Experiment: Day 3
Curt opened his eyes, a scream still locked in his throat.
‘Lights,’ he choked, ‘fuck, lights, require: lights.’
The room was immediately illuminated – his bed with the tangled sheets, the disused kitchenette, the in-built wardrobe. His, all his. His room. His things. No agent to be seen. No cage. No blood.
He dismissed his sweaty sheets and leaned back against the headboard, sitting ramrod straight, eyes sweeping to ensure that there wasn’t an intruder, that none of the shadows were deeper than they should be.
Everything was normal.
His body refused to relax.
He lifted stiff arms and slowly patted down his body, feeling the places where there should have been scars, where there should be chunks missing, where instead there were only phantom pains and memories.
There was only one more test. He closed his eyes and required his uniform. For a moment, he kept his eyes closed, and simply pressed his hands against fabric, trying for force his fingers to discover the colour.
He hung his head, opened his eyes, and let out a half-cry, half-sob of relief.
He was safe. For another day, he was safe.
He dismissed all of his clothes, stood, and walked to the bathroom. He stepped into the shower, spinning the taps on autopilot, and let himself drown in the warm water.
Even Parker’s pills couldn’t keep the nightmares away. They didn’t come every night anymore, but they were far too easy to trigger, and had been expected after the fucked up sequence after the mirrorfall.
Fucked up was the only way to describe it. There was nothing normal about the situation. Nothing that mitigated any of it. Nothing that made it better.
The Agency was holding a recruit in a tank amongst freaks. No one knew. No one cared.
He shook his head, and rubbed shampoo through his hair.
None of the other Field recruits had brought it up. No one had noticed her missing from training. No one had asked Magnolia, at least not while he’d been around.
No one cared, and the Agency could be cruel when no one cared.
Ryan hadn’t offered any more information, and he hadn’t asked. He trusted Ryan. He had to trust Ryan. Ryan wasn’t Petersen. Ryan wouldn’t-
He dunked his head to wash away the shampoo.
She was alive. He had to believe she was still alive. If nothing else, her cage had been of a reasonable size. It hadn’t been-
He dunked his head again, then turned the water off.
Magnolia hadn’t offered up any further information after the library. Two more attempts at information gathering had been pleasurable, but he’d left without information.
He stepped out of the shower, and grabbed a towel.
In other situations, there would have been the temptation to call the situation political, but the rift between Field and Combat wasn’t anything so articulate. Taylor was a raging dick, and everyone worked around him as much as possible.
Taylor being dangerous and unreasonable was the baseline for a day ending in “y”, but whatever the full extent of the situation – he took a moment to wipe moisture from the bathroom mirror – it was making things worse.
Combat recruits had been visible on Field and Tech floors – far more than was usual, and were likely attempts to keep out of Taylor’s line of fire.
He dried himself, and required his training uniform. He looked at himself in the mirror, and took a moment to require his hair into place, the last beads of moisture disappearing from the brown strands.
He left the room and jogged to the gym – it was still far too early for training, but shooting a few targets and imagining Petersen’s face would improve his mood a little.
Magnolia was there, a tablet in her hand. A smattering of X’s had been taped to the floor – that usually meant a whole-group exercise.
‘Morning, Mags,’ he said as he walked towards the firing range.
She looked up, gave him a blank look, and went back to tapping out instructions on the tablet.
The rotation had its rules – mutual benefits shared in private did not extend to any courtesy shown in public.
He required a target halfway down the range, the basic outline of a man – and it was far too easy to imagine it was Petersen. He required a gun, did a basic check, flicked off the safety and fired three shots into it.
‘Your form is shit, O’Connor.’
He fired off another three shots. ‘I’ve been awake fifteen minutes and I’m hitting the centre of mass, I’m doing fine.’
She gave him a sharp look, and he straightened himself, adjusted the grip on his gun and fired again – this time, the shots were a lot more accurate.
‘See? Giving a fuck gets results.’
‘It’s too early to give a shit.’ He fired again and again, destroying the paper target’s head.
‘You should have been Combat,’ she said, ‘you’re better than the rest of these fucks.’ She held up the tablet, and he saw a form displayed. ‘That’s your signature, correct?’
He flicked the safety back on, laid the gun down, and took a closer look. ‘Yeah.’
‘Why are you doing Ryan’s work for him?’
He turned away from the target and leaned against the range. ‘He needs help, so I’m helping.’
‘He needs a real Aide-‘
‘He’s already told me not to bother finishing my new application.’ He stared at a point past her. ‘It’s fair,’ he said, trying to convince himself, ‘a Director can’t have a traitor for an Aide, I’m happy to temp, it’ll earn me a few Brownie points.’
Magnolia shrugged. ‘Whatever it is, keep it up, it’s nice to actually get a response.’
With this, she turned away.
Magnolia spun back to look at him. ‘O’Connor, stop trying ask, I’m not going to say anything, even if you manage to actually form a question.’ She narrowed her eyes. ‘What the fuck do you want me to say?’
A dozen questions danced on his tongue. ‘Just tell me you think it’s as fucked up as I think it is.’
Magnolia’s black eyes glittered. ‘Of course it is, you’re in the Agency.’ She turned away again, tapping on the tablet computer.
He picked up his gun, reloaded it with a thought, and went back to executing Petersen on paper.
The rest of the Field recruits filed in over the next hour, and Magnolia slowly clustered them in small groups – one, two or three – around the taped X’s.
The door to the largest training simulator was open – the external size didn’t matter, even the small ones were capable of holding a world, but it was necessary social engineering, – the big room for the big events. Three doors sat immediately inside the simulator – one open to the lobby, one opening onto the tech floor, and the last was a reflection of the gym they stood in.
‘Group exercise,’ Magnolia said, ‘there’s two grading elements today – success within your own tasks, and cooperation with the other groups.’ She jerked a thumb behind her. ‘You can see the three floors behind me. Those of you on white markers to the lobby, blue to the gym, and green to the techs.’
Curt looked down and saw a white X beneath his feet.
‘The scenario isn’t one we’ve done before. We’ve done attacks on the Agency, and attempts at breaches.’ Magnolia turned her hand over. ‘This is the inverse – stop a threat from exiting the Agency. Lockout conditions, no external assistance, no shifting, no requiring, limited-‘
Curt didn’t bother with surprise as Brian took a couple of steps off his green X. ‘That’s bullshit, when would we need to-‘
‘I’m not here to answer your stupid questions, Recruit,’ Magnolia snapped. ‘We need to account for all possibilities, and there are times when sacrificing an entire Agency is a better result than something escaping to the wider world.’
Brian bristled. ‘So let us fucking require!’
‘Requiring can be used against us. Shifting could release a danger. This is why lockout conditions exist. You’re on your own for this sim.’
‘Any Agent Bobs?’ someone to Curt’s right asked.
‘One, and he’s injured on one of these floors. That’s one of your choices – use your resources to assist a dying agent, or accept the death as collateral damage.’ She turned towards the recruits standing on blue crosses. ‘Field floor, your primary goal is mount a resistance to the threat.’ She turned to the green markers. ‘Tech floor, secure resources. There will be tech recruit sims, again, your play as to what you do with them.’ She turned to look at Curt. ‘Lobby – last line of defence. Stop the threat from exiting at any and all costs.’
The recruits lined up, and entered the three sections of the sim.
Susan and Derek followed him into the lobby – nice enough when on their own – both had been newbies he’d looked after for their first few days until they’d the Solstice thing had been too much for them to handle. Both had fallen in with Brian’s group, and become his lackeys.
The lobby looked the same as always – the Agency was starter than the United Federation of Planet after all – they didn’t decide to dim the lights just because there was an emergency – visibility was very useful, after all.
Susan jogged to Natalie’s desk and retrieved a tablet from there. ‘Lockout conditions in place,’ she reported. ‘What else can we do?’
Derek moved to the doors and played with a keypad until a grate slid down from the roof – a tiny extra layer of defence.
Curt moved to the wall, found a loose panel, and pulled it open to reveal the room’s emergency supplies. The tech floors had emergency stashes every few feet – the rest of the floors only had one or two sets per room. He beckoned the others over and rationed out the paltry weapons and ammunition – glad that his own supplies hadn’t been dismissed upon entering the sim.
There was one phone, which Derek took. ‘The tablet has Vox,’ he said, ‘which is pretty much useless. We don’t have anyone to call on a regular line-‘
‘We could call emergency,’ Curt pointed out, ‘but it’s lockout conditions, so no one will come help anyway.’ He turned. ‘And Vox should be working, even if it’s limited to device-only communication.’
‘He’s right,’ Susan said. ‘but there doesn’t look like there’s anyone else online.’
Curt exhaled a sigh through his nose. ‘Showing an online status potentially gives the enemy information. Ping the local chat, see what happens.’
Susan lowered the tablet so that Curt and Derek could see, and sent a ping off into the seemingly-empty chat.
[Field floor, reporting in.]
[Kilroy was here.]
The responses flooded into chat, and he heard Derek sigh with relief. ‘Good, we’re not alone.’
Susan tilted the tablet back and ran her finger across it. ‘I’m asking who needs medical treatment, and who can provide it.’
Derek looked around. ‘I’ll take the right side of the lifts, you take the left,’ he said to Curt.
‘Because splitting up is such a great idea,’ Curt snapped.
‘You’re not in charge, O’Connor. Take the left.’
Curt glared, but backed off – the more he gave in, the more he played up being weak was the more they underestimated him, the more they could ignore him, the more he could fade into the background. They left Susan coordinating efforts on the tablet, and split up at the elevators.
The ground floor of the Agency was far more complicated than it needed to be – though a good half of it was the lobby and a waiting room, there were also dozens of little interview rooms, holding rooms, and meeting rooms. An unnecessary maze, given how few true civilians they dealt with.
He patted down his pockets and found a thick red marker. The first room was locked, so he drew an X above the handle, the second held no supplies, so he drew a large X across the width of the door, the third held supplies, so he drew a tick.
The door leading into the stairwell had blood on the handle – and the drops indicated someone had come down from upstairs bleeding, rather than retreating upstairs.
He looked at the four doors closest to the stairwell – all four had bloody handles, all four were seemingly locked. He looked at the blood on the floor – there were crime scene recruits to read spatter patterns, though watching all of Dexter meant he could fake a little knowledge, and a lot of it was simple logic – standing in place had different droplet patterns to movement.
Three of the four doors had very little blood on the floor in front of them – the injured person hadn’t done anything more than jiggle the handle and move on. The four had slightly more blood – they’d hesitated for a few seconds.
He tried the handle again, still locked. He knocked. ‘It’s Recruit O’Connor, is there anyone in there?’
He strained his ears, and heard a faint noise.
He pulled a suppressor from an inside pocket, attached it to his gun, stepped back and fired two shots at the lock. He disliked the suppressor – it made his gun far harder to hide, and most people were willing to write off a shot as a car backfiring – it did have its uses though.
Curt stepped to the side, and pushed on the door, just in case the occupant thought he was a threat. When there was no reaction, he peeled himself away from the wall.
‘Again,’ he stated loudly, and clearly, ‘I am a Recruit. I am armed. I am coming in.’
He stepped into the small, dark room and found Agent Bob, gracelessly bleeding to death against the left wall.
Curt liked Agent Bob – so much as it was possible to like someone one step up from an inanimate object whose personality changed as necessary. Bob was uncomplicated. Bob was, for an agent, safe.
Curt left the door open – there was no point in closing it, the damage made it obvious, and at least this way, they’d have some warning if the demon attacked.
‘Recruit?’ Bob slurred.
‘Are you trained in first aid?’
‘I know what to do, sir,’ Curt said as he knelt beside the agent.
It was a safe answer, and a true one without telling the whole truth – there was no point in keeping things secret from Bob – the man wouldn’t exist in an hour, and the next version wouldn’t remember anything that had happened. It still felt safer to obfuscate the truth.
Curt held the agent to lie on ground, and tucked Bob’s jacket beneath his head after extracting a silver packet. The wound to the gut was ugly, and would eventually be fatal, but Curt had time to save him.
He ripped open the agent’s shirt – it was quicker than unbuttoning the remaining buttons, and it wasn’t as though the shirt would be rescued – and upended the blue onto the worst of the wound. The blue gel slowly sloughed out of the packet, falling in blobs.
Bob seized from the pain, but colour immediately returned to his face.
Curt stood, wiped his bloody hands on his jacket, and looked around for the room’s emergency supplies – luckily, this room contained some.
He ignored the weapons, and dug deeper into the cache for the rations – among which were sealed bottles of water and a bowl.
Curt returned to Bob, tore the bloody shirt into strips, and threw most of them into the empty bowl, then wiped at the bloody area and the unused blue with the rest, then threw those into the bowl as well. He poured a cup of water into the silver packet and upended the diluted blue into the bowl. Another cup of water into the silver packet, and all the dregs of blue were gone.
He soaked the bloody rags for a moment more, then applied them to the wound – whatever small chance of infection there was from the blood was a small price to pay for the use of the remaining, invisible drops of blue.
He soaked the rags again, and left them lying against the agent’s stomach, then helped Bob to lean against the wall. He funnelled the remaining blue-and-bloody water into the empty bottle, and instructed the agent to drink.
‘Thank you, Recruit.’
Curt smiled – niceties were another reason he liked Bob – even when Bob was the villain of the sim, he always made sure to say please-and-thank-you – which was more courtesy than he got from most agents. More than he deserved, of course, but even prisoners got the formalities of pleasantry.
He went back to the emergency panel, grabbed the weaponry, and a med kit, and left them with Bob, then left the agent to his pain.
Curt closed the door as much as the broken lock would allow, then followed the blood trail up the stairs.
The blood trail let him out on one of the tech floors, he checked his guns, counted to ten, then opened the door.
Three techs were huddled in a puddle of lab coats, fear and blood. Thankfully, they were just random sim recruits, not based off anyone he knew – this made it a little easier.
He grabbed the shoulder of the closest one. ‘Which way?’
‘I don’t know!’ the tech screamed.
He left them to their fear, and continued down the corridor. The tech floors, bless their paranoia, were far better equipped to deal with, if he could believe the signs, any emergency that could happen – up to and including zombie apocalypses, dinosaur incursions and the rise of the manatees.
One of the open panels held body armour. He stopped, listened for any screams, then pulled out a set that fit him and scrambled into it. It was very much like motorcycle armour, and coloured a standard Agency blue. He adjusted his holster over the top of the armour and slipped his jacket on over the top – any extra layer was an advantage.
He continued through the tech floor, and finally caught sight of the demon at the end of a corridor. He shouted, and it looked to him, its undersized figure clad in a hooded robe, and it ran.
He checked his weapons, then followed through a maze of twists and turns. He came across another kill – and a pool of blood that had stretched across six feet.
Curt fought to maintain his pace across the patch of tacky blood. The demon turned a corner and he lost sight of it for a moment. He ripped his gun from his holster, and jammed the half-empty one there – a full clip against a demon wasn’t an advantage, but it would delay the inevitable for a few seconds longer.
He rounded the corner, and found it crouching over a tech recruit – all that was visible was a lab coat. Whether the recruit was dead, alive or somewhere in-between was impossible to tell.
He ran at the demon and tackled it to the ground. Pain flared in his shoulder as they hit the ground and rolled. The demon laughed as it clawed at him, the claws bending the body armour and slicing through at a few points.
He braced himself as their scuffle ran them into a wall. The demon-
It smacked him in the head and he had a moment to reconsider the situation as he slid fully to the floor, his head on the cool tile.
Everyone was calling it a demon, but it wasn’t acting like one.
The demon turned and he watched it walk back towards the stricken tech recruit.
They had believed Magnolia, because information given at the start of a sim was usually trustworthy. The thing wasn’t anywhere near powerful enough to be a demon. Partial demon blood, perhaps, but that wouldn’t have rendered the Agency helpless so quickly.
He shook his head as he tried to stand.
There was no detail to see – it wore a robe that obscured most its body and the hood fell over its face. The hands were clawed and blue, but that meant nothing.
It was small for a demon. Short. Small.
Short, small and a threat from within the Agency.
He hesitated for a moment, then stood, gripped his gun with both hands and walked at the intruder, emptying the clip into its back. It clawed a hole into the tech recruit and turned, unaffected by the bullets.
Curt lifted his leg and kicked the intruder in the chest. Bullets seemed to do nothing, but physical blows at least seemed to make it stop and think.
Whether or not it was toying with him was another matter.
He swung the empty gun like a club and heard a satisfying crack. Another sign that it wasn’t a demon. Demons didn’t break so easily. It swung out with its claws, both slicing deep grooves into the armour.
He grabbed at the hood and hesitated for a moment – part of him wanted to rip it back to reveal the face of what he was fighting, the larger part of him knew that he needed to use the advantage – and dragged the hood down further, obscuring its vision.
He rounded it, the leading edge of the hood still in his hand, and pounded on the back of its head, and drove it to the ground.
Curt pulled his half-empty gun from the holster, pressed it to the demon’s head and pulled the trigger until it clicked empty.
Useless. It would be as useless as shooting it in the head.
The big, oversized head.
He wheezed for breath as sweat dripped into his eyes.
The demon moved again, but the movements were slow, sluggish – he’d hurt it. He grabbed for a shoulder, flipped it onto its back and straddled it.
Fear sliced into him – it was a sim after all, not a real life-and-death scenario. He had a reputation to maintain – the reputation of harmless, of impotent. He whipped his head around as the demon clawed slowly at him – there was no sign of the other recruits.
He grabbed the hood and tore it back. The face was demonic in a generic way – blue skin and a mouth that opened with mandibles, scars on the cheeks.
It was a demon for all to see. Except the eyes. The eyes were human. The eyes were familiar.
The Agency was holding a recruit in a tank amongst freaks. Someone knew. Someone cared.
And it made the situation a whole lot worse.
He grabbed the training sim’s clawed hands, forced them back until he heard the wrists snap, then jammed the claws through its throat.
The sim of the far-too-easy-to-beat demon gurgled, then died.
Everything within the training sims was recorded and watched. They’d be watching for his reactions. He couldn’t give a reaction. Things were expected of him. Roles to be played, marks to hit.
He needed to react how they expected him to react.
Curt released the clawed hands – one sprang free of the ravaged throat immediately and fell to the floor with a wet slap, the other snagged on the fabric of the robe. He stood and kicked it – an acceptable measure of how alive something was, then ran to the nearest emergency station and brought up the announcement.
There was a thunderous burst of noise, and everything turned white.
He blinked a few times, forcing his eyes to adjust to the black and empty room – the sim had disappeared, leaving nothing but his fellow recruits. The door was open, and Magnolia stood there like an angry, sexy goddess, one hand pointed out to the gym. The look on her face told him that she was disembowelling every last one of them with her eyes.
‘Bleachers,’ she snapped once they had all left the empty sim room.
Curt moved up to the third row – close enough to look like an attentive recruit, far away enough from the back where Brian and his mob sat.
Magnolia paced for a moment. ‘Which one of you fucks nuked the Agency?’
No one spoke.
‘I know who it was,’ Magnolia continued, ‘I just need you to own up in front of the people you murdered.’
Curt turned to look at Brian – if there was one person who would nuke them out of laziness, he was the likely culprit. Brian for his part, looked innocent.
Someone on the far side of the bleachers stood. Harris. ‘Me. Us. It was us.’
‘Front and centre,’ Magnolia said.
Three recruits stood and stood in front of her. ‘I need you to explain, in the smallest of terms, with the smallest of words, why you nuked the Agency, you limp-dicked morons.’
Harris looked like he was going to puke and the two recruits with Harris looked just as nauseous.
Curt leaned back, required room-temperature water and slowly sipped while Magnolia paced and waited for an answer.
‘We thought it was a win,’ Harris said. ‘We thought it’s what we had to do win. I mean, that nuke is there for a reason, right? Did we kill it?’
Curt dismissed the water from his hand and tried to keep his posture nonchalant.
Magnolia’s answer had confused Harris though. ‘What? But if we nuked it and still didn’t kill it, then it was a no-win scenario, right?’
‘It was already dead.’
‘What do you mean, already dead?’ Harris demanded.
‘Clean out your fucking ears, It was dead. You sacrificed an entire Agency for no reason. You murdered the recruit population and the remaining agents, and that’s without counting the collateral damage incurred due to the reduced Agency presence in the city whilst the team is built back up. I hope to god my life is never dependant on your decisions, Harris.’
‘Who killed it?’
Curt silently begged Magnolia to keep his name out of it, but she was pointing at him before the prayer had left his head. ‘O’Connor took it out.’
‘Finished it off, maybe,’ Brian said. ‘I fought it.’
Curt flashed a quick look at Magnolia, and she caught his gaze for a brief moment.
‘I don’t believe I actually have to say this,’ Magnolia said, ‘but you never, ever enact a final solution such as that unless there is no choice. You people are fucking morons,’ she said, looking back at Harris and his team. ‘Did you stop to think that-‘
‘If it was dead, he should have told us!’
Magnolia stared at her tablet for a moment. ‘Less than twenty second passed before O’Connor went to the PA system. Your team gave no warning, no indication that you were about to blow the building.’
‘If we’d given a warning, it could have come and stopped us.’
One of the creases in Magnolia’s brow disappeared. ‘Fair point, and it’s taken you long enough to bring that up.’
‘Long enough?’ Harris screamed.
‘If you stated over an open channel that your intention was to nuke the building, that of course, would be stupid, and a move born of desperation. However, you also have to weight whether or not your enemy could trace the signal in time to react, or know where the nuke was – the one we have in storage can be triggered remotely, so only a fool would detonate whilst sitting on it.’
Harris went red.
‘And a cowboy hat too,’ Magnolia said, ‘amazing. You think this is a game.’
Harris stared at the floor. ‘It was sitting right there. I couldn’t resist.’
Magnolia looked at the bleachers. ‘How would you alert your peers that the nuke was about to go off?’
‘Reference Billy,’ Brian said, speaking sense for once, ‘who else but us is going to know that Billy is a nuke?’
This earned a nod from Magnolia. ‘Start on the standard exercises. Harris, you and your team, stay behind when we’re done.’
Curt stood and jumped from the bleachers as the recruits dispersed to the standard activities – the shooting range, gym equipment, running laps in small groups. He moved to the gym equipment, climbed onto a bike, selected a random video on the bike’s display screen and began to mindlessly peddle.
Five-hundred metres in, more of the recruits had taken up their stations, including a two of Brian’s friends on bikes to his left.
As with everything, there was protocol. He took his hands away from the bike, required over-sized headphones and slipped them over his head – this made him easier to ignore as they felt that he wasn’t listening in on their conversations. Things couldn’t be further from the truth though – the headphones did their best to amplify all external sounds – a toy that Raz had proudly shown to his favourite agent.
He slowed his peddling and made motions indicating he was synching the audio from the bike with the headphones, then resumed peddling as the others began to talk.
Brian himself stood by the shooting range, spending more energy on posing than on practice.
Brian wanted to be an Aide, there was no pretence about it. He felt he was owed the privilege for being one of Field’s longest serving recruits. Five years was a decent recruit career, but so far as Curt could find, Brian had never made a formal application – he seemed to expect Ryan to come crawling after him. Entitled prick.
Magnolia circled, her gaze snapping from one recruit to the next, staring at them like they were prey – it was halfway between terrifying and arousing. He smirked. Pretty much everything about Magnolia was halfway between arousing and terrifying.
Arousing was her confidence, her snark and the things she did with her tongue. Terrifying was that she was better at causing pain than he was, and the fact that she’d built a sim-demon deliberately to invoke Stef.
She turned her predatory gaze on him, and he kept his expression neutral. She inclined her head and he hopped off his bike.
Curt followed her across the gym and into the tiny office at the back – where she took people who needed to be praised or berated in private – generally those who failed so bad it was worth discussing whether or not they belonged in a different department, a different Agency, or a different line of work.
Magnolia closed the door, and he leaned against the wall.
‘Top marks, O’Connor,’ she said.
‘You didn’t need to pull me in here to-‘
‘Which is surprising, I thought you’d puss out when you saw-‘
‘I figured that was a little extra-special test for me,’ he said. ‘I’m glad I can still surprise you. So what’d you really want.’
‘Do you want some free advice?’
‘Sure,’ he said in a level tone.
‘You only cared because you thought she was dead. That line of thinking might be best. Go see her if you can, say your piece, make your peace, say goodbye, whatever’s going to give you closure, then treat her like she’s dead.’
‘What she is, is dangerous. Most freaks never leave the basement, and most of them are recycled. She’s not going to make it through testing, so if you’ve got issues, resolve them.’
‘She doesn’t deserve to die.’
‘Welcome to the fucking Agency. Things have never been fair, nor can they ever be. The bigger picture sacrifices the individuals. Agency’s all about the big picture.’
‘Needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, I’ve heard it before. Was that all?’
‘You’re a decent recruit, don’t let Ryan use you. If you’re putting in the Aide work, you should get the perks that go along with it.’
Curt let out a long sigh. ‘Another six months, another year, and I probably would have had a shot. Stef in the picture, come on, it’s obvious. She’ll be his Aide as soon as she’s got active status. It would give her a defined role as a secondary agent, which is excellent for integration purposes.’
Magnolia shrugged. ‘So why do the work for him then? Are you really so desperate for a pat on the head?’
He scratched at his chest, and tried not to think of his tattoo. It wasn’t desperation, it was just the need for acknowledgement, tiny sparks of goodwill that meant he was more likely to live to see the end of each day.
‘Go to think about the future, right?’ he said, forcing a wide grin onto his face. ‘I figure this could get me a weekend off.’