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05 - The Kindly Ones
Ten Hours Ago
Curt flicked over the reports, making a few notes about the discrepancies between the Field report and the Combat report. The Combat report, of course, was Taylor-as-translated-by-Mags, but still bore some of the agent’s simplistic attitude.
The Field report was Stef-as-interpreted-by-hope-and-caffeine.
Stef sat next to Jones, giggling at something on the tech’s computer. Smith-run meetings were better than the ones Clarke had chaired – Clarke never let them take breaks, and even five minutes rest from discussing local Court politics was a blessing.
Magnolia slid into the chair beside him. ‘Is there any chance in hell you can get Mimosa into a dress for our affirmation celebration?’
He raised an eyebrow. ‘We’re…invited?’
She gave him a sharp look. ‘Yes. Don’t make anything of it. Seriously. Think you can get her into a dress?’
‘What kind of miracle worker do you think I am?’
Magnolia sighed, then leaned back on her chair, her fingers twirling in the dog tags she’d taken to wearing around her neck. ‘You ever going to do this?’
He shook his head. ‘We discussed it, and said our “I don’ts”. It’s not really- I don’t need a piece of paper and I don’t need the whole world to know, I just want her, and that’s all that’s important. And the affirmation celebration, come on, you know how she hates being the centre of attention.’
Mags swung on her chair to look at Stef. ‘She’d be cute in a dress. I still can’t believe…Yo designed her a dress and she didn’t wear it!’ there was the same kind of disbelief in Magnolia’s eyes as when Stef left a comics discussion with the techs. ‘How could she not-‘
‘Everyone back in your seats,’ Smith said as he walked back into the room.
Mags shrugged, and walked down the table.
Someone fell to the floor.
Curt looked up, his brain trying to take in all the detail at once. Ryan and Jones were slumped on the table; Smith had fallen sideways, taking a chair with him, Taylor and Stef were nowhere to be seen.
Mags looked back at him, her knife already in her hand. ‘It’s not gas, we’d be down to, get us masks anyway.’
One question arrested his mind. ‘Are they dead?’
She lifted a hand and pointed back at Ryan. ‘No, look, he’s breathing.’
He was on his feet in a second, gas masks appearing in his hands. He tossed on to Magnolia as he hurried up the length of the table towards her, a new gun appearing in his spare hand.
He pulled the mask over his head, checked his gun, then looked down to where Taylor had fallen onto the ground. Beneath him were a tiny pair of dirty shoes. The witch under Dorothy’s house.
‘Help me roll him,’ Magnolia said as she gripped his shoulders, and they moved him from on top of Stef.
He lifted Stef as soon as she was free, and laid her on the table. Breathing. She was still breathing. She was ok. He checked her vitals – she seemed fine. Steady heartbeat. It was still weird that she had a heartbeat. Still a treat to watch her pressing her hands to her chest, and the look of simple joy of something that was so ordinary for everyone else.
She was relaxed, calm. She looked like she was sleeping.
He squeezed her hand, kissed her cheek, then looked down at Mags. ‘How’s he?’
‘Asleep,’ she said slowly. ‘He’s just asleep. What the fuck?’
‘Mags, I think-‘
She held up a hand. ‘I know everything you could want to say. I know. Lockdown is obvious. Lockdown will incite panic. Give me your phone.’
He pulled it from his pocket and tossed it across. ‘Who are you calling?’
‘I’m seeing it’s just us.’ She dialled a number. ‘Don. Give me Darren’s condition, right now.’ There was a pause, and her face twisted. ‘Hurry.’ Pause. ‘Go into lockdown.’ She hung up. ‘It’s not just us. Darren and Adelaide are down.’
The meeting room door burst in. Raz, his face flush with fear looked around. ‘It’s us too? All the- It’s all-‘ There was almost a record scratch as the tech looked at Curt. ‘But Agent C, you’re okay- But you’re-‘
He couldn’t take the confusion and near heartbreak on the recruit’s face. He moved quickly around the table, drew himself up as tall as he could and looked down. ‘Recruit, stand to and give me your report.’
‘It’s all over the chat,’ Raz said, ‘every agent, in all the Agencies, everyone’s down, sir.’ Raz slumped a little. ‘But you’re not.’
Raz was ten years older than he was, but never seemed it. ‘Recruit,’ he said, imitating Ryan’s voice as much as he could. ‘What makes you think it’s attacking all non-standard types?’
Raz pointed. ‘Spyder’s down, and she’s on the freak list.’
Mags stepped between them. ‘I’m locking us down. Anyone going to argue with my orders?’
‘No ma’am,’ Curt said in unison with Raz.
There were noises from within the building as it moved towards its lockdown state. The walls got thicker, the glass grew reinforcements, proper plumbing and water tanks appeared.
Mags turned. ‘I’m going to station my people around the Agency and prep us for an emergency, we still have rooms of supplies from all that phoenix shit. O’Connor, go to the techs, you’re replacement Jones, name a crew, and start collating information. The system still seems to be working, stay on channel. Get someone to check on the Parkers, Natalie, and Applebaum, and bring them here. I’ve got people with second-level first aid, so we’ll set up the usual precautions, but get techs down here to be scanning.’
‘What do you think this is?’
She looked at him, black eyes intense. ‘It’s something that took down every agent, seemingly simultaneously, without setting off one alarm, and didn’t kill them. I’m hoping for benign and preparing for war.’
‘What about the Field guys?’
‘You’re their Aide, you worry about them.’
He nodded, then followed Raz out into the corridor. It was easy to take a simplistic view of the recruit types: the jocks, the nerds and the rest. Life, being life, was never really so cut-and-dry. The recruits did tend to stick with their own groups, just like departments in any other workplace, and passing impressions did leave certain ideas in your head.
Combat recruits were easy to ignore – they tended not to come up to the Field floor much, except when there were guy’s nights watching football in one of the larger common rooms – something that was safer to do than on the Combat floor. Techs were easy enough to get along with – even if he wasn’t as comfortable being out about his nerdiness, and getting along with them had become a necessity because of his newbie.
Field recruits on the mythical third hand. Field recruits tended to shun him, to exclude him, and to ignore his authority and delegation, despite being the Aide of one Field agent, and the partner of the other.
She was fine. She was going to be fine. Phoenix fire hadn’t taken her away. Cold blooded murder hadn’t taken her away. Her own problems hadn’t taken her away.
She was going to be fine.
There was no mirror anymore.
‘Why are we in lockdown?’ The living wall that was Red had appeared without sound.
Curt looked at the tall recruit. ‘Between you and me, we might be fucked, but we don’t know yet. Just gather everyone up and take them into the auditorium on eight, ok? Actually, post two people down in the garage, and make sure no one tries to leave. And get me a list of people who aren’t in the building, I have to organise the techs, then I’ll be back down.’
Red nodded. ‘I can do that.’
Curt urged Raz towards the elevator. ‘We’ve got no agents, have we got any way to shift people around? If this is everywhere, it might be a good idea to bring the outposts in, this building is more defensible than the Outposts.’
‘Isn’t that all our eggs, Agent C?’
‘I think it’s the lesser of two evils,’ Curt said as they stepped into the lift. ‘If this is every agent…then by every deaf god, we are fucked. This is an opportunity like the Solstice have never had. There’s recruits, fine, some of us are even good at what we do, but come on…be honest, we need the agents.’ The doors opened. ‘How many agents have collapsed on the street? How many were fighting Solstice, or fae, or worse? How many have now been dragged into blackouts, murdered, taken to a meat market? Twitter can move faster than an earthquake, it’s not going to take long for opportunists to start taking advantage of this situation.’ He slumped, not used to impromptu speeches. ‘We can hold out longer here than anyone else. This is the Agency, we look after our own.’
Raz hugged him, his face ending up in Curt’s armpit. ‘I’m scared.’
There were a hundred quips he could use. A hundred bits of half-true wisdom. ‘I am too.’
Raz pulled his face away, stood on his tiptoes, and kissed Curt on the cheek. ‘It’s a thing to have a crush on an agent, mine’s on you.’ Raz turned, and dramatically kicked in the door. ‘Command centre, sir!’
They had more techs than any other kind of recruit, and all of them were jammed in the room – three or more to each desk, around the edges of the room, on the benches. All stared at computers, phones, tablets.
The large screens at the front of the room all scrolled information. Some looked like live chat feeds, others flashed brain scans and maps. One at the top right showed two numbers: Missing: 8700; Dead: 978.
Screen stood at the front of the room, pointing at the monitors, conducting them like a symphony. Raz rushed forward, and grabbed her arm.
‘You’re an insufficient cavalry,’ she commented. ‘All of ours too?’
‘Yeah. Have you got people checking on the other staff?’
‘I sent runners,’ she said. ‘Where are we going to keep them?’
‘Everyone else is in the conference room.’
‘That’ll work unless we pull the Outposts in.’
‘You were thinking that too?’
‘We bring them in, so say all of us.’
‘Do we have any capacity to shift, or are we going to send taxis?’
‘Some can come through the library,’ Screen said, ‘but the consensus is that everyone needs to be in an Agency in their own local network, we’re not using the library as a triage centre.’ She paused. ‘Not yet, anyway. If things go to even more shit then-’
A question occurred to him. ‘Where is the library? Not- Don’t tell me it’s down the hall, so is the infirmary. If the system goes down, the infirmary is upstairs; if the system goes down, where’s the library?’
Raz turned around. ‘Fairyland. Well-’ His face scrunched. ‘Well, it opens out to Fairyland. The space that it occupies is like the tech used for the stairs, so it’s sort of nowhere. It was the second generation Marches program, when the open-world stuff didn’t work out so well, but the closed-circuit one was ok.’
Curt let this process. ‘Ok, but that didn’t answer my question. Shifting – can we, or can’t we?’
‘There’s a couple of ways to do it through emergency protocols, but without the Agents, yeah, difficult.’
He nodded. ‘Get the staff and family lists for everyone in the network, and see where our people are.’
Curt slid a hand into his pocket, required a cookie, held it for a moment, then nodded at the techs. What Mags had said was probably the best attitude to have. ‘Hope for benign, prepare for war. You’ve got scenarios for this, enact them. If you want to run around in post-apocalyptic cosplay, I don’t care, we’ve got to protect our people, and we’ve got to figure out what’s going on.’