Tyler didn’t like the guy who was staring at him. It was a hard and almost angry frown that stared back at him. He wasn’t half bad looking though, he found himself thinking. The sort of guy who would have the girls hanging off him. His high cheekbones and brown features reminded him of the short, athletic boxers he always saw fighting out of the Caribbean League. Pound for pound more dangerous than the heavyweights.
Tyler dismissed the guy again, feeling the world rock and sway around him. Most of it was the fact that they were on a boat. He was fairly sure of that. The rest of it was the soup of meds that he was floating on. That alone was enough to let him forget the guy who was obviously some sort of bodyguard.
The Agency cared enough to get him a bodyguard. Tyler was almost touched.
Sun leaked in through the small porthole above the bed, sending a stream of light down through his small quarters. Tyler had been in and out of consciousness for what had felt like days. He remembered little. He kept treasuring the few thoughts he had of Eloise, how she had kissed him and sent him on his way. It helped keep the hard stare of the Agency hound out of his mind.
Tyler’s mind was floating softly on a bed of feather soft thoughts, drifting in and our of consciousness. It felt like a good high, he decided. He fell asleep and woke up to the hound staring at him again.
“You work out a lot?”
Tyler thought that it might stir the guy, but it didn’t. The fact was true enough. The guy was shirtless for some reason. Maybe they were in the islands somewhere, near Tonga perhaps. Hell if his body wasn’t toned as hell, Tyler thought. He looked like an athlete. Should probably feel safe with him guarding him, but he didn’t. He made him feel nervous, with his short shaved head and hard stare.
The thought occurred to Tyler that maybe the guy wasn’t even Agency. Maybe he was Sigma. Had he made it to point 61 after all?
Tyler heard a clatter near the door, and it rattled open. He felt himself go through the pretense of apprehension, but everything felt too nice for that. Whatever he was on gave him a detached sense of normality. Whatever he was on was good stuff.
“How are you feeling,” Manly asked. Tyler blinked as the man moved to the side of his bed. He looked casual, wearing an open collar shirt and comfortable slacks. Even the muscular little hound looking over him seemed to smile with Manly’s appearance.
Manly managed a little of a smile, relief perhaps. “Hello, son.” Manly pulled up the rooms only chair, checking a moment on the medical equipment. No doubt he was reading it all in his wetware, but Tyler couldn’t even feel his.
“You seem to be settling ok.”
“Yeah,” Tyler replied. He tried to pull himself up a little, but even that was hard work. The Agency hound grimaced at him. “Don’t remember shit though.”
“Not surprised,” replied Manly, sitting down in the chair. “We had to do some pretty heavy work with you. The doctor says that you should make a full recovery, but there will be a fairly substantial amount of downtime.”
Tyler made the conscious effort, but he couldn’t feel any of his links. His wetware was finally fucked then. “Thought that my shit would go and do somethin’ bad,” he said, letting himself float. “Given how it was actin’ up. Maybe glitch and set off my kill switch. Splash my head all over some poor fucker.”
Manly gave a grin, a bit of a cautious, wry one. At least he wasn’t busting his balls like he always did. “No, well you won’t have to worry about that. We had to remove the whole lot, put in a fresh set.”
“It ain’t on.”
“It should be,” replied Manly, looking concerned. He gave a glance to the equipment, appearing confused. “Yes. It is.”
“I can’t feel any links.”
“Oh,” Tyler stated. He knew that he should give a bigger reaction to that, but he just didn’t feel it. It was starting to occur to him that perhaps he should try and find out exactly what was going down.
“We’ve had to clean house since your accident,” explained Manly, settling back in the chair. Tyler noticed the hound was watching intently. He tried to ignore him, focus on Manly. “The Code Black is in effect until the Bunker is sorted and all the leaks plugged. We had one of our top programs working on it, and we managed to sort the problem. But I’m afraid it might be a bit longer in downtime before you’re back on board.”
“I’m not terminated am I,” Tyler asked, feeling sorry for himself. It had to be the meds, but he felt a sudden sickness in his stomach, a horrible loneliness. “I fucked up. Right, dad?”
Manly put a hand on Tyler’s. A big gesture, Tyler knew. Manly wasn’t big on the touchy feely crap. Tyler stared down at the man’s hand on his. He frowned, because something just didn’t look right about it. Manly’s hand was brown, but the guy was about as white as they came. British, Tyler had always thought. Like 007 maybe.
“I think your accident was the last straw for the Agency, son,” he explained, taking his time. Tyler found focus through the meds enough to interupt with the obvious.
“The transport you were in went down over the city.”
Hearing that should have shook Tyler up about as much as hearing about the Code Black, but all he could find himself saying was another almost detached, “Oh.”
“The other man traveling with you was in intensive care for about 12 hours, but passed away from his injuries.”
“What about me?” Tyler asked. Manly’s not brown hand had moved off his. It was an old man’s hand, the back of it wrinkled from age. “Where am I?”
“When the Code Black went into effect I decided to shift you offshore. We’re in a ship a few hours out from the United Kingdom of Samoa.”
That explained the heat and the Agency hounds state of undress. The guy’s stare wasn’t giving up either. Every time he looked at him, the guy was staring back at him, straight in the eyes.
“It’s been a while.”
“Not years?” The idea filled Tyler with all sorts of nightmare images. He might look hideously old. Where would Eloise be?
“No,” replied Manly, sitting comfortable. “A few weeks. Not years.”
Tyler let his mind fly again. This was some pretty life changing shit, he realized, but hell, he was still alive. He wondered what he was meant to do through a Code Black, but then the answer seemed pretty obvious if he couldn’t even get up out of his bed. He tried to imagine what Samoa looked like. He’d barely been outside South Sector most of his life, and here he was, floating. Floating.
Manly’s expression hardened, like he’d just asked him a question he hadn’t expected him to ever ask. “What?”
“I was stayin’ at a mates, and I guess I said it in my sleep. She said I was talkin’ ’bout someone called Constance, but I don’t remember.”
“Nothing you should worry about.”
For some reason, on the wings of his high, his time with Eloise stuck out more than anything else. Like that was the last real thing that he really took part in. Crashing out of the sky and being fixed up on some boat in the middle of Oceania just didn’t seem like it could be real. He remembered Eloise, and for some reason Constance felt important.
“Constance is an agent who works for Section 17,” Manly remarked, frank. Obviously deciding to talk about it. “Was an agent. She’s dead now.” Tyler let his head lay to one side on the pillow. Manly didn’t look to happy to be talking about it. It looked personal.
“It’s ok, son,” he replied, drawing a deep breath. “She was my first agent as handler. My only agent, before you were assigned to me.”
Tyler had to smile, almost laughed, even though that felt a bit crass. “Thought you woulda had a whole heap of agents. I dunno, like some Charlie’s Angels shit. Like some handler pimp.” Manly managed a smile, but it was a tight one.
“No. Just Constance. And you.”
“I ain’t much of an agent,” he reflected, feeling that wave of doubt. He figured that it was the meds that kept those voices at bay. By now, he should have been receiving a hard lecture from them. “Guy from Sigma. Said I was grassroots. That shit’s true, dad. Fuckin’ grassroots.”
“You wouldn’t be an agent if the Agency didn’t think you weren’t an asset,” Manly remarked, hard in his tone. Tyler saw that man who was all to quick to break his balls again. “Every agent is an asset and fits with the cause. Truth be told, you’re probably one of our most resilient agents …”
“That means I been through the most physical shit right?”
Manly smiled again, and it was probably the fact that Tyler was smiling. Tyler had never met any other agent, not knowingly at least. He’d be hard pressed to figure any of them going through half the shit he did.
“You have a certain spirit,” Manly explained. “An iron like will. You manage to pull yourself through anything, no matter what. You have a strong grasp on things. Those are all assets. In that way, I suppose, you’re rather like Constance.”
It occurred to Tyler that he should wonder why he knew her name. He didn’t know anything else about her. He wondered where he had heard of her then.
“It’s ok,” replied Manly. The memories looked fresh, but Tyler knew it was only because he’d been the asshole to drag them up. “It was a long time ago. I decided I’d never lose another agent like I lost Constance.”
“That’s why you here now?”
Tyler thought about it for a moment, and then decided that was another good thing. Another of those gestures that he wouldn’t have otherwise expected. It was the little things.
“Thanks. Guess you coulda been cleanin’ house.”
“That’s already been taken care of,” he said, leaning back in his chair again. It was on of those bare, hard, minimal types. Didn’t look comfortable at all. “For the rest of the duration of the Code Black I considered it was best to be here to help your recovery.”
“So I’m important enough for all that shit?” Tyler joked. He decided that he felt comfortably numb. He hated to think he he should have been feeling without the meds. “Important enough for my own handler to be playin’ nurse for me.”
“You could look at it like that, if you wanted,” Manly remarked, with another dry smile.
“So whose the hired thug,” asked Tyler, nodding towards the hound. The guy had stayed quiet right thought all the touching stuff, he noticed. Still was. “The Agency ain’t expectin’ Sigma to come blastin’ down into my room to grab me or nothin’, now I said I don’t want to join them?”
Manly frowned, and looked over at where Tyler had nodded. Tyler found himself not liking that expression, and he stared at the hound again. For some reason, the guy looked startled. Tyler felt a horrible chill pass over him, as he suddenly realized that he hadn’t even been speaking English since he had woken up. He had to make the conscious effort to mentally thumb through his wetware, so used to having it on the blink. It occurred to him what he was speaking.
Cuban. Havana dialect. His native language. Dialectal influences of time spent in Oceania.
“The accident was a bad one,” Manly began, cautiously. Tyler looked down at his hands. His brown hands. “Your wetware was about the least of your concerns, Tyler. We had to do a lot of work to get you into one piece again.”
Tyler stared at the hound, and slowly it started to dawn on him that he was staring at a mirror, hung on the wall near the foot of his bed. A stranger stared back at him, a look of anguish through the meds. He had been looking at himself all along. Tyler saw the tears break the strangers face, rolling freely down his cheeks.