‘Will it hurt?’ Katie asked. ‘The teleporting-‘
‘Shifting,’ Darren corrected lightly.
‘Will it hurt?’ she asked again. ‘You’re- Built for it, I guess? Does it hurt humans?’
Darren shook his head. ‘Some fae experience nausea, but that’s the worst side-effect that’s on record. Most people experience a momentary sense of dizziness and- Jet lag, but only when travelling to a different time zone. That won’t be the case today.’
She reached for his hand. ‘I can’t get lost, right?’
He shook his head again. ‘No, there’s- No possible way for someone to get lost during a shift. It’s controlled. If, for some reason, a destination becomes unavailable in-transit, the location is rerouted to a close, or known safe, location.’
She smiled. ‘Okay, let’s give it a whirl, then.’
He gripped her hand, and the world skewed sideways. Her apartment disappeared, and she had a small moment to wonder if she should have cleaned away the plates, before she was standing on the tiled floor of a large reception area.
No nausea. No lost time. No ill effects. It had been quick, and no more scary than a roller coaster designed for kids.
Unlike the small, almost cosy reception area of Darren’s agency, this one felt far, far more corporate. There were leather couches off to one side, and an elevator off to the left. There was a large desk, with a counter that came up to her chest.
Darren squeezed her hand, and walked forward. A woman stood up from behind the desk. ‘The director is expecting you,’ she said before Darren could say anything. The woman looked to her. ‘Ms Stuart, if you could please sign in?’
Katie stepped forward, and filled in the entirely normal visitor slip, and accepted the plastic holder, and clipped it to her belt.
‘This way,’ Darren said quietly, and led her towards the elevator. ‘We could shift up, but I thought you might- Want to use your own legs.’
She curled her arm around his as they stepped into the lift. ‘I appreciate that.’
He pressed a button for one of the floors around the middle of the building, and they rode up in companionable silence – he didn’t seem to mind her arm being around his; and she didn’t have the desire to take it away.
There was another man – another agent? – waiting for them as the lift doors opened. Like Darren, he was tall, white – though the cut of his suit was different – whereas Darren seemed to stick with a blazer-length jacket and a blue tie; this man’s jacket went down to his knees, and he wore a blue waistcoat as well.
She made an assumption, and stepped forward, inconspicuously taking her arm away from Darren’s at the same time. ‘Director Ryan, I presume?’
The man nodded, and shook her extended hand. ‘I’d like to have a private meeting with you first, if you don’t mind.’ He looked behind her. ‘I’ll message you when we’re done.’
‘Yes, sir,’ Darren said, his voice sounding mechanical, perfunctory, robotic.
She followed Ryan down a long corridor – she paused by one of the windows, trying to pinpoint their location. ‘Queen Street,’ Ryan said, ‘if you were wondering.’
‘It’s a long street,’ she said, ‘I’m trying to figure out where we are.’
‘It’s shorter than it used to be,’ Ryan commented – and she turned to look at him. ‘I remember when the mall hadn’t been paved over for pedestrians.’
She gave him a careful once-over – from his appearance, he was far, far too young to remember that. ‘How old are you?’ she asked.
‘Nearly one hundred,’ he said.
She quirked a quick smile. ‘You look good for your age, then.’
They continued to his office – a space that was huge, especially compared to the tiny offices she was used to seeing. It was a decent sized portion of her apartment – the office could have easily swallowed her kitchen and lounge room both, with room to spare.
There was a leather lounge and a coffee table, then only a large desk and a high-backed chair. Despite the lack of other furniture, the space felt lived-in and comfortable. Another chair appeared in front of his desk, and she did her best to school away her reactions. Requiring. It was something she was going to have to get used to.
He saw her reaction – or lack of reaction – and either way, it seemed to please him. ‘Sit, please,’ he said. ‘Would you like a drink?’
‘No thanks,’ she said, trying to put herself back into job-interview-mode, ‘I’m good.’
Ryan settled himself into his chair, and folded his hands on the desk in front of him – a practiced, precise manoeuvre, one she was sure he’d done a hundred times before. ‘May I call you Katie?’
‘If you like,’ she said, and gave him a polite smile.
‘You have to understand,’ he continued, ‘that this is unusual. We don’t expect newborn agents to recruit so quickly – unless under the direction of a senior agent, or unless the process was already in play when their predecessor-‘ he paused for a moment. ‘Unless their predecessor had already begun the recruitment process.’
‘There are advantages in having someone around to take care of the administration tasks,’ she said.
Ryan lifted his head to this, a casual half-nod. ‘It is even more unusual to take on a civilian as an aide, as an agent’s first recruit.’
She gave a tight smile – there was just something so…middle-manager about the man and his concerns. There was a dance and a route to getting the logical outcomes and resources from
managers. The right words in the right order. The right word in the right place. She sat up, making her back rigid in the chair. ‘The role and privileges of aide seem to fit better with what is required in the set of an agency under a new agent. The privileges of a regular recruit, from what I understand, would require us to request a lot more assistance from this agency, needlessly taxing the resources here.’
Ryan raised his hands and rested his chin on them. ‘You’re new to this world,’ he said. ‘Aren’t you worried about getting in over your head? We don’t like to push people out of their comfort zones.’
She smiled. ‘Director. There might be fairies – which, I’m having oddly little trouble with – and my new manager might be a man made of magic and machines, but the position I’m being asked to fill is one I believe I can accomplish with ease and aplomb. Meetings, minutes, office management. These things don’t tend to change, despite the circumstance.’
Ryan leaned back in his chair. ‘And the fact that the man you’ll be working for is so young?’
She gave Ryan a level look. ‘It’s not going to lower my standard of service.’
‘Darren isn’t-‘ he paused for a moment. ‘Typical, for a young agent.’
‘I’m happy to accept the position,’ she said, ‘I can pick up the specifics of the job and the circumstances as we move along.’
The circumstances. It was still so strange to think of magic as simple “a circumstance”, but that’s what it seemed to be. There were fairies and pixies and angels in suits – and she was sure the truth was going to smack her in the face, but as yet, the transition seemed to be fairly mild.
It was all going to boil down to the same tasks it always did – documents, graphs and making sure there was enough tea, coffee and biscuits.
Ryan leaned back in his chair and considered her for a moment. ‘All right,’ he said, ‘I’ll approve this request, but I’d like to review in a month.’
She smiled. ‘I expect no less.’