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Every tiny detail seemed blown out of proportion.
The sensation of his own breath. The brightness of the lab lights. The touch of fabric against his skin. Every pinpoint of information that was never otherwise considered.
Ryan wiped his cheeks, aware of every line on his palm touching the skin. Every unnoticed detail of hands he’d had for over a century. Hands he’d always feared shared too many details with Rhys.
So much – too much – of his early life had been in the shadow of a man simultaneously gone and not gone – as was probably the way with other templated agents. Other templates though, he knew, were generally made for objective reasons – that the recycled former had instinctive knowledge too valuable to be lost forever.
Not many were the result of guilt, as he was. Reynolds hadn’t enjoyed playing executioner to one of the last Duskers, so giving part of Rhys new life as an agent had been his imperfect solution.
Some of Rhys, too much of Rhys. Enough that he’d spent his early years with Reynolds looking for signs of the Dusker peeking out from his eyes, of ascribing his behaviours to a dead man, of trying to treat him like Ryan and Rhys at the same time.
It had left him unsure of exactly what had been himself. Uncertain of what really constituted “Ryan”, wondering if every flash of emotion belonged to another, if every impulse was legacy code.
He’d spent decade upon decade distancing himself from Rhys. Distance that wasn’t always easy, especially when he had to occasionally deal with people who had known his violent former. People who saw him as nothing but Rhys in a cheap mask.
Rhys was a detestable part of his history, something akin to a shameful family member he was unable to get away from.
But for the first time in the longest time, he wondered what Rhys would do in his situation. What Rhys would have done, faced with a dead girl and the power to make whatever wish he wanted.
Duskers were part of the social and emotional transition in the history of his people. Knowing too much about their history was discouraged, which was why what most agents knew of older forms of constructs and heralds were largely mythologised. All most knew were a handful of stories and legends, told, retold and reinterpreted over the years.
It wasn’t in question though, that older forms had been far from what agents were – that those in their history hadn’t been allowed the freedoms that he had. Friendships, relationships, families, those things had been unthinkable. Constructs of their day, whatever the form had been, were to remain neutral, emotionless, beings of pure logic and duty.
Somewhere along the way, that method of operation had become untenable, with emotion being seen as necessary in order to perform tasks with the utmost dedication.
Duskers had emotions, but from all reports, most seemed to heavily skew into the negative. Boastful, violent, cruel – and in this respect, Rhys had been a poster child.
He couldn’t entirely condemn the man, no matter how much he hated him – Rhys’ still-living son relayed stories from his mother. Julia had told her son all the stories of a father he’d never met. An ill-tempered man who, despite everything, protected those otherwise ignored by authorities.
Rhys wouldn’t have recruited Stef, that at least he knew was something “Ryan”.
Rhys, however, would have likely been able to hold his own better against an enforcer. Been able to make a stronger case. Wouldn’t be staring at a wall, unsure if he was breathing.
In his HUD, another minute ticked over.
Crawford had to warn him of the worst possible case, that was the only fair thing to do. It would have been cruel to promise a positive outcome, only to hand down a death sentence a few hours later.
And on some level, he knew what he did in this time was a test.
His fate hadn’t been decided – that was why he was still free, unaccompanied, and without apparent restraint. He was sure, though, that Crawford had placed blocks and injunctions in place that would stop extreme actions that he would have otherwise been capable of.
If Crawford had known for sure – even before consulting the advocate – that there was no chance of a positive outcome, then at the very least, he’d be accompanied by a Central representative, stripped of his ability to shift and require whilst he was granted limited time and scope to finalise his affairs.
The worst wasn’t guaranteed, but he had to act as though it was. He couldn’t waste time.
More minutes ticked by in his HUD.
Something crashed into his midsection, and he shook his head, trying to see who had attacked him. Instead, all he saw was a pair of hands reaching skyward, and old instincts took over, and he hoisted the child up and onto his hip before he fully realised what he was doing.
An oversized lab coat, messy hair and a pair of goggles told him that he was holding Merlin.
‘You needed a hug,’ the boy said and wrapped his arms around Ryan’s neck.
‘Sorry sir,’ Jones said from the door. ‘You know what he’s like. He needs to get better at asking before hugging,’ the tone a gentle admonishment.
Merlin clung like a koala, and he was glad of the comfort.
‘Sir?’ Jones asked, the single word asking everything.
‘I’ll have the answer in a few hours,’ he said. He walked to his tech and transferred Merlin to Jones’ arms. ‘If I-’ He paused, then put his words in order. ‘If I were not your director tomorrow, is there anything I could put into place today that would help you? Any outstanding requests, any paperwork you need expedited, any-’
‘No, sir, there’s not. If you’ve got a few hours though, I’d ask that you be selfish, sir. Think about your own needs, what you want- What you need to do. In the meantime, I’ll put together every report that can possibly help you. Please let your advocate know that, or if you want me to directly contact Enforcer Crawford, I can do that as well.’
‘I will let you know,’ he said.
A few commands and a shift brought him to the empty hallway outside of Reynolds’ office. The disconnected hall always felt like a mausoleum, a tomb, dry and still and empty.
Something was different.
He kept himself still, his breath quiet, and focused on the details of the world around him – the door to Reynolds’ office was open, and someone was in there, talking without a response.
The fact that it was Taylor’s voice shocked him more than anything.
Taylor was talking too quietly for any words to be adequately discerned. Still, he recognised the timbre and growl, the strength behind the words, even ones spoken softly.
Knowing he was intruding, knowing he should back away and give Taylor space with the man that had been a father to both of them, he knocked on the door and walked in.
Taylor stood in front of Reynolds’ desk, in a textbook at-ease stance, as if he were giving a report – which, Ryan realised after a moment, he might very well be doing.
‘I’m sorry for interrupting.’
Taylor looked at him, nothing on his face other than the usual slight annoyance.
Not for the first time, though maybe for the last, he wondered if they had done the right thing by resurrecting the man. Whether what had been saved outweighed what had been lost.
Death and rebirth had fundamentally changed who Taylor was. Had turned a brother into a stranger. Had changed one of his closest friends into someone he couldn’t have a conversation with.
‘I didn’t know you visited,’ he said, not willing to let the moment pass without comment, not willing to go to his death without trying to reach out one more time. A goodbye for what their relationship had been, if not for what it was now.
Taylor, several large bandaged wounds visible – along with a patch on his chest making an outline in his t-shirt. Signs of first aid given by Magnolia, rather than Jones, stood silent and said nothing.
An apology would start an argument. Old memories couldn’t be discussed. Best estimates were that memory reconstruction had allowed Taylor to keep barely more than ten per cent of his original memories. However, they’d done the best to fill the gaps in other ways using other sources.
He could offer a truth, something he’d held close to his chest for the longest time. Something Reynolds might refute when he woke, but more likely would shamefully acknowledge.
‘There were three of us,’ he said as he moved to sit on the couch, leaving the doorway free if Taylor wanted to storm out. Three. Samuels. Another friend lost. A technical agent that had defied the odds in the saddest way, proving that those that spent most of their lives within the walls of the Agency weren’t always safe from a stray bullet.
‘There were three of us,’ he said again. Samuels had been a loss, but one grieved long ago – and Jones had been more than a competent replacement. ‘And you were his favourite.’
These words, so true that they hurt to say, seemed to have no impact on Taylor.
Ryan stared down at his hands, and Taylor made a move towards the door. ‘Stay,’ he said quickly, not wanting to be alone, not wanting to give up so fast.
‘Is that an order?’
‘Please. I need to- Please.’
‘He chose you,’ Taylor said, staring out towards the empty hall.
The directorship. The last and final proof he had that he was the less-favoured son. Ryan rubbed the back of his neck. ‘Just as I said, you were-’
‘He. Chose. You.’ Ryan looked up at Taylor, who was gripping the doorframe so tight his knuckles were white. ‘He chose you. A lie isn’t-’
‘He didn’t want to give you this burden,’ he snapped, cutting Taylor off. ‘He wanted to spare you the scrutiny. The work. The stress. Eilise and Alex were gone, I had nothing; you had Grigori. He always thought you’d transfer, he wanted to give you that freedom. There are more limits than freedoms with this position, Agent.’
Taylor said nothing, released his grip on the doorframe, then walked out into the hall.
‘I’m sorry,’ Ryan whispered. ‘You know I’m sorry for what happened.
Taylor’s footsteps stopped for a moment, then restarted, then disappeared, presumably as he shifted away.
He looked to Reynolds, to the gently sleeping man, and wondered how much of a disappointment he was. Wondered what it would be like for Reynolds to wake into a world where two of his agents were gone, and the third far from the man he remembered.
Wondered what Reynolds would have done in his place. How Reynolds would be reacting to a possible death sentence, to be pondering the choice of run or die.
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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.