Daddy help me!
Ryan stumbled at the force of the voice in his head.
He grabbed for the railing, and shook as Stef screamed and cried in his head.
The sound cut off.
He forced himself to look up. The clouds dissipated as if they’d never been there, and the moon hung silent and unassuming in the sky.
He scanned the sky, looking for any trace of her. He flicked through the options in his HUD, looking for any sign that she was within a system area.
‘Jones. Birds. Now.’
He pushed on the railing and turned, but the tech was gone. There was a rush of wings, and hundreds of birds flew into the sky, towards the moon.
She wasn’t gone.
She wasn’t gone.
His head pounded from the force of the screams.
He looked to the others. Taylor was expressionless, Magnolia was dabbing cotton at her bloody ears, and Curt at the corner of the roof, facing out into the sky.
He walked quickly towards the young man, but Curt spun before he could reach him. ‘Don’t touch me,’ he spat. ‘She’s dead. I’m fine. Don’t touch me.’
‘Did that sound like she was going to be ok?!’ Curt rocked unsteadily for a moment. ‘People die. She died. We fucking failed her. The world is safe, now it’s not worth living in.’
The boy shoved past him, and stormed towards the elevator.
He turned back towards the sky, back towards the moon. She wasn’t dead. Couldn’t be. Death had said-
He saw silver and shifted towards it.
He reintegrated in mid-air, his hands grasping the tiny strands of silver before he shifted back to the safety of the roof.
He looked down to the silver in his hands. It was thin, as thin as hair, but far longer than the piece that had been tied around her wrist.
It was mirror. It wasn’t string or lost fishing wire. It was mirror, but it felt wrong. It felt dead. Mirror always felt magical to the touch, resonating like some barely perceptible static.
He pooled the strand in his hand, and looked at it, weighing it, letting his HUD make its calculations before it reported what he already knew. It matched with what had been left in her chest.
He clutched it tightly, and made the same wish he’d made for a recruit he’d barely known. A wish for life. A wish for a second chance. A wish to let him see little blue eyes living again.
There was no need to hide tears this time.
He looked to Taylor. ‘The blackout seems to be gone,’ he said, pulling his handkerchief from his pocket. ‘And the phoenixes are gone. The emergency is over. Can you bring our recruits home, and begin to demobilise the guests?’
He walked, feeling dazed, towards the elevator, and slowly rode down to the Field floor.
Tears streamed freely down his face. Loss of his daughter. Failure to protect her. Failure to insist on taking her place.
He collapsed onto his couch, and tried to ignore the worst feeling of all – relief. Relief that the phoenixes were home, relief that the world was no longer in danger, relief that – objectively – the cost in lives had been well below even the most optimistic guess.
It had cost a few dozen lives the night the red phoenix had been recaptured, and one little hacker to send them home.
He clutched at the strand of mirror, and made the wish again.
He made the wish again.
He got up, pulled off his jacket, and dismissed his vest and tie.
He made the wish one more time, then rose and walked to his desk. He laid the tangle of mirror on the desk, and retrieved a bottle of red alcohol from his desk drawer.
The drink was sweet, but cheap, something Patty had included with a dinner order once. Half the bottle was gone before he screwed the lid back on.
Reynolds was gone. Eilise was gone. Alexander was gone. Carol was gone. Stef was gone.
He looked to the bottle, unscrewed the lid, then finished off the sweet, red liquid.
He’d never been adept at mourning. Reynolds had been impossible to mourn – the man wasn’t dead, just dreaming, and his disappearance had left him with far more responsibility than he’d been designed for, so there had been work to throw himself into.
The divorce had been a relief – it was a relationship that had slipped away, the paperwork was just confirmation that the feelings that had led them to the alter had long since disappeared.
Alexander had been harder to let go – his only child, a boy he’d been so proud of, his son that he’d loved so much. His son that resented him. His son that didn’t call him father.
Carol had been easiest to mourn – her madness had torn his Agency and his life apart. Left him alone. Made him responsible for resurrecting an incomplete copy of a man he’d cared for as a brother. He’d been miserable. He’d been alone. He’d refused to get close to anyone.
Refused, until he’d stumbled over a hacker in a wardrobe.
Refused, until there’d been a recruit that needed a father.
He choked out an apology, and grabbed for his handkerchief again.
He cast a prayer into the void. She wouldn’t be able to pass on, she’d accepted that as her price for coming back. It was impossible to know if it was worth what it had cost. She’d had a life, had days filled with love, had experiences that she’d never had before. Been an agent, been a hero, been in love. All things that she’d only been able to experience at the cost of a chance at an afterlife, if such a thing even existed.
‘I’m sorry,’ he whispered again.
He could feel himself normalising already. It was one of the curses and blessings of being an agent – being able to accept loss so quickly, even if it was the loss of loved ones.
It would be hours before he’d be able to work. Days before he stopped thinking about it every moment, and weeks before he could go an hour without it, but thoughts were already organising, already listing his priorities of what he had to do now that the phoenixes were gone. There was an Agency to repair, paperwork to do, emergency staff to dismiss.
He set a few options in his HUD, blocking all attempts at communication from anyone who wasn’t Jones or Taylor.
His Agency. His people. His loss. Their loss.
He closed his eyes, let the tears flow, and let himself mourn.