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Once he was sure he looked as normal as he could – that his eyes weren’t red, that there were no little bits of puke still on his chin, Curt left the bathroom.
The boardroom was easy enough to find – as the girl had said, it was labelled. He pushed it open, sure that knocking when expected would be annoying, and the less trouble he was, the less pain he was going to bring on himself.
She sat across from the door, working on some huge franken-binder of stuff, with huge folded-out pieces of paper that had to be schedules of some kind.
She looked up as he closed the door and pointed to a smaller pile of paperwork on his side of the long, polished table. ‘Get started with all of that.’
He placed his bag on the floor and slid into the high-backed chair. The chair followed the pattern he was beginning to observe, now that his view of the Agency wasn’t confined to that of a prisoner – all of the furnishings and amenities seemed to track along those of a high-end business. The chair was leather, expertly stuffed for the maximum of comfort and style, and surely would have cost over a thousand dollars if he wandered into a store to buy it.
Just like the soft toilet paper. Just like the long table in front of him. Effortless corporate luxury.
He wasn’t sure what it said about them as a whole, but it hadn’t been expected.
An expensive-looking pen sat on top of the pile of paperwork. He took it, uncapped it, and looked to the first form.
‘They did basically nothing in Adelaide,’ Magnolia commented. ‘So there is a lot of boring shit that we need to do to get you up to speed. I didn’t think I’d come across someone more useless than-’ She coughed. ‘They didn’t even fucking run you through placement, so I don’t know whose problem you’re going to be. You want to weigh in so I can get a ballpark of what I have to do today?’
Curt looked up from filling in his name on the first form and considered what he knew of the Agency, and what she was probably referring to. They had their own version of the Sorting Hat ceremony, but it split people into a primary talent, and therefore their department.
‘I don’t know all of the specialties,’ he said slowly. ‘But it’s soldiers, nerds and general, right?’
‘Accurate enough,’ she said and pulled several pieces of paper from a plastic sleeve. ‘If you had to do a self-assessment, where would you place yourself?’
‘General,’ he said after a moment. ‘I’m- I don’t have the nerd skills. I can keep my phone updated, but I’ve got to Google error messages to figure out how to solve them. I’d kick a door in, not hack a keypad.’
‘Okay, I’ll tell Jones just to run a baseline. If you feel you won’t be misrepresented, I can probably get him to send you the quiz version. Combat? I need to know if I’m dealing with you in the long term or not.’
‘I don’t think I’m the kind of person you’re looking for.’
‘Keep talking,’ she said. ‘Help me with specifics here.’
‘I can shoot as well as any jackass who’s had a couple of weekends in a gun range. I can punch pretty hard, but I haven’t had any martial arts training. I’d be nothing special, and probably more of a drain on your resources to get me up to a level where you’d be happy for me to back you up.’
‘Recruit, all offence meant by this, it’s going to take a while before I’m comfortable having you behind me.’
‘Yeah, of course,’ he said quickly, then looked back at the paperwork.
‘So what can you bring to Field?’
Field. A new word to add to his vocabulary. He needed a notebook or something to write down things he was learning – if this second chance was real, if he had to make a go of it, then he had to learn and absorb everything he possibly could. He had to be better than their best. He had to be so shiny that maybe they’d forget how dirty he was.
It seemed so strangely late to add this word to his lexicon though. He’d been actively fighting against the Agency for a long time now, and while he knew vaguely about the departmental splits, he’d mostly been lucky enough to avoid their soldiers – the ones that primarily identified as soldiers anyway. And the little computer hacking nerds were apparently rarely seen outside of their strongholds – there were CSI teams and the like, but they only ever showed up long after the action was done.
Everyone had an image of what an Agent was, the base platonic ideal of what an Agent was, and it was a man in a suit, holding up some ID and asking questions like they owned the place. The Men in Black or Agent Smith or SHIELD. Deadfaced, humourless robots needing to know how and why and when, and wouldn’t leave without answers.
And they had to be those under the purview of Field.
And he hadn’t known that until this very minute.
‘I can think on my feet. If I’m talking to someone, I can generally pick the right questions to ask. I’m pretty good at retaining information. If someone runs, I’m fit enough to chase them.’
This earned him a nod. ‘You’d be working directly for this Agency’s Director, how does that make you feel?’
‘Is that normal?’
‘Newbie, something you’re going to learn about this Agency is that nothing is normal.’
He looked from the paperwork to Magnolia, then focussed on his hands – as to not leave her with the impression that he as challenging her, or staring her down. ‘Would you mind telling me- How- What the structure is?’
‘There’s an org chart somewhere in that paperwork in front of you. But. Normal-ass Agency is a director, heads of department, aides, recruits and sundry staff. Here. Ryan. Field. He’s pulling double-duty as interim director. Interim being longer than you or I have been alive, but-’ He saw her shrug out of the corner of his eye. ‘He’s the one who okayed your transfer here. I guess sucking up to him won’t hurt your future chances.’ She snapped her fingers to get his attention, so he lifted his head to look at her. ‘Just don’t actually try sucking up,’ she said, emphasising the words, and he grimaced, ‘he seems to be immune to sexual bribery of all kinds. I’ve never gotten a rise out of him, literal or otherwise, and I don’t know anyone who has.’
For the first time since- For the first time in what seemed like forever, he took a breath that seemed to be free, didn’t seem to be locked in his chest, waiting for a gut punch to make him scramble for oxygen.
If she was telling the truth, that was one less thing to worry about. One less fear that was going to haunt him. There was no guarantee that just because an agent didn’t accept favours didn’t mean he wouldn’t cause pain for the fun of it, but- But maybe that was one way of grinding down his soul that they were going to skip.
Something must have shown in his face, and he hated that he couldn’t go to the same emotionless, frozen-faced place that agents could – it was a skill he was going to have to learn.
‘Ryan doesn’t take liberties. My commander has no use for humans outside of their abilities to follow my orders. And Jonesy is a soft nerd too busy trying to mother his entire department. Clarke is trash.’ She looked down at the table, her face twisting into a grimace. ‘But I don’t think you present anything of worth to him.’
‘You hear stories,’ was all he could bring himself to say.
‘And things happen. They’re only angels by name. But the men here are good. Weird. Neurotic. And I’ve got no idea what they’re going to think of you. But Ryan didn’t recruit you for your ass.’
All he could do was nod, and try to keep his face as neutral as possible.
She had – hopefully had – no reason to lie to him. And something about her tone, about the way she’d immediately sensed how uncomfortable he’d been- Maybe he wasn’t the only one who had been on the receiving end of cruelty from men in suits.
‘What’s next?’ he managed to ask after a moment.
‘Adelaide already activated your ability to require. That’s one less thing I have to worry about. I’ll take you to your room. Then I have my own shit to do for a couple of hours, and if no one has bothered to run you through your placement tests, I’ll do it.’ She pointed at the pile of paperwork. ‘For now, shut up, and do that.’
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Available now from author Miranda Sparks
It started with a bang; not an explosion but atoms accelerated toward infinity. That was the end of my so-called ‘ordinary’ life. Fate guided me into the line of fire the same day a madman sought revenge for his bruised ego.
Once upon a time there was no such thing as Glimmer Girl, or even Kaira Cade. This is my story.