Nyx raised an eyebrow at the battered visage before her. "Okay, Malcolm," she said calmly, "I'm sure you have a good explanation for this."
Malcolm Hyrax rubbed his blackened right eye. "I tripped?" he offered.
"I see." The black-haired woman looked across at her husband. "He tripped," she repeated levelly.
"Of course he did," Dassie agreed. "So when we ask Tia, she'll tell us you were at home all week, yes?"
Mal bit his lip. "Tripped on the street?"
"Mm-hmm." Dassie smiled thinly. "Tia, darling," he called, "come downstairs, will you?"
"In a minute, Dad!" their daughter's voice came. Mal glanced from his mother to his father and sighed.
"I only went out for a quick drink with the other trainees," he said. "I know there's a lot of people think I'm too young, but New Cal laws..."
"Don't technically apply in the PPC city," Nyx said, "but do go on. You still need to explain why our last week with the Protectors required you to get yourself beaten up."
"The lot from Floaters were there," Mal told her sullenly. "The ones who call themselves the Department of Efficiency."
Dassie shuddered. "Them. They're too much like the DIS for my liking. If the Board ever gives them actual Department status..."
"That's why we're leaving," Nyx reminded him. "People like that are becoming far too common. I don't like the way it's going in HQ. You remember Morgan?"
Dassie nodded. "She was partnered with the girl who recruited me - my first partner." He sighed. "Poor Traf... but yes. Time Lord, isn't she?"
"Mm," Nyx agreed. "She left last week - just took her TARDIS and flitted out. Apparently she felt something coming."
"I can't blame her," Dassie said, and then glanced at Malcolm. "Don't think this gets you off," he said. "These Floaters attacked you?"
Mal shifted guiltily. "They were going on about how people trying to leave the PPC are traitors and cowards," he muttered. "They kept looking at me."
"So he hit them," Tia said, coming down the stairs. "I'd probably have done the same thing."
"They wouldn't have laughed at you," Mal said grumpily. "You're a real Agent, a proper Slasher. I'm just an Untangler-in-training. I don't count."
"You're only fourteen, Mal," his mother said comfortingly. "The youngest Agent I ever knew was ten when she joined, and Ella didn't have an easy time of it. They'll promote you when you're ready."
Mal sighed deeply. "I'm ready now," he said, and then added candidly, "or I wish I was. Maman, I've spent a year learning how to use weapons I won't even need. I already know all the equipment. Why aren't I an Agent already?"
"You'd need to talk to Personnel about that," Nyx said. "I don't know if there's even a reason - it could just be the whims of the Marquis. But you're avoiding the issue. Who hit you?"
Mal shrugged. "Dunno," he admitted. "Could've been any of them."
Dassie raised an eyebrow. "How many were there?"
"... ten or twelve."
"It was six when he came in," Tia murmured. Nyx smiled.
"Men," she whispered to her daughter. "Always have to exaggerate these things. Ask your father about our escape from the Cats - I think he's up to three hundred by now."
"We can hear you," Dassie said petulantly, ignoring Tia's laugh. Nyx smiled sweetly.
"Good to know your ears are still working," she commented. "Now come on, Das', we've got packing to do. Tia, you can cook for us. Mal... no fighting!"
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