Magnolia winced as she reintegrated in the infirmary – the doctors expected her to show pain, and her commander was no longer present. She didn’t care if she impressed the Parkers or not.
Any person – not suffering some form of extreme emotional trauma – would always get the same mix of insults, threats, and sexual innuendo. The Parkers would be the Parkers, and the world would continue to turn.
Most of the rest of the recruits had one primary Parker – the twins switching off for each new recruit, to keep a level of personalised service and familiarity with their patients – something that tended to confuse newer recruits until they started to see the differences between the twins.
She had both of them as her primary – something that was sometimes a blessing, and sometimes a curse. It was most often, however, just a useful element of her day. Two physicians would get her back to battle-ready much faster than one.
This time, however, neither doctor was at her side.
She was on a bed, the curtains drawn on all sides, alone and bleeding.
Some people would fall prey to whatever game they were trying to play – whatever psychological trick they were attempting.
She had no time for bullshit – she was bleeding, and she had paperwork due.
Magnolia pushed on one hand, ignoring the protestations of her shoulder and knee – then lifted her hand, unnecessary, but she enjoyed the feeling of doing magic sometimes, and required away the curtains.
The Parkers were surprisingly clothed, and not engaged in any intimate activity of any kind – both stood there, three feet away from the end of her bed, both using tablets – a perfect mirror of each other, one holding his tablet with the left hand, one holding his tablet with the right hand.
There were differences between the twins, but they took time to notice – at least until they opened their mouths, and then -2 made himself more than obvious. In addition to the far more acidic attitude, he was also slightly – though noticeably – taller than his twin.
The slight height difference made recruits speculate that he was the top in the relationship – such comments lead to the recruit getting not-so-gently aimed at a mandatory session regarding the realities of queer relationships.
It was a sad thing when a recruit could identify fourteen types of fae apple but not understand the first thing about romantic coupling that involved two guys.
She stared them dead in the eyes. ‘I’m fucking bleeding.’
‘Noticed,’ they said in unison.
Parker-2 tapped -1’s shoulder, gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, then moved to play with some trays of equipment.
‘Do your damn job!’ she snapped. Sharp, glass shards of pain ran from her shoulder down to her hand, and she bowed her head in an attempt to pull her traitorous body under control.
If they refused to treat her, she could do it herself. Taylor was likely in no state to assist her. Screen would be willing – the tech didn’t have sufficient first aid skills, but that would be another set of hands. Jones would pull the doctors to heel if she bled on enough of his equipment.
And Merlin could probably fix the injuries with a touch.
She didn’t like the boy using his powers – he was safer if the Agency didn’t know that he was such an unknown. He was a kid, an innocent child who had been through more hell than anyone should.
An innocent child that could walk through walls and read the minds of everyone around him. He could do other things, but she had always done her best not to know – to retain at least some measure of plausible deniability.
‘Two minutes,’ she said, ‘then I’m leaving.’
Parker-1 finally walked towards her. ‘Taylor overrode a request to send you here,’ he said, his voice neutral, verging on cold. ‘Are you aware of that?’
‘He was making a point. It wouldn’t have been much of a point if I wasn’t there.’
Parker-1 seized her upper arm and stabbed her with a needle, the pain flaring for a moment more before it disappeared. ‘You’re a recruit. You’re an aide. You aren’t a fucking prop.’ He shoved her chest, pushing her back to her back, and numbed her knee. ‘This is major reconstruction surgery, and your shoulder is fucked. If you weren’t an aide – you know how long that would take to recover. You never show up to physical therapy and–’
‘Get. The bullets. Out of my body. Or I’m going elsewhere for treatment.’
‘The next time he wants to make a point, ask him for through-and-throughs, all right?’ Parker-1 waved his hand, and the bed converted into an operating table.
Parker-2 walked up to them, touched his twin’s face, then helped him to prep her shoulder. ‘Jane was querying your injury stats. We thought he’d back off on this bullshit, at least for a little while.’
‘Are you speeching at Ryan as well?’ she asked, and let out a breath as she heard the familiar metal-on-metal of the slug hitting the tray. ‘All of this is his fault.’
Parker-2 loomed in her face, a streak of her blood across his mask. ‘Ryan didn’t shoot you.’
‘Ryan saved Mimosa. If she survives limit testing…’ She grit her teeth as pain coursed through her shoulder – it was a check of her pain receptors, to see what was working and what wasn’t, as compared against a healthy normal. It was entirely possible – and actually mandated procedure – to do this in a way that the recruit didn’t feel.
It was a courtesy they didn’t often show her.
‘Mirror wandering the halls of an agency is asking for trouble,’ she said. ‘It’s not a secret that can keep. What happens when Asshole Recruit A and Asshole Recruit B decide they want to wish up a copy of the Playboy Mansion? What happens when Clarke decides he wants to rule the world? It’s a liability that this agency can’t handle.’
‘So you,’ Parker-1 said, ‘and your agent, put a counter-proposal to Crawford, don’t take it out on the zombie, and don’t let him take it out on you.’
‘But I’m such a useful prop,’ she said, sneering up at the doctors.
Medicine overtook snark, and the doctors shut up to concentrate on their work.
An hour later, they dismissed her with pills, warnings, and instructions to show up for physical therapy.
She exited through the door that led to the main Combat floor and headed to her room, berating several of her colleagues for clogging up the halls along the way – there were designated rooms for loitering. The halls always needed to be clear in case of emergency, and there was always the chance of an emergency.
That, and it was a fire hazard.
Magnolia let out a long breath as she finally stepped into her room and locked the door behind her. The day had been entirely too long so far, and it was barely mid-afternoon. The day had been insane, and there were no hints that the near future was going to be any better.
Finding Mimosa. Testing Mimosa’s healing abilities. Injuring the director – an action that had made sense at the time, but one that he could potentially use against her at a later time. Learning that a woman who was unfit to be a recruit was going to be made an agent. Learning the missing piece about…what people deemed to be her commander’s missing pieces.
The situation had set Taylor on edge – onto an entirely different edge than normal.
And it was unacceptable.
She required new clothes and left her room.
She punched the elevator button and waited the precise 7.83 seconds for it to arrive. The doors slid open, and she hit the button for the tech department, two floors above.
A few seconds later, she stepped into the middle of a war.
A war being fought with words, concerning…Batman and Wolverine, if she was translating the geek-speak properly, but a fierce battle all the same. The recruits stopped for a moment, going silent as if she were a stranger in a wild-west saloon, then continued their argument when she’d passed.
The path to Jones’ office was a well-trodden one, and she had no trouble navigating around the gregarious and happy recruits – recruits that had no idea of the swath of issues all around them.
Dressing Billy the Nuke in a suit was a safer course of action than making Mimosa agent.
Jones’ main lab was abandoned, but there was a locked door at the back. She knocked, and it slid open.
Andrea stood before her, wiping her hands on a rag, and let her into the smaller room before closing the door, keeping everyone else out.
There was a table holding the agent-to-be.
Only the head was human. The rest was just blue.
Magnolia couldn’t help but stare.
Pulsing lights ran through the blue, running in places analogous to where the veins and arteries would be. The thing they had the nerve to call an agent was unconscious, or asleep, or in a coma – some unaware state, still, without the barest of breaths in her body.
‘You’ve never seen an agent in this stage, have you?’ Andrea asked as she wiped her hands on a rag. ‘Half-formed like this?’
Magnolia shook her head. ‘I wouldn’t think it was necessary.’
‘For agents, it’s not. For augments, however, it’s a vital step. Agents are generated with muscle memory. If you were to do that to someone…they would take months to learn how to walk and talk again, let alone do anything else. This step will code the base blue with all of her existing pathways. The only liberty we’re taking, of course, will be in making her ambidextrous, and–’
‘Make her less sinister?’
Andrea actually smiled. ‘Nice.’
‘Merlin taught the joke to me. Techs seem to enjoy it, but it’s the only thing that isn’t–’
‘Jokes aside. She’s not sinister. Don’t ascribe evil where there is none. Don’t do anyone the disservice, least of all her.’
Magnolia nodded. ‘Whatever comes down on her head won’t be her fault, but it’ll still come down. All because Ryan’s too sentimental?’
‘Love isn’t a weakness, Magnolia.’
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘it is. And is this going to be the pattern? Everyone Ryan loves get turned into an agent?’
Andrea looked up, her green eyes tired. ‘So he’s finally told you everything, then?’
‘He took me through the evidence sim. I saw the result. I know you scraped him up off the floor and brought him back without his consent.’
Jones leaned heavily on the table, strands of her brown hair touching the metal surface. ‘What was done, was done out of love.’
‘We loved him! We did!’ Jones snapped. ‘The man you bow and scrape to is not the man who died. He was…a much better person in those days. Do you know the Agency push to make your familial units out of your peers? Your commander and Ryan had been as close as brothers, Reynolds leaving and-’
Magnolia bristled. ‘Ryan never should have been director.’
Jones shrugged. ‘It was before my time, Recruit. Ryan is the only director I’ve ever known. Whatever reasoning Reynolds used, we’ll probably never know, but at the end of the day, he could only pick one of them.’
‘Come on,’ Jones said gently. ‘You know Field is always the favoured son, over any of the specialisations. Combat are unreasoning berserkers, and Tech are a bunch of simpering cowards. Logically, we know this isn’t true, but the perceptions remain.’ She drummed his fingers on the table. ‘The default agent is a field agent. It’s how most of the leadership positions end up going to them. Our divisions are just here to support that.’
She folded her arms. ‘He never would have allowed Whitman.’
‘Your Taylor, or our Taylor?’
Magnolia narrowed her eyes and turned her attention back to the agent-in-progress. ‘How can anyone think this is a good idea?’
Jones shook out her hair, then clipped it back up. ‘What would you have us do instead?’
Magnolia tapped the centre of Mimosa’s forehead, even though shooting the ex-recruit hadn’t worked. ‘Find some way to kill her. This much mirror walking around free is an absurdity. It’s an abomination.’
‘And if it were you lying on the table, what would you want us to do?’
‘Your Duty, Scholar,’ she snapped. She growled, though knew it was nothing in comparison to Taylor’s. ‘I do not expect special treatment. I expect to give my life for the Agency, and to end.’
‘Interesting,’ Jones commented.
‘Nothing I can bribe you with?’ Magnolia asked.
‘You have nothing I want or need.’
‘I could fuck you so hard that you see stars.’
‘Is that supposed to be threatening or alluring?’
‘Both. Either. Depends what you’re into, Agent.’
Magnolia stared down at the agent-to-be, her hand twitching to grab her knife and slit the woman’s throat, no matter the consequences.
Andrea moved closer and pushed her slightly, placing herself between Magnolia and the mistake. ‘What are you doing here, Recruit?’
‘I honestly don’t know,’ she said. ‘She’s a scrawny runt,’ she said, ‘who’s got no business wearing the uniform.’ She paused. ‘I’m not here to kill her, if that’s what you’re thinking.’
‘Actually, it’s precisely what I’m thinking.’
‘If I had wanted to kill her, I could–’
‘That isn’t the kind of thing you should freely admit.’
‘I’ve done nothing, it isn’t actionable.’
‘It wouldn’t work,’ Andrea said. ‘This is a shell. You could burn this to ashes, and you wouldn’t hurt Stef at all.’
Magnolia met Andrea’s eyes. ‘Then tell me how to kill her.’
‘I’m going to spend more than two hundred hours tweaking code,’ she said, ‘and dozens more writing new subroutines wholecloth. I’m not going to listen to you stand there and say you’d destroy all of that without a second thought if some asshole snapped his fingers. Get the hell out of my department.’
‘I think I’ll go see Merlin.’
‘Keep away from him. I’m not going to let you near him until you’ve gotten this out of your system. You can’t you imagine how much poison thoughts like this will hurt him. Until you accept what’s going on – no, you stay away.’
Magnolia felt the feathers ruffling on her back. ‘I don’t have to accept it!’
‘Then maybe you should fill out a transfer form. You’ve got seniority; she’s got rank. If it comes to a head, you’d be the one made to leave.’
‘She’s carrying around a piece of magic that could end the world. What happens if she spazzes out and decides she wants to drop nukes?’ She leaned closer. ‘What if you make another Whitman?’
Jones lifted a hand and snapped her fingers.
The bright lights of the infirmary blinded her as the world came back into focus. What was strange though was the angle at which she was viewing the infirmary from – flat on her back.
‘Voluntary organ donation!’ Parker-2 said with a grin on his face as he appeared over her. ‘Mags, I didn’t know you cared.’
‘I didn’t–!’ she began to protest.
A mask appeared on her face, and gas began to tickle her nose. ‘Won’t take very long at all. You’ll be up and…prepping yourself to come back here in a couple of hours, I might do some random exploratory surgery while I’m in there. How do you feel about cultivating some fungus for me?’
‘What the fuck?!’ she screamed as she tried to get up, but the restraints around her arms stopped her.
He held up a form. ‘It’s all here. A lung, among other things. Very, very generous, Mags – though won’t that make your life a bit difficult?’
‘I didn’t volunteer!’
He paused, his hand halfway to his instrument tray. ‘What?’
Parker-1 appeared and took the paperwork. ‘It’s not signed.’
A pen appeared in Parker-2’s hand. ‘Be so kind to sign this so that I can get started. Everything has to be in order, after all.’
She pulled at the restraints again. ‘I’m not signing anything. Let me go!’ She calmed herself enough to require the restraints away, and she leaped off the table. ‘Not. Funny.’
Parker-2 looked almost hurt. ‘It’s not malpractice if I’ve got a form.’
She smoothed her dress. ‘I’m going to–’
Parker-1, far calmer than his twin, looked at the form more closely. ‘Magnolia, can I ask you a question?’
‘Did you piss off Jonesy?’
Parker-2 pushed away his instrument tray and sat up on the operating bed. ‘Damn, you did, didn’t you? Big mistake. Seriously, rule four of this agency should be something like “Do Not Fuck With Agent Jones” – he’s one of the quiet ones, so you never see it coming when he decides to fuck your shit right up.’
‘I didn’t do anything.’
‘If you say so.’ Parker-2 rolled his eyes and flopped back on the bed. ‘Seems a shame to let this bed go to waste.’ He sat up and grabbed his twin, pulling him onto the bed. ‘Mags, lovely to see you again. Come back if you want to donate any of your organs, but if you’re staying, there’s a charge.’
‘I have places to be,’ she said, looking away from the progressively-more-naked doctors, and she made her way free and clear of the infirmary.