When Farah said that they needed to gather intelligence, she meant they in the royal sense. There was no conceivable way she was bringing Todd to the CIA’s operating base in his current state, and Amanda faced the same threat without Vogel, who was simply out of the question. For the moment (if only to free herself of a mild inconvenience) she had sent him to the FBI for holding, claiming that his safety had been compromised from the recent events regarding the Men of the Machine.
Which wasn’t completely false, but did neglect to mention her plans to commit espionage, which counted as subterfuge, which if detected had the slight risk of being misconstrued as attempting to invoke psychological warfare between the intelligence agencies, which could then—
Farah hated lying. But she also hated the corruption of what was supposed to be a libertarian government under the pretence of protecting state secrets. Omelettes and eggs, she rationalised to herself as she weaved through three different metal detectors, fidgeting as she watched three different security guards turn over her G19M. She had a three hour flight to make peace with it.
“I need to take you out for a drink.”
…Or to play that moment over and over in her head, again.
It was her protective instincts, she reasoned. The years she had spent as Lydia Spring’s bodyguard had turned her into something of a mother hen, she knew, and it was only sensible to accompany Amanda out, so she could be there in case something bad happened. Because something bad never failed to happen when concerning Amanda Brotzman, or anyone else that Farah happened to care about.
That was just completely, totally it.
Dirk awoke abruptly to the comfort of a cold metal bed and a face-full of fluorescent light.
He made to jolt himself upright but he instead fell onto his elbow with a dull crack and, as he tried to clap his hand over his mouth to muffle the scream, found that his wrists and ankles were encased by magnetic cuffs, splaying his body in an undignified sort of starfish position as they bound fast to the sides of the bed frame.
Right. Yes. This was happening, again.
Unable to nurse himself, he panted heavily against the surprisingly sharp pain in his left arm, feeling the muscles in his shoulders spasm and twitch from the sudden movement after hours of laying prone. Dirk really never did well with pain, of any kind, though it often had its amusing little ways of finding him; but he seemed to always come over all squeamish, and his stomach would turn in panic as if it were accommodating a nest of hornets. It was the only thing in the world that forced him to pay attention to what was going on around him, in a fleshy, self-preservation sort of sense. He despised it. It was like grinding to a halt mid-sprint halfway through a marathon, for no good reason.
To inspect the rest of his body, he lifted his head experimentally forwards, and it was only then did he fully register the fact that he was bare-chested. Someone must have wrested Todd’s shirt off him when he was still out of action.
Under different circumstances, he may have tutted at himself with the exasperation of a Kentish housewife. Unbelievable. How utterly ridiculous. After all this time, he was only now thinking of Todd, his best friend in the whole universe? Was he alright? Was he still with Farah? Oh God, was Farah safe? And Amanda! Where on Earth was she?
In the back of his head, hidden behind the debris, there was a little flicker of smugness that Dirk tried not to pay too much attention to. The one that was still secretly ecstatic that he had friends to worry after now, not just himself. After those years of Black Wing telling him he would never be any good at people. And here he was, in their base, remembering his good lovely friends and fervently hoping that they weren’t hurt or dead, like a good normal friend would.
“I am glad to see you awake, Project Icarus.”
Startled, Dirk unthinkingly tried to throw up his hands in defence, sending a wave of nauseating white noise all the way up to his shoulder, making him gasp. He felt a childish sob bubble up in his throat, but choked it back down. He wouldn’t give them the satisfaction, not yet.
Somewhere above him, the PA system popped and fizzed as it cranked back into life after however many years of disuse.
“Do try not to move. Did you know, you dislocated your elbow and fractured the bone in two different places, just by trying to sit up? All within a minute of gaining consciousness.”
“One of the many talents I possess,” Dirk muttered with a dry cough, more to himself than the garbled, pitch-shifted voice booming through the speakers.
Dirk managed to slide his right forearm marginally upwards and was able to prop himself up to actually get a look of his surroundings, but it was nothing he wasn’t expecting. He was in one of the many, many, many interrogation rooms that the Black Wing division housed – or perhaps they only had the one and changed the furniture around every so often just to screw with him. In any case, they all had the same beige walls, two-way mirror, drain in the floor. Years of contextual memory flooded back to him at once from the part of his mind he had hoped up until now was watertight.
“Many talents indeed, Mr. Cjelli.”
“Oh please, let’s not do this. I thought I told you my name was—“
“Ah, yes. Gently, wasn’t it? I like it! It sounds like a polite request. ‘Please dirk gently.’ It suits you.”
The speaker behind the mirror was far too chipper for Dirk’s current liking, and infuriatingly familiar. Gender was impossible to determine, but an inflection of some accent or another was there. The effort of remembering gave Dirk a headache.
"Scanning me again then, are you?"
"Nothing too intrusive, Mr. Gently. Just a few nano-electronic biosensors injected into the bloodstream that allow us to fully monitor your physical conditions. We thought it to be in your best interests, yes?"
"That sounds very intrusive!"
“Ah, stop fussing. Now, you will be pleased to hear that your initial debriefing will be a short one. The division of Black Wing simply wishes to remind you that the information you possess, be it of the whereabouts of persons of interest, eye witness accounts of relevance, or any knowledge pertaining to the use or abuse of abilities residing outside the generic human spectrum, is property of the CIA. Failure of admission can and will result in grave consequences for both you and your loved ones.”
“Oh, is that all?”
There was a tinny rumbling that Dirk interpreted as a chuckle. “Sarcasm never was your strong suit.
“In fifteen seconds, your restraints will be loosened,” the voice plodded cheerily on. “You will then wait for further instruction. Behave yourself.”
When he was finally able to sit himself upright, Dirk almost wished that they had kept him strapped down. His muscles were pulled, torn, screamed their indignation, and the effort of swinging his legs over to the floor and taking one unsteady step forward left him winded as if he had just been dealt a blow to the abdomen. He felt a sickeningly tender tugging sensation from the small of his back, and turning it towards the mirror he discovered a large swath of shiny, veiny pink skin, stretched tight enough to split. Bizarrely, it looked fully healed, as if it had been intensely treated for weeks, but regardless-
“Good god,” Dirk said weakly. “He set me on fire with his taser.”
He was pulled from his distressed reverie by some scuffling from behind the walls. Dirk wobbled uncertainly in place, unsure on whether to approach or hide from whatever it was that they were doing next. Before he could attempt either, a metal slat beside the door shuddered slowly open, and a small bottle was dumped unceremoniously onto the tiles below.
“What you see before you,” the intercom crackled, “is imperative to our current operations. Until you swallow both pills, you may not leave the room.”
Struggling to his knees, he inspected the container. The tablets were a lurid pink, the chalky kind that made Dirk cough.
“Could I perchance have a glass of water?”
The PA system fell pointedly silent.
“…No. Of course not.” He released the lid with adept fingers, tipped the pills into his palm, and stared down at them miserably. He tried to remind himself that his friends would be here for him soon, were no doubt on the top of their game, all cylinders firing in a perfect medley of skill sets and character dynamics. Just a little longer.
No sooner had he choked them down did Dirk fall on all fours and begin to retch violently, feeling waves on waves of vertigo crashing his brain into the front of his skull, the insides of his head swirling madly in its juices. His eyes began to pulse out of their sockets, and his vision was blackening in the corners, and amidst the roar of blood in his ears he fancied he could hear a voice, someone very familiar, just very faintly, before his head lolled forwards and he was gone.
Her old room. The clubhouse.
This was a part of her that was real. The metal walls, the thin mattress, the book she hid in the shade of an unused lamp. Still there. Still solid. It only made her a little wistful for hotel rooms, but they weren’t solid at all, just passing trains. Ephemeral.
The pills were pink and tasted like how old bills smelled, but after she took them she woke up in here. So they must have been good ones.
She remembered the bad ones. Or at least, she remembered how hard she cried when she was little and the man was thrusting a gloved hand into her mouth, but she couldn’t remember why.
It was all so… Disjointed, her memory. She was never one to dwell on the past, but barrelled through days like locked doors, one after another after the other. Kick, boom. Kick, boom. But she did have feelings, pale little scraps of a person she used to be. Smaller, weaker, scared-er. The longer she sat there, the more came back to her. Friendly scientists and bad-tasting drinks and driving in cars with no windows and biting hands and being gagged. Basics.
When she first came back to herself on her old bed, she almost made to put her foot to the door and make her escape, before stopping herself with a frown. If she wasn’t meant to have been here, she wouldn’t have been here. She and Ken would leave whenever they needed to, when the universe let her know. The thought placated her; it hadn’t been since before Dirk Gently that she had felt such undying faith in her practices, felt everything to be exactly as it should in the world. As for the moment, no one badly needed killing. She could just sit.
She wanted to see Ken, though. That was the only thing. She had gotten used to having a person to talk to, having a person that talked back. He spoiled her, she realised, with luxuries like radio song words and jokes and Chinese food, just because he liked her. Did she ever tell him how much she liked all of those things he did?
He was alive in the complex somewhere, she knew, out of her reach in a room somewhere. And she knew that because she knew that, the little buzzings in her brain that told her things if she listened. She had always listened. But she had never worried if they were wrong before.