73 – Ashes to Ashes

Curt blinked as Ryan’s office came into view. His arm burned where Stef had touched it, and he quickly required some burn cream, dressing it as Ryan paced, staring into his office as alarms sounded.

This wasn’t normal, this wasn’t one of the dozen times the phoenix had needed to feed.

He sent a small prayer into the void, then turned to the wall, and required a television with a security feed. Everything was a shaking mess of static. He heard something explode, the the floor shook a little. Ryan looked to him. ‘I’m evacuating everyone.’

The world blurred again, but it wasn’t a safe house that came into view.

Breath fled his body as he turned in a slow circle.

No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.

He gasped for air, his hand going to his earpiece.

A laugh, a blur of movement, then blackness.

 

He screamed.

 

The cold metal of the cage pressed in on him from all sides.

 

Please gods no.

 

Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me. Save me.

 

Cold water splashed in his face.

He tried to back away, but the cage prevented him from moving at all.

He shook – from the cold, from the pain, and from the fear.

It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. Petersen wasn’t staring down at him. He wasn’t naked in the cage, at the mercy of a sadist again.

It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. He wasn’t there.

Petersen swung the cage, and it fell to the ground, the heavy sound of the metal hitting concrete reverberating through his head.

It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare.

The cage fell into pieces, and he tried to pull himself free, cutting his cold arms on the sharp edges of metal, warm blood running across his skin.

His arms hurt. His legs hurt. He hadn’t started to hurt like that until he’d been in the cage for a day. It couldn’t have been a day. Someone would have noticed him missing. He wasn’t some anonymous turncoat recruit anymore. He wasn’t someone that no one was looking for. He was a recruit. He was an aide. He was needed. He was needed and they wouldn’t leave him to rot-

He choked on tears as he climbed to his feet, not bothering to cover himself. The embarrassment of being naked was far from the top of his list of concerns.

Require: gun.

Nothing.

Require: gun.

Nothing.

Petersen smiled the thin smile of a wolf looking at a meal. ‘’That’s not going to work.’

‘You’re going to-’

Petersen backhanded him across the face, and he tasted blood. ‘Do I have to train you all over again?’

He backed up a couple of steps. ‘You can’t do this to me again, you can’t-’

Petersen hit him again, and he fell to the ground, his knees skidding on the blood-slick surface. ‘I can do-’

‘I’m an Aide!’ he shouted. ‘You won’t be able to hide it this time!’

Petersen’s hand locked around his throat. ‘You’re an Aide,’ he drawled, ‘of an Agency that may no longer exist.’ He dragged him across the floor and dropped him onto the broken cage. ‘Your entire state just went dark, as did half of New South Wales.’

His thoughts went to Stef, went to-

Petersen put a foot on his chest, pinning him against the sharp metal. ‘So I can-’

‘How long?!’ he demanded, trying not to focus on the points of metal puncturing his skin. ‘How long have they been dark?!’

Boredom flickered across Petersen’s face. ‘Four hours now.’

Four hours. Four hours of- Of something. Four hours of bad possibilities. Of the red phoenix near explosion again. Of the blue one trying to burn away the human race. Of the mirror being depleted, bite by bite. Four hours where-

‘Why am I here?’

Petersen spread his arms wide. ‘To let me finish what I started.’ Petersen dragged him free of the metal, smacked his head against the concrete and leant over him. The agent leaned closer and put a hand to his torso, where his tattoo had been. ‘Amazing, you thought you’d become a person.’ He pulled a vial from his pocket and up-ended it over his chest.

It bubbled, it burnt, and all he could hear was screaming.

* * * * *

Ryan stared at the screens again. Over a dozen of his recruits were still missing – most had made it to various safe houses or outpost agencies – most, they’d been able to contact, even with the blackout. Some had been shifted away without their phones, some had landed in places without other Agency staff around, and some were assuredly still stuck in Queen Street. The bad news was missing staff, and whatever had caused the situation.

The good news was that it wasn’t getting worse. The blackout was the largest anyone had seen in living memory – taking out the city, the state, the bay. Everyone was in danger, but for now, no one had taken advantage of their weakness.

Fae recruits and techs hacking security cameras were streaming images of his Agency to him – and everything looked normal.

He took a moment, sipped at his glass of water, lifted his mobile and called Curt’s phone again. It rang out, again, leaving him listening to his Aide’s voicemail message. He had made sure to shift the boy first, but he’d been incommunicado since-

His fingers tightened on his glass for a moment, and stared into his HUD. It only took a moment for Curt’s personnel profile to load. He skipped past all of the basic information, past his assignments and performance reports to the emergency information. He flexed his hands and drove his fists into his jacket pockets. Everything looked normal – his home Agency was assigned as Queen Street, all of his inner-city emergency points were fine, as were the outer suburb safe houses. Rally points were fine. His further-reaching emergency points weren’t so fine – many of the long-distance points were still assigned as Agency areas within South Australia, within Adelaide’s territory.

His heart skipped a beat as he saw where he’d unintentionally shifted the boy.

He processed his own shift an instant later.

The lobby of the Adelaide Agency came into view, and he scanned for Curt again – no sign, just the same as the last few hours. Wherever he was, it wasn’t system territory. Or wasn’t being recognised as system territory. He changed tactics and scanned for Petersen, even as Adelaide’s secretary demanded to know why he was there. He found Petersen – in a blackout training simulation.

He shifted, and felt sick on reintegration. There was blood – dried and wet over the floor, but what was worse was the sight of Curt.

The recruit was naked, on his hands and knees, his hands cuffed tightly.

Petersen had a gun to Curt’s head, and was chuckling as Curt licked his blood from Petersen’s leather shoes.

He hand curled into a fist, and he swung, cutting off Petersen’s laugh.

He kept his eyes on the other agent as he crouched and wrapped his jacket around Curt’s shoulders. ‘I’m here. You’ll be all right.’

Curt collapsed to the floor, shaking.

He stood, and glared Petersen down. There were no words. Nothing that needed to be said to a bastard like him.

Petersen began to say something, but he spat a single word of angel magic at the man who didn’t deserve to call himself an agent. The word reverberated through him, his lips vibrating slightly, before he smiled as Petersen froze, his mouth half-open, his face frozen in a surprised expression.

Paralysed, but not dead. Death required ceremony or paperwork, and he didn’t have a pen.

‘By directorial right,’ he said, keeping his voice measured and clear. ‘Under those privileges and rights, and in the company of a witness, and a victim, I deem you unfit.’

Even paralysed, Petersen managed to look terrified.

‘I take responsibility for this action. I accept judgement if my peers or superiors challenge my decision.’

[No!] Petersen’s terrified face jumped into his HUD. [No!]

He closed the link, and blocked the agent from trying again.

‘For dereliction of your duty, for the abuse of your power, I refuse you the right of trial. I refuse your privilege of passing into the collective unconsciousness. I call it my duty to be your executioner.’

He crossed to the other agent and laid a hand on his forehead. ‘You brought this on yourself.’

You could paralyse and agent with one word, it took three to kill one.

He spoke the small phrase, and Petersen shattered into a thousand sparks of blue. Every spark shuddered and turned to ash, suspending in mid air for a brief moment, before there was nothing left.

72 - The Glass Desert
74 - Burning

  18 comments for “73 – Ashes to Ashes

  1. Bufi
    April 3, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    …much win. O_o *goes to read again*

    • Stormy
      April 9, 2012 at 7:47 pm

      Glad you approve. 😀 For once, a chapter sort of turned out like I wanted it to. 😛

  2. Fantasy_Lover
    April 5, 2012 at 12:49 am

    *POUNCEGLOMPHUGGLESCOOKIESFOREVERANDEVER*

    YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES!!!

    *Has a drag on my puffpuff* Ahhhhhhhhhhh That was better then your sexytimes posts!!! That was SO fucking Epic…. that IS MY FAVORITE CHAPTER AS OF NOW!

    Ryan is such a Cool Dad

  3. edorfaus
    April 16, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    I’ve reread the last part of this (from the first Word of angel magic) several times now… and it simply refuses to become any less badass or awesome.

    And the best (and simultaneously worst) part? It’s entirely justified, and would be even if Ryan wasn’t feeling Dad towards Curt.

    After all, looking objectively at it, Petersen was – quite sadistically and without any plausible reason – brutally torturing and slowly killing Ryan’s Aide, who had only been sent there as part of a general evacuation, and really should be getting to a rally point as soon as possible so he can do his job of aiding Ryan, who obviously needs him in the ongoing emergency.

    I can’t imagine that would look good for Petersen in any case, as it’s quite opposite to duty – so the judgment of being unfit doesn’t seem like it should be much of a problem (unless I misunderstand the rules).

    They might question the necessity of killing him right then and there, thus denying him trial etc., but I think that can actually go under self-defense – as Petersen was about to say something, which justifies the freezing (so he couldn’t freeze Ryan first), and having already shown himself to be so unfit, might have come after Ryan for revenge when that wore off (after all, no telling what he might have done, seeing as duty apparently wasn’t that important to him)… It’s also simply expedient, on the assumption that this would be his fate anyway due to his crimes.

    … Ok, that was sort of tangential to what I really wanted to mention, but highly related, so… I’ll just leave it for now.

    What I really wanted to mention was that this made me think of how, in some stories, there are Words of Power – which this kind of angel magic technically is, I believe – and, in particular, reminded me of a certain other story series I quite like, in which they are used rarely, but effectively. That made me want to share, sorry if that’s inappropriate. (Warning: may contain traces of spoilers.)

    I’m not going to do it justice if I try to describe it, so I think I’ll just paste some snippets (I think that goes under fair use)… First, a scene wherein Jill uses one, described like this:

    Then there was a sound which hurt the ears and minds of the werewolves, a single syllable in some tongue not meant for mortal ears. A gout of blue-white flame roared down the road like the exhaust from a nuclear rocket engine. The creature had barely enough time to look startled, then vanished like a balloon in a blast furnace. The jet of flame faded quickly to nothing.

    As a side-effect, the asphalt is left bubbling, and the forest beyond has a smoking, smoldering tunnel through the greenery for as far as they could see

    Then, in the last chapter of the same arc, against the big bad; the line that Ryan’s badassery most reminded me of (probably due to the threes): The werewolf had been present before on three occasions when the white kitsune had used a single word of power. This time Jill used a whole sentence.

    (switch focus with a slight rewind, then: ) Brian’s desperate attack had lit up the field; the one coming from behind them lit up the county, like God taking a picture.

    Now, as much as I like this and wanted to share it, I think I might like your use of the concept even better – as your words are just as effective, but in a far more understated way. No big blasts (duh, property damage unwanted), just a really effective stopper, followed by an equally effective ender, delivered calmly, with no shouting or anything.

    (Hm, upon rereading I feel I should clarify – in that series, the werewolves are protagonists, not monsters. The subseries containing that arc has Jackie and Jill as main characters – a werewolf and a kitsune. They are Copyright (C) Rodford Edmiston Smith, aka Stickmaker.)

    • Stormy
      April 18, 2012 at 4:03 am

      …I’m still forming a reply to this, but I wanted to acknowledge it so you didn’t think I missed it. 🙂

      • edorfaus
        April 20, 2012 at 9:32 am

        I don’t really expect a response to everything I say (I mostly just want to get the rambling out of my head, if someone reads it that’s just a bonus (unless it’s embarrassing in retrospect)) – and much of this one is somewhat off-topic anyway… Not to mention rather long. 😛

        (Of course, not expecting them doesn’t mean I don’t welcome them…)

        • Stormy
          April 20, 2012 at 9:38 am

          …to respond to everything, I’m just a bit slow sometimes (…and tend to forget after things slip off the comment box).

          I did kind of keep squeeing though. 😀

        • Anayilea
          April 27, 2012 at 7:45 pm

          …my feelings validated. Please validate my feelings….

          /wibble

        • Stormy
          April 27, 2012 at 11:48 pm

          …did I forget to validate you? *wibbles*

        • the leaking pen
          April 27, 2012 at 9:30 pm

          :takes parking validation rubber stamp, stamps VALIDATED on Ana’s hand:: that help?

  4. Stormy
    April 20, 2012 at 9:08 am

    I’ve reread the last part of this (from the first Word of angel magic) several times now… and it simply refuses to become any less badass or awesome.
    ^_^

    And the best (and simultaneously worst) part? It’s entirely justified, and would be even if Ryan wasn’t feeling Dad towards Curt.
    Yeah, but the dad-feelings make it personal.

    I can’t imagine that would look good for Petersen in any case, as it’s quite opposite to duty – so the judgment of being unfit doesn’t seem like it should be much of a problem (unless I misunderstand the rules).
    Petersen is unhinged, to put it mildly. He’s another prime example of why agents maybe shouldn’t be allowed to be immortal, they tend to get screwy as they get older. Some keep it under control (Ryan’s only bad behaviour is his tendency to guilt too easily), but others…are not people you want with so much power.

    What I really wanted to mention was that this made me think of how, in some stories, there are Words of Power – which this kind of angel magic technically is, I believe – and, in particular, reminded me of a certain other story series I quite like, in which they are used rarely, but effectively.
    I get a bit of leeway with angel magic, because like was established in MS, they’re just audio-based hacks, it’s like saying “Wargarble” and having your iPhone recognise that and self-destruct.

    That made me want to share, sorry if that’s inappropriate.
    Never ever ever ever ever apologise for sharing stuff!

    As a side-effect, the asphalt is left bubbling, and the forest beyond has a smoking, smoldering tunnel through the greenery for as far as they could see…
    Now that’s just badass. 😀

    Now, as much as I like this and wanted to share it, I think I might like your use of the concept even better – as your words are just as effective, but in a far more understated way. No big blasts (duh, property damage unwanted), just a really effective stopper, followed by an equally effective ender, delivered calmly, with no shouting or anything.
    😀 😀 😀 😀

    And property damage is only good when it’s Stef with a bazooka. 😀

    • edorfaus
      April 20, 2012 at 11:14 am

      Yeah, but the dad-feelings make it personal.
      Oh, definitely, which really only makes it worse.

      He’s another prime example of why agents maybe shouldn’t be allowed to be immortal
      Yeah. Still, I’m guessing that the ones that keep it under control tend to be (or become) quite effective, which is probably an argument for allowing it. And as was shown here, the unhinged ones can be dealt with as they appear. It’s still a good argument against though, as new ones might be just as effective as the old ones when you factor the bad ones into it… Not an easy decision either way, really. Oh well. It’s just the way things are for now I suppose.

      they’re just audio-based hacks
      Yeah, I know – and I rather like that – but they still have the same effect, of being powerful words (although you need a system connection to use them), and who’s to say that magic itself isn’t “just” a hack too? An ingrained, well-known and commonly used one, but still “just” an unpatched hack? (Though not in the same system, so has different prerequisites.)

      (IIRC, there is some scientific evidence for our own universe being an information system – meaning it might actually be running on a computer… So if we could just figure out how to use some of the (probably undocumented) APIs…)

      Now that’s just badass. 😀
      Yup. 😀 Of course, it did leave her pale, rigid and panting… And she almost died the time she used a whole sentence… But then, she’s still a teenager, and although she’s probably (one of) the most magically powerful of the main characters (what with being a 7-tailed myobu and all), one of the things I like about this series is that raw power tends to not really help much by itself. 🙂

      … Which, for some reason, makes me think of the time Jackie accidentally got shot in the back. Her reaction? “Ow! Hey, watch it! Don’t they teach cops how to shoot, any more?” with a brief glare. (And considering a 9mm round will cause a werewolf a minor blemish, that heals in under a minute…)

      Anyway, most of the series is about rather more mundane (er… for certain values of the word) problems than what I’ve pasted so far, and how they deal with them. Like How dealing with his school guidance counsellor, and some bad rumours at school, to pick some examples from the first story. And the thread throughout of trying to keep their magic hidden, which I suppose is kinda like the Agency I guess. 🙂

      And property damage is only good when it’s Stef with a bazooka. 😀
      😀

      • Stormy
        April 27, 2012 at 1:32 am

        Yeah. Still, I’m guessing that the ones that keep it under control tend to be (or become) quite effective, which is probably an argument for allowing it. And as was shown here, the unhinged ones can be dealt with as they appear. It’s still a good argument against though, as new ones might be just as effective as the old ones when you factor the bad ones into it… Not an easy decision either way, really. Oh well. It’s just the way things are for now I suppose.
        It’s basically the “middle aged” ones that are the ideal agents. The problem with the older ones who get more and more unhinged is that they get better and better at hiding it, and the people around them are more likely to protect them, because they’re people they’re known and worked with for decades.

        An ingrained, well-known and commonly used one, but still “just” an unpatched hack?
        If only. *tries to move things using brain power*

        Like How dealing with his school guidance counsellor, and some bad rumours at school, to pick some examples from the first story. And the thread throughout of trying to keep their magic hidden, which I suppose is kinda like the Agency I guess. 🙂
        They low-key stuff can be the best. It’s my favourite part of fiction.

        It’s like my opinion on Bleach – I like the series, but it would be my favourite thing ever if we could, like, get rid of the Ichigo plot, and just focus on the day-to-day Shinigami stuff.

        • edorfaus
          April 29, 2012 at 2:04 am

          If only. *tries to move things using brain power*

          Heheh, I’ve done the same. The problem, though, is that like with most hacks, to get the results you want you have to already know exactly what to do – which means either being told by someone who already knows, or figuring it out yourself based on specific knowledge about the available APIs (as in, doing this causes that, which I can combine with this to get that, and so on).

          And the latter knowledge isn’t really easy to come by itself, basically requiring experience with the APIs – and in undocumented cases this tends to mean having experimented with them.

          And I don’t know about you, but I don’t even know where to look for this world’s hidden APIs, nor how to call them, leaving it practically impossible to experiment, which means I don’t have a chance to figure them out and get the results I want. 😛

          Or, alternatively, I might be trying all the time, but am lacking a prerequisite – e.g. if the relevant APIs require a handle or pointer of some kind that objects of type human simply don’t have a reference to. While in the R:C world, most fae (and some other types of being) have the required references easily available, and thus can do what they need. As long as the APIs aren’t public, it would still be a hack for them to use those APIs, even if it’s not very difficult for them.

          Either way, the System audio hacks on the Agents are still somewhat different, in that they’re put into place on purpose, and probably using known(“documented”) APIs to do it.

          Anyway, enough about that “theory”… (can you tell I’m a programmer? 😛 )

          They low-key stuff can be the best.

          Oh, I agree. Slice of life stories tend to be quite nice, especially if done right.

          It’s like my opinion on Bleach – I like the series, but it would be my favourite thing ever if we could, like, get rid of the Ichigo plot, and just focus on the day-to-day Shinigami stuff.

          Huh… You know, I never thought about that, but now that the idea has been planted… I think I have to agree that that would be neat. Perhaps not everyone’s kind of thing, but does sound like something I’d enjoy.

          And on that note; have you seen YKK? (Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, translates to Record of a Yokohama Shopping Trip, though that’s actually a small part of the story…)

          It’s a short OVA series I quite like (two 2-ep OVAs, based on a manga with the same name) that’s pretty much all slice of life (with a good dash of scenery porn), mostly about a quiet country cafe and the person who runs it.

        • Stormy
          April 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm

          Heheh, I’ve done the same. The problem, though, is that like with most hacks, to get the results you want you have to already know exactly what to do
          One of my biggest fears has always been that I have a mutant power, but it’s something so weird that I’ve never tried to activate it (like levitating doorknobs or making paint dry faster).

          Huh… You know, I never thought about that, but now that the idea has been planted… I think I have to agree that that would be neat. Perhaps not everyone’s kind of thing, but does sound like something I’d enjoy.
          Well, given that this series is something that is very much “not everyone’s kind of thing”, I’m sure you can tell my tastes are a little strange. 😀

          Plus, if Bleach was minus the Ichigo stuff, we’d have more Ken-chan and Yu-chan, and the rest of that messed up, violent family. 😀

          And on that note; have you seen YKK? (Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, translates to Record of a Yokohama Shopping Trip, though that’s actually a small part of the story…)
          Nope, but I’ll put it on my to-watch list. ^_^

        • edorfaus
          May 14, 2012 at 4:38 pm

          I’m sure you can tell my tastes are a little strange.

          … Not really, but that’s probably at least in part due to my own tastes being (more than) a little strange. 😀

        • Anonymous
          May 14, 2012 at 5:26 am

          It’s like my opinion on Bleach – I like the series, but it would be my favourite thing ever if we could, like, get rid of the Ichigo plot, and just focus on the day-to-day Shinigami stuff.

          Kekkaishi, then?

        • Stormy
          May 17, 2012 at 7:40 am

          …I shall have to check that out!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *