There was a light above her head.
A small, yellow light.
It was round.
It was pretty.
The light seemed to halo out from it, like sun breaking through thin clouds, or a lamp in a dusty room.
Hey, you’re back.
You’re out, genius.
Stef looked away from the mesmerising light, and around the room. It looked like one of the tech labs, white ceiling, white walls, containing a Ryan.
She blinked, then blinked again, realised that she was lying down, then sat up, grabbed him and hugged him. ‘Hey,’ she said, crushing herself against his chest. ‘I am so glad to be here,’ she said, her voice faltering. ‘It was kind of- I’m glad to be out.’
He returned the hug. ‘It’s okay,’ she heard him say, ‘it’s okay.’
She nodded, but didn’t let him go. She stared at the fabric in front of her, and needed to know if it was real. ‘Are you really here?’
He pushed her away, just a little, as even a strong agent didn’t seem to be able to break her grip. He bent down to her level. ‘Everything’s all right, okay?’
She looked at him, and believed him. It wasn’t like she’d seen his lying face, but it seemed trustworthy enough. More trustworthy than when he’d been the scary man with the gun. Slowly, she let him go. ‘Okay.’
He straightened himself, then ruffled her hair, the gesture was small, but immediately lowered her urge to run screaming from this strange, new situation. A required cookie being waved in her face happily derailed her train of thought, as did Ryan’s smile. ‘Welcome back.’
She moved to the edge of the slab and slid off, intending to stand, so that she wasn’t in the centre of attention anymore. Well, she probably would still be, but at least she wouldn’t be in the centre of the room. Her feet touched the ground, and then the rest of her did.
The floor was cold. It was also very, very hard, especially when meeting a soft face at speed. She stared at the lab floor for a moment, wondering if there was some important part of her brain had-
Snake? SNAKE! SNAAAAAAKE!
Oh shut up, I’m not dead.
‘Oooooouch,’ she mumbled, ‘legs are for people.’
She was lifted up from the floor, like a chosen one being taken aloft by The Claw and deposited back on the bed. Ryan looked at her with a strange look – it was either an urge to yell at her, or concern. Probably the urge to yell at her. ‘Don’t try and rush yourself.’
Well, maybe it was concern.
She leaned forward, her head resting against his chest. ‘Okay…I won’t.’
Ryan was pulled back, and she almost fell to the floor again. The little wizard raised a hammer and brought it down on her knee.
Harry Potter and the Torture Chamber?
I suggest not Googling that.
‘Anything?’ he asked.
‘Yeah.’ She grabbed for the hammer, lest he produce a sequel. ‘More ouch.’ He moved back, keeping the hammer just out of her reach.
Harry Potter and the acting-like-a-jerk?
That doesn’t even work as a crack!fic title.
…I’m sure it would. To the internet!
You’re stuck on this table, genius.
You and your logic. Bah.
‘-you can hit her with a hammer later.’ She heard Jones say.
She spun around to look at the supposedly mild-mannered tech. ‘What?’
Jones grinned in a not-quite-Machiavellian way. ‘Just to test your reflexes.’
‘I’m not sure I like the sound of that.’
‘Trust me,’ the boy in goggles said as a scarf – one she was sure that was twelve and a half feet long – appeared around him, both end dragging to the floor. ‘I’m the Doctor.’
Old trivia flooded her mind, unused connections were made, and a conspiracy theory began to form.‘…I…’ She looked to Jones, who, would neither confirm nor deny Merlin’s status as the real Merlin, surely wouldn’t leave her hanging at such a critical juncture. Thankfully, the tech shook his head. ‘Oh, good, cause the Doctor is Merlin, and if you’re Merlin then you could be the Doctor, and that means I would have to tear this place apart looking for the TARDIS…unless the whole building is a TARDIS, are we-’
‘Unfortunately not,’ Jones said, ‘this Agency is only a little bigger on the inside, not a lot bigger, and so far as I know,’ he said as he pulled the scarf away from Merlin, who spun gleefully as he did, ‘this one isn’t from Gallifrey.’ Jones stood from his desk, pulled two glowing patches from her head, and quietly ushered Merlin from the room.
Happy thoughts of conspiracy fled with the tech and his little wizard, leaving her with only reality to deal with. Scary reality. Big reality. Information that no wardrobe could hide her from. Her head dropped and the stared at the thin material of the hospital blues that she was wearing.
Hey listen! Hey listen! Hey listen!
…do you really think that’s the best way you can get through to me right now?
Take a deep breath, Spyder.
She did, and the tears started to fall.
Come on, you’ve faced worse stuff than this.
No, we really haven’t.
She saw Ryan move in front of her, and then with little effort, he lifted her from the slab and deposited her down onto a soft couch. A few seconds later, he handed her a handkerchief. She stared at it, the precise corners mocking her own lack of order, opened it, then buried her face in it, ruining all sense of precision that freshly-pressed square of cloth had, then noisily blew her nose into it, forever ruining the handkerchief’s bid for perfection.
‘Are you all right?’
The truth spilled out. ‘Nope.’
‘You will be though,’ he said, ‘everything really is fine.’
She tried to harden her face. ‘You’re setting yourself for disappointment, I hope you realise that.’
‘You haven’t disappointed me yet.’
A tiny smile broke through. ‘Fine,’ she said, ‘I’ll give it go.’
Is that actual happy?
‘Should I take that as a yes?’
She nodded. ‘Sign me up.’
‘You’re already signed up,’ he said.
She made a face. ‘I kinda guessed that.’
He gave her a serious look. ‘For life.’
‘So, we really are into last-suit-you’ll-ever-wear territory?’ she asked.
‘It’s the terms of the experiment,’ he said. ‘But that will all get explained later.’
‘Anything important I need to know?’
‘A lot,’ he said, ‘but nothing right now.’
She lifted a hand and stared at it. It felt, for lack of a better word, normal. ‘It’s different.’
‘From what I thought it would be like.’
‘You wondered what it would be like to be an agent?’
She held up a hand. ‘Geek, remember? And yeah, ever since the whole ahh-Miss-Mimosa-I’m-the-scary-MiB-guy-who-knows-magically-knows-your-name thing.’ She waved a hand in front of her face, her vision still obstinately human. ‘Kinda thought it would be like Terminator-vision.’
‘Your HUD isn’t active yet.’
She couldn’t hold back a grin. ‘So I do get Terminator-vision?’
‘Something similar I believe.’
‘Jones will turn it back on when he-’
‘You can’t do it now?’
He looked at her. ‘It’s a little much to handle.’
‘Everything’s been a little too much to handle,’ she said. ‘Monsters, immortal guys, wingless angel guys – wait, do I get wings?’
She felt her face fall into a pout. ‘Bummer.’
He moved to the middle seat of the couch. ‘Close your eyes.’
She did, and there was an audible click in her mind. Was-
Not me, Spyder.
She felt Ryan take her hand in his. ‘All the lights are off, so it’s going to be dark, but it will lessen the amount of information you’ll see, all right?’
‘Open your eyes.’
Just relax. Just breathe.
She slowly opened her eyes, wanting to savour the moment like unwrapping the best Christmas present ever. Ryan’s face filled her vision, blocking out most of the dark lab. There was a thin blue outline around him, making details clear that should have been unnoticeable thanks to the lack of ambient light.
The outline blinked or a moment, then a small tooltip appeared in the bottom right hand corner of her vision, informing her that the man in front of her was indeed Ryan, and not just some weird clone or creep wearing his skin. The tooltip expanded, displaying a string of numbers and a small blue circle beside it.
She focused on the tiny blue circle, and then there was familiar “clunk” as a…friends list popped up. It, however was greyed-out, waiting for her to act on the dialogue box above it.
[Autofilled some people for you. 😀
Ryan’s name was there, with the same little blue circle, Jones’ name was under that, followed by Merlin. At the bottom of the box, there was the option to add new people, or do a search.
This is really cool.
Ryan waved his hand in front of her, and she automatically tracked it, tiny little measurements appearing and disappearing around it: speed, distance, length of the hand itself.
She blinked a few times, all traces of the HUD disappearing when she did.
She smiled. ‘This is gonna take a while to get used to.’
‘You’ve got time.’
She focused on his name in her friends list, and the panel rearranged itself, dropping the other names off, and instead only showing information about him: rank, location, scheduled meetings, an option to see staff assigned to him, options to communicate, call or email him. She chose the communicate option, and the friends list disappeared, replaced by a dialogue box giving her the option of “face-to-face” with the icon of two smiling emoticons or text only, with an accompanying icon showing a miniature QWERTY keyboard.
Since he was sitting right in front of her, she chose the face-to-face option. She reeled as the rest of the world went a little grey. He squeezed her hand, and his face appeared in amongst the grey fuzz.[Trust you to find this system quickly.]
[So I’ve got a webcam in my brain now?] She blinked. [Wait, I didn’t say that with my mouth. But I did. I can feel myself talking.] She coughed, and ran her tongue around the inside of her mouth. [That’s really weird. But you can hear me, right?]
[But what if I want to talk out loud? I has webcam but must scream? This is really weird, what if I-]
Don’t worry, I’m still here.
But you’re not appearing on the screen.
That’s the last place you need me. Concentrate.
I said concentrate.
[You’re getting a hang of it?] Ryan asked.
With a thought, she backed out of the conversation, and the world regained its original colour. ‘Sort of,’ she said, waving a hand in front of her face. ‘I think I need to start with something smaller, otherwise I’m going to end up talking to myself because I forget to talk normally.’
He held a hand near her face, and a video window popped up in her HUD. Everything was still in normal colour, until she accepted the chat, and the world at the edges went grey again. [This is your active window,] he said, [to put it in terms you’ll understand.] He waved his hand, which was visible in the grey. [If you set your focus out here, and change the active window, you’ll be speaking and emoting in the real world.]
She followed his presumed instruction, concentrating on his hand, and the world immediately popped back into colour again, with the video window turning grey. Two picture-in-picture windows appeared next to Ryan’s face – both of her face. One was labelled “chat” and one was labelled “lab”. In the “lab” window, she saw her focussed eyes, whereas her chat self had a default expression on her face. She raised her hand – and it only moved in the “lab” window. She mentally alt-tabbed back to the chat window, then lifted her other hand, which appeared in the “chat” window.
[Hm, okay,] she said, feeling her mouth move, but only seeing it move in the “chat” window, her expression in the “lab” window the familiar thousand-yard stare of someone not paying any attention at all. [I think I’m getting it now. I presume there’s tweaks and filters, so you don’t actually fucking swear up a fucking storm in front of your fucking manager?]
Against all assumptions, this got small smile from Ryan. [Yes,] he said, and exited from the video chat. ‘I can show you all of those as we move into the advanced menus.’
‘Try requiring something.’
She required a cookie, but he grabbed back her hand before she could eat it.
‘Concentrate on it,’ he said.
She did, and a small record log appeared. It listed the time in twenty-four-hour time – with the timezone in brackets – and then the item and a small link in brackets, her HUD agreed with reality, she had required a [Cookie].
‘Ooooh, textual representation of individualised brain macros!’ she said with a grin.
‘Er, exactly,’ he said. ‘Here, try this.’
A small berry tart appeared in her hand, on a china plate, a swirl of red sauce rimming the plate. She lifted the small tart, bit into it, and felt her toes curl in ecstasy. She flopped back against the couch, slowly chewing on the mouthful of tart. ‘Om nom nom,’ she managed. ‘Oh so nom.’
‘You approve then?’
She crammed the rest of the tart into her mouth, then concentrated on the messenger window that was obstinately stuck in her vision. [Hm…oh, ok, cool, I can type in here. Well, brain-type, it’s weird, I keep wanting to type with my real fingers, I think the same bits of my are lighting up…does that make me weird?]
‘…no Stef, that isn’t what makes you weird.’
Insult and amusement both took up arms and warred to be the dominant emotion. ‘Oi!’ she cried, feeling oddly happy that he was able to acknowledge her weirdness.
He stood and offered a hand down to her. ‘Come on, I’ve got more things to show you.’