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.
Even in a building filled with angels, heaven on Earth was hard to find.
There were, however, small areas of bliss. Continue reading “30 – Bliss”
Magnolia looked down at the small robot bumping into her foot – the small, comical-looking machine had a bag of popcorn attached to it, and a small sign instructing her to take some.
She took a small handful, then lifted her feet so it could pass. She lifted her head and smiled at Merlin, who sat next to Jones, on the row above her. Continue reading “21 – Clash”
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. Continue reading “A Quiet Night”
Even in a building filled with angels, heaven on Earth was hard to find.
There were, however, small areas of bliss.
Magnolia sighed happily against the stomach – there was no softer place in the world than on top of the purple-headed tech. The girl’s belly accommodated her easily, and rose and fell gently as Screen breathed.
‘You’re tense,’ Screen said. Continue reading “15 – Temporary Bliss”
There was a knock.
Stef ignored it.
There was a second knock.
Stef looked up at the door – it was Ryan’s office, and he still wasn’t back, so there was no reason to acknowledge the knocker.
The knocks turned into pounds. ‘I know you’re in there, newbie!’
Jones watched Stef spasm and convulse in the tank, screaming while barely conscious, bubbles forming in the blue, popping, floating to the edges of the tank.
Reabsorption was different for every agent. Some found it rapturous, orgasmic, some found it torturous, some found it worse than a glitch. There was no reason for the different experiences, no math on why it was wondrous for some and the hell of being born for others. A scant few claimed the found the same pre-consciousness nirvana in the tank, but the majority believed those lucky few to be liars.
She cracked her head against the wall of the tank, went still, and floated towards to the top of the tank, her limbs limp and heavy. Continue reading “35 – The Wizard and The Angel”
Family isn’t something you’re born into, it’s the people that love you.
Jones looked up as tiny hands touched his right shoulder, and a small head rested on them. He looked up, unsurprised to see Merlin, goggles pushed up onto the top of his head. The young boy yawned, smiled, and crawled under his desk and into the large cardboard box there.
He pushed himself back from the desk, so that he could look down at the boy. ‘Are you sure you don’t want to try sleeping in your bed tonight?’
The boy shook his head, just once, but it was enough – it wasn’t an issue that he pushed, as terrible as it was, the box was what was familiar to him, and let him sleep comfortably.
‘Goodnight Merlin,’ he said.
The boy pulled the thin blanket up over him, reached a small hand up and touched the cardboard. The mass of glow-in-the-dark stars sprang to life, and cast a small, comforting glow over him.
There was something troubling the boy – that much was blatantly obvious, but he couldn’t push – if he did, it might trigger another episode, one where the boy began to speak in languages so dead that he couldn’t translate them, or fall all the way through the building and hide in the basement, amongst the abandoned experiments.
He pulled himself back to the desk, and continued to work on the new program he was designing. A new piece of software to help with identifying issues from routed emergency calls. Anything to help.
An error beeped at him and he flinched as he realised that he hadn’t taken the time to require himself a set of headphones, or mute the sound. He lifted his hand, his mind ready to call up his favourite set of headphones when he stopped himself short. The boy was asleep, likely already dreaming – it was one of things that they had shown conclusively when they’d done the original battery of tests on the boy: when he slept, he dreamt for at least ninety-seven percent of the duration.
Another thing they had found were that the boy’s dreams were infinitely malleable. A conversation regarding horror movies with one of his recruits whilst Merlin had slept beneath his desk had caused the boy to wake in a fright, screaming about murderous clowns to the point where he was unable to calm down. Only after clown-proofing the entire building – including the combat floor under the guise that it was protection against fae attacks – had the boy been able to sleep again.
Most of the other attacks hadn’t been that bad, but any sound that was made near his sleeping body could be integrated into his dreams, so he was careful to keep the lab as silent as he could. Normal noises, like keys being pressed, and mice being clicked, seemed to have no effect, but he had no idea what would happen if his playlist of comedy skits on YouTube would do Merlin.
Even sounds filtered through a headphone could reach him, so he took a moment to synchronise himself up with the computer – it was easy enough to do, it used a sub-function of communication mode – and made sure that all sound was routed through his auditory senses, rather than appearing in the real world.
It would allow the boy to sleep, and it was a lot less distracting than watching videos directly through his HUD, he needed something in the background to keep him from being bored, not something to pull him away from his work entirely.
Two hours, and countless videos later, he rose and stretched. He let his glasses disappear so that he could rub at his eyes, and he ran a hand through his hair. The program was far from done – it was simple enough in concept, but still only did what the current version did – the new one had to be far more comprehensive, it had to be able to interface seamlessly with other systems – especially systems from outside the Agency, and had to run better predictive algorithms.
There was a potential easy shortcut for the last part, but the very idea of it made him uncomfortable, so he had buried it like he buried rumours that showed up on the net. He needed it to be predictive, but still program, he didn’t need it to think for itself, he didn’t need to use components from past agents, dug up out of the collective unconscious.
There was no hard-and-fast rule about what the components could and couldn’t be used for – they could be copied at will, and it did make things easier sometimes, or improve things – like the training scenarios. What better way to train recruits, than to have them come up against a program that could basically do anything, within a certain set of rules.
It really was only when the experiments, or applications of using components of the collective unconscious came right up against the border between “morally questionable” and “wrong” that the decision had to be made by the higher ups. The Enforcers had given the go ahead to the Tomlin project – something that had surprised many.
Using the strategic component from an ex-field agent for the predictive algorithm wasn’t even within close to what they were doing on the Tomlin project, but it still felt wrong. There was a time for real intelligence, and a time where a program, a real program would do just fine.
He hadn’t been constructed from those same collective unconscious components to take the easy road. He was a tech and a program, and gods be damned, he was going to program.
Well, after a short break, a drink and a quick peek into Square Enix’s systems anyway.
He required back his glasses, his eyes taking a moment to refocus, before he sat back down at his computer. He leaned back on his chair, and made a move to save the program again – just in case anything had happened to it in the few moments he’d been away from the keyboard – but stopped.
The program had changed.
He stared at it for a moment, comparing it with the code he knew he’d written. The changes were subtle, but all through the page that his screen displayed. He blinked, and the more changes came. This was the Agency, so of course, strange things happened on a daily basis, but this was different.
He tried to close the program, but his mouse pointer stayed frozen in place.
After another quick blink, something strange appeared on his screen – a snake, a snake made of code. It rose up from the bottom of his screen, slithered its way through the characters, pushing the carefully typed code out of the way without care. It slithered in a large circle, taking up nearly the whole screen, its rough edges catching onto pieces of code and as it settled into place.
He sat, dumbfounded, unsure if he should try and communicate – and unsure as to how, as he wasn’t quite sure what the disturbance was. None of the monitoring equipment hidden in the walls had pinged anything strange, or given any hint that there was an intruder. There were, of course, a few ways to circumvent Agency security, but he doubted that some being would take the time and effort to breach their security, just to mess with a program that he’d only taken a few hours to create.
He knew that meant one of three things – one, that it was something powerful enough and bored enough to breach their security just for a cheap laugh, like a god or demon; two, that it was an entirely unknown type of lifeform, unlikely – but just possible, if it had been created by one of his peers; three – it was something from within the Agency itself, and that usually meant only one thing, or rather, only one person.
Touching a hand to his desk, he shifted it behind him to reveal the box that Merlin called home. The light of the glow-in-the-dark stars was still visible, a little touch of magic making them glow long past the point where they should have dimmed.
Slowly, the faint green glow became a faint red glow – he fought the urge to require the lights on; he needed to protect the boy, to keep him safe from harm – real and imagined – but at the same time, they needed to find out all they could about him – for his own good. There were still so many unanswered questions, and X-factors surrounding Merlin.
The red glow pulsed, then exploded. There was a rush of colour and sound – like when a blackout bomb exploded, but instead of the cold rush of time, and then nothing, the red wave coated his laboratory in unfamiliar scenery. The room around him – which was only a projected image, he found out, as he looked down to see his own chair, but found himself apparently sitting on thin air.
He slid of his chair, and crouched in front of the box. The code-snake slid beside him, into the box, and under the blanket. There was an inhuman squeal from the box as it flew up and across the room, there was a sound of breaking glass as it knocked something-or-other from one of his shelves, and then Merlin’s blanket came flying at him.
The blanket covered his head for a moment, but he quickly tore it away – the blanket he could feel in his hands not matching what he saw – the blanket he felt was the familiar, soft blanket that had lived under his desk for over a year now. The blanket he saw was rough-looking, and covered in what he was sure were bloodstains.
He made a move toward the boy, to help him, to protect him from whatever the danger was, but found himself frozen in place. The bloodstains slid from the blanket, and onto his hands, which fell to the floor of their own accord, and pinned him in place.
Merlin writhed in place on the ground, and he saw the snake wrapped tightly around his arm. The boy tried to fling it off, but didn’t seem to be able to control his body. The snake whipped its head around, and it also took on a new appearance. It was no longer a creature seemingly made of stray pieces of code made real, it was a real snake – fierce and flexing, its head latched onto Merlin’s wrist, undoubtedly driving poison deep into his veins.
The boy gave another inhuman squeal, and the snake shook, then broke apart. The remnants of the code-made-real imprinting themselves onto the floor as shining black letters. Merlin sat up, cupped his hands in front of his mouth and threw up into them. The boy gagged for a moment, the thick, sticky liquid pouring out between the cracks in his fingers. He gave a small whine, and then blew a long breath onto the puke, which immediately turned to dust.
The particles amassed in an almost orderly cloud in front of the boy, who lifted his hands, conductor-like, then quickly drew symbols into the dust, both hands expertly drawing and redrawing a plethora of unknown signs, before the dust turned to seeds, and fell into his open hands.
After a moment, Merlin collapsed like a rag doll. The red scenery seemed to bleed from the walls, pool into an ugly pool, then slowly dissipate – that, or fall through the floor to drip onto some field recruits.
The bloodstains on his hands dripped away, and he found himself able to move again. He crawled forward and reached for Merlin, who whimpered like the child he had never been allowed to be. He curled himself up into a ball, first reaching for his missing blanket, then, not finding it, required a new one. The boy clutched the blanket like it held some solace that would shield him from what happened.
He reached forward and touched the boy’s shoulder, not sure what to say, not sure what to ask, just waiting for him to speak – it was the way it always had to be. He’d seen the Merlin’s nightmares before, the ones that were projected around the laboratory, the ones where the horrors from the boy’s mind would manifest enough for him to understand a little of the boy’s terror, and enough to hate the boy’s parents even more.
The creatures in his nightmares were just that – creatures, it was his parents that were the true monsters. He tried his best not to think about them, to just enjoy the boy’s good days, but every time something like this happened, every time that Merlin would do something inexplicable without realising it, or bend another Agency system to his will with barely a thought, he had to wonder if his parents had indeed known what they were creating, what they had crafted.
Merlin didn’t flinch away from the hand he placed on his shoulder, as he had done for the first six months he’d been in the Agency. It could have been worse, it should have been worse – the boy had been locked away from all contact for the majority of his young life, he should have – by rights – been unable to handle as much as he did, do as much as he did, or communicate on the level that he did. It had taken time, but they’d brought him out of his shell – now he just retreated there when his past came back to smack him in the face, and disturb the life he had now.
The boy lifted a trembling fisted hand, and pressed it toward him – he opened his hands and let the boy deposit its contents there: the seeds. Everything else from the illusion had disappeared, but the seeds had stayed.
He flinched, and bit back a scream as he felt the seeds. They weren’t hard and dry as they should have been, they were soft, and wet and…covered in blood. His hand uncontrollably flexed and the seeds fell to the ground.
In one smooth motion, he grabbed Merlin’s hand and turned it palm up to see if what he suspected was the truth. The boy’s hand was a bloody mess, there were tiny pockmarks, each the size of one of the seeds, and blood poured freely from each.
He applied as much pressure to the wrist as he dare, before moving forward, grabbing the boy and shifting them to the infirmary. He gently sat the boy on the edge of the nearest bed, keeping pressure on the wrist, so the boy didn’t lose even more blood.
‘You’re tech, Jonesy,’ the taller of the two doctors said, ‘your guys aren’t supposed to bleed.’
‘He’ll need-’ he began.
The doctor lightly slapped his hand away. ‘It’s a flesh wound, I know what it needs, now move back so I can do what’s needed.’
Without anyone to hold it, Merlin simply let the hand flop onto his knee, and bled over the end of his labcoat; he didn’t react, he didn’t speak, he just looked out with dead eyes. A second later though, he drew in a sharp breath, and required his goggles back over his eyes.
He moved back, and leaned against the next bed while he watched the doctor work. A hand on his shoulder made him jump.
‘Jonesy, sheesh, lay off the caffeine,’ the shorter doctor said, ‘what happened to the little wizard?’
‘It was nothing,’ he lied. A lie. He did that a lot when it came to Merlin. When it came to what he put on the official reports, and what he desperately kept to himself, just so he could protect the boy from everyone else. Some things were just too dangerous to let other people know. Some thing would just turn people against the boy. Some things would make some question the validity of his sanctuary within the Agency walls. ‘Just an accident.’An accident, a nice simple lie. A nice, neat addition to his not-quite-tangled web of lies surrounding the boy. ‘He should have been wearing protective gear, it’s my fault, I should have insisted.’ If there was any amulet, any magic, any protection he could put into the walls to keep the nightmares – and the boy’s parents – away, he would have done it, but there were some things that Kevlar-weave and head gear couldn’t protect a person from.
‘Jesus, don’t be so hard on yourself,’ the doctor said, ‘it’ll be a bandage, a skin swatch, and some meds, it’s nothing. I mean, if you put this on the Magnolia scale, it’s probably an oh-point-five?’
‘I’m not used to my people getting injured,’ he said honestly. Honesty. Honesty was good, it helped to keep the lies hidden.
‘He’ll be mine, ma,’ the taller doctor said sarcastically, ‘if I can yank bullets out, I can put a band-aid on.’
He wished he could just switch himself off, or to be like a newborn agent – when system regularity and dedication to duty far outstripped any exploration of emotion. Newborns never felt a parent’s worry, newborns never tripped emergency sub-routines to stop themselves from showing more emotion than necessary.
‘There, done!’ the taller doctor said with an exaggerated flourish after he finished wrapped the bandage. ‘And, no, I didn’t forget,’ he said as he pulled a huge green lollipop out of thin air.
He sniffed the air. ‘…what flavour is that?’
The taller of the two doctors tried to look innocent. ‘Green flavour?’
He took two long strides forward and carefully pulled the lollipop from the boy’s limp hand. ‘I know what absinthe smells like, Parker. What cause would you have-?’ he cut himself short, required a more traditional lollipop and held it up in front of Merlin. The boy slowly lifted his head to follow the lollipop, then reached for it with his good hand. He lowered his head and bit into it, suckling on it like a toddler with a teething biscuit.
‘You know the drill,’the taller Parker said, ‘pain meds will last as they need to, and just keep an eye on it, you know, just in case.’
The “just in case” was something that the Parkers only ever added when Merlin was injured, or needed some sort of medical treatment, even something as simple as some cold medicine was met with a “keep watch, just in case”. “Just in case” it doesn’t take. “Just in case” it has an adverse reaction. “Just in case” it does something weird, and we have to take note of it.
It was “just in case” because with every other member of the Agency, they knew what they were dealing with. They knew the physiology inside and out, they knew what drugs worked, they knew what medications and procedures a body could handle. It also assisted with triage.
Merlin, on the other hand, no-one knew what he was, or what his body could handle, so every treatment was met with trepidation, and for most things, they played it safe, and treated him like a fourteen-year-old human boy – which, at least part of him was. They knew his mother had been human, so that least gave them something to work with. Something, but not a lot – and he it was another reason he was glad the boy wasn’t allowed out of the building, where there were hundreds more things – and people – that could injure him.
‘I’ll keep both eyes on him,’ he said, but the attempted joke fell flat, and was only met with a half-hearted shrug from the doctor.
He reached a hand forward, gently touched Merlin’s shoulder, and shifted them both to the boy’s small bedroom. The room had begun life as standard-sized recruit room, but had quickly diminished in size down to something about the size that the kitchenette had been. Most of the space was taken up with the bed, leaving barely enough room on either side for the boy to walk around – though, he knew that most of the time Merlin just walked through it, as though it wasn’t even there.
There was a small bookcase, which held a few books, and a few treasures – mainly small presents from Magnolia, and one of his tiny netbook computers.
The boy took a step toward the door, raised his goggles and without removing the lollipop from his mouth said. ‘I want my box.’
‘Merlin, please, you need to get some sleep.’
The boy shook his head. ‘I had enough.’ He slowly turned, his eyes still as dead as they had been whilst Parker had wrapped his hand. ‘What did you do with the seeds?’
‘They’re on the floor of my lab,’ he said honestly.
‘Can you burn them, Jonesy?’
He should have said no. He should have asked what they were. An agent doing his duty would have tested them. An agent doing his duty would have logged this incident somewhere other than plain memory. A parent, however, just wanted his charge to sleep without nightmares, and this was the least he could do. ‘Of course.’
‘Thankies.’ The boy still made no move toward the bed, he simply crouched in front of his bookshelf, and came up with one of the small computers, and a few pages of handwritten notes. The notes were in Latin.
He gently took the computer from the boy’s hands. ‘No, no more work today.’
Tears slipped out from under the goggles. ‘It destroyed your work, I’ve got to make up for it.’
‘Merlin, you’re more important than work, I can easily redo it tomorrow.’
More tears came, and the boy turned so he could rest his head against the bookcase. ‘It wasn’t supposed to come back. They only agreed on once. More than once is dangerous. More than once leads to numbers too numerous. That’s why you gotta destroy the seeds, okies?’
The boy’s hands curled into fists, and uncurled, his fingers moving as if typing on an invisible keyboard. ‘Let me just get the program back to where you had it, then I’ll sleep, I promise.’ The tears still came, but the tone was one of a child wanting to stay up just one more hour, or to watch one more cartoon.
‘No.’ It wasn’t a word he said often to the boy. “No” was something that Merlin’s parents embodied. “No” you may not have any contact with friends. “No” you may not have any friends. “No” you may not have any food today. “No” you can not have any semblance of a normal childhood.
The tore off his goggles. ‘But it’s my fault!’ he screamed.
He required a handkerchief, wiped away the tears, placed it over the boy’s nose and wiped it clean. ‘It’s not your fault, and I don’t blame you.’
The boy grabbed his labcoat and pulled him down level with him. Merlin stared at him, then looked surprised. ‘You really don’t blame me.’
‘Of course I don’t.’
‘It was her idea,’ Merlin said as he sat on the very end of the bed and stared down at his sneakers. ‘Most things, especially the badbadbad things were his idea, but this one was her.’
Merlin never said “mum and dad” or “mother and father” or even “my parents”, he just used pronouns, and anyone who didn’t understand who he was talking about didn’t need to understand.
‘You don’t have to think about it.’
Merlin raised his bandaged hand. ‘Thoughts don’t go away by themselves.’
He gently lifted the boy, required the covers away, placed him at the correct end of the bed and required the covers up over him. Merlin sat, still in his full uniform, goggles still perched on top of messy hair, and shook his head. ‘I’m not tired.’
‘What’s the rule?’ the asked of the young boy.
‘If people are bad, deny them cookies.’
‘Not that one.’
‘Oh,’ Merlin said slowly, ‘that one.’
‘I know it’s hard for you to sleep, but you have to get at least eight hours every two days, please, Merlin, I don’t ask a lot of you, and this is for your own good.’
Merlin pulled his goggles down, bit his lip, then snorted.
The image rammed into his mind like a blow to the head. He systems railed against the intrusion, but he turned them off and focused on the shaky…memory. A woman – Merlin’s mother – lifted a long silver knife and watched droplets of blood slide off the sharp tip. ‘This is for your own good.’ He heard Merlin scream in the memory, and begin to cry in real life.
The intruding memory faded from his mind, and he knelt beside the bed then wrapped his arms around the boy and let him cry. It only took a moment for the exhausted boy to stop crying – whether he had simply run out of tears, or whether he was too tired to keep going, he didn’t know – he knew it wasn’t because he felt safe, or was over the fear the nightmare-turned-real had caused, because he still shook as he rested against his chest.
‘The snake,’ Merlin said quietly, ‘she knew it could kill me, and that’s what it was charged with doing. They wanted to see if it could kill me. They wanted to know if I could die.’
He suspected as much – even the nightmare’s diluted version of the poison had caused him great pain, he hated to imagine what the real one had done to the boy – especially considering he had to have been at least two years younger when the snake had attacked.
He stood and lifted the boy, he required a blanket around the boy – tight, so that he could be swaddled like a baby, and sat on the bed, cradling the boy in his lap.
‘I didn’t die. It did. It knew that it could die, but it didn’t matter, all of its knowledge is passed down to its children.’
His curiosity got the better of him. ‘Its progeny come from the seeds?’
Merlin nodded. ‘It enters the world through something being created – your program, that’s why it destroyed your program, it needed something unborn, something unfinished, and when it dies, it leaves behind the next generation in an unborn form.’
He nodded – it sounded amazing, but research and investigation was for a time when he wasn’t caring for terrified child. He couldn’t promise that it wouldn’t hurt him again, he couldn’t promise that he could protect him from the next nightmare…but none of the other nightmare had injured him this badly.
‘How did it hurt you like that?’
Merlin looked down, burying his chin in the blanket wrapped around him. ‘Memories are always strongest on their anniversary.’
‘How old were you?’
The boy took a long moment before he answered. ‘Seven. It’s a magic number, they wanted to see how far I’d progressed.’
He felt sick, and was glad that he his emergency sub-routine had stayed tripped, that he wasn’t showing disgust he felt for the boy’s parents, that he wasn’t showing the rage he felt for what they’d done for him.
The boy exhaled a long breath, and curled up within the blanket. ‘I’ll make it all better Jonesy, I’ll make up for it, I promise.’
‘I said stop worrying about it.’
‘But-’ A bright woolly bobble hat appeared on the boy’s head, effective hiding all but a few strands of hair and a small nose from his view. The bobbles shook as the boy tried to hide deeper within the blanket. ‘But if I don’t make it better, and you don’t like me anymore, then-’ The boy sucked in a deep breath. ‘Then I won’t be able to pretend that you’re my mother anymore.’
He then did something that he knew he should have done as soon as he’d brought the boy back to his room. He accessed his appearance parameters, and selected a preset configuration, one that he accessed daily, one that somehow made him feel comfortable. One that Merlin needed right now.
Long brown hair fell past his ears as his face melted and shifted into a new shape, his efficient agent shifted and melted into something softer, something with curves. Tiny silver hoops appeared to complete the change in appearance.
It was a functional shapeshift, but everyone still called it a glamour. Unlike the fae, its ability to change an agent’s appearance was severely limited, but it still did what she needed it to do. It let her be Andrea, it let her give another face, a safe face, for Merlin to associate the word “mother” with, rather than some woman who had cut him, some monster that had set a snake upon him.
‘It doesn’t have to be pretend,’ she said, ‘I’m always going to be here to look after you.’
He looked away, into the dark shadows made by the blanket.
‘I know you don’t like the old stories,’ she said as she gently pulled away the woolly bobble hat and stroked his head, ‘because of their origins, or because of the story they aren’t telling, but sometimes, just sometimes, they have meaning other than what you think.’
‘Hm?’ the boy asked as he extracted an arm from the safety of the blankets to wrap around her slight body.
‘The ones where the children have cruel parents, but run away and find their real parents. Not all of those stories are parables for changelings, or mean that the prince who will save everyone is being hidden away on a farm, sometimes it just means that you get a new family, because your old one wasn’t good enough. Sometimes it just means that your friends take their place, or that you can find people who care for you far more than those that gave you life.’
‘So you aren’t gonna get rid of me?’
She kissed the top of the boy’s head. ‘Of course I’m not.’
‘Or trade me for a rabbit?’
‘Not if you get a good night’s sleep.’
Merlin seemed to consider this for a moment. ‘Okies.’
She lifted the blanket-wrapped boy from her lap and placed him back down on the bed, covered him with the thin quilt. ‘Are you going to be all right, Merlin?’ He smiled and nodded, and she felt relived – almost all of the fear seemed to have disappeared from the boy’s eyes. She knelt and kissed him on the forehead. ‘Goodnight.’
Stef stared silently at the agent, trying to pick the moment when having a gun pointed at her had become…almost normal. She felt frozen – it was like the stag again, but this time, if she moved, the results weren’t going to be as non-consequential as the wish-granter disappearing. The door closed without him moving an inch. Stupid M-word. He took a step closer, the gun still aimed at her head.
He hadn’t fired yet though, this was a good thing. He kept the gun level, scanned his eyes across the room, then looked back at her. ‘What are you?’ he demanded. Continue reading “52 – The Right Decision”