Stef stared at the clock. Night. Night was for sleeping.
Especially considering apparently she was going to be woken up only seven hours after midnight. Being awoken at such an hour – and being expected to function as well – gave the entire Agency a new spin. A sinister one.
Punching the pillow until she imagined it crying for mercy, she threw her legs over the side of the bed and stood. She paced for a while to no avail – her mind was going over a hundred different things, and her fingers had the urge to type.
This wasn’t the kind of night she slept on.
She required the mirror back into existence and stared at it. The pyjama top she’d required less than half an hour ago looked as wrinkled as something that had escaped her laundry basket and went rogue. Which had happened more times than she cared to remember.
Laundry. Dishes. Cleaning the windows. Small tasks like that didn’t seem to be something recruits had to worry about. The building seemed to take care of itself. That, or there was a legion of laundry gnomes, washing-up gnomes and gnomes that ate unattended cookies.
She wondered if anyone would get mad at her if she set a trap.
‘Screw it,’ she muttered. She looked at the mirror briefly, then closed her eyes.
Require: uniform.
It was an unnatural feeling to feel fabric skating over skin, disappearing, morphing and growing. It was almost instantaneous, but she paid attention to the sensations. Little details kept the world real.
She liked the suit, even though she had no intention of wearing the jacket like Ryan did. Wearing something like that in Brisbane in summer was suicide. She wondered if his jacket had a built-in air conditioner.
Require: laptop bag.
She slipped Frankie into the blue bag, grabbed her ID from the bench and left the room. At least two of the other recruits were awake, and lacking soundproofing in the wall of their room.
The lift appeared as quickly as it always did and she punched the button for the ground floor.
Natalie was still behind the desk. ‘Going out again?’ the secretary asked as she handed up the clipboard.
‘Can’t sleep, want to go for a walk.’ Not quite true, but good enough.
The secretary gave her a nod. ‘Be careful.’
She looked down at the uniform. ‘Yeah, guess I am a walking target.’ She shrugged and handed back the clipboard. ‘Not going far.’
The night did nothing to calm her. Urges to run, scream or hack into three banks simultaneously – which never worked, but was always fun – banged against the inside of her skull. She held Frankie close and just walked. There was no point looking for a bus, what busses there were this time of night were unreliable and usually darker than the night they were supposedly safe passage through.
Train it was then.
Central station wasn’t far – and the walk, the simple act of one foot in front of the other, calmed her a little. It was normal, so much as she hated it, it was what she needed.
Nothing jumped out and attacked her, there were no ghosts or zeppelins so far as the eye could see, what few people she could see were on the other side of the street.
She didn’t wait for the walk signal at the intersection near the coffee shop she’d been that morning, but she did pause in the middle of the street, just to glance up at the sky. A patch of sky that wasn’t obscured by buildings, though it was faint from the light pollution – there was no chance of seeing stars.
A car honked and she jumped out of the way. A drunk leaned out the window and shouted something unintelligible then sped off into the night.
‘Die in an alcohol-fuelled fire,’ she muttered under her breath, then strode quickly up the hill.
Figuring an all-in-one ID/credit card/licence to kill might still not be good enough for the ticket inspectors, she required a few coins and stabbed her finger at the ticket machine until it responded. Freshly printed ticket in hand, she waved it at the guard as she passed through the gates. The guard gave it a cursory glance and gave a vague nod.
She leaned against the escalator railing down to the platform and sighed at the timetable screen. The next train wasn’t due for a while.
Pulling Frankie from the bag, she stared at the reflections on his case until someone blocked her light.
‘Hello Spyder.’ She didn’t have to turn around to identify the speaker, she’d only heard a voice like his once. ‘Or should I call you “angel” now?’ Dorian asked as he sat beside her.
‘Assuming that suit isn’t just your fashion sense taking a detour. Or your attempt to grow one,’ he said with a grimace as he looked her up and down and focused on her dirty sneakers.
‘I thought you would have been long gone by now. Back home, or off in another story.’
‘I never came to this godsforsaken city for Astrin, I was here for something completely unrelated – no, I’m not telling you what – Jon just happened to know I’d like the job.’
‘Is this what you do? Gallivant around?’
He smiled and stretched. ‘It’s one of the perks of being immortal. Well, the fun kind of immortal. If you’re born to it, you usually don’t cherish it. Look at how pathetic the gods are, they don’t take an interest in anything.’
‘I wouldn’t know.’
‘You will soon enough, work for the angels long enough and you’ll pick it up. Well, before you die, of course. The uniform you’re so proudly displaying means you aren’t using the same talents I wanted you for.’
‘Yeah, field, not tech.’
‘It’ll get you killed.’
‘Not planning on it.’
‘You’re sitting alone. In Central station. At night. Wearing what may as well be a target.’ He pointed to the end of the platform. ‘The Solstice aren’t afraid of sniping people. Change your clothes. Now.’
‘That almost sounded like concern.’ The look on his face told her he wasn’t joking. She concentrated and required herself into something that may as well come from her wardrobe. ‘Better?’
‘Didn’t they warn you?’
‘Didn’t exactly get issued a handbook.’
‘No bloody wonder there’s such a high turn over.’
She pushed the fear aside for a moment. ‘Do you hang around train stations for a particular reason?’
He flashed a plane ticket. ‘There’s nothing here for me now, I’m going somewhere else. Take a holiday, escape the world for a while. Any place where a mirror’s going to drop is depressing. I hate seeing the ghosts. I hate seeing the echoes, the death throes of an entire world. It’s enough to make one want to go join Madchester…’
‘How many have you seen?’
‘Mirrorfalls or ghosts?’ he asked. He sighed and stared at the tiled ground. ‘More than I’d like of both.’ He looked back up at her. ‘Spyder…’ he said slowly. ‘The suit, is that you really want?’
‘Better than being Solst-ass.’ She slipped Frankie back into the bag. ‘What, you asking me to come with?’
‘I always book my tickets with a “plus one” just in case.’
‘Never had a fictional character wanting to sweep me off my feet. While awake that is.’
‘You’re not my type, but this has nothing to do with that.’ He grabbed her bag and placed it on the ground and slid closer. ‘This is…’
The train pulled into the station.
He put a hand in front of her. ‘Catch the next one.’
‘I didn’t even move.’
‘Good girl.’
Her heart began to beat faster – being this close to a person always made her nervous, especially when it was by their own volition. He was attractive, she supposed, not that she was much of a judge when it came to that sort of thing.
The train pulled away from the station.
‘There are sins, there are virtues – everyone belongs to one of them. Me, I belong to Fortitude, I was always his, and I impressed him a lot more than most, hence the embargo. It was his idea to sell the story to finance the rest of my new life.’
She nodded.
‘You could belong to any of them, I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess as to which…but you also belong to Death.’
‘I…wait, what?’
‘You’ve already died once, Spyder, how long do you really think it’ll be before you go back there? That cold darkness, that’s somehow so much like going home that it feels right, how long until you sink back through that and go to whatever’s next?’
She opened and closed her mouth a few times. Witty words and cold comebacks had abandoned her. ‘Hopefully a long time. No one knows when they’re going to die.’
‘Those that have died once are always drawn back there. I got Jon and myself out of there, Astrin’s gone, the rats have left, you’re in a suit, I’m guessing the angels rained some hell onto that place, yet here you are without a scratch.’
‘I was lucky.’ Almost wasn’t, but-
‘How many more times are you going to be lucky?’
‘Considering my luck in other aspects of life, I’d say I have a few more chances up my sleeve.’
‘At the rate you’re going, you’ll be dead before the end of the mirrorfall. Is that what you want?’
‘I want to live.’
‘Then you’re in the wrong place.’
She smiled. ‘No I’m not. Besides, there’s someone here I want to get to know. Someone who did more for me than anyone ever has, and he didn’t even know me.’
‘Don’t fall in love with an angel, it only leads to pain.’
It was her turn to look at the floor. ‘I don’t think I know how to love. It doesn’t really figure into my world. It’s not love anyway, it’s more like…’ A grin spread across her face. ‘I’ve found the story I want to be a part of.’
‘Careful Spyder, stories are dangerous things.’
‘Everything is dangerous, some things are worth it.’
He squinted up at the timetable display. ‘My train is in four minutes. Last chance. Literally.’
She required herself into her suit for a moment, then back into the incognito clothes. It was all the answer he needed. He stood and bowed. ‘It was a pleasure, Spyder. Don’t screw it up and die.’
She smirked. ‘I’ll try.’
He stood and walked away.
‘It’s my story,’ she muttered. ‘I’m allowed to screw it up.’