There was a knock at the door.
Curt turned to look – no one came to bother him in his room – especially not on his day off. He didn’t have to go to Magnolia’s masochistic early-morning training; no missions, nothing to do, except drop in on Stef and argue for two hours about Star Trek.
Even with all of those established facts; there was someone knocking on his door.
The knock didn’t seem like an agent; and it wasn’t Magnolia’s insisting knock.
He slipped his personal phone into his trouser pocket, rose from his desk and walked over to the door, opening it before he had a chance to second-guess not requiring a weapon.
Raz stood there, looking tired and strung out on coffee.
Raz made an effort to stand at attention, then slumped in on himself. He looked pale, worried, and not at all like his usual happy-go-lucky self.
The tech didn’t say anything, instead, his mouth opened and closed, making half-noises. Curt pushed himself into “Agent C” mode. ‘Recruit Luk,’ he said, resorting to using Raz’s mundane name to try and shake him out of whatever was causing him consternation. ‘Why don’t you come in and tell me what’s going on?’
The tech recruit walked in, and after Curt gave him a point, took the chair at the desk; while Curt sat on the end of the bed, his best agent-face on. ‘What can I help you with, Recruit?’
Raz had a crush on him; respected him as an agent, but all the same, the visits to his room had been truly few and far between in the time he’d been at this agency. It was something big that had drawn the nervous recruit forward.
Raz stared at him through strands of straight black hair, then puffed out his cheeks and sighed. ‘Sir, I realise this isn’t exactly your- I’m asking as someone I hope you count as a friend, not recruit-to-agent, Agent C.’
‘Yeah,’ he said encouragingly, ‘whatever you need, Raz.’
‘I’d like to learn how to defend myself. I…fit the fat nerd stereotype too well. And- And I really-‘ He lifted up his fringe, and Curt saw a small white bandaid, standing in contrast to the recruit’s light tan skin. ‘This could have been worse, and-‘
Techs tended to hurl words, not weapons, so the wound was unexpected – even if it seemed like nothing more than a minor cut. Curt held up a hand. ‘Who’s been beating you up, Recruit?’
‘Ag- Agent Taylor, sir.’
Curt felt his jaw drop. Of all the possibilities, he would have listed God as more likely to beat up a tech than Taylor. Taylor didn’t bother with pointless targets – and he didn’t usually go after friendlies.
A sick feeling started to twist in his stomach.
‘Recruit,’ he said, proud at how level he was keeping his voice. ‘Why don’t you tell me what happened.’
‘Last night. I was up because- I couldn’t sleep and I had work to do. Agent Taylor-‘ the tech shivered. ‘He had a glitch. He grabbed me.’ Raz stared down at his hands. ‘He’s so- God- He is big.’ Tears dripped onto his hands.
Curt stood, gently took Raz’s hands, and pulled him back to sit on the bed beside him.
‘I thought he was going to kill me, sir,’ Raz said. ‘For a moment- Then he was trying to protect me. He was glitching. I understand that. But- But if I knew how to protect myself, then I might have been able to get away.’
Taylor had attacked a tech. Had-
The taste of bile rose in his throat.
Stef. If Taylor had gone after Raz, then-
Curt shook himself. ‘Huh?’
‘Are you okay, Agent C?’
He pulled himself back into agent mode. ‘I’d like to apologise on his behalf, Recruit. I know it’s no comfort to say, but- He didn’t mean to hurt you. You were-‘
‘Collateral damage, that’s about what Mags said. So-‘ Raz said hesitantly. ‘Teach me a bit of kickass? So I’m not such a pathetic little fag?’
Curt squeezed his shoulder. ‘You’re not pathetic, Raz. Book in some time this afternoon, and I’ll go over the basics with you.’
‘Th-thanks,’ Raz said.
Curt stood, said goodbye to the recruit, then ushered Raz out of him room – not seeming rude, just efficient, just like Ryan not-so-subtly kicked him out of office.
He pulled his phone out of his pocket; and scrolled through his Vox menu for Ryan. Ryan’s status was set to busy. Jones’ status was set to busy. All of the senior staff was set to busy – except for Parker-2, whose status was always “Fuck Off, Plebs”.
He gathered himself, then strode from his room, aimed himself at the elevator and refused to see anything else; to hear any of his fellow recruits; to do anything but focus on ensuring that Taylor’s glitch rage had been confined to just Raz; as horrible as that was, if he had gone after Stef-
Curt ran from the elevator as soon as the doors opened on the basement. He went past the mer-agent; the cannibal and all of the other freaky experiments.
His heart pounded in his chest as he turned down the path that led to Stef’s tank. The door was open – already a bad sign; and it didn’t look any better as he approached.
‘Oh, god,’ he whispered.
The destruction was obvious. The bed was upturned, all of the tablets had been crushed – pieces of glass littered the floor, along with a few spots of blood. Not enough to indicate a fatal wound – but he was certain that Taylor could kill without leaving evidence-
He wasn’t breathing.
Taylor had come after Stef and the agency had done-
The world seemed to spin.
The world came back into focus. Magnolia.
He turned, his agency-issued shoes squeaking on the concrete floor of the basement.
Mags stood there – looking her usual combination of sexy and dangerous. The combination that he usually found so alluring. An allure that had dropped almost entirely away when he’d found out her part in Stef’s Agency-approved torture.
There was still a base level of sexy to Magnolia, but he was sure that he’d never be able to go to bed with her again – a loss, but not one he’d mourn.
‘She’s alive,’ she said without preamble. ‘So pick your brain up off the floor, O’Connor, and don’t waste my time with pointless questions.’
‘What. The Fuck. Happened?’ he asked. ‘I don’t think that’s a pointless question, Mags.’
‘Your concern is Mimosa, right?’ she asked. ‘I’ve answered your question. She’s alive.’
Curt lifted a hand and gestured vaguely at the destruction. ‘This doesn’t look fine. And Raz said-‘
‘I told Raz I’d make it right.’
‘He said Taylor nearly killed him.’
‘That’s an exaggeration,’ she said. The hard expression on her face relented a little. ‘But not by much. Last night was bad for a lot of people. I’m operating on a couple of hours sleep, and even that-‘ There was a smile on her face – unusual, given the weariness of her voice. ‘The hacker is fine. She’s probably with Ryan.’
Curt walked into the tank, touched the bed, and began to right the furniture and objects in the room. He grimaced as he saw Stef’s laptop, crushed on the floor. He crouched, gathered the broken parts, and laid them on the bed.
‘Ryan’s using you, and Mimosa’s useless,’ Magnolia said as she came to sit on the bed, her hand idly running over the broken pieces of laptop.
‘Don’t touch those,’ he said, his tone pleading. ‘I think Taylor did enough damage.’
‘Innocent,’ he said, sitting and looking her in the eye. ‘I know what you were doing. Helping Taylor with. Limit tests. How do you- That’s not violence against an enemy. How could- We both know it’s bullshit, but the agency is supposed to have some base level of decency. I thought that would have involved not torturing-‘
‘The Agency assesses threats. She’s a threat. If she-‘
He looked around. ‘Any agent with the disposition could require a nuke and go pull a Wargames on the first world. Any recruit with the inclination could set off the bomb we keep in storage. What makes you think some scrawny little geek, who, so far as I can work out, is barely over the fear of her own shadow, has the want to end the world?’
Magnolia set her mouth in a half-smile. ‘What’s the saying? Beware the quiet ones?’