Stef stared at the space where Ryan had been, imagining she could still see tiny particles of suity narc there, but there was nothing except scary-dungeon dust. The Agency had a dungeon. The Agency had a dungeon full of cages and weird things and freaks – and she was one of those freaks in a cage.
She leaned her forehead against the glass and let her arms hang and swing for a moment, hoping to see a pair of leather shoes come back. No shoes appeared, and the only piece of suit she saw was the coat still wrapped around her.
I don’t want to be alone. Please don’t leave me alone. I’m scared. I’m really scared.
She counted to fifty, then wiped her eyes on the backs of her sleeves, and turned to the things Ryan had required for her. The bed would be useful – the floor of the cage was the same thick glass as the walls – easy to clean if they had to explode the occupant.
Clothes would usually be less useful, something sundry that wasn’t a real requirement – on looking down at herself, however, she agreed with Ryan’s wisdom about changing. Blood had soaked through her shirt and vest, and little bits of dirt and dust clung to the tacky blood. Stef shrugged Ryan’s coat off, flexed her hands for a moment, then started on the buttons of her vest.
The vest stuck a little as she tried to slide it off, but came with a slight yank. She held it up, and saw a slit surrounded by more blood – the piece of mirror that killed her had obviously done a thorough job. Strong – it had to be stronger than regular glass, in order to puncture through that much bone and blood and chest guts. She folded the vest, knelt and placed it on the floor beside the bed.
She removed her shirt and tie next – the blood was so much more obvious here – red showed on white far better than it did on dark blue, then struggled for a moment to remove the useless bra, which was also liberally spotted with red.
Stef looked down at herself – there was a new scar in her collection, four inches long and about as wide as her pinkie finger. She spat on her hand and wiped at the drying blood on her chest, but only succeeded in spreading it further. She looked to the small fridge, leaned across and opened it. She retrieved a bottle of water, wet the clean sleeve of her uniform shirt and scrubbed at the blood. The water was cold, and she shivered – the dungeon was far from toasty, and her chest already felt cold – the mirror was refusing to warm to body temperature.
She stood and slipped her pants off – just in case they needed them for evidence, and changed into the soft, clean clothes that Ryan had required for her. A grey training uniform – just like on her first night at the Agency. She put his coat on over the top of the grey clothes, then sat on the bed, her back against the smooth glass wall.
More tears came, and she let them drip onto Ryan’s coat.
Please come back. Please.
it’s not like he can forget where you are.
Maybe this is a place where you put people to forget about them?
Have faith in him.
She looked to her left and saw a pillow, and gently tumbled towards it, then grabbed the corner of the blanket and pulled it to her chest. Stef closed her eyes and started counting.
When she reached one-hundred-and-ninety-seven, she heard a knock.
She opened her eyes and saw Jones standing on the other side of the glass, two laptop bags slung across him, the straps meeting in the middle, crossed like bandoliers.
‘Um, come in?’ she said, and the wall slid open far enough for him to step over the threshold, then it slid closed behind him.
‘I won’t be so n00bish as to ask how you are,’ he said, unslinging the bags.
‘Good, I won’t have to think of an answer.’
‘Ryan explained things to you?’ Jones asked as he unzipped the first bag, and began to unpack the laptop.
‘Um, experiment, then maybe pass Go and become an agent?’
‘That is the short of it,’ he said, ‘give me your hand.’ She stuck out her left hand and he wrapped a wide black strap around it, straightened the multi-coloured wires that hung from it, and started to type into his computer. ‘And you’re ok with that?’
‘I- I want to be here,’ she said. ‘Ok, not here-here,’ she said, indicating to the dungeon. ‘Um, Jonesy, WTF is this place?’
He reached up her arm, tapped her inner elbow and inserted an IV needle there, and after a moment, clear liquid began to flow into her body.
Mad-scientist glee crossed his face. ‘This is where I keep my freaks, Recruit.’
The black cloth strap twitched on her wrist, and melted into wide metal strip, a skin tight bracelet. Seven tiny squares were etched into it, blue circles glowed in each square for a moment, then dimmed. He hmm’d for a moment, looked to the computer, then pulled away the needle and the wires that had been attached to the cloth version of the strap.
‘Freaks?’ She pointed to the cuff. ‘And do I even want to know what this is?’
‘Think of this as the IRL Alpha and Developer’s sandbox for agent code,’ he said. ‘Most Agencies have a basement like this, where tech agents like myself can play with various proposals, alterations, and improvements to our coding, or experiment with different types of agent altogether.’ He pointed to her left. ‘You’ll be able to just see him, but two tanks down, there’s a meragent – one that’s perfectly adapted to water and underwater activities. I’ve been tweaking the code for a decade and some modules have been integrated into the active version of the OS, but the actual meragent is unlikely to be implemented – we just don’t do enough in the water to warrant a specialised type.’
‘What else is there?’
Another Frankensteinian grin. ‘Lots of things, Recruit, I’m sure there’ll be time for a tour if your experiment protocol is approved.’
‘If it’s not?’ She asked, and Jones stared. She met his gaze for a moment, then dropped her head to look at her new accessory. ‘So, um, this?’
‘It’s painless, I promise, it’s the least I can do. It can be triggered from a high level, so it removes the need for one of us to-‘
‘Do something less than pleasant,’ she supplied. She ran her fingers over the cool metal. ‘Is it necessary? I mean-‘ She flexed her hands for a moment. ‘I’m full of nanites, couldn’t you just require them to give me an aneurysm or stop my lungs from working or something?’
Jones said on the bed beside her and lifted the laptop into his lap. ‘It’s functional, of course, but as a backup. It’s primarily symbolic. You’re right, if the order is triggered, it will be your blue that actually does the job, this is to enforce that idea.’ He drummed his fingers on the laptop. ‘You’ll have noticed we’re not above a bit of symbology and social engineering.’ He pointed at her. ‘The grey uniform, that’s an excellent example, it means you’ve got an unknown status.’ He pointed at his face. ‘And do you really think I need to wear glasses? Glasses make people think of intelligence, so about half the tech agents in the world wear them.’
She crossed her legs and stared down at her hands. ‘Is this gonna work, Jonesy?’ She swallowed. ‘I don’t want to get Ryan into trouble. If it’s going to go badly for him, then- Then-‘ she lifted her hand and shook it. ‘Then do whatever this does.’
‘I’ll tell you what I’ve told him, I’m not guaranteeing anything. I can’t. Decisions of this magnitude are made above our pay grade. An Enforcer has already been notified – they get an auto ping when that paperwork is required.’ He gave her an sympathetic look. ‘And triggering that would do nothing to help him now – the damage has been done, even if you were to die right now, it would be of no help.’
Stef ran her fingers over the cuff again. ‘Does this happen a lot? With- With the mirror I mean.’
‘This experimental protocol has been used before, yes,’ he said, ‘but each circumstance is different. There’s eight cases that I’m able to access – five where the ultimate outcome was for the recruit to remain a recruit, three where they were being converted into an agent.’
‘Is it a good story, or a bad story?’
‘Three of the five recruits were able to use up their mirror and return to their normal recruit careers. One died from unrelated causes, and the mirror wasn’t so kind as to grant him a resurrection. One…The report is unclear, I’m going to investigate it further, but it looks like a wish gone awry.’
‘I’d prefer to spare you the details until I’m actually sure.’
‘And the agenty ones?’
‘Would you believe me if I told you that mirror can be used as a drug?’
She thumped her head against the wall. ‘I- What is this, I don’t even. How is there enough to meet supply?’
‘It’s ground into powder and cut with other drugs, an infinitesimal amount of mirror with each hit still makes it the best trip ever.’
‘Speaking from experience?’
‘Speaking from research,’ he said. ‘Obviously, the Agency doesn’t like this. A recruit was part of a raid to deal with, er, some dealers, and took a face full of the mirror powder – the street value of what it would have been once cut was frankly staggering. He was able to wash most of it off, but a lot went into his eyes.’
‘Um, ouch?’
Jones nodded. ‘His doctor wasn’t sure what to do – there was the possibility of cutting out his eyes, making him an augment and growing him new ones.’
She held up her hands. ‘You know you’re gonna have to explain that.’
Jones unzipped the second bag and pulled out a weird net made of jelly-like strings. ‘Lean forward.’ She followed his instruction and he slipped the net onto her head, it felt like pulling on a bathing cap, and it tightened even further once he released it. ‘Your new bling is necessary since you’re potentially dangerous, this on the other hand, is showing willing.’
She touched the cap and felt the plastic growing hot. ‘What precisely are you doing to my brain?’
‘Just doing deep scans for our baseline, you’ve still only got a recruit level of blue, this enhances the scan. And it looks ridiculous, so I like using it.’ He looked down at his computer. ‘Just tell me if it hurts, because that means we’re doing something wrong.’
‘Get back to explainy part.’
‘I’m sure you’re smart enough to work it out.’
‘A recruit with extra blue.’
‘Pretty much. Those are a lot more common than experimental protocols like this, they’re practically commonplace, relatively speaking. If you’ve got a recruit with a long history of service, and they suffer an injury that Agency doctors and fae doctors can’t deal with,’ he looked up, ‘so something really pretty severe – like, completely losing a limb – there’s the option to fix them as a way of thanking them for service.’ He flicked a piece of long blond hair from his face. ‘Plus this is one of the situations where we can demand a length of service from a recruit – depending on the injury, it’s up to five years.’
Stef stared at Jones. ‘And?’ she prompted.
His eyes practically sparkled. ‘Recruit, why would you think there’s more?’
‘Because it doesn’t make sense if there isn’t. If you’ve got provisions to be able to jack up a recruit with a fuck tonne more blue than usual, then it’s a waste to just use it as some really weird form of NHS. Why not make stronger, faster, better recruits to stop them from getting hurt in the first place?’
‘You’re quite correct of course, those are the majority of augments. Combat recruits, primarily, just to give them a bit more armour rating, or a plus-five to punching. Only minor of course, no more than a ten percent increase in their natural abilities – we don’t want them getting too strong after all.’ He affected a haughty look. ‘Recruits are to be kept in their place, after all.’ He rolled his eyes. ‘Or whatever. We haven’t got any here.’
‘And the guy with the mirror eyes?’
Jones looked around the tank. ‘His eyes gave him amazing powers of, well sight, obviously, for a human.’
For a human. Stef ran the words around in her mind for a moment and let the meaning sink in. For a human, but nothing special when you’ve got blue-goop-magic-narcs with genie powers.’
Jones nodded. ‘What we can do is pretty mundane to us, but we come out miles ahead of most superheroes. Nightcrawler? We can shift. Green Lantern? We can require. Doctor Strange?’ He tugged on his lab coat. ‘I’m not saying I’m supreme, but I definitely think I count as some sort of sorcerer. Slytherin, before you ask.’ He pointed at his face. ‘And not just because my eyes match the house colours.’
‘I grew up in a boarding school,’ she said after a moment. ‘But we only had three houses, so it was a bit difficult to pick which was which, so it sorta, certain cliques could belong to certain Hogwarts houses.’
‘Squib. Not even the fucking Hufflepuffs wanted me.’ She raised the hands. ‘Jokes on them now, I guess, Require: Cookie.’
Nothing happened.
‘You could have warned me my user permissions got nuked.’
‘I’m surprised you haven’t tried to require anything before now. Acid to melt the glass, perhaps?’
‘You do realise that I, like, said you could kill me about two minutes ago, right? Whatever the fuck is happening, so long as Ryan is ok, I’m not gonna fight. He- I don’t want him in trouble, I’m not worth it.’
This earned her an approving nod, and he silently typed at his computer for a few minutes. ‘This is as much as I want to do,’ Jones said as he finally looked back up. ‘It’s enough to show we’re preparing, but not too much to seem like we’re expecting approval.’
‘What are the odds on this working?’
‘It really depends on the Enforcer,’ Jones said. ‘So I’m not going to bullshit statistics at you.’
He packed up the few things and walked back across the tank.
‘Eye guy?’
‘Was used in analytical situations for a while, very occasionally he could see something that our sensors and scans couldn’t, but it destabilised him, and he was moved to accommodations very much like yours, and he- He brought the experiment to a premature close.’
Stef felt like she’d been punched in the gut. ‘Great.’
Jones pointed to the bed and a Gameboy appeared, along with a pouch of games. ‘There. So you don’t get bored.’
‘Thanks Jonesy,’ she said, and watched him shift away.
She turned on the Gameboy out of habit, and felt slightly better as the familiar music of Pokemon – Blue version, of course – started up.
She pressed a hand to her chest, and felt the cold radiating up from the lump of dead planet just below her skin. ‘Can I wish to go back in time? So this never happens?’
Nothing happened.
She hung her head for a moment, then wiped her eyes, and started the game.