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‘One-point-seven,’ Magnolia said.
Taylor adjusted his aim. Exact. The Scholar would accept no less. The suspended shift cycle began, and he fired. The shot hit Mimosa’s chest and-
Fear tasted like blood.
‘What-’ Magnolia’s voice.
He reacted before he understood.
Require: Macro: Shields
Reflexively, his arms were across his body. Right arm protecting his lower half, left arm across his chest and face.
He swept left and right. Magnolia was fine. Grigori was fine. Both protected by shields designed to withstand most physical, and some magical, forms of attack. Not guaranteed safety. All he could provide with a requirement and no notice.
Important to protect-
He looked at Magnolia. He looked at Grigori.
Protection. It was all he did. All he was for.
‘-the fuck?!’ Magnolia finished shouting.
On the ground before them, Mimosa writhed. Each movement left after images in a different colour, each slightly different. Her arm spasmed, each afterimage extending different numbers of fingers. Different possibilities. Different realities.
He looked to Magnolia. ‘Get the Scholar.’ He turned to Grigori. ‘Ryan.’ He took a step closer to Mimosa. The Scholar had contingencies. If she was a threat, then-
‘Back, please.’ Mimosa’s voice, distorted.
He stepped back. Something crunched.
First action, protection. Second action, immediate threat assessment. Details were an action that could wait. Had waited. Now the details were impossible to ignore.
Counter to what logic demanded, wound debris had shot forward. Blood droplets and- Mirror.
The size of the shards were illogical. As was their placement. Generally contained. None had come close to the shields.
Ryan appeared and comforted his child as the rainbow afterimages stopped.
No one else was making a move towards the pieces of mirror on the floor.
Mimosa had been dead. A piece of mirror had rectified that. She had no memory loss. Wasn’t lesser than she had been. Wasn’t-
Wishes could correct mistakes.
In front of him, Mimosa was assuring Ryan that she was fine. The Scholar would have to perform a memory check to be sure.
Mirror wasn’t a science in a way that the Scholar and her people could fully quantify. Still. Indications were that the Mimosa carried more than was necessary to keep her ambulatory and functional. It was suspected that she would shed mirror over time to a more reasonable amount.
An amount that represented less of a threat.
The piece under his boot totalled approximately the size of a five-cent piece. Insignificant. There were larger pieces on the floor she wasn’t rushing to collect. That Ryan-
Ryan, who had twisted the dead man into something no one wanted.
The dead man who was owed a chance.
A requirement added a thin layer to the sole of his boots to collect and hold the mirror he’d stepped on.
Not something to act on immediately. If the Scholar’s tests showed Mimosa to be functional. To not be lesser for the loss of the mirror pieces, then a correction could be made.
He wouldn’t repeat Ryan’s crime. Wouldn’t be the reason someone was less than themselves.
Grigori’s arm wrapped around him, and he could barely hear his friend’s words.
Even encased in rubber, the pull of potential in the mirror drew his mind. The dead man could live again.
A mistake could be corrected.
Everyone would get what they wanted.
Grigori and Magnolia were talking. He couldn’t pay attention. Could only feel the mirror in his boot.
He’d never touched mirror. That wasn’t unusual. Most agents never came into contact with it.
It was said that you could feel its waiting state. A pull on your mind, wanting to be used, wanting for a wish to be made.
For all the days he’d been dealing with Mimosa, for as close as his fist had been to her heart, separated by an insignificant amount of bone and muscle, he’d never felt that draw.
He had wondered if it had been something about him, something else he was missing, that he was unable to feel the mirror’s magic.
Separated from its host and hidden in his boot, he could feel it. Just as strong as described.
Grigori slapped his chest in his usual, friendly way. ‘I’m going to take you two to lunch.’
He frowned. Unnecessary. Even if they couldn’t continue with Mimosa’s tests, there were-
‘I’m taking. You. To. Lunch.’ Grigori said, stepping so close their noses almost touched. ‘Accept it as an override.’
He let out a neutral growl but stopped as he saw Magnolia’s smile. Evidently, something Grigori had said had excited her about the idea of spending time off-duty.
A concession could be made.
Grigori squeezed Magnolia’s hand and shifted her away. ‘Now you,’ Grigori said and smiled. ‘We are meeting in the lobby in ten minutes. Our dear drozd needs a few minutes to ensure she can step away long enough to eat and enjoy the show.’
Blackbird. Inaccurate. A term of endearment she didn’t mind.
‘And myself?’ he asked.
Moments like this had almost a set call-and-response. Actions and words he was to do in order to get Grigori’s approval, to get his friend to smile without reservation.
A requirement link appeared in his HUD – even without expanding the detail, he knew it would be an outfit for the outing. Another concession, but one he was long used to.
He liked his uniform, was comfortable in his uniform, but he understood it wasn’t appropriate for all locations. It was tactical – socially tactical – to take Grigori’s suggestions.
‘Ten minutes,’ he said, turned from his friend, and headed for his office.
Even with the door to his office closed, he could hear the Scholar in the next room setting up equipment, capturing the detail of what had gone wrong. An invasion he wasn’t used to.
His fault. Magnolia had asked about using their gym or creating something purpose-built for the project. He had insisted on his gym. If something went wrong, he knew it better than anywhere else in the building. Knew what contingencies were behind what walls. Knew how to protect people there.
It had opened the space to more people. That took adjustment.
Mimosa, surprisingly, had the least impact. The majority of the time, the Mimosa he was dealing with was remote-controlled, with no more emotion than a doll, and the real Mimosa, in a terminal construct, minimised her presence as much as possible.
It had not been expected. The Scholar’s recruits were amongst the loudest and most outspoken in the Agency, and – Field designation or not – he found it most comfortable to classify her as a Tech.
It made the most sense and changed nothing. Whatever discipline, the tests would have been the same.
He sat at his desk, untied both of his boots and placed them in the bottom drawer of his desk. It would do little to hide his theft, but- Jones would be unlikely to scan outside the area where the mirror particles were visible.
It would be assumed that no one in the room would have been so selfish as to- To go against Duty and steal contraband.
Making wishes was not something that could often be excused. Ryan had been able to lean on rank and length of service.
It wouldn’t matter in his case. If tests showed that Mimosa was fine and not missing memory and he made a wish, then- Then the person who made the wish would have effectively executed themselves, and the person who replaced them would be guiltless.
There would be no one to be punished. The dead man would be safe.
He had to wait.
Tests had to be done first.
He processed the requirement link, adjusted the shirt Grigori had chosen for him and went to meet his friends.
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