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10 - Counting Coup
[You’ve been up in the tech department for two hours.]
[I totally haven’t.]
[Your HUD has a clock, right?]
Stef looked up from her DS and focused on her HUD. [Jesus crap.]
[I’ll accept that apology now.]
[I am not apologising to you, padawan.]
She snapped her DS closed. ‘Sorry guys,’ she said as she waved to the techs, ‘be back later.’ She shifted down to Ryan’s office and gave Curt a sheepish smile. ‘Sorry.’
‘This was your idea,’ he said as he spun Ryan’s chair. ‘Sit.’
She sat in Ryan’s chair. ‘It took longer than expected, that’s all. And then I got distracted by video games.’
‘You always say that.’
‘Video games are always distracting.’
‘No, you always say that it takes you longer than you expected,’ he said, ‘you need to start managing your time better, especially if you’re going to do Ryan’s job. I mean, if it’s one thing he can do, he can manage his time. I mean...he hid your body for how long and no one noticed?’
‘Like a month or something.’
‘And he still got everything done as per normal, I don’t expect you to-’
‘Find a dead recruit and use their corpse to teach me scheduling?’
He stared at her for a moment, then shook his head. ‘Sit, newbie.’
She slid into the chair. ‘Ok, I got some stuff organised while you were gone, but I left most of it for you to do, you’re going to have to figure out how to make things work for you, otherwise it’s going to be even harder. Do you want to start with approving stuff, do you want to-?’
‘Approving stuff sounds easy.’
‘Not as much as you’d think.’
Her shoulders slumped. ‘Well, it doesn’t sound scary, and if I just rubber-stamp everything then-’
‘No, no, no,’ he shuffled through a foot-high stack of files. He pulled one out, and pulled up his chair beside her. ‘Actually sure, go ahead, approve everything, it’ll give me less to do.’
She pulled the file from his hand and opened it. It was a request from the combat division – the front page told her that, it also told her that it was an execution request.
‘This is what I think it is, isn’t it?’
He gave her a nod, and she flipped the page to look at the actual request. In short, clipped sentences that matched his hair was a request from Taylor to have her executed.
She stared at it for a moment. ‘Am I allowed to veto my own execution? Isn’t this a request to Ryan-the-director, not Ryan-the-field-agent?’
He pointed to a stack of paperwork on a small table he’d required. ‘That’s the office-of-the-director stuff I’ve found. And there’s a similar request in there, but it’s got Mags all over it, so that’s the official channel, but he still seems to have a real hate-on for you, so he sends it through to your direct superior.’
‘Christ, I thought this shit would-’ She picked up the stamp from the desk, stamped it very, very carefully in the “rejected” box, signed the box beside it, and accepted the digital verification in her HUD.
She closed the file, and a popup asked if she wished it to be automatically redirected, and she clicked yes. The file disappeared from the desk, and Curt handed her the next one.
This one was a much easier request – two recruits wanted to swap shifts for a fortnight due to personal commitments. Curt’s signature already sat in the scheduler’s approval box, so she rubber stamped it, signed it, and accepted the digital copy.
‘This is easy so far.’
‘You’ve only done two so far.’
She stared at the pile. ‘Yeah, but the pile is only little.’
‘That’s only the first pile,’ he said. ‘This is the medium priority stuff – he’s already done the high priority stuff for the day, there’s another medium pile, then three piles of low-priority and non-urgent stuff. He tends to leave the low-priority stuff go until the last moment.’
There was a knock at the office door. A loud, angry knock. A knock that belonged to one person.
[Do I have to open the door?]
‘Why are you?’
[So he doesn’t hear me!]
Curt rose, and opened the door. Taylor, sweaty and blood clothes sticking to his body, fuming, a volcano ready to erupt. He pushed past Curt and slammed the file down on the desk. He glared, but didn’t say a word.
She nearly processed the shift to Canada.
He glared, balled his hands into fists and leaned on the desk, blood and sweat dripping onto Curt’s nice, neat piles of paperwork.
She wanted to squirm, she wanted to apologise, she wanted to pretend that he wasn’t there, ready to unhinge his jaw and eat her head. Her toes flexed and curled in her feet, moving at the same pace her heart would have, if it wasn’t a cold lump of dead planet.
She blinked, then rose out of Ryan’s chair, and for once, was eye-level with him.
‘And how can I help you, Agent Taylor?’ she said, her voice even, impassive, professional thanks to the /serious, despite the need to shift far, far away, or to at least behind someone taller and braver.
She prepped a short-range shift – just across the office, just in case he made a move.
His left eye twitched.
His jaw still in the not-head-eating position, she took in a small breath and decided to push her luck. ‘If you-’
His hands moved to grab her, but she activated the short range shift, and he grabbed air.
He spun to her, his fists still balled, the anger even more barely contained than it had been.
Maybe I should have let him hit me. That always calms him down.
But it’s sososososo much easier to be a coward.
He knows that too, so surprise him.
‘We’re busy,’ she said, adjusting her footing, in case he rushed her, ‘so...so,’ she felt her resolve cracking. ‘I’m not signing my own death warrant, and if Ryan wanted me dead, he’d damn well do it himself, and not as a favour to you,’ she said, her voice dropping to nearly a whisper.
‘You had no right to-’
‘My ID says “agent”, my name plate says “agent”, my blue says “agent”, an agent signed off on that request, and you have to accept that. You can’t deal with that, you wait until the same request get denied by Ryan when he gets to it.’
Taylor growled and turned towards to the door. She slammed the door closed with a thought, trapping the angry, angry agent in the room with them.
I didn’t just do that.
Yeah, you did, Spyder.
Taylor turned, and she fought an urge to throw herself at his feet, to let him kick her for whatever crimes he thought she had committed, to let him get his rage out, then disappear until the next time they inadvertently crossed paths.
‘You owe me,’ she said in a tiny voice.
He snorted in her general direction.
‘You owe me,’ she said again, louder this time. ‘I’m not going to threaten you, I’m not going to tell you that I’ll redact the wish, that I’ll let her drown in her own blood, because you’ll just shoot me in the face and kick me around for a bit. Threats don’t work on you.’
‘You don’t get to treat me like shit any more. It stops right this very fscking second. You owe me and this is what I get in return. I’m not asking for your respect, I’m not even asking for you to treat me with basic dignity because you don’t show anyone that, and I sure as hell am not asking you to like me or treat me like an equal or anything stupid. But this, this treating me like shit, it stops now.’
He stared at her for a solid thirty seconds. ‘You are shit,’ he said at last. ‘You mock everything duty is.’ He moved forward and stabbed a thick finger into her chest. ‘You should be dead!’ The finger stabbed at her chest again, and she backed up against the wall. ‘The most you deserve is the basement. You don’t deserve rank, you don’t deserve freedom and you don’t deserve respect.’
‘And what do you deserve, traitor?’ the word came out like a curse, like an expletive, and he actually moved back a fraction of an inch. ‘If one more person had voted against you-’ She swallowed. ‘You contravened your duty and the only you’re around to stomp and growl is because the majority lied to save your ass.’
‘Me? The worst I have done is be late to a couple of meetings, Jonesy is late more than me and no one says anything! You, you’re a traitor, you would have done anything for Magnolia.’
He didn’t try to deny it.
‘Don’t get me wrong I would sunder heaven and earth for the people I love, but I’d sure as hell expect someone to try and stop me, or to punish me for it.’
He continued to stare.
‘You got away with it, you-’ she cut herself off, she’d pushed her luck far enough without insulting him. ‘You got away with it. You got your happy ending, but you’re fucking up the ever after.’
He twitched again.
She raised a hand, her throat constricting with fear, and pushed on his chest. ‘Get. Out.’
He shifted away, and she collapsed bonelessly to the floor.
Curt was at her side in a moment, the gun in his hand disappearing.
She stared at where the gun had been. ‘You were gonna shoot him?’
‘If I had to, if he’d done something stupid.’
‘Did I just do that?’
‘Yeah, Stef, you did.’
‘I. Am. So. Dead.’
He helped her to her feet, and pushed her by her shoulders back to Ryan’s chair. ‘He’s going to kill me.’
‘No he’s not.’
‘He’s going to play polo with my spine.’
‘Your head is too big.’
She slapped him lightly on the arm.
‘Everything you said is true, newbie,’ he said. ‘And he did back down.’
‘He’s gone to get something sharp.’
‘It’s Taylor, he would have already been carrying something sharp.’
‘He was. Three fae weapons on him. Probably knives.’
‘Did he stab you?’
‘With his finger.’ She grabbed the top of her shirt and peeked down at her chest. ‘Owie, bruises.’
‘He didn’t stab you, so you’re safe, at least as safe as you can be around here.’
‘Still feels like I did something really stupid.’
‘A break, newbie, give yourself one.’
‘If I was less worried that he was going to get that little nuclear bomb out of storage, I’d point out that I’m actually strong enough to break my own bones.’
He popped the next file in front of her. ‘Shall we continue?’
‘No, I just an earned an internet break. Like an all-day internet break. Like an-’
He put a hand on her shoulder. ‘Work first, Agent Mimosa, play later.’
He put a cookie on top of the file.
She snatched up the cookie, and opened the file. ‘Ok, maybe I can do a couple more.’