The walk past the other dorm rooms was normal – the same looks, the same people looking right past him.
Curt, for once, was grateful how much the other Field recruits hated him. If any of them had given a damn, they would have been able to tell something was wrong. Or…they would know what he had done, and would hate him for it.
Being former Solstice was one thing. It was something in the past. Something you could minimise by not talking about it, by being a model recruit, for lying about what you had done.
A mislead redshirt. Someone fooled by propaganda. That was something that could be forgiven.
Anyone could be pulled in by “save the world” rhetoric.
It wasn’t anyone who could take a knife to someone they wanted as a friend.
There was a knock on the door into Ryan’s office.
Stef looked up, wishing that she’d reacted with fear, with shock, that she’d flinched in the sound…instead there was nothing but the pervasive numbness that had crept under her skin since returning home.
Stef couldn’t stop shaking.
The door to the room that held Grigori was twenty feet away.
And inside, was a man who’d orchestrated things – unintentionally or not – for her to get tortured.
She hugged her arms around herself and pressed her hands to her upper arms. She closed her eyes for a moment, then doubled over and puked against the wall.
She retched twice more, and some of the tears started to shake loose.
Without even thinking, without considering the consequences, Ryan shifted.
Stars wheeled overhead, filling her entire vision.
Somewhere, far to the left, a purple nebula was blown by a solar wind, and a spiral galaxy spun, spinning countless stars around its central core.
There was a small, polite knock, and Stef blinked. Slowly, she sat up, looking away from the science-magic ceiling of her bedroom, towards the door to her office.
Stef aimed her fork at the last piece of steak – for once, she’d managed to eat an entire meal, with only minimal spills on her uniform.
Ryan dabbed at his mouth with a cloth napkin – something that was strangely formal, strangely high-class, considering the low-key dinner they were having in his office.
There was something in the tone of his voice. ‘Russia, right?’ she asked, after wiping her own face, and quickly requiring a new tie to get rid of the gravy spot.
‘I’m not going to hit you.’
Ryan gave her a dad!face look. ‘Stef.’
Stef lifted her arms and shook them. ‘I have tiny, girly, hacker arms, I can’t hit anything.’
Stef tried to keep pace with Ryan, but his stupidly long legs – at least in comparison to hers – kept him a step ahead. Usually, he seemed to have no problem slowing his pace to keep down with her, but now he seemed…almost excited at the prospect of showing off her new office.
It was situated a couple of hallways away from his – no closer to the recruit quarters, mostly it was near other empty offices and meeting rooms. It was close enough to feel safely close to him, but still somehow far enough away to give her space.
If intentional – and she had no doubt that it was – she was grateful. He was keeping her close, but giving her room to spread her unfortunately metaphorical wings.
The last time Ryan had taken her to meet recruits, she’d managed to hide in the bathroom for nearly twenty minutes.
This time, Ryan was on her right, and Curt was on her left – the only option was to turn and run, but it was entirely likely that one or the both of them would catch her and drag her towards mandatory social interaction.
Resistance was futile.
Stef bowed her head, and focussed on looking strong, sensible and as much like an agent as she could manage.
All of the Field recruits were waiting when they stepped into the common room. Curt immediately peeled away from her left, and walked towards the back of the room, leaning against the wall, far from any of his – their – supposed colleagues.
Ryan stepped up, and cleared his throat. ‘Recruits,’ he said, indicating to her with a sweep of his palm. ‘I’d like to introduce you to Agent Mimosa. She’s currently assigned as the secondary field agent as of this morning.’
He paused, and like her, was probably looking for reactions. There were none. She was completely forgettable. It was probably some kind of minor miracle that Curt had remembered her – she hadn’t made an impact on anyone else. Usually, that was a goal achieved – here, it would likely make things far more awkward.
‘Some of you,’ Ryan said, barrelling into the inevitable, ‘may remember that she was introduced as a recruit in October.’
A recruit stood up. The jerk that she’d punched. The one who had offered to play pimp for Ryan in Fairyland. ‘That’s the bitch that punched me!’
There was a dust mote floating through the stream of sunlight.
There were, in fact, three hundred and twenty-seven visible motes in the line of sunlight currently pouring morning into her eyes; and her HUD was tracking them all.
Stef lifted a hand, disturbed the air currents, and squeed with glee as her HUD continued to track every dust mote; providing a basic chemical analysis, predicting paths based on available data; and asking her if she wanted deeper analysis on her surrounding environment.
The surrounding environment being Ryan’s office.
The carpet was soft beneath her head; and there was nothing to do, but enjoy lying in a strip of sunlight like beloved cat.
‘Be very, very quiet,’ she said, ‘I’m hunting dust bunnies.’