Stef slammed the door to the warehouse shut, just to make sure that the hob wasn’t chasing her with the intention of turning her into a hacker kebab. She was fairly sure that he wasn’t, but there was nothing wrong with having a barrier between them.
She leaned back against the door, hoping that it wasn’t going to burst into a thousand pieces, took another deep breath, then walked over to where Ryan was waiting.
The buzz cut was crouched beside the agent, pressing a very bloody handkerchief to his face. She marvelled at his condition in comparison to hers – she had a ripped shirt and some minor scratches from where the hob’s sharp shoes had landed on her, but other than that, she was fine.
Her opponent, however, had scratches up and down his arm, sweat and dirt hung on him in a filthy film, and he looked exhausted – and angry. ‘What’d you do?’ he demanded as he got up from the floor. ‘Hide the entire time?’
She blinked slowly, then looked to Ryan. ‘I assessed the situation.’
‘And your assessment?’ the agent asked.
‘It – the hob,’ she said, quickly correcting herself, ‘was only dangerous because it was provoked. It hadn’t harmed civilians, and if it was open about its intention to eat me, then I don’t think it would bother to lie about past crimes.’
Ryan’s expression remained expectant, and she scrambled for more coherent sentences.
‘With no further information, I extrapolated that I was to judge the situation independently. It didn’t warrant– I didn’t see the need to shoot it.’
‘I don’t know what you had on your side, dork, but I was dealing with some viscous little bastard who wanted to disembowel me.’
She turned to glare at him. ‘So what was it?’
The buzz cut stared, open-mouthed. ‘Huh?’
‘Eloquent. What was it? What kind of creature attacked you?’
‘Some crappily dressed furry little bastard.’
Stef kept her face passive. ‘What did it identify itself as?’
‘Didn’t. It attacked me.’
‘So you just shot it?!’
Ryan sighed. ‘Miss Mimosa–’
‘“Shoot first and ask questions later” doesn’t really work, you know. You went into its home, carrying a weapon. What would you do if someone walked into your house holding a club full of nails?’
‘Three drinks and a pair of shorts on the angry chick,’ a voice said.
She turned to look, hearing the sound of a safety click off as she did. The hob she’d encountered and one that looked similar enough to be his twin – albeit sporting several bullet wounds – walked towards them.
Ryan turned to the buzz cut, and the gun in his hand disappeared. The agent nodded to the hobs, who smiled in return, then faded away.
‘Killing a hob generally takes more than a few simple gunshots. Especially when it’s in its home environment. A fact you should be glad of.’
‘It attacked me,’ he said again, but the arrogance had disappeared from his voice.
‘If you had taken his life, or even attempted to do so, in anything other than a test environment, you would likely be buried alive under concrete.’
She couldn’t help but smirk.
‘So who passed?’ The buzz cut – and he was going to remain nothing but a bad haircut to her; wastes of carbon didn’t deserve a name – pocketed the handkerchief.
‘The differences in how you handled it will be taken into account.’ Ryan indicated to the side. ‘You both need to wait here for a little bit. There is refreshment over there.’ With that, he faded from view.
Stef trailed behind the bleeding buzz cut as he made a beeline for the table and the water bottles. Part of her was acutely aware of the fact that she was armed and he wasn’t, though even that didn’t improve her mood.
He tore the cap off one of the bottles and doused his head. ‘I don’t know what half-assed effort you put in, but I showed I was willing to get my hands dirty.’
‘Let me get the world’s smallest audience for you. You managed to “kill” a creature that, in actuality, had done nothing wrong. I don’t think “murder the innocent” is exactly emblazoned across the lobby floor–’
‘I didn’t know it was innocent! And I had no reason to talk to it – or to believe it, if it had said anything.’
‘Wow, you must be a really repressed self-hating furry if you wouldn’t listen to–’ She looked around. ‘Milk’s good for the little ones. What do you think the bigger ones like?’
‘What do I care?’ He brandished the blood-soaked handkerchief in her direction. ‘Look what it did to me!’
She kneaded her fist against her forehead, then looked up at him again. ‘You – you were the aggressor. Understand? Some people keep steak knives in the house to stab burglars with; it’s got built-ins. There’s no difference.’
‘Of course there is! It isn’t human!’
She took a half-step back at the volume of his voice. ‘…So?’
‘If it’s not human, there are different rules.’
‘Same ground rules apply – you don’t shoot someone without talking to them!’
Unless you’re a sniper.
‘There are things that are natural and things that aren’t. Little furry-arsed bastards with claws aren’t.’
She put her bottle of water down. ‘And you get to decide what belongs and what doesn’t?’
‘I made the choice to save my human life. I made the choice to fight. I made the right choice.’
‘How about someone with the frame of reference to make the right choice? That’s obviously not you.’
‘Why the hell are you defending them?’
She fixed a cold stare on him. ‘Because humanists piss me off.’
‘Someone has to look out for our interests.’
‘If you could, would you kill that hob, just in case it attacked you again? Or if one you saw scavenging in a Dumpster?’
‘What doesn’t belong, doesn’t belong.’
Suddenly, her gun felt very heavy, and not just because it was making her waistband sag. She took a sip of water, then carefully set the bottle back down. ‘So that’s a yes?’
In one awkward movement, she lifted her gun and fired.
The buzz cut looked down at the wound in his chest, gurgled some blood, and dropped to the ground. He twitched for a moment, then went still.
She stared at the corpse for a few seconds.
‘Crap,’ she said. ‘Probably should’ve kneecapped him.’
She waited a moment, then slowly put her gun on the table. There was no point in running – they were too fast, and they could teleport. There was no point in claiming self-defence – it hadn’t been. There was nothing to do except wait.
Hearing no screams or demands that she get on the floor with her hands visible, she picked up the bottle of water and took another drink – there was no point in dying thirsty.
She experimentally nudged the body with her foot, just in case he was somehow alive. He wasn’t, and she didn’t particularly care.
You know, it’s probably a good thing you declared yourself insane. Normal people don’t think like this.
Normal people don’t find themselves in this situation.
The door clicked open.
Time to pay the reaper, hero.
She could see that it was Ryan from the corner of her eye, but she didn’t turn to look at him. The lack of emotion – rather, the lack of remorse – would probably work against her. Though, at least she wasn’t prancing around in a ballerina outfit soliloquising about the Rorschach-esque shapes that the blood splatter had made.
‘What happened here?’ His voice was a monotone. She heard the swish of his long jacket as he crouched – presumably checking the corpse’s pulse.
Stef wondered what the point was of checking for a pulse when there was a bloody hole in his chest and a complete lack of movement. Surely those two indicators were enough to pronounce a person as dead.
She swallowed and hunched her shoulders nearly high enough to hide her ears. ‘Look, yeah, mistake, okay? Automatic failure? Just don’t neuralise me, okay?’
His voice remained flat. ‘Why?’
‘I should have kneecapped him. I panicked – no I didn’t, that’s a damn lie. It felt like the right thing to do, and now you think I’m insane cause I said that – and guess what, I am.’
He put his hand on her shoulder only long enough to spin her to face him. ‘Why did you kill him, Miss Mimosa?’
All the fear slipped away. All the trepidation. All the second-guessing. She looked him and gave him a nod. ‘He was thinking like a member of the Solstice.’
‘Isn’t that enough?’
He looked down to the body. ‘You tell me.’
It seemed like it should be enough.
‘Yes,’ she said after a long moment.
He didn’t reply. He just stared at the body and the large pool of blood around it. ‘Good.’ The body faded away, and he turned to her.
‘A test?’ she asked, ‘Or is that simpler than a body bag?’
‘Of course it was a test.’ He looked to her and smiled. ‘Though next time, kneecap if you can.’
She finally relaxed her shoulders. ‘Okay. What now?’
He extended a hand. ‘Welcome to the Agency.’