‘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 repeated, ‘not… Oh, never mind. The moment’s gone. What now?’
‘I’ll issue a uniform, then to Jones.’
The urge to bounce off the walls deflated. 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.’
Ryan stared at her for a moment. ‘Recruit, did that sentence begin your head?’
Magic power: earth swallowing me whole, go!
…You’re not magic, genius.
The burning in her cheeks told her she was probably 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 been there a moment ago.
She stared at the door. ‘Does that happen a lot around here?’
He seemed to consider her question for a moment, then gave a smile as an answer. The light inside the room was already on – though she was beginning to suspect that the agency was a giant fridge. Which made her like some giant piece of sentient mould 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 and everything else imaginable. 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.
She looked over the rest of the shelves, saw various scanners, computers, hats, and–
Stef felt her brain hitch as she stared at the small device. ‘Is that a fucking nuke?’
Ryan looked at her from the other side of the metal shelf. ‘Yes.’
‘And you keep it with the hats?!’
He gave her another inscrutable narc smile as she continued down the shelf.
There was 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. ‘So if we’re the Men in Black, where are the neuralisers?’
‘I think you might be disappointed, Recruit.’
She shrugged and turned away from the shelf, disappearing into the rows of uniforms. 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-fuelled lifestyle – whatever was shiniest was what took priority.
Lab coat. Tech department. It was where she belonged, obviously. She let her shoulders slump as she fingered the closest coat. 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?’
‘I think this one should fit.’
You want to get rid of me so fast you’ve already picked my clothes out?
She let the lab coat go, bit the inside of her cheek, tried to keep her expression neutral, and turned to look at him.
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.
‘I’ve assigned you to Field.’
A lump formed in her throat, and she quickly swallowed it. ‘Just so you know,’ she said as she reverently touched the material of the suit. ‘I make a problematic pet.’
‘I’ll take my chances,’ he said. ‘Come on. This way.’
He hung the suit on the hook of a changing room, then beckoned her to a rack of guns. ‘Where’s your 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-defence.’
‘Overthinking the situation. Yeah. I know. Want me to go get it?’
He shook his head. ‘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 tried to lift it.
‘They like the look,’ he said with a sigh. ‘A gun’s not a status symbol; it’s not for style. It’s a tool, nothing more.’
‘I think,’ she said as she handed the Desert Eagle 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 particularly 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, well lit, and bizarrely normal in comparison to everything that had happened so far.
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!” fear 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 the hell that had been school. 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 she lifted her gun.
Stef struck a pose in the mirror, then giggled. She struck another pose 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–’
‘I–’ She crinkled her nose. ‘I don’t like pinchy leather shoes. I can put them on if you want, but– Are the sneakers okay instead?’
‘I was simply going to ask – I required those shoes less than an hour ago. How did they get so 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.’
‘But I thought I was your new pet?’
‘All recruits are given the ability to require. We find it comes in handy.’ He reached over and touched her shoulder. 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’s laboratory. It dawned on her that there was something different about Jones’s 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 might have been the three-foot tall crystal on his desk.
Might have been.
She felt her eyes bug out, and her face refused to reset itself no matter what she tried.
‘Do I– 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.
‘So it’s a camera,’ she said dryly.
‘Not quite,’ Jones replied.
The beam got hot, then clicked off.
‘That’s it?’
Jones nodded.
She wiggled her fingers. ‘So how exactly does it work?’
Ryan 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.
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, then took a bite. ‘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… Okay, I can deal with that. It’s the command of non-specific request dealing with a brain macro. I can deal. Limitations?’
‘You cannot require someone dead, nor the inverse. You cannot heal using it. Other limitations really fall under common sense, and we can talk about it in more detail later if you wish. 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 unreadable expression made her squirm.
‘Sorry, sir; not complaining, sir. And how– How do I get rid of stuff?’
‘Same process, but the command is “dismiss”, rather than “require”.’
She stared at the remains of the cookie. Dismiss: cookie.
It disappeared, and she immediately required a replacement.
His expression remained unreadable. ‘Would you like to meet the other recruits?’
She stared at the cookie, then looked up. ‘No.’
[table id=15 /]