02 - Mirrorheart

03 – Shockwave

Before the shatter

Curt ducked behind a half-full industrial bin and the detritus that had accumulated around it. It would do for a few minutes – the collection of empty boxes, packing plastic and deep shadows would keep everyone off his trail for a moment at least.

He kept himself silent and still for a moment, listening for any sounds of pursuit. Any start-stop footsteps that meant someone was trying to be sneaky, and pounding of heavy boots from Solstice tryhards wanting another kill.


Whatever fights were going on, there was nothing close enough to mess with him.

With one more look around, looking for silhouettes in the dark, he quickly undid his belt, then carefully slid down his pants. With care, he peeled the left leg slowly over the large – but thankfully shallow – cut on his lower thigh.

He tested a few of the discarded boxes, then found an intact wooden crate large enough to sit on, and sat, wincing in pain as he settled, fresh blood seeping up through the half-congealed wound.

Slowly – and therefore quietly – he pulled the pencil-case-sized first-aid kit from one of his coat’s inner pockets and began to clean the wound.

It was probably enough to get a shift back to the Agency – the Parkers would be able to clean and tend to the wound a lot better and fast than he could. Still, there was always the possibility that they’d bar him from returning to the field.

There were more than enough people to handle the Agency’s role in the night – which was to mostly stop fuckwits from murdering each other and to arrest any Solstice that dared to show their faces.

But if he remained in the field, remained active, it would look better for him. Would make him look like less of a detriment to the team.

The Agency didn’t even deem him worthy of turning on the self-cleaning routines in his room. The fact alone told him he was still clearly in the category of having to earn every scrap of respect and recognition.

He had to prove himself every day, every moment, every action.

Wound clean, he bandaged it, and pulled his pants back up.

He’d remain in the field, but a thirty-second breather wouldn’t hurt anyone.

Two requirements gave him a water bottle, and a tablet – he guzzled half the bottle, then placed it on the wooden box beside him, then tapped over to the mission view of the area.

There was still a small blackout area – it covered one building entirely – that was the building that would have held the explosives, with a few other buildings partially disrupted.

An owl landed on a cardboard box across from him.

{Hi} Raz said in a text message. {Stay quiet for a minute, there’s a group of Solstice passing about thirty metres away.}

On the tablet, it zoomed in, showing his location, that of the owl drone, and dots of six Solstice. The dot colour indicated that they were being tracked visually; each member of the party blacked out, so that they couldn’t just be arrested with a simple shift.

He stilled himself and clicked the tablet off. Even though the night was far from pitch-black, any sign of artificial light could lead detailed-orientated Solstice to his hiding spot.

And he wasn’t Magnolia, he couldn’t hope to fight six people and win.

After five solid minutes, Raz’s voice appeared in his ear. ‘You’ll be fine now. Where are you-’

The sound died in his headset, and for a moment, the world was as bright as day, though the light was strange, pulsing, varying in colour.

He looked up – where there had been stars and clouds, there was the impression of a slowly-moving shockwave, an expanding bubble of nothingness across the sky, its leading-edge a bright ribbon of rainbow-drenched clouds and light.

And the tension was strong enough to choke him.

He jumped from the box, grabbed the owl drone, clutched it to his chest, and hunkered against the metal side of the bin, his coat hiked up to cover his face.

The light pulsed again, and the world seemed to explode.

The bin in front of him jumped as the shockwave…became real, or touched the ground, or slipped into this level of reality. Windows exploded. People screamed.

And all went as quiet as the first moment after the end of the world.

When he was sure that nothing else was going to happen, he slowly straightened up, and let the owl go. The drone flapped a few times, moved to a cardboard box, and stood there, unmoving, indicating that it was receiving no active instructions.

A quick look at his phone confirmed the blackout. Without the System connection, everyone in the field had a lot less information – only what could be carried over traditional human communications infrastructure.

Human infrastructure was enough to keep the Vox mission chat going. Every message in the chat was some version of “what the fuck just happened”. There were also a few photos that people had taken of the rainbow-shockwave-ribbon, presumably in case they didn’t make it back, and every bit of data counted.

A call from Raz appeared on his phone, and he tapped his headset to accept it.

‘First, are you okay, Agent C?’

Agent C, a nickname he loved and hated in equal measures on most days. When they’d first met, Raz had thought he was an agent – although an augment, rather than something grown in a vat; and the nickname had remained after the confusion had been cleared up.

He loved it, because it meant the “Recruit Curt” mask was working. That he seemed as organised, dedicated and proper as any proxy – any agent – which boded well for his future. For a future that contained his continued freedom, and not a future that ended in confinement or a firing squad.

And he was trying – every day, every action, every nod and form signed. Even if his hard work went underappreciated. Even if no one saw how hard he was working.

He hated it, because he didn’t want to be associated with the boundless cruelty that some agents were capable of.

Raz meant it as a friendly gesture, as a mark of respect. It was something that “Recruit Curt” would accept, so he smiled and played into the persona when the nickname was used, because it was the best way to ensure that he saw freedom the next day.

‘Yeah, I’m fine, Recruit. I’m going to echo the only question going on in Vox and politely ask what in the fuck just happened?’

‘We…don’t know,’ Raz said. ‘Most of our drones are blind right now, and no-one was at the epicentre of whatever that just was.’

‘But it was definitely the mirror, right?’

‘Do koalas have-’ Raz cut himself short. ‘Almost certainly, Agent C. General evac is being called for Field recruits. I know where you are, so I can guide you to the closest edge of the blackout.’

He nodded, even though Raz couldn’t see him.

Getting out was sensible, but doing so in the middle of a blackout while in Agency uniform was less so.

He quickly stripped his jacket, vest and tie. After a minute, he pulled his dress shirt over his head, leaving just the thick cotton T-shirt beneath. It wasn’t perfect, but it would read less immediately like “Agency” to any Solstice wanting to take potshots in the blackout.

After a moment, he grabbed the water bottle, splashed a little bit of the remaining water into his hands and messed up his hair. It was small, but it took his appearance further from that of a sensible, well-presented recruit.

He tried to imagine what he looked like, tried to figure out what level of threat he would present to a stranger, what level of “should be left the fuck alone” he exuded.

He was armed, but he’d obviously been injured – the dark stain on his uniform pants from the blood was in the wrong spot to just be a case of accidentally pissing himself as the sky had turned into a rainbow vortex, and there were spots of blood on his shirt from his hurried first-aid.

Overall, not very intimidating.

Looking just human still had its downsides. Looking fae on the other hand – humans in a blackout zone couldn’t do anything, but fae weren’t impacted by them – Faerie was a natural blackout zone. So any fae wandering around in the open obviously believed themselves strong enough to take on all comers. That kind of confidence generated a certain level of deference.

But it would make him a bigger target to any Solstice wanting a few more prisoners before the night was out.

‘Hey, Raz, flip a coin for me.’

He heard a solid coin hit Raz’s desk. ‘Tails.’

‘Okay, then, fuck it.’ He reached forward and picked up the owl drone again. With no active instructions, it barely reacted to his touch. He carefully positioned it on his shoulder – where its talons sank in deeper than he would have liked, then settled, content with its new perch.

Now, at least, he’d look fae from a distance – there weren’t many normal humans who walked around with a bird of prey on their shoulder.

He tapped a few times and disconnected his phone from his headset, then pressed the phone to his ear. ‘Okay. Get me out of here, Recruit.’

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Poor Curt’s analysis is so fitting, even while it makes me want to give him a hug.

I know you're thinking something, Recruit...x