Ryan stared at the space where Stef had been, curled one hand into a fist, then looked down at the floor, considering all his options, all possible permutations of the next five minutes.
Crawford had left him alone. If Ryan truly wanted, he could run. Unless the enforcer had a link into his system – of which he had no proof – he could shift to the very edge of system territory and run.
And if he did that, any chance Stef had of living through the next hour would be gone.
He tried to ping Crawford’s location, but the enforcer had left no publically-traceable information. That likely meant he had gone to Central, beyond where Ryan could follow. He stood and turned back towards the door of the cell. Taylor still stood there, silent and unmoving.
Ryan walked forward and swung his fist, aiming for the agent’s face. Taylor grabbed his hand, holding it easily for a moment, before he twisted his grip and slammed it against the cell wall.
It was stupid to take on Taylor in a physical fight – the man was a violent brute, and nothing more than that. Taylor been more once, but those memories seemed to fade more everyday.
Ryan couldn’t win, but he needed to try to hurt the man anyway.
He swung his leg out, kicking the taller agent in the hip, but Taylor brushed it off as if Ryan hadn’t even touched him.
He registered pain on his back but didn’t have time to process it as Taylor grabbed his shoulder and swung a huge fist into Ryan’s gut.
Momentary but all-consuming pain dropped Ryan to his knees. System territory or not, getting hit by Taylor was like being struck by a force of nature – it made one think twice.
A pair of black slacks appeared in front of him, and for a moment, he wondered if Crawford was back, having already dealt with Stef.
One murder down. One execution to go.
‘Move,’ he heard Taylor growl.
‘Love, don’t do this when there’s an enforcer about.’
Jane. Ryan raised his head a little, realised he was nearly level with the seat of her pants, and respectfully turned away. It wasn’t anywhere in the established protocols, but common decency demanded that one should not stare – even accidentally – at the arse of a senior agent.
Ryan pushed himself to his feet as Jane turned away from Taylor. ‘I’m going to shift you. Don’t argue.’
A shift permission window appeared, and he accepted. Taylor, Stef’s cell, and everything blurred as they shifted.
His office – sans Crawford – appeared, and Jane grabbed his arm, dragging him towards the couch, but instead of making him sit on the couch, she urged him to sit on the coffee table.
‘Easier to work this way,’ she muttered.
He took a deep breath and flexed the muscles in his stomach. All traces of the pain from the punch had faded. There was nothing to fix.
Nothing except his entire life.
Nothing except the mess he had made for Stef.
Jane knelt in front of him, touched his shoulders, and the top half of his uniform disappeared, leaving him half-naked in front of her.
‘Jane, what are you–?’
She walked around him and slapped his back.
He gave a small cry of pain. Taylor hadn’t hit him there. ‘He didn’t–’
‘His pretty little bird did.’ Jane walked back around and looked down at him, her hand resting on her chin. ‘Do we need to put you through some recruitment tests again? Determine your Field capability, Newborn?’
‘I don’t have time to–’ He winced. ‘I did not expect a recruit to–’ He scowled. ‘I can’t let her get away with this. I let her get away with too much as it is.’
‘That woman is one of the greatest assets you have in this agency, whether or not you want to recognise it. Attacking a superior is unacceptable, but… You did attack her lead agent, so–’
‘It wouldn’t have hurt him. It would take–’
Jane slapped him on the back again. ‘It was a stupid, emotional move to make, Ryan. It was the worst possible thing you could have done.’
Jane walked around to his back, and he twitched as a burning sensation covered the wound.
‘Stop moving around, Newborn.’
The burning sensation ceased after a moment, replaced with the soothing feeling of blue-laced cream. He felt a patch pressed to the healing wound.
‘There,’ she said. ‘That should be a bit better.’
He required a fresh uniform. ‘Why are you helping me?’
‘Because you’re a good man, Ryan, even with your flaws.’ She placed a hand on his shoulder. ‘And because my son hasn’t had a chance to meet you yet, and I always told him he could, someday.’
‘Because of the– Because I helped you with Kayla?’
Jane crouched to look him in the eye. ‘Because he’s your namesake.’
Unable to keep himself from gaping, Ryan raised a hand to his mouth.
A namesake. She had named her son – whether a first name, middle name, or seventeenth given name – after him. There were few honours greater for an agent.
A namesake was, in many ways, as important of a legacy as a child of your own. A namesake showed you had made a difference, that you mattered, that you would be remembered.
He met Jane’s gaze, and she nodded.
‘So you see, newborn,’ she said, cupping his face as if she was about to bestow a blessing. ‘I never hated you. So don’t do anything to ruin your chances of meeting your namesake.’
It was all too much to take. He dipped his head, his face slipping away from her hand, and began to weep.
Minutes passed before he felt any sort of control over himself again. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, wiped at his eyes, and stood. Jane was sitting on the couch beside him, a drink in her hand, and she gestured to one on the table beside him.
‘It’s just required,’ she said. ‘It’s for the taste, not the comfort.’
He took the drink, downed it in one swallow, then topped it up with a thought.
He turned to drink too often, even when it was only required.
‘Where did he take her?’ he asked, pacing in the space between the coffee table and his desk. He stared into his HUD and tried to ping the enforcer again.
Again, no public information. No clue if the enforcer was in the next room, in the next state, or if he’d absconded with Stef to Central.
‘I can’t see any more than you can, Ryan,’ Jane said, swirling her glass so that the ice clinked. ‘But given the givens, I would trust – for the moment – that no news is good news.’
He gave a low, humourless chuckle. ‘I don’t think I can assume any good in this situation.’
‘You could be dead right now. Please count your blessings.’
‘I am,’ he said. ‘I am, but I can’t–’ He tried to smile. ‘Before– Before I had given up hope that she would– I did some research into mirrors. There have been recruits that have had accidents with mirror, and they have been allowed to live.’
‘It’s never been this much, Ryan. That’s going to be the wrinkle in all of this. It’s never been this much. Do you even know what you could do with that heart?’
‘I don’t want to know, because I don’t care. I have no aspirations of power, of leading my own Court, or…of ruling the world, or whatever machinations you can imagine. As much mirror as it might be, all I want from it is a single life, and if I get that, I will be happy.’
Jane sipped at her drink. ‘You truly mean that, don’t you?’
Ryan rested his glass against his leg. His gaze moved from Jane, to the wall, to the floor. ‘This is all I am,’ he said quietly. ‘I’m not – I am not one of those agents who could fall and move on to something else. I have nothing else. I have no goals beyond resuming my work behind that desk.’
‘And that, I think, works well in your favour when it comes to Crawford,’ she said. ‘Most agents who fall – except those who fall under extreme circumstances, or who aren’t given a choice in the matter… There are signs. You’ve got none of those signs – you don’t own property; you don’t have a significant amount of money stashed away, unless you’re that good at hiding it; and–’
‘I’m not,’ he said. ‘I would have barely enough for a few months. I’m no mastermind, Jane, I’m just an agent.’ He turned and placed his glass down on the edge of the desk. ‘I just want to know she’s safe. That she will be safe.’
‘So long as she says the right things to the right questions.’ Jane smiled. ‘Even enforcers don’t kill when they don’t have to, Newborn.’