09 – Come Crashing Down

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Curt wasn’t even sure he was breathing as he sprinted down the hall.

It was easy to ignore the looks his fellow recruits gave him as he ran – they were always giving him weird looks for one reason or another. Well. One reason. The defining reason. The only thing about him that mattered anymore. Solstice. Ex-Solstice. Monster.

The same kind of monsters likely responsible for Newbie being MIA.

He pounded his fist against the door of Ryan’s office – this wasn’t the polite and cautious knock of “Recruit Curt”. This wasn’t the knock he gave when he secretly hoped that Ryan wouldn’t open the door.

His phone buzzed, but he ignored it.

He slammed his fist against the door again and wondered if it was possible to kick in the door of an agent’s office when they didn’t want to be bothered.

If Ryan was there – he’d made an assumption and-

‘Fucking idiot,’ he growled to himself as he yanked his Agency phone out of his pocket, ready to do a quick search and see what Ryan’s current listed location was, and if-

The buzz had been a text message from Ryan. He double-tapped it to open it, and anger started to twist around the panic.

{I’m otherwise engaged, Recruit. Please return at another time.}

He shoved the phone back into his pocket and grabbed the door handle. ‘I’ve seen the full MIA list!’ he shouted through the door. ‘I know she’s missing!’ He shook the handle. ‘Goddammit,’ he said, more to the door than Ryan, ‘let me help.’

After too many thundering heartbeats, he felt the door unlock, and he stumbled over his feet as he rushed into the office, slamming the door behind him.

Something was wrong.

Everything was wrong.

Something he’d always prided himself on, something that had always been a point of praise from his superiors, had been his ability to read a situation. Pick out if there was something suspicious about a person’s body language. It wasn’t magic, it was…an over-developed gut-instinct, thin-slicing, a natural talent for reading micro-expressions, some combination that made him far more useful than he seemed at first.

And every instinct in his gut was screaming at him.

Ryan sat at his desk, perfect in a way that the agent usually wasn’t. Everything looked…staged somehow. Like a tableau put up for public consumption, rather than being whatever he’d really interrupted.

Both Ryan and his office looked like they’d just been pulled out of plastic – nothing was out of place. Ryan was usually…the most agent-y of the agents he interacted with on a daily basis, but this was a step beyond. There were usually…cracks in Ryan’s armour, edges where he wasn’t so perfect – as could be expected for a man run ragged doing two jobs.

And the agent in front of him was as pristine as newborn, signing paperwork with a shiningly-new pen, each file in perfect piles, or opened on angles that made them look like magazines in a display home.

Whatever was going on didn’t change the list.

‘Sir,’ he said as he approached, ‘sir, I’ve seen the full casualty list and- What can I do to help? What can I-’

‘I was worried you would knock a hole in my door,’ Ryan said casually as he signed a form. After a moment, he carefully set it within its folder, closed it, then pulled the next sheet from the far-too-perfect pile. ‘Can I assume you didn’t get the message I sent to your phone?’

Not emotion. No hint that- That he was doing anything other than interrupting the mildest, dullest paperwork session that Queen Street had ever seen.

‘How…’ he let his voice trail off and die as he watched as Ryan mechanically complete paperwork. He let his gaze skate across the forms. There might be something to do with bargaining with Solstice, with prisoner exchanges, with…anything that could be involved in getting Stef back.

He saw nothing but leave requests and shift transfers. The lowest of low priorities. The kind of paperwork that Ryan threw his way a lot of the time – paperwork that an aide would do, not something that needed the attention of a Director.

Not something that would help rescue the newbie.

‘Sir-’

Ryan continued the paperwork like a robot, and again, his words died.

Whatever was going on, Ryan didn’t want to engage – and this stonewall was a polite “fuck off”. Ryan was giving him a chance to back off without confrontation – further confrontation.

But he couldn’t take the out, couldn’t- Couldn’t leave Newbie to die without trying.

He took a step forward, and closed the rest of the distance between himself and Ryan’s desk, then slammed his hands down on the too-neat, too-perfect paperwork. ‘Look at me,’ he demanded, his voice far more steady and authoritative than he felt.

Ryan tugged a leave form from under his hand, consulted a small desk calendar, then wrote something in the notes.

Something about the ease of the action, the carefree way that the agent was performing mundane tasks while- While-

‘I thought,’ he said, every choked word shredding a year off his life, ‘you cared about Stef, sir.’

It was probably the only thing that would make Ryan listen, and he was running out of time until- Until-

If she wasn’t already dead.

‘I’m busy,’ Ryan said, but there was something in his voice, something that wasn’t the dead, emotionlessness of a newborn agent, of a robot. A crack he could-

‘Do you have any idea what they could be doing to her?’ he shouted. ‘Solstice and recruits, they-’

‘Unlike yourself, I’m no expert, Lieutenant.’

His heart froze, and he looked up at Ryan, unsure of when the man had risen from his chair. When they stood straight, there wasn’t much of a height difference between them, but right now, Ryan seemed to tower over him.

Lieutenant. His Solstice rank. A term no one had used since Petersen had been-

The stonewalling had been a polite invitation to back off. This was every klaxon on the Enterprise bridge blaring.

This was another warning. Another get-out-of-jail-free card. One he couldn’t take, one he had to ignore, no matter what. The agent needed to know what the situation was. Even if the cost outweighed the lesson, someone had to speak up. Someone had to say something.

No one had spoken for him. No one had fought for him.

And there was little difference in what Petersen had done to him, and what some Solstice interrogator would do with a recruit. There were so many worst-case scenarios. There were fae drugs that interrogators could use to extend a victim’s life beyond where they should have given up, just to keep the “fun” going.

He had to fight, had to stand his ground, had to-

He balled his hand into a fist, ground his knuckles against Ryan’s desk. A second, a breath, then he threw his hands forward and grabbed Ryan by the coat, half-dragging the agent across his own desk, bringing them face-to-face.

‘She could still be alive!’ he shouted. ‘Why don’t you want to help her?!’

Ryan disappeared from his grip.

For a moment, he expected the feel of a gun to the back of his head, cold hands around his neck, some short, sharp blade across his throat.

He’d pushed, and this was the moment he died.

Ryan appeared in front of him, grabbed him, lifted him off the ground as if he weighed nothing, and slammed him into the wall.

Blue plaster cracked, and his shirt tore as Ryan’s grip twisted. A second slam and he cried out in pain as his head cracked against some interior brace beneath the plaster. Somewhere, he heard himself begging for mercy as Ryan shoved him again and again.

He heard Petersen laughing, and his bladder let go.

Ryan wasn’t Petersen. He’d had to believe that. Ryan wasn’t Petersen. He’d always been reasonable.

Ryan was an agent. Petersen was an agent.

He was Solstice, and he was going to die.

He let his head loll to the side, let his body go slack, and waited for Petersen to finish the job he’d started.

Petersen dropped him, and he crashed to the dirty carpet, crumbling plaster falling onto his back. He closed his eyes – his only defence against the violence of an agent, and waited for whatever was to happen next, only vaguely aware that he was crying.

He was weak. He was pathetic. He was stupid to think he had a chance. It had always been going to end. Death had been inevitable. He’d just had a moment of sweet freedom to make it all the worse.

He curled into a ball. Petersen hated it, but he couldn’t stop his body from trying to protect itself.

Petersen retreated, walking towards the windows.

He was going to get a gun. A knife. A chain. Some toy to make it more fun.

He was going to die, and it was going to hurt, but at least it would finally be over.

He wept, barely breathing between choking sobs. If he was lucky, he’d hyperventilate and die before Petersen could cut into his skin again.

Light flooded into the room as the blind was raised, and he looked towards it, trying to see the sky one more time – but his view was blocked by another building.

It was still freedom. It was still something to look at other than the agent.

Petersen laughed, a knife twirling in his hand.

Ryan stepped forward, blocking his view of the window. Curt blinked, trying to make sense of everything. Ryan took another step forward, and he scrambled back on his hands and knees, needing to escape the agent – even if that agent wasn’t Petersen.

‘Stay away,’ he whispered, holding out a hand that was no defence at all. ‘Please.’ Petersen hated it when Curt had tried to keep him at bay and had taken great pleasure in breaking all the fingers on the hand that had been extended to beg for mercy.

Ryan didn’t come any closer, and Curt forced himself to breathe.

He took a moment, required a fresh uniform, and stood – if nothing else, he’d rather die on his feet if Ryan came at him again.

‘She might not be dead yet,’ he said, his voice shaking badly. ‘If she wasn’t found, then- They like to take their time. Especially with recruits.’

Ryan didn’t say anything.

‘I know people,’ he said, ‘I know people who know people. If she’s still alive, then- Then- There’s a chance of getting her back.’

‘This isn’t something we’ll be pursuing.’

No emotion. Nothing. As if the violence of a moment ago had been a blip, had meant nothing to the-

He was bleeding, Stef was being tortured and-

And he’d hoped an agent would care. Would have returned the affection and adoration that had propelled one stupid newbie into a situation so far above her head she wouldn’t have been able to see the metaphorical daylight.

‘Do you even know what they could be doing?’ he asked and hoped he wouldn’t have to elaborate on all the worst-case scenarios. Hoped Ryan was cognizant of how some – most – Solstice hated recruits even more than agents. Recruits, after all, had chosen to work against humanity, fae were just born monsters.

That he wouldn’t have to explain the pure evil that was a Swirl. Blades capable of grinding up cow carcasses, a hatch and a pneumatic wall.

At first, there was room to stay away from the blades. The watching Solstice would take bets as the wall pushed the victim close and closer to the blades. An inch a minute. Time to beg. To plead. To negotiate.

And then they’d lose a toe, or a hand, then a leg.

And every person jumped in head first when they’d lost enough of themselves. Killing themselves because it was the less painful way to die.

And now-

And now one stupid newbie, one-

Tears dripped down his cheeks.

‘We won’t be pursuing this,’ Ryan said again.

‘Don’t you at least want me to reach out? If there’s any chance of saving her–’

‘I can’t tell you what to do in your free time.’

‘I need Agency backing!’ he screamed. ‘I can’t negotiate with nothing!’

Ryan’s was neutral, emotionless. Ryan was nearly impossible to read – he was so close to the Solstice ideal agent: the emotionless, passionless, stiff-lipped imitation of a man. A thing – to quote his old captain – that wore skin but had no life.

‘Recruit, you’ve got your answer. I need you to leave.’

The Agency was supposed to be better than the Solstice. They were, for lack of a more grown-up descriptor, the good guys. He knew it was bullshit – any group that allowed Petersen to continue to live weren’t the paragons of light that they tried to pretend to be. Still, they were supposed to be several shades of grey better than the Solstice.

If they weren’t better, he’d jumped from a fire into an even worse fire.

Stef had been following Ryan around like a puppy, excited and eager to please. It wasn’t something the agent seemed to have appreciated at all.

A high tech score. A field operation she shouldn’t have been on. A stupid, pointless death. Hopefully a quick death. She wouldn’t have lasted a minute under torture, and Solstice hurt the helpless the worst. No point in keeping a person in something resembling one piece if they had no valuable information.

His stomach twisted again at the idea of the newbie strapped in a chair. Bleeding, crying, and dying at the hands of some psycho.

He looked back to Ryan.

Even beating the hell out of the agent wouldn’t do anything. It would feel good but mean nothing.

‘Sir. Please. If there’s a chance she’s out there, doesn’t she deserve–’

Any emotion. Any remorse. Any sign that Ryan felt sorry for getting her killed. Any indication the death meant something.

He saw nothing. A thing that wore skin but had no life.

And Stef had deserved so much more.

‘Recruit, I have things to do.’

‘I’ll get out of your way, sir.’

No one had come for him, no one had saved him from the hands of a sociopath.

And there was no way he’d let history repeat itself.

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Glimmer Girl


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.

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See you next time, Recruit.

08 - Disrupted Perfection
10 - I Wasn't Alone
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lightdefender

Oh holy fuck.

lightdefender

Then there’s the broader implications. Is Curt going to try to trade himself for Stef or something like that? Or even just get caught trying to contact Solstice again? I know I said it could get ugly before, but this could get UGLY.

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