‘Would you shoot me if I squeed?’ Stef asked, resisting the urge to bounce off all the walls. This was much better than the time she’d hacked…this was better than any hack.
Wow…is that actual happy? You should bottle it and sell it on eBay.
Don’t ruin this for me!
You’re the one who just calculated the shipping cost for empty bottles.
Your logic will never defeat me, now back to-
-the thing where you pretend to pay attention.
There was a cough, and she focussed on the agent. Ryan was giving her that look again. ‘The bathroom is…’
‘Squeed,’ she clarified, ‘not…oh, never mind, the moment’s gone, what now?’
‘I’ll issue a uniform, then to Jones.’
To Jones, of course, professional geek time, this is– ‘-like the cool version of what happens to hackers – I think this is better than Silicon Valley.’
He stared at her for a moment. ‘Recruit Mimosa, did that sentence begin your head?’
Magic power: earth swallowing me whole, go!
…you’re not magic, genius.
The burning sensation in her cheeks told her she was blushing. ‘Yes.’
He gave a slow nod, then turned. They walked back through all of the rooms and she reached for the door leading to the hallway. Ryan coughed, and she pivoted – he was standing in front a door that hadn’t previously existed.
‘Does that happen a lot around here?’
He seemed to consider this for a moment, then gave a smile as an answer. The light inside the room was already one – though she was beginning to suspect that the Agency was a giant fridge. Which made her like some giant piece of sentient mold wandering around hungering for- …wait, what? Like a giant fridge, in that the lights automatically came on when a person entered a room.
The room was huge and cluttered – rows and rows of uniforms were surrounded by shelves of weapons, phones, cables, a small nuclear device, scanners, computers and hats. It was almost like an army disposal store – it had the same musty smell, even though everything was clean, and there was no dust to be seen.
Also, for some bizarre reason, a small container of what seemed like promotional badges. They all contained phrases that were counter to the Solstice beliefs – or what Dorian had led her to believe were their beliefs. She picked the container up and experimentally shook it. ‘Agent Clarke’s idea,’ he explained. ‘It wasn’t something that really took off.’
She stole a pin, then moved to the next shelf. A row of gleaming white lab coats shone at her from the corner of her eye and she moved to those. It was the rule of the caffeine-fueled lifestyle – whatever was shiniest was what took priority.
The material was supple, though she was sure it wasn’t going to stay white for long. ‘So, do I just pick one out, or what?’
‘No, but this one should fit.’
She let go of the sleeve, and turned, silently hoping that was going to be roomy enough, that it wasn’t going to be…She promptly turned away, then back, slower this time, just to be sure that her eyes weren’t deceiving her. Her level of confusion was a notch above what it would have been had he been holding purple ice cream and gibbering about kittens.
In his hands was a suit.
A suit, identical to the one he was wearing. Black pants, white shirt, blue vest, blue tie, big black jacket.
Not the uniform of the tech department.
For the first time since her landlord had left a “Santa” present outside her front door on her first Christmas alone, she felt like hugging someone. It was a strange feeling, and she wasn’t sure she remembered where the arms went, so she settled for a smirk.
‘Just so you know,’ she said as she accepted the suit. ‘I make a problematic pet.’
He took the suit from her after a moment and hung it on the hook outside of a changing stall. ‘Weapon.’
‘I, um, left it in the other room. Didn’t want to be holding a gun after just killing a guy, just in case you shot me in self-defense.’
‘That’s-’
‘Over-thinking the situation. Yeah. I know. Want me to go get it?’
He shook his head and beckoned her over to the weapon rack. ‘How was the weight?’
‘Oh, come on, you’re not going to give me a girly gun are you? Don’t tell me-’ she looked at the shelf. ‘Well, at least there aren’t any pink ones.’
‘It’s useless to have a weapon that you aren’t comfortable with.’ He ran his hand along the rack and picked up a gun much larger than the one she’d just used to kill a man. ‘This one, for example,’ he said as he tossed it at her – she caught it with both hands, the weight making her stumble. ‘Is often the first weapon requested.’
‘Oof. I think Lara Croft uses one of these…’ she said as she lifted it with both hands.
‘They like the look,’ he said with a sigh. ‘Or wish to use it for a similarly stupid reason. It’s not a status symbol, it’s not for style, it’s a tool, nothing more.’
‘I think,’ she said as she handed it back, ‘I’d break my damn nose if I tried to use that thing.’
‘You probably would. Would you like the same weapon you just used?’
‘Yeah, girly gun me…’
He flipped open his jacket and removed his gun from his holster.
‘Is that…’
‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘Though I’ve never found anything particulary feminine about it.’
‘Great, first hour on the job and I insult my boss.’
He handed her the gun. ‘Here, take this one. This type is now assigned to you, so whenever you require a gun, this is what you’ll get. Should your preference change, you’ll need to inform me.’
‘So, start with the girly gun and work my way up to the rocket launcher?’
‘Recruit, I actually fear what you’d do with a rocket launcher.’
‘Just…blow some stuff up?’ he gave her a deadpan look. ‘So what, a license to kill, but not a license to blow stuff up?’
‘No, Recruit,’ he said slowly, ‘we generally try to avoid unnecessary property destruction.’ He motioned to the changing room, and she went in, locking the door behind her.
She stared at herself in the mirror – the changing room was large and well lit, and bizarrely normal in comparison to everything that had happened so far. It was just a change room, like they had at…well, she assumed they had at most stores.
Her method of buying clothes was to choose something in the approximately right size and shape and take it to the counter. Clothes were a necessity, nothing more. Her logic was that the less she spent on them, the more she could spent on accessories for her computers.
The suit fit her well, and that was surprising, considering he’d – at least apparently – just grabbed it off the rack. It was comfortable, and surprisingly cool – in terms of temperature anyway. It would take her a little while to get over the “oh crap, narcs!” part of her personality before she fell in love with the uniform.
There was a cough, and then she felt something against her foot. She looked down to see that he had pushed a pair of anonymous black shoes under the door. She looked down at the sneakers on her feet and decided to keep those instead.
She slipped the tie around her neck, and for the only time ever, she was glad of her stay in hell. Five straight years of knotting a tie to go with the ugly uniform was finally coming in handy.
The door was still locked, and Ryan couldn’t see through it. She hoped he couldn’t see through it. He could probably see through it. Crap. ‘Are you peeking?’
‘Recruit…’ was the tired answer.
‘I’ll take that as a “no”,’ she muttered, and lifted her gun.
She struck a pose, then giggled. She struck another and made an attempt to look tough – she was fairly certain it failed miserably. ‘I think I’m going to like this way too much,’ she said as she holstered the gun.
She left her old clothes, and the black leather shoes, in a messy pile on the floor. She assumed some sort of laundry gnome would deal with it. Or not.
Ryan looked her up and down, and his gaze stuck on her shoes. ‘Re-’ he began, but she cut him off.
‘You pulled a hacker off the street and brought her to the heart of narc-dom and the only resistance she has shown is her choice in footwear, is this going to be a problem?’
‘I was simply going to ask – I required those shoes less than an hour ago, how did they get dirty?’
She shrugged. ‘My shoes do that. I think it’s my superpower.’
‘No Recruit, I believe that…’ He coughed. ‘You have to see Jones now.’
‘I thought I was your new pet?’
‘All recruits are given the ability to require, we find it comes in handy.’ He reached over, touched her shoulder and the world blurred.
She slumped a little when the world became solid again. ‘So not used to that,’ she mumbled, then looked up at Jones’ laboratory. It dawned on her that there was something different about Jones’ lab this time. The screens were the same, all the desks were in the same place. The colour of the paint hadn’t spontaneously changed to hot pink. Yet…there was something different. It may have been the three-foot tall crystal on his desk.
May have been.
She felt her eyes bug out, and her face refused to reset itself no matter what she tried.
‘Do I…actually have to ask the obvious?’ she said as she stared at it, unwilling to approach it until she knew what it was.
‘Sit please,’ Jones said, gesturing to a chair that hadn’t been there a moment before.
‘You didn’t answer the question I didn’t ask.’
Jones still didn’t answer her, and instead began to type. The crystal began to hum and glow like a cheap special effect. A beam of warm light shot out and lit up her forehead. An image of her appeared on Jones’ screen.
‘A super-advanced web-cam,’ she said dryly.
‘Not quite,’ Jones replied.
The beam got hot, then clicked off. ‘That’s it?’ Jones nodded and she wiggled her fingers. ‘So how exactly does it work?’
It was Ryan who answered. ‘Simply think “require”, then the object you need.’
Her mind went blank. She’d been given the powers of a genie, and she had no idea what to wish for. A pony. A car. A zeppelin with machine gun turrets. A cookie.
Require…
You’re going…
You’re going to shut up. Require: cookie.
A chocolate chip cookie appeared in her hand.
She stared at it in confusion. The fact that she’d pulled it from thin air was fine, the fact that it was chocolate chip was not. How did…‘…it know to be chocolate chip?’ She sniffed it experimentally. ‘I just thought about a cookie, I didn’t…’
‘Is it what you imagined?’ Ryan asked.
‘Yes. Exactly. Oh…’ He gave her a nod. ‘It’s like…ok, I can deal with that. It’s the command of non-specific request dealing with a brain macro. Ok, I can deal.’ She looked up at Jones. ‘What are the limitations?’
‘You cannot require someone dead, nor the inverse. You cannot heal using it. You cannot require a person into being, and that limitation does extend to animals. You cannot manipulate a person beyond placing clothing on them. If you misuse it, it will be taken away.’
‘So I shouldn’t run through the city and make all of the emos wear pink and fluffy bunnies.’
‘As well as a misuse, that would be a security breach, and subject to punishment.’
‘I haven’t used the internet in almost twelve hours, I am being punished.’
Ryan’s expression was unreadable, and it made her squirm. ‘Sorry sir, not complaining sir.’
His expression remained unreadable. ‘Would you like to meet the other recruits?’
She stared at the cookie, then looked up. ‘No.’