The Auction

13 – The Lighthouse Theory

Back in the safety of the hotel room, Curt finally felt like he was free to think again. There was always the possibility that readers were roaming the halls looking for information. Even if that was the case, they’d surely be tasked with more high-priority targets.

Even if you could account for every single possibility, go down every paranoid rabbit hole, at some point, you actually had to act.

And right now, he was on the precipice of “shit or get off the pot”.

His text chain with Carmichel sat open, thumb hovering indecisively above the keyboard.

He could say something over text, and it would probably be enough. This was a big favour, but if he was even anywhere in the realm of being right, it would be one that paid for itself a thousand times over.

{Purchase Lot #249}

The statue. An old and worn statue that was getting hardly any attention.

Carmichel’s response took a moment. When it arrived, he was happy to see there was no playacting, no coy teasing, nothing to indicate that Carmichel saw this as a trivial ask.

{How important?}

This was the most obvious question and the one he wasn’t sure how to answer.

It was a party, and Carmichel was a social guy. There was always the chance that someone would see the text, and if there was any information in plain black and white, it could be used against them.

If he was right, then this ran a truly close second to saving the kidnapped agent.

This was, however, where being friends with someone came in handy.

All friends and colleagues had their ways of communicating, their personal memes and in-jokes, a shorthand that only made sense to an inner circle.

Some people took it to a near-telepathic extreme, as he’d observed with Mags and her agent. If Parker-2 were to drunkenly confess that Mags had some kind of implant that allowed her to actually just chat with Taylor, he wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised.

He opened his camera roll and scrolled a few months back.

Carmichel was the older brother he’d never had, a role that the fairy had proclaimed for himself long before it had felt real. Consequently, there was a fairly even split of “casual fun hang out” days and times when a simple meal had turned into Carmichel imparting some life lesson.

Curt sent a picture of the two of them, sitting on the patio of Carmichel’s penthouse on the night of some fairy celebration that he couldn’t remember. A good, simple night, a hot pot-style dinner, warm and comforting on a cool night under stars and fireworks.

And a good, long conversation, the thesis statement of which had been “get out alive, everything else comes second”.

He sent the photo.

{Oops. Wrong image.}

He then immediately sent a photo of Carmichel’s entry hall.

{I thought it would look good here.} Beside the statement, he added the low-priority deca, hoping it was the appropriate way to use it.

It wasn’t a super-complicated-sixteen-chess-moves-ahead bit of spy craft, but it didn’t have to be.

It was an unimportant lot in an auction with a lot more tantalising things to buy. Most of the guests there weren’t going to give a shit about some crumbling bit of statuary when there was a live agent and what purported to be pieces of a phoenix egg.

It was an estate auction. There would be lots of utterly banal things for sale amongst the real prizes.

Carmichel sent back a nodding emoji.

One layer of stress disappeared, leaving only an infinitely recurring onion of stress all over his body.

If he was wrong, Carmichel would be out some money – hopefully not much – given how little interest seemed to be on the statue.

If he was right…

It had been a simple request. Friendship and language lessons. A leg up on knowing more about Fairyland and Faerie than was going to be offered by his day-to-day activities as a recruit.

He hadn’t expected to learn so much about the Agency. Or realised how much could be gleaned from an outside perspective.

The Agency hated to talk about its past for some complicated reason or other. It was probably something that made sense to the probably far-from-human agents who were at the tippy top of the ladder somewhere in Central.

Agents hadn’t always been men-in-black-motherfuckers. There’d been a tonne of forms before that, but information about those forms was rare.

Among recruits, there was the vague impression that “knights” had been an option at some point. Fully-winged angels as well, which was why so many among the fae insisted on that nickname, even if it hadn’t been true for centuries.

It had been deep into one night, another night spent relaxing on the penthouse patio. Carmichel had half a dozen beers deep and had told him stories that were even more ancient than knights of some digital roundtable.

Agents were becoming more and more human with each iteration.

Angels and knights and whatever else hadn’t had recruits. Some older models had had humans or fae they’d worked with, but the further you dug back into the history of the boys made of blue, the more and more isolated they were.

The logical endpoint for most when imagining this led to the idea of singular warriors darting in, saving the day, and disappearing without waiting for a “thank you”.

What was probably more conjecture than fable was how much further you could run with that idea, and Carmichel was one who subscribed to the “lighthouse theory”.

The lighthouse theory – under a dozen different names with dozens of tiny variations – had one central narrative. The story went that, in the long ago, when agents were first created, they had ostensibly been made to alert the gods that demons were fucking with a world.

The original task had been to be little more than alarm systems, pinging the god continuum that someone was going to mess with things.

So, the theory reasoned, the original agents had been nothing but statues.

You didn’t need a mouth to speak or limbs to move if your entire job was just to send a security ping. You didn’t need to be a person to do that. You just needed to exist.

And as time went on and the remit of agents changed, you could see a need to evolve past being a statue. To become someone who could move and fight monsters, and then, generation by generation, slowly morph into joyless fucks cosplaying as the FBI.

And probably all the statue agents, if they’d ever existed, would have been destroyed a long time ago.

And probably, he was jumping to conclusions, but fable or not, it seemed to fit the shape of the facts he had.

There was a weird statue, one that had been displayed prominently in the home of a man who liked to keep Agency memorabilia and personnel around. A statue that seemed to have no official providence, no famous maker, not even a plaque showing when it had been carved.

And not once, but twice, just being near the thing had sent him reeling.

This, along with the droplet test, seemed to indicate that it was drawing any and all active blue towards it, something that screamed “Agency”.

If it was some device that did that intentionally, it surely would have had a warning label. Just for propriety, if nothing else.

And…and…not much more than that. A couple of weird facts and a gut feeling.

But if he was right, and Carmichel presented a bit of long, long, lost history back to the Agency as a gift, then it would be a dozen feathers in the cap of a man whose lifelong goal was to fuck every agent in existence.

So much to gain, so little to lose.

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