Stef jerked awake. She wiped drool from the corner of her mouth, and sat up. Everything was how she’d left it – a semi-dark lab, Jones working on her code, and her hand blue.
Everything was so exciting. Everything was so important. Everything was…kind of boring when there was nothing to do.
‘Can you at least screen share so I can watch?’ she asked. It was the third time she’d requested – the first time he hadn’t heard her, and the second time, he’d merely responded “Soon-TM” and gone back to whatever he was doing…presumably checking the code on her pinkie.
‘Maybe next time,’ he said after a minute, as if he’d just heard her. ‘Today I don’t want you distracted.’
Taylor shifted to Jones’ lab.
The Scholar sat at one of his desks, an oversized pair of headphones over his head, a game on his screen.
He stepped forward and growled. Recreational activities were allowed, so long as they didn’t interfere with duty. They were a waste of-
Jones hadn’t reacted.
He took a step forward. ‘Jones.’
The Scholar lifted a drink, and made an obscene slurping noise as he finished it off.
He walked forward, gripped the tech’s monitor, and flung it away. It broke against the wall, the mouse and keyboard falling from the desk and onto Jones’ lap.
‘I was playing that,’ Jones commented casually, took off his headphones, and moved to one of the other benches, and began to check on some equipment.
Taylor grabbed his shoulder, but Jones shifted to the other side of the bench. ‘Don’t,’ Jones said, ‘don’t you dare,’ finally properly acknowledging him. ‘What do you want?’
Stef was still in the tank of blue that wasn’t usually a fixture of Jones’ office. He watched her for a moment, glad that she was safe, happy, that she’d have a life.
Ryan lifted his head, and saw Jones watching him from his desk. He walked to his tech agent, and placed a hand on his shoulder. ‘Jones, I need to ask another favour of you.’
‘Anything, sir,’ Jones said.
Ryan sighed. There was nothing he could do to avoid his fate now. Nothing he could argue. The Agency had given him enough second chances, and so many chances to prove he was the model agent.
And Taylor opening Carol’s oubliette inside an Agency had signed his death warrant.
‘I need you to look after her.’ He tried to smile. ‘You’re already a parent, you know what a child needs. I’d appreciate it. I think she needs someone. And I can’t-’
‘Sir,’ Jones said, breaking into his resigned speech. ‘Why are you talking like you’re going somewhere?’
‘Ryan,’ Jones said, ‘you need to go see her.’
‘I was going to go down in a little while, there are-’
‘Whatever you have to do, it can wait,’ the tech said. ‘Or if it can’t, give it to me to do. Nothing will fall apart if some papers go another hour or two unsigned. The city won’t fall apart, the Agency won’t fall apart…your little girl might.’
He looked at Jones. ‘What can I even say to her, Jones? How can I justify what they’re doing to her? I’ve found of excuses for this sadism.’
He turned his head to his monitor, and called up the security feed from Stef’s tank. She was curled up in the corner of her bed, hands to her mouth, a messy lump of sheets, scrubs, and short hair.
Jones squeezed his shoulder. ‘She needs her father. Nothing more. Nothing less.’
He stared at the stains on the sheets.
‘You want,’ Jones repeated, ‘a shark?’
Stef felt her nose twitch, a moment later, the smell of coffee happily invaded and she sat up, grasping for the nearby cup.
‘I’ll have to remember,’ she heard Jones say, ‘that if we ever have to wake you up, fairy-tale-style, that all we need is hot caffeine, rather than a handsome prince, princess or primus. You’re very uncomplicated.’
She opened her eyes and took the offered cup. ‘Yeah, that’s me, uncomplicated, that’s why I’ve got so many bugs.’
There were three sharp knocks on Ryan’s door.
He quickly scanned the outside, saw it was Grigori, then required it open.
Ryan looked up from the recruit discipline report and saw the agent. He stood and shook the man’s hand before sitting back down and clearing his desk of paperwork.
Grigori took the couch, a strange expression on his face. ‘It’s because of you, Ryan, that I don’t trust handshakes as much as I used to.’
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.
Ryan paused in his paperwork when Jones’ face appeared in his HUD. [Sir, could I see you for a minute?]
[Of course,] he said. [What is it?]
He placed his pen down and shifted to the tech’s lab.
Jones ignored him for a moment while he crouched in one of the lab’s corners. He looked past the tech and saw Merlin there, asleep on what looked like a large pillow designed for a dog. The tech placed a hand on the slight boy’s shoulder and shifted him away from the lab. ‘Sorry,’ Jones said, ‘he’s been working for too long. He worked through the night, even though I told him not to.’
Part of him immediately bristled at the idea of such a young person helping with the code for his child, but second thoughts dismissed – Jones wouldn’t let Merlin help if it wasn’t safe. ‘It’s fine,’ he said. Ryan turned his attention to the large table in the middle of the room, and the Stef-in-progress, which was mostly covered with a sheet. ‘Did he have fun helping with her?’ he asked as he approached the table.
‘He had some amazing insights,’ Jones said as he sat at his chair on the opposite side of the examination table. ‘So much as it sounds like PR bullshit sometimes, recruiting human really was the best thing that happened to the Agencies.’
‘Even though he’s not a recruit,’ Ryan said, then winced at his thoughtless words.
‘Or entirely human for that matter,’ Jones said, his face slipping back toward neutral. ‘But Merlin’s neither here nor there at the moment, let’s leave my child alone and focus on yours.’
Ryan looked down Stef, dead on Jones’ slab.
This is a couple of days late; but Happy Birthday Shade!
Jones stood on the holodeck and stared at the half-constructed program. It was always so…gratifying to see it in this state, to see code flowing through half-formed trees like the Matrix had escaped into the real world.
The visualization was an affectation, but it was one he adored – there was a certain way that things were supposed to be, and the lack of particle effects and needlessly visual code were things he had grown up – so to speak – loving, and it forced him to improvise when the real world disappointed.
He laughed to himself as he repositioned the tree. Real world. He – a sentient computer program made of nanites and nerd references – was judging reality by muggle standards.
Life, in all of its wisdom, was just funny like that.
Jones flicked a hand and a river appeared in the background of the program – Merlin wanted to experience fishing, so it was his job to build the perfect fishing hole – there were already holodeck programs that would do, but he adored the simplicity of constructing new simulator constructs.
It was a task that almost allowed him to shut down his mind, to concentrate on simplicity.
He pressed his hand to the closest rock, interfaced with it – the physical touch was another affectation, but it made him feel as though he were doing some manual labour – a curiosity and rare treat. He brought up the menu that showed him the current layout of the program in its entirety, and surveyed the work he’d done so far.
Jones looked up in the direction of the door. ‘Oh dear.’
The world went white, black, then disappeared entirely. Continue reading “Not-So-Fantastic Voyage”