Grigori walked down the halls of the combat floor – so sparse in comparison to any of the floors in any of his Agencies. Cold, anonymous, afraid to show any hint of personality – just like Taylor himself.
The recruit dorms were mostly quiet, filled with sleeping recruits. One or two were awake, faint sounds of life spilling through the doors. Life, or the practice or creation of such, a worthwhile activity for this time of night.
He raised a hand and knocked on Magnolia’s door. No answer.
He knocked again, still no answer. He stared at the door, letting himself see through it – two warm thermal images showed in his HUD; one of Magnolia, lying on her bed, the other of a hot desk lamp. He knocked a third time, and when she didn’t stir, he simply shifted in.
As soon as he took a step, she sat up, gun pointed at him. She took a second to register him, then the gun disappeared. ‘Sorry,’ she said, ‘I thought you were one of the assholes I’m in charge of.’
‘You didn’t think it might be-?’
‘No,’ she said, ‘he doesn’t knock.’ She brushed some hair back from her face, and picked up a large book, filled with notes and tiny squares – probably a scheduling diary. The dress he’d bought hung from a hanger outside of her thin wardrobe, and she’d gone back to one of her normal dresses, though this one with nearly imperceptible amounts of lace, and only a few frills.
‘Thank you for telling me he’s all right,’ she said, gesturing to her headset on the bed. ‘I thought-’
‘Relax for the moment, but…wait until morning, tomorrow, next week, before you breathe a sigh of relief,’ he said as he joined her on the bed, relaxing up against the modest few pillows. ‘This could still be perused. I hope Ryan makes the right choice, but given what he has to do tonight, it might anger him into seeking revenge. There’s still a chance Taylor could be taken from us.’
A heavy document – the details of the experiment – appeared in her lap, and she flipped through it. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘that.’
‘I would assume,’ he said, ‘that you don’t understand.’
‘I’ve seen it happen before,’ she said, ‘we’ve had a couple of recruits who couldn’t hack it, and the Parkers removed their memories. Some sort of induced amnesia. Pretty painless, though I don’t-’
He propped himself up on an elbow and turned to face her. ‘This isn’t that, Magnolia.’
She ran a pale finger down the page. ‘Honestly, I thought Jones would have done it, it would seem that it’s just the deletion of files-’
‘I wish that it were that simple, but when we have to do something like this, the process is a lot harder. You ever watch Star Trek?’
‘With Merlin a few times,’ she admitted with a blush.
‘Think a Vulcan mind meld, that hurts like level six punishment. Doing this…it’s tantamount to rape, because we have to find every trace of memory, sever every connection, and destroy the thoughts wholecloth. It is such a violation, and it hurts the agent as much as the person whose mind they are invading.’
‘Generally, it’s only done to traitors, as an informational retrieval system. We need to see something, we go into a mind and see it, no need for a polygraph, no need to operate around lies, we just get what we need.’
‘How could I not know about this? I’m an aide, I’m-’
‘It isn’t something we go around advertising,’ he said. ‘It’s one of those things we prefer to keep under wraps as much as possible.’
‘I see,’ she said flatly.
‘Things aren’t going to be easy,’ he said, ‘he still wants her dead, he still can’t see beyond that. Well, not that he can see very much at the moment, considering how drunk I got him.’
‘I’ve already got the morning training planned.’
‘Is that all you’ve got planned?’
She smiled. ‘Well, I’ll have this roster sorted out in about twenty minutes.’
‘Nothing else?’
He wrapped an arm around her, slid it down her back, tracing fingers down her exposed leg, before bringing them up to rest on her lower back. ‘There’s something I want from you.’
He lifted the schedule from her lap and tossed it off the side of the bed. ‘Just one little thing.’
‘So long as we’re without pretense,’ she whispered.
‘I don’t think that will be a problem,’ he said as he slipped a hand up into her skirt.
Fingers grasped his target, and he pulled back, yanking the gun from the thigh-holster. ‘What I want from you,’ he said, staring at the gun, ‘is to know exactly what you planned to do with this.’
She pulled away from him, sliding off the bed to retrieve her workbook. ‘If you look at my security clearance, Agent Grigori, you will see I have the right to take control of four items from that cache. My knife is one, that gun is two. I could go get another two weapons, and I would still be within my right.’
‘What were you planning on doing with this, Magnolia?’
‘I should think that it was rather obvious.’
‘You know what would-’
She crouched and pulled an envelope from the back of her workbook. ‘I’ve written a letter, taking total blame, absolving him. They cannot punish him for my actions.’
‘Ryan will put a bullet between your eyes.’
‘Death is the cost of doing one’s duty,’ she said, holding out her hand for the gun. ‘And my duty is to him.’
‘And if you don’t succeed?’
‘That’s why I’m finishing up the duty rosters first. I’ve also got half a dozen recommendations to make, document the forty-two changes that need to be made to the latest version of the recruit guidelines and-’
‘Can you even hear yourself, Magnolia?’
‘There are two bullets left. I’m a damn good shot. I can do this.’
‘And what does he do without you?’
‘He gets another aide. You overestimate my importance here, I’m just a recruit.’
‘And the way you feel about him? Can’t you-?’
‘You might bring me flowers, Grigori, buy me a fancy dress and take me to dinner. Do you really think I could get that from him? I have my weakness, yes, I have my feelings, yes, but I also have my sanity. I have no delusions about what can come from them. The best way that I can show him that I-’
‘Love him.’
‘Is to make his life easier. I won’t be able to rid whatever gets in his way next, but by then, hopefully he has someone else willing to do what’s necessary.’
He tucked the gun into his jacket. ‘Do not do anything now. She isn’t going anywhere, neither are you, neither is he, so do not make any mistakes now. Let me try and get through to him. You can always…do your duty in a few days. It will…give you a chance to get more of your paperwork done.’
‘You’re so stubborn,’ he said, ‘you really are perfect for him.’ He stood, gave her a kiss on the cheek, then left her to her paperwork.