04 - Ebb and Flow

07 – Future Proofing

Phoenix Agency

19th November

It was astonishing how well requirements helped with setting up pranks. It wasn’t just a matter of being able to place objects where you couldn’t easily reach, it was that required objects would – to a reasonable degree – balance themselves and automatically decide optimal placement.

Vincent had tried climbing a stepladder to place a bucket of water, once, then after that, had left it all up to a single requirement. It could handle a heavier bucket than he could easily hoist, and didn’t spill any drops that would alert any half-decent recruit who was wary that something might be up.

And it was mostly recruits who were taking the brunt of his boredom. Honeycutt had wised up after the first day. Jonathan took the pranks almost too much in stride, surely suffering some pratfalls on purpose.

Williams was using it as a training exercise. 

He was no longer under regular guard, but he had to check in with Combat a couple of times a day, just so that they were sure he wasn’t randomly hulking out, and Williams was happy to send a recruit to do the check-in, as it tended to double a little chore for whoever had done the worst that day in whatever scenarios they’d run, whoever had run the slowest mile, or missed the most targets.

So every day, he was meeting a couple of new recruits, and so far, they were all transfers from the Academy or recruits who specialized in temporary assignments. 

Some of the Phoenix recruits were set to return, and it had been decided that at least the agents uninvolved with Victor and the Hacking incident would be keeping their positions. 

So Honeycutt, Williams, and Paulson were safe, along with a few general staff he hadn’t met, but Jonathan’s future was still uncertain.

As was his. 

The office of the Regional Director did plan on making a decision soon, and what Jake had indicated during one of their brief conversations was that it would be easiest to transfer Jonathan and Vincent, then allow operations in Phoenix to resume as close to normal as was possible. Minus, temporarily, one director and one Field agent.

Vincent had simply nodded, and made some comment of agreement, a “sure, of course” or “whatever’s best”. 

Logically, he should want to stay, should want to be somewhere where there was at least a chance his memory might get jogged, that something might finally trigger some flash from his childhood, or some cringey moment from his teen years. 

Phoenix should have felt like home, even with no memory, and it didn’t, so it was no great loss if he had to transfer somewhere where he’d be less of a problem.

He looked up to the clock – five minutes until Jonathan was due, and five minutes to do a couple of last-minute adjustments on the prank he’d been perfecting for several days.

He’d been moving all of his furniture slightly to the side over the course of the past few days. Manually, so as to not create a requirement log where someone could easily notice the prank. In addition to that, anyone that required the room to it’s default state would move all the furniture back to where it had started, which, by this point, was a leap of at least a foot.

He just finished moving the desk when he heard motion outside his door, followed by Jonathan’s usual knock of perfectly timed beats.

Vincent pushed the thought that Jonathan could have been an incredible drummer in another life out of his mind, and back to the current plan.

“Speak, friend, and enter!”

“It’s Jonathan.”

Vincent gave the door a dirty look. “That’s not how that works.”

Jonathan entered, and as always, his hand went for the side table next to the door, but missed entirely.  The other Agent behind him, however, did not miss and leaned casually against the side table, like he’d lived in the adjusted room for years.

And for what was at least the tenth time, the game of “is this a person I should know” began as he looked the new agent up and down.

Agent. Another snap decision, but so far he’d had a one hundred percent hit rating on that, so that was an area where he could probably trust his gut. 

Blazer. Red pocket square. Local. 

It was a uniform that anyone from any department could wear. Suits were the primary uniform for Field, of course, but anyone wanting to fancy it up could Bond, James Bond themselves for a meeting, or just because it fit their personal style.

And maybe there was some extra starch in his uniform, or the agent had sunk all of his talent points into “Authority” but something made Vincent rethink his approach.

Now was not the time to ask “who the fuck are you?”. Not this time. Not with this agent.

Jonathan stepped around the side table, and slowly walked down the length of the long table to the seat he usually took, and Vincent smiled as his friend reached for the chair just an instant too early, expecting it to be closer than it was.

The new agent stayed at the front of the room, seeming to return the appraising look that Vincent was giving him, and after a moment, the stranger smiled. ‘Good morning, Vincent.’

‘If I’ve forgotten you, I apologize,’ Vincent said, the greeting coming out flat, having almost become a rote recitation at this point.

‘No, no,’ the man said. ‘We’ve never met. Regional directors rarely get to hobnob with recruits, CIs or really anyone whose title is less than “Director”.’

Vincent didn’t turn to look at Jonathan, he very deliberately didn’t turn to look at Jonathan, but flagged it in his mind to see how the agent was doing after the meeting. Anytime anyone mentioned, even in passing, the former Phoenix director, it seemed to set Jonathan on edge.

And while he had no idea what Victor had done to cause that strong of a reaction in an agent, in someone programmatically capable of hiding all emotions with ease, he did know that if he ever met the man, he was going to put his fist through the monster’s face first, and ask questions…twenty-fifth, or whenever he’d exposed the at least three of his knucklebones to air.

‘Regional Director,’ he repeated, and part of him – albeit a small part – regretted the prank-pulling. 

Then again, acting like a fool, taking every opportunity to joke and choose absurdity rather than misery, seemed to put everyone at ease. As if it was some proof that, missing memory or not, part of him had survived.

Or at least, if he was joking, maybe they saw him as less likely to choke-tackle the doctor again.

‘Nice to meet you,’ Vincent finished. ‘Or, how can I help? You’re probably not just passing through.’

‘Have a seat, Vincent,’ Jonathan said. 

‘I have one, thanks,’ Vincent replied, gesturing towards his rear end.

Not even a flicker of reaction from the Regional Director. Someone he still didn’t have a name for. That had to be a power move. 

He tried to think about Honeycutt’s list, of the names on there, he’d met half a dozen or so, and he knew some names had been thrown on there as a test of his memory. 

Maybe this was Roberts – Regional Director Roberts – and that was why that name had been so far up the list. Or-

‘I didn’t catch your name, sir,’ he said, sitting opposite Jonathan, a little-too-bright smile on his face to keep the imminent tension away for just another few seconds.

‘Wraith,’ the Regional Director said, and Vincent expected a crash of thunder or…something to accompany something that was at once badass and ridiculous. ‘You can call me Director Adams.’

This was absolutely not someone to fuck with, and he was very glad that he hadn’t gotten around to hiding the bucket of paint above the loose ceiling tile.

‘We’ve been discussing your future,’ Jonathan said, ‘and it’s finally time to loop you in on the conversation. To see…what you want to do moving forward?’

It was a conversation Jonathan had been having in gentle ways over the last couple of weeks, especially now that more and more recruits were making Phoenix their new home.

It had always been a limited time window before he had to shit or get off the pot, and Vincent wasn’t even sure what shitting was in this analogy.

Regional Director “your clearance level isn’t high enough to use my nickname” Adams probably saw one of those options as Vincent asking to leave the Agency. 

But…leaving had never really seemed like an option. Every path forward that Vincent had wondered about while failing to fall asleep, or spacing out during one of Honeycutt’s potential trigger tests, had involved staying with the Agency.

The tests were particularly good for spacing out. Slideshows of hundreds of random images and short videos, were sold to him as necessary, as a precaution for everyone, another way of making sure that he was safe. 

After fifteen or so hours in the last couple of weeks, he was beginning to believe there wasn’t a bird or fish species left that could flip some switch and turn him into killing machine, or whatever their worst-case scenario was.

Staying, even if it was in a different capacity to the recruit he’d been before, had been the only path in his mind. Hopefully as a recruit, as that seemed to be the only thing he was really good at.

It was a very weird kind of – patriotism was the wrong word, but the vibe was right – loyalty, for Victor’s hack, a hack that had been initiated as a smoke screen so the ass could run from the Agency, had still left him able to function as a recruit.

It married up well with what Jonathan had explained, how despite everything, Victor had been doing all this surely-a-warcrime research for the Agency, for the good of the System. 

They’d lost a Director, but they hadn’t lost a random recruit, making him truly the fucking consolation prize of the entire situation.

Vincent raised his head a little and met Jonathan’s gaze, it had really only been in the last few days that the man had stopped walking around like he was expecting the gallows, so that probably meant that Director “Wraith is also definitely my Twitch handle” Adams had likely had some conversation with Jonathan regarding his future already. And the fact that he had one.

‘I want to remain a recruit,’ Vincent said, and there was just the tiniest shift in Wraith’s posture that he took as approval. ‘And I think it makes sense for me to stick with Jonathan. Where he goes, I go.’

A small, real smile from Jonathan told him that he’d given the right answer. This situation had rendered them both outcasts, and it just made sense for them to stick together. 

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  • Stormy

    She/her Bi nerd, originally from Brisbane, currently in Melbourne.

  • Shade

    Shade has a strange sense of humour. He met Stormy mostly by accident and, shortly after, wedged himself into her world like he'd been there forever. Again, completely by accident. Living in Utah most of his life, he's come to loathe snow, casserole, and traffic, and enjoys gaming, puns, and gaming puns. He intends to take over the world some day, but is, quite frankly, too lazy to do it.

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