After his fourth training program, Taylor stopped to breathe for a moment. Fading generated training opponents littered the floor of his gym, a testament to the rate at which he’d completed all four routines. Each was of a different kind, a different type of monster to test his skills, to concentrate his thoughts on anything other than the blonde.

For a moment, he considered a shower, but that was a mortal habit and he had no need of it. He wasn’t mortal, he wasn’t weak, he had none of their frailties. He was above that, he was beyond the point where anything could hurt him. He was better than that.
Better than the man who had lost against something that shouldn’t have existed.
One requirement refreshed himself, clearing the sweat from his body, another had him in his formal uniform, the unfamiliarity of the suit making him uncomfortable. It was far too constricting, the tie served no purpose, and it was much harder to weave in harm-resistant thread into something that looked like a business shirt than it was to strengthen a decent military jacket.
Still, he had no intention of approaching him in anything less than formal dress. It wouldn’t have been right.
He accessed his temporary top-access controls and shifted himself into the Director’s office.
The director made no move to welcome him, to ask about the intrusion or to ask for a status report. The director simply sat there, his head resting on his desk, his breathing slow and regular. No change from the last time he’d seen him, no change in the last fifty years, not that any was expected. There was no expectation for him to wake up, but the hope remained anyway.
‘Reynolds,’ he said as he approached the desk, far too aware of the sounds his suit was making. ‘Sir?’
Director Reynolds said nothing, his eyes staring across at some point on the far wall.
‘He’s done it again,’ he said. ‘You would never have let this happen.’
The Director made a small groan, shifted his head a little, and began to drool.
‘It’s a dilution of what we are,’ he said as he rounded Reynold’s desk. ‘You need to stop it.’
He lifted the Director away from the desk, wiped away the drool with the handkerchief in his pocket – likely the only advantage of wearing the suit, and gently placed the older agent back down. A simple requirement replaced Reynold’s dust-covered suit with a clean one.
‘He’s done you nothing but disservice. You should have chosen me.’
The catatonic director still remained silent.
‘You should have chosen me!’ he screamed.
Reynolds began to drool again.
‘Make him go in your place. You need to come back. Someone else can pay the price now.’
An alarm sounded in his mind, and he was shifted from the director’s office back to his own. His temporary controls were gone, he was no longer in charge, he again under the direction of a man who didn’t deserve the privilege of leading.
One quick requirement had him back into comfortable clothes. One quick shift had him in front of his “commanding officer”. Ryan still looked pale, not nearly as sickly as he had on the roof when all of this had started, but still less than adequate. Ryan had taken back directorial control, and he still wasn’t dressed yet.
The lab was quiet, and the regeneration tub was slowly receding back into the floor, and Ryan was leaning against a bench, slowly buttoning up his shirt. Dressing himself like a mortal. Dressing himself like a human would. Ryan looked across at him, and said nothing as he finished buttoning up his shirt.
He watched as the field agent required his vest, and slipped into it, still silent, still offering no explanation or apology. No reason as to why he was willing to repeat a mistake.
He wanted to hurt Ryan. He wanted to kill him, but the anger was old…an older, deeper anger than that which had nearly made him kill the scholar. There wasn’t much to be said that hadn’t been said before. Ryan would have the same answers he always had. The same reasons he always used. The same excuses for being a poor example of an agent.
There were so many things to say, but one question seemed most important. One question that actually had the potential to make the other agent stop and think.
‘What use will it be?’
Ryan finished tying his tie, tucked it into his vest, then looked up. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Your recruit,’ he said, his calm surprising him again. ‘Of what use will it be?’
‘She will-’
‘What did it ever do to deserve this? It had no talent, or skill, or-’
‘You signed off on it,’ Ryan said as he put on his jacket, ‘you can’t argue it now.’
‘It’s a liability.’
‘So were you.’
A thought summoned Magnolia. He turned his head to look at her, and he easily ignored her state of incomplete dress, her open corset that barely covered her breasts, the fading bruises on her pale skin, and the lines of fine muscle definition. All unimportant, ignored.
‘On your knees,’ he ordered his recruit. With a sharp nod, she was on her knees in front of him, an expectant look on her face. His next thought had a gun in his hand, and he was pleased to see that she didn’t flinch.
‘Don’t!’ he vaguely heard Ryan shout.
He pulled the trigger twice, one bullet slamming into her shoulder, the second lodging itself into her knee. He ignored the field agent’s damning of him, and looked down at his bleeding recruit, who was staying upright despite the blood and despite the pain. Neither would last very long, this wasn’t a test of her ability, just a demonstration.
‘Recruit guidelines, from page one, now,’ he ordered.
‘Recruit handbook, version 85.1.5, current to all recruitments up to and including October 2009, according to the standard calender,’ she began, dropping the injured shoulder a little to alleviate some of the pain.
‘Get her medical attention, now,’ he heard Ryan order.
He turned to face him. ‘No.’
‘Damn you, she’s-’
‘A real recruit,’ he said, cutting the other man. ‘This is what they are. They are tools to be use, at our discretion, for whatever we wish, however we wish. They signed up for this, they fight, they die, that is their entire purpose.’
‘Version changes to this document include-’ Magnolia continued, trying to keep the pain from her voice.
He took a step toward Ryan, and looked down on the shorter agent. ‘This is what a recruit should be able to do. You’re weak, your recruits are weak, and this experiment…she won’t pass the limit testing, I won’t let her pass the limit testing. Do everyone a favour, and end this now.’
‘You’re creating another Whitman.’
Ryan’s face went impassive. ‘And I killed Carol, didn’t I? I’m sorry that it wasn’t before she attacked you, I’ve apologised a thousand times, I cannot make up for what she did, we brought you back, we tried, we did all we could.’
‘I killed Carol,’ Ryan said again. ‘I did what I had to do. Compared to that…killing Stef would be easy.’
‘A mistake that you-’
‘This discussion is over,’ Ryan said, turned, and shifted away. .
‘-pertaining to the second-’ Magnolia continued to recite.
‘When the Parkers finish with you,’ he said to his recruit, ‘finish your report on the experiment.’
‘Yes sir.’
‘And read the associated files, you have access now.’
‘Yes sir.’
He shifted her to the infirmary, leaving him alone in the lab with only her bloodstain and the silence of an unoccupied room – the same silence there had been after the mad Whitman had gone into a room full of recruits, and walked out of a room full of bodies.
He immediately shifted to his recruits’ gym, and began to shout orders at the well-trained soldiers, ordering them into formations. A pointless exercise, other than its inherent value to test their readiness. But noise, any noise, even useless noise, was better than being alone and frightened.