man-and-cigarette-1387649470u9cClarke took a drag from his cigarette, then let his hand drop back, where it bumped lightly against the smooth wall.

‘Motherfuckers.’

His face still hurt. The fucker had fucking punched him. In his face. In his fucking face.

A Tech recruit – one of Jones’ more useless people – hovered, a medpack in her hand. Applying it would make the bruising go down, but it would do nothing for the humiliation of being punched during a negotiation. This was, after all, his fucking job. And whenever his job didn’t go perfectly…Well, it had very little impact on his life overall, but it made Ryan bitchy for a week or so until some other emergency took the so-called Director’s time and energy.

He sucked on his cigarette, filled his lungs with smoke, and blew it in the direction of the Tech, hoping that they would get the hint and back the fuck off.

‘Motherfuckers,’ he said again, flicked the cigarette to the ground, then shifted to Ryan’s office.

* * *

‘I am uncommonly fond of-’ Ryan closed his mouth as he registered the disturbance in the air just ahead of his desk – the split second warning that someone was shifting in.

With a slight blur, Clarke appeared, his expression suggesting that he had smelled something bad; the right half of his face swelling with a bruise.

‘Agent,’ Ryan said levelly. ‘I presume there was a reason you didn’t knock.’

Clarke looked around the office – presumably to see if they were alone, pausing for a second as his search landed on Stef, then straightened. ‘Yeah,’ Clarke said, his tone one of someone who had taken great offense at something, ‘we’ve got a problem.’

Ryan maximised the chat window he kept in the middle-right of his HUD – his ongoing text chat with Stef. [Don’t.]

Behind Clarke – and therefore only visible to him, Stef made a face. [I didn’t do anything.]

[Believe me, young lady, I can hear when you’re about to say something inappropriate.]

[But I thought problems were HIS job!]

‘This was supposed to be a simple negotiation, so far as your preparatory materials suggested. Standard information exchange with one of the local Liar representatives?’

‘They’ve got a hostage.’

Behind Clarke, Stef went from her usual small motions and movements she made when relaxed, to completely still, mirroring his own cessation of movement. ‘Clarke, I need you to repeat that, and I want you to be completely sure about what you’re saying.’

Clarke stepped forward, and slammed both of his hands down on Ryan’s desk. ‘Hostage. They have a fucking hostage. Sir.’

‘Who?’

Clarke step back, and shrugged. ‘No fucking idea. And they’re fucking us around.’ His mouth moved like he was a cow chewing a cud. ‘They’re being…fucking fae about it. The stupid, fucking, storybook fucking us around kind of fucking fae.’

‘Clarke,’ Ryan said, trying to maintain his calm. ‘Please say that again, and try to punctuate without cursing this time.’

Clarke held up three fingers. ‘They’re giving us three options. Three doors, like some old goddamn game show. Behind one is our information. Behind another is an Agency hostage. Behind a third is a monster who will be set upon whoever it sees.’

Ryan knew the answer, but had to ask the question anyway. ‘Are you sure they have a hostage?’

Clarke’s chest swelled as he took in a deep breath, then sank as he expelled it. ‘That’s the thing, Director, they always tell the truth. They’ve got someone who belongs in a uniform, but it’s impossible to know how much we should barter for them.’

‘The Monty Hall Problem,’ Stef said. ‘I mean, it is, if they’re going to give you a peek behind one of the other two doors.’

‘Agent,’ Ryan said. ‘What can we do to help?’

‘They want a recruit to do it. The representative said it would be more fun that way. And they want it to be fun. They don’t have to offer us the hostage, so if we want a chance at them, we have to play by their rules.’

‘Do you have any suggestions as to who-’

‘You pick,’ Clarke said. ‘It’s a one-in-three chance. Your choice, your funeral. Director.’

[It’s not one in three,] Stef said, her face expressing what text alone couldn’t. [It’s not.]

‘How long do we have?’ Ryan asked.

‘They expect someone back by one-thirty.’

‘So a little over an hour then. Fine. Get yourself seen to, then wait in the conference room. I’ll send you through a candidate as soon as I have someone.’

* * *

So that’s the ficlet. 🙂

The intro post for you to respond to will be coming soon!