08 – Disrupted Perfection

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Curt opened his eyes, rolled over, and looked to the phone on his bedside table and grinned at the perfect timing. One minute before his alarm was due to go off – that meant his meds had worked exactly right.

The latest formulation that Two had come up with was working well. There were still nightmares, but not always – and importantly, he was able to wake up, rested, and ready to face the world as “Recruit Curt” again.

He grabbed his phone as the first vibration started, and killed the alarm. As the screen went black, the room went back to semi-darkness, lit only by the lights of the few electronics.

Some recruits had windows – though the majority were false windows, and were sims projected onto glass, showing a real-time view of the outside world.

The false windows gave the same quality of light, so there was no real downside, unless you craved fresh air. For that small downside, there were several advantages, like being able to change your view. You could have the real-time view of an expensive penthouse apartment or a view out onto your favourite beach.

It was a cool piece of tech that Raz had been more than happy to show off. Raz himself rotated through popular options, like the intense lights of the Hong Kong city night, or Sydney fireworks, but mostly defaulted to the standard view of the world outside.

As a barely-tolerated, forever-on-probation Solstice piece-of-shit, he got bare walls. No windows. No view.

‘Computer, lights.’

Require: lights.

He closed his eyes as the lights came up. He lay back on his pillows for a moment, staring into his eyelids before braving the harsh brightness.

He could have slept in, but there was no point – it would throw off his routine for the rest of the week, and he could always nap later if he felt the need.

The day after a major operation was usually pretty dull. All non-essential activities were pushed back, and the usual events of the day, like training, didn’t occur at all.

Rumour had it even Magnolia slept in on mornings like this.

He wasn’t convinced that Mags was capable of sleeping in – he wasn’t even sure that she slept at all.

No training meant that meant at least he wouldn’t have to bruise his hand, pounding on Newbie’s door to wake her up.

He threw back the quilt, stood, and made the bed with a thought.

The other recruits had rooms that took care of themselves. His room only had the barest few basic subroutines. More small ways of telling him he didn’t belong, that he didn’t deserve the usual comforts of the Agency, that he had to work for what he had.

He went to the bathroom, relieved himself, then opened his shower door, positioned his head under the shower, and turned on the water for a few seconds. The cold was enough to ensure he was awake and to beat back any ideas of going to back to sleep.

A requirement wrapped a towel around his shoulders and let the water drip down his short hair as he took stock of himself in front of the mirror.

Tired. He looked tired, but at least within these four walls, he didn’t always have to keep up the bright and chipper appearance of “Recruit Curt”. In his room, he could be tired, could…feel some of the emotions he packed down like gauze into a gushing wound.

He grabbed the front of the soft shirt he slept in and required it away, hoping again that his tattoos had disappeared overnight.

There was no logical reason to hope for it, but hope was always illogical.

There was the…wish that somehow the cosmic karmic balance would see that he was trying to make amends. Trying to somehow balance out the scales for the fae he’d tortured and the lives he’d taken.

Black ink and shame remained both stains that he’d never be able to get rid of.

He stared at the twisting vine, the first tattoo he’d gotten. The ink his Solstice colleagues had insisted on. The reward after his question-and-answer session with a nymph that had been nothing but a giant mass of writhing vines and tendrils.

One of the leaves was out of place in the design – something the artist had done to try and cover up how he’d been wriggling around and taking shots with his- With people he had thought were his friends.

With people who had encouraged him to murder a sentient creature. With people who had been drinking to celebrate that something “unnatural” had been purged from the world.

And he’d thought he’d done something brave, something heroic, slain a monster like a knight from a fable.

Even if he got rid of the tattoos, he didn’t deserve to let go of the shame.

With the same moment of hesitation he felt every morning, he required a fresh uniform. He held his breath as fabric slid over his skin, only starting to breathe again when he saw the proper black and blue of an active uniform, not the grey of someone with no rank or rights.

He grabbed the towel, dried his hair, then required it tidy. His hair, like every other part of his appearance, was a critical facade. The style had to be the perfect amount of professional without being stiff, tidy without aping how an agent looked – casually cool without looking like there was effort involved.

It took a lot of effort to make Recruit Curt look so effortless.

A few requirements tidied the bathroom, then he stepped back out to the main area of his quarters.

He pulled open his fridge and looked at the contents. A small baggie of candy – leftovers that Newbie had shared with him. Half a dozen bottles of cheap gnomish beer, a gift from Raz. A wedge of cheese he’d required in his first week to test the theory that required food never rotted when stored. A container of brikini, probably a little past its expiration date. He reached in, touched the container and dismissed it, then closed the fridge and stared at the perfectly-haphazard magnets there, before retreating to his bed.

He leaned up against the pillows, required an English muffin with bacon. He paused, then required a small, rich hot chocolate – a little treat for surviving, even though he hadn’t come away entirely unscathed.

He reached down and rubbed at his leg – there was no sign he’d ever been injured, no residual pain, nothing but perfect skin beneath the fabric of his pants.

The Parkers never left scars, and always gave him the same medical treatment as any other recruit. He still wasn’t sure he could use the word “trust” to describe any relationship he had with an agent – or would ever be able to – but if anyone made that list, it was Two.

Parker-2 just…didn’t give any fucks, and his honesty in every situation was refreshing. If “trust” was the word, then it wasn’t because Two seemed human, it was the opposite.

Muffin finished, he required his laptop and began to lazily check his emails.

He clicked through a few low-priority notifications first – planned outages of various systems that didn’t affect him, except for the elevators. However, he doubted he was going to need to use the lift at two in the morning for the next three nights.

Next was an invite to the Tech recruit movie night of the week – he wasn’t on the standard mailing list, but Raz insisted on forwarding it to him anyway.

He finished off the hot chocolate, wiped his mouth, then navigated into the intranet and accessed the casualty list – which was still marked as being “in progress”. “In progress” wasn’t unusual after a major operation – it meant it would contain confirmed deaths and confirmed injuries.

MIA recruits and those that died in treatment today would be on the final list, after all the smoke had cleared and there had been a chance to find anyone who might have slipped into Faerie or a bolt hold to hide.

Only two deaths so far – both Combat recruits – which was on the “acceptable” part of the spectrum and minor injuries sustained by two dozen recruits, with two requiring overnight observation.

His phone buzzed, and he saw the notification of a schedule change before the screen winked out.

He clicked into his calendar – which was always easier to deal with on the computer anyway.

By default, he’d set his calendar view to show just the current day. It wasn’t the most efficient view, but sometimes just focussing on one thing at a time made it easier to be “Recruit Curt” – but the change hadn’t been to that day, so he clicked to show the rest of the week.

All of his shifts – previously a greyish green, indicating that they were scheduled with no issues were now white, crosshatched with red – indicating that one a schedule conflict or unavailability.

A quick look down confirmed his uniform was still blue, so the availability must have been due to Stef.

It had been stupid to of Ryan to allow her into the operation. Any idiot could have seen that it was too much for a newbie to handle, especially one like her. Now she had either quit entirely, switched departments, or just asked to be removed from field work.

In any case, if she was still in the building, it probably warranted being taken out for a morning of fluffins, debriefing and de-stressing.

She’d make a good tech, and it was lunacy that she was in Field. Maybe today was just putting right what once had gone wrong.

He clicked into Vox, scrolled down his list of recent chats and clicked her icon.

All of his previous messages were there, but the options to send anything new were greyed out, unavailable, and-

When someone quit, there was an icon and a redirect to a civilian email address or phone number for the following week. The fact that she was listed as unavailable, and that she’d been removed from the roster-

A cold feeling settled in his chest. ‘Fuck.’

He scrolled through his contacts, hit the voice option for Parker-2, and carefully balanced his phone in his palm, trying to keep himself calm.

‘Is it important?’ Parker-2 asked as the call connected. ‘I’m about to be hip-deep in something important, and when I say-’

‘Doc, I need the full casualty list.’

‘Looking to see if-’

He gripped his phone tighter. ‘Doc, is Stef on the list?’

The three second pause told him everything he needed to know.

‘Status,’ he said, his voice strained. ‘Tell me.’

‘Currently listed as MIA.’

He ended the call, jumped to his feet, and ran from the room.

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See you next time, Recruit.

07 - Why Can't I?
09 - Come Crashing Down
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lightdefender

Curt’s going to find Ryan before Ryan knows if he’ll be recycled, isn’t he. This could get ugly.

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