It wasn’t something that one tended to notice on a day-to-day basis, but within the Agency, colour was very important.
It was something you could know, objectively, but largely forget about until you were brought face-to-face with it.
Each continent had their feature colour, and there were shades within each region so that, with either practised eyes or a HUD, you could get a pretty good idea of where someone was from, just with a glance at their uniform.
There were also the distinctions made within an individual Agency, that when inter-department schedules were made, there was a handy system to know – again, at a glance – who was involved.
Red for Combat, green for Tech, and…blue for Field, once again reinforcing the idea that Field was the System’s favourite discipline. The “favoured son”, as some like to put it.
Those colours were everyday, and invisible.
Stationery and the like tended to be cool tones, blacks, whites, silvers, blues and greys. Boring. Corporate. Nothing to really stand out or draw the eye of a civilian who might happen to see some Agency paperwork.
Colours meant things. You wore your region’s feature colour. Prisoners wore grey, a dull reflection of Central’s silver.
Bronze wasn’t used as any Agency’s feature colour. Bronze was…special.
And a bronze folder sat on Director Wraith’s desk, the dull metallics in the cardboard catching the sun that came in through the artificial window.
If it was…anything that belonged within a bronze folder, the situation was far more complicated than Clarke had led him to believe. And Wraith, despite being half his age, was still too old and sensible to accidentally leave such a meaningful colour on display.
Ryan finished his walk across the office and shook Wraith’s extended hand.
‘Welcome,’ Wraith said, ‘please, sit.’ Wraith lifted the bronze folder as Ryan said, and smiled a small, pained smile. ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to let the elephant go unaddressed. Can I get you anything first, before this becomes serious?’
‘If, whatever that is, exists,’ Ryan said, ‘I would imagine that time has passed.’
‘It’s a writ of dismissal,’ Wraith said. ‘And it’s here so that…I’ll say that you’re not the only person I’m speaking with today, Director. So while I’m taking your application seriously, do not feel obligated to take on this responsibility. And just so you’re aware, what was sent out was the mild version of the story, all the applicants today are going to be blindsided, just as I’ve done with you.’
‘You wanted to pare down to serious applicants before even beginning the process, I take it?’
‘This is a shitstorm very few people want to be associated with. So, brave, stupid, or generous, which are you, Director?’
The hierarchy within the Agency was sometimes a strange thing. Rank meant a lot, but seniority could mean more, that was why, although she held the rank, he’d cautioned Stef not to make too many waves, lest it cause issues with recruits whose term of service outweighed hers ten, twenty or fifty times over.
Wraith wasn’t in his chain of command, but held a higher rank. He had six decades of seniority on the regional director. Realistically, it put them on rather equal footing, so it was likely a bad idea to read insult into the word “stupid”, rather than efficacy of speech.
Perhaps, like his daughter, sometimes he could put too much thought into something simple.
‘Pragmatic?’ he offered. ‘It is never a bad thing to be owed a favour.’
‘I appreciate the upfront answer,’ Wraith said. ‘And I assume that attitude is why your Agency seems to be home to a lot of misfit toys? Honestly, Director, it’s why I’m speaking to you first. Aside from the accent, one recruit with memory issues won’t stand out, especially in comparison to…’ He reached for a folder and lifted its cover slightly, surely just for the unnecessary dramatic effect. ‘The child of a demon, a mirror case, a full basement full of freaks, a dreaming saviour of the world, and an agent so old he should be in a museum, to name just the top billing stars of your organisation. I’d make some joke about it being a “bane”, but I’ve recently been told that’s not how it’s pronounced.’
‘Closer to “bin” than “bane”, Regional Director,’ Ryan confirmed.
‘To be frank, I was tempted to throw all of Phoenix into a bin,’ Wraith said, then leaned forward, a bottle of green sports drink, almost the same electric green as Jones’ eyes, appearing in his hand as he did so.
Wraith poured the drink into a glass, then pitched the plastic bottle into a trash can a few feet away, the rim of which lit up and chimed as the bottle passed through it, and a score counter on the wall went up by one.
‘I find it easy enough to believe that the general staff and the recruits were distanced enough from Victor to not be able to get a read on his behaviours. But…for three of the four agents there, I’ve got to consider willful blindness, willful negligence, to not have some idea of what’s been going on under that roof…I will get to them in time. But I am not happy, and people have been recycled for less.’
Ryan felt his eyes drift to the bronze folder again. ‘And that’s for the fourth, I take it?’
‘Jonathan,’ Wraith clarified. ‘You know about it before he does, I- He’s- He deserves this. Some kindness. But, on the chance he makes use of it immediately, I cannot give him that option yet, there are still matters that I need his cooperation with, but at the end of it, the choice will be his.’
Writs of dismissal were beyond rare, in his years, he’d seen, or heard about second-hand, around a dozen, and he knew that was on the higher end of things, skewed by his relatively high position as Director.
To most agents, writs like this were near-mythological, something you knew about third-hand, or were aware of due to a distant friend’s friend receiving one.
The Agency, being an agent, was something you were born into, and something you died doing. It was a job for life, in every literal and metaphorical sense.
Some agents deserted the System though, crossing over into Faerie, and chancing death by withdrawal for the chance to live free. And once fallen, once “free”, they had to live the rest of their lives, looking over their shoulders for former colleagues who were Duty-bound to shoot on sight.
A writ of dismissal granted freedom, gave an agent who had performed some great service or undergone some great trauma that the best way the Agency could thank them, or hospice them, was to grant them a mortal life, free from Duty and battle.
Director Victor’s desertion, and a writ for someone as young as Jonathan, spoke of a grim situation.
‘What my liaison officer relayed to me,’ Ryan said, ‘was that what you needed of a host Agency was simply to take on board your Recruit Kendall? Is there more to that than meets the eye?’
Wraith hummed a tune under his breath, then met Ryan’s gaze. ‘Mostly, it is what was conveyed to the liaisons. A partially-augmented recruit with a total loss of episodic memory. To the best that both Phoenix Medical and Tech can find, there’s no other trigger program waiting to go off. However, as we still do not fully understand Victor’s methods, it’s not something I can, in good faith, promise.’
‘Are you comfortable sending him so far away?’ Ryan asked. ‘Are you sure he wouldn’t be better off, closer to home?’
‘The further away, the better. The closest I’m considering is Honolulu. I have no reasonable belief that Victor will come after him again, but hiding the young man halfway around the world keeps him out of sight, out of mind, and should keep him a little safer.’
A few months ago, this would have been something he would have agreed to without really thinking about it. Another favour to be done at Clarke’s urging, something to buy them a little more reputation as being “helpful” to balance out their relatively low scores that often came with outside assessments.
Clarke would have done some base-level threat assessment, and the fact that the transfer was being done without an intermediary from Central meant that he wasn’t being handed an openly ticking timebomb.
Things had changed. He was no longer simply going through the motions, fulfilling his position without any real personal involvement. Far closer to the Solstice idea of an agent-as-automaton than he’d realised until he’d been given reason to examine his life. To understand what it was like to enjoy living again, to have someone he wanted to protect again.
So the gain in reputation, in favours to be claimed later, had to be weighed against the potential danger he was bringing into his home, that he was exposing Stef to.
What Wraith had said though also had merit. Largely without guidance, his Agency had become home to…people who had needed homes.
And, for the most part, all of the misfits and strays had found a niche for themselves, had found a place where they could exist in a way that made them happier.
Merlin had been rescued from a hell hidden beneath a suburban home, and found a parent as soon as Jones had held the malnourished and abused child.
Magnolia – someone who had spent a lot of her formative years in an Agency, but who had abandoned that for her own reasons – had become first a reluctant recruit, and then the reason he had a truly functional Combat division.
And it was slowly becoming easier to think of Curt as “aide” without instinctively prefacing the young man’s entire existence with “ex-Solstice”.
On and on. As mediocre as his Agency was, it was something far more important than remarkable, it was somewhere people belonged.
They had room for one more.
‘I’ll look after him,’ he said, trying to find the tone that Stef often called out as “dad voice”. ‘If you send him to us, he’ll have a place.’
Wraith stood and extended a hand. ‘I do want to speak with the others first, but you’ve made it to the short-list.’