Magnolia looked down at the small robot bumping into her foot – the small, comical-looking machine had a bag of popcorn attached to it, and a small sign instructing her to take some. She took a small handful, then lifted her feet so it could pass. She spared a smile at Merlin, who sat next to Jones, on the row above her. This far back in the bleachers, there was a lot of empty seats – most of the combat and field recruits were clustered in the first couple of rows, the rows that “may get covered in blood and body parts”.
Below them, on the floor of the combat gym, her commanding officer and the spy, Edward, continued to duke it out. Both were bloody and bruised, but neither showed signs of slowing – nor was there any reason for them to be slowing, they’d only been at it for twenty minutes, there were stories of agent-vs-agent battles raging for days on end.
All around her, recruits from all three divisions cheered and booed as various blows landed – her own comrades whooped like drunken monkeys, clinking their bottles of cheap beer together. The tech recruits calculated odds on large calculators, and captured the fight on camcorders. She made a quick mental note to check with Jones later – just to ensure that the footage didn’t make its way onto YouTube. Generally the techs were smarter than that, but there had been…occurrences.
The field recruits were split – unable to enjoy the pure beauty that was a fight between titans, nor were they able to view it as the tech recruits did. Some of them cheered, others just lazed back on the bleachers, content simply to watch. O’Connor was one of these, he was nursing the same bottle of bear – obviously thrown at him by one of her fellows – that he had been since the fight had started. He watched on in silence, hopefully understanding that a similar level of punishment would be gifted onto him, should he break his probation. He was always one to keep an eye on, considering his past, considering what he really used to do, which was far from the nigh-blameless ex-Solstice that his fellow field recruits believed him to be.
She popped a piece of popcorn into her mouth and chewed it slowly, her cheek still stinging from where Taylor had struck her. It was her own fault though – she’d acted above her station, acting out of emotion, rather than considering the situation. It wasn’t her job to question him, and it wasn’t her place to second-guess him. He was perfect, she wasn’t, so he always knew better, no matter what her fallible mind might think sometimes.
She smiled as Taylor knocked the bitch to her knees – though she sincerely doubted that even after he won that Edward would leave. It appeared as though the invader was here to stay. The London agent jumped to her feet and then leaped up further, grabbing the punching bag chain and using it to generate momentum for another kick.
The bleachers creaked as Merlin walked over to her, he dropped into the seat beside her and leaned his head on her shoulder, his soft breath blowing a few errant strand of her white hair away. ‘Why are they fighting?’ he asked, the edge of his goggles scratching her skin ever so lightly. ‘Jonesy’s not saying anything. She’s-’
‘Here to destroy the Agency,’ she said, holding up her handful of popcorn. The little wizard grabbed at it eagerly and managed to get the entire handful into his mouth at once.
He chewed, then swallowed, gave a tiny satisfied burp, then rolled over and laid in her lap. ‘Ma’amy ma’am went spaz when she saw a bit of mirror. I dun care if she’s from the intersection of the Whoniverse and reality, I don’t like her. It’s not like she’s from UNIT anyway.’
Something scratched at her exposed thigh and she looked away from the clash of titans and down the boy using her as a bed – he was now wearing a red beret. She reached down, gently pulled it from his head and tossed it at the field recruits. ‘Red isn’t your colour,’ she said quietly, ‘makes you look pale, Mer.’
‘That’s because I’m not getting enough sun,’ he said in a sing-song voice. ‘I don’t like the sun. Or, it doesn’t like me, or something.’
‘It’s just a ball of gas, Mer, this one at least, it doesn’t hate you.’
The slight boy gasped as the agents on the floor below caught each other in a headlock. ‘Hit cross!’ he shouted as he stood. ‘Keep hitting cross!’
She pulled him back down and he landed heavily on the seat. ‘Stop being a dork.’
‘I am not a boy-whale’s-thingy!’
‘Ryan may be-’ She cut herself off as Edward broke the lock first, and laid a solid punch into Taylor’s solar plexus. He flew across the gym, and landed roughly, not quite catching himself in time. ‘Ryan’s useless, but Edward’s a bitch.’
‘Ma’amy ma’am’s name is Emma.’
‘She changed it,’ she said distractedly. ‘She started off as “Edward”.’
‘She swapped her chassis…this one’s probably softer, with the in-built pillows…’
‘Box-boy,’ she snapped. ‘They’re. Not. Pillows.’
He lifted his hand, extended his pointer his index finger, then slowly poked the side of her breast before giving a sage nod. ‘In-built pillows, five-thousand word essay to convince me otherwise.’
She slapped his hand away – relieved that she had stopped herself from punching him in the face out of ingrained instinct. ‘Unless you’re buying me a drink, don’t touch them.’
A bottle of water appeared in her lap and again the side of her breast was poked.
‘Merlin, would you stop bothering girls who have the capacity to kill you?’ a soft voice said from behind them.
‘Butbutbut Jonesy, she says-’
‘They really aren’t pillows,’ Jones said. ‘And you really need to stop poking them.’
‘No, but- Owww…’
She flicked her eyes back to the fighting agents, but only saw the same punches being exchanged. ‘What?’ she asked of Merlin, and he simply pointed. Edward tripped Taylor, and he crashed the floor, his head impacting with a solid crack. Edward wasn’t done though – she kicked his head once, then reared her foot back and impaled his cheek with her heal. Taylor lay still for a moment, content to spit blood over the gym floor as the wound healed.
‘Give up!’ Edward shouted. ‘Give up, you bullock-brained bastard!’
Taylor’s hand shot out and grabbed Edward by her ankle, yanking on it, he pulled her off-balance and she landed roughly on the floor beside him. He pushed himself to his feet and spat blood, then resumed the fight.
‘Emma’s going to win this,’ Jones commented. She shot him a murderous look which he simply shrugged off. ‘It’s an objective opinion, she did this to bait him. An exhibition fight?’ He laughed. ‘It’s just so she can let him lose in front of all the recruits. Emma doesn’t have recruits, Taylor thinks of you as expendable tools, but at least he will acknowledge your presence…Emma can control her temper, Taylor can’t, that’s why she’s going to win.’
She felt her own rage rising as the scholar’s calm words processed. ‘Like you know anything about anger.’
The tech agent sighed. ‘I’ve lived with that man for longer than you’ve been alive, so yes, I know something about anger.’
‘Are they going to give the Agency to…her?’
‘It wouldn’t the first time an Agency has been turned over to another agent. It’s not usually for reasons such as this though.’
She pulled her hair back into a loose ponytail, being careful not to pull out any of the feathers. ‘I’ll look up the files later.’
‘Good luck,’ he said, ‘they aren’t available to recruits.’
‘Embarrassments that were cleaned up and forgotten about,’ he clarified.
‘Of course,’ she said.
‘What happens to us if ma’amy ma’am takes over?’ Merlin asked, fear slipping into his voice.
‘Nothing will happen to you,’ she said with confidence. ‘Nothing ever happens to the geeks. The field recruits will get reexamined, their performance records scrutinized and decisions made after that. We’ll all probably be out on our ass, we couldn’t follow anyone but Taylor. Especially if the bitch gets her way and he gets recycled.’
‘Recycling is not in the equation,’ Jones said, then looked away. ‘It shouldn’t be in the equation anyway. It’s an authority shake-up, this isn’t even a observation sanctioned by the Enforcers, nor is it anyone but Emma even questioning our leadership. Hopefully, it’ll just blow over.’
‘You’d follow her, wouldn’t you?’
‘Duty first,’ he replied. ‘I do as I am told.’
‘Traitor,’ she hissed, but he didn’t respond.
‘Ma’amy ma’am’s winning…’ Merlin said.
A large portion of the recruits cheered as Edward lifted Taylor bodily into the air and slammed him into the floor. The polished wood cracked under the force of the impact and Taylor remained motionless for a moment.
‘Ah, shit!’ one of the field recruits screamed.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then opened her eyes and smiled. She may have displeased him earlier, but now she’d have a chance to make it up to him.
The feathers on her back ruffled as a shot rang out. The recruits went quiet as Edward fell, a neat hole in one side of her head, a mess on the other. Her body unceremoniously dropped to the floor and Taylor stood, the smoking gun in his hand.
After a moment, the body disappeared, another moment passed, then Edward faded back into the gym. ‘No need to be a sore loser,’ she said, loud enough for all of them to hear. ‘Losing to a superior is never something to be ashamed of.’
‘Get out of my Agency, Edward!’ Taylor screamed.
The bleachers had been quiet, but his scream sucked away all of the sound.
‘And this,’ Jones said, ‘is what she wanted.’
Merlin turned to Jones and began tugging incessantly on his lab coat. ‘Is he going to asplode?’
Jones nodded. Taking the initiative, he stood and spread his arms wide – ten seconds later all the recruits had disappeared. ‘I’ll tell the Parkers to be on call,’ he said to her before shifting himself away.
‘Are you proud of yourself?’ Edward asked Taylor.
‘Next time,’ Taylor growled, ‘Blackout conditions.’
‘How about a real one? I’d throw you over the border into one.’
‘It’s mutual, Edward.’
Edward turned and stared at her. ‘Your recruit seems to have no sense of privacy. The grown-ups are talking now sweetie.’
‘You’re the invader, Edward,’ Taylor said. ‘My recruit was waiting to do laps.’
My recruit. It was a simple phrase, it was a statement of fact, but it still made her heart jump when he expressed some sort of ownership over her, even a tiny statement that he was her commander. It was better than being ashame of her, and just calling her a recruit. Referring to her as his recruit meant that he thought she was good enough to serve under him.
She took the hint and jumped from the bleachers, and began to do circuits of the gym. Her feathers scratched at the inside of her shirt, so she required herself into a backless top – the cool breeze felt nice on her bare skin.
‘I’ll be interested,’ Edward said to Taylor as she ran past, ‘as to what her condition is later in the day.’
‘Combat recruits are often injured.’
Edward stared at her. ‘Stop running,’ she ordered. She turned away, not ready to listen to anyone who wasn’t her commanding officer. ‘Disobedience,’ she said dryly, ‘such a good quality in a recruit.’
‘She is an adequate recruit.’
Adequate. Again, another compliment, despite all she’d done to displease him earlier, she must have done something right – perhaps he was grateful that she’d done her job and cleared his office of new paperwork.
‘I highly doubt that. Halfbreed. Criminal. Masochist. Psychologically damaged. Daughter of a grey-listed fey. It would be easy for me to-’
‘Shut it, Edward. She knows what will happen to her if she steps out of line.’
‘Believe me, Taylor, it is noted that you threaten your recruits with execution.’
‘It’s not a threat,’ he said, meeting Edward’s gaze, ‘it’s a promise. Promises make humans work better, and this promise lets them know what happens when they don’t.’
‘I’m happy for Ryan to get reeducated. You, I wouldn’t mind seeing you recycled. It would be…almost familiar to you, wouldn’t it? They should have left you dead, not brought you back like this. Their mistake, I guess.’
He looked her up and down. ‘You…are one to talk about mistakes.’
This time, Edward just laughed. ‘I’ve proven myself once today, Taylor, I don’t need to do it again so soon.’ She shook her head and shifted away.
Taylor grabbed at his ripped sleeve and tore it off, then required the rest of it away. Bruises and bloody patches were scattered all over his muscular back. She resisted the urge to touch it, she wanted him, and seeing him half-naked, every muscle textbook perfect made it hard for her to remember her duty. Her duty was to serve him, and do what he wished, her own wishes be damned.
‘You have twenty-nine laps remaining,’ he said without turning as the bruises began to fade.
‘She’s not superior, sir,’ she said, mesmerised by his back. She wondered what it would be like to be for those muscles to be put to good use – to be used in rough sex, hurried post-battle coitus, strong-
‘One defeat means nothing,’ he said. ‘Finish your laps circuits, then come to my gym. Should Edward take control, this facility will be left wanting.’
If she takes control and you’re gone, I’m leaving!
He walked toward the gym door, still shirtless, though now all the evidence of his fight had disappeared.
You’re the only reason I stay.
He stopped, and turned to her. ‘Resume your training, Recruit, you aren’t allowed to be weak.’
Then, he was gone. The gym door swung closed with a bang, leaving her alone with her thoughts.