‘Is that a recruit?’
Emma’s ears perked up as she stood waiting for the lift – sometimes the eight seconds felt like forever, but she had decided against shifting around – after all, she had to be familiar with this Agency if she was going to run it.
Already people were noticing her.
‘Gotta be, man, I mean, when was the last time you saw a femme agent?’
‘Agents come in girl models?’ asked the first voice, genuinely surprised.
‘Well, like, shit I dunno man, go talk to her.’
The lift doors slid open and she stepped inside. She gave the recruits a wink as the doors slid shut. She punched the floor for the technical division – she hadn’t been there in years, but she assumed that it hadn’t changed floors.
When the door opened and she walked into a conversation involving the words “Star Destroyer” “pwn” and “Obligatory Cid” she knew she’d found her destination. She pushed past the tech recruits, who appeared to be camped outside of the elevator with a few day’s supplies for no reason.
‘Recruits,’ Jones said as he walked around the corner, ‘I thought I told you- Oh, hello,’ he said, blushing as he saw her. ‘It can’t be the end of the world, Emma, we cheated that last night, so good afternoon.’
She stepped to the side. ‘I didn’t mean to interrupt, please, continue to admonish your recruits.’
He gave a nod. ‘For the last time, a Star Destroyer could pwn the Enterprise, and this Agency has no Obligatory Cid until I design one, so unless you all want transfers to Bondi where the sun hurts even more than it does here, you will stop waiting for him to appear. Now…I believe half of you were working on a way to make Bejewelled a viable way to save the world and the other half of you should be violating the privacy of hackers on the gray list?’
The recruits scattered.
‘This wasn’t my idea,’ she said. ‘Frankly, I would have preferred a workspace that isn’t so far from the action that Ryan can slip out without me noticing.’
Jones gave her a small smile. ‘You mean like now?’
She sighed – but it was an expected disappointment. ‘He couldn’t even wait an hour?’
‘He didn’t like you, Emma.’
‘Do you know where he went?’
‘Funny, I thought you would have low-jacked him.’
‘I respect my commanding officer’s privacy. We can always find him if we wish, you know that, but you may want to give him some time, he…’ The technical agent trailed off, seemingly searching for a diplomatic way to finish his sentence. ‘He doesn’t like it when people try and tell him how to do his job.’
‘You fiercely bollocksed up that mirrorfall operation. Two recruit deaths, more than a handful of injuries.’
‘One was a traitor, the other…well, I’m not sure if you noticed one detail on that report, but I was the one who shifted Mimosa into the field, so I’m as much to blame. I stay within the Agency, so I’ll be easy to scrutinize.’
‘Jonesy…’ a purple-headed recruit hung her head around the corner, the bucket of popcorn in her hand spilling a few kernels onto the floor.
‘Merlin said if you didn’t unpause that he’d have to start telling his own story, and I don’t like his version of Lady of the Lake…he keeps putting Han Solo into everything.’
‘And whose fault is it for showing him Star Wars?’
‘And what do we say about personal responsibility?’
‘Dump the blame on them and deny them baked goods?’
‘Good girl,’ Jones said, ‘I’ll be along in a moment, I have something more important to deal with right now.’
She became acutely aware of the recruit staring at her, so she returned the stare.
‘You’re a… new recruit?’ the recruit asked hesitatingly.
She looked to Jones. ‘Are all recruits here stupid, or just unable to sense the presence of an agent?’
Screen shook her head and her purple hair flopped around. ‘Sorry ma’amy ma’am, but you’re prettier than the agents downstairs.’ There was a beat and the girl spun around on the spot. ‘OMGOMG,’ she squeaked, ‘I know you know this, butbutbut you’re English. Where are you from? Can I get your autograph? Can I touch your hair? Eeeeeeeeee…’
Jones quickly walked over to his recruit and put his hands on her shoulders to try and calm her. ‘Screen…’
‘Buthshe’sfrom…’ Screen said, failing to take a breath between each word.
‘What’s the rule?’Jones asked the young woman slowly.
‘Don’t bother the British visitors just in case they live near a Whoniverse location or may have spied real-like phenomena that could be construed as our world crossing over into said Whoniverse.’ The recruit recited. ‘Can I just ask her one question?’
‘She doesn’t have to answer it.’
‘Have you ever been to Cardiff?’ Screen asked, the question tumbling from her mouth.
‘I knew a man from Cardiff,’ she admitted as Jones clamped his hand over his recruit’s mouth to prevent a “part B” to the question. ‘I shot him in the head.’
The recruit’s face fell, and she couldn’t hold back a slight smirk.
Jones spun his recruit and gave her a gentle push back toward the dark corner of the tech department that she had crawled from. ‘I’m sorry for that.’
‘That’s all right, how do you think the London tech recruits treat transfers and visitors from Cardiff?’ she asked, leaning back against the white wall.
‘Without mercy?’ Jones guessed with a straight face.
He shook his head. ‘Come, I’ll find you an office. I think we have a spare one, presuming it hasn’t collapsed in on itself from disuse.’
She shook her head. ‘Tend to your recruits first, I have no intention of chasing Ryan. I’ll let him be childish for a few hours, but if I don’t like what I observe, I’m going to be pushing the issue with the Clarks.’
The slight agent drooped a little. ‘I pity whoever is on the receiving end of all of the paperwork if it does go through. Are you sure your director would let you go? Or would your entire team come? Do you want Ryan recycled, or reeducated? And if this is your opinion of our commander, what must you think of his team?’ He fidgeted with his lab coat. ‘My recruits will only take a few moments, we’re finishing a conversation we began last night.’
‘What do they need to know about mirrorfalls?’
‘They are the multiverse’s worst natural disaster, they have the right to be curious.’
‘They aren’t always natural.’
He walked around the corner and into a large, mostly empty lab. The image of an explosion – a supernova, or something much more powerful, hung suspended in the air, being poked at by the recruits. Some of them had sticks.
‘Where was I?’ Jones asked.
‘You didn’t start, Jonesy,’ the youngest – the one she recognised as Merlin – said. ‘And they wouldn’t let me tell a story while you were gone.’
Jones stepped into the centre of the explosion and it restarted. Photonic debris was strewn to all corners of the room.
‘This was the beginning. Like a mythical phoenix – the mythical one, mind, not the real ones – we were born from the ashes and emptiness left over from the last universe. We know nothing of that universe, no one does, not the demons, not the gods, not the Ladies.’
She hung back, leaning against the wall in the dark, wondering why Jones was explaining this to his recruits with a light show, instead of making them read the files for themselves. She sighed – maybe it was a trait of being from another part of the Commonwealth that their recruits were held to a higher standard than the ones in Brisbane. They were excited and eager, but aside from the occasional report, there was nothing that allowed her to judge how good these recruits really were.
‘In the first week of the ‘verse, thirteen worlds flourished and died. Thirteen whole worlds, full of life and beauty appeared and died. So far as we know, they were the only worlds without gods in their centre, it’s probably the same effect that allows a plant to shoot even when it contains no chlorophyll – a short existence, but an existence all the same.’
‘Or there could have been a planet-eating monster,’ Merlin piped up.
‘I thought you perfected your anti-Galactus machine,’ Screen said with a giggle.
‘…maybe not.’ A small laptop appeared in the boy’s hands and he immediately began to scroll through pages of code.
‘Anyway,’ Jones said. ‘Twelve of the thirteen mirrors all grouped together, and fell through an empty universe, waiting for life, any sort of life to appear. Even for the subconscious existence that a mirror has, that must have been so lonely.’
‘What happened to Friday?’ another recruit asked.
‘No one knows what happened to the thirteenth mirror,’ Jones said. ‘We may never know. Now, has everyone had a good look?’ The half dozen recruits nodded to him and she suddenly became aware of a large Plexiglas container being passed around. There was something reflective inside of it, surely not-
Merlin whimpered and grasped for the container as Jones took it from a recruit. The tech agent smiled and passed it to him.
‘Lights,’ she commanded.
Slowly, the half dozen recruits turned to look at her. ‘Ma’amy ma’am,’ Screen said, ‘they don’t listen.’
She stared at Jones. ‘Chance has wired the entire London Agency to obey voice commands. Why haven’t you?’
He snapped his fingers and the lights came on. ‘We’ve never seen the need. It still does have most of the basic ones though.’
Screen grabbed the male recruit next to her. ‘He’s lost property!’ she squealed, and the boy disappeared.
She fought a groan and stepped over the recruits to Merlin.
‘I can hear it singing,’ he mumbled. ‘Singy-songy-possibly doooomy…’
She tore the container from his hands, there was a piece of mirror trapped inside of the Plexiglas. ‘What the fuck is this?’
Jones’ face fell. ‘I’m not going to insult your intelligence by telling you.’
She frowned. ‘You…brought a piece of mirror here?’
He nodded. ‘The clean-up crew brought it back.’
‘It should have been destroyed upon arrival.’
‘I didn’t see the harm.’
‘Not seeing the harm is how we lost the goddess!’ she screamed. ‘You bring it here, and let your recruits play with it, what were you thinking?’ She threw it to the floor and it smashed open.
Most of Jones’ recruits scattered, but Merlin remained on the floor, seemingly transfixed by the small shard.
‘Merlin,’ Jones said quietly, ‘go with the others.’
‘It really is singing.’
‘The Lady already sang the song, its time has passed.’
The recruit reached for the shard, but she jumped forward and grabbed him by his collar and yanked him back. ‘Do not touch that,’ she hissed at him before dropping him to the cold floor.
‘I wasn’t going to end the world…’ he whined.
‘You’re a complete unknown, I don’t have reason to trust what you say. I still agree with the consensus that you’re a plant.’
‘Silly ma’amy ma’am, I’m a people, not a plant,’ Merlin said, but the joy had left his voice.
‘Merlin,’ Jones implored. ‘Please, go work on your Galactus program.’
The young recruit slowly stood and dragged his feet as he exited the lab. She held the shard out, like a weapon, at Jones. ‘Do you know what he could have done with this?’
‘It’s naught but a small wish, he couldn’t have done much.’
‘You could have required a lookalike piece, there was no urgency to use a real piece of the mirror. They’re mortal, you never know what they’ll do around something like this.’
‘They meant no harm,’ Jones said as he awkwardly stared at the mirror. ‘It was contained, and none of them had any wish to use it.’
‘They’re mortal,’ she repeated. ‘All of them wish to use it for something.’
‘It’s still in your hand, is there something you wish to use it for?’ He looked her up and down, ‘But, I guess, you didn’t need a mirror, did you?’
She crushed the mirror in her hand and required it away. ‘There is never, ever a reason to use a mirror. They only beget trouble, that’s why they’re always destroyed.’
He smiled sadly. ‘Let’s see if that office is still there.’