A Quiet Night

Three recruits on the phone bank. Two in the lab working, three in the smaller lab investigating their understanding of biology.

Four recruits in the main computer lab, submitting alternative drone paths.

All in all, very quiet for two in the morning.

Jones placed another bet.

He wondered if Blue Earth ever even considered horse races when they threatened to expose magic to the world.

From the outside, it would appear rather simple – horses ran around the track. People made money. People lost money. Already, it was far more complex than that simple summation belied, but the details would multiply a hundred times over when jockeys could be six inches tall, or could weigh nothing, or control the horse from the grandstand, and that was to say nothing of the horses racing without jockeys.

Two invites appeared in his inbox, both for the same presentation: one as speaker, one as an audience member. He smiled gratefully, and sent a quick smiley to Agent Fellows – one of the few who had picked up on the idea that while he didn’t mind participating in a conference, coming as a speaker was never his preference.

He accepted the audience invite, then cleared his inbox again.

Schedules for the phone bank were done for the month, only with one level of redundancy – they were usually so quiet that one person per shift could handle it. Three was a necessary precaution, and it gave those waiting for emergency calls some company, or some immediate comfort if they heard someone die.

Merlin turned restlessly in the box at his feet, the old card box scratching at the underside of his desk.

Jones closed his eyes and thought of calming images – Merlin almost always in his mind, so thoughts of work were likely keeping him aware on some level.

Jones felt a tugging at his pants leg. ‘Mum?’

Jones pulled off his glasses, placed them on the desk, and slipped beneath the desk. ‘I’m here.’

‘Can’t sleep.’

‘I’ve gathered. What’s keeping you awake?’

‘I heard a boy calling for help. He wasn’t close, but I heard him. His house was burning. I stopped it, but he was already burned up. And- And I’m trying to fix it. But he keeps trying to die. So I’m taking the burns away, but now I can feel them-’

Jones cradled the small boy. ‘Is help on their way?’

‘I gave them all the green lights,’ Merlin said, tears coming freely now. ‘But they’re still a couple of minutes away.’

A faint whiff of burning flesh filled the air, and Jones held Merlin as he cried.

What seemed like an age later, Merlin nodded against his chest. ‘Ok. He’s okies now. Enough. I’m tired.’

Jones kissed the boy’s forehead. ‘Go to sleep, I’ll be here.’

‘You forgot the class schedules,’ Merlin said as he pulled his too-big labcoat around him like a blanket. ‘Some session three stuff is coming up, that’ll mess with things.’

‘I didn’t forget,’ Jones said gently. ‘I’m doing them next.’

Merlin fell into one of his deep sleeps a few minutes later – so deep that it almost seemed like the boy was dead. Jones set up a small lifesigns monitor and set it in the bottom right-hand corner of his HUD, and pulled himself up from the under the desk.

He brought the Academy class schedules up on his bank of monitors, and let them fill with the various colours that represented his recruits.

A ping appeared in his HUD – time to pay the bills for the week.

Everything was paid for by Agency accounts, but each week, it needed a digital rubber stamp, just to ensure that there was nothing untoward going on.

And every week, there was.

Every week, there were people trying to cheat a system that gave them nearly free rein over their social lives, and the ability to live in whatever manner they wished to be accustomed to.

The guideline was very simple: have whatever you want, but make as little impact on the economy as possible. One hundred people requiring a car that cost as much as a small apartment had no impact on anything – those same hundred recruits requiring money and buying the car, that was more noticeable.

Most of the time, anything recruits bought was small-time purchases – clothes, food, trinkets. Things they would buy if they had their civilian jobs and civilian wages. It was invisible.

Recruits trying to donate a million dollars to their favourite webcomic artist, that wasn’t something one could do on a civilian budget, and even though it never worked, someone tried it every week.

He deleted the request, sent a form email which he didn’t look at, and knew would go straight into the recruit’s trash. Some formalities had to be observed, after all.

Jones opened some menus and looked for the boy Merlin had saved. Admitted to hospital with minor burns. Linked reports showed both of his parents had died in the fire.

The Agency could be kind, even in the smallest of ways.

Easy thoughts organised for the child to have a private room, for gifts and toys to be delivered the next day, and a quick email to a friend ensured an Agency-associated care worker would look after the child. The transition to whomever would care for him next would be easy, and if there was no one, the Agency could always find open arms needing a lost child.

Jones smiled, turned off his monitors, and left the room so his own lost child could sleep in peace.

 

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