Ryan stared at Grigori.
Ryan punched Grigori.
Ryan punched Grigori again.
He shook out his hand – punching the Russian was quite a lot like punching a brick wall. ‘You were there, Grigori,’ he said, ‘when I told Taylor what I would do to him if he hurt Stef. I would have assumed you would understand the greater implication was if anyone hurt her.’
‘So what,’ Grigori asked, ‘you’re going to kill me? While your tech watches?’
Jones looked from filling hypodermic needles with blue, and other liquids. ‘Just pretend I’m not here.’
‘I needed to know!’ Grigori said. ‘He was the last!’
‘Your need does not give your behaviour a blank check.’
‘She’s fine. Look at her, I’m the one in here.’
He wrapped one hand around Grigori’s throat, pressed his hand against his forehead and force-transferred a section of Curt’s testimony. The section referring to the torture.
Grigori pushed him away, shaking his head. ‘You’ve got the one that hurt her. I just-’
‘I don’t blame Curt,’ he said. ‘I blame you. I blame myself for thinking she was safe with you.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Grigori said, ‘I am truly sorry. But…if you hadn’t seen Jones in decades, and thought he was dead, but didn’t know for sure, wouldn’t you do anything to get your…closure. I just needed closure, Ryan, I needed to finally let that war end. And he’s alive, I never even let myself hope that he was alive. We got him back because of your girl.’
‘No, you got him because you stabbed her in the chest.’
‘I’m paying for it. And I will never do it again, presuming of course, you let me live.’
‘You realise you won’t be able to think yourself better than me now, that you cannot judge me, and that you’ve done the exact same thing you’ve always lambasted me for: a stupid decision for the sake of a life.’
‘You bring people back from the dead-’
‘And you thought Dmitri was dead,’ he said.
‘What do yo want?’
‘I want you to tell me you understand. That, yes, I had to kill the woman I love, and Taylor is…different, but that you understand why I at least had to try.’
Grigori stared at him for a long moment. ‘I understand, Ryan.’
‘So…I can fix him up now?’ Jones asked.
He turned and nodded. ‘Go ahead.’
‘Ok. But just so you know,’ Jones said, ‘you probably could away with a murder in here, if you wanted.’
He smiled at the tech. ‘Not today.’
He shifted back to his office, found Curt in his chair, and Stef asleep under a blanket.
‘She kind of just nodded off,’ Curt said, ‘just like that,’ he said with a snap of his fingers.
He nodded, and shifted to Curt’s quarters, the recruit appearing next to him.
‘Sir,’ Curt said, ‘I’d like a minute to update my will, if I can have that.’
He stepped back, and leaned against the wall. ‘I’m not going to execute you, Curt.’
‘I’m a traitor, sir.’
‘Did you think we didn’t know about the bulb in your wrist?’
‘Then why did you let it stay? Why did you…let me stay?’
‘The same reason Taylor initially didn’t care what Magnolia wore, a little bit of rebellion was expected. We recruit very few ex-Solstice, and even less adjust as well you have. For someone with your record, we would have been watching you closely if you didn’t have something of the sort, something that showed you were mindful of your tenuous presence here.’
‘Even though it’s contraband? Even though-’
‘We didn’t know that you knew the paralytic phrase. That in itself buys you a pass on this, as we didn’t know it was public knowledge. Now that we know that, we’ll change it.’
‘You can do that?’
‘The phrases are essentially audio-based hacks of the agent software, we can alter which phrases affect us. It will take a couple of weeks to pass through paperwork, and be implemented, but your black market buy might have saved lives – than than it today, I mean.’
‘I deserve to die for what I did today.’
‘Did you have any other reasonable course of action?’
‘No.’
‘Did you believe that his plan would work.’
‘I felt it was our best choice, sir.’
‘Then accept that. I’ve done worse,’ he admitted. ‘You all survived, and that’s the main thing.’
The boy stared at the floor. ‘If you say so, sir.’
‘Curt?’
‘Yes sir?’
‘You’ve got tomorrow off, that goes without saying, the rest of the week if you like. But after that…don’t bother looking in the common room for your schedule.’
‘You’re transferring me, sir?’
‘I want you to be my Aide, Curt.’
This made the boy look up. ‘What?’
‘If you’ll have the job, that is.’
‘Of course I will!’ the boy nearly shouted. He laughed, embarrassed. ‘Why now, sir? I mean, I thought you would have wanted Stef to have the job.’
‘You deserve it,’ he said. ‘I’ve been too harsh on you, I’ve looked for reasons to mistrust you, to cast aspersions on your work, and to not treat you as you are: one of the best recruits I’ve ever had.’
‘Thank you sir, I really mean that.’
‘Monday then,’ he said.
‘No,’ Curt said, ‘tomorrow afternoon, if that’s all right. I can get the new rosters done before they have to go out.’
He smiled. ‘As you wish, Aide O’Connor.’
He nodded to the boy and shifted back to his office. He walked over to the couch and knelt, tucking Stef in, scanning her again, just to make sure she wasn’t hurt. She was…incomplete, from a programming point of view – something Jones could fix easily, but there was no rush.
She opened her eyes to look at him, and grabbed the hand he had resting on her head. ‘Sorry,’ she mumbled, pulling on his arm, wrapping her thin arms around it. ‘Tired.’
‘It’s understandable,’ he said, ‘go to sleep.’
She kept a grip on his arm. ‘I’m afraid of having bad dreams,’ she said, her voice timid and shaky, ‘can I sleep with you?’
‘Of course,’ he said, ‘whatever you need.’ He lifted the sheet, stared at the couch, and with a thought, required it to be twice the width, then joined her on the couch. Immediately, she was clinging to him, just like she’d done during the limit tests.
She curled up against him, resting her head against his chest, her tiny form shivering. ‘If it’s ok,’ she whispered, ‘I’m gonna cry now. I’ve been needing to, I just…I just had to pretend to be an agent first. I think I did ok. Did I do ok?’
‘You did more than ok,’ he said, ‘I’m so proud of you. And cry, I’m here, I’ve got you. Sleep, I’ll keep you safe.’
‘I love you,’ she whispered.
‘I love you too,’ he said. ‘Now, sleep, unless you want me to read you a story first.’ He felt her nod against his chest. He required a copy of The Wind in the Willows, and like the last time he’d tried to read it to her, she was asleep before he’d finished the first chapter.


Stormy note: one more to go!