Ryan looked back into the warehouse, making sure there were no more people moving, no more Solstice waiting to make a move, no more fae fading through the shadowed areas. He forced himself to look into each corner, each patch of darkness for far longer than he should have, in an effort to make up for his limitations.
His HUD was little more than functions he couldn’t access and worthless attempts to reconnect to the system.
He took one more look, finally satisfied that he was safe enough to turn his back, then hurried to follow Stef up the stairs.
There was a shot.
The rooftop was quiet.
Stef stood and waited for a moment, as Ryan paced, then took up a position at one of the corners. The area was industrial, a small sea of tin roofs and flat concrete roofs. Everything was in darkness, aside from some small security lights and the street lamps.
It would have been serene, if not for the sounds of fights.
The meeting room was filling slowly.
Stef tilted her head back and emptied her can of Mountain Dew, then looked around for a trash can.
‘Which building?’ Curt asked.
Stef leaned against the door and pressed a finger to the window to point at the building they’d just passed. ‘That one.’
The car jerked to a halt. ‘A bit of warning next time, newbie.’ He turned his head, then backed into an empty spot.
She shrugged. ‘I’m used to walking.’
He turned the car off. ‘I’ll just wait here?’
‘Tell me about him,’ Stef said. ‘Or – or them. So I can know what mistakes to avoid. James, my – my father. He never told me what I did wrong. I never knew why I was wrong, or why he wouldn’t let me fix it. I just– If you’re going to give me this chance, I don’t want to fuck it up.’
Ryan stood and offered his hands down to her. ‘Why do you assume you’re at fault?’
The chair swung slightly as Stef tried to make herself more comfortable.
She counted in binary to ten, to twenty, to a hundred, and still no solution presented itself. Press the green button and play pretend, and try. Or run away, try to make it past the techs without being seen.
Staying still and imitating a statue was always a good method of procrastination.
A hand touched her shoulder, and she screamed.
There was a knock.
Stef ignored it.
There was a second knock.
Stef looked up at the door – it was Ryan’s office, and he still wasn’t back, so there was no reason to acknowledge the knocker.
The knocks turned into pounds. ‘I know you’re in there, newbie!’
Stef looked up from her draft incident report. ‘So, permission to ask a stupid question?’
Ryan nodded at her from behind his desk. ‘Of course.’
‘So, tonight. Mirrorfall, right?’
‘Correct. Do you need me to–’
‘Can we, um–’ Stef started as Ryan opened the next mailbox. ‘Can we continue the conversation that sorta got interrupted last night?’
He handed her two small envelopes, and she shoved them into the PWNY Express bag she’d required. ‘But other important question first?’
‘Point the way to the next mailbox first,’ he said. She pointed, and he nodded. ‘Ask.’
‘How do we know this stuff isn’t full of face-melting acid or the plague or something?’
‘Do you want to take a guess?’ he asked as he pressed the button to cross the street.
‘Each mailbox has scanning equipment inside?’
Stef opened her eyes. A jumble of nightmare imagery vanished under the scrutiny of the infirmary’s low lights.
Something beeped – an ECG. Familiar sound. Comforting sound. Sound that meant she was still alive.
She looked at the other pieces of equipment, at the various lines and cords leading to her bed and to her body, and she relaxed a little. She let her eyes close halfway and just listened to the soft beeping for a moment, confirmation that she hadn’t–
Her eyes opened again.
‘He – hello?’