felt the echo of a hand on his face – one of the small, comforting gestures that would look so strange to an outside observer.
^I’m following orders.^
^So let me go in your place. I’m her doctor, not you.^
^No,^ he argued. ^Someone has to be there in case someone needs a Band-Aid, and you’re best at that, nursemaid that you are.^
^One of us has to be nice.^
He finished cutting the square, and pulled away the large section of skin, gave it a brief glance – intellectually pleased with the technique – then tossed it onto the tray beside him.
^Do me a favour and scratch my shoulder would you, I’m itching, and I want one uniform without blood on it.^
^Not that it would matter.^
He felt the echo of -1 scratching a shoulder that was several floors away, and relief washed over him.
^You feel tense,^ his twin said, -1’s worry bleeding over into his own system. ^Shiatsu later?^
There was the shadow taste of coffee in his mouth, one…pleasantly spiked with liquor.
^A massage isn’t what you want.^
^I’m not going to say that I’ll need a beer and a right good fuck, because sex isn’t what I want to be thinking about right now.^
He stared at the girl on the table, naked but for a pair of short exercise pants and a tube top – the only modesty they had allowed her. Vulnerable, completely paralysed…and completely conscious. She stared at him, unable to close her eyes, forced to look at either him, the chunks of her skin in his hands, or to stare at the mirrored roof, and see everything.
Thoughts of sex with the man he loved weren’t comforting, neither was the thought of getting drunk off his arse and being able to forget about following this order for just a little while.
^Fine,^ his twin said, ^but speaking of which…any voyeurs?^
^Little miss masochist wasn’t invited. The arsehole and the playboy are here though, are up on the ob deck.^
He flicked his eyes upward, and let -1 see what he was seeing.
Smoke clouded the observation deck, though the glass wall stopped it from infecting his sterile work area.
^Taylor’s smoking?^ Parker-1 asked.
^Well, Grigori’s around, it’s like the old days again.^
^No it isn’t,^ Pakrer-1 argued. ^If it was, it wouldn’t be a stick that’s up his arse.^
^Your subtleties continue to amaze me. You should talk like that in front of the recruits sometimes.^
^No, they think I’m the nice one, let them continue thinking that.^
^I don’t understand their objection to losing a kidney every once in a while.^
Torso stripped of flesh, he moved onto the right arm.
^Do you really think,^ Parker-2 asked, ^that he enjoys this?^
^No,^ Parker-1 said after a long moment. ^I think he feels justified. It’s duty and revenge all mixed up. It’s not Mimosa on the table, it’s Carol. He’s been slipping up when he talks. The mirror makes it all the worse though.^
There was another taste of coffee and Parker-2 felt his eyes move against his will, and his gaze focused on the part of the mirrored heart that poked through the thin covering of flesh.
^Are you tempted?^ Parker-1 asked.
It was a question they had managed to avoid the last time she’d been in the operating theatre. No one wanted to have thoughts that were less than righteous when an Enforcer was around.
^Why?^ he asked, letting sarcasm slip into his tone, and he let his feeling of incredulity leak across their link. ^You want a pony?^
^We aren’t allowed near mirror because of what we can do with it. We aren’t allowed to wish for things because we aren’t trusted, we’re told it isn’t our right. Agents with mirror fuck with the balance. So the question is Agent Parker, what would you wish for?^
^A triplet, so we can have a threesome.^ He ran a long, deep cut up the length of the girl’s arm. ^Shit, I don’t know, what can you do with that much?^
He felt his memories being accessed, and files pushed around. ^Mirror magic ain’t exactly an exact science.^
^You…^ He laid the scalpel down for a moment, required away a bloody glove, then smacked himself across the face. ^English. You know it. Speak it. “Ain’t” isn’t a word.^
^Yes, but for three-fifths of a second, you forgot that you were skinning a girl alive.^
Taylor’s angry face appeared in his HUD, ignoring the communications block. [Stop wasting time!]
Parker-2 felt his eyebrows raise. [Ah. Aha. Did you just tell me how to do my job?]
[You aren’t doing-!]
He force-terminated the connection, winked at the paralysed girl, and shifted up to the observation deck.
He pulled off his glove, splattering as much as possible over himself, the pale carpet, and the shot glasses as possible. He held back a grin as he felt a few drops hit his face, knowing how even a little blood enhanced his appearance.
^I wish I could bottle how you’re feeling right now, and drink it on bad days.^
^You just sit back gorgeous, and let me go to work.^
‘Parker-!’ Taylor began.
‘It sounded very much like you were telling me how to do my job, Agent Taylor,’ he said quietly.
Taylor’s face was a perfect study in rage. ‘I was!’
‘You don’t get to tell me jack shit.’
‘No, fuck you. The only reason I am here is because this godsforsaken experiment protocol demands it, you, sure as hell, do not outrank me. I do not answer to you, I do not call you sir, and you do not get to say anything on how I do my job. You are speaking to one of the top Agency doctors in the world, in the whole world, take that in for a second. I’ll skin her, sure, I’m doing it, but any moment I choose to stop, I can, and you can’t say a word, because I can choose to something better with my time, with my hands, and you’ll have to go ask someone else to do your dirty work. Let me put it this way, if I want to go wank, I can, and anyone will back me up, because I declare it a better use of my time than helping an ungrateful son of a bitch like you.’
Taylor growled, but said nothing.
Parker-2 stabbed the combat agent in the shoulder with a bloody finger. ‘I can put people back together when you can’t even tell there’s a person there, I have saved more lives than you have taken, and I…Demand. Your. Fucking. Respect.’
He pushed the combat agent out of the way, and stretched out on the black leather couch, taking a liberal drink from an open liquor bottle.
‘Parker-’ Taylor began.
‘You just choked my last little bit of patience,’ he replied. ‘You get down on your knees and beg me to get back to work, until then, I’ll be taking a break.’
‘Push me any further, any little bit further, and I will petition the Enforcers to take Mags away from you. I’ve got more than enough medical evidence to show that you shouldn’t be within two continents of her. People take your bullshit, Taylor, because they’re afraid of you, or because they pity you, neither of those two categories apply to me. I’m skinning someone for you and you decide not to give me any leeway, you really only have three braincells in your skull don’t you? What, did you require away your brain when you required away your dick?’
‘This is getting a little out of hand,’ Grigori said, finally deciding to speak. ‘We can work this out, everyone is just a little tense.’
‘On your knees,’ Parker-2 demanded of Taylor. ‘Beg, and be glad I don’t get you to do anything else while you’re down there.’
‘Enough,’ Grigori said, stepping between them. ‘Fine, take off your pants, I’ll make you question your autophilic orientation, or if that’s a little much, I’ll be the special guest star in your bed tonight, and pleasure you both, your choice.’
He took another swig of the liquor and stared up at Grigori. ‘Why the hell do you even bother with him?’
‘Because he’s my friend.’
‘You have very poor taste in friends.’
‘Are you going to drop your trousers?’
‘Keep him off him back, or I will demonstrate three things: That I can operate naked; how limber I am; and how I can multitask with a willing partner.’
‘I wouldn’t mind watching,’ Grigori said with a wink.
He shifted back down to the girl, and got back to the task of removing the skin from her arm. ‘Something to remember, Mimsy, those two are unrepentant assholes, though I’d wager you’ve gathered that by now.’
^Sometimes,^ Parker-1 one said across the link, ^I really love you.^
^And the rest of the time you’re pretending?^ he teased. ^Well don’t I feel special.^
The skin hit the tray with a wet thunk, and then he removed the skin from each tiny finger individually.
^Tell me you have hob beer chilling.^
^In the blood fridge, just like you like.^
He searched his twin’s mind. ^You forgot to check on Nicole’s arm,^ he said, ^Break was week ago today.^
A memory was nudged in his direction. ^She’s coming in later, she’s on an assignment at the moment.^
He moved onto the other arm, and mechanically stripped it down with. Gloves drenched in blood, he required himself a new pair, and went about stripped the flesh from the lower half of her body.
Still she didn’t move, still she didn’t scream.
Toes were stripped bare, and then with a thought he flipped her, so that he could remove the skin from her back. This, he was able to take in large sections, and he made quick work of it.
Lastly was her face, and he forced himself to look elsewhere as he stripped her cheeks, her lips, even her nose. And with one more cut, one more thunk of skin into the tray, he was done.
Stepping back, he looked up to the ob deck. [I left the skin there,] he said to the voyeurs, [just in case you want to make a coat, or a rug, or whatever.]
His job done, he shifted from the room without even one more look back at the skinless agent.
Hands were touching him as soon as he appeared in the infirmary, pulling at his clothes, making contact with his skin, dragging him inevitably toward the bed in the small room behind their office.
He closed his eyes, trusting his twin not to let him fall, and let himself finally find comfort.