Experiment: Day 1
September 24th
Ryan focussed on his HUD as a ping from Jones appeared. He answered opened the window, and Jones’ face appeared.
[We’re done for now, sir.]
[How is she?]
[She was understandably freaked, but she settled down, and I think you might need to get her a Flamidimiser for her birthday, else mine might go missing.]
Ryan smiled. [And the technical side of things?]
[Both of her hands are augmented, so she needs to work on her fine motor skills, just to make sure there’s nothing wrong. Gaming should do it for the most part.] A file transfer appeared. [And that’s a list of other activities if she gets bored. Both of her arms are done skin deep, and most of that is just for monitoring. And she’s got enough blue in her to monitor her heart while she’s in her tank.]
Ryan leaned back against his chair. Everything had gone better than expected. Everything was better than expected. It was the first day, but it was going to be all right. She was going to be all right.
He smiled at the technical agent. [Thank you. I’ll finish up here, then go see her. Same time tomorrow?]
[Yeah, I’ve got more than enough data to dig through here for the moment.]
The connection broke and Ryan looked at the piles of paperwork on his desk. There was still so much to do, still so much that was already overdue.
He called up his list of recruits. [Curt?]
The response was immediate. [Sir?]
[My office, Recruit.]
He broke the connection before the young man could question him, or he could reconsider. He stood, reorganised a few of the piles of paperwork, dismissing the paper copies of the materials with higher than normal security clearances on them.
He couldn’t trust Curt, but the young man knew, and there was only two options: deal with reality as presented, or put his gun against the recruit’s head and pull the trigger. The latter option would have to remain a contingency plan for now.
Ryan needed help, even if it was a weakness to admit it.
He was more than a century old, and for the majority of that, he had avoided the need for an Aide – recruits had come and gone, some had filled the position for a time. For long stretches he had simply called on the services of Reynolds’ secretary when he’d found himself with an excess of paperwork. It had been manageable when Reynolds had been around.
Carol had easily fallen into the role, and the workload had been shared as evenly as possible – though more than a few late nights had turned from paperwork to love-making.
Since her, it had been easier to be alone, to not let people get close, to not rely on anyone to assist. It was manageable, and it wasn’t as though he had anything better to do with his free time.
There was a knock on the door, and he unlocked it with a thought.
Curt walked in, the expression on his face plainly stating that he was expecting Ryan’s contingency plan to come into play. ‘Sir?’
Ryan motioned to the piles. ‘You applied to be my Aide once. You’ve got another application in the works-‘
‘No I-‘ Curt started, then stopped and cast his gaze to the floor. ‘Stef said she wouldn’t tell.’
‘She didn’t, I inferred it from something she said. Your intent would suggest you-‘
Curt seemed to brighten a little, then walked across the room to the desk. The recruit hesitated for a moment, then began to thumb through the piles. ‘I know how to do all of these, sir. Obviously I don’t have the authority to sign off on them, but I could process them to the point where they only require your approval.’
The response was what he expected, and what he’d hoped for. It was the best of both worlds – the assistance of an Aide without giving rank and privilege to a murderer.
‘I understand that this is a day off for you-‘
‘Frankly sir, I’ve been watching TV all morning, and the only other thing I planned on doing was hitting the pub, so I’d rather a less wasteful way to spend my time.’ He took a few documents from the left pile and began to sort them into smaller piles. ‘If-‘
‘Recruit?’
‘I’m happy to do this, I am, but I’d like you to consider something in return.’
Ryan kept his face neutral. ‘What?’
‘I want to see Stef, sir. A-awake I mean.’ Curt’s shoulders slumped, and he went silent.
Ryan stared for a minute, then nodded. ‘Not today, but I’ll see what I can do for later in the week.’
‘Thank you sir.’
‘Don’t thank me, I have a condition.’
Curt’s head snapped up, understanding already in his expression. ‘Sir-‘ He closed his mouth. ‘Truth for truth, right, sir?’
‘Correct.’
‘Yes, sir.’
Ryan looked at the paperwork. ‘I’ll shift this to meeting room eight, just contact me if you need anything.’
‘Yes, sir.’
Curt left the room quickly, then Ryan shifted to the basement. He appeared a few metres back from Stef’s tank, and watched her through the thick glass, her arms glowing electric blue, her laptop balanced on the bed in front of her.
He allowed himself a contented smile, then walked up to the tank.
Stef started and looked up, then grinned as she saw him and waved her blue arms. The image was so much like Alexander when getting picked up after day care it almost hurt.
He opened the door to the tank, and left it open. She lifted one arm higher, skin reappearing, then a blue smiley face appeared on her forearm. ‘I think…I think I’m getting the handle of this, d- Don’t you think?’
‘I think you’re doing brilliantly, Agent.’
Stef blushed bright red, and hunched her shoulder so high her head nearly disappeared, but he saw a tiny smile nonetheless. ‘You can’t call me that yet!’ she said. ‘You don’t want to jinx it.’
‘I’ll risk it,’ he said, then gently took her hand to pull the smiley face on her arm closer. It was so strange to see blue like this – just being enjoyed and played with. When dealing with fae, some agents displayed patches of blue, as if to fly their colours, or had patterns in the skin, like tattoos.
He released her arm, and sat beside her on the low bed. ‘Are you sure you’re ok with all this?’
She released the tension from her shoulders and grabbed his arm and hugged it tight, her head resting on his upper arm. ‘Stop asking me that, I’m fine, this is fine, everything is fine.’
‘Everything?’
‘Jonesy used a laser on me.’
The statement was oddly neutral. He pulled back a little so he saw more than a mass of messy hair. ‘And how was that?’
She released his arm, then bounced on her knees. ‘Fscking awesome! Ok, not so awesome to start with, cause he cut off my humie hand and that most suck and fail, but then- Awesome. Completely awesome. Why didn’t you tell me there were lasers here?!’ She bounced one more time, then went still, her shoulders slumped and her head bowed. ‘Sorry. I didn’t mean- Sorry.’
‘Stef?’
She remained a statue.
‘Young lady,’ he said gently, ‘look at me.’
She slowly looked up, her face hidden behind hair, obvious fear across her features. ‘Yeah?’ she said in a small voice.
‘Don’t you ever apologise to me, especially not for being happy.’ He placed his hands over hers. ‘And I didn’t tell you, because there is so much I haven’t shown you yet.’
‘I coulda wrecked the bed.’
He squeezed her hands, then let her go. ‘Destroy a hundred of them, if it makes you happy.’
She slowly brushed the hair behind her ears. ‘But jumping on beds is bad. It’s wrong and it’s not allowed and it disturbs people even if they can’t hear you, and it’s not ladylike-‘
‘Stef, it’s fine.’
She settled, but continued to look unsettled.
He stood and offered a hand. ‘Come on, let’s take your mind off things.’
She reached for his hand, but hesitated. ‘Am I allowed out of the tank?’
‘You’re still in the basement, and you’re under a director’s supervision, this is perfectly in keeping with the protocol.’
She took his hand and trailed a little behind him as they walked out amongst the tanks. ‘You understand what this place is,’ he said.
‘Jonesy said it’s a programmer’s sandbox.’
Ryan nodded. ‘We’re in a continual state of improvement, most of these changes are minor, and are nothing more than bug fixes, or tiny improvements to processing power.’ He stopped in front of the aquatic agent’s tank. ‘Sometimes though, more detailed modifications need to be made, or specialised agents need to be created.’
‘Like the merman.’
‘We have to account for all scenarios. Some are simple, adapting to work more closely with certain fae, so we need an agent who works natively at six inches high, or can easily navigate tunnels. I can acquire night vision – superior to what I already have – but as it’s not something I use every day, I wouldn’t be the best person for that.’ He pointed to the aquatic agent. ‘This set of modifications was for a time when we thought we may need to do more underwater work, as it stands, it’s not necessary.’
He watched as she pressed her face against the glass. ‘Can I ask the obvious question?’
‘Yes.’
‘Is-‘
He smiled. ‘No, your answer is “yes”. Yes, Stef, there are mermaids. There’s also sirens and selkies and various animal fae that can take on similar appearances.’
She grinned.
‘Come on,’ he said, ‘there are other things to see, some may not be as interesting to you.’
They walked past rows and rows of empty tanks. ‘We try to keep most of the experiments in storage when they aren’t actively being researched – with the exception of yourself, none of them are conscious, they mostly have instincts if they have anything at all.’
They passed through a door and into a larger section. Here there wasn’t the concentration of tanks that the first room held. ‘The experiments here…They have more of a combat focus, for the possibility of war.’
This seemed to surprise her. ‘I- You mean like open war, not stupid Solstice war, yeah?’
Ryan nodded. ‘It’s always something we have to consider.’ He looked at the enclosures, trying to decide where to start. ‘Some of these experiments are less than pleasant,’ he said.
She smirked up at him. ‘I love how when you say that, you actually mean “the worst thing you can possibly imagine”.’
‘I can imagine worse things.’
‘Yeah, me too, but you know what I mean.’
He smiled. ‘Most of the time at least.’
She moved towards one of the cages, and he caught her shoulder. ‘Don’t be frightened, nothing in here can hurt you.’
She looked at the cage, back at him, then moved back to stand beside him, and took his hand. ‘You led, I’ll follow.’
He led her to the tank – it was probably the worst to start with. The thing it held was, if it hadn’t been naked and covered in blood and gore, too all appearances, a regular agent. The fact that it was naked, and covered in blood and gore rather detracted from the image.
Stef immediately took a step behind him. ‘Um,’ she said urgently. ‘Um! Um!’
He turned to look at her, trying to block the view of the tank as much as he could. ‘I know what you’re going to say-‘
‘You have a fucking zombie!’ she shouted, her voice going up in pitch. ‘You have a fucking zombie. You- I can’t even- EX-PLAIN! EX-PLAIN!’
He turned, and watched the experiment gnaw on an arm. ‘I did warn you that some things were less pleasant. You understand what we are. What I am, and what you’re going to be.’
‘Awesome science nanite angels.’
‘You’ve seen blue, you know how it works-‘
She held up her hand, her eyes darting from side to side. ‘Wow-‘ She stared at her hands for a moment, then looked back at him. ‘We can-‘ She rocked back and forth for a moment. ‘We can reuse ourselves? Like, if you’ve forgotten your blue in the store, you could have nommed your hand?’
He stared down at her, surprised and proud. ‘Well done.’
She stood straight, smiled wide and almost seemed to glow. ‘I’m right?’
‘You are. Blue is undifferentiated, so we can take blue from any part of our body to heal an injury. In blackout, obviously, we’re functionally human, so we can’t simply bleed on ourselves and heal, but if we process it, by pulping flesh, then it can act as a stopgap measure.’
‘And zombie here?’
‘It’s not dead, Stef, he’s much closer to a cannibal,’ he said dryly. ‘The process is far from efficient, he simply consumes, and they measure the ratio of material consumed to wounds healed, and work on improving it.’
‘I…I am surprisingly ok with this.’
She stared at him.
She bit his arm.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Trying to see if I like the taste of flesh,’ she mumbled through a mouthful of sleeve.
‘And how do you like the taste of suit?’
‘I prefer cookies.’