12 Days Ago
Limit Testing Day One
‘I’m glad to see him enjoying himself,’ Grigori commented, cheering yet another well-thrown punch.
Magnolia looked up from the paperwork, watched the object of Taylor’s rage fall yet again, then looked back down at the paperwork. It didn’t necessarily need to be done today, that she knew, but there was also no need to waste an opportunity to be efficient. A chance to impress him. A chance to further the possibility of him having a passably good day.
‘Enjoy yourself,’ Grigori said, putting a hand on her shoulder. ‘I thought you’d finished with all this?’
‘So long as he doesn’t need us, I-’ she began as he pulled the paperwork from her hands.

‘There are many things I won’t order you to do, there are many things I hope you’ll beg me to do, but all of that will have to wait, he wants us here, so let’s be here for him. So for now, Magnolia, I’m ordering you to put the paperwork down.’
She stared at it as he put it down, well out of her reach. ‘It was only the duty rosters,’ she said, trying to calculate the odds of making it past him and retrieving the papers, ‘I can finish them later.’
An arm flew between them, smacked into one of the rows above them, rolled a little, then lay still. She turned to the floor show, and couldn’t help but smile, watching her commander hold the experiment up by her one remaining arm and shaking her, possibly to see how many shakes it would take to see how it take before it detached itself from the shoulder.
‘I do admire your devotion to duty,’ Grigori said as he leaned back against the bleachers, the light catching each angle of his well-defined muscles. The muscles on show thanks to a sleeveless blue shirt. She half suspected that they were a form of subliminal advertising, a way to draw in those interested in inspecting his muscles for themselves. ‘Canceling a date me with, you’re braver than he let slip.’
‘Drop it from your mind,’ he said as he experiment hit the wall for the twelfth time, landing in a messy, bloody pile of broken bones. ‘It actually let me get better reservations.’
‘And you’re sure about the dress?’
‘Of course, I cannot wait to see it on you.’
She turned her eyes back to the floor, planning on exactly how she would repay him for the dress. This time, Taylor had broken both of the girl’s legs, and she was slowly crawling away from him – a pointless action, really.
‘A lot of recruits would view limit testing as inhumane,’ he commented, an open bottle of beer appearing in his hand. ‘You’re taking it in stride. He really did leave a lot out about you. I should have visited sooner, I’ve just been busy.’
‘He bothered to mention me?’ she asked, trying not to let any sense of pride slip into her voice.
‘Of course.’ Grigori took a swig from the bottle, then tapped his chin. ‘Then again, with him, it’s like trying to get literature out of a Twitter feed. He doesn’t say much, but know him long enough and you know where to fill in the gaps.’ The girl’s head hit the wall, the rest of the girl remained in Taylor’s grasp. ‘This…this is the most I’ve gotten out of him for a long time.’
‘Traitors in the Agency aren’t exactly a weekly occurrence,’ she commented.
He turned to her. ‘It isn’t treason,’ he commented, ‘it’s worse. Lies, manipulation, the utter disregard for the order we are meant to stand for, disrespecting life in general, it’s a mess, just like it was last time.’
‘Carol Whitman,’ she said.
This seemed to surprise him. ‘You know?’
‘Only a little,’ she admitted. ‘Recruit. Became an agent, something happened and a lot of people died.’
Grigori tipped his beer bottle in Taylor’s direction. ‘Including him.’ He finished off the bottle and tossed it behind his shoulder. ‘Everything old is new again, everything that happened then is why it’s happening now.’
‘I don’t understand.’
Taylor bore the girl to the ground, pounding her skull into a fine red paste.
‘Carol, she was Ryan’s lover. Her time came but he couldn’t let her go. She was made into an agent, but as you said, something went wrong. Jones still blames himself, but I think it was something far more human, she left a part of her behind on her walk back from death, or something. She went mad, uncontrollably and against her will. She murdered a lot of recruits, then him, then Ryan killed her. It left this Agency in ruins, almost all of the recruits were transferred away, some chose to leave, this place was a ghost of its former self. They brought him back.’ He required another beer and drank the entire bottle without taking a breath. ‘What they could anyway.’
She stared at the girl, watched her back away from Taylor and fall over her own feet. She was scrawny, ill-shaped, with a head too large for her body and no figure to speak of. ‘If everything is happening again,’ she said, trying to put together the information, ‘are you saying…Mimosa is Agent Ryan’s lover?’ She watched the girl squirm, a bullet in each limb. ‘Because-’
This made him laugh, and she relaxed, disturbing images of the awkward ex-recruit attempting coitus readily fleeing her mind. ‘So what then?’ she asked.
‘If it wasn’t for Carol, none of this would be happening.’
An alternate theory formed. ‘Daughter?’
‘Not biologically speaking.’ He adjusted himself, stretched, then looked at her. ‘Distraught as he might have been at the loss of his lover, Ryan’s an agent, he had to continue to do his job, at least to the best of his ability. I’ve no doubt he was weeping every night for her, but he was still kicking Solstice ass when it was required of him.’
She thought of Ryan, the impassive and aloof Agent Ryan, crying, and felt her face take on an expression of incredulity. It wasn’t very likely – she’d never seen him show more emotion than a vague smile, or a certain shortness of temper. Except-
‘Two weeks after he had to kill her, if that, he was on a mission. A toddler got caught in the crossfire, and died. He went to Death and carried her back himself, brought her back to life.’ He nodded at the girl being crushed beneath Taylor’s boot. ‘Something like that would tend to leave an impression.’
She stared at the girl. ‘He broke the rules for her?’
‘We have very few real rules, most of what we adhere to are guidelines. He was felt guilty. He did it out of guilt.’
‘How do you know this?’
‘He told me. Ryan could so easily be a good man, he just lets his emotions get the best of him. This…making another agent like this, I couldn’t believe he had the balls. Hopefully, we’ll get rid of this one before she does too much damage.’
‘That’s what the limit tests are for.’
‘They’re stress tests, to see what happens to her under different conditions. What happens if you rip her head off, what happens if you poison her, what happens if, what happens when, all that kind of thing. It’s a feasibility study, there’s no point in an experiment that hasn’t got a hope.’
She could tell there was something he wasn’t saying. ‘That’s the official line, it’s paraphrasing what was in the report.’
‘Unofficially,’ he said, ‘we’re going to do our damn best to drive her insane. At the moment, she’s contained, almost no-one knows about her, she couldn’t even take a piss without Jones analysing it in three different ways, this is the safest time for her to…fail.’
She looked down at the floor, at the silently weeping girl. ‘I think there’s a fair chance of that happening.’
‘He’s just getting started, this is…going to be an interesting week.’
‘If I might ask a question, sir.’
He turned to her. ‘Did you just call me “sir”?’
She felt herself blush. ‘Force of habit, and I’ve never exactly been on a first name basis with an agent before. Or had one ask me out to dinner.’
‘If you’re intimidated-’
‘Flattered,’ she interrupted, allowing a small smile to play out on her face, before snapping back to her default posture and expression, that of an attentive recruit. Flattered or not, aroused or not, there was a job at hand to do, or at least pay attention to. Distractions, dinner and dancing could come later.
‘You had a question,’ he said, sliding his large hand over hers.
‘Why only three glitches?’ she asked, aware that her heart was beating faster than normal. ‘Punishment levels one through six are being performed, but glitches are only to be induced at two, four and six.’
‘Inducing glitches at all levels would be too much, even for what we’re trying to do. Level six, that’s enough to break a lot of good agents.’
‘But they’re nightmares, something extra on top of the normal punishment processes.’
‘The rest is just pain. It makes you bleed from your eyes, shit your pants, and make it feel as though every atom is exploding, but it’s just pain. Pain fades. Glitches are something else. I mean, you’ve seen how they affect people.’
Memories of bleeding to death, of feeling her heart stop, of seeing Taylor afraid, flooded back, but she simply nodded.
‘They are nightmares, yes,’ Grigori said, ‘but they are as real as reality, more so even, if that’s possible. They can push away what you know, you accept what you see as reality. I have seen…far too many things in my life, but glitches are even worse than that. Three, simply, is enough.’
He looked away, cheered as Taylor tore the girl’s throat out, then smiled. ‘There isn’t a chance in hell she’s going to pass. We’ll see to that. Your boss, my best friend, we’ve got to protect him, right?’
The girl’s head landed on the ground in front of them, and she looked over at Taylor.
‘Assist, or get out,’ he snapped.
Grigori jumped from the bleachers, kicked the head to the side, and jogged over to Taylor and the decapitated body.
‘Yes sir,’ she whispered, and followed.