Stef watched as Curt stumbled and fell. ‘You shot me,’ he wheezed.
She stared at the gun in her hand. By all rights, it should be smoking, should be on a perfect angle, and have light glinting off its surface, which would look just right when captured in a black and white photo. There was no perfect smoke curl, it hung in her hand awkwardly, and the ubiquitous fluorescent lighting gave it no special treatment.
Three quick steps had her at Curt’s side, and she just stood and watched the red spread across his chest.
‘You shot me,’ he said again.
‘You were a bad guy,’ she stammered, ‘well, I thought-’
‘Did you call for medical?’
‘Are you gonna live that long?’
‘Fuck, newbie,’ he said, putting a hand to his chest and staring at the red that coated his fingers. ‘I just bought this shirt.’ He grimaced, then his head fell back to the concrete floor.
She poked at him with her toe.
‘Don’t do that,’ he growled, ‘seriously.’
‘Aren’t you being a little melodramatic?’
He pushed himself to his feet, wiping the red paint from his hand onto his pants leg. ‘Not really. You just shot me.’
She stared at the stain on his shirt. ‘Least I hit you in the chest.’
‘And if this was a live-fire exercise, I’d be dead and people would be rifling through my stuff, you see why I insisted on dye rounds?’
‘Yeah, I got it, sheesh.’
‘Newbie, listen. You not being able to shoot is one thing, having crack shot aim and no impulse control is another, entirely more dangerous thing.’
‘I thought-’
‘You give me an order, I call you ma’am, you shoot me in the chest, and you’re back to being newbie. It’s fair.’
‘Can we continue now?’
He shook his head. ‘Nope. This is a mission for two. If one of us gets…taken out, it’s an automatic fail. We’ve got to move onto the next one.’ He turned and sat on the abandoned couch. ‘But I’m taking a water break first.’
‘You’re being surprisingly cool about this,’ she said.
He looked at his chest. ‘I can always buy a new shirt.’
‘You know what I mean.’
He shrugged. ‘Stuff like this happens, ok, maybe not specifically this, but Agencies experiment, and it’s better to accept that and move on than try to rail against it. I mean, except for the fact that you can shoot now, you aren’t that much different to the newbie who almost accidentally shot herself in the face. I’m over the whole thing where I consider a person’s nature before their personality.’
‘You mean you’re over being a Solstice.’
He took a long drink of water. ‘First magic I ever saw was this magic-altered human, out of his fucking mind, he was attacking people left and right, and he came after me, my girlfriend and our newborn daughter. Three Solstice guys swept in and saved us. My first exposure was some guy trying to kill me and my family, yours was…well, a fed, who rightly wanted to arrest you.’
‘Not quite.’
He shrugged again. ‘What I saw terrified me, more so because I knew that there had to be others out there who would want to hurt me, or my family. I decided to fight the good fight.’
‘By torturing people?’
His expression didn’t flicker. ‘I did what I did, I’m trying to atone for it.’
‘Were you one of the ones that killed children?’
‘No, ma’am, I wasn’t. They sent me the same kind of people that attacked me that night. Big, strong, tough, ugly as hell, any and all of the people I…dealt with could have outmatched me and easily killed me if they’d broken free of their restraints. I only ever tortured monsters, and that let me go home everyday feeling justified, and like I’d done good.’
‘The woman? And the baby?’
‘No-one else was available that day, because everyone else working on her husband – a few of the guys had a vendetta with him, so they gave me the easy job of dealing with a pregnant woman. The rest is history, let it be history.’
‘Would you go back if you could?’
‘How can you even ask me that?’
‘Because I have no impulse control.’
‘The answer to the question you’re actually asking is yes, you’re safe. And if you feel you aren’t, you can always shoot me in the chest.’
‘Suppose.’
‘And let me put it this way: even if I was still secretly working for them, you’re still better off with me than any of the other recruits in this department, because at least I’m not a douche.’
She couldn’t help smiling.
‘See?’ he said, ‘I’m not such a bad guy. Come on, let’s run another. You pick it this time.’