Chapter 57

Stef stared at Milla’s back, smiling as her HUD calculated the distances and angles between all of the freckles there. There was beauty to be had in a world that could be covered in tooltips at a thought. You always knew how warm it was outside, how far it was across your office, or how to perfectly turn your hand for the best high-five possible.

Or, you could use it to stare dozily at your lover, and come up with a set of measurements that served no other purpose than to colour her low-powered, dozy state. She loved the “low power” mode that she found herself slipping into when she was tired – it wasn’t the proper sleep that agents had, which was still a shallower form of sleep than she’d had a human, the low-powered state was simply a recognition by her software that there were no pressing needs, nothing taxing her processes, so dialled down accordingly. It was as refreshing as a nap, with the added bonus of consciousness.

Lover. You thought “lover” without freaking out.

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Chapter 56

Stef followed Milla through the Hyde agency, through the familiar parts that she’d been seeing since shifting in, and into halls she’d never set foot in, but were still somehow familiar, thanks to the cookie-cutter nature of agencies.

Recruit dorm hallways apparently always looked like recruit dorm hallways.

Milla required her room’s door open, and they walked inside.

Compared to the hotel-room/studio apartment setup of most of the dorm rooms she’d seen, Milla’s room was much larger – the room the door opened into was an open living space – a lounge room blending into a dining area, and ending with a breakfast nook towards the kitchen.

It was also significantly more lived-in than most of the rooms she’d seen. There were traces of life everywhere – and to her glee, they were traces of a life lived in and around magic.

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Chapter 55

The credits started to roll.

‘Another?’ Stef asked Milla’s hair.

‘Yarp,’ she replied. Milla slowly sat up, shook herself, and stood to change the DVD – it was still so strange to be using physical media – habit she’d ditched, even long before joining the Agency. The idea that you were reliant on a laser to read a circle of compressed plastic – and that you had to sit through unskippable ads was – frankly horrible when with one thought, you could skip straight the movie.

Something about the act of removing the disc – of adding some physicality to switching between movies – seemed to calm Milla, and she was the last person who would begrudge another crazy girl her quirks.

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Chapter 52

9am, Friday, Hyde

7pm, Friday, Brisbane

‘You see that tree there?’

‘What tree where?’ Stef asked as she looked up from her coffee, then adjusted her sunglasses so she had a better view of the park.

‘That big one over there,’ Milla said. ‘The one that looks like a good climbing tree.’

She made at teasing face at Milla. ‘You’re still describing half of the trees in the park.’

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Chapter 51

7am, Friday, Hyde
5pm, Friday, Brisbane

There was a knock at her door, and a thought unlocked it. ‘Come in,’ Stef said, leaning back against the cool window.

Milla, dressed casually for once, walked in, and sat cross-legged on the side of Stef’s bed. She swung up a red flask. ‘Tea?’

Stef looked down at herself for a moment, at her crumpled flannel pants and t-shirt. ‘Did you, like, sleep at all?’

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Chapter 50

5pm, Thursday, Hyde
3am, Friday, Brisbane

The common room was quiet – there’d been dinner and Disney movies, but the rest of the recruits had filtered out sometime during the second half of The Little Mermaid.

‘Another?’ Milla asked.

Stef shook her head. ‘I can only do so many happy endings in a day.’

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Chapter 48

12 pm, Thursday, Hyde
10pm, Thursday, Brisbane

‘I can see why they sent you here,’ Milla said as she walked along the edge of the railing of the Hyde Agency roof, teetering unsteadily dozens of meters above the ground.

Stef stared at the girl, at the absolute lack of fear she had, and tried to calm down. She wasn’t going to fall. She wasn’t going to die. If she fell, the safety net around the building would catch her.

All the logic in the world hadn’t stopped her from prepping three emergency shifts – all locked on Milla and keyed to different velocities and angles; ensuring she’d be shifted to safety if it even appeared as though she was going to fall.

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Chapter 43

The Hyde lobby was very different to the Brisbane lobby – smaller for a start, with the desk off to the right, and the elevators off to the left, instead of a central desk and elevators to the right.

There was also no secretary.

Her HUD clock disappeared for a moment, then reappeared, showing 11:27pm.

Huh?

Time zones, genius.

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