I still don’t know what to really call the Office. So there’s that silly name again.
The stairs were at the sides of the building and unaffected. On the seventh floor exiting the stairwell Bryan could see the hole ahead, down the hall. He started for it but Harper brought him up short.
“Here,” she said. “Room 720. This is where it switched hosts.”
“That’s Gennick and Rogge you’re talking about,” Bryan growled at her.
She shrugged and went through the doorway, the door of which was lying in splinters on the other side of the hall. “Whoever. I don’t know them. I just read the report.”
“I’ll bet the same report names me as a ‘host’ too.”
“Perhaps.” She turned to face him. “Have you never considered that the Office of Demonic Defense considers its agents as items?”
“Then you know nothing about the Office,” he spat. “Maybe that’s how Japan operates, but not us.”
She turned away and shone her light into the dark apartment. “Or maybe you don’t want to admit that you’re expendable?”
He wanted to spin her around and pin her against the wall, shout in her face that just because she thought she was worthless… But he just shook his head and mumbled under his breath “You’re not worth it.”
She either didn’t hear him or didn’t care to respond.
He swept his light over the apartment. Everything was in shambles – tables overturned, pictures fallen off the walls and smashed, window broken, curtains torn. He wondered if Gennick had done it, or Rogge, or some combination of both. But one or both of them had done it when taken over by the gamma, tossing their body around in pain and madness.
Bryan swallowed hard. Gennick was still in that madness, if not the pain, locked away in a padded room, gibbering and screaming. It could have been him, if he hadn’t used the beta. Gennick had been there, under the window, the soft city nighttime glow like a shroud over the contents of the living room, over the tossed coffee table and the pile of magazines that had been thrown from it.
Bryan started. The image was so clear, as if he had been looking out of Gennick’s eyes. He went to the window and turned around to face the room. There was the table, legs sticking up in the air, the magazines, a broken figurine of the virgin Mary in the corner, a breeze ruffling his hair from the smashed window. He knelt. Definitely, Gennick had huddled here. And Rogge had come in. And Gennick had been so far gone that the gamma had been able to leave him and go for Rogge, only seeing his lifeforce and not realizing that she was another Possessed, another prison.
But that wasn’t what Bryan was looking for. He didn’t want to go forward, towards the massacre outside. He already knew what happened there. He stood and faced the window, trying to imagine how it would have gone, step by step. Under the window – he would have crawled there. Where was Gennick possessed? He couldn’t find it. He kept coming back to the scene viewed from beneath the window, and each time he felt more and more Gennick slipping away, his torture, the demon overcoming his mind and dissolving it, dissolving him.
Bryan tottered and tried to grab at the table legs, but they went with him. Harper leapt over nimbly and caught him before he could go down.
“I’m fine,” he said, not feeling the words. “I just need some air.”
He pushed Harper away and went to the window to breath in a few lungfuls of city air, crisp night wind tinged with smog. The torn curtains twisted and whipped beside him like snakes trapped in the jaws of a mongoose. City lights blinked in the night. Apartment lamps blinking off for bedtime and head and brake lights speeding below. Normal people coming home from work or going out for a night on the town. What must that be like?
Don’t start. You chose this.
You were thirteen.
He shook his head, took another deep lungful of sooty air. Don’t start doubting. It won’t make things easier.
Yet if he had never found these, the beta and the gamma, he wouldn’t be doubting the work at all. He had been just fine catching little alphas every night. Had been used to it. It was simple. It was practically on par with a filing job, if filing involved walking through corpses. He hadn’t been happy, but he had been even.
But now, now those things in his bag were watching his every move. Possibly his every thought. With the presence of mind to ruminate over the observations. Or so he suspected. It certainly felt that way to him. It felt that way right now.
A car below beeped its horn, and he looked down at it as it swerved around another car that had stopped in the middle of the road.
And a memory hit him with the force of a truck. A memory of diving around cars, not understanding this insanely fast source of light and noise, falling through one and getting a blast of even greater noise and a rush of air and an energy source inside it but the thing itself with no energy. Machinery terrifying and monstrous.
He leapt away from the window and darted from the room, nearly tumbling over the little Mary figurine.
“What?” Harper called after him as she followed.
“The road. I was down there.” He took the steps in the stairwell two at a time and tried to run through the lobby, but he did trip on debris and went sprawling on his hands and knees, cutting his hand, and mild as the pain was it seemed to hush the memory of the cars and the road. Cursing, he pushed himself up and through the door.
Circling the building, they dashed past the night watchmen, and the gruff one waved and asked how things had gone. Bryan didn’t answer, trying to dredge the memory back up, and Harper didn’t seem to know what to answer, so they both rushed by without responding.
Bryan broke upon the road so fast he stepped off into it before he could stop. But no car was going by, and he stood off to the side of a lane, wracking his mind.
It was all gone.
Harper watched him silently, as if knowing he needed to think. He turned in the street and looked about him, but only saw a car turn the corner and come his way. He stepped out of the road as if the action admitted defeat.
“Are you sure it was this road?” Harper asked.
“Of course I’m sure,” he said. The car zipped past them.
“Then why not cross it?” she said.
He peered across the road at the other side.
Why did the Possessed cross the road?
“Okay,” he said, and stepped back into the lane. Harper followed.