The first thing Stef saw upon reintegrating was Jones smiling. She stood at the long metal bench, her hair held up by a purple hairclip that seemed to be projecting holographic flowers into her hair.
She gave a happy sigh. Jonesy was so pretty when presenting as Andrea. Boy!Jonesy was pretty too, but always seemed like he was just on the tipping point where he could become a pretty boy anime villain.
‘I want to poke your hair,’ she said, drifting towards the tech.
‘Poke at your own peril,’ Jones chided gently. ‘And besides, you two have work to do.’
Stef looked at the bench – there were already two folders there. ‘You assumed I was bringing the boy wonder?’ she asked, leaning her forearms on the bench before beginning to flick through the information. It was an expanded version of the quick email that had come to her HUD.
‘I felt safe making the assumption,’ Jones said with a smile. ‘It still counts as your Field interface assignment, so long as you bring your report to me afterwards.’ Jones winked at Curt. ‘Just don’t do all of her work for her.’
‘I promise, Agent.’
Stef nodded, but one non-work question laid on her mind. ‘Jonesy?’
‘Did you help Ryan set up the Hogwarts ceiling in my new room?’
‘Your father is many things,’ Jones said, and she had a blast of warm fuzzies at the use of “father”, ‘but a dork is not among them. Yes. It was me. If you want anything else set up, let me know.’
‘Sccccuse me Squishy,’ Merlin said as he crawled out from beneath the bench, then righted himself with exaggerated effort. ‘Oh, hi Mean.’
Curt looked at her. ‘See, another reason you should be down here, you get “Squishy”, I get “Mean”.’
‘It’s your name!’ Merlin said, adjusting his goggles.
‘And I’m not particularly squishy,’ she muttered.
‘You are on the inside!’ Merlin said, then ambled away.
‘…and that sentiment isn’t creepy at all,’ she said. She refocussed on Andrea. ‘Anything else we need to know before we go?’
Jones reached one of her hands out, and laid it on Stef’s shoulder. ‘Relax, Spyder. I know it’s your first real assignment, but there’s very little that can go wrong.’
She saw stars as she brought her head down on the metal bench. ‘You’ve just jinxed it. I’m going back to my room and staring at the galaxies on my ceiling until you don’t pretty much say WHAT COULD GO WRONG?! Jonesy, you’re supposed to have more genre awareness than this! And another thing-!’
Andrea’s face turned mother-stern. ‘Agent.’
Stef sighed. ‘Yes Jonesy.’ She selected Curt from her Vox contacts list. [Um, shifting you.] She grabbed the corner of Curt’s sleeve, and shifted to her office.
‘So explain this to me again,’ she said after they reintegrated.
‘This is a conceit the Agency makes to keep the peace, to keep the public from running across the body of a brownie or hob or whatnot at their bus stop. There’s dump sites all over the city, all over every city that has an Agency presence.’
‘It feels like aiding and abetting.’
‘It’s better than the alternative, which is having it splashed across the cover of the newspaper. Fae kill fae, and it would just be pathetic if some jealous lover stabbing their partner is how the world found out about magic.’
‘And how do we prosecute?’
‘Depends on how careful they are. There’s a clear path in and out, but there’s always the footage from the surrounding buildings, any evidence they leave on the ground and any clues on the bodies themselves.’
‘This is morbid,’ Stef muttered as the shift targeted in her HUD.
‘You’d best get used to it, newbie, I have the feeling that a lot of these will be falling in your court from now on.’ He lifted his arm. ‘Just to be sure?’ he asked.
She gratefully grabbed onto his sleeve, and processed the shift. In theory, it shouldn’t be harder to take two people than one – in practice, it was suddenly like having a new class ability, and needing to remind yourself of the context clues that were needed in order to use it.
She processed the shift, and they appeared at the head of an alley. A large garbage truck – white, with half-torn logos and a crappy paint job, blocked the view of the end of the alley, and – presumably – provided a large, smelly deterrent to any civilians that might want to grab a surreptitious smoke out of the flow of the rest of the pedestrian traffic.
Screen stood nearby, looking for all the world like someone bored with all of the miracles a smartphone had to offer. As soon she looked up, though, her face broke into a broad smile. ‘Hey!’ the tech called excitedly. ‘Sorry that this is your first mission with us, ma’amy ma’am, but, you know…’ She jerked a thumb over her shoulder. ‘It’s part of the job.’
Stef looked at Screen, and tried to determine if there was any anger from the apparent deception that her cover story had created.
Her look must have been less than subtle, as Screen waved her hands. ‘No one cares, ma’amy ma’am,’ she said. ‘It’s kind of a stereotype, but techs tend to love the kids of agents, and augments even more.’ Screen extended one finger. ‘Permission to poke?’
Screen touched her arm. ‘What base code are you running? Jonesy is running 3.8, upgraded to 4.2. Is it the same for your batch of augments, they tend to get the lesser patches later than the real agents.’
‘22.214.171.124’ Stef said with a grin. ‘They dropped a hotfix patch at the beginning of the week. Something to do with adaptability of eyes underwater.’
‘Niiice,’ Screen said. ‘Now, to work?’ The tech turned and walked down the length of the garbage truck, and past a bin that had a ring of paint in a familiar blue around it, and then – for all the world, disappeared.
Curt’s hand touched her upper arm. ‘Agent-face, newbie.’
Screen’s face appeared, and the air seemed to shimmer with white hexes. ‘Come on through. Ain’t no party like an unidentified corpse party.’
Stef stepped through the invisible wall, her eyes catching a flash of white as she did so. ‘Projectors,’ Screen said, kicking the bin with the agency-blue paint. ‘Field doesn’t use these nearly enough. Best used only over small areas, but it gives us a bit of privacy.’ She patted the bin and it purred. ‘And they double as blue detectors, so we know if there’s any muggles coming.’
In the area at the end of the alley, there were-
She grabbed Curt’s arm and pulled him back through the wall. ‘What’s going on? Screen primarily works the phones. Sacha never comes into the field. And Raz isn’t scheduled for any-’ She rolled her hands into fists. ‘I don’t mean to be paranoid, but-’
‘The projection net doesn’t block sound, ma’am,’ Curt said, a note of reproach in his voice.
Screen’s face appeared again. ‘You didn’t even give us a chance to yell surprise,’ she said with a pout.
They stepped back through the projector net, and a small table, holding a small cake had appeared. ‘We heard,’ Sacha said, as he started to cut the cake, ‘that your own department was less than welcoming, Agent. Jonesy thought you might like a reroll on that.’
‘I suggested they forgo the usual tech department welcome – figured forty or fifty nerds might be a bit much.’ She turned to stare at Curt. ‘Don’t mention it,’ he said, then walked past her to accept a piece of cake from Sacha, and moved to the side to speak with Raz.
‘Danke,’ she said as she took her own piece. She blushed. ‘Without onboarding the language pack, that’s about all I know.’
Sacha smiled. ‘Even my parents speak far more English than German now, they do keep harping on me for losing the accent though.’
Screen pointed to the dumpster. ‘It’s empty today, Agent Mimosa, but Jones suggested that we run through a drill anyway. And using a real world location seemed to provide better subterfuge for the illicit cake than using one of the sim rooms.’
‘And,’ Sacha prompted.
‘Someone has to vouch for her first,’ Screen said, her voice taking on an officious tone. ‘Agent C is cool by association,’ she said, pointing her cake plate at Curt. ‘But Raz can’t vouch for two members of Field.’
Sacha placed his cake back down on the small table. ‘What we’re about to reveal to you is a secret, passed down from tech to tech, since time in memorial…or about 1970, take your pick.’ Sacha walked to the wall beside the dumpster, touched a brick, then stepped through. He returned a moment later, carrying a wine bottle, containing a sparkling gold liquid.
Screen took the bottle and began to pour drinks.
‘It’s not a unique phenomenon, but it’s a rare one,’ he said, and brushed some errant crumbs from his skirt. ‘It’s a fairy bolt hole that’s been realigned to only react to agency personnel. You can’t enter it unless you’ve got blue in your system.’
‘It even gives me issues when it’s feeling temperamental,’ Screen said as she passed out the golden – presumably – wine.
‘We think it was Agent Samuels who did it. Jonesy’s predecessor. The timing fits, and it had to be a tech that did it.’
‘Jonesy pretends he doesn’t know about it,’ Raz said, ‘He lets it be something for recruits only.
‘So of course,’ Sacha said, after taking a sip of the wine. ‘We pretty much use it for sex and booze.’
‘More seriously, ma’am,’ Curt said, no glass of wine in his hand, ‘it’s somewhere you can run if you get caught blacked out in the area. Raz used it to save my life, that’s why I know about it.’
Screen lifted her glass. ‘Tech looks after their own, ma’am, and sometimes you ours, even without a lab coat.’