Experiment: Day 1
There was an impatient knock on Ryan’s door.
Ryan looked up from the two piles of papers – one of ordinary paperwork, the other, details of Stef’s experiment – the immediate danger over, he needed all the detail he could get.
So far, the thing that had become most clear was the fact that multi-tasking in this manner was not his strong point. The day-to-day operations were his primary duty, of course, but the little girl in the basement was more important than that.
Duty for duty’s sake was an empty duty. Duty for the sake of family; duty when you had something to work for, that was far more important.
The knock came again, and he bookmarked the place in the experiment protocol before dismissing the hardcopy. He straightened his tie, looked up, and unlocked the door with a thought.
Agent Clarke nearly fell into the room as he rushed to get through the door.
The agent was dishevelled – this was unusual for any agent when looking as crisp as a newborn was one requirement away, but even more unusual for Clarke, who took on his appearance with the same care and planning as Taylor did an extensive operation.
As liaison agent, appearances were just as important as words – and his look said everything Ryan needed to know.
Clarke regained his footing, closed the door, stared at Ryan for a moment, lit a cigarette, then went to the couch.
Ryan rubbed his neck, then straightened himself in the chair.
‘Ryan, this is going to cause a shitstorm, you know it is.’
‘So you know,’ Ryan said, keeping his voice neutral.
‘It’s almost physically painful to watch the system try and squeeze that many messages through the pitiful connection that the Marches has. Boss, what the fuck possessed you to-‘
‘Clarke,’ Ryan said, raising his voice.
‘Sorry boss,’ Clarke said, then dropped his head onto the back of the couch for a moment, the cigarette smoke drifting lazily towards the ceiling. ‘But…for some recruit that hasn’t even been here a week, what gives?’
‘I don’t have to explain myself to you.’
‘No, but it will make things easier, cause everyone is going to be asking. This isn’t classified, and people talk. I’m pretty sure you can keep the recruits in the dark, but what happens when the Outposts come knocking? How are you going to justify to this to-‘
Justifying himself to the Enforcer had been hard, but had made sense, had been easy in a way, because her life had been in the balance. Justifying himself to Clarke was less easy, especially when it was a story that would be repeated a hundred times over.
He wasn’t the only agent to have lost a child; he was just the only one who had been in a position to bring one back. It was reasoning that would fall on deaf ears to the other fathers that had stood over graves.
‘I made a decision. The consequences were different than what I had imagined.’
‘Are you fucking her?’
Ryan frowned, and felt a deep crease form on his forehead. ‘I am not, and I’ll thank you not-‘
‘Cause I get can you a slave girl, boss, hell more than one, but you’ll have to keep them in the Marches, and just rotate them as you get bored-‘
‘Clarke,’ he snapped.
‘I know a girl who can-‘
Clarke dropped the cigarette to the floor and ground it under his foot. ‘Seventh place out of the capital city Agencies last year,’ the liaison agent said, ‘out of seven contenders. Eighth place in the state among the full Agencies. We are not well-liked, we are not well-loved, and now you’ve done this, sir.’
Ryan narrowed his eyes. ‘We are not the first to have experimented with mirror. We’re not the first to have used this protocol. We’re not-‘
‘How exactly do you want me to spin this? How am I supposed to explain to-‘
Reynolds would have used bluster. Reynolds would have called on his rank and said it gave him leeway not to be questioned. He wasn’t Reynolds.
‘The decision was mine,’ Ryan said quietly, ‘the consequences are mine. This situation should be treated as no different to any other augment, any other experiment, which we are free and clear to do. I trust Jones, and-‘ Should. He had been about to say “should”. “Should” like the experiment had a chance of failing. “Should” like there was a possibility that Stef would be locked in the basement forever.
He stood and leaned against the wall of windows behind him. ‘Clarke, once her testing is over, we’ll have another agent on the roster, and you won’t have to chase as much outstanding paperwork.’
Clarke lit another cigarette. ‘You do know I can read, right?’ he asked, exhaling a cloud of smoke. ‘And her file doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. You want an extra agent, cancel this, I’ll call in some favours and I’ll get you a secondary, but this- This is not going to work. We can’t get lower than seventh for the capitals, but if we keep falling in the state and nationals, they’ll do to us what they did to Florence.’
To this, Ryan smiled.
The summary execution of a whole staff of an Agency was nothing to be taken lightly – all but two had been lead kicking and screaming to the recycling chamber; the tech had survived as his lover was an Enforcer, and had been converted to a role at Central, the other had been a recruit trainer, and had only bee six months old, and far from the root cause of any of the Agency’s issues.
The comparison was ridiculous though – it was pure paranoia on Clarke’s part. Florence had repeatedly failed basic checks and targets, had been so inefficient that the Solstice controlled large parts of the city, and were regularly attacked by minor Courts.
Brisbane, on the other hand, struggled, but did the best with what they had. Things would be better once Reynolds woke up – things had always been better under Reynolds’ direction.
Rescuing a little girl wasn’t the end of the world.
He focussed on the liaison agent. ‘The situation is what it is.’
‘You could have used the mirror for anything else.’
‘I used it how it needed to be used.’
Clarke sucked angrily on the cigarette. ‘Ok, but I want a week off after this.’
‘You just had a holiday.’
‘And you don’t pay me well enough to put up with this, sir.’
‘I don’t pay you at all.’
Clarke stared, and Ryan fought the urge to sigh. He pushed away from the window, crouched next to his desk, and pulled the petty cash tin from his drawer. A security window appeared in his HUD and he gave his clearance to open it. The tin popped open, and an array of coloured notes and coins lay in neat rows and bags before him.
‘A long weekend,’ Ryan said, ‘not a week.’ He peeled way five silver Fairyland one-hundred dollar notes, and hefted a small bag of hob coins – itself probably worth another hundred dependant on the exchange rate, and laid the on the desk. Clarke stood, pocketing the notes in a second, but stared distastefully at the hob coins. ‘I’m not going to Ver Hall, I’ll just be in the Marches.’ Clarke pushed on the bag, and reached towards the box.
Ryan closed the tin halfway – enough to stop Clarke’s fingers, and reached for the small bag of coins. ‘Then don’t take them.’
‘Just give me another hundred of real money, don’t make-‘
‘Clarke,’ Ryan said, feeling his already spent patience disappearing.
‘Fifty then call it quits, but I deal with currency conversions enough for work, I don’t want to do it with my time off.’
Ryan let out a long breath, and exchanged the coins for a golden note, which Clarke plucked from his fingers. ‘Thanks boss. I’ll keep the outposts off your back.’
‘That’s your job, Clarke.’
Clarke grinned. ‘Now, about your harem-‘
‘Get out of my office.’
Clarke flipped a two-fingered salute, then shifted away.