Curt blinked as Ryan’s office came into view. His arm burned where Stef had touched it, and he quickly required some burn cream, dressing it as Ryan paced, staring into his office as alarms sounded.
This wasn’t normal, this wasn’t one of the dozen times the phoenix had needed to feed.
He sent a small prayer into the void, then turned to the wall, and required a television with a security feed. Everything was a shaking mess of static. He heard something explode, the the floor shook a little. Ryan looked to him. ‘I’m evacuating everyone.’
The world blurred again, but it wasn’t a safe house that came into view.
Breath fled his body as he turned in a slow circle.
No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.
He gasped for air, his hand going to his earpiece.
A laugh, a blur of movement, then blackness.
 
He screamed.
 
The cold metal of the cage pressed in on him from all sides.
 
Please gods no.
 
Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me.
 
Cold water splashed in his face.
He tried to back away, but the cage prevented him from moving at all.
He shook – from the cold, from the pain, and from the fear.
It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. Petersen wasn’t staring down at him. He wasn’t naked in the cage, at the mercy of a sadist again.
It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there.
Petersen swung the cage, and it fell to the ground, the heavy sound of the metal hitting concrete reverberating through his head.
It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare.
The cage fell into pieces, and he tried to pull himself free, cutting his cold arms on the sharp edges of metal, warm blood running across his skin.
His arms hurt. His legs hurt. He hadn’t started to hurt like that until he’d been in the cage for a day. It couldn’t have been a day. Someone would have noticed him missing. He wasn’t some anonymous turncoat recruit anymore. He wasn’t someone that no one was looking for. He was a recruit. He was an aide. He was needed. He was needed and they wouldn’t leave him to rot-
He choked on tears as he climbed to his feet, not bothering to cover himself. The embarrassment of being naked was far from the top of his list of concerns.
Require: gun.
Nothing.
Require: gun.
Nothing.
Petersen smiled the thin smile of a wolf looking at a meal. ‘’That’s not going to work.’
‘You’re going to-’
Petersen backhanded him across the face, and he tasted blood. ‘Do I have to train you all over again?’
He backed up a couple of steps. ‘You can’t do this to me again, you can’t-’
Petersen hit him again, and he fell to the ground, his knees skidding on the blood-slick surface. ‘I can do-’
‘I’m an Aide!’ he shouted. ‘You won’t be able to hide it this time!’
Petersen’s hand locked around his throat. ‘You’re an Aide,’ he drawled, ‘of an Agency that may no longer exist.’ He dragged him across the floor and dropped him onto the broken cage. ‘Your entire state just went dark, as did half of New South Wales.’
His thoughts went to Stef, went to-
Petersen put a foot on his chest, pinning him against the sharp metal. ‘So I can-’
‘How long?!’ he demanded, trying not to focus on the points of metal puncturing his skin. ‘How long have they been dark?!’
Boredom flickered across Petersen’s face. ‘Four hours now.’
Four hours. Four hours of- Of something. Four hours of bad possibilities. Of the red phoenix near explosion again. Of the blue one trying to burn away the human race. Of the mirror being depleted, bite by bite. Four hours where-
‘Why am I here?’
Petersen spread his arms wide. ‘To let me finish what I started.’ Petersen dragged him free of the metal, smacked his head against the concrete and leant over him. The agent leaned closer and put a hand to his torso, where his tattoo had been. ‘Amazing, you thought you’d become a person.’ He pulled a vial from his pocket and up-ended it over his chest.
It bubbled, it burnt, and all he could hear was screaming.
* * * * *
Ryan stared at the screens again. Over a dozen of his recruits were still missing – most had made it to various safe houses or outpost agencies – most, they’d been able to contact, even with the blackout. Some had been shifted away without their phones, some had landed in places without other Agency staff around, and some were assuredly still stuck in Queen Street. The bad news was missing staff, and whatever had caused the situation.
The good news was that it wasn’t getting worse. The blackout was the largest anyone had seen in living memory – taking out the city, the state, the bay. Everyone was in danger, but for now, no one had taken advantage of their weakness.
Fae recruits and techs hacking security cameras were streaming images of his Agency to him – and everything looked normal.
He took a moment, sipped at his glass of water, lifted his mobile and called Curt’s phone again. It rang out, again, leaving him listening to his Aide’s voicemail message. He had made sure to shift the boy first, but he’d been incommunicado since-
His fingers tightened on his glass for a moment, and stared into his HUD. It only took a moment for Curt’s personnel profile to load. He skipped past all of the basic information, past his assignments and performance reports to the emergency information. He flexed his hands and drove his fists into his jacket pockets. Everything looked normal – his home Agency was assigned as Queen Street, all of his inner-city emergency points were fine, as were the outer suburb safe houses. Rally points were fine. His further-reaching emergency points weren’t so fine – many of the long-distance points were still assigned as Agency areas within South Australia, within Adelaide’s territory.
His heart skipped a beat as he saw where he’d unintentionally shifted the boy.
He processed his own shift an instant later.
The lobby of the Adelaide Agency came into view, and he scanned for Curt again – no sign, just the same as the last few hours. Wherever he was, it wasn’t system territory. Or wasn’t being recognised as system territory. He changed tactics and scanned for Petersen, even as Adelaide’s secretary demanded to know why he was there. He found Petersen – in a blackout training simulation.
He shifted, and felt sick on reintegration. There was blood – dried and wet over the floor, but what was worse was the sight of Curt.
The recruit was naked, on his hands and knees, his hands cuffed tightly.
Petersen had a gun to Curt’s head, and was chuckling as Curt licked his blood from Petersen’s leather shoes.
He hand curled into a fist, and he swung, cutting off Petersen’s laugh.
He kept his eyes on the other agent as he crouched and wrapped his jacket around Curt’s shoulders. ‘I’m here. You’ll be all right.’
Curt collapsed to the floor, shaking.
He stood, and glared Petersen down. There were no words. Nothing that needed to be said to a bastard like him.
Petersen began to say something, but he spat a single word of angel magic at the man who didn’t deserve to call himself an agent. The word reverberated through him, his lips vibrating slightly, before he smiled as Petersen froze, his mouth half-open, his face frozen in a surprised expression.
Paralysed, but not dead. Death required ceremony or paperwork, and he didn’t have a pen.
‘By directorial right,’ he said, keeping his voice measured and clear. ‘Under those privileges and rights, and in the company of a witness, and a victim, I deem you unfit.’
Even paralysed, Petersen managed to look terrified.
‘I take responsibility for this action. I accept judgement if my peers or superiors challenge my decision.’
[No!] Petersen’s terrified face jumped into his HUD. [No!]
He closed the link, and blocked the agent from trying again.
‘For dereliction of your duty, for the abuse of your power, I refuse you the right of trial. I refuse your privilege of passing into the collective unconsciousness. I call it my duty to be your executioner.’
He crossed to the other agent and laid a hand on his forehead. ‘You brought this on yourself.’
You could paralyse and agent with one word, it took three to kill one.
He spoke the small phrase, and Petersen shattered into a thousand sparks of blue. Every spark shuddered and turned to ash, suspending in mid air for a brief moment, before there was nothing left.