Tap. Tap. Tap.
It was a small sound. A fingernail against plastic. A hand touched his arm, and-
Injection. Potential attack.
He yanked his left arm back, away from whoever was trying to attack him, thrust out his right arm, and aimed for – based on the position the attacker had to be in – the position of his opponent’s throat.
Contact. He wrapped his hand around the throat and held firm, not tight. He had no actionable intelligence yet. No knowing if this was an enemy or ally or-
Shouts. His opponent struggled. Hands grabbing at him on his right side, trying to pull his hand away.
More shouting. Words he couldn’t make out.
The sound of a safety being released. Words that were obviously a threat.
He tried to see, but everything was a blur. Words were starting to make sense. “Stop” came through a few times.
He couldn’t stop. Not until he knew the situation.
Shouting from whoever was at his right. ‘Let go, or I’ll break your arm!’
He struggled away, drew his legs up underneath him – dimly aware of the strange, cushiony surface beneath his bare feet – and launched himself forward.
His jump had been angled to tackle the man in whose throat he held, providing cover – it was a safe assumption that they wouldn’t shoot their ally – and to either provide some stabilization if he managed to stay upright or a softer landing surface if he didn’t.
The owner of the throat – his vision was finally starting to clear, and he saw blond hair – had good balance, and they both stayed upright. The floor was smooth and cold under his feet, a well-maintained facility, not some Solstice-
More threats in his direction.
He yanked the blonde man to him and shifted his grip to a headlock as he looked for a weapon.
He focused on the voice that had threatened to break his arm. A tall man. A tall agent. A combat agent. A combat agent backed up by recruits. Agency facility.
Safe. That meant he was safe.
He loosened his grip on the blond, and one of the recruits stepped forward to pull him away. Another agent. Lab coat. Doctor.
He looked around and saw that he’d come from a bed. He’d been under that doctor’s care and-
The doctor shook the recruit’s hand off. ‘Are you with us?’ he asked.
He looked around further. The doctor. The combat squad. A gurney with blood on it. Evidence of multiple injuries.
He looked down at himself and saw that, in the scuffle, his hospital gown had come open and that his dick was hanging out for all to see.
He started to laugh.
‘Recruit?’ the doctor asked.
The floor was nowhere near as soft as the bed had been.
There had been noise, but not enough to wake him. Nothing had sounded dangerous. And the last memory he had was of being in the Agency. Safe. So that meant that until he had orders-
‘Are you awake?’
‘Five more minutes,’ he said automatically.
He tried to roll over, became aware of a cannula in his left arm, and resumed the previous position.
‘I…beg your pardon?’
He opened his eyes and saw a blond doctor looking down at him. Stitched into the man’s lab coat, beneath the gray-and-red Medical logo, was the name “Honeycutt”.
‘Tired,’ he said, wiggled his head against the stiff infirmary pillow, and closed his eyes again.
He looked at Honeycutt. ‘Yes?’
Honeycutt pointed, and he followed the doctor’s finger to see an agent sitting in a chair beside his bed, a novel in one hand while the other held a gun in his lap, ready to be lifted and shot at a moment’s notice. The intense, frowning Combat agent appraised him, then turned to the next page in his book.
‘It’s just a precaution. You were- Uh- Touchy. The last time you woke up. As a show of good faith, you’re not restrained.’
He blinked and remembered taking Honeycutt hostage and the threats from the combat agent.
‘Sorry,’ he said, his cheeks burning. ‘I was-’ It had been nothing but confusion. He’d woken up somewhere strange, not knowing who was friend, who was foe, and who-
There was an empty space where thoughts should have been. Where information should have been.
He was in the infirmary. There were bandages on his body, a cannula in his arm, and clear signs he was undergoing some pretty significant treatment program. The infirmary was usually a revolving door. Recruits walked in, injured and bleeding, then walked out minutes later, healed enough to go on. If it was bad, there’d be surgery and maybe an overnight stay. But something about the machines around his bed – and the other bits of information he knew he was absorbing but not consciously able to point to – indicated he was going to be a much longer-term guest than most people who booked into Hotel Infimary-ia.
Slowly, in a way he hoped wouldn’t spook the Combat agent and give Honeycutt another wound to deal with, he sat up, sat cross-legged, and shook his head, trying to clear whatever fuzz was there from the presumed cocktail of meds and magic in his system.
The Combat agent noticed his change in position but just kept reading his book.
‘How are you feeling?’ Honeycutt asked and twiddled with a penlight before moving forward to check his pupils.
He- His brain was a car with a broken starter. He knew Honeycutt’s name from the helpful embroidery. The bald Combat agent’s name eluded him. He didn’t know where he was.
He…didn’t know who he was.
‘Fuck,’ he said, his voice sounding a little brittle. ‘I guess you’ve got me on the good shit. How injured was I?’
The red-and-gray of Honeycutt’s Medical emblem indicated a US Agency. That seemed right – the accents lined up, and it…sat right when he thought about it. He was a recruit. They’d called him such, and presumably, this was his Agency; it was strange to receive extended medical care somewhere that wasn’t your home base unless something had gone catastrophically wrong where he was from.
Which, all things considered, was a possibility.
It might be okay not to know Honeycutt or the cue ball, but this wasn’t his first time meeting himself. There should have been…something there when he searched for his name, not the emptiness of a DVD screensaver pinging around his brain.
‘Recruit, how are you feeling?’
‘I’m feeling stupid. I’d be better if I knew my own name. Or anything, really.’
Honeycutt gave him a sad smile but didn’t look surprised. ‘Some methods suggest trying to prompt you before handing out information, but we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. So, Recruit, it’s Vincent. Vincent Kendall. Does that sound familiar?’
‘Other than the fact it sounds like “Ken doll”, not at all.’ And with what he’d seen when his robe had flown open, it was likely unrelated. ‘Vincent.’ He tried to inject the name into the empty space, but it was eaten by the slowly-pinging DVD screensaver and returned no memories.
‘Do you know where you are?’
‘Agency,’ he said promptly. ‘I’m not sure which one,’ he said, a little slower.
‘Phoenix,’ Honeycutt said. ‘I’m Honeycutt,’ he said, pointing to the name on his labcoat, ‘and that’s Williams.’
Williams lifted his head in acknowledgment, then went back to reading. Williams’ left hand still held his gun, and he knew immediately that this was unusual. All agents were ambidextrous but defaulted to right-handed use. Even though it wasn’t unusual for humans to shoot with their off-hand, to lessen the chance of damaging their primary hand, agents didn’t usually-
Oh, I know that, and I don’t know my own name or age. Very useful.
Williams noticed him staring, and for a brief moment, he allowed a smile to break through his guard-dog expression. ‘It’s a quirk of my template,’ he said. ‘Everyone in my line prefers to shoot with their left hand. Don’t make me demonstrate.’
‘What can you tell me?’ Honeycutt asked, and he turned back to the doctor. ‘Anything. Doesn’t matter how small.’
‘You’ve seen me naked already. It’s not that small.’
Honeycutt stared, and Williams coughed. After a moment, Honeycutt lifted his hand and made a “go on” gesture.
He – and he was trying to associate the name “Vincent” with himself, but it wasn’t sticking yet – tried to think, but it was difficult. It was asking a question without asking a question.
Technically, “anything” could involve opening his mouth and listing every word he knew. He had a working knowledge of English, probably as his first language, since nothing else was coming to mind. He had an understanding of where he was, what the Agency was, and what agents were.
However, Honeycutt seemed to have inferred all that, so was asking for more meaningful information.
‘What were you doing before you woke up here?’ Honeycutt prompted. ‘Can you tell me who your lead agent is? Who recruited you?’
‘Sleeping. No. And no.’
Honeycutt grabbed a table and swiveled it over the bed, then laid a piece of paper and a pen on its white surface. A list of names, mostly single names, some surnames, some first names, some that could be both, were printed in a boring font that some corner of his mind supplied as “default report body text font”.
‘Do you recognize any of these names?’ The doctor paused and furrowed his brow. ‘Specifically, do you know anyone with these names? I’m not asking if you’re aware that the name “Robert” exists.’
“Robert” was the first name on the list and, therefore, probably had some importance.
Or it’s misdirection to make you think it’s important.
‘You’re on here,’ he said, pointing to Honeycutt’s name halfway down the list. ‘And so is he,’ he jerked a thumb at Williams.
Many of the names were very…agenty, which would logically mean that the other names were other local agents, either from Phoenix or its surrounding network.
None of the names meant anything to him, though. No faces were conjured in his mind. Where there should have been a lifetime of memories, there was space for rent, dust, and cobwebs.
‘I’m guessing I should know these people?’
‘At least some of them,’ Honeycutt said. ‘All right, let’s do some more tests.’
‘So I can just do it?’
Honeycutt nodded. ‘It was deactivated for security purposes, but I’ve gotten the go-ahead from Wraith to at least give you some basic licenses.’
‘Who the fuck-’
‘The regional director,’ the doctor supplied. ‘When you command the power he does, you can call yourself anything you want.’
‘Just don’t call me late for lunch.’
‘Lunch is on you, then. Go ahead and test.’ Honeycutt smiled. ‘Please. This is actually important for your progress chart.’
Requiring. Something he was, in theory, used to. This was recruit day one stuff. “Here’s your uniform, here’s your gun, here’s your phenomenal cosmic powers”.
But with no memory of his time as a recruit, this was his first time, all over again.
‘What counts as a basic license?’
‘Anything that won’t make Williams look up from his book.’
He looked across the infirmary to the new spot Williams had taken up in a comfy chair against the far wall. Distant enough to show that he was being given a greater deal of trust than his first couple of days, but still at close enough range that – left-handed or not – Williams could put two quick rounds in him if needed.
It was simply a precaution, Honeycutt had assured him, but explained that the event that had deleted all of his memories might cause some erratic behavior.
Erratic behavior like taking the medical agent hostage.
With more and more of Honeycutt’s tests, though, the doctor was openly becoming more sure that the one throat-grabby moment had been more of an adrenaline high and a heightened state of confusion rather than an indication he was primed to go into Terminator mode without provocation.
In fact, if he managed to get through the afternoon without attacking anyone, Williams would be swapped out with a recruit, meaning his threat level had gone way down.
Until then, Williams seemed happy – or as happy as the man seemed to get while on Duty – to sit and read. Newspapers in the morning, novels during the day, and lighter material at night.
He was pretty sure the agent wasn’t sleeping.
Honeycutt, too, was probably carrying around a sleep debt and a flock of uncounted sheep.
He slept a lot, sometimes by choice, sometimes thanks to one of Honeycutt’s little needles, when he needed to be unconscious for some scan or test. And whenever he woke up, at least one of the agents was present and awake.
Maybe Honeycutt was getting catnaps in his office. Maybe Williams was sleeping with his eyes open.
Either way, it wasn’t good for their mental health. Even with a memory that wasn’t so much Swiss cheese as stolen cheese, he knew that – machine or not – agents did need some measure of sleep. Just like you had to turn a PC off every once in a while or run a defrag, there were things that required an agent to be in a low-power, low-activity state.
Honeycutt tapped the overbed table. ‘Recruit?’
Everything was ridiculous, and he’d known that since realizing there was a good chance he’d never really know who he was, who he’d been.
There were two paths in front of him. One, where he fully internalized the armed guard waiting for him to breathe wrong, the enormity of losing every memory since a doctor had slapped his ass and announced to his mother that she had a healthy baby boy, and that as comfortable as his life was going to be, whether or not it was going to be “good” or even “safe” were other questions.
The other path was following the bliss of the few times since he’d woken up that the tension in the room had been broken. The moments where he’d cracked a joke so bad or made a pun so horrendous it warranted immediate execution.
Small, stupid moments where Williams had stopped reading, or Honeycutt had looked like his hands weren’t big enough for the facepalm the moment deserved.
It was an old bit of Agency law that said that a recruit’s first requirement was a good indication of their personality, of the life they would lead in a suit.
He wasn’t interested in choosing misery.
He looked over to Williams, gave a little preemptive “calm down” wave, and lifted his hand slowly towards Honeycutt.
The requirement processed, and there was a slight fuzz against his fingers before the feel of cheap rubber solidified, and his fingers gripped the yellow neck.
An indescribable wail filled the infirmary.
He chuckled as Honeycutt retreated from the noise, then turned the rubber chicken to face him, and he tried to mirror its horrified, bug-eyed expression.
‘I have to agree with his sentiment. That’s absolutely the mood of the day.’
In his hand, the chicken limply nodded in agreement.
Vincent smiled as Honeycutt stared, dumbfounded and just the slightest bit annoyed, at the toy and knew, without a doubt, he’d made the right choice.