Curt took a breath as he walked to the lift.
He should have been back in a cage. He should have been bleeding again. He should have been dying again.
Breathing was still hard.
He closed his eyes, cleared his mind of Petersen, and tried to think of the next course of action. Part of him itched to carve Ryan up, to mirror what was probably being done to Stef.
If she was still alive.
He pulled out his phone and looked at the time. Just past six. The mirror had exploded at eleven. Seven hours, give or take a few minutes. More than enough time to kill a recruit. More than enough time for questioning, torture, and the swirl.
They wouldn’t take her first.
It was shit odds that they’d process her first. Recruit blood was taken as a matter of course, not because it was of any actual use, except to some specialised dorks. The fae would be taken care of first, and the techs had indicated that a lot of fae had been taken.
The wound had been bad, but he had to believe she had survived it. Fae bodies had use, recruit bodies didn’t.
A door opened in front of him, and Brian walked out of Tess’s room, wearing his training uniform, the fly on his pants still down.
‘Stop staring, fag,’ Brian said as he zipped his fly. ‘And stop loitering in the hall. There’s reasons people think you’re creepy.’
Curt made an effort to look passive, to look meek and like the good little bitch he was supposed to be. The chastised ex-Solstice. The redshirt begging, cap in hand, to be accepted by the Agency. The person he was supposed to be would care about Brian’s opinion, would make an effort to become part of his posse.
He had to be there, and appearances had to be kept, but there were depths he wouldn’t sink to, and being cordial with Brian was one of them.
Thumbs into the eyes. Shallow cuts all over the chest and a spike into the femoral. Quick enough. Efficient enough. Painful enough.
He tasted bile at how easily his brain still processed ways to murder people.
He turned, and walked away, trying to walk away from who he used to be.
Curt turned two corners, got to the lifts, then rode down to the lobby and quickly exited, waving off Natalie’s attempts to sign him out.
He dismissed his Agency phone and pulled out his Fairyland phone – the included plan was robust, even if the cost was near-literal extortion.
He elbowed the button at the lights, and ran through old text message with partial phone numbers disguised as other phone numbers – he had no problem being truthful with the Agency, but they’d done nothing to earn complete transparency.
There were legitimate reasons to need to speak with Solstice intermediaries. The Solstice had their own phone operators, just like the Agency did, though the Solstice ones tended to be cruller, and not have the oversight of the techs.
The Agency had their proper channels for speaking with Solstice – tense meetings run on the edges of blackout zones by people like Clarke.
He walked quickly up the Queen Street mall – this section of the street had been converted to pedestrian pavement decades ago, leaving most newcomers to the city completely unaware that it had ever been a functioning thoroughfare up to the river.
Stores of all kinds lined both sides, and the centre of what had been the street was dotted with cafes, tourist information, seats and a stage.
He past the nearest blackout zone: the Wintergarden. Stores and a food court, the arcade sounded like it was fae-run, and was often mistaken by travelling fae for being just that. Curt continued past it – unwilling to risk looking suspicious by making a beeline from the Agency to a blackout zone.
He hung a right at the centre of the mall, down what had been another street, and across an actual street, and into King George Square. There were a lot of people around, even this early in the morning – heading to their normal jobs with their normal lives – none of them were carrying a gun in a shoulder holster, none of them had nanites crawling around in their veins, and none of them could be killed if their boss decided to have a bad day.
He envied them, and he pitied them.
Curt walked across the slate grey stonework of the square, found a seat away from the main flow of business people, and dialled.
It sounded like a dead end, but he waited through forty-five seconds, only to hear the cheerful music of what seemed to be a hotel reservation service.
The music cut after a moment and there was more silence. He searched his memory, then barked the Russian word for “home”, it came out roughly from the disuse of the language.
This was accepted, and a voice appeared. ‘What city, please?’
‘Are you interested in hearing our deals for the weekend?’
Sometimes it was fun to play along, to see how far the main call centre staff could push their imaginations to come up with hotel-related metaphors.
It wasn’t the kind of morning to play.
‘Inventory query from the mirrorfall last night.’
The operator gave a disappointed “hm” and the hold music returned.
He was kept on hold for three minutes – the phone couldn’t be tracked, so he had no worry there, but there was always the possibility that the call recipient would get spooked and not answer at all.
The hold music finally dropped away. ‘Animal, mineral or vegetable?’
‘Nothing in the catalogue-’
‘Recruit,’ Curt said bluntly. ‘Did anyone local get a recruit last night?’
‘Kills only, no capture.’
His stomach clenched. ‘You sure?’
There was a pause, and his heart thundered in his chest. Obfuscation was the first refuge of the Solstice. There was still a chance.
‘Yeah,’ the voice said. ‘I know my business, but I even double-checked for you.’ There was a pause. ‘Who wants to know anyway?’
‘You know this is better when it’s anonymous.’ Curt considered for a moment, then spoke the small phrase for wanting to come home. The Solstice were murderous bastards who killed without compunction, but they at least tried to have strong ties with their people.
He didn’t want to go back to them, but any small sense of belonging, even if it was fake, over the phone, and from someone he’d likely happily execute, was more than he got in the Agency.
‘Keep strong,’ the voice said, then the connection cut.
Numbly, Curt slipped the phone back into his pocket, and automatically smoothed the lines of his suit – he had to look perfect, after all, anything less wasn’t acceptable. Anything less meant he wasn’t grateful that the Agency had given him a second chance. Anything less than perfect could give Ryan a reason to-
His skin itched. Still-too-recent memories of being tortured were all too easily to call to the surface. He slowly patted his body down, feeling the uninjured skin beneath the fabric of his uniform. He was fine. He was breathing. He could see the sun.
He was fine, and Stef was dead.
Knowing was different to having a chance. He wondered briefly if Ryan had called in himself, made his own queries, and made peace with the situation in the early hours of the morning. It wasn’t impossible, but it was unlikely. Making his own inquiries wasn’t the correct procedure, and Ryan stuck to Duty like a lover.
Except when he hadn’t.
He required his earpiece, pressed the button and waited for the techs to respond. ‘Yo,’ said woman’s voice.
‘Shift me back.’
‘I thought Field guys liked exercise, you’re not even-‘
‘Shift me back,’ he said, unwilling to entertain the tech.
The shift processed fifteen seconds later, and he wasn’t sure if anyone had seen, and he was sure he didn’t care. He blinked as the world reintegrated, and found himself in the usual “starting position” – a metre in front of lift on the main Field floor.
He turned, punched the button, and waited the few seconds for the lift to appear.
Duty was a double-edged sword, and it was time to make it cut.
[table id=15 /]