When the red digital letters on her bedside clock informed her that it was four AM, she rose, closed her workbook, and slipped into the bathroom. She stripped off her clothes and stepped into the shower, the water warm immediately.
She pulled her hair from the loose bun she’d tied, and the warm water soak her, drowning out all thoughts of revenge, of duty, and of love. The warm water was something to focus on, a shower would have to replace the little sleep she usually got – that, and perhaps some strong coffee.
She stumbled as the agent pushed her against the door.
‘What’s this?’ she demanded, glaring in his direction, ‘another cell?’ The door open of its own volition and he shoved her inside. She looked around at the somewhat luxurious room – luxurious, especially when compared to the sparse accommodations that she was used to, or more often than not, barely a cot and a blanket in a dusty warehouse. Comfort for the mooks had never been a high priority for the gang leaders she’d run with.
The alternative was obvious of course – you wanted a better bed, you joined someone in theirs. It was a good option, sometimes any bed was better than no bed, even one that you were a whore in. Her cut kept in her clothes, food and her weapons cared for – usually there wasn’t any left over for a bed in even the cheapest of hostels.
‘This your room?’ she asked as she righted herself. ‘Let me guess,’ she said, ‘you’re finally going to fuck me. Let me just-’
He smacked her across the face. ‘It’s your room.’
She took another look around the apartment – a double bed, a clean double bed with clean sheets and pillows without holes in them. Carpet rather than cold concrete. A kitchenette, containing a sink with presumably running water and a fridge. She tilted her head, and saw another room leading off, and the faint outline of a toilet: a bathroom, her own bathroom.
She turned back to him. ‘What’s the catch?’ she asked, trying to keep the emotion from her face. ‘What do I got to do to keep this place? Blow you every hour on the hour and twice on Sundays? If there’s a shower in that bathroom, fine.’
‘It’s your room.’
‘Yeah, you said that, proxy, what’s it cost?’
‘Your loyalty,’ he said, slamming his door as he left the room.
She ran a sponge over her body, taking careful note of which bruises had healed and which hadn’t. Two recently-broken ribs still rang with phantom pain as she cleaned herself – pain which would disappear in a couple of days, leaving her good as new – until then, it would test her agility to keep blows away from them.
She dropped the sponge and let the warm water wash away all traces of the soap before stepping out. The warm water would run for forever and a day if needed – at least, that was the assumption that she had heard the other recruits make. True, it never ran out, and that was useful for those days she came back from a mission covered in blood, mud, and pieces of her enemies, but it wasn’t something to be taken for granted. Nothing in the Agency was.
That, and the building macros would turn it off after a certain amount of time unattended, they were good like that. Showers were turned off if left running, the same with the kitchenette taps, refrigerators would automatically close themselves if they were left open, dirty dishes would disappear when left alone, beds would make themselves. It was like having a maid service, one that you never had to thank.
She wrapped her hair up in a towel, her body in another, and went back to her bed. Training would be nothing special – warm-up exercises, thirty or so laps, then some group tactical scenarios in the training simulator – when instructing alone, it was far easier to allow her colleagues to beat the hell out of sim opponents than it was to keep an eye on each and every one of them, in case one of them got a little enthusiastic with their sparring partner. The training simulator also allowed better coverage for viewing later – which was very advantageous when filling out their evaluations and making recommendations.
With a requirement, a tablet computer appeared, and she ran through a list of available scenarios, making a short list, and queuing them up, so that it would only take one button press to activate them later.
She stood, dried her body, required herself into fresh clothes, and took a few minutes to brush her hair, adjusting the few feathers there, and making a mental note to pluck her back later, as many of them were growing too long.
At 4.47 AM according to her clock, she clicked off her bedside lamp and left the room. A quick walk down the hall to the main gym, turning to look at each of the other recruit dorms along the way – some of the doors were open, her colleagues in various states of dress or quickly trying to ingest some form of breakfast, other doors were closed, and she made a quick note of the numbers, assuming that as always, there would be some recruits that she would have to manually eject from their beds.
Only six other recruits were in the gym, two sitting on the bleachers with cups of coffee, two helping each other stretch, one standing near the vending machines smoking, the other doing push-ups.
With a jump, she perched on the balance beam, and waited for the others to make their way into the gym.
A hand dragged her from her bed, and she barely had time to register it as the hulk of an agent before the every-bright light of the hall hit her sore eyes.
‘Christ!’ she shouted, ‘you could have knocked!’
‘I expect you to be up and ready for training this time of day, every day, without exception,’ he said, lifting her a little and letting her gain traction on the floor, enough to stand on her own.
‘Well, it isn’t like I know what time it is,’ she said, madly trying to get her eyes to adjust to the sudden light, and her mind to the sudden consciousness.
‘Five? Are you fucking kidding me? What time did you finally let me sleep, you fuck? Do you realise how little sleep I’ve gotten.’
‘You don’t need it,’ he said as he grabbed her arm and dragged her down the hall.
‘I think I know what’s best for myself.’
He spun on his heel, a gun pressed to her forehead before she had a chance to move. ‘Yesterday,’ he said, clicking the safety off, ‘you thought being in a gang was best. You thought fighting the Agency was best. You thought starving was best. You thought criminal activity was best. Do you really think I care for your opinion?’
She stared at the man, unable to argue with him. ‘A girl needs her beauty sleep,’ she mumbled.
‘Another waste,’ he said as the gun disappeared and he turned away again.
She let herself grin. ‘You calling me pretty, agent?’ she asked, tailing him through the large set of double-doors.
The gym was huge. Huge…and empty.
He pointed a line on the floor. ‘Start running. I’ll tell you when to stop.’
She looked around at the distinct lack of other recruits. ‘So what, I get to be your special pet project, extra training before everyone else?’
He slapped her, and indicated to the line again. ‘Run.’
She massaged her cheek. ‘What time does the normal training start?’
She focused on a clock on the opposite wall. ‘It’s five now.’
He swept her legs out from under her, grabbed the back of her head and forced her to stare at the line on the floor. ‘Run, or I’ll make you crawl.’
She focused on a spot across the gym, and faded from his grip. ‘Where the fuck are the rest of your recruits? You giving them the day off?’
‘Stop asking questions, or I’ll execute you.’
‘You didn’t have the balls to do it yesterday, why should I believe you now?’
He took a shot, but she easily ducked it. ‘Where the fuck are the rest of your recruits, proxy?’
She looked at him for a moment, then began to run the laps.
A buzzer went off, and she looked up at the clock – five AM exactly. She took a quick headcount of the present recruits and noticed four missing. She held out her palm and required her headset, then slipped it over her ear. She looked at the assembled recruits. ‘Start your warm-up routines,’ she ordered, then looked away.
She pressed the button on her headset. ‘Open comms to the following recruits,’ she said clearly, transmitting the command, ‘Hart, Peters, Hewitt and Macintosh.’ There were four clicks in her ear as the connections were made. ‘All of you are now late,’ she said, keeping her calm. ‘You have two minutes to get here, except for you, Hewitt, you’ve got thirty seconds or you’re on probation.’
There were two “yes ma’ams” immediately, one a few seconds later, and a crashing noise as Hewitt, wearing only boxers stumbled into the gym.
‘Not late!’ he cried, falling into line. ‘Sorry ma’am.’
‘Ten extra laps, Hewitt,’ she said calmly, letting her headset fade away. ‘Rest of you, thirty, beginning now.’
The bulk of the recruits in front of her began to run immediately, following the blue line on the gym floor. A few quickly pulled another few stretches, then followed their colleagues. One, however, stayed behind, Recruit Ronald Dawson.
‘Hearing problem?’ she asked curtly. ‘I said to run laps.’
‘Where’s Taylor?’ Dawson asked.
‘Agent Taylor,’ she corrected as she approached the recruit, ‘is busy with far more important duties than training you bunch of pathetic meatsacks.’
‘Listen, girl,’ Dawson said, ‘I appreciate that you are a hot piece of ass to look at, and I know you think you’re hot shit, but you are less than half my age, and I’m not going to take orders from you when you’re by yourself. Acting as his mouthpiece when he’s here is fine, but you don’t have the experience to-’
She grinned at the recruit as she buried her boot heel into his shoulder. He collapsed to the ground, clutching at his shoulder. ‘You’ve only been here a month, correct, Dawson?’
‘You crazy bitch!’ he screamed.
She stamped on his shoulder. ‘You’re ex-military,’ she said, recalling the man’s file, ‘would you have called your previous commander a crazy bitch?’
‘No, because he wasn’t!’
She put her boot on his throat. ‘Is your problem with women, then?’
‘Good morning, ma’am,’ Macintosh said as he jogged past, requiring himself from pyjamas and into a training uniform.
The recruit spun. ‘Ma’am?’
She smiled. ‘Explain the hierarchy of the combat division.’
Macintosh snapped himself to attention. ‘First there’s you, Agent Taylor, then the gods.’
She looked down at Dawson. ‘I am Agent Taylor’s Aide. I am his proxy, and you will treat every one of my commands as if it came from him, unless countermanded by Agent Taylor himself. Consider your privileges gone for a week, and you have no recourse to question this. If you want to argue, or think I’m being unfair, you can quit.’
‘There are two words that you have to say to me,’ she said, applying a little more pressure to his throat. ‘Else I’ll file your dismissal paperwork this morning.’
Dawson scowled for a moment, then looked up at her. ‘Yes. Ma’am.’
She removed her foot from his throat and required her headset back. ‘Magnolia to the Parkers.’
‘Christ Mags,’ came the reply, ‘what do you need this time of morning?’
‘Treatment for Recruit Dawson, want me to make him walk?’
‘Were you going to anyway?’
‘I have better things to do.’
‘Shifting him now.’
The recruit disappeared from the floor, and she let herself smile before looking up at the jogging recruits. ‘Faster, or it’ll be forty!’ she yelled.