The observation room was empty – there was, after all, nothing left to observe. She was dead, at least to the best of their knowledge. She tried to relax the grip on her gun – she could feel the metal digging impressions into her shaking hand.
She saw a laptop, and felt herself centre, and slowly, she put her gun away.

Priorities and safety first. She went to the out to the hall, took the handle in one hand, and braced her other against the wood of the door, and closed it as quickly and quietly as she could. There was a chance they would notice, but there was also every chance that anyone walking by would just keep walking, and wouldn’t notice the agent cracking their security.
She wrapped her arms around herself for a moment, and felt hot tears on her cheeks.
No. I’ll deal with it later.
She slid into the chair behind the laptop, and swivelled slightly so that she had perfect visibility of the door, and laid her gun on the table beside her, just in case.
The screensaver was simple – the time bouncing from corner to corner. The security was probably somewhere between simple and medium, this seemed like someone’s everyday machine, so there’d be no need for the extra precaution of-
The machine went to the desktop as she ran her finger across the trackpad.
‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ she asked the world at large. She headdesked for a brief moment, then let out a little giggle. ‘Jesus, so much for security.’
She pulled the mirror from the pocket, and leaned it against the screen. She touched the surface, and thought of Jones. ‘Jonesy?’
The mirror rippled and Jones’ face appeared, a pair of headphones over his ears, and a slightly blank expression on his face, the kind she wore when she was coding with her eyes closed. ‘Hey, Jonesy.’
He snapped down to look at her. ‘Stef?’
‘Hey, where am I right now?’
‘You’re…in a Vox window. What-?’
‘No, me questions now, you questions later,’ she hissed. ‘I’m on a Solstice laptop, anything you want me to do while I’ve got it?’
‘Other than bring the hard drive home? Get me the addressing details and open some ports for me. I’ll grab what I can before they trace the hack.’
‘Okay, I can do that,’ she said, opening each port as he called them out. ‘Tell me they don’t have everything on one massive bad guy server?’
‘Unfortunately no, but I should be able to grab some files of value.’ He nodded. ‘All right, I’m in.’
‘Okay, how hard is it to extrapolate this location?’
He looked to the side. ‘It looks like they’re only bouncing it a few times. I should have you narrowed down in ninety seconds. Why?’
She dug her fingers into her thighs, and tried to think like a narc. ‘Can you get some drones into the idea. If things don’t go- If I don’t fuck everything up in the next few minutes, there should be some Solstice running, and given this place shouldn’t exist- Yanno. We need all the info we can.’
Jones nodded. ‘Sure thing, Agent Mimosa.’
She grinned. ‘Ok. You do your thing, I’ll do…something I’m really not qualified to do.’
‘Good luck.’
She touched the mirror again, broke the connection, and put it back in her pocket. She lifted her gun again, and walked out of the observation room, and into a Solstice.
He, however, was reading a paper, and merely mumbled an apology, and kept going. She turned and watched him for a moment as he slowed, and turned to look back at her. His somewhat sleepy expression wrinkled.
‘You new?’ he asked.
She held up her gun. ‘Agent Mimosa. On your knees.’
He laughed and folded the paper. ‘Oh, you are new. Captain Zheleznova’s not a big joker, so you’d-’
She shot him in the knee – and was pleased when the gun made a tiny little pewt noise, despite the lack of a silencer. ‘Agent Mimosa,’ she said again. ‘Now tell me, how many people are here.’
‘You aren’t an agent, you’re too little!’ His hand slowly began to move toward his hip, and presumably, a weapon.
She aimed at his head. ‘I have had a no good, very bad day, so just answer my question and I won’t fucking shoot you.’
His hand twitched, and she pulled the trigger again, rendering him no threat to anyone.
She moved down the hall, past a hot room full of laundry, and past more and more empty rooms. She looked down, and the trail of blood drops on the floor from where they’d dragged her from the cell.
Least I’m going to right way.
There were stairs.
She stepped over a patch of blood, walked down a short length of hall, and found the stairwell. She opened and closed the door carefully, well aware how much it could echo.
She made it down two flights without incident.
Stupid as this might be to say…thanks for being here. I couldn’t do this alone.
Her hand froze on the door, and she dug the mirror out of her pocket. ‘Show me outside this door.’
You don’t want to overuse that thing, you don’t even know how it works.
It’s magic, it works by…quantum?
You don’t even know how many uses it has, or if it’s draining you to perform.
I need it. I won’t use it after this, and it’s a magic mirror! I mean, it’s an actual magic mirror!
I find it fascinating that you can be excited about that when, well, considering, you really should have some sort of mirror-phobia.
‘Mirror mirror in my hand, show me the fairest in the land!’
You are such a child.
‘Hello?’ The voice came from the mirror, and she stared at it. A woman in a blindfold stared back at her. ‘Who are you?’ the woman asked.
‘Um, who are you?’
‘I’m Justice,’ the woman said.
The “fairest” in the land.
‘I’m…sorry,’ she said, ‘wrong number,’ she said, quickly touching the mirror and breaking the connection.
Um. Huh. That was weird.
‘Show me through the door.’
The hall beyond was empty, and all of the doors were closed – except the one at the end, leading through to the cells. That was good, less chance of an ambush, less chance of being noticed, more chance of succeeding.
She opened the door and crept down the hall, keeping low, below the windows on the doors, just in case the rooms were occupied.
She tilted the mirror as she approached the door, seeing a man’s back reflected not far into the room. The first target.
I can do this. I can do this. I can totally, absolutely not do this and I’m complete-
A man screamed in pain. Grigori.
It was satisfying. Good. Soothing to some deep part of her soul that wanted him not to live.
She listened to him scream a few more times.
This is verging into sociopathic behaviour, isn’t it?
You don’t care about that. But you’re exposed, anyone could come up behind you. You’ve got the element of surprise, don’t let that buff wear off before you use it.
She nodded to herself, adjusted the grip on her gun, and made a half-step into the room, just enough to get an angle on the closest man and fired.
The man fell with a thump.
No one reacted. The room was frozen, except for Grigori rattling his chains.
Move, idiot, move!
‘What the fuck?’ she heard Curt scream, but it seemed to spur the other Solstice into action, turning them towards her, and away from him…and the knife in his hand.
She raised the gun again, willed herself to ignore the lack of targeting, and shot the man who had put his cigarette out on her back. Two shots to the chest, and he went down.
Curt grabbed the third man’s shoulder, the one who had made noise about being in charge, and swung his arm in a short arc, slamming the knife into his back. The man still fumbled for his gun, so the knife – now covered in blood, reappeared, and spilt more blood as Curt pulled it across the Solstice’s throat.
The man struggled for a second more, then went still, and Curt dropped him.
After a moment, he dropped the knife, he stepped over the body, and walked to her – his legs taking the longest strides possible without running.
He lifted his blood-covered hand, held it close to her cheek for a moment, then grabbed her and held her. One arm wrapped around her back, holding her close; the other cradled her head to his chest. ‘Oh, god, newbie, I thought I-’
She let some of the tension drain from her body and rested her head against his chest.
After a few seconds, he pulled away and hurriedly wiped at his eyes with his bloody hands. ‘Are you o-’ He shut his mouth and vaguely shook his head. ‘Are you still injured?’
She gave one definitive shake. ‘No.’ She looked past him, and at the asshole in chains. ‘How bad is Grigori?’
Grigori raised his head. ‘You could ask me.’
She kept her gaze steady on him. ‘Curt.’
Curt seemed to consider the question for a moment. ‘He can move if we need him to.’ He looked down at her, meeting her gaze. ‘He can stop moving if you want that.’
Grigori spat blood. ‘No one threatens me and-!’
‘Shut up!’ Stef screamed, stalking towards him. ‘You shut up! You don’t get to- Speak! Ever! I want you to die!’
Curt walked towards the tray of implements, picked up a rag and began cleaning the blood from his hands. ‘Just say the word, ma’am.’ He shrugged. ‘We just change the timeline, tell them I killed him under duress.’
She looked away, feeling her face about to crumble, about to cry, about to look weak. ‘We have other things to deal with. Leave him here. He’s a liability.’
She sucked in a breath through her nose, and tried to force a /serious. ‘What?’
Curt gave her a little, encouraging smile, like they were about to run a sim. ‘Want me to hurt him a little?’
She gave a nod and walked from the room. Once out in the hall, she crouched in the same spot she’d hidden in when waiting to ambush the room. She stuffed her gun into her pocket, and buried her face in her hands, the tears coming uncontrollably.
Grigori started to scream again.
There were footsteps, then a metallic squeaking as Curt closed the door to the room. ‘Ma’am?’ he said, crouching in front of her. ‘What next?’
‘What did- I shouldn’t have-’ she started to shake. ‘I want him- What I want doesn’t matter, I shouldn’t have-’ It was unprofessional. It wasn’t narcy behaviour to exact revenge. It was going to work against her when they got him.
‘Hey,’ he said gently, pointing two fingers at her eyes so that she focussed. ‘I just did the equivalent of pouring ants down his pants. It hurts, that’s all. It’s nothing that’s going to kill him while we’re gone.’
She wiped her snotty nose on her jacket sleeve, and nodded.
‘What next?’ he asked again.
She let all of her panic play on her face, not bothering to hide her emotions from him. Curt was safe, Grigori wasn’t. ‘How the fuck would I know?’ she said, her voice coming out as a screech. ‘I made it this far-’ her breath hitched. ‘I figured- I figured you’d know the rest.’
He offered her a hand. ‘We can’t stay out here. We need a defensible position.’
She took the hand, and he helped her to her feet. ‘Is there an evacuation alarm?’
‘Of course.’
‘We need to sound that. If Jonesy did like I asked, then there’s eyes on this place to track the escapees.’
He nodded, and pointed. ‘This place has a condensed layout, but the security room is probably down this way.’ He hesitated. ‘You probably don’t want to trust me with a weapon, but I’m a-’
‘Sorry, I forgot!’ she said, digging into her pockets. ‘I got one for you too,’ she said, pushing the gun and spare clip towards him. ‘You’re the better shot anyway.’
He gave a quick nod, popped the spare clip into his pocket, and moved ahead to take point.
‘Can we kill the blackout zone,’ she asked, ‘so our guys can come in and strip this place down?’
‘I don’t even know what kind it is, you tell me, and then I can answer.’
‘I don’t know what kind it is.’
He turned and pointed to her head. ‘It should say right there. Does it say T or M?’
She opened the blackout warning back up and stared at it. ‘Type M.’
He smiled. ‘Ok, that’s magic, rather than time. Without people here to maintain it, it will fall in less than a week.’ He pointed down the hall. ‘There’s the security room.’
‘How many people are here?’
‘Two dozen at the very most. This is the tiny operation.’
The security room was unlocked. ‘Seriously,’ she asked as he took the chair. ‘How are the Solstice a credible threat when they can’t even look after themselves? This door isn’t locked, there’s no key code to get into the stairwell, and the laptop I “hacked”,’ she said, making sarcastic air quotes, ‘didn’t have a password.’
‘Overconfidence,’ he said. ‘It’s a fault.’
A few clicks, and a few keystrokes later, yellow lights began to flash, an a constant, whining alarm sounded, interrupted with a computerised voice informing the occupants to leave.
She sat on the desk, resting her gun on her knee as he watched the security monitors, and the fleeing Solstice. So far, everything was going to plan.
She looked up, expecting to see the other shoe falling.
‘I shot the mirror,’ she said after a minute, figuring he deserved the whole story. ‘It stabbed me back. Ryan made a wish. I…came back. You know that part.’ She lifted her shirt to show off the mirror. ‘I didn’t think you knew this part.’
He touched her hand lightly, and she lowered her shirt. ‘I didn’t,’ he said after a minute. ‘I thought it had resurrected you and disappeared. I had been given the impression it made your augmentation process difficult, so… Ryan said you had traces. I didn’t know you had more, I suspected, but I didn’t know, not for sure, not till Grigori stabbed you. And then-’ he cut himself off, and pointed at the security monitors.
He tapped a screen. ‘There’s four guys,’ he said, ‘that aren’t moving out. Looks like they might want to investigate.’
‘Where are they?’
‘Floor above us, living quarters.’
‘We need to clear them out.’
‘I can probably manage it by myself,’ he said, ‘if you want to sit this one out.’
She shook her head. ‘No. I’m coming.’
He nodded, then went to the door of the security room, carefully checked the hall, and beckoned her forward.
The made it to the stairwell, and up to the next floor. There were voices beyond the door, but faint.
‘The armoury is on this floor,’ he said, ‘they’re probably heading to the other end to gear up. Follow my lead.’
He turned the door handle and quietly opened it, however, as soon as he stepped through, bullets flew. He rolled across the hall and into the room across, seemingly without injury.
Curt looked back across the hall at her. ‘Stay down,’ he said, enunciating clearly enough to be understood, despite the noise of gunshots. He got up on his knees, and it was only then that she saw the dark, wet patch on his shoulder – he’d been hit.
He braced himself, and shot blindly down the hall, ten shots in rapid succession.
‘Now,’ he said with a quick gesture, and she shot across the hall.
He pulled away from the wall. ‘I need you to reload my gun,’ he said, and shoved it at her. ‘Quick.’
She fumbled with her own gun, but stopped as she heard a faint metallic echo in-between the gunshots.
The stairs.
She turned and saw a man coming up the stairs, only his head visible from her position.
She fired anyway, and he went down.
Sweet. Lucky shot.
‘Stef. Gun. Hurry.’ She turned back to him, where he crouched, leaning heavily against the wall, blood pooling as it ran down his arm and dripped from his fingertips. ‘I don’t know-’
He was in bad shape, and in no condition to be orchestrating their rescue.
She closed her eyes for a moment, then stood. She counted to three under her breath, and then peeked down the hall, then pulled her head back. Tables had been turned to their sides as impromptu barricades. There had been four of them on the monitors, the other three were likely behind the tables, unless they had anymore plans.
The wall beside her pounded as bullets hammered into it – none penetrated though, whatever the walls were made from, they had accounted for being in a firefight.
Lucky. For now.
She crouched a little – so that she was at an unexpected height, and fired four blind shots, before leaning out.
I’m going to get shot. I’m going to get shot.
The blind shots had stopped them for a moment, and it gave her a moment to see them – one of the men lay bleeding behind the pathetic barricade; one man was standing, a machine gun in his hands, the other was creeping back into the armoury.
She fired at the man holding the machine gun – two shots and he went down.
The one at the armoury door turned, but he went down with one shot.
Am I shot?
She ran forward, breath coming in hard puffs as she made it to the bleeding man.
Who held a grenade.
Oh, please no.
You can’t outrun that.
She went to her knees, dropping her gun and immediately wrapping both of her hands around the man’s hand to keep the grenade from going off.
‘I swallowed the pin,’ he muttered. Die, proxy.’
‘Already did,’ she said.
The man rattled and died, leaving her holding his slacking hands around the grenade. She squeezed his hands tighter, and slowly, carefully started to move his fingers away, swearing under her breath with each second.
Oh god oh god oh god…
She finally moved his hand away, and she clutched the grenade as tightly as she could.
She snapped her head up, and saw Curt, still white as a sheet, looking down at her. ‘Do you need a hand?’
She nodded.
He walked past her and to the opened the door to the other stairwell, propping it open with his foot. ‘You’re going to hand me the grenade. I’m going to hold it. You’re going to get a riot shield from that room just there, and hold that as we run, okay?’
She numbly nodded, and lifted her hands like she was lifting a holy chalice. He took it carefully, then nodded to the armoury.
Stef stood, her legs still feeling like jelly, and walked forward, finding the riot shield in the corner of the small armoury. She wrapped her arm through the handle and stood beside him.
‘I’m going to throw this, and aim to get it in the hole so it drop a couple of floors before blowing. One, two, three, then I throw, all right? It should have a five-second delay. Ready?’
She shook her head. ‘Yes.’
‘One, two, three,’ he counted slowly, then lobbed the grenade into the stairwell.
He grabbed her shoulder and urged her to run. She braced the shield, and ran, trying to keep him ahead of her in case of debris.
The floor beneath them rumbled, and they both fell, but nothing exploded. He grunted in pain, and flipped onto his back. ‘Okay. Good. Head up a couple of floors, you’ll find the-’
‘What makes you think I’m going anywhere?’ she asked as she got to her knees.
He smiled, then stared up at the ceiling. ‘Because I am not.’
Stef slid her hand under her shirt and touched her heart.
Heal him, please.
It only took a moment for the creases of pain to leave his face. After a few seconds, he sat up, touched his shoulder, shrugged off his jacket, and pressed a hand to the blood-soaked layers beneath. ‘What the-’ He turned to look at her. ‘You?’
She shrugged.
‘Thanks,’ he said, his voice heavy with gratitude, ‘you didn’t have to do that.’
‘Sure I did,’ she said as she stood. ‘What now?’
He stood, and walked back down the hall to the bodies. ‘I don’t remember you being such a crack shot, or were you just being lazy in the sims?’
‘I don’t remember a standard-issue gun holding so many bullets without reloading.’ She fumbled with the gun and ejected the clip, then stared at it. ‘I admit I’m no expert, but…I’m pretty sure that when you press the trigger, it costs you a bullet.’
He repeated her manoeuvre with his gun and showed her the full clip. ‘I think you wished for magic guns.’
She giggled. ‘I didn’t mean to.’ She looked at the bodies. ‘Are they all gone?’
‘Yeah, the rest of them were already out the exits. When you hear an alarm sound in a facility like this, you don’t even stop to grab your stuff, you just run. Run or the suits will kill you, and you go to hell if an agent kills you, that’s what we’re taught.’
‘And do you believe that?’
‘What do you want to do with Grigori?’
Stef shrugged and stared at the wall. ‘We have to get him out of here. It’s the Agenty thing to do.’