‘If it’s important,’ Stef said, ‘why is it somewhere lost, unloved and uncatalogued in lost and found?’
‘Don’t blame me,’ Applebaum said before turning back to his tiny television.
Ryan ushered her out of the small office. ‘Things get lost, the Agency isn’t perfect. This is important, Stef, do you mind looking for it?’
‘Do I get to keep other cool stuff that I find?’
He stared at her, dad!face in place. ‘If you make a reasonable attempt to find the original owner, and fill in the requisite paperwork, then-‘ he sighed. ‘Of course. Don’t get distracted though, find the crown.’
‘Find the crown of Queen Thingamabob, which the Agency really shouldn’t have in the first place, and that they haven’t bothered to get in the last fifty years.’
‘Queen Thursomo,’ Ryan corrected. ‘And this will do a lot to improve relations with the hobs.’
‘Yeah, but it’s Ipswich, no matter what country I’m in, no one ever cares about Ipswich. It doesn’t even sound like a real name. Ip-switch. Ip-switch.’
‘Stef.’
‘Yes daaaaaad,’ she said, and he disappeared.
She required a miner’s lantern, tuned away from the door, and ventured into the musty, mouldy shelves of the cavernous lost and found section. It was too big, far too big, it should have logically cut into at least two of the floors above, and out across the rarely-used meeting rooms of level three. She kicked the floor. ‘Stupid refrigerator TARDIS.’ A building that was bigger on the inside, if only a little, was awesome. A building that was bigger on the inside, making more work, not so awesome.
She coughed, swirls of dust going past the headlamp.
I am soooo going to hack Applebaum’s TV.
She stared into her HUD, and started a video chat with Ryan. [I swear to god, if I find dead, zombiefied or wild recruits down here, I quit, I don’t care what historical society wants what.]
Ryan stared back at her. [I assume,] he said, raising his eyebrows slightly, [that you aren’t counting yourself among the zombiefied recruits.]
[Rotting flesh is not the reason I smell!]
[I’m fairly certain that there’s no unnatural recruits down there.]
She lost focus on her HUD and looked up at the ceiling far above, and the few pigeons that had somehow made it into the Agency, past the secretary, and up several floors to create a small pigeon empire and crap on lost clothes and cups from generations of recruits and agents. [It’s just a bit creepy in here,] she said, [I know I’m in the Agency, but it doesn’t feel like the Agency, if that makes sense.]
[You’ll be fine.]
Something moved, and she cancelled out of the video chat, her gun appearing with a thought.
‘Who goes there?!’
‘Um, me, newbie?’ Curt said, appearing from around a corner. ‘Ryan knew you’d need help with this.’
She glared at him. There wasn’t one spot of dust on his suit, or even his shoes, and he held a simple, standard-issue-required torch instead of the old-timey miner’s lantern. Stupid bright-and-shiny recruit. She let her gun disappeared, then walked over to him, swinging the lantern half-heartedly at him. ‘You sure you can’t do this by yourself?’
‘I’m here because it’s easier with two, if you wander off to go internets, it’s just one, and since I got pulled away from real work to do this, I’m the only one who gets to leave.’ He kissed the side of her head. ‘Now relax.’ He handed her a manifest. ‘This is the list of spots where items shouldn’t be kept, all we have to do is look over these spots, and the evidence box with the crown in it should be there. We’ll start with the point where it should be, then move out in a circle from there.’
She stared. ‘…you’ve already drawn up a map, haven’t you?’
‘Yes ma’am.’
‘What was I doing?’
‘Playing with the techs.’
‘I was only up there-‘
‘For three hours,’ he tapped on her lantern and a brighter light shone from it. ‘Come on.’
Two hours later, even Curt had succumbed to the dirt of lost and found, his uniform discarded for a t-shirt and cargo pants, both of which wore the brown streaks of sweat and dust older than either of them. Box after box revealed nothing, old uniforms, discarded paperwork, and the occasional interesting fae toy or weird piece of tech. It was a treasure trove of crap.
‘Can we give up?’
‘No.’
‘Can we take a break?’
He looked down at her end of the shelf. ‘Check those last two boxes, then we’ll break for lunch.’
She wiped dusty hands on her uniform pants, took a deep breath and blew at the dust over the box’s label. She checked it off the full manifest, then opened it. ‘Crown!’
‘Oh?’ he jogged down to her, requiring a table for the box.
She pulled it off the shelf, put the box down, tossed the lid aside, then pointed. ‘Crown! Crown and other jewellery!’
He pulled a photo from his pocket and compared it to the crown in the box. ‘No, it’s not right.’
‘But it’s a crown,’ she said, slumping against the nearest shelving unit. ‘It’s a crown, and we’ve already been looking all day.’
‘Two hours.’
She pulled the crown out of the box, turning it over and over in her hands. ‘Can’t we beat it into shape?’
‘No.’
She lifted it, and put it on her head. ‘Fine, then we’ll just-‘
There was a bright light and she wasn’t entirely sure it was coming from her lantern.
‘Stef, your eyes!’
She felt Curt grabbing her, trying to pull the crown from her head.
It came free after a moment, the sharp feeling telling her it had taken patches of skin. She shook her head, and heard things falling. ‘Shift us out!’
She grabbed onto the arm holding her, and shifted to Ryan’s office as one of the shelving units fell. She stumbled back against the couch, and let her head flop, cracking not-so-gently against the wall.
‘Sir, get the techs to look at lost and found,’ she heard Curt say. ‘Something strange happened.’
‘How strange?’ Ryan asked, perfectly calm.
An alarm blared, and she got the courage to look up at Ryan. ‘On a scale of one to ten,’ she said, she pointed at the ceiling. ‘That.’