As the shift completed, Stef blinked, taking in the sight of Ryan’s office.
She’d been in the office fewer than a dozen times, but somehow, it felt safe. It felt like the first little bit of “safe” she’d had since before seeing the bird and volcano, and since becoming their trussed-up prisoner. She took a breath, and some of the tension evaporated.
Ryan paced in front of the window, in the small space behind his desk.
A pretty black woman leaned on his desk, watching him pace, and Jones sat on the couch, tablet in hand. Jones smiled up at Stef but didn’t say anything to break Ryan from the circuit he was wearing into the carpet.
The woman reached out an arm and touched Ryan as he turned. Ryan froze and lifted his head to look at the woman, who angled her head towards Stef. Ryan followed the woman’s head tilt and finally saw her.
‘Hi,’ she said as Ryan approached.
Agent hugs were really, really good at squeezing all of the breath from your body.
Ryan let her go a moment later, one hand going to her head, one going to her shoulder. ‘Are you all right? What’s–?’
‘The experimentation protocol has just come through,’ Jones said from his place on the couch. ‘Looks like the Parkers are going to attempt removal.’
She lifted a hand and touched his arm. ‘It’s okay,’ she said quietly. ‘It’s choice three, just– Just like when you recruited me. It’s– It’s a chance to be here. If you still want me.”
Ryan’s response was another lung-destroying agenty hug.
‘You’re crushing the poor girl,’ the woman said, and Stef immediately cringed at the accent.
The British are coming! The British are coming!
They’re apparently already here.
Ryan stepped aside. ‘Jane,’ he said, indicating the woman. ‘This is Stef. Stef, Agent Jane.’
Jane held out a hand. ‘It’s almost strange to meet you,’ she said. The accent was educated, beautiful, a voice that wouldn’t be out of place on the BBC. ‘I’ve only known about you whilst you were dead.’
I’m weirdly okay with the fact that I died.
You probably shouldn’t say that out loud.
Stef shook Jane’s hand. ‘Hi.’
‘I’m London’s Combat agent,’ Jane said. ‘The equivalent of–’
‘The angry truck.’
Jane’s lips quirked up into a smile. ‘And by “truck” you mean “Agent Taylor”?’
‘It’s obvious he has truck DNA. I think he’s what happens when those things from Cars have human babies.’
‘I will neither confirm nor deny that he has truck elements in his build,’ Jones said. ‘Stef, are you aware of what this protocol says?’
Ryan stepped back a little, his face going playing-in-HUD blank.
‘The mirror is the issue,’ Stef said as she went to sit on the couch. ‘We get rid of the mirror, and I stop being a problem for the Agency. This is the best solution, so I’m all for it.’
Ryan looked distraught. ‘You understand this can kill you.’
‘If that’s what it takes,’ Stef said, lacing her fingers in an effort to keep them still. ‘I accept that.’
‘I’ll give you some space,’ Jane said. ‘It was nice to meet you. I hope it’s not the one and only meeting we have.’
Ryan retreated to his desk, the out-to-lunch look still on his face – not something she wanted to interrupt, for fear of bothering him.
‘I refuse to believe I’m a special snowflake. I can’t believe I’m the only recruit who has ever been dumb enough to get stabbed by the shinies. What– What usually happens?’
Jones leaned back against the couch, the tablet disappearing from his hand. ‘You aren’t the first; you won’t be the last.’
‘Does this happen a lot? With– With the mirror I mean.’
‘This experimental protocol has been used before, yes,’ he said, ‘but each circumstance is different. There are eight cases that I’m able to access, and more that I can’t. Of those eight, there are five where the ultimate outcome was for the recruit to remain a recruit, and three where they were converted into an agent.’
She raised her eyebrows. ‘You can do that?’
‘It’s tricky, but it’s easier than you would think. There are a number of reasons recruits can get either partial or full augments. Mirror is one of those cases where it’s viewed as warranted. It gives the Agency more ways to control and destroy something they view as dangerous.’
‘And augments…’ It seemed obvious, but she felt like saying it aloud anyway. ‘Recruits with extra blue?’
‘Pretty much. Those are a lot more common than experimental protocols like this. They’re practically commonplace, relatively speaking. If you’ve got a recruit with a long history of service, and they suffer an injury that Agency doctors and fae doctors can’t deal with–’ He looked up. ‘So something really pretty severe, like, completely losing a limb – there’s the option to fix them as a way of thanking them for service.’ He flicked a piece of long blond hair from his face. ‘Plus this is one of the situations where we can demand a length of service from a recruit. Depending on the injury, it’s up to five years.’
Stef stared at Jones, but he didn’t continue. ‘And?’ she prompted.
His green eyes practically sparkled. ‘Recruit, why would you think there’s more?’
‘Because it doesn’t make sense if there isn’t. If you’ve got provisions to be able to jack up a recruit with a fuck tonne more blue than usual, then it’s a waste to just use it as some really weird form of NHS. Why not make stronger, faster, better recruits, to stop them from getting hurt in the first place?’
‘You’re quite correct, of course. Those are the majority of augments. Combat recruits, primarily, just to give them a bit more armour rating, or a plus-five to punching. Only minor, of course – no more than a ten percent increase in their natural abilities. We don’t want them getting too strong.’ He affected a haughty look. ‘Recruits are to be kept in their place, after all.’ He rolled his eyes. ‘Or whatever. We haven’t got any here.’
She chewed on her lip for a moment, taking in the detail. ‘And the eight mirror cases you can see. Happy endings, or not?’
‘Three of the five recruits were able to use up their mirror and return to their normal recruit careers. One died from unrelated causes, and the mirror wasn’t so kind as to grant him a resurrection. One… The report is unclear, I’m going to investigate it further, but it looks like a wish gone awry.’
‘I’d prefer to spare you the details until I’m actually sure.’
‘And the agenty ones?’
‘Would you believe me if I told you that mirror can be used as a drug?’
She thumped her head against the back of the couch. ‘I– What is this? I don’t even… How is there enough to meet supply?’
‘It’s ground into powder and cut with other drugs. An infinitesimal amount of mirror with each hit still makes it the best trip ever.’
‘Speaking from experience?’
‘Speaking from research,’ he said. ‘Obviously, the Agency doesn’t like this. A recruit was part of a raid to deal with, er, some dealers, and took a face full of the powdered mirror – the street value of what it would have been once cut was frankly staggering. He was able to wash most of it off, but a lot went into his eyes.’
Jones nodded. ‘His doctor wasn’t sure what to do. There was the possibility of cutting out his eyes, making him an augment, and growing him new ones.’
The tech agent went silent.
She looked over at Ryan, who had poured himself a drink but still seemed to be fully engaged with his HUD. His silence was starting to get worrying. ‘Is the protocol really that bad?’
‘All I can see is the first few pages. The rest is locked above my security clearance. I assume there are…potential scenarios for what can occur if the twins fail.’
‘What happened with guy with the mirror eyes?’
Jones looked around the room. ‘His eyes gave him amazing powers of, well, sight – obviously. For a human.’
For a human. Stef ran the words around in her mind for a moment. ‘For a human, but nothing special when you’ve got blue-goop-magic-narcs with genie powers.’
Jones nodded. ‘What we can do is pretty mundane to us, but we come out miles ahead of most superheroes. Nightcrawler? We can shift. Green Lantern? We can require. Doctor Strange?’ He tugged on his lab coat. ‘I’m not saying I’m supreme, but I definitely think I count as some sort of sorcerer. Slytherin, before you ask.’ He pointed at his face. ‘And not just because my eyes match the house colours.’
‘I grew up in a boarding school,’ she said after a moment. ‘But we only had three houses, so it was a bit difficult to pick which was which, so certain cliques could sorta belong to certain Hogwarts houses.’
‘Squib. Not even the fucking Hufflepuffs wanted me.’ She raised the hands. ‘Joke’s on them now, I guess. Require: cookie.’ She winced. ‘Ah. Shit. Right.’
He required her a large cookie and handed it to her. ‘Jonesy?’
‘He was used in analytical situations for a while. Very occasionally he could see something that our sensors and scans couldn’t, but it destabilised him, and he was moved to accommodations in his agency’s basement, and he– He brought the experiment to a premature close.’
In other words, he’d killed himself. She felt as if she’d been punched in the gut. ‘Great.’
There was a squeaking sound as Ryan got up from his desk. He looked…beaten, as though most of the potential scenarios had bad ends. He finished the drink, and the glass disappeared from his hand.
Ryan walked across the room, sat beside her, and held her hand. ‘Everything’s going to be fine.’
She leaned her head against his shoulder. ‘Grown-ups only say that when they’re lying.’