7am, Friday, Hyde
5pm, Friday, Brisbane
There was a knock at her door, and a thought unlocked it. ‘Come in,’ Stef said, leaning back against the cool window.
Milla, dressed casually for once, walked in, and sat cross-legged on the side of Stef’s bed. She swung up a red flask. ‘Tea?’
Stef looked down at herself for a moment, at her crumpled flannel pants and t-shirt. ‘Did you, like, sleep at all?’
‘I’m always up this early, it kind of happens when your dad is an agent. You’ll get used to it, I guess.’ She slurped on a mug of the tea. ‘You don’t wear a night-cap, I thought it might have been like the agenty sleeping uniform or something.’
‘He wears a cap to bed?’
‘Every night,’ Milla said, ‘But during a teddy bears picnic, one of the bears always gets- I mean, always got it.’ She sipped on the tea. ‘But then again, Doc Holliday says he sleeps in the nude, but I think that’s a lie.’
‘Caught him in pajamas?’
Milla gave her a serious look. ‘No, I just don’t think he sleeps.’ Milla slurped on her cup. ‘Want some tea? It’s full of vitamins and stuff, not that you need them or anything. I never could swallow tablets, but I always used to steal Billy’s morning cup of tea, so he just got the Doc to formulate tea with all the good stuff in it, so I could grow up big and strong.’
She shook her head. ‘I really don’t like tea.’
‘Shouldn’t that be a litmus test to get dual citizenship?’
Stef winced. ‘I don’t like people knowing that. No offense, but I have nothing but bad memories associated with this country.’
‘I’m pretty sure it expires when you die, but s’ok, we won’t kick you out or nothing, and you can always shift away if the authorities figure out you’re here illegally.’
‘So we’re seeing your sister today?’
‘I’ll show you where to go, and tell you what to say, don’t worry. Not even all the recruits here haven’t actually been into Madchester, but you’re only here for four days, so you need to get the whole experience at once, just in case you don’t come back, but you totally should.’
‘I thought that it would have been kind of like a mandatory field trip.’
‘Not really,’ Milla said, ‘what goes on inside isn’t really that important to us, it’s what they do outside. For the inside stuff, Billy has lunch with Madhe’s son every three months, and he tells him about Madchester, and Billy tells him about the Agency.’
‘I can’t believe they’re okay with you spying on them.’
The recruit shrugged. ‘This is just how things work, we don’t hurt anything, and they do it to us, so it’s all fair. Oh, and oh, some people in there might give you mean-grrr-faces cause you’re an agent, but just ignore them and you’ll be okay.’
‘I’ve gotten pretty used to people giving me grrrr-face,’ she said, requiring herself into her uniform. ‘What time do we leave? And I’m going to need a map or something, I’m not exactly intimately familiar with Manchester.’
Milla nodded. ‘Dun worry, I can do that. And we’ll leave at nine, and we’ll walk around for an hour, and then we’ll sit and I’ll show you how to do some of the correlating, which is a lot easier to do if we see someone important.’
‘How important do you have to be to be important?’
‘Like, a Courtier, or one of the high-ranking guards, one of Madhe’s favourites, or just a Story Thief, but those guys are impossible to keep track of, no matter how hard we try.’
‘A what?’ she asked, but even as she did, the file pertaining to the creature appeared in her HUD.
‘Your internal wiki just brought it up, didn’t it?’ Milla asked as she poured another mug of tea. ‘Want to read it, or want me to tell you?’
She minimised the file. ‘You can tell me,’ she said as she sat back down on the bed.
‘They’re these weird, not quite real fae, or, well, they’re technically follies, that’s what you call guys like them – the Story Thieves, the Ashreaders, anything that is real without being quite real,’ she said, ‘don’t worry, it’s not supposed to make sense.’
‘I’m sure it will one day,’ she said, ‘I’m kind of waiting for a lot of stuff to process.’
‘Okay, say…you’re on that show and you can have the car or the mystery box. You pick the car, but the mystery box, had like, a zillion pounds in it. Your girlfriend gets mad and leaves, because she’d prefer to have the zillion quid instead of the pretty shiny red car. Your life continues down Path A, probably resulting in alcoholism, depression, and eventual acceptance.’
‘How many zeros in a zillion?’
‘A whole bunch,’ Milla said with a grin. ‘Anyway, you find a Story Thief, and tell the story of how you picked the car, then they get that story, they add it to their reality, they have all the memories of that moment, and the whole Path A life that resulted from it, this little bit of stuff helps them be more real. And because you tell them that, that no longer happened for you.’
Stef stopped breathing.
‘They can alter history?’
Milla nodded. ‘But only stories that you can give them, you can’t tell them lies, well you can, but nothing happens, and you can’t tell someone else’s story.’
‘But,’ Stef pushed, ‘you can change history, you can change things that happened, no matter how long ago?’
‘Yeah,’ the recruit said, ‘so long as you can tell the story.’
Her hands were shaking. She could do it. She could change everything. She could fix every stupid mistake. She could-
‘What’s the catch?’ Stef asked, her voice coming out as a rush.
Milla stared. ‘What, why? It’s not like you’ll ever find one.’
A /serious at quarter-strength let her calm down a little. ‘I just like to know how things work. I’m still so new to all of this,’ she said.
This seemed to satisfy Milla. ‘Other than the fact that your entire life changes? Well, could change, you don’t know how much of an effect a little decision can have.’
‘Yeah, I know Chaos Theory,’ she said, ‘please, tell me, what’s the catch?’
‘Well, the obvious thing is you can’t bring people back to life. You can alter history around it, but if someone died, they died, not even the Thieves have power over life and death.’
She slumped a little. That was a wrinkle, but there were still things she could fix.
‘Did you lose someone?’ Milla asked.
She pushed a cold, uncaring look onto her face. ‘I’m just thinking of all the money and favours you could earn by running a resurrection business.’
Milla shrugged then stood and held out a hand. ‘Come on, Agent, we need some breakfast before we go do our jobs. It’s best to have a reserve of sugar and happy up before going to Madchester.’