By Stef’s reckoning, at least thirty years had passed since she’d been left alone in the interrogation room. Or thirty minutes – there was a possible error in the factor of her calculation.
The bouncy ball still lay across the other side of the small room waiting for her to retrieve it. She continued to ignore it – it had left her, so there was no point in getting it back just so it could run away again. She had never been a proponent of the “let the balloon go” theory, hence why had always weighted hers down.
She pushed herself off the concrete floor and walked over to the door. She jiggled the handle and it moved – she stared at it for a moment, and then pulled it open. And was greeted by a brick wall with another small frosted window in it. ‘Stupid M-word building.’ She looked up at the roof. ‘You think this is funny, don’t you?’
Somewhere, someone does.
She stared at the wall. ‘I’d like to leave please.’ The wall didn’t answer. She pressed a flat palm to it – it felt solid enough. She ran her hand over it – there were no cracks, so secret catches, no loose bricks, nothing at all. She backed up from it, pushed the table out of the way so that she could get a run-up, closed her eyes and ran at the brick wall. M-word buildings and walls were supposed to respect things like that.
She bounced off the wall and landed heavily on her backside. Apparently not all M-word walls respected that. She rubbed her nose and flopped onto her back. ‘GET ME THE FSCK OUT OF HERE!’ She banged her head against the floor. ‘Get me out of here.’ She rolled her head to the side. ‘Stupid M-word building, aren’t you supposed to clean away the stuff that gets lost?’
She crawled across the room and grabbed the bouncy ball. ‘This is lost property,’ she announced. The ball stayed in her hand for a moment, then disappeared.
She stood and touched the table. ‘This is lost property.’ The table remained. She touched the chair. ‘This is lost property. It’s sad, alone and no one loves it anymore.’ The chair remained. She slipped off her vest and held it up. ‘This is lost property.’ The vest disappeared. She looked at the furniture. ‘Ok, fine, you’re not lost and the building knows that. Interesting.’ She drummed her fingers on the chair. ‘Think I can do it?’
The furniture remained silent.
She looked to the roof. ‘Ok, if I die…blah.’ She clapped her hands to her chest. ‘This is lost property.’
Please don’t let me die.
The world blurred before her – it didn’t feel like a normal shift, which felt basically like nothing. This time, she felt suspended, then like she was falling, a blue light surrounded her, then there was only blackness.
It wasn’t blackness, it was the absence of a light being on, which corrected itself after a moment. The lost property room was huge, some things lay on the metal shelves, other items were stacked into plastic crates. ‘All of this is…lost stuff?’
She moved away from the shelf towards the door.
‘You’ll need to sign out.’
She looked around for the source of the voice, and found it – there was an old man sitting behind a desk in a small office, and beyond him was the door out to the rest of the Agency. He slowly stood, as though the act caused him great pain, and waved a clipboard at her. ‘All self-propelled property must sign itself out before leaving. Have to keep the records straight! All kinds of things happen if the records aren’t kept straight!’
She accepted the clipboard and stared at it. ‘Do you…get a lot of self-propelled lost property?’
He shook his head. ‘Not that much, mainly recruits when they are inebriated.’ He sniffed the air. ‘Are you inebriated?’
‘No…No, I’m really not. I just,’ she shifted uncomfortably. ‘I wanted to see what would happen.’ She scribbled her messy signature onto the line and handed back the clipboard. ‘What floor are we on?’
‘The second,’ he said, then retreated back into his office.
She walked out of the lost property room and along the hall. There were other doors, but most looked like they hadn’t been opened in a long time. The lift was, as always, at the end of the hall. She punched the button and waited for it to arrive.
The doors slid open, and she found Enid inside. The other recruit raised her eyebrows. ‘Exploring, or did you genuinely lose something?’
The former seemed like the safer option. ‘Exploring,’ she said as she stepped into the lift. The button for the ground floor was lit up, again, it seemed like the safer option. ‘You going out?’ she asked.
Enid nodded. ‘Just for a while, need to feel human before I risk my life tonight.’
‘Why go?’ she asked as the doors closed. ‘If you’re afraid?’
‘You can’t let fear stop you from doing stuff, you know? If you let it stop you, like, you stop living.’
‘Why face the fear when it’s easier to turn away from it?’
The doors slid open. ‘Cause,’ Enid said, ‘I don’t want someone else living my life for me. You coming?’
Going out of the Agency seemed to be safer than staying in – already she could imagine the havoc Taylor was going wreak when he found her missing. Out with a human, however, that was-
‘Come on already!’ Enid called from the secretary’s desk, where she was already signing out. Can’t be the worst mistake this week. She walked across the floor, numbly signed out then went out into the afternoon with Enid.
She looked back at the Agency as they walked away from it. ‘So weird,’ she muttered.
‘You mean, that the freaking MiB is right in the middle of the city and you never realised it?’
‘Something like that, yeah…’
‘That feeling drops away.’
‘What about looking at people and wondering their alignments, and whether or not you’re going to get sniped?’
‘Until I have reason to, I don’t bother.’
The smell of coffee turned her head. ‘I need to…crap, I don’t have any money.’
Enid grinned. ‘You’re a recruit remember?’
She suddenly found the ground very interesting. ‘A neutered one. Can’t M-word anything unless I’m on a mission.’
‘Why? Because you attacked my boyfriend?’
The old, and somehow comfortable urge to run set in again. ‘Buz-wha?’
Enid giggled. ‘No, don’t worry, not like I haven’t slapped him around myself, though usually he’s begging for it.’
A horrified expression crossed her face, then stuck there. ‘Too…much…data,’ she managed to squeak.
‘Oh come on, haven’t you ever had a guy begging you to hurt him, because he knows how good it’s going to feel? When pain’s part of your life, you’ve got to have the safe-‘
The ground exploded under her feet, waves of energy flowed up from somewhere deep underground and wrapped around everything. Enid disappeared from sight, and everything was bathed in a glorious, over-exposed light.
The civilians around her faded away, or were transmogrified into cute-if-dangerous creatures. The cars zoomed off into the sky and the facades of the buildings melted away to reveal architecture belonging to the beginning of the nineteeth century.
A lightning bolt split the sky and it began to rain marshmallows.
A clicking sound made her turn away from the marshmallows. ‘Newbie?’
She blinked, and everything returned to normal. ‘Yes?’ she said icily, upset that she wouldn’t be able to eat any of the imaginary marshmallows.
‘You were muttering about monkeys with grenades.’
‘I went to my happy place.’
Enid smirked. ‘I pity you, being a virgin isn’t any fun.’
‘Is it fscking tattooed to my forehead? I have no desire to meet other people’s expectations.’
‘Still, don’t you wonder what it’s like?’
‘Occasionally.’ Like when looking at a half-naked “fictional” character...‘But then I forget about it and think about something that’s actually important.’
‘Because there’s no point to it,’ she said. ‘Putting yourself through the trouble of finding compatible people based on a cursory knowledge of their interests, dolling yourself up to look completely different than you do on a daily basis, going through the motions of the hot, sweaty, sticky, icky…thing then having them leave and forget your phone number. What is the godsdamn point?’ She tucked some hair behind her ear. ‘And assuming you find someone desperate enough to cling to you for more than one sticky, icky encounter, then you have to worry about bad habits, neurotic tics, and personality changes over time.’
‘You really, really need to get laid. Might release some of the pressure you seem to have.’
‘Apparently you tuned me out, but I have no interest.’
‘I can talk to Curt if you want, at least he doesn’t think you’re completely batshit crazy.’
‘Were I ever to get a lobotomy and sleep with someone, it wouldn’t be an ex-Sols-ass.’
‘You shouldn’t hold it against him.’
‘My introduction to the Solstice was them gunning down a house of people I’d been working with, so I don’t exactly have the best opinion of them.’
‘He’s sensitive about it. He doesn’t like to talk about it, even though everyone knows. Don’t hold old alliances against people, I mean, unless you want people to see you as a cracker instead of a recruit.’
‘Hacker,’ she corrected on autopilot.
‘Whatever.’ Enid smiled. ‘So, coffee?’
She nodded, and they went into the café.