The mood of the room changed as the death toll moved to an even thousand.
Curt looked around the room. Reading people was easy, especially when they were making no attempts to hide their emotions.
A thousand agents dead, in less than an hour.
The Agency tended to obfuscate history, making certain elements harder to research. There was no problem with recent history, when it was still living memory, or even a matter of public record – the older histories were nearly impossible. Still…it was likely this was the most agents killed in a single day in all of angelic history, let alone in an hour.
The phoenixes had represented the end of the world, one way or the other. Red phoenix, fire and death and hell before your eyes. A second to scream while you burned as your body turned to ash. Blue phoenix, the end of humanity as everyone knew it, safety for a few thousand in the know, and the rise of the fae.
The world had spent weeks holding its breath and waiting for the end, and somehow, this was worse.
Everything had still been – for a given value – normal, while they waited for the fire birds to bring about the apocalypse. The resources had been there, the support networks had been there, the management and the leadership and all of the decisions coming down from on high.
Now it was just the recruits. All of the real agents, and all of the humans who had been fully augmented and converted to agent were dreaming.
Emergency councils were forming – it was easy enough to gather people in the library, which was rapidly becoming a small city. Shelves were being reconfigured and pushed out of the way, supplies were being laid in, a track had been laid, and a light train was zipping around, ferrying recruits from meeting to triage to waiting areas.
A lot of nothing was happening.
Another few agents died.
Curt felt his stomach turn over.
They were all dreaming, this was the one thing that everyone agreed on. All the tests being done all over the world confirmed it.
Agents didn’t dream, that was something else everyone agreed on.
Agents didn’t dream, yet they were all off with the sandman.
Theories raged, but for most, there were pieces of evidence weighing against them. Despite everything, it didn’t seem to be a direct attack on the Agency – the system was still in place; there was no coordinated effort to breach the Agencies. If whatever force had downed the Agents simultaneously had wanted them dead…then surely they would be dead.
It had been agreed that The Lost had posited the theory that held the most water – that it had to do with Sol.
The theory meant nothing to him, as the techs were still scrambling to find out exactly what it meant. So far, all they had managed to come up was “Galactus eating dreams”, which itself meant very little.
It was apparently recent history, but a piece of history that the Agency wanted to keep under wraps.
His earpiece pinged, and he tapped the button. ‘O’Connor.’
‘Bring your team up to the conference room,’ Magnolia said, then the connection cut.
‘Screen, Raz, Sacha, come on,’ he said, looking to each in turn. ‘Mags has got something.’
It was a quick ride down to the Field floor and the conference room – which, like the library, looked nothing like it had an hour ago. It had been reconfigured for a full conference, at least tripling the size of the room. The big table was gone, replaced with rows of beds, each holding an Agent, each with a blue IV and a bunch of monitoring equipments.
Techs clustered at the end of the room, going over readouts and reports.
‘How many?’ Mags asked him.
There was no need for a clarification. ‘It just passed a thousand and ten.’
Magnolia had her arm draped over Merlin’s shoulders, a sisterly affection – Merlin, for his part, looked mostly human today. ‘He’s been able to read all of them. They’re having nightmares.’
‘Are they glitching?’
A stressed look crossed Magnolia’s face. ‘Don’t ask that any louder unless you want an earful of dork.’ She paused. ‘Though, I guess you’re into that.’
‘Weak, Mags.’
‘I know. No, they’re not glitches, all of the readings are wrong. They’re dreaming, like you or I would dream.’
‘Is it this Sol thing?’
Merlin’s hand shot up, his fingers morphing into thin branches. ‘My turn?’
‘Yeah, Mer, go ahead.’
Merlin jumped in place, then sat down, then grabbed Magnolia’s hand and urged her to sit too. Curt turned, looked at his impromptu staff, shrugged, and sat on the carpet with Mags and Merlin.
‘Sol’s name isn’t Sol, nobody know what it is, and if we did, it’d probably splode our brains or something, so they called him Sol.’
‘Who or what-’ Curt started.
Merlin reached out his arm, the branch extending to push against Curt’s lips. ‘Questions at the end!’ He gave them all a disapproving look. ‘You guys don’t know much, so it’s hard to asplain it properly.’ He huffed, grabbed a big bunny plushie from the air, and fell backwards into Mags’ lap, staring at the ceiling. ‘All the gods and demons, yanno, it’s not like they’re just one race, they’re just the first races that got so advanced that there was nothing left for them except to become like they are. They won the game. They did everything there was to do. They did it again. They did it with sprinkles. They figured out everything until there was nothing left to figure out.’
‘I think we all know something about that,’ Magnolia said.
‘They did all the magic and all the science until there was nothing separating them.’ The rabbit toy turned into a bag of blue. ‘It’s how Agents are magic and science and the system is magic and science and how…everything. They got powerful, they got boring, they decided not to interfere, cause it’s like playing with…the dumbest smallest insects you can think of, times a zillion.’
‘Are you getting to-’ Curt started.
‘The gods and demons that we see, that we know of, they want to play. But…but they had to give up everything. Almost everything. Ninety-nine percent of everything. It’s why they’re pretty much just fae with a bit extra. It’s a rule or something, you have to at least be downgraded to the point where it’s like people versus regular insects. Sol didn’t follow the rule. Sol’s big and old and scary and angry, and not even part of the regular demony god thing. He went and did his own thing…and his own thing is eating planets.’
‘I said Galactus!’ Raz piped up. ‘I know some of this!’
‘He would stay and nom and nom until everything was gone, until there was a mirrorfall, then move on. He came here. It was decades ago. And we didn’t want to get eaten. So they made a deal. The Lost and the Agency. Offering. Appeasing him. He’d get to eat all of the Agents’ dreams forever, if he didn’t eat the real world. The Lost made a world for him, like they make the safe world for the hurt kids. And Sol agreed.’
Merlin went quiet, and Magnolia started speaking. ‘That’s why Agents can’t dream. That’s why the Lost are a joke of a major Court. It’s why Ryan is the Director. This thing took prisoners as good faith. The King of the Lost and thousand agents, which was a bigger deal then than now, we’ve upped our numbers considerably.’
‘And so….what,’ Screen said, ‘he wants more prisoners, or he’s piking out on his half of the deal, or what?’
‘They think he’s dead,’ Magnolia said.
‘They think?’ Curt asked. ‘They don’t know?’
She gave him a sharp look. ‘Did I fucking stutter?’
‘So what happens now?’
‘We wait,’ she said, ‘there’s literally nothing we can do except wait. They’re working on retrieval methods, but a few are risky, so let’s let the other Agencies kill of their people until someone perfects a method, ok?’
The meeting broke.
Hours of nothing passed.
Agents died. The missing list dwindled to a few thousand. Agencies were attacked, but without serious breach or losses.
No Agents woke up – there were reports of twitches, of mumbling, of eyes opening, but none stayed in the waking world.
Communication had been established with a few Agents – through the use of science, magic, tricks, and readers. It wasn’t a lot of headway, but some, at least, knew that there was a world to come back to.
It still felt like there was another shoe to drop.
He left the techs in charge of themselves, and went back to what had been the conference room. He found Stef’s bed, required a sandwich, a chair, and a cup of coffee, and sat beside her.
He set the coffee on the closest machine to her head – the fumes might draw her out where every other method of man and magic had failed.
Another vigil. Another fucking useless period of waiting. Another situation where all he could do was sit, and wait to lose her.
He held onto her hand.
The morgue had been hell, and he hadn’t even known he was in love. The morgue had been hope against hope, waiting for a dead girl to breathe.
The phoenix had been nine days of torn nerves, waiting for jets of fire to shoot through solidified metal and end everything.
He was always useless.
A couple of beds down, Merlin sat on Taylor’s chest. ‘They’re having the same dream,’ Merlin said. ‘The same same dream. I think they’re together.’
He held tighter onto her hand. There were nightmares a lot worse than Taylor, but he was still far from ideal as a companion during an emergency. ‘What are they doing?’
‘Campfire,’ Merlin said. ‘He was nakey, he had a bath.’
Curt felt his eyebrows raise. ‘What?’
‘People think it’s weird if you have clothes on when you have a bath.’
‘Can you communicate with them? You can read, can you talk to them?’
The boy adjusted his goggles. ‘I tried, it’s like they can’t hear me.’ Merlin sat straighter, and floated up a few inches into the air. ‘But Squishy might hear us now.’
‘What?’ Hope and fear flooded his chest. ‘Why?’ Curt stood, looked down at Stef.
Her eyes were open.