‘You can take the bandage off if you like.’
Stef looked across at Jones. ‘Are you sure my hand isn’t going to fall apart if I do?’
He folded his hands and propped them up under his chin. ‘Do you really think I want…parts of you over my floor?’
‘You didn’t seem to mind when the laser was involved!’
He gave her a stern look, before breaking out into a smile. ‘Yes, but that was different. And fun. Your hand is fine. I threw every bit of stabilisation that I could at it. For a couple of hours yesterday, your hand was the most inherently stable piece of any agent on the planet.’
‘…that seems like overkill.’
He leaned back in his chair. ‘Tell that to your feet.’
She looked down to her dirty sneakers, then back to the tech. ‘What now?’
‘We learned some very interesting things about your feet while I was fixing up your hand. Things became rather clear when you shoe fell off a non-existent foot.’
‘…why?’
‘Possibly a few of the shortcuts we took so you could be up and running ASAP. Your feet were being affected by things they should have had no connection to. I corrected the error of course, but if toes sprout out of your wrist, please come see me.’
‘Am I glitching again?’
‘No, this is normal, terrifying reality.’ He sighed, and handed across a bottle of soft drink. ‘I am sorry about that, but it was the best decision to make.’
‘To glitch me out while I was unconscious?’
‘Yes. Sorry. However, it does mean that you get to hang out almost the entire day here. You would have had that glitch today, instead of yesterday, because I altered the schedule, now all you have to do is sit there, let me hack you a little, and spend a couple of hours with the Parkers this afternoon. Tomorrow’s another full day, should have been the last day, but since you’re getting today off, you’ll finish up on Saturday, a half day, though I would expect he’ll be throwing cars at you again.’
‘Oh…goody. But then I’m a real agent?’
‘You’re as much of a real agent as you’re going to be, just without the security clearance. And to answer your question, almost: a few more days of fine-tuning you for active duty, taking into account things I simply haven’t had the time to debug, or that are going to go wrong with you in your last hours of limit testing, you know, things like your foot disappearing. It wouldn’t look good for me if that had happened while you were chasing down a bad guy.’
‘You’d get punished?’
‘A few remedial lessons in coding maybe, admonishment from my peers, and probably a few more well captioned lol!agents on the intranet.’
‘We has cheezeburger?’
‘This surprises you?’
‘…it seems a little irreverent to allow, I mean, this is supposed to be a serious job, a serious profession-‘
‘Says the girl with more require cookie requestions than some whole divisions? If we were so serious, why would you be allowed to require flippant things like cookies? Playstations? *headdesk* pillows? There’s a lot of leeway given when there’s no harm being done, so, lol!agents survives. Any opt-outs are unquestionable though.’
‘I’m guessing no lol!Taylors?’
‘There, er, was a defenestration incident when the first one went up.’
‘…ouch.’
‘Jonesy?’
‘Yes?’
‘If you’d waited to induce that glitch…would I have still seen the same thing?’
‘Impossible to know. Something of that magnitude, that’s how it works, but that exact glitch? Or even something similar? I don’t have data either way. You survived, and that’s the main thing.’
‘Can you die in a glitch?’
‘We’ve never seen that.’ He looked away for a moment. ‘But die because of a glitch, of course, we’ve seen that. Sometime’s it’s a technical thing, complications with the code, it corrupts an agent to the point where we really have no choice but to recycle them. But there’s also…other ways. Sometimes, what you see, it’s so bad that you would do anything not to ever have to think about it again. Suicide after a glitch isn’t as uncommon as we’d like it to be. Generally speaking though, it’s the, ah, natural kind, not the induced ones. At least with the induced ones, you’ve got people around to support you after it. If you wake up from a natural glitch, and have no immediate evidence to the contrary that what you saw is anything less than the truth, there is nothing stopping you from grabbing a gun, walking into a blackout zone, and pulling the trigger.’
There was something in his voice, something about the way he said it. ‘Someone you knew? A friend?’
‘No, I had the gun pulled from my hand. Had he been a few seconds more, you would be having this conversation with someone else, or more likely, not at all, because I can’t guarantee that whoever replaced me would have gamed the system for you.’
‘What-?’
‘No. You don’t get to ask that question. Please.’
‘Of course, sorry.’
‘You’ve just got one more to go. It’ll be worse, it’ll be a lot worse than your last one. But whatever it is, it’s just a nightmare, and this will all be over soon.’