Magnolia turned to see Edward, snorted, then turned back to the swinging punching bag.
‘Recruit, you’re next.’
‘I don’t respect your authority,’ she said as she delivered a savage punch to the bag. ‘When my commanding officer tells me to do something, I’ll do it. You aren’t him.’
The punching bag disappeared and she punched air. ‘It’s just an interview,’ Edward said as she shifted in front of her.
‘Also called an interrogation, and I only like those when I’m asking the questions. Or beating on those who don’t answer them.’
‘Have you ever been interrogated?’
‘Read my damn file if you want to know.’ She required the punching bag back into existence and punched it – imagining that it was the agent’s face.
‘I did, I just wanted to hear you say it.’
‘Inefficient,’ she said – spitting the word as though it was a curse. ‘Every Friday for the first six months I was here.’
‘Why did they stop?’
‘He decided that I was a trustworthy tool.’
‘It’s only a few questions, why are you fighting me on this?’
‘And the Solstice only murder a few dozen fey a week, why do we bother to fight them?’
‘That’s apples and oranges, love.’
‘Interrogate me if you have to, until I’m told otherwise, I’ve got no reason to listen to you.’
‘I threatened to put you on the grey list and your commanding officer did nothing to stop me.’
She shrugged and required a bottle of water. ‘You mean I’m not already on it?’ She unscrewed the cap and took a slow drink. ‘And it’s useless threatening me, I’m a recruit, we’re meant to be used, abused, then tossed aside and replaced with someone better.’
‘Professionally, Ryan is my main concern. The questions are-’
‘What could you learn from talking to me? I’m a combat recruit, the only time I even see him is when he dares tread on this floor.’
‘So, recruit, you’re basically saying that you know nothing of the man who runs your Agency?’
‘He only runs it by default, I know that.’
‘And do you know why?’
‘That’s information I don’t need to know.’
‘Do you want to know why?’
She narrowed her eyes. ‘I like to concentrate on pertinent information.’
‘You really are a good little bitch, aren’t you?’
‘I like to think so.’ With that, she closed her eyes and concentrated on fading away. A slap across the face threw off her train of thought and she was grounded again.
The slap itself didn’t hurt, but nonetheless she stood shocked for a moment. She took a step back, tore one of the feathers from her hair, turned to face the agent and screamed. Concentrating on the feather in her hand and her hated heritage, she pitched it up into a shriek.
She could shriek at a pitch that would burst an agent’s eardrums – but she had something else in mind. The shriek continued, and she felt more feathers sprouting on her back, and then it happened. The shriek shattered before her eyes, stealing her voice for a moment, and reformed as tricks-of-light magpies, they circled Edward and attacked the agent, tearing at her face and suit. She closed her mouth and they disappeared.
‘And that proves what?’ Edward asked as she wiped at her face with the back of her hand. ‘That you’re more like your mother than you pretend to be?’
I’m nothing like her, you fucking bitch!
‘Well?’ Edward demanded.
I’ll claw your fucking eyes out!
She swallowed, trying to suppress the animal instincts her mother had gifted to her and turned toward the door. ‘Excuse me.’
‘I didn’t-’
‘Wasn’t asking permission,’ she clarified. ‘Was being polite.’ She slammed the gym door behind her, then faded from the world and reappeared in her room. She tore off her blouse and dropped it to the floor. Her slip and bra joined it as she stomped toward her bathroom – kicking the walls for good measure as she went.
Pulling the sharp scissors and the pliers from the vanity drawer, she silently seethed as she stared at her reflection.
Stupid bitch, you can’t goad me, I’m better than you. I’m better than you because I was trained by him.
She perched on the edge of the vanity and began to pull the feathers out – the new growth ones were the hardest, hurting the most and drawing the most blood. Grabbing the pliers, she pulled a few of the more stubborn new feathers out by their bases – unfortunately, this didn’t stop them from growing back at their regular pace. There was nothing that slowed them down – even a cocktail of avian drugs devised by the doctors had done nothing to impede her genetic legacy.
‘Fuck,’ she whispered as she pulled out one a little too close to her spine. She slammed the scissors down onto the vanity, required a couple of painkillers and swallowed them dry.
‘I was led to believe,’ Taylor said he walked into the gym. ‘That you would be bothering the scholars.’ The sight of blood on the floor pleased him, as did the strains on the back of her hand.
‘They already gave me what I wanted,’ she said as she dropped into a ready position. ‘All I had to do was flaunt my accent at them. Your recruits, on the other hand, are proving to be most difficult.’
‘Difficult to you means they know their orders, and the chain of command.’
‘Especially that halfbreed of yours,’ she said pointedly.
‘Which one?’ he asked as he began to tie strips of fresh cloth around his fists.
‘You know which one. Now, get her to-’
‘Ah, ah, ah,’ she snapped, wagging a finger at him as though he was a naughty child. ‘Remember, unless you want her gray-listed, use my bloody name.’
‘Em…’ he choked on the name again. ‘Emma.’
‘There’s a good boy, mummy might buy you a treat later.’
‘I can’t force my recruits to respect anyone. Respect is earned, and their standards are high.’
‘How about fear? I could live with fear, if helps get the interviews done.’
‘There’s nothing you need from us.’
‘And you think you can decide that? Oh wait…you’re a combat agent, you think you’re judge, jury and executioner.’
‘I’m an agent, that’s exactly what I am.’
‘This…this Taylor is why your archetype does not lead. You think your recruits are tools, weapons to be aimed and fired, well…that’s how real agents feel about your kind.’
‘You don’t want to know how I feel about your kind.’ The six-foot-three black Englishwoman regarded him quietly. ‘Women,’ he clarified.
‘You’re just afraid of us. Understandable, but do you have the same reaction to blondes? Maybe that’s the real reason you stay away from the tech division, and why your IQ stays so low. I want your halfbreed in my office in half an hour, or I’m grey-listing her.’
‘Your office is in London.’
‘Half an hour,’ she repeated before shifting away.
He concentrated, brought up Magnolia’s locater on his sensor and shifted to her position. It was a liberty he took with her that he didn’t take with any of his other recruits, when he needed her, she was his, so he never bothered to check in with her before shifting to her. Often it was…a tactical error, especially at night, when she would be using one recruit or another for her own purposes. Even then, one or three requirements had her cleaned up, dressed and at his side, ready to fight, die and do her duty.
It wasn’t night, so there should be no issue with a tactical error. He blinked slowly as he appeared in her quarters, she was alone, yes, but she was also half-naked. And bloody.
‘You’re scheduled for a mission tonight. You couldn’t wait eight hours to spill your blood?’ he said to announce his presence.
‘It won’t have any effect on tonight,’ she said carefully.
He considered this, and nodded. ‘I commend you for whatever you did to annoy Edward.’
She dropped a handful of feathers into the sink, wiped the excess blood from her hand onto the towel, and gave him a nod. ‘Thank you sir.’
He looked at her bare back – thanks to the adequate skills of the doctors, she had managed to avoid most of the scarring that he had from similar injuries, but even so, this round of plucking seemed to be taking its toll.
‘Abnormal growth,’ he observed. ‘Source?’
‘It happens sometimes, sir.’
‘Related to the blood in the gym?’ he asked.
She gave a nod as she grunted and pulled another handful of feathers loose. Without hesitation, he slapped her hand away, pushed her forward so that she was bent over the vanity, grabbed the scissors and began to snip away at all of the new growth.
‘It was Edward’s blood,’ he said, ‘what method did you use?’
‘So-something new,’ she replied as he grabbed her by the elbow and spun her to face him. ‘I didn’t want to waste your time on a technique that didn’t work, sir.’
‘Good,’ he snapped, and released her elbow.
She straightened herself, trying to look composed, despite the lack of clothing. ‘What can I do for you, sir?’
‘Edwards wants you in half an hour. He’s down with the scholars.’
‘Yes sir.’
‘Answer his damn questions. Then write up a proposal for the generation of a new field agent, get a scholar to help you with it if you need, I’d rather train a new commander than follow his orders.’
‘Yes, sir.’
‘I want the proposal by twenty-one-hundred.’
‘Yes sir. Any specifics you’d like me to include?’
‘I can include the specifics, you won’t be able to access the files.’
‘Yes sir, of course sir.’ She required herself into a new shirt. ‘Sir?’
He growled. ‘What is it, Recruit?’
‘I’m nothing like my mother.’
‘Is that a question or a statement, Recruit?’ She shifted uncomfortably and gave no response.
He gripped her elbow, this time hard enough to bruise – pain always helped him make his point – and spun her back toward the mirror, making her stare at her own reflection.
‘I don’t see your mother, if I did, you’d be dead.’ He tightened his grip more, considering breaking the bone, just so she’d remember, but released it and shifted away.