Agent Aird is an exceptional resource.
Agent Aird comes highly recommended.
Agent Aird is distinguished through initiative.
Dr. Grace Li offers a personal commendation.
Agent Aird is successfully on track to obtaining his A-5.
He was also dying in a dumpster.
The exceptional, highly recommended Agent Aird had been awake for an hour. It felt like days, and every sound that led to nothing stretched his wait. He’d sent a priority distress alert when his eyes first opened, but until his partner acknowledged it, and according to his goggles, she hadn’t, here he stayed, trapped in rancid bags of trash.
It’d been said that men were best known by their garbage. The dog shit priming his heels for when he finished sinking through molded curry gave all sorts of insight into these residents: they were assholes, in case attempted murder left too much doubt about it.
His suit chimed. He’d fought five broken ribs and a shattered leg to pull his goggles from their pouch on his calf; he would answer every ping it sent, whether or not they had news.
« Administering 87 (12%) – confirm/deny? »
He lowered his goggles back to his collarbone right as the arms of his suit hissed. The hundred, tiny needles pinched to bring a familiar, jolting high, and then dulled to a lucid hum.
« 87 (4%) administered. Next recommended dose: 17 minutes. »
This text was how he tracked time. The 87 could blunt severed limbs to a reasonable ache without the 85’s constipation, but like the rest of the 80 series, and unlike the 90s, it didn’t repair damage and wasn’t designed for extended use.
He hadn’t requested the 90 series. Those were for suits who got caught or were too stupid to think of a way out. Masked suits, in other words. Deployable.
Agent Aird anticipates and learns from others’ miscalculations.
He shouldn’t have borrowed her mask. Fading was already his second nature, and the edge a mask offered provided nothing if he broke his own illusion. The room upstairs was a mess; the most management-friendly explanation placed what happened on him unsettling the wrong pile of dirt. He knew better, but his alternative theories refused to ignore that that person had been neither one of them nor a civilian. If he’d been wearing his goggles instead of trying to make nice with subordinates, he would have an answer by now.
« Administering 14 (100%) – confirm/deny? »
Agent Aird blinked to deny and lowered his goggles again.
The 10 series moderated moods. His suit had sensed frustration, compared it to his physical health, and decided he was disadvantaged if he needed to hide. The fading technique relied on a calm mind, which didn’t come easily to rookies or closet panickers. As suits were no small investment, and following the mantra adopted from their parent company, the Agency picked salvage over surrender and developed a would-be Zen-state Viagra. He didn’t need it. He put his theories on hold, agreeing to look into them after he escaped this wet egg stench.
The last hiss of his 87 reserves ended with a whimper. There’d been no acknowledgement of his distress alert. His suit offered him the 14, and once he more, he blinked to refuse it. He could wait.
For seventeen long minutes, Agent Aird endured. By the eighteenth, his body realized how hard he’d hit the trash. A tremor started in his right thigh, and a pain near his spine thrummed down his torso.
« Administering 14 (100%) – confirm/de– »
He turned off the chimes.
Bracing took his whole focus. He didn’t notice the voice until it was outside the dumpster, muffled by the closed lid. No one else spoke. It must have been a phone call. So now he had to die quietly lest he alert the damn civilian, because if this was a person from his team, they would be saving him.
No sooner did the thought occur than a rusted screech of hinges cried out. He whipped his good arm to block the sun, but not before its light rented into his eyes. The pain sparked havoc through his limbs, like every nerve had ripped along an old wound. It ended just as violently, buried by a newfound weightlessness. The syringe he’d also failed to notice needling his jugular then pulled from his neck and dropped beneath the curry.
“… say Pa Ma foot –” Blather. “– cash tay marred.”
Not English. He told his good hand to reach his goggles and translate, but the weightlessness worked too well. He overshot and hit himself.
“Ban Prussian fawn, cash neuf.”
French. Was there another language he should have expected? The five words of it he remembered from grade school and movies bubbled to mind, and at the silhouetted figure he strained to see, Agent Aird mustered a frail, disarming, “Bonjour.”
The lid shut. The voice moved a step away, never missing its beat.
Before he’d been chained to a furniture pyre at the top of his list of extenuating circumstances, he called it impossible to screw up on matching senior Agents to their rank. The upper tier took to promotions like they came with vows to uphold the stereotypes: A-5s were too giddy over having authority to use it less than excessively, while A-4s, who were arguably better, imagined every fourth word was a coded slur. He had yet to meet an A-1, but the rumors promised twelve, hulking gods. Personal experience with his A-2 confirmed those rumors that any of them running their assigned facility on only a handful of Adderall and bi-nightly therapy sessions was underworked. With so many ranks leaping over each other to be the most choleric, it was almost inspiring to hear them agree that A-3s were undisputedly the most self-centered.
An A-3’s responsibilities began and ended at their case, and they had as much interest in other Agents’ affairs as they did in revealing their own. This was a rank guided by avoiding inconvenience, which gave them a unique logic behind saving colleagues from death one minute, only to lock them back inside a reeking vault the next for talking.
There’d been an A-3 listed at this area. This was not them. Agent Aird went for his goggles, and had the pair this time when the sun violently returned. Once the stream of colored dots across his eyes waned enough to see, the silhouette gave way to details of a man propped over the edge. One hand, the hand holding a phone, draped loosely over the dumpster’s rim. The other stayed lifting its corrugated lid.
He was in his forties, this rescuer. His head cast a triangular shadow, and in his gleaming aviators was the haggard reflection of a buried suit. These mirrored lenses rested on a nose that looked broken more than once, above a jaw bearing its own shade from two days’ worth of growth. This stubble matched the black fuzz looming over his creased forehead, and darkened the already grim lines around his mouth to a permanent, unsurprised wince.
“Agent Aird,” the figure told him. “You’re in my garbage.”
Agent Aird’s tongue felt too numb to talk. He made it work.
“I’ll need,” he huffed, “to see your ID.”
Those grim lines tightened. Agent Aird felt an immediate, cold sweat despite his current inability to feel. He was about to sputter an apology and lather his request in more pleading when a sudden understanding of the gesture swept over him: this man thought this was funny. The tighter wince was there to smother a grin, which un-smothered as soon as the man recognized Agent Aird’s enlightenment. Without a word about it, he obligingly tossed the lid to support itself against the building, and then retrieved a card from inside a scuffed jacket that would have been black three years ago.
“A suit who asks for facts before he makes his decision.” A-3, the card confirmed. Agent Benoit Talbot. “We should throw more of you from windows.”
“Thank you, sir, for your timely intervention.”
Had he been allowed to finish the ceremonial gratitude, he would have next explained how he’d arrived here. Instead, the A-3 moved on to producing a cigarette, jamming it in his mouth, lighting the snack, tucking his lighter back into its pocket, and exhaling a long, plume of smoke, all while refusing to put his phone away. Agent Aird cut himself off by coughing, and Agent Talbot, seemingly content with this, ordered, “Skip to the part where you thought he was an Agent.”
The man spoke like a cartoon, through his nose and in a leaden accent that clumped his words and hit as much pluralization as it missed. He also claimed to want an answer, but without the apparent intention of listening to one. While this wasn’t French that Agent Aird had ever heard, as far as whether Agent Talbot was an A-3, it couldn’t be more obvious than if he closed the lid now and never returned. Hoping to avoid precisely that, Agent Aird continued.
“You’re referring to the gentleman…” Those lines tightened. He changed his phrasing. “… the individual upstairs.”
Agent Talbot’s reply in its entirety was to wait on his elbows at the dumpster’s rim, perched. More smoke curled from the cigarette’s red tip. Again, Agent Aird continued, grateful for the weightlessness’ effect on a clenched jaw. The upper tier demanded respect.
“He asked about my case. He wanted to know how many were on the primary team, who was managing it –”
This was his turn to ask a question.
“If you’ll excuse me, Agent Talbot –”
The noise caught him off-guard. Agent Aird recovered just as politely, with a pleasant but curious, “Sir?”
“Bo. Tal-bo. Ignore the last T.” When Agent Talbot now exhaled, he switched to saying, “In fact, ignore the name completely. Jason. Benoit. Ignore the last T.” Some ash flicked between them as a multitasking indication towards Agent Aird, and to knock the burnt excess into the waste. Agent Benoit Talbot, lacking two of his three last T’s, added, “You won’t impress me with formalities when all I can ask myself is what that is on your arm.”
Agent Aird checked to then report, “Fish, sir.”
“Mm.” This simple conclusion bored the man. “You were saying something.”
“Yes. About the NCA’s involvement. That’s protected information,” Agent Aird reminded. “I understand you’re an A-3, and I can provide you the details you need, but if you’ve obtained access through means I wasn’t made aware of, outside of legal protocol, I’m not sure I can cooperate – wait, wait!”
“Jason,” Agent Talbot overstressed, mid-reach of his cigarette hand towards the dumpster lid, “I have things to do.”
“I understand that, sir, but – wait,” he nearly snapped. Agent Talbot waited. The lid was now half-closed, shielding Agent Aird’s head from the angry sun. “I was dropped from a sixth story window by someone who more than presented at an A-5 status. The only reasons I’m alive are the dozen adjustments to my suit’s shock absorption last month, not landing on my head, and wearing something that’s kept my insides inside on impact. I’ve had to remain this way because my subordinate failed to address my distress alert, and because I extended my deference to higher ranks to someone who isn’t part of the Agency. I can’t feel the pain, but I’m sure I’m still dying for my mistake. You’ll have to forgive me for being sensitive.”
This became the longest handful of seconds he’d endured yet. He watched himself in Agent Talbot’s mirrored lenses, looking too young to be taken seriously, gawking with his mouth open as if he had more to say. It may have been why the A-3 stood frozen. That, or the thrill of leaving him to rot was a lot harder to ignore than Agent Aird felt comfortable imagining.
“Your subordinate,” Agent Talbot finally said. “Karla Chai. A-6 Deployable.”
Agent Aird blinked up at him.
“You’ve seen her?”
It would explain how –
“Put your goggles on.” Agent Aird didn’t waste a moment doing as he told, further inspired by the A-3’s relenting decision to re-open the lid. Once he had, the man now standing over the dumpster rather than leaning on it said, “Find case DTD 05.”
Agent Aird did this, too. Across his goggles’ interface appeared the large, loud word of Classified. Underneath was a plainer notice reading, “Case lead: Benoit Talbot.”
“I don’t understand,” he admitted.
“You want to talk about protected? About access outside of protocol? Everything in that file is for my eyes only. When I’ve finished, I’ll pass it off to whichever A-5 who wants to feel special by archiving high level documents, but not before. It’s a simple system, one you’ve bruised by intruding on my case, in my room, and in my garbage.” The humor in Agent Talbot’s voice about this from earlier failed to appear at its second mention. “You spoke to him. Cooperate, or he discovers your suit has had those shock adjustments, and that you’re still here.”
The ball landed in Agent Aird’s court. He worked through this information.
“This really is a DTD site?”
Agent Talbot reared back, like he was ready to take off and slam the lid after all. He didn’t go through with it, but his tone changed again to something near patronizing. He flicked away his ash and said, “My boy doesn’t lie. He gives half-truths. Being on the case is an old favorite. What did you tell him?”
“That my target is being tracked at her regular establishments, and that her latent abilities require physical distance as a precaution.”
Apologies were best made through actions. Agent Aird’s had been accepted, as evidenced by Agent Talbot leaning his elbows on the rim once more.
“Keeler.” The novelty of the A-3 knowing everything had worn thin. “You realize she moved.”
It’d been brought to his attention.
They had come full circle, because the ghost of another smile quickly hid behind a smoke screen and innocent, “Do you know where she moved to?” Not waiting, Agent Talbot finished, “516. One floor below. She claims she got a better price.”
“You spoke to my target?”
“Ben sir.” That was more French. “Since we’re all doing it. But my question is, given the number of little details you don’t appear to have, where did you get your information?”
Agent Aird prided himself on admitting faults. It sped up being able to fix things when he bit the bullet early. Right now, he recognized he’d been distracted by trying to process an A-3’s actual ribbing to see where this was going. Agent Talbot’s aloofness waned, and when his grinning wince tightened now, it took on an air of concentration. These changes were slight and almost imperceptible with sunglasses blocking the man’s eyes, but Agent Aird paid too close attention to miss.
For whatever reason, the A-3 was more concerned by this than by what had happened during Agent Aird’s DTD encounter.
“From the working case file, sir.”
“Two days ago.” And it was gone. The instant those words hit the air, Agent Talbot stopped caring, leaving Agent Aird flapping in the breeze as he waited for the reward that wasn’t coming: the full story. “If something is wrong with my case, I’m obligated –”
“Your case is safe, only missing your target’s proper whereabouts. Stay out of 616,” Agent Talbot said. He crushed his snack on the dumpster’s inside wall and dropped the butt down a corner. Agent Aird might have protested this if he wasn’t more immediately concerned by the A-3 reaching for the lid. “Thank you, Mr. Aird. You’ve been very helpful.”
The hollow slap of this rotting grave closing drowned out his yells, but the even worse sound of a phone being answered while footsteps moved away shut him up entirely.
Jason laid his head back on the trash bags.
Agent Aird’s deference to higher authority can come at personal expense.
He noticed his suit had been trying to ping him. It quietly rumbled against his collar.
« Administering 14 (100%) – confirm/deny? »