‘Are you ever going to wear a training uniform?’ Curt asked as his formal uniform rippled and replaced with the blue BDUs of the training uniform.
‘Not unless it becomes my regular uniform,’ Stef said as they left his room, ‘I suck enough-’
The recruits milling in the hall turned to look at them as Curt closed his door, and her super-duper-agenty hearing picked up on all of the whispers, and theories as to how she was going to finish her sentence. Command of language left her, and she wondered what sort of requiring combination it would take to get the floor to swallow her whole.
Curt grabbed her hand, fingers threading through hers, and pulled her gently through the staring crowd.
The gym was already empty, and Curt slammed the big double-doors shut, and locked it by swiping his access card over the small control panel on the wall.
‘There are a lot worse things,’ he said as he moved to the weights rack, ‘than to be the subject of fetish and rumour.’
‘Yeah, but I don’t envisage the world going back to dial up, so this is pretty bad.’ She stared at the ground. ‘I’m not built to handle this kind of crap.’
He took a step back, then slowly circled her, giving her a critical eye. ‘Sure you are, ma’am. Agent software version 3.5, upgraded to 4.2, just like every other agent here. So you are in fact, built to deal with whatever’s thrown at you.’
‘Why don’t you be the agent, and I’ll be the bossy recruit?’
‘You want this, right? To be wearing the suit, to be conscious, to be alive?’
‘Then actually act like it,’ he snapped. ‘I’ve got Aide clearance, and I’ve read your file, the parts that aren’t classified anyway, and they can pull the plug on your project at any point. If you aren’t doing your duty, if you aren’t showing willingness to go above and beyond, if you aren’t good enough, you…die. Or get recycled, or locked up in the basement.’
‘I know,’ she said, ‘you don’t need to remind me.’
‘So hit me.’
‘You always win when I throw the first punch.’
‘We might, with a decade, be able to get you to throw a decent punch on your own. If you want that, you have to practice throwing punches on your own, not using your autopilot.’
‘Weak hacker arms are weak hacker arms.’
‘I will get you to run laps if I have to. All day. With no internet breaks.’
She punched him in the chest, and he brought his arm around to hit her. As she saw this, the program kicked in, and she dodged. He required a gun and aimed it at her, which she quickly knocked out of his hand. A fast, flat palm to his chest knocked him back a few feet – just far enough to let him require another gun and fire it.
The shot hit her in the knee, and it collapsed from under her, two rounds to the chest finished her off, and she disappeared from the gym. A few boring seconds later, she respawned.
‘Gun play,’ she said, ‘that’s new.’
‘You’re an agent,’ he said, ‘people are going to shoot at you.’
‘My favourite Captain is Archer!’
He shot her again, and this time, she dodged.
‘Better,’ Curt said after a few minutes of successful dodges.
She took half a second to smile, and to force the about-to-fall feeling from her mind, as he jumped up and came at her again. He grabbed her arm and brought it around, trying to pin her, but a quick shift had her out of his grasp, and gave her the distance to put two dye rounds in his back.
‘Oh great,’ she said, ‘that time I didn’t even choose to shoot you.’
‘You still shot me,’ he said, ‘for whatever that’s worth.’
She required away her gun. ‘I am never going to get used to this.’
‘I had to get used to fighting for the system instead of against it. I had to get used to drinking with fairies instead of bottling them, and learning about magic all over again from people who didn’t hate it.’
‘If you really were my friend, you’d let me wallow in self-pity.’
‘You don’t know much about friends, do you?’
She shot him a withering look. ‘Duh.’
She required a thick gym mat and sat down. ‘I’ve been practicing on my own, you know. A little bit at least. I’m an agent. I don’t have to sleep that much and just sometimes I don’t feel like surfing the net, so I do my duty. Sometimes.’
‘You’re running sims by yourself?’
‘No, automations – trying to get used to this. It’s not helping. Part of the problem I have is I’m not a fighter, I wasn’t in fights before I got this nifty suit, so I’m practicing with physical actions that are actually familiar to me.’
‘And that is?’
‘Not for you to know.’
‘You’re kidding me.’
‘What? I’m allowed to have secrets. And an embarrassing past.’
He joined her on the mat. ‘Now you’ve got to tell me,’ he said as he required a bottle of water.
She buried her face in her hands and told him.
‘I can’t hear you.’
She kept her face in her hands, but spread her fingers enough to let some sound out. ‘…ballet.’
‘Oh wow, you really were a little rich girl weren’t you?’
‘Dance, mainly ballet, riding lessons, language lessons, etiquette and decorum classes.’
He stared at her. ‘…I have no response to that.’
‘Probably the safest course of action.’ She required a can of soft drink, downed a few mouthfuls, then burped.
‘None of it stuck, did it?’
She glared at him, then required away his half of the mat, leaving him to sprawl on the floor. He curled an arm behind his neck. ‘Fine, but just so you know, this time isn’t being deducted from your training.’
She leaned closer. ‘Enterprise was the best thing to happen to the franchise since they killed off Tasha Yar.’
He grabbed her by the vest and dragged her off the mat, rolled her over him, then let her flop on the floor beside him. His gun appeared, and her control over her body disappeared, her leg swinging up to kick away the gun, before jumping up and placing a foot on his chest.
He knocked away her foot, jumped up and bounced back. ‘Your height always has you at a disadvantage. You sure you can’t get Jones to add six inches to you?’
‘Good morning.’
She turned, saw Ryan, and waved on impulse. He seemed…fine. He was smiling, not like the kind of person who had experienced the ruination of their OTP. She swallowed, and started to adjust the apology notes sitting in her HUD to compensate for just fucking things up, instead of ruining everything forever.
‘Stef, are you done here?’
‘She’s only done ten minutes, sir,’ Curt said, ‘and most of that was insulting me.’
‘Nonetheless,’ he said, ‘I need you.’
‘There wasn’t anything scheduled sir,’ Curt said as he stood.
‘It’s just come up,’ Ryan said, ‘a Solstice informant wants to talk to us.’
‘Bill Turner. He’s been informing for us for a few years now, about a thirty percent success rate.’
Curt nodded at this. ‘Then he’s probably for real,’ he said, ‘but still afraid of the Agency. He wants to give you scraps of truth because he’s starting to feel it’s the right thing, but the indoctrination is strong, and he still fears the suits.’
‘And your opinion, Aide O’Connor?’
Curt seemed to swell at the use of his title. ‘Trust his success rate,’ he said, ‘thirty percent of what he says, don’t go into a blackout zone with him and don’t use the good silver.’
‘You never use the good silver,’ she said, ‘only the second best, third best for the children, sometimes even the really cheap stuff, unless you like them, or want to impress their parents. You only use the best silver for royalty, potential royalty, or money better than yours, and then, claim it’s not the best, blame the help, and fire the closest serving girl if you sincerely need to make a point.’
Curt stared at her, then let out a low whistle. ‘Ok, wow.’
‘Sorry,’ she mumbled, ‘tangent.’
Ryan squeezed her shoulder, and the comfort banished thoughts of her old family. ‘Come on,’ he said, ‘we’ve got work to do.’
She smiled. ‘Kay.’
He bent down to her level, and she felt her clothes ripple as her suit refreshed, then he straightened her tie. ‘No matter how many times I scan you, I can’t be convinced that your ability to get dirty isn’t some sort of fae power.’ He stood straight. ‘I just hope you’ll grow out of it.’
‘You can hope all you want,’ she said as they walked out of the gym.
[I’m not going to specifically introduce you,] he said as they passed a group of displaced recruits, [as either a recruit or an agent, only by name.]
[Ashamed of me?] she asked, before quickly calling up a text window to send [:P].
[More that it’s an advantage that we can use.] He opened the door to his office. [Just like we do with actual infiltration agents, just like we’re designed to do.] He sat. ‘Some Solstice automatically assume everyone is an agent, these people are difficult even within their own ranks, and it’s a symptom of a larger paranoia and largely makes them unsuitable for field work.’
‘Cause otherwise they’d just walk into the mall and start shooting everyone.’
‘…they have Stef, and not just here.’
‘Most common is the kind of person who will believe everyone is human unless given reason – however flimsy – to believe otherwise. You’ve seen this. Did the question of whether you were an agent ever come up in Russia, or were you accepted as a recruit because of Curt’s say so?’
‘In your case, your height and appearance really do help.’
She pouted. ‘Everyone is calling me short today.’
‘It’s ok, it’s true.’ She said as she joined him on the couch. ‘So why does he want to talk to us?’
‘He won’t say, usually he does letterbox drops. It’s a public place, a decent way from any of their territory…other than the Wintergarden, of course, so it doesn’t really mean anything. On the other hand, it could mean he’s ready to convert.’
‘I haven’t actually looked up the stats on this stuff, how often does it happen?’
‘Honestly? Not as often as we’d like. Some people get afraid and stop informing, some are plants…most are plants, some are killed. The majority of people who do turn are just sick of the life and want a way out. Most of the time it’s twenty minutes with the Parkers then a relocation and a pension. One less enemy is one less enemy, so it doesn’t really matter if we have to pay for their retirement.’ He shuffled the papers on his desk. ‘People like Curt are the truest minority, long term missions, blackout bombs set off in Agencies, lots of agents killed, we’ve had these things happen more often than we’ve had a turncoat become an Aide.’
‘That’s why it took something so extreme for you to trust him?’
‘Yes, precisely.’
‘Do you trust him now?’
Ryan stared at her for a moment. ‘I do. I still second-guess myself sometimes, but I do. ‘
‘I could have been Solstice, you didn’t have any reason to trust me.’
He smiled. ‘Bias was also a factor in your situation.’
‘If that’s the case,’ she said, ‘if you don’t like Solstice, why did you take him on? You’re in charge, why not send him to Ipswich or something?’
‘Because I knew I wouldn’t kill him.’
‘Traitorous actions are traitorous actions, but a lot of agents, when it comes to people like Curt, would take any opportunity to construe a relatively innocent action and use it as an excuse of execution.’
‘”Relatively innocent”?’
‘For example, Curt used to have a habit of walking into blackout zones. He didn’t have them all memorised.’ He stood. ‘Now, let’s go, we don’t want to be late.’
‘Not even fashionably so?’
‘Only when meetings are held here, where we know, barring any extreme mitigating circumstances, we control the situation.’
And the horizontal, and the vertical?
‘Where are we meeting him?’
‘Just down in the mall.’
‘Anything more specific, or are we just going to walk up and down the mall calling out “here Solstice, Solstice, Solstice, sooooooo-eeeee!”?’
‘The bottom level, in the food court there. He comes in by bus and leaves the same way – I think he believes it helps keep his dealings with us unnoticed. So far, if he’s being truthful, it’s working.’
‘…if we’re in the mall, can I go buy video games?’
He looked down at her. ‘Be truthful, how much of your paperwork is Curt doing?’
She stared at the ground. ‘Only like half.’
‘Not all of it?’
‘No, not all, I am learning!’
‘Then yes, after we’re done, you can go buy video games.’
‘How much of everything did I ruin forever?!’ the question poured out of her mouth before she had a chance to stop it. She slapped her hands over her mouth, and closed her eyes. [I’m sorry, but we’re acting like everything is normal, but it can’t be normal after what happened last night and I need to know-] Arms wrapped around her, and cut off her ramble. She opened her eyes. ‘I know I screwed up. I shouldn’t have come over last night, I’m sorry. Just tell me that-’
‘All you did was catalyse an argument that was due to happen. Things are…strained, and for reasons nothing to do with you.’
‘But I really didn’t help things.’
‘You did nothing wrong.’
‘Stop protecting me, I did bad, and I know it.’
‘You gave up so much to try and make me happy,’ he said, ‘I’ve got nothing but gratitude.’
‘Maybe I made the wish wrong, I should have-‘
‘Do you want to be an agent?’
She closed her mouth, then looked up at him. ‘You just did a me. That’s my thing, get your own thing.’
‘What does that have to do with anything?’
‘Everything, please, answer the question.’
She stared down at her knees. ’More than anything. I mean, now that being a recruit isn’t an option. I fit in here, at least enough. I’m still a massive screw up who doesn’t do all of her paperwork, or know everything about what an agent is, let alone what it means, but of course I do.’
She clapped her hands to her chest. ‘Lookie, uniform. I don’t default to wearing this cause I’m lazy, I love it. It feels right.’
‘Would you leave if you could?’
She laughed at him. ‘And go where?’ she said. ‘And do what? This is my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything unless you told me to.’
Tears rolled down his cheeks.
‘Crap, what’d I do now? If you’re worried about getting stuck with me, I can-’
‘No,’ he said, cutting her off. ‘I don’t want you to leave.’ He wiped his eyes with his handkerchief. ‘It’s just-‘ he went quiet for a long moment ‘Carol. She resents that I trapped her into this life. That I-’
‘Consider me willingly cats-cradled into this life, for as long as you want me here.’
‘If you ever want to leave,’ he said, ‘I’ll help you, we’ll figure out some way-’
‘Not gonna happen. Now are we going to chat to the Solstice or what?’
He smiled. ‘Yes, let’s.’ He rose, and the world blurred after he snapped his fingers.
‘People really are stupid, aren’t they?’ she asked as she fell into step beside he after the world became clear .
‘I’ll reserve judgement until I know your context,’ he said as he put a hand out to stop her from walking into a wave of commuters fresh off a bus. ‘Or I may insult myself.’
She contrived to look hurt. ‘I’d never call you stupid. Other people though…we shift in and out of the mall, and people don’t really notice, if something twigs their weird-o-meter, they just ignore in place of believing reality is exactly like they think it is.’
‘You didn’t always know about magic, Stef.’
They picked an empty table in the small food court. ‘Yeah, but I always believed. Even if only a little. When’s he due?’
[He’s already here,] Ryan said, [the thin man at the back table with a tray full of chicken. He makes us sit for five minutes before he makes contact, just in case we were followed.]
[Take it from someone who knows, that sounds paranoid.]
[Sometimes it’s warranted.]
[And sometimes it means attacking your fridge with a baseball bat, or being afraid to pee because there might be a decapitated head in the toilet.] He gave her his nearly patented, concerned dad!face and she gave him a quick smile. [Doesn’t happen a lot,] she said, [most of the time, I remember to be sane. You don’t want to know what I thought about my room at the Agency when it was still technically my cell.]
The Solstice moved – apparently not bothering to wait for his five minute timer to expire, quickly getting up from the table and nearly upending his tray – he managed to catch everything, except the drink, which fell to the floor in a splash of wasted liquid. He ignored it, and sat across from them, his face tinged red with embarrassment. He smiled, then stopped himself, trying to frown, but this appeared to take too much effort, so he let his face go neutral. A Solstice /serious.
‘You I know,’ he said, ‘Ryan. Her, I don’t. Who?’
[ESL or nerves?] she asked, careful to keep her gaze on the Solstice.
[Nerves,] Ryan said, [his command of the language will come back in a few minutes after he realises we’re not going to shoot him.] ‘Stef Mimosa,’ he said out loud.
The Solstice swallowed. ‘I still get meal allowance, right?’
Ryan held up a hand, a folded twenty-dollar note appearing between two fingers. He handed it across, the Solstice grabbing it gingerly, careful to touch only the money, and not the agent.
The twenty was quickly pocketed. ‘It’s counterfeit, right?’
‘Mr Turner, if you’re going to insult us, then-’
‘No, I mean, the…serial numbers. They’re copies of existing notes, right? So technically counterfeit? No offense intended, just asking questions.’
[Questions are good,] he said, [the more questions asked is the more holes poked in the Solstice philosophy.]
[You mean fail-osophy.]
‘Any money that we require,’ he said, ‘has unique serial numbers.’
‘And the Treasury is fine with that?’
‘We’re the Agency.’ Ryan leaned forward in his chair, resting his elbows on the table. ‘Draw your own conclusions.’
She turned to him, a grin on her face. [Wow, you can be really bad ass.] She quickly switched to text mode. [+10 to your awesome.]
‘Uh-huh,’ the Solstice said, clearly unconvinced. ‘So what do you tell them?’
‘Whatever mint we’re dealing with…it’s essentially processed the same as it would be for the federal police, or an intelligence agency.’
‘So that’s everywhere, then?’
‘Of course, Mr Turner, we’re everywhere.’
[Another +5]
The Solstice stared for a moment, then looked down to his tray of food, picked up a few chips and chewed on them.
‘You had information for us?’
The man nodded. ‘Yeah, this time it’s something big. And it’s real, I’ve verified it.’
‘Only one in three things you tell us is true,’ Ryan said, ‘forgive me if I don’t automatically trust the veracity of your claim.’
‘I get that, but I think I’m coming around. You’ve got to give me a break, I mean, you aren’t even human, that takes a while to get used to.’
‘That isn’t my problem,’ Ryan said, ‘what’s your information?’
‘The Solstice have a phoenix egg.’
Ryan laughed, then turned to her. ‘You can go do your shopping now, I trust you can get your own way home.’
[Um, lolwut?]
Ryan stood. ‘Consider this your last second chance. The next time you bring us false information-’
‘I’m not lying!’
Ryan turned to walk away, and the Solstice lunged across the table to grab his arm. ‘I’m. Not. Lying.’
Ryan shook the man’s arm away. ‘What you’re saying is impossible.’
‘Then I guess agents don’t know everything.’
Three things seemed to happen at once. A bloody hole appeared in the Solstice’s chest, there was an explosion somewhere ahead of her, and someone grabbed her from behind.
After shrieking like a girl, she threw her head forward and bit into the arm across her chest. Then she let her legs crumple, and she slid out from under her assailant’s arm. She was free, but stuck in vulnerable, and somewhat embarrassing position of being on her butt.
Ryan took two quick, neat steps that would have impressed Madame Cousteau, came up against the man who had grabbed her, and then there was the muffled sound of a shot.
Explosions not being a common occurrence, there was chaos. Shouts of confusion, swearing and attempts at calm from cops and rent-a-cops alike.
None of that was important though. The important message was flashing across her HUD. [Blackout zone: Type M].
Ryan pulled her to her feet without really looking at her, moving towards their injured informant before remembering to let her go.
‘If I die,’ the Solstice said as he spat blood on the table, ‘you don’t get to know what I know.’
Ryan’s pressed a hand to the man’s chest, and turned to look back at her. ‘Blackout.’
‘I know.’
‘There’s too much interference, it’s significant.’
‘If it’s so heavy, means it can’t last too long, right?’
‘It means I don’t know.’
Ryan’s eyes were scanning, looking for shooters, dangers, being an agent. Being an agent, not a scared hacker suffering the urge to crawl into the nearest convenient hole and hide until the danger went away.
A scared hacker that-
Yeah, what is it…There’s something…
His attention snapped to her. ‘What?’
She yanked on his arm, pulling him closer to her height. ‘We aren’t being shot at,’ she hissed. ‘Two agents and a traitor, and we had one measly pot shot taken at us. That guy wouldn’t have grabbed me, he would have just shot me, and probably you first. This isn’t Solstice…I think.’
Ryan looked to the now, much paler, Solstice. ‘Who else knows about this?’
‘Blue. Earth,’ he wheezed.
‘…that makes sense. We still need to move.’
A hundred questions danced on her tongue. Who, what, how, where, when, why, if. All questions that couldn’t wait. All questions that could wait.
Think, think, think.
The mall. Familiar enough, not as much as the Valley. Food courts. Game stores. Department store where she did the majority of her clothes shopping. Buses.
Bus. Bus. Bus. Bus.
And you’re doing what?
Making bus noises to help me think?
…Spyder, just…sigh.
Got it!
She grabbed the Solstice. ‘Phone. Gimme!’
‘Pocket,’ the Solstice said.
She groped the pockets of his jacket, and found the phone – luckily free of blood and bullets. She unlocked it and quickly dialed for a cab.
She gave them the details.
‘Stef?’ Ryan asked as she pocketed the phone.
‘There’s a hotel entrance. The cabs come down here. You always see it when you get the bus in. It’s really close. Can you carry him that far? We can just drive home, and it’s not an exit they should be guarding.’
Pride burned in her cheeks. ‘I’m a coward, and I’m paranoid, escape plans are second nature.’
He lifted the Solstice, looking as though it took barely an effort…but it was bad as it looked like it took effort at all – normally, something like lifting a full-grown man wouldn’t make him blink.
The area past the food court was bad – the scared and the injured that had only been on her periphery were now right there. Screaming. Wailing. Making all kinds of noise that made it too hard to concentrate or pretend to be a narc. The explosion had been fairly insignificant, after all – it had barely shaken their table, and hadn’t dislodged many of the roofing panels, but it was causing the mass panic of an explosion ten times its size.
What had been a photo booth was now a smoking ruin, the windows that looked out onto the buses were all blown out. Large chunks of the doors and walls were missing…definitely costly to replace. Unless of course, they paid for it.
It was slow-going – people were everywhere, getting in their way, trying to help, impeding their path in every possible way.
What usually took about a minute took nearly five – every second of which made her feel more and more like pounding a hole in concrete and making her own place to hide until the danger was past. The crush of people was maddening, and any of them could be a shooter, be a Solstice, or a…one of the anti-Solstice bad guys, or even just an opportunistic fae with a vendetta against the Agency.
If you devolve into “I’m not gonna make it, I’m not gonna make it”, I am going to seize control of your body and slap you.
…you can do that?
Do you want to see me try?
No, not really.
She pushed ahead a few steps – her easily mockable shortness a blessing for once, as it was far easier for her to slip through the crowd than it was for Ryan – especially with another man thrown over his shoulder.
Free of the crush of people for a moment, she pressed her face up to one of the unbroken windows, looked up towards the hotel entrance.
The cab was there, waiting for them, their orange getaway car with a meter.
This part of the bus stops was fairly quiet – there were a couple of open doors, presumably opened by those fleeing the blast. It was good – it meant one less piece of property damage that had to occur. That, and she wasn’t sure if she could bust through one of the heavy glass doors. Maybe if they were in a system area, and if it decided to attack her. That part would have been the simple part though – doors were easy enough to provoke.
They passed through the nearest open door, and past a bus whose radio was alive with a mess of emergency services chatter.
We’re gonna make it!
Knock on wood.
She rapped her knuckles against the side of her head.
Ryan was less than his usual impeccable self – more effort was showing on his face, and the Solstice’s blood was all over his clothes.
‘That’s our cab,’ she said as they crossed to it, feeling the need to say something, anything. ‘We’re ok.’
She moved ahead of him, and pulled the taxi door open. The driver began to protest, but she glared at him as Ryan placed their bleeding contact into the backseat as gently as was possible.
‘Hospital?’ the driver asked as they slammed the back doors closed, the dying Solstice between them, his breathing far from regular, his blood leaking out onto what had been a very clean cab.
‘Queen street,’ Ryan said.
‘You’re already there, mate.’
She kicked the back of the driver’s seat. ‘Drive, arsehole!’
The back windscreen shattered.
She froze as small pieces of glass covered her.
There was glass everywhere. She couldn’t feel her legs. There was blood everywhere. The seat belt had snapped tight, and she could feel the bruises forming. No. She couldn’t feel anything. Cold. So cold. There was nothing but-
Spyder, down!
There was a sharp tug and her head hit the driver’s seat.
Ryan let go of her tie. ‘Keep your head down.’
She blinked, saw her hands gripping her knees so tight her knuckles were white. She blinked again, taking stock. She wasn’t bleeding. She wasn’t dying.
‘Oh fuck this,’ she heard the driver say, and the car jostled as he sprang from his seat, and ran from the cab.
You here?
She fought to get the accident out of her mind.
Tell him to slap you.
You’re back then, you need to be right here, right now.
Ryan grabbed her hand and pressed his gun into it. ‘I’ll drive, but I need you to cover us.’
She grabbed his hand. ‘Slap me.’
‘Slap me!’
He winced as a smattering of bullets hit the boot of the taxi, then exhaled a small breath and slapped her. Her cheek throbbed, and tears welled up in her eyes, but bleeding to death in a crumpled car fled. She clutched the gun and turned in her seat, carefully looking through what had been a solid piece of glass a few seconds ago.
The bleeding Solstice coughed, and she adjusted herself so that her spare hand was applying pressure to his wound. She fired off a few rounds as Ryan climbed through to the driver’s seat. There were three of them – Solstice or Blue Earth, it didn’t matter, both had murder death kill intentions towards them.
‘I want my magic gun,’ she whispered.
At least targeting worked in a blackout zone – it wasn’t as accurate as it was in a system area, but it was far, far better than what she could manage on her own.
She heard the driver’s door close, and she aimed for the shooter on the left, her targeting overlay appearing as she concentrated. She squeezed off two shots, and both missed.
The taxi’s engine roared, and she slipped from her position as it lurched forward. It broke the slow speed limit, and she grabbed the loose seat belt for stability as Ryan swung around the tight roundabout, and back towards the shooters.
‘Keep your head down,’ he said again, his voice retaining his narcy calm despite the car’s increasing speed.
Bullets hit the bonnet and a few struck the windshield, but it thankfully stayed intact. One of the shooters from the right moved, running out onto the road, getting a better angle to take more shots.
Ryan hit the man without swerving or slowing, the crumpled body flying back to the right, and out of sight as they hit daylight. A few more bullets hit, but then there was only the sound of the engine, and her stressed breathing.
Two comparatively calmer minutes later, they pulled into the Agency garage, the boom gate already up, the Parkers waiting near the lift with a gurney. She kept out of the way as they extracted the injured man, then smiled as Ryan climbed out of the driver’s seat and offered her a hand.
He stooped, held her chin and tilted her head to the side. ‘I hope I didn’t hurt you.’
‘I needed it,’ she said, ‘traumatic flashbacks, yadda, yadda,’ she said as they walked towards the front door. ‘Not that there were guys with guns or failed terrorists when the car crashed. You know what I mean.’
He squeezed her. ‘I do.’
One quick shift later they were in his office. He sat on the couch, his bloody jacket and vest disappearing, and a glass of ice water appearing in his hand. He took a long drink, then placed the glass on a freshly-required table.
She flopped down on the couch beside him and required a Coke.
‘That was,’ he said with a smile, ‘more complicated than expected.’
‘It’s far more complicated than you realise,’ Death said.