Curt opened his eyes.
It his life had been a movie – A Series of Ever-Increasingly Terrible Mistakes, a Portrait of Curt O’Connor – he would have been in the dark, both literally and figuratively. He wouldn’t have known if he was nine or ninety, if he was in bed with a lover, or in a prison cell.
Real life, unfortunately, was clear at the worst points.
He knew where he was: the Parkers off-campus home, a place he hadn’t even known had existed. He knew what the pain was: echoes and remains of whatever poison Parker-2 had used to fool the fae into thinking he was dead.
He didn’t know why he was alive. He didn’t know why Doc had saved him.
Of all the agents, he got along best with Parker-2, there was no bullshit, no pretense, Parker-2 seemed to deal with him as openly and honestly as he could. It was a courtesy he had always respected.
He knew he amused Doc, though he had thought that was where his value to Parker-2 ended. He was an oddity, an occasionally interesting wound, and someone who could snark back with the best of them.
None of that would give Parker-2 cause to go out of his way to look after him, to save him. Even if Ryan had ordered some high-level monitoring of his state of health, he should have been back in the infirmary, not in a bed that he was sure had seen some incredibly strange sex.
He sat up, and as he had been ordered, took the two little white pills, and drained the glass of water beisde them.
There was a sticky note, with the word “Breakfast” and an arrow pointed towards the door of the bedroom. Parker-2 had instructed him to eat. He was only hours past an attempt to take his own life, but until he had food, he wouldn’t be able to concentrate long enough to try again.
At the end of the bed were new, folded clothes. He quickly disrobed and changed, wishing, as he pulled on the new shirt that he’d taken a shower first – though there was no way to know how his wounds would react to water, so staying dry was safer for now.
He’d never imagined the twins having a home outside the agency – a lot of agents did, but the twins were alien, even when compared to other agents.
Twinning was a fascinating quirk of the generation process, and something that Techs had continually creamed themselves over for the last few centuries. It was, by all reasonable definitions, a defect, a glitch, a failure.
It was, by all subjective observation, one of the most comprehensively amazing defects of all time. Twinned agents were worth far more than their weight in gold, they were far more than two agents working together. There was a synergy, an interaction, a fluidity to cooperation that you couldn’t buy, and to the chargin of the Agency, couldn’t program.
Centuries ago, so the story went, when agents weren’t allowed to cavort with humans as they did now, an agent took a human lover. The System found out, as the System always did, and the agent – whenever the story was told, he imagined a knight, as no one seemed to reliably report which model the proxy was – was sentenced to death. Death by recycling.
For some reason – whether it was mercy or cruelty – the System allowed the human to die with their agent lover, and the pair were recycled together, dying in each other’s arms.
And the fairy tale of forbidden love had been over.
Some time after, the twinning issue had begun. The first few times, the twinned agents were given apologies, and immediately recycled, assuming it was the System version of a birth defect.
After several more cases though, one set of twins had been allowed to live, and had proved to be two of the best Scholars that the System had ever seen – and ever since, twinned agents were seen as a bragging right of any agency. An incredible advantage that the System was unable to replicate.
Artificlally-twinned agents acted either as one person in two bodies; or two people with two bodies, sharing a mind. Those were the two logical, best chances to program an artifical set of twins.
The problem, and the blessing of the naturally-twinned agents, so far as he understood, was that they were both the former and the latter, all at once, both more and less than the System was able to undestand and replicate.
The Parkers, and all the twins that had become before and after, were the programmatic ghost of two people, who had become one in death, becoming two again on generation.
Two people that were two people who formed one person, one whole that was far greater than their four arms and four legs.
And whatever happened to him, it had been a strange pleasure knowing them.
A dining table made of dark wood was visible as soon as he made it to the bedroom door, and he made a beeline towards it, snagging a sandwich before he did anything else. Ham, cheese and honey-mustard. Plain enough to go unremarked as he began to explore the house.
It was in a lot of ways, completely normal – it was on the smaller side, which was strange for a house that belonged to any agent – since requiring made money no object, and Tech shennangians could manipulate the space within a dwelling, agents – from what he had heard from reliable sources – tended to have large houses, spreading out the memorabilia of their long lives through multiple rooms.
The Parkers, on the other hand, maintained what seemed to be an ordinary, three-bedroom home. The bedroom where he had been sleeping was the smallest of the three rooms – it had held nothing but a bed, a bedside table, a lamp and a built-in wardrobe.
The other two rooms were hobby rooms – presumbly one for each twin. Both held shelves of books and a work desk – one room had a few small plants, the other pieces of broken medical equipment.
There was a kitchen, a dining room, and a bathroom – and that was it.
There were photos everywhere – the twins seemed to enjoy going on holiday, and of taking photos with real cameras – as it was easy to tell that many of the shots weren’t HUD-screenshots.
Headshots. Stef had wanted to know whether you called a HUD-screenshot a headshot.
Tears bit hotly into the backs of his eyes, but didn’t fall. He returned to the dining table, and ate another sandwich, standing and staring into nothingness, before he finally sat down on one of the wooden chairs.
He poured a glass of juice from the pitcher on the table, and sipped it.
It was early evening. Presumably, it was only the day after his attempt on his life. There were no signs that Parker-2 had been keeping him under for a longer period of time – no IV fluid lines, no catheter, no signs of intravenous feeding.
If he had been a dramatic kind of person, he was sure he would have shifed to Adelaide, to demand a showdown with Petersen, to go out, screaming the man’s sins for all to hear.
As much of a monster as he was, as much as he deserved to die…part of him maintained that he deserved better than to die at the hands of Petersen. He wanted to die, to stop trying, to remove himself as a burden from those around him.
Throwing himself on the judgement of the fae crowd and invoking the rite of Triptamannus had been different. Throwing himself on the non-existent mercy of Agent Petersen would lead to the worst ways to die, presuming, of course, Petersen ever allowed him to fully shuffle off his mortal coil.
He required a pad and paper – he squared the small white pad before picking up the pen and clicking it. He had his will in place. He’d said his goodbyes. Parker-2 saving him didn’t change the reasons why he’d gone to the bar the night before.
There was no need for a long note. He wrote “I tried”, then clicked the pen again, and laid it beside the pad.
Hopefully, his shit excuse for a suicide note would help alleviate whatever guilt Parker-2 was feeling. If not, he was sure that the doctor would get over his death in short order. He was a monster. He wasn’t someone to be mourned.
He had one more glass of juice, then pushed his chair back, leaning back in it, and staring to the ceiling for a moment before sitting sensibly, and requiring his gun.
There were more theatrical ways to kill himself, ways that would guarantee pain.
He just wanted – needed – it all to be over.
The weight of his gun was good, familiar in his hand. He flicked off the safety, and pressed the muzzle to the underside of his chin, angling it to ensure it would pass through his brain.
He pulled the trigger, and nothing happened.
There was a blur of white in front of him, and he let his gun hand fall to his side as he saw Parker-2 standing across the table from him.
‘I removed everything from this house that you could reasonably use to kill youself,’ Parker-2 said. ‘There are no knives. No breakable glass. No cleaning chemicals or drugs. This is an Agency-maintained domicile, so you couldn’t even reliably stick a fork in a socket and die.’
‘Sorry you went to so much trouble,’ Curt said, unable to keep the bitterness from his voice.
Parker-2 stepped forward, then withdrew a syringe from his pocket and uncapped it. ‘Recruit, you’ve made it clear you care very little for your life. Come here, young man, and let me inject this unknown substance into your neck.’ He tilted his head. ‘Well, unknown to you, I know perfectly well what it is.’
‘Will it kill me?’
‘You don’t care if it does.’
‘You’re right, Doc, I don’t.’ He slumped forward, exposing the back of his neck. ‘I hope my body is useful for whatever mad science you want to do.’
Parker-2 approached, and slid the needle into his neck. ‘You’re quite mistaken,’ Parker-2 said as he depressed the plunger, ‘if you think I’m giving up on you.’
Curt opened his eyes.