Experiment: Day 2
Taylor hadn’t slept, that was obvious.
Magnolia made sure her footsteps were heavy as she approached. He was perfect, he was infallible, he always knew where she was – this information though, could slip when distracted, or tired.
She turned, her boot squeaking on the light polished wood of the gym floor and made a wide arc around him as he stood in front of his punching bag, his arms above his head, holding onto the chain. His uniform was in pieces, half of the exposed skin was bloody, the rest was sweaty.
His looked to her, but didn’t move. He gave a grunt to acknowledge her, then slowly released the punching bag and shook out his limb.
He was stiff. He was sore.
She looked to the floor as a new uniform slid across his body – blood had pooled there – he had been standing like that for a long time.
Her heart sank under the weight of guilt – she’d surrendered to sleep, and he’d needed her. She’d been weak when she was needed to do her duty.
He unwrapped his hands – more of a ritual than a need, as the dirty, bloody wrapping could have been dismissed as easily as the remains of his old uniform.
She stood straight as he approached. ‘Were there any updates during the night, sir?’ she asked.
‘Execution request denied,’ he said. He stared down at her, brown eyes drilling into her, then turned and stalked towards his office. She easily fell into step beside him – he kept his gait so that they could walk in step with each other – it kept their circumstances the same in the field. There was an inherent flaw – it could mean they were both killed at the same time, but the benefit far outweighed the risks – it meant they would be on the same side of a blackout zone, or both within range of an enemy.
It meant they were never alone.
He sat behind the simple, functional desk – it looked like something that could bought in flat-pack from IKEA. She sat in her seat across from him, mentally shuffling files as to what she needed to update him on.
It was not a desk that could be reliably fucked on – not that there had ever been the chance to test that assumption.
He stared, and she folded her hands in her lap. ‘We aren’t in a superior position to yesterday, sir. You were never consulted, and it was Enforcer-approved, so an appeal will take time to process – likely they won’t even entertain the idea until the first phase is completed.’
He looked at her, a question on his face.
‘The first phase is the scholar’s tinkering, sir. The initial augmentation process – this will be done in stages over fourteen days – with the last few days being full augmentation and the destruction of the corpse the mirror is residing in. Assuming everything meets their specifications, she’ll be turned over to us for limit testing.’
He grunted – this was all information he already knew. There were no updates to give him. She was useless.
‘And-‘ he paused. ‘Whitman?’
Her heart faltered for a moment. ‘I haven’t perused that file, sir.’
He looked past her. ‘It’s necessary to understand.’ He stood. ‘Follow.’
He turned left as soon as he went back to the gym, and stood in front of the entrance to the private gym’s training simulator – though the gym itself was more than capable of displaying training sims, it made a practical kind of sense to run scenarios in the specialised room.
A file loaded, and he pushed open the door.
‘This is what Whitman did,’ he said as she stepped in. The door closed and disappeared into part of the wall.
The combat floor corridor stared back at her. ‘There was nothing wrong,’ he said. ‘Unexpected. We were unprepared.’
Alarms blared and she jumped as the door beside them opened. Taylor stepped out – and he looked so different to her commander. The hair was different – the one in this memory was blond, the face was the same, but the eyes were different. The blond man wasn’t her commander. He was…but not.
She stilled her face, careful to keep it smooth of emotion, then looked back to her commander. ‘Sir?’
‘Lockdown conditions,’ he said. ‘No warning. We were closed off.’
They followed the old Taylor through the combat hall, watched him yell instructions to recruits – the kind of instructions you do when you aren’t sure if there’s a real emergency, or what the situation is. Suit up, get into teams, secure the armouries. The basic precautions.
They rode up in a lift, and exited on the Field floor. They turned two corners, then it was obvious that something was wrong.
A recruit lay on the floor. The old Taylor went to his knees beside the young man, who was desperately trying to stop his life from bleeding away – someone had slashed his neck, but hadn’t done a very good job of it.
The recruit grabbed for Taylor, and expired before the agent could do anything.
Magnolia followed her commander and his memory to Ryan’s office. Like the recruit, the agent was also on the ground, bleeding. The wounds were non-fatal though – nasty, deep cuts in his face, defensive wounds on his arms, and a deep gut wound.
The weapon had been fae – that was obvious from the fact that Ryan hadn’t been able to regenerate at all.
The blonde Taylor knelt. ‘Sir, are you conscious?’ His hands worked over Ryan’s suit, and found a packet of blue. He tore open Ryan’s shirt and applied it to the gut wound, which immediately started to seal. ‘Sir?’
Ryan grunted, and his eyes fluttered open.
‘Where did she get the weapons, sir?’
‘Me,’ Ryan choked. ‘She got them from me.’
‘But sir, you surely-’
‘She wanted access to the weapons locker…she’s been researching…She…Why…’
She looked to her commander as his memory squeezed the last of the blue from the foil packet. He caught her gaze for a moment, then looked back to the men on the floor.
‘What’s the damage?’ Ryan asked.
‘Lockdown. Did you-‘
Ryan swooned for a moment. ‘I did. She’s-‘ Ryan looked up, eyes clear. ‘The Recruits!’
‘At least one is dead.’ Taylor looked away, and wiped Ryan’s blood on his pants. ‘Ryan, you know what has to be done.’
‘No!’ He struggled to sit up, but Taylor pushed down on his chest. ‘You can’t-’
‘Love her. I know, sir. But she- I’m sorry sir, but there is no choice.’
‘You don’t have to.’
Ryan reached for the blonde Taylor again, but his arm slackened and dropped as the Director fell unconscious.
She followed her commander and his memory out of Ryan’s office. Blood from three different dead recruits made her trail easy to follow. Magnolia stole another glance at her commander, who was tense beyond anything she’d ever seen.
The blood led them up to the tech floor. Three techs had gone down fighting – they all wore pieces of body armour, and one held a grenade in their hand, the pin still safely in place.
Taylor checked each body – a stupid, useless manoeuvre, a waste of time, and two corridors later, the blood trail stopped, as the one making it was standing still.
Ryan had excellent taste in women. Whitman was tall, blonde and gorgeous – even with the sheen of blood over her suit, she was incredibly hot. Her gaze was unfocussed, her lids heavy over her eyes as if she wasn’t even seeing what she’d done.
The knife in her hand wasn’t held with any degree of professionalism, or with any sign that the wielder knew what they were doing.
Whitman stood left of centre in the hall, her hands swinging slightly, blood falling in arcs of small drops. Magnolia leant her head forward as a soft sound reached her – Whitman was singing. It was a wordless tune, the kind of non-song that parents sang to their kids to get them to sleep.
She stole another look at her commander as his memory walked forward. He was pale. He was- Magnolia overwrote the thought before it could fully form, then looked at him again. He was afraid. It wasn’t something she was used to seeing on his face, but it was there.
It was worse than the fear he’d shown when they’d been surrounded by Reapers.
A door opened at the end of the hall and Jones stepped out – Jones looked the same as he did in the present, though his usually-pristine lab coat was covered in blood.
‘The scholar is an idiot,’ Taylor said. ‘He thought he could do something.’
Whitman hadn’t moved, she still stood, her arms swinging, her mouth moving with the song.
She heard Jones shout – she couldn’t make out the word, but by the force of it, it was one of the few magic words that agents had. Angel magic. Words that could impede, paralyse or kill. They were commands that affected the software, of course, but they were treated with far more reverence than something so simple.
Jones shouted more words.
Whitman seemed to be unaffected.
Jones looked to the side, and made a quick motion with his hand – two recruits rolled a machine out. ‘Carol,’ Jones yelled, his voice clear, ‘put the knife down!’
Whitman looked towards Jones, and the memory of Taylor took the opportunity to attack her. It was an inelegant body slam. Whitman screamed – it was high-pitched and inhuman – and clawed at Taylor, the knife still in her hand.
Taylor’s memory wrestled the blonde beneath him, one hand around her throat, the other grasping for the knife.
The two techs cheered for him, even as they cowered behind Jones and the machine. This was something that would never happen now – no matter the circumstances. Taylor was to be feared and to be respected, but among the recruits, fear tended to win out.
Taylor’s memory suddenly jerked and toppled onto the floor. Carol stood, a second knife in her hand. She screamed again, and began to walk towards the techs.
Jones began to press buttons on the machine, and blasts of blue light shot from it. A square chunk was carved from Whitman’s shoulder as she reached them.
She caught a blast in the chest, and stopped for a moment.
Taylor’s memory went at her again, this time, his hands moved in a familiar motion – he’d tried to snap her neck.
Whitman gave no reaction to the execution attempt.
Her commander walked forward and she watched as Whitman moved forward, trying to kill the techs, trying to ignore Taylor.
Taylor’s memory grabbed Whitman, and shouted at the techs to run. She attacked him with both knives as the recruits ran. Jones faltered for a moment, then ran like a coward.
Magnolia stared, uncomprehending as Whitman slashed at Taylor again and again – it wasn’t a fight he should have lost, it shouldn’t have been a fight at all.
‘She didn’t feel pain,’ Taylor said as he watched himself being cut, keeping himself between the crazed woman and where the techs had run . ‘She’d never fought like this. It was-‘
His memory stood, and stumbled back against the wall, bleeding profusely. One of Carol’s knives slammed into his hand and pinned it there, the other hand soon followed. He sagged, held up by his hands, pinned like a butterfly.
Whitman collapsed to the floor, her eyes still unfocussed.
Magnolia’s heart strained as she watched Taylor die.
He hadn’t had a heroic last stand, there’d been no last minute rescue, he’d fought and he’d died.
Blood pooled on the floor, the soft drops from the corpse the only sound in the hall.
‘Ryan killed her,’ her commander said as he turned to face her, looking away from his own body. ‘Too late. Fifteen dead. Eighteen injured. All survivors were transferred. The Agency was crippled for months.’
Taylor took a step closer. ‘We look for threats from the outside. We don’t protect ourselves from what’s in the building.’ He lifted a hand and stabbed a finger in the direction that Whitman had gone. ‘This is what she’ll do. Ryan can’t see it. The Scholar won’t see it. You-‘
‘I’ll do whatever is needed, sir.’