Stef stared through half-open eyes at the pea-soup-fog reality around her, everything was hazy, nothing cared to focus, even when it came close enough. Aside from the occasional needle-prick, she felt that she may as well be living in a marshmallow.
‘Oh god I don’t want to die in hot chocolate!’ a voice, that sounded rather like her own, shouted .
There was another needle-prick and the relative marshmallow level increased.
She was positive that she was drooling, and she was relatively sure that she’d wet herself. Whatever was keeping her immobile had also stolen all sensation from her body – leaving her with an uncomfortable “brain in a jar” feeling that, while strange, was nowhere near as terrifying as being trapped in a blind mind. As fuzzy and frightening as it was, she still had the knowledge that she was in the Agency, and that was a small comfort. A small, cold comfort that was possibly covered in puffer-fish poison, but a comfort all the same.
Jones’ words swam in her head, and she felt her blood pressure increase – what had she done to Ryan? A tiger had jumped from her chest – what else was in there? But surely he’d be-
Two words cut through her soft marshmallow world. Two words spoken with an London accent. Two words signaling another crappy event in what surely had to be the crappiest week in her life. ‘Leave. Now.’
There was a muffled argument, then something was jabbed into her neck. The marshmallow-ness of her world slowly melted, leaving her in a world that half sticky and slow, and half overly excited.
A strong black hand pulled her forward into a sitting position on the bed. She drooled on it. The hand released her and she began to swoon, feeling halfway between wanting to collapse back onto the uncomfortable bed, and half wanting to fall off the bed, because surely she could fly-
Blood pounded in her ears, and she couldn’t hear the words of the voice belonging to the hand. She was shaken a little, and one word broke through before the pulsing infirmary disappeared. ‘Fool.’ At the same time, she felt clean clothes rush over her body, ones not covered in bodily fluids, and for this, she was grateful.
She was deposited roughly on the Agency roof, the bright light and the somewhat-clean air helping to clear her head at least a little. She lifted heavy arms and rubbed at her eyes. ‘What do you want?’ she asked of the Englishwoman.
‘You’re dangerous,’ was her simple response.
And what makes you think that? She looked up at the woman, desperately attempting to focus her eyes. Her heart unmoving in her chest, she decided to stick with what she knew. ‘I’m a hacker, of course I’m dangerous, I can wipe out your identity or make you a new one. I can mail bomb your server and I know exactly how many magnets it takes to permanently screw over a hard drive.’
This didn’t seem to impress the agent. ‘You don’t understand. You have to die. The mirrors always get destroyed, it’s just the way it has to happen. The power of Chaos is not something for mortals to trifle with.’
‘I didn’t trifle, sundae or otherwise dessert with anything. I wasn’t the one who did this. You’re blaming me for existing, this isn’t my doing anymore than my birth was. So, fuck you lady.’
‘My attitude is irrelevant, it’s simply the way things are.’
‘Only half a dozen people know about me, how dangerous can it be?’
Emma stared at her, disappointed. ‘You could have ended your life on your own terms, now…that isn’t an option that’s available to you. You insist on doing this the hard way, that’s fine. There’s no place on Earth that you can run to that we won’t find you. The simple truth is, you’re not even going to get out of this building alive.’
‘I didn’t do anything!’
‘There’s an agent down because of you. If you can do that…who knows what else you’re capable of?’
‘He’ll be fine. No thanks to you.’
‘It wasn’t me!’
Emma took a step toward her. ‘It was your heart. Your heart! This is why we destroy every piece of mirror that we find. Every piece! The leeches are bad enough, creating the imbalance that they do, but the mirrors…mirrors have torn apart so many worlds. And you…you’re risking the entire world just because you’re too afraid to kill yourself!’
‘I can’t believe you’re chastising me for not offing myself.’
‘You’ve got two minutes before Taylor comes through that door and tears it from your chest. If any part of you is still human then do it. We won’t make the offer again.’
The agent threw a gun to her, numbed hands fumbled for it, but it clattered to the ground. She sank to her knees and picked it up.
‘You’re not a recruit anymore, you’re not Ryan’s dirty little secret. You have no rights and we have no responsibility to keep you alive. We have a responsibility to this world, and to remove dangers from it: dangers just like you.’
‘I just want to live!’
‘And I want a world where agents aren’t needed. Neither of us are going to get what we want.’
‘You’re a fucking monster.’
‘You had an extension. You had a chance to make your peace, if you wasted that, that’s not my problem. None of this is your fault, you’re just collateral damage, and for what it’s worth, I’m sorry, I’m so very sorry, but you can’t continue like this.’
‘I-‘ She stared at the ground for a moment longer, then forced herself to stand.
‘You’ll end up hurting him again. Maybe worse this time. Maybe there’s a monster in there that feeds on ash. Maybe there’s one that’s too powerful to take down. Maybe there’s one in there that will take over your body and suck away your mind, leaving nothing but a dangerous husk.’
‘No one wants to hurt the people they care about. One way or the other, you’ll hurt him again, if you don’t want that, pull the trigger.’
‘I hate you.’
‘Hate me all you want, I don’t care, I’m telling you what you need to hear.’
‘I don’t want to hear it!’
‘You can’t hide from the truth, little dead girl.’
She put the gun to her head and pulled the trigger. There was a spark of light, a hint of pain, then nothing.
She held the gun close, and wished that her heart could be hammering against her chest in fear, without it, the fear sweat just felt like sweat and the lump in her throat just made her thirsty.
She put the gun to her head and pulled the trigger. Apart from herself, she saw it clatter to the ground, then she fell into the darkness, there was the laugh of a monk holding a little red ball, and a comforting grinning skull. Death swung her scythe, then there was nothing.
She looked away from the agent, out across the roof to the buildings surrounding the Agency. The city that looked boring from ground level, anonymous, ashamed of its lack of identity, the city you could really only see at night, or from far above. She closed her eyes and wondered why the concrete couldn’t just open up and swallow her.
She gagged on the barrel as she bit the bullet. The blackness she hoped for wasn’t there, instead, red spots swam in her vision as she stared at Emma’s feet, unable to move or close her eyes. The door behind the tall agent opened to reveal Ryan and Taylor.
‘What happened?’ a fuzzy male voice said, she presumed Ryan, since the tone wasn’t one of hatred and spite.
She heard Emma huff.
There was the faint sensation of blood running down the back of her neck, but it was far away, like it was someone else’s blood, someone else’s neck.
Taylor stomped over and kicked her hand, from her frozen position, she heard the gun skitter over the concrete roof. ‘It’s not dead.’
Emma’s shadow covered her face as she stepped closer. The female agent stooped and blew the smoke from a cigarette into her face. ‘Close enough. We tried. Remove the heart and burn the body.’
She lifted the gun and shot Emma in the chest. Emma stumbled back, but didn’t shift away, though the pained look of concentration was on her face.
‘How do you like that, bitch?!’ she screamed, tears streaming down her face. ‘How does it feel not to have a heart?!’
‘I don’t have a heart. Agents don’t have hearts. What you perceive as a heart is nothing more than an illusion, one created for human comfort. If shooting me is the comfort you need, then do it again! Get it out of your system then get out of this life!’
The door behind Emma was pushed open and Ryan walked onto the roof – he was in no condition to be standing – sweat soaked through his shirt, and he was as pale as she was.
‘You’ll hurt him,’ Emma mouthed.
‘Stef-‘ he began.
She shook her head and stumbled back a couple of steps, she pointed the gun at the ground and fired off a couple of shots – just so that he knew the safety was off. Her mind blank, she rose the gun to her head and jammed the hot barrel against her temple.
He shook his head. ‘Don’t.’
How can I not? If I’m gone, then you’ll…
They won’t go any easier on him.
They might, they just might.
That’s a hopeful thought, I thought you’d extinguished all of those.
I’m about to shoot myself in the head, do you want me to think about-
Three words hung in her mind as she stared at them. Three tiny little words that she couldn’t bring herself to say. The words hung in her mind until they morphed into something far more familiar, far more able to be processed. I owe you.
He took a step toward her and she backed away as far as she could, her finger wrapped around the trigger. Three words became two. Thank you.
There was only one path. There was only one choice. There was only one word. Angel.
Her finger twitched on the trigger.