The tech department seemed so much more full of life than the Field floor. Large, flat-panel monitors streamed memes and videos. There were the standard emergency diagrams and such, but they were drowned out by schedules of a dozen different MMOs and P&P RPGS.
Stef grimaced as she bumped into Curt.
Warn me before stopping, next time.
He pushed open a door but made a shushing motion. ‘This is the phone bank,’ he said, stepping aside to let her see a room with seven recruits at large desks, each containing at least three screens. ‘Some people can call us directly, but we also get a lot of triple-zero calls routed through to us – things that the regular emergency services can’t deal with.’
She watched as one recruit constructed miniature siege weaponry. ‘It doesn’t seem that busy.’
‘Don’t jinx it,’ he said. ‘It means we’re having a good day.’
He closed the door, and they continued on. He pointed out four different common rooms, the comics library of awesomeness, and a few unoccupied laboratories.
‘Where’s the CSI stuff?’
‘They’re on the floor below.’ He pointed at the door to Jones’s lab. ‘Okay, here we are.’ He knocked, and Jones called for them to come in.
The lab was the same as the day before – long metal workbenches on all four walls, computers and equipment lined up neatly, and the occasional folder of information lying open, waiting to be worked on.
Jones wore a heavy-duty headset, and she could hear panicked and dying screams filtering through. On the screen in front of the agent, people flailed and ran, their bodies on fire. Some made it further than others, but one by one, they fell.
‘I swear,’ he said, ‘if we wipe again, I’m putting you all on corpse duty for a month.’ He dumped the headset onto the desk, quickly typed in a /dance command for his character, then spun to face them. ‘Recruits, what can I do for you?’
‘Agent,’ Curt said with a nod. ‘She needs to get a couple of your guys assigned for when she’s doing field work.’
‘Sure thing,’ Jones said, straightening his PWN T-shirt. ‘Just let me pull up some schedules.’ He looked to her. ‘He doesn’t listen, but I think you might; you’re free to call me Jonesy. All of my recruits do.’ He stood and laid out some spreadsheets on the nearest bench. ‘Do you know what schedule you’re on, yet?’
‘I’m going to suggest C to Agent Ryan,’ Curt said. ‘He shouldn’t have a problem.’
Jones nodded. ‘Screen doesn’t have a primary for that shift. She’s just backup for a few combat recruits. And for your secondary…’ He trailed off and flipped to the next page. ‘Sacha is only the backup for two, so that works.’ He stared into space for a moment. ‘Sacha’s in the library, but Screen is in the common room if you’d like to meet her.’
‘We walked past the library, though,’ Stef said, ‘there was no one in it.’
‘Not our library,’ Jones said. He fixed his gaze on Curt. ‘Haven’t you shown her anything fun yet?’
‘I haven’t had that much time to work with, Agent,’ Curt said. ‘I was trying to get her through the basics first.’
‘I’ll leave you to explain Lost and Found,’ Jones said, then addressed Stef. ‘We have our own library here. Feel free to come up during your free time. But that’s just our little sanctuary. The Agency has a library of its own – one library for all agencies as a whole. You can’t go through to other agencies without permission or an access card, though, so don’t think of trying to walk to Europe. The library itself covers several square miles. Every recruit-accessible file is there, as well as a lot of fae literature.’
Her jaw dropped. ‘…So basically what you’re saying is there’s a physical manifestation of L-Space through a door just down the hall?’
Jones leaned closer. ‘Oook.’
She spun and took three steps towards the door.
She turned back towards Curt. ‘But – but!’
He tapped his foot. ‘Work first. Fun later.’
‘It’s not impressive behaviour to run off while an agent is talking to you.’
Impressive. She had to impress Ryan. She had to prove she was worth taking a chance on. She swallowed and felt the excitement in her brain calm to manageable levels. She pouted and dragged her feet as she walked back to the bench. ‘Sorry.’
‘For my two cents, I prefer mixing work with play.’ Jones jerked a thumb over his shoulder. ‘We’ve got department guilds for most of the MMOs if you want to join. I’ve already found your accounts and have switched them to be paid by Agency accounts.’
She grinned. ‘Raiding or casual?’
‘Depends on the day of the week.’
‘Screen’s the one with the purple hair, right?’ Curt asked.
‘Come on, newbie.’
‘What time does the library close?’
‘What would be the point of a closing time?’
‘Come on, newbie.’
She followed Curt from the room. ‘Why didn’t you expound on the library?’
He stopped and sighed. ‘Cause I rightfully assumed you would do this?’
‘What else is there that’s fun?’
‘Hold out your hand.’
‘Do you want to see something cool or not?’
She gingerly lifted her hand and held it out, palm up.
He touched a finger lightly against her palm. ‘This is lost property.’
The world spun and went dark.
She was blind.
Her heart thundered in her chest.
I don’t want to be blind!
She slowly took an inventory. Feet. Legs. Arms. Hands. Head.
‘Okay, so I’m alive…’
There was a loud click, and lights slowly sprang to life, revealing shelves and racks of a seemingly endless storage space.
She took a step forwards from the shelves and more lights came on. Dust swirled as she took tentative steps through the space.
‘Does that count as cool?’ Curt asked from beside her.
She spun. ‘What the hell did you do? Where the hell are we?’
‘Don’t worry. We’re still in the agency. This is the Lost and Found for Brisbane and its outposts.’ He clapped his hands to his chest. ‘This is lost property.’ He disappeared, then reappeared a few feet behind, in a Curt-sized alcove of the storage shelf. ‘It’s just a building macro, nothing to be scared of. There’s a ton of automated stuff that the building does. This is just one you can purposely invoke.’
She required a coffee cup and held it aloft. ‘This is lost property.’
There was a tingling sensation as the cup disappeared from her hand. He pointed, and she saw it on the shelf.
‘Come on,’ he said. ‘Now we’ll need to sign out.’
‘All self-propelled lost property must sign out,’ a man’s voice said, ringing against the half-empty shelves.
A clipboard was shoved at her before she had time to take in the man’s appearance. She signed her name and looked at him.
He was old. Old-man old. His hair was greying in places, and he had a way-past-five-o’clock shadow.
‘Um, hi,’ she said as she handed the clipboard back.
He grunted in reply.
‘Come on newbie.’
She followed Curt out of the room, past a tiny office containing a desk, a chair, and a television.
‘Is he an agent, or is that the job you get as an old recruit?’
‘He’s like Natalie,’ he said. ‘Technically an agent, but a different job and a different level of security access.’
‘Why is he old?’
‘Because he is?’ he said as he pressed the button for the lift.
‘Ryan doesn’t look his age.’
‘Applebaum is probably twice as old as Ryan,’ he said as they stepped into the lift, ‘if what I’ve heard is true. He’s apparently one of the first-generation agents. This is pretty much retirement for him, a job that needs to be done but has very little responsibility.’
She pulled one of the leftover chocolate stars from her pocket and nommed on it as they stepped back out onto the tech floor.
‘I hope you appreciate this waste of time,’ he said.
‘I do, trust me, I do.’
She saw stick figures and ground to a halt. She turned towards the screen and stared at the new xkcd update. It faded, segueing into Kate Beaton.
‘Bring it back; bring it back!’
‘It’s a touchscreen,’ a voice said. ‘Just swipe it.’
She looked to the side and saw a tech recruit, shorter than her, with green streaks through his hair. ‘Huh?’
He reached up and swiped on the screen, bringing the comic back.
‘And what about the alt text?’
She tapped the screen twice, and the text appeared. She sniggered, then tapped it again and let it disappear.
‘Done?’ Curt asked.
The recruit turned and snapped a salute. ‘Sorry, Agent C.’
She stared at Curt. ‘Agent?’
‘He didn’t tell you yet?’
‘Raz,’ Curt said. ‘Can you go find Screen for us?’
‘Common room two, sir.’
‘Dismissed, Recruit,’ Curt said, sounding impressively narcy.
The recruit scampered off.
‘Agent?’ she asked again.
‘You’re– How the fuck does that work?’ She held her head. ‘What?’
‘If you prick me,’ he said, ‘I’ll bleed red, not blue. I’m as human as you are. Raz…’ He paused for a moment. ‘Honest to the gods, he believes he’s working for the MiB, and that I’m an agent.’
‘The MiB part is accurate enough, but why are you suddenly narc-pants?’
‘He thinks I’m too serious to be a regular person. It’s sort of a compliment in a weird way.’
She opened her mouth.
‘But if you start calling me that, I’ll stop requiring candy for you.’
She closed her mouth.
He gave her a nod, and they moved towards the second common room – this one filled with couches and beanbags, a large screen dominating one room.
‘Unofficial agency theatre,’ he said. ‘They run movie nights, which I’m assuming you’ll want to go to. There’ll be invites in your email.’
A girl with purple hair stood holding a modem. Though disconnected, its lights still blinked.
‘Hey,’ Curt said to the girl. ‘Has Agent Jones told you anything yet?’
The cuddly-looking tech grinned. ‘I think I can extrapolate.’ She paused. ‘No. Wait, you’re still in a suit, so we’ll go with option two.’ She stuck out her hand. ‘Screen. Cookies or pie?’
Stef shook the hand. ‘Stef. Cookies.’
‘DC or Marvel?’
‘Neither have my undying loyalty.’
‘How many Terminator films are there?’
‘Who’s your god?’
‘You’ll do,’ Screen said. ‘So I’m going to be your primary?’
‘I think so, yeah.’
She turned and saw his hand at his ear.
‘We can handle it, sir.’ Pause. ‘It’s probably not just the one.’ Pause. ‘No, go ahead. Shift us out.’ Pause. He looked to her. ‘We’re shifting out in ten seconds.’
‘What’s going on?’
‘Goblins,’ he said, and the world blurred.
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