‘It’s not impossible,’ Stef said as she stood before Andrea. ‘But I’d like a critique on the various aspects of this plan.’
There were a lot of things that changed between Jones presenting in his male form, to presenting as Andrea – hair being the major one. Two things didn’t – her eyes and her smile. Andrea smiled, electric green eyes glittering. ‘In your own time, Agent.’
‘We can’t track it, it’s not like, a parameter we can enter in on drone scanning. It’s got the same signature as the rest of fae magic. Humans money that’s been rubbing against regular fae currency can also give a false positive, so we can’t hunt down the copy-coins that way. It’s something we do have to consider, depending on how nuke it from orbit you want to go with it.’
‘That depends on how long it takes to make significant movement forward.’
Stef nodded. ‘Figured you’d say that.’ She looked at her papers in her hands, not reading anything, but more as a break. ‘Intercept all armoured cars, switch out their cash stores – that’ll take care of a nice chunk of businesses. Do the same with banks. Some of that we can do without interference, shift-and-replace.’
Andrea jerked a thumb over her shoulder. ‘I’ve got that already running. Same with ATMs and the casino.’
‘The problem,’ Stef said, ‘is the non-circulating coins. The ones people are throwing into the bottom of their bag, their desk drawers, all of those are going to self-propagate without ever entering circulating. Time-delay bombs waiting to ruin someone’s day.’
Andrea nodded. ‘Ideas?’
‘If it was confined to a certain coin type, it’d be easier. We could operate a trade system – maybe a collector’s coin with a higher face value. What do people like more than money? More money. That doesn’t work when it can affect all currency types.’ She paused. ‘You should add currency exchange points to the auto shift-and-replace.’
Stef looked behind her, dragged a stool out from under the long bench, and sat. ‘Is this like some vampire myths, kill the original, and the others lose their power?’ She looked at the papers again. ‘Because a lot of these plans are putting out fires, but it doesn’t stop the real problem.’
Jones shook her head. ‘No, because it operates on proximity, it doesn’t work that way.’
‘Can we send out nullifying coins? Distribute, you know, a cure?’
‘You got a coin about your person, Spyder?’ Andrea sighed. ‘They’re not mirror in terms of valuable, but there are a lot of value to them. Buy this. Vote this way. Conform to the government’s wishes. It’s brainwashing without chemtrails or chemical that make frogs gay.’ Andrea gave a sardonic grin. ‘If we could change the world with water vapour, we would have done it a long time ago.’
Stef scuffed her foot on the linoleum. ‘I do love reexamining conspiracy theories from an Agency point of view. But- But come on, this isn’t fair. I can’t do this as my first damn mission. Unless your plan is- I could make a coin.’ The words came out, and as they did, she felt a weight lift from her shoulders. The suggestion had been inevitable. The suggestion was always going to be inevitable. ‘I- I- I asked Ryan about this when- With the kid Hook brought to me. When do I know. When do- When do I know- He said that it’s when there’s no other answers. When the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the me.’
‘And I would agree with your father, Spyder. You can’t chip away at yourself every time-’
‘Wouldn’t you do anything not to have that scar down your back?’
Andrea went silent.
‘Because- Because-’ Stef placed the papers on the bench, laced her fingers together, three fingers digging small crescent-shaped holes into the back of either hand. ‘I still think about it. When I tried. How I felt. What I- What I nearly gave up. How I- How I nearly did something I couldn’t reverse. I stayed up for like three days, afraid that if I went to sleep, that I’d be going back to the place where there was nothing. I like Death, the person, she’s lovely. I hate death the…death. The nothing where there’s nothing. And I don’t even know that I really felt that. And if I did, it couldn’t have been more than the briefest time before I managed to kick myself out. To pull out. It was probably me imagining with a brain OD’ing.’ She was shaking, but the words wouldn’t stop. ‘It was scary, Jonesy, and I don’t want that for anyone. And the people that jump – even if you have that peace as you take that step, what happens when you start flailing? They probably die screaming, unable to stop the ground from coming closer. I don’t want that. I don’t want that!’
She’d never wanted to save the world. It had been one of the first things she had ever said to Ryan – that if she had to care about saving the world, she didn’t want to join.
She probably still would have. To know about magic. To know about a man who had stepped out of memory and dream. She could have faked caring. The world, after all, had never done anything for her. Had been nothing but cruel. Hadn’t been worth saving, even for her own sake.
And in what seemed like all the time that the universe had to give, and no time at all, that had changed.
She had people she cared about. Family. Friends. And a mind that was slightly more open to the possibility that more people deserved to live.
And even if this wasn’t that. Wasn’t capes and tights and the need to save the world. This was just the need to save someone from a moment. From a moment that was among the worst in the world.
There were worse moments, she was sure. But this was-
She could do something – so, therefore, vis a vi, concordently, she had to do something.
In her chest, in place of a beating heart, was a hunk of a dead planet. Solid potential in the form of silvery, solid mirror. Touch it, and whatever you wished for would come true. Magic mirror taken to its illogical endgame.
Mirrors were to be destroyed, it was part of Agency operations. Wishes were too powerful. If you could change the world with a slice of silver smaller than a cookie, it would be impossible to live without fear.
So, on the rare occasions, when worlds died, and their cores fell to Earth, it was a fight for control or destruction.
And she’d tried – but physics had been forgotten to her peril, and to her demise. A shattered mirror’s shards were sharp, sharp enough to cut through flesh and bone, and kill a hacker too stupid to move.
It should have been the end. Should have been the end of a life. A stupid end to a worthless girl. But Ryan had wished, and it hadn’t been the end.
She’d died – more than died, even though that concept was hard to wrap her head around. Death had conveyed to Ryan she her soul had gone somewhere that not even she could touch. Her body had lain in state, not rotting, not doing much of anything, as bits of her had slowly come back.
There’d been though. Memories. The feeling that she was little more than a brain in a jar. Wondering if the afterlife was nothing but being alone with her own thoughts forever.
It hadn’t been the end. It had been…something else. A wake and a funeral for the world that had died. The last ghosts of the dead planet being banished by the closest thing to an overriding god that the universe had.
And she’d woken. And been given a chance at a life. A life where there was something more than pain and loneliness.
And she had latched onto it with shaking hands, terrified that it would go away at any minute. Knowing that she didn’t deserve it. Still being afraid to be happy, because sadness was sure to follow.
And on top of everything, of learning a new job – two new jobs, now that she was Jonesy’s aide – and getting used to talking to people in an offline manner, every action seemed to be overshadowed by the mirror in her chest.
She’d gone from human to agent-plus-mirror. Officially labelled an experiment, and given every impression that as soon as the Agency had a need, they’d pull it from her chest and save the world. She was a container that could walk and talk.
Every wish – and she’d only made a few – had to be weighed against the long-term implications. Against the chance that the next wish would be the one that finally took too much and left her as less, or as nothing at all.
This wish felt like it was worth it.
She looked at her hands, then up at Jones. ‘Help me?’ she asked. ‘I just need to extract a little bit. It won’t take much.’
‘Are you going to lecture me, Jonesy?’
‘I want you to be sure.’