Estrel

Estrel was on the minitram across Toun for his evening shift in the Citadel. He had only been awake for half an hour but he was tired. The world seemed distant, cut off from him by a fog. There were two other people on the tram, both of whom appeared to be on their way back from somewhere, which didn’t help his general sense of not being with it. He was operating under different conditions from these people.
He checked his ComN for the time. Nearly seven. The Wizards would be drunk by now. Hell, even the Novices would be drunk by now. He hated the twilight shift. He hated all of the shifts, but he particularly hated the evening shift. Midnight wasn’t too bad. But the rest were just painful, and that’s before the havoc they played with his body clock. He coughed something from his throat into his mouth, then swallowed it back down. His mouth now tasted of bitter, dank moss. I wouldn’t do this if the Citadel wasn’t where I was meant to be, he reminded himself. It would be helpful if I remembered to believe that.
He thrust his hands deep into his pockets and slid forward in his seat until his knees were jammed painfully under the guard rail in front of him and his spine had to bend at right angles in the middle of his back. It wasn’t at all comfortable but like that but, with his chin tucked into his chest, his head didn’t roll around with the lurching of the minitram and he had a chance at grabbing some more sleep.
Or he would have, if the tram didn’t immediately lurch to a halt at the latest stop – Apt Nodding he thought – to let a crowd of new passengers on. Damn those other people. He kept his eyes stubbornly shut, so he didn’t realise at first but after a minute or so he become aware of a musty presence on his left hand side. He tried to breathe more deeply, mimicking sleep, ignoring whoever it was, but he gradually became aware of a damp pressure against his arm as whoever-it-was lent into him. He managed no more than a further fifteen seconds of pretending he hadn’t noticed anything before he felt a blast of warm air in his left ear.
“Would you like a biscuit?”
Disgusted, Estrel slid himself back up, hands still trapped in pockets, shaking his head, looking shocked and trying to appear as if he’d actually just been woken. He wasn’t sure why it was important, but he felt like he didn’t want the stranger to know he was trying to ignore him.
“Wha-?” he asked.
“Biscuit?” the man asked, holding up a packet of what Estrel could swear were hog-biscuits.
Estrel grunted, hoping that this would be accepted for the universal signal of “no, leave me alone” and pulled his right hand out of his pocket, bringing my ComN with it.
The stranger seemed to get the hint, for now at least, and leant the other way. Estrel dragged down the Com screen to see what was going on. He needed to concentrate on something that wasn’t the creeping miasma from his neighbour. Mouse had been posting vids again, but it was never wise to watch them for the first time in public; there were a whole host of motion alerts from home, which were probably also Mouse related; his comms were stacking up but the first four were all junk and he lost his enthusiasm for wading through them before he got to the fourth…
He tried to play a bit of MooKa’ching but he couldn’t really concentrate and the motion of the minitram kept causing me to tap the wrong pod with his thumb and blow himself up. He sighed, blanked the screen and closed his eyes again, this time remaining upright. He could hear the dull buzz of the minitram radio below the murmurs of conversation. He’s not supposed to have that on…
“…and immediately caught the assembled press by surprise with the announcement that his number one priority would be to crack down on the illegal activities of the so-called Black Knights… despite persistent rumours of high level involvement in the Black Knight gangs within his administration, the Mayor’s new stance might be enough to guarantee another six-year term when the electorate goes to the polls next month…”
“Chaguartay out,” mumbled Estrel, under his breath.
The brakes hissed to a halt. He opened his eyes, it was Ogre Awarded so he hadn’t lost count after all. The stranger next to him got up to leave, although not without slapping a hand down on Estrel’s shoulder to lever himself up. Estrel waited until he’d taken a step down from the raised rear of the carriage before he dusted whatever residue of crud he may have left behind off with the back of his hand. He couldn’t help himself but sniff it afterwards as well. That made him gag something horrible. Serves me right.
“…Begrade score three times in their latest victory over local rivals Academy but the game ended in controversy as their captain was stretchered off after a vicious tackle by Academy defender Le Singe…”
They’re not kidding it was vicious. I saw the game in Emer’s. You could see the hatred in his eyes as he jabbed the pike through his ankle. Estrel shuddered.
“…and the schedule for this evening is rain, so make the most of this afternoon’s late autumn sunshine – this might be the last we see of it until next year…”
The sign Barley Omen, for Tunnel Terminus flashed past the window and Estrel got to his feet.

Jones

“Kap? Kap?”
The ComH crackled. The was no response. Agent Jones smacked the communications unit’s earpiece~with her glove.
“Kap?”

Crackle.

She would have to go it alone. She stepped out of the service elevator and flattened herself against the concrete wall. A gust of air whistled down the corridor blowing dust and dead leaves into her face. There was a storm kicking up outside. She needed to get in and out quickly or she’d never get away. Jones flicked up the screen on the Com.
“Profile,” she barked.
The unit bleeped cooperatively, and showed her the face of a clean-shaven, dark haired, apparently young man, although it was always hard to tell when the image was made up of green pixels.

BJORN BARLOW
NO FURTHER INFORMATION AVAILABLE

She read the meagre information that passed for a profile. Intelligence was evidently lacking on this one. It was Kap’s lead, as well, and now he’d gone AWOL on her.
“Kap?” She tried again.

Crackle.

She pushed herself off the wall and leaned over to the corner in front of her. She peered down. Grey, concrete nothing, stretching all the way down to the steel door at the far end. It was more than a hundred feet, maybe two. She checked in her belt. The flash bomb wouldn’t roll that far. If she threw it, it would probably bounce off. She would have to get closer. That wasn’t feeling very comfortable, with this little cover.
She flattened herself against the next wall, pushing her back hard against it, willing it to consume her, hide her. Why was this so nerve wracking? She knew nothing about this target. Maybe there was nothing to be worried about. Maybe he was crack ninja material. Sweat ran into her eyes. She blinked it away.
The Com burst into life.
“Jones?” Came the voice. Faint. Panicked? Crackling.
“Kap?” She was flooded with relief. Her eyes welled up. She told herself it was more sweat.
“Jones, where the fuck are you?”
That was better, that was the Kap she was used to.
“I’m outside the target’s front door,” she whispered, hoping the mic would pick it up. “Where the fuck have you been?”
“Touché. But get out of there.”

What?

Something was up. Something was wrong with Kap, he wasn’t saying something that she needed to know. Or he was saying something that she needed to ignore…
“Didn’t get that Kap. Any further instructions?” She asked.
“Get out!” Kap screamed. “Get out now!”
Jones opened her mouth to protest.
The steel door slammed open with a crash. Behind it, the flat exploded. The Com went dead.
Agent Jones lowered her arms from her head, around which she’d wrapped them to protect herself from the shards of flying glass and metal from the explosion. The floor was littered with glittering debris and a dust was settling. Through the now open doorway there seemed to be smoke hanging inside the flat. She stood up from the crouch she’d cowered into and tentatively approached.
The smoke was thick and not flowing the way she would expect. It was eerie, as if the interior of the flat was frozen in time. Come to think of it, everything on her side of the doorway was so silent and still that maybe time had stopped for everyone. She took another few steps forward.
It wasn’t smoke. It was too dense, too solid, like a veil or a mesh or a… web. It was. Thick sheets of, presumably, spider web hanging from the doorframe and strung behind, making it hard to see much further than a few feet into the hallway. Agent Jones stopped in her tracks.
How did anywhere get like that? There couldn’t be any people inside, certainly not the person she was expecting to find in there. And there had to be spiders. Who knew how many to spin that amount of web? Or spider. So how big would it have to be to…
Agent Jones shuddered. She should find a functioning Com, check in with Kap. There was a P in the stairwell, she could hack that to create a secure channel. If the target wasn’t in there then there was no point in going in, was there? Except she needed to search the place, there might be something that would point to where he was now. Except that trail would now be so cold as to be useless? She wasn’t in the mood to argue with Kap, she had to get a plan straight and try to railroad him.
There was some movement in the veil. Jones took a step back. She raised her weapon and took a stance. Something was coming through, the web bulged and stretched as it pushed from the inside of the flat.
“I’m armed,” she shouted. “Come out slowly, with your hands up.”
She trailed off. Who was she shouting to? A giant spider? Which hands was it going to put up?
The silence was bearing in on her now. She licked a bead of sweat from her upper lip. The web tore.
It was a young woman. She came out slowly, as instructed, with her hands up.
Jones was flabbergasted. She lifted her helmet from her head. She shouldn’t be too careless, but the look of confusion and hesitance on the face of the woman spoke to her gut and told her that there was no threat here. Compared to the stale air that had been circulating inside her armour, the air tasted cold and sweet. She breathed it in, it helped to counter the nausea she felt from too much adrenaline sloshing about her bloodstream.
“Who are you?” she asked. “What were you… Is there anyone else in there?”
The woman shook her head. Her blonde hair was tangled with web and she seemed to be wearing rags that hung indecently from her slight frame.
She opened her mouth and said something, but her voice was too weak for Jones to hear. She took a step towards her, holding out a hand as the stranger tottered.
Suddenly she fell, just as Jones came within arms reach, and the soldier caught her in her arms and lowered her gently.
“Evie,” the woman whispered. “My name is Evie. I need to talk to Authority.”