‘I know you… I remember you,’ the girl said again, more sure of herself that time. None of the fear had left her expression, and she kept looking past him and to the window, as if considering leaping through it.
Ryan shook his head. It wasn’t possible. She was lying.
She took a slow step back, as if he were about to pounce her like a rabid dog, and put the laptop on the bed, her hands shaking as she did so. She simply stared at him, her gaze occasionally flicking to the gun he had trained at her head.
‘You’re mistaken, Miss Mimosa,’ he said. Usually, knowledge of someone’s name unnerved them – she gave him no reaction.

She clutched her fists for a moment. ‘I am rarely mistaken,’ she said, jutting her chin out. She lifted a finger to make a point but put it down when it began to shake. ‘And I remember you,’ she said, her voice cracking as though she were on the edge of tears.
He kept the gun trained on her but required the safety back into place. She wasn’t acting like a Solstice – she wasn’t approaching him like even a nascent member of the organisation – and it was all the more likely that she was one of the civilians. The fear on her face was the same that had been frozen to the faces of her dead colleagues.
Still, he couldn’t take any chances – he had been fooled by traitors more than once, and one groundless statement wasn’t enough to make him lower his defences. One groundless, baseless statement. There was no way she remembered him. After one day, yes; two, yes; even a week was reasonable. Not after twenty years.
The girl shifted uncomfortably for a moment. ‘Why,’ she asked, ‘do I remember you?’
‘As I said, Miss Mimosa, you don’t.’
‘Alexandria. I remember Alexandria. Pain – and cold, lots of cold. I remember…you. Then nothing. Black. Just…black. So tell me I’m crazy, or tell me why I remember you.’
He kept his expression neutral. ‘Your mention of the Great Library does nothing to further your case.’
‘Not the library.’ She paused and hesitantly took a step closer. ‘My doll.’
Shock slipped onto his face. The girl smirked, and he simply stared, marvelling at her memory. He shook his head. Duty, only duty, would bring the situation to a resolution – whatever that resolution ended up being. ‘You are…correct. You still have to come with me.’
She chewed on her bottom lip for a moment, still looking very uneasy. ‘Are you going to show me a badge?’
‘Do you really think I need to show you one?’
She shook her head, then went still. ‘I can’t hear anyone else. Are they all–?’
‘Yes.’
Her cheeks bulged, and the tears finally started to come. She backed up to the wall for support. ‘I– Why’d–? You–?’ she stammered, then shook her head.
The odds that she was a member of Solstice plummeted.
She slowly moved away from the wall, sank down onto the bed, picked up the laptop, and clutched it close. ‘I didn’t like them that much, but why’d you kill them all?’
He was still holding his gun. ‘Miss Mimosa.’ It took her a moment, but she looked up.
Ryan holstered the weapon and closed his jacket. ‘It was Solstice who killed your colleagues.’ He studied her face as he said “Solstice”, and she gave no sign of confusion – either from familiarity with them, or from too much fear.
She took a few deep breaths, then gave a little nod, visibly calmer. ‘So what happens now?’
‘As I said, you have to come with me.’
She looked up and shrugged. ‘Okies.’ She gave him a wary look. ‘Just don’t shoot me, okay?’
‘Not without cause,’ he said – the best, most honest answer he could give her. Ryan touched her shoulder. With a thought, he shifted them away from the mansion.
He smiled at her bulging eyes and small gasps of disbelief – most humans reacted the same way the first time they were shifted. He took his hand away from her shoulder, quietly took the laptop from her loose grip, and let her stand in shock for a moment.
He rounded his desk and sat in his comfortable leather chair, shifting the laptop down to Jones’s lab. Ryan stared into his HUD for a moment and arranged for a clean-up crew to take care of the mansion before looking back to the girl.
She was talking quietly to herself, staring at the window behind his desk. He smirked and required a couple of files, the standard blue folders appearing on his desk. When she turned towards him, he required a chair for her. ‘Sit, please, Miss Mimosa.’
The girl stared at her legs as though she didn’t trust them to move. ‘No…’ She swallowed and looked up. ‘No electrical tingle to indicate machinery, no apparent loss of time – it was instantaneous. No lapse in consciousness to indicate that I was in fact destroyed upon disappearance and remade upon entry. No equipment visible, no transponder – you did that with a touch.’
He smiled. She sounded like Jones. He her stare at her hands for a solid minute before he asked, ‘Conclusion?’
‘Not technology,’ she said at last. ‘However, in light of recent events, not surprising.’
‘Recent events are what we need to discuss.’ He indicated to the spare chair.
She slowly walked towards the chair, staring at it suspiciously. He wasn’t sure if she’d seen it appear or not, but it apparently gave her reason to worry, all the same. She ran her hand along it and then sat, the new leather creaking and settling as she tried to get comfortable. ‘One question first,’ she said. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Ryan. Now please, start from the beginning.’
She fidgeted for a moment, then lifted her hands and counted her fingers. ‘Which beginning?’ she asked. ‘I can’t remember my birth. Or my first day of school. Or my first day of high school… That’s because it sucked, and I blocked it out. I–’
‘What were you doing with the Solstice?’
‘They were nobody’s first choice. It wasn’t their gig. But the code was degrading, and we were running out of time.’
So it was connected to the mirrorfall. Ryan raised his head. He needed to know how much she knew. ‘Running out of time until what?’
She shrugged. ‘That I don’t know. I’m just a code monkey.’
‘You weren’t with the others. Why?’
Stef went pale again – that almost seemed to be a feat, given her normal skin tone. ‘I’d be dead if I’d been with the others, wouldn’t I?’
He stared at her, refusing to answer the question – the answer was all too obvious. Hiding in the wardrobe had been a desperate act, and it hadn’t slowed him for even a second. It hadn’t afforded her any real protection…yet it had been just enough to save her from the Solstice’s sweep. A quaint hiding place, a child’s hiding place, but something so simple had stopped her from being just another body on the floor.
‘I’ll take that as a yes.’ She bit her lip for a moment, then stared at the floor. ‘I was warned about them. The others weren’t. But–’ Her voice cracked again. ‘He didn’t tell me that they– They killed everyone?’
‘Who warned you?’
‘You’ll think I’m crazy…’
‘Possibly. Who?’
‘Dorian Gray.’
‘Ah. And you believed him?’
‘He freaked me out less than the Solst-ass. I didn’t have a reason to disbelieve him. And I was on the right track. They weren’t. I didn’t want them to get to the Beast’s Belle first.’
‘What beast?’
‘Hey, you’re the one with the personal teleport…’ She quickly sank back into the chair, trying to hide in the leather.
‘You saw the leech?’
‘He looked more like a wolf man than a leech…’
‘My apologies,’ Ryan said as he leaned forwards, resting his elbows on his desk. ‘We call– How much did Dorian Gray explain to you?’
‘Nowhere near enough,’ she said quietly. ‘He’s– he’s a leech cause he’s an illegal alien? And he shouldn’t be here?’
He gave her a nod. ‘Yes.’ He required one of Magnolia’s reports on the leech and pulled out one of the surveillance photos. He slid it across the desk. ‘Is this him?’
The girl took the photo and gave him a nod.
‘Can I,’ she asked, voice small. ‘Can I have some water, please?’
He required her a glass, and it appeared just in front of her on the desk. She lifted the glass, stared suspiciously at it for a moment, then drank half the glass without taking a breath. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. ‘All this – is this all magic?’
‘What do you think it is?’
She drew small circles in the condensation of the glass’s surface. ‘Frankly, I’d like another explanation, but I’m not gonna get one, am I?’
‘There’s no better explanation than the truth.’ He leaned back in his chair.
Her face contorted strangely for a moment. ‘It’s really magic?’
He lifted a hand and pointed to her glass, which slowly refilled, thanks to another requirement. There was no suspicion this time as she eyed the water, and when she looked at him again, she smiled.
‘So, if it wasn’t Solstice that was running the show…?’ he prompted.
She seemed unsure for a moment, then shrugged. ‘Dorian hired us. everything was for the Beast. Leech. Sorry. Whether or not someone was arranging it outside that, I don’t know. We had code, but it was old and crappy, so those bastards came, and Dorian didn’t figure it out until it was too late.’
‘Why were only you told of them?’
‘Because I saw the monster and didn’t run screaming into the night; because I accepted the possibility that the code wasn’t human; and because I’m clinically insane and no one would listen to me anyway? Dorian said they were dangerous for people like him and the Beast. He didn’t say that they were gonna…’ She downed the rest of the water, and Ryan required it full again. ‘Why would they just kill everyone? Is what we were doing that important? I didn’t sign up for anything bad – I said that at the beginning, that I didn’t want anything to do with anything bad…’
‘I don’t know what you were doing, so I can’t tell you. What was the code you were working on?’
‘Trajectory stuff. It’d plot a map of likely spots where other people might come through. Something like that.’
‘What else can you tell me?’
She shrugged. ‘I think I saw a ghost?’
He spun his chair to face the window – the parade of ghosts would continue until the phoenix appeared, so spotting a few ghosts would be easy. Without prompting, Stef got up from the squeaky leather chair and crossed the room to join him.
She pressed her face against the glass. ‘Conventionally speaking, I should be able to see my house from here.’
Ryan smiled but stopped himself from calculating the number of buildings that blocked the view of her home address.
She pulled away from the glass and wiped her oily nose print away with the sleeve of her shirt. ‘Assuming you’re not… Assuming you’re not gonna shoot me, what happens now?’
He turned on his chair to look at her but remained seated – he had no wish to frighten her more. ‘That really depends on you, Miss Mimosa.’
‘Meaning?’ She tucked some of her short brown hair behind an ear and stood uneasily for a moment. ‘My number one preference is for not getting shot.’
‘That’s not something you have to worry about.’ He hoped that was true. ‘What will happen will depend on how much you wish to cooperate with us.’
‘To state the obvious,’ she said, ‘this isn’t ASIO. Who’s “us”?’ She returned to her chair and grimaced at the squeaky leather.
‘The Agency.’
‘Oooh, descriptive… What do you do besides shoot people, scare hackers, and kidnap babies?’
He smiled. ‘I never kidnapped you, Miss Mimosa.’
‘Anyway–’
‘You have three choices.’
She looked up at him. ‘Well, if you didn’t kidnap me, then–’
Explaining what had happened to her as a child was a conversation for another time. A much later time. ‘You have three choices,’ he repeated, cutting her off. ‘One, you cooperate and then you leave. Two – unlikely, but I must state it nonetheless – you refuse to cooperate and…things will be less pleasant.’
‘You’ll shoot me.’
‘As I said,’ he said. ‘Less pleasant.’
She stared at her fingers for a moment. ‘Does knowing there’s weird crap in the world change the base math to the point where two equals three?’
‘Most people jump at the first, or unfortunately choose the second.’
‘So what’s the third?’
‘Rather than simply giving us what information you know, you come work for us.’
‘Cool.’
He smiled. ‘Should I take that as a yes?’
She nodded. ‘Sign me up.’
[table id=15 /]