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13 - Balance
Magnolia pressed fingers into her right eye. She wasn’t tired. She wasn’t allowed to be tired. Everyone was relying on her, and everything would fall apart without her.
A few of the older Aides in the network had tried to state their cases for being the defacto leader. Each of them had been taken down with a glare and a few simple facts. Many of them had seniority – a couple of had been serving for longer than she’d been alive.
None of them outranked her – the main Agency in any local network was always able to pull rank, which meant only O’Connor could argue to be in charge – as he was the actual interim Director’s Aide, but he’d been happy for her to lead, so there was no problem.
There were smarter Aides than her, others more versed in particular elements of training – particularly those who were far more technically-minded, and others still had more combat experience.
Being a Director wasn’t about honing one skill to the exclusion of all others, it was decent skills in multiple arenas. She could fight. She could organise. She could deal with the Agency with rank, and deal with the fae as one of their own.
There was no one better.
She wasn’t tired.
She yawned, but quickly stifled it, and made sure no one was looking.
It was approaching four in the morning – the majority of the Field and Combat recruits had accepted maintaining their usual shifts, with alterations being made, of course. Some semblance of a public face had to be maintained – so patrols were being run, albeit at a reduced rate, most low-priority missions had been moved, and active surveillance on anything except the highest priority targets had been switched to be drone-only.
Most of the tasks now were far more...diplomatic. Ensuring guests from the Outpost agencies knew their way around, had access to what they needed, were able to contact their families and warn them. Her recruits were mainly being kept on reserve, except for a dozen being kept at strategic checkpoints, another dozen on roaming patrols; and Hewitt, who had offered to take over Natalie’s position, once business hours started.
All of the Agents lay on their beds, surrounded by equipment that made the same soft beeping it had made for hours. The beeping was the only approaching-untenable aspect of the situation, though she accepted its usefulness.
Techs performed checks every fifteen minutes, but other than that, it was like being in a coma ward.
She stared up at the large screen, which was streaming the generalised output from the tech department – a few graphics and numbers which, in essence, showed the live breakdown of the Agency as a whole.
Thousands were dead – some had been taken for experimentation, some had been recycled, in hopes of finding out information they didn’t already know. The number of the missing had stabilised hours ago, and those she subconsciously added to the dead – in the present circumstances, there was very little hope for rescue missions.
She excused herself, and went to the bathroom down the hall. The bathrooms on each floor were identical – literal copy-and-paste in the building’s code, but each floor had their own little touches – the techs had their scrolling screens, Combat had extra first-aid kits, and Field – as they so often did – had nothing.
She looked to the door, and required it locked – interruption was unlikely, but it was nice to be assured of privacy. She slowly stripped herself out of her clothes, the ritual of undressing relaxing her more than simply requiring away her clothes – and a thought replaced two of the stalls with a roomy shower.
She stepped in, and immediately turned the water up to scorching, and felt the ache blasted from her muscles. She washed herself, allowing herself the few extra seconds to require a vanilla-orange body scrub, and her favourite loofah.
Her body clean, she pressed her head against the cool tiles, and let the water stream over her back.
She wasn’t tired.
She turned off the taps, stepped out, and required the bathroom back to its usual state.
She dried herself with a exquisitely fluffy towel, and held it tight around herself for a moment, giving Taylor a moment to appear, as he so often did when she was done with the shower.
Her commander didn’t appear.
She sighed, and squeezed the water from her hair before requiring new clothes.
She slapped her cheeks, unlocked the door, and walked back to the coma ward.
To her complete lack of surprise, there had been no change.
She sat back at the desk she’d required for herself – it wasn’t a corner office, but it would do, and began to look over reports that various recruits had felt warranted her attention.
She required a bagel, spread it with a liberal amount of cream cheese, and tried to ignore the beeping.
Fifteen minutes later, the beeping changed. Beeping changed to a drone. Heartbeat to flatline. Life to death. A second drone was right behind it.
She looked up, and looked at Taylor’s monitoring equipment, right beside her desk, and allowed herself a short moment of relief before getting up from her desk, and following the clustering tech recruits.
Ryan and Mimosa.
‘Fuck,’ she said under her breath.
She quickly ran through the contingencies in her mind, and selected one. She looked at the techs for allies – but saw none. Raz was close enough, so she called him over. ‘Recruit, I want them moved.’ She put a hand on his shoulder, and pulled him away from the others. ‘I’ve set up room twenty-six on level five for this. Move Taylor too. How much of a delay is on this before it gets out?’
‘Because every Agency is reporting in, and we’re trying not to-’
‘How long, Recruit?’
‘We’re reporting by exception every fifteen,’ he checked his watch. ‘Next one is in nine minutes.’
‘Fake the vitals, loop whatever they’ve had, but don’t make it obvious-’
Raz stepped back, sheer terror in his eyes. ‘Ma’am, I can’t do that.’
‘You damn well will, Recruit.’
‘Director Ryan and Spyder are-’
‘Why do you use that stupid name?’
‘Respect, ma’am, we call people what they want to be called. I can’t lie to-’
‘It’s an order.’
He twitched. ‘Why?’
There were five different excuses she could use. Visceral, with overtones of duty, would work best. ‘Because the war council is actively taking the dead for experimentation,’ she said. ‘We don’t know what is going on, but unless you want your Director taken away and torn to shreds for some piss-poor attempt to mine data, then you’re going to hide them. Okay?’ She patted his shoulder. ‘I’d prefer my people experiment on my agents, okay?’
He stared for a moment longer, his hands wringing his lab coat, then nodded. ‘Okay. Okies. But- But why move Agent Taylor too?’
Her mind moved quickly. ‘It’s always a good idea to have someone from combat near the Director, no matter the circumstances.’
This seemed justified to him, and he nodded, then moved off and began to give orders to his colleagues.
O’Connor. She had to tell O’Connor about Mimosa.