Magnolia opened her eyes, immediately on guard as bright lights flashed in front of her face.
A tablet lay where her pillow had been, flashing “Panic Mode” in large, unfriendly letters.
She grabbed the tablet, requiring herself into battle-ready clothes as she threw off the sheet and started to run. She slapped her palm on the tablet, and the location read as the tech department – primary floor.
The sender was Screen – it was the customised alert they’d set up over a year ago.
She crashed out through the door to Taylor’s office, running for the elevator as she required her headset. ‘Magnolia to Screen, what’s the situation?’
Require: express elevator.
She ducked her head and ran for the lift doors, pressing the bright green, emergency “go” button before she was fully in the car, and grabbed the rail as it rocketed skyward, at least five times its usual speed.
‘Get here now,’ Screen said, even over the headset, her voice was a whisper. ‘Mags. Please.’
‘What’s the situation?’
Require: MACRO. Situation five.
Somewhere below her, all of the spare rooms on the mostly-unused secondary floor of the combat department filled with supplies for a siege. It was a good backup plan, in case the situation warranted it.
There were no klaxons sounding, and nothing official had come over her comms channels. Despite the lack of official warning, the situation wasn’t good. Screen was a tech, but she knew better than to hit the panic button without a reason.
Require: Ping. Recruit Screen. Locational.
The lift slammed to a stop, and she threw herself out, dropping the tablet, and following the sound of the ping, trusting her working knowledge of the tech floor to get her there in time for…for whatever was going on.
Two long halls and three sharp turns later, her heart stopped.
Taylor was staring at a wall. The wall, if she wasn’t mistaken. Screen stood a few feet away, her hands raised in a placating gesture, and-
There was a body on the floor behind the tech.
For a moment, it didn’t move, and she felt tears burning behind her eyes. He’d killed-
The body – Raz, if she wasn’t mistaken – moved, and she felt her heart finally restart.
She took a step closer. Routine. He needed routine. He needed stability. ‘Sir?’
He didn’t move for a long moment, and she bit down on her tongue to stop herself from calling his name again. He’d heard her, there was nothing to indicate he was non-responsive. He was just taking his time.
Slowly, he wiped the sweat away from his face with the back of his hand, and turned to look at her.
He looked…awful. He looked like hell. He looked worse than after this early hours trips to the simulator room.
He needed her to be…her. It was the only way he was going to normalise. He’d been acting on impulse, and that meant he’d been treating this like a battle situation. Battle situations had their rituals. ‘Sir,’ she said, ‘has the situation been contained?’
‘Yes, recruit,’ he said.
Taylor turned away, and looked down at Raz.
If he moved towards the recruit, then-
She shut down the thought immediately, but allowed herself to exhale as he turned back towards her, angling his head towards her. ‘Magnolia-’
He sounded…desperate, scared, like she had the capacity to make it all better. She nodded. ‘I’m on it, sir.’
He shifted away, and Screen collapsed against the wall, arms folded on her chest, her head bowed and her eyes closed. ‘Help Raz,’ she said without looking up, ‘then come find me.’
Screen quickly walked past her, her eyes already reddening with tears.
Magnolia walked to Raz, and knelt in front of him, trying to assess the damage, even whilst wishing she didn’t have to.
It wasn’t too bad. If she looked past his bloody nose, it wasn’t too bad. Bloody – possibly broken – nose, an arm that had probably been a breath from dislocation, and a small loss of bladder control.
For Taylor, against an enemy, it was damage as light as butterfly kisses.
Against a recruit, against someone who wasn’t in training, and had done nothing wrong, it was senseless brutality, though she was sure, down to her bones, that Taylor had been justified, and that he hadn’t attacked a recruit. Whatever he had seen – the blonde butcher, or the brunette bomb, he’d felt justified.
And that was nothing she could explain to a crying tech who had no idea of the real situation.
She required an ice pack and pressed it gently to his face. ‘Razputin? I’m going to get you some first aid, all right?’
He grabbed the ice pack from her, and held it himself. ‘I didn’t-’ he started, sounding panicked, looking left and right, in case Taylor came back.
There was refuge to be had in something that was close to the truth. ‘He had a glitch,’ she said softly, ‘I’m sorry for what he did, but he didn’t mean it.’
‘He-’ Raz’s voice hitched. ‘He-’ He hung his head and started to cry.
She stood, and hauled the chubby tech to his feet. ‘Let’s get you to the Parkers, okay?’
He didn’t argue as they walked the short distance to the infirmary entrance. She helped him up onto the nearest unoccupied bed, and quickly walked to the doctor’s office, stopping them before they could exit.
‘Yes,’ she said tersely, before either of them could speak. ‘Taylor did it. He glitched. Every agent ever has done it, and it’s going to take you ten minutes to fix. He will be fine, and I do not want a report on this. Make it go away, you’d do the same for Ryan or Jones.’
Parker-2 stared at her. ‘You can’t expect us to-’
‘I can, and do. He would never willingly attack a damn tech. Just keep your damn mouths closed. I will make this good with Raz. You can trust me on that.’
Parker-1 put a hand on her shoulder. ‘I think we can work things out.’ He shot a look at his twin. ‘Mags, don’t let him take you down when he-’ the doctor faltered. ‘He’s going to-’
‘Agent Taylor is fine,’ she snapped. ‘Just- Please- Take care of Raz.’ She spun on her heel, and had to stop herself from running out of the infirmary.
She knew the way to Screen’s room as well as she knew the lines across the tech’s palm. It was usually a place of peace, of serenity, of…being as close to what people considered normal as she ever got.
Screen was…the closest thing she had to a best friend – and she’d never seen the tech so shaken before. The tech was usually as gleeful about Taylor’s ability for violence as an enthusiastic combat recruit – but there was, admittedly something different about seeing it used against a friend, than against an enemy.
She hammered her fist against Screen’s door, not trusting herself to be dextrous enough to knock, and pushed herself into the room as soon as the tech opened the door.
Screen retreated to the bed, and sat on the edge – her uniform already replaced with an oversized Marvel t-shirt, and a pair of soft shorts. Sleep clothes. Comfort clothes.
‘He attacked Raz,’ Screen said without prompting. ‘But I don’t think- But then he tried to protect him- It was like- Like it was something-’
‘Glitch,’ Magnolia said, and watched the word process on her friend’s face. ‘He was glitching. He was…basically sleepwalking. He had no idea what he was doing.’
‘I tried to be you,’ Screen said. ‘Just to see if that worked. Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir. Agent. Agent. Agent.’ Screen was shaking. ‘That was- It’s going to take a while to process-’
Magnolia sat on the bed beside her, and embraced her – and was able to take as much comfort from the hug as Screen did. She buried her face against the tech’s shoulder, and wrapped her arm around the tech’s large, soft, stomach, trying to leech some kind of peace from the moment.
‘I have to get back to him,’ she said, breaking away with a quick kiss. ‘Are you going to be okay?’
Screen squeezed her hand. ‘Yeah. Just…be safe, okay? I don’t think he’d hurt you, but- Kick his arse if he tries, all right? Maybe get him to take some blue booster shots, it should burn out whatever caused the glitch.’
‘I will,’ she said solemnly, and faded from the room.