03 - Mirrorshades

22 – Ideal/Not Ideal

It was important to know the areas under his protection.

The general outlay of an Agency floor didn’t change without notice, but the smaller changes that recruits made could be just as vital to know in case of an emergency.

Taylor paused briefly in front of a noticeboard. Anything official was handled by Magnolia. Anything unofficial was also usually handled by Magnolia. Anything social that affected working relationships were factors she had to consider when making schedules. Designating teams. Allowing downtime.

Almost nothing made it back to him, and it didn’t need to. His Duty was to protect his recruits, not to be their friend.

In an area of the noticeboard sectioned off with bright silver and rainbow borders, there was a selection of photos – the top layer primarily consisting of the engagement party that Magnolia had attended.

Recruit Hewitt and his partner had made things official. Not something likely to impact schedules. Caipe was a civilian and did not need to be considered. According to Magnolia, additional events would not be booked for some time.

The sound of elevator doors opening made him pause.

Three times in five minutes. Unusual for this time of night.

He turned from the noticeboard and walked towards the elevator.

No recruits crossed his path on the way there. Unusual, given the noise from the doors.

He tensed each of his limbs in turn as he approached the closed elevator doors, ensuring that all of his weapons and tools were in place.

The elevator door slid open again.

All he could see was the point of one small shoe.

Likely not a threat. Likely-

He stepped to the side to gain a better view of the small section of the lift and confirmed his suspicion. Merlin.

Pressed into the corner of the lift, wearing pyjamas and a lab coat borrowed from the Scholar, was the one ward that Queen Street had.

‘Was I too loud?’

The child’s eyes glowed, the light moving from iris to sclera to back again. Another unexplained moment of magic from the child of a demon. Strange. Not a threat.

‘Return to your mother.’

‘She’ll make me sleep.’

Children weren’t his purview, and this wasn’t one of his recruits, but Merlin was a member of his Agency.

‘She has your health in mind.’

Merlin scuffed his feet on the floor of the elevator. ‘You’re not asleep.’ Again, light swirled in the boy’s eyes. This time, it bled out onto his skin, forming circular patterns on his cheeks before fading.

‘I do not take my directives from her.’

Merlin resumed scruffing his feet.

He sent Jones a shift link to his current location. The Scholar returned a set of icons indicating confusion.

Four seconds later, Jones appeared. She immediately put a hand on Merlin’s shoulder and placed herself between him and the child. She met his gaze for a second, then turned to her son and lightly reprimanded Merlin for wandering at a late hour.

Taylor turned, satisfied that the situation was being handled by the proper authority.

‘Thank you,’ Jones called.

{I’m sorry,} she followed in text. {He knows not to bother you.}

He sent a message read notification and resumed his patrol of the floor.

He disliked silence. A quiet floor was a dead floor. Like the sequestered section of the Agency that held Reynolds. Like the silence of-

There were noises from the breakout lounge as he approached. A group of recruits – none of which had active duty in the morning – were playing games, drinking, and generally socialising. Good for team building. Not something he needed to observe directly.

He walked past the open doors but stopped as Recruit Marco called out. The recruit, out of uniform, wearing a shirt with a gorilla stitched into the breast, ran towards him, two beers in his hand.

The recruit pushed the bottles towards him. ‘Melissa just finished this formulation. Fuck, she knows what she’s doing with an IPA.’ The words were ever so slightly slurred with intoxication. Marco pressed the beers against his chest and waited for him to accept them. ‘Drink in good health and shit.’

Pallas grabbed Marco from behind. ‘Sorry, Agent Taylor, he’s a social drunk. You’re welcome to the beer if you want it.’

His first instinct clashed with an order from Grigori, so he took both bottles. ‘Appreciated.’

Marco made a slurred cheer of triumph as he was spun by Pallas and directed towards a lounge.

He continued on past the breakout room, one hand holding the bottles until he reached the next noticeboard.

First instinct, rebuff the offer from his recruit. Override, an order from Grigori to not refuse direct gifts when the consequences were minor. It would improve morale, his friend had assured him. He didn’t have to be friends with his recruits, Grigori had explained, but complete separation was far from ideal, as it had an impact on team performance.

He shifted the bottles to a shared storage location that Grigori had set up. One that Grigori was primarily in charge of supplying, that, among other things, held the alcohol that he often insisted they drink during his visits.

So far, this visit had not contained any alcohol.

Noticeboard checked, he walked past the dorm rooms, the meeting rooms and the common gyms. A few scattered recruits crossed his path, but none did more than acknowledge him with a “sir”. Ideal. Expected.

Everything was silent again.

He hated it.

Sleep was next on his schedule. This was the ideal time to initiate his night-time routine.

He circled the floor again, then performed checks of the lobby, the roof and the garage. Everything was as expected.

Everything was ideal.

He was not ideal.

He shifted to his gym, to the door of the sim room, and scrolled through the recent programs. The program had no custom title, just an alphanumeric string that indicated the date and time that the recording depicted.

The options screen appeared as the program began to load. He tapped the second pre-set option, as was usual.

No need to run it from the beginning. He’d seen the details so many times they were as clear as if he remembered them.

The control panel lit up, the program at one hundred per cent.

He stepped into the sim room, into the recreated hallway, and the door to his gym disappeared, the wall becoming another undifferentiated patch of wall.

The blood on the floor provided directions he never needed.

At the final corner, there was a smear in the blood, like Whitman had slipped. He saw it every time. He hated it every time.

And then, three bodies. Two dead agents. One dying Director.

A HUD prompt suggested a commonly-taken action.

Ryan and Whitman disappeared.

One dead agent remained.

He approached the dead agent. First action, remove the blade from the dead agent’s hand to fully allow the body to slump to the floor. Not to be pinned like a museum exhibit. Second action, kneel in the blood of the dead agent. Third action-

If he resumed the program, he could watch as the dead agent was worked on by Tech, see the result of a faulty Director’s decision.

He reached out to touch the face of the dead agent. It was always surprising, the touch of the finest hint at stubble, something he hated. Something the dead agent must have chosen to allow.

The question was there.

Fifteen hundred partial and full executions of this program. Variations of the same question had led to no reconciliation.

He placed his other hand on the dead agent’s cheek, gently tilted the bloodied face up, and looked for answers in a dead man’s eyes.

What to call the dead man. What to call himself. How to reconcile what pronoun to use. How to separate “he” and “I”.

And he wasn’t sure the answer was his to decide.

Ryan treated him like he had changed. The Scholar acted like he had changed. Everyone who had known the dead man looked for the dead man when they saw him.

He was-

He wasn’t-

Grigori spoke of old times but focussed on the present.

Magnolia had never known the dead man.

People preferred the dead man.

He laid the dead man down, tore a strip from the dead man’s bloody jacket and laid it across unblinking eyes.

The question was still there.

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