‘I can’t believe the Agency doesn’t have any cars here,’ Troy said lounged on Raz’s shoulder, as small and light as a doll. ‘You guys are supposed to rule the world or something, and you don’t have any cars stashed on the road to Joxy?’
The restaurant had valets, gilded menus, and quiet, attentive servers.
“Opulent” was the word that sat in the forefront of his mind, and every inch of the establishment made Raz want to cry with anger and exasperation.
Raz took a deep breath, held it, then released it.
He closed his eyes and listened to his anti-anxiety app as it took him through five minutes of breathing exercises, designed to calm him the fuck down.
Raz now knew one new empirical fact: spending the night with company definitely put a spring in one’s step.
Up ahead, Screen’s door opened, and a woman of Amazonian proportions, with vines falling down her back like Medusa’s snakes, walked out and headed for the elevator. Screen saw him, beckoned him, and they exchanged high-fives as they headed for their duty stations.
Raz opened his eyes, the panic disappearing from his throat as he took in the feel of the Agency sheets under his skin. Required sheets. Required bed. Everything so much nicer than it had been in his crappy little bedsit.
The air was clean. The air was always clean. It always so comforting: the faint scent of air conditioning, recycled air, and chemical cleaners.
It was the smell he’d come to associate with the word “home”.
Raz leant back as the pointy-eared waitress put down the tray of drinks, then slipped a card towards Sacha before leaving.
‘A number,’ Screen asked, ‘or a voucher?’
Sacha flipped the card around and grinned. ‘Both.’
‘Jesus, Sach,’ Screen said, leaning her head against his shoulder. ‘Could you possibly get any more tail?’
A chirping tone caused Raz to look up from his microscope. It wasn’t a call, and it wasn’t the usual email/text alerts.
He lifted his phone and saw a Vox alert on his home screen. Different to the usual displays, this one was in a larger box, with a message to attend a meeting, and a button asking him to confirm that he was on his way.
He pressed the button, made sure all of his samples were locked down, and left the lab, running into a few of his fellow lab assistants.
Raz leaned against the wall that held the letterboxes and stared up at the sky, his mind drifting as easily as if he were blasting speed metal into his ears.
The bedsit had been “home” – for the given quotient of “home” – for the last few years, and already that felt as though it was quickly becoming a thing of the past. He had no desire to go upstairs, to be nostalgic in a place he’d always hated.
There was nothing to miss, and with this outing, Jess would never have to visit this ugly complex again.
She pulled up, looking worried as she stepped out of the car. He never met her outside. He never went outside. If he was outside…
Her big sister instincts must have been screaming that there was something wrong.
Within five minutes, Jones had confirmed Raz was happy with the lab coat and had issued him his first set of goggles.
Hands shaking with all the fear, excitement, and trepidation his body could manage, Raz followed Jones through one of the tech floors – this one dedicated to the laboratory work.
‘Technically you can use any of the labs. They’re like hot desks that way,’ Jones said. ‘But it’s always a courtesy to let people use their favourite lab, as it means you don’t have to load your settings each time.’
After two hours in the games library, Jones led Raz downstairs.
‘You’ve seen Men in Black?’ Jones asked as they loitered near a door.
‘Yeah, of course.’
‘You’re going to be asked to do a test for each of our departments. Combat, then Tech, then Field. It’s all about how you take the tests, so don’t be intimidated by what the other departments ask of you. It’s just to fill out your initial spider chart, nothing more.’
Raz rubbed at his arm. ‘Should you really be telling me this? Isn’t it, like, a secret?’