The Other Kind of Roommate

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((Part One))

Post by Guest on Fri Jun 01, 2012 4:33 pm

"I might be mistaken, Han, but I think there's something different about this room from when I was here before." He paused a moment, scrutinizing the dimly lit space before his eyes cleared and he snapped his fingers in recognition. "They took out the potted plants. I could feel it right away. It completely throws off the chi in this place now, not to mention the decor is totally unbalanced."

After having his fill of playing with the acoustics in the stairwell, Rudy left it behind to begin his search for Eric and he decided to start on the second floor - particularly in the area near the pickle people room since it seemed to be the popular place to hang out. So far, the only way he knew how to get there was by the staircase in the lobby, which was a really big hole now. Looking around at the destruction of property, he didn't feel anything more than a quickly passing wave of curiosity that was suddenly brought into sharp focus when the smell hit him. After years of chasing and hanging out with a socially maladjusted and bad-tempered target with the ability to control fire, Rudy would always be able to identify the odor of burnt human flesh. It didn't take a genius to figure out that there'd been a huge fire here and from what he could see in the terrible lighting the base possessed, there were the remains of bodies in the pit. Blood marked the walls and splattered across what remained of the floor, telling grisly tales and he began to feel nervous about the implications of the scene.

It was Ozzie, wasn't it? She'd been here searching for something with that Alex freak, with full knowledge of Agents and - he assumed - what their purpose was and she was fully capable of starting a fire this large in such a short amount of time. If enough fuel was available. Knowing her anger and after the torment of everything he'd done to her over the years, it appeared she finally found a target to point her misery at. But things had seemed somewhat cool between them when they'd parted in the hallway - he'd come clean and he was still alive, wasn't he?

"What do you think set her off like this, Han?" Rudy asked the plastic toy with it's head and arms still poking out of his pocket. "Was it the red room with the sleepy people in it or do you think Alex said something wrong?" No, of course it couldn't be that and both he and Han Solo knew it. From what Rudy had seen of the man, they'd been a match made in fucked-up heaven. He knew from experience what she was capable of but she'd always been the "set fire to everything and then run away" type. There was something detached and yet very emotional and intimate about the slaughter laid out like a mocking signature before him and right away he knew what the message was and who it was for. This was his fault and he was the reason behind this mess.

Osono had been headed towards Alex and the red pickle jar room where she would have gotten a nice detailed look at some of the dark shit the Agency stood for. She should have realized then all of the fucking sacrifices he'd made for her over the years! If he'd been so determined and loyal to his role as an Agent then why the fuck would he have wasted his time traveling with her and keeping her company when no one else was around? Why would he have hung out with her in backwoods motels, staying up all night eating junk food and laughing at cheesy movies on the TV instead of dragging her ass to the nearest base? Why - oh, fucking Lord answer him! - why would he bother to drug her when he knew she was exhausted but too paranoid to sleep and why would he then spend the night with her and not lift a fucking hand to touch her or capture her?! There'd been plenty of mornings where she woke before he did to find herself still free and unharmed but she was so wrapped up in her self-righteous anger and self-pity about being "boo-hoo" lied to, she took for granted this magical ability she had to survive all these years. The ungrateful fucking whore! After degrading himself and almost getting himself killed by people much bigger and powerful than himself, just so he could KEEP protecting her, she decided to react like this and shove it in his face how little she cared about any of it. All because he had a little problem with telling her the truth.

If that was the way it was going to be... If they were going to pretend that none of that stuff ever happened, then maybe he'd get a chance to show her how an Agent was REALLY supposed to act. Shaking his head in grim resignation, Rudy murmured, "Bitches be crazy, Han. I'm gonna file a recommendation that they put the plants back. It was the one thing that brought this space together."

Moving on from that moment of seriousness, Rudy walked around the pit, totally ignoring the stench and the bodies that lay within as he made his way to the stairs. Turning his mind to the matter at hand, his heart alighted once more and he danced up the steps as he made it up to the walkway. Stifling the urge to break into song yet again, he began to prepare himself for his meeting with Sir Patten, the gatekeeper guarding the precious beauty who'd stolen Rudy's heart. The goal was to talk to Squiddie at any costs. It didn't matter if Rudy had to sell himself out, relinquish his case - and thus eliminate any legitimate chances for vengeance against the woman who'd scorned him - or even if it meant he actually had to do something productive with his case and really capture Osono this time. Whatever it took, he vowed to himself that he wouldn't let Eric walk away without getting to speak with Squiddie and he'd make every promise he could think of to get to that part. There was a restlessness inside him, an aching yearning that itched maddeningly and would not be eased until he'd expressed himself to her. There was no thought to how she would respond - of course, she'd already made her own feelings perfectly clear to him - this was really about commitment. Or something.

He admitted to having a problem with expressing himself in past relationships and he was willing to accept where he made mistakes and learn from them... but it totally wasn't his fault. Not completely, anyway. Rudy refused to give respect to a woman like Noel who could be driven insane by her most primal desires and he refused to take responsibility for the mistakes he'd made with Osono. Although full of admirable amounts of physical strength with absolutely no compunctions about harming him in the most awful, terrible ways, they were weak in the end, easily manipulated, their buttons well within his reach and effortlessly pushed over and over again for years. For six fucking years, he'd danced with them both, playing them like kloo horns in a Jizz Jatz band. Both target and fellow Agent had given in to his whims and he'd run loose, untethered and wild, stomping all over them. So, when the time came and they actually began demanding things from him, the only response he could be expected to give was to fart in their faces.

So far, Squiddie had expressed her desires for him very clearly through the reprimands and beatings he'd received and yet Rudy had the sense of firm lines drawn in the sand. She was making her demands first and he had to do his best to perform up to her expectations. Just think! A woman he could actually enjoy submitting to who actually deserved his worship and adoration. Rudy had to make an honest woman out of her and to do that he needed to get to her without her intent being to punish him again - as much as his knees trembled at the thought of it he was still satiated and aching from their blissful union before. For the prize of her physical strength alone she was more than worthy of him fulfilling his potential and being the man everyone was constantly expecting him to be. And he would do it too.... if it meant she would "bop" him again every once in a while.

Getting through Eric might be a problem though and although Rudy was ready and able to pull a gun on the man again if he had to, he knew he might not be as lucky to get away with just a concussion this time. Yet again, despite his idea with the hose, Rudy had yet to capture his target or even make any noteworthy attempts. So, getting his rank back was probably still off the table until he made a better effort, whether he had a guy to trade for it or not. More promises would seem empty unless he made actual strides to at least appear changed so, some restraint was in order. No biggy. For 6 years, Rudy had kept his more Agenty side a secret from Osono, to the point where she actually confronted him for the first time today, triumphant as if she wasn't the stupidest piece of shit in the world for not taking action in the first place. If he could do that then he could be respectful for however long it took to convince Eric to let Rudy talk to his lover. And with his blossoming need for revenge to motivate him, it wouldn't be difficult to articulate to Eric and let him know how committed he was now to actually doing what had been asked of him. It'd be enough to buy him at least a couple of moments alone with... her.

Skipping along through the second floor hallways, which looked different now in the orange lighting rather than red blinking lights, he was still trying to remember his way to the creepy room with the over-sized jars when he came upon Eric walking the same halls. "Hey! Mr. Patten!" Rudy called out, his heart palpitating excitedly to have finally found the man who was the next step to talking to Ms. Squiddie. Jogging to catch up to him, Rudy's eyes searched the darkness of orangish lighting on either side of the man, seeking a glimpse of his lover but he didn't let her absence dissuade him from his goals. "What's happenin', man? Haven't seen you in a while! Things have been crazy around here, yeah? The lobby no longer exists, you know. Totally remodeled down there and I might be mistaken but it looks like we may have gotten a visit from the Hulk. Still, don't quote me on that and we probably shouldn't go bothering Mark Ruffalo until we have conclusive evidence. Has anyone found scraps of what appear to be purple pants anywhere?"

Alright, so he was rambling and trying to draw attention away from his suspicions about Ozzie. His habit of trying to protect her was showing it's ugly face again and he shrugged it off when he remembered there was no longer any need for it. The flaming bitch didn't deserve any more of his sympathy after she'd wasted his time so horribly. Taking a deep breath, his dorky grin dulled a couple notches but he kept his voice light and moving rapidly. He had to get all of this out before the guy could change his mind about anything. "But seriously, we need to talk. I've done some thinking, you know, some real soul searching since we last spoke and I've realized I've made some major errors regarding my case. I want you to know that I am serious about proving myself to you and showing you that I am worthy of my rank and this case but I'm not gonna stand here and make empty promises. Obviously, because I tried that already and it didn't work."

"Not trying to insult you or anything but you and I both know I was full of...of cheese doodles before," it probably wasn't a good idea for him to curse right now. "I'm just letting you know that I've realized why things haven't been working out for me and I'm gonna try something different with this case. The way I was handling things before was the way Scott Summers juggled his relationships with Jean Grey and Emma Frost. It's like, dude, why are you gonna be all committed to Jean but then entertain flirtations with this white, ghosty chick over here? That's not cool and she deserves better than that. YOU deserve better than that, Mr. Patten. I've got a solid plan and I know how to find her. I'm done playing games and I'm done flirting with Emma Frost on the side. Time to focus and get real. I'm gonna stick around to finish our communication when my guy arrives but I know that any deals we make will come after results. The rank's not important and I really wanna keep my job, so if you'll just have a little faith, I promise you won't regret it. Also, quick question: Is Squiddie around? I'd like to talk to her for a few minutes, alone, if I could. Just a little something we need to wrap up between us, no big deal but I'd like to get it out of the way before stuff starts moving and grooving."

As soon as Rudy called out to him, Eric had stopped and turned towards him, waiting silently for Rudy to finish his spiel. "'Mr. Patten', 'cheese doodles', remembering to actually have a bargaining chip before coming to me... Rudy, you've been taking notes," Eric said. "Well - that's boring."

Was... was he serious? He was playing, wasn't he? He was playing one of his... his Patten-y games, yes? ...Aw, who the hell was he kidding??? There was no joke in there and the longer he waited for a punchline, the more obvious it became that Rudy was making a fool of himself. He'd never intended to bargain with Rudy, had he? Obviously not if Rudy was here, seemingly willing to work and appearing to try his best and the guy was concerned about being 'entertained'. How was he supposed to provide that? Maybe he'd have to point the Aurora at him again afterall! Rudy tried to tell himself that anger was not going to help him with this but he was losing the battle against it. He could feel his chances to talk to Squiddie slipping away and frantically he scrabbled after it.

"Are you kidding? Am I being Punk'd right now?" Rudy asked while looking around. "Ashton Kutcher, just freaking retire already, gosh darn it!" Turning back to address Patten, "He really needs to stop now. It's just getting sad and everybody expects it. Man, why are you being like this? I'm doing everything right! I'm doing exactly what you told me to do and now you're gonna act like a... a... a bitch?!" Wrong word! Bad word! That was a bad word, Rudy! But he couldn't help it. He was so frustrated right now and he didn't know how else to convince Eric to let him see her. He didn't want to make the guy mad but it was becoming increasingly difficult to even care about that.

"What the fuck do you want from me, then? What the hell do I have to do to get you to do what I want? Do you want everything I have? Here, take what's in my goddam pockets, psycho!" Reaching into the pockets of his jacket he held out handfuls of his belongings including a wallet, his gun, his phone, Han Solo and a bit of candy. He was offering everything except the trinket reserved for Squiddie which made a tiny lump in the jacket pocket against his thigh. "Not the Starbursts, though. I'm saving those in case I get peckish later. No, you know what, you can have those too, if it'll convince you. I know even you need a snack every once in a while, right? How about my fucking soul, Satan? Would you prefer munching on that?!" Then he remembered what he really had and he stuffed everything back into his pockets as he jumped into his next point. "Alright, if you wanna know the truth, I couldn't care less about the deal we were making before. You're about as true to your word as a $5 Vietnamese hooker, anyway, so even if I can expect to get the handjob and anal that I paid for, I'll still be walking away with an STD. New deal: you can have invincible dude when he gets here, if you just let me talk to her for 20 minutes by ourselves. You can stand a few feet away if you want, I don't give a shit. Just let me talk to Squiddie right now, Eric! Do I seriously need to piss you off every time I wanna exchange dialogue with the woman?" PLEASE, don't let that be the case! Rudy's trigger finger itched to hold his gun.

With a very contented and knowing smile and a growing interest in staring at space, Eric replied quite simply, "You make it sound like it's so difficult." For a long while after that, it was his only answer and Rudy had to struggle to keep himself patient, even though the urge to scream at the man pervaded the silence. Then Eric stretched, looked back at Rudy and asked, "So no Osono?"

Like a cloud, bitterness descended over Rudy, changing his entire demeanor. "Osono... I'm still handling that. I haven't given up, I'm just doing it for me and on MY terms. Alright? You get to stay out of it, if you like. With the scene she left downstairs, you and the Agency should be glad that I'm even showing the initiative and responsibility to clean up my problems on my own for once. I do not need your help with that, Eric, you said so yourself. I promised to bring her in without getting my rank back and I will do it, just fucking watch me. And yes it IS really so difficult! Don't play games with me, man! I've been dancing like a monkey for you ever since I found out who's men died in that restaurant! I'm not taking the blame for that, because I only learned about it after I talked to my partner - God rest her angry vagina - but I've been trying desperately to move you for the past 8 hours and I'm nowhere closer to figuring out the rhyme or reason behind you. I'm very tempted to say there is none and pull my gun out again, since that seems to actually get results."

Rudy slumped and let out a weary sigh, rubbing a hand at the bruised crown of his head, remembering and reasserting his focus to the appropriate goal. "Look, I'm really tired, okay? Not physically tired but like Batman gets Joker-fatigued. I just don't get the fucking joke, man. I feel like you're not even someone I can have a real conversation with or even reason with. You're just a force to be dealt with, with no substance gained or learned from the experience. I'm literally ready to walk out the door and there's only one thing holding me back. If it's really so goddamned easy, Lord Vader, then let me talk to Squiddie and I'll be on my way. It's just one simple thing, Eric, and it doesn't cost you a damn thing, so quit being a douchebag."

This brought another smile to his face, but it was different than before. Eric lightly pushed Rudy’s shoulder, ushering him along. “Walk with me, my travel-sized colleague,” he said, not giving him a choice. “You’re in dire need of an education, and it starts with three words: what are we? It’s something that’s been muddled over the years, and so few of us even remember. I hear ‘army’ and ‘captors’ because people assume an elite force of justice meant to save the public from those horrible mutants out to punch babies or burn hospitals – that stuff. Others say we’re these faceless monsters killing and wearing innocent souls whose only crimes were to be born different. I’d ask you what you think we are, but I’m just gonna skip ahead and call you wrong. That’s sad because...” Here he tapped Rudy on the top of his head, nimbly missing the injury, but Rudy flinched and blinked anyway. “It’s kind’f in the name, genius. We’re agents, with a lowercase ‘a’. We act on behalf of a greater company to fulfill a critical purpose for which we split from them. The A code’s been around for years but it was once tied to the security function. We gained our independence when our use reached an enormous head. So what are we, Rudy? Shush, you’re still wrong." The eager response and desire to please the man was instantly silenced before it began, causing the small Agent to clamp his mouth shut and frown at the larger man.

"The answer is: damage control.” He tapped him again, harder, eliciting another harsh blink. “Those ranks you say you can live without, to which I take considerable offence and you hurt my feelings, were established so we would know who is responsible for what. An A-3, as you may or may not be aware, is the lead on the specific cases assigned to that person. They are lord over it. Heaven help whoever interferes – except for you. You’re not an A-3." Yeah, rub the point in, why don't ya? "A-2s, meanwhile, are the kings of the board. They accept the critical purpose and they scatter our men and women to support it. They’re given the resources they need, the information they depend upon, and they find us the targets we here are all so familiar with.” Eric was enjoying this, it seemed. At least his grin was brighter and Rudy tried to hang onto the hope that this was going well, or somehow he'd end up getting his way, while still trying to grasp exactly what he was being told.

“A-1s have elements of both of them, but we’re on a wave beyond what they associate with. We have the authority that we do because we need to check that they’re working to meet our goal. If the Agency was a body, A-3s would be the limbs, A-2s would be the blood and I, along with the other nineteen, would be the ability to breathe. The limbs need to move and they base their direction on the air they’ve been delivered, while the blood is an automatic, continuous response known to occasionally speed up in ways that get out of hand. The ability to breathe, however, decidedly more than lungs and a throat, is that one thing that can be controlled and manages everything inside our skin. A frenzied heart rate? Take a breath.” Eric demonstrated. “That pain from slamming your hand in the door? Hissing, pressured breathing, and maybe a few coarse words. Jumping, coughing, singing – they all use muscles, Rooty-roo, but they’re centered on the intake and flow of air. In short, A-3s may be the physical act of control efforts and A-2s may govern them and move this team to that building and put this Agent on that job...” He stopped walking. With a gentle finger on Rudy’s collarbone, Eric forced him to stop, too. “But if I decide to revise my stance on what is and isn’t a threat to the mighty Salcon, every little detail you know about how this department operates – which I’ve seen as relatively nothing – changes. Just like that. It’s why I have to keep my eyes on each person we employ, to find out if they or their work requires me to do so. It’s exhausting. Personally very fun, and of the twenty, I alone have Salcon’s blessing to do whatever, but it’s so disheartening to watch someone take the Agency I love and make a fool of it. Those acts hurt us, Rudy. They... oh, what’s the word? Right – they damage us. And I should hope that by the excess of bodies around the lobby and more places you don’t know about, you can guess the response I favour in handling damages.” Once more, Eric tapped him. This time, his finger hit a bruise and Rudy felt it just as he felt the point the man was trying to make clear to him with the action. “Try to think about it."

“So!” Eric clapped his hands and suddenly spun back into walking. “That made me thirsty, but because I’d like to continue this conversation at a G-rating, I am going to get some water. As for you, you’re welcome to find the door. I’ll pass the ‘termination’ papers –” He did the quotation fingers. “– straight to Squiddie, if you so choose. Care to come with me to the kitchen and civilly resume your request, or shall I have her escort you out? Heads-up: the joke there’s that you’ll be in a body bag so you won’t get to talk to her.”

Rudy really really really wanted to scream right now. His first impression and reaction to Patten's words was just to throw his hands up and give up on the entire thing. But that threat at the end did not go unheard and he felt it in the bruises on his cranium that had been so suggestively poked. He didn't have a choice to walk away from this and he had to stay and figure it out. So, even though he wanted to think that Eric was messing with him and going back on the stuff he'd said before - remember, that great phone conversation they'd had where Eric seemed aghast that Rudy wasn't doing anything simply because he didn't have his rank which he'd for some odd reason been trying to impress upon the guy that he NEEDED in order to do his job - he knew that wasn't really what Eric was saying at all. Because Rudy had started this entire conversation with the intent to mislead and trick Eric into thinking he was dedicated enough to the cause that a little reward - getting to speak with his woman - was merited. This was Eric basically letting him know that he saw through his bullshit and had all along.

Jesus! Why was everybody determined to get more from him than he was willing to give? Osono wanted to know the real him even though it meant he'd reveal himself as someone she wouldn't like or respect. Eric wanted Rudy to actually be dedicated to people and concepts that he hadn't felt anything for since day one. Well... that wasn't necessarily true. He'd felt something in the lobby. Looking into that pit filled with the charred corpses of his comrades, he'd felt a measure of loss and anger about what had happened. Granted, he took it as a personal attack against him and a blatant disregard of his own efforts to be a part of Osono's life, there was still that sense of loyalty. He was an Agent and those were Agents. She'd been making a statement against him by destroying the people he was associated with; she'd been using them as a surrogate to take her rage out on him and there was a certain injustice in everything about it that filled him with the urge to correct it. Because it was a message for him, and because of his being derelict in his duties all these years, those people had died because of him. He tried to feel a more emotional connection to it but he just couldn't. He'd killed enough Agents himself over the years for any real sympathy to be lost, but he was getting the general idea of this group, this 'organization' that Mr. Patten had been talking about.

There was no choice to back out now and any more disloyalty and apathy was going to run him into more brick walls with this guy. The throbbing in the top of his head told him that despite the smiles and patient lessons he'd been given, Eric's patience was wearing thin. And to top it all off, he was dangling Rudy's desire to talk to Squiddie right in front of him too. It'd been the same crossroads with Osono when she'd asked for the truth and he'd given it to her. Well... most of it. Eventually he took to lying to her again and he supposed that was why she'd reacted the way she had and left him here with his finger still on the trigger. He couldn't make the same mistake again and even though Rudy had pathetically tried to mislead the man, his desire for revenge was true and Eric should have known Rudy was going to do what was expected of him one way or another. Now, he was being unceremoniously told that it wasn't enough. It was the whole truth or he'd pay the consequences for it in a way that Osono hadn't been able to bring herself to follow through with.

After only a moment's hesitation, standing and rubbing at his scalp, Rudy jogged after Eric and caught up with him, keeping stride with the man. Biting his lips and trying to think over how best to proceed, he finally broke the silence that had flooded in the space between them. "Things were really different when I joined. I mean, I was really different," he said, resisting the urge to utter jokes or regale the man with memories from his training days. "I'm not going to bore you with my origin story except to say that I have never cared about being an Agent. Not in the way that it mattered to me to follow orders; it's always been a playground. As much as I try, I simply can't feel anything for the people that died. I dunno if it's just the way I am or if it's an issue of loyalty, because I do feel a sense of pride in my title and I do take it as a personal insult that other Agents were killed under such circumstances. But that has more to do with what I've very recently been through with her and less to do with the fact that I'm part of something greater."

"You want me to be real, right? To cut the bullshit and just be straightforward? I loved her. I fell in love with her. She was just so... vulnerable and yet she's a storm, wild, powerful and chaotic. After I found out about what happened to her brother it became so fucking easy to manipulate her and even when she found out what I was doing, I don't know why but she let me continue doing it. It was a game we played and I loved playing it with her; I didn't want it to stop and we coulda gone on like that playing it forever and I would have been happy. But now she's being stupid. She NEVER was stupid, even in the moments when it was clear as a fucking meteorite crashing to earth and glowing chartreuse exactly who and what I fucking was, and she let me not only live but share her space anyway - even THEN she wasn't stupid. She's changed things from the way we play it and I simply cannot - I am not able - to play it any other way. I'm not gonna point fingers about who's fault it was that it fell apart. You want me to take the blame for my case falling in the crapper, fine, but I'll ease you with the knowledge that if it hadn't then we wouldn't be here right now with an actual motive to stop just playing games. Fine, she wants to suck his dick and throw everything I sacrificed for her in my face like she didn't have a choice all along, then I'll agree that it's over and make my choices too."

It was hard, at this point, to know exactly what Eric wanted from him. The man asking about Osono made Rudy think that he was actually still interested in her being captured. Rudy was all about revenge and showing her the true side of his nature, allowing her to experience just what a cruel and evil bastard he could really be - if she was saddened and upset about a 6 year running con that had been pretty tame as far as "hurting and using her" went, then she would be devastated when he actually went after her with the real intent to do harm. Despite all of that, he was willing to let it all go and forget about her forever just to focus all of his energies on someone who would appreciate it. There was a part of him that knew he could fucking get her if he was given just one more chance but there was another part of him that was willing to sacrifice that chance just for a moment alone with Squiddie. There was a new force that was directing his attention and pulling the puppet strings of his soul and he found it hard to be swayed by anything else. Honesty. He had to remember to stay honest and just hope and pray that was really what Eric wanted and he wouldn't get punished or 'terminated' for being too open about his desires.

"I'm not going to stand here and tell you that the Agency means anything to me. You want an end to the bullshit, then I will be open about it, even at the risk of wearing a body bag in the very near future, and say that it's personal. I'm not going to let her walk away and I'm not going to let her be happy with that asshole, Alex. She either chooses me - which she won't now, or ever again - or she dies. If saying that keeps us from continuing this dialogue... then alright, I accept that. I'm willing to take orders, as long as they get me to that desired end. Call it obsession, call it revenge, whatever. I'd think with how threatening she can be, now that that dickhead has told her about me and about us, and I've given her years of reasons to want to set fire to the whole lot of us, that we can somehow work something out where we both end up getting what we want, right?" Rudy swallowed thickly, his eyes darting around and looking behind himself, searching for his lovely goddess to appear at any moment to shut him up for good. "If not, then can I make the request that she kill me slowly? Like, really draw it out. I might not deserve it, but I'd like to die happy."

"Shh. Shh, shh. Shh, shh, shh." He'd been listening quietly, but now Eric had a finger out and almost on Rudy's lips. "Shh." Then he made a vague gesture of something rewinding. "Let's go back to what you said. I'm not sure I understand." Tenting his hands and tapping them on his chin, Eric, sounding curious, asked reservedly, "Your case and... who… are trying to be happy? Did you say Alex - I thought you said Alex - what 'Alex' are we talking about, exactly?"

Rudy blinked for a moment, wondering why that part had caught the guy's attention. "I don't fucking know who he is. He and that whale Gwen Stewart just showed up out of nowhere and latched onto my target. And then he ruined my ambush at the restaurant by killing everybody, remember? Ozzie was here with him and she told me herself that the reason she was following him around was because she really wanted to ride his toothpick sized cock." He had to stop and remind himself yet again not to exaggerate, otherwise he might lose this. "Alright... that's not true but she expressed some sort of feeling towards him, if the fact that she trusted him enough to follow him all the way from the restaurant was even a clue in the first place."

Rudy shrugged, feeling the failure of that remembered moment fill him again. "She was trying to help him do something and she's never done that before with anybody. Which makes me think she cares more about him than she let on. Which is why I know my chances with her are gone. We'll never be able to go back to that playful ignorance that we had before and it's all because of shit he said to her. Why? What does that stupid faggot have to do with anything?" Despite himself, Rudy was actually interested in hearing about this. He remembered vaguely some conversation Eric had during a phone call with someone he called his friend "Alex", and Rudy had wondered about it. At the time, he'd assumed it was the same guy but hadn't been interested enough to actually pay attention to anything said. If he was going to get a chance to kill both Ozzie and Alex, any information that Eric might have on the douchebag would be helpful to eventually filling Alex's body with bleeding holes.

"I dunno," Eric said. "Maybe nothing." His hands failed to cover the great grin that'd blossomed on his face, however. "'More than she let on', but what she let on was a form of interest... And then there's Lady Gwendolyn." He tapped his chin some more. "How about it? Any noted reciprocation from his end? Were there eyelashes batting over the cinders of my men?"

"Really?" Rudy asked with a note of displeasure entering his voice. "As if I'm not already sensitive enough about that." Still, he had to wonder about this situation and wonder how Eric's interest was going to help him at all. What had Alex been here for? What had he wanted in the red pickle jar room? Remembering the way that Alex and Osono had interacted, but mostly the way she'd flipped head over heels for the guy, got Rudy to grit his teeth again but he did realize something about it that Eric would want to hear. Licking his lips and shaking his head, Rudy glanced away before finally shrugging and saying, "I don't know. He fucking called her 'Sparky'. Not like a dog but like an affectionate nickname or something. When I made fun of her about it, she dismissed me with this 'warm fuzzy glow' in her face.. She wasn't defensive even though the name is retarded and makes it sound like he's calling her his bitch. She didn't care what I thought of it, though. Which made me think she actually likes him using it. Is there something to this, or are we just dragging me through this pain again for your entertainment? I mean, are you going to use her to manipulate him in some way? Because I'll definitely help with that if I can. The guy made me look like a jackass in front of her and ruined the game we were playing... so you know... I wanna make sure he suffers too. When can I talk to Squiddie?"

"If you keep getting antsy about it, I'm just gonna say 'never'." Rudy flinched the tiniest bit at the threat, his insides trembling on the verge of falling apart at how close he was to losing his chance. No,no,no,no! Don't say 'never'! He could be quiet! He wouldn't ask about it again! He'd be a good boy and just pray that when they were finally done, Eric would remember and let him speak to her.

"Nicknames, huh? That is certainly a start. But of what?" Eric was talking to himself. "Battle buddies? Romantic interests? I can't for the life of me decide. Then there's the problem of what you said mashing against Stephie's insights. They're two different girls." The tent of his hands had gone up in intensity. Now he was drumming his fingers together. It sounded like applause. "Both? Neither? Has Alex shown an interest? Does it matter? And no, you're not getting involved with him. Keep that out'f your head or he'll crush yours." The guy reached down and ruffled Rudy's hair causing him to frown with a small pout at the taller man as his coifed locks were disheveled. "Silly Rudy, tryin' to ride without his training wheels. Where'd you say you stood with your target? Anyway, these are rumours!" The drumming got faster and louder. "What do you have in the way of... facts?"

He didn't like being talked down to like a little kid and he didn't like that this conversation wasn't going where he wanted it to. Still, he took in a deep breath and tempered his patience with the knowledge that if he kept going and gave the man everything he asked for, he'd get to talk to his new soul mate. So, he examined and reexamined the things she'd said to him when they'd parted ways in the hallway. "I really have nothing on Alex's side of things except the nickname. When I saw them interact he was his regular jerkface self, except he seemed distracted. And there's something wrong with his foot. That's all I know about him, besides the fact that he's also not very good at dying. When I left Ozzie, she told me that she liked him but she wouldn't admit to being hot for his dick. She said she was helping him so maybe he'd start paying attention to her or something and she seemed really focused on saving that fatty, Gwen. When I first found out she was in the base... she was already paranoid about me and didn't want anything to do with me unless I told her the truth so... I did. I hoped that by being honest like she wanted, that she'd start listening to me again, but she ignored me as soon as that weepy vagina, Alex, came back into the room. Even after I kissed her, she refused to even fucking look at me again."

"Although," he paused rubbing at his head for a moment. "She told me to get lost because she needed time to think and I originally assumed it was still an angle through which I could reenter the scene at some point in the future, you know? Obviously, she's done thinking because seeing the bodies in the pickle jar room sent her off the deep end and forced her to slaughter everybody in the base. Or Alex told her to do it because she likes listening to him now. If you want facts, then you should know I have a foolproof way to track her and I can find her within a couple of hours." Rudy checked his enthusiasm. "That is, I would if she were still my case and I had the authority to do so. Ahem."

“Waste not, Rudy,” Eric perkily assured. “From the way you put it, she’d firebomb you on sight.” There was an expectant pause as the A-1 waited for an answer to that, but he filled it by arriving in the kitchen at last and heading for the sink. “There are impeccable odds that Madeline poisoned her building’s plumbing on the off-chance I came over here.” He might as well have been chatting about the sky, because he didn’t wait to pull a glass from his pocket and fill it up. “Oh no, how will I ever survive this totally originally and unavoidable attack?” And then he drank it, sipping the last drops like it was a rich and luxurious wine. “Hmm. It doesn’t taste like poison. Hey, Rudy, want some water?”

Rudy's eye twitched and his fists clenched at his sides. He was doing this on purpose, wasn't he? 'Oh, you can't leave this conversation until we make a deal but I'll never fucking bring it up, teehee! Oh, and don't ask to talk to Squiddie again or I might forbid you from ever seeing her ever but hey, we'll continue to shoot the shit about nothing, hoho!' Rudy wanted to smash in the guy's stupid, four-eyed face! He was almost starting to like Mr. Patten if only for the fact that he was starting to 'get' the guy and understand how he operated but now all of that was shot down as the motherfucker decided to deliberately ignore Rudy's demands again. He'd had it and he couldn't take it anymore! He was going to fucking explode!

"No, I don't want any fucking water, you crazy person!" Rudy said, his rapidly moving voice going faster and getting a few notches louder in his anger. "What the hell, man?! Why do you insist on playing these games with me? First, you set up rules that I try to follow, at least with lip service, but THEN, when that doesn't work, 'begging' is making things just a 'little too fucking hard'! First, you tell me that if I don't try to capture my target because I'm missing a very important number in front of my name, then I'm suddenly not as dedicated as I should be, but THEN I fucking hurt your goddamned feelings when I tell you I'm going to do exactly what you wanted! First, you tell me that we're not making any deals right now because my bargaining chip is not yet accessible to you in the flesh, but THEN you tell me if we don't continue working through some kinda deal right fucking now then you're going to kill me!" His rant cut off as Rudy's rage hit a crescendo and he exploded in another one of his physical fits, his hands and arms scrabbling and jerking about, grabbing at his hair and scratching and smacking himself in the face. After just a few moments, it stopped just as suddenly and he stood, taking in deep breaths with his hands together and the edge of his fingers pressed calmingly to his lips and nose.

Finally looking at Eric, he calmly held his arms out in an openly questioning manner, all traces of his previous frustration and rage gone from his body. "Alright, so it's obvious that you're not going to even consider giving me my rank or my case back and I accept that. Despite the fact that I think it's incredibly ironic since I've spent years goofing off and getting to know her intimately and now when I actually want to make up for it and do my job right, I've already set a precedent for myself and don't deserve the chance, even though I'm clearly the best and most capable person for the job. That's fine, Eric. That is okay. There's only one thing I care about right now and I'm so desperate for it, I'm willing to do anything you say just to get it. 20 minutes, it's all I want and I'm not leaving your side until you give it to me. I can't leave anyway, because I don't have any assignments or other Agency business and as you so elaborately pointed out, I'm not allowed to move without the breath needed for me to do so. So, go ahead. What are your orders, Sir? Give me a lungful!"

Eric didn't reply. He was waiting for an answer to the other thing he'd said. Those were Rudy's orders. Rudy stood there blinking silently at the other Agent for the longest time - long enough for the other man to down his second glass of water - clueless and lost and beginning to lose hope that he'd ever figure out how to play this game, let alone win it. "Alright, fine. You want me to have a glass of water, I'll take a fucking glass of water, dammit!" Rudy stopped to rub his hand over his eyes. The bruises were no longer swollen like they used to be but were still purple and aching to the touch. "Seriously, can you throw me a bone here? What do you want?"

“For starters?” Eric had a new glass. He filled it, stuck on a sippy cup lid, then brought the entire thing across the worse side of Rudy’s rainbow-shaded face. “I guess that ‘sick bay’ place isn’t what it’s cracked up to be." Yeah, tell him about it. When he stopped by there to get his bullet wound fixed, that sexy nurse chick only made fun of him when she got a look at his face. "Hold this.” The quick command-plus-advice explained why the water was cold as ice, but it didn’t do a lot for the sippy cup lid or for why Eric had the lid to start with. “That’s better. If it doesn’t help, at least there’s less of you to stare at me. Paint-by-numbers, Rudy – that is my official diagnosis. Ew.”

Their chat was shifting to the kitchen table. Eric claimed the closest chair and politely gestured for him to join, which Rudy did, cradling the chilled sippy cup to the side of his face. He was only doing it out of politeness and soon forgot about it since the pain and the numbness worked together to make him forget, yet again, that there was even anything wrong with his face. “You have had a tough time with this girl.” Beneath the joyous voice, a floor of interest appeared. Eric seemed to have gotten exactly the right kind of reaction, and at Rudy’s question and sudden participation, he was finally willing to take this seriously. The rabbit hole had opened for its next guest. “So many years, so many failures. I’ve read the – uh... reports. You had a clever A-3.” ‘Clever’ could have meant many things and Rudy resisted the urge to roll his eyes at such a word being applied to Noel. Sure, he supposed all addicts were 'clever' in the way they could hide their disease and keep getting fixes.

“The last couple of days must’ve been really awful: you find Alexander, he starts charming your friend, you kill five of an A-1’s guys and drive off to leave them for a night alone, you chauffeur around a psychic only to get no thanks for it, you’re strangled for being silly, and then your target leaves with someone she’s known for a day and your lead dies, sticking you with a bill she predominantly should’ve paid for. I can’t imagine how there’s room to add anything else, and yet...” Eric motioned to the bruises. Hearing all of that laid out so succinctly... Rudy blinked lamely. Although he got the feeling that he was subtly being made fun of, he was enjoying for once being talked to like he was a person.

“Frankly, that’s not the bothersome part. Reports can be corrected, mistakes forgiven, ranks restored and cases returned, but I want to get to the heart of this: what would you want her case for, Rudy? You can’t do anything with it. You aren’t eligible to transfer – trust me, the very first rule I passed when I got into power was to do away with that affair. Sexuality concerns aside, it’s never been fair.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Personal experience." Rudy blinked in curiosity, then shifted in his seat without saying anything. "Anyway, what it boils down to is that you no longer have any business continuing to work on your old assignment. Now –” His chipper expression was close to blinding. “If there were some... other business surrounding your target, unrelated to a transfer but still to her, I could see the sense in sending you – as her former confident – along for the ride. You wouldn’t even have to be an A-3, just available to give your insight where it’s needed. But I don’t see how that couldn’t be accomplished by stuffing you in a closet and having you write your suggestions from there. It’d be safer, since you’re obviously not trained to fight.” Right about now was when Rudy’s Starburst was also scooped out of Eric’s pocket and Rudy's eyes widened. Without a word of acknowledgement towards it, the guy sweetly ate one. Chewing, he casually finished, “You’re no longer set to directly deal with her. I’ll have to send someone else ‘cause... well, she’d firebomb you.” He paused. “Ooh – are these the tropical ones? I love tropical candy!”

Rudy was getting upset and searching his pockets, setting things out onto the table anxiously. Among them were the lighter-shaped holder for his Aurora, Han Solo and a Green Lantern ring, it's iridescent green stone casting a tiny bit of light onto the tabletop. It went unnoticed as Rudy counted the Starbursts on the table. "Did you take the pineapple ones?! Dude!" There were 3 left. Rudy didn't know how many he'd had before but it seemed like there'd been a lot more crowded amongst his shit when he'd held it all in his hands. Originally, he'd desperately offered them to Eric but he seriously changed his mind when his own love for tropical candy dissuaded him from letting them go. What was he going to snack on later? With a small scowl at Eric and a click of his tongue, Rudy slumped back in his chair and put the cup back against his face.

"Alright, yeah, I agree, I'm pretty much useless on this case now - tell me something I don't already fucking know!" Suddenly, Rudy was sitting upright again, half leaning across the table with a bright look in his eyes. "I can't just fucking let her go, Eric. If you don't want to give it to me, then like I said, that's fine. I don't give a shit right now," Slowly he sat back once more, his arm automatically going up to press the cup against the side of his face again. "I mean, I want to help bring her in but I don't want to fucking die. I know it's over between us and I would just like to be there when they strap her down to the chair and I can look straight in her eyes so that the stupid whore fucking knows why she survived all these fucking years. That it wasn't because Noel was crazy and more concerned with what happened between her legs than about transferring to a new body. That it definitely wasn't because the Agency didn't want her enough or we were just too incompetent to be a threat to her. It was because somebody fucking loved her. And I want her to fucking feel my heartbreak as someone else gets shoved inside her head, feeling herself erased from my heart forever as every sliver of her consciousness disappears and fades away... And then I would sing M.C. Hammer's "Can't Touch This" preferably while wearing parachute pants and shuffling from side to side. Do you think I'd look good with a rat tail? Ha! That's so '80's!"

Rudy stopped and realized who he was talking to and then cleared his throat awkwardly. "I mean, if you want to know the truth, then her history with me is enough to have kept her from killing me when she found out I was an Agent. I mean, she wasn't unaware of this force in her life and she believes it's stolen everything from her. She's not a reasonable woman and Ozzie is all about emotion when it comes to action. So, why would she stay her hand, even after finding out that the target of her distress has been me all along? THAT is what I can offer you, Eric. Her hesitation when she sees me. Because I honestly do not know what it means that she killed everybody in the base. They could have been trying to keep her here and they died simply because they were in the way. I just thought there was something really... personal about the way she gathered them all together in that pit.. The point is, there's still a chance she will hesitate. There's still a chance she'll let me in and I can get close enough to stab her in the fucking back. Other than that... yeah, I guess I don't mind staying safe and comfortable while I consult someone else on her case."

The brightness was gone. The smile had dimmed. It looked bored, and as Eric propped his head on up on his hand, he’d become disinterested in Rudy's response. “That’s the smart move, in my opinion. There’s no sense risking your life on something that’s a chance, and definitely not when there’s people to do it for you. I'll take this as an agreement to consult for us then, and in return, I guarantee you’ll never have to see her. You’ll be safe and sound, as thoroughly as an A-1 can swear.” That bubbly floor in his voice was dissolving at a powerful pace. “Now I have to decide how to manage the fate of the others. You were a face she could get attached to. They’ll be wearing masks and such, and she’ll probably light them up as soon as she finds them. In fact, that sounds so likely, it hardly makes sense, either.” A very pensive mood came over him. “There is a reason you’re alive, isn’t there? Despite that charcoal in the lobby? And you said she liked you enough to shoo you away, murder-free. But six years... I can’t justify a second try if that’s what it takes. It’s not feasible, but without it, who knows what she could unleash?” He was creeping towards some point. It wasn’t going to be one Rudy liked. “You know...? ... Actually...? I think... it’s time we say goodbye to this. The manpower we’ve already spent seems like sunk costs to me. Besides, her lead’s dead! By and large, that means we can’t get a handle on her, because if the most responsible and motivated person failed, what are our odds with someone new? And you're essentially telling me we can’t get close to kill her. I’ll just have to cut my losses.” With that, Eric promptly stood up, ready to leave. “Well, this was a nice discussion! I’m glad we could brainstorm, Rudy. So! ‘Sparky’ is no longer a viable target, which is good, 'cause of all the hook-ups I’d hate to interrupt, one between her and Alex is at the tippity-top of bad choices. Suppose I’m goin' to bed if we’re finished here. Gotta be rested for my other projects. I've got a lot on the go! Ahhh - it's so crazy how busy I am!”

Wait--what? Did that mean they weren't going to mess with her? They were going to let Osono go? He didn't have a moment to really register that as panic set in and he realized the conversation was ending. Rudy stood up too, nervously shoving everything back into his pockets and walking forward a few steps, trying to keep Eric within reach. "Hey! Wait a second!" Rudy rushed to put himself between Eric and the door, looking up at the man with a determined and focused glow in his eyes. "I asked you to let me talk with Squiddie and you implied I'd get the chance. I've been patient, man, and I stopped asking about it but now you're implying we're done and I'd really like to just talk to her for a minute. Pretty, please, Eric! I'll be really quick and I'll leave you alone forever. Please?"

Eric looked slightly taken back by the flurry of motion now blocking his way, but before Rudy had stopped talking, he’d broken into the dreamiest grin his mouth could make. He was positively tickled by the request, and the warm, fuzzy feeling he shared with the world magically floated and swirled through the rest of the kitchen.

“Rudy! You do like her! That’s so beautiful,” he sincerely said, with a hand on his heart. “My goodness, this has just been one big day of romance! We’re gonna have to keep it amongst ourselves ‘cause the Agency hates that, but if there’s one I love, whole bunches more than tropical candy, it’s love. Love! Oh, this makes my night! Huggy time!” And he picked Rudy up, clamping him into a squeeze that crushed his arms to his body. Eric even swung him around a few times before finally plopping him on the ground. They’d switched places. “But Rudy – Squiddie’s kind of dangerous. I’d be thrilled to see you critters frolic along, but if you’d duck out from handling a woman who cares for enough to ‘stay her hand’...” Eric breathed a happy sigh. “It just wouldn’t be responsible of me, silly! As an A-1, your safety is my first priority. Anyway –” He cheerily waved and began down the hall, noisily calling, “Squiddie says good night, too!”

The determination that had been fueling him through the entire conversation melted into a puddle of hot, sticky goo on the kitchen floor when he heard the words 'Squiddie's dangerous'. It was exactly the confirmation of every fantasy he'd had since actually dealing with her himself that he needed, so much so that it actually stopped him right there. He was still recovering from Eric's hugs and the fact that through Eric she'd wished him a 'good night', so he didn't really consciously decide to let Eric leave but didn't object once he realized the man was gone. It was close enough to speaking to her and he felt a wave of jubilation fill him to know that he'd passed her test - that was certainly what she was saying by departing with such amiable words. He'd been a good boy, restraining himself and being open and honest through conversation with her boss, showing her that he was willing to work and committed to finishing his case but when push came to shove, she meant more to him than anything else in the world.

Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the official Green Lantern ring - worn by none other than Ryan Reynolds during production of the summer film directed by Martin Campbell - and looked at it with a small sigh. No. It wasn't time for that yet. It wasn't like he was actually asking her to marry him - although, if she wanted to, he totally would. How about today? Could they get married today?! - but more that he was giving her his promise to remain dedicated and faithful. Her acceptance of it and wearing it would be an acceptance of his effort and her putting her trust in his loyalty. Accidentally, he'd set it on the table during his worrisome loss of fruit candy at the hands of a tyrannical giant, so she'd probably seen it if she'd been in the room - had she been? It was hard to know because she had that invisible suit thingy which made her a sexy ninja. Rudy couldn't help but ignore the fact that Eric had been involved at all in getting to talk with Squiddie. No, she had decided not to speak with him because she knew that he was going to offer the ring to her and she was rejecting it. He wasn't done proving himself to her and when he was, then he'd be worthy of declaring ownership on one of her fingers.

Closing his fist around the ring, he cast a determined smile in the direction Eric had gone - he was no longer visible down that hallway, having turned a corner somewhere - and then placed a small kiss to his knuckles. "Someday, sweetheart," he said in a dramatic voice, ala Bruce Willis or Lawrence Fishburne. "I will wait for you, whenever you're ready." Returning to normal, he slipped it back into his pocket and patted it with his hand. "I'm putting you on ring duty, Han! Watch over it and guard it well, buddy--!" Then Rudy stopped as he realized his pockets were missing the appropriate amount of bulges.

Quickly, he began to pull things from his white, medic jacket, counting each item and making sure they were all there but still, even as he set things on the table, every time he counted, he came up short. "Where is Han Solo?!" he said with a frantic note entering his voice. This wasn't good! Rudy had gotten that toy in 1997 during the theatrical re-release of the Star Wars trilogy to theaters. He'd been a teenager in high school and already in love with the series, so it'd been an important event to get one of the older toys for the deal that he had. Through the rest of his highschool career, Han went everywhere with him, whether as a prominently shown member of the group or hidden on his person somewhere. As he'd grown older, it's importance as a good luck charm and guiding spirit token had waned, but Rudy kept it with him out of habit, usually leaving it in his car or packing it with him while he was on the road chasing and traveling with Osono. Now that Rudy was completely alone and dating someone new, he needed all of the support he could get. This was a very special toy and he could not afford to lose it!

Dropping to his hands and knees, Rudy searched the ground of the kitchen, crawling under the table as he called out, "This isn't a good time to rush off and play hero on your own, buddy! Come back, Han Solo! I need you!" Then Rudy stopped mid-crawl. "Dude. I just now realized that your last name is totally a real word that means 'to be alone'! I kid you not! George Lucas, you genius mastermind!"

Putting a hand to the tabletop, Rudy helped himself up and stared accusingly at the items his tiny friend had left behind. Then he remembered Eric and the candy and his squinty scowl deepened. How the fuck did that guy keep stealing his shit without Rudy noticing?!

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((Part Two))

Post by Guest on Fri Jun 01, 2012 4:34 pm

***
There was just something he didn't like about this. Maybe it was the fact that they'd hashed together a flimsy excuse of "probable cause" to enter the base when the danger had very little to do with the nonexistent case they were supposedly investigating. Maybe it was the fact that there was a very large hole in the lobby of the base that appeared to contain charred bits of human remains. Or he was probably just feeling a bit unsettled by the fact that his boss was giggling gleefully to himself as he watched the small team they'd called in picking through the 'evidence' in the hole.

"Jesus, Avery," Sebastian commented with a shake of his head as the man finally fell silent. "Show a little respect and try not to be too happy about the fact that people died."

"Pffft, lighten up, Seabass. I've waited far too long for something like this to happen. Excuse me for being a little insensitive when I've just hit the biggest break in my case since Eric showed his hand during the Alexander incident."

Sebastian read the reports on that since it had happened before he'd joined the Docs and he still cringed to think of how embarrassing it must have been for his boss to throw a fit, insisting that Eric got his face smashed in on purpose so that the infamous target, Alexander and the rogue Agent inside him, could go free. Based on the evidence and what he had experienced in his dealings with Patten thus far, Sebastian could see how Avery would jump to that conclusion, but it was still a stretch. Now that Sebastian was here, he was going to keep things in line and make sure that his boss didn't make any more excitable claims he couldn't prove and make a fool of himself again. They were walking a high-wire with this one and already Sebastian was thinking about giving up on it.

"Sorry to rain on your parade," he said, maintaining only a slight facade of respect that Avery gave a sharp glance at but didn't comment on. "But how long do you think this case will stay in our hands before it moves on to the guys handling the Anti-Agency case?" There was a team within the Docimasy that was already covering the investigation of Agency traitors and if they decided the case him and Avery were building against Eric was too close to stuff they were working on, those guys would take everything they uncovered today and sweep it away into their confidential archives. Those guys were the only ones in the Docimacy that the Docs would need to get clearance from if there was any suspicions about the Antis being involved. If Avery asked for permission before entering the base, they could have decided to give it to him and he could keep any evidence he found proving that Eric was operating outside of the rules. The fact that he hadn't was Sebastian's hint that his boss knew they wouldn't give it to him. This was going to be another case where they rushed to find strong evidence after the fact and prayed that the higher department chose to let them keep it.

"I give it a few hours, maybe," Avery said with a nonchalant shrug, his finger scratching at his angled sideburn the only sign that he was nervous about this plan. "The A-2 hasn't signed off yet, and we can hope that they won't barge in until they know what's going on." You mean, the total opposite of what we did?

"That doesn't give us a lot of time, Avery!" Sebastian shouted angrily, already sensing the mountain of disgrace that would follow yet another failed attempt to catch Eric Patten with his pants down. "You can't even guarantee that we'll even find anything! And then not only will we have to give up authority on this but we'll have a charge of 'overstepping jurisdiction without cause' to deal with."

"I know. Which is why we have to hurry and find some concrete evidence before anyone else gets here."

Sebastian wanted to beat the man on the head until he was a vegetable. Honestly, then the guy would have more common sense than he possessed right now! Just because they'd gotten permission from the Doc who was in charge of reports relating to Bergmann to investigate Charlton and charge Eric with responsibility for anything they found did not mean they had a legitimate reason to be here. For someone who was supposedly desperate to bring Eric down on hard charges, Avery was doing everything he could to disable them and discredit any charges they might be able to make stick. Sebastian breathed in deep, trying to calm himself and resisting the urge to abandon the man to his fate right now when finally Avery began walking towards the stairs and waved for him to follow.

"Come on, let's leave these guys to it and search the upper floors. Maybe we'll even get lucky and find Eric. Do you think that he'll be in the mood to confess today?"

That was what kept Sebastian from leaving. As much as Avery was reckless and seemed to be painting the downfall to this case before they even started pursuing their leads, Sebastian couldn't let the man go head-to-head with Eric Patten unsupervised. A few past encounters had ended with Avery needing to be pulled away, shouting and screaming his insane conspiracy theories while violently trying to attack the A-1 until he was dragged out of sight. Thankfully, he'd never gotten physical with the higher ranked Agent - because if he did, he would be instantly removed from the case and from his position as a Docimasy Agent, suspended indefinitely - but still there was always the potential for the encounters to end badly. Most of the time, Avery behaved well, if only a little disrespectful - and as a Doc, Avery could get away with saying just about anything to Eric's face. The problem was that Eric took advantage of his ability to speak too, thus resulting in Avery being provoked in some way - but that was one of the functions Sebastian was supposed to provide by being on this team. It was his responsibility to babysit his boss and keep conversations between him and the A-1 from escalating, since it didn't take much for Avery to get aggressive about the case, especially when it came to confronting Eric directly. If he abandoned his post now and something happened as a result of his absence he'd be held accountable for it.

With a reluctant sigh, Sebastian followed the other man up the stairs, keeping his silence about how dangerously close to being put on probation they were. Instead, he instantly went into detective mode, searching the hallways and every room they came upon for anything that might point to Eric being guilty of something while he'd been visiting here. He had to admit, as much as he didn't agree with this plan, he really wanted to nail Eric too and he couldn't pass up the opportunity to do that once it presented itself.

***
Brie was really starting to feel the itch now, like an annoying tickle just out of reach and no matter how much she tried to ignore it, it never subsided or went away. She was tired and frustrated by her current discomfort so desperation began to kick in along with the withdrawal. Where the fuck was his stash? She knew he had to have something because he was a goggle-head and those arrogant pricks couldn't handle even glancing at their tech without heavy-duty crap in their veins. So, where was he keeping his drugs? Was it in that bulgy part of his suit? She bet it was. Before he decided to get snippy with her, she'd contemplated asking him to share, but now her pride wouldn't let her consider it. The bastard already thought she incompetent enough and she didn't want to risk adding more reasons to his list. As she twisted her neck from side to side and massaged her shoulder in agonized attempts to dislodge this persistent itchiness, fantasies of just taking them from him crept up on her, her mind running wild with images of attacking him and unzipping the pocket on his thigh to pull out her prize.

When he unzipped it himself and pulled out his papers, she quickly looked away, guiltily trying to hide the fact that she'd been staring and suddenly paranoid that he knew what she'd been planning. Despite the irritation of her withdrawal, Brie was still a suit at heart and she instantly latched onto the conversation he was having with the stewardess, keeping herself impassive while she listened in. He was unlocking new facts from the woman as if his questions were afterthoughts that kept popping up at the last minute. It was annoying to say the least and a tad unprofessional, but she didn't really know why she was viewing the conversation as an interrogation. She supposed she was still bitter about the Charlton thing and she was just aching to find any way to discredit him. Although she didn't really care about going to Elmira, she become concerned when they were given news of the lockdown and internal attacks in the base. What were the odds of these two attacks happening so close together? Were they related? Maybe the targets that abducted her were working with other people afterall?

Then everything analytical about Brie's thought processes died when she heard the flight attendant indirectly acknowledge her. No, the question had been about Eric Patten and the response had been that he knew about her. He knew where Brie was and that meant he must have known about her failure on the original mission he'd sent her on despite the fact that she had yet to file a report about the situation. Even though the flight attendant was done talking about her and done talking about Eric, Brie couldn't help but feel his presence pressing in on her and she slouched low in her seat, trying to just disappear from existence by burying herself in the cushions. She was nothing compared to the Elite Agents on Eric's team but she'd still been a part of his team. A team with a reputation that she'd failed to live up to and she was no doubt no longer a part of it. Everything had gone so wrong and all thoughts of possibly redeeming herself in some way fled when she realized how this would end. She knew she was as good as dead and although the man who killed him had been a fake, she remembered the way Six had died at the hands of the imposter Patten and envisioned a similar fate for herself in the very near future. Of course, it was very likely that Patten wouldn't even bother to do it personally. That's how low she'd fallen. She was dirt on his shoe that didn't even deserve his attention but would instead be wiped off by someone else. Orders passed down the chain until she was finally terminated. She might even be expected to do it herself as a final duty to her team.

When she was offered a glass of wine, Brie accepted it and drank it in sullen resignation, all hope and pride draining from her with each swallow of the pungent liquid. She might as well enjoy the last few hours of her life and it soothed the tension in her body without doing anything for the itch that still nagged her. As she sipped at her second glass, refilled magically by the attentive stewardess, she drifted back to the conversation the other suit was having on the phone. Eavesdropping shamelessly as he addressed someone who was clearly shouting in his ear, his voice was firm as he declared that he would be joining his "Lead" to be with her during her transfer, leaving no room for argument in the statement. The first light of admiration and envy she ever came close to feeling towards him burned in her eyes as she watched him, feeling a bit of appreciation for his dedication to his work and even looking up to him a little bit because of it, while at the same time she bitterly hated him for his ability to show her up. Of course she had skills that he didn't know about and she was certainly better than him with some things. But her complete worthlessness and the weight of her failure hit her hard as she listened to him work the one-sided conversation with a sense of honor and loyalty that she'd never possessed and would never get the chance to.

Her head was swimming but the ache had not subsided, seemingly brought into focus the more she drank, as if the numbness drowned out everything except that. But she was still lucid enough to hear the intimate note enter his voice as he asked about his Lead and asked to speak with her. How close was he to this woman? Possibly bordering on something indecent for him to get such a personal and regretful look on his face as he listened to the responses coming from the other line. Obviously something wasn't good if she wasn't available for talking, but still, it wasn't normal for an Agent to get that involved with their Lead, was it? Maybe he wasn't the standard of Agency professionalism and pride that she thought he was. Still, she found it even harder to dislike him because of that emotional connection that he had with the woman who was supposedly his boss. He was no longer just an emotionless goggle-head but a man on a mission of the heart. Or she was possibly seeing and hearing things because she was drunk.

Finishing her third glass of wine with a solid gulp, she pushed the empty glass away dejectedly as she heard the news that hammered the last nail in her coffin. Charlton had fallen. She wanted to laugh. Of course it had! Despite what the other suit had said about saving her life, she couldn't help but feel responsible for what had happened even though, with missiles shooting into the base from the outside, she had no idea how she could have stopped it. But the base was gone and she'd done her part to contribute to it's downfall because she'd attacked when she'd been sent to observe. She was the worst Agent in the world.

She didn't respond to his question about Romans, obediently forgetting about it when instructed to. But she was still in a cynical mood when his other questions popped up and she answered, unable to hide the note of disdain towards him and the self-loathing that coated her voice. "'What does my boss want me for'? Nothing," Brie let out a breathy snort. "Didn't you hear her? He knows where I am and that means I'm fucked, asshole. I failed my mission and it's my fault the base fell."

All of a sudden, just talking about it set her emotions loose and her face cracked as she began to cry, her words flooding out in a rush and mixed with pitiful sobs. "I brought those targets to Charlton and they questioned me about Agent Bergmann and the location of the base. I thought I was being tested so I went with them but even when I found out they lied... I thought I'd be leading them into a trap. I didn't think they'd actually get inside. I didn't mean to break my cover. She saw me and I had no choice! I had to attack... It was a mistake and now he'll probably kill me. He does not accept worthless people on his team."

Finally quelling the flow of self-pity and shame, Brie sniffled and groaned while rubbing hard at her face, smearing the tears over her burned cheeks and pushing her short choppy hair from her face. She spent a couple of seconds breathing and trying to restore what was left of her dignity, her thoughts sloppy as she tried to figure out how best to move on. She had nothing left to offer Patten and he'd most likely end her life eventually. So, since she was basically fired, what was the harm in telling this guy what he wanted to know? It wasn't like there was anything else she could be threatened with if she gave him information. Well, since she didn't have anything left to lose, then it didn't matter any more how much she degraded herself in front of another suit either.

Biting her lip, Brie glanced once more at the bulge on his leg. "I'll make a deal with you. I've been working on Eric Patten's team for a couple of years now and everybody knows something about the guy. I'll tell you every single thing I know - including what he supposedly does to his 'favorites'--" she emphasized the word with a mocking lilt as if the word in relation to Eric Patten was a joke. "--if you give me some of your drugs. I know you've got some with that pretty tech you've got. Please, I just need a hit to pick me up. I lost mine and I'm not going to do very well on this plane ride without it, and the wine simply isn't going to cut it as a substitute." She supposed she could leave the plane before they took off but she doubted she'd find any better luck if she reported to a base right now. She was marked as a failure and just waiting for the axe to come down. At least this way, she could put off facing her responsibilities for a few hours and still get her fix. "Please..." she begged with a soft whine in her voice. "I really wanna answer your questions and tell you about him so you can help your Lead but I'm in really bad shape now and I'm not going to talk through this itch."

***
She was done sitting by and letting this happen. What was she waiting for anyway? Her last ray of hope died with Alex and Xander and despite her exhaustion Gwen could not sit here and resign herself to her fate. As long as she had breath in her lungs, she wouldn't stop fighting for her life. She deserved to live, dammit! But that begged the question: how? What options did she really have left? She'd tried everything to escape already. She knew she could not best Stephanie physically, but as the Agent continued to chat with the woman she'd killed just a couple of hours before, Gwen realized things had changed drastically about the shield the woman used to disable her powers. First off, Stephanie could no longer hide anything from Gwen and she didn't even seem to be aware of the small bit of probing Gwen did on the surface - analyzing the primitive biological data processors in Stephanie's mind allowed her to finally figure out that the Agent had overdosed on something and it was poisoning her. But aside from the effect it was having on her body, Gwen couldn't determine anything else about it other than that the toxicity was contributing to her failing health and mental instability.

Hiding her presence as much as possible, Gwen gingerly began to creep through the halls of Stephanie's mind, poking and sifting through memories while trying to find some way she could get out of this situation. There had to be something Gwen was missing, some angle she hadn't exploited yet, some weakness that Stephanie had that would give Gwen the upper hand. Afterall, hitting a particularly sensitive nerve with Noel had worked up to a point and it could work again if she found the right button inside Stephanie. At one point, a strong memory hit her completely by surprise and Gwen found herself sitting in the driver's seat as she walked into an apartment that she didn't recognize. In the middle of the floor was a pile of trash and busted up junk and near the kitchen was the Frenchman who had been pursuing Alex and Xander, smoking languidly and looking mysterious and French. By the bed and near the window was a chair and upon it sat her colleague who she had yet to meet, recognition setting in purely from his resemblance to his profile picture and the fact that she'd ordered a suit for her team and here, indeed, was a suit. Bloodlust flooded through her at the sight of him, her vision clouding with it, even as the immoveable dam kept it from reaching the surface. Here was the idiot who'd ruined everything!

Finally noticing that he was tied to the chair, Gwen flinched at the sudden excitement coursing through her, mixing harmoniously with the desire to hurt him as if the two emotions actually went together in some coherent way. Struggling to come to grips with her unwanted desires, she strode forward, threats and reprimands droning from her throat, unable to fully articulate through her dead voice the abysmal amount of rage she felt towards him and his failure right now. But the lack of emotion seemed to unsettle him just as much and he trembled anyway, satisfaction blossoming within her to taste his fear of her. The power was intoxicating as she strode around him, sensing his pathetic relief as she released him from his bounds, delight tickling within her as she held onto the rope and suddenly twisted it to wrap around his neck. Anger filled her veins along with a rush of adrenaline urging her to keep twisting it to choke the life out of him completely or to snap the vertebrae like the useless twig it was, but cool restraint kept the pressure controlled. Pleasure washed over her to feel the give in his soft flesh, the struggle in his throat and to hear the small choking sounds emitted from his gaping hole of a mouth, even as she punctuated her displeasure with more lifeless threats. Plush lips parted in gasping fear of death... his body revolting against the attack... his slender neck jolting with the urge to swallow and dislodge the obstruction pressed against it... his muscled thighs and abdomen trembling in his skin-tight uniform...


Gwen's eyes opened wide as a harsh gasp exploded from her throat, escaping from the memory like rising to the surface of a lake. A heated blush turned her face beet red and in hot, awkward discomfort, she pressed her thighs together, trying to dispel the residual feelings of arousal and hatred that still lingered. Stephanie had been in control of her emotions then, denying any desire she had for the man but in the under-layers her reactions to him being in such a vulnerable state had been overwhelming and powerful. If this was the kind of thing she struggled against daily, Gwen could understand now the rabid control the woman exerted over herself and why it was wearing away so quickly now - and it was hard to know if the emotions were that powerful normally or if they'd become that way from being locked away for so long.

"I know! I need to get some boots like that! Probably in a color that will go well with Gwen's hair," Stephanie was saying, turning to look at Gwen in appraisal for some fashion decision she was making for her post-transfer life. For the slightest moment, Gwen froze guiltily, wondering if her invasion had been detected, but as Noel began offering her own suggestions and Stephanie looked away, she realized the Agent hadn't felt a damn thing. Gwen had immersed herself completely within one of Stephanie's most powerful and emotional recent memories and the woman - who'd slammed her with a blade of static just for touching her mentally - did not even realize what had happened.

Suddenly feeling free to explore without consequence, Gwen returned to her search, albeit with a bit more caution as she passed by the memories relating to the woman's arrogant, suit-wearing partner. One thing that did catch her attention was a recent memory of reporting to Benoit, sharing information about her case and letting him know how dangerous Gwen would eventually become. Abandoning the memory altogether, Gwen followed the root of the information to where Stephanie kept her research and she became excited as she uncovered a list of her abilities and expected power levels. It wasn't just that she recognized a lot of the things on the list that she knew she could do already but the things further down on it that Stephanie theorized she'd eventually be able to do. Could she really control people like puppets? She'd had a little experience with that while pushing her influence on the two lovebirds in the infirmary. But the thoughts she'd toyed with had been like strings flowing from their heads that kept slipping through her fingers whenever she tried to tug them too hard or force them in directions they weren't willing to go. And even then, they'd merely been suggestions, manipulating thoughts and emotions that had already been present within their minds. According to Stephanie's graphs and data charts, Gwen should eventually be able to manipulate people entirely, imposing her will upon their own regardless of what their thoughts really were. Looking at Stephanie, Gwen tried to search for a way to do that, but the woman was latched onto the wheel of her control with an intensity and ferocity that Gwen didn't have the mental strength to wrestle with right now. Besides that, she also noted that Stephanie's theory included a caveat that if her concentration wasn't held firm and completely solid during such a manipulation... Gwen would possibly suffer a mental backlash that might seriously hurt her. Until she figured out how to better influence people's regular thoughts, Gwen decided to wait to even start practicing puppeteering.

Another thing Stephanie's notes said she'd eventually be able to do was change memories. This was something Gwen was actually willing to try right now, since Stephanie seemed so oblivious to Gwen's current invasion of her memory bank. This was gonna be awesome! Okay... but how exactly did someone change another person's memories? After half an hour of chewing over the problem, without finding a solution - and Stephanie's notes weren't very helpful since they just hypothesized what Gwen would be able to do, not HOW she'd be able to do it - Gwen eventually realized that she was occupying Stephanie's head much like it was her own. She'd become familiar enough with accessing things and knowing where certain memories were and what codewords and imagery shorthand Stephanie used for her personal associations - even though some of it was really obscure and hard to keep track of, like the way Rudy connected to candles and Jason connected to Swedish fish and a tall glass of milk. She tried not to focus too much on the reasons behind the imagery of any kind of rope-like material - cord, wire, cable and even fucking string - reminded Stephanie of her partner. So, if this was basically like Gwen was occupying her own mind, then maybe she could erase things or alter things in the same way that she could "forget" or block her own memories.

She didn't know how to touch any of it though, either to erase it or change it to something else. Working off of blueprints Stephanie already had set in place, Gwen decided to just build a wall. It was simple and Stephanie's mind was already used to being cut into layers and separated from itself, so once she began to set the bricks down, they were accepted as familiar and stayed firmly in place. After half an hour of effort, Gwen finally finished putting a barrier around the moment that Stephanie and Jason met, the scene of erotic asphyxiation and professional domination hidden beneath a layer of subconscious material. Looking at Stephanie, the woman was nodding and paying attention to something Noel was saying, only pausing a moment to tuck her stringy blonde hair behind her ear, completely ignorant of what Gwen had done. She supposed that since she wasn't currently focused on Jason, the memory of having met him wasn't missed, despite the rest of their interaction during the past 4 days remaining intact. Jason just "appeared" suddenly in the next moment to unlock the door to Gwen's apartment and Stephanie still blamed him for a failure that she did not confront him about.

Emboldened by this experiment, Gwen took a deep breath and after thinking about it for only a moment, she came up with the idea and began to build a wall around memories of herself, starting with the moment Gwen's case file was set on Stephanie's desk. Slowly, everything vanished behind it, like Stephanie's construction and training with her emotion control program or becoming a fan of Gwen's books. There were some things Gwen was surprised to discover as she passed over them - like the fact that Stephanie had found John Tagman while he was planning a murder-suicide for himself and his favorite author Gwendolyn Stewart and she'd forced him to put a loaded gun into his own mouth and pull the trigger, or the fact that Gwen's case was suggested to her by Graninger, which was why the original plan was to become Gwen in order to win him back; she'd thought he'd hand picked a girl he desired and was subtly instructing Stephanie to become that person. All she ever wanted to do was please him, so her obsession with winning his love eventually became an obsession with her target. But as intrigued as she was, there wasn't any time for her to sit and inspect these things right now.

Stephanie began to devolve into a passive state of confusion at the loss of memories when Gwen started reaching the present with her wall-building, but by that point she was moving so fast that there wasn't much the woman could do to defend against it. It was like something she couldn't grasp right on the tip of her tongue and then in the next instant, she didn't even realize anything was missing because it was already gone. And just like that, the last 4 years and everyone Stephanie met during that time disappeared behind the wall Gwen had created. Even as she stood back to admire her work, she could already see that it wasn't even close to a permanent solution, the 'organic' internal wall wedged between areas of swollen emotion and already sore and divided memories. Gwen and everything she meant to Stephanie - and particularly Jason and the monumental impact he'd made in the short time Stephanie had known him - was just too strong for it to remain safely contained like this and already Gwen could feel the pressure behind the wall pulsating and threatening to put cracks in the newly made barricade. At the very least, it would buy her a couple of hours and really, that was all that Gwen could ask for.

Opening her eyes, Gwen looked over at Stephanie, who was now leaning silently upon the windowsill of the helicopter window, absolutely miserable as she stared out at the sky. As she watched, the woman heaved a melancholy sigh like a love-lorn teenager, still wrapped up in her fantasy world and existing entirely in the past, her mind warped back to the four months after her break-up with Richard Graninger. She was still in the car with Noel but Gwen, along with Gary now, no longer existed for her. She had no target and there was no transfer to look forward to.

Since the EDP shield no longer existed, Gwen was not locked inside Stephanie's head anymore and so when she looked around at the cabin of the helicopter, she saw both Gary and Madeline sitting across from her. The urge to cry suddenly burst within her as she felt the silence around her, the angry, buzzing static having completely vanished, setting her free, with Gary's thoughts filtering and warbling towards her in a comforting, reassuring way. Now that she was released from her psychic captivity, Gwen was done playing around or being gentle about this. She could technically get away with not letting Madeline know that anything wrong had happened to Stephanie's control of her target, and she could do that in hopes that when they reached the ground, some sort of opportunity would present itself and she could catch them all by surprise. But all it would take is one wrong question from Madeline/Noel or a deranged and hallucinating Stephanie to willingly reveal information about her current disregard for the psychic she was supposed to be obsessed with and the whole thing would be blown wide open. Not that there was a lot that Madeline could do to stop her from using her powers but it was better for her to control the reveal of this information than to be caught off guard by it.

Thinking over what her next move should be, Gwen delightedly explored Gary's mind, enjoying the feeling of someone else's thoughts and the sensation that she was no longer cut off from the world. Not to mention that the more she saw inside his head, the more her fondness for Gary grew, Agent or no. Which was also why she was horrified by the amount of abuse the man had suffered during this helicopter ride. His adoration towards his abuser as a result of it was endearing and a little ignorant, but it was no reason he should go on sitting here, immersed in pain for things that he had no control over. Who the fuck did this Madeline person think she was, smacking someone on the fucking head just for thinking excited thoughts? Finding the edge of a thought where he "wished he didn't hurt so much" Gwen latched onto it and planted the suggestion I'm feeling better. This doesn't hurt that much anymore. It was probably dangerous to try to ease his pain by removing his acknowledgment of it - it might make him more bold and end up severely hurting him if Madeline decided to wound him more but he couldn't feel it; pain was the body's way of telling the brain to retreat from harm that was done to it - but she couldn't just let him sit there, tormented by his adoration for these people who deserved none of it. At least with the way she'd phrased it, some of the pain would get through as a warning but he wouldn't be completely crippled by it.

Turning her focus to Madeline, Gwen cautiously stuck her presence out to touch and feel at the Agent's mental signature and was instantly rebuffed by it. The woman's will was like a stone fortress; it was not a formless shield like Stephanie's but it was not a friendly barrier either. Luckily, the pilot did not have the same defenses and as soon as Gwen entered the woman's mind, she knew what she should do next.

"Madeline Bergmann," it was awkward for her mouth to utter that name with such familiarity since she'd never been formally introduced to the woman and yet she felt she knew a lot about her. Once she made sure she had the Agent's attention she took a deep breath, confidence filling her as she continued to speak. "I have disabled my Agent. No. Don't... try to talk to her." Gwen breezily shook her head. "She's not anywhere that you can reach her." As she spoke, Stephanie stared out the window, consumed with depression while lazily drawing broken hearts on the glass with her finger, and ignoring the crack that had been made the second time Madeline threw her phone.

"I'm not going to become a skin to be worn by someone else," Gwen said, determination setting in her chin and cool anger filling her voice. "I would rather die first. I can control the pilot and - DON'T - don't you dare touch me--" she held up a warning finger and sat defensively on her side of the bench, only sparing Gary a small glance. "My finger is literally on the trigger right now and if you make any move towards me, I will force her to fly straight into the ground before you can even so much as twitch." It was a bluff, but she hoped that defeating Stephanie - the one person who'd fucking trained for this - would convince the other woman of her power. The threat was real though; Gwen fully accepted the fact that she might have to follow through whether Madeline got violent or not, and she could by forcing the pilot to forget how to fly. It would take a couple of minutes to build a wall inside the unfamiliar mental landscape and there was no guarantee that she'd be able to finish it before Madeline attacked her. She prayed that Madeline was more reasonable and willing to cooperate than she seemed.

"So," Gwen said with a small raised eyebrow. "Are you going to listen to what I tell you to do and help me escape or do we all die right here and right now? You have 5 minutes to decide before I make the decision for you. I've got nothing to lose." Bitterly, Gwen acknowledged the truth in that, stifling the mournful sorrow that threatened to surface when she remembered Alex and Xander, imagining the one disappeared forever and the other captured and locked away. Waiting and watching Madeline for any sudden movements, she started laying the foundations of her wall inside the pilot's mind, just in case things turned to the worst.


Last edited by Ten on Mon Jun 18, 2012 9:07 am; edited 1 time in total

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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Tartra on Sun Jun 17, 2012 8:58 am

Whrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrn, if he had to describe the sound. Elmira had a delivery of the only type they got. Thankfully Nathan left these systems intact. The lockdown had been lifted, but the stasis cell would have remained upstairs had the transport line and its mobile life support been damaged. Clemens stood formally before the steel doors, in line with Agent Donovan while he waited to inspect the product. The unloading room was separately held for that reason; nothing was received and accepted in their halls without a clearance pass from security. As an A-8, he was qualified to provide it, but he’d stepped back to make room for his A-3’s interest in handling this personally. He, however, on the basis of his loyal years here, expected the gesture to be partially returned.

“May I see the admittance forms?” They were handled by an A-9. Through a series of no replies or outward motions, that A-9 was given orders to supply him with the clipboard. “Thank you.” Through a further series of no replies, the A-9 acknowledged Clemens’ thanks and reminded him to return the board when the package arrived and inspection began. That guy came with the goods. The goods were from the other side of the country. It looked like Agent Donovan’s influence carried farther than just their establishment.

No one was saying they weren’t vicious monsters, but Donovan’s kind had two skills they were known for off the field. Their first was the way they talked to each other. Several of the same type of Pain Eater could hold an hour’s conversation in fifteen minutes, including five of direct discussion. The A-3 had explained it was a useful tool in a clutch where extended eye contact was considered a threat and spoken words were a challenge. If he was to lead the security here, every guard he owned would conform to it. It clouded the air with a hostile edge but the results were impressive, and it helped gauge a new recruit’s integration; those that learned to use their words sparingly were those who had earned a place here – because Donovan would not snap and remove their shoulders. Clemens was relatively exempted. He served as a bridge between those two points. His reward for shepherding their latest additions was a tolerance of his talking. Agent Donovan pointed it out to the few other PE stationed here in recent years. Those rarely stayed for more than weeks, but each had left referencing how at ease they’d felt. There were no better words, and it spread their second oddity: they were the only division in the Agency whose members actively liked each other. Security squabbled, tech squabbled, research squabbled, management clawed at their peers’ faces and a Pain Eater would stick their hand on a knife before they formally broke their bonds. Specifically that didn’t hold much weight considering sticking their hands on a knife was their entrance test, but they – regardless – had a level of group cohesiveness the so-called ‘civilized’ Agency cliques – meaning everyone else – hadn’t discovered. He supposed it wasn’t such a bad thing they’d been getting to do what they wanted again. For the last six years, they’d been watched closely. Around the globe, their numbers had fell. Security tried not to mind thanks to the coyote-eat-Chihuahua relationship the two had built, but the silence flowing from Charlton’s gates was loud on their end. Pain Eaters might not have stopped what hit, but with no information, they would have served as a sign of the fight’s severity. On the other side, he personally knew of seven local bases who would appreciate that support. The way he saw it, any step they took to calm themselves in management’s view was a step towards replenishing them. There had been a bad apple; they couldn’t keep being punished. But along with it, any step that took the security off their... admittedly superior rivals’ radar was a welcome relief in case their numbers did regrow. There was no denying the timing of the Pain Eater purge and the drop in security-born complaints of Agent against Agent attacks.

“It doesn’t say who this was sent by,” Clemens said. Now he understood Agent Donovan’s interest. “Patten.”

God dammit. But who else would pull a stasis cell from the West Coast? It was a territory notorious for being left alone when the peace broke, and insisting on completing the shipment to here despite their circumstances – they no longer had a lockdown and Team F consisted of twelve people. The other teams had a minimum of fourteen, and his was not just made of newbies to this role, but well-advertised for that fact. It wasn’t enough Eric tempted fate alone; the Agency itself had to laugh at death.

Right. This was his problem now. Nothing more was added to Patten’s involvement other than it mostly likely existed, would absolutely inconvenience them, but would inexplicably work out if they kept to the instructions. The details in the cell’s description sheets did not make him feel better. Tell him they were hauling in a wondrous mutant who could spit fire that turned into candy and cured cancer, and he would accept the ill timing, but this was somebody normal. It’d require exactly the same strain of care, but with only twelve men to around, it was not what he could afford to give. Then there was the issue of where to put this. Patten had requested a separate room, separate power supply, as if it wouldn’t have to be dug out of the dirt. More than that, a separate room – Patten would get it – would be one more place to have to patrol. Clemens wanted his team concentrated. His first order of business would have been to seal every section they could do without for a night, intending to push the base back to its core environment until the other guards returned and they could watch more of the lab. Nathan and the Archives were their highest priority and enough space already swam around them. A separate room... Might as well leave it to fend for itself. If they were hit, they wouldn’t group in time to protect it.

“He’s hanging us out to dry.” Clemens straightened up, mildly distracted by the sound of his uniform shifting from the movement. His rifle was in hand but off to the side. He didn’t have to use it yet. “Agent Patten may be confident in sending things here after he pulls our forces out, but we can’t fill our minimums.”

“He’s accounted for it.”

Agent Donovan’s voice was low.

“I’m glad you trust him.” The grip of his gun was reassuring. “I have a lot to learn from you.”

“Trust that he’s an A-1,” Donovan said flatly.

There was a chasm of difference between him and Clemens. Donovan was calm and in control. Whatever he spoke was uttered with such certainty, it sounded final no matter where the conversation was. He stood in the typical high-rank Agent position: shoulders back, head up, arms folded behind his body and hands resting in the small of his back. At a glance, outside of the man’s size, nobody would know he was a Pain Eater. In contrast, Clemens doubted anyone could tell he was supposed to be a team leader. With the way he had his rifle out – without noticing, he’d grabbed it with both hands once the cargo elevator began arriving – and the defensive stance he’d fallen into, he looked like a child. Worse, he looked inexperienced. Next to a PE, that was the lowest thing to be. They started training at 12. Unofficially, of course.

Clemens scratched at his brow and pulled away to realize he was sweating because of this. His head was shaved as well, but it’d grown in slightly. Now the beads were collecting in his short spikes of brown hair. In a wordless speech, Agent Donovan told him to grow up. Clemens was testing his patience. He gave the only sign that mattered: he relaxed and took one hand off his gun. This could now be perceived as strict caution rather than fear. There was nothing to fear, and he would repeat that until he believed it. Donovan rolled his attention away, reattaching it to the sound of the elevator, but the condescension hadn’t left. The A-3 was 44; Clemens was 45. He didn’t appreciate being thought of as an amateur. Clemens had been here longer. He remembered the day Agent Donovan appeared, and remembered offering to show him the facilities. The offer had been quite politely refused.

Yes, there were ‘types’. Technically, Donovan was of the bad ones, but those were surprisingly civil during their daily attempts to converse. The ‘good’ PEs kept a constant level of hyperactivity, and they earned the title because they stayed so consistent – and obedient – even in a fight. It made them ‘level-headed’, and therefore management’s favourites. When one like Donovan broke loose, which was often amongst them, the earth split. They were not the kind to keep as pets. Patten had paved the way for that as well – with Nathan. Parts of Nathan, anyway. But that was classified information he didn’t have, in case anyone asked. He as equally didn’t know management had been trying to replicate the A-1’s efforts in a better, more stable way. Aggros were wolves, as Weist would say, the unbearable gossip. They picked their own fights as they roamed through their forest; they would hunt, but when they chose to. The term used was ‘mentally unbound’ instead of ‘independent’, and that said all it had to about the higher ranks’ appreciation for it. The lower ranks liked it – depended on it, because Aggros were also unstoppable balls of rage when they decided to explode. They did not stop until they or their victim had died, and their power for turning the tide in an instant was unbearably admired by the Agents they worked with for such-and-such assignment. The fact they always filled that role without question made them preferred by strike teams for that consistency. Defs were junkyard dogs; miserably insane storms of feral hate for whatever dropped inside their fence. They had too much energy and constantly needed work. Aggros merely had to know there was an enemy to prepare for to be satisfied; Defs required tasks, and babysitters. They were bodyguards for the elite, obsessively devoted to their supervisors – the fence, in this tale. They liked knowing they weren’t responsible for thinking for themselves to the extreme that making their own decisions brought them a mental wound. They demanded someone explain what they could and could not do so they could then run around inside their playpen without having to question its size or location. They were slaves and had no problem with it, but they’d go to their graves swearing they were equals. What the ‘soup’ wanted, they’d make sure was done, but under the guise of a favour. It didn’t need the emphasis, but once again: Defs were management’s favourites. They could be trained easily; Aggros, meanwhile, were simply unleashed.

Grace leashed one.

The Agency was sure everything could be improved. They wanted an explosive hybrid for high-risk locations, but Aggros did not care to sit around and strategize. They certainly did not patrol for an enemy who might never appear. Classified, always classified, but the first attempt – pushing a defensive PE to the Aggro side – had worked far too well. The junkyard dog had gone to the forest and it destroyed everything on sight, desperately searching for its master. When it was resolved, they tried the other way: Aggro to Def, putting the wolf behind a fence, just like at the zoo. They got lazy and lost the motivation to keep up their training or obey. Clemens heard through Weist that two of them – there had been five – were slaughtered because they had grown weak. Details were fuzzy around it. They returned to the Def-Aggro idea: better, much better, but still disastrous when sent out. Back and forth, back and forth, until finally Dr. Li had had enough attacks from the Anti-Agents. She went down to the National Centre and dragged Donovan out, told him he could have all the fights he wanted until he had cleaned away the mess, then fed him easy jobs until he put the figurative collar on himself. The lead position followed, to everyone’s grave concern. He was more suited for the job than even Dr. Li expected, but the issue remained with bringing one of them past A-4: they never forgot their training and it frequently resurfaced. The managerial role was permanently at odds with their instincts. Donovan changed many truths about what could be done by his type, but the fear he’d self-destruct would be neither affirmed nor reconsidered until he crossed the finish line through death or his retirement. Before then, at most he was setting a record. Few perceptions flipped on the back of those; regardless, the Agency was awed – frightened, but awed, and Dr. Li shrugged it off as a minor success. Agent Patten, to no one’s surprise, was supposedly heavily involved. At the very least, the A-1 supplied the nice and easy approach. That burst of inspiration was a small thought eluding the Agency from the start. Little restraint resided here. Clemens, personally, was curious as to where Patten had caught it, and then why he was so convinced, with an Aggro-Def trailing after Dr. Li, the reverse was suddenly in their reach, but the project was shut down shortly after. The Alexander incident took precedence, and as a result, Donovan was alone. Dr. Li loved one-of-a-kinds. It was a match made in Eric Patten’s dictation of what Heaven should have been for them. That he often referenced it as a portion of the debt she owed him stood for something. The project had stopped; it wasn’t over. Patten did not leave debts uncollected. The mesmerizing part was his remembering them all.

Whrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrn. The transport’s pistons were heading home. The scale of lights tracking the height of the lift was winding down. The hiss of decompression when the line’s machinery reached the bottom was the last external mention made of the package’s arrival. The A-9 was then not-told to confirm the transportation’s completion. This was done, and the steel doors slid open. Clemens waited, his other hand back on the gun and the clipboard returned. Nothing leapt out. Donovan approached it. So far, the process was its dull self. Clemens savoured the boring narrative. The earlier part of this night had been too damn exciting. He was sure Charlton would say the same. Agent Donovan had other plans. In a feeble departure from routine, he ignored the delivery officers when they approached in favour of sniffing around the stasis cell immediately. It was an older model, far older than what Elmira already had. What the A-3 ignored, Clemens frowned towards, marking it as significant and realizing Team F’s last roster of suits had brushed off on him: the model label on the cell’s uppermost lip of its mechanical cap carried a version letter. These days, cells carried version words because the Agency had run out of alphabet. Single letter models were decommissioned due to the lack of access they offered their scientists in understanding the empty mind – had it been transferred out of – that was inside. Unless they hadn’t passed the grace period, bodies of employees were always studies, and the date of storage for this was at a time when better cells were available. There was little reason for choosing this antique, then not bothering to put its resident somewhere else over the years. This was intentional. Someone didn’t want this body disturbed. Clemens’ frown deepened. The stasis cells had macabre reputations; he didn’t enjoy the implications that this one was a trophy. It was hard to deny, however. Was it Patten’s doing?

The glass of the unit was cased for shipping and the name wasn’t written on the sheets. He pushed closer, mindful of his distance to Donovan, and checked the tag on… Mystery solved. Still, it was anyone’s guess for why the absolutely-a-trophy was here.

“Agent Donovan,” he said. “It’d be best to put the cell in the archives. A separate room –”

“A-1 orders are A-1 orders.” Donovan was satisfied by the cell’s apparent state. The officers brought him the admittance forms, careful not to see as they were watching him fill it in. “I’ll escort.”

“Yes, sir.” He could focus on establishing a perimeter before March arrived. “Regarding our equipment?” Permission to speak. Then he’d ask now to keep Weathers from later claiming any credit for the ‘advice’. “Team F would be better prepared were we advancingly outfitted.” The rookie team wanted bigger guns. God help them.

“Return everything by morning.”

“Yes, sir.” Agent Donovan either recognized the extreme risk of being outnumbered or was rewarding them for bringing Nathan in. Clemens was firmly content with this. His men’s morale was sorely bruised by having to stay behind. “Thank you.”

“Take one to the Archives and I show you the inside of your neck.” These words were said nonchalantly, as an easy explanation of events. This was largely why he’d been successful here: Donovan was both his driver and his whip. Management preferred to keep the two separate and pass enforcement onto a lackey in case the worst should happen and the governing Agent needed some manner of scapegoat. Their head of security had no reserves against dirtying his hands, lifting the delay between an A-3 taking a walk, leaving his or her dragon unsupervised with the screw-up, and the reissuance of orders or whatever else after the lesson was taught. Clemens had been briefed on his assignment as Team F’s lead while the ribs of the old one were crushed into powder. It was motivating. “Move.”

Clemens did. Leaving the delivery to be settled, he went back down the halls to navigate the debris in the way of his way location and where he’d made the others wait. ‘Team F, report in’ did not mean ‘Team F, report in’. Donovan couldn’t stand this roster’s breathing for over thirty seconds; therefore, for their safety, Clemens went to talk to him alone. They’d come the closest to hitting his self-destruct nerve. There wasn’t a damn occasion when he’d neatly sat them together and completed his news. Someone would interrupt. With the egos, the gossips and the sight-seers – respectively Weathers, Weist and their public-side transfer, Franklin – he should have been grateful he wasn’t starting from scratch, but wasn’t. Scratch was a comfort Elmira wasn’t treated to for the sake of their fragile inventory, and so he blandly braced himself for the reunion. He heard their voices from four corners away. It was as good as tying bells to them.

“Shut up, everybody. Get organized.” Team F did not organize. He’d burned through a week teaching them to stand when he arrived and he’d need another five for them to stop rolling their eyes during it. Army boys, region recruits, local lab guards, Salcon security… He’d just assumed one of them would have an idea of how to behave. Dicks like Weathers or naïve like the Pubby: those were the camps he was stuck with. The low morale had grown to being pissed off. “All right.” Nowhere close. He was missing people. “Who disappeared?” Collectively, they shrugged. This was on a solid start. “Find them after. We have a defence drawn. Six of you close every quadrant outside the path between the Archives and Nathan’s present room.”

“So we are doing this by ourselves,” one said. “When do the other teams get back?”

“Tomorrow, if Charlton is controlled.”

“Today-tomorrow or tomorrow-tomorrow? ‘Cause it’s – like…” By all means, check your watch. “2:00 AM.”

God damn, this roster asked the stupidest fucking questions.

“I imagine it’ll be tomorrow-tomorrow,” Clemens told them. Underwood was grinning underneath the half-face mask he wore. It was the closest to graduating from the intro team, and by now, he understood and was able to enjoy Clemens’ frustration. “They’re not your concern. Which six –”

“We need better guns,” Weathers said. He thought so because he always did. Of the mix they had, Weathers was the most prolific. He’d working in a building that’d housed stasis cells before. It’d been a small drop-off area between freight points, the kind used when an alert went out and these shipments required shielding and shelter. It was the highest volume of relevant experience that could be asked for to station here, and knowing this, Weathers took it upon himself to educate the others on his opinion. All others. Once, only once, including Donovan. It stood as the sole instance he couldn’t properly say he’d been reprimanded because he was black. Adapting, Weathers swore it was because Donovan was a crazy Pain Eater. This would never be said to Donovan’s face or even thought when the crazy PE was around. Clemens had noticed a hypocritical attempt at modelling himself recently, however. Agent Donovan didn’t wear his uniform’s jacket because who care and who would tell him otherwise. Where was Weathers’? “Ask him.”

“I did. I’m not discussing it now,” he rebuked. “Which –”

“There can’t be a plan in place without knowing what’s available.”

“You ask, Weathers,” Weist said. “Use your soul power.”

“Fuck off. It’s not my job, it’s his job.” And Weathers would terror-pee before the second word. “Are we getting better guns?”

“We –”

Are there better guns?” Goddammit. Franklin had started.

“Of course there are, you dumbass. This isn’t Salcon," Weathers sneered. "We use real weapons.”

“There’s better guns and we didn’t use them on Nathan?!” Clemens had a headache. He barely knew the other Agents’ names since he spent his time handling these three. Franklin’s thing was being shocked by every tidbit swept his way, and because it made him Weist’s perfect audience, he was very often shocked. “Were we not trained to use them or did the others take them?”

“Both. Shut up,” Clemens snapped. “Six of you – who’s closing off the outside quadrants?” For once, there were volunteers. “Good. Another two will place the way from the entrance to the transfer room on standby.”

‘Is that still happening?”

“Yes, and those same two will also escort our guests during their use of our facility. Who –”

“I’ll do it if I get a better gun.” Clemens tried to ignore that, but Weathers persisted. “It’s a Patten-backed transfer into a psychic during a refused lockdown and an attack against the Agency. We need better guns. You should have thought of that.”

“And I’ve seen to it,” he bit out. It took effort but he avoiding staggering over Weathers’ huffy disruption of ‘Thank you’. Here was another side effect of the PE’s diminished numbers. Like the deer who chewed through the forests without wolves to thin the herd, so too had security tripled on being smart mouths without the fear of that arrogance being used on one of them One open example would be all it took, and he’d wondered about asking for a Pain Eater to join based on the reasoning. It’d speed the integration tenfold. It’d also be mending a cut by losing the limb; Clemens wasn’t trained to oversee Defs or Aggros. Perhaps he should look into it. “Weathers and someone, get a path and have it ready to close. The other four –” He braced. “– will be handling –” Further bracing. “– the re-outfitting –” And he was hit by an explosive outrage from… it should be obvious. “Do you have a complaint, Weathers?”

Indeed, and a big one, and he was ready to react to fullest extent of the word. He didn’t, and Clemens saw the whole group shuffle down. The escort was underway, then. He heard the grinding of the wheels on the floor. Excellent timing, sir. Weathers buttoned his fucking mouth. Suddenly, the young man was a mouse, as if they wanted another demonstration of how helpful a Pain Eater was. Clemens felt like their publicist. To be honest, he’d been equally as intolerable when he’d joined. The difference was in what’d been on the table to break him from it. Kids today…

Donovan and the delivery officers came around the bend. The stasis cell among them was being driven by a remote in the left officer’s hands. They were silent, the way they should be. With Donovan in the lead and eye contact inevitable, Clemens chose to put it to use. Well before they were close enough to suitably acknowledge each other, they had a productive chat. He asked the A-3 if any help was required with the escort or sub-task that might have revealed itself. Donovan told him no and inquired into whether Clemens was done arranging his team. He expressed that two preliminary goals had been provided – while it wasn’t so magical that that precise message went across, the general sense of him having started went through – but there were disturbances. Donovan was not surprised and wanted to know who the cause of it was today. This was the most difficult part and Clemens’ knack for it was underdeveloped. Pointing involved a heft throw of his attention to something specific. The army boys would’ve understood the idea’s mechanics: he was painting a target with his focus for Donovan to hone in on. He cheated by turning to face Weathers. At least he wasn’t so bad to have to stare at the idiot. Those who were good at this didn’t have to turn to mark their victim; those who were very good could be so subtle as to avoid making it public. Clemens was on the top of a mountain shouting with a bullhorn. Anyone with the slightest hint to what he was doing would know who’d been put under a spotlight. Underwood did. Franklin didn’t. Weist guessed. Weathers had no idea, but his subconscious must have noticed. It had to have – and Donovan, unsurprised again, loosed a mood that nobody had to see to interpret. That was how it was done. The A-3 never had to stop walking.

“Weathers,” Agent Donovan said.

“Sir,” Weathers mumbled, not looking up.

Like a cow with a broken leg being stalked by a hungry wolf.

Yes, he was using the metaphor on purpose. It was highly applicable.

Clemens was pleased with this far more than he should have been, and it hit a new height as Donovan, unmistakably lured by his PE sensibilities, made the drivers and the stasis cell stop while he went to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Drop-Off Boy. And then waited. And stared at him. Weathers was the second tallest on Team F and he was being dwarfed badly. Showing foresight, he continued to not look up, but Donovan wasn’t leaving without a definitive assent. Weathers should have thanked him for this. The peculiar communication was best learned through what stood for I am going to hurt you. It was their Rosetta stone. The rest of the team picked it up, too. Finally, pathetically, he squeezed his eyes shut. That was his assent. It was embarrassing and Clemens was sure to put Weist in charge of constantly mentioning it, but he allowed himself to dole a thread of empathy. There were two ends Donovan made to read: shutting the guard up for the night, and shutting the guard up for later. This was not the first instance of Weathers being addressed; last time, it’d been on the back of the severe on-field complication it caused. Those who acted like a child would be treated as one.

“Weathers.”

Twice. About now was when the team agreed: oh shit.

“… Yes?”

“Put your jacket on.”

The ‘okay’ to that was mandatory. Appeased, Donovan carried on through them, the stasis cell and officers following.

All right. This was an improvement.

“Agent Weathers,” Clemens said, his voice quite relaxed, “do you need to vomit?” A nod, and simply that. For an hour, anyway. “Go. You.” Someone else. “Go with him. Secure the way to the transfer room.”

And then there were ten. Now who the hell should he worry about?

“Higeuros,” Weist instantly said. Mystery solved. “You see the name on there?

“Fuck yeah, man. Big T’s home.”

A murmur of excitement passed through the group. It responsibly went away as the finished sharing knowing looks. Clemens allowed it from a lack of choice, but it – “What was the name?”

Goddammit. And again, without a breath to waste, Weist told him, “‘T. Elias’, Pubby. Come on – you’ve gotta’ve heard of him.”

Don’t you fucking dare. Clemens slipped in before the Pubby budged his jaw.

“He’s a Pain Eater who tried to transfer. Back on task,” he ordered. “Four of you will handle the outfitting. I expect restraint. A lot of what’s in the weapons cache is on order for ranks actually important. As A-10s, you only have the barest say here; if a better Agent punches you, you’re allowed to say ‘ow’. That’s it. So that means I can and will, if you so much as breathe on an A-3’s toys, feed you to the first Pain Eater I see.”

Franklin said, “That one?”

… The stupidest.

“No. Not that one.”

The Pubby blinked. Then he chuckled and said, “Oh – ha! No, not Donovan. I meant the one in the stasis cell.”

… Unimaginably stupid.

“That guy’s dead, Pubby,” Weist explained. “It’s ‘tried to transfer’, not ‘did’.”

“Oh.” They saw it building. Dammit. Goddammit – “Pain Eaters can transfer?”

Don’t – “He got caught in a rule change. Family feud,” Weist answered.

“What’s a feud have to do with a rule change?”

GOD DAMN IT.

Clemens was covered by the frenzied cries of astonishment, with Weist at its front loudly proclaiming, “You don’t know about the Eliases? They’re a fucking PSA on what not to do as an Agent!” Further in the din, he also heard Higeuros add, “There’s three on the public side,” and Franklin shout back, “Not everyone who works for Salcon is best friends.”

Shut the fuck up.” They did. Clemens’ throat ached. “You ladies can have your fucking tea party after, or else you’ll watch this base with your bare fucking hands!” Someone snickered. He was sick to fucking death of these assholes. “Quit the fucking ADD. You’re professionals.”

“Professionals like Weathers?” Team F snorted, rallying around one Agent’s – Gordon? – sentiment. “That guy’s a prick.”

“We heard you, boss,” Higeuros threw in. “Six close, two run standby, the rest get us some fuckin’ gats.” They liked that. “What else is there to tell us?”

Not to screw this? Not to get themselves killed? Team J had managed it and Donovan had personally commended one of them. What warning could he give that’d be accountably followed?

“Just use your heads,” Clemens decided on disdainfully. “Stay out of Donovan’s way.”

“Have some hope, Clemmy,” Weist said. The army gents saluted. The rest gave acknowledging bobs of their head, then headed out in a pack. “‘Kay – so what’s everyone wanna hear first: Public vs. Private, Dylan vs. Lawrence, Dylan vs. Trevor or the joy that is Marshall?”

There wasn’t a sigh deep enough to clarify his ambivalence. Closing the outside quadrants gave them 1/16 of the lab to defend, and that was by protocol a two team job. Whatever attacked Charlton didn’t pose a threat by still being in the area; it was posed by moving to higher ground. Their warehouse entrance was on a hill, and yesterday, it’d been cracked open. A joy indeed. Clemens went back to what Donovan had said, about trusting Eric Patten as an A-1. The man would have accounted for their lives as he pulled back the lockdown. Someone so high up on the chain must have seen a larger picture. If he was having hope, he wasn’t putting it in the rookies; it was going to Agent Patten to bail them out should – when – the need be realized.

In Eric, they trusted.

Because now, there was no one else.

* * *

WELL. THIS WAS… QUITE… A RAMPANT TURN OF EVENTS. SHE LOOKED TO MARCH, THEN TO THE DOG, BEFORE FIXING HER EYES BACK ON STEWART. HER CAPTOR DID CERTAINLY SEEM INDISPOSED AS THE GIRL PROMISED. AS FOR THE DOG… NEVER MIND THAT THING. HIS EYES WERE WIDE AND PUFFY BEHIND HIS STUPID GLASSES AND HE WAS SUDDENLY MORE ALERT, CAUGHT IN A WAR BETWEEN VOICING HIS NEW CONCERNS AND ACTUALLY LEARNING FROM HIS LAST ATTEMPTS. HE DIDN’T TALK. GOOD BOY. MADELINE HAD BIGGER FISH TO FRY AND SHE WAS NOT SAVING ROOM FOR A TADPOLE. THERE HAD BEEN SOMETHING GOING ON. MARCH’S FORLORN SIGHS HAD SHARPLY REPLACED HER PRATTLING, AND ALTHOUGH THERE WERE A MULTITUDE OF POSSIBLE REASONS, HER THOUGHTS HAD JUMPED TO THE GRANDEST: STEWART WAS FIGHTING BACK. ON ITS OWN, IT WAS ALMOST… INSPIRATIONAL. IT WAS ALSO VERY, VERY BAD FOR BUSINESS. DANIELLE WOULD HAVE LOST HER MIND.

MADELINE ASSUMED THERE WAS A MIND FOR HER TO LOSE AGAIN. DANIELLE PLANNED TO SWITCH WITH DALTON DURING THE CHARLTON SKIRMISH. WOULD MADELINE THEN DARE TO CALL HER ON AN UNSECURED, UNRECOGNIZED LINE? NO. IT WASN’T ONLY THAT THE SWEDE WOULDN’T ANSWER, BUT THEY ALREADY KNOW THE WOMAN’S COMMAND: ‘BERGMANN, PUT HER DOWN.’ PARALYZE, POISON, BREAK THE GIRL’S LEGS – DO SOMETHING BECAUSE THEY HAD A PLAN. THEY NEEDED THIS TRANSFER TO BEGIN AND THEN FAIL FOR PATTEN TO KNOW THEY WERE NOT SIMPLY THE END TO THE AGENCY; THEY WERE COMING FOR HIM. THEY ALL AGREED TO IT. SO MADELINE WOULD NOT CAL. ALMOST AS DETERMINEDLY, SHE TURNED AGAINST THE CHOICE TO CRYPTIC. THEIR REPLY WAS EVEN MORE PREDICTABLE: ‘IT IS A SIGN THIS IS NOT MEANT TO BE’. THE OAF WOULD TURN THE MERE MOMENT THEY HEARD OF IT – NOT BECAUSE HE FEARED AGENT IDIOT, BECAUSE HE HAD SUCCUMBED TO HIS HORROR IN A WAY THAT NOTHING MORE COULD BE DONE TO TERRIFY HIM, BUT BECAUSE HE LIVED BY THE ‘WILL OF HIS PEOPLE’. UTTER CROCK. HIS PEOPLE LIVED IN A FILTER OF IGNORANCE. THEY ASKED PURPOSELY TO NOT BE TOLD WHEN SUCH AN OFFENSIVE SLIGHT WAS MADE AGAINST PATTEN’S WARES. CRYPTIC WAS ALONE IN HIS KNOWLEDGE OF ELMIRA’S PURPOSE. HE WOULD BE MUCKING WITH MARCH’S ASPIRATIONS WHEN SHE STRAPPED IN, NOT THE BRANCH. HE STILL NEEDED THEM, HOWEVER. HIS POWERS WEREN’T SUITED TO FORCE IN WITHOUT HELP. EVERYTHING THEREFORE HINGED ON HOW HIS PEOPLE REACTED, AND BECAUSE THE MAN COULD NOT BRING HIMSELF TO HIDE ANYTHING – WHAT WAS THE POINT, WHEN OMNIPOTENT PATTEN WOULD EVENTUALLY UNCOVER IT – MADELINE WOULD SPARE THEM THEIR GRIEF OF FREEDOM. BESIDES, BOTH DANIELLE AND CRYPTIC WERE INAPPROPRIATELY SUITED TO GIVE THEIR OPINION. THIS WAS AN AGENCY MATTER, WAS IT NOT? SHE SHOULD THINK LIKE AN AGENT.

THIS WAS NOT HER TARGET. IT WAS MARCH’S, BUT SHE HAD BEEN OVERCOME. THE DOG WAS OF NO USE. THE PILOT WAS COMPROMISED. WHAT MEASURE OF CONCERN WAS SHE SUPPOSED TO PROVIDE? OBVIOUSLY SHE NEEDED STEWART TO BE ALIVE AT THE END; BEYOND THE BOTCHED TRANSFER, HER TICKET TO GAINING ENTRY LONG ENOUGH TO DISAPPEAR, THE AGENTS WOULD SWEEP HER UP IN A WHIRLWIND OF INTERROGATIONS AS TO WHY THE GIRL WAS DEAD. THERE WOULD BE A LENGTHY INVESTIGATION INTO WHETHER HER ACTIONS WERE JUSTIFIED, UNDOUBTEDLY COMPLICATED BY PATTEN’S INTEREST INTO THE CASE, AND FURTHER REPRIMANDS ON HER SELF-DEFENSIVE TACTICS – AGAINST THEIR ALLEGED MISSION TO ELIMINATE THE DANGER ‘THEY’ CAUSED – FOR KILLING SOMEONE SO DANGEROUS THAT STEWART CAME FULL CIRCLE TO PROTECTED, ACCORDING TO THEM… NO, MADELINE WOULD NOT KILL HER, FOR PERSONAL REASONS AND IN FOLLOWING THE AGENCY’S DIRECTIVE. THEN WHAT COULD SHE DO? SHE NEVER READ THE FILE! STEWART COULD HAVE PUT SOMETHING UNSTOPPABLE IN THE PILOT’S HEAD THAT MIGHT NOT SHATTER IF MADELINE KNOCKED HER COLD. AND MARCH – INSUFFERABLE – WAS… DRAWING HEARTS? COME ON, WOMAN – HAVE SOME DIGNITY! SHE WAS POUTING LIKE A SCHOOLGIRL! WHAT DID SHE HAVE TO BE SAD ABOUT?

PATTEN WOULD KNOW. THERE WAS NO HESITANCE IN ADMITTING IT. MADELINE HAD GIVEN HIM WHAT HE WANTED ALREADY, HOWEVER. IN THE STUPID GAME HE WAS PLAYING, SHE LOST HER LEVERAGE. SHE DOUBTED HE WOULD BITE IF SHE THREATENED HIS NEW FAVOURITES AND SHE SHUDDERED TO THINK OF WHAT HE WOULD COLLECT IF SHE ASKED FOR A FAVOUR. CRYPTIC’S FEAR PIERCED THAT LEVEL OF HER: NO MATTER WHERE IN THE WORLD SHE FLED, LEAVING WITH DEBT OWED TO HIM GAVE HIM HER LIFE. IT WASN’T WORTH IT SIMPLY TO ASK WHAT STEWART WAS CAPABLE OF. THE BOYFRIEND WAS AN OPTION BUT…MADELINE CROSSED HER ARMS TIGHTER. DEEP IN HER HEART, SHE’D ALREADY CONCOCTED A PLAN. DAMMIT. NO, SHE TOLD HERSELF. THE BRANCHES OF YESTERYEAR WOULD HAVE MORE THAN APPLAUDED HER STRATEGY. THEY DIDN’T WASTE THEIR TIME WITH PETTY MESSAGES LIKE THEY WERE EXCITING THE CROWD FOR A SHOW. THEY WERE STRICT ABOUT THEIR CAUSE AND SENSIBLY BROUGHT TO ITS CORE: A CAPTIVE WAS TO BE RELEASED AND AIDED IN AN ESCAPE. HER MIND WAS AS STEELY AS THE VAULT IN HER BURNED BUILDING, BUT ONLY ONE PHRASE FILLED ITS CORNERS, AND THAT WAS A SILVER ‘I SHOULD LET HER GO’.

AND SHE COULD NOT DO THAT.

COULD SHE?

NO. NO. THE OLD BRANCHES HAD FALLEN FOR A REASON. THEY COULDN’T KEEP DOING THE SAME THINGS AND EXPECT TO SUCCEED! THE ORIGINAL POWERS WASTED THEIR RESOURCES SAFEGUARDING EVERY PERSON THEY FOUND. THIS WAS THE NEW WAVE. THIS WAS THE CHANGE IN EXECUTION. DID SHE AGREE WITH IT, THE SACRIFICES REQUIRED? NO, NEVER, BUT IF IT WAS WHAT IT TOOK TO WIN IN THE LONG RUN, IT WAS WORSE TO DEFY THE NEW ALLIANCE AND GO HER OWN WAY. THEN THERE WERE THREE RESTRICTIONS IN EFFECT: NO KILLING, NO RELEASING, AND KNOCKING OUT THE GIRL WAS A GAMBLE SHE DID NOT WANT TO MAKE. NOT YET. STEWART WAS SCARED AND VULNERABLE. IN MADELINE’S EXPERIENCE, THAT MEANT SHE WAS OPEN TO WHATEVER SHE DID NOT PERCEIVE AS A THREAT. CONVERSATION, THEN, WAS AVAILABLE.

RIGHT AFTER SHE CALLED HER CAT.

“FIVE MINUTES,” SHE SAID. “I INTEND TO USE THEM. DOG!” SHE THREW THE PHONE AT HIM. THIS TIME, HE FUMBLINGLY CAUGHT IT. “CALL MY KITTY.”

“Yuh... huh?”

“MY CAT, YOU DOLT,” SHE BARKED AT HIM. THAT CERTAINLY SET HIM IN MOTION. HE WAS DIALLING FURIOUSLY AND WOULD HER PET ON THE LINE SHORTLY. USES HAD TO MADE OF THESE PEOPLE FOR AS LONG AS SHE WORE THE A-2 BADGE. “I TRUST YOU WILL ALLOW THIS. I NEED HIS INPUT.”

HOW MUCH OF THAT WAS TRUE? THIS WAS NOT HIS TARGET, EITHER. MADELINE DID NOT BELIEVE MARCH WOULD HAVE SPENT ANY GREAT LENGTH DISCUSSING THE FINEST DETAILS STEWART’S ABILITIES. AGENTS HOARDED THE MOST INTIMATE DATA IN POSSESSIVE PARANOIA. STILL, IT WOULD BE WISE TO HAVE HIS WORD ON A COURSE OF ACTION. IN MANY WAYS, IT WOULD BE THE BEST: HE WAS INHERENTLY IN TUNE WITH THE DESIRE TO KEEP THIS GIRL ALIVE, HE HAD HAD SOME EXPERIENCE OF HER, HE WAS PROFESSIONAL AND WOULD SUBMIT TO HER AUTHORITY... AND HE WAS FRENCH. TRULY, ALL SHE WOULD HAVE TO LOOK OUT FOR WAS... WELL. HE WAS WHO HE WAS. HIS SUBMISSION TO AUTHORITY WAS IMPRESSIVELY INTACT DESPITE HIS DREADFUL HABIT OF WRIGGLING OUT OF LOCKS, BUT HIS SPECIALTY HAD BEEN THE BRANCHES AND HE’D PLAYED A HEFTY ROLE IN THEIR COLLAPSE. ALEXANDER HAD BEEN A CHARMING DISTRACTION, BUT BECAUSE OF JEAN, HOW FAR FROM HIS MIND HAD THE ANTI-AGENTS WANDERED? NOW THIS IN CHARLTON. IT MUST HAVE REKINDLED SOMETHING.

“.. ith a cat – I duhn knuh, but ith a cat –”

DUMMKOPF!” THE DOG BRIGHTLY SHIED AWAY. “AGENT LAMARRE.”

THE MORON HAD CALLED PUBLIC DIRECTORY. HE HUNG UP, ONLY TO GIDDILY SCROLL THROUGH SOME SORT OF LIST AND DROOLINGLY PROCLAIM, “Ohhhhh! Yuh – uh huhv hith numbuh here!”

WHAT THE HELL WAS HE DOING WITH HER KITTY’S PHONE NUMBER? ... POSITIVELY NEVER MIND. SHE TOOK THE PHONE BACK.

THERE WAS THE CODE, SET TO DIAL WHEN SHE PRESSED THE GREEN BUTTON. THE STRING OF DIGITS WAS ASTUTELY LINED UP – UNDER ‘ALEXANDER GUY’ – AND AWAITING HER SIGNAL. HER FINGER HOVERED OVER IT AN INSTANT LONGER THAN IT SHOULD HAVE. SHE HEARD HIS NAME AGAIN – HIS REAL ONE – ECHO AROUND HER. HE WAS HER KITTY, BUT HE WAS ALSO THE ONE WHO MADE A LIFE OUT OF HUNTING THEM DOWN AND SCORCHING THE EARTH THEY MEANT TO FLEE TO. AND SHE WANTED TO HAVE A CHAT TO DISCUSS... WHAT, EXACTLY? WHAT WOULD HE SAY? ONE MINUTE OF SPEAKING WITH HIM WAS ENOUGH TO PROVE HE DID NOT BLINDLY RUSH TO ANSWERS, BUT WHATEVER HE TOLD HER, NOTWITHSTANDING THE CARE HE APPLIED TO HIS COUNSEL, WAS NOT GOING TO ABSOLVE HER OF HER DUTY TO BRING STEWART IN TO HAVE HER BRAIN CARVED AND REHOUSED. THEN... SHE SUPPOSED... SHE WANTED HIM TO DECIDE BETWEEN THE SCANT OPTIONS: TO DO WHATEVER SHE COULD TO DIFFUSE THIS PROBLEM OR NOT TO GET INVOLVED AND... LET WHATEVER COME TO PASS.

THIS POOR GIRL. SHE – “... Yes, Miss Bergmann?

KITTY.

“YOU KNEW IT WAS ME,” SHE COULD NOT STOP FROM SAYING.

... I guessed.” HAD HE BEEN SLEEPING? HE SOUNDED SLUGGISH. HAD HER KITTY BEEN CURLED UP?! “To what do I owe this...” SHE HEARD PAUSE TO THINK OF SOMETHING POLITE TO SAY. “... considerably well after midnight company?

“STEWART,” MADELINE SHARED, STAYING ON TASK DESPITE THE TRILL IN HIS WORDS. “THE TRANSFER HAS BEEN COMPLICATED.”

HE WAS HALF-AWAKE BUT ALREADY HIS HEAD WAS WORKING TO PROCESS THE NEWS.

She escaped.

“SHE HAS POSITIONED HERSELF TO BARGAIN.” SHE EXPECTED STEWART TO UNDERSTAND THIS MEANT THE PHONE CALL WAS NOT TO BE TAKEN AS A REFUSAL TO CO-OPERATE. SHE HAD TO THINK. “SHE IS WITH ME.”

... And Agent March is...?

“MANY THINGS, BUT NOT ‘ABLE TO ASSIST’.” HE MADE A NOISE. IT WAS ADORABLE, THOUGH IT SOUNDED UNIMPRESSED WITH THE SITUATION. “THE PILOT IS ALSO IN DANGER.”

The pilot... of your helicopter,” HE TIREDLY SPELLED OUT FOR HIS PRIVATE CONVENIENCE. SHE HEARD RUSTLING, AS THOUGH HE WAS SITTING UP. HE WAS LISTENING TO HER. HIS VOICE SOUNDED FAR MORE FIRM WHEN HE NEXT PRESSED, “Is it immediate danger?

“FIVE MINUTES.”

Then what?

“WE CRASH.”

ANOTHER NOISE. IT WAS DARKER IN ITS TONE.

And they wonder why we catch them.” ... HER HAND TIGHTENED. “Alright, Miss Bergmann. Let me talk to her.

“NO.”

... No?

SHE COULD EVEN SEE THE CONFUSED EXPRESSION ON HIS FACE FOLLOWING THAT REBUFF. SHE KNEW SHE COULD BECAUSE SHE WAS WEARING THE SAME ONE. SHE HAD SAID ‘NO’ TO THAT? WHAT DID SHE ONLY MOMENTS AGO RESOLVE TO AVOID AND WHAT DID SHE THINK SHE WOULD INCUR BY SOUNDING DEFENSIVE IN THIS? IT HAD BEEN A REFLEX AND A BAD ONE. SHE BACKTRACKED.

“THIS IS DELICATE, KITTY. I WILL NOT ADD ANOTHER VOICE TO CONFUSE HER.”

HE DID NOT CHALLENGE THIS.

Very well.” HE SWEETLY MUFFLED A YAWN. “What can I do for you?

ON TASK. MARCH WAS THE SCHOOLGIRL, NOT HER. SHE CONTROLLED HERSELF.

“SHE WANTS ME TO HELP HER TO ESCAPE.” ALL THE WHILE, MADELINE RESTED A CAREFUL GAZE UPON THE ‘HER’ IN QUESTION.

I imagine she would.” THERE WAS A CLICK FROM HIS SIDE, THEN A QUIET INHALE. HE HAD BETTER NOT BE SMOKING IN HER... ON SECOND THOUGHT, SHE NO LONGER CARED FOR THAT BUILDING. HER CAT WAS FREE TO SMOKE WHERE HE PLEASED. “What does she want you to do?

“I DIDN’T ASK. I CALLED YOU. NO MATTER WHAT SHE SAYS, THE PREDICAMENT IS WHETHER I SHOULD DO IT.”

I would.

HE WOULD WHAT?

“YOU... WOULD HELP HER ESCAPE?”

Of course.” LIKE IT WAS ORDINARY. “She’s overthrown March and divulged something to prevent you from subduing her. Your life is at stake, Miss Bergmann,” HE SAID. “Although she is a psychic. I would think that were she capable of whatever it is threatening you, she would have attempted it by now. Besides the crashing. So again, I question her powers. Five minutes to consider such requests when twenty seconds would suffice as nicely...

MADELINE WAS NOT ATTACKING BECAUSE SHE DID NOT WANT TO ATTACK. ... JUST THEN, SHE WONDERED IF HE SENSED THAT.

“I AM WILLING TO LISTEN TO HER DEMANDS.”

Then listen to them, and should the need arise, comply.

“AND RELEASE HER? ENTIRELY?”

For now.

JEAN WAS THE MAN BEHIND THE SIX YEARS OF ALEXANDER ESCAPADES, CORRECT? THEN HER CAT’S RELAXED STANCE ON THIS WAS FROM...?

“FOR NOW UNTIL WHAT?”

We regroup and find her again, bringing more Agents, more force and potentially more lethal intent. If she wishes to escape and has forced you to that end, it only serves to mark her as a hazard. We’ll respond in kind.” A LAZY BREATH FLOATED DOWN THE LINE. “But with Alexander out of the way, I can’t gauge how long she would last.

“HER POWER COULD GROW,” SHE COUNTERED. “YOU... WE MIGHT NEVER GET HER BACK.”

Yes. It could grow. March mentioned a schedule of some kind and how prematurely she had been advancing along it,” HER CAT ADMITTED. “But should she grow beyond a certain point, our efforts will move into killing her, so there is already a scenario in place where lose her. There’s no reason to fear it.” SHE LAUGHED IN DISBELIEF. “You find that funny?

“RIDICULOUS,” SHE SAID. “YOU WOULD NEVER KILL HER. WE NEED HER.” THERE WAS AN EXAMPLE: “YOU NEVER KILLED ALEXANDER.”

The difficulty Alexander presented was in the Pain Eater transferred to his mind. That has since been resolved. It hasn’t had to do with his supernatural talents. Had it, I would have called in snipers.” HE BROUGHT HIMSELF UP SHORT. “I won’t presume to theorize with you when your survival hangs in the balance. Suffice it to say, it’s my assessment that you follow with what she asks.

“NO! I WANT AN ANSWER TO THIS,” SHE ORDERED. “THE POINT OF HAVING AGENTS IS TO BRING THESE PEOPLE IN AND ESTABLISH OURSELVES IN THEIR PLACE. FOR YOU – YOU, SOMEONE KNOWN FOR LEAVING NO SURVIVORS – TO IMPLY THE BEST RESOLUTION IS TO LET HER GO WHEN SHE MIGHT BE UNRECOVERABLE DEFIES WHAT WE ARE HERE TO STAND FOR!” WHEN SHE HAD WONDERED WHAT HE WOULD SAY, SHE HADN’T EXPECTED IT TO BE MADNESS. THIS WAS MUTINY! HE WAS... BETRAYING – “ARE YOU NOT AN AGENT? WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON?”

THERE WAS A THIRD NOISE, THE DARKEST YET. IT TOOK A BRIEF WHILE FOR HIM TO GATHER AN ANSWER, AND THE STEADINESS IN HIS VOICE SHOWED IT WOULD HAVE BEEN MORE HAD HE NOT FELT AN URGENCY.

For you to ask that, Agent Bergmann,” HE REPLIED, “I don’t believe I can say the same as you.

... He... was... accusing her...

THE TRILL IN HIS VOICE HAD LEARNED A TILT, AND THE TILT CARRIED WITH IT A HINT OF... REVULSION. FOR HER. FOR WHAT SHE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE.

MADELINE LOWERED HER VOICE, JUST ENOUGH TO ASK THE QUESTION, “Does Jean have something to do with this?”

Excuse me?

SHARP. THEN THE ANSWER WAS ‘NO’.

“YOUR PARTNER DIED,” SHE PERSISTED, ON A DIFFERENT ROUTE. SHE WAS AWARE OF STEWART’S WARNING TO HER, BUT THE NOISES CONTINUED FALLING FROM HER MOUTH. “ONE WOULD THINK YOU WOULD BE MORE EAGER TO TAKE IT OUT ON THEM.”

Firstly,” HER CAT SAID, NOW GONE COLD TO HER ENTIRELY, “if I were to ‘take it out’ on anyone, it would be the part of Alexander we extracted. Second, were I to bear a grudge against a person fighting for their life, I would be a bastard. Thirdly, I am an Agent, Miss Bergmann, but I have had an epiphany on what that means. There are those who serve as Agents of the Agency alone; they are the ones who support you in dragging Stewart to the ground at any costs, because they can’t risk losing her without working her strengths into theirs. I am an Agent of Salcon. My interest is preventing the destruction they can cause. Right now, it’s found in protecting you, so I repeat my advice: do what she says before you’re hurt. We’ll work to find her when we are better suited to do so if she is as deadly as you assume her to be. But if you can’t let her go for fear you’ll never see her again, then it’s up to you. I’ve spoken my piece.

“AND IT IS VERY RIGHTEOUS, BENOIT,” SHE TAUNTED HIM. “IT IS BEAUTIFUL TO SEE YOU STAND SO BEHIND A SENTIMENT WHILE YOU DRAG INNOCENTS IN TO BE ERASED AT THE WORD OF YOUR A-2S. CHILDREN AT TIMES, ISN’T IT? HOW DESTRUCTIVE.”

They can be. Not always. You fail to understand that we are no longer directly employed by Salcon. The Agency isn’t perfect, but it does enough for me to stay, and I trust its long-term goals as aligning with mine. I don’t need to take on every assignment they give, but I do because I will do it best and because it affords the place to guide it and make it ends to achieve those goals. It’s a simple ideology that has cost some their lives but given millions of others theirs. If that should ever change, I swear to you, I will leave this. Now,” HE SAID, UNEQUIVOCALLY GROWLING AT HER, “have we finished? Would you deign to address the young woman set to pull your transport from the sky?

HE FELT THE PRESSURE IN THIS. MADELINE HAD NOT DECIDED WHETHER WHAT SHE WAS FEELING WAS APPROVAL.

“YES. THAT SOUNDS...” WHO WAS THE A-2 HERE? “THANK YOU FOR YOUR ASSISTANCE. YOU MAY GO.” SHE HARDLY FINISHED THE WORD BEFORE HE HUNG UP. HE HAD MADE THAT FAST FOR HER, TO ENSURE SHE STAYED WITHIN THE FIVE MINUTE DEADLINE. ... WELL DONE, KITTY. “STEWART.” HE HAD BEEN MORE HELPFUL THAN SHE PLANNED. ‘GUIDE THE ASSIGNMENT’, HMM? “I DON’T WANT YOU TO TRANSFER.”

“Whuh?!”

THE LOOK SHE GAVE THE DOG NEARLY BURNED HIS EYES IN TWO. SLOWLY, SHE WENT BACK TO GWENDOLYN.

“YOU HAD BETTER HAVE A GRIP ON MARCH THERE, BECAUSE I CANNOT AFFORD TO KILL HER IF SHE ATTACKS.” DEEP BREATH. AND PERHAPS... MADELINE ALLOWED THE FAINTEST SLIVER OF HER MIND TO BARE ITSELF. SHE HAD TO GIVE MORE THAN ONLY WORDS FOR THIS. “YOU ARRIVED IN THE MIDDLE OF SOMETHING LARGER THAN YOU. MY ASSOCIATES PLAN TO HAVE YOU AS A MADE MARTYR. THE TRANSFER IS NOT TO BE COMPLETED. DURING THE ATTACK WE’LL ARRIVE IN ELMIRA FOR, IT WILL BOTCHED, TRAPPING YOU AND TRAPPING HER IN A STATE OF LIMBO. IT ISN’T SOMETHING THAT CAN BE REVERSED, AND THE MESSAGE IT WILL SEND WILL BE THE KICK-OFF TO THE AGENCY’S DEMISE.” SHE SHOULD HAVE BLINDED THE DOG ON TOP OF EVERYTHING ELSE. HIS PETRIFICATION AT WHAT WAS SAID WAS INFURIATING. “YOU WANT TO ESCAPE. I CAN HELP WITH THAT, BUT NOT BEFORE I HAVE COMPLETED THIS MISSION TO OUR DESIRED END; HOWEVER, ONLY CONSIDERING IT NOW DO I ACKNOWLEDGE I NEVER ASKED WHETHER KILLING YOU WAS NECESSARY TO MEET THAT END. THEREFORE, YOU HAVE A DECISION TO MAKE: VOLUNTEER TO ASSIST IN THIS AGENDA AND I NEGOTIATE FOR YOUR LIFE, OR FIGHT AGAINST US AND I THROW YOUR HEAD INTO THE CABIN’S WALL AND PUT YOU IN THE CHAIR MYSELF.”

CRYPTIC WOULD NOT CARE HOW THE ‘INEVITABLE FAILURE TO STOP PATTEN’ UNFOLDED. DANIELLE, POTENTIALLY, WOULD ARGUE AGAINST THE CHANGE.

WELL.

SHE SUPPOSED DANIELLE DIDN’T HAVE TO KNOW.

* * *

Sure. Jason could really see her jumping out of her seat to help him. He’d buy that she was feeling something, because just a glance told him all he had to know about her physical status, but charity? That was not it.

There was more of the old in what he thought as he heard her voice falter into something almost sad. He remembered the pseudo-drug trade the suits had in training. He said ‘pseudo’ not because it didn’t qualify as full-fledged, but because the Agency had taken to sponsoring it and organizing the deals suits chose to make with each other. It was their response to the crippling addictions that broke containment. They were the ones essentially trained to handle such doses. Everybody else was highly susceptible to overdose in minutes, and that was what was cracked down on. Under-the-table shuffling opened the doors up to anyone who was sneaky. Publicizing it made it so much harder for anyone from an outside division to get away with it. That was the extent of the helped suits received, and it was the one system from training that the graduates continued to tap into. He guessed he understood why it was a source of pride for some of them. They’d built themselves an economy with three denominations in their currency: point outs of things others should have seen, information of every type, and then depending on how desperate a person happened to be – like, say, a woman on an airplane strapped in to fly hours – they had the varying strengths of effects. Fine, he admitted it: he’d been rich. It was the sole benefit he’d regularly received from his chemical abstinence. Having a number of vials issued to be used as he saw fit let him learn everything he possibly could. He’d skipped the parts about the powers, but what he delved into got him his goggles. He didn’t want to think about what label it put him under. Whatever it was, it came with an ‘ex-‘, because he stopped as soon as he was assigned to a team and hadn’t had to look back.

Here this woman was dragging it up again. Her pitch came from two sides. On one, there was the effectiveness angle. He hadn’t changed his mind – he still noted the difference between their talent in analysis. She could pick any other field she wanted, but analysis was his home ground to rule. He just started attributing the gap to her lack of concentration from withdrawal. It pained him. His victory couldn’t come from her having a handicap. That made it artificial, even if he would’ve won had they been at the same level. The second... The emphasis on the fate of Eric’s favourites was a nice touch. It was a uselessly vague synopsis. She was throwing him a line that could have led to nowhere – why not lead with a hint to the question he had put to her if it wasn’t – but the potential around it, the unknown paths it could have put him down in ways he couldn’t figure out by himself, made it seem... somewhat suitable. Except he had experience.

No one traded vials for information. There was a damn good reason why.

“Deal accepted,” he said. “But you’re an idiot for admitting you lost what they put you on. That shows you can’t be trusted with the most basic task – one you’re supposed to be dependent on handling. So no, I’m not giving you anything until you prove you’re good for it. Tell me what he does with his favourites and I’ll make sure you get through enough of the flight to tell me everything else.”


Last edited by Tartra on Thu Aug 16, 2012 9:27 am; edited 1 time in total
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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Guest on Wed Jun 20, 2012 5:57 pm

A phone call? No, no, no! She didn't say she could do that! Gwen was momentarily distracted by the pet names but she knew that despite whatever Madeline thought she should allow, Gwen couldn't afford to let her reach out to someone else. She was being threatened for crying out loud! This wasn't a picnic! Then again... when she stopped to think about it... what could she really do with a phone call? Call for backup? As if that would help, especially not if Gwen crashed the helicopter. Fine, if she needed to have someone's counsel about this, then she supposed that was alright - so long as their advice didn't involve Madeline eventually attacking her. Gwen didn't want to die so if the Agent was willing to negotiate then she was going to jump on the opportunity.

What actually moved her to the final decision was when Gary finally understood who she was talking about and Gwen read his mind as he scrolled through his phone contacts. There was no question who "Alexander Guy" was and for that reason alone Gwen wanted to hear this conversation. Maybe she could even enter the Frenchman's mind and find out what really happened to Alex and Xander. But wait... if he was the one chasing after the guys, did that mean that he was the one who was going to transfer into Alex? If so... if Alex was captured - according to Madeline - then what made Madeline so sure that he wasn't transferred or in the middle of transferring right now? Maybe they were supposed to wait a little bit before doing any transfers once they captured their targets? No, Stephanie caught her only a few hours ago and as far as she could tell, the plan was to get on with the transfer as soon as they landed. Maybe it was complicated by the retransfer with Xander being pulled out of the body? They might have to delay for a while for some reason just to make sure that everything was alright. So, if "Mr. Kitty" was still in his original body, then did that mean Alex hadn't been erased yet? Was he still alive?! Even though she still had very little hope that Alex could get free on his own let alone find her and save her in time, it was a comforting thought to imagine him still alive. Right at that very moment, they were connected with that same living spirit and will to fight in the face of obliteration.

She quieted her excitement as Benoit answered, ignoring the initial responses traded between the two Agents as her presence zoomed through the phone to make contact with his mind. Feverishly, she probed at him, searching for a way in, for some crack or sliver of an opening that she could exploit to gain access to the deeper, more intimate layers of his mind. But even with him still sluggishly rousing himself from slumber, she could only get deep enough to sense the emotions behind his words. No memories and no direct thought. For a second or two, she was caught off guard by the aggressive tension he felt in response to Madeline and curiosity tickled at her, wondering what their relationship was - why did Madeline call him "kitty" and why had she thought to call him in the first place? Was there something unprofessional going on?

Gwen shook it off in irritation. She didn't give a shit about Agents as people or whether or not these two had slept together. Shoving the thought aside, she focused back on the conversation itself, taking note of how his attention increased when Madeline informed him of their dire situation. As soon as he offered to talk to Gwen, his control fully asserted itself, shoving Gwen's presence all the way out but she felt no regret in having lost her meager footing, her blood rushing as she prepared herself to talk to Alex's murderer - he may not be dead yet but she had no doubt that the Frenchman was responsible for Alex's capture and without Xander to help and protect him, death was certain. She was just begging for the chance to confront this son of bitch for everything he'd done. More than Stephanie - at least, before Stephanie traveled to la-la land - Gwen blamed him for her current circumstances. If Alex were still free, she wouldn't have to make the decision between dying and dying by her own choice. She wanted to ask him how he could live with himself knowing about all of the lives he was destroying. She wanted to ask how he could do what he did and still have the gall to fucking go to sleep afterwards. Gwen was willing to ignore everything about the current situation, just to tear into him and then describe in graphic detail how she was going to kill his girlfriend. If he showed some sort of remorse or humanity, she might even let him stay on the phone to listen to Madeline's last moments as they plummeted to earth.

However, fantasies of fulfilling her emotional vendettas were brought up short when Madeline said "No". No? And she didn't miss the look of bewilderment that crossed the woman's face after she said it, almost like it'd been a slip of something she couldn't believe she'd allowed get through. Although it was a little insulting, she accepted the excuse Madeline offered, her mind stuttering over the urge she saw flutter across Madeline's features when he asked what he could do for her. Before, when Stephanie had been clouding her mind with static, even just looking at these people didn't give her as much information as she was picking up right now. She supposed it could be explained by the noise dulling her concentration and perception so she wasn't as observant and Stephanie herself was a walking example of an emotional vacuum if one ever existed. ...or it could just be that Benoit was the reason Madeline was allowing her all of these small glimpses of emotion swirling over her features. Again, that curiosity tickled...

Gwen tensed briefly when Benoit expressed his doubts about the validity of her threats and her powers, worrying that her bluff would be called but Madeline didn't. It was true, she'd probably given Madeline too much time to think things over, but it wasn't because her threat wasn't real. She didn't want to fucking die and if Madeline needed a couple of minutes to think over a solution to offer, then she'd let her have it. What, did he expect her to be so ready to throw her life away that she'd take away any chance to compromise? Did he think that she was suicidal? If she'd been that then she would have been skipping to her transfer seat with a smile on her face, wouldn't she? Dumbass, Frenchman...

Suddenly, Gwen's defensive internal rant was silenced and her reaction mirrored Madeline's perfectly as Benoit told her to let Gwen go. She had expected a lot of things from this phone call and although freedom was of course the desired goal, she imagined that she would have needed to convince Madeline on her own, not to be helped with such persuasion by one of the Agent's colleagues. In fact that didn't sound like an Agent talking at all. Then again, from Stephanie's warped memories of him it was clear he wasn't a friend of hers. Maybe the animosity went both ways? Maybe he wanted to free her in order to get back at Stephanie? Then she realized that, no, he was pure Agent and this was nothing more than strategy he was talking about. Of course, how foolish of her to assume that he meant "let her go and we'll forget she ever existed". Oh and they'd kill her if she was too hard to capture? Well, he just had a pleasant answer for everything, didn't he?

Her bright blue eyes widened and then narrowed when he mentioned that Alexander was "out of the way" and it again put a damper on her mood to realize that yes, Alex was truly captured, but he still wasn't transferred into him yet. Clinging to that thought she buried the sorrow that threatened to rise up within her heart. Where was Xander during all of this? What was he doing? Was he still with them? Or had he turned on them the way Stephanie implied had been his plan all along? Pain Eater? Then Gwen remembered Alex's broken toe and the way Xander didn't seem to feel any of it while stomping all over tiny cities in southern New York. And he'd been "resolved"? What did that mean? They had to put Xander back into his original body in order to take him out of Alex's head, didn't they? Was he still alive and working for them now? Gwen tried to shove her way through to decipher the meaning behind his words - just a small hint, or impression; anything! - but Madeline had since put Benoit on the defensive and there was no breaking through.

Madeline wasn't buying it though and Gwen got another strange vibe from the woman's objections. Why was she fighting this so hard? Okay, so she believed Gwen's powers were truly threatening her and she was willing to listen to her demands but not willing to give into them? What the hell did she think Gwen was going to demand? A last meal? Something wasn't right here, but for the life of her, Gwen couldn't trace the motivations behind the inconsistencies just from watching Madeline's expressions alone. As the conversation grew more heated, the first clue Gwen got actually came from Benoit and despite having no access to his mind, Gwen could hear all of the intricacies of his tone just as well as she could see the sudden fearful guilt flicker and then vanish within Madeline's eyes. The accusation was clear and her first impulsive reaction to it was that... it was correct. What else did that look mean? It was a small piece of evidence that disappeared almost as quickly as it'd shown itself but it had been there and she knew it.

Gwen was distracted yet again when Benoit mentioned something she'd never heard of before: he was an Agent of Salcon? What did that mean? Was it some sort of company? Of course, ever since she started running with Alex and Xander, the question of who these people were had only seemed moderately important compared to answering the questions of survival and what their next move should be - if she ignored that she also spent a large amount of that time worrying about Xander's trustworthiness and whether or not he was someone safe that she could allow herself to entertain feelings for. When she thought about it she'd assumed the Agency was something government related; that these operations to capture super-powered people was a goal that could fall under the umbrella of protecting national security. Benoit seemed to think of them as a threat to the general well-being of humanity, and it was a well-known fact that the government had several different organizations that worked under the radar to hide things from the general public, so it seemed to fit. But now was he saying that the Agency was actually being directed by some sort of corporation? What was their stake in this?

Then it was suddenly over and Gwen tensed again, wondering what this would lead to. Although Benoit gave her advice on how to deal with this situation, Madeline seemed to fight against it the entire time, so Gwen wasn't really sure what she got out of receiving his input. When Madeline finally spoke to her... she wanted to feel surprised about the reveal but it wasn't as unexpected as it had been before she'd spoken to Benoit. All during their discussion, Gwen felt it as a possibility at the back of her mind, not willing to accept it lest it turn out to be a trap of some kind. As soon as she felt the woman loosen up, Gwen's presence dived into the opening that was allowed, touching and examining everything she could get her psychic hands on. Again, it wasn't much more than Benoit had given her, but it was enough for her to see the truth in the woman's words as she continued to speak. And Gwen was shocked by the extent of the disloyalty Madeline had towards the Agency. She wasn't the woman she'd assumed her to be at all and that was even after she'd spent the last hour or two listening to Stephanie's internal ravings and paranoid theories about Madeline's presence here.

In the silence that followed Madeline's words, Stephanie filled it by heaving a heavy, dramatic sigh, still mournfully looking out the window of the helicopter. "No, Noel, I TOLD you it's too soon," she said, apparently interpreting all of the talking that had been going on as being addressed to her in some fantasy conversation she was having with her dead friend. "I just don't feel like torturing and degrading any male strippers right now." Her chin trembled with held back emotion as her still very fresh wounds ached in longful memories of the man she still loved with all of her heart. "No, I have every confidence in your ability to get us out of assault charges no matter what happens. Thank you for the offer though."

Gwen rolled her eyes as an unwilling and awkward smile blossomed on her face, the tension of the moment briefly relieved by Stephanie's ridiculous interruption. Looking straight at Madeline, Gwen politely waited for the feeble-minded woman in the seat next to her to be 'done' before she spoke.

"You'll 'negotiate' for my life?" Gwen asked and then shook her head a little, giving Madeline a slanted look. "You're gonna have to guarantee me something a little more solid than that before I agree to anything. This has got nothing to do with me and I don't care about you or your associates' fighting with the Agency. I've got my own beef with the Agency. What is this conflict really about? Why are you fighting for the fall of the Agency? What is this message you're trying to send and how will it help you bring the Agency down? How do you know this will work?

"What do you mean 'limbo'? Is that what happened to Alex and Xander? During my travels with them we figured out that something was happening to Xander. He was growing weaker... David said that people who've been transferred in don't have a lot of life.. force or something. That it'll eventually run out and that when it does, the person disappears for good. And he said all of this to us while acknowledging the fact that the boy who's body he was occupying, NATHAN, was no longer inside their head with him and Maggie. That after 20 or 14 people being shoved inside there with them they were the only ones left. I read his mind and I couldn't find anyone else. What was he talking about? What really happens? Is that what you're trying to do? Is something like that going to happen to me?" Gwen paused and thought for a moment, her forehead crinkling in thought. "But... that's for a transfer that's gone through but didn't stick, right? You're saying you want to interrupt the process instead? What happens then? And you say it is irreversible? That's a pretty big fucking commitment. If you want me to agree to do this then you better tell me what exactly it is that I'm agreeing to do."

Gwen was hoping that Madeline's idea was actually a good one - that limbo didn't actually mean what she thought it meant and that it was somehow irreversible if it ended up not being something she wanted. Because even now... she knew she was probably going to do this. If Madeline could somehow guarantee that the Agency would be destroyed because of this... then she supposed she didn't mind going through with it. Even if it meant she'd die afterwards... she'd rather die there than here where her death would be pointless. And she could see that Madeline truly believed in what she was saying; there wasn't any trickery going on here. Glancing at Stephanie who was silently crying to herself again, Gwen slowly withdrew from the pilot's mind.

"I know you don't want to hurt me," she said calmly. "But if you want me to be a willing participant then convince me. Make me a believer, like you."

***
Brie literally hated this guy right now. What was his fucking problem? Yeah, she sucked at being an Agent! Hadn't she admitted to that already? It was like he was trying to make her angry and yet make her feel guilty at the same time - all while asking and expecting her to answer his questions. Stupid fucking goggle-heads and their arrogance! Did he think he was above trading a little bit on the side? As if Mr. Perfect had never done it before!

She knew that wasn't what he was really saying though. No, it was back on her as the unreliable one... She'd admitted to her failure and it was certainly enough reason for him to suspect that she was an all around incompetent loser... which she was. Again, there was a pang of regret for all of her shortcomings and everything she was supposed to be but she shook the feelings off when the itch buzzed at her again. Honestly, the only reason she was anywhere close to contrite for what she'd done and couldn't do was because of him. It was the same stupid suit shit that defined her team relations back at her home base. He made her feel so weak and useless just from standing next to him and he just kept hammering the pressure down on her every time he opened his mouth. The guy was the epitome of professionalism, sleek, cool and confident, obedient and submissive to authority figures and forceful and arrogant to those below him. And what really hurt her, illuminating all of her glaring shortcomings, was the way he was handling his responsibilities. In the face of present dangers, he didn't lose sight of his goals, he asked questions and dug deep to make sure he had sufficient information, and he didn't back down from his duty. Brie, on the other hand, folded as soon as things got difficult and compromised the safety of her teammate by acting rashly against the orders she'd been given. And now she was selling out her own boss for a single shot that would make her feel better about the whole damn thing. She never had and never would measure up and she was done pretending that she'd ever wanted to.

She'd been gritting her teeth and scowling, her burns flaring white against the blush that blossomed in her cheeks in response to his unfair assessment of her worth. She was ready to speak her mind about the issue even if it was just to tell him that 'yeah, he was right! She was a fucking loser and could he please stop being an arrogant asshole about it?' But the allure of relief was too tempting to ignore and her features softened dramatically as she licked her lips and began frantically thinking over things to say that would please him. She didn't have time to mess around or make him angry, so, anything he fucking wanted, she'd give it to him.

"Okay. Okay," she started, trying to steady herself. "I don't actually know anything for sure, okay? I've never even spoken to Eric Patten on a one-on-one level. I've seen him only a couple of times - three times, tops - and only one of those times did he actually address the group I was in. The rest were just occasions when I got to observe him from afar when he called upon our team for some task."

And Brie remembered every single occasion because he'd looked different each time. She remembered the second time she'd seen Eric and thinking that the guys on her team were pulling her leg because it hadn't been the same guy that she'd seen the first time he'd been pointed out to her - same glasses, same cheery smile but different face and different body. It was only when she'd seen him for a third time and he actually talked to their squad wearing another completely different skin that she realized that the rumors about him having powers were true.

"I've never actually met Eric Patten," she said apologetically, the whine returning to her voice as she hurried to amend what could be viewed as a failure to give him what he asked for. "But I've talked to people who have and who've dealt with him on a personal basis! His 'favorites'... um... Have you ever heard of Squiddie? She's his personal bodyguard, never seen and never heard. There's no record of her but everybody knows about her. Everybody who knows about Eric knows about her. I've never seen her myself but they say she follows him everywhere - literally everywhere. She's his shadow. A couple of times when I've seen him, the guys on my team would wonder where she was and they'd try to catch a glimpse of her like ghost-watching or something. Some of them said she had a special kinda suit that made it so that not even other suits could see her. Others said that she was actually an A-3 that had transferred into her target who's powers were invisibility." That was what she tended to believe, preferring the stories that supported such a claim to the one's that were less interesting.

"One time, Eric pulled out some huge file or something from his jacket pocket and gave it to my supervisor. Something that shouldn't have fit in the pocket he pulled it out of and Six... one of my teammates..." she hesitated only a moment, stumbling over the sudden wave of loss. "He told me that was her doing. That somehow Squiddie had provided the needed file, producing it out of thin air without anybody seeing a floating file being waved around, like magic or something." She rolled her eyes. "I don't know, Six was kind of an idiot." And she missed him. Things would be so much easier if he were still here. He would have shared his drugs with her for a lot less work, for starters.

"Anyways, so she's supposed to be this super strong assassin who lives in Eric's shadow without an identity, without a face, breathing for his every word and totally dedicated to him. And they say she used to be an Agent... a lead Agent with her own case. Eric supposedly did a couple of things to help her out and when she finally got her target and transferred, he came to collect his debts. And she already worshiped him so she didn't blame him when stuff started falling apart in her life. If anything, she clung to him harder. He was all she had left, so she willingly gave up everything else just to be close to him - some of the guys implied that it was Eric pulling the puppet strings that he'd already set in place years earlier but I kinda like to think that maybe she was just in love. That her obsession with him consumed her." That was the main story floating around. It had a sense of romantic tragedy to it that kept people entertained and just added to the allure and mythology surrounding Eric. Who could fall so in love with Eric that they'd give everything up just to be near him? Brie shrugged. "Some others say she's actually just a really specialized PE but I don't really like those stories."

That was when she realized that last sentence basically shot down all of the theories that came before it and she gave him a fallen look before anxiously rushing to correct herself. "Bu-but there have been others! Lots of others!" she paused to chew at her bottom lip worriedly, her mind sluggishly working to remember more stories - dammit! Why did she drink that wine! "Margaret Nygaard was another one I heard about. She was supposedly a rising star that caught Eric's attention. Real top notch Agent, just totally successful at every challenge the Agency presented her with, rising through the ranks fast. And Eric took a liking to her which gave her even more flowery attention and praise from the higher-ups. The story goes that he came to her one day, presenting her with an opportunity to join an experimental project he was working on that was supposed to change the Agency in a really big way. Looking for more opportunities to be in the Agency spotlight, she agreed. Other stories just say that she was a friend but they all end the same with her signing up for his project. It's supposed to be a super secret project that no one really knows anything about but the kid escapes all the time and our squad has been given missions to go out and recapture him once or twice. She was way before my time so stories about her are hard to find but the evidence is there... I've sort of met her... They say she was transferred into this kid's head and I don't know what happened but I talked to him while we were bringing him in one time. If that's her, then she's completely lost her mind but whatever project Eric was working on, he's still working on it. She's in there and he's still experimenting on this kid.

"THAT is what he supposedly does to his favorites," Brie said, looking the other suit in the eye to fully emphasize the 'horror story' effect she was going for. The effect was cracked and broken a moment later as a ripple of agony scraped over her skin and a pleading look entered her eyes. "Seriously, please! That's all I've heard about that and I'll tell you everything else I know about him if you just give me one small hit! Please, I'm begging you! My suit is killing me!" It wasn't really but it was growing incredibly uncomfortable, the itching sensation spreading to cover her from head to toe and practically driving her mad. He had to be satisfied with that! She'd proven at the very least that she could talk and that she knew things!

***
The further into the base they went the more nervous Sebastian became about their presence here, slowly losing confidence in the convictions that originally made him stay. During his time investigating this case he'd seen his fair share of dead bodies, so it wasn't that he was squeamish or in the least bit disturbed by the gore they found. It was the testament OF these trails that let him know this was not Eric Patten that they were following. If he'd done anything wrong here, then any evidence of it was completely overshadowed by whoever else had left their mark. And it was undoubtedly someone else's case to handle while the two of them were blatantly waltzing into their territory.

They'd found Bergmann's office. Avery entered and felt free enough to search through everything because of some flimsy excuse he strung together about 'probable cause' because there were dead bodies in the room. They were instantly dismissed as 'not Eric's work' and abandoned, the two of them tiptoeing over the blossomed blood stains on the carpet that flowed like rivulets of molten lava from the wound sites. While Avery searched through the desk, Sebastian stopped to crouch over one of the cold forms on the floor, inspecting the cuts that had been sliced into the man's skin. He wasn't dressed as an Agent so who was he? They'd already had hints from the Docimasy alerts that an attack of some kind happened here and there was plenty of evidence to suggest that it was Anti-Agency related. Was this man one of theirs or was he from the other side? What really happened here?

By the desk, Avery was growing annoyed, the entire thing creaking as he jerked different drawers open, invading their contents with the pursuit of a madman chasing after his delusions. Sebastian stood back and watched, waiting for the moment to say something - possibly offering advice about the fruitlessness of trying to discover a case backwards? - but he stayed in that moment of indecision, especially when his boss violently slammed a few drawers shut and then pulled out a metal bar to pry open the locked ones. Finally, when the papers offered no clues, Avery let out a growl in his throat and tossed aside the pile he was holding in disgust. "There's nothing here," he said, slightly panting from exertion, pausing to run a hand through his brown hair. Well, of course not. What had Avery expected to find? What were they even doing here? Were they looking for a sign painted and hung on the wall in some back corner with a bright red and yellow "I DID IT!" with Eric's signature on the bottom? There wasn't going to be anything in Madeline's office to point to any guilt on Patten's part. Those two hated each other; if she had such a weapon handy to use against him, then she wouldn't hide it in such a typical place.

For a few moments longer, Avery stood with his hands on his hips, staring accusingly at the desktop. "Avery," Sebastian said, wordlessly reminding him of the time limit and breaking the other man out of his thoughtful trance.

"Don't worry, Seabass. I know," he glanced behind himself and pinched two of his fingers over his lips in a small nervous gesture. Then he turned back and shook his finger in the air, like it was a wavering idea floating there between them. "They have a couple of stasis cells here. I bet if we go to the room they're kept in, we'll find something more concrete." Meaning Charlotte. Both of them being as familiar with Eric as they were hadn't missed the war that had been raging over the placement of the traitor's body at this location. Having found the scent once more, Avery swiftly made his way around the desk and Sebastian backed up a step to give the man room, his elbow hitting the edge of something that moved behind him.

Glancing back, his hand whipped out to catch ahold of the edge of something hidden behind a curtain on the wall. Pulling back the fabric and neatly shoving it out of the way, what he thought had been a window turned out to be a huge, thick metal door. "Avery!" he said, catching the other man's attention when he was almost to the door. Avery's eyes widened with interest and Sebastian only waited to watch as he turned back around to head back into the room before he went back to the hidden door and shoved it open. Inside was a vault filled with video screens lining the walls with a lone chair left abandoned in the middle of the floor. And two more bodies, one looking more damaged than the other. Both victims went ignored as Avery finally made it to stand beside him, his eyes brightening at the discovery.

"Good work, Seabass!" his praise was accompanied by Sebastian's shoulders being grabbed and shaken lightly in contained excitement. Then Avery was in the room, instantly making a beeline for the control panel, apathetically stepping over corpses as he crossed the room. Sebastian on the other hand stopped to inspect the bodies, his eyes gracefully shying away from the ruined meat covering the one body's face, instead focusing on the equipment the two donned.

"They're suits," he remarked, not looking up to see if his boss heard him or not. "I think these were Agents. What do you think happened to have them dying in here?" Avery wasn't paying attention but clicking away at the control panel, his eyes glued to glowing screens. "Who do you think did this?"

Without hesitation, Avery offered, "Not Patten. Don't care." Then he stopped and looked, having to stare a moment as his eyes adjusted to the darkness of the room after the brightness of the screens. Rubbing thoughtfully at his upper lip, he eventually turned back to what he was doing and offhandedly concluded, "Although the one might be his work. It seems fairly spotless - a suitable vessel. If he's not in it now then he probably already used it or he was saving it for when he might need it."

Looking back at the prone form of the man, Sebastian began searching through the suit's zippered pockets for some form of identification. His attention was diverted briefly when Avery cursed and he roughly pulled out his Docimasy card from his belt, inserting it into a slot on the console. Standing, Sebastian came over to him, reporting from am ID card he'd found on the man's person. "His name was Leon and he was apparently from Germany. No telling what he was doing here, though."

"Bergmann is German." Tap, tap, tap, at the buttons in front of him.

"Right, but that doesn't really tell us what he was doing here right now. What are you doing?"

"Looking through the archives of recorded videos for the last 24 hours. What time did that alert come in from Eric using his password to enter the building?"

One second. Out popped his phone and he looked through his notes. "20:34," he responded, watching as Avery assaulted the directional keys to move down a list before selecting an item and opening a new window. Avery hesitated, peering at the numbered codes in confusion. Sebastian figured it out a moment before he did. "He came in through the garage elevator, not through the front doors," he said, pointing first at a specific line of numbers that stood for the camera views in the lobby, before letting the hovering appendage move down the list to the section of codes marked with "G" in front. Tapping at it decisively, his hand fell away as Avery moved the cursor down to the garage section of cameras, scrolling through the different camera angles before coming to the one right at the north entrance of the garage. As they watched, the time stamp at 20:25, a black car slowly pulled into the underground parking lot and Avery poked buttons as it glided serenely, following it to it's final resting spot. It sat for a moment or two before doors opened and Sebastian didn't recognize either of the people stepping out of it. Avery on the other hand took in a harsh, hissed breath of recognition, his gaze fixated on the tallest of the two figures. Following the men to the elevators, Sebastian was about to ask about it before Avery pointed at the screen and the face of the tallest man. The image on the screen was a clear shot of the man wearing clear, fashionable, rectangular glasses with a familiar smile on his face.

"Hello, Buzz Buzz," Avery murmured in a triumphant drawl, settling into a relaxed yet ready stance. Sebastian had to admit that the reasons Eric Patten left Elmira hadn't been made very clear - especially since they didn't know he was gone until an hour later and even then, they didn't know where he went until he'd logged his passcode at this door about 5 hours after that. So, he was of course eagerly curious as to the nature of the visit and what exactly the man had been doing while the Devil himself had seemingly launched an attack on the building.

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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Tartra on Sat Jul 14, 2012 1:28 am

THIS WAS A LOVELY HOLE SHE HAD DUG HERSELF INTO. GOOD WORK, MADELINE. NOW HER LIFE RELIED ON HER PEOPLE SKILLS.

DAMN HINDSIGHT. IT WAS ERIC IN A BOTTLED FORM, LAUGHING AT HER, MADE WORSE BY A PINCH OF CRYPTIC TELLING HER THIS WAS INEVITABLE AND THAT THE MINUTE SHE HAD STEPPED FOOT ON THIS PLANE, HER FATE WAS SEALED. THE LESS SHE DID, THE SAFER SHE WOULD HAVE BEEN, UNTIL SHE REACHED THE END OF THE RIDE AND SAW SHE WAS EQUALLY AS DAMNED FOR NOT ACTING. WHAT A SIMPLE WORLD THOSE TWO LIVED IN – BOTH CRYPTIC AND DANIELLE. BUT ALRIGHT. SHE WOULD HANDLE THIS. SHE HAD YEARS OF STRATEGIC AGENCY TRAINING AND THE SENSE OF THE FALLEN BRANCHES ON HER SIDE. SHE SHOULD BE ABLE TO SCRAPE TOGETHER SOMETHING TO EASE THE GIRL’S CONCERNS. STEWART HAD LOST THE DESPERATE LOOK IN HER EYE AND THAT SPOKE OF MADELINE’S PROGRESS, BUT WHAT IT HINGED ON WAS... MESSY.

THERE WAS A CHANCE. THE MECHANICS OF A GUARANTEE WERE BLACK-AND-WHITE AND THE RUSSIANS WOULD BE CLEAR IN EXPLAINING THEM. THE HEART OF THE PROBLEM WAS IN ITS POLITICS, AND THAT WAS NOT DISCUSSED WITHOUT THE NORDICS IN FULL AUDIENCE. FRANKLY, SHE HAD NO HEAD FOR IT NOW, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER SHE COULD CONTACT THEM. STEWART CERTAINLY DIDN’T. THE GIRL WANTED ANSWERS, NOT ANOTHER ‘PERHAPS’. MADELINE UNDERSTOOD. WHAT PERSON WOULD FURTHER BOG THEMSELVES IN THAT AT A TIME LIKE THIS? HER KITTY HAD SENSE IN HIS OWN RIGHT: WITH LIVES IN THE BALANCE, THE STAGE WAS CLOSED TO ANY CASUAL CONVERSATION ABOUT THE DRAMA PLAGUING THEM. UNTIL THEN, SHE WOULD HAVE TO CONTENT HERSELF WITH THE THOUGHT OF HAVING A PSYCHIC PREPARED TO ASSIST. ‘NEGOTIATE’? IT WAS NOT A WORD THEY KNEW. STEWART COULD CERTAINLY TEACH THEM.

“SLOW DOWN,” SHE STIFFLY SAID, UNCROSSING HER ARMS. THEY WERE CRAMPED FROM THE WEIGHT OF THIS VOYAGE. SHE’D NEED A FULL BOX OF CATS TO BE RID OF THIS STRESS. “I HAVE TO SORT THROUGH WHAT YOU ASKED.”

NOT EVEN PATTEN TAXED HER SO HEARTILY. TRUE, THE MAN NEVER ASKED A QUESTION HE DIDN’T KNOW THE ANSWER TO, AND TRUE, HE WORKED AS HARD TO AVOID HER COMPANY AS SHE DID TO AVOID HIS – AND YET HERE THEY WERE – BUT HE STILL KEPT HIS INQUIRIES SUCCINCT WHEN HE MADE THEM. NO ONE ELSE EVER DARED ASK ANYTHING OF HER. SHE SUPPOSED ALL GOOD THINGS EVENTUALLY HAD TO END. VERY WELL.

“YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND YOU’RE USING WORDS THAT GROUP TOO MANY CONCEPTS. SO FAR, YOU HAVE BEEN REMOVED FROM THE PIECES THAT BUILT THIS CHAOS, BUT THANKS TO YOUR NEW FRIEND –” HERE, MARCH OR ALEXANDER WOULD APPLY. “– THE FORTUNE OF YOUR IGNORANCE WAS STOLEN. NOW YOU MUST SPEAK WITH PRECISION, IF YOU INTEND TO DEAL WITH US.” SHE HALTED, USING THE AIR TO STEADY HER THOUGHTS. ONE FACT AT A TIME WAS A CHALLENGING TASK. LIKE THE GIRL’S BARRAGE OF QUESTIONS, THERE WAS A RIVALLING SUM OF ANSWERS WAITING INSIDE OF MADELINE. SHE DID NOT APPRECIATE THE PRESSURE. IT ATE THROUGH HER USUAL PRESENTATION, WHICH WAS TRAGIC FOR MORE REASONS THAN THE OTHERS COULD CLAIM BECAUSE SHE HAD SORTED THIS ON THE BASIS OF IMPORTANCE, NOT ‘FLAIR’ LIKE ANYONE ELSE. SHE LOATHED HAVING TO IMPROVISE. “THE CONFLICT LIKE THE ONE WE AVOIDED IN CHARLTON STANDS APART FROM THE FIGHT WE SEEK TO WIN. THE LATTER IS OUR END GOAL: AS YOU NOTED, THE AGENCY’S DEMISE. THE FORMER, HOWEVER, HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THEM. THEY POSE NO THREAT AS THEY STAND TODAY; THE JAWS OF THEIR MONSTER ARE AROUND THEIR CHEST AS FIRMLY AS OURS. HE IS WHO WE FACE. BY NOW, YOU MUST HAVE HEARD HIS NAME.” IT SAT COILED ON THE BACK OF HER TONGUE LIKE A SLUG. ERIC WAS A DAMN SLUG. “THE MESSAGE, WHAT WE HOPED TO DO WITH YOU – ALL OF IT IS FOR HIM TO TAKE NOTICE. TO THOSE WHO CAN BE THREATENED, THIS IS EXACTLY THAT; WITH ERIC PATTEN AND THE WAY HE IS, ITS BEST INTERPRETATION IS A QUIET INVITE. THERE IS NO GUARANTEE OF HIS ACCEPTING IT ON ONE ATTEMPT. IT’S WHY WE HAVE GONE TO SUCH PAINS TO ORGANIZE A SET OF STRIKES CLOSE ENOUGH FOR THE AGENCY TO CALL SIMULTANEOUS.” EVEN DANIELLE DOUBTED PATTEN WOULD THINK IT WORTH CLAMBERING OFF HIS THRONE FOR, BUT NO MATTER HIS TRUE INTENTIONS, THE BRANCHES KNEW HE HAD AN IMAGE TO MAINTAIN. THE AGENCY COULD NOT BEAR THE RISK OF FAILURE AND EITHER CUT THEIR LOSSES EARLY OR – ALMOST LITERALLY – CRUSHED A DAYCARE WITH A TANK, AND THEIR TRUST IN THE MAN WAS A FLASHING TARGET FOR IT. PATTEN WAS THEIR ROCK; THEY NEEDED HIS REASSURANCE, AND ONCE IT HAD BEEN PROVEN HE WASN’T SO INFALLIBLE YEARS AGO, THEY REFUSED TO BE SOOTHED BY MERE GIGGLES. STEWART’S BOYFRIEND MADE MANY THINGS POSSIBLE, HOWEVER UNWITTINGLY HE HAD CHOSEN TO DO IT. MADELINE REMAINED FIRM THAT THE FRANCE BRANCH HAD DRAWN NEEDLESS DANGER BY DANCING THEIR TOY AROUND, BUT SHE GRANTED THEM SUCCESS. EVEN SO, SHE WAS PLEASED HER KITTY FELT IT FINISHED. SHE NO LONGER HAD TO WAIT ON REPORTS FROM EITHER SIDE PAINTING THE LIST OF PEOPLE AND AGENTS THAT ALEXANDER TORE APART. HER CONDOLENCES TO ANYTHING THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN IN HER HEAD, BUT THIS WAS A RELIEF FOR EVERYONE. HE WAS – HAD BEEN – VERY DANGEROUS. “WE NEED TO SPLIT THEM UP.”

PART OF HER WAS ALERT. IT KEPT THE POINT OF HER WORDS IN ORDER.

“THE AGENCY USED TO HAVE WEAKNESSES WE COULD EXPLOIT. SINCE PATTEN TOOK CHARGE, THOSE HAVE GONE. WE NEED HIM OCCUPIED SO WE CAN END THIS INSANITY. WHY RESIST THEM? BECAUSE THEY ARE NOTHING MORE THAN DESTRUCTION, SO LONG DEPRIVED OF ANY PRODUCTIVE ACT, OF ANY ACT THEY COULD PRETEND WAS PRODUCTIVE, THAT THEY HAVE LOST THE SIMPLE DECENCY OF SWEARING THIS WILL HELP THE WORLD. PATTEN IS PROOF. HE HAS NO TOLERANCE OF ANYONE WHO WON’T SUPPORT HIS NEEDS. HE’S LEFT US FACE-TO-FACE WITH A SWORD THAT HAS LEARNED TO WIELD ITSELF, AND IF ITS PARENT COMPANY HAD HAD JUST A SHARD OF A BACKBONE, IT WOULD HAVE CLAMPED DOWN ON THESE BASTARDS YEARS AGO AND ENDED THE FULL OPERATION.”

SHE GAVE A MILD HUFF, ENDING THE GLIMPSED START OF WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN A LENGTHY AND LOUD RANT. THERE WAS NO RESPONSE FROM MARCH OUTSIDE HER DRUG-INDUCED, ILLUSIONARY PRATTLE, BUT SHE WAS NOT PREPARED TO TEMPT IT. ON A LARGELY MORE COMPOSED NOTE, SHE PROCEEDED TO EXPRESS, “I AM AGAINST THE AGENCY FOR THE SAME REASON AS MY PEERS: I FELT ITS EFFECTS, BUT I HAVE BEEN A PART SINCE BEFORE PATTEN GAVE OUR ENEMY THEIR TEETH. TAKE THAT AS MY DENOUNCEMENT OF THE AGENCY’S CRIMES, AND OF ANYONE WHO WALKS WITH THEM NOW. THOSE WHO DO IN UNDERSTANDING OF THEIR WORK IS AS VILE AS HE WILL EVER BE. IT’S ALWAYS BEEN THAT WAY. THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR IT.” WITH A NOD TOWARDS STEWART’S WARDEN AND A SOMEWHAT UNCONSCIOUS RE-CROSSING OF HER LIMBS, MADELINE GESTURED TO HER NEXT EXAMPLE. “YOU HAVE THE EXPERIENCE YOU NEED TO FORM YOUR OWN OPINION. YOU RAN WITH A SELF-MADE OUTCAST; I’M NOT SURE YOU WERE SAFER IN HIS CARE THAN YOU ARE IN HERS. IT’S THEIR NATURE. THE ONLY SYMPATHY I FEEL IS FOR THOSE THEY DEVOUR UP TO THE TIME YOU REALIZE THEY CAN’T CHANGE.” HER EYES WHIPPED BY THEN, FINALLY FALLING TO THE LAST HAPLESS SACK ON THIS TREK. “ONLY A FOOL WOULD MISTAKE A ‘KIND HEART’ FOR ANYTHING OTHER THAN THE INCOMPETENCE TO KILL.”

THE DOG DID NOT REPLY. HE APPEARED DISTRACTED BY THE ATTEMPT NOT TO FAINT. SHE THOUGHT THAT WAS A POOR DECISION. SHE WOULD HAVE PREFERRED HE SPENT HIS EFFORTS GIVING IN.

“THAT IS WHY I FIGHT. FOR REASONS MORE PERSONAL THAN I WISH TO SHARE, I CHOSE THIS ROUTE.” SHE MIGHT NOT HAVE MARCH’S ABYSS TO KEEP THE GIRL OUT, BUT SHE KNEW HOW TO KEEP THOSE PRIVATE MEMORIES. “IT ISN’T ONE YOU HAVE TO TAKE. I WOULD UNDERSTAND IF YOU WANTED TO LEAVE FOR GOOD AFTER THIS. WE COULD HELP YOU ESCAPE.” MADELINE STRAIGHTENED IN EXCITEMENT AT THE PROSPECT. “I COULD NEVER VOW YOUR SAFETY SO LONG AS THE AGENTS EXIST, BUT MORE PROTECTION – CERTAINLY.” THERE WERE NO WORDS TO WASTE SHARING SORROW FOR THE LIFE THE GIRL WOULD LEAD FROM HERE. IT WAS BETTER TO FOCUS ON WHAT SHE WOULD CONTINUE TO HAVE AND HOW MUCH EASIER THIS COULD BE WITH THE BRANCHES’ HELP. “BUT IT COMES AFTER THIS. WE CANNOT LOSE THE OPPORTUNITY TO LURE PATTEN FROM MINDING THE AGENCY’S DEFENCES SIMPLY TO EASE YOUR NEXT HOURS. SHOULD WE FAIL HERE, YOUR LIFE WILL BE FORFEIT, AS WILL EVERYONE'S WHO CARED FOR THE CAUSE. I AM ASKING YOU AS SOMEONE WHO CAN MOVE THROUGH COLD LOGIC: DO THIS FOR US AND I CAN GUARANTEE THE MOST SAFETY WE PROVIDE – OR NONE, SHOULD YOU PREFER. WE CAN SUPPORT YOU FROM AS FAR YOU WOULD LIKE. THAT’S THE FARTHEST MY WORD CAN TAKE YOU UNTIL WE STAND ON MORE SOLID GROUND.”

SHE STRUGGLED WITH WHAT ELSE TO DETAIL. THE GIRL WAS A TELEPATHIC; HOW MUCH WAS STILL UNKNOWN TO HER? MORE IMPORTANTLY, HOW MUCH COULD SHE STAND TO LEARN? THE DEPTHS OF PATTEN – WELL, GOOD LUCK FINDING SOMEONE TO SORT THROUGH THAT NOISE AND COME OUT SANE AT THE OTHER END. THE AGENCY ITSELF, HOWEVER… MADELINE TOOK AS MUCH TIME UNLEARNING WHAT SHE HEARD AS SHE DID SLIPPING INTO PLACE TO HEAR IT. AND THEN SALCON AND THE BRANCHES AND THE HISTORY OF THOSE GROUPS – EVERYTHING AT ONCE WOULD BE OVERWHELMING, AND IT WOULD SIPHON FROM THE GIRL’S CONCENTRATION IN HOLDING MARCH AT HER PLACE.

“I DON’T HAVE ALL YOUR ANSWERS. HALF OF THE NAMES YOU SAID, I NEED TO ASK YOU ABOUT.” NO SMALL FEAR ROSE IN HER AS SHE CONSIDERED THIS. HOW COULD SHE HAVE MISSED SOMETHING? WHAT IF THE RUSSIANS FOUND OUT FIRST? “SHOULD THOSE MATTERS TRULY PRESS YOUR INTEREST, YOU’LL FIND A SURPLUS OF OUR KIND BOTH ENLIGHTENED AND INCAPABLE OF BEING QUIET, BUT I WILL GIVE TO YOU WHAT YOU MUST KNOW.” IF ONLY BECAUSE THE JOSTLE OF THE HELICOPTER FROM STEWART PROVING HER WARNING WAS FRESH IN MADELINE’S MIND. SOME APPEASEMENTS YET TO BE MADE. “YOU WERE RIGHT WITH WHAT I DID NOT MEAN: LIMBO IS NOT WHAT YOU HAVE SEEN BEFORE.” THAT NEW NAME, ‘DAVID’… THE GIRL HAD SAID FOURTEEN IN ONE HEAD? “ALEXANDER’S PREDICAMENT OCCURRED AFTER HIS TRANSITION, AND HE BROUGHT IT ON HIMSELF BECAUSE –” BECAUSE HE WAS AN IDIOT, BUT SHE WOULD AVOID THAT WORD WHILE THEY WERE IN THE SKY. “WELL. MEN CAN’T BE BOTHERED WITH MANUALS, AND WE HAVE NO INTENTION OF BRINGING THAT ON YOU. MARCH’S MIND SHALL NEVER MERGE WITH YOURS, BUT WE WANT HER OUT OF HERS. THIS IS ROLLING A BALL DOWN A TUBE AND BREAKING BOTH ENDS BEFORE IT GETS SOMEWHERE, LEAVING HER LOST TO OBLIVION AS SHE FALLS OFF THE EDGE. SHE WILL BE THE EMPTY SHELL SHE DESIRES, BUT NOTHING WILL BE GAINED FROM IT, AND PATTEN WILL HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO EXPLAIN WHY WE PICKED HER OVER HUNDREDS: HIS FASCINATION IN THIS CASE MARKED HER DEATH, AND WE FOLLOWED IT FROM THE BEGINNING.” SHE HAD TRACKED HIS INTEREST HERSELF. IT WAS RESERVED WHEN COMPARED WITH CHARLOTTE, BUT IT WAS BLARING ALONE. THE AGENCY WOULD SEE THE PATTERN AND INSIST, IN A PANIC, AS A COUNTER MEASURE, AND BECAUSE THE CALL TO WAR HAD BEEN SO REMARKABLY ADDRESSED TO THE A-1, THAT THEIR PROCEDURE DECLARED HE MAKE IT HIS NEW HIGHEST PRIORITY – EVERY OTHER PROJECT BE DAMNED. PATTEN WAS MAYHEM, BUT THE AGENCY WAS CLOCKWORK PERSONIFIED, AND ALL STEWART HAD TO DO TO CRIPPLE THEM BOTH WAS SIT IN A CHAIR.

“‘WILLING’ IS THE PROPER WORD,” SHE ADMITTED CAUTIOUSLY. “THE PROCESS MUST BE RESPECTED AS THOUGH NOTHING WAS AMISS. YOU WILL BE SCANNED PHYSICALLY, MENTALLY, THEN BROUGHT TO A SEPARATE ROOM. IN THERE, YOU WILL BE RESTRAINED WHILE THE BUILDING LOCKS TO BAR FURTHER ENTRANCE AND WHILE SHE WAITS BESIDE YOU IN THE STASIS CELL SHE WILL SOON FOREVER CALL HER HOME. THROUGH ALL OF THIS, YOUR POWERS WILL BE DISABLED AND I WILL BE FAR ELSEWHERE. SHOULD IT UNFOLD WITHOUT DISTURBANCE, YOU WILL WAIT ONE HOUR.” SHE SWALLOWED. ”IT IS THEN THAT WE KILL THE TRANSFER: AFTER IT HAS BEGUN, BUT LONG BEFORE IT HAS FINISHED.” A HUSH FOLLOWED. SHE COULD HEAR DANIELLE'S VOICE. MADELINE’S PHONE WAS IN HER HAND AND SHE THOUGHTFULLY TURNED IT OVER. THESE WERE THE MECHANICS ON THEIR NAKED OWN, AND WHAT SHE HAD TO ARGUE. THE BALANCING ACT SHE HAD OFFERED WAS BASED ON A WINDOW THAT MIGHT NOT EXIST, AND IT REQUIRED TIMING, SOMETHING THE RUSSIANS HAD NO MIND TO SUPPLY AND THE NORDICS WOULD NOT PERMIT. CRYPTIC’S ABHORRENT PESSIMISM COULD WORK IN HER FAVOUR THIS ONCE. IF THEIR PLOY WAS AS STAR-CROSSED AS HE WAS ASSURED, ADDING THIS TWIST WOULD NOT BE MORE DANGEROUS. SHOULD HE JOIN HER, THE NEW MAJORITY WOULD OVERWHELM DANIELLE’S PROTESTS, BUT THE KEY WAS IN BRINGING HIM TO HER SIDE. THAT MAN’S BRAINS WERE AS BOGGLED AS IDOL’S, AND HE BLASTED FROM WELCOMING EVERY ATTEMPT TO USELESSLY FIGHT THEIR DESTINY TO FEARFULLY FORBIDDING THEIR PRANCING STEPS. HIS REASONS REALLY WERE DECEPTIVELY STRONG: PATTEN WAS UNSTOPPABLE, BUT THE AGENCY WAS NOT. CRYPTIC SIGNED ONLY WHEN SHE AND DANIELLE HAD HUMOURED THIS. FROM THEN, HE TOOK IT AS HIS MISSION TO ‘SORT’ BETWEEN THE A-1’S WEB – ‘DO WHAT YOU LIKE, YOU WON’T ESCAPE’ – AND THE AGENCY’S ATTEMPT IN PRETENDING TO BE HIM – ‘ONLY A CHILD WALKS THROUGH AN OBVIOUS TRAP’. WHICH ONE WOULD HE SEE THIS AS? PROVIDED, NEVERTHELESS, IT WAS POSSIBLE AT ALL. MADELINE DIDN’T KNOW THE SYSTEM. THE RUSSIANS DID. “I SHOULD NOT HAVE TO WARN YOU HOW BADLY THIS CAN GO.”

LIE TO A PSYCHIC? NOT WHEN MADELINE HAD LEFT OPEN THE SLIVER OF INSIGHT TO HER SOUL.

“THERE ARE NO SUCH THINGS AS BELIEVERS ANYMORE. NO ONE HAS THE TRUST IN THEM TO DO IT. BUT CONVINCING CAN BE MANAGED,” SHE SAID. HER PHONE TURNED IN HER HAND AGAIN. “AT LEAST IN PART. I HAVE TO CALL THE ONE IN CHARGE OF THE ELMIRA STRIKE.” EVEN BETTER. NOW THEY WERE TO RELY ON CRYPTIC’S PEOPLE SKILLS. WHO NEXT? THE DOG’S? “I WILL HAVE TO ASK THAT YOU IGNORE WHAT DEPARTS FROM THE TECHNICAL POINTS. THIS MAN HAS A –” MUDDLED. “– A NOVEL SENSE –” MORONIC. “– NOVEL SENSE OF INTERPRETING THE WORLD, AND FROM TIME TO TIME, IT CLOUDS HIS LANGUAGE.” BAD IN RUSSIAN, TERRIBLE IN SWEDISH, HORRENDOUS IN GERMAN, AND GOD HELP THEM WITH HIS ENGLISH. “… I MAY HAVE TO TRANSLATE OCCASIONALLY.” OR A LOT. IT WASN’T SO MUCH HIS ACCENT AS HIS… NOVEL-NESS, BUT THE FACT THAT HE SPOKE LIKE HIS MOUTH WAS FULL OF BEES DID LITTLE TO HELP THEIR COMPREHENSION.

AND PEOPLE GAVE HER A ROUGH TIME.

GINGERLY, AND OVERLY AWARE OF HOW SHE MUST HAVE APPEARED, MADELINE LIFTED THE PHONE TOWARDS THE GIRL AND GESTURED TO THE SPACE ON HER SIDE OF THE CABIN, AWAY FROM MARCH. SHE DID THIS SLOWLY, BUT WHILE RESPECTING THAT THEY WEREN’T FALLING YET. TOO MANY PRECAUTIONS WAS AN INSULT, AND THUS SHE RELAXED INTO THE DELICATE STATE OF UNDERSTANDING AN ALLIANCE WAS NOT ASSUMED, BUT DESIRED.

“YOUR KEEPER TRAINED FOR YEARS TO FEND OFF YOUR ABILITIES. I DON’T PLAN TO WAKE HER BY HAVING THE CALL RING THROUGH THIS MACHINE. SIT HERE.”

SHE WAS READY TO DIAL WHEN THE GIRL JOINED HER.

BUT IF SHE DIDN’T...

IF STEWART CHOSE INSTEAD TO ATTACK, MADELINE WAS READY FOR THAT, TOO; AFTER ALL, THESE WERE CLOSE QUARTERS, AND SHE HAD LEARNED TO MAKE GOOD ON HER BOASTS FROM MANY TIMES BEFORE.

* * *

Alright. This didn’t count as earning it, but Jason knew a suit’s limits when he saw them. From a pocket on the side away from her, and having twisted his body to hide his hand, he picked out the box his lead had given him and nudged the top open. The shape alone told him what he needed about the contents: it was travel-sized, and therefore it held three shots, each self-contained. The Agency had less trust in them than any other division, and with their historic rate of ‘accidents’, he couldn’t be surprised. Instead of vials they could draw from with needles like adults, they were given pre-filled capsules delivered through single-use injectors no bigger than a pen. Air bubble incidents went down because of it, along with damage caused from drunkenly wrenching points out of their skin or stabbing them into someone else in a once depressingly common blood-based war. It did mean the rates of overdose had gone up since no one but the Agency liked the amount each shot contained – a perfectly hopeless case could call the travel-size his breakfast – but that was a problem for them to solve and him, right now, to use to his advantage. Three shots meant three payments, and the price went up as supply went down. Her ‘answer’, if that was what it was supposed to be, didn’t inspire much trust that she’d have a lot to say, and with the difference in strength between what her kind got and his did, she could last the flight on one dose alone…

Jason used to be nice, back when he’d had a reputation. He’d always been capable of darker deals, but he’d had too much to lose, so he never dared. That was no longer a problem, and the only part of this that scared him was how fiercely none of it did.

“Here.” He tossed the first to her. “It’ll last to the middle of the flight.” It was when he’d start picking at her, and then at the three-quarter mark past that, he’d pick at her a second time. The space between would give him what he wanted to prime her for a deal: drugs for information, as though there was another kind. “It’s strong.” And as the stewardess came by and he gestured to the other suit’s wine, he told them both, “You won’t need that.”

What she’d need was something to hold onto. Again, unlike the responsible groups, the suits weren’t to be trusted with any knowledge. They didn’t have names of what they put into their bodies, because that’d encourage outside purchases and break the economy they’d made with the current supply. So suits got numbers: Batch #41, Batch #90, Batch #138 – so on and so forth. They weren’t rated on a scale of intensity, and for a horde of analysts, no one seemed to care about the reason why XYZ got this number instead of that one, but everyone learned fairly damn fast which batches went to what type. #10, 22, 25 and 77 were the junk chems. He was sure Butter Juice was in there. #11, 12, 96 and 97 were the God Bolts. He’d only heard of ninety people to take those as their standard. Everybody else who had the drug was ‘assigned’ to it, and ‘assigned’ was not a pleasant word. Even some non-suits smartened up when it was tossed around.

It was his fear past the addiction. Jason had a list for why he’d put everything against taking these things. The pride he’d had in it was because it’d been an accomplishment. The suits strained minds, but he hadn’t backed down from his, and it put him more in touch with his equipment than he could have hoped for. He was his suit. Had been his suit. The tightness in his chest clamped around the piercing to his heart. But that’d been something he’d discovered, like a reward for making the difficult choice. Long before he’d touched his goggles, he’d already researched what they’d be giving him, and that’d led to reading the negative side-effects, like withdrawal, and that led to reading up on warnings.

Drugs were bad. When they didn’t work, they could light up someone’s temperature and cook them in their skin. They ate away at mental structure until the drugs were all that let a person even basically think. They stripped away emotion, they stripped away pain, they stripped away everything that made a human a human and the God Bolts were the final pins to that. They were almost exclusively used as punishments. They were instant mental paralytics – just like every batch could be if they were too high above what a suit could tolerate, but these were a special breed on their own. Those ninety he’d mentioned were purposely pumped as part of an experiment that cut off to A-1 classified before it was interesting. Jason only brought it up because the woman’s nonsense story about suits that couldn’t see this one suit struck a chord. His lead was… really admiring of Eric… and he knew what she’d put in her veins. Those drugs were the height of what the Agency gave their best. The last place to go to get higher was suit drugs. Something about Eric… okay – many things about Eric told him it wasn’t a giant stretch to think that if she asked, she could have whatever batch she wanted. Why he’d want her to have them was beside the point growing in Jason’s thoughts. She could want them. And this suit said… Squiddie or whoever – this suit said there’d already been worship and… a transfer?

The tightness in his chest closed him off again. He sat back sternly in his seat, feeling his eyes widen slightly more than they were usually. He immediately broke his rule about drinking when the stewardess, still assuring them they’d take off soon, came by and he quietly demanded something alcoholic. He didn’t drink it. For a long while, he just sat there staring, trying to fight off the answer looming over him. The battle was lost when it began. If she – if Stephanie got her transfer, then what? She just went on with life? He knew he heard there was a program made to help transferred Agents transition, but – still, what happened after? What did she move on to?

How long had Eric been asking the same question?

No, no – Eric was an A-1. Jason had to cut this shit out now. Why the hell did he keep resenting this? The highest rank in their organization might have a specific liking for his lead. This was good. In a dozen ways, it was a promotion, and Eric… Eric was Eric. The man didn’t have to drop to any tricks to get someone he wanted. He could snap his fingers. Jason was mixing theories and frightening himself. Those parallels he thought he saw? First off, bullshit on a suit he couldn’t see. Second, bullshit on holding up a suit to a lead. When suits were depressed, they turned to more of the same, so the fairy tale made sense by ending with Squiddie strapping herself to a force she’d already pledged herself to. Leads didn’t do that. They sized up situations as they occurred and didn’t carelessly fling themselves at something when things started going bad. Yes, taking drugs would get them to do that because the mental paralysis as the strength went up turned irrational thoughts into concrete plans, meaning a fantastical urge to play shadow puppets for the rest of their life would be a permanent goal while they were hopped up, and… and yes, Stephanie was… a lot more accepting of chemical effects than most non-suits, but she wouldn’t do this. This woman had said Squiddie clung to Eric when things started falling apart? His lead was on the verge of getting precisely she’d asked for. What the hell was supposed to fall apart about that?

So…

So there.

The other suit gave a second option anyway: a specialized Pain Eater – perfect. Didn’t those guys have an entire species of overly-attached, follow-you-‘til-I’m-dead, psychotically deluded lemmings? Stephanie was not one of them, and honestly, as brutally effective as suit drugs were, those guys took the cake in clinging. They actually meant it.

Now as for the other one, as he picked up his glass and tiredly sipped it, he could sort out, too. Margaret had signed on for a project. His lead wouldn’t. End of story. She would have already transferred by then, he added. People couldn’t transfer twice. He –

“What,” he began to say, dragging the word through his teeth, “kid?” What-kid-what-kid-what-kid-what-kid? “… Is… his name ‘Nathan’?”

Shit.

Shit.

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit-shit-shit-shit-shit!

This suit was fucking torture. She had no consistency in anything she was saying – truth? Fact? Make-believe? It blended together like she didn’t care! He wasn’t jumping to conclusions here. The scant trail he’d picked up was undeniable. A project of Eric, involving some kid, more experiments, super-secret – that was…

He wasn’t going to let Butter Juice be his gateway drug, but as one hand fed him the rest of the wine and the other vigorously rubbed his face, he wondered if there was something he could take to shut off his terrible, awful, horrific, fucking luck. On the bright side, at least he knew now there was useful information buried inside her. On the not so bright side, shut the hell up, bright side.

“Okay,” he said. He put the glass down. “New topic. If – and I’m only saying ‘if’ here, but if what you told me is true, then how do you stop someone from being his favourite? No – how do you know when someone is his favourite? No – I mean –” Shit. “Alright. Those two, but then also…” It was probably the most important one he could think of. If she answered this, he’d take back over half the things he’d thought about her. “How do you know when someone wants to be his favourite?”

Jason’s odds at stopping Eric or changing the man’s mind were better compared to his odds of sprouting feathers and becoming a peacock, but he saw more of a chance than going against his lead’s decision. He hadn’t had success in stopping her from doing anything, and eventually, he’d have to accept there was a line past which he lost his influence. After everything that’d happened, it was time to learn from it, because he was sick of being told when that line was crossed. From now on, he was going to know. Pro-activity had gotten him his reputation. Just because he’d lost it didn’t mean he couldn’t still be second best.

* * *

Super awesome best new friend – plz don’t kill!!

And to that he said: Quite.

The Post-It was stuck to Elias’ cell. He took it off to study it. Benoit did not have a comparison memorized, but this didn’t strike him as Eric Patten’s handwriting. The letters curved too delicately and they lacked the A-1’s flourish. Someone wrote this on his behalf then, for he didn’t doubt Eric had sent it. What he took from this was the man was elsewhere. A shallow relief came over him. He couldn’t sleep, not because he didn’t want to but because he was now on stand-by, and if he was forced to roam these halls to stay awake in case she called, the good fortune in learning Eric wasn’t around, to the extent he couldn’t write his own dumb notes, was almost as expressive as it’d been when he’d realized he could wash up: relative peace. He’d come here for that to begin with.

The smell of stew had soaked through the building to its highest floors, and he knew because he’d been there. The sole level not covered in the wretched stench was the roof, but there was nothing to intrigue him, aside from a flipped open panel of wires. He supposed that was sign enough of where the base’s defences were destroyed. Interesting, because of the traits the Nordics encouraged, technical competence wasn’t among them. Then he got bored and moved along. No, there was nothing up there. Down here, however, despite the odour, was a small consolation he meant to milk. To start, he set the note on fire with his cigarette. He felt better already.

Elias’ cell was darkened froth streaked by electrical lines. That was also interesting. The loss of light he could write off as the Antis’ attack, but the lunge into a stasis cell during its revitalization… He took the title of ‘Pain Eater’ rather far. Such a shame it was at the raw expense of Alexander. How much was coursing through him now? How long would it take to recover?

“You truly are incapable of thinking your actions through.” Lazy rings of smoke bobbed through the air between them. “You and Eric deserve each other.” The cinders on the note burned through the pulp with a crisp. “The warning is gone.” Nobody but Eric would give a Post-It authority. “It’d be a favour, Elias.” One he didn’t deserve.

Movement.

Behind the cells.

His ears caught the sound before his lenses locked on. He frowned at the lithe figure. Look at that: he’d been lied to again. Or perhaps he hadn’t stretched the word ‘relative’ enough. Eric’s slave was walking quietly. As though she was slinking away, she glided towards the exit. To block it? Bonne chance. More determined women had tried.

“I can see you,” he told the girl. Squiddie stopped abruptly. “It was speculation. He would be dead if I’d had a mind to follow through.” The girl turned to face him, and the red glinted across helmet. “You’re a terrible guard.”

She didn’t respond to this, but he doubted his new pacing around Elias’ cage eased her suspicions.

With Carter gone, there was space to cross through the row. He could move behind the cells without going the long way. Naturally, the slave kept pace, being sure to hold him in her line of sight. Some manner of curiosity pinched as she trained herself to his footsteps. He was amused for a short moment by testing how determined she was, but apparently her dignity remained because she wasn’t such a machine that she locked to them feverishly. Squiddie stopped playing. There was no emotion to be read inside the glass circles of her eyes, but he assigned one to her: annoyance. It fit.

“You didn’t stop me,” Benoit said, “and you failed to leave without my knowledge.” Squiddie stared. He stared back. “I’ve agreed to your owner’s demands. Why send a spy at this late hour?” More staring. This was quite the company: Elias at his side, lost to electric storm, and Squiddie across the room, lost to Eric. These latest days had taken its toll on him, but the building struggle put him more at home. He was being polite, but his gaze wouldn’t leave hers. Machines didn’t flinch, he reminded himself. Squiddie hadn’t, but he wasn’t satisfied. “You aren’t a spy.” Metal arms wouldn’t twitch. “But you’re not here to talk.” Its spine wouldn’t twist. Casually, with a relaxed drag of smoke, he asked the suited girl, “Are you here for me at all?”

Nice goddamned try.

“I see.” Now he was satisfied. “Eric might not like that.”

She ran.

Benoit let her go.

Hmm.

She’d been a faint curiosity for the few minutes he’d thought of her. He supposed the girl standing as a cyborg was still possible, but the shiver of tension he saw across her body was the proof he needed of life underneath her suit. Cute. Yet possibly more distressing. A machine could be programmed to follow Eric around, but for a person to give themselves so completely to the man…

He returned to his temporary person of honour. The black-grey ashes of the note curled on the floor.

“You don’t deserve the favour,” Benoit reaffirmed. “You’re a danger to yourself and everyone around you.” Alexander would be caught. Elias had failed in his bounded loyalty. “You’ll find a way to escape, but not before Eric shatters your mind. And after –”

His lenses were flashing. He didn’t know they could do that. The interface brought up a small screen before his eye. A fast sweep of information scrolled by, garbled and written like corrupted code. It was an encryption – one he hadn’t added. Someone was accessing Madeline’s vault console. That he distinctly would have remembered linking to. The letters rolled on, cold and impatient. A few shone brighter than the rest as if they formed a constellation. From those, a slow series assembled, gathering to a phrase that he soon recognized: docimasy access code detected.

… Pardon?

Allow him to rephrase that: what in hell was this shit?

“Elias, we’ll have this chat when you’re awake.” He threw his cigarette on the ground. It landed by the burnings. “If you’re still here. That wasn’t meant for me.”

There were more guests in the hollowed base. He didn’t care who they were, why they were here or what they were doing, but his lenses did. The lenses passed to him by Jean – calibrated by Jean. Benoit had no desire to talk to these people, but he’d be a fool to ignore the warning.

A warning against the Docimasy.

And now a shiver of tension crossed his own form.

Dear God, old friend. What had happened now?


Last edited by Tartra on Mon Nov 19, 2012 12:03 am; edited 1 time in total
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Join date : 2010-07-10
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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Guest on Mon Jul 30, 2012 11:18 pm

Brie was like an overexcited puppy when she saw him move towards the bulge on his thigh and she seriously had to talk herself down from giggling like a mad woman when he tossed her the prize she'd won. She did it! Haha! She got it right! There was a sliver of a moment where she felt sort of pathetic for being so pleased with herself for satisfying his inquiries but it was fleeting and soon buried beneath the ant-like sensation still scouring at her flesh, urging her to partake in her reward. She did not hesitate, barely registering anything he said to her about it, licking her lips and drooling as she adjusted the injector against her arm and pressed the button with trembling, excited fingers.

It was practically instantaneous. The buzzing on her skin stopped and the headache pounding in her skull disappeared in a blast of euphoria. "Oh," she breathed in realization, almost as if the sudden relief hadn't been what she'd expected at all. Then she was no longer able to speak as the fucking train hit her. The suit! Oh, God! The fucking suit! It felt like it wasn't even something she was wearing anymore, but--butter! It was fucking butter, all warm and melty, smoothed on her body like the second skin it was meant to be--complete! She felt whole! For the first time in her life, she knew who she was and she almost started to cry as the impact of how lost and broken she'd been before hit her with an existential wallop. She had no idea! All she knew was that she never wanted to feel that way again--she couldn't bear it! Anxiety bit at her to even think of what she'd do when this wore off but it evaporated as another wave of calming ecstasy washed over her.

This?! Holy fuck--THIS??? This was what the goggleheads were on? And this was just one dose? Holy shit--she couldn't even fathom taking this and feeling this all day, every day! That crap she'd been taking was cake frosting compared to this--screw it! She changed her mind! She DID want to be in the Agency! In fact, she was signing up for goggles as soon as they touched ground in Elmira. What did she need to do? She just needed to pay attention to details and strut around with an undeserved sense of self-importance, right? Piece of cake! Well... after she apologized for screwing up her assignment and kissed ass until her boss forgot what he'd been angry about.

After a couple of minutes, the intensity of the shot leveled out to a more tolerable level so she was able to think coherently again. Brie didn't really know how much time had passed between when she'd injected herself to now so it was almost like she'd passed out for a few moments. Sitting up in her seat, she wiped at wetness on her face - apparently she actually did cry while rolling in her blissful cloud - and looked at the other suit. In the background, she could still feel the pleasure and contentment the drug encouraged being sung like fairy music lilting through a forest, but in the forefront she felt hyper and sensitive to everything happening around her. The hum of the plane engines, sounds of propulsion systems preparing themselves and building up in the walls and floor around them, as if they were stuck in the belly of a living creature that was waking up. The levels and changes were so subtle she probably shouldn't have noticed but it was loud to her head. The occasional passing of the flight attendant as she wandered around, the sounds she made as she fiddled with equipment in the galley or the distant sound of her voice as she conversed with someone in the cockpit for a moment.

All of it was a bit overwhelming and almost created a headache of it's own, but in the next second her mind separated everything in layers of importance. Oh, this was such good shit! It wasn't just a cheap drug forcing chemicals upon her whether her body was ready to react to it or not; it was skillfully crafted to work with the suit to protect her from the full intensity of what it was doing to her. Each chemical component was set in place to gently cushion her when and where she needed it, holding her hand as it forced her to focus and analyze all of the information her senses could pick up by their own power. She could only imagine what it would be like if she had those goggles on, how the drug would marry perfectly with the machinery to heighten her senses and give her practically limitless information about her surroundings and the activity occurring within her presence. If gods existed, she'd be one - and suddenly, as much as her own feelings of power were setting in, she had a bit more respect for the perceived arrogance of those goggle bearers. With this pumping through their veins, they had every right to think they could do anything better than anyone because they very likely could.

By the time the other suit spoke up again, Brie was paying attention to him - everything else still hummed in the back of her mind but she was no longer concentrating on any of it. There was something grating and exasperated in his body language and she almost felt a hint of accusation directed her way as the cause of it. Well, that was just fine. Although it hadn't been her intention to annoy him, with the humiliating groveling she'd been forced to display, she was somewhat pleased with herself about it. Oh, you DO know about Nathan, do you? Not as much as you'd like, I see. It took her only as long as it took him to move onto the next topic to decide whether she was even going to continue talking to him - why should she? She had what she wanted now, the obligation to participate in whatever drama he was going through was gone. Then his words faded back to haunt her: "only until the middle of the flight". There was a time limit on these good feelings and pretty soon she'd be exactly where she started, except worse off because she'd actually be aware of what was missing. The crash down from this height was no doubt going to be murderous and in order to keep him amiable to sharing and trading, she needed to continue to cooperate.

But when the new questions came, she balked at their subjective nature. Didn't she already tell him that she hadn't met the guy and certainly did not know anybody who knew Eric on a personal level? How the hell was she supposed to answer him if she had no experience to draw on? Then her mind began analyzing and picking apart his reactions and body language, the tones of his voice articulating more than just a simple curiosity about Eric Patten... and that's when she remembered. He'd asked her what Eric would want with an A-3 about to transfer, hadn't he? And before that he'd been on the phone talking to someone about his Lead and her transfer, seemingly more concerned about it than Brie thought was appropriate.

Suddenly, it all made sense and although the evidence for it was flimsy, she knew what he was really asking: how could he save his boss from Eric? Brie was both delighted and ashamed about the tone of the stories she shared with him, unintentionally scaring him more than he needed to be, but also recognizing the advantage that gave her in the long run. There were enough similarities in those rumors compared to what this woman was currently going through to make it difficult to completely discount them, which gave Brie more power than she would have had otherwise. Did she know things about Eric Patten? Of course. Was any of it valuable on a level where it could be considered for logical decisions? Fuck no. But thanks to the emotional investments this suit had in this woman and the possible predicament she'd gotten herself in, it no longer mattered. Now Brie just had to decide how to sell it so that he'd eat it up and be happy enough to keep injecting her with pure sunshine and happiness just to get more information out of her. She had to make him seriously weigh the pros and cons between taking the drugs himself or figuring out Patten's puzzle in time.

"Well," she started, taking a calm moment to look at the ceiling, buying herself more time to come up with something he'd like to hear. "From what I've heard, there haven't been too many people who have gotten his attention on a noticeable level. There was Squiddie and Margaret, of course, but then also Madeline Bergmann and Charlotte Carter. The only reason these stories are flying around is because he DID express interest and it was unusual, so I guess that would be how you'd identify who his favorites are. If he is interested and helps them in ways that don't immediately benefit him then they are getting something that most people do not normally get and that makes them important. As for how to stop someone from being his favorite... figure out what he wants and try to make that person as undesirable for that purpose as you can. But I'd be careful doing that if I were you. You certainly don't want to become one of those listed on the opposite end of the scale - those he becomes invested in hurting. Then again, from the way a lot of the rumors end, I'm not sure there is really a difference in either case."

Pausing a moment, she tried to think of how to approach his last question and became frustrated with him for asking it. How the hell did she know why someone would want to be Eric's favorite? The guy was a psycho and if she were to listen to any of the stories people told about him, whether she ended up in his good graces or his bad, neither place was where she'd want to be because it would most likely end badly for her. That was the true tragedy of the rumors surrounding Eric - he was powerful enough to make anyone's Agency dreams come true, with the disposition to make people believe he truly wished to help but like the Devil making deals or an old-school genie twisting someone's wish, it always ended up not being what they truly wanted. So, how was she supposed to even begin to sympathize-- Then she stopped as it dawned on her. She DID actually get a chance to sympathize with that mindset... when she met the imposters and that guy started to pretend to be her boss. Brie hadn't necessarily wanted to be his favorite, but at the time, she had desired nothing more than to make him happy and pleased with her.

Giving the other suit a considering look, she finally said, "This is about your Lead, right? The one who's transfer you're going to see in Elmira? Eric has been helping her and now you're trying to figure out how to keep her from losing everything, like Squiddie or Maggie." Biting her lip, Brie scooted forward in her seat to lean her elbows upon the table. "You've already tried to convince him to leave her alone and it didn't work, did it? Now you want to convince her that it's not where she wants to be, right? If she is accepting help from Eric Patten, then it's either because she's stupid and thinks she'll be special - that he truly does want to help her and that she'll be able to avoid the very likely bad consequences waiting for her near the end of that trail OR she doesn't know who she's dealing with. Honestly, if she's an A-3, then she doesn't need to have heard of Eric Patten to understand that gifts come with price tags, so it is very likely she just doesn't care. That for whatever reason, it is worth it to risk him hurting her just to get what she wants right now."

"Now, like I told you before, all I have are these stories, so take what you will from this but in every story I've heard about him and the people who's lives he touches, he either becomes that person's entire world, so it doesn't matter what happens to them in the end, so long as they get to be close to him - even for just a brief time. Or, their own goals consume their every ambition instead, so that as long as they get what they want, it doesn't matter how they get there. If your Lead is in either of these mindsets, then you need to replace that hole with something else, something Eric can't give her or take away. Something she could want more than either him or the goals that have taken over her life enough for her to be so willing to hand it over to him."

She was just talking out of her ass now, tossing out theories and assumptions, praying that something would continue to twang on the cords of his emotional guitar and get him thinking she actually had something of value to say. Did he want to save his Lead from Eric because he had feelings for her? Was she really in danger or being influenced by Eric? Who knew? Who freaking cared? All she wanted was more deliciousness from his pocket and she'd say anything to keep the flow coming.

***
So, let her get this straight: Eric Patten was who they were after. The Agency depended upon him so much that taking him down meant the rest of it would fall with him. But Madeline and the people she was working with had to make a big enough scene to even grab his attention and that meant taking away something that he appeared to want - namely, Stephanie. Because of his interest in her, if they attacked her and only things relating to Eric, the Agency would see it as a message addressed directly to him and urge him to do something to stop them. And he would be forced to engage them whether he wanted to or not, while they were prepared to fight him and win. Correct?

There were only a couple of things that Gwen could really see wrong with this plan. For one thing, before this helicopter ride, she'd only heard Eric's name once and that was from Rudy's phone call with him - and she shuddered to remember the eerie block he had up when she tried to read his mind through the phone. What she originally thought was the mental signature of a corpse was really just a void so vast that she could never hope to reach the other side; a very deliberate example of the man's mental strength and how distant he was from the rest of the world around him. So, she was really skeptical about how important he was and how certain these people were that he could not be replaced and allow the Agency to continue running smoothly after he was "taken out" however they planned to do it. Only now, through Madeline's impressions and sharply defined thoughts, did she finally make the connection between Stephanie's "Master" and this Eric guy, so obviously, he was very involved in Gwen's capture and influencing the woman to a great degree. So, even if he wasn't as powerful or important as they assumed him to be, at the very least, Gwen had a personal stake in making sure he was taken down - whether Stephanie's paranoia about him was true or not was another story altogether.

And secondly - and this was the true reason why she was hesitant - this involved Gwen going through half of the process that was meant to "kill" her and Madeline fully acknowledged, both mentally and verbally, that mistakes could be made. It wasn't fool-proof and there was a very clear possibility that the transfer would actually go through without being stopped at the right moment. A lot of lives were at stake and they had a lot weighing upon the success of this sabotage, so these people were going to try their hardest to make sure it happened the way they wanted it to. But... Gwen still remembered what she saw inside Nathan's head. Who's memories they were, whether Maggie's or David's she never really understood and she was probably being more influenced by the contact she made than just the objective images themselves... But she remembered. That pure, animal terror and sick, bitter adrenaline pumping through the person's veins as they were strapped to a chair against their will. She also had very clear memories of Stephanie's lustful desire to strap Gwen down and to forcibly invade her head. Gwen was scared of the chair that Madeline insisted was so easy for her to make a difference just by sitting in it and everything inside her screamed and pleaded with her to bargain and trade anything she could, to threaten and scare the shit out of this woman just to please, please, God, convince her not to make Gwen sit down in that chair.

But as Gwen's presence scrabbled and reached out beyond the helicopter looking for solace and comfort and coming up empty from any signatures she would recognize, she was hit once again by how alone she was. Madeline's explanation of what they planned to do reminded Gwen of Stephanie's proposed plan to get rid of Xander when he tried the retransfer, so she really wondered whether they had gone through with it or if they'd stopped and decided he was useful afterall. Or if he'd made bargains to let Alex get captured and was now walking in his own skin again, ready and willing to serve the people he'd been running from all of these years. Madeline's impressions of him, as apologetic and aware of Gwen's invasion as they were, set down another layer of bitterness for Gwen when she thought about where his loyalties were falling now and realizing that was where they'd always been. His priorities had always been about himself which was why he let her get captured in the first place; to "teach her a lesson" or get rid of her. Whatever would enable him to return to the easy, adventurous life he had before he had to "save" her or whatever would make it easier for him to manipulate Alex into a trap that Xander could benefit from.

It made her sick and although of course it revived her earlier convictions about being alone and in charge of her own destiny, it also revived the flames of vengeance in her heart for what had surely become of Alex by now. Her thoughts and fears about the chair morphed into thoughts of Alex being strapped to it, led there by false hopes and loyalties of a brotherhood that only existed in his own heart, imagined the satisfaction he must have felt to have Xander finally removed after all of these years only to turn around and have Agents swarm over him to claim their prize, understanding and fear filling his eyes as the full weight of the betrayal hit him and he watched Xander walk away, leaving him alone to deal with the enemy they no longer shared. Sure, she could blame Benoit for his pursuit of Alex and for being an Agent and capturing Alex while also orchestrating her own capture in whatever ways he helped Stephanie. But Xander was the one who truly deserved the blame. He wasn't coming to save her and he'd killed her only friend in this fight, the only one she truly cared about more than herself. Madeline was right and Gwen needed to set aside her fear of this to not only take back control of her life but also to give Alex's death more meaning than just being another warm-hearted fool lured to the chair by wolves in sheep's clothing.

As Madeline cautiously motioned her to the seat beside her, Gwen tucked her hair behind an ear and cast a glance at Stephanie before moving to the offered spot. In Stephanie's imaginings, she was in the car with her mother now, who was busy talking with her father on the phone and drinking martinis, while Stephanie herself boredly watched the city go by outside the window, planning for and imagining illicit relationships she wanted to engage in at a fetish club she was going to later that night. Apparently mourning Richard had become too painful and she retreated even farther back to a time when she'd been haughty and spoiled enough to at least retain the image of control over her own life. She had no interest in her mother's conversation nor in the meetings she was supposed to attend in a couple of hours and she had only the barest knowledge of the Agency as a recent career opportunity that had been presented to her in secret by someone associated with her father's business.

Turning back to Madeline, Gwen gave the woman a calm smile and nodded her head decisively. "You don't have to call him," she said. "I mean, you can if you want, but I don't need any more convincing. I'll do it. I'll help you. Thank you for being honest about the risks and thank you for being so... "open", I guess you could call it." She gave the woman a slanted smile. "You don't give yourself enough credit; you're actually very persuasive. It sounds like a good plan and I want to be a part of it."

Glancing through the window between the cabin and the cockpit she said, "I'm no longer threatening the pilot, so you don't have to worry about that. You don't have to worry about Stephanie either. She's currently drowning in baggage and I sincerely doubt that even the helicopter crashing would be enough to 'wake her up'." And that gave Gwen pause as she thought about it. "In order to do this... in order to go through with this so that no one gets suspicious... I'm going to have to give her her memory back, aren't I? I mean... she's crazy right now and isn't even aware that I exist, so that's probably not a good start to getting her to go through with the transfer, right?" Gwen dreaded the cloud of static being swept over her again and the isolation and pressure returning, but if it meant that Stephanie would no longer be able to do anything ever again after this, she could suffer through the next couple of hours of mental agony.

***
This was a bit like babysitting a kid while they were watching TV and trying to retain his dignity by not getting interested in the insipidly simplified shows they were enjoying. And then failing.

They were supposed to be here digging up dirt on Eric, searching for that one monumentally flawed action that would make his entire reputation and empire fold in upon itself. And they had an extremely limited window of time in which to find this smoking gun. Sebastian KNEW this and his awareness of it never stopped pinching and poking him in the back, causing him to constantly look over his shoulder, waiting for that hammer to come down and silence them both. But... although Eric was interesting all by himself... some crazy shit happened in this base even before it got attacked and Sebastian kept getting distracted by it.

When Eric came here, wearing a new body that he'd acquired since he and Avery lost track of him - who the hell was that, by the way? Avery seemed to be aware of the man's identity but wasn't telling - he hadn't come alone, bringing an oddball group along with him. The one Agent seemed to fit seamlessly into the environment of the base, almost like he owned the place, blase and sophisticated, and with a subtle presence that hinted at his ability to back up that air of arrogance - at least he did before he started running through the halls so fast that the cameras could barely keep track of where he was from one second to the next. Seeing what was hunting him, Sebastian didn't blame him, though. And Eric of course tickled moments of familiarity for Sebastian with small idiosyncrasies and gestures entirely his own, setting himself above and apart from everyone with his boisterously sunny presence, as always.

But the other two... they contrasted so much with the first Agent, it was almost like they didn't even belong in the same building with him and Eric. First of all, the both of them seemed to be suffering from some sort of illness that progressively got worse over the course of their stay in Charlton - the woman was showing symptoms from the time she arrived but the suit pretty much kept his feet until a couple hours in. Second of all, whenever the two of them were alone together it turned into the Young and the Restless except with rabbits. Horny, jumpy, sickly rabbits humping in front of every camera they entered the view of. As he watched the drama unfold from Act One in the stasis cell room to the goodbye in front of the restroom, there were multiple times Sebastian wished he had popcorn to munch on.

They'd reached a climactic moment in this story as Stephanie March - as her code identified her when she opened the garage elevator - stood in front of the ladies room, tenderly cradling Jason Bartlett's degloved hand against her face - he was identified through a perusal of Stephanie's records as being the sole suit on her team. It was most certainly a farewell, although Sebastian couldn't hear anything they were saying since most of the audio was focused on Eric's voice for some reason - right, it was Madeline Bergmann's surveillance room; old vendettas and paranoia showing their colors in the most subtle ways. In the previous scene while he'd been alone with Stephanie, Eric made a point of keeping Jason back even though logically, it didn't make sense and oddly enough - or was it this sickness she was plagued with? - Stephanie agreed. After the surreal beat-down of Rudolph Quin, another reason offered itself in Eric's conversation with Jason about her leaving him behind; she was protecting herself from him. Bartlett was a liability to her project and case, weighing her down and pulling her back and she had to drop him if she wanted to move forward.

Up to this point, every time Jason encountered Eric he kept bugging the man about his suit which he seemed to have lost due to a demotion - although, Sebastian could find no evidence of it, either now or ever; the guy had a perfect record and he was an A-5, the files said, so he should have been able to keep his suit. With the ultimatum Eric had presented to both March and Bartlett at several times during their stay in Charlton, he'd made it clear that if Jason stayed behind, he could continue to wear the equipment he so desperately wanted to keep. So, why Jason was hesitating during their goodbye... Sebastian could see it, just as Bartlett did, his hand falling from her grasp and her face slackening - the cameras were extremely high quality tech but she was far enough away from the one positioned in that hallway to make it difficult to see her entire expression change, but Sebastian still felt it. He did not need to hear the words to know what Jason said and he was held rapt to the screen as Jason turned from her, heading back down the hall towards the stasis cell room. As he weakened during his trek, seemingly influenced by psychological factors beyond Sebastian's understanding, he felt a small shade of triumph within himself to see the story turning out this way - no doubt Bartlett was going to make the ultimate sacrifice to join her against the A-1's orders - and he shook his head in a small gesture of amazement at both the drama and almost pathetic determination to be together that these two possessed. But wait... where was March going? Wasn't she--

"Seabass! Helloo!?"

Sebastian jolted out of his daze and quickly looked at his boss who was trying to get his attention. "Huh?"

"Did you get any of that?" Avery was extremely excited about something and that was when Sebastian remembered the notepad in his hands and the notes he was supposed to be taking on the video feed, writing down anything they could possibly use to nail Eric. "The phone call??" Avery enunciated in aggravation and only then did Sebastian remember Eric's voice talking with someone very threatening and angry while the Stephanie+Jason drama had been occurring. Sebastian fumbled for an excuse but Avery grew tired of waiting and yanked the notepad out of Sebastian's hands. "Gimme that!" He read over the sparse notes that existed there, a frown deepening in his forehead as what he was looking for failed to appear on the page.

"I'm sorry, Avery," Sebastian offered with an exasperated sigh, rubbing at his peach fuzz covered scalp. "I got distracted again."

The excitement didn't fade from Avery's eyes as he looked up from the pad, suddenly shoving it back into Sebastian's hands. "Well, pay attention! I'll rewind it and I want you to write down everything you can during this phone call. I think we got him!"

Nodding lamely, Sebastian folded over to a clean sheet, readying himself to focus. As Avery found the appropriate spot from which to start over, Sebastian's eyes momentarily strayed to the screen at the bottom left where Jason had arrived at the restroom door, standing close and talking through it, almost like he was attempting to coax Stephanie back out, to replay the scene and try again, hoping that she wouldn't die in the middle of the conversation this time. Hoping to do something monumental and meaningful like he had when grabbing ahold of her near the stasis cells, enough to knock her off her feet and bring her to life again.

As the audio picked up Eric answering his phone, Sebastian shoved aside that faint, childish entertainment and turned his attention to the main screen Avery was poised before - when he started stalking Eric through the different cameras, to make navigation easier as Eric floated about the base, he set up all of the screens to register the same time frame they were replaying. Sebastian listened, with his pen held above his paper ready to jot any important information down but he stayed that way for pretty much the entire conversation. What happened to Eric while he took on the identity "Peter Halsted" had been before Sebastian's time, back when Avery was still taken seriously and actually had a team of Docs to follow up on reports against the A-1. It had been easier then to play upon the Agency's doubts in the man after Alexander killed him, which meant the Doc cases were more genuine although not much easier to solve. Still, everything Alexander and Eric were currently talking about was stuff Sebastian had only read about in the time-worn and over-analyzed files that Avery had kept during that time.

Most of what was said seemed to be just an emotional rehashing of the past - Eric was emotional about it as well, but in very subtle ways that both Sebastian and Avery had been trained to detect through their years of studying and dealing with him. So, after it was over, ending with an anticipated "Cakes and sprinkles!", Avery turned to him with eyebrows raised expectantly. "What?" Sebastian asked, shaking his head a little and looking briefly back at the screen as it continued to play through Jason's sudden arrival back to the cell room. "Was that it?"

"Yeah! Did you write down the important parts?"

"What about that was I supposed to put down? There's nothing there that we can charge him with. If anything, I'd say it's good Agency work luring the target in with threats and promises - which he has full authority to make, by the way, even if he wasn't lying just to get him here."

Oh, sure. Avery had every reason to feel exasperated with how slow Sebastian was in trying to grasp the guy's point. "No! Not any of that! The part where he admits there's going to be an attack on Charlton!" Had they been listening to the same phone call? In response to Sebastian's blank look, Avery gestured at the screen - as if whatever was happening there now was somehow an example of the conversation they'd heard. "He said that when Alexander gets here, the Agency would be the least of his problems! What else could he be talking about?" Avery swung his hand around at the ceiling and then sweeping it over the bodies on the floor as if trying to conjure up the large hole in the lobby to illustrate his point.

"Uh, a lot of things, actually. That's pretty damn flimsy and doesn't deserve to even be jotted down as evidence."

"He's being deliberately vague on purpose!!!" Avery said with a dismissive scoff, leaning with his hands resting on the small sill beneath the control panel. "He knows if he says anything more direct, we could use it against him!"

"Which is exactly why we can't, because none of it is direct at all and there's plenty of wiggle room for him to deny any claims we might make about him having prior knowledge of the attack or possibly even enabling it to happen," Sebastian shook his head, flipping back through his notes. "So far, the only thing we can even remotely make a case out of is this thing he's got going between March and Bartlett. I've marked down about 15 separate instances where he has outright acknowledged their inappropriate behavior and done nothing to put a stop to it. It is very obvious he knows what's going on and even implies what might happen between them eventually, but even that is just a simple charge of "Indecent Favor" and "Dereliction of Professional Decorum" which is stuff he will shrug off before we even finish dotting the "i's" on the report. Even He says that if it got more serious, he'd put a stop to it. The fact that it hasn't gotten serious enough to really require his involvement is proof enough that it's a waste of time. So, unless they start fucking in a back room somewhere..." Sebastian looked up at Avery who was still leaning upon the console and staring fixedly at the screen, listening to Eric's conversation with Jason, but at least hopefully half-listening to some of what Sebastian said. Even so, Sebastian lamely ended with "We're back where we started."

Flipping his book closed, Sebastian was momentarily caught back up in the main screen as Rudolph Quin started waving a gun around and screaming but then his eyes caught sight of something in the lowest right hand screen. "Wait-wait-wait!!! Stop! Go back!" Sebastian insisted, suddenly shoving at Avery to move him away from the control panel so he could rewind the feed. What the hell was that?! Did he just see what he thought he saw? Once they got it back a few seconds, Sebastian watched more closely as March stepped into the infirmary where her supposed target and another woman were currently engaged in some sort of struggle. With straight-backed strides, moving quicker into the room than he would have thought possible, Stephanie grabbed ahold of the other woman and after barely a minute... "stabbed" her with her hand. The now dead woman was registered as Harper Anderson from the code she used to enter the base, an A-3 from South Carolina and although he didn't know what she was doing here, her rank alone was enough to seriously grab his attention as Stephanie apathetically tossed her corpse aside.

Digging out his phone, he began actively searching through Docimasy files, sweeping through them with flicks of his thumb across the small touchscreen. Avery peered over at him in confusion, the look deepening when he was forced to move as Sebastian shoved a small cord into the control panel, hooking it to his phone. "What are you doing?"

"I'm recording this part of the feed," Sebastian said, poking buttons until the scene was rewound to the beginning, with Harper kneeling on Stewart's chest. "And then I'm sending it to the Doc in charge of March. According to recent Docimasy alerts, they're already after her on this murder case and if they don't have this, then they need to see it."

Avery came up with a myriad of reasons why he shouldn't be doing this, that it wasn't their case and thus not their problem - and he certainly pointed out the fact that by doing this, he'd be alerting other Agents and Docs of their presence here, namely, where they were not supposed to be, but Avery already did that when he used his Docimasy card to unlock Bergmann's security system. Sebastian ignored him, bringing up John Creasy's phone number and attaching the newly downloaded video file to a text - Found this. Thought you should see it. - that he promptly sent. With that finished, Avery yanked the cord out of the console and shoved him aside, taking possession of the control panel once more as Eric's bodyguard began beating upon Quin on the main screen, but Sebastian didn't protest. It was practically numbing to see this unexpected development unfold and Sebastian truly wondered what it meant and what it was all about, wishing that this program had subtitles or something. Then he had to shake it off, telling himself that it wasn't his case and thus not his Agent to worry about, as panic registered when Patten wandered off the grid in the recorded feed, seemingly disappearing where no cameras could find him. The only rooms that were invisible to the cameras' sights were Bergmann's office and the security room itself... which made Avery frantic trying to find him again, yet left Sebastian glancing down at the bodies on the floor, wondering how long they still had to find their smoking gun.

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Part 1

Post by Tartra on Thu Aug 30, 2012 3:47 pm

SHE FELT RELIEF. THIS HAD ALMOST RETURNED SOME SEMBLANCE OF ORDER TO THE CHAOS THEY HAD BUILT AROUND THEM. MADELINE, IN HER EXHAUSTION, TOOK ANY INVITATION SHE COULD GET: THE CELLPHONE CALL TO CRYPTIC COULD WAIT. SHE FELT MORE RELIEF. SHE WOULD NATURALLY HAVE TO CONTACT HIM SOON, BUT HER MIND WAS TIRED AND COULD NOT BEAR THE WEIGHT OF A SECOND COMPLEX CONVERSATION. THIS TALK HAD TAKEN ITS FILL OF HER, AND SHE WANTED TO SHAKE HERSELF FOR THE DEVIATIONS SHE MADE. GWENDOLYN STEWART? HELPING THEM? IT WAS SUCH BLESSED AID, SHE BARELY KNEW HOW TO EXPLAIN IT IN A WAY THE OTHERS WOULD APPRECIATE. HAD SHE MANAGED TO REACH MARCH BEFORE HER HEAD HAD BEEN SEALED BY HER CAPTIVE, DANIELLE WOULD HAVE EXPLODED IN FURY OVER THE ACCOMPLISHMENT. THERE WAS NO PLEASING THESE IDIOTS. A MISTAKE WAS AS HEINOUS AS A SUDDEN ADVANTAGE. PULLING OFF THE BREAK DURING MARCH’S ATTEMPTED TRANSFER WOULD NOT BE THE END; OBVIOUSLY, STEWART COULD NOT STAY BY HERSELF, AND MADELINE WOULD THEREFORE BRING THE GIRL TO THEIR MINIATURE HEADQUARTERS. FROM THERE, THEY COULD SPEAK ABOUT THE HELP THAT THE BRANCHES COULD GIVE. THE TRICK WAS ENSURING STEWART MADE IT THAT FAR WITHOUT A NORDIC INTENDING TO CAUSE MORE CASUALTIES OR A RUSSIAN IN THE MIDST OF A PARANOID MELTDOWN STUMBLING OVER HER. SHE WOULD HAVE TO STICK FIRMLY BY MADELINE’S SIDE.

SHE TRULY COULD NOT RESIST. NOT EVEN A HELICOPTER COULD LAND WITHOUT HER TRYING TO GATHER EVERYONE ONTO HER SIDE. MINUS THE DOG – WHO HAD FAINTED – BECAUSE HE WAS A CHEW TOY.

“YOU HAVE TIME,” SHE SAID. “HER MEMORIES NOW AND HER MEMORIES MINUTES BEFORE WE LAND SHOULD MAKE NO DIFFERENCE.” THIS, BARRING ANY SUBTLETIES OF THE GIRL’S POWERS. “ENJOY THE PEACE YOU EARNED.”

ARRIVING WAS THEIR SECOND MILESTONE, IF THEY HADN’T ALREADY HAD A SECOND. SHE LOST COUNT OF WHAT STAGE THIS WAS IN THE EXCITEMENT THAT PASSED. THE PROCEDURE WAS MADE FAIRLY SIMPLE IN ORDER TO MINIMIZE THE RISK OF DEVIATIONS. THEY WOULD BE MET BY THE BUILDING’S A-2, WHO WOULD SIGN THEIR FINAL ADMITTANCE, AND THEN ESCORTED TO THE PROCESS ROOM, WHEREVER THAT HAD BEEN PLACED. THE FARTHEST MADELINE COULD BE EXPECTED TO FOLLOW WAS TO THAT DOOR, BEHIND WHICH, STEWART’S MIND WOULD BE VIEWED AND HUMMED ALONG AS ELMIRA DECIDED THE BEST WAY TO STICK A LUNATIC IN THERE. SHE WAS DECIDING BETWEEN TWO COURSES OF ACTION: MARCH HERSELF WOULD NOT BE ALLOWED WITHIN THE ROOM WHILE SCANNING WAS UNDERWAY, BUT SHE WOULD BE GUIDED TO A SMALL VIEWING ROOM THE TRANSFER OVERSEERS USED TO CALM AND QUESTION THEIR PATIENT. FOR STEWART’S SAKE, BECAUSE MADELINE IMAGINED MARCH TAKING THE MICROPHONE TO KICK AT HER WHILE SHE WAS DOWN, PERHAPS SHE SHOULD GO TO THE VIEWING AS WELL. SHE COULD MONITOR THE GIRL AND STEP IN WHEN THE WORDS TURNED TOO ROUGH. OR… SHE CAST HER EYES AT THE PALE, TANGLE OF BLONDE HAIR ACROSS FROM HER. WITH MARCH AS WEAK AS SHE WAS, SHE EITHER WOULD NOT MANAGE TO SPEAK, OR STEWART HERSELF WOULD HAVE WORDS TO SAY BACK. THE WOMAN WAS CLINGING TO A DELICATE THREAD. IF STEWART PUSHED HER TO SNAP AND ENDED THE THREAT, THEY MIGHT SKIP THE ATTEMPT TO TRANSFER ALTOGETHER. IN WHICH CASE, THEY WOULD NEED THEIR PRIVACY.

STEWART WAS STRONGER THAN SHE LOOKED. SHE HAD TROUBLE DOING IT, BUT SHE FOUGHT FOR HER LIFE. SHE WAS HUMAN. A HESITATION WAS NOT MERELY EXPECTED, BUT WELCOMED. FOR TOO LONG, MADELINE HAD BEEN SURROUNDED BY KILLERS. MARCH WAS A DIFFERENT STORY. NO SOONER THAN THE HAPPY THOUGHT THAT A WELL-PICKED RETORT COULD THROW HER OVER HAD EMERGED, SHE REALIZED HOW BLATANTLY THE WOMAN’S WEAKNESS SHOWED. MADELINE HAD APPROVED EXTREMELY FEW TRANSFERS WHEN HER HANDS HAD BEEN TIED BY THE CHAINS OF HELL, BUT SHE WOULD NEVER NEED TO BLINK BEFORE SHE TURNED MARCH AWAY. HER MENTAL ENDURANCE WAS FALTERING; HOW COULD SHE SURVIVE A NEW HEAD WHEN HERS COLLAPSING TO PIECES? NO ONE WITH SENSE WOULD LET IT HAPPEN. AND THERE, SHE SUPPOSED, PATTEN HAD DONE THEM ANOTHER SERVICE.

GRACE LI: CURT, UNFEELING, UNBURDENED BY COMPASSION LIKE A TRUE A-2. HUMANITY WAS HER INCONVENIENCE UNTIL IT HAD BEEN BOTTLED AND PLUGGED IN TO ANALYZE. SHE WOULD SKIP THE PSYCH TESTS, THE MENTAL HEALTH SIGN OFFS, THE EMOTIONAL STABILITY CHECKS AND A HANDFUL OF OTHER PRE-TRANSFER REQUIREMENTS IF IT MEANT GETTING MARCH OUT OF HER SIGHT SO SHE COULD RETURN TO HER WORK, AND ALL THE FASTER WITH PATTEN’S FINGERPRINTS SMEARED ON THIS. FOR A WOMAN WHO DESPERATELY NEEDED ANY FAVOUR SHE COULD WRING FROM THE STUPID MAN, HER EVERY INTERNAL CORRESPONDENCE SHE DELIVERED TO OTHERS AS STATUS UPDATES WENT OUT OF THEIR WAY TO WORK IN A NOTE TO SPIT ON HIM. ‘TOO MEDDLESOME,’ ‘TOO CLOSE’, ‘TOO DEMANDING’, ‘SMILES TOO MUCH’ – HER ELECTRONIC SIGNATURE HAD BECOME A GLARING ‘GO AWAY, ERIC’. THE CONNECTION MADE MADELINE UNCOMFORTABLE. IT WAS A BROADCAST FORUM, AND THOSE NOTES AND CLAIMS AS OFTEN CONTAINED STARK ORDERS: ‘ERIC, I WANT FUNDING HERE’, ‘ERIC, GET ME THESE CELLS’, ‘PATTEN, STOP WASTING MY TIME AND SIGN FOR THESE DELIVERIES’. IT WASN’T ONLY HIM IN THAT LIGHT. THE ENTIRE CONCEPT OF THE A-1S WAS BEING ATTACKED WITH DISRESPECT, YET FUNDING WAS PROVIDED AND DELIVERIES WERE MADE QUICKLY. PATTEN HAD NO CONCERN FOR IT. AND THOUGH…

LI WAS THE PERSON STEWART WOULD ABIDE UNTIL THE PROCESS BEGAN ITS SCANNING STAGE. AFTER, THERE WOULD BE BIGGER CONCERNS TO CONTEND WITH, BUT CAUTIONS WERE REQUIRED TO LAST TO SEE THAT DISTANT TIME. MADELINE ASSUMED THE PSYCHIC LINK PERSISTED. SHE LACKED A WAY TO BE SURE, OR ANY SIGN IT HAD BEGUN BESIDES STEWART’S VERBAL REACTIONS, BUT WHILE THIS WAS IN HER HANDS, SHE WOULD MAKE USE OF THE CONNECTION. LI COULD BE SUMMARISED BY MANY SINGLE WORDS, ONES OFTEN STRUNG TOGETHER IN A NEATLY COLOURED PHRASE, BUT DEMONSTRATIONS OF HER ATTITUDE COULD HOLD THEIR SILENT VALUE. PATTEN’S FINGERPRINTS WERE ON THIS. IT WAS BEST TO KNOW HOW ALL HIS PUPPETS DANCED.

ONE INTERACTION STOOD OUT TO HER. AS PART OF HER SUBTERFUGE, MADELINE READ LI’S MESSAGES MORE CLOSELY THAN PATTEN EVER COULD. SOME YEARS AGO, PERHAPS FOUR, LI AND AN A-3 HAD ENTERED AN ARGUMENT. THE EMAILS WERE KEPT CIVIL BUT WERE APPROACHING BOILING TENSIONS. PATTEN WATCHED EVERY MOMENT, SOMETIMES OPENING FROM HIS COMPUTER WHAT RECEIVED BEFORE LI GOT IT. AT LAST, UPON A HEATED DEMAND TO KNOW WHO SHE THOUGHT SHE WAS, LI EXPLODED IN A WRITTEN RAGE EXPLAINING HOW SHE RULED THE AGENCY’S GREATEST ASSETS, INCLUDING PATTEN, AND THAT THIS A-3 SHOULD BE SO LUCKY TO HAVE LASTED WITHOUT HER CHOOSING TO TURN HER A-1 PET LOOSE ON EVERYTHING THE DISSENTER SAID. PATTEN IGNORED IT. THE A-3 HARSHLY RETURNED THE WORDS AND ANOTHER SPAT BROKE OUT, BUT EVENTUALLY REACHED THE A-3’S DECISION TO RAISE HIS OFFERED PAYMENT TO INCLUDE HIS PERSONAL SERVICES IN A MISSION – OF GRACE’S CHOOSING. LI FURIOUSLY REJECTED THIS. PRECISELY THEN, THIRTY SECONDS AFTER SHE HAD SENT HER NOTE, PATTEN SENT HIS TO HER: ‘>:-(’ PREVIOUSLY, THE RETORTS HAD TAKEN TWENTY MINUTES. LI’S NEXT TOOK TWO. IT WAS HORRIBLY MISSPELLED, AS THOUGH SHE HAD BEEN SHAKING WHILE SHE WROTE IT, AND ALTHOUGH IT MAINTAINED ITS ANGRY TONE, IT HAD BECOME MIRACULOUSLY OPEN TO NEGOTIATING. MADELINE FORGOT WHAT THE A-3 HAD WANTED, BUT PATTEN HAD HIM LEADING A STRIKE FORCE LATER. THE MISSION WAS SUCCESSFUL AND A MARK WAS CAPTURED, BUT SHE PINPOINTED LI’S HYSTERICAL SIGH OF SOLACE AS EIGHT MINUTES AFTER SHE HAD SENT THE AMENDED MESSAGE. PATTEN HAD, SURELY STOPPING THE LONGEST WAIT OF HER LIFE, READ LI’S CHANGE OF MIND AND UNDENIABLY SPARED HER WITH A PRIVATE, ‘;-)’ THE GOOD DOCTOR’S OUTBOX WAS SILENT FOR A WEEK. WHEN IT RESUMED ITS ACTIVITY, IT FELL BACK TO ITS USUAL BERATING, AS THOUGH THE INCIDENT HAD NEVER HAPPENED.

MADELINE HAD HEARD SEVERAL POSSIBILITIES, NONE THAT SHE COULD TRUST BECAUSE THERE WAS NO ONE FROM THE BRANCHES IN ELMIRA TO GIVE IT, BUT THE MOST PROMISING WAS THAT PATTEN WAS HOLDING HER LIFE HOSTAGE. BY ‘LIFE’, SHE DARED TO SAY SHE USED THIS WORD IN THE SAME WAY SHE WOULD WITH MARCH, THAT LI’S LIFE WAS HER WORK LIKE MARCH’S WAS THIS TRANSFER. NOBODY ELSE WOULD FUND LI BECAUSE HER VISIONS WERE TOO BRUTAL. THEY CALLED FOR BLOOD BEFORE THEY BORE FRUIT. THAT HER ACERBIC NATURE NEVER DULLED PUSHED AGAINST HER, TOO. PATTEN HAD TAKEN A LIKING TO WHAT SHE PROMISED. MADELINE’S TEETH GRITTED. MORE LIKE THE SHARK HAD SMELLED DESPERATION. LI’S GENIUS WAS A BONUS, AND HER THIRST FOR KNOWLEDGE WOULD BE SLAKED UNTIL HE HAD WHAT HE WANTED FROM HER. NOBODY KNEW WHEN THAT WOULD BE.

SO. THE FEAR THAT MARCH WOULD NOT BE DEEMED FIT TO TRANSFER WAS AN UNNECESSARY CONCERN. MADELINE RETURNED TO HER FIRST WORRY OF WHETHER IT WAS WORTH FOLLOWING STEWART FOR AS LONG AS SHE WAS ABLE OR GOING TO HELP THE RUSSIANS IMMEDIATELY. THEY HAD THEIR PREROGATIVE. THEY WOULD HAVE ENOUGH TO JUGGLE WITHOUT A SIDE OPTION TO THINK ABOUT – PAST THE TRANSFER BREAK. WHAT STEWART HAD ALLUDED TO… ‘DAVID’. THE NAME WAS NEW. AND STEWART HAD COME IN FROM ELMIRA, HADN’T SHE? THE RUSSIANS WOULD REFUSE TO LOOK IT INTO IT. MADELINE, HOWEVER, WOULD BE IDLE HANDS. EVEN IF SHE DIDN’T TAKE OR DESTROY WHAT THIS ‘DAVID’ WAS, SHE WOULD BE REMISS NOT TO LEARN OF IT, TO SEE IT WITH HER EYES.

“I AM GLAD I HAVE CONVINCED YOU. I KNOW THERE IS MUCH FOR YOU TO LEARN,” SHE SAID. “WE DO HAVE TIME. I UNDERSTAND YOUR NEED TO REST, BUT BEFORE YOU CAN, I HAVE TO HEAR MORE ABOUT YOUR FRIEND WITH THE PEOPLE IN HIS HEAD.”

SHE NEVER DREAMED SHE WOULD SPEND HER LIFE DOING THIS, BUT NOW THAT SHE HAD INVESTED HERSELF, SHE INTENDED FOR EVERY MOMENT TO COUNT. THEN THEY COULD CLOSE THEIR EYES FOR A WHILE AND STEADY THEIR HEARTS FOR THE SECOND ACT. THEN STEWART COULD HEAL FROM THE WOUNDS THE AGENCY DEALT HER ON EVERY LEVEL. HER STORY WAS A SAD ONE, AND WHILE MADELINE COULD NOT CHANGE WHAT WAS REVEALED, SHE COULD BE SURE THIS WAS NOT THEIR FINAL CHAPTER. THE GIRL WAS A WRITER; SHE WOULD APPRECIATE THE METAPHOR. IF NOT, THEN MADELINE HOPED ALEXANDER HAD GIVEN HER ENOUGH FAIR MEMORIES TO EASE HER SCARS. HE OWED HER THAT. IF HE CARED FOR HER AT ALL, HE WOULD BE WITH HER NOW IN SPIRIT.

* * *


Last edited by Tartra on Thu Feb 07, 2013 9:20 am; edited 5 times in total (Reason for editing : add: Mad. paragraph; cut: Team F)
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Part 2

Post by Tartra on Thu Aug 30, 2012 3:51 pm

God, the problems did not stop.

Jason was set to yank his curly hair out its roots, just because that – yank, pain, potentially blood – would be the one reaction in the last two days that followed any sort of logic. He could count on it to do what he expected, instead of veering off and sprouting lollipops. He was a rational mind sent to organize a hurricane. Did anybody notice the problem? He didn’t regret giving the other suit the dose, but he resented the hell out of it being her only worry. If only he were so lucky to exclusively fear chems, because screw everything else, it wasn’t his concern. Oh, right, that had been his life a week ago, and then he fucked off to help on a superpowered case. Yes, since he wanted to move up in the Agency, this was the right path to take. Damn it all. Dammit, dammit, dammit. And now he had no choice but to take the suit at her word because there was nothing else to go on. And this plane hadn’t moved!

Okay, calm down. It wasn’t like he could fly a plane. Maybe there was some serious problem in the sky they were waiting out before – then go in a different direction – okay, he was calm. The stewardess had gone by again to re-re-reassure them of their upcoming departure. Right now, they’d be essentially taking off when his lead and her target landed. He’d’ve had a better chance driving.

Driving! The car was still outside! He jerked up in his seat, energetically alert. Then he crushed the idea down and settled in. Can’t take the car, he realized. They’d have less hope. The entrance forms specified the form of travel. If they did arrive, they’d be locked out because Elmira wouldn’t see a jet. He had to sit here and make the best of this. He could do something with what the suit said. He was positive he could. His instincts had been wrong once or twice, and although they screamed there was no course he could take, it was worth triple-checking his double-check.

He didn’t know Margaret or Squiddie. He did know Agent Bergmann, but to call her Eric’s favourite was… whatever – sure, Bergmann was in that group. When he came back to Charlotte Carter’s name, he gave appropriate pause to the instance. Whether or not he was supposed to have seen, he had, and it flooded back to him. Eric spoke so carefully of her, then never mentioned her again. Alright, he hadn’t been following the A-1 every minute, but when he had finished describing her plight, he shut off and went back to Jason’s lead. So she was talked about sparingly. When she was relevant, she was brought up, then slipped away again when the mood finished. She might have existed to him now as only he a tool he couldn’t reasonably walk around with all day, no matter what had gone on while she’d been alive. It wasn’t his place to speculate on that. Aside from absolutely speculating on it because matching how they acted to how Eric acted with Jason’s lead – he meant he wasn’t going to speculate the personal side of it. He wasn’t even going to speculate if there was a personal side.

There was a personal side.

Okay, aside from that.

Jason strained with the urge to ask the other suit what she knew. Little, if he had to guess, and he didn’t want to draw out false information. It was a question better spent on someone closer to Eric or who had met him than self-professed rumours. That required leaving be the matter of whether Charlotte was considered a successful favourite. How did they meet each other? What did he want from her? Did he get it? The questions buzzed around his head. Eric explained that Charlotte had been dragged in. If he had gotten what he wanted, Jason assumed it was before that. If.

The rest of what the suit said was worse for him. He had to ‘figure out what Eric wanted’? Should he try to find a genie or wait for a wishing star? And the overwhelming chance of failure led to incurring Eric’s wrath, just like he’d always wanted. He might get bumped to A-8 after it. But reality stepped in and reminded him the other option was giving up. Or… ‘replace that hole’. The way it was described put his lead in… well – both those categories. The first wasn’t dominant – he didn’t think Eric was her everything, but for a while, it’d seemed close – but the second was word-for-word. Replace it with what? She didn’t want anything else. After Stewart had been transferred into, she’d be complete. Anything else she might learn to crave was specifically what he provided. He could give her work and wealth, for starters, and hell, he could give her Jason with a few scratches on a form. Jason could work for her forever as she walked in her new body. So she had everything. Everything.

He knew he looked depressed. He tried to shake it, but it didn’t budge. He was hungry now, ‘cause that was something he could focus on that had a solution. … Everything. And she was so blinded by the need to do this, it might be easier to wait until after to find a missing piece he could give to her. Easier was riskier, though. After the transfer, would it even be her inside? He knew it wouldn’t be Stewart, but…

His words drifted off to an empty thought until the stewardess returned.

“Sir? Ma’am?” Jason looked up. “We’re ready for takeoff.”

“You are?”

“Seats upright and trays away.” To help, the woman took away their glasses. On cue, he heard the engines rumble to life, finally spinning outside of his window. “Seatbelts on, guns away, knives strapped in.” The usual spiel had been tailored to meet the Agency’s culture. “I’ll return once we’ve reached our cruising altitude.”

There weren’t as many bursts of contentment as he’d hoped. It paled under a larger line of growing dread. He had a handle on it, but it didn’t do more than prevent its growth. He was sick of this. He just wanted to get to Elmira and check up on his lead. Whatever came next, he’d work with, but there couldn’t be a next without a first. Limply, he dragged a hand over his goggles, noticing the pain had receded lately. The broken connection still hurt, but having a whole suit in his decided possession soothed what should have still been agony. The Butter Juice might have helped, but this was the heavy hitter. He should get to work repairing what Stewart had ruined. Then he had to sift through the time she’d had them in her possession. The memory pinged a nerve in his forehead. He hissed air through his teeth until it also disappeared.

“Thanks for the help,” he blandly said. “Enjoy the next few hours.”

He’d have to pick this up with her later, but his mind ached with what she’d given already. And then he was glad he wasn’t stuck driving. A night in the sky was a forced vacation. He could use one about now.

… Hold on over there, Jason silently ordered. He’d be late, but he was coming.
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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Guest on Tue Sep 11, 2012 11:56 pm

He wasn't worried.

Once Patten left him alone in the kitchen to deal with his missing plastic friend and the fact that he still hadn't gotten that private word with Squiddie, Rudy handled the climbing anxiety by buying himself a snack. In addition to the refrigerator and coffee machine in the kitchen, outside in the hallway were two vending machines filled with the staples of any office building. Ignoring his last name scrawled in large, flowing script on the side of the first one, Rudy put a dollar in and bought himself a small bag of Quin® brownie "Fudgekins®" - bite-sized, bucket-shaped, triple-chocolate fudge brownies, with "fresh from the oven" soft, moist outsides and creamy, milk chocolate centers. They were packed full of vitamins and minerals and injected with the tasty and very addictive Quin® Company secret formula which was put into all Quin® products. Not the most nutritious or even remotely filling thing to be putting into his body but it was comfort food, which was really what he needed right now.

Why should he be worried?

The heavenly taste of his father's billion dollar baby in his mouth didn't help on it's own to dispel the clawing frustration and the helplessness of not knowing, so Rudy left the kitchen to go for a walk, keeping himself moving to stay occupied - and to also work off the calories he was gulping down by the hundreds with every bite. When the walking itself became repetitive and his mind began to wander into treacherous territory again, he took out his phone and searched for the nearest flower shop in Charlton. Making his own user account, he logged onto their online store and set about selecting a gift for the lovely Ms. Squiddie. She may be dangerous, as Eric said, but she was still a girl and all vaginas loved flowers. Even the sorta butchy dyke ones - especially them, if anyone got the Georgia O'Keeffe joke.

He wasn't worried.

His love knew no bounds when it came to numbers or price tags and he wanted to make absolute sure that this gift would be not only extravagant enough to get her attention but also exquisite and beautiful enough to articulate how he felt about her. There was no shortage of that in the site's selection of designer bouquets... which ended up being the problem. He simply couldn't make up his mind and soon his shopping cart was filled with about a dozen of their largest, most brilliantly colored flower arrangements. Seeing them all together on a list, side-by-side did nothing to help him choose between them, so leaving the quantity as it was, he finally selected the "checkout" button, typing in the address for the Charlton base as their delivery destination. It was still pretty late - or early, however you defined it - so the actual shop was probably closed but the order form was submitted and would likely get attention from the employees as soon as they opened the store for the day. He couldn't wait to see her reaction once they arrived - although she wore that mask thing, she might still get excited by the plants and attack him in a fit of lustful fury or something.

Old habits died hard, and as soon as he'd been left alone, Rudy took out his phone and checked the HSA.

As an added surprise for her, he also made out a few personalized cards for all the bouquets, addressing each one to "My lovely Squiddie". Letting his geeky side out, he used the provided space to type his messages and put in Doctor Who themed romantic notes like "When I am with you, time knows no bounds.", "Would you like to be my Companion?" and "Do you wanna ride on my T.A.R.D.I.S.?"

Not a speck of movement on it, no matter how much he increased the specifics for the program's detection. The last activity had been inside the base.

Since they were going steady now, he'd committed himself to providing her with everything her heart could ever desire and of course that always started with the random out-of-the-blue gifts to make her feel special and let her know that he was thinking about her... a lot. In fact, he couldn't get her out of his head. And he couldn't seem to remember there ever being anyone else besides her - surely, no one else could ever fill his heart or make him feel this way. It was as if the world started with her.

She left and flew completely off his radar, which was impropable, because if she was awake and running there should have at least been some sort of heat trail. Especially now, if she'd gotten far enough away to feel safe. Which meant...

On a physical level, he was fine with things staying the way they were, although there was always that small glimmer of hope for more, nestled in the back of his mind. She had plenty of strength and enough desire to hurt him to keep him satisfied forever, but would it be enough for her? It was the one thing he wasn't sure he could provide but only because he couldn't get close enough - just give him 5 fucking minutes and she'd never be able to stop wrapping her legs around him. The obstacle was and always had been Patten. How could they possibly find time to be together if the man wouldn't let Rudy near her? Was he protecting Rudy, like he said or was there something else going on? Earlier in the evening, Rudy had been led to believe that Eric and Stephanie were in a relationship - eventually that was disproved when he watched Eric roll out a fucking red carpet for Jason, laying out a path straight to Steph's vagina. Obviously, the guy's only investment in that psychotic whore's love-life was setting her up with that suit-wearing faggot - by the way, he still hadn't forgotten why his life was in ruins right now and both of those lovebirds were going to pay for the mess they made.

But he was fine with it. She was not his problem anymore, right? Eric Patten said so.

There was a very urgent question that remained unanswered and yet continued to plague his mind and soul: did Squiddie like chocolate? White chocolate was one of those things that only a small percentage of the populace liked. The same with "dark" chocolate, the bitter taste of which only a few people had a tongue for - himself not included. He couldn't go wrong with old fashioned, plain milk chocolate or caramel, so, he also found a chocolate and candy shop in the city, called them and left an order on their answering machine for several boxes of their finest varieties - no nuts, though. God forbid Squiddie ended up being allergic. How ironic for his mountainous, sexy warrior-woman to be taken down by such an unlikely vulnerability.

The sensitivity of the HSA could pick up even the slightest temperature shift for her specific heat signature. She wouldn't burn those bodies in the lobby in a fit of rage and then run out the doors without still being geared for more enemies to show up. She wouldn't just turn it off like that. Unless she was unconscious, which meant, she hadn't been awake when she left the base...

"Goddammit! What the hell just happened??? Explain this to me, Seabass! What the fuck am I looking at here?!"

"It looks like maybe the power cut out during the attack--"

"ARE YOU FUCKING SHITTING ME??!"

"...we lost about 45 minutes of the feed."

Rudy didn't know where he was in the base - he'd tripped down stairs at some point - but he found himself drawn to a door off the right side of the hallway he was wandering in, through which sudden, explosive screams and curses were emitted in a steady stream of incoherence. The door was unlocked and after tucking his cell phone away, Rudy poked his head inside for a peek, chewing on a Fudgekin as his eyes were drawn to the ground where a couple of bloodied corpses lay. Nonplussed, he listened to more conversation coming from a slightly ajar door against one wall - even though the curtain made him think it was a window at first - before stepping fully into the unoccupied room and gently closing the door behind himself. Neither voice was familiar and Rudy had no idea what he was walking into, even as he casually avoided the bodies and made his way towards the hidden door. It didn't matter who the voices belonged to or what they were doing here. The frantic tones got him curious and with everybody else gone or dead... they were new people to talk to!

Had she been alive when she left the base? Not that he was worried about it or anything.

***
This was a major blow for them. For their case, of course, since they still hadn't found enough evidence to warrant snooping around in here but it was especially hard on Avery. The multilayered stories continued to play out on the different screens: March, Bergmann, and Sanders left the base with the target in tow; Quin was nursed and abused back to health in the infirmary; Bartlett had been granted leniency, from whatever he'd done wrong - which, from this end of the conversation with no context to put it in, the crime appeared to be that he wasn't sleeping with Stephanie March, and now that he was willing to do so, his demotion had been overturned, if Sebastian interpreted things correctly - and he'd been given Eric's blessing to also make the journey back to Elmira. Then, there was sudden activity coming from the front doors, with two new people entering the scene. The code used was registered to a Roland somebody but these didn't look like Agents, so Sebastian assumed it was a stolen code and that these two were the first part of the strike that hit the base.

Quin also used his code to open the same doors and started to talk to the strange woman in the lobby - what was Quin's angle? Where did he fit in all of this? Was he with them? After pointing a gun at Patten, admitting to open plots to blackmail his fellow Agents, and then this, it certainly wasn't looking good for the little guy and Sebastian also sent a report about that to the Doc on Quin's case. He was gathering evidence for every case in the Docimasy except his own; it felt like business as usual and he sighed as he finally put his phone away. Then the screens all flickered at once, sputtering a black and then cerulean blue before blinking back on to reveal the base in it's current state, jumping within 5 seconds from a sparsely occupied office building to a crumbling abattoir. This was when they also discovered that there was a cell missing from the room where they were being kept and Sebastian prepared himself for the imminent explosion that he knew was coming. After the initial fit however, Avery quickly calmed down to a grumbling simmer, which Sebastian applauded him for - either the anger management sessions were working or he'd gotten so used to arriving at this place of defeat and despair that he was willing to forgo the usual dramatics.

"He had something to do with this," Avery murmured toxicly. "He wouldn't risk doing something truly awful while on camera, so he found this room and erased the entire attack from the feed. To hide his involvement in it."

"That's a little extreme," Sebastian commented. "Couldn't it be just as plausible that those who attacked the base cut the power, thus eliminating the base's defenses, and everybody was so busy dealing with the more extreme problem that they didn't think to turn it back on until after the attackers left?"

Swiftly, Avery turned around to face him and spat out, "How could they turn the power off if they couldn't get through the base's defenses?"

"Maybe they had someone inside already," Sebastian suggested, noticing a little late, the blossoming gleam in Avery's eye.

"Bingo," he whispered in a voice hoarse with exaggerated triumph before turning back to the screens which were now playing a conversation between Quin and Patten that nobody was really interested in.

Convinced that the smoking gun was somewhere in the missing half hour, Avery fruitlessly rewound the feed over and over, replaying the moment the recording cut out, searching for some vestigial image to clue him into what happened - and more importantly, who was involved. Again and again, the black and blue blankness stared back at them mockingly.

"Okay," Avery finally sighed, leaning heavily on the console. "We can't get anything concrete during the attack, not unless we ask him about it ourselves and believe me, I will, but maybe we can still make something out of that phone call." Filled with a new sense of purpose he began obsessively rewinding the feed to review Eric's phone call with Alexander yet again. Sebastian let out a heavy sigh, his eyes glancing at the ceiling in supplication. Not looking at him, Avery said over his shoulder, "At the very least, we can use the details from it to ask him questions and maybe get him to say something on accident."

Yeah, they could if there'd been anything there to trip him with. "Eric... saying something on accident? Are we talking about the same guy? I've never seen him get frazzled or stumble over his words. He always says exactly what he means to."

"There's a first time for everything!" Avery shot back, his eyes fixated on the screen in front of him, giving him the best view of the stasis cell room. "He's not perfect. Besides, sometimes what he means to say isn't what he means to say." Sebastian was about to argue the overt fallacy in that statement but he was "shushed" as Avery found the spot he was looking for and let the feed play.

Sebastian settled himself in to wait while his boss reviewed the recording, knowing already how this would turn out: Avery would be predictably unsatisfied in the end and possibly insist on watching it again, at which time Sebastian would put his foot down and drag the man away to continue searching the base. At one point while Avery was immersed in the feed, Sebastian turned around to see Quin standing in the doorway of the vault, illuminated by the blue-gray light from a hundred screens. His eyes were wide, the bruises around them making him look like a raccoon and he peered slowly around at the walls, distractedly lifting something small and dark to his mouth that he'd just removed from what appeared to be a plastic chip bag. Not a chip but some other snack that dropped dark crumbs and was silent as he pushed it into his mouth whole and started chewing it. And of course, with cheeks full, he took this as the perfect moment to start speaking.

"Dude!" Quin mumbled, spitting crumbs in his excitement. "Do any of these get NBC? I think BSG might still be on!"

His voice got Avery's attention and leaving the video running he turned to look as well, seemingly annoyed by the interruption. "What are you doing in here? Do you have clearance to be in this room? Who gave you permission to be in here?"

"Free pass. Door was open." Quin swallowed most of what filled his mouth, enabling the pace of his speech to pick up. "And, just curious, who might you be and what are you doing here? These are video cameras recording stuff in this base right? Have you been watching us this whole time? Did you see me shoot that one invisible dude? I actually meant to shoot that fag, Alex, but still it was pretty cool, right? Are you working for Granny? Did you tell him about my demotions? Is that how he found out all that stuff about me? You're his stalky-stalkers aren't you? Does he have you watching Steph too?"

"I don't know who the fuck you're talking about. Shut up. Get out. You can't be in here."

"Why can you be in here and I can't be in here? What is this room? Is this your hideout? Are you guys looking down Agent ladies' blouses? Is that what this is really about? You're totally perving out and I'm not invited, is that it? Because you know you can't get close to them to ask them out. All Agent women are crazy. So, you're just getting your jollies by watching them from afar and using these cameras to zoom in on titties."

"No! No, you're wrong! None of that is even close to what's happening!"

"You mean you're not taking advantage of this? What kind of--Oh, are you guys 'partners'? This is like your closet or something? No? Still, it's what I'll tell people if you don't let me stay and watch your TVs... and let me use them to zoom in on Agent women's' sweater kittens."

It was like a meeting of the "Fast-talkers", Quin's rambling speech interspersed between Avery's rapid-fire answers, almost like they were racing each other to the end of the conversation. Sebastian was content to stand back from this for the moment and let the two bullet each other with alternately ironic and defensive one-liners, although there were several odd things inserted in Quin's drivel that had him curious and wondering what he was talking about.

"Speaking of TV, did you guys see the ending of Lost? Do you want me to explain it to you?"

"Enough!" Avery shouted, removing the badge clipped to his belt and brandishing it at Quin. "We're Docimasy Agents and we're here on an investigation--"

"Ooooo! Shiny!"

"--and we can't have you hanging around, getting in the way! All active cases are kept strictly under wraps--!"

"Can I have one?"

"No. You have to be in the Docimasy. But you're not and never will be with a record like yours, so shut your face--"

"Hey! Is this the 'Me Show'?" Rudy asked. Suddenly bored by the verbal sparring with Avery, he stepped towards the still running camera feed where Patten stood currently being threatened by a panicky and psychotic Quin.

"No. It's the A-1 Show," Sebastian piped up.

"As in steak sauce?"

"No. As in 'Eric Patten'," Avery said, stopping himself short of yet more aggravated rantings intended to get Quin to leave as a look of epiphany spread over his face. "Actually, if you must know, he's the one under investigation." Sebastian knew where this was going and he was suddenly of the mind to get involved and stop it now.

"Really?" Rudy said absently, standing in front of the computer console now, eyes latched onto the main screen and watching himself with interest.

"Yeah. Seen anything unusual happening lately that you want to talk about?"

Stepping quickly between the two men, Sebastian got up close to his boss and said, "I would like to have a word with you. Now, please." Reluctantly, Avery agreed and they scooted off to the side of the room, far enough away from Quin to get some privacy, even though he probably couldn't hear anything above the recording of his own frantic shouting anyway. Glancing over his shoulder once, Sebastian turned back and asked in a steady whisper, "Are you sure it's a good idea to interrogate Quin?"

"Why not? He might give us some valuable clues about what happened here."

"'Why not?' How about the fact that we watched Eric and his bodyguard beat the shit out of the kid! Not only is he a habitual liar but now he's got plenty of motive to want to get back at Eric. I don't call that 'useful'."

"Relax, Seabass," Avery said with a tolerant smirk on his face. "Listen, this is actually a good thing. He's gotten attacked by Eric and punished by him, which means he hasn't been bought off by him. How many times have we run into dead ends simply because everyone the A-1 encounters is either too afraid of him or too in love with him to say anything bad about him? Quin is both stupid and angry, which gives us the advantage of him being more truthful about the negative qualities Eric possesses."

While the two gay-birds were off in the corner making out - Ew. He was right here, guys. - Rudy continued to watch the screen replaying the moment that had changed him forever. He remembered how scared he'd been that Eric wasn't going to give him what he wanted, how angry he'd been by the thought of someone capturing Ozzie and transferring into her, how powerful he felt to have Eric targeted, just a trigger-pull away from no longer being a problem. It seemed like days separated it from sitting down at a kitchen table with the guy, being forced to tell the truth, just so he'd get a moment to speak with Squiddie. So much of what he needed and wanted had changed since then and this was the exact moment of his transformation.

Rudy's breath hitched in his throat when she suddenly appeared, a smile summoned to his face at the same moment she was summoned into existence, with the Electric Light Orchestra's "Strange Magic" playing in his head. Excitement coursed through him and his eyes hungrily drank in every movement as she stepped in front of the him on the screen, knocking his gun aside and grabbing a hold of him, flipped upside down like a careless plaything in her hands. Her face was still a mystery but he noticed the size and shape of her breasts, unable to tell if it was a genuine representation - due to the design of the suit and the armor padding - but not caring, pleased with the visual all the same. Her voice hit him to his core as it came through the speakers, both remembering what she sounded like and yet having that memory overridden and erased by the present recording, his mind making room for the revitalized details.

Then the forceful sound of his head meeting the ground came through the speakers with the thick crack of bone against wood.

Instantly, he became aroused, his arms shaking and breath tumbling out of him in weathered gasps as he held himself up on the edge of the console, standing on shivering legs, ready to buckle and fold up under the pressure of reliving this. His eyes never wavered from the screen as her voice returned, calmly dictating to him some accusation he had no memory of her stating before, waiting until the air was clear of sound before letting his head hit the ground again. He stayed firm, listening and watching it all happen again, his breathing quiet and excited and his body throbbing in time with each "bop", pleasure teasing at the edges filling the remembered wounds on the crown of his head with shades of pain. Her muscles tensed and flexed as she let him drop again and again, grabbing him up each time before he stayed in the air too long. Strong, confident and mercilessly cold, she held his life in her hands, bringing him ever closer to the edge of death but never pushing him farther than he could go and never letting him fall more than he could handle.

There was no mistaking how she loved him, how she played and teased him, making up new, frivolous crimes just looking for new excuses to hurt him, under the guise of being on "Eric's command". Whatever hold Eric might have had over her, it was nothing compared to what was between her and Rudy. They were connected and looking from the outside as he was now... he could see it. Could see how much pleasure she'd gotten out of it as well. Could see the way she reluctantly dropped him when Eric was done with him. She must have been heartbroken when Eric didn't let her speak to him during their meeting earlier and she was longing to be with him still. He vowed, he would find a way to get close to her again. They would dance again.

"Truthful? No, I don't think so," Sebastian whispered to Avery. "More likely, he'll tell you exactly what you want to hear and leave us with nothing that can be proven or send us chasing our tails trying to find answers. We don't have a lot of options right now, especially not when it comes to time to waste on false leads. You can question him if you want, but I am not going to base charges on any of the ridiculous crap he might blame on the 'big, bad A-1 who hurt him'."

"So, what are you saying?"

"We double-check everything. If we can't find analogous testimony to the things Quin says, or evidence to back it up, then we drop it and follow a different lead. Alright?" Avery was thinking about it and chewing on the inside of his lip, but Sebastian craned his head to get the man to look at him. "We're not going to be the laughing stock of the Docimasy anymore. We're going to get Him but we gotta do it right."

Avery nodded, seemingly finally seeing reason and stepped around Sebastian to approach Quin who was still watching the monitors. But Sebastian was not about to let one Eric hating fanatic lead another down the rabbit hole; it'd be their bullet-conversation all over again, except with the two of them being bestest friends, racing each other to one false conclusion after another. It didn't take much to get Avery spinning out of control and it would end with all of their brains splattered against a wall and yet again penalized for their inability to conduct a professional investigation. Laughed at, yet again, on the Docimasy Concluded Reports site. Mocked, yet again, in the hallways of their own base.

Quickly stepping beside Avery, Sebastian spoke before the other man could open his mouth. "Rudolph," he said, getting the kid to turn around to face him. "Do you know what this is?" He held up the badge from his coat pocket, illuminating the Agency shield by the light from the screens.

"A really pretty thing. I want one."

"It's a Docimasy badge. You've probably never heard of us and that's because we rarely have to get involved in Agency affairs except for when extreme rule infractions have been committed." Sebastian paused to tuck his badge into his pocket again. "Do you know why we're here?"

"Because you really want to punish whoever finished off the steak sauce. I say, go for it. That dick just ruined meat for the rest of us and deserves what's coming to him. Or, we could just buy a new bottle and call it a day. Good work, team!"

Sebastian frowned and then narrowed his eyes at Quin. There was no way that Rudolph missed the different mentions that had been made about Eric Patten and he certainly knew who the guy was - the man's identity and face had been practically hammered into him. The reference to steak sauce alone meant that Quin remembered the exchange that happened just a moment ago when both he and Avery specified who they were looking at. Quin wasn't stupid and Sebastian was done treating him like he was.

"Rudolph, you know who we're here for and I think you may know something about why we're here for him," Sebastian said, slowly starting to pace nearer to the shorter Agent. "I want you to tell me about the attack that happened here. I want you to tell me about Agent Eric Patten and what he was doing during the attack."

Okay, shit just got realer. Up until this point, Rudy had been having a good time dancing around and poking these two homos, but it seemed this one dude actually wanted answers from him. That got Rudy thinking about what he should actually say. He... didn't really hate Eric any more. The guy was a tough nut to crack but he wasn't a complete jerk like Rudy thought he was before. Besides that, he was the doorway to Squiddie and right now he was the only doorway that Rudy knew about. If Eric got into trouble with these dudes, what would happen to her? She might hate him for throwing her boss under the bus, but then again, Eric might never give Rudy that moment alone that he wanted with her. But if he was locked up - or whatever these guys intended to do to punish Eric - then Rudy would definitely never get that moment alone with her. Hm, a free Eric or getting revenge?

"Your words can be submitted anonymously," Sebastian said. It was true, during the investigation, the Docs on a particular case were not required to reveal who submitted testimonies as evidence. However, once the case was concluded, all names and reports included therein would be submitted to the Docimasy public records. Still, there was no reason Quin needed to know that and at this point, Sebastian was willing to promise and threaten anything to wring what usefulness he could out of Quin - if there really was any to be had. "But I need to inform you that if you lie to us, you can be held accountable as an accomplice to the crimes Agent Patten has committed, not to mention you could be charged with hindering our investigation. These are serious offenses and could mean the end of your career in the Agency - and anywhere else."

The truth? Oh, well! If they insisted! "Eric Patten?" Rudy asked, thinking it over for a second or two longer. "Yeah, I know him. A real stand-up guy. You know, for someone with so much power and authority, he's really quite generous and understanding. A man's man type of guy, ya know?" The guy who was questioning him seemed to find this response really surprising, but if Rudy was perfectly honest, Eric had been more than sympathetic to his plight, going so far as to make deals with him, when he should have just snapped Rudy's neck for pulling a gun on him. He didn't have to let Rudy live but he did.

"I wasn't with him during the 'attack' or whatever, in fact, I didn't even know the base was being attacked. I was passed out for most of it and I didn't wake up until the intruders had already left and everyone was dead." Rudy shrugged and gave them a thin-lipped smile. "Sorry, I can't help you. I'm sure Eric was busy doing everything he could to fight them off. He's certainly big enough to rival the Hulk and I can't imagine he wouldn't put that to use."

Sebastian blinked and made a small empty noise with his mouth, unable to comprehend why this had gone so astray from what he'd expected. Why wasn't Quin taking the bait? If Sebastian had to guess, he'd think that the opposite of what Avery predicted was true: Eric had bought another closed mouth. Why was Quin protecting him? What was the tiny Agent hiding? Whatever it was, Sebastian was not going to be lead around like a fool. He'd find the bottom of this, even if he had to torture Quin to get it out of him.

But Rudy wasn't done. "I'll tell you what I do know, though," he said, giving his interrogators a thoughtful look. "You're not here for the reasons you say you are. In fact, I don't think you're supposed to be here at all." Sebastian and Avery traded an uncomfortable look and Rudy took their silence as free license to keep going. "So far, other than your division, you've both failed to fully identify yourselves. Possibly, so that later on, when someone else comes snooping around, I'll be unable to tell them the names of who came here. Seeing as how the base was recently attacked, if you had the Agency's best interests in mind, I'd think you'd want to leave firm footprints so nobody confuses you with sympathizers trying to cover the truth rather than reveal it. So, obviously, you're trying to hide your presence here for whatever reason."

Rudy gave a cockeyed glance at the bodies on the floor of the vault, continuing his speedy dialogue without a hitch. "You've made it pretty obvious that you're here 'investigating' Eric Patten, pulling upon allusions to the attack on the base but never fully stating what you're investigating him for or what the charges are. You keep digging at me for information, threatening me with similar charges for this unnamed crime, probably hoping that I will give you something to attack him with." Rudy looked up at them both, pulling a Fudgekin® from the bag and gesturing with it. "Which means, you don't have anything. So, I guess that brings me to my earlier question: Who are you and what are you doing here? And why are you after Eric Patten?" Giving both men an expectant look, Rudy put the brownie snack into his mouth and chewed it placidly while they thought it over.

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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Tartra on Sun Sep 16, 2012 10:17 pm

Damn. People. There wasn’t enough to contend with already. Benoit’s eyes narrowed at the figures in the vault. They were concealed behind the curtain, and so he was concealed from them. It eased some of the burden. He hated that the power had returned. The faded, auburn light flushed the hall and swept the doorframe. Were he not prepared to duck should one of them return to Bergmann’s office itself, his silhouette blocking the rays would have attracted their attention. All attention was lethal when he could not afford to be seen, and the code his lenses gave him prompted more than usual concern. He was not about to end his record avoiding this division’s sights, not when the cry began as directly a part of their presence. He felt torn in tempting it. For the second time on Jean’s behalf, his neck was pulled over the line, but now there was no clever thrill buried inside the risk. The timing of the alert failed to fall on a blind gaze: this whistle blown for this interference, and this shortly on the heels of the Anti-Agency’s attack... He had hoped Jean learned some form of subtlety during the years. Apparently not.

He listened while the words flowed from the curtain’s edge. The heat of their bodies shone red through the fabric, heightened by their shifting as they frittered away their focus. It was delicate work to understand their chat. The short one talked the fastest, but he was loud and it compensated for the speed. The duo had been harder to hear and one was nearly as quick, but Benoit gleaned the gist of things: Eric. Of course. At least he stood assured the lenses’ complaint was not their priority, but it fell badly on what they were doing here. The lobby was still lit by the embers of corpses. Unless they believed Eric threw the match, there were more dangerous foes to engage. They needed to be stopped. They should have been ages ago, but instead he was merely left with the Agency’s hindsight. The Nordics were disorganized and controlling; albeit deadly, the first Anti-powers refused to take them in. Because of the ostracization, the Agency left them off the list and ignored the signs that built to this. Benoit’s guilt in having done so little here was tempered by the memory of why he’d wanted them removed. CryShadow had roamed these corridors. Living through Alexander was a challenge, but surviving the darkness was a miracle not soon repeated. He didn’t have scars to show for it. CryShadow did not provide them. Its consumption of a soul was a savoured swallow, and it spoke of how wild the other branches thought them to have denied their entrance to the circle even purely for the use of that shade. The last record he found on file trailed into an incomplete search for a weakness. The Agency’s best defence back then – and still – was brightness, but it was not a counter. CryShadow needed shadows to move. Taking them away kept it from spreading, but it fought on, forced into a mass that broke like powder but recovered the moment the lights blinked.

Benoit should not have let that German go. One word of his location, and Danielle could have thrown their monster out to feast. Was it luck they hadn’t? The German had looked nervous, so perhaps he was too flustered to mention it to them. ... He didn’t believe that. Anyone would have seen the agitation and pressed the fool for details. There would have been another sweep because the Nordics couldn’t resist the taste of blood. The link grew clearer, and now his resistance came from reluctance to accept the new idea. Why was a German man alone with them? The branches didn’t mix, and to add to their bickering, both saw the other as beneath the first: the Germans because of their original strength, and the Nordics because of the former’s failure. They had never worked together before. Then maybe... that had changed, he thought. And then the decision not to recheck corners for prey could be explained by a merging of their two strategies. The Nordics destroyed, the Germans kept efficiency, and when the allotted time to strike expired, they agreed to depart. He knew what Eric mentioned before, that deals had been cut for cooperation, but to bring what was essentially another enemy along for a fight was more than what had been implied in the description. These two weren’t simply working together. After decades of war, they were working together.

The weight of the thought with such emphasis and grown from a seed of what he knew about them crushed his breath from his lungs. And Eric had spoke of the Russians. Then this was... far more serious... The lenses urged him on. Gentle twists within his mind began to move other notions into place. This wasn’t all that had been revealed today – today alone. The branches were supposed to have been severed. They couldn’t have healed so quickly, if ever, and he had personally put his hand in the design to ensure they could not regroup.

... There had only been one such attack, he told himself. It was too early to jump to conclusions.

No, he shouldn’t have let the German go. There were answers locked in him. Benoit couldn’t help it now but he felt the regret. Another revelation, and one Jean would be proud of: drinking on the job was not the best choice. He’d dropped into his habits of letting one run off so he could manage those interested in fighting, then utterly forgot to tidy the loose ends because schnapps. He vaguely recalled the phrases he’d had spinning around his head and raised an eyebrow at himself in mild annoyance. He’d meant to be rid of those. That was the deal: Jean drove away further involvement of his agreed ex-peers, serving as the fair chance Benoit customarily gave, and he, knowing whoever persisted past his friend decided to take the challenge, finished them willingly. With Jean gone and him too strained to think on it, his internal adjustments had strictly spread along his business side. He’d gone back to hosting these games. Then he shouldn’t feel as upset that the German escaped based on principles – oh God, he had those back, too. This was going to be a nightmare. Logistically, Jean had fucked a lot of things by dying, and he wasn’t finished working out what in hell March’s toy had shown him with the goggles. Now he had three troubles to hate Jean for. Never mind. He returned to what was before him. There was at minimum one answer to find in the vault, but he wasn’t getting near it with those people. He couldn’t ask them to leave. Not without a reason.

Not without bait.

He left the door, ghosting from the office and towards the direction he came. His footsteps were silent as he slipped across the carpet. The stains of gore were wisely dodged. Where was he, that lumbering clown? He swore he existed to help the Agency and if Benoit was an Agent, then by Eric’s logic, he should be blessed by A-1 aid. Fortunately, experience enough to expect some trading of debt. It wouldn’t be happening. He didn’t hope to learn how Eric behaved, but there was a pattern to be found in those who became his victim, and while Benoit’s knowledge came at others’ expense, he was indifferent to it in the face of such insight. He had a plan to approach this. The issue was in finding the person to be approached.

Ah. Here.

On the fourth floor – this man had no consistency in what he haunted – and in a break room sparser than what was usually offered – courtesy of Bergmann – was Eric, cozied into a makeshift bed of two dull-looking chesterfields pushed together. It was hard finding suitable accommodations for Jean no matter who was in him.

Eric was asleep.

The darkness was not ignored.

Benoit walked in. The two lamps had been switched off, and the small window in the back had also been boarded. He took a sombre walk to the corner of the room, searching for other life. They were alone. Completely alone. It didn’t throw his focus from his goal, but...

He wasn’t out of breath, but he stopped to regain it. Eric was alone. That was according to what he could tell, but by Eric’s admission, Benoit would know better than anyone. He remained quietly in his corner before he wrapped his coat across his body and set off to stalk the walls. He paced with his eyes fixed firmly on the centre of the room, filled by someone who had ousted a coffee table from the spot. Then he paused. He reached an angle aligning him with the other man’s unaware head. It was interesting. Eric was unguarded – he couldn’t stress that fact enough. The A-1 was determined to flaunt his grip on life. He was exposed.

Idly, Benoit’s hands produced his cigarettes.

He didn’t intend to use this information. He was just... aware of it. March’s suit would do the same. These were objective observations of a scene he’d entered. His pulse was controlled. These were notes.

Notes saying Eric slept on his side. There was a kidney, a lung, and a jugular. With the snug fit between the cushions, any motion to turn would offer more of a throat. Eric’s temple was a circled option. If he rolled onto his stomach, he shared access to his cerebellum. Dots of elevated – natural – interest. Someone with a preference for it, however, someone of less patience, may be bettered suited to slashing aimlessly. Eventually, the flesh would break. It was something to think about. Benoit envisioned it as a precaution. It was his job to know what harm could be dealt, and while the scenes unveiled, Eric slept on in total confidence.

How fair it was to have that peace. It came from wielding a strength death could not take.

Something to think about.

“Wake up, Eric.”

“Uhn.”

Truly, what a sound of grace. Eric went right back to sleeping – or rather, didn’t bother leaving it. Benoit took another look as he lit the next course of his dinner, then decided between a roll of his eyes or another twitch to his brow after what he saw. This man did not waste effort with even an ounce of shame. They appeared made of silk and much too fancily trimmed, but the money didn’t change that those were full suited, blindingly blue, darker blue pinstriped pyjamas. Given that this was Eric, he might as well call them ‘jammies’, since that was likely term the A-1 would boast. There was a blanket underneath him to shield from the roughness of the couches. Then, because he wished to be sure absolutely everyone’s respect for him was akin to steel, there was a teddy bear. A fucking bear. Where Jean’s clothes had been taken was a question he had no plans to ask, but trading them for bear – and a lousy bear at that. One of its eyes had fallen off, an ear was lost, both arms and half a leg were entirely removed, and that half-leg had been sewn at the knee in a mock wrap-up of an amputation. He noticed a hollow in the right of the bear’s body. It was patched with a yellow square, but the depression underneath it meant its stuffing was removed. He couldn’t venture a guess as to why Eric would have kept it, because the golden colour of the fur and elegant texture of the cashmere holding the faux beast together had weathered from age. Most pegged this as sentimentality. He didn’t, because Eric. Benoit blew his next cloud of smoke at the A-1’s head. That did it.

“Sorry,” he said, bored.

“That’s okay, Benny,” Eric sleepily replied. He was ready to nod off at a second’s notice. “... Were you... watchin’ me sleep?”

“Flattered?”

“Little bit.” Big yawn. “What c’n I do you for?”

Get the hell up, go the hell downstairs, get those intruders out of Bergmann’s office so he could understand what had sent the warning.

“There are people to see you,” Benoit said. “They’re Docimasy.”

“... Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm... ‘kay.”

And he went back to sleep.

“Wake up, Eric,” Benoit told him, louder now as he willed the man to budge. “You have to talk to them.”

That fucking bear stared at him with its one eye, judging him while Eric sighed a sugary sigh. There seemed to be a struggle in the happy lump’s mind. Part of him wanted to stretch while the other half tried to curl. After a good thirty seconds of reaching no decision and just lying there, he questioned, “Who’sit?”

“I don’t know.”

“Hmmm.” Eric turned over. There was the back of his head, with nothing in the way of it. “Bassnavery.”

“What?”

“Sebastian and Avery,” Eric bloomed, floating away on a bed of dreams. “Avery’s in charge, but I like treatin’ ol' Sebass as the brains. Avery hates that...”

“Good to know. Wake up and you can make him hate it once more.”

“Hmmmmmm-mmmmm. Mm-hmm.” Before he could press, the lump lazily muttered – face-first into the sheet – to Benoit, “What’re you doin’ up?”

“Miss Bergmann has me on standby. There have been some...” Regardless of how it was phrased, Eric would react the same, but for his own sake, he considered his words. “Developments.” That was the reaction: nothing. “Yes, Agent Patten, I am handling it.”

“Good f’you, Benny,” Eric tiredly chirped, waving a blind hand around to feel for him. Stupidly, he was standing close enough to be reached, and he received an unwanted pat of praise on his stomach. “Always knew... c’count on you... Good job.”

And he went back to sleep.

“You don’t think,” Benoit relentlessly persisted, “that due to our recent experiences, they might be worth speaking to?”

“They don’t care ‘bout that.”

About the Anti-Agents. Benoit frowned. He figured as much when he had listened in, but hearing it from Eric brought on a fresh anger. The nerve of those two to appear without an interest in the deaths that had elapsed... He blew a smoke ring towards the ceiling. Perhaps he should have killed the German, but it seemed he had been the only one of late who had spared any manner of a damn for the deceased. The guilt subsided.

“Their division’s purpose is integral to maintaining our quality of work. You should acknowledge them –”

“Poof, they’re acknowledged.” The blind hand waved. “Shoo.”

Eric.

A normal person would have woken up if only to tell Benoit to leave with conviction. In a way, he had made progress, because Eric flipped back over and put a target on his larynx. Benoit listlessly left it, paying heed to his meal instead of the distance between Patten’s throat and, say, a switchblade. For example.

“Weren’t you gonna sleep? Wh’happened to that?”

“Duty called.” And hadn’t he just told him why he was awake?

Mimicking the bear, Eric creaked an eye open. He closed it after, slightly before someone earned the impression he wanted to co-operate, and his mumbled retort to what he saw was a sluggish, “You soak those things in Red Bull.” It was followed by: “M’not gettin’ up.”

Close enough.

“I’ll bring them to you,” Benoit said. “You can sleep until they arrive and lounge after they do.” This was followed by some odd mixture of a grumble, snort and laugh. “If you can be bothered, you might take this time to change into more professional attire.”

“You don’t like my jam-jams?”

Dear God.

“They’re beautiful. Now wake up and entertain your guests,” he ended sharply. “Lord knows why when a colleague wants to talk with you, you decide you can’t be sociable.”

“I don’t wanna waste the fun on being all groggy. Just – like... message... take...”

The rule was that if the order came in a dozing slur, Benoit was allowed to ignore it. He flicked the ash off the butt of his cigarette, deliberately avoiding hitting Eric with it, and took his leave assured the A-1 could handle the newcomers however fatigued he was, with an added time bonus if a connection could be made to the apparent familiarity of the Docimasy men. Those two may have arrived with an intrinsic investment in having their Agency boss awake, and they were free to squander the entire night in an attempt to pull it off. Eric wanted sleep. He preferred entertainment, but if that wasn’t available, he was going back to sleep. They could have each other. Benoit didn’t care. Should someone ask, he had the excuse he had pried from Eric’s jaw: be ‘on board’ with stopping the Antis. Until the borders were defined, it could mean anything, up to and including investigating this alert.

Dinner Course Three: another cigarette. He mulled over this one before he lit it. He could get away with his small mission for as long as he was uncovering details. Hiding them, altering them, pulling them around veered out of the A-1’s protection. Eric, however, hadn’t opened his mouth in the kitchen for no purpose. He wanted Benoit specifically. He was replaceable in the long-run, but the reluctance to force him now to join could be his thinnest thread to life if the worst passed. That route to run and cower under the immortal smile was not charity, and he wondered if he’d take the punishment in being caught over that at all, but he had to sift out every resource if he was digging into this. Benoit headed for the stairs with less resolve than he’d had climbing them. Technically, this was no longer his problem. The Docimasy didn’t know about the warning, and because the lenses worked on a private, trusted system he’d yanked many strings to get, they might not ever. There was no need to take this chance. It could be over if he stopped it now, let it die, denied accusations down the road, and if he destroyed the weeping information contrary to liberating it. He said he would give the Antis a month before he went at them again. That was for a favour to a friend, not an obligation, and so yet another alternative was treating the data the way an Agent should. A number of cases could be opened on his hunch alone; substantiating it with digital records would launch a fire of excursions to absorb the sudden... ‘development’.

He didn’t know. He would have to pick soon what to do about this – all had their drawbacks, and he’d be lying if he said he didn’t know what was worst – but it didn’t urge him towards foresightedly selecting a course. When he was inside of the vault, his instincts would take over. It was what he had done with Jean. It’d worked out pretty well.

Right where he’d left them. Benoit reclaimed his space outside of the office and draped his eyes over its inhabitants. He imagined the conversation had evolved further than what he had heard a while ago. Oh well. They wouldn’t hold the hijacking of their discourse against him for long. Maybe they’d blame Eric. That would be amusing.

“Agent Patten is in the break room upstairs,” he announced from the doorway. “Fourth floor. To the left. They have signs. He’d be happy to have the three of you.”

That was the beauty of the immortal smile. Its permanence swore Eric was delighted by any situation.

Alright. They had what they wanted. Get out.


Last edited by Tartra on Mon Oct 01, 2012 3:41 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Tartra
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Join date : 2010-07-10
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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Guest on Mon Sep 24, 2012 2:11 pm

What was the plotline of those old cartoons? The hungry Coyote would come up with some scheme to capture his prey, usually using complex gadgets and mechanisms to trap him; the Roadrunner then zips through the trap unscathed, forcing the poor Coyote to investigate the problem, thus launching the trap on himself and leaving him comically disfigured or maimed. Right in the middle of trying to figure out who this smart person suddenly standing in Quin's place was, the faceless voice beyond the curtain sounded like the telltale "beeping" of the Roadrunner, taunting them before zipping away through a painted tunnel on the wall. Already aggravated by the loss of what could have been precious evidence on two different accounts, Avery gave chase out of the vault, making Sebastian feel like they were being lured into the path of a phantom truck that would suddenly come roaring out of the "tunnel".

Very rarely did Wile E. Coyote ever seem to anticipate his plans going poorly - or when he did have the sense of caution, the catapult would launch itself impossibly in the other direction, injuring the starving genius anyway. Avery had been hyper and agitated ever since they lost track of their quarry in Elmira and now that frenzied obsession had reached a point where it could not be contained or stifled. The voice's invitation was enough to push Avery down the hill, inevitably causing him to snowball out of control.

"Avery! Wait--!!" There was no physically stopping the man, so Sebastian helplessly ran after him, stopping briefly to give their messenger a once-over. He recognized him: the man who entered the base with Eric and those other two Agents. This was important and he knew he had to address it now but at the moment he felt pulled in two different directions at once and he could not afford his boss showing up in that room without being there to leash him in if necessary. All he could offer was a flash of his badge at the man and an urgent, "Agent..um... Lamarre, is it?" A quick glance told him that Avery had already disappeared around a corner and Sebastian slowly began backing up in that direction while still addressing the man in the doorway. "I will need to ask you some questions about what happened here. By order of the Docimasy, please... just stay put."

Not having any more time left to spare, Sebastian quickly jogged after his psychotic Lead, half following the directions given by the mysterious smoking Agent but mostly following the sound of Avery ranting excitedly to himself.

***
Rudy, on the other hand, didn't go anywhere. He had no interest in talking to Eric right now - especially not if those two fags were busy shoving their noses up the man's ass. Maybe later, he'd try to get Eric to let him talk to Squiddie again - maybe if he asked enough times, Eric would reward him by commanding her to shut Rudy up - but as soon as the room fell silent, he became distracted by the TVs again. On the screen nearest the far corner of the room, he could hear the conversation between Eric and Jason, with that whiny, suit-wearing bitch yelling about Steph's diseased vagina - or whatever he'd been yelling about; the conversation had been aggravating and boring to listen to then and it was fucking boring now. What really caught his attention was what he knew was coming after this...

The cameras viewing the lobby were situated in the middle of the wall, nearer to the computer buttons and he stood between them to operate the controls. Looking them over for just a minute, Rudy's gamer side kicked in and he tapped a few keys to fast-forward through the current dialogue, watching the screen that focused on the front doors of the ground floor. He stopped it after a few seconds when he saw that freak Alex pull at the doors but no one entered the building just yet. Chewing a thumbnail, Rudy waited while the computer was being played with and a code registered on the screen. Staring and holding very still as Alex came into view again, he opened the doors and finally entered the base, walking inside like he owned the goddamned place. And before the doors closed... she caught it and followed him inside.

Rudy struggled with how he should feel seeing Osono again, even as just a recording. Watching her glance back out the doorways and giving the lobby a wary look, he smiled - she was always so aggressive and cautious and fearful, it gave him a nostalgic pulse of pride to own a part of that fear in her eyes. Everything inside him was chaotic, all of the angry wounds burning and bleeding in his gut and all of the old lust and affinity fighting for dominance of his being. He was so consumed with sorting these emotions out that he barely noticed when he himself entered the frame, his code popping up on the door's register before he opened it and poked his head inside. Really though, this was old news and he was just holding his breath, waiting to see what she did after this. Waiting to see what happened after they parted ways in the hallway to make her so angry before leaving the base.

His first theory had been that it was a message she left for him, telling him not to chase her anymore or maybe she grew angry with that retard, Alex and just exploded - wishful thinking, he admitted, but not implausible; any relationship with her was fraught with emotional roller coasters and moments of 'I love yous' snuggled right up close with those 'I hate you, please fucking die, you worthless piece of shit' moments. Since then, given more time to think about it and relating it to her silence on the Heat Spectrum Analyzer, Rudy began formulating a new theory: Already having left her alone with Alex once, Rudy knew of the guy's ability to get her emotionally wound up and turn her against certain things - and people. It was why she no longer trusted Rudy and why he'd been forced to break the cover he'd built over 6 years. Leaving the two of them alone again, it was likely that Alex talked her ear off some more and got her emotionally charged enough that she protected him from the Agents while he did whatever it was he came here to do - Rudy didn't know and honestly didn't care. Something about a body, right? One of the pickle people?

Then, she got so hot and crazy that she went on a killing spree through the base, ending it with a crispy slaughter in the lobby. Alex might have been Superman but he was also a dick - no, he was like Ultraman, the evil version of Superman that had been a member of the Crime Syndicate of America during the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyarc. As an evil version of Superman, it would be likely that Alex was only using Ozzie - pretending to be her hero - to get her to eliminate the Agents protecting the base. And once he was done with her, he knocked her out and carried her off somewhere. If Rudy watched this TV long enough, he could eventually get to that part and find out where he took--

The screen blacked out and Rudy frowned at it in confusion. He was about to mess with the keys to try to fix it when it came back on, showing the lobby as a massive smoldering crater. Waitwaitwaitwait--That wasn't right. What the hell happened? Where did Ozzie and evil Superman go? Rewinding it a bit, he realized he hadn't missed anything, that part of the video just wasn't there.

"Fuck." Falling into the lone chair in the room, Rudy left the screen paused just before the video blacked out, with Osono facing the him on the video standing at the door, her face locked in strong, feminine turmoil while looking at him - clearly she was still unable to decide if she should let him live or end her suffering once and for all. Bringing out his phone, he checked the HSA again, another jolt of anxiety surging through him when the results came up blank once more. He half-reached for his snack to ease the feeling but stopped and let his forehead bop tiredly on the edge of the counter when he realized the bag was empty, left laying on the console with nothing but a few crumbs littered next to it.

Sitting in the chair and leaning on the console with his elbows, Rudy looked up at Ozzie's face on the screen, struggling to hang onto happy thoughts - thoughts of the new season of Doctor Who, the Avengers movie scheduled to come out this next spring, an abusive Squiddie surprised by her flowery gifts, etc. - and let out a sigh, quietly murmuring, "Where the hell are you?"

Was evil Superman-Alex evil enough to kill her when he was done with her?

***
They weren't supposed to be here! That one thought kept ringing in his head as he followed the voice of his boss, the rushed and mumbled speech making it hard to understand what he was saying despite the occasional raised tone of triumph or aggravation. He was like a missile with a programmed destination, focused and unwavering in his brisk walk, forcing Sebastian to gallop alongside him to even get acknowledged.

"What are you doing?!" Sebastian said, inserting his voice amidst Avery's mild raving. "Please, just calm down for a minute and let's talk about this! You can't just charge in there without a plan!"

"Oh, I've got a plan!" Avery released a stuttered, mocking chuckle, his eyes never straying from the path ahead. "I'll get him to tell me what I want to know. Just fucking watch!"

This was a disaster! There was no mistaking the threat evident in Avery's voice and his tone clearly said that this went beyond his job or even simple morality. This was personal shit, his voice said. Everything Sebastian had worked for was riding on that tone, ready to plunge down the hole Avery was already digging for himself with-every-step. It was his burden to keep this case from sinking, to keep his boss from making an embarrassment of their division and he wasn't about to let a little over-zealousness scare him into being compliant with the whims of a desperate man. He'd gotten between Avery and Eric before. The only difference between now and then was the still stinging smell of burnt human skin and fat wafting through the floorboards.

On the stairs, Avery's strides slowed enough for Sebastian to get in front of him, blocking his path. "Let's just stop and think about this for a minute," Sebastian said in a firm voice. "What are you planning to do? The phone call? There's nothing there, Avery! You listened to the damn thing 5 times and it's still not enough to give you any advantage!" Avery was like a bird fluttering at the window, bobbing from side to side, looking for an opening, but Sebastian moved like a mirror image, blocking him each time. "It's not going to work!"

Avery was done playing that game and with a low growl he grabbed the front of Sebastian's suit and shoved his obstacle against the wall. With a small grunt at the impact, Sebastian found himself staring into eyes filled with menacing purpose, stilled for a few moments by the hard rock resolve burning within the other man's gaze. "I know what I'm doing," Avery said in a cold, reprimanding voice. "They may have assigned you to this case to watch me but you've been with me for 2 years--"

"3 years."

"--3 years during this fight. You've seen what I've had to go through to get this far and now we have a clear set of circumstances revolving around Him. His hands are dirty somewhere in this and I can get him once and for all. Just stay out of my fucking way."

"Fine, I will. Just don't get yourself killed," Sebastian shot out, with a hand on the fists restraining him tightly against the wall. "We both saw who he was wearing when he entered the base - he could crush your skull inside his fist like a walnut. Either that or get Squiddie to do it. All I'm asking is that you keep a lid on it, Sir. Don't do anything rash. It'll be great to get him now but if not, then it's not the end of the world. We'll pack it up and come at him a different day - like you always say, he's bound to slip up sometime." His words seemed to reach the other man and one of the cloud layers of rage was swept away from his eyes as he took a few steps back and released Sebastian. Brushing the wrinkles out of his coat and adjusting his suit, Sebastian said, "Keep the goal in mind of course, but just remember, if anything happens to you, the Docimasy won't replace you."

Sebastian wasn't sure how much he'd gotten through, but Avery gave a subtle nod and continued up the stairs, quieter now but no slower in pace. Exiting the stairwell, he was like a magnet drawn to Eric, not even stopping to check signs but going straight for the appropriate room and bursting through the door. Sebastian was still rushing to keep up with him, so he almost ran into Avery who'd decided to stop dead in his tracks a few feet inside the room. "What--?" words died in his throat as he took in the space, making note of the two sofas pushed together and a crumpled blanket discarded on the cushions. Eric was not here. The room was empty.

There was a small moment of relief, then anxiety gripped him, making him instinctively shy away from his boss who still hadn't moved or said anything. "Avery," he said in a warning tone, hoping to slow the oncoming snowball still barreling down the hill and growing in size. "Avery, stop." A quick glance told him that Avery's knuckles were white from squeezing his fists so tightly and there was a small twitch in the man's left eye. Explosion was impending in 5, 4, 3, 2-- "It's okay. Look, he couldn't have gotten far--"

That broke the spell and without a word, Avery approached the makeshift bed and began inspecting it. This was different from the hole filled with bodies or the corpses in the office and vault, which barely got a glance before being rejected for their lack of importance. This was even different from Bergmann's desk or the video feed in the vault which got abused and savagely pried open in an attempt to invade and discover their contents. This was almost sacred in how it was approached. Avery didn't touch anything as he made a slow circuit around the couches, his eyes sweeping over them and the ground surrounding them, quiet and still, almost as if disturbing the air around the "bed" would ruin any crucial evidence. Then bending so his head was more level with the backs, he made another orbit around them, even stopping to look underneath them from each side.

He always got like this whenever they encountered anything Eric touched, almost like the couches themselves were imbued with a part of Eric, Avery's gaze was fixated on them and his stance was wary as if they were unpredictable creatures with unfathomable motives. Sebastian stood in front of the doorway with hands folded in front of himself, just happy for the moment that Avery hadn't thrown a fit . He was even more grateful that Eric wasn't here, for the moment given peace and not forcing him to wrangle Avery and ride him like a bucking broncho through an interrogation with the A-1. Normally, Sebastian would be gathering evidence himself, but a quick look around the room told him everything relevant that he needed to know: Eric was no longer in here.

Then Avery was touching the couch cushions, sliding his hands over them intimately, dipping his fingers into crevices, climbing over the sides to crouch in the middle between the two sofas and touching the blanket that had been left. He was careful when he picked it up, bringing the cloth to his face and taking in slow, deep breaths - Sebastian understood on some level that smelling the blanket was useful, but after the 4th or 5th deep inhale, he'd imagine that was more than sufficient to gather what information it possessed - and Sebastian used a finger to scratch at an awkward itch behind his ear and glanced away with a small, deep-throated cough. Then Avery stared at it for a while, his brow furrowed before finally pinching a small, light brown fuzzy and holding it up in front of his face for closer scrutiny.

Finally, he looked over at Sebastian. "The blanket is still warm. He was sleeping here just a few minutes ago."

"Yeah, I kinda got that. You know, from the directions that other Agent gave us 5 minutes ago and the fact that there's a really big 'bed' in the middle of the room." But Avery wasn't paying attention to the sarcastic tone in Sebastian's voice, his gaze turned far away as he worked through possibilities in his head.

"He probably knew we were coming . If he was sleeping here, and due to the rheum deposits on this cushion, I'd say that he was, then he was probably comfortable. I also found a bit of teddy bear fur and that means he was wearing nightclothes. He probably went to change out of them so that he doesn't have to face me in such a vulnerable state." Avery jumped off of the couch, the blanket still in his hands and pulling it with him as he headed towards the doorway. "Come on, Seabass! He couldn't have gotten far!"

"You're bringing the blanket?"

"To help me track him," Avery retorted, giving the cloth a quick whiff and letting out a robust sigh before leaving the room. "To have his scent clear in my mind while we search."

"Hm," he replied with a small twist on his lips. Souvenir, Sebastian was thinking. Too valuable - sentimental - to throw away, especially if it had Eric eye boogies on it.

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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Tartra on Wed Oct 10, 2012 7:37 am

That was easy. His thanks, Eric. Truly the A-1’s name was his greatest gift to those who were – however unwillingly – under his wing. The first to leave received a sunglassed stare at his departing back. Benoit was too close to the wall to be in the way, but he doubted he could have stopped the charge at any rate. The lackey wasn’t able, try as he might, and the almost panicked word for Benoit to stay went undefined as the second gave chase. ‘Stay put’. Alright. In the room? The building? The city? When the need arose, he could take his pick. He hated questioning, and because presently he failed to think of what to say outside of ‘I’m picking flecks of bones off my coat, could I get back to you about the wrongdoings here preferably after I’ve sobered?’, delaying their interrogation until after he was ready took a silent precedence. Still, being tricky meant another risk, and he was already cautioned by that division’s clout. This better be worth it, Jean.

He scoffed. Was it ever?

So there went two-thirds of the problem. His lenses drew the records on the newest carnies to this circus, but he pushed them from his screen. There was time for it later. His eyes moved to the leftovers inside. The gnome had chosen to stay. As an added gift, he’d filled the vault with exorbitant body heat, which was embarrassing for him – still the least of what had happened in the room today – but one more film of filth in this base could hardly be his tipping point. Benoit should appreciate the sign of life, but for the record, please, someone, show a little decorum. They were professionals. Supposed to be. Agent Quin, then. What was he? An... A-6, Benoit believed? It was difficult being sure, what with the growing sleep deprivation and Eric’s mercurial intent in fixing a demotion when there was much to be gained in watching Agents beg, but he was satisfied by his spinning memories: Quin was a lower rank, not of any importance before tangling in Eric’s web, and past that, not of importance since. His ties to the A-1 last evening – time normally never flowed this swiftly – were also quite honestly proof of who the boy was, and that was a fool blinded by treasure and oblivious in why some person so powerful would spend his minutes helping him have it. Eric knew why, and the ‘fun’ query was guessing what value the man saw in Quin. It was the first of many lines Benoit found paralleling him and this hobgoblin, starting with the punishment inside the cell room. It was... unexpected. Entertaining, he admit, but March was swept to her dream with sweet encouragements and petty delights. Her pet had been tugging at a dull romance and was then given the room to explore. Bergmann? He was at a loss in assuming what exactly she had fallen into, but the look of her eyes as she scowled at Eric mimed the thought of having to paying her bill, if she wasn’t in the process of it. They obviously knew each other longer than Benoit, considering the gaps of years between his encounter with either one. Who was to say she wasn’t paying her interest simply as she breathed? Eric, all signs said, preferred life arrangements. Rumours offering truth to the short years ahead of those that succumbed were a part of those signs, spelling ‘until you die’. He was too obscured by lies he never specifically told for Benoit to see, but under what he wasn’t saying was the heart of it. The puzzle had not started for two people alone, and both of them were in this office; he and Quin had been in sight long enough for Eric to have sent them along, but here they were, the single souls who had entered these doors and stayed within them. The newcomers had not been spoken to. Even the fat one was flown off. From what was said at the cells in the aftermath, Benoit was expected to go to Elmira. From what was done to the floor with an undersized Agent, Quin had a deal in the works.

No. That wasn’t it. Eric gave the name ‘Deal 1.0’. For a reason, he assigned Quin more steps to complete before the business began. Then it was natural to assume the same applied to him and they were here because they weren’t ready. It burned his tongue, and so he didn’t speak the words, but if Benoit’s logic held, and he alone could have faith in that, then he and Quin – to Eric – were equals.

Bopping didn’t fit what the template wrote. It was too direct of a rejection. Quin was not given the sprinkled lenience the others were, and as he put it through his mind, it stuck farther out. He would have thought the A-1 to brush off the misidentification or to join in and giggle about the mistake, or something stupidly rainbow-laced rather than sic his punisher on him. Excuse him: rather than grab the boy by the neck and then sic his punisher on him. As for Benoit – well... He’d explained it, hadn’t he? That Eric liked him for his adherence to what an Agent was told to be? And he was the only one Eric liked it in. March’s pet was arguably as straight-laced as he acted, and with a few good shoves, the A-1 broke him of it. Encouraging an affair? Indirectly be damned! It wasn’t written in blood that it was forbidden, but A-1s held the fiercest interest in ensuring their subordinates were focused. It was against the rules. Funny though it might have been, the bottom line was Eric should have shut it down. ‘Against the rules’ – he imagined someone saying that, and saw Eric shrug and answer, ‘It doesn’t have to be if I don’t want it to.’ The fact remained. March had been deteriorating and she could be called to task about her behaviour, and with Madeline, he made careful note of where the friction lay between them. Eric didn’t like her. He had absolutely no trouble feeding her deviancy. Let Benoit also remind everyone that the A-1 was not opposed to Quin’s deal, merely requiring more before it. So why was he special? Why was he allowed to be, as Eric put it, the mighty knight of Salcon? Why was the gnome denied the usual blessing?

Oh, wait. He could answer that one.

‘Deal 1.0’. It was not an offer. It stood strictly as a test. Eric didn’t impose a set procedure, but bargaining with him stretched for a certain... spirit. March had it, her toy learned it, Bergmann must have had it, and the diversity of those three served as testament to the lack of a solution. Anything could show what he was looking for, and surely it varied as widely as what people asked of him. Benoit had listened on the plane while Eric shadowed with authority. There was a timbre that rang more seriously than he’d ever bothered with. It was gone during the cell room discussion, to be replaced by the usual joviality and unusual force. Somehow, it spoke of progress. Quin was entirely reprimanded during the plane ride, then spoken to as more of a human being than a waste during the second talk. If Benoit had evidence of a third encounter, one where perhaps both were avoided, he’d mentally plot how much farther along the boy was. Eric’s lessons appeared to always stick; he didn’t doubt that Quin had advanced, but he needed to know which direction it was taking. Obviously not politeness, because although he hadn't heard both sides of the phone call, the cell room echoed with a few choice terms. The bargaining chip? ... Too straightforward. It struck Benoit as half the story, not all, and it was putting a price on things, he felt. Quin tried threatening Eric, attempting to have to his prize for free, or at least without the attached life debt. The unabashed selfishness in asking for whatever the hell he did was practically applauded, but it was clear the A-1 wanted both: temerity and the awareness of its cost. What else? He couldn’t fathom. Until there was more he was shown, that was the extent of his speculation, but he was firm on what he had come up with. Benoit’s deference to the Agency’s code and Quin’s second chance to make his request properly marked them. Eric wasn’t rushing. He’d triggered Jason’s departure while March left as intended, but he and Quin were free to absorb what was imparted on their own time. It was lenience, but of another kind. A higher kind. Eric saw them as important.

Why?

More importantly, how long until they reached their deadline? Eventually Eric would have to push. Wouldn’t he? What did he want? Quin was honest in stating his demands but he didn’t plan to work for them; Benoit followed through in the A-1’s control, but he asked for nothing the Agency did not condone. Which was worse to withhold when Eric bit in? Supposing it wasn’t what the man wanted... Supposing that wasn’t what Eric wanted him to think. Ah, the old circle. He left it. He would do better to wonder which of them would break first. Quin seemed just stupid enough to forever miss the point. Benoit, on the other hand...

There was a body in the vault. Its face had been removed. Butchered. Ignored. Reattached.

And Eric brought it to him.

The tone of that thought loomed. Under the guise of Quin’s disinterest and the veil of his own stealth, he glided to the curtain and lifted it gently. His lenses scoped in and admired the shreds. He was within his right to respond as he did, but only arguably. Selfish? ... No. But he’d be lying if he didn't confess that it was on a similar track. Never mind the other corpse rotting in the office corner.

The gnome was good for something. He was playing the security feeds. The footage was centered on the lobby before the attack, watching as Alexander arrived to make his grand entrance. It was a useful derailment of his musing. Welcome back, moron. And such progress! Here it seemed the guest had deigned to use the fucking door instead of bursting through it like an animal. Alexander had been a boon. Benoit could only wait to see the cost of being that, even if...

What had happened to his leg? Alexander’s leg – right there. What in hell was he limping like that for?

Images of murdering Elias were pushed away like the Docimasy profiles. Something was missing from the picture, and around the urge to strangle this bastard, Benoit reviewed what was passing on the screen. It looked simple enough. That was where it was wrong. Did he not observe the guest peer in through the glass? The lobby pulsed with the steps of spies. The thin divide should have paled in light of the guest’s bloodthirst, but there was no reaction. Alexander – either of them – didn’t ‘do’ subtle. Whatever they felt went in their demeanour like a broadcast, the intruder because he couldn’t help himself at a promise of a war, and the host because of every imparted lesson, he couldn’t be taught to conceal what he was thinking. He allowed the feed to play on, twitching irritably at the blackness and putting it to the screaming he'd heard earlier, but in spite of the added advantage of sheer proximity, there was nothing. A frown pulled at his expression, then a gale of determination to be without reserves in concluding on this surged. He walked in, grabbed Quin’s chair, rolled him out of the way and restarted the clip. If Quin had a problem with that, too bad. This had priority.

He rewound it, letting the scene refold as its players walked – limped – in reverse, stopping at the moment Alexander reached – limped to – the front entrance. Yes, he was right, to no one’s shock, in what caught his interest. He saw it again: Alexander-the-guest went to the door and glared inside. He had put his hand above his eyes to ensure the greatest clarity, but backed away when no alarm went off at what was there. Benoit’s lenses showed what the guest should have seen. Seven figures dressed in suits they covertly boasted turned to stare back at their audience, rooted in place and so confident that that was the end of their worries. A second time, Alexander used a code – of course he'd chosen Roland’s; God forbid one of them pass a chance to screw with family – and released the lock. The figures remained. The ripple of panic he presumed to spread did not suffice in rushing them from a room now shared by a Pain Eater, and they were justified. It was made worse by which Pain Eater it was! Jean, perhaps, would have had some excuse. The guest did not, and he emphasized that harshly. Couldn’t see? Six active years of Alexander’s vision were not able to erase more eighteen of his own after it was honed during the idiot’s career and training. It was impossible to have ‘can’t see them’ as an issue.

“You.” The lower rank. He hadn’t been rolled out of the vault, just to the side of it. “What happened after this? Where the tape cuts out, what did Alexander do?”

Start to finish, and the boy couldn’t deny being a witness. Benoit paused the video on a shot of him with the girl. The guest had other, perfect senses along with a general knowing of what was in range to be killed, and in the short rest he held for the Agency to review his transferred state, he said Alexander’s were mostly on par with what he was used to. Did he expect Benoit to believe these spies bypassed all of them? He hadn’t spent years forcing the guest through trials to watch him be beaten by Eric. And speaking of Jean, Benoit had not fruitlessly endured the incessant whining over what he perceived to be procrastination when he was a former Anti-Agent and Benoit was a real Agent, fermes ta gueule, Jean, because they were pissing each other off and that detracted from learning whether Alexander’s powers worked on bears. They did. Then Patten and Elias had much to answer for, and his teeth grabbed for a cigarette he’d already removed. Until such time, he, wrapped in a slighted fury set to boil under his skin despite his outward composure, would be prying information from the throat of this young imp.

He had cut what he wanted out of one face in this vault. He’d prefer avoiding a trend, but this was personal.

‘Super awesome best new friend’ indeed.


Last edited by Tartra on Sun Nov 18, 2012 9:31 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Tartra
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Join date : 2010-07-10
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Age : 27
Location : Ottawa, Canada


http://www.fictionpress.com/s/2851668/1/The_Other_Kind_of_Roomma

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((Part One))

Post by Guest on Thu Nov 01, 2012 4:03 pm

"Whatthehell?! Hey!" he barely had a moment to register that there was another person in the room before he was wrenched away from his private musings and the pretty face frozen on the screen before him. As the chair was yanked out of the way, it spun once across the floor before coming to a clacking halt against the far wall, with Rudy uttering a small squawk upon impact. "Dude!" Rudy whined in exaggerated complaint as he gently turned the chair back around to face his assailant, finally noticing why he'd been so forcefully dismissed from his special spot. "Heeeeeey! I was watching that show! I'm in the official vault TV chair! That means I have channel control so long as I am in the viewing seat!"

The stranger continued to ignore him for the moment and although Rudy scoffed at the lack of attention he felt he deserved it gave him the opportunity look the guy over. Other than making note of some suspicious similarities to the MIB and the Agents from the Matrix movies, Rudy's focus eventually drifted and he cast a glance towards the vault doorway. "Hey, Hugo Weaving! Do you even have clearance to be in here? Or is this a public room available for any sunglasses wearing freak to walk into? Are you even an Agent or did you get lost on the way to ComiCon? Newsflash, Smoking Man: the X-Files hasn't been in vogue since 2008 when they made that awful second movie that had nothing to do with aliens. You really need to find a better costume."

When that got no reaction, Rudy quirked his lips in irritation and then went back to playing with his phone. Checking the HSA for the 100th time that night, he bit his thumbnail until a blood outline curved on the tip of the digit and promptly began searching online for a leather collar with expensive personalized tags. It was a bit early in their relationship to get out the S&M gear, but still, he thought it might be handy to have a collar pre-made with a label on it claiming him as "Squiddie's Devoted Pet" for when they finally reached that stage of intimacy. Right in the middle of typing in his Paypal account information, the stranger addressed him in what sounded like a commanding voice, getting him to look up from his phone. Now Rudy was really wondering who this guy thought he was. He was willing to accept that the dude belonged here, because well, for starters, he looked like an Agent and he certainly knew how to get the computer to work the way he wanted without experimenting first like Rudy had needed to. But who exactly was he and what did he want?

"Oh, so, now you wanna talk to me, Smoking Man?" Rudy asked smartly while tucking his phone away in a pocket and gently swinging his feet above the ground. "And of course, you want to talk about fucking Aaaaal-EX! Goddamn everyone wants to talk about that psychotic bastard. First, Noel wants to reverently tell me all about 'the Legendary Ellies' or whoever. Then my target wants to talk about how special it is to hump his cock. And Eric was really interested in talking about how much she wants to hump his cock, humiliating me in front of my new girlfriend while he was at it." Rudy couldn't be sure that Squiddie had been present during his recent meeting with Eric, but he wasn't necessarily sure that she hadn't been either. She was a sexy ninja, afterall.

Rudy snorted in amused irritation. "What the fuck is wrong with you people? Why are you obsessed with drooling all over this guy's dick? You do realize he's not really Superman, right? He's just a two-timing, wet-the-bed, cocksucking, faggoty-ass, best friend stealer." Rudy quirked a brow and nodded at him. "So, who the hell are you, anyway? Are you one of those Dick Tracy shit-stains? Are you a part of Romy and Michele's team of homosexuals? Are you in their threesome with Eric? You like threesomes with guys, don't you? It's okay, I don't judge, although that's really gross and I'd prefer if you didn't touch me or my chair again. Even if you were the most badass thing about the Matrix movies."

***
This was not good. Could he go back now? Could he change his response? Maybe he hadn't tried hard enough. Maybe there was something he could have done to convince him. Maybe there'd been a crucial point where he might have had the right answer... where he could have said something to stop this. Maybe if he found a time machine, someday he could explore those options, but right now it was most certainly too late for any of that. And all the 'what ifs' circling in his head weren't helping him in the current situation.

Sebastian should have been used to this by now, since it was every Eric encounter - or 'close-encounter' as the case sometimes was - on repeat. But each time it happened it felt like it'd never been this extreme before. The cycle usually began with Avery entering the scene with the expectation of finding the A-1 immediately, rushing through his new environment excitedly, already celebrating about the discovery he had yet to make. But because Eric was Eric and he liked to jerk the guy around, dancing out of reach and dangling his absence in front of Avery's nose, that initial phase quickly morphed into the next, turning excitement into utter panic and desperation.

Avery was no longer a hunter whose blood-lust was incited by how close to the prey he was. He was Wile E. Coyote pushed to the breaking point, after one too many misled falls from the perilous canyon cliffs, frantic in his anxiety and quickly losing hope that Eric was even still inside the building. Sebastian wanted to feel sorry for him, but he did warn the guy. Truly, his sympathy wasn't inspired by the lack of Eric and how upset Avery was becoming because of it, but by the fact that this was an inevitable trail of events that couldn't have been avoided and would continue to occur, time and again. And he would continue to play witness to it until one of them died or the Eric case was shut down for good.

"WHERE THE HELL IS HE??!!" the words came bursting forth in a mixture of a growl and a whine, the volume just under a shriek as Avery lurched through the hallways, disjointedly searching every doorway they came upon. Although as the minutes ticked by and Avery became more and more hysterical, Sebastian forced himself to remain calm so as to better control the situation just in case they still had a chance of coming upon the A-1. Avery still had the blanket and he was twisting it in his hands and petting it for comfort, his breathing ragged even though he wasn't walking very fast. "We've exhausted every avenue! Every reasoning! Where could he have gone?! We checked the cell room where Charlotte used to be--and by the fucking way, what the hell happened there??? He was in the fucking building during the attack, wasn't he? Why would he let them take her?"

"Well, maybe we should--"

"EXACTLY! HE WOULDN'T! He should have been in there, mourning her absence still!"

"Eric mourning?"

"Please tell me he didn't fly the coop! Please, God, tell me we didn't fucking miss this again!!!"

"I don't think he would leave," Sebastian said, keeping up his thoughtful composure while playing along. "He's the A-1 in charge and he has to keep up appearances, right? He's not going to completely throw everything away."

"Unless this is it!!" Avery hissed vehemently, sweat droplets flying off of him as he stopped suddenly and turned to Sebastian with that same rabid look. "He's finally done with his sweet, cheerful masks and all his lies and pretending! He's finally going over to the dark side, fully and out in the open! He's not going to wait around for me this time! He's going straight to the Antis, giving them his full support!"

Sebastian quirked an eyebrow and pursed his lips. "Uhhhh... I know I haven't been chasing him as long as you have but that really doesn't sound like Eric at all. I mean, why would he abandon his empire like that when there's nothing to gain from it?"

"Because!" Avery insisted, putting the blanket under his nose as he continued to feverishly sweat. After a moment, he glanced at Sebastian seriously and nodded as he murmured, "He knows I'm gonna catch him this time. He knows it's too obvious that he was the main push behind this - I mean, they took Charlotte for God's sake! Who does he think he's gonna fool??? The charade is over! He's gonna run off and hide with his prize fully in possession and come at the Agency head on."

Yeah, that didn't sound irrational at all, especially considering they had yet to find anything linking Eric to anything other than merely being present in the base. "I think we should continue searching," Sebastian said neutrally. "And will you please, calm down?"

"You don't fucking get it do you?" Avery was hissing some more and pacing just a little, as if Sebastian's ignorance was painful. "This is what it's all been about! My entire career--MY FUCKING LIFE has been waiting for this moment! Eric goddamn Patten has finally slipped up and I can show everybody how wrong they were! How ignorant and childish they were for being afraid of him and believing all of his shit!"

"Show them with what? What evidence? You haven't--"

"You know what, it's obvious that you've been on their side from the beginning. You're just a fucking watchdog and you're so worried about having to play babysitter, you're actually trying to keep me from finding him!" Sebastian started to shake his head but Avery's lips curled in a nasty smirk and he nodded insistently. "Spare me, you stupid fuck! We'll talk about those weekly reports you send the Docimasy headquarters later, but for right now if all you're going to do is keep dragging me down and interfering--"

"Interfering???" Sebastian couldn't believe what he was hearing!

"--then take your loyalty to Patten and those Docimasy dickheads and GO SIT IN THE GODDAMNED CAR!!!" Avery's pacing had taken him closer to Sebastian until he was right up in his face, his voice steady as it grew louder while he pointed his finger violently down the hallway.

Avery used to constantly accuse Sebastian of having divided loyalties back when he first joined him on the Patten case but he hadn't done so in a while and for good reason. Sebastian had more than earned his right to be Avery's right hand, the two of them joined at the hip during all of their failed investigations, experiencing the same prejudices from outside division leaders, and supporting the same misfired accusations. Yes, Sebastian did put in a weekly report to the Docimasy HQ about their - his - progress but if Avery had actually read the catalogs he wrote the bare minimum for every week - which the accusation alone meant that he did not know the messages' true contents - he wouldn't be acting so hurt about it. Honestly, he shouldn't take this personally. The guy was just stressed because of how big everything this close to Eric was. Avery obviously wasn't in his right mind at the moment and there was nothing he could really say to counter these ridiculous accusations or calm his boss down.

To no one's surprise, this was the moment that everything got worse. Clad in pin-striped pajamas and slippers that looked like cartoon house flies, Eric Patten popped around the corner of the hall Avery's finger stabbed at. Waltzing up behind the hysterical A-3, Sebastian was of course the first to see him and he slumped visibly as the man approached. With a smile as ecstatic as anything filling up his latest face, Eric excitedly cried, "Sebastian! Oh, you did visit! Here I was thinking I heard voices - fancy seeing you here!" With a noticeable boredom dimming his grin, he then added, "Hi Avery."

Of course, Sebastian was the one who got the warm greeting, whereas Avery merely got the obligatory 'hello'. Thankfully, Avery was the type to see that as a triumph - probably thinking along the lines that the small changes in demeanor implied that Eric was loathe for conversation with him while also revealing that he was scared of Avery's Docimasy might. From experience and watching the smug look plaster itself on his boss's face now, Sebastian knew that was probably what was going on in the other man's head. However, Avery was still very excited and stuck firmly in attack mode, so Sebastian stepped up to do some pre-emptive damage control before anybody said anything else.

"Agent Patten," Sebastian said formally. "I'm sorry for the visit at this late hour and I'm also sorry about all the noise, but we heard about the recent events that transpired here and would like to--"

Quickly, Avery stepped up to Eric fearlessly, with a smug and hungry grin plastered upon his face. His hackles were practically visibly raised as he invaded the A-1's personal space and his voice grated out, "Nice slippers. Looks like he didn't change afterall, eh, Seabass?" Sebastian let out a silent sigh and braced himself, carefully watching Avery's movements for any sign of violence. "So, what the fuck are you doing here, Eric? What business do you have in Charlton that made you sneak away from Elmira so quickly? It wouldn't have anything to do with that hole among the stasis cells would it? Or maybe you were planning on meeting up with some old friends? Did the reunion go well? Looks like there was one hell of a party in the lobby."

Everything about Avery's demeanor was antagonistic, his chin and nose practically shoved right up against Eric's abdomen, and his hand coming out to aggressively flick at one of the guy's pajama buttons while he spoke tauntingly. On impulse, Sebastian said to Eric, "He's had a lot of coffee this evening." Again, apologizing for whatever might happen.

Avery shot him a glare over his shoulder and said, "I thought you were going to the car!" Sebastian didn't say anything. Once Eric arrived on the scene and addressed him, he was obligated by Docimasy orders to stay and preside over the meeting. They were here, face to face now and there were no circumstances where 'I didn't know what might happen' would fly as a reasonable excuse if he were to leave the scene.

Eric gave a tinkly laugh, one that'd grown reserved for the pair, and with the tip of his giant-sized finger poking Avery's forehead, he led the man away until his path was clear again. "You two," he said brightly. "You never cease to amuse." He immediately kept on his way as though it hadn't been disturbed, cheerfully calling, "Don't worry about a thing, fellas! I've got it under control. But nice chatting!" He was heading back to where they'd come from, back to the break room with the nest. It didn't seem like he was in a rush to go. It'd be almost 'leisurely' if it wasn't such an obvious brush-off.

Sebastian didn't even have a moment before Avery was rushing down the hall after the A-1. "What the hell was that?!" the slender Doc exploded as he caught up and kept pace. "Where the fuck do you think you're going? Do you think this is a joke or a game? This isn't like all of the other shit you've pulled! You can't just walk away from this and pray I'll go away this time! I'm building a serious case against you and I've got plenty of evidence that you're behind all of this! With Charlotte gone, do you think no one's going to want to take a second look? Do you think they won't see your hand in it? Or how about your open armed welcome and cryptic warnings to your buddy Alexander beforehand? Everything I've been saying all these years about your failure as Peter Halsted will get brought up again once they hear the tape of that phone conversation!"

Sebastian couldn't get in a word edgewise and by now, Avery was practically screaming as he put himself in Eric's way again, forcefully shoving him in the chest with his hands. "IT'S OVER, ASSHOLE! UNTIL I GET SOME FUCKING ANSWERS YOU ARE HEREBY ORDERED TO STAND DOWN!" Sebastian held his breath, suddenly incredibly tense and waiting for Eric's reaction to the physical contact.

Eric did stop, but with the confused look on his face and the silence that pulsed out from him, it didn't take long to see he'd quit walking for a different reason. It wasn't because of the push, or at least it didn't appear like it because Eric hadn't blinked. Avery stood in front of an unfeeling tower of mass, and after another moment of not getting an answer, that brick wall rubbed his ear like it was ringing, and turned to Sebastian to ask, "Were those words?" He was serious. Sebastian released the breath he'd been holding and rolled his eyes at the question. "Goodness, Avery. How's anyone supposed to have a conversation with you yelling like that? Enunciate! " And another pause, but this one was to wave his hand a little. He wanted the Doc to move.

Avery's eye twitched behind his glasses. "HA. HA. HA-HA-HA-HAH!" he was still shouting. "That's not funny! That wasn't funny!" he quickly said to Sebastian and then back at the man towering over him, "You're not funny, Eric!"

Thinking that he had better get involved before Avery became any more violent, Sebastian stepped forward, placing himself beside his boss. "Please, try to calm down!" he whispered agitatedly in the man's ear. "You're not thinking clearly and all he's doing is pushing your buttons this way. We're getting nowhere like this. Remember the plan and we'll get him on something we actually have evidence for." Looking up at the towering A-1, Sebastian gave the man a professional nod. "Please, forgive my associate for his rude behavior." Not like it was something they hadn't expected or had to deal with before. "You probably do have everything here under control, Sir, but the Docimasy is involved now and we really need to ask you some questions. For our records." Avery was standing beside him and wringing the blanket between his hands in silent, rage-filled aggravation, but Sebastian merely gave the guy's shoulder a squeeze to keep him quiet.

“Dear Sebastian,” Eric cooed. “Ever our voice of reason. I can’t believe how hard it is finding Agents who talk normally! It’s the simple things you really miss, you know. You’re my darling, shining hope.” Sebastian gave the man a neutral frown, knowing that the praise was more to mock Avery than anything else. Honestly, they were like children, passive-aggressively sniping at each other with every word. And Sebastian was stuck ungracefully in the middle.

Eric beamed, and then he slipped around Avery a second time – but his steps were so lazy, it was impossible to miss the walk-and-talk mood they brought on. He didn’t stop aiming for the break room, but now he was inviting them and they of course followed willingly. “Come, my ducklings! Follow your mama bird! Avery, of course I’m gonna co-operate. As A-1, it’s my job to respect your job, and you’ve gone above to cut yourself a very special spot in a special part of me." Sebastian didn't doubt it. "You’d think after so many years, you’d’ve lent me a little trust. I know – I get that you’re hell-bent on stalking me ‘til I die screaming in outcasted agony but... I just don’t understand how it’s stopped us from being friends. I got you a birthday present!” The hall sparkled with Eric’s voice and Avery ground his teeth together loudly while they followed, his hands still strangling the blanket. “I sent it a while ago and didn’t hear back from you, but I bet you liked it. Did you like it?” He danced at his restful speed. “It was incense! ‘Cause of how things I send you have a habit of bursting into flames inexplicably? Well – when this one spontaneously combusts of absolutely no fault of your own, you get apple-berry-cinnamon! Isn’t that neat?”

Sebastian remembered that but upon opening it, Avery thought it was tea and began screaming that Eric was trying to poison him. Eventually they figured it out with the note that came with it but that hadn't made Avery's interpretation of the sentiment any better. "I fucking hate apple-cinnamon," Avery grated out at a normal level for once. "You shouldn't be giving me gifts anyways. Some people might make a catalog of that sort of thing and use it as evidence of you trying to buy your way out of the difficult situations you frequently get yourself into. You know, what with all of the blatant rule breaking and whatnot. By the way, can I ask what happened to Melvin Willett? He was a lab tech who died under mysterious circumstances just before you reportedly went missing from the Elmira base." They hadn't had time to inspect the body before they left the base when they had to go chasing after Eric again, but looking over the reports and photos, they'd both determined that the scene was dubious. They hadn't decided not to pursue it as a lead, but it did seem like a weak point to build a case on.

“Nathan killed him, and I scooped up the body ‘cause who turns down a freebie?" Of course. "Standard fare, Avery – come on, you shouldn’t have to bother with that. And I am hurt you would think I’d try to buy you,” Eric said. “You have more reason to give yourself credit than any other busybody I’ve encountered. I’m proud of you and your fervor in trying to ruin me. I don’t think I’ve had someone I could so readily trust. I can always count on you.” Into the break room he went, where he marched earnestly towards the small counter lining the right-side wall. “Anyway, I didn’t go missing. I came here.”

In the first several meetings and interrogations that he supervised between these two, Sebastian never felt the need to get involved, merely standing by to make sure things didn't escalate. Now, though, after 3 years of being on the case with Avery, Sebastian often found himself getting swept up in it along with his boss. They'd become a team. Insulting Avery was insulting them both. Lying to Avery was lying to Sebastian as well. What irritated him the most were these flippant and convenient excuses Eric sometimes decided to throw around, all strewn about like the bodies Patten sometimes collected, as backups to help him hide the truth. Also like Avery, after so many years working around Eric, he'd lost a bit of the professional restraint he once possessed when it came to interacting with the A-1.

"Bullshit," Sebastian said with a small frown as he followed the other two men into the room. "Nathan, really? Yeah, it's not like we haven't heard that one before. You couldn't blame it on Alexander or maybe Gwendolyn Stewart? I mean, they were in the building at the same time, after all. If you hold us in such high regard, the least you could do is update your excuses, Eric." He hadn't meant for that much disdain to enter his voice at the end there but when he glanced over at Avery, their eyes met. It wasn't enough to fully mend over the accusations being thrown around moments before but there was an understanding that passed between them: We're on the same side here. We both see this guy for what he really is. It was enough for Avery to step aside for the moment and let Sebastian lead the questioning.

"Hey, by the way, why did you come here? Any particular reason?" Sebastian asked smoothly and innocently. Avery grinned at that. "You know, we reviewed the feeds from the video cameras in the base when we got here. That was quite a little group you brought with you... Some very 'interesting' characters. A new project maybe?"

Avery chimed in, "We recorded about 15 different instances where you acknowledge, and practically endorse, the inappropriate sexual behavior conducted between Agent March and Agent Bartlett. Do you mind elaborating on what the fuck you're doing with these two? You do realize what the rules are, right? There's a reason they're in place."

This wasn't necessarily something Sebastian wanted to pursue either. The evidence was flimsy at best and would flop over with minimal effort but at this point, with what they'd gathered so far, he was willing to let Eric hang himself with whatever he might say. The interrogation was where they were going to build their case. If they could just get him to slip up and say something he didn't mean to say - Avery said it might happen! Sebastian was just crazy enough to start hoping for it along with him.

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((Part Two))

Post by Guest on Thu Nov 01, 2012 4:03 pm

"'15 instances of endorsement' - my, that's quite the number. No doubt itemized specifically in line with what was said to condone such behavior in ways that violate those particular rules' principle tenets. Yes, Avery, I believe I can recall why they're there. We have to be careful not to let personal shenanigans interfere with Agency work. And of course you have those itemized endorsements side-by-side their related negative impacts concerning the - oh, what were those crazy kids working on?" Eric had pulled a cupboard above the counter open and rustled out a coffee maker. "Right, the transfer. Which has also of course been utterly derailed and left completely out of our grasp instead of - say - Agent March being on a plane headed to a base away from Charlton's destruction to complete the process in a building sinfully bursting to have it unfold."

Avery shot a glare at Sebastian, which he tried to pretend he didn't see. Honestly, he wasn't buying this bullshit either and he just bit the inside of his lip and shook his head. So, what was Eric saying? Rules should be discounted and thrown to the side just because they hadn't interrupted or disrupted things yet? Really? If that was the way things worked, then he could step aside right now without any responsibility for what might occur in his absence. There really was no saying that Avery absolutely would attack and attempt to kill the A-1, so, he should just let whatever happen since nothing was negatively affected by rule-breaking yet. Right?

The A-1 reached in his fluffy pocket and brought out a packet of instant coffee, on which someone had angrily scrawled 'SIXTH FLOOR USE ONLY'. He merrily dumped it in the fourth floor's filter. "As for why I'm here: ohhhh, I couldn't bore you with those details. They're convoluted and messy, and you guys are quick to the chase with your i's dotted and t's crossed. You're role models! And it's impressive. Even with your blinding focus on catching me in a corner, you took the time to ensure it's all done by the book - every proper form signed and permission granted to scuttle on in here. Coffee? Can't interrogate someone without caffeine!"

With those last playfully spoken "threats" Sebastian made a sickened gulp in his throat. Avery just continued to glare holes into Eric's back. Although he might not agree with Eric's reasonings and attempts to sidestep the issues, he understood protocol and why it was to be followed to the letter. Since the implication appeared to be that Eric knew they didn't have permission to be here - and why shouldn't he be? - then they were undoubtedly beaten where they stood. Slumping down into a nearby chair, Sebastian rubbed a weak hand over his peach fuzz scalp and murmured, "Yeah... I'll have a cup." He certainly needed something with the way things were going.

Continuing to give him and Eric sideways glances, Avery burst out,"Oh, perfect! I thought you said there was something to those moments of impropriety!"

"No, I didn't! I said it was the strongest thing we had at the time! Besides, I seriously doubt the transfer's going to happen." To Eric, Sebastian said, "I sent a recording of Stephanie March killing Harper Anderson to Creasy, the Doc in charge of the murder investigation. As soon as he gets a look at that cold hard evidence, there's no doubt in my mind he'll put a hold on everything she's doing until the investigation is concluded. From what I've seen, it is my personal belief that her anxiety and fear of a sexual relationship with Bartlett is what contributed to her state of mind at that moment."

"So, since the transfer is not going to happen as smoothly as it should and since it is your fault for letting Bartlett continue to get in her way--"

"That's not going to work either." Avery gave him a questioning look but he just shrugged and shook his head. "It's not strong enough to tie Patten to it, so don't even bother." Sebastian gave Eric a level look. "Look, what I want to know is what made you come to Charlton at this time. Don't brush me aside with this 'convoluted' crap. This is serious. This is why we're here and what we're specifically here to investigate: the coincidental appearance of the A-1 right before an attack on a base by suspected Anti forces and an apparent failure to stop it from happening. It looks suspicious and these are the answers we're here to find. Since you're not going to beat around the bush then I'll ask you straight up, out of courtesy: were you involved in the attack? If so, how?"

"Did you let them in?" Sebastian rolled his eyes at Avery but gave Eric another expectant look.

Said A-1 buzzed about his business, grabbing three cups instead of two and chuckling as Avery spoke. No sooner had the Doc finished his words than Eric answered, “For someone swearing he’s got a case, it doesn’t sound like it’s together. In fact, it kind’f sounds like I could walk away if I wanted to. I guess that’s how it goes when you’re building a charge: it’s not built.” He said this filling the coffee maker with water and plugging it in. Wiping his hands of last-minute crumbs, he came back to return their gaze, shrugging breezily at them. “As much as I like you, I’m not interested in putting a noose around my neck to make you feel good. It doesn’t belong there, and I’ve got so much of a mess to clean. Charlton is dead. Dozens were killed. The Antis have re-awakened. What you’re implying is that I’m an accessory – and as a courtesy, I’ll leave it at ‘implying’.” His smile curled into a duller smirk and Sebastian shifted uncomfortably, starting to bite nervously at a thumb nail. Eric leaned against the counter with a shake of his head. “You pick the worst times to nurse a grudge, Av, and you consistently forget the other factors in the scene. Today marks the first attack of a sort we haven’t seen for over a decade, and what happened here is just the start of what’s to come so my hands are going to be full. I don’t have to reply to your question since it’s meaningless, idle conversation now, and you and I both know I can’t be charged on rumours or I wouldn’t still be running free. And you think I’m gonna ‘cop’ to something? As a favour? Because you’re curious? You’re not actually supposed to be stupid."

"The bottom line is that the ball is in your court but our match hasn’t started. You’re ready to serve. Go ahead. Launch a formal investigation. If you’re right, I’m sure there’s nothing stopping you from waving your evidence around, but the doubt won’t be far behind. ‘Why did you wait on it, Avery?’ ‘You had proof, Avery, and you went to talk to him?’ ‘Were you taunting him, Avery?’ ‘He could have escaped, Avery.’ ‘You’re selfish, Avery.’” Eric shrugged again, allowing the thoughts to sink in with the pair. “And if you’re wrong...” His fingers drummed the counter’s tiles. “If you’re wrong, you’ve blockaded an A-1 – the most experienced A-1 in these matters – from responding to this tragedy at his earliest vantage. And that’d be bad. That might get something destroyed. And then it would be on you. But that’s if you don’t find anything – I mean, sure, you might as well open a formal investigation, ‘cause it’s not like you’d come this far to accuse me of helping the slaughter of Charlton’s security on a gut feeling or from a vendetta. Start the thing!” He glowed with an eager air that just pushed Sebastian further into the shell he was currently hiding in. “I don’t really mind. I defer to all Docimasy wisdom. Except... be careful, my wild-eyed friend. I’ve heard whispers about the patience we have left with you. It’s not a lot. Not a lot.” The coffee maker began its first drip into its pot. Eric glanced at it. “I’d – just... hate to think you broke the camel’s back by accusing me too early. So – sorry, what were you saying, Mr. Here to Investigate? You were starting an interrogation or... something – I lost track. What was I saying? Wow, I need that coffee.”

Sebastian was done. They weren't even supposed to be here. He'd said that already, hadn't he? Well, now it'd become more than abundantly clear that they were out of their league this time. Everything Eric said and all the implications of what would occur if this were to turn out badly rang true. And they didn't have a leg to stand on. Sebastian must have been crazy to hope that they could get Eric to slip up or say something unintentionally. All they got was their asses verbally handed back to them with a cheerful smile, like the guy was being generous about it. And truthfully, he was. The claims being thrown around and the accusations which they had no evidence for whatsoever, were enough to get them both suspended just from uttering them to the guy's face. This wasn't how the Docimasy worked or how it was supposed to work and they'd crossed the line by about 10 miles already. It was time to turn back.

Just as he was thinking that however, Avery was still staring holes at the A-1, his body shaking as he tried to contain his fury while yet another encounter with Eric went exactly as so many others had. Knowing that look, and propelled by a gut feeling on how these situations usually went down, Sebastian started to stand but to his surprise, right as he did, Avery began to chuckle smoothly. "Haha! Oh, Eric!" he said jovially. "If I was scared of what a little 'impatience' might mean, I wouldn't even be here pushing buttons. So, I don't have all my shit together--it's a work in progress!" He laughed and then plopped down in a chair of his own.

He was acting a lot more casual and calm about this than Sebastian would have expected. It was better than Avery jumping at the guy's throat, but still, he wasn't sure it was safe or smart to continue this at this tone. Eric was right: they didn't have the permission to be here and they didn't have a case. They couldn't expect to get away with continuing to push buttons 'just to see what sticks'. "Avery, I think we need to--" Sebastian started but Avery quickly whipped his head around to look at him, his eyes giving him that same predatory look now.

"YOU. Shut the fuck up. Nobody is talking to you anymore and nobody wants you here." Sebastian shook his head and started to protest but Avery shrugged and said, "You've got two choices: either go out to the goddamn car like I ordered you to 15 minutes ago or sit there and shut your damn face." If Sebastian wanted to know whether or not Avery blamed him for Eric steering this conversation and putting them into defensive territory, there was his answer. So long as Avery remained in his seat and didn't try to attack or kill Eric, then really, it wasn't necessary for him to get involved and truthfully, he was really done boxing with Eric. Let Avery have a few rounds if he could handle it.

Avery's mockingly cheerful attention swiveled back to Eric. "If you want to get technical, it's not a 'grudge' that I'm nursing. It's the fact that you don't actually belong here that just really gets on my fucking nerves. You don't deserve the title of 'A-1' because you didn't fucking earn it. You stole it." He let out another ironic laugh before turning suddenly serious, his clipped voice growing penitent. "Oops, I'm sorry! I'm swimming in rumors again and after all of these years, there's still no proof that you did anything wrong! But what the fuck do people think happened? Assisted suicide? A very generous and permanent gift from the previous guy?" Avery smirked and gave Eric a slanted look. "Come on, son!" With his hands raised illustratively, he settled back in his seat once more and then made a dismissive gesture. "No, those aren't real questions because I'm not really asking you, Buzz Buzz. We've been through this before a thousand times and I really don't want to hear you try to side-step me with excuses again because it'll just piss me off. The only reason I brought it up was to correct you. Because no matter what you think you've done for the Agency since then, or how much you've 'earned' your place or how much you pretend you're helping now, that first case I opened against you will always be at the forefront of my mind. You didn't earn your spot, despite being capable in everything else, which means you couldn't. I have to wonder 'why the hell not?'""

"So, thank you, so much for the invite," he said, his voice sarcastically grateful. "And you know what I will! I think I will take you up on that. We'll launch a formal investigation right away." To Sebastian, he glibly commented, "Who knows what a man will say when he thinks no one will actually take his offer to check up on him." Sebastian brought out his cellphone and started to ask if he should request the proper forms but Avery gave him a threatening grimace, so he stopped. "And we know you have the tendency to pretty things up and exaggerate, Eric, so don't you worry, we'll make sure your hands really are full."

Taking off his glasses to clean them with the blanket he left draped across his lap, Avery said, "So, since you opened the floor for 'idle conversation', can I tell you that I'm really liking your new 'duds'. Very... mesomorphic." Avery blinked rapidly at Eric once he put his glasses back on and gave the guy a studious nod. "Breton was his name, right? Yeah, I think I recognized his handler enter the base with you. You have told him that you infect corpses, right? He's not gonna get his buddy back once you're done with him." Avery laughed at his own joke. "So, was that another gift from Nathan or did Breton give himself up for the glory of being your vessel?"

Eric gave him a polite smile and an interested tilt of his head.

"My, my. Didn't we wait to find our voice? For a while there, I thought I was squaring off against the kid. I felt very mean digging into him. Sorry, Seabass." He twinkled a shiny flash of teeth at Sebastian that made him flinch and then instantly relax. Right... Eric wasn't seriously threatening him. It was just Avery and Eric bickering again... with Sebastian stuck snug in the middle. From his spot at the counter, over the sound of the coffee maker boiling, Eric continued, "Maybe bring someone with a thicker skin from now on? I do have a heart, and it aches when I win too easily. Oh well. At least I have you." His eyes quickly flowered at the compliment. "And you noticed!" Eric seemed proud of his skin. "It's bigger than what I usually wear, but I can't help loving the strength of it. I almost regret not having more Pain Eaters puttering around me, but then I think of how expensive they are and I'm like, 'yeah, no, only if they're free'. But I wouldn't go so far as calling this a gift. More like..." He looked as if he were pondering a word. "Let's try 'consolation', from the pain of having to deal with Nathan's self-proclaimed gifts. That boy - y'know, as bad he is for destroying us, he's even worse when he wants to help." He rolled his eyes like he was talking about puppies chewing on shoes. "You know what it's like. There's something so endearing in a person trying to be useful and failing because he can never get what's going on, but it is phenomenally frustrating having to fix the mistakes he made. And then as the worst part, half the problems don't show for weeks after what things triggered them."

That got Avery to perk up a little. "Anything you'd like to elaborate on? Like, what the fuck are you talking about? How's the project coming? Getting all of those kinks worked out?" Then Avery was looking down at his lap, preoccupied with picking a teddy bear fuzzy free of the blanket and flicking it away. "Is Margaret still... 'around'?" Sebastian glanced over at Avery with a thoughtful look but he didn't say anything. Margaret Nyggard was a part of Eric' project and they both knew about her of course but she rarely ever got brought up. Then again, it'd been a while since Avery decided to inquire about Nathan at all, despite him and Sebastian occasionally sharing theories about what the boy was being used for. So, why was he acting so quiet about it now?

“Of course she is,” Eric said. “Maggie’s a dream, and she’s made up for the trouble caused by being sweet and so darn complacent. It’s David – you remember David – who’s having problems. Can’t say I approve of his escape attempts, but there’s something good in everybody, right? Let’s call it hiiiiiiis... ‘tenacity’. Yes.” He laughed. “The two of you would get along!”

Avery squinted at the floor. "Yeah... maybe... the sorta... Irish one?"

"Australian," Sebastian corrected.

"Who told you to speak?" Avery growled before turning back to Eric. "Right, the Australian one. I remember. So, Margaret is being 'complacent'?" He had his cheek resting on the palm of his hand and for several moments he was quiet. Sebastian wouldn't necessarily categorize it as a somber mood but a more thoughtful one than he was used to. There were deeper layers here that he couldn't even begin to guess at and he had no idea where the mood was suddenly coming from. Did he have history with this woman or something? If so, what was it?

Without moving from his repose, Avery looked at Eric and not without a hint of bitterness he murmured, "That's just the way you like 'em, isn't it? All snug in your fucking pocket." Clearing his throat with a small cough, Avery sat up a little straighter. "I've noticed that tart, March, has found a spot next to the others you've spun a web around. That '15 infractions' bullshit was that stupid fuck's idea," he said, giving Sebastian an unkind nod. Yeah. Thanks for that. I didn't ask for you to bring it up, asshole. "I don't actually care if they're fucking with your blessing. Really, I'm more curious about the attention you're giving this one and what you possibly have planned for her. Because I listened to a lot of the stuff you said to her and boy, do you know how to sweeten up the truth and manipulate people into doing your dirty work. It's always these women you get to so easily. I mean, I've watched you do it to the men too, but you work so much harder for the ladies. Probably because you enjoy it more, right?"

Sebastian agreed with this direction of questioning and, truth be told, he wasn't really interested in charging Eric with "pimping" either. His original direction when bringing March and Bartlett up was the fascination he felt in Eric's involvement with the two. Almost like a game or a hobby, playing Bartlett to get him to move in a certain direction, using a sickly March to coax the kid into playing hero or something. Sebastian couldn't figure it out although he certainly saw the game being played. Without context, it had little meaning, so he'd been hoping to get Eric to shed some light on it.

"Your disdain for her and her life couldn't be clearer with the way you've handled things, stringing her along with promises, keeping her happy with her little chewtoy, until you make the big promise about her transfer. And you can just see it in this broad's eyes, how fucking badly she wants it. It's not something you even delivered and yet she'll give you credit for it and hold herself responsible to you. She's pretty 'complacent' too, isn't she? Can I ask what you plan to do with her? Another addition to one of your projects or is she playing a specific part? I liked how you rewrote history to make yourself out to be some grand hero and then act like you're helping her by putting her in a helicopter with your worst enemy. Why is Bergmann not here? The implication and coincidental timing is almost as obvious as your sudden appearance here, isn't it?"

"Avery," Eric cheekily sang, peering at the man, "are you jealous? You know Bergmann's gone 'cause she doesn't like me. There's no rendezvous down the lane. But Agent March being in a box with her - well, I don't think I planned that out. Funny how it happened though, huh? Gosh, I hope nothing goes wrong." He hummed pleasantly and Sebastian cringed at the sound. There was nothing sarcastic about Eric's tone but more an airy discard of the notion that had the hairs on the back of his neck standing up. There was no doubt that Eric hadn't meant or planned for anything to happen but that he knew something was likely going to happen was clear. "Stephanie's a soldier of passion, so alive she'll still her blood to focus. She has her place in my mind, Av, but I swear she could never take yours. I just can't get rid of you." The A-1 put no emphasis in to hint whether this was bad. "She's something. Something strong. She deserves her transfer on principle, and while I understand your heartwarming concern, if I'd wanted more from her than a trip to Elmira with Gwen safely tucked at her hip, I'd've asked. I certainly wouldn't have waited until after Bergmann smashed her phone and confiscated poor Agent Sanders'. Do you think I'm that disorganized?"

No, that didn't seem like Eric's style and he was really starting to side with Eric during this line of questioning. There was too much to account for, too many accidents he'd have to time just perfectly to get it to fall into place the way he wanted. So, maybe Eric didn't have anything planned for Stephanie... but he sent Bartlett after her with an injection of something. Then the other thing Eric said popped back into his head with the shining light of epiphany. "Stilled her blood"? Did he mean drugs? Now that he thought about it, her symptoms and mannerisms did seem a lot like the usual 'drug addicted professional' story that was common in certain sectors of the Agency.

"Jealous?" Avery blinked blankly and just from that look, Sebastian could tell that the guy was genuinely confused. "What do you mean? What the fuck are you talking about? Jealous of what? What's he talking about?" That last was said at Sebastian but it was not an invitation to speak. Then Avery shook his head and rolled his eyes in irritation. "Actually what I was asking you about was Bergmann's loyalty and if she was a danger to March. As far as planning for that situation, yeah, I think you did. Clumsy. Coincidental. That sounds exactly like you, Eric. Who knows? Maybe this animosity you've got between you has all been for show. Maybe you're in on it together. Like I said, the appearance of you and the disappearance of her revolving around this tragic event seems very orchestrated. I think you planned for that the way you planned to get killed by your friend Alexander back when you were running around having fun and playing games with him."

Remembering how this train of conversation went last time, Sebastian rubbed his eyes with his fingers and with a sigh he said, "Avery."

"No! No! You know what? Everyone said I was crazy and--this! This-this-this-this! This is where that fucking 'Coyote' shit started! Someone in Docimasy headquarters thought it'd be cute to make a shitty little cartoon or comic or whatever, implying that I was fucking Wile E. Coyote or some stupid shit! It was so goddamn hilarious they posted it on the Docimasy news website, which, if you ask me is just completely unprofessional! Well, the joke's on all of you! Just by making the reference at all proves you all know I'm right and that you know I'm not crazy! You're fully acknowledging by the nickname alone that he's a criminal mastermind!" He pointed insistently at Eric. "You know he's doing these things deliberately and that he's a psychopathic sadist!"

"Actually, Avery..." Sebastian said with a quirked eyebrow. "The implication is that Eric's just too quick for you and all these traps you fall into and all of the harm that comes to you is because you're doing it to yourself. Unintentionally. The roadrunner was never a genius." And for no reason at all, to Eric he said, "No offense. Haven't you ever watched the old Looney Tunes cartoons, Avery?" Sebastian found it amusing that he had to explain this to the man at all. The nickname had been there before Sebastian met Avery - in fact, his supervisor gave him the case, chuckling as he commented that he'd be paired up with the 'Coyote'. The Alexander event was the trigger for it, with Avery screaming at Eric once it was clear he survived, having to be dragged away by other Agents as he attempted to repeat Alexander's actions right there in the base hallway. A few days later, Docimasy HQ pinup boards were plastered with the comic and Avery soon lost all credit he once had. Sebastian could forgive the guy for not having a childhood or ever watching a single cartoon as a kid, but in all the years since the nickname sprang up, he never researched where it came from or what it was about?

Avery just made an annoyed click with his tongue and waved his hand harshly before plopping back in his seat with a scowl. "Moving on!" he said angrily. "The reason why you haven't asked March for anything yet is that she's already doing what you want because she's a fucking 'complacent' peach, remember? That's what I was trying to say. This is what you do to these women, to people! Whether you actually do anything for them or not, you get them feeling indebted to you and you play along when they decide they want to 'pay you back'. When they get what they desire, that's when you come around holding your hands out innocently as if you're just checking for falling objects. You play hero, you play God, make sure that they're hanging on your every word and then you innocently suggest that they do you a fucking favor. It's exactly what happened to Margaret and how you got her into that fucked up little kid's head. "

Before Eric could open his mouth, Avery sat forward until he was perched aggressively on the edge of his seat and then vehemently stabbed a finger in his direction, his voice grating between bared teeth. "NO! I DON'T WANT TO FUCKING HEAR IT! I know exactly what you do and I know how it went down! You fucking tricked her! You fucking stole her just like you steal everything else you possess!" Slowly, once again, he slid back into his seat, gripping the armrests and glaring at Eric. "I don't know what you've got planned for this girl, March, and I may not be able to charge you with anything when she gives you everything but you can count on my nose getting all up in your shit if she even gets a step close to your precious 'Nathan project.'" To Sebastian he maybe a vague gesture with his hand and said, "That history won't be repeating itself."

“You’d stop it?” Eric marveled at that fancy taking flight. That flight crashed in an energetic blaze. The A-1 tut-tutted and dashed on. “I hate to break it to you, Av, after your friend tried to put it politely – thank you, Seabass, it’s well-noted – but... So. Many. Assumptions. All of them hinged on the central fallacy that you could change anything of mine! How long’ve you blown that ‘Oh no, Eric stole his rank, he shouldn’t have it’ horn? How far's it gotten you? Better yet, how much longer should I wait – ‘cause the suspense is killing me!” He ran back through what the Doc had said. “You win with me playing ‘hero’. There’s nothing I like more than swooping in and solving the Agency’s woes. It’s what I do best and I enjoy it. They enjoy me doing it – the people you’ve repeatedly reported me to – and the Anti-Agents fear it. Our group’s wishes are my command. Hell, that’s why I worked great with Agent Carter before she – um... went crazy and tried to destroy us with her creation. ‘God’ – ehhhh... Debatable. I’d never admit to it, I’m too humble, and while I can’t control what people say, Avery, my faithful blight, why would you think to call me invincible and then insist I’m a step away from being stripped of whatever the heck you’re aiming at? There’s the problem of you finding evidence – but again, we’ve established that you clearly have – like... a mountain of it – but then there’s the problem of getting them to believe it, too. Me? Sweet Eric? Kill someone for personal gain when the only interest I’ve ever shown is in making our division stronger? And the point has a finer tip, grasshopper.” He straightened away from the counter and saw to the coffee pot. “‘So the fuck what?’ Come on, Avery! Even if I did steal my rank, the Agency’s better off. I’m not spending its cash on an all-inclusive resort in Hawaii like Moraitis. I’m legitimately helping.”

Doing to Avery what he’d done to Eric, the A-1 cut the man off with a wave, his back turned to the duo while he tended to the drinks and continuing: “Yes, it’s principle, and you desperately hate me so I can’t possibly be doing good work – we’ve had this back and forth every time. Agent Bergmann will not be affecting Agent March beyond trying to talk her out of the transfer – shockingly, there’s more than one person here who doesn’t trust me, but I think she’s justified in it – and my primary interest has moved to finishing what was started five years ago: getting control of our rogue, since you brought him up, and afterwards the A-1s and I are gonna have a talk about who they let guard the DTD cells. What in that schedule set off your alarm today?”

"Don't put words in my fucking mouth," Avery spat. "And I told you not to fucking talk to me about it or defend yourself, because now you've just gone and pissed me off by misinterpreting me. If you listened to anything I fucking said, you'd understand that I seek your demotion and exile because I believe you're a liar and that everything you do is a lie. You're not trying to help us. You're using everyone in the whole goddamn Agency for some scheme. Oh, but you're too stupid and too humble to truly get what the implications were, right?" Avery waved his hands and rolled his eyes mockingly. "Even though all I'm doing is repeating myself. Who the fuck are you trying to trick here? Just take off the goddamn mask!" He shot a look at Sebastian and he spoke in his clipped voice with a tone of whiny victimhood bleeding through the words. "Ya see?! Ya see?! He does it on purpose just to get on my nerves! He's playing games with me is what he's doing! Are you listening to this Seabass? Do you see what he's doing?"

"Yeah, I see it," Sebastian murmured distractedly, holding up his wrist and tapping on his watch to indicate that they should leave. Avery of course chose to ignore him, seemingly pleased with the validation as he turned back to Eric.

"So, you mean Elias is here, is that what you're talking about? You guys still sounded pretty chummy over the phone. Did you happen to talk to him during his visit? Make any special deals? Not asking you to admit to anything, just curious about what would seemingly be 'Part 2' of that phone conversation where you basically invited him to the facility to jump back into his body."

"He seemed angry, actually," Sebastian commented, forgetting that he wasn't allowed to talk. Avery seemingly forgot too, though.

"Yeah, he did, didn't he?" Avery said, mockingly acting like the idea hadn't occurred to him until just then. Then he smirked, "Gosh, what got him so angry, I wonder? Lover's quarrel? Did you break his heart, Eric? Can you explain to me again how that situation went down?"

Avery was laughing but Sebastian knew this was sensitive territory, so he tried to dive in once more, going so far as to stand and trying to put some professional authority in his voice as he said, "Avery, I think we should go now. Thank you, Eric, for the coffee but we really should be heading out before--"

Avery ignored him, giggling a little as he said, "Come on, Eric. Tell me the story of how Xander killed you as Peter Halsted again. I really love that one."

"Say 'please'."

Avery just sat there for what felt like forever, a faux smile etched on his face, his eyes wide with an internal war going on within them. Sebastian quickly put himself at Avery's ear, with a persuasive hand placed gently on the man's arm. "Please, Avery, don't let this continue. We'll walk away for now. Take a breather outside. Then, when we've refueled, we'll come back, find some nice, hot evidence, toss it under his feet, just slow him down a little and have a good laugh. What do you say? You'll feel so much better about everything, just trust me and walk away from this. Right. Now." Avery's nails wouldn't stop digging into the armrest and his smile wasn't going away; it was like he was trying to beat Eric in a smiling contest. "Please, don't do this to me. Don't do this to us and our case. Not tonight. I'm asking you as a frie--"

He broke off as Avery jerked his arm out of Sebastian's hold and Sebastian backed away a little warily. Avery's eye and the corner of his mouth twitched, but his gaze never left the A-1 and the smile stayed firm. "Pleeeeeeaaaaase," he said through gritted, grinning teeth before forcing himself to talk normally. "Please, tell me the story. You know I love to hear it. It's my favorite one, after all, Buzz Buzz." Defeated, Sebastian turned away from both men, wandering towards the door a little, praying to God that this wasn't going to happen like before. Not wanting to leave, however, he came back and stayed standing at Avery's shoulder, watching and waiting for the worst to happen.

“Very good, Avery! You definitely got better at this. Ol’ Grace just whines about her SMILE course, but anger management’s paid off for you.” Eric had gathered the filled cups and jauntily floated to serve them. “Hope you don’t mind black! Bergmann has this thing where milk curdles in her presence. It’s a health hazard. What can I say?” And he, finally, gone from the counter, one mug left in his mighty hand and a grin on his lips from the magic words, joined the Docs by taking Sebastian’s newly freed chair and sighed. Everything worked together to set a tone of unease for Sebastian as once again, he was forced to witness this taking place. Eric looked entertained. He even scrunched to the edge of the seat like he was ready to chat about ghosts and victory. The drink’s steam tickled at his chin. “So... Where to start that’s better than the end? The end that holds the heart and soul and the very crest of the wave that surely was... the Peter incident.” He whispered it, hushed but sprightly. “The end began when the Nordics attacked. From the shadows, they appeared, hungry for our blood. Xander meant to kill them all, but I stopped him right as the noble Benoit arrived. We’d been on our way to meet Benny to bring our lost sheep home, but with Nordics bearing down our wretched path, he was forced to come to us instead. There stood Agent Lamarre and the others he’d trusted to bring along, face-to-face with the heaving horde of monstrous, icky Swedes.” He popped up to quickly explain, “Swedes mostly, but there were – like – Danes and Scots in the mix. They’re a weird cluster ‘cause the big groups were shot, so the Nordics took whatever leftovers dropped on the floor. But anyway –” His haunted breath stirred the fearsome story. “Xander and I waited while the two sides warred, he less patiently than I. One could see pure lust for battle burning within his eyes, and for a while, I thought he would break and charge through to bring them to extinction. He never did. He’d been trained to perfection, and as gore built by his feet and their guts smeared the cuff of his pants, he stood where he was – truly obedient, held by my order until he died or until I told him to move. And then – then, at the height of the crusade’s horror, it happened, Avery. It happened.”

Satisfied, Eric reclined in his chair. His glorious tale was complete.

"By 'it happened' of course you mean 'he smashed your skull to pieces with a chunk of concrete', right?" Motioning with his coffee cup, Avery shook his head in an amused fashion and lightly said to Sebastian, "It gets better with every re-telling."

Sebastian wasn't taking any chances and he didn't trust the facade Avery was putting on right now, the thin veneer of calm rippling with a tension that was barely contained. This was his job and why he was appointed to this case. Moving with a quiet efficiency, he set his cup aside and gently took Avery's away as well, gathering up Eric's blanket from Avery's lap and draping it over the crook of his arm. "Okay, you heard the story. You're done now. It's time to go."

"Relax, Seabass," Avery murmured, his eyes never leaving Eric. "I'd just like to explore this some more."

"Nope. No more exploring. No more questions."

"Give me back the blanket," he said, not moving from his seat and still not looking at Sebastian, his eyes fixated on his target.

"No. You are done. We gotta go." Then Sebastian began to usher Avery to a standing position, hauling him up by an arm. Avery stood somewhat willingly but jerked his arms out of Sebastian's grasp once he was on his feet.

"I just want to hear him answer me!" he said, desperately trying to side-step Sebastian's efforts to get him to move, keeping Eric within his sights. "What happened, Eric? What the fuck did you say to him? He just goes from completely obedient to you and willing to die on your word to suddenly killing you in a few minutes?! Why, goddammit!? What did you do?!"

"Say 'pretty please'." Eric sipped his coffee.

Sebastian hated Eric so much right now. Avery's eyes widened insanely and there was a small click as his jaw clenched while he held perfectly still. In the next moment, faster than Sebastian could react, he'd swooped underneath Sebastian's blocking arms and past him to pounce on Eric's chair. With feet planted on either side of Eric's thighs on the cushion, crouching over his lap, Avery grabbed up fistfuls of Eric's pajamas and started screaming in the man's face, his voice barely intelligible at that volume.

"YOU BASTARD! ANSWER THE GODDAMN QUESTION, MOTHERFUCKER! WHAT DID YOU SAY TO MAKE MARSHALL ELIAS KILL YOU?! IT WAS ALL YOUR FUCKING FAULT! THEY COULD HAVE HAD HIM, YOU ASSHOLE! WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO TO PISS HIM OFF?! HE WAS WILLING AND READY TO GO BACK WITH YOU! WE COULD HAVE HAD HIM AND HUNDREDS OF LIVES COULD HAVE BEEN SAVED, YOU SELFISH PRICK!"

Sebastian didn't hesitate. Wrapping his arms around his boss's body and putting all of his energy into wrestling the guy off of the A-1, it took him a few minutes but he finally worked with gravity to wrench the two apart, tossing a stumbling Avery to the side. Avery wasn't done, driven insane with anger by Eric's cute taunt, already back on his feet and rushing to attack the man again. Thankfully, Sebastian was there to stop him, finding new strength as he began shoving the ranting and flailing Doc towards the door.

"DON'T TRY TO TELL ME IT WAS AN ACCIDENT! YOU DID IT ON PURPOSE! YOU GOT HIM PISSED AND ANGRY AS A DELIBERATE MOVE! IT'S ALL PART OF YOUR SCHEEEEME! I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING OR WHY BUT I WILL FIND OUT! OH THE GREAT AND POWERFUL ERIC PATTEN COULDN'T CONTROL THE ROGUE! ELIAS JUST WENT INSANE BECAUSE THAT'S HOW HE IS! POOR FUCKING ERIC GETTING VICTIMIZED LIKE THAT! YOU MARTYR!"

Finally, Sebastian got Avery shoved out the break room door, speaking in as forceful a voice as he could. "Avery! Walk it off! Go walk-it-off! Now!"

Surprisingly, once he was in the hallway, he didn't try to come rushing back in but continued to throw a fit out there, trudging down the hall a few feet, ranting and screaming through clenched teeth. Panting in the doorway, with the blanket still held in his hand, Sebastian looked back at Eric. Shaking his head, he said, "You always gotta push his buttons. You're such a..." He wanted to say "bastard" or something like it but restrained himself from doing anything unprofessional and instead adjusted his suit which had become disheveled in the struggle. "On behalf of the Docimasy, I'd like to extend another apology for Docimasy Agent Avery's behavior, Sir. And I'd also like to ask that this not reflect poorly on our division in any way." Always. He was always cleaning up Avery's messes.

With Avery gone from the room, the timbre in Eric's glee had changed. He calmed like his favorite show was done, and while he was happy as hell having watched it, he had to level his voice to something Sebastian could reasonably speak to: respectable courtesy, with a smidgen of reluctance about trudging into work-mode again.

"Not to fret, Seabass," Eric patiently hummed, straightening his own clothes after putting down his cup. "It's idle conversation. Besides, if I write him up for another 'inappropriate physical contact', they'll take him away, and then what'll I do on Thursdays?" Fieldwork status reports were submitted by then to get approvals shoved in over the weekend. It was no secret that A-1s had access to every file. "I guess I could read - like... books." But he let it sound like an amputation. "Anyway, the floor is yours. I know Av's got the patience of an ant, but I'm sure he wants answers and you're not as fun to rile up. What's it gonna be?"

"Well, I'm glad it's fun for you," Sebastian murmured, glancing out the doorway to make sure Avery hadn't gotten very far. Down the hall at the end near the first turn, Avery was trying to toss a potted plant at the wall. Unlucky for him, the thing was half his height and situated in a plastic pot, so as he lifted it up unsteadily and attempted to chuck it, dirt cascaded over the flimsy sides onto his suit and shoes before he finally tossed the heavy thing away with a hollow grunt. Sebastian watched for a moment as Avery proceeded to kick the bucket and stomp on the large, green fronds. Yes, there were a lot of things that he wanted to know right now - like, what did Eric have planned for Bartlett? Why did the Antis take Charlotte - and why didn't he stop them? What was this thing going on between Avery and Margaret Nyggard and why hadn't he heard of it until now? But the more he thought about it the more he preferred the idea of letting simple mysteries lie and just getting the fuck out of there already. Turning back into the room, Sebastian gave Eric a look, smiled and sighed as he said, "Thank you for your time, Sir, but I really have to get back to him before he... hurts himself or someone else. I hope you continue to have a pleasant evening." With that and a small polite nod, he turned to leave the room.

"Sebastian." He stopped and turned back with his eyebrows raised expectantly. "The blanket?"

Looking down at the cloth still in his hand, Sebastian hesitated, seeing as how it'd become Avery's newest, favorite thing. Then he remembered how his boss kept smelling it like a deranged stalker and he happily wadded it up and tossed it lightly to the A-1. Eric didn't say anything else but his smile grew more complete, as if now his show was over. The welcome was still there, hanging by in case either Doc changed their mind and returned; his eyes agreed they were done, however. Despite the progress, some answers stayed out of reach. With a silent goodbye, Sebastian was dismissed - officially, as per their rules - and as he was freed from the tangled conversation, ghostly hands gathered the blanket like it was a natural response.

Back in the hallway, Sebastian caught up with his boss who seemed to have calmed down quite a lot, leaning upon a wall and trying to catch his breath. When Sebastian approached, Avery moved off the wall and headed back for the stairs.

"I want to start an official investigation right away," he said as he started to jog down the steps with Sebastian behind him. "We'll head to Bergmann's office because I know she probably has some physical copies of the forms we need to get started. I won't have anyone else threatening to toss us to the side because we don't have clearance. The sooner we get started filling them out, the quicker we can get moving with this."

Sebastian breathed a sigh of relief to see that things had returned somewhat to normal after that violent explosion. "So, we're going to be digging into the Antis attacking the base afterall? Are you still going with your hunch that he was conspiring with them and involved in the attack?" It was better to call it a 'hunch' rather than something flimsy or unsupported like a 'theory', even though Sebastian was fully right beside Eric in calling it a 'grudge'.

Avery stopped on the landing and abruptly turned to him, cutting him off with a small confused scowl. "No, forget about that. That's not important. He made it very clear what his main focus was right now and that's Marshall Elias. That's why Elias came here and Eric plans to wake him up and use him for something. Well, this reunion is going to be strictly supervised. I don't care if he argues that we're getting in the way. We'll say we're there strictly for his protection and to make sure the rogue stays in full custody. As soon as Elias wakes up, we'll be right there lurking over everything, with all of the proper forms stamped and filed." He paused to put a thoughtful finger on his chin. "Yeah, we might need a few signatures for that, but it'll work. I'll start getting the paperwork ready, you start waking a few people up and calling in favors. I'm sure I've got a few left. Also, I want to contact someone in Elmira to meet Bartlett when he arrives. Docimasy certified. That means nobody on Li's team."

"You're not trying to charge him for encouraging their relationship, are you?"

"No. The important part of that conversation is what he didn't say and Bartlett is the key. He's not doing anything to Stephanie, we can believe him when he says that, but Jason is another story. He's involved but I just can't figure out how. We need to talk to him as soon as possible." With that, they left the staircase, entering the second floor once again on their way to Bergmann's office.

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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Tartra on Thu Feb 07, 2013 5:33 am

... He was going to take this time to double-check Quin's status as an A-3 – simply for curiosity's sake. As he said, Eric had yet to lock in any consistency for how those changes were processed, and if Benoit was set to put a polished foot into the air formerly containing one chipmunk's head, he wanted to know how hard he had to kick to make the paperwork worth it. He wouldn't have this problem were the A-2s showing discretion. Stewart or no Stewart, Quin didn't fit his employment, let alone whatever rank Eric had reduced him to. He lacked the aptitude for playing nice. It made him dangerous to his work and everyone else's. They gave that a team? Benoit's incredulousness was the same as when it had circled Elias' promotion. Selfishness was not a trait to reward with greater authority, not even if it already seemed to be the basis of every Agency staffing decision since its inception. Honestly, it was as though their management had taken to sneezing while filling in the Case Lead documents, and whoever's name best matched the resulting scribble got the job. Perhaps it was why Eric was so cavalier in stripping ranks: there was a constant 40% they'd been issued via allergies anyway.
 
His head hurt. That couldn’t be a good sign. Never mind – status, now. Benoit blinked and scanned his eyes across the internal display, grateful for the artificial distance of it hovering several inches away instead of crushed against his pupils as it actually was. He –
 
<<Don’t do it,>> the lenses roared. Then they cut off the request.
 
Obviously he hadn’t installed that. And by the way, what the hell? During the silence following Quin’s inane blather, he took more time to be absolutely sure his lenses had chosen to deny his query in a stern panic minus any other further explanation. He blinked again, thrilled to be hiding it under tinted shades, and asked for the profile with seething restraint. There came the same reply. Experimenting, he drew March’s records. It displayed. He stole up a random employee’s data. It also displayed, albeit noting, <<You punched him twice and that is enough.>> Had he? The text shone readily, regardless. Quin’s had not. Benoit wanted to frown, but he liked the idea of making the boy wait for no apparent reason. He remained composed, allowing the quiet to build before deigned to end the goblin’s misery.
 
“Alright,” he finally began. “This is how this will work.” He put a hand to his chest deliberately, gesturing to himself slow enough for Quin to follow along. “My name is Benoit. I am the lead on the Alexander case. You are Agent Quin, in charge of the…” What was the name? “… the fire-girl case.” He would have liked to have looked it up, but it was blocked. Another urge to frown swept in. “As you are aware, your target has gone. Mine as well. They are both with a classified, external group.” He chose not to define the fire-girl’s – or Alexander’s – willingness in that. “They are together. It should mean they’re safe.” Safe among Anti-Agents. He had said more ridiculous things.
 
Hold on. Why had his lenses implied the sole reason he would have for researching a name was to find out whether he could punch it? … How were they capable of implying anything?
 
He thought about it.
 
... Really, Jean. A nanny-cam. That was supposed to have been a joke. God forbid the man ‘retired’ without a sense of humour – or a withered grasp of sarcasm – but it looked as if that was what had happened exactly. His fingers felt suddenly empty without the cigarette he’d inexplicably lost between moving from the curtain to the central monitor. As he busied himself with re-lighting his way to an early grave – unless Jean had done it on purpose and whatever was cutting access to Quin information was the result of a painfully annoying misassumption that he knew how to be funny morphing into legitimate inspiration and, because he utterly refused to do something half-assed, left Benoit with a brand new puzzle to solve while he was on the cusp of hangover. That man had the worst sense of timing, too. He wanted to sleep, not decode inconsistencies, but years of Jean and his thing about whatever was in writing – it needed to be enshrouded, it had to be complex, because even though he had left the rebels, the Agency knew no mercy – meant Benoit could only see clues and would for as long as it took to scratch this paranoid itch.
 
It was hard to miss a friend when there was no sign he had gone. Except for Eric, Jean might have been in another room. Being annoying. That, or hilarious to tease. Benoit admitted if the power was on his side, he likely would’ve tossed Jean in with Bergmann. He faulted Eric immensely for it, but Jean would have survived. He would also sulk for a week and a half, which was entertainment in its own right.
 
“Normally, my target runs independently. As of late, however, he has twice involved himself in something he abandoned five years ago,” Benoit went on. “A partnership. He partnered with the Stewart girl and she served as a weight around his neck. Pulled properly, as she seemingly was, she could throw him off-balance.” Stewart forced Alexander to share her concerns, ignoring that he had his own to fumble with. What should have been an exhaustive sprint towards a different coast ended at a city less than a gas tank away. They remained there for the night. Whose decision had it been to find a hotel? The guest would never have accepted it, and the host held no sway in that respect. March, he remembered, did something to the girl, and while he recognized such a turn of events may have trapped them where they were, the distance between the old apartment and Vestal betook a stop well in advance of the norm – and natural survival. He couldn’t ask for a better weapon against their thief. Peter came damn close, but thanks to Stewart, Elias was in a stasis cell. “I should think whatever connection they had was palpable. You caught her at La Madeleine, did you not?” He shook his head. “I don’t know how you stomached a dinner with them. But at least I don’t have to explain their effect on each other.”
 
Alexander avoided attachments; he did not avoid people. Through his small doses of tolerance, he gave Benoit an understanding of how involved a woman had to be before she was invited anywhere. The guest grasped ‘subtle’ about as well as Jean did ‘risk’: awfully, terribly, and when it counted, apocalyptically lethal. Granted, Benoit couldn’t say how deep any of it was because he wasn’t, but for Stewart to go with Alexander, even Alexander-the-host, a desperate level of trust needed to be in place. For a Pain Eater, trust came in two varieties, and since the guest wasn’t branded with cursive G.S. initials, it had to be assumed they were screwing.
 
<<Don’t do it.>> It was the tone, not the message, that called him. It was worded in the same, familiar cadence as the second alert, but with twice the panic. The second was more a polite reminder.
 
 “Now your target is with him. Alone, I might add,” he indeed added, “in a sea of hostile strangers. I wasn’t entirely able to keep up with what you... explained…” He believed he put in an admirable effort towards making that word sound sincere. “You briefly mentioned your target. I am confident you have a complete prediction of how she might respond to Alexander in this context, but he poses a certain unpredictability for those not aware of how he responds likewise. Therefore, in the interest of preventing our cases from tangling –” Or in untangling them, as that case may be. “– I propose a trade.” Benoit blew a cloud of smoke at the monitors. “What was on that tape after it ended? What did Alexander do? In return, I can give you the course of actions he takes regarding those of your target’s ‘attributes’.” And those of Stewart’s. “I imagine it will fine-tune your expectations for later. It may also be the difference in taking her back versus dragging her by the hair.”

It was him being nice.

Madeline Bergmann had, in her office, a closet filled with fun trinkets. It stood in the farthest corner of her room and proudly swelled with its assorted contents. Those contents had been organized in the rough shape of a human being – by limb. While this meant the shackles and gags were easy to find, it equally meant glancing at any item lined along waist-height brought on potentially irreparable emotional trauma. He had every intention of using them in lieu of a blade. Without confirmation on Quin’s rank, harming him would be a terrible gamble. Humiliation? The Agency didn’t care as much. So that would work.

* * *

This was gold. All of it. Weist hadn't stopped talking since they'd come in and he wasn't showing signs of slowing down. Agent Donovan had given them permission to stock up on supplies for potential attacks – and they were, sort of. Higeuros and Gordon were on the other side of the massive room, looking for guns. He and Weist volunteered for the crap job of gathering ammo for them, since every gun in the world was useless without bullets and battery packs, leaving them plenty of time to talk about what the hell was going on around here. The Agency was fucked, and it was glorious.

'Spy' was the wrong word for Franklin's assignment. He was part of an outreach program, like an ambassador from the R ranks to the A's. He was here to learn. He was also here to blow the heads off asshole intruders, but first and foremost, he represented Security in closing the gap. There swam a big divide between what these guys called 'public' and 'private' Salcon. Comms was particularly pissed by it. They hated waiting on intel for more than two minutes, so decades of restricted access really rubbed salt on their wound, and then the lockout of any group not exclusively dealing in Targets of Interest sent them spiralling into... hate orgies. They'd been taking it out on everybody, so now as a step towards better internal relations, each A base had a 'public' person making rounds. 'Pubbys', they were 'affectionately' called. The goal was to hit a compromise on what could be intersectorally shared, then use that to rejig clearances and let more circles into the loop. Salcon wanted all its forces back under the same fold. It was supposed to happen diplomatically and there was huge support for it from other groups – not from Comms, but if C ranks had their way, the Agency would go back to being a specialized mop-up crew – but... the point of the Split – capital 'S' – six years ago was shooting for the opposite. The Agency wanted to get the hell away to stop outsiders from sticking their fingers in people who exploded buildings by blinking. They dragged their heels on every agreement, and even this'd been soaring to limbo. Eric Patten got the ball rolling. R's were invited to suss out danger to public personnel. T's were here to study overlap and decide how their experiments could be mutually helpful. Agent Patten had a love affair with S's already. Comms was not allowed in. The Agency hated them, and it was just Comms who was shocked that that would matter. Half the friggin' reason this place was so damn secret was because C ranks weren't riffling through it. And Franklin had to hand it to the A's for planning that: he'd never, ever thought they spent their days catching superhumans – and that he'd be a part of it! As an observer, but he couldn't get much more. Practically the only ways to be hired was to get born into it or accidentally find a target and drag that poor sap in, demanding work and saying that was their cover letter. He'd flipped when his R-5 offered this. He was shaking on his first day and didn't have anything to report for a week because his mind was reeling over these walls. Elmira was serious shit.

“They're allowed to kill each other?”

This was a massive room. Elmira loved shoving their shit in one place. Those archives? Those fucking archives – he meant 'Archives' with a capital 'A' – his head nearly popped off and rolled around in them from it. That was a massive fucking room. Rooms! Apparently the Archives were layered, and rows of what was on the floor could be lowered or lifted to bring a new set of quasi-corpses. They'd fiddled with it to grab that Nathan kid. This room, the Weapons Cache, was just filled with... damn – he didn't know the names for some of it. And he was R! R was Security – R had open access to whatever T cooked up! He didn't think the Agency could top that, but looking at the metal walls and metal ceiling and metal floor, seeing baskets sat in clusters and filled with grenades he thought were high-tech but were thrown in like apples on display at a store, then the overhead baskets hanging down overflowing with more, got him to change his mind. The Agents didn't let those quasi-corpses go to waste. They worked the magic out of each of them and spent years turning it into something they could duplicate. That stuff, the powered tech, got the actual shelf space. They were lined like books in a library, with tiny blue barcodes underneath for easy requisition. There were scanners at the door that lit their display with full weapons specs. They gave vague references to what abilities were incorporated – mostly what abilities they countered, like piercing psychic ice-blocks or clearing illusions – but what he liked was minimum rank required. When Higeuros radioed in what ammo to get next, Franklin scanned it. Those two hadn't picked a thing lower than A-5. They were allowed to handle these? Agent Donovan had said... but there was gonna be a boot up their ass like no other if any of this was damaged.

“'Course not,” Weist replied. He was the one member of Team F who didn't mind talking to him. “No one's allowed to do half the shit they do, but what they're excused for depends on who they are. Pain Eaters get a fuckin' pass – can't blame 'em 'cause they're crazy, can't charge someone for killing one 'cause they're dangerous and self-defence is assumed. It's like having a stick where both ends are short. Higeuros!” To the radio. “Pack Type 44108 or 44118?”

108, dumbass.

“Plasma RPG. Hand-held,” Weist noted. “Very fuckin' nice.” He cleared a whole cubby into his bag.

“Dylan's mom was a civilian. Why did Lawrence's get away with...” Franklin didn't say it exactly. “You know...” He'd been warned about accusing someone, even if they weren't here. “She got away with it.”

“She got the punishment she wanted,” Weist corrected. “She got Dylan, and then she went to the other two who were suddenly a lot more cool about givin' their kids to this psycho that may or may not've murdered the fuck out'f the last mom that said no. That's how she got Trevor and Marshall, remember?' No. Because they'd done a hundred awful things and taking kids was on the bottom of the fucked up scale. The Eliases made sure. “She would've taken Roland too if his mom wasn't a little bitch. She straight says, 'Lawrence's mom, of course I'm on your side, I'll do everything you tell me, I'm a good girl!' One less mouth to feed but one more soldier in the trench. Can't turn that down.”

Franklin had asked what the deal with them was. The Eliases, he meant. Two hours later, his ears were screaming from the fun ways the brothers got along. He knew A gave its folks extra lines of slack in trade of the stress they went through, and Weist was forever explaining to Weathers that PEs had more for being Agent-raised since they were twelve. The Agency assumed accountability like parents did for their... well, twelve-year-olds. But this redefined 'job security'. It pretty much renamed 'hostile environment', too.

“So she murdered her to get the kids and waved death threats in the air – to... what – like raise a personal army?”

“The story goes she didn't want two she-devils raising the kids of her husband.”

“Lawrence's mom and him got married?”

“In her head, they did.” Weist was picking through shock cells. “In her head, her husband was a saint. Those bitches got their harpy claws in his brain to seduce him, so they had to die or she at least had to take the kids away and preserve their father's honour. Truth is?” He empty another cubicle. “Their father was a slut.” Shrug. “It's kind'f a running joke. When Marshall worked here, every time someone asked about his family, he'd sum it up as, 'Dad was a whore', and when someone challenged it, he'd actually trace back to prove that yes, this started 'cause pappy couldn't leave his dick in his pants.”

The guy liked to talk like he'd worked here for years. It was months. Franklin had joined four weeks after him. Still – it made a damn difference. The Puerto Rican used to be in the military's Special Ops. as a jack-of-all-trades for infiltration. He was an information dealer and Agent Donovan didn't actively hate him, which were the two reasons Franklin had for getting as far as he was. Eric Patten might have approved the public rounds, but although they loved their leader, Agents were cripplingly wary of strangers. They were slow to trust. They were also cliquey as hell – no team mixed with any other. Suits stayed especially segregated. They were to the A's what Comms was to the parent corp., and since PEs were to the Agency what the Agency was to Salcon – elaborate badasses designed and bred to complete missions – that explained that rivalry.

Pack Type 27889.

Weist rolled his eyes and looked at the aisle he was in, then snapped back at Higeuros, “I'm in the 40k's, dick.”

So walk your ass to the 20k's, princess. Fuckin' wire guns are at stake here! They shoot bolts of razor wire!

“Someone's losin' a head.” That didn't sound like it bothered anyone. “So none of this rings a fuckin' bell?”

“Comms,” Franklin flatly justified while Weist led him through the endless rows. “They don't talk with us. At us, but not with.” There was 'segregated' for you. “They think we're cavemen.” And while he did feel like an idiot for not knowing about the family, the Agency was free about its gossip whereas 'public' Salcon's had to go through them. Lawrence Elias worked in C. No wonder it never hit headlines. “They'll probably tear this out if I add it to the updates.”

“This shit's important,” Weist said. “You can't move ahead without knowing where you've been. That's double when the past's not dead.” He turned a little grim. “Marshall's out there. The feud's still on.”

“You think it's a problem?”

Weist did, but this went above their ranks. They had another order from Higeuros for a pack in the 60k's. Franklin moved, following closely, interestedly watching the wall as they passed a board of 'spike-things'. The weapons were PE exclusive. They looked about as feral, too. There were hundreds lined as high as the ceiling, each a golden colour and forged from an alloy the Agency wouldn't name. They came in pairs beside their twins, and they'd been organized by a vague, blade to curved scheme. He didn't understand. Those on the left were useful; they were knives welded to knuckles fashioned out of the handles. Those in the middle were thick railroad spikes, ending either in points or flat edges sharpened by rage. They were the transition between straight implements and deepening curves to the rounded spines. The right was where he stopped recognizing advantages. It was flooded by the same concepts, but the metal bent so exaggeratedly that they became brass-knuckled fishhooks. The knuckles themselves didn't help with where they were placed: on the back of the hook, pushing the point to carve his forearm if he walked with one in hand. The angle he'd have to hold his wrist locked the damn joint up. Fighting with it...

He'd stick to guns.

“... I've got a theory, Pubby.” Theories were dangerous. A rumour was shared like currency, but stitching several into speculation was crossing a reddened line. “You hear people saying –” Franklin'd heard Weist saying... “– that Eliases are PSAs on what you shouldn't do.” Yes. Again, he'd heard that from Weist. “What I think is they're more than a cautionary tale. I think they're a history lesson.” Did he now. “Draw a map with the milestones Salcon hit getting where they are tonight, and besides it stretching decades longer, you won't find a spot out'f place with the family. Their dad in Siberia, meeting Trevor's mom, is like Salcon experimenting with pills and winding up with a zillion mutated genes and then all those people had babies and now we have a fuckin' mutant crisis on our hands.”

“Their father's dick made mutants?”

No!” Weist scowled. “Their dad went to Siberia and fucked the first woman he met. That's Salcon – it's like Salcon – going into half their bread and butter: genetic alterations, what they call 'medicine' from way, way, way back in the day. Then their dad goes home to the States. He finds a new chick, knocks her up and: Lawrence. That's like Salcon getting serious and building oversight for its medical patents. It was arm's length, advisory management, mostly 'bout hovering over geneticists' shoulders but not touching shit, just running it. Early Communications, before they put that science under S.” S was Stratified Research and Development. They ruled the organic projects. T, the Technology and Counterintelligence sector, did the inorganic crap. T made things that went boom. “Lawrence's mom gets crazy and starts spoutin' shit about being in love. That's early C screaming at Salcon, saying they need more policies in place, more contingencies, 'cause it's looking like most of the drugs Salcon wants commercialized, not just military, are gonna fuck people right the fuck up. Salcon thinks it's for the better though, and early C is like, 'No, no, no', but Salcon's like, 'Whatever, don't tell me what to do'. And then their dad goes back to Europe – Britain now – the same way Salcon goes back to bigger experiments.”

“Why did they think screwing with people was for the better?”

“They were got good results,” Weist said. “The labs were showing trials with subjects stronger, faster, harder –” He hummed for a sec. “They thought they were improving humanity so much that they could make a perfect human being. Salcon starts by looking into perfect soldiers. This would be when their dad is announcing he's gonna have a kid in every country he's in 'cause he's a whore but he's gonna be an infamous whore. They got ambitious, you see, and they made progress. Salcon's labs started showing crazy shit, and their dad fathered Dylan.”

“You told me Lawrence's mom found out,” he reminded.

Fuck yes she did.” Weren't they getting ammo? “When their dad leaves, she flips out, finds out what he's been up to, sees he fucked some other woman, sees that woman's pregnant, goes hysterical.” Weist chuckled. “Early C saw Salcon's trials and almost shit itself. It demanded that the company take action because some subjects were getting out and some were passing on effects like STDs. There's also this rush of leaked secrets – like, y'know, how Lawrence's mom found out – and other companies independently reproduce Salcon's pills, their crap rubs against Salcon's, Salcon's dominants but changes, and next it's not just superstrength or superspeed but superhero pop-ups happening.”

“But none of this made it to the news.”

“That's what K's for, Pubby,” Weist replied. “They public-relationed that shit to the ground. So Salcon freaks and realizes, 'holy shit, I have a problem'. Their dad jumps back to America, Lawrence's mom is happy, but right when you think he's going to her again, he veers off and stops at Vegas. Knocks another broad up, there's Marshall, and there's Salcon deciding the best action is to set up a focused team within the R's to do intense, motherfucking damage control. They make...” Weist paused for effect. “... the A ranks. Salcon's happy 'cause it thinks the problem's solved, so it goes back to its experiments, except now they're fully geared to get that perfect solider dream right.”

Sure, why not?

“You think hindsight hurts?”

Pretending to be productive, Franklin grabbed something off the shelves. He didn't know what it was, but chances were that if they said they'd fired them, he could keep a pack as a souvenir.

“It did eventually. Their dad goes to Europe one last time, now to Italy, and he makes a certain female friend. He introduces her to Lawrence's mom and they become decent besties. Then he fucks the Italian chick and flies off – hence, Roland.” They were in the right place for more of Higeuros' orders. Their bags were heavy. They'd filled three each already. “Early C was thinking Salcon turned to safe experiments, only to get sideswiped by 'ha, ha - sweet, we can makes our dudes into gods'. Salcon is then like, 'Wow, I made this much worse' because more secrets get out and it does what it thinks is the only thing it can given the fact that there are now folks with lasers in their eyes being born: it forms a task group. It's never done that before – their dad has never been to South America before – but it knows it needs to get out of regular recalls, containment of escaped trial patients and recovery of its corporate secrets, because since it's gone to the masses, it has to be stopped-stopped.” Franklin didn't have the chance to ask how that turned out before Weist flashed a tanned-face grin. It was too excited. It made him uncomfortable, but didn't stop him from paying attention to, “Do you know about the rebels?”

“No?”

“The rebels,” Weist repeated. “They were the trial patients who didn't like how they were being stopped. The first generation of superhumans depended on pills Salcon gave to sustain their abilities. Their children didn't need it. They were sustained by regular food – fruit, meat, vitamins, the normal things rather than concentrated chemicals. They were more than dangerous to Salcon's containment efforts. The rebels were slow growing 'til Salcon brought out the X sector. I can't even tell you what the X stands for because they were shit-canned in the next five minutes. X killed and forcibly terminated second generation mutants, kicking that hornet's nest into a pile of more fucking hornet nests. The rebels rallied, got organized by one of our own, and an all-out war breaks loose.”

“I never heard of it,” Franklin said.

“K,” Weist told him again. “You wouldn't've. No one heard. It still happened – and their dad got himself killed fighting it. Salcon's experiments also stopped – it woke up to what it was doing. But now it had to handle the aftermath, and early C was right at the front of it, exactly how Lawrence's mom starts seeing these kids and making up her mind. Medicine development, its weaponized versions, and its effective damage control – Trevor, Dylan, Marshall – get swept into the A's mission of using its technological experiments on its people to buff 'em up and deal with the situation quietly. C's guiding them through all of it, making sure it's in line with corporate policy and choking them on their leash. Same as Lawrence's mom: she's getting all three of them into Salcon, signing off on training, until it comes to a head and Dylan learns what she did to his mother. He's not happy. That's the start of the divide, but it starts slow.” Weist had all but abandoned getting ammo packs. He was invested in describing this. “Trevor and Dylan're already in the PE program, Lawrence's being groomed to take over his mom's throne, Roland's set too, who cares about the sixth, but Marshall's on the fence 'cause he's fucking ten and ten-year-olds can't decide on candy. He's supposed to be going into Comms like Lawrence, but screw that noise, Dylan puts him on the PE path, forges Lawrence's mom's signature, gets them into PE residence – and, one more time, Marshall's fucking ten, Dylan was fourteen, Trevor was sixteen, and they got permission to live in the same complexes as full-fledged fucking Pain Eaters. Lawrence's mom was pissed!”

“And Comms would've been...?”

Weist didn't believe it wasn't obvious.

“The A ranks told Comms they couldn't work under micromanagement, so they applied to get top secret status and Salcon gave it to them. How do you think Comms was?”

Weist, holy fuck,” the radio burst. Franklin jumped, “Jesus Murphy and Christ – you have to see this!

There was no hesitation. Weist and Franklin dropped their bags and trekked to the farthest corner of the Weapons' Cache. It was where they'd left other two to giggle at the toys like children, and they weren't far from it now. What the hell had they been doing? They'd barely moved, except for reaching the garages. The farthest wall wasn't a smooth end. Nine dividers had been evenly installed to create ten deliberate dead-ends for assigned storage. This corner slot was gingerly ransacked. There were two things in it and both torn open: a stubby stand that was oh-so-plainly locked a few hours earlier, and a crate.

Weist, for his part, got to the point. He nodded astutely and declared, “Yeah, your mom could fit it in.”

'It' was the size of a stasis cell.

“Fuck off.” Team F's version of 'hello, friend!' “Guess whose it is.”

“No one good's.”

Gordon was squatted on the ground beside the pried off wood. Franklin didn't like Gordon. He was too quiet and his blue-rimmed glasses made his eyes too big. He was an IT Tech from the lower A ranks, but because he was Agent, he got his 'accepted by the Team' status automatically. In a side-by-side comparison, Franklin's rep was better in every way, but he'd made the mistake of not having parents who already hunted superhumans, or at least ones that debugged the systems the real ranks used.

Patten's.”

“That sounds about right.” Weist stepped forward, walking not to the crate but the sleek, polished, black casing inside it. He put his fingers on its gleaming surface. When he removed them, the traces of his prints winked before serenely drifting drifting away like snowflakes. Something was in there. “Open it.”

WHOA, WHOA, NO.

“We can't –”

“Fuck off, Pubby,” Higeuros snapped. That was Team F's version of 'fuck off, Pubby'. “It's got a visitor's button. We're visitors.”

Franklin could have snapped back if he wanted. The good part of being on the outside was there wasn't any farther he'd be kicked, but Higeuros and Weist were friends or something. As absorbed in the casing as Weist was, his reports couldn't afford losing his exposition machine. Franklin reined himself in and neutrally asked, “What's the button do?”

“Jesus – I don't know,” Higeuros said. “I didn't press it yet.”

Actually, maybe he said 'genius'. Higeuros was a rough-shaven, Mexican A-10. He spoke clearly, but sometimes his accent ran in and messed with his pronunciations. Either way, fuck you, too.

“You can't press it,” Franklin ordered. “It's not ours, it's Patten's, and you don't – Weist!

“We're visitors.” Fucking hell, these people! “Calm your tits, Pubby. Donovan cleared us. If something goes wrong, he's the one who gets the blame. Remember what I said about blaming Pain Eaters?”

“Was that the part before or after you said they can't get blamed, either?” Like for killing a rookie team over dissecting A-1 property, but Clemens might murder them first! “Why the hell didn't you take it out of the crate at least?”

The black casing was growing.

It pulsed with promise. A fine line down its centre mirrored a French door design, the kind that flowed open like a present. From its sides spiralled a thin breeze, and it whirred with charming delight. In a delicate air, it let its doors brush outward, laying its skin upon the pine wood surrounding it. The crate wheezed at the movement, hoarsely coughing as the black casing danced on without a pause. Its desire was to stretch its wings, and following a shattered series of pops as the nails ripped from their joints, the divider beside them buckled in agony and cleaved away at the casing's insistence. Whirring, singing, the casing dragged the crate to its death, and it cheerfully sighed while it ignored the ruin at its feet. It had won. It was pleased. An elegant puff swept the hapless fibres off its surface. Now it waited for their words, fluttering from the thought of a loving audience.

... Patten's, huh?

“Fuuuuuuuuuck...” Higeuros whistled low. Team F's version of being impressed. “Fuck – that's a suit...” Not one Franklin had seen them wear. “Gordon, scan it. Find out what it is. Fuck, this thing wants to kill.”

Talking about super soldiers...

Gordon went to the barcode resting on the inside of left door, but they didn't need to read the specs to agree with Higeuros' statement. This suit was mean. On a wall, close to the rows of spike-things, there hung a generic suit for whoever needed a back up. Suits were supposed to be slim, second skins designed to live in the shadows. They were built light for quick escapes and sprints to exits. They were Agency colours, thick on dark hues, nearer to black than not. This... was not that.

“It's a prototype,” Gordon droned. “It's powered armour.”

“Shit.” That meant something to Weist. His eyes popped and he suddenly leaped back. “Shit!”

“Give him the scanner, techie,” Higeuros said.

Gordon tried, but Weist snatched it from him. Franklin perked up. Whatever this was, it was new.

“Powered armour is special?”

“Very special. Special as fuck.” Weist swiped at the screen. “Powered weapons are kids' play to make compared to it.”

“Kids' play to use,” Higeuros added. He'd wandered to the new suit, too. “Ask that dipshit –” Gordon. “– or Team J, God rest their stupid ass. Shit, Pubby, I bet you could do it off, too.”

“Thanks,” Franklin said.

Higeuros glared.

“Powered weapons are based on active abilities. That's the flashy shit you'll see in briefing clips. Offensive moves, generally. The nerds love 'em for how easy they are to perfect.” Weist bounced his head to point at the gun strapped on his buddy's back. “If they want that to shoot fucking lightning, the nerds know they've got it right when it shoots fucking lightning, and you just use it as a standard point'n'click. Powered armour?” Weist snorted. “Damned impossible to figure out. It uses passive abilities, ones where you don't 'fire' but 'focus' if it's not automatic. There's no guarantee they'll get it like the mutant did, and there's less chance you'll pick it up or be able to power it later. The only armour that actually works in this place like that is the suits, and you've seen those guys.”

“Not really,” he admitted.

“They're druggies,” Higeuros said. “All of them. Higher'n fuckin' kites.”

“Masks are bad, goggles are worse. Their attention's split by that trippy interface,” Weist said. “Focused powers draw their energy from the wearer. They have to be sustained through concentration. A person can't do that all the time, so they use the drugs to stay focused. Focus long enough and they fuse with it. Break their concentration – or lower it – and they go loco. One told me: it's not the drugs they get addicted to, Pubby. It's the fading and the attention span they have to have to fuel it. The whole suit works as a system for that, so they'll get bad enough where just taking off their masks sends 'em spiralling. It's sick.”

“Mental Pain Eaters,” Franklin figured.

“Yeah. Hardcore. And all that for camouflage.”

“Fuckers promised invisibility in the 80s,” Higeuros muttered. “But they said we'd get hoverboards, too. Where're those?”

“This is a prototype.” Weist jiggled the scanner. “This thing? This is not a normal suit. It's not. Fuuuuuuuuck...” He must have read something. “This damn thing's running a repulsion field.”

Higeuros screeched like a girl at that and rammed his hand into the prototype's stomach like the asshole he was. His hand then flew off like it'd been blasted from a cannon.

No fucking way,” Higeuros laughed hysterically. “Guys! Guys – try this! I can't touch it!”

It was white. That was the first difference. Gone was the muted and shy, black, reclusive colour scheme. This was a brilliant white. It demanded to be seen.

The suit was packaged like a doll in plastic, its arms positioned wrist-out but on a slant in towards its thighs. He could see the dark gray gloves. They stood out from the armguards around them. No, 'armguard' was misleading. The forearms were made into a metal bulb that reached over the knuckles and extended back beyond the elbow into a skewer. Its surface looked smoother than silk, but loudly unapologetic for its strength. It flexed proudly, arrogantly, shamelessly displaying its skill. The metal bulbs had small openings underneath large enough for a fist to tuck inside, and was so devoted to the idea of breaking sternums that the image of an outstretched hand instead was awkward and unwieldy.

Everything about the suit fit in within that arrant confidence. The sides of the ribs were gray, giving it the lean shape of a hunter. The calves were dark, and those shadows travelled to coat the soles and toes of its feet. Under the biceps were last places to be coloured. Other than that... The helmet. To the left of the suit, in the upper corner of the casing, was a helmet. Very Daft Punk; it covered the head, coldly eyeless and sliced sharply to throat, defining the jaw. Its face was a shield of that familiar gray. There was a rise on the half of the helmet he could see, most certainly for an ear, but with another flat disc welded onto it. That wasn't for aesthetics. It must have been a scanner.

“Damn,” Gordon said. “You really can't touch it.” He was trying. “Fuuuuck...”

“Repulsion shield. The harder you hit it, the harder it reflects,” Weist was saying.

This suit had been armoured. Its fabric was as thick as leather, but the silkiness carried on to the eye. The shoulders had been sculpted into round covers, slimmer than football padding but decidedly worked to blast ahead with tackles. They were set on either side of the prototype's broad chest, leaning away from the high collar covering its neck. The chest was emblazoned with the Agency's logo. The sections down its torso gave the highest flexibility, probably close to acrobatic by the looks of it. It did want to hunt. The lack of weight on the legs said as much alone. It wanted to run, pounce, drop on its pray, and the soft padding in place of woven shoes meant that sad bastard wouldn't hear his death until it was on top of him.

“What's Patten have this thing for?”

“Trophy, maybe,” Franklin guessed.

“No.” Weist stepped back up, determined. He reached out to the case, but not towards the suit. He had moved towards the casing's door. “These.” He'd found something. “Fuuuuuuuuuck... Higeuros!”

At once, Higeuros stuck his nose in.

“Fuuuuuuuuck,” the guy agreed.

Gordon, too quiet, stayed quiet. Useless jerk.

As thrilling as waiting in silence was, Franklin was uncomfortable standing in wreckage unless something made it worth his while. He cleared his throat before venturing, “What'd you find?”

“Contacts.” Weist had a small, white case he clicked open. “Glittery contacts.”

“Blue tint, tiny mirrors, same box as the suit is in...” Higeuros was hovering. The black casing whirred. Neither he nor Weist gave a shit. “You think this fits your theory?”

“What theory? The milestone one?”

Yes, the milestone one,” Higeuros spat. “The only theory he talks about. Fucking Pubbys – you've been here for three months and you're still lost.”

“There's a part two,” Weist then said. “Salcon's past aligns with the Eliases, but the Eliases aren't done.” He raised the small case. “Marshall was here two days ago. That suit's too big for a normal one and it, according to the read-out, got dropped off yesterday. Pop quiz: what are the odds this prototype's here, the exact size of a guy who broke in on Friday, being a coincidence?”

“Marshall's a PE,” Franklin responded.

“The Agency's damage control.” He gave the contacts to Higeuros, who casually stuffed them into the door. The whirring stopped. The black casing sighed contentedly. “So far.”

“What else is it supposed to be?”

“I don't know.” A moment passed. “Don't know,” Weist murmured again. More to himself, it felt like. He lifted his hand to the suit. “But that's not damage control.”
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Tartra
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Join date : 2010-07-10
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Posts : 581
Age : 27
Location : Ottawa, Canada


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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Guest on Tue Feb 19, 2013 11:29 pm

Seriously? He'd just spent the last few seconds attempting to provoke a response and the guy just wanted to sit and stare at him? Honestly, he was just going through the motions with this and his expectations and interest were already pretty low - it was like 'Oh, here's somebody new to talk to... meh...' He was already tired and worn out but in the absence of any immediate words, or anything the least bit entertaining going on, Rudy let his vision drift back to the screens behind the man, allowing himself to focus on Osono's face once again. Even now, looking at her expression frozen in a tolerant grimace, he couldn't decide whether he was concerned for her safety or not. He wanted to say not because there was a very supple and voluptuous muscled lady within reach to pine for and torment himself with. But there was a niggling in the back of his mind that kept pressing to be acknowledged. Feelings and things he didn't want to let in, lest he be forced to act upon them.

Rudy was so fucking tired and he desperately wanted to go back to the way things were. Back before Noel died, back before he even knew who Gwen Stewart or Alex or Eric Patten were. Things used to be so much simpler. There were a lot of memories Rudy looked back upon fondly, things he and Osono did on their travels together that made him smile to think of now. Even sending Agents after her and scaring the shit out of her, making her fight and run for her life, had it's moments of joy for him. But there was one week in particular that stood out above the rest. She'd been on the run for 2 years already and Rudy was taking a break from attacking her to just hang out with her and renew her trust in him. It'd been in the ass-faced middle of nowhere and they'd been trekking along the country roads because she felt like walking - Rudy didn't argue because the isolation and slow pace made it easier for him to relax. It always made him nervous to let her get around people as there was no telling what she'd do when outsiders were thrown into the mix - as could clearly be pointed out with the current Alex and Gwen mess. So, scenic country, amidst the birds and the trees, walking dirt roads, even in the rain, he was perfectly fine with. Because it meant it was just the two of them together. And it wasn't just him who liked the isolation but her as well. She acted different around people, seeming to see both threats and distractions when surrounded by a crowd.

And she treated Rudy different too. Rudy almost always had the "little brother" button on whenever they were together, but when they were alone she responded to it more readily. In a city or inside a full building he suddenly became expendable and it felt like even when she was standing right beside him, she was slipping away, ready to dart into the mass of faces and disappear. It probably came from his habit of vanishing on her before sending in his goons for an attack - because he wasn't going to get in the middle of that and accidentally become a target, of either flames or his own men. It became almost like they were racing each other to see who could disappear first to avoid the upcoming battles with all of their messy questions. Just the two of them, on those country roads, stopping in those sleepy towns, she was suddenly stationary. For once, Ozzie was relaxed and not constantly on guard, searching for a way out... looking for a way to leave him.

Walking all day on empty roads, talking her ear off about his latest fandoms and occasionally getting playfully wrestled to the dirt to let off some steam. Then eating at greasy spoons and staying at crummy motels that only ever saw business from truck-drivers and the sleepy locals. Nights spent watching whatever crap passed for television in those nondescript towns that nobody went to, laughing at old '80's porn they found in one of the rooms, clogging their youthful arteries with pizza and buffalo wings. And then finally snuggling down to sleep on one of the pair of queen sized beds amidst a blanket of snack food and wrappers. Any plans he had in place could be put off for another day and there was nothing that needed his immediate attention or focus. During that week he actually forgot, like he never could before or had the opportunity since, that the Agency was even a thing or that he had any responsibility to it. He was just a dorky kid on a road trip with his girl, no expectations and no schedules or deadlines. They didn't need to be anywhere or answer to anybody.

That week would always be first and foremost in his mind when thinking of what had been lost when Alex entered the picture. Although a day like that week hadn't happened again as tensions grew and she got smarter - while he got more playful in his approach and Noel became more possessive - the hope never left that there was another empty road and no-place town just around the bend. They'd never get that week back now. Even if by some luck, Alex decided to leave her alone, it was over. Not only would they never get selective amnesia again but now that memory, if it'd been a pleasant one for Osono too, would forever be tainted by the ever present lie shadowing his relationship with her. That was why he hated that son of a bitch, Alex. Fine. If he had to, then he'd admit it, he loved Osono and he wanted to be with her but couldn't because of that jerk and his sexy dick - seriously, how fucking long was that thing??? Even Smoking Man here wanted a piece - but also Alex had done everything in his power to pulverize any appeal Rudy could have still clung to. And now that Rudy's power was gone, he was no longer able to protect her anymore either.

If he was perfectly honest with himself, that was another thing he missed. Not Noel herself, because good God, the woman was obsessed and in all their play sessions she was probably attempting to kill him, only to be dissuaded half-way through by her overwhelming lust - not that Rudy was complaining; on the brink of bloody, gasping, terrifying death and being forced to orgasm was exactly where he wanted to be every time. No, mostly he missed how simple she'd made things for him too. As obsessed about Osono as she was, nothing compared to how obsessed Noel became with Rudy and it was extremely easy to play upon that. All he had to do, after a few days of hanging with Osono, doing the "little brother" thing, was launch a half-assed attack, simultaneously scaring Osono back into her defensive shell and appeasing Noel with a lame attempt to do his job. Then, he'd meet up with Noel - while being fully aware of the direction Ozzie ran - attempt to 'apologize' for screwing up again, allow her to punish him, to ease her own guilt at playing such a passive part in their continued failures, and then they'd spend the next few days fucking until she grew tired of torturing him. As he went running after Osono again, Noel would clean up the mess, send in another request for a team to aid him in the capture and then she'd wait for his signal before sending the troops in. Over and over. There was a certain lack of obligation in the system they'd set up as well, a barely acknowledged yet deliberate ignorance in the game that allowed it to continue being played.

On the surface, Rudy was a bit disgusted with how stupid and malleable the women in his life were but he'd actually loved the way things were. He didn't want to be here, dealing with the fear that his target was dead or possibly in a coma. He just wanted to run to Noel, snuggle up to her and let her do horrible things to him, make her happy enough that she'd come here and deal with Patten and all these boring, powerful people herself. And then he'd wake up in the morning, look at the HSA and Ozzie would be blinking with a small fire somewhere. Then, magically, Eric would be appeased, Ozzie would have dumped Alex and Rudy would be able to run right back into the spot that was surely still there waiting for him to occupy it.

Right around then, Rudy became aware that Smoking Man had been talking to him... for a while, it seemed, as he caught the tail end of the conversation. "Duuuude, you're really boring," Rudy said with a shrug and a dorky grin. "Totally my bad but I didn't catch any of that. But let me go ahead and take a guess at the synopsis of it: 'something something Alex and I'm a really stuffy European dude.' That's probably what I would've gotten out of it anyway, even if I had been paying attention."

Scratching at the top of his head, Rudy shrugged again and got up from his chair, his speedy voice only slowed down a few notches due to his fatigue. "Listen, I'm really freaking tired, Crowley, and Alex is the last person I wanna waste any more energy thinking about right now. I'm not even sure what the hell you want me to say. He didn't do anything. When I saw him with my target, I tried to murder him and he just stood there while I shot some invisible armor wearing dude. In fact, despite not even trying to dodge the shot, it didn't look like he even knew the guy was there." Rudy paused dramatically and lazily pointed with a thoughtful finger. "We might want to check up on the possibility that he's developing secondary powers, like the ability to suddenly materialize human shields out of thin air." He thought about it a moment longer, hastily threw away the few jokes springing to his tongue, and then shook his head when he realized he didn't give a flying fuck. "Don't worry about any trade or stupid shit like that. It's not like you know anything that I fucking want or need anyway - unless you happen to know the significance behind the existence of cats and dogs on Capri, in the series Battlestar Galactica? Seriously, loved it, but there's so many questions that are still bugging me about the finale. Anyway, as much as your offer to sit here and listen to you drone on even more about Alex is tempting, I think you've already properly prepped me for bed with what you've said so far. No homo."

"Alright, Jean Reno," Rudy said with another jerky shrug as he walked towards the door. "I'm gonna head off to find somewhere to crash for the night. You keep it real, bro, and if I never have to see your boring, faggot ass again, it'll be too soon." Not waiting for a reply, Rudy waltzed out of the vault and left the office, wandering into the hall while stifling a yawn with the back of his hand. When he was alone, he automatically took out his phone and checked the HSA again. There wasn't even a flicker of surprise in him at all when the results showed up blank and he was beginning to wonder what he was even looking for anymore.

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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Tartra on Tue May 14, 2013 11:20 am

“How long do you expect him to be out?!” Her hands flickered. She was seething. “You’re trusting Buzzy’s judgment, and that girl has two settings: overblown and exaggerated – at best.”

“She’s their top field analyst.”

So? You think it doesn’t prove how warped their faith is?” Glue flashed brighter. The windows shone. He was trying to drive. “Danielle will be busy explaining Patten’s drop-in to Cryptic. She doesn’t need –”

“It’s not your place to decide what she doesn’t need.”

Blinding.

“Not mine, but you can take what you want if it’s neat?”

“She knew what I was doing. Stop that.”

“You shouted it at her,” Glue roared, “while she was frenzied. She didn’t have the mind to make those choices!”

That wasn’t her decision, either. It was dawn. By now, Danielle’s powers had settled. They didn’t last for long. Rarely did she let them grow like this, and she was lucid when she sent the call for Magnus to meet at a road outside Charlton. Glue joined, having heard the broadcast and being upset he’d sent her ahead at all, and waited with the trucks originally drawn as decoys but redesigned to carry the cargo he’d introduced. Danielle forbade her POIs’ delivery in the same vehicle. This pleased Charlotte’s driver – Tops, escorted by Gosig – to no end. That twitchy runner liked Alexander less than the Russians did Patten. The Cubans might have lacked direct encounters given the Agent under his skin was Cold Extreme, but the stigma made up for it and travelled far: Alexander changed his plans too often for them to feel there was a plan. A lot was said of Caprice’s branch, but spontaneous wasn’t. Nothing scared them like chaos. That’s why Patten was a ‘business man’, their second-highest honour. His goals were damned near inevitable. Charlotte’s were merely foretold.

Glue didn’t know where to focus. Her gaze flinched from the inner dash to the window, then off to the truck in front of them. Danielle may have wanted her shipment split, but she refused to let a non-Cuban drive without a guide and the real Cubans wouldn’t ride in this one. She’d had to accept the three machines moving in a line. He followed Tops and Gosig. Danielle was behind them both, her eye locked on the back of his rig should the worst happen and Alexander escaped. Charlotte’s truck led the party on the chance the worst happening involved an accident. The others were free to trip – explode – but not hers. Glue looked away, at him, awaiting his response.

“Don’t think about it.”

Think about the sunrise.

“I can’t. We need these idiots.” Then calling them idiots wasn’t the brightest – “Now maybe King Caprice won’t fuck off as soon as we arrive and he sees the kid, but he’s got his hand so deep in rubles…”

“If the Russians go, the Cubans go.”

Cryptic considered Alexander a nuisance, but a thumbtack served as a warhead when news of Patten floated in. Buzzy wouldn’t resist telling everyone. Likely the Russians were already gone.

“And there go our shots at winning,” Glue said. She suddenly sighed, leaning back. Her fourth wind was spent. “We don’t have odds. We have fragments. The old branches didn’t manage at full strength.”

“We aren’t after what they were.” The Russians wouldn’t have come this far otherwise. Magnus stretched his fingers around the weathered strip bound to the steering wheel. His tone weighed into his next words. “You have to understand that.”

“It’s hard to trust somebody to lead you to paradise when that someone’s sitting in a stasis cell in front of you,” Glue retorted. “She’s dead. We’re following a dead woman. Danielle has put our lives in the hands of someone who swore it was ‘part of the plan’ to let the person we’re trying to kill end her. Cryptic may be petrified of a loud sneeze, but at least it’s from a monster who’s still alive.”

“Charlotte’s spirit is alive.”

“That’ll be a wonderful phrase to chip into her tombstone,” Glue grunted.

Danielle wouldn’t give two words of a move before they reached it in the plan. It was true their branch was the only group to avoid Agency infiltration because the blood rites they imposed were too extreme for charades, but the woman didn’t trust anyone with the secret of Charlotte’s legacy. Charlotte had told her not to. That much, Danielle revealed. The secret of the plan’s existence was stored within the Nordic circle. Bergmann could have unearthed it, as the Germans uncovered everything, but they cherished the woman too and were desperate enough not to care whose list they were running through. The other remnants of the old branches failed to prove themselves as flexible. Nordic-by-blood or not, Glue was in constant conflict with the Kingdom’s attitude. It was that attitude that brought those branches to their knees in the first place.

“Charlotte’s death set the Agency back decades. It was the start of their undoing,” he said, noting the greenbelt beside them. They’d be at the away camp soon. For them, it served as a checkpoint before reaching the Union site. For Alexander and his friend…

Not everyone made it past the checkpoint.

“Riiiight. By letting Patten free to dance into a spot where he directly controls their resources. Yes, I can see how you’d think it crippled them.”

The words of the Brits from her mouth after she’d promised given herself over. Magnus regretted the Charlton Agent. He’d been selfish. Glue needed it more.

“She saw farther than us.”

“You’re talking like she was a prophet.” Magnus gave her a look. Glue excused herself. “Well, at least someone’s memory was honoured. I haven’t seen an eyelash bat at the rest of the slaughter, but good on Danielle for fulfilling the dream of a woman who told the Nordics not to interfere against our genocide.”

She’d divided them in her mind. Once more, her hands flared with sparks. The anger was muted but alive. He bit back a fast reproach.

Glue was deceptive in her strength. At a glance, a person could imagine what it took to fight Magnus. He was, as he’d admitted earlier, well-built and firm in his strides. His whip-like, golden hair had returned to its softened state and nestled down his back, but the long ends could snap in instants to the razor shards his body became. His face morphed from a subtle and carefully set frame of elongated features into a nightmarish snarl of metal teeth, steely skin, and clustered spikes jutted out below his eyes. He wore his shirts pre-shredded these days – elbows gone, shoulders bare, holes dotting his spine – and swore off shoes’ inconvenience. Glue took to sneakers, yoga pants, and an exercise top for support. They were white, blue and green, respectively. She was slight, having hardly any body fat and appearing too weak to lift herself up stairs, but when she ran, she moved like a river, curving through the war to arc a bomb at those escaping her impish smile. The red of her light was too sharp for the blonde while she sat throwing a quiet tantrum in the truck, but in battle, the Nordics praised it as a beacon, as their signal, and worked in every chance to use it as a mark for a fight. It was why Danielle had let her lob globs at the Charlton base coming in.

“Our part –” Magnus leaned on the terms as he followed Tops around a bend. He wanted to remind her she was a part of them now. “It didn’t ask for us to help then.”

“It would’ve made the difference.”

Wistfulness didn’t suit her.

“It wasn’t supposed to. Today, it is,” he said to her. “You’ll have your revenge. Plenty of it.”

“Yeah.” Part of her was convinced. It lifted her head. “But I won’t have it trusting her. I can’t forget the people she sacrificed.” A long list. “I mean… we were hers, and she merrily orchestrated our deaths to reap rewards we, years later, have yet to claim. She’s done almost as much damage to us as the Agency.”

“Those were bitter losses,” he agreed, solemn. The Nordics knew the price. Charlotte’s legacy centered on the highest cost for the maximum gain. In the end, it would settle peacefully, but not even a child was spared before then. “You’re still not killing Alexander.”

“We fucking know everything about him!” This would her fifth wind, flawlessly prompt as usual. “The Germans have his files! We know the bloody fuck inside that head! So he hates the Agency. He hates us,” Glue insisted. “Look at everything he’s done while he was employed by Patten’s bitch-puppets. We’re his playtime!” She snorted. “Won’t help them, won’t help us, won’t help anyone since he hasn’t got ties to anyone, and Danielle wants him brought to the away camp? For what? To stare longingly into each other’s eyes?” She’d bounced in her seat. Sulking at his silence, she pouted into it again. “What was he doing here anyway?”

“Transferring.”

The skip to the what was proof they were on the same page, and that the why was obvious: Patten. It took care of the when, as well. Some carrot had been dangled and Alexander went running. The carrot was, as Magnus attested, a broken stasis cell and a boy strapped in a chair.

He had had kids. Girls. Two. He’d had nephews, as well. Glue hadn’t. When she saw the boy, she thought only of the savage haunting him, not of the child who’d been forced to house it. Make no mistake – the first glimmer of life might have set Magnus off to wrench Alexander’s face from his torso, but there hadn’t been one. Buzzy was to thank. The Russian held a nasty knack for abruptly being shrewd where her lover-boy was involved. And he was just a boy. Magnus was in his mid-forties and Alexander was probably half his age. The friend, too. Glue was closer to them.

“Transferring?” Glue’s ears perked up. She straightened, pupils fixed. “Like the Ruskie said?” Magnus didn’t like those names. “… Did he do it?”

“A transfer takes days. From Buzzy’s report, he had hours.”

A split second after Glue ran through the notion, furrowing her brow as she turned the concept over, but before she’d spat a decisive, “I should be back there,” he cut in.

“He’s bolted to the wall and masked,” Magnus reminded. The metal band shaped to cover the boy’s eyes was an idle trophy. It’d served as a promise of the Nordic’s readiness to fight the most unlikely of enemies. Few of them expected Alexander to hold still – while breathing – for it to be attached, but it seemed the ring was fated to serve the purpose it dreamed to. Both arms, both legs, and the band itself were clamped to trailer’s insides. Alexander’s friend would find herself the same when she awoke – except for the band. She’d been blindfolded but with cloth. Were she to have a power, they rested assured it wouldn’t be the same as his. There was a danger in that, and it was why Danielle opted to escort her personally. “It’s more likely you’ll break him loose than detonate him into unconsciousness a second time.”

Tops’ truck followed another curve to face towards the sun. Magnus blinked at the brightness, then pulled the visor from overhead to shield from it. Glue huffed as she relented. She’d realized they’d come full circle and her work hadn’t been rewarded by convincing him to attack. Magnus… frowned. He worried about why she’d failed. An uncomfortable twist gutted his nerves and his grip tightened on the wheel. It was the same awkward feeling…

“How are you doing?” Glue gave him a sidelong glance. She didn’t want to switch from sulking yet but damn if she wasn’t cursed with compassion. “Wound down?”

“I wasn’t wound up.” The weathered strip of the wheel groaned softly. “He’s a kid.”

“He’s Alexander. Don’t shower him with sympathy he doesn’t deserve.”

Magnus never used to.

The conversation had taken a sensitive edge. He tried imagining other days, ones where the boy slew with a self-satisfied grin, but they were faint. The memories that were clear didn’t hold the same… rage.

“That man had a family.”

“What man?” Ah-ha. She’d found a balance between her moods. “The Agent? In Charlton – that thing?” He shrugged. “Magnus.” She was offended. “Tell me you didn’t call it a ‘man’ as if it was.”

“I didn’t feel like I was destroying them.”

The spark, the fury, the blessed vengeance… They were what led him to the strike forces and the Nordic army. Time let it give way to something worth reconsidering.

It was it was: a bland step down a routine path. If she was going to take offence, it should be about how casual their assaults were now.

“You’re…” Her concern won. Glue lifted her head, somewhat shyly. “… not leaving me, are you?”

“No. Although I think I’ve worn out my purpose.”

“You’re quitting?”

“I’m not quitting.” She was too panicky. “But there are limits, Glue. It’s getting harder to say I’m not living in the past.”

That was not what she wanted to hear.

This wasn’t a sixth wind. This was outrage. Locked within the fervour of the Nordic’s war against the Agents was his and her personal vendetta against the people who took their families. She depended on it, and she was not prepared to let anyone take it away.

“They made you murder your children,” Glue snarled. Her arms had braided close to her body. She continued with her voice holding stiffly in check. “Is that living in the past? Seeing their faces? Their madness – their possession – their theft? How they came for you?”

“Alexander didn’t do it,” Magnus said, unfazed. “That was the year he’d toured Vologda. It wasn’t the man at Charlton, either.”

“Who cares?!” She had shouted. “They’re Agents! I bet his tart's one, too!”

“It’s not your decision,” he blasted back at her. “The answer is no, Glue. You’d do well to accept it.”

The look on her face nearly screamed betrayal moments before it breezed away. A profound calmness washed her eyes, and though her fingers still flashed, she’d assumed a role of admirable respect.

“Yes, of course. Danielle knows what she’s doing.”

Sparking, betraying that she’d found no peace at all. It was the Kingdom branch’s method of managing conflict: ignore it, force it down, and then solve the problem when moment arose. Magnus returned to watching her, gripping the wheel with renewed passion. He liked Glue, but she was a wild card. All the Kingdom transfers were. They were allies, but as fairweathered as the Russians in their own way.

“I’ll put in a word for you,” he offered. “When Alexander starts trouble, you’ll get to kill him.”

She smiled. Her sparks never ceased.

“At least we know who he’ll hurt if the option’s available,” Glue mumbled. “He hates Patten. I suppose the enemy of my enemy… is also my enemy’s enemy. It’s a start.”

“Is it?”

“It’s more than what I had a moment ago.” She yawned. “I’m napping. Nudge me when we let him loose.”

There was a please at the end of it. Magnus returned his attention to the road. Another half hour south and they would arrive to meet the strike force. He hoped Alexander survived until then.

As for the girl, he naturally hoped she lasted. He just didn’t hope that hard.

* * *

Jason pried his goggles off and ran a hand along his head. Some of his curls were matted to his neck from the thin sheen of sweat itching his skin. He felt terrible, probably looked terrible and the work was exhausting. He’d spent the night – the little of it he got between the run from Charlton through to daybreak – dragging preferences to order under the strain of mental connections he’d never created and were giving him for it because of that. He did it in silence except for the harsh hiss as the updates resettled themselves, but no one bothered him about the noise so he felt good about keeping the volume down. His eyes were likely bloodshot. They burned whenever he blinked, and there was an odd pain bulging under the left that flared when he closed them too long. His entire body was refusing rest if it meant reconnecting with his suit. He couldn’t sleep if he tried, he guessed. He didn’t know. He hadn’t tried.

“There’ll be time later,” he muttered, not lying. There had to be. He was tying a ‘when’ to it, but post-transfer, post-Elias, post-whoever-the-Anti-Agents-were-supposed-to-be, metaphorically or actually, Jason would eventually stop. Until then, there was plenty to do. There was too much. No matter what he focused on, he was guilty for ignoring something else. He couldn’t trust his prioritization when it labelled everything as the utmost of importance. Fixing his goggles… It was the one chore he saw results fall out of. And it was good to get away – to just… to just think and clear his head, not to dwell on his mistakes. He was moving forward. That counted.

Some good news: he didn’t have to start from scratch like he feared. Several old templates were in the Agency’s database. They were ancient ones that didn’t get issued to new suits anymore, but coupled with the settings he saved biennially, settings too advanced to be restore half-cocked unless he wanted his mind sheared by ruthlessly precise – but out-of-date – configurations, he’d scraped together a light impact skeleton he could operate. He wasn’t out of the woods; no customization lit his head with lightning the same as wrong tailoring, but he’d hopped the difference in climbing a mountain with a broken leg and crutches and putting his leg in a cast and being hauled up. Slow but steady, and not as unbearable if he took breaks.

More sweat ran into his collar. His suit brushed it off. That panic he’d had ever since Alexander robbed him of his property had left the backseat, and he could feel himself returning to what he used to be. His hands weren’t shaking. His gloves fit him perfectly. Even ‘perfect’ stopped sounding hollow to him. It was a thing, a concept, an idea in his reach he just noticed he hadn’t actually quit aiming for, like his suit had fought the rupture by going on in the background until he repaired the crap at the surface. Like… isolating a wound… It was clinical and he’d admit it was robotic, but as the right parts of his thoughts clicked on and the hysterical, hyper-emotions clicked off, his chest burst with sudden appreciation for the system he knew – even if he’d forgotten for a few days – he could count on. He wasn’t entirely dead yet! He could do this!

This…! This – ‘this’, what was ‘this’?

… Shit.

Oh God. Yes, he was slowly coming back to life, but everything he was coming back to –

“I should not be on this plane.”

Just as well. The trip to Elmira was short, but they hadn’t made it yet. There were pitstops every hour and odd layovers of doing nothing. Awake, he stared out the window, noting that again they were turning to land. He wasn’t at a point where he might understand what was happening yet, but he did know he’d walked into this: if he’d given his suit back five minutes earlier or stayed in Charlton at Eric’s command – oh, fantastic, then he could be the first in line to meet Elias when he jumped up. And the Anti-Agents. Elmira didn’t seem better, thanks to the draining odds of him showing up on time. Less of his curls were soaked when he ran a hand through them now, but it was as nervously and embarrassed as when they’d all been.

The other suit. Yes – her. That was another good thought snapping on, and he ran with it.

“Hey,” he said, holding his excitement in check. He said it twice in case she’d missed it while floating on the chems. “You told me you heard Eric gives people whatever they want, so long as they do what he wants later, right?” He didn’t get why he was asking. He didn’t have a plan. He just knew he needed to take a tally of everything. He wanted a list of everything around him. His goggles were starved. “So how do you know what he wants from someone?”

He could use this, his suit insisted. Still for what, he had no clue, but there was a rising scream in his ears roaring that, for his lead’s sake, he had to fix… something else – his finger wasn’t on it. But he knew it had to be done.

She didn’t have to care for him to help her.

Which was good. Because she didn’t.

* * *

Keep it down in there, or I’ll send you back to Caprice in the pieces I can still pick up.

‘Ey – sorry, boss!

Bastard twits,” she spat. They flinched respectably. The wall between the trailer and the truck’s cabin had had a hole ripped through its flesh. She agreed to ride with these idiots. She did not agree to let them go unsupervised. If there was a problem with the draft, they could walk home. “Your part’s finished anyway.”

They don’t know what you’re saying,” Dalton slobbered.

“They would if they’d learned Swedish like I said.” Thankless brutes. To be honest, she counted on the request getting lost inside their traffic. Bad enough she had to grapple through in English to talk to other branches. Imagine the stress they’d be adding were the Cubans to grab a Nordic tongue as well. Besides, it offered privacy, which was in short supply lately. The Union site was gussied up as a tribute to their alliance. Instead it was a cesspool for ulterior motives. Anyone know what happened when spies got put in a pit of more spies? Spying. Lots of it. Those who couldn’t leave their fingers off someone else’s stuff already had a few chopped off. Not much of an example than it was another precaution to ward against. Spying in the shadows from a veil of false security was almost as bad as doing it in the open. At least then they wouldn’t have to pretend all was well. The Russians were the worst for it. The Germans showed surprising restraint. “How long do we have?”

Dalton bellowed the question in the common language.

Got maybe – I’unno – an hour?

“Precise as hell, too,” she snapped. “I’ll take Caprice at his word that these are his best. He’s never been the type to demand on-job discipline.”

They drive good.

Excellently. It was why they got away with their shit.

“Stop sniffing her. She isn’t an Agent,” Danielle said, meandering through the trailer.

How can you tell?

“Because she was with Alexander,” she replied. She couldn’t see through her fingers as easily. She wiggled them experimentally, then clenched them. Nice stretch. Everything was getting a workout when she returned. Her shoulder had held up decently, but him hauling the staircase out of its place to beat Agents to death with it called for a range of lateral presses, and her quads – shit, she should’ve focused more on them. Her fault. She never denied her responsibility. “Blondie’s a random innocent or she’s a corpse.”

Or a good actor.

“Patten was a great actor and that didn’t end as planned.” It would be a theme soon. A veritable ‘running gag’. “Alexander has a nose for handling Agents. Something must’ve clicked right with her.” That was the concern. This was the second girl he’d gone running with within a week, after five years of being their infamous, noted, reliable recluse. Why the company? Why the movement now? Orchestrated? Yes, of course. Patten’s presence confirmed it but his arrival was ever the face of predictable unpredictability. Discounted. It was Lamarre’s which carried meaning. For him to go ahead to wait for his mark and be so confident Alexander would appear… Breton would die to hear this if he wasn’t dead already. To her it looked like Alexander wasn’t the only person jerked around. Her head had been crushed by clouds when she learned it but the theory barged through unimpeded: maybe Lamarre figured it out. It would explain how he managed to jump on the horse again this soon. He’d probably intercepted one text or call, slapped two and two together, then dumped Breton in Elmira at the most convenient hands in his arsenal. Alexander was an accepted conclusion. Lamarre knew that. Everyone did. The Agency was so aware that half the investigations they normally unrolled were kept furled. It’d be funny to see how they reacted if Danielle put a bullet in the kid’s head. “Dalton.” Provided she picked the gun route. She didn’t mind flair with private executions. It was good for morale. “Wake her up.”

You want her to talk, too?

“Yes,” she said, obviously, “so leave her jaw intact.”

‘Don’t eat it’ was that command in less words. Dalton laughed. It was a guttural, choking noise peppering his speech. Her powers didn’t provide emotional restraint, and as he rode his high of victory in Charlton, his tripled-sized, kris-capped chin burbled happily. He alternated from that to ravenous silence, drooling down his neck from over his fanged rows of shark teeth. His nostrils flared to the size of apples and swallowed the smell of the girl’s faint wounds: minor bruises, some scrapes after being carried by their mutant cheese grater, and the sweet tinge of burnt skin Buzzy left behind. Not long now. Another six hours and her density would be released. He could chop his yellow hair again and she could be more than a rather stubborn spider-web of an obstacle. She watched him beginning to pale. They were both fair, but she spent more of her time outdoors. He spent more grinding down his nails, and as their palms sluggishly dropped to soup bowls instead of serving plates, their fingers and toes withered and felled their tips to his idea of ‘proper hand hygiene’.

She didn’t change. Insubstantial, she retained her original physique. She wore the body of a goddess and every pound of it excelled. Her arms bulged, her legs rippled, her core was sectioned into grids, and transferring her brother's mass to join her own doubled their talent but tripled that of four average men. Dalton shaped himself for show, using any offered needle to bulk up. She held out for strength. That she’d gotten this enormous anyway was show for her enough.

She was dressed. She’d taken a rose sports top and blue sweatpants while she’d remembered, and though it wasn’t as fresh as two days ago, before she’d grown too large to freely – or voluntarily – change, she damn near smelled like daisies. The burden she placed on her branch to handle her pre-switch levels wasn’t going to be exasperated by sweat. Dalton hadn’t had his bath since the fight. With a night’s journey under his belt plus his swearing that cotton shirts' wicking away was a joke, she appreciated not having to truly ‘be’ here. It didn’t help that he smoked. Tobacco seeped from his pores. The white shirt he wore was stained yellow, and his sweatpants were drenched black.

What if she doesn’t talk?

She would talk. Danielle would ask nicely.

“You can eat her.”

He laughed, louder. Dalton pounded on the wall of the trailer above the girl’s shackled and bolted wrists. The force leaned the weight off the other side’s tires. She heard the Cubans scream angrily. Fuck them.

It is morning, little child. The sun rises for you.” His words were smooth past the heft of his d’s. The serenade of vowels, particularly his u’s, softened the bellow to a wild parody of praise. “We come for you to see it. We want you awake.

The girl’s eyes had been covered by a thick cloth. Danielle’s outline circled the bindings, checking that they were in place. They were. The rusted iron left a dark red ring around her hands. She didn’t appear comfortable. The girl had a chance to fix that. Unlike Alexander, who’d defined where he stood, the unknown this captive brought gave hope to her miserable party.

“You can assure her we intend no harm if she cooperates.” Danielle paced. Her feet were too high off the ground to touch but the action set her along rested thoughts. “I want the detailed answer of why she’s with Alexander and why Alexander allows her to be.” Her words drifted like a dream. The beauty was even if the girl heard, unless she spoke Swedish, Danielle continued failing to suffer interruptions. “I want to know what happened to the last girl. Does she know her? Was a trade made? Did they know of Alexander and seek him? Why Charlton? What do they hope to achieve?”

One by one, Dalton relayed her questions, pausing to imagine the translations. Danielle watched curiously, awaiting a response but more eagerly attending a reaction. It would be her sign. There were emotions Agents couldn’t fake – raw emotions wrenched into their voices – that still fled the bounds of what the guilty could. Had Alexander been, through this girl or the first, taken on a rouse against the branches, then regardless of whether the Agents employed her, Danielle wanted the news. Besides, Charlotte said they needed ‘two from inside’. Here were two like that: from inside.

I’m ready to kill her,” Dalton offered. Cleverly, through the haze of strength, he added, “If she tries anything.

He was unquestionable. But he was still sniffing –

“Stop it, Dalton.” Charlotte wasn't wrong. Danielle looked at the girl in mild consideration. “Keep the option open.”


Last edited by Tartra on Mon Aug 05, 2013 5:16 pm; edited 2 times in total (Reason for editing : Narrative)
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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Guest on Mon Jun 03, 2013 8:56 pm

"Ozzie will you walk me home from school today?

It was her job.

A loving smirk graced her lips. Adoring green eyes looked up at her with unrestrained hero worship. Soft, baby fine black hair running through her fingers as she tossled his small head playfully. A sweet disposition and overly polite manner was contradicted by the faded skull and crossbones across his shirt, mimicking the silver accessories adorning her every surface. Detailed representations of death as her sign of rebellion and his sign of kinship. Her little pirate buddy.

"No can-do, Santa! Working late this afternoon 'cause I gotta make the moola. You'll be a'ight. I'll just see ya when I get home."

It wasn't a big deal. Just a residential walk from the schoolyard. Cars shouldn't be driving faster than 10 mph on those streets. Besides, he was freaking 10 years old now. He knew the road rules.

It was her fucking job.

Cheesy 70's rock blasted on the speakers in the cluttered store. A couple of nobodies looking through the record selection, lazily weaving through the maze of overstuffed boxes and shelves. Outside on her smoke break, she bobbed her head to Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher" heard muffled through the door. Ken poked his head outside to tell her she had a phone call. Her mother was on the line calling from the hospital, barely able to speak through the throat-catching sobs.

It was her fault...

Standing by the open casket, looking down at the small boy nestled inside. So peaceful, he could be sleeping. The crushed organs and bones of his body hidden by the dark blue Sunday suit he wore. He would never attend another Mass yet he'd be stuck wearing it for all eternity. She wished he was being buried in something he could play in. He needed his jean shorts and baseball cap in Heaven. All of a sudden she wanted to laugh and scream at the absurdity of the thought.

Why didn't she just walk him home?

Home, but not really anymore. Everything felt off, stuck in stasis, waiting for him forever. Standing in the middle of her room surrounded by pieces of him. Mementos and stuff they made together littered upon her dresser like a model landscape of popsicle stick treasure boxes and lego castles, up against a backdrop of marker pirate ship drawings hanging on the wall. Stick figures rendered in their likeness aboard blobby brown vessels tossed on choppy blue streaks or standing on pee-yellow mounds next to tropical trees, burying overstuffed cubist chests, piled with pointy crowns, asterisk jewels and scribbled coins. Adventures on the high seas with the Cap'n and her First Mate.

Why had she been so selfish?

Standing on the dark street, watching the burning house of the man who hurt him. Warmed by the heat and crackling life of the fire, singing it's music of destruction and whispering to her wounded soul. Reveling in it's ethereal delight as a burst of orange flame explodes out the first floor windows with raining glass. The smell of charred flesh and cooked human fat forever drenching her soot-covered clothes, the bitter aroma of death and revenge stuck deep in her nostrils. Replacing the innocent smell of bubblegum Transformers shampoo and chocolate smeared kisses placed upon her cheek. A distant siren wails

Firetruck sirens from the past morph unceremoniously into a deep voice bellowing in her face, reality crashing with the dream like a bowling ball barreling down the lane. Not only is the abrupt wake-up an annoyance she could do without but add onto it the fact that she can't fucking see or move and it just rolls together to make her a goddamn ball of sunshine. As the voice continues booming at her in it's boisterous and disturbingly playful tone, the only coherent thought she can put together is What the fuck is going on?! Then it all comes rushing back to her.

Charlton. Alex and Xander doing the transfer. Marshall's hunky body. The sleeping/dead people. The sudden darkness. Someone attacking Alex with a taser or something. Smacking a teenaged girl in the face with her elbow. Then a scorching, electrical pain and lights out when she couldn't fight anymore.

And that's all she can fucking remember. Where the hell is she now? Who the hell is this asshole talking to her? Why can't she fucking see or do anything? Osono's irritation reaches a peak when the damn ogre-voice tells her to cooperate or he'll hurt her - and what the hell was that? Was he fucking translating for someone else? Sure fucking sounded like it - and she realizes that not only is she restrained and blindfolded but they're transporting her somewhere as well. Oh, fucking Hell no! Sorry, bitches! Not today! Reaching out for the fire burning in her breast and envisioning herself surrounded by matches - and latching onto the engine of the truck as well, grasping for the gasoline and it's juicy combustible nature - a wave of exhaustion piggy-backing on a headache puts an unkind halt to her destructive impulses.

It's so fucking close! Right there! She can feel the heat wanting to build up inside her, her body itching to feel the warmth of the flames bursting to life but when she reaches for the spark, the ache pulsating through her skull makes her wince instead. No! This can't be fucking happening! Seriously! This is not a good time for her to have trouble getting it up! Frustrated by her helplessness, Osono huffs out an angry groan, bumping the back of her head against the wall of the truck, twisting her shackled wrists and arching her body in feeble attempts to struggle. No good. Her bindings are made of metal or something. Even if her head wasn't pounding and she could use her fire, it'd take her several minutes to heat up the metal enough to get free. The stupid fatigue draining her hits harder as the full realization of her weakened position finally sets in and she slumps against the wall with a long, annoyed breath released through her nose.

That's when she actually starts paying attention to Mr. Inside Voice. What else is she supposed to fucking do? It's not like she's got a lot of choices. And although the original fear that these were Agents and she was 'captured' captured has died away, she's still really freakin' irritated and wants nothing to do with these creeps. Not Agents but what Moosh-Moosh warned them about - those 'others' attacking the base. People with powers? And she's suddenly reminded of how she got in this situation in the first place. What she'd originally interpreted as a taser in that young girl's hand actually wasn't anything in her hand at all. Those blue sparks had been coming from Pigtail's fingers and they hurt like a son of a bitch. Then it occurs to her that it's probably the teeny-bopper's fault that she can't use her fire right now. That little bitch! She better not be anywhere near her when Ozzie gets back on her feet, because there's seriously gonna be some fucking payback! That is... if she can recognize her. The room had been pretty dark.

By the time things finally grow quiet, there's only one thing she cares about in everything that's been said. Fuck these people and their questions and fuck their retarded agenda! Glaring through her blindfold, Osono's raspy voice growls with a heated sneer, "Where the fuck is Alex?! What have you son of bitches done to him?! If you hurt so much as a hair on his head, I swear to fucking God that I will set fire to everything within a mile radius! That's not a fucking joke. EXPLOSION! You hear me?!" It's a desperate move but she's out of options. If it means she can escape, then she's willing to do it, even if it means violently propelling herself through the air amidst twisted metal and shards of glass. Also, threatening them when she can't really do anything is probably not the smartest idea but they tied her up like this for a reason: caution. If they're scared of her and what she can do, then at least it puts some of the power back into her hands. "I'm not telling you a damn thing until I know he's okay!"

It was her one fucking job! The whole reason she'd been brought along on this little side-quest on the way to helping Gwen: she was supposed to watch over Alex while Marshall went through the retransfer. 'A one-woman army'. That's what he called her because he trusted her to handle herself if things got hot. She was supposed to protect him and instead she let him down at the critical moment. Panic starts to rise up in her throat when she begins to consider that Alex might not even be with them - just because these morons are asking and talking about him doesn't mean they brought him along as well. Did they leave him behind? Is he in the hands of the Agents? Or did they capture him too? After what he went through, getting strapped to that insane-looking chair and half his brain being sucked out - and added onto his stupid gimpy foot - she can't imagine that getting electrocuted by that girl did him any favors. Wait... Was it finished? Did... did Marshall even make it out before the room went dark? What would have happened if they got grabbed before he fully transferred?

For several seconds she struggles with the grinding lump in her throat as she realizes how much she probably cost them with her failure but she shakes her head and takes deep breaths to quell the rising guilt. There's nothing she can do about it now except move forward and take steps to fix this mess and the important thing right now is making sure her friend is alright. And if he's not... well... there was a delicious engine within reach and this goddamned headache wouldn't last forever.

***
"Do I look like Eric to you?!"

Brie blinked, her mouth dangling open and frozen in her position leaning forward threateningly across the table. Wow. She hadn't realized she'd blurted that out until she was done shouting. Coming back to herself, it was like waking up from a dream, realizing the stupid goggle-head was talking to her again and she was already talking back. It wasn't what she meant to say - in fact, she hadn't meant to say anything at all, really. Kind of embarrassing but she didn't apologize.

She was so fucking tired. The drug in her system felt so fucking good the way it had brought everything into focus, her mind absorbing details and information and organizing it for her in neat layers of importance according to threat and interest level. It was especially fun with the occasional landings they went through, getting to go through the intricacies of take off and landing repeatedly, her mind swimming with every little detail of the plane's preparation sounds. But it didn't let her sleep and she'd been up the whole night. Now that morning was finally here, she could feel the neat layers crumbling. Everything was a little too much - too noisy, too grating, too soft, too hot, too cold, too bright, too dark. The temperature fluctuations and movement of the air currents in the cabin crashed in a jumbled mess with the sounds of the other suit's hissed breaths and she suddenly had a very intense need to inspect the minute details of the grain in the surface of the conference table. All. At. The. Same. Fucking. Time. There was no order to it, no progressive processing of these different things; she was aware of everything happening around her simultaneously, forced to interpret all the details at the exact moments they filtered through her senses, with no buffer to ease the mass onslaught of information.

This wasn't how it was supposed to be! This wasn't the euphoria and delight she experienced when she first injected herself with the goggle-bearer's drugs. She couldn't stop herself from counting the little puckered pores that made up the armored fabric of his suit and her eyes couldn't stop following the stitches in the seams of the chair he sat in, while also humming in her throat along with the changing gears of the aircraft's engine as they prepared for some change in direction - Uggggggghhhhh! She'd had enough! She wanted to get off the ride now, both figuratively and literally. Brie knew what the problem was because it was exactly what he foretold, the effects of the drug wearing down but she no longer found the patience within herself to cooperate with him. She didn't give a fuck about bargaining or helping him or Eric Patten or this suit's boss or her job or ANYTHING! She just didn't give a fuck about anything else! And she was too tired and stressed to even consider that she had something to lose by being rude.

"I don't care," Brie grated out raggedly from her throat, her clenching teeth making it almost impossible to force the words out. "You keep asking me all these questions like I'm some sort of Eric-fucking-expert. I told you, I don't know Eric Patten. I've never met him. I've only seen him." When she stared fixedly at a sweat droplet running down his neck and couldn't stop herself from analyzing it's slithering path while at the same time counting how many times he blinked, Brie let out a strangled laugh, and began to scratch jaggedly at her arms. "I don't know who you think you're dealing with but there is literally nobody who can fucking help you answer your questions. There is nobody who can help you fucking save her. Whatever Eric has planned for your Lead, it's going to happen because he's already got ahold of her and you can't stop it and you can't fix it. Understand? There! You failed! End of story! Now, please, can you give me another boost like you promised! I'm fucking losing my mind here!" She was shouting again but she didn't care and couldn't stop herself anyway. There was only one thing that would solve her crisis right now and it was the only thing that mattered.

***

The morning landing couldn't have come soon enough. Not that he was eager to get away from the stifling awkwardness in the plane's cabin once everyone was awake again and together, having to deal with the repercussions of the night's activities. Anjie's icy tone and refusal to look at him even as they passed each other in the bathroom doorway definitely wasn't cause for any discomfort or anything. Of course not. And it certainly wasn't like Fin was feeling pressured at all by Creasy's offer to join their division, even with the older man constantly casting thoughtful and fatherly smiles his way, while tending to the very hungover Jewish kid already on his team. Yeah, it was none of that. Fin just wasn't happy about the coffee the flight attendant gave him, that's all. As soon as he hit the ground, he was searching out the nearest Dunkin' Donuts on the way to the Charlton base. After the night he had, he needed something with actual flavor and punch to it before meeting up with Patten.

If he was truly honest, that was the real reason he was relieved to be stepping out of the plane into the morning sunshine. After all the small hints here and there from first Graninger and then Creasy, Fenton was going to finally find out for himself what an evil, underhanded bastard Eric Patten really was. The suspense was killing him! Seriously, though, he'd paid his dues to the Agency with a year of playing a gerbil in a laboratory. Now, he had the name, the uniform and the Agency issued watch and pen and he was more than ready for some actual work. This was it. Everything he'd waited for. He was stepping off the plane not only to meet his new boss but also to face his destiny. The thought occurred to him that it was very likely, as nothing but an A-12, he might get relegated to just doing paperwork - good thing he had his trusty pen ready! - but he refused to let it put a damper on his mood. So long as he was an Agent doing Agency work, he was fine with pretty much anything. The name was important and besides that, Creasy had made a good point: there was always room for advancement if you were good enough.

Yeah, even Anjie shoving mutely past him in the airplane doorway couldn't obliterate the optimistic gleam in his eye. Well... he gave her a dirty look, but the glimmer of hope and confidence was still in there. Honestly, she was acting like he'd admitted to murdering baby seals when all that'd happened was he rejected her sexual advances - as if he wasn't allowed to say "no" to sex while sporting a hardon. Talk about a double standard. He couldn't figure out if it was just what he said to her that wounded her pride or if there was something else he was being blamed for without being aware of it - in that case, passive-aggressively punishing him without telling him anything was a very effective method of leaving him just as clueless as before. If anybody should have been upset about not getting any sex last night it should have been him! She seriously needed to just get over it already.

There was a very expensive looking, dark blue car gleaming at the bottom of the stairs and although the back door remained open, Fin did not follow Anjelica into it's cave-like interior. Instead, he stood at the bottom of the steps, glancing around at the empty airport lot, enjoying the crisp breeze and adjusting his uniform for the 50th time to make sure he was all zipped up and tucked in. He glanced up when Haggins emerged from the plane, giving the kid a sympathetic smirk as the Doc winced painfully in the sunlight and swayed at the top of the stairs. At least he didn't look like he was going to throw up anymore and his skin had lost that greenish pallor. As he gingerly made his way down the steps, clinging to the railing with one hand, Fin couldn't help himself and asked, "Ya alright there, Pukey? Not gonna hurl big, bloated chunks again, are ya? You know, contrary to how you're feeling right now, I hear a greasy breakfast is just the thing to fix it right up."

At the mention of that, Haggins stopped in the middle of the stairwell and closed his eyes while breathing heavily through his nose, obviously trying to gather himself before shooting an annoyed look at Fin. "Please, don't mention vomit. Or food. Or anything. In fact, how about you just don't talk to me?" Aw, somebody was a little cranky. "I told you, I didn't want to drink."

"Hey, now, don't be like that," Fin said soothingly, stepping in front of the lad before he made a move towards the car. "I was just trying to get you to loosen up and have a good time and you did, didn't you?" Haggins, who seemed to be having difficulty recalling the events of last night, furrowed his youthful brow and gave Fin a considering look. Then, apparently deciding to take Fenton at his word, the kid's shoulders relaxed and he nodded his assent, smiling sheepishly as Fin squeezed his shoulder with a laugh.

"Yeah, I guess it was pretty fun." That little blush was adorable! And it was very reassuring that he didn't seem to remember anything about Fenton's interrogation. Good times!

"See? Now, I know the aftermath isn't much of a blast but trust me about the greasy food and just remember to keep yourself properly hydrated next time."

Haggins made a small quirk with his lips and shook his head so that the long curls dangling in front of his ears bounced and then he grimaced again as the motion obviously got him a reprimand from his stomach. "I... don't think I'll be partaking in that ever again, actually."

"Well, don't cut yourself off completely," Fin said, sticking his hands into his pockets and shrugging. "You never know what might happen when you're presented with the opportunity again. Sometimes, you just gotta let go and live a little. If there's one thing you can learn from this it's that life's too short to keep such a tight leash on yourself all the freaking time." Haggins seemed to appreciate this advice better than the breakfast suggestion.

At the sound of voices, they both glanced towards the back of the plane where they could see Creasy standing near the open and exposed rear end of the aircraft, directing the driver who was digging within it's confines. After the one glance, Fin was done looking but when he made note of the "awestruck/breathless" expression on the boy's face, he turned back for another gander. Creasy had been the first to wake up that morning and had already changed clothes and refreshed himself by the time anybody else even opened their eyes. In place of the beige and cream suit he'd worn yesterday, he now donned a crisp black suit, the jacket left unbuttoned, exposing the robin's egg blue dress shirt underneath - still, no tie, Fin could see, and unbuttoned just enough to show off a little bit of collar bone. The effect was the same as it had been yesterday, very casual and relaxed yet clean and professional. If he had to be perfectly honest, then yeah, sure, Creasy was a pretty good looking guy for someone of his age. Standing there with that air of dignified authority with his hands tucked coolly into his pockets, broad shoulders, slim waist, with sunlight glinting off his dangling silver earring and shining through the bristles of the trimmed halo of dark hair around his lips - he certainly looked like the romantic ideal of a roguish gentleman. If you were into metrosexual Southern California guys who liked to show off their chest hair and wear sandals to work. That's when Fin slowly turned his head back toward Haggins.

Fin resisted the temptation at first. He really did. Had a really intense internal argument with himself and everything. It's not a good idea to stick my nose into things that are none of my business. I shouldn't be manipulating people like this. What would Graninger say? He kept expecting Graninger's smug, raspy voice to chime in like it did with everything else having to do with agency relations and rules of conduct. Then it occurred to him this was exactly the type of thing Graninger did to him and other people all the time. Well, I did learn from the best.

The captivated look on the boy's face only lasted a minute but when Haggins turned away, Fin caught his eye again and nodded at him with a knowing smirk. Disturbed by this and a bit flustered that he'd been caught ogling his boss, Haggins reacted like a startled rabbit and glanced worriedly away. Fin forced his eyes back to his own when he put his hand on top of the kid's left shoulder and said in a confiding whisper, "Oh, and don't worry, your secret's safe with me. I won't tell a soul about the things we talked about last night, although, I still think you should give it a chance and just tell him how you really feel." Creasy was sauntering towards them and Fin glanced at him and glanced back, patting Haggins before releasing him. "When you're ready, of course."

"Wait--! What?! I don't--!"

"Everything alright over here?" Creasy asked with an amiable grin as he came to stand next to them.

"Yes, sir! Just giving my buddy here some advice about what to do for breakfast after that nightcap he had." Fin turned to Haggins and nodded sternly, speaking as if he were reiterating something he'd already said and counting off the different items on his fingers. "Big ole plate of hashbrowns, greasy sausage, greasy bacon and some good old fashioned eggs and toast and you'll be fine. Just what the doctor ordered!"

"Right. Thanks," Haggins mumbled with a blush, only half playing along as he began moving towards the vehicle. Oh, look at that. The poor lad looked a bit concerned and distracted now. Well, if the kid honestly didn't remember the conversations from last night, it was the least Fin could do to imply the admission of hidden feelings that had never been uttered.

Although his demeanor was a little possessive at first, Creasy relaxed when his young associate ducked into the backseat of the car. Fin took the opportunity to shake the man's hand and give him a stout slap on the back. "So! I will see you cats in Charlton!"

"Sure thing," Creasy said easily, giving him another warm smile. "Are you sure you don't want to ride with us? I could take the front seat and let you kids all sit in the back together?"

"Ooh, tempting," Fin said with a mocking nod, then tilted his head with a chagrined shrug. "But I think I've got my own ride coming to pick me up." He wanted to make a couple of jokes about that but now that he was sober, he was a lot less inclined to hint that he and Anjelica may have had sex right under her boss's nose. So, instead, he left it at that, since Creasy seemed to get it anyway, nodding in understanding and moving past Fin to the open door. At the same time, the driver moved past them both carrying a large box-shaped, silver case, like what one might use to transport a piece of expensive equipment or weaponry. Fenton was momentarily distracted, watching the guy tuck it into the trunk but his curiosity was derailed when Creasy's door slammed shut and he spoke to Fin through the rolled down window.

"We'll see you in Charlton, then."

"Yes, sir!" Through the window, he could see Anjelica in the far seat, pouting moodily and refusing to look at him still and Haggins sitting next to her was already back to work reading over some paperwork. And actually, now that he saw them all sitting back there together, it looked like there was plenty of room for 3 people. Still, seeing how Anjelica's crossed leg bobbed agitatedly and the way Haggins pored through his files like a man trying to get his mind off of something, Fin did not regret his decision to decline the ride. Although, it looked like it'd be fun times all around. No doubt!

As the driver took his seat and closed the door, Creasy said, "We're going to be pretty busy hunting down some folks, though, so, if we don't see you... remember what I said about digging into things, Fin."

"I most certainly will, sir. And you remember what I said about vodka." That got a small chuckle from the older man, who decided not to comment and shook his head in amusement as the car drove away.

It wasn't until they were out of sight that Fin actually thought about what he told Creasy and decided it'd be a good idea - rather than waiting here for a couple of hours - to double check and make sure he had a ride. Taking out his phone, he texted Graninger to let him know that they'd landed.

Meet up with Quin at the base. You're part of a deal I made with him so don't go straight to Patten. Meet up with Quin and he'll direct you from there.

ya how am i getting to the base btw?

I'm pretty sure the airport rents cars.

"You've gotta be kidding me...." Fin murmured with a small slump of his shoulders. Maybe he should have taken that ride, dammit!

you didnt send a car for me?

No and I sincerely doubt Rudolph Quin sent you one either.

Well, this was just great. Honestly, he should have expected this but after stepping off of the airplane and seeing the car waiting for the Docs... Fenton had been under the delusion that Agents got that sort of treatment and since he was an Agent now and due to meet up with important, higher ranking people, he thought they'd actually make an effort to show they wanted him around. Getting taxis and renting cars from the airport was something he'd done as a civilian nobody. Trying to remind himself that the name was important and that being called an Agent made a difference, Fin made preparations to call a taxi for himself.

Don't be late.

Oh, haha! Sure thing, boss, and thanks for the heads up!

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Re: The Other Kind of Roommate

Post by Tartra on Sun Dec 01, 2013 10:57 pm

So I’m think-king,” he said from where he kneeled beside the girl, “while I don’t regret you ripping a hole through the truck… probably, you shouldn’t’ve ripped a hole through the truck.‘Cause the Cubans were in it, and they had heard the tantrum. He put a sing-songy twist at the end of it – all of this was fucking fun.They’re absolutely telling Caprice.” HA HA! HA HA HA HA-HA!

“Goddammit.” She was doing that thing the French taught her: crossing her arms in a tangled wall. The Agents bred it into their Pain Eaters to keep them off-balance and not kill anyone. Danielle used it to last through conversations she really felt should stop. It was basically the same, except she didn’t have Agency conditioning, so watching her stay calm with only tips she bummed off the France branch was – pthhhhhhhthrrbrrbrr. Lookit her face. Lookit her face! It was so red – lookit how red it was! She was a ghost and she looked like her face was melting and next he thought of sauce and tomatoes he was hungry, he was hungry he could kill them, he could do it it was easy, he could reach he could eat he would eat “What’s the worst they can say?”

'Help, help, we’re in exactly the danger we signed on for’?

“Works for me. Settle it.” The Cubans were chattering in the front seats. Dalton stretched his arm and banged beside the jagged tear split between them. He yelled something, or else just yelled, and they quickly went Cuban-quiet. Now they were background noise. “Did she say anything good?”

She wants to kill us; that’s something,” he answered. “You didn’t catch it?

“I barely understand when you talk.” This was true. Danielle knew a whole ten phrases and all of them were how bad she was at English. She understood it well enough – save for ‘I like butt’. He’d had her repeating it perfectly to welcome guests until an aunt she’d tried to impress told her what it was. His arm still hurt. “No ‘or’?”

Dalton’s job was obvious. He was fluent because he’d paid attention in school. It fell to him to translate what the American whined. He didn’t hold it over her head, he just mentioned it when she was up an extra peg. Right: in short, the point of his involvement was making sure she never overshot into Ultra Bitch. Super Bitch was fine – she was their second-favourite – but Ultra Bitch had an ego that spread like fire and no one was so dumb as to call her out while her temper flared. She was a warrior queen, a stallion amongst ponies. This one time, when they were nine, he’d told Danielle she could fly if she ate a handful worms ‘cause worms became butterflies, which sat his job description as The Mighty Runner of Interference. She united the scattered branches but he helped enough survive to be united. They were welcome, by the way. He wasn’t always intangible. His knee still hurt.

I figured…” more blood more blood more blood more blood more blood “You normally don’t…” Negotiate or care. That was a gift from Charlotte: if it was meant to be, any measure that would have to be taken either already was or was the next natural step. His sister’s demands – ‘who are you, why are you here’ – by and large fit what the other person thought reasonable to trade, or they waited five minutes and something changed and oh, suddenly the captive was willing to have it on the table. Ta-da: Charlotte! So whatever was on the other end of ‘or’ didn’t need to be explained. It would come. And Dalton got to dodge a terrible joke. “I was gonna punch her.” Punch her. Kill her. Punch for food food was chained it was chained in front and under his nose he could smell it it was delicious he was starving he starved he starvedI don’t have to punch her.

“Might smarten her up. I’m not dragging live weight to Union. Not if it doesn’t talk.” Dead was alright. She got as much or more from pawning a corpse. Good ones kept the Cubans busy for almost a day. “I want this done before the checkpoint.”

Fine, fine. He cracked his knuckles and got his Smarten Up Fists ready.

Boss!Kill.’Ey, boss!” He took too long. The Cuban pulled its head inside the cabin again. “’Ey! ‘S’not ‘er, it’s t’e ot’er one!” And straight back: “‘Eeeeeeeeey, ot’er brot’er! Whatchu doin’, man – wha’s gon’ on, ‘ow’s life? Where’s your sister – she floatin’ ‘round ‘ere?” With – just – the stupidest grin. Dalton chose not to answer. This moron didn’t care. His mood instantly withered. “‘An’ ‘ow’s our senorita – how y’doin’ in ‘ose chains, girl?” Its black eyes had settled on the captive as a break from squinting at the trailer’s shadows.

What do you want… you?

He didn’t know their names. They never stopped long enough to be asked.

Me? Wha’ – you t’ink I wan’ somethin’?” The Cuban laughed. “Man, I don’ wanna die – you think I wanna die? I don’ wan’ nothing – look at you! You’re big an’ scary an’ you got ‘at – fuckin’ – like – slobber goin’ on, like –” He wiped his chin. “Yeah! No way – no way, I don’ ever interrupt someone scary like you. T’at’s not me. Dalton. Dalton – man, I fuckin’ swear, ‘at’s not me.” Five seconds went by of it staring at him. The Cuban’s neck bobbed along with road. Its arms pinched over the edge of the hole like legs tucked to a small body. With dark hair, gangly wrists and a long, yellowed nail jutting from its left pinky, the shrivelled brat was a pigeon incarnate, home to roost. Dalton hated pigeons. “‘S Caprice. King Caprice – you know, he’s jus’ – yapyapyapyapyap – all t’e time ‘f you let ‘im. He’s like, ‘I wan’ t’is shit righ’ now,’ an’ I’m all, ‘No, King, y’fuckin’ crazy, King, Dalton’s in ‘ere an’ he’ll fuckin’ kill me,’ an’ he goes, ‘I’ll fuckin’ kill you,’ an’ you know Caprice, I’m like, ‘Okay, King, you’re in charge, don’ tell anyone I don’ earn good shit’. Me ’n’ Laro – Laro’s drivin’ so ‘e sent me ‘ere – we talked an’ we’re wit’ everythin’ – we love you, Dal, an’ all you Vikings – but Caprice, ‘e’s got a message, an’ he don’ like what ‘e been hearin’ outta chicka-wow-wow. T’at’s you, girlie.

I mean, I don’ know ‘ow ‘e found out – Caprice, ‘e’s jus’ fuckin’ everywhere, but he knows, you know? An’ not t’be rude or nothin’ – ‘cause we love you Vikings,” the tweaker promised, possibly mercifully wrapping up. “We love you, but King Caprice tol’ me t’say t’at if missy ‘ere does true on ‘at fuckin’ boom’f ‘ers – like, boom, t’at fuckin’ explosion, she said – man, is she f’real? ‘Cause ‘e says if she does good on ‘at, he gon’ carve it out your ass, an’ if he carve it outta your ass, ‘e gone’ carve it outta my ass. T’is is his truck an’ ‘e wan’ it back wit’ its tires an’ teeth, Dal.” … Was… Did it stop? Dalton wasn’t sure. What he unpacked from the blather was – “Oh yeah, an’ t’e cell team called ’r… somethin’. Fuckin’ Nightstalk – ‘at fuckin’ Brit – ‘ey, Laro! Tell bitchy-queen t’calm ’is ass – she’s not even in ‘ere!

What the –

Nightstalk called?” He reared up. “For what?

I’unno.” The Cuban yawned at its perch and shrugged. “‘E said somethin’ like ‘is guys gotta pro’lem – but you know t’em Kingdom kids: ‘Why you gotta touch my shit all t’e time – man, ‘m British, you fuckin’ Cubanos, you don’ know who y’dealin’ wit’, we know people, fuck t’is shit, man’ – an’ me – ‘s like, ‘t’ey give me such crap, Dal, an’ t’e rest’f us, an’ bitchy-queen’s t’e fuckin’ worst ‘cause ‘e’s no diff’ren’ even after t’e boss beat ‘im. Man, you gotta talk t’your sister – ‘cause, you know, I’m happy t’ey gotta home ‘n’ all, but you fuckin’ wanna talk about attitude, you talk ‘bout them. It’s nuts. It’s fucked.”

Nightstalk called with a problem,” Dalton’s plate-like teeth grinded. “Why didn’t you start with that?

Caprice wanted ‘is first.” He soaked inside his rage and all the Cuban offered was another, even less satisfying bounce of knobby shoulders. “‘Sides, bitchy-queen wanted Danielle. You’re not Danielle, man. Laro, right? El no tiene cojones – not like her anyway, ah-ha-ha! No offence, Dal.

Blood. He wanted blood. He craved blood he needed blood. The pressure in his brain was swelling. His vision blurred his breath grew hoarse his eyes sharpened on the flesh he craved. He blinked it away. It returned. He blinked it away. More red. More red. Red red red red red a stream of it of redDanie–

“Noope, not coming out. Wasn’t worth it the first time,” she said. “Won’t be worth it the second.”

But I’m starving,” he whined.

“Good.” Danielle’s fingers were at her temples, massaging the indents with tight movements. “When you eat one of them, the other’ll shut up. Although with my luck, you’ll give him more to ramble about.”

Get it together, she was telling him, get it together, pull it together, Dalton, strain. She carried the bulk of this for weeks. He could last an hour for her sake. Then she would let him switch. Later. ‘Settle this’, she’d ordered. ‘Settle them.

Dalton’s stomach groaned.

Give me,” he snarled, “the phone.

Don’ get mad at me! I’m only tryin’ t’help. I’ll hol’ it f’you – ‘ey, ‘ey, ‘ey, no, I’ll hold it. Caprice don’ wan’ t’is girl killin’ ‘is car an’ I don’ wan’ you crushin’ up my phone. ‘Ey, speakin’f the girl though, Dalton – don’chu ‘ave an interrogation or –” he cracked his fangs at the pigeon’s moulting face “Okay, okay, calm down, holy fuck! Okay! Screw it, y’wanna talk t’bitchy-queen, ‘s’cool! Man…

“Danielle?”

Nightstalk’s voice rang clear. A sudden… thrill… whisked over him. Nightstalk. HA-HAHA. Nightstalk! Next to Scissor, Night was the best to piss off! The bastard took everything personally and already Dalton tasted impatience hovering above leashed frustration!

No. Me.

“Dalton?” Such displeasure! “She’s – oh, you’re still –” That fumble was Night ‘composing himself’. It wouldn’t do to be ‘unprofessional’. The guy worked for a gang of mercenaries, anarchists and drug runners; provided he made it a day without shanking anyone, he held his spot at the top of the civilized pyramid. Night didn’t realize nobody cared, least of all Danielle, who he badly hoped to impress. Dalton was not a close second. Like Scissor, their dislike was mutually acknowledged. “Oh.” Twat. “This is important. I need to speak with her.”

HAHAHAHAHA!

No.

Instant offense. Dalton felt delightfully wicked. In his mercy, he pat the captive girl roughly on her head. She was being a good prisoner to wait like this.

“You didn’t ask her,” Nightstalk snapped. “Ask her!”

What an attitude. The Cuban bobbed in agreement, language barriers be damned.

Alright, alright. Dalton obliged.

Danielle. Night says he’s got a problem.

“Oh boy, I’ll bet.”

HAHA!

She doesn’t feel like chatting,” he relayed. “That’s still a no.

Sqqqqqqqqqqrrrrrrrrrp.

There was the glorious sound of Nightstalk’s hole puckering closed. Dalton howled in laughter. These Kingdom scraps couldn’t get it. They liked their old ways of ‘the queen served her people’. They expected to access her as a basic right. Welcome to the Nordics, pricks. The lion pride served Danielle – and Danielle didn’t wanna come out. Dalton was shocked she’d bothered with the Cubans at all. Well, lesson learned, it appeared. He was gonna bite off the pigeon’s hand within the hour. It hung there waiting.

“Fine,” Nightstalk did slllloooowwwly concede. “How long do I wait?”

‘Til she does feel like it. That’s my guess.

“Dalton.”

Yes, dammit, the girl! He felt rude. He hated when people underestimated his threats; ignored completely probably wormed itself under the child’s skin.

Sorry, sis. Night, get back to Charlotte.” But he wasn’t done! His jaw ached as it crashed together, trying to find something – anything – it could eat or mock. “We –

“It’s Buzzy. Buzzy – and Alexander – mostly Elias – but it’s Buzzy in the thick of this,” their chivalrous fellow blurted. Oh my. That wasn’t composed. It didn’t sound composed in the slightest. Dalton should kill him for not being composed it would be hysterical “She broke him. She was disconnecting Charlotte and she shut Elias’ cell shut off. She screamed and – and Scissor panicked and attacked me thanks to her!”

Even Scissor was sick of him. If this was English, the Cubans would’ve had a comment or sixteen.

“I hope he’s not saying that’s the bad news.”

‘Cause Danielle liked most of what was in there when he told her.

No Elias leaves less to track,” he realized. “We won’t need to replace the French guy!

“And Buzzy’ll kill herself in grief!”

Right. There was also that.

HAHAA-HA-HA!

My sister lent ears to your mewling, Night,” Dalton said. “She smiles upon your tidbits.

“She’s not supposed to smile! She should be concerned!” On he mewled. “Buzzy’s place wasn’t anywhere near me or Scissor. She shoved into our mission, seduced him, attacked me through him, and in the middle of it she breaks the thing Danielle specifically ordered not be touched!”

“I ordered no prisoners.”

“Wh-what?” Dalton relayed his sister’s sentiment twice. “Oh.” Night sounded trapped. He couldn’t pretend he hadn’t heard. “I… well – Magnus was the one to physically pick them up.” HA! AH-HA! “I caught them but he could’ve… But Buzzy,” he Britishly sobbed. “She’s not sad. She can’t simply switch between forlorn loss and being okay in a matter of hours, but she’s all over Scissor. I am asking, as a formal request, for Danielle’s permission to restrain her. She’s obviously done something – it’s not right!”

He makes this shit up,” Dalton swore. No branch fucking worked like this, ‘requesting permission’ like a knighted pig. He was glad the Kingdom was dead. It took effort grabbing the stick from the Germans’ ass; imagine yanking the sceptre from these cheeks. “Buzzy’s not that smart.

“No,” Night readily agreed, “but she thinks she is, and she would never hurt Elias. Maybe she helped with the transfer or… well – we don’t know who’s in Alexander.”

“End it,” Danielle said. Dalton waved the phone away. The Cuban closed it mid-“It could be Lamarre! Or Patten!” and nestled into the cabin, home for now. “He’s got half a decent point.” Oh, it killed her to say that.

You’re thinking Lamarre’s in Alexander?

That could be why – “I don’t give a fuck who’s in him, we have him in chains,” she rattled off. “What matters is why they bothered.” Her arms tightened across her chest and her weight shifted to a leg. “Ask her.”

Do you want that punch?” She shrugged. ‘Either way.’ Dalton pounded on the girl’s ribcage. The blast ran through her collarbone. He could see the skin ripple from the impact of his fist. “Let’s hope you explode as fast you complain and not as fast as you think, otherwise I’ll have Alexander stuffed inside twelve boxes and mailed to every continent before you even light your fuse.” She didn’t have a bomb. Magnus checked before he put her in, and Dalton, reserving his faith for a child-breaker’s judgement calls, checked again. It was where half the girl’s bruises had come from. “Some friend to get him killed demanding if he’s been killed. Be smart. If you’re gone, how will he survive? I thought that’s why he brought you.” Or, as Danielle most definitely heard, “It is time now to wake and think of your duty. How he will bleed when you abandon him like a fish.” She made broken English sound fancy. “If it’s still him. That’s your new question,” Dalton continued in English, babbling growls and accent and all. “You were found by him and a transfer chair. Why did Alexander make the trip?” ... Um... Drooling. Pressure. Famine. He lagged behind. “Why’s this the part that matters?

“Because it’s short.” Captives liked giving long answers, he sleepily recalled her explaining once. It gave them more time to bullshit a smart lie. “And after five years, he picks today to swap back into his body? No. How long has this been their plan? What prompted it?” She was much better at catching this stuff while switched-out. “And stop drooling.”

He got a little on the girl. Yick. He wiped it off. Or patted it in. Who could tell?

I’ll find you a rag from somewhere. Eventually. On the bright side,” he smoothly comforted, “I’m not eating you.

* * *

“Hello? Hello?!” Dammit! Damn that stupid, fucking Viking! Dalton hadn’t asked Danielle. Danielle would have never hung up on him, but here he was, putting away a phone wailing piteously in its dead dial tone. He sucked down a ball of resentment, seething because of it, and then he... and...

“You’re so right! He is like a cow.” That voice was like raking a cheese grater down his spine. “He chews his own vomit and serves his shit in a pie. Ooh – you’re so clever!” Her blue eyes batted a hurricane in her ‘lover’s’ face. Scissor swooned, delighted. Then she noticed Nightstalk was watching her and snapped, “Can I help you? He’s always staring at me – he’s such a creeper.”

He tensed his jaw. Scissor only met her four months ago and swore he was in love with every scrawny bit of her. That’d been day one. Day two had been a nauseating love affair, day three had been a weird break up, day four was some ridiculous Romeo and Slutiet drama, and whatever else they could think of, Nightstalk had a front seat to it. Buzzy lacked the barest shame and Scissor demanded a babysitter. Nobody wanted this job. Half didn’t think anyone needed to do it. As much as he enjoyed working with the Nordics, they were buried in their faults. Subtleties were lost on them. Minor issues shored up around their feet and they took notice just when it all went to merciful hell. It was more fun for them to fix a big problem than constantly play janitor to the small stuff. Well, being a janitor was an important role somebody had to swallow. It was up to him, was it? Fine. He would sort it himself.

“Night,” Scissor called, vacationing from his girlfriend’s tongue, “what did Danielle say?”

He made out to reply but her mouth had the edge of always hanging open.

“Danielle doesn’t talk to anyone after she’s switched,” Buzzy drawled, lazing on her pet. “I bet Dalton hung up on him.”

Scissor used to think for himself, if anyone could believe it. Now, instead, he shrugged as if ‘yes, that makes sense’ and abruptly decided, “I’ll ask at the checkpoint.”

“I managed it,” Nightstalk bit off. “She told me she was looking into it.”

“And that she’s buying him a pony,” the brat giggled.

And that she appreciated my initiative,” he corrected. That stopped her. Buzzy gaped at him with the disgustedly bored expression she always tugged on when someone set the story straight. He hadn’t, not really, since Dalton didn’t pass the message along, but if Danielle spoke with him, it was roughly along the lines of what she would’ve said. “It’s more than she’d tell you.”

Buzzy blinked and turned her eyes away – up, like they were caught mid-roll – and twitched the corner of her lip into a scandalized sneer.

“Okay, sooooooo... You’re the cow now, ‘cause that’s bullshit. Danielle’s never appreciated – like... anyone. Ever. She’s not gonna start being grateful for you. She doesn’t even like you.”

Scissor didn’t say a word because he had his hand under her shirt. Some friend!

“She likes me better than you,” Nightstalk reminded everyone.

“Oh my God, are you serious? Whatever – I don’t work for her!” Buzzy twisted her feet to rest more snugly on the back seat’s window. Besides flipping her stupid, blonde pigtails and their stupid, pink bows, it was the greatest dismissal in her arsenal. She was fully reclined and ready to doze. He hoped the seatbelt tangled around her neck. “I’m here because Cryptic asked, not because she likes me.” Her voice sparkled like a princess. He hoped the seatbelt cut her head off. “It doesn’t matter if she does anyway, ‘cause if she wants to stay in my branch’s good graces, she has to treat me like an angel.”

Nightstalk was sure angels weren’t as big of whores.

She was the worst insult of this trip. Bad enough he’d been assigned to out-of-the-way work – technically the entire point of being here, but wrangling a stasis cell wasn’t nearly the badge of honour it should have been – but to then be walked over by this Russian harpy... She’d even forced herself into their truck. It wasn’t a ‘truck’ truck, because they were riding with the convoy – at the back – rather than the big Macks, but it was still reserved for the SCR team. Nightstalk was riding as the passenger and Scissor should have the back to himself. It hadn’t even been a question. Buzzy simply walked in, claiming the beige and pleather 4x4. The Cubans were meant to run those controls. It was his hard luck that the first time he wanted one to run a mouth at her, he got the truly silent driver. It wasn’t fair.

Glue! Glue was friends with Magnus, and Magnus said he would end up driving Alexander’s body!

“I have to make a second call,” he announced, accepting that they didn’t care. Glue would care. She hated the whisper of Alexander’s name. She would check on that note, if she didn’t as a favour. He remembered being on good terms with her, and Nightstalk couldn’t think of anything that changed. Carefully he let a cloak of shadows surround his head. He wanted to mute the sound and dampen the morning sun they were driving into. The back of his mind wondered how CryShadow was getting along with the daybreak, but it was probably under someone’s car, either enjoying the ride or shuffling under the shade. Its scream... Nightstalk shivered. “Glue? Glue, are you free to speak?”

Did Patten weep like a whore when Lady Pimp died?” There was a question he wasn’t asked every day. “I’m busy, Night.

“Glue. You recognized my voice.”

He liked that.

You’re the only prick with English as his mother tongue who’ll speak Swedish to another Anti with English as her mother tongue,” she replied, not as unkindly as it appeared. Glue was a stiff woman. Friendlier than this meant she was skinning an Agent. “I recognized the over-doing it. What do you want?

“I need you to check Alexander for...” For... “... tampering.” And yes, he’d returned to his native speech. He didn’t see why it was a problem when they all spoke it now. He’d had to insist with Scissor and his girl, who’d insisted the other way for the full trip to Charlton. If they’d been overheard in the halls or garage, it was much less likely with Swedish that – but Scissor hadn’t cared. “The Russian insisted she help. After we were nearly caught waiting for her, she sent Scissor to attack me and botched Elias’ cell somehow. Not that I’d feel bad to see him suffer well overdue mental trauma, but for our sakes, we should be sure it is still Alexander.”

“If it’s not?”

“All the good graces in the world won’t stop what I’ll be sure Danielle levels at her,” Nightstalk promised.

He could hear her confliction. She must have known Danielle wasn’t already backing this, or he wouldn’t have been the person calling. But she hated Buzzy too, and Alexander most of all. Nightstalk swallowed in his throat.

“Night,” Glue began, “what’s the goal here?”

“I want to keep our new branch safe.” ‘New’ wasn’t the best word. The Nordics adopted them a few years ago. “Also, I’m sick of Buzzy’s face. She’s the shining example of what’s wrong with the Union. The others caught desperation in the air and they’re taking advantage of it – the Russians, the Cubans, not the Germans but purely because they’re in more dire straits than we are. The Nordics are supposed to be noble. I’m tired of Buzzy putting her feet on our window and smearing our good name with her snark. She did this on a whim!”

“And in return, you’ll risk breaking an alliance on your own whim?”

Glue seemed halfway amused. It was hard to tell with her. Was that condescension? She didn’t normally talk down.

“If Buzzy has actively participated in whatever happened to Alexander before we found him, the alliance is broken already. I’m simply bringing it to light.” She was quiet. The silence was as stony as she was. “I’m serious. I’m not going to stand here and let her and the rest of them make fools of us. I didn’t join for th– ”

“You’re fucking mental.” Crap. He’d lost her. “Are you telling me this is about honour? Did you forget how that turned out for us the last time?”

“I was there –“

“The Americans,” Glue snarled, laying into the word, “clipped off Kevin Wald’s head and dropped us on Arthur – who, though there should be no need to reiterate, wasn’t so much a coward as he was a snivelling traitor. There’s been no honour left, and you’re mental – unequivocally mad – if you think you’ll scrounge it out from amongst them.” He swallowed again. His mouth was strangely dry. “Danielle took in those of us with anything left to give and shared a chance to finish the war. That’s where your honour lies, not fighting your best mate’s girl.

“They aren’t together,” he protested.

“Nightstalk,” she gnashed, “if your only interest is in saving face from Buzzy, I can’t help you. I joined to stop the Agency from murdering innocents.”

“I did, too – of course I did, but don’t you think that’s harder with people like her around?” There was frigid nothing. He closed his eyes in a merciful plea. “Does that mean you won’t check?”

“Fuck off.” ‘Not for you’ was the whisper underneath. “I’ll have Alexander sorted when the day fucking calls for it, not to gather evidence for your one-man execution.”

Probably at the checkpoint. Yes, the checkpoint!

“But you’ll at least let me know what’s happened,” he begged for the future.

The wailing dial tone returned. Suddenly angry, he jammed the miserable plastic in his pocket and pulled back the shadows. Buzzy’s harpy laughter instantly returned. He scowled deeply as it paraded through his ears.

Ugh, he’s back.”

“Hey, Night! Any use?”

“Yes,” Nightstalk said quickly. Too quickly. He smoothed his features over. “Yes, it went well. I heard what I needed to hear.”

It was the truth, he admitted sullenly. He had heard. He squinted into the morning, settling into a private world of thought to sort this himself. From the giggles in the back, the muteness at his side, and the abandonment at his pocket, he saw his lonely road ahead. Somebody had to save them. Once more, Nightstalk accepted the chore thanklessly. They would appreciate it later. This time, he knew they would.

* * *

It should go without saying we won’t allow food on the premises, either. This is expensive equipment. We can’t have schnitzels or borscht breaking it. Punishment for failing to adhere to this includes detainment, suspension, loss of pay – ‘cause you’ll be the ones covering repairs – or termination. Depending on how we feel about what you broke, that termination’ll be less of the paper kind and more of the type with lead. Any considerations or unreported changes to the plan have to be authorized by Dr. Grace Li. But don’t bother. She’s not authorizing anything.

SO IT APPEARED.

NO FOOD, NO DRINKS, NO PETS, NO WOOL, NO PHONES, NO CAMERAS, NO UNREGISTERED CHEMICALS, NO MAGNETS, NO SHOES THAT SCUFFED, NO PERFUMES, NO MUSIC, NO UNMARKED BAGS, NO PURSES, NO UMBRELLAS, NO WIRES, NO LOOSE AMMUNITION, NO NAKED BLADES, NO FLARES, NO SPONGES, NO METAL GROOMING SUPPLIES, NO SCREWDRIVERS, NO RAZORS, NO CLIPPERS, NO CLIP-ON EARRINGS, NO FOLDERS LARGE ENOUGH TO CONCEAL A WEAPON IF HOLLOWED OUT, NO BOOKS OF OTHERWISE SIMILAR DIMENSIONS, NO FLASHLIGHTS, NO OUT-OF-SEASON WEAR, NO KEY CHAINS, NO REMOTE CONTROLLED DEVICES, NO TIMED DEVICES, NO DIGITAL WATCHES – SHORT OF ‘NO CLOTHES’, GRACE LI HAD DENIED EVERY POSSIBLE ITEM ON PAIN OF INSTANT EXPULSION FROM HER BUILDING. IT COULDN’T HAVE BEEN A MORE HOSTILE SIGN FOR VISITORS THAN IF SHE HAD OUTRIGHT BANNED THEIR LANDING.

THE STAGE WAS SET FOR THE TIP OF THIS ICEBERG. MADELINE’S HANDS SQUEEZED THEIR OPPOSITE ARMS. THEY WOULD DESCEND SOON, WITHIN MINUTES NOW, BUT THE SOURED MILK OF APPREHENSION HAD ALREADY CURDLED IN FEAR INSIDE HER STOMACH. SHE WAS SCARED. SHE WASN’T SO YOUNG THAT SHE GAVE IT AWAY AND MARCH’S BLANK EYES GAVE HER A LOOK TO REFLECT, BUT SHE FELT THE PAIN INSIDE HER STOMACH. SHE TRUSTED EVERYONE TO DO THEIR JOB, BUT SHE DIDN’T BELIEVE SHE WAS SAFE. IT WOULD KEEP HER ALERT. LI WAS RUTHLESS AT THE FIRST TWINGE OF INSUBORDINATION, AND MADELINE DIDN’T HAVE THE WEEKS TO TRUDGE THROUGH QUESTIONING. AT LEAST PATTEN PICKED HIS BATTLES. HIS S-1 COULDN’T LET ANYTHING PASS WITHOUT A DAMN COMMENT.

MEANWHILE, THEY HAD TO SUFFER THIS INVALID. THE ONLY SECTOR MORE UP THEIR ASS WITH REGULATIONS THAN S WAS THE AGENCY’S INCONTINENT GRANDFATHER: R. SHE WAS SURE HER KITTY KNEW THE HISTORY BACKWARDS AND FORWARDS, BUT SHE WAS SATISFIED BY, ‘FIRST THEY WORKED TOGETHER, THEN THEY STOPPED’. EXCEPT THEY HADN’T REALLY WORKED TOGETHER. THE AGENCY WAS THE DARK HORSE EVEN AMONG ITS KIN, AND THE SPLIT, OUTSIDE THE A-RANKS, WAS SO LIGHTLY REGARDED THAT THREE MEMOS WENT OUT BEFORE THE PUBLIC SIDE ACKNOWLEDGED THERE WAS A NEW GROUP AT ALL. AGENTS WERE DEADLY, DANGEROUS PSEUDO-ASSASSINS TALLYING BASTARDIZED LEAPS IN HUMAN ADVANCEMENT, BUT THEIR LOW-PROFILE ATTITUDES MADE IT IMPOSSIBLE TO EARN RESPECT. THEY WERE STILL MERELY SPECIALIZED R’S TO MOST, AND SO WHEN THEY WERE ADDRESSED, OTHER SECTORS USED SMALL WORDS. WAS IT ANY WONDER WHY PATTEN WAS CHERISHED? THE AGENCY HAD A PUBLIC CHAMPION NOW, ONE TO HOLD SECRETS IN THEIR PLACE BUT MESMERIZE THE AUDIENCE WITH HOW MUCH HE COULDN’T SHARE. DESPITE HER HATRED OF THIS COMPANY’S VERY SOUL, MADELINE HAD FELT A SLIGHT CONTENTMENT THE FIRST TIME SHE’D DENIED A C-RANK BITCH ACCESS TO HER FILES. SHE HAD PRINTED THE POLITICALLY VICIOUS LETTER SHE WAS SENT. IT HUNG ON THE WALL IN CHARLTON. SHE WOULD NEVER SEE IT AGAIN.

“STEWART,” SHE SAID FLATLY. “WE ARE HERE. DO NOT FORGET WHAT WAS TOLD TO YOU.”

AND THE DOG...

THE SICKLY THING HAD FAINTED EARLIER, BUT SHE KNEW A PRETENDER WHEN SHE SAW IT. HE WAS PLAYING DEAD. FINE. THAT WAS NOT A CONCERN. HER QUESTION WAS WHETHER HE COULD PLAY SHUT YOUR FAT MOUTH. WOULD IT DO HIM GOOD ANYWAY, ASSUMING ‘GOOD’ WAS CATCHING HER WITHOUT EXPECTING TO LIVE? MADELINE DID NOT KNOW. MARCH WAS... OFF. THE DOG WENT IGNORED. WAS SHE ABLE TO STOP ANYONE LIKE THIS?

USBs¸ CDs, DVDs, whatever you save stuff on, are especially banned. You are not permitted to take anything with you. If we could, we’d wipe your memory, but we can’t yet. Trust me, we’re working on it.” THE IMBECILE PAUSED WITH A SHUFFLE OVER THE MICROPHONE. SHE WORKED OUT THAT TWO ESCORTS WERE THERE TO MEET THEM.  MADELINE HADN’T HEARD THE OTHER SPEAK, BUT GIVEN WHAT THE FIRST GRUNTED AFTER THESE BRIEF CONFERENCES, SHE GUESSED THE SECOND WAS THE SMART ONE. “‘Working on it’ is a figure of speech. Or maybe it’s not. You aren’t authorized to ask.

THANK GOD FOR THIS QUALITY. ELMIRA WAS MEANT TO HAVE EMPTIED ITS SECURITY AS PER THE PROTOCOL SHE SPENT YEARS WRITING IN. SHE WAS WORRIED THE REMNANTS WOULD CAUSE THEIR OWN PROBLEMS. NOT LIKELY. BUT THEN, LI WASN’T A WOMAN TO LEAVE HERSELF – HER WORK – UNCARED FOR. SOMETHING ELSE WAS THERE, BIGGER THAN THE TINNY VOICE PIPED IN THROUGH THE HELICOPTER’S SPEAKERS. SHE DIDN’T PLAN ON RUNNING INTO IT WITH THE RUSSIANS NEARBY, BUT ALL THE SAME, THE UNKNOWN SPOILED HER CALM. THAT, AND SHE JUST ADMITTED TO COUNTING ON CRYPTIC TO SPARE HER FROM LI’S RESERVES. PERHAPS SHE SHOULD HAVE STAYED... BUT THEN SHE REMEMBERED HOW NORDICS ENDED FIGHTS. IF THEY DIDN’T BURN THE BUILDING, THEY POISONED THE AIR WITH THE CHARRED FLESH OF ANY CREATURE THEY DID NOT ENTER IN WITH. SHE HELD PROPORTIONED FAITH IN DANIELLE PERSONALLY. THE NORDIC BRANCH, DANIELLE’S POWERS, HER BROTHER AND ALEXANDER, MADELINE DID NOT. AT THE MINIMUM, THE RUSSIANS WOULDN’T GET CONFUSED AND KILL HER. SHE CHOSE THE BEST PATH. IT SAVED HER FROM ARGUING ABOUT ‘ALEXANDER’S PRESENCE AS SABOTAGE’ WITH A HULKING, SWEDISH MESS OF TRUST ISSUES. PATTEN’S SPIES WERE A MINEFIELD, TOO. SOMETHING WAS MISSED. SHE WAS NOT ALLOWED TO MISS. IF ANYTHING HAPPENED, THE CRUSHING GUILT TO FOLLOW WOULD BE IRREPARABLE, AND THE GERMAN BRANCH WASN’T STUMBLING ON A THIRD CHANCE.

... about the escort.

I know what I’m doing, Horton. Learn something,” THE FIRST BARKED. “And as for the escort process, understand that we are your lifeline. This area is under total lockdown.” UNOFFICIALLY. SHE IGNORED IT. “Anyone we do not have attached to our waists will be shot and killed on sight. Any sudden movements or wrong turns or fingers getting itchy to touch will be repaid by the full force of our Agency wrath.

THIS WAS AN AGENT. THAT MAN HAD IMPLIED HE WAS AN AGENT.

WELL... THEN.

THIS WAS WHY THOSE UNDER A-10 WERE A DAMN EMBARRASSMENT TO THE WHOLE ORGANIZATION: THEY WERE INDISTINGUISHABLE FROM AN R-RANK. ANY AGENT WORTH SOMETHING WOULD BE PAST THAT LINE BY NOW. CANNON FODDER, THEY WERE LABELLED. DISPOSABLE BRUTES THEY THREW AT THEIR ENEMIES UNTIL A SIDE RAN OUT. THEY WERE LOYAL TO A PAYCHECK AND POINTED A GUN THE RIGHT WAY FORWARD, BUT THEY DIDN’T MATTER. THEY MERELY PREFERRED TO THINK THEY DID. THIS PLACE WAS RUN BY LESS THAN TWENTY PERCENT OF THE HANDS THEY EMPLOYED. HER NEW ABSENCE AND MARCH’S IMPENDING DEPARTURE WAS GOING TO BE A SORE LOSS.

Washroom breaks are scheduled and timed. It’s your responsibility to use these facilities when they’re offered, because we aren’t stopping every hour to wait for you to freshen up. Failure to adhere to these requirements ends in swift and merciless discipline. This is all explained in those forms you had to sign to get in here. We’re here to keep this lab safe from you. We are extremely talented at that.

IMAGINE WHAT LOSING THEIR CAT WOULD DO.

... the forms when... otherwise they...

IT WAS A PIPE DREAM. DAMN JEAN FOR STARTING IT... NOW SHE COULDN’T CAST THE FANTASY FROM HER HEAD.

JEAN WAS BIASED AT ANY RATE. AS A PAIN EATER, AS A FRIEND, AS AN EMOTIONALLY BONDED SPIRIT, MADELINE MORE THAN ONCE HAD QUESTIONED WHO WAS TRULY GROOMING WHOM. OBVIOUSLY HE SWORE TO HIS STORY’S TRUTH AND KEPT TO IT, BUT IF THE MAN DIED A YEAR LATER INSTEAD OF DAYS AGO, WHAT WOULD HE HAVE DIED AS? LAMARRE SEEMED MORE OF AN AGENT THAN EVER. HIS VOICE LINGERED IN HER EAR FROM THE PHONE CALL. IF JEAN HAD BEEN RIGHT, THERE OUGHT TO HAVE BEEN LESS RESISTANCE, NOT MORE. IT WAS ALL WRONG.

That’s it,” THE SPEAKERS CRACKLED, FINISHING A SHORT DIATRIBE ON HAVING THE PROPER FORMS ON HAND – OR FACE DEATH. “We’ll have a car to your landing zone shortly.” LANDING ZONE? WHERE WAS THE LANDING ZONE? “You’ll be forty minutes out. Naturally, Dr. Grace Li doesn’t want you arriving at the lab. You’ll have to be driven.

MADELINE PROCESSED THIS.

FUCKING LI.

“LAND THE HELICOPTER ON HER ROOF,” SHE COMMANDED THE PILOT. “SHE’S AN S-1.” AND MADELINE HELD SOMETHING THAT TRUMPED A RAGGED PACK OF GRUNTS. “I HAVE PATTEN’S GIRL.”

* * *

“You’ve never worked with goggles, have you?” As in, alongside someone using them. “It’s not the same as a masked suit,” Jason said. “The focus is completely different.”

He couldn’t snap. He wouldn’t. Ten variations of ‘What a bitch’ rocked his mind the second she screamed, but he held them in since that wouldn’t help. It took more effort than he thought. Her attitude was pissed him off – what was wrong with her? She was an A-5! Forget the drugs he’d given her – it was impossible to make it to his rank without an ounce of self-control, but shouting back wasn’t going to bring it out in her. There was too much hostility surrounding them and he had to turn the tension down. He took a breath, let his head clear before he spoke, and then tried to do the thing he’d always sworn he was: be professional. The other suit worked for Eric. Jason liked Eric, but A-1s carried rings of doom. He’d felt it. Whether or not she’d only seen him, he guessed it would feel worse working for the man. He was going to be patient. But firm. None of him was happy about this, but unlike Quin, she was a direct peer. He practically owed her the benefit of doubt, so he’d started to explain himself.

“You have it easy. Masked suits search, find and report.” Scout and Outs, they weren’t cleverly called. Masks were what everyone thought of when suits earned a mention. “You’re eyes. You go into dangerous areas, but you don’t have to work at creating a story. You just tell the story you see. And put up with fabric scratching your face every day.” He hated those masks. They were like steel wool on his skin. The difference they made in fading, though... He needed the itchy boost to reach the places where he could do his job. “I have to stitch clues together and recreate scenes using whatever I can dig up. I’m required to answer those impossible questions no one can, like if a psychic who doesn’t know she’s psychic will turn on us or the odds are that she’ll find protection from a guy who happens to be an expert in killing us.” Side note: pretty good odds, actually. “You use fading as a weapon. I use it as a defence. You use information as trivia. I use it as life blood. You get into places I would never think of risking. I break into data no one should have access to.”

It was the line between ‘their drugs’ and ‘his drugs’. Masked suits’ calmed them down. They had fanciful potions of blind courage and stupidity, depending on the strength. Suits with goggles got assigned cocktails of Ritalin and caffeine on steroids. They didn’t just have to be awake for analysis. Their analysis was all they were allowed to think about. If goggled suits didn’t overdose, they died because they starved. The Agency called this a good work ethic. It made them sitting ducks during reconnaissance, though, which was why the masks were sent in. They lived a loose hunter/gatherer set up. Jason probably could’ve been spared a lot with someone else to do the scouting for him. But then he never would’ve been assigned to this case because his Lead wanted someone to do both alone.

“I’ve had a really shitty, last few days.” It was a bit of an understatement. “I’m tangled with Alexander and the Agents who run his secret case – well, the last one, anyway. The second Agent died and his boss is blaming me for it. I had my goggles stolen and that put me with withdrawal until an hour ago. It’s not gone because my target reset them –” He felt the sting of anger and pushed through it. “– but I’ve gotten a third of my old settings back in place. I’m on a plane that’s following a flight plan from Hell because we aren’t there, and it’s all to stop my Lead from doing something she hired me to help her do. Anything I try is going to annoy Eric, and I can’t afford to have that happen.”

He just realized what he’d said. Oh God. He was working against an A-1. He was gonna be sick.

“I...” Buckets of nausea poured over him. “If you can’t give me answers, let’s try cooperation. We’ll – just... give it a shot.” Or however many it took. Jason knew this girl knew more. He wasn’t asking the right way, that was all. “Can we try that? Truce?” He did save her life. “Then maybe we can start again. You’ve got a lot of rumours, and that’s perfect – I can use those. Maybe you can tell me about the other side of things. What does he do with people he doesn’t like?” An A-1 was an A-1, after all. Even Eric had to have a few enemies. “I want to hear what to look out for. And I can share what I know.” He could always tell her what he’d saved her from. His goggles had to have something else about it.

But fat chance she was getting any boost. He told her what it cost. It wasn’t charity.

Keeping a straight face and talking softly, his best swing at swing ‘pleasantly neutral’, he finished with an open-ended, “So?”
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Join date : 2010-07-10
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Posts : 581
Age : 27
Location : Ottawa, Canada


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