14 Days Ago
‘I thought the point of shifting,’ Stef after the lab blurred away and the garage came into view, ‘was so that you didn’t have to drive.’
‘Sometimes we can’t shift to where we want to go,’ he said, ‘or we can’t take certain people with us. A lot of Solstice, for example, take precautions so we can’t shift them around. And,’ he said as a set of keys appeared in his hand, ‘I find it quite enjoyable.’
‘You like being stuck in rush hour?’ she asked they walked over toward a deep green car. The make, model and year of the Bentley popped up beside the car and disappeared just as quickly. ‘You like being around people that could snap and attack you with a tyre iron at any point?’
He opened the driver’s side door, and looked across at her. ‘That’s why I don’t drive in rush hour. Get in.’
She got in, being very careful not to slam the door, not to touch anymore of the interior than possible, and pulled the belt with only her thumb and forefinger.
‘You aren’t going to break it,’he said as he turned the key.
She put her hands in her lap and tried to compress herself as much as possible. ‘Sorry, ingrained paranoia about fancy cars. Don’t breathe on it wrong. Don’t spill anything. No dirty hands in the car. And…god help you if you damage the seats. One my cousins scratched grandfather’s prized Rolls once, he yelled so long and so hard, the fucking walls shook.’
‘Stef, I’m not going to yell at you.’
She focused on the dashboard. ‘It’s inevitable that you will.’
‘Agents don’t lie.’
Well, you’re pretty much screwed.
Yeah, yeah, I know-
‘-I’m going to make a very bad agent.’
He drove up to the boom gate, waited a moment for it to raise, then drove out into traffic. ‘It’s going to be somewhat of an information overload,’ he said. ‘Tell me if it gets too much and I’ll shut it down, otherwise, you can make the information disappear whenever you wish. Jones has put it at a relatively low setting, so you can adjust to it, and you’ll be able to customise it further later on, for the moment, think of it as a…test drive.’
‘So you can decide I’m not the model you want, take me back to the dealership and trade up to something better?’
Oh, crap, I said that out loud didn’t I?
Something is screwy with your brain, you’re having more trouble keeping inside thoughts in and outside thoughts out than you normally do.
If you haven’t noticed, I’m running different software now.
You mean, you’re running software now. You weren’t before, well, nowhere outside of your delusions anyway.
Goddammit, you know what I mean, stop arguing with me.
I’m trying to get you talking like a person again, if you can’t even articulate yourself in here, you’re going to run into trouble out there.
‘Green light,’ she said quickly.
‘Why do you keep saying things like that?’
‘So we don’t become the victims of road rage?’
Smooth, Spyder, real smooth.
You come up with something better.
‘Does your license to kill extend to-’
‘Miss Mimosa.’
Again with the Miss Mimosa crap? ‘Quit doing that.’
‘Then answer the question.’
She folded her arms across her chest. ‘Don’t wanna.’
‘I will take you back to Jones and let Merlin hit you with a hammer.’
‘I don’t like to argue with what’s empirical.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Forget it, I’d rather get hit with a hammer.’
‘I retract that offer.’
‘My parents are gone. My family gave me fifty-thousand quid and said GTFO, I don’t have any friends, and the one imaginary one I did have abandoned me. This is the data that I have to work with, so I’m not going to get my hopes up by fooling myself into thinking that this is anything more than transitory. This is a wonderful kind of transitory, but face it, you are gonna get sick of me, if you aren’t already, or figure that I’m more trouble than I’m worth, and move on, using my heart as a paperweight is optional, of course.’
She stared out the window, a multitude of quick-flashing data appearing about each and every person she looked at, and each face she managed to focus on gave her the option of running a recognition program. Oh, so that’s where the creepy MiB power comes from…
‘I have a son,’ Ryan said quietly.
‘Is he a recruit?’ More importantly, angels can have kids? ZOMG, did you father a nephilim?
You defaulted back to inside voice. You’re really gonna have to work on this.
I’ll yell at a mirror later and get it straight.
‘Hardly,’he replied. ‘He wants nothing to do with me. His mother and I…we divorced when he was eight, she found it very hard to stay married to an agent, and was worried about her boy…following in my footsteps. Taking after me. She didn’t want him having anything to do with this world. He felt the same way, he knew he wasn’t entirely human, so felt like a freak. He took that to heart, he blamed me.’
‘He was a kid,’ she said quietly. ‘Kids think stupid things.’
‘I know that,’ he said, ‘I didn’t think badly of him for it. He’s my son, I can’t think badly of him at all. I did my part after we separated, I saw him as much as I could, as much as he wanted. I did everything I could, but he wanted none of it. The calls stopped, he made excuses not to see me on the weekends, wouldn’t speak to me when I showed up to his birthdays.’
He trailed off, and they drove in silence for a few minutes, the wind buffeting against the windows and the subdued sounds of traffic keeping it from a complete, maddening silence.
‘I gave up when he was twenty-six,’ he said, ‘his engagement party. It was announced in the paper, I didn’t receive an invitation of course, but shifting does come in handy if you know what I mean. He stood up and announced that his father was going to make a speech, he looked right at me as he said that…then he introduced his step-father to the room.’
‘What a fscking jerk,’ she said, her brain-mouth filter failing to engage, then slapped a hand over her mouth.
He didn’t chide her for the outburst. ‘My point,’ he said, ‘is that he didn’t want me in his life, and he didn’t need him to look after him.’
‘How could he not though?’ she asked, her hand dropping away form her mouth. ‘I mean, you’re Mister magic MiB man, people can look at you and go “hey that Ryan’s a pretty cool guy, he rescues babies and doesn’t afraid of anything”.’ She noticed his confused expression. ‘It means you’re awesome. And that’s the point,’ she said, her hands flapping in frustration, ‘you’re awesome, how could he not want you in his life?’ I’d kill to-Shut up, you don’t get to have those thoughts. Shut up Stef Mimosa, no one wants to hear that crap.
I’m sorry…are you talking to yourself?
No, just trying to angry some sense into myself.
‘I wasn’t what wanted. He wanted someone normal.’
‘Not what he wanted?’ she stared at her hand for a moment. ‘I suppose if you were able to combine-’ She dropped her hand. ‘I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. You should have just had another kid, one who wasn’t so ungrateful.’
This managed to summon a smile on his face. ‘I’m not sure what you think of agent reproduction, but I’m not able to spontaneously create another child.’
‘Probably a good thing, I mean, if you made one while drunk, you might regret it later. Or if you decided that you wanted a boy and got stuck with a girl-’
‘Sorry. Tangent-ing again. Ok. Looking at people. Testing HUD. Announcing what I’m doing like a Sailor Scout. Do I need a court order to run background checks on people? Oh god, I could so blackmail people with this…’ She turned and tried to smile innocently. ‘But I suppose that would come under the category of being a bad agent, wouldn’t it?’
‘I would recommend against blackmail.’
‘I can look after you. If you need me to.’
‘Stop the car.’
He pulled over and without looking at him, she got out of the car and just started walking.
Step. Step. Right leg. Left leg. Step over the trash. Avoid the people. Ignore the looks. Ignore the fact that I’m in hospital blues. Step. No emotion. No fscking tears. No fscking tears. Step. Left leg. Right left. Avoid the old lady.
Where are you walking to?
It doesn’t matter. I’m just walking.
A long jacket was draped over her shoulders, shielding her hospital-blue-clad body from the strange looks of the civilians around her.
Oh, that helps, I guess.
What the hell is wrong with you? He-
Just stop it, okies? Step. Right leg. Left leg. Left leg feels weird.
A large wall made of agent stopped her pointless trudge. ‘I’m sorry for being presumptuous,’ he said. ‘But you can’t just go running off.’
‘It wasn’t you,’ she said, ‘I’m hallucinating again. I just need a minute to walk it off. Sorry. This is what you get for recruiting a crazy.’
This brought about a look of concern. ‘Maybe it’s something Jones needs to adjust. What did-’
Jones. Right. Brain’s just scrambled. Technology can fix this. Nice, safe, technology. ‘Well, um, what were we just talking about? Nice, normal conversation about the fact that I have a computer in my head, right?’
‘Yes, correct. And then-’ He crouched to her level. ‘Oh Stef… Tell me what you think you hallucinated.’
She grabbed her the bottom of her shirt, each hand twisting a handful of the blue material. She stared at the footpath, and the old bike tyre skid mark there. ‘Something like, um, wanting to treat me like I was worth something.’
‘I said that.’
A manic grin split her face. ‘Then maybe you’re the crazy one. Who do you think you’re talking to right now?’
I’m strong. I’m tough. I’m stone.
‘Then maybe you’re the crazy one.’ She took a step back, and tried to move around him, but he took another step and blocked her again. ‘Why the hell w-’ She swallowed, trying to dislodge the lump in her throat. ‘-would you say something like that to me?’
Strong. Tough. Stone. Gargoyle, I’m a gargoyle. Man, I miss that show.
‘Like I said, I’m sorry for being presumptuous. Can we just-’
‘Your presumption isn’t the issue here, narc,’ she said, gritting her teeth to try and retain some control. ‘You just, if I can return the presumption, made it sound like you were making,’ she swallowed again, and again failed to dislodge the lump. She shook her head, trying to bury herself in a lack of emotion, ‘Making an offer to act in a paternal role.’
‘That’s exactly what I did do.’
‘Because I wanted to? I don’t understand what you mean.’
‘Do you realise you’re talking to Stef Mimosa? Stupid, useless hacker girl?’
‘Stop talking like that.’
‘No, cause I don’t think you know what you’re getting yourself into. You haven’t read all the fine print, and buyer’s remorse is really hard to pull in this situation. Just stop and think about what you’re doing.’
‘I rarely speak without thinking.’
‘Congratulations, you’re experiencing your own law of averages!’ she cried, backing up a couple of steps.
‘If I said-’
She coughed out the lump, freeing both her windpipe and the tears she’d been keeping prisoner. ‘I’d give anything for a dad like you,’ she whispered, tears streaming down her face, ‘do you know how awesome you are? What you’ve done for me?’
‘Then what’s the problem?’
‘I’m not good enough. I’m pathetic, I’m useless, I am insane, remember? I am a wreck of a person who has no job being anywhere near you. You get nothing in return. I have never been good enough, and I accept that. I’ve got nothing to offer.’
‘Why are you under the impression that you have to give me anything in return?’
‘Isn’t that how these things usually work?’
He shook his head. ‘No, it’s really not.’
‘I don’t know how it works other than that.’
‘And I don’t know what it’s like to have a child that wants me to look after them.’
Despite herself she nodded furiously, feeling tears fall off her chin. ‘Yes. Please. Ok. Yes. I accept.’
He lifted her, and she clung to him like a child, resting her head on his shoulder until the tears stopped.
‘I think I’m ok now,’ she whispered.
She felt fabric slide against her skin, and as he set her down, she saw that she was in her uniform again, complete with a new pair of sneakers to dirty. As she adjusted to standing under own power again, he pressed his hands to the sides of her head and gently kissed the top of her head before brushing all of the errant strands of hair back from her face.
‘Ready?’ he asked.
‘Good. I think I know where we should go next.’ He turned and walked back toward the car, and she fell in behind him, happily following in his footsteps.