The secret stairs.
Stef stared at the closed door, the door that looked like every other one – except it didn’t have a “You aren’t a person; you’re a number” number on it. They weren’t secret stairs; they were just classily concealed, but they still felt secret. Had felt secret. Had felt special. In light of everything that had happened, the sheen of adventure and mystery had worn off.
She required the key but yanked her hand back before putting it into the lock.
Another jiggle of the handle confirmed that the door was locked.
Require: door unlock?
She heard the tumblers slip into place, and she pushed the door open. The lights came on with a flick of a switch, and she quickly made her way up the stairs.
You should get backup.
It might be nothing.
Another requirement unlocked the door at the top of the stairs. She steadied herself with a deep breath, then pushed on the door.
The door shot open at her light touch, torn from its hinges. She barely saw the furry arm before Astrin grabbed her and flung her forwards. She landed against the desk as a bundle of sore limbs and didn’t have time to right herself before he grabbed her again.
His claws cut through her uniform easily, scraping against skin.
There was hot breath against her neck as she was dragged up from the floor, and she screamed, flailing to get away from the monster.
I don’t want die!
His claws cut deeper as she struggled.
He released his grip immediately, and she fell to the floor, boneless and shaking.
Claws scraped her shoulder again as he flipped her onto her back.
‘Do I know you?’ he asked haltingly.
There was drops of blood on his fur. Bright, fresh, red drops. Drops of her blood. He’d hurt her. He was going to kill her. He was going to–
‘I – I – I was here!’ she managed, ‘I was one of the people Dorian–’
His foot came down on her, knocking the wind from her. His foot, clawed like his hands, scraped through the fabric.
Stay still. Stay still.
‘You’re wearing a uniform,’ he said, bending his head to stare through her with his freaky eyes. ‘Dorian warned me about the people in uniform.’
He raised his foot and stomped on her again, claws cutting again. He stomped again and again, then pressed his foot into her, pushing all of the tiny scraps of air from her lungs.
She felt blood running across her skin as she fought to take another breath.
Everything seemed fuzzy.
Spyder. Flash bang, one second fuse.
She made the requirement, fumbled with the pin, let it tumble from her hand, turned her head, and closed her eyes.
A small supernova went off to her left, and the pressure immediately disappeared from her chest.
She rolled onto her stomach, her weight on her elbows, then tried to stand. Her head swam, and she retched, puking required cookies and fae food onto the expensive carpet. She used the desk to pull herself to her feet and blindly stumbled away from the monster that had tried to gut her. She found the wall, and her feet found air as she stepped onto the staircase. She pitched forwards, unable to catch herself, hands grabbing for the railing.
‘Woah, newbie!’ Curt grabbed her before she fell, pushed her back into the room, and steadied her against the wall. ‘You okay? What happened?’
‘I used a flash bang.’ She made a vague motion at where Astrin should have been. ‘Your turn.’
She knuckled against her eyes, trying to get her vision back to normal.
‘Just keep still, newbie,’ he said.
She blinked rapidly, just able to make out blobby shadows.
There were three shots.
A blobby shape waved in front of her face. ‘Can you see yet?’
‘O’Connor to Agent Ryan.’ There was a pause. ‘We’re going to need a clean-up crew, sir.’ Pause. ‘I’m fine. The newbie’s a bit cut up, but she’ll be okay.’ Pause. ‘I’m sure, sir.’ Pause. ‘Probably, sir.’ Pause. ‘No problem.’ Pause. ‘Newbie?’
‘We’re shifting out. Don’t freak.’
‘Go ahead, sir.’
The world blurred even more for a few seconds, then bright lights and new blobby shadows appeared.
‘This way, Recruit,’ a voice said, and a strong set of hands helped her up onto a bed. She heard a curtain being pulled.
‘Can – can you do something about me not being able to see first?’ she asked as the top half of her uniform disappeared.
‘Tilt your head back.’
She did as instructed, and she felt a splash of liquid against each eye.
‘Now keep your eyes closed for a few minutes. I’m Medical Agent Parker. You can call me “Doctor” if you wish.’
‘Um, hi. Stef. But you probably know that.’
She heard the curtain rustle as she felt the pinch of a needle. The needle withdrew, and the pain started to disappear as if by – and maybe really by – magic.
‘Yeah,’ the doctor said in a slightly harsher tone. ‘We know. Now be still so we can work.’
She relaxed as much as she could as cold cream was applied to each cut in turn, and each was bandaged or covered with adhesive strips as necessary.
‘You can open your eyes now,’ the doctor said, his voice nice again.
A fresh uniform slid over her skin.
She opened her eyes, dabbed the excess liquid from them, stared, then closed her eyes again.
‘I think you gave me bad eye drops,’ she said.
‘No we didn’t,’ the doctor said in his harsher voice.
She opened her eyes again and stared, still seeing double.
‘Again,’ the doctor to her left said – the one with the nice voice. ‘I’m Medical Agent Parker.’
‘So am I,’ said the doctor to the right – harsh voice.
‘So…I’m not seeing double?’
They shook their heads in unison.
She heard Curt laughing from the other side of the curtain, and the Parker with the harsh voice – who seemed to be a bit taller than the other – pushed the curtain back.
‘Twins?’ she asked, still really unsure as to what she was seeing. ‘You’re twins?’
The tall one smirked and walked away, leaving her with the nicer-sounding twin. ‘The shot I gave you for the pain should last long enough. If it doesn’t, come back, and we’ll get you another. All the cuts will be gone in the next couple of hours. Just don’t do anything too strenuous until then.’
‘A couple of hours?’
Parker smiled. ‘Things work rather quickly around here.’
‘Can we get back to the things where you’re twins? Or is that normal? Do all agents have twins? Is that–?’
‘No,’ Parker said. ‘We’re far from the standard.’
‘That,’ Curt said, ‘is very, very true. Ready to go, newbie?’
She looked to her doctor. ‘I– Um–’
‘You’re fine to go, Recruit.’
She slid off the bed, surprised that all of the pain was gone. She touched a hand to her stomach, and felt the bandages there.
You’re okay, Spyder.
Not bleeding is a step up.
No, I’m not.
‘You handled that better than some,’ Curt said as the doctor wandered away. ‘Of course it helps that they weren’t making out when you came in.’
He pointed behind her, to a small office at the back of the infirmary. The lighting was unfortunately excellent, and the glass wasn’t tinted, so she was afforded an excellent view of the Parkers embracing, pieces of clothing being discarded as it started to become less and less safe for work. She felt her brain squeak, and she looked away before she saw anything more.
Curt smirked. ‘Just be careful when you’re visiting, unless you like watching.’
‘Wh – why would I want to watch?’
‘Most people have to pay for agent porn, let alone live shows and–’
‘Gah! Stop talking. With– Stop talking!’ she pressed her hands to her temples and headed towards the door.
‘Not that way, newbie.’
‘Unless you’ve been reassigned to Agent Taylor, you’re heading the wrong way.’
He stood a couple of steps back and beckoned her over. ‘Take a look.’
She sighed and walked back to him, then saw the three identical doors.
‘From the left,’ he said. ‘Tech, us, then combat.’
She walked to the tech door, and the door slid open. She poked her head out into the hall and saw the tech department, posters, screens on the walls, and loitering recruits. She looked to her right, to where the other two doors should have been, but saw nothing. She moved back, and went to the field door, waited for it to slide open, then looked again – and saw the field department, somewhere down the hall from the gym and the mess hall.
She turned back to Curt. ‘Um, why are we bending space and time?’
‘Just space,’ he said as he walked past her. ‘Not time.’
‘Why are we bending just space?’ she said as she followed him through the field department.
‘So that when you hurt yourself, but it’s not bad enough to need a shift, you can get yourself there without having to get off your floor.’
She shrugged, feeling the bandages move against her skin. ‘I guess that makes sense.’
She spun at the sound of Ryan’s voice.
‘Are you all right?’ he asked as he walked up to them.
Do I look all right?!
‘Stef?’ he asked.
She managed a shrug, and she felt twinges of pain not quite covered up by the drugs.
‘Do you have some free time?’
She fixed her gaze on the floor. ‘You’re my boss,’ she said. ‘You’ve got a better idea of my schedule than I do.’
‘You were going to do a South Bank patrol, correct?’
‘Yes, sir,’ Curt said.
‘I’ll do it,’ Ryan said. ‘Take a couple of hours off, Curt.’
‘Yes sir,’ he said.
She watched Curt’s feet as he turned in a near circle and walked away, then she was left looking at the floor again.
The world blurred again.
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