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located in Present Day, a part of The Other Kind of Roommate, one of the many universes on RPG.

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“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.”