01 - Mirrorfall

30 – Hierarchy

The combat knife was the only thing in the world.

Magnolia stared, her body relaxed – something that came from long years of training.

If she was tense, her reactions would be off. There was danger, even in training sessions, but it to be a factor that she accepted so that she could perform at her best.

Taylor wasn’t the kind of soldier who did fancy things with his knives. No unnecessary spinning. Changes to the grip were done swiftly but in a perfunctory manner.

The blade rested in his hand, and if she didn’t move at the right way at the right moment, in three seconds, it would sink into her flesh.

He gave a small nod, her only warning – as this was a test of how she reacted, not how quickly. The warning was a pleasantry, and one she appreciated.

The blade flew, and she dodged it.

She looked to her commander, but the look in his eyes told her that he was no longer present – his attention was entirely in his HUD.

He’d be able to see her through the overlay, but unless there was something of extreme importance, it was best not to interrupt him.

There was the feeling of fuzz in her hand – a warning that something was being required there. She tipped her palm so that the object didn’t fall when it materialised, then slammed the earpiece into place as soon as it was real.

‘Situation?’ she demanded. Low-or-no-priority calls didn’t get her attention this way. Only emergency and end-of-the-fucking-world calls summoned her earpiece to get her immediately clued into the situation.

‘It’s Ryan,’ Merlin’s little voice, and there was enough…far-away-ness in the two words to let her know he was casting an eye over the situation in a way no one else could. Insight she could use but would have to manage. ‘He’s hurt, but he’ll be okay if you get there- Now.’


She looked up at Taylor, who was probably receiving the same information from Jones – that wasn’t the usual protocol, but it also wasn’t normal to get an emergency call about Ryan.

And whether or not she respected him, he was probably the best Director for their Agency. Other Directors might not be so- Taylor wasn’t the easiest to work with, and other Directors might do something about that.

Her commander caught her eye and nodded. There wasn’t a need for words. Even something so simple as “do it” was unnecessary, and she never wanted to pull words out of him when they weren’t needed.

Too many people already expected too much from him.

With one macro requirement, her tablet was in her hand, and her current go team were being roused in several different ways. And ready or not, in forty-five seconds they’d be shifted out.

Taylor had moved to the side of the gym, and two large panels of blonde wood had been opened. His go-to weapons cache behind one panel, and commonly-used field and emergency equipment behind the other.

He went for weapons. She went for equipment.

The macro was set to bring enough supplies to protect herself, her commander and her team through a firefight or a hostage negotiation.

Whatever her recruits had been wearing when the forty-five second counter started, they’d appear on location in full tactical gear, surrounded by equipment they could use.

The equipment, of course, included ways to heal recruits and agents. Still, Merlin’s warning had made it sound like Ryan was seconds from kicking the bucket, so being proactive was going to be the right move.

If she’d needed to go in, knife at the ready, he would have told her that. Probably would have told her that. His reader powers were always reliable, but not always in the most useful of ways. Sometimes what he could see of the future was either scrambled. Sometimes his warnings only made sense in retrospect or came so garbled that it only amounted to a gut feeling that you could rely on.

Ryan couldn’t die, it would be too disruptive.

She pulled a bottle from the shelf – the design always put her in mind of a particularly sturdy bottle of laundry detergent, although one whose mouth was as round as a soft drink can.

Liquid blue – as soon as she saw Ryan, she could soak him with the contents – it wasn’t pretty or elegant, but it would be a good foot in the door to keep him from dying.

She dismissed the bottle’s cap, ready to pour as soon as she saw the dying agent.

Her earpiece beeped a five-second countdown, and the world twisted.

The street where they appeared was dark – the only shop that showed any sign that it was open was the one that no longer had any front windows.

There were spray paint marks on the ground – a jagged line of blue, overlaid with grey circles. That was Tech’s work – warning of a blackout zone, something automated that their drones could do. There were sure to be drones about, disguised as birds – they were often the only thing to get to an emergency site faster than her go team.

Proof that there were drones only backed up the fact that Merlin had been right in not giving her a personal warning – unless it was something undetectable by both technology and a kid so powerful that-

She snapped her fingers, and two of her recruits flanked her as she made her way into the remains of the shop.

The store was a mess. Glass was everywhere, as was blood. There were a few obvious patches – on the floor near what had been a window; smeared on a freezer, and the pools around the three bodies. Two bodies together in the centre of the store, one by itself to the right.

Nothing moved – and as this ostensibly a rescue mission, that wasn’t good.

Hewitt – the scent of lavender and sandalwood identified him, even while the tactical gear hid his face; went left. The other recruit, probably Rachel judging by her Amazonian build and height, swept right.

Ryan was on the floor, back against the counter, his new recruit in his arms. There was blood on his mouth – an immediate sign that he was dealing with internal injuries. She crouched beside him, as her recruits called that their sections were safe.


No response.

Magnolia grabbed the placed the container of blue on the ground, grabbed Ryan’s unresisting hands, pulled them away from his recruit. She adjusted her grip on Mimosa and shoved the girl aside, the dead-or-nearly-dead recruit falling onto cracked tiles and glass.

‘No.’ Ryan’s voice was a dusty whisper in a dead building.

‘Brace yourself,’ she said as she poured the blue over his chest, emptying three-quarters of the bottle where it would do the most good, before pressing the bottle to his lips. She slipped her free hand behind his head, grabbed a handful of his hair and tipped his head back so that drinking the blue would be easier.

He coughed, spluttering blue and blood all over her, but after a moment, brought one hand up to brace against the bottle, holding in place until the bottle was empty.


Taylor. He’d entered a blackout zone – something he shouldn’t have done, but something he wouldn’t be rebuked for, given that the Director was involved.

You could sacrifice recruits to save agents, agents to save Directors, and Directors to save members of Central. It was a hierarchy whose only purpose was to let you know who you were expected to die for.

She’d die for her commander, the rest of the world could go fuck itself.

She stood and quickly moved out of Taylor’s way. There were so many unnecessary words. So many words that would be exchanged between people who didn’t know how to operate in silence. “Take him to Jones” would be wasted words – there was nowhere else for injured to go. “He’s alive” – anyone with eyes could see their Director struggling to breathe. Corpses usually didn’t try to breathe.

‘Quickly,’ was the only thing she said she allowed herself to say. That would convey the urgency and the care that needed to be taken.

Taylor knelt, glass crunching under his knees, then scooped up Ryan like a man about to carry his spouse over the threshold, and carried the bleeding agent towards the safety of system territory.

Part of her felt relief as she heard Taylor’s boots leave the shop. Their number one priority was being dealt with – now to move onto the bonus points of the rescue operation.

She looked to Rachel first. ‘Dead,’ the recruit reported. ‘Half his head’s gone, Mags.’

Magnolia nodded and turned to Hewitt, who was over the body of the recruit. ‘Yours?’

‘Barely, I think,’ Hewitt said. In one hand, he had a small mirror that he’d used to check her breath, in the other was a medical tablet.

A wireless electrode was on the not-quite-dead recruit’s forehead, but half the usual readings on the tablet were missing. ‘Either this isn’t syncing properly, or she’s got no blue. That’s going to fuck things for the Parkers.’ He tucked the tablet and the mirror away. ‘I say we just move her, it literally can’t any worse, and there’s nothing I can do to stabilise her right now.’

‘Your call. Need a stretcher?’

Hewitt shook his head. ‘Quicker just to do this,’ he said. He picked up the recruit as though she weighed nothing. She was thin, but the worrying kind of thin that made you think “sickly” more than anything else. It would likely be worth a quiet word to the Parkers if she lived.

Even with all of the magic and science at their fingertips, whether the recruit lived was probably still in question.

‘Anthony,’ Hewitt said, talking to his operator, as he adjusted his grip on Mimosa. ‘If you can spare a prayer, I’ve got someone who would appreciate it.’

He moved quickly, the recruit as floppy and still as a sack of potatoes. Bleeding potatoes. Bleeding was a good sign, it meant there was a heart still actively pumping blood.

One living agent, one provisionally alive recruit, one dead unknown. It was as good as it was going to get.

She looked at Rachel. ‘Interface with Tech, I want their quickest CSI and their best clean up.’ She turned to Collins, who stood just inside the door, grinding a piece of glass under their boot. ‘Jones. Drones. Find out where the staff went.’ She walked out of the shop and looked to the rest of her team. ‘One. Perimeter. Two. Report on the blackout, tell me what I’m dealing with and how long it’s going to be a thorn in my ass. Three. Parked cars. Check and erase dashcams. Four. Get this cleared quickly and you’ve all got tomorrow off. Five. I don’t need to tell you your jobs. If you’re here, you know what you’re doing.’

There was a chorus of acknowledgments from her team, and she smiled as they split to contain the situation, and to keep the world safe from assholes who would bomb an ice-cream store.

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