The room beyond the torture chamber was empty – Stef looked around, judging by the state of the room, it had been recently occupied, probably watching the show. She kept her gun at her side, it had been occupied, so there was a chance it would be occupied again.
A laptop caught her eye – it had been left open, a simple screensaver showing the time bounced around. She ran a finger across the trackpad, and it went to the desktop without even asking for a password.
‘Jesus, so much for security.’
She pulled the mirror from her pocket, and rested it against an empty coffee cup. ‘Jonesy?’
The mirror rippled and Jones’ face appeared, a pair of headphones over his ears, and a slightly blank expression on his face, the kind she wore when she was coding with her eyes closed.
‘Hey, Jonesy.’
He snapped down to look at her, looking as though he was having a minor heart attack. ‘Stef?!’
‘Hey, where am I right now?’
‘You’re…in a messenger window. What-?’
‘No, me questions now, you questions later,’ she hissed. ‘I’m on a Solstice laptop, anything you want me to do while I’ve got it?’
‘Other than bring the hard drive home? Open some ports for me and I’ll grab what I can before they trace the hack.’
‘Ok, I can do that,’ she said, bending the laptop to her will, and for the first time since shooting the mirror, feeling like the hacker she was, instead of the narc she was pretending to be. ‘Tell me they don’t have everything on one massive bad guy server?’
‘Unfortunately no, but I should be able to grab some files of value.’ He nodded. ‘All right, I’m in.’
‘Ok, run a trace to this location.’
‘Not hard,’ he said. ‘Why?’
‘Shut up and do not laugh at me, but can you task a satellite over the area? Hopefully there’s going to be a moderate amount of hell going on in here in a few minutes, and I suspect some are going to run – cause I have no idea how many are here, so if you can get a read on the runners, and fsck, I dunno, call Ana and her siblings to deal with it?’
Jones smiled. ‘Sure thing, Agent Mimosa.’
She grinned. ‘Ok. You do your thing, I’ll do…something I’m really not qualified to do.’
‘Good luck.’
She touched the mirror again, broke the connection, and put it back in her pocket. She lifted her gun again, and walked out of the break room, and into a Solstice.
He, however, was reading a paper, and merely mumbled an apology, and kept going. She turned and watched him for a moment as he slowed, and turned to look back at her. His somewhat sleepy expression wrinkled.
‘You new?’ he asked.
She held up her gun. ‘Agent Mimosa. On your knees.’
He laughed and folded the paper. ‘Oh, you are new. Captain Zheleznova’s not a big joker, so you’d-’
She shot him in the knee.
‘Agent Mimosa,’ she said again. ‘Now tell me, how many people are here.’
‘You aren’t an agent, you’re too little!’ His hand slowly began to move toward his hip, and presumably, a weapon.
She aimed at his head. ‘I have had a very, very bad day, and I will shoot you, so just answer my question and I’ll let you live long enough to get captured and put in a cell.’
His hand twitched, and she pulled the trigger again, rendering him no threat to anyone.
She moved down the hall, and other than the sounds of some washing machines, there were no sounds of movement, no sign of other Solstice. She looked down at the floor, seeing drops of blood every couple of feet from where they’d dragged her through an hour ago.
You know, I’m supposed to get breadcrumbs.
So, now you’re Gretel?
Yeah yeah, more like Grendel, I know, but geez…can’t I have one stupid magic cliché come true?
Well, wish yourself into a short skirt-
I’m already wearing a long jacket.
-and for a tiara, and you can be Sailor Stef. Protector of cookies everywhere. Or something.
Um. Yeah. I’m the magical girl who has to self-mutilate to make anything work.
She found the door to the stairs, and opened it quietly, hoping that the stairwell wouldn’t echo, hoping that the stairwell was empty.
It was, and she made it down two flights without incident.
Stupid as this might be to say…thanks for being here. I couldn’t do this alone.
So now you don’t hate me.
I thought I was gonna die!
Apology accepted, Spyder.
Her hand froze on the door, and she dug the mirror out of her pocket. ‘Show me outside this door.’
You don’t want to overuse that thing, you don’t even know how it works.
It’s magic, it works by…quantum?
You don’t even know how many uses it has, or if it’s draining you to perform.
I need it. I won’t use it after this, and it’s a magic mirror! I mean, it’s an actual magic mirror!
I find it fascinating that you can be excited about that when, well, considering, you should have some sort of mirror-phobia. We were killed by one, Spyder, remember?
‘Mirror mirror in my hand, show me the fairest in the land!’
You are such a child.
‘Hello?’ The voice came from the mirror, and she stared at it. A woman in a blindfold stared back at her, through her, past her. ‘Who are you?’ the woman asked.
‘Um, who are you?’
‘I’m Justice,’ the woman said.
The “fairest” in the land.
‘I’m…sorry,’ she said, ‘wrong number,’ she said, quickly touching the mirror and breaking the connection.
Um. Huh. That was weird.
‘Show me through the door.’
The hall beyond was empty, and all of the doors – except the one leading through to the cells. That was good, less chance of an ambush, less chance of being noticed, more chance of succeeding. She opened the door and crept down the hall, keeping low, below the windows on the doors, just in case the rooms were occupied.
She tilted the mirror as she approached the door, seeing a man’s back reflected not far into the room. She tucked the mirror back into her pocket, stood, and stepped into the room.
One shot felled the man just in the room, and she took a second to take in the rest of the room. Three more Solstice, all in shock, Curt, Grigori. Dmitri. Curt stabbed the Solstice closest to him, and the other two reached for their weapons. He slashed at the next one, but the man jumped back, his gun clattering to the ground.
The boss Solstice took aim at her, and she fired twice. By some miracle, both shots hit, and he fell, the neat hole in his forehead signaling that he wasn’t going to get back up.
‘Curt, duck!’ she yelled, but he ignored her, stabbing at the man again. The man threw himself to the floor, reaching for his weapon. She fired six shots, the first two hitting his arm, the next three going into his side, and one hit his head. The first Solstice that Curt had stabbed raised his arm, a gun in it. She pulled the trigger twice more, and he went still.
Curt turned to her, tears in his eyes. ‘Thank gods,’ he said. ‘How-’
‘Me orders now, you questions later,’ she said, moving forward toward the cell. ‘How bad is Grigori?’
‘You could ask me,’ the Russian said.
She kept her gaze on Curt.
‘He’s not badly injured,’ Curt said. ‘None of it is life-threatening.’
‘Ok, get him out of those chains.’
‘Stef-’ Grigori said.
‘You say one more word to me that isn’t an answer a question I ask, Agent Grigori, and I will wish your mouth away, understand?’
‘I understand,’ Grigori said, grunting in pain as Curt freed one of his arms.
With only minor difficulty, she tucked her gun into her waistband, took the keys out of the cell, and unlocked the cell next to Grigori’s, the cell containing Dmitri. The agent looked haggard, was missing an arm, most of one of his legs, and was nearly still on the concrete block – only the small rises and falls of his chest indicated any sign of life, remnants of a very old uniform his only defense against the cold.
‘He’s comatose,’ she said. ‘Looks that way anyway.’
Grigori ran into the cell, kneeling beside his friend. She took a few steps back, and closed the cell door, locking them both inside. Grigori spun to look at her. ‘You-’
‘I think I already gave you an order about talking,’ she said.
‘Let me out of here, now.’
‘You are going to stay in there, and if you’re lucky, I won’t leave you behind. We aren’t leaving here without us having a talk, a good conversation, but until then, we have bigger problems to worry about. You stay in here, you keep your mouth shut, and we’ll come back for you.’ She dug into one of the deep pockets, and handed Curt the gun she’d wished for him, and then the spare magazine. ‘Don’t know how many there are,’ she said, ‘but we can steal more guns if we run out of ammo.’
‘Recruit,’ Grigori said, staring at Curt. ‘I order you to let me out of here.’
Curt stood up straight. ‘Respectfully, sir, she’s my superior officer, I take my orders from her.’
‘And I’m hers!’ the Russian raged. ‘Let us out!’
‘Be quiet,’ she said. ‘We aren’t staying here to guard you, so you cannot afford to draw attention to yourself.’
‘We could die.’
‘This is a situation you created.’ She smiled. ‘You brought this on yourself.’
‘Please.’
‘Curt, with me,’ she said as she turned and walked back towards the door. Grigori called out one more time, then all she could hear was muttering in Russian – likely talking to Dmitri. She shut the door to the lab as Curt walked out.
‘Now, we-’ she began, but found her mouth crushed against his chest as he hugged her.
‘Sorry,’ he said as he let her go. ‘Orders, ma’am?’
‘Is there an evacuation alarm?’
‘Of course.’
‘We need to sound that. If Jonesy did like I asked, then there’s eyes on this place to track the escapees and Ana’s team to catch them.’
‘Ana’s a tech. Ma’am.’
‘Whoever the fuck. You know what I mean.’
‘Yes ma’am. What else, ma’am?’
‘Can we kill the blackout zone, so we can come in and strip this place down?’
‘I don’t even know what kind it is, you tell me, and then I can answer.’
‘I don’t know what kind it is.’
He pointed to her head. ‘It should say right there. Does it say T or M?’
She opened the blackout warning back up and stared at it. ‘Type M.’
He smiled. ‘Ok, that’s magic, rather than time. Without people here to maintain it, it will fall in less than a week.’ He pointed down the hall. ‘There’s a security room down there, we can trip the evacuation alarm from there.’
‘How many are here?’
‘Two dozen or less, it’s a nascent operation.’
The security room was unlocked. ‘Seriously,’ she asked as he took the chair. ‘How are the Solstice a credible threat when you can’t even look after yourselves? This door isn’t locked, there’s no key code to get into the stairwell, and the boss guy didn’t even have a password on his computer.’
‘Overconfidence,’ he said. ‘It’s a fault.’ A few clicks, and a few keystrokes later, yellow lights began to flash, an a constant, whining alarm sounded, interrupted with a computerised voice informing the occupants to leave.
She sat on the desk, resting her gun on her knee as he watched the security monitors, and the fleeing Solstice.
‘The mirrorfall,’ she said. ‘I did die, that part wasn’t a lie. I don’t know what it said on the report-’
‘-shot in the chest by a Solstice,’ he said, not taking his eyes off the monitors.
‘Well, that’s a lie,’ she said. ‘Well, it’s happened before,’ she said, smiling at the half-memory, ‘but not then.’
He looked up at her for a moment, then looked back to monitors.
‘I’m a fscking geek,’ she said, ‘before I got into this life, the worst fight I’d been in was at school, and even if girls fight dirty, it’s not guns and death and all that. I had Ryan leave me alone on a roof, I just needed a minute to collect my thoughts.’
‘No one can blame you for that.’
‘I saw the mirror falling, and I had a brilliant idea, figured it was the one way to make sure that…you know, the good guys won or whatever.’ She gave a shrug. ‘I…shot it.’
He gave a short laugh. ‘All right, I can follow your line of logic, but that was really, really stupid.’
‘I shot it, it stabbed me,’ she said, lifting her shirt to show him the mirror. ‘And I died. Ryan made a wish, and…I’m here.’ She lowered her shirt. ‘So that’s me. How much did you know, Sherlock?’
‘I’d formed a theory similar to that. Disappearance after a mirrorfall, a cover story that barely works, it made me think. On top of that, there’s your absolute lack of a heartbeat. But I didn’t know anything for sure until Grigori’s office. Your message for Ryan, the fact that you’d been stabbed in the chest, and then being in a blackout zone. I-’
‘What?’
He tapped a monitor. ‘There’s six guys,’ he said, ‘that aren’t moving out. Looks like they might want to investigate.’
‘Where are they?’
‘Floor above us, living quarters.’
‘We need to clear them out.’
He reached for her gun. ‘Let me do it.’
She clutched her gun. ‘No. I’m going.’
‘You’re in no condition to-’
She jumped off the desk and spun. ‘I’m in perfect condition. What’s my option, anyway? Go wait with Grigori? No fscking thanks.’
‘You know you can’t leave him here.’
She opened the door to the security room. ‘We kill bad guys, then we talk.’
‘But you-’
‘My guns, my rules.’
‘Yes ma’am.’
‘Ok, stop with the ma’am thing, I rescind the order.’
He grinned. ‘Yes ma’am.’
The made it to the stairwell, and up to the next floor. There were voices beyond the door, but faint.
‘The armory is on this floor,’ he said, ‘they’re probably heading to the other end to gear up. Follow my lead.’ He turned the door handle and quietly opened it, however, as soon as he stepped through, bullets flew. He rolled across the hall and into the room across, dodging the hail of bullets. ‘Stay down,’ he ordered. He lifted his gun and fired back, staying in half cover of the open door.
She opened the door all the way, but stayed in cover, not drawing attention to herself.
‘You didn’t make us any grenades did you?’ he called over flying bullets. ‘We could really use some grenades right now.’
A grenade landed on the floor between them.
Without thinking, she jumped from her cover, reached for it and tossed it back down toward the Solstice, it exploded in mid-air, the force knocking her back against the end of the hall. The world spun, and bullets whizzed over her head.
Curt grabbed her collar, and dragged her into the room.
‘Body armour,’ he said. ‘I’m definitely investing in body armour,’ he said as he stood and shot back at the Solstice.
She stared at the roof for a minute, ignoring the ringing in her ears, and trying to align the world again.
See? See? I am SO NOT cut out for this!
Well, of course you aren’t going to win against a grenade. Other than that, you’re doing ok.
Look, if cut off my own hand and promise to feed it to Tick-Tock, can I please stop being the brave little pirate and go home?
Sure, so long as you’re willing to let Grigori off the hook. If we go home, you won’t be in control anymore.
‘Fuck,’ Curt said, thumping his hand against the door.
‘You hit?’
‘Close, it’s only a flesh wound.’
She sat up, and crawled over to the door, taking a couple of shots as she spied the Solstice.
‘This is a really, really crap position,’ he said. ‘I got two of them, but that leaves four. And who the fuck knows what they have in their armory.’
She risked a look. ‘I only see three of them.’
‘Ok, maybe I miscounted, or maybe-’
She lifted her gun and shot again.
‘Two.’
‘Newbie?’
She leaned a little further out from the door, exposing herself to get a better look. She shot again, and another of the Solstice fell.
‘One.’
‘No. Way.’
She fired again, and the last Solstice fell.
‘Um. None.’
He put a hand on her head. ‘Stay here.’ He stepped out from cover, and crept up the hall, checking each body as he came to it, he returned after a minute, leaning against the door, and sliding down to sit opposite her. ‘Six bodies,’ he said. ‘And that’s impossible.’
‘No, not really.’
‘You just-’ He smiled. ‘Remind me to thank Jones for your targeting upgrade.’
‘My targeting is offline,’ she said. ‘One of my eyes isn’t, um, agenty at the moment, and it needs both to calibrate.’
‘Then how did you-?’
She looked down at her gun, and after fumbling with it for a moment, ejected the clip, then spun it toward him, showing him the same full magazine that she saw. ‘I admit I’m no expert, but…I’m pretty sure that when you press the trigger, it costs you a bullet.’
He ejected his own clip, and had another full magazine stare back at him. ‘I think you wished for magic guns.’
‘At least they got the job done,’ she said, tucking into her pocket. ‘That was all of them, right?’
‘Yeah, the rest of them were already out the exits. When you hear an alarm sound in a facility like this, you don’t even stop to grab your stuff, you just run. Run or the suits will kill you, and you go to hell if an agent kills you, that’s what we’re taught.’
‘And do you believe that?’
He handed his gun to her. ‘I guess it’s time to find out.’