20 – Disconnected

‘Can’t we teleport?’

‘Shift.’

‘Sorry. Can’t we shift?’

‘No,’ Curt said as he opened the passenger door. ‘Recruits can’t shift.’

Are you deliberately trying to piss me off?

She finished chewing on a fluffin she’d grabbed as he’d been paying the bill, wiped her hands on her pants, and climbed into the stupid little sporty red car. ‘But, we could, right? You said I could call to get a shift home, so why not a shift to yanno- Is this a mission or an assignment or what’s the jargon?’

And shouldn’t this be a Crown Vic or some sort of sedan, not whatever you saw on the cover of Fast Cars Monthly?

He waited for a gap in traffic, and pulled out in front of a bus. ‘I told you, it’s a follow-up,’ he said.

‘Need more data.’

He flicked on the indicator, and waited for the light to turn green. ‘I’m not sure I can dumb it down any further, newbie.’

‘Follow up cause of Astrin, or cause of the massacre, or cause there was a living witness? When, where, why, do we do them?’

‘See? All you have to do is ask actual questions.’ The car shot forward. ‘We do a follow-up on pretty much everything we do. A lot of the time, the danger rating is so low it’s stuff we can whore out to the tech department. Most of the time there’s nothing to follow up on, double-check that witnesses have no more questions, or are handling a memory wipe ok, check to see no evidence got left behind and that all damage has been repaired. Most of the time, it’s boring, which is why we can get newbies to do their own follow-up. Sometimes it’s a sensitive situation and we can’t – like when someone is being taken into protection.’

‘All-‘ she shut her mouth.

‘Huh?’

‘Nothing.’

Just tell me all the bodies are gone. Just tell me all the bodies are gone. Just tell me all the-

‘-bodies are gone.’

His voice took on a less sarcastic tone for a moment. ‘A clean-up crew went in straight after Ryan, there’ll be no sign of what happened last night.’

She took her eyes off the road for a moment to look at him. He’d been one of them. He’d been one of the crazy people who decided to-

‘And you promise that you never did anything like that?’

‘I told you already, didn’t I?’

‘Yeah, but lying is really easy.’

‘I freely admit that there’s a disconnect between reality and what the Solstice do,’ he said. ‘But there’s another whole level of dissociation between-‘ He paused for a moment, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand. ‘Hunting down things that look like they crawled out of a nightmare is one thing, but it’s another to gun down a room full of human civilians. That’s extreme, even for the Solstice.’

‘Lucky me.’

‘You’re damn lucky,’ he said. ‘You should have died last night, newbie.’

I don’t feel lucky.

It could have been worse.

Require: cookie.

She held the cookie aloft as it appeared. It, like the last twelve she’d required that morning, looked exactly like her default image for what a cookie should be. And tasted like a cookie should. It was sensible magic, not needing a recipe or precise instructions, instead going off established parameters. She wolfed down the cookie.

‘Newbie?’

‘Hm?’

‘Have you heard a word I’ve said in the last five minutes?’

‘…probably not.’

She looked at him as he sighed. ‘Why aren’t you wearing a headset?’ he asked after a moment.

‘I wasn’t told to?’

Another sigh.

‘Give me a break,’ she said quietly, ‘it’s my first day.’

‘It’s a significantly better first day than some people get.’

Require: headset.

There was a weird feeling at her ear, and she scratched at it, and pulled the head set free. ‘It’s one of these?’ she asked, looking at the small Bluetooth-like headset. ‘Not one of the little white ones with the curly wires?’

‘The secret service style ones?’

She shrugged. ‘Yanno, whatever Agent Smith wears.’

He took his eyes off the road to roll his eyes at her. ‘Yeah,’ he said flatly, ‘the secret service style.’

She slumped lower in the seat, the seat belt pulling tight across her chest. ‘Um-‘

‘And your next question is going to be “Is there an Agent Smith”?’

She gave a small nod.

‘Yeah, newbie,’ he said, ‘there’s an Agent Smith, probably a few, given how common the name is.’

‘Sorry.’

‘No,’ he said, ‘don’t be sorry. I said I’m not a douche and I’m failing at that. But the people who keep asking me about the Solstice stuff tend to ask for a new partner within a week, and I hate wasting my time when there’s a good chance you won’t be talking to me by tomorrow.’

‘It’s kind of a big elephant to ignore.’ She tapped out the Fibonacci sequence onto her knees.

‘If Agent Ryan had partnered you up with Brian or any of his cronies, ten bucks says you’d be doing a dumpster run right now, or something that would make you turn tail and run for the geeks.’

‘Dumpster run?’

‘How about we talk about that next week?’

‘Um, ok.’

‘If Ryan wants you here, I’ve got a hell of a lot of work to do. And we start now.’ The car stopped. ‘This is the place, right?’

‘Do you see any other possibly haunted mansions?’

He stepped out of the car. ‘Come on, newbie.’

‘But-‘

‘Out.’

She stepped out of the car and it disappeared. ‘Usually I don’t dismiss my car,’ he said. ‘It’s handy to have a vehicle already required.’

‘Cause one second-?’

‘In case wherever you are suddenly gets blacked out.’

Thoughts spun in her head as they walked up to the gate. ‘…requiring is powered by electricity.’

‘Not that kind of blackout,’ he said. ‘there are things that can block our magic. Solstice weapons, fae magic, so it never hurts to be prepared.’

She looked at the intercom on the gate. ‘Do we buzz, or just barge in?’

He leaned against the tall column near the intercom. ‘This is your follow-up, newbie, how do you want to play it?’

Think carefully.

‘By the book,’ she said, ‘I’d like to not fsck stuff up on my first day.’

This actually earned a smile. ‘Good job, newbie.’ He pressed the intercom button. ‘Usually we don’t just barge in, we’re the good guys, remember? Agency policy might be to exterminate leeches but we can’t persecute someone for harboring one. So that, plus what happened last night, means procedurally, we’re dealing with a victim, so we act professionally.’

‘I see Agency at my door,’ came Dorian’s intercom-altered voice. ‘I don’t feel like answering any more of your questions.’

‘Can I at least get my stuff?’ she asked.

‘Spyder?’

‘Be professional,’ Curt said under his breath as she stepped into view of the camera.

She gave a wave. ‘Lolhi?’

‘Spyder, you’re dressed like a recruit.’

‘You gonna let us in or what?’

There was a pause, then the gate began to open.

‘If we were still in the car we wouldn’t have to walk all the way.’

‘Spyder?’ Curt said, ignoring her complaint as they started up the long drive. ‘You actually have one of those “call me Neo” hacker names?’

She shrugged.

‘Another reason you should be in the tech department, I’m sure some of those guys haven’t heard their real names in years.’

She shrugged again.

Dorian stood waiting at the door, an unreadable expression on his face.

I kind of want to punch him in the throat.

Don’t be an idiot, you’re not tall enough.

‘Do I even ask how this happened?’ Dorian asked as he stepped aside to let them in. ‘We’ll talk in the parlour, if you don’t mind.’

She shrugged, and followed him through to the parlour, a room of lacquered wood and overstuffed, red chairs. She sat, while Curt leant against the wall.

Christ, he’s a professional leaner, isn’t he?

Better view of the room, better access to his gun and you’re not even armed, defensible in a couple of seconds whereas you’ll get stuck in the chair.

How the fsck are you so smart?

You’re a genius remember?

‘Spyder,’ Dorian said as he poured himself a drink. ‘Plus one.’

‘Recruit O’Connor,’ Curt said. ‘You know why we’re here, so we can skip the introductions.’

‘Yes, I know why you’re here. No, I don’t want to answer any of your questions. No, your cleaners did not do a good enough job.’

Did they miss a body?!

‘I have a list,’ Dorian said, ‘of items that were broken or stolen, that I’d like replaced. I will take the compensation package that was offered, And I’m not sharing this scotch.’

‘We’re on duty, Mr Gray,’ Curt said.

‘Agents always are,’ Dorian chided, then he looked at her, grey eyes staring until she turned her gaze to the floor. ‘How on Earth did you survive, Spyder?’

She flinched.

‘Or were you a plant all along?’

She gave a small shake of her head.

‘And you gave the code to the Agency.’

You left us all here to die! You left us all here to die!

She felt tears starting to form.

A hand touched her shoulder and she jumped. ‘Go get your stuff, newbie.’

She slipped free of the hand. ‘Huh?’

Curt stepped into her line of sight, blocking her view of Dorian. ‘We’re not going to be here long, go get your stuff.’

She bit the inside of her cheek, nodded and quick-stepped out o the room.

Require: cookie.

Relax, you’re safe.

She shuddered as she walked up the stairs and towards the main room.

Her throat went tight as she rested her hands against the closed double doors.

I could have been in there. I could have died.

Spyder, breathe for me.

She sank down onto her knees.

I can’t.

Just breathe.

‘I can’t.’

She hugged her around herself.

It was supposed to be exciting. It was supposed to be- I don’t even know.

An adventure?

Just a little one?

She wiped tears away.

It was just supposed to be code. It was supposed to be safe. I was supposed to be safe. It was just code.

She slowly stood, took as deep a breath as she could manage, and pushed the doors open.

It was cleaner than she expected.

The room was emptier than it had ever been. Even at two in the morning, three in the morning, four in the morning, there had been people there – some asleep, some wide awake as If it was the middle of the afternoon, life, however muted, had always been in the room. Now it was empty except for her, the girl that should have died, the coward in the wardrobe.

All of the computers had been replaced with shiny new ones – each surface sleek and new, unsullied by as much as a fingerprint. The table had been replaced – there were no telltale rings from where a hundred thousand million cups of coffee and bottles of drink had stood. There was no blood, there were no bodies.

Require: cookie.

She stuffed the cookie into her mouth and slowly sucked on it, feeling it turn to mush in her mouth as she sat at the chair that had been hers. She slowly spun on the chair, calculating how many times she’d need to spin to turn back time enough to undo the situation.

You need to go get your stuff.

She stood, the world tilting for a moment, then she walked down the hall towards room five.

The room had been reset – the bed made and the desk cleaned – it looked like it had the day Dorian had dragged her from what had been reality. Her stuff was at the end of the bed in a neat pile – clothes all packed tightly into the travel bag. She required a marker and vandalized two of the remaining clean LVs – one for the trip to the mansion, one for the trip from reality to wherever she was now.

The wardrobe pulled her attention away from the bag-graffiti.

She pulled open the door and knelt, staring at the small space. The wood was still splintered at the back – something the clean-up crew had missed. Ryan’s “pay attention to me” shot across the bow. Shot across her nose. Warning shot that-

A thought gave her a headband with a light, and another gave her a screwdriver. With thirty second’s effort and three splinters stuck in her thumb, she had the bullet. There was no reason to keep it. No reason to save it from being dismissed into nothingness when the clean-up crew came back to deal with Dorian’s nitpicky list. It didn’t mean anything.

She slid it into her pocket.

She sucked at her thumb, trying to get the splinters out.

Heavy footsteps creaked above her head.

32 thoughts on “20 – Disconnected

  1. This whole thing strikes me as rather cruel. To send someone back to the scene of the place where they were almost murdered the day before. That alone is traumatic, but on top of that she is escorted by a traitor that most in the agency don’t feel warrants the courtesy of a quick death.

    • …sending newbies on their own follow-up makes a lot of sense, as because they were involved in the situation, they’ll be a lot more likely to notice things than two random recruits who’ve never been to a particular place before.

      Also, it’s the Agency, there’s a lot of random cruelness in their policies and procedures. -_- Agents can be good people, of course, but there’s a lot that fucked up about the Agency itself.

      but on top of that she is escorted by a traitor that most in the agency don’t feel warrants the courtesy of a quick death.
      He gets put through a wall in the next chapter if that makes you feel better. >_>

      And in a way, Curt also acts as an additional stress-test for newbies. Solstice plants would be a lot less likely to keep their cool around a turncoat, or ask questions that would clue them in that maybe they should keep their eye on the new person.

      It’s the same reason they use real hobs in the initial recruitment tests (but not for regular training sims of course), rather than training sims – it’s an attempt to provoke a reaction.

      • OK, I can get that there is a certain bureaucratic indifference within the agency, but if that is how they do things; how they have been doing things. Then as some point, someone will have a nervous breakdown… the kind with screaming and tantrums that would at least make someone see that there is some problems with this system… And to not fix them moves from being merely indifferent to deliberate cruelty. Even Stef, with her degree of detachment from reality is having a hard time with it.

        He gets put through a wall in the next chapter if that makes you feel better. >_>

        Only if Taylor does it, because he would do it right.

        • Taylor would *kill* him, and then we’d never get the adorkable Stef and Curt s[poiler]times several books later!

          • …mainly because it’d be effort for nothing. Curt doesn’t get in his way, so there’s no point in murdering him.

        • You think people haven’t had screaming breakdowns?

          One of the reasons recruit introductions seem so ad hoc in many respects is they don’t bother wasting resources on people who may not last a week. Once recruits have been there a bit longer, they go through some more formalised introductions and “oh hey, there’s this, this and that”.

          Of course, some Agencies do this for all their new people, but out Agency isn’t that well organised.
          -_-

  2. She sucked at her thumb, trying to get the splinters out.
    I just thought of something… Could she Dismiss the splinters, or would that be considered healing?

    • well, it would remove the splinters, but not heal the holes. tha said, could you dismiss a bullet in you? still have to staunch the flow, but hey.

      • …are a definite no, cause it’s too complicated, so therefore only be done under medical supervision.

        It’s like how recruits can’t require meds more effective than headache tablets. Not that recruits get a lot of headaches.

          • You mean like one being fired at you? That would be why Solstice regularly dose themselves with something (depending on how stupid and hardcore the Solstice in question wants to be it’s either Time energy or Fae Blood) to basically give them a personal blackout zone.

          • …someone with senses and reflexes fast enough to dismiss bullets in mid air.

            That would look so cool. :D :D :D :D

          • personally, cooler would be requiring bullets going in the opposite direction at the same speed, so they just stop dead and fall out of the sky, ting ting ptang

          • …that you couldn’t do, because you can’t require something that will cause direct harm, and bullets at speed can very easily cause direct harm.

          • hmm, okay. what about a flubber like substance that absorbs the kinetic energy?

          • I got thinking about this, and my first impulse sort of veered off into soft-sci-fi technobabble land – requiring small plates with negative inertia directly in the path of the bullets – making sure the negative inertia is just large enough to stop the bullets.

            Then I realized that that’s not how negative inertia would work, rather the opposite. I do believe something with just enough negative mass might work somewhat like that though… (Assuming it doesn’t have to be antimatter, which would stop the bullets all right (by annihilating them), but also would produce far too much localized energy.)

            Veering back into somewhat more realistic ideas though, would be to reuse some of the holodeck tech. Basically, combine some fast 360 degree sensors (looking for incoming bullets) with an automatic (programmed) dismiss command targeted at those bullets. This would basically be required for the previous ideas too, except they’d also use fancy requirements instead of just dismissals.

            If this could be made small, cheap and convenient enough, I could imagine it becoming standard equipment for recruits, as even though it only works in system territory, it would at least protect them when there’s no blackout in place…

            By the way, the no direct harm rule doesn’t seem very consistent in its judgement… since it seems to look at the actual consequences only in some cases, based on what we’ve been told so far. Requiring something heavy is OK unless it would then fall on someone (right?), but requiring bullets that would only hit and stop other bullets (and then have too little energy left to hurt anyone) is not… Unless the harm applies not just to the living, but also to things?

            (Of course, now that I think about it, this could be explained away by limitations of the heuristics that are used by the system to determine harm caused, especially since those heuristics probably had to be written by someone at some point.)

            Hmm. Going on the same workaround as requiring guns instead of in-flight bullets, would it be OK to require something heavy on a ledge above someone, that wouldn’t fall by itself, but that you can then easily push over the edge to fall on that someone? Or equivalently, dismissing most of the supports from whatever the enemy is standing on, so it only needs a small nudge to completely collapse…

            Another question – does the no direct harm rule apply to requirements made by normal agents? Or only to recruits?

            … oooh… Require: antimatter. Definitely goes under WMD unless it’s properly contained in some sort of experiment or power plant or whatever :P (so it’s more likely a tech recruit can get away with it than field or combat, heh).

            Hm, wait… is the limitation not on things that will cause harm, but on things that very easily can?

            Require: heavily ionized air over there.
            Require: heavily ionized air, of the other polarity, over there.

            Neither of those should be particularly dangerous… unless put close together like that :P

          • that’ll do some property damage… aren’t we supposed to avoid property damage?

          • UNEXPLAINABLE property damage. Just gotta make sure you only use it when there are clouds.

          • so spontaneous lightning storms at street level would be vurreh bad, yes?

          • I got thinking about this, and my first impulse sort of veered off into soft-sci-fi technobabble land – requiring small plates with negative inertia directly in the path of the bullets – making sure the negative inertia is just large enough to stop the bullets.
            That would be perfect if this was more superhero-themed. :D

            If this could be made small, cheap and convenient enough, I could imagine it becoming standard equipment for recruits, as even though it only works in system territory, it would at least protect them when there’s no blackout in place…
            The problem with this, I would think, is the fear of it being used against the Agency.

            A lot of the reason they don’t let recruits have fun stuff is they’re afraid of turncoats and/or stuff falling into evil hands. -_-

            By the way, the no direct harm rule doesn’t seem very consistent in its judgement…
            The Agency and consistency aren’t the best of friends…

            Of course, now that I think about it, this could be explained away by limitations of the heuristics that are used by the system to determine harm caused, especially since those heuristics probably had to be written by someone at some point.
            They, frankly, don’t really expect recruits to be that smart to think of all these cool things in the heat of the moment.

          • They, frankly, don’t really expect recruits to be that smart to think of all these cool things in the heat of the moment.

            …..they clearly don’t know the people i do. i know quite a few people who would likely score 6 on feild or higher but still could keep up with the techs ….and totally WOULD require those sorts of things. and likely find all the loopholes in the system concerning requiring damage-causing things. (they’d also figure “well we can’t require napalm…. hokay, require:[all the things needed to make napalm]“

          • require, fuel tank. Require, spray hose. Require compressed o2 cartridge. require zippo.

            Fun!

          • you pierce the o2 cannister with a flow controlled nozzle, drop it in the fuel tank, and attach the hose quickly, you then havea fire hose end to control the spray, pressurized gas that will spray out in an aerated stream providing its own oxygen to burn.

            As for more complex requirements, imagine the rube goldberg possibilities.

          • …and that I’ve stuck with simple requirements while becoming become familiar with the concept, we’ll branch out and do cooler stuff later in the series. ^_^

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