Curt opened his eyes.
It his life had been a movie – A Series of Ever-Increasingly Terrible Mistakes, a Portrait of Curt O’Connor – he would have been in the dark, both literally and figuratively. He wouldn’t have known if he was nine or ninety, if he was in bed with a lover, or in a prison cell.
Real life, unfortunately, was clear at the worst points.
11pm, Thursday, Brisbane
1 pm, Thursday, Hyde
The bar was a dive, and that was putting it politely.
Curt withdrew the fairy phone from his pocket, and scrolled through the small list of contacts there – and of that small list, only one had the near-universal star indicating that it was a favourite contact: Cresta Lan Oca, better known as Carmichael.
Curt moved through the Field Operations floor, barely aware of his movements. Everything was…strangely disconnected. As if deciding that today was the day he was going to die had already made part of his soul slip free of his body.
As if whatever made him…him was already gone, and he was nothing more than impetus, instinct, and a few last wishes made flesh.
The elevator took precisely 7.83 seconds to appear once he hit the call button. It was a bit of social engineering the Agency did in order to keep their recruits…human, in a strange way. It was long enough of a delay to make it seem normal, without being long enough to really notice.
He rode up to the main Tech floor – the one Jones called home, and managed to walk through without more than a few calls of greeting to “Agent C”. Whatever Raz believed about him, the other recruits knew he was nothing more than human, but the nickname had stuck.
1pm, Thursday, Brisbane
3am, Thursday, Hyde
Curt opened his eyes, unsure for a moment if he was truly awake, or if it was just another layer to the nightmare.
Even with his Parker-approved pill, the sleep had been fitful, broken, and with nightmares even worse than normal.
The usual nightmares were just a mishmash of horrific imagery – things that had happened and hadn’t happened, things that might have happened but had been buried beneath the rest of the trauma, coming back as lost thoughts.
They were, in their own way, proof that even though he’d escaped from the small, dark room; Petersen still got his pound of flesh every day.
Stef looked into her HUD again, and toggled some of her emotional display options again – now that he wasn’t touching her, there was no need for the fear response to be hidden.
Emotions had never been easy, but when they literally sat as a control panel within your field of vision, at least choosing how your face reacted gave you some control over the situation.
The fear would pass. It was just too fresh to ignore.
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.
The water was ice cold.
He was out of breath.
Raz now knew one new empirical fact: spending the night with company definitely put a spring in one’s step.
Up ahead, Screen’s door opened, and a woman of Amazonian proportions, with vines falling down her back like Medusa’s snakes, walked out and headed for the elevator. Screen saw him, beckoned him, and they exchanged high-fives as they headed for their duty stations.
Curt slipped the gun into his pocket – the pocket of the stolen clothes – the pocket of the gifted clothes. Clothes that belonged to a Solstice. Clothes being worn by a Solstice.
He managed to meet Magnolia’s eyes without betraying any emotion. If the world was spinning towards Duty, towards what was right, she would take out her knife and slit his throat, then get Stef to safety.
‘O’Connor,’ Magnolia said, her voice the same as it ever was. Mags at work was…a study in everything a recruit was capable of being. Not necessarily what a recruit should be, but what potential there was.