Stef had her nose pushed to the window of the observation window that looked down on the surgical suite – though no surgery was taking place. Below, Ryan observed as he walked around the curved path towards his daughter, the Parkers were going through a complete medical workup with Austin Reilly.
In other parts of the observation area, there were small clusters of Tech recruits, each holding some device to take notes – from a humble notebook, to a tablet. Occasionally, one of them would ask a question, or make a point, and below, one of the Parkers would nod.
She looked up, her eyes wide in a way that meant she had been crying, or wanted to cry – her logic, apparently, was that the dryer her eyes were, the more of her tears would dry up before they could be cried out.
‘He’s wrecked,’ she said, then tilted her head, so that her forehead thunked against the window. ‘I- I dunno what other word to use. It’s like- It’s like I said- He’s like one of those freaking robots. He’s reprimanding the Parkers for unprofessional conduct more than Taylor does. He’s not a kid. He’s- He’s not-’
Ryan wrapped an arm around Stef’s shoulders, and pulled her close. ‘We’re going to do our best, Stef,’ he said. ‘We don’t get to win every day, but we’re going to try.’
‘How do we go about getting proper custody, so that he never has to go back?’
‘It’s in the works. Recruit Able, the Lost liaison I spoke with, will have to conduct several more meetings, and there will be interviews with the Lost, but for the moment, our part is done, unless your piratical friend wishes to include you in the process.’
‘He hasn’t said anything yet,’ she said.
‘Stef, I was wondering if I could- With everything that-’ She looked up at him. ‘I want to spoil my daughter, if that would be all right with you.’ He looked down at the Parkers. ‘I understand this side of things is going to take at least another hour. Perhaps coffee? And I-’
She buried her head against his chest. ‘Why are you being so stupid?’ she asked. ‘You’re not requesting a royal favour, you never ask like this when you want to spend time together.’
He gently ruffled her hair, then smoothed it down. ‘When I see a parent acting poorly, it gives me pause to wonder if I am acting in your best interests. If I am-’
‘You’re a storybook dad,’ she said, interrupting him.
‘You mean like those stories where parents abandon their children in the woods?’
She pushed on his chest. ‘Oh come on, like you could ever get me to willingly go outside.’
He arched an eyebrow down at her. ‘You’re about to willingly go outside.’
She rose, balancing on her tiptoes. ‘Only cause you promised coffee.’ She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. ‘I love you, dad.’ She took a step back, and he saw the ripple of fabric as her uniform refreshed. He looked lower – even her sneakers were clean – something that was guaranteed not to last.
He extended a hand to her. ‘Shall we?’
Ryan took her hand, targeted her with his HUD, then shifted them away from the Agency. ‘You’re going to be confused,’ he said as they reintegrated. ‘This isn’t a coffee shop in disguise, and I’m unsure as to whether any of the nymphs here are trained baristas. There was something I wanted to show you first, I know how much you love seeing magic you’ve never seen before.’
She reached for his hand, and he led her through the Park.
‘I’ve been here,’ she said after a minute, ‘I think. This is the place we run, right?’
He nodded. ‘That’s right.’
Hand in hand, they walked along along the path, towards a small pond that sat at the far end of the Park – there weren’t many freshwater nymphs that lived in the Park, but the water was far from empty.
Ryan stopped walking, released her hand, required a small net – like one you would use to move a fish from one tank to another – and handed it to her. ‘This is only small magic, but it’s something I know you’ll love.’
‘Do you want me to catch a fishie?’
He knelt beside the dirty pond and patted the grass beside him. ‘No.’ He required himself a net, and pointed to the water. ‘What do you see?’
She sat, and leaned forward. ‘Water. Weeds. Scum. Those little larvae things. Stuff?’
‘Look at the water.’
‘Do you see the diamonds?’ Ryan smiled – the question was simple, but the words were the same that Reynolds had used. The sparks on the water looked no different to sunlight shining on the surface of liquid anywhere. The appearance of beautiful sparks, just below the surface.
He watched as she reexamined the small pond. ‘That’s not diamonds.’
The reaction was immediate and expected. He dipped her net into the water, and skimmed it across the surface, ‘Hold out your hand.’ She did. He upended the net, and hard, wet lumps fell onto her open palm. Diamonds, shiny and dazzling, despite their murky colours rested there. He repeated the process again, and a third time, her cupped hands filling with diamonds the colour of the pond water.
‘What- What are these?’
‘Tessa’s diamonds. Fool’s jewels. Sparks,’ he said, pulling a few from her pile and tossing them back into the pond.’ He stared at the pond. ‘I never got to show my son these. I-’ He put a hand to his temple. ‘I know I talk about my son a lot. I have told you before, but you aren’t a replacement for him. I want to make sure that you know that.’
‘You hardly ever mention him,’ Stef said, as she stared into her handful of jewels. ‘I’d- You can talk about him if you like. The good stuff and the bad stuff. That’s what family is, right? He’s an important part of your life, and I’d- I know I’m not always properly sensible and shit, but- I’m here for you. I’m crazy, and I’m stupid, but I’m here for you, dad.’
Ryan looked at her, his dear, desperately strange little girl, and blinked back tears. ‘That means a lot, Stef.’
Stef shuffled and pulled the bottom of her shirt from her pants, and piled the diamonds into her lap. ‘I like the colour. I’ve never really liked white diamonds. They remind me too much of my mum.’ She lifted the smallest one from the top. ‘I don’t understand. How…how do people not know about this?’
‘How many people look at the water and see diamonds?’
She gave him an incredulous look. ‘Someone would have done it by accident!’
‘It only works in certain locations at certain times, and you’ve got the have a special kind of net – it’s able to be required though, as you can see. They’re a type of microscopic creature, each diamond is a whole colony of them.’ He lifted one from her pile, squeezed it between two fingers, and it turned back into water which ran through his fingers. ‘Do you want to take some home?’
‘Can’t I take all of these?’
‘It’s just like going to the beach, if you take all the shells, there’ll be none left for the other children. Pick out a few, and throw the rest back.’ He held out a little plastic bag, and she began to judge the diamonds in her lap, throwing most of them back. After a few moments, the bag had half a dozen diamonds – five small ones and a lumpy one that was like was like four stuck together – and the rest had been thrown back into the pond for future visitors to find.