Stef stared at the ice cream shop. While most were just a counter, a freezer, and barely enough room for customers, this one actually had the room for several small tables, in addition to a higher counter with stools at the window beside the door.
‘Am I supposed to ask how you knew exactly where to go?’ she asked as Ryan pushed open the door. ‘There can’t be that many ice cream places open this time of night.’
Ryan gave her his inscrutable narc look. ‘Consider it a benefit of living in the same city for over a hundred years and having impeccable recall.’
‘I’ve told you that you’re cool, right?’
He smiled, then gestured at the freezer.
She pressed her nose to the glass and stared in at the rainbow of frozen colours. She looked away from the ice cream to the menu board, to check on the prices.
Require: money, remember?
She looked back into the freezer and slowly started counting on her fingers all of the flavours and extras she wanted. When she ran out of fingers, she grabbed for Ryan’s hand and proceeded to use him as an angelic abacus. With four of his fingers raised, she looked up at him. ‘Do pink and white marshmallows count as different fingers?’
He raised another finger.
‘K!’ She stood on tiptoes so she could look at the clerk. She pointed to the monster sundae on the menu board. ‘One of those, plz!’ She counted off each flavour and topping and grinned as a sundae worthy of idol worship took shape.
She looked up at Ryan when all the fingers had been relinquished. ‘Was that all I wanted?’
He angled his head to look at the monster creation, narc expression firmly in place. ‘If it’s not, you can come back for seconds.’ He stepped up to the counter and paid as she carried it to the high barstools by the window.
She immediately started to pick at the marshmallows – dipping them into hot fudge and whip cream. ‘You can totally share this,’ she said as Ryan sat beside her.
‘There’s no need,’ he said.
‘Don’t you have some sort of angelic imperative to enjoy all the sweet things in life?’
Marshmallows gone, the ice cream called. ‘Crap.’
‘What?’ Ryan asked.
She tilted her head. ‘There’s no spoon.’ Ryan held up his hand, and a spoon appeared. ‘Thanks.’
Half a dozen messy spoonfuls of ice cream later, Stef stopped nomming and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. ‘Um, question?’
‘No,’ he said, ‘you don’t have to finish it.’
‘No-no, not that,’ she said. ‘This is probably gonna be a stupid questions, but you should expect a lot of those – like I said, I’m a problematic pet, and–’
He pulled several serviettes from the dispenser and handed them to her. ‘It would be faster if you simply asked.’
‘Do, um– Do you need to eat? Or can you only eat certain things?’
He turned the large bowl. ‘This side is starting to melt.’
‘Was that a bad question?’
He shook his head. ‘No, but I’d like to see if you can work it out. You understand what I am; you understand what my function is.’
She smiled at the challenge. She closed her eyes and listened for a moment.
‘Okay, so you breathe,’ she said. ‘You’re in one of those stupid, horrible, public-facing roles. People would notice if you didn’t breathe. But, it’s a question of whether you actually need to, or if it’s only for the sake of appearances. I mean, yeah, it probably helps for speech, but you could…’ She tried to bend the spoon with her hands. ‘This probably isn’t too much of a leap, but you could probably set an automatic requirement to trigger every time you needed to talk so that the act of breathing in wasn’t actually necessary.’
He held up a hand to stop her. ‘Some agents do operate that way. Continue.’
‘But at the same time, that would dedicate a lot of–’ Thoughts ground to a halt. She leaned back on her stool and looked him up and down. ‘Holy fuck.’
‘Seriously, holy fuck. What– What are you?’ she asked, trying to keep her voice down. ‘I was just about to say an automatic requirement would take up a lot of processing power– But– But–’ She put her hands to the sides of her head, almost able to feel the thoughts forming. ‘And I get that there’s the system, and whatever, but– So there’s the server processing power, but it only works if there’s a local component too. Okay– Okay, I can require shit– Can you actually require shit? I can require stuff with a thought, so there’s–’ She let her hands drop away from her head. ‘I’ve been– I am such a fucking moron.’
Stef stabbed her spoon into the ice cream and took an angry bite of chocolate and fudge. ‘I came to you an hour ago, worried that you’d reject me for being a criminal. Now I realise I’m just criminally stupid.’
She buried the spoon in the ice cream and wiped her hands on her pants. ‘I’ve been thinking way too much about the magic, and not about the tech. Cause this is tech, isn’t it? Fine, I can accept that maybe I can conjure stuff – and for food and stuff, that’s fine, cause I know what food tastes like, and that’s the important thing. But – but if it was solely based off my brain, then all the comics and stuff I was requiring would be only filled with as much as I know, right? So I get there’s logical redundancies for things like guns, where I don’t know the exact design, but I know it’s “pull trigger equals bang”. But for there to be a logical redundancy, then there has to be some sort of system. So – so the require command is actually a command. It’s a lookup from my brain to correspond against some global system search to give me what I actually want.’
He gave her a slight nod, and she pressed her fingertips against the bench.
‘And I’m just a recruit. I don’t need any access to anything more advanced than “require: gun” or “require: cookie”. You – you need a hell of a lot more than that. Okay, fine, so maybe you can shift cause you know where you’re going, but what about when you don’t know where you’re going? It’s different to picture and teleport to your office than it is to that mansion I was in. Had you ever been there before?’
He shook his head.
‘So, what; am I supposed to believe that you’d shift to somewhere that you did know, then shift closer bit by bit? That…that makes sense for like Nightcrawler and people like him, but if you were–’ She could feel her argument losing steam. ‘But – but – but if you were on-purpose built for that, having to rely only on places you know, then that’s stupid. It makes no sense. That would be with the type of magic where my comics were missing half the panels because I can’t remember the details.’
She sank lower in her chair. ‘So – so that means that you need to be able to target yourself properly. It’s an assumption, but I’d guess that just staring at Google Maps isn’t enough, so you’d need some system to be able to target. And it needs to be internal, cause I haven’t seen you using a computer or a phone or anything when you’ve been shifting us around.’ She started tapping out prime numbers on the counter. ‘And if we assume that, then there’s other stuff that comes along with it, like – like exactly how you knew who I was. You’d need some sort of facial recognition or something–’
Stef pushed the sundae away. ‘It’s going to sound totally– You’re – you’re a computer, aren’t you?’
‘I’m an artificial being, and all of my functions are controlled through my HUD.’
‘I’ll say it again. Holy. Fuck.’
‘If this bothers you–’
‘The only thing that bothers me is how long it took me to figure it out!’ Stef said, her voice rising. ‘Do you have any idea how cool this is? Oh – oh, my god.’ She sent up a silent prayer to Turing, then raised a hand and held it an inch in front of his face. ‘Is your HUD on all the time, like a Terminator? Does it change how you see things? Do you have apps? Can you set a different desktop theme?’
‘You truly aren’t bothered?’
‘You have spent more than five minutes with me, right? Why the hell would you think I’d be bothered?’
Ryan stared at her with his narcy look for a moment, before he let it drop into something a lot less certain. ‘Because of our nature, we do get a degree of–’ He paused for a moment. ‘Let’s say “disregard” from some fae.’
‘I’m only bigoted against stupid people.’ She stared up at him. ‘Can you show me how you see stuff? Like, is it possible to take a screenshot from in your HUD?’
‘My recruits generally aren’t this accepting,’ he said. ‘So it’s not something we advertise.’
‘Is that a polite “No, cause it’s classified” or something?’
He looked away.
Her stomach twisted. ‘Look, you can just tell me to shut up if you want.’
The world shattered.
[table id=15 /]